As the garden and its colors are changing from summer to fall, I would like to mention a couple of my favorite plants showing their best at this time.
Friends who have a night blooming cereus, an epiphytic cactus, were dazzled this week when the plant produced 12 flowers. One is cause for celebration, 12 is overwhelming. These large, amazingly beautiful (4”wide/8” long) flowers are creamy white with many petals and bloom only one night! In the morning they are spent buds. Their fragrance is heady, exotic, and fills the room. Waiting for this magic night requires patience. It is forwarned by tiny buds that form on the blade like leaves/branches. Each day the bud growth is considerable and the watching, because it takes about three weeks to reach maturity, causes anticipation to build daily. The plant gives no warning before bloom so the eager viewer must check it each night when the flower is anticipated or it will be missed. It is so magnificent and short-lived that one feels compelled to look at it as long as possible, knowing that it will soon be gone.
There are numerous types of epiphyllum oxypetalum and they produce flowers mainly in white and red. They are easy to grow. They need potting soil like a cactus. I use potting soil mixed with perlite, about 1/3 to 1/2 perlite. They will need to become somewhat rootbound before blooming. Water regularly but do not let their roots sit in water. Keep them in the house spring, fall and winter in a cool room with filtered light and move them (slowly, day by day) into indirect light outdoors in early summer when danger of frost is past. Be patient and you will be rewarded. These plants are hard to find in nurseries but easy to find online.
Macleaya cordata, the plume poppy, is blooming in my garden. It is tall (6” to 8”), has grey/olive green vaguely shaped leaves. The flower spikes are feathery with small pinkish cream-colored flowers and are plume like. The plants sway in the wind. This plant grows well among other plants or can be kept in a stand by itself. It is, however, a “ walker” in that it is slowly invasive. It has been in my garden for about 10 years and by annually removing the new shoots in the spring wherever they are not wanted, I have kept it easily in bounds. It likes well-drained soil, mine is somewhat sandy, and it does well with the irregular watering it receives here. I have not seen it here in nurseries in some time but it is worth seeking.
Three pots at the front of my house contain caryopteris “White Surprise.” The several varieties of caryopteris are beautiful, easy to maintain, flowering, small shrubs. White Surprise, unlike the others, has leaves edged in white, which makes it shimmer especially when there is a breeze. It actually glows. The small blue flowers seem to float like hovering blue bees above the foliage. It is another plant that is easy to maintain. If I do not water it in a timely way, the leaves droop, shouting to me for water. They revive quickly. I cut it to the ground in the spring and wait for its return. It is slow to emerge so wait a while before thinking it is dead. Once above ground, it grows quickly. I do not see this plant in the nurseries that I frequent but it is also worth seeking.
The other varieties of caryopteris are also useful plants and are beginning to bloom now. Their blue flowers are larger than White Surprise and their foliage tends toward grey/green. Bees and butterflies love them. They are fragrant. They may self-sow requiring some removal (or transplanting or giving to friends) in the spring. Cut the woody branches by 1/3 to 1/2 in the spring to keep them shapely and producing many flowers. The branches are brittle so put them in a place where they will be protected from legs. I have seen them used as short hedges to beautiful affect.
Jeanelle Myers is a professional gardener and consultant, for gardening discussion you can call her at 631-434-5067.