Air plants come in an incredible range of colours, textures and sizes. These unique plants make their home suspended in the air on a tree or areas of rocky outcrop. One of them is Tillandsia usneoides, more commonly known as Spanish moss, which is native to the Americas and drapes from trees in the Southern United States. It hangs like a living curtain and these unusual plants have no roots and get their nutrients plus water from the air which is absorbed from the atmosphere. They are typically slivery green in colours and some particular forms will even produce flowers that range from pink, purple, yellow and red. Air plants are very low in maintenance and can cope with extreme climatic conditions. Since they have no roots these plants can be used as design elements as they can be moved around easily or attached to walls. Run them under water or gently mist them – these are the perfect houseplant if you are prone to killing your indoor specimens.
True black plants do not typically exist in nature, but some of the most unbelievable shades of darkest purple plants have been bred by man. They are beautiful and enchanting to view. This winter at Longwood Gardens in the Cattelya display case there is a special black orchid which is causing a sensation. The orchid is called Fredclarkeara After Dark ‘SVO Black Pearl’ after Fred Clarke the man who hybridized it. This plant breeder owns Sunset Valley Orchids in California which specialises in growing superior hybrid orchids. The plant belongs in the group of orchids called Catasetum which means it loses its leaves during the winter season. In some species of the Catasetum, the differences between male and female flowers are so striking that early taxonomists mistook female forms for different species. Flowers in this species are produced from near the base of the maturing pseudobulb. These orchids are originally native to hot humid tropical areas and grow during the rainy summer months. This period of dormancy during winter is when the black orchid flowers for around 6-8 weeks. During this period it will receive very little water and it has no active growth until later in the year. Until fairly recently this has been the only truly black orchid in the world.
This fabulous indoor bulb will fill your house with a wonderful scent during the holiday season. Paperwhites are quick to flower and only take 4-6 weeks in a frost free greenhouse or a cool room in your house. They make the perfect table centrepiece during the festive season. Make sure the pot has holes for drainage and use branches and string to support the flower stems from flopping over. It is best to use free draining compost with grit as this is the ideal mix. The top of the pot can be dressed with horticultural grit or sphagnum moss. Good varieties to try are Avalanche, Silver Chimes and Erlicheer. Place them around your home and allow their elegance to add to the holiday experience!
Ilex verticillata, commonly known as winterberry, is a beautifully exquisite holly which will brighten any garden during a dull winter day. Deciduous and native to Eastern North America where it is found thriving in swamps, damp thickets, low woodland and along streams. It can be slow growing with an upright habit that typically gets to a height of 3.5 metres tall. The flowers may be insignificant and small but attract many beneficial pollinators. Hollies are dioecious with male and female plants on separate plants. One male can pollinate 5-10 females. For this reason make sure you plant a good male to female ratio to ensure excellent berry displays in winter and snow conditions. There are now numerous cultivars available on the market. They will brighten any winter garden so grab your spade and get planting!
Poinsettias originate from Central America. As a result they do not live in temperatures below 130C. This highlights why you must be careful when moving your poinsettia from your car into your house during freezing conditions. If the plant gets frost exposure it will not recover. Keep them in a warm sunny position at around 200C – free from cold exposure and drafts. Ideally they prefer humid conditions with moist soil and this can be replicated by placing a pebble dish under the pot.
After flowering they can be kept for the following year but trying to keep the plant all year round is tricky and usually requires ideal glasshouse environmental conditions. They require certain light levels and certain temperatures to flower and provide beautiful showy bracts. They are hungry plants that will need fed weekly and like rich soil that is free draining.
Amaryllis make fantastic house plants during the festive period. Their showy flowers on the end of a tall stem are great en masse or as a single plant in an attractive pot. These beautiful flowers come in all colours ranging from pink, red through to creamy white. Only lightly water the bulb to prevent rot. Dot them around your home to add a dash of Christmas colour with a living ornament that will soften any room.
The bulb will need a dormant period of cold and dark for about 8 weeks before you want it to flower again. Bulbs produce bulblets. These can be re-potted and used as new plants. They will take about two years until they produce flowers.
Longwood Gardens in Pennsylvania grows the largest thousand bloom ‘mum’ of its kind outside of Asia. It has more than 1,500 flowers blooming this year on one plant alone! Two mums are grown from vegetative cuttings to ensure the 1000 bloom mum target is reached. From a single stem it takes 17 months and more than 1,500 staff hours to nurture and train this plant into a perfect blooming dome. Out of the hundreds of Chrysanthemum cultivars only a few are suitable for this size of mum. Longwood use the variety Chrysanthemum xmorifolium ‘Susono-no-Tsuk’. Each month the plants are re-potted, pinched, tied and framed as required. Towards the last month before the mum goes on display in the conservatory final flower placement and selection is carried out and a custom-designed frame built to fit. Longwood’s Chrysanthemum Festival showcases more than 16,000 beautiful Chrysanthemums which is the largest display in the USA.
First cultivated in China as a flowering herb in the 15th century BC. An ancient Chinese city Xiaolan was named Ju-Xian meaning ‘Chrysanthemum city’. It is suggested the flower was introduced to Japan in the 8th century. There is even a ‘Festival of Happiness’ in Japan celebrating the flower which was brought to Europe in the 17th century. Linnaeus named it using the Greek for ‘golden’ chrysous due to the colour of its original flowers. They are very easy to cultivate, provide a vibrant amount of colour and can be used in different designs and forms. Flowering in autumn they can have spirals, globes and feather like petals.
Verbena is a garden classic that can bloom and perform all summer long with very little effort. It’s origin is South America. Some are considered tender perennials while others are seen as short lived annuals and encouraged to self-seed. They vary in growth habit from spreading, ground cover, containers, edging and garden beds. They have attractive airy stems and flowers that soften any garden. The flowers are delicate funnel shaped borne in clusters and can range from white to pink, red, blue, purple and apricot. Verbena bonariensis is a popular self-sown annual in the genus to grow. It is best as a one year old and allowed to self-seed throughout a bed or gravel. It is suggested to deadhead all forms to encourage extended season of blooms. It is great for attracting butterflies into your garden. Miscanthus and other grasses work well as a contrasting planting combination.