Bzzzz March 17th, 2008

After viewing the exuberant displays of flowers, plants, containers and hardscaping…

…the visitors to the Philadelphia Flower Show were practically foaming at the mouth in the vendor area. I have never seen so many women carrying around bunches of pussy willow in my whole life. They looked like some sort of bizarre religious procession with the waiving branches and the ecstatic looks on their faces.

Well, since I have actually planted my very own pussy willow bush, I shopped for other things. Here are some of Robin’s Fabulous Flower Show Finds.



A couple of days ago I talked about how I am just mad for Ikebana, the Japanese art of flower arranging. Don’t call the Ikebana police on me, because I’m quite sure I have broken some Ikebana rules, but I bought an Ikebana vase and gave it a try here at home.The trick with this nifty little vase is a built-in “frog” at the bottom and an enclosed water well. I don’t have the source for you, but you can search for Ikebana supplies on the Internet and find many similar vessels for your own Ikebana creations.



I have always found that my plants are much happier (ergo I am a better gardener) when they are in clay pots. Unfortunately, it is exceedingly difficult to find a stylish clay pot. They are all so mass-produced looking and utilitarian. So I was just tickled pink to discover Goff Creek Pottery. These pots are about 10″ high and cost $40 each. Goff Creek has many larger pots, including huge and decorative urns that go for up to $800. Sadly, there was only so much my husband was willing to carry for the sake of my gardening habits.



I also met a wonderfully charming couple with a tiny little booth of pottery vases. Paula L. Brown-Steedly, at Virginia Clay, is the potter and seems to specialize in organic-looking, hand-built clay vessels, although she also had a number of thrown and thrown and manipulated vessels. I purchased these two vases, about 11″ high each, at about $85 and $70. They look fabulous with a simple arrangement on my farmhouse table.



Do you love African Violets like I do? Well, let me introduce you to the Violet Gallery. They only had about 20 of their violets on display and for sale. But their catalog is 16 pages of mouse type with HUNDREDS of different types of violets. I was just crazy about the variegated varieties, but managed to restrain myself and only brought home four at $4.95 each. In the catalog, the cost is $6 each. Specimens are extremely robust. Highly recommended!

I love fashion. Unfortunately, fashion and gardening don’t mix so very well. I mostly wear jeans or shorts, a tank top and sneakers. I love the look of those British knee-high boots, but frankly, there is just no need for them here. So I get my jollies with gardening gloves and justify the purchases by telling myself how useful they are.

But don’t you hate gloves? I would much rather dig my fingers into the dirt and rip out those wretched weeds with my own bare fingernails. Unfortunately, it’s not quite right to traipse into a focus group room or conference room with raggedy and dirty nails. So I have (mostly) learned to use gloves. I prefer gloves that don’t feel like gloves–I want them snug, but not tight. Thin, but not flimsy. I don’t like rubbery barriers. I want to be able to FEEL what I’m doing. (Ahem.)



Well anyway. I adore these Atlas Gloves. They are, indeed, soft and supple. I can hardly wait to give them a test drive. At $7 they are a bargain. I may have to order in bulk.

BTW, you may notice that these are a size small. Since I am 5’10, I do not have small hands. So if you cannot find these gloves locally and decide to order them, know that they run VERY LARGE.

Isn’t shopping so much fun?!?!

Posted In: Shopping

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Bzzzz February 2nd, 2008

For the novice, the word “propagation” can seem a bit intimating. After all, it sounds so scientific.

But the fact is, propagation is just a fancy way of saying “make more.”

If you’re interested in dipping your toe into the world of plant propagation (and we are talking plants here), there is no easier plant to start with than the lovely African violet.


Although she’s been gone for many years, I always associate African violets with my grandmother. She always had pots of blooming violets on her windowsills. Now, I almost always have some violets growing in my light garden or the windowsills. I continually propagate them and have some ready for giving away for special occasions. I will also group them on the dining table for a live flower arrangement that doesn’t cost a fortune or require loads of chemicals at the flower farm.

Recently, I took one of the prettiest of my violets to my Great Aunt Maxine for her 90th birthday celebration. While I was at her house I noticed she had some violets of her own. What better opportunity to add to my collection in a meaningful way? She supplied a baggie and I loaded up with new cuttings.

To propagate your African violet, select a leaf that is not too big and not too small. You don’t want an old gnarly leaf or one that is too tiny. Select a medium-sized, vigorous leaf and cleanly slice it off the plant, leaving about 1” of stem.

Now, here’s the hard part. It seems counter-intuitive, but you’re going to have to cut the leaf in half, leaving about 1” of leaf on the stem.

My grandmother used to root her cuttings in plain water, suspending them through a hole in some aluminum foil. This works just fine. But a better, and faster, way is to root the cutting directly in some soilless medium. This is typically available as African violet soil in nurseries. I can find it in my local grocery store.


Give your cuttings a head start by using a rooting hormone, such as Rootone. Just dip the stem end into the rooting hormone powder before planting the stem in some soilless medium.

Since the plants don’t have roots, it’s important to keep the cutting moist. I just pop a plastic bag over the top of the pot to retain moisture and make sure I water regularly. In your zeal for moisture, don’t overly seal the plant in or you’ll be creating an environment where diseases can flourish.

Plants need light to grow, so make sure you provide adequate light. A sunny windowsill in the winter will do the trick. In the summer, you’ll need to make sure the sun isn’t too intense or the leaves will burn and the soil medium will dry out too quickly. I find that my light garden provides the perfect environment for propagating and keeping live plants.

Some other useful tips for growing African violets:

-When propagating or repotting, use African violet potting soil. It’s soilless, so it’s lighter, doesn’t compact and gives the aeration and drainage that the African violets need. Violets do just fine in the temperatures of the average household—65 to 73 degrees.

-Make sure you protect cuttings and grown plants from drafts. Violet leaves are covered with tiny little “hairs.”

-Avoid getting leaves wet when watering to prevent discoloration. Are you violets dusty? Just use a soft-bristled paintbrush to brush off dust or accumulated dirt.

-Nurseries sell specialized African violet pots with an inner and outer layer for indirect watering. I have never had as much success with this method as with traditional terra cotta pots. My favorite pots are by Guy Wolff. Large Guy Wolff pots can be expensive, but the tiny ones are very reasonable—and just the right thing to give your African violets a good start in life.

Interested in the African violet lifestyle? There is a whole society devoted to the promoting African violets, the African Violet Society. I remember when we used to live in Florida there was a local African violet club that got together monthly to talk about their violets. They also had annual competitions at the local fair. Next to the chicken displays, this was always my favorite part of the fair.

Isn’t it amazing that there is a special interest group for everything?

Posted In: House Plants

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