Gardens to Drive: Scary Plants

IMG_3804Boo! Scary Plants for Your Garden

By Teresa Woodard

I love a good scare – a scary movie, a haunted house and even an occasional hide-behind-the-door prank.  IMG_3789So, I was captivated by the Franklin Park Conservatory’s timely “Scary Plants” exhibit which turned out to be a virtual fun house of horticultural horrors!

Two flesh-eating favorites starred in the carnivorous plants display.  The American pitcher plant (Sarracenia) lures prey inside its trumpet-shaped leaves with an intoxicating nectar.

IMG_3805The Venus fly trap (Dionaea muscipula) tricks insects with its open trap that snaps shut when insects unknowingly touch trigger hairs that signal the trap.

Equally scary, another group of vicious plants are famed for their spikes and hidden poisons.  Don’t be fooled by Daturas’ beautiful blooms – the plants contain highly poisonous tropane alkaloids that can cause hallucinations and even death.  Castor bean plants (Ricinus communis) may be fun to grow for their colorful foliage and interesting seed pods, but the plant contains ricin, a deadly toxin. Even the beloved Ohio buckeye (Aesculus glabra) produces nuts that contain poisonous tannic acid.

On the prickly side, be sure to sidestep any honey locust trees and their wicked thorns.  A neighbor boy was hiking in a nearby preserve with our kids and stumbled upon a thorn which punctured his knee. Ouch!  Prickly pear (Opuntia polycantha ‘Bronze’) and porcupine tomato (Solanum pyracanthum) are two other don’t-touch plants.

A final group of plants are more bizarre than scary.  Check out gray-haired ‘Old Man’ cactus (Cephalocereus senilis) and pumpkin-on-a-stick (Solanum aethiopicum) which is a relative to tomatoes and eggplants. IMG_3826 IMG_3823

If I haven’t scared you away, visit Franklin Park Conservatory to learn more about these botanical wonders.  The ‘Scary Plants’ exhibit runs through Nov. 9.  Other ghoulish garden events include the Haunted Conservatory (Oct. 30) at Garfield Park Conservatory in Indianapolis, the Creepy Crawl (Oct. 31)at Missouri Botanical Gardens in St. Louis, and the Jack-O-Lantern Spectacular (through Nov. 9) at Iroquois Park in Louisville.


Favorite Flora: Species Tulips

Wild for Species Tulips

By Teresa Woodard

Imagine an alpine meadow of dainty tulips in Kazakhstan or stout red tulips thriving on the rocky slopes of the Elburz Mountains in Iran.  After seeing this collection of images from Tulips in the Wild, I decided to give these tough little beauties a try.

Last fall, I planted clusters of 8 to 10 Tulipa linifolia and Tulipa clusiana ‘Tubergen’s Gem’  along edges of our meadow.  In April, they made a charming show with natural, wildflower-like blooms – much more fitting for the meadow setting than their larger, more showy hybridized cousins.

If you want to try planting some of these ‘wild’ or species tulip bulbs this fall, here are a few suggestions.  Plan to order a larger quantity than expected, since the bulbs are smaller and look more impressive when planted in mass.  Also, consider a location where these diminutive spring flowers will get noticed like a walkway, a mailbox garden or a border’s edge. The bulbs will grow best in a sunny location with good drainage, ideally a sloped area that is not irrigated. While deer are known to eat tulips just as they open, I was fortunate they didn’t find these blooms. However, be prepared to protect them with barrier plants or a deer repellent.IMG_6162

For bulb sources, check out Colorblends – 888-847-8637; Brett and Becky’s Bulbs – 877-661-2852; Van Engelen – 860-567-8734; and Bluestone Perennials – 800-852-5243.

Catch Us If You Can

conference logoDebra Knapke will be talking about “Biophilia: Understanding Why We Garden ” as the morning keynote speaker at this weekend’s Ohio Master Gardener State Conference at Ohio Wesleyan University in Delaware, Ohio.

Why do we garden? Ask doctors, and they’ll point to the health benefits. Ask some authors, and they’ll pull out their books on gardening’s spiritual, meditative and stress-relieving benefits. Flip through gardening magazines, and these beautiful outdoor spaces are undeniably a powerful source of creativity and entertainment. Debra was intrigued by the question and has been investigating this biophilia or “affinity with nature and love of living things” as first defined by E.O. Wilson in 1984. She’ll share her findings and how they relate to our work as gardening educators.

Teresa will be working behind the scenes at the event as a member of the conference planning committee.

Live It Or Record It?

20140929_093209By Michael Leach

I want to knock the cell phone out of her hand and shout, “Look around you!”

Instead, I roll my eyes and grind my teeth. The woman, who’s touring an elegant private garden as part of the recent Garden Writers Association’s Pittsburgh symposium, hunches over a cellphone. She’s oblivious to the tranquil water lotus pool and gnarly trunks of the ancient espaliered apple trees.

Why would anyone, but presumably someone who writes about gardens and cultivates one, spend precious time texting, or sending Facebook updates in a place she may never see again? (To be fair, she may be taking notes or a few photos for future use.)

But she’s probably ODD, suffering from what I term obsessive digital disorder, just like millions of others. I define this as the need to constantly manipulate images on a digital screen, whether games, social media, texts, TVs, cell phones, pads, laptops, smart watches and other devices. ODD people are addicted to the constant diversion that digital “hits” offer.

These devices are incredibly helpful and fun, but how does one avoid addiction to endless diversion? I ponder this danger, while planning an upgrade to a smart phone and all that entails.

Before ranting further, a disclaimer is in order. My view is clouded by decades of writing and editing on a computer. I’m conditioned to being paid for screen time. Forgive me if I prefer face time to Face Book and shy from games to pass idle hours. I played one too many high-stakes game of producing a newspaper despite techno-glitches to find pleasure in antics of the Mario Brothers or killing-spree combat games.

Add to this a gift for causing electronics to manifest peculiar behavior that inevitably prompts the tech-savvy person to exclaim, “I’ve never seen it do that before!” Third, I’m slow to pick up on new stuff, even when it functions perfectly. (Lazy may be a better explanation.)

Now back to digital diversion — New Age nicotine. More addictive than smoking but uber socially acceptable, digital diversion is a must for everyone, starting with the youngest children. Advice I hear for learning new electronic tricks is, “Get a kid to show you how.” Smoking was the other way around.

So how much New Age nicotine is safe for consumption? Who knows? Before having a home computer, my only email came to the office downtown. Did I drive almost 20 miles round trip on Saturday afternoon to check email? Never. But when it comes to a phone that you must also use for nonbusiness calls, it’s hard to avoid the temptation of diversion at your fingertips.

I need space between work and life. That’s hard to find these days.

As I recall the phone addict in the garden, I wonder if she attended a symposium program that cited scientific studies quantifying the positive effects of gardening, plants and nature upon blood pressure, productivity, sense of well being and recovery from surgery. Maybe she skipped that session or more likely — she Tweeted through it.

Let us know:  In this smartphone age, do you live it or record it?


Catch Us If You Can

Bloggers Debra Knapke and Michael Leach are TV stars, this month.  On Fox 28’s Good Day Columbus, Debra Knapke highlighted edibles at the Heritage Gardens at the Ohio Governor’s Residence.  On another day, Michael appeared on the show to share tips on how to get a jump-start on spring gardening.  Check out his tips on planting spring bulbs, transplanting houseplants, and growing pansies and fall asters.

In the newly released fall issue of Edible Columbus, Debra writes about “Ohio Squash”  and shares tips for cool-season veggies in “What to Plant & Harvest”.  Teresa Woodard also contributes a feature, “Pumpkin Envy”, on Roger Kline who grows award-winning edible heirloom pumpkins.




An Uninvited Guest Spoils the Garden Party

By Michael Leach

His return is as unwelcome as the drop-in visit of a difficult in-law, but instead of a few hours, he hangs around for several months. Still, there’s no keeping him away. Punctual as a Japanese bullet train, the constellation of Orion returns to the pre-dawn sky in late summer.

Ancient myth says this hunter eternally pursues “doves” (the constellation called the Pleiades), who are always just out of Orion’s reach. For me, he’s chasing away summer and dragging in winter.

His ascent in late summer foretells the end of sun-warmed tomatoes, barefoot walks in dewy grass, and idling upon the patio until stars and fireflies twinkle in the almost endless summer twilights. Because summer has been mild, often cloudy and sometimes autumnal in my part of the Midwest, it hardly seems as if there’s been any at all. Thus, spotting Orion on the morning of Aug. 26 made my heart sink farther than usual.

Despite the inevitable, one can live in blissful denial when warm weather lingers after Labor Day, or for that matter, in every warm day between now and Halloween. But the celestial clock ticks on regardless of balmy readings. Winter’s return is only weeks away. In a few months Orion will dominate the icy winter nights with the sparkling brilliance of diamonds scattered upon black velvet.

I try not to think of what lies ahead. Instead, every chance to enjoy the outdoors is taken: eating al fresco meals at the picnic table; reading in a tree-shaded lawn chair, while reveling in the chorus of birds, cicadas and crickets; delighting in bright yellow goldfinches flitting to and fro; and being silly happy with the warmth of sun on chilly afternoons. Soon I’ll be taking walks in woods decorated in colors no paint chip collection rivals.

There are chores — seemingly endless chores — that are part of autumn, too. But those shouldn’t take precedence over savoring what remains of nature’s season of abundance. Ignore the clock and to-do list as often as possible. Steal a few precious moments of warmth to make memories before Orion’s long, chilly stay begins again.


Trendspotting: Greening of Pittsburgh

Green pittsburgh

By Teresa Woodard

Last month, Debra, Michael and I traveled to Pittsburgh for a jam-packed, 4-day conference with the Garden Writers Association.  Here, we met with hundreds of other communicators in the lawn and garden industries and witnessed first-hand many of the Steel City’s green trends.

No-mow lawns – Designed by Hugh Newel Jacobsen, this LEED home features a gravel front “yard” and mixed fescue “no mow” backyard.

Pittsburgh convention center rooftop garden

Rooftop gardens –The south terrace at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center features a rooftop garden that’s both aesthetic for convention events but also functional, acting as a natural insulator and reducing stormwater runoff.


Succulent sod – On the trade show floor, this sedum sod by Great Garden Plants caught our attention for its ease of installation, trial success and beauty.

Edibles in the landscape –  Props to these downtown restaurants (The Porch and Levy Restaurant) for featuring edibles, like chard and basil, in their landscape designs.

Garden at Schenley Plaza

Downtown beautification – Just steps from the University of Pittsburgh, Schenley Plaza was recently renovated by the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy and today features this All-America Selection Display Garden.

Harvesting water — At the Phipps Conservatory’s Center for Sustainability, all stormwater runoff is captured in a lagoon system and passed through a plant-based treatment process for later use in irrigation and toilet flushing.


Catch Us If You Can

HGH-2014-logo_png_1865074513Leach garden (43)Michael Leach will be part of a garden guru panel Fri., Sept. 5 at 1 p.m. at the 2014 Home & Garden and Holiday Fest at the Ohio Expo Center in Columbus, Ohio. Michael and other panelists will answer questions and offer tips for the winter garden.

“Anyone can plant flowers, but if you can make a garden interesting in the wintertime, you’ve really accomplished something,” Michael told the Columbus Dispatch in a show preview story on Sunday.

The panel includes: Larry Burchfield, owner of Cedarbrook Landscaping and Garden Center; Fred Hower, The Ohio Nurseryman and Columbus State Community College instructor; Ellen Gallucci Purcell, co-owner of Riepenhoff Landscape; and Tom Wood, NBC4’s gardening expert and owner of Wood Landscape Services.

On the home side of the show, HGTV’s Jonathan and Drew Scott, aka the Property Brothers, will appear at 2 p.m. Saturday to present “Dream Home 101.”

For more info, visit the show’s website.


Favorite Flora: Hardy Hibiscus

Hibiscus 'Robert Fleming'

Hibiscus ‘Robert Fleming’

Buds of Hibiscus 'Robert Fleming'

Buds of Hibiscus ‘Robert Fleming’

Hardy Hibiscus for the Midwest

It’s hard to believe – a tropical-looking hibiscus with plate-size flowers is hardy for Midwest gardens!  In fact, the showy flowers are now in bloom in area gardens.  Heartland  Gardening recently talked with Linda Johnson, co-owner of Scioto Gardens (a must-visit nursery and specialty plant supplier  in Delaware, Ohio) about these crowd pleasers.

She recommends this group of perennials for great, mid- to late-summer WOW! She says the super-sized flowers come in a range of colors from pure white to pink to bright red. Plus, they’re deer resistant and tolerate wet soils. Even though some Hibiscus are tropical, there are many cultivars that are cold hardy in the Midwest. Two species are even native to Ohio.

Linda says the plants range in size from three to six feet tall. Most have green leaves, but some have purple or reddish foliage. They grow best in full sun with average to wet soil. The stems are somewhat woody and can be cut back in the fall after the plant is dormant. Linda suggests leaving a four- to six-inch stem to mark the late emerging plant’s location. Check out her favorites:

  • ‘Robert Fleming’ is a dwarf Hibiscus getting only three feet tall. The buds emerge dark purple and then open into a deep, rich red. Known for its striking flower, this cultivar is named after one of the Fleming Brothers who were famous for their hybridizing of Hibiscus plants.

    Hibiscus 'Kopper King'

    Hibiscus ‘Kopper King’

  • ‘Kopper King’ has coppery-colored foliage that’s quite attractive throughout the season. The flowers are light pink with a dark pink center. The plants grow three to four feet.
  • ‘Plum Crazy’ Flowers are rose-purple with darker purple veining and a very dark purple central eye.
    Hibiscus 'Plum-Crazy'

    Hibiscus ‘Plum-Crazy’

    Foliage is deeply dissected, purplish green and the plants grow about three to four feet.

  • Hibiscus moscheutos is one of the species native to Ohio. It usually has flowers that are white with a dark pink center, but sometimes the flowers are pink. The flowers are conical and a bit smaller than the wide-open dinner plate flowers of the cultivars. It is typically found in marshy areas. The plants can grow three- to six-feet tall, depending on moisture and soil fertility.



Gardening in Tight Spaces

Schrader garden 001 - CopyBy Teresa Woodard

Today’s gardeners are getting more efficient when it comes to gardening in tight quarters. Whether they’re city dwellers planting a garden on a balcony or empty nesters tending a small patio garden, these gardeners are finding savvy solutions for their limited real estate.

Here are few tips:

Go dwarf – Growers are introducing many space-saving perennials and shrubs. Check out the dwarf conifers and hydrangeas and miniature hostas. IMG_1611Even edible plants are now available in pint-sized versions. Try BrazelBerry dwarf berry bushes, columnar fruit trees, espaliered (grown vertically along a trellis) trees and grafted tomato plants.

Grow up–Chose upright and vining plants to take advantage of vertical space. Columnar hornbeams create a narrow privacy screen along a walkway. IMG_5344 - CopyFlowering vines like clematis, hydrangea and honeysuckle climb trellises, patio walls and fences.

Repeat details – Details count in not-so-big spaces. Invest in quality stone or ceramic containers or architectural features like window boxes or an eye-catching arbor.

Create illusions — Mirrors can be added to garage windows and garden walls to bring more light to shaded areas and reflect the space to increase its apparent size.IMG_2678

Cluster containers – Maximize patio space with clusters of container gardens. Even vegetables, dwarf trees and shrubs can be grown in containers.


Garden Topics


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