Begonias Revisited

Remember my post on large flowered tuberous begonias about a month ago?

Well they were well overdue for potting up which is unfortunate because my trip to England is in three days and I have about a million things to do before I leave.

These Begonias are busting out of their 4 inch pots!

I foolishly bought too many of them.  Mail ordered some and instead of sending me the three tubers of each color that were offered they very kindly sent me four or five of each color.   Ack!  I am gardening on a little balcony that is already packed full of plants.  Thanks for the free gift but I would have preferred receiving fewer plants not extras!

That didn’t stop me from picking up a few more in different colors from various garden centers I visited before my order arrived.  I’m kind of a dummy when it comes to buying first and making room later.

Anyway this morning I got to work potting them up.

If only I had a place to put all these Begonias.

Of course to make things worse I ran out of pots and potting soil.  I decided to double and even triple plant some of the large azalea pots I had and a few others went into one gallon plastic pots.  If I have time before my trip I’ll pick up another bag of soil and finish the rest.

When you are potting up new small tubers you should leave one or two strong thick stems and snap off any puny ones or extra ones so the tubers don’t put all their effort into blooming and flowers rather than growing larger. It is pretty easy to gently twist each stem you don’t want and snap it off at the base.  These can then be used as cuttings to propagate new Begonias but I already have so many of the damned things there is no way I am getting suckered into that trap. As tempting as it was I discarded them.

Not much else to report on the balcony front other than I continue to be unhappy with my gardening situation.  Because the cacti and succulents are growing in shade rather than the full sun they want I am seeing a lot of whiteflies, spider mites and mealy bugs.  I plan on using a few of the larger plants in a design I am working on and hopefully the others will hang in there for another six months.  Luckily some of my succulents go summer dormant so they should be OK.  Conophytums turn to papery little husks so they don’t need sun at all.

I do plan on blogging about my experience at the Chelsea Flower show on Friday and all the gardens I visit while in England but the rate at which I do this will depend on my internet connection at the hotels we stay at and how tired I am.  Stay tuned.

Putting Plants First

I potted up a few succulents yesterday and as feared a few of them are starting to show the stresses of being in bright shade instead of full sun.  My Nananthus is infested by mealy bugs and other plants have spider mite infestations.  I’m just hoping that some of my older or more unusual plants can hang on until my lease is up in December.

Even the balcony railing isn't very bright. The plants get a few minutes of direct sun only when it is setting in the evening.

Still things aren’t all grim.  I grew Cuphea viscosissima last year and a seed found its way into my Aloe ferox pot and bloomed at just a few inches high.

So cute!

Anyway from this point forth I vow to remember that plants are the most important thing to me the next time I am looking for a place to live.  I won’t be swayed by the view, the hardwood floors, the appliances.  It has to be all about the plants or I’ll regret it.  Someone be sure to remind me of this because I bet I’ll forget.  There was a place just up the hill from me now that had a balcony that was at least 200 square feet and totally exposed.  Oh the things I could do with that balcony.  But the apartment didn’t have a washer/dryer and worst of all only had street parking.  I am very much against the idea of street parking but sometimes I think of that 200 square foot balcony with city views and full sun and think maybe I could have lived with it.  I know my plants would have been happier.

Nicotiana mutabilis

Nicotina mutabilis. The flowers open up white and fade to dark pink.

I haven’t made an official list of my top ten favorite plants but when I do Nicotiana mutabilis from Brazil will be on it. Nicotiana is the flowering tobacco family and mutabilis means variable or changeable because the flowers open white and fade to pink. They are massive plants and are always covered with hundreds of blooms in varying shades.
I believe that one reason that flowers change color is so that pollinators will know that a plant has already been pollinated and won’t waste their time on old flowers but I am not sure if this is always the case.

This particular plant was grown from seed sown last July and is about 7 feet tall now. It survived being accidentally flipped over and crushed when I was repotting it into a much larger container and a trip in my hatchback to my new apartment last December.

All packed up and ready to go to its new home.

The plant was only officially described in 2002 but I believe it had already found its way into the trade at specialty nurseries before that. I first learned of it at a lecture by Derry Watkins from Special Plants Nursery in 2002 and then encountered it myself in 2003 at the Mendocino Coast Botanical Garden and Annie’s Annuals.
I’m a fan of most Nicotianas but this one is so ridiculously oversized and covered in so many blooms that it will always be a favorite and I’ll always try to include it in my garden. Even if that garden is just a balcony.

Making the Best of a Bad Situation.

For the past eleven years or so I have spent most of the time living in apartments. When I was going to school in the Bronx I lived in an apartment in midtown Manhattan that barely has enough light for houseplants.  But at school I was surrounded by plants and on the weekends I would garden at my fathers house in New Jersey so I survived.

But California has been mostly apartment living and I have to say I am getting a little tired of it.  My dream of course is to live out in the country on several (flat!) acres with lots of sun and room to make any type of garden my heart desires.

Until that happens I have to just make the best of it. My first experience gardening in Southern California was on my balcony in Santa Monica where I lived for two years. It was only about forty five square feet but it was a southern exposure six blocks from the ocean.

The views were great.  The ocean to the west took up most of my view and was what sold me on the apartment.

My beautiful ocean view. Catalina Island was visible on clear days.

When I moved into the apartment I discovered that when you were out on the balcony you also had a view of the San Gabriel Mountains.

San Gabriel Mountains covered in snow in winter.

Now all my life my only views had been of walls and other apartment buildings so as you can imagine I was pretty excited.  But I was even more excited to start a balcony garden.  At this point I hadn’t been able to do any gardening for about two years I was starved for plants.  Any plants.  I pretty much just ran to every nearby nursery and bought every brightly colored thing I could find.  In the past I had been quite the plant snob but now I didn’t care. I just grabbed everything in sight.

I just wanted color and lots of it. So I set about creating a cottage garden on the fourth floor.

I decided my garden needed a purpose so I decided to make it a hummingbird garden. I bought lots of Salvias and Pelargoniums and anything else I could think of that would attract hummingbirds.

I am happy to say it was quite successful. I had a contant buzz of hummingbirds visiting my fourth floor garden.

The view from my living room was pretty great.

I was pretty happy the first year and had some really nice specimens.

Viola Etaine

Salvia patens

The hummingbirds loved the garden and as plants went out of bloom I would toss them to make room for new ones and I even started growing plants from seed.  The balcony was always over planted and I usually didn’t have much room to walk around out there.

Annas Hummingbird

Cuphea viscosissima grown from seed.

I rigged up some shelves to make the most of every square foot.

Now the weather in Santa Monica this close to the ocean is mostly really cool and quite nice.  winter, spring, and summer it is sunny but we often have a thick layer of fog rolling in off the ocean.  It reminded me a bit of northern California weather.  But the fall can be brutal.  Temperatures would jump to a hundred degrees and the sun felt like it was cooking you from the inside.  You feel as if one day you are in San Francisco and the next you are in Pasadena.

Salvias do OK in large pots but with that kind of weather and in that exposure I needed to water them every day.  So I started phasing them out and began collecting succulents.

I started collecting succulents at the end of the first year and slowly began replacing my water thirsty plants.

Senicio rowleyanus inflorescence.

Fenestraria rhopalophylla subsp. aurantiaca

Crassula Campfire To get it this red in winter I neglected the plant all summer long leaving it in full baking sun with little water. After the fall and winter rains it starts to green up again.

After two years of living in Santa Monica I got a bit bored and decided I wanted something new.  Yes I had an amazing view but my balcony was so small and the apartment itself was rather drab.

I found a place in West Hollywood with beautiful hardwood floors, stainless steel appliances, glass tiles in the bathroom, a washer and dryer INSIDE the apartment, and best of all a balcony with a southern exposure that was more than twice as big as my old one.

I was so excited about the rest of the apartment that I didn’t really examine the balcony closely enough.  I moved in December and it rained for ten days straight.  I remember thinking “Wow all that rain and not a drop of water on the balcony. I’m not as exposed anymore.  That roof really covers the balcony well.”  A short time later it occurred to me that the only reason that this balcony had any sun at all was because it was the middle of winter.  Sure enough the closer we got to spring the higher the sun got in the sky. My sunlight began shrinking bit by bit and now I have a bright shade balcony with absolutely no full sun. The roof overhang protects me a bit too much.

Lots of room but not a lot of sun. All the succulents have been moved to the ledge and shelving in the brightest spot. If there is an earthquake they will go crashing to the driveway below.

So my poor succulents will have to hang in there.  I’m hoping that the bright light will be enough for them to get by until I move again.  The Nicotiana mutabilis that I started from seed last July is doing OK but had to be staked.  I am making the best of it though.  I started up some mixed containers of shade loving plants like Fuchsias, ferns, and Abutilons.  I ordered a bunch of large flowered begonias which will hopefully be really happy.  In the meantime I keep dreaming of that house in the country that will be mine one day.

At least the Ledebouria socialis and Haworthias should do OK.