Pumpkin

91030It really would be nice to be able to transform a pumpkin into a chauffeured coach to ride to the ball, just by waving a magic wand over it. A Buick would be even more excellent! Over the years, as the variety of new Buicks has diminished to not much more than a few SUVs that are scarcely more stylish than pumpkins, the variety of pumpkins has grown crazily. Form is not following function.

You see, for longer than anyone can document, pumpkins were grown merely for food. They still make much better pie than other winter squash would. Many varieties produce nicely edible seeds and bloom. In fact, some types are grown specially for their hullless seeds, which are known as pepitas, or for pumpkin seed oil. Nowadays though, pumpkins are more ornamental than culinary.

Decades ago, bright orange pumpkins with relatively thin shells became more popular than the more brownish orange and thicker shelled culinary types. They are more colorful, and more easily carved into Jack-O’-lanterns, but not quite as richly flavored. Since then, white, yellow, pink, red, green and bluish gray pumpkins have become available, in all sorts of shapes, sizes and textures.

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Moss Rose

41015The recent unseasonably warm weather was no problem for any remaining moss rose, Portulaca grandiflora. They usually start to look rather tired as the weather gets cooler this time of year, and eventually succumb to the first frost. Where allowed to do so, they can regenerate next year from seed. I like to collect their seed during the summer or autumn so that I can sow them after the last frost of the following winter. Through spring and summer, I find that additional plants are easy to grow from cuttings.

The inch wide flowers are white, pink, red, orange or yellow, with only a few ruffled petals. Modern varieties that have rufflier ‘double’ flowers and richer colors still seem to be less popular than the more delicate traditional types. The cylindrical and succulent leaves are only about an inch long. The small plants can get more than six inches deep where they are happy or crowded. Moss rose likes good exposure and decent soil, but does not need the rich soil that most other annuals demand. Nor does it necessarily need such regular watering.

Dyckia

91023It is easy to mistake various cultivars of Dyckia for diminutive relatives of Agave or Yucca. They form stout rosettes of rigid leaves with wickedly sharp terminal spines. Their comparably nasty but incurved marginal teeth resemble those of most species of Agave, but are generally more abundant. Surprisingly though, Dyckia are instead related to bromeliads. They just happen to be xeric.

Dyckia do not bloom much, but when they do, the tall and arching floral stalks really are more typical of bromeliads. As they bloom late in spring or in summer, the many small individual flowers on each stalk are collectively colorful enough to be delightfully popular with hummingbirds, butterflies and bees. Bloom is most commonly rich reddish orange, but some cultivars bloom red or yellow.

No one seems to mind that Dyckia does not often bloom. The foliage is remarkably striking alone. Many cultivars form dense mounding colonies of pups that, although unpleasant to handle, can be divided for propagation. A few toothless cultivars, armed only with terminal spines, are easier to handle. Individual rosettes can be as tall and broad as a foot. Dyckia do not need much water.

Angelonia

41008Angelonia is one of those warm season annuals that can actually survive through winter as a pernnial to bloom again next spring. It may even want to continue to bloom untill frost. The flowers can be blue, purple, red, pink or white, and look something like small snapdragon flowers. Most have spots or stripes of an alternate color or two in their throats. Some modern varieties have fragrant flowers. Plants can get a foot or two tall, and almost as wide. In sheltered spots, angelonia can be cut back as soon as it starts to look tired in autumn. Exposed plants might be happier if cut back significantly later, as winter ends. Old growth may be unsightly for a while, but can protect interior stems and roots from frost. Besides, pruning stimulates new growth that will be more susceptible to subsequent frost.

Johnny-Jump-Up / Violas

91016This is not an easily defined flower. There are hundreds of species within the genus of Viola. Many are known as pansies. Many are known as violas or Johnny-jump-ups. Many are in between. The main difference between these two major groups is that, although very closely related, pansies bloom with bigger flowers, and violas bloom with smaller, simpler and more abundant flowers.

Blue, purple, white and yellow are the most popular colors for viola. Formerly uncommon orange and rusty red have become more popular in the past many years. Colors may be monochromatic, or arranged in intricate patterns with another color or two. The abundant bisymmetrical flowers are only about an inch wide. Mature plants should stay less than six inches tall, and spread as wide.

Violas are technically short term perennials that are typically grown as cool season annuals here. They are unlikely to survive through the innately warm and arid weather of summer. If planted now, they slow down a bit through the coolest winter weather, and then resume for early spring. If planted later in winter to continue slightly later into spring, they last only until the weather gets too warm.

Pumpkin

41001Actually, it is a fruit; a rather BIG fruit. It happens to be one of the more familiar of winter squash, but is not too commonly eaten. Although it makes excellent pie, and provides edible seeds and flowers, pumpkin is more popularly known as jack-o’-lanterns or Cinderella’s ride to the ball. Pumpkin is not for every garden, since each big and coarsely foliated annual vine needs regular watering, rich soil and considerable space to grow all through summer to produce only one or two big fruit in autumn.

Most pumpkins are big and round, and have smooth and bright orange skin. Those grown for jack-o’-lanterns are brighter orange, and not quite as meaty. Those grown for pie are often a bit smaller and meatier, with a rustier orange color. The biggest pumpkins get too huge to move easily, but lack flavor. The flavors and densities of many weird modern varieties are as variable as the green, red, pink, yellow and white hues of their skins. Some pumpkins have been developed specifically for their seeds, which are known as pepitas, or are used for production of pumpkin seed oil.

French Marigold

P90921KActually, French marigold, Tagetes patula, is no more French than African marigold is African. All are from Mexico and Guatemala. They were merely popularized and bred respectively in France and Africa. There are now hundreds of varieties. Yet, their color range is surprisingly limited to hues and shades of yellow, orange and ruddy brown. White marigolds are really just very pale yellow.

While African marigold is only occasionally grown for bigger cutting flowers on taller stems, French marigold is much more popularly grown for late warm season annual color. Because it blooms late in summer and early in autumn, and continues only until frost or sustained rain, it is often planted if earlier warm season annuals deteriorate while it is still too warm for cool season annuals.

French marigold can get more than a foot tall, and almost a foot wide, but typically stays closer to the ground. The delightfully aromatic and intricately textured foliage is rich dark green. Removal of deteriorating flowers (deadheading) promotes continued bloom, although a few spent flowers might be left to produce seed. Mildew can be a problem if watering is excessive or late in the day.

Madagascar Periwinkle

40924Like gardenia, dogwood and snapdragon, the potentially finicky Madagascar periwinkle, Catharanthus roseus, is often challenging to grow. It enjoys, but seems to prefer more humidity than it gets here. The happiest plants can get nearly two feet tall and wide in sheltered and humid spots. (They can get even larger in exposed spots in humid climates.) Yet, most of us are satisfied with relatively scrawny plants less than half a foot tall.

Madagascar periwinkle is popularly grown as a warm season annual until the weather gets too cool in late autumn, but it can tolerate a bit of cool weather, and can even survive as a perennial through winter if sheltered. The one or two inch wide flowers have five petals and small red centers, and can be white or various shades of pink, pinkish red, lavender or pastel orange. All parts of Madagascar periwinkle are incidentally toxic.

Carrot

91002Bugs Bunny was an expert. He was always chewing on a carrot, Daucus carota, and rudely talking with his mouth full. Because carrots can be stored in refrigeration for a few months, Bugs Bunny could get one whenever he wanted to. However, in home gardens, they are cool season vegetables that are grown through spring and autumn, but not through summer or the middle part of winter.

Carrots are biennial. They complete their life cycle in two seasons. They are vegetative during their first season, as they produce their edible and elongated conical taproot. If not harvested, they bloom and go to seed in their second season. By then, their fat roots are tough and useless. Carrots are ready for harvest in three to four months after their seed are sown, depending on variety.

Carrots are famously bright orange. Yellow, white, red, purple and black varieties have been gaining popularity in the past many years. The longest carrots might be a foot and a half long, but most are less than half as long. Many are only about four inches long, or less. They may be as narrow as half an inch, or wider than two inches! Some carrots are more uniformly cylindrical than conical.

Gardenia

40917It seems that everyone who has ever experienced the seductive yet powerful fragrance of gardenia, Gardenia jasminoides, wants to grow it, but very few actually can. Gardenias like warmth, but prefer more humidity than they get here, which is why they seem to be happier in partial shade, in atriums, or in urns that can be moved out of harsh exposure during summer. In such sheltered spots, aphid, scale and sometimes whitefly can be problematic.

Gardenias want their own space, where their roots will not be bothered by excavation or roots of more aggressive plants. They do not even want annuals around them, because annuals need such regular cultivation. Docile ground cover plants or simple mulch is best. Gardenias like rich soil and acid fertilizer or fish emulsion to be applied regularly as long as the weather is warm.

The creamy white flowers that fade to French vanilla can seem mundane relative to their alluring fragrance and handsomely glossy foliage. The largest flowers rarely get to three inches wide. ‘Mystery’, which can slowly get four feet tall, is the most familiar cultivar, even though it does not bloom so much after spring. ‘Veitchii’, which can eventually get three feet tall and twice as wide, has small inch-wide flowers, but is still blooming. Modern cultivars bloom just as late, but with larger flowers.