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Ruellia Short or Tall

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In January, National Geographic reported that in order to ensure pollination, flowers make their nectar sweeter when they hear bees buzzing. “… within minutes, the plants temporarily increased the concentration of sugar in their flowers’ nectar. In effect, the flowers themselves served as ears, picking up the specific frequencies of bees’ wings while tuning out irrelevant sounds like wind.”  (https://on.natgeo.com/2Mi6LLl



When you observe bees flocking to the large flowers on native plants such as Mexican Petunia, think about the sound of the flowers humming to make that happen.

Ruellias are beginning to bloom now when many other plants have surrendered to summer’s heat. We have the 14-inch tall purple Mexican Petunia and the dwarf pink R. britannia. Wild Petunia, Ruellia humilis, as it is often called, was first identified and named by the plant explorer Thomas Nutall.

The dwarf Katie/Southern Star series thrives as potted plants for zone 8 and are sold as annuals. But, when I started…

Banana Cold Hardy is Musa basjoo

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The tropical look that Banana Trees, Musa Basjoo, give our gardens always gets attention from visitors.  Also called Japanese Fiber Bananas, they are cold hardy to 20-degrees below zero, withstanding our winters quite nicely. 

In warmer climates Japanese Banana will grow to 18-feet tall. Locally, they seem to mature at 8 to 10 feet with 4-to-6 foot long leaves. The new leaves in the photo that are still round are called cigar leaves until they unroll.

If your plants flower and make fruit, remember that are not grocery store bananas so they are not edible. The flowers are self-fertile; there is no need to plant male and female plants.

Musa Basjoo spreads like a lily, by making offset pups that grow over the summer. To divide, wait until a pup is a foot tall, then remove the soil between the mother plant and the pup so you can dig it out with some root attached. You can plant the pups into containers and protect them over the winter or take your chances and just transplant them into a new …

Amaranth Adds Structural Interest

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Amaranth is an ancient tropical plant that has a place in our summer garden every year. The tall varieties contribute architectural interest to a couple of large beds.

The common and colorful names for Amaranth varieties include Kiss Me Over the Garden Gate, Pig Weed, Goose Foot, Chinese Spinach, Gizzard Plant, Cock’s Comb and Chenille Plant.

Amaranth’s history began in India, Mexico and South America and its spinach-like leaves are still eaten worldwide. Because of their high value, 200,000 bushels of seed were required in payment by the Aztecs to Montezuma for their annual taxes.

Amaranth leaves are rich in calcium, iron, vitamins A and C and are added to soups and salads. The seeds are commonly used as a high-fiber protein source; and, when cooked, the seeds are 90% digestible.

Amaranth is a gluten-free seed rather than a grain and is considered a super-food. In the US, the seeds are used in bread, casseroles, as a rice-like side dish, popped and sprouted for salads.

In Mexico, the…

Meadow Pink Texas Star Sabatia campestris Sabatia angularis

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Meadow Pink is a small, native, annual, pink-flowering plant found primarily in the southern US. Its other common names include Rose Gentian, Prairie Rose-gentian, Texas Star and Prairie sabatia. 

The five-petaled flowers are an inch or two across and the plants are one to two feet tall. Meadow Pinks spread by seed to form colonies. The challenge is to leave them alone during spring weeding since the new rosettes pop up where you least expect them and are easy to forget from year to year.

Sabatia prefers dry garden soils that have good drainage; a sandy place would be perfect.

Sabatia angularis, Rosepink, is available from seed companies (www.prairie moon.com). It is also a Gentian, sometimes called Marshpink, Bitterbloom, Rosepink and Rose Gentian. Sabatia kennedyana, Bog Sabadia for wetlands, seeds are available from carniverousplantnursery.com

Sabatias are biennials, They grow a rosette of leaves the first year, then have pink, gold and magenta flowers on multi-branched stems, followed…

Mother of Thyme for Garden and Kitchen

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Thyme is valuable as a kitchen herb, feeds pollinators and makes a terrific ground cover. 

Creeping Thyme, Thymus serpyllum or Thymus praecox, also called Wild Thyme and Mother of Thyme, is a European native.  Cold hardy in zones 4-8, its wiry stems and woody trunk take most garden conditions. 

Thyme from the grocery store, is probably Thymus vulgaris, but I use Mother of Thyme for marinades, cooking and canning. 

The leaves are tiny, blue-green, opposite, and about 1/4th inch long. The stems that create the foliage mat, spread by rooting in soil or sand along their path.

The plants are covered with 4-to-6-inch tall stems of tubular flowers right now. Dozens of tiny bees and other insects cover them daily from now until fall. After the flowers are spent, the flower heads can be removed to re-shape the plants.

Mother of Thyme is easy to grow in dry to moist, well-drained soil, without fertilizer. We have it planted in four locations around the garden where the soil is dry or difficult and i…

Jewels of Opar Limon

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Jewels of Opar, Talinum paniculata, is a native Central and North American edible plant similar to summer or Malabar spinach. The leaves of the Limon variety are bright green and the flowers form a spray of pink above them on long wiry stems, leading some to call them Pink Baby’s Breath. When the flowers fade, they are replaced by tiny, jewel-like fruits that resemble precious stones. 

Southern Seed Exposure first planted Jewels of Opar seeds in 2014 and much to their surprise, the tiny flowers fed pollinators and the edible leaves tasted “surprisingly” appealing (https://bit.ly/2JmtDK1).  

Jewels of Opar Limon is very easy to grow. We started with a single 4-inch pot 6 years ago and the seeds have made new plants every spring since then, with no effort on our part. They grow in full sun to part-shade and require minimal water. Almost any soil will do; rabbits, pests and diseases leave them alone except for a small nibble here or there.

Jewels of Opar is an old-fashioned garden plant. Ed…

Norfolk Island Pine Tree tabletop holiday decor

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Captain Hook landed on Norfolk Island around 1772 and was impressed by the 100-foot tall evergreens that populated the coastline. When he sent specimens back to England, botanists gave them the Latin name of Araucaria excelsa heterophylla but their common name has always been Norfolk Island Pine.

The little Norfolk Island trees we grow as houseplants are actually slow-growing seedlings. They are not  pine trees but acquired the name because they resemble pines. In Camarillo CA where they can grow outside all year, one tree measures 109 feet tall with a 65-wide crown. In our zone 7 weather they are grown in containers and brought inside before freezing temperatures arrive in early winter.

We keep our Norfolk Island Pine on the back porch in the summer where it receives bright, filtered light, then it comes inside for the winter where it doubles as a holiday tree decorated with tiny angels.  It is an easy plant to take care of since it needs no pruning, but it does require bright light,…