Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Little Beauties - Growing Miniature African Violets

I went a little crazy at the African Violet Show at Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens last spring. These varieties are all miniatures. The little plastic cups they came in fit perfectly in my new handbuilt porcelain teacups. HINT: click on photo to enlarge!

I had read about the minis in the Spring 2010 edition of Country Gardens (BHG) magazine and had been planning to mail order some from African Violet hybridizer Rob Robinson. One of the very best online sources for Rob's and other minis is The Violet Barn.

So when I saw the African Violet show on schedule at LGBG, I trotted on over there and ended up coming home with 6 of these little beauties. As luck would have it, there were many of Rob's cultivars available. Narrowing it down to only 6 was very difficult! A couple of them made their way into some friend's homes as gifts, but the four shown below I have kept and nurtured under florescent tubes (one warm, one cool) in my basement. They have more than doubled in size for me in part because I feed them with a weak solution of water and special violet fertilizer at every watering. I keep them on a shallow tray so I can just pour the water in there as they prefer to be watered from the base.

They really are my very favorite houseplants and brighten my home during the winter when not much else is blooming. While easy to maintain, one very surprising thing I learned at the show is that they will grow and bloom best if you periodically remove some of the leaves. Just take a razor or sharp knife and cut them off close to the base. You can propagate these cutting, but I've not had much luck with that. You can see from my photo that its time for me to do this. The four varies shown are clockwise from the upper left: Rob's Chilly Willy, Optimara Little Lapis, Rob's Pewter Bells and Jolly Jubilee.

With this last photo I thought I'd share an idea for a bridal shower or even a garden club, tea party or other lawn gathering. These are actually small pots of regular African Violets that were purchased at a local home improvement store. This was put together as the centerpiece for my daughter's bridal shower a few years ago. We had a "pottery making party" a few weeks ahead with the bridesmaids and handbuilt these sweet little teacups from ceramic clay to hold the flowers, which were then handed out to the guests as party favors. But any kind of small teacup would work just fine and the plants themselves are not expensive at all. You can even special order them in advance. The teapot in the center is filled with inexpensive garden center violets which sits elevated on a cakestand surrounded by butterflies and bird's nests filled with chocolate covered almond "eggs". We borrowed the teapots, etc. from friends so every table had a unique centerpiece. This was a lovely event done on a shoestring budget!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Nature's Paintbrush - The Rich Colors of Fall

I'm taking a walk through my tiny city garden today - won't you please join me? As we step off the back porch onto the patio we are greeted by this scene. It is no wonder this Serviceberry tree is called 'Autumn Brilliance'. I blogged about its wonderful spring show last April.

Now we pass under the Serviceberry tree and encounter this huge mass of Mexican Spice Basil, still going strong while my other basils are already doing their duty in the compost heap.

Next to catch our attention is this 'Mexican Sunflower', its bright orange face shouting "Look at me, look at me!"

But its the Hyssop 'Purple Haze' that draws my eye. A wonderful share from my neighborhood plant swap a few years back, now a lovely lavender mound that just keeps on giving up its beautiful blooms.

Sharing space with the hyssop are lots and lots of these Nandinas. I'll admit I tried to yank them all out when I first moved to my home here, but nothing doin'. These guys are here to stay and I have actually learned to appreciate them a little more.

Continuing on toward the back out by the purple barn is my 'Nahno Purple' butterfly bush, still going strong. Thank goodness those ugly spider mites are history. With the awful heat this summer, I thought those varmints were going to do this lovely plant in.

Heading back around the goldfish pond is the unique and gorgeous purple beautyberry shrub. Another lucky plant swap acquisition!

Moving on we spy a lonely Mexican verbena...barely hanging on...only a few stems poking their lovely faces above the little birdbath. Hope he comes back again next year. I understand they usually do.

To warm things up a bit after all the purples, this fading orange zinnia is still a beauty. To some this may look like a throw-away, but I personally love the different colors it presents in its last days in my garden.

There's that gorgeous blue sky again, just beyond those sweet pinky-purple blooms of the hyacinth bean vine. And I just love those gorgeous aubergine pods! I've got to remember to pick some dried ones to save for next year.

Our walk ends with a final good bye to my beloved dew-kissed Midnight Blue shrub rose, singing her last hurrah.

I hope you enjoyed your walk with me today! If you'd like me to mail you some of those hyacinth bean seeds, just leave me a comment below and I'll contact you via email. (USA residents only, please.)