All About Gardening and Gardening Q & A by Pernell Gerver

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"African Gardenia and Other Rare House Plants"

Of all the fragrant house plants, gardenia is probably one of the more widely known. Prized for the heady aroma its creamy-white flowers emit, unfortunately, it is also notoriously difficult to grow and bloom well, or even at all, in the home. In fact, one of my most-often-asked questions is "Why doesn't my gardenia bloom?"

African GardeniaFortunately for indoor gardeners there is a type of gardenia that grows and blooms well in the home. It's called African gardenia. It's an easy-to-grow relative of gardenia that blooms reliably in the home.

African gardenia is a shrubby plant that looks similar to gardenia, but on a smaller scale. It has short, slender leaves that are carried on woody stems. It tends to grow rather flat and rarely grows larger than a couple of feet high and wide, making a good choice for even a small windowsill garden.

Its best attribute, of course, is its flowers. Unlike the common gardenia that is so difficult to make bloom in the home, African gardenia blooms almost continuously all year long with no extra effort. It bears small, star-shaped flowers that are pink in bud and open creamy white. The flowers are carried in clusters all up and down its stems and even the smallest stem will have a few flowers on it. There are dozens and dozens of flowers in bloom at any one time and their fragrance is wonderful, very similar to gardenia, albeit a little more subtle. The fragrance easily carries on the breeze, perfuming a room.

Unlike gardenia which is very fussy about its surroundings, African gardenia can be grown just about anywhere in the home. It grows well in a sunny window, but will grow equally well in a shady one. Humidity, which is a must for the common gardenia, is not as important for African gardenia. It will tolerate low humidity or high humidity or just about anywhere in between.

African gardenia also grows well in a broad range of temperatures. Night temperatures as low as 45 degrees are not a problem for this easy-care house plant. Click here to order African gardenia from Pernell Gerver's Online Store.

Chenille plantChenille plant is a real conversation piece. It's an everblooming house plant, providing color all year long, but its flowers are not at all what most would consider when thinking flowers. Its common name describes its flowers almost perfectly. Resembling long strips of chenille, each tassel-like flower hangs down from the leaf axil. The bright-red tassel can be up to 20 inches long and nearly an inch wide. The tassels have a soft, fuzzy texture and remain colorful for weeks. Not only is it everblooming, it's also a profuse bloomer, having numerous flower tassels dangling from its branches at any one time. I think it would be a good plant for kids to grow because of its fun flowers.

Chenille plant is an upright plant, forming a shrubby shape with age. It can grow to three feet tall or so, but it can be pruned to keep it shorter. I've seen it trained as a five-foot-tall standard with a single stem and a bushy head of foliage and flowers. One chenille plant I'm growing I'm keeping at just over one foot tall and it is constantly in bloom. Chenille plant has large, bright-green leaves that are generally three to four inches long, but can be up to eight inches long. The leaves are about half as wide as they are long and are slightly hairy on the upper side. Click here to order chenille plant from Pernell Gerver's Online Store.

Plantlet atop leaf of piggyback plantPiggyback plant is a fun, unusual plant. It has medium- to dark-green, hairy leaves that are roughly heart shaped with deeply-lobed edges. The leaves are also deeply veined, giving them a quilted appearance. The leaves are two to three inches across and are borne on four-inch-long leaf stems. What is so unusual about this plant is that each leaf bears a live, young plant. This method of reproduction is called viviparous, meaning bearing live young. The small plantlet appears to sit atop the leaf, but it is actually borne in the axil where the leaf meets the short leaf stem. The little plantlet is an exact replica of the mature plant, but in miniature. The plantlets are bright green that matures to deep green. In addition to bearing plantlets atop its leaves, piggyback plant also produces plantlets along runners, similar to the way a strawberry plant grows. At maturity, piggyback plant can spread 12 to 15 inches around and be nearly a foot tall. Click here to order piggyback plant from Pernell Gerver's Online Store.

Pernell Gerver's Gardening Q & Aby Pernell Gerver

"Money Doesn't Grow on Trees, Just on Money Plant"

Q. I enjoy your column very much. I have been given some "money plant" seeds and would like to know how and when to start these seeds. Are they perennial? I know they are very unique. Thank you.

A. Money plant (Lunaria annua) is a biennial, meaning it grows the first year, flowers the second, then dies. Money plant is a bushy plant with heart-shaped leaves. It grows to three feet tall. It's said that money doesn't grow on trees, but this plant has decorative seed pods that sure do look like shiny coins. Its round, wafer-thin, translucent seed heads are borne at the tops of its stems. The seed heads ripen in late summer, turning from green to silvery-white. They are often used in dried flower arrangements and autumn decorations. To harvest, cut the stems when the pods are ripe. Gather them together into bunches, secure with a rubber band, and hang them upside down in a dark, dry location for a couple of weeks.

Because it is a biennial, money plant flowers and produces seed pods the second year. Its flowers are fragrant and borne in clusters in late spring and early summer. Flower colors are purple, pink, or white. It does best in full sun or light shade. Although it is biennial, dying after its second year, it readily self sows, resulting in many seasons of flowers and interesting seed pods.

Seeds of money plant can be sown directly in the ground in spring or summer. To have plants this season that have a headstart, start the seeds indoors six to eight weeks before the last frost. Sow the seeds in a sterile pot with sterile seed starting mix and cover them with a thin layer of seed starting mix. Supply bottom heat to ensure a soil temperature of 70 degrees. The seeds should germinate in about two weeks. Once they've germinated, provide at least 14 hours of light.

The time to transplant them outdoors is after the last frost, usually around Memorial Day here in western Massachusetts. About two weeks before planting outdoors, harden off the seedlings by setting them outdoors in a sheltered location during the day and bringing them back in at night.

Click here to order seed starting supplies from Pernell Gerver's Online Store.


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