NEIGHBORHOOD GARDEN FOR JANUARY 20, 2007

MORE SPOTS AND STRIPES

BY GLADYS JEURINK

          Several months ago I wrote about the variegated plants in my yard. There are quite a few more as I keep looking.  Out on the parkway, in the blasting sun and dry soil is a SPURGE (Euphorbia sp.). This is the same genus to which the poinsettiaís belong but you canít tell by its rather strange behavior. Instead of standing up, it prefers to lie down and extend its blue green stems rather rapidly. The stem as in all Euphorbiaís bleeds white sticky sap when cut. You look down on a stem with thick leaves clustered around to make a circle 4 to 6 inches across.  When it blooms there is a white tip of small white and green round flowers that look like they should be leaves.  It spreads somewhat fast but when it reaches the curb or the sidewalk the ends snap off easily. This fall I removed about half the stems to keep it under control.  This genus contains about 2000 members, all with the milky sap but very different in many ways.  The crown of thorns (houseplant), the wood spurges, cactus-like Ecanariensis and the SNOW ON THE MOUNTAIN are all this genus. This particular Snow is considered a weed by farmers but has beautiful green and white leaves and is sold by seed companies.

          Last summer I was given several pepper plants with lavender and green leaves. When the peppers matured they were a dark purple (Capsicum annum). They grew about 18 inches high and as wide and are listed as edible and hot!!! I donít eat hot peppers so I canít guarantee their flavor or the hotness but they looked very good mixed in with the green and white foliages.  The peppers were short, fat, and tapered and held almost above the leaves.  They grew in full sun and I generally wear gloves when handling as any juice from a hot pepper plant can burn your eyes and blister your skin. 

          There is a green and white striped IRIS (Iris pallida) whose blooms are not especially impressive.  The plants donít start as fast or grow as big as most of the other bearded iris but I do like that contrast among the other iris.  The flowers are pale blue; the roots are often ground into powder to provide a base for some perfumes or as a fixative for potpourri. In general IRIS roots are high in calcium so a number of growers use gypsum mixed with fertilizer for that reason. When buying IRIS one needs to know what kind, as some like dry summers, other damp soil, and some even like it in standing water.  PALLIDA likes a wet spring and a fairly dry summer.

          As I write this the latter part of December the ornamental cabbages (Brassica oleracea) are still keeping their color.  The heads are about 15 inches across with the oldest outside leaves turning dull and some are dropping but those huge centers of white, red, and purple, with green down in deep are still doing well.  They are in tall, large pots because in their younger days the rabbits considered them personal property. I did start the seeds in pots under lights. Some years I have lost them entirely. They need good fertile potting soil with plenty of water since they are so huge.  The color develops in full sun after fall cooling begins at about 50 degree F. nights and increases as the temperature drops.  The cultivars have interesting names like CHERRY SUNDAE, WHITE or RED PEACOCK. They are biennials but I will probably pull them up after Christmas as I like to move the soil before spring.  I have a spare non-breakable pot to put along side each one and turn the soil upside down in it as I add about 1/3rd compost, mixing as I go. This way it will have time to settle before next spring and be ready to plant.  The first crop was ornamental millet which matured and I pulled it up in late September and then put 4 or 5 cabbages in each 20 inch pot.

          For a number of years I have had several clumps of painted ferns (Athyrium nipponicum) growing under a big Linden tree.  I have noticed it getting smaller and this spring it did not bother to come up.  On investigating, the Linden roots had enlarged under the fern and it must have starved. The fern is very pretty so I will try again but putting it further from the tree trunk and the root flare.  The leaves were green and silver with a reddish central vein, needing damp, humus soil.  Leaves (fronds) are about 18 inches long and tend to be flat.

          Coral bells (Heuchera sp.) are usually listed as shade plants but I have several very dark ones living in full sun, both of which are a very dark purple. In the last few years many different ones have appeared, some of which are variegated.  They must enjoy sharing pollen, so if you plant seed you may be surprised at what comes up.  There is a white and green speckled one called Snowstorm, a cinnabar silver, a red leafed one that changes color in the fall, and a yellow leafed one. None of them get very tall so do well edging a path. The blooms are dainty bells well above the plant so I generally cut them off as the leaves are the real show!

          If you want something tall for your variegated selection, try Arundo donax which is a grass looking plant like a bamboo. Flat leaves that have white edges on each side may grow up to 15 feet in long season area.  Sometimes called the GIANT REED, it loves wet areas and the mature leaves have a sharp, cutting edge.  Now labeled as a weed in some states it was originally brought here from Spain and the pioneers used it in all kinds of construction. The clumps will spread in Nebraska but very slowly so it can be kept under control.  Since the root runners send up new stalks close together it can be used as a windbreak.  My clump is still very small.  The first spring it came up the rabbits ate it to the ground level, so I protected it this year until it developed those cutting edges.  Books list it as hardy in zones 6 to 10 so a layer of mulch after the ground freezes might be a good idea.

Copyright 2007