Wednesday, August 29, 2007

This is a test

Yes, this really is a test. I fired up my brand-new iMac today and want to see if the software works. If it does work, expect an entry on my recent visit to the Rutgers garden to appear soon. In the meantime, I hope the attached picture from Rutgers appears. It shows one of several attractive plantings in the garden.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

The Proving Ground

Remember the volunteer seedling I discovered in one of the gardens at Atlock Farm? If you don’t, here is a picture of it in its infancy:

aOver the past month or so since that photo was taken, very favorable conditions encouraged that little seedling to grow much larger. However, notice how the bright pink on the youngest leaves is completely absent from the upper, newer foliage.




aAlthough most of the pink has vanished and the basic color of the foliage now looks like mud or something similar, it might not stay that way forever. It’s time to put the seedling through its paces, which means I need to propagate more plants from the original one and test them out under various conditions.

Time to break out the scissors and Oasis!




aFirst step: decapitate the seedling. It’s big enough to withstand having its top half removed for cuttings, leaving the base of the plant to branch out as it will.




aNext step: prepare cuttings from the top half for insertion into the little Oasis wedges, in which the cuttings will root. Here’s the initial length of stem.




aAnd here’s what that stem looked like after I made five cuttings. The little bits are the cuttings, and the rest is the material headed for the compost pile. Note how most of the leaf surface and some lengths of the stem have been removed.




aFinally, here are the five cuttings inserted into a strip of Oasis wedges.





Check back in a few weeks to see how the cuttings rooted and to marvel at how large the decapitated original plant grew (I hope!). Now and again I’ll revisit the progress of the whole lot. Maybe the bright pink coloration will return, or maybe something completely unexpected and surprising will happen.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

All’s Fair

Last Friday (August 3) I judged at the New Jersey State Fair in Sussex County (when not spotting, admiring, photographing, and promoting coleus, that is). Not long ago, a few been-there, seen-that coleus might have been relegated to out-of-the-way corners of a public venue as this, but no longer. It seems to me that coleus are becoming as ubiquitous as petunias, geraniums, and ornamental sweet potatoes. Fine with me!

I suspect that the flower competition held later in the week will offer a class or two for coleus, probably as cut branches and maybe in mixed containers. Watch out, you exhibitors of zinnias and dahlias and many other flowers: the popularity of coleus as entries in shows and fairs is definitely on the rise.

What follows is a mini-tour of some of the coleus I found during the first two days of the New Jersey State Fair.

Sue Novello and John Beirne, two local coleus mavens whom you’ll read about in later blog entries, were the driving force behind creating two large raised beds that flanked the entrance to the Garden Expo building. Ornamental sweet potatoes (Ipomoea batatas), cannas, elephant ears (Colocasia) chicken gizzards (Iresine herbstii), Persian shield (Strobilanthes dyerianus), and other tropical foliage plants vied for attention along with several coleus cultivars. I can’t identify the coleus that makes up the red stripe in the middle of the picture – maybe it’s ‘True Red’? - but I think there’s a bunch of yellow-edged ‘Solar Flare’ below it and some red-splashed ‘Careless Love’ above. One sprig of ‘Gold Giant’ appears at the extreme left. Dazzling!

A different view of the entrance beds shows the one-of-a-kind ‘Tilt a Whirl’ and a few more shy sprigs of ‘Gold Giant’. Please keep the coloration of ‘Tilt a Whirl’ in mind as you look at and read about the coleus in the next picture.

The local Master Gardeners put together a large and impressive sales area just inside the entrance of the Garden Expo building. They opened with a good number of first-rate coleus on hand, and by late Saturday most of them had disappeared! Offerings included the pink-veined, cut-edged ‘Peter Wonder’ at the top left, the orangey, animated ‘Tilt a Whirl’ (I’ll come back to this later), the chartreuse, dark-veined ‘Gay’s Delight’, and the mostly orange ‘Sedona’ in the bottom right. Remember the plants of ‘Tilt a Whirl’ in the previous picture? Depending on several factors, including time of year, temperature, soil fertility, and light, the main color of ‘Tilt a Whirl’ can range from brown to orange to apricot, and the leaves may be prominently fingered and twisted to much less so. That’s coleus for you, some playing the chameleon, while others appearing more or less the same throughout the season.

Coleus were featured in some of the more impressive entries in the professional competitive section, including this large windowbox. I want to say that’s the multicolored ‘Solar Eclipse’ on the left, with some large leaves of an unknown cultivar (maybe ‘Japanese Giant’ still developing its coloration?) at the top. Although not in bloom, the pink-edged coleus provides just as much color as the zinnia, don’t you think?

Here are two views of an imposing and complex container planting included in a large commercial display. At the top (left picture), an unidentified, large-leaved coleus attractively picks up on the colors of the two sweet potatoes (Ipomoea ‘Blackie’ and ‘Margarita’) above it. A more diverse combination at the base (right picture) features the always unpredictable ‘Religious Radish’ (note the variable pink edge) and one of several dark red-splashed green selections (‘Cranberry Salad’? ‘Antique’? one of the variants of ‘Careless Love’?). I wanted to remove the pink Impatiens, but my more sensible self prevailed.

I hope to enjoy discovering plenty of coleus at the 2008 New Jersey State Fair, too.

Readers, please feel free to contact me with your coleus sightings at mail I’ll be happy to hear from you!

Friday, August 3, 2007

Midsummer in the Oasis

Whoever invented Oasis, the lightweight and water-absorbing foam blocks gleefully embraced by flower arrangers, deserves a big thank-you from coleophiles. Now available as little “cubes” (better described as “wedges,” really) nestled neatly into plastic strips, wet Oasis seems to coax roots from a coleus cutting almost overnight. We keep a good supply of the Oasis strips on hand at Atlock Farm, the nursery in central New Jersey where I frequently engage my gardening muse, and over the past month I have put many of them to work.

It took only two weeks for this little scrap of ‘Red Ruffles’ to send out plenty of healthy white roots within its own private Oasis. >>>>

Midsummer – or July, if you subscribe to summer as running from June to August – is the time for assessing and rejuvenating the coleus collection at Atlock. As the practicing Curator of the Coleus Collection (Nice title, yes? Too bad no one else calls me that), I try to set aside three healthy, typical-looking specimens of every selection in the collection before all of the plants of a given coleus are sold, are discarded during the necessary end-of-July purge, or meet some other fate. Quite a few plants end up in #10, the little greenhouse-cum-ark where they are assembled three by three, but every year some cultivars inevitably fall through the cracks. So after making a list of the ones not yet set aside, I make my way through the collection of mature stock plants, taking the necessary cuttings and inserting them into the aforementioned Oasis oases.

<<<< Like the cuttings of ‘Red Ruffles’, sections of 28 different cultivars quickly rooted into their Oasis bits and were then moved into four-inch pots.

Don’t think for even a minute that the same list of coleus cultivars is propagated, offered for sale, and prepared for overwintering year in and year out. While we have many long-time favorites at Atlock, some cultivars fail to make the cut each year: they develop a disease or other cultural problem, or every example of the original cultivar sports and/or reverts (so the cultivar is lost to us unless acquired elsewhere). Some fall out of favor because they resemble a superior selection too closely, or they no longer appeal to the Curator, El Jefe (otherwise known as Ken Selody, owner of Atlock Farm), or customers. While we want to offer a wide selection of superior coleus, we don’t want to spend time, effort, and resources on also-rans.

And then of course there are always some New Ones, bought on field trips to nurseries, obtained from fellow coleophiles, or discovered on the nursery premises as sports, reversions, or seedlings. (I introduced you to one enticing seedling in my previous blog entry, and at least one future missive will discuss other New Ones.) Just like the veterans, three suitably sized plants of each New One need to be on hand around the beginning of August for official addition to the collection. Out come the scissors, off come a few shoots, and into the Oasis the little cuttings go.

Within a week from today (August 2), cuttings of the most recently acquired cultivar – the elongate-leaved, richly earth-toned ‘Lancelot Velvet Mocha’ from Proven Winners – should have rooted into their chunks of Oasis, and then the three best-looking ones will be potted up and added to the assembled multitude. In a few more weeks, after completing our yearly ritual of potting the vigorously growing, neophyte stock plants into roomy hanging baskets, the entire collection – labeled, recorded, and otherwise duly curated – will begin settling in for winter.

Yes, some coleus growers plan for winter in July. And in winter we dream about July’s warm Oasis.