African violets are some of the few flowers that bloom constantly indoors, without direct sunlight. They are also very easy to propagate: any healthy firm leaf stuck in the dirt will turn into a new plant. One has to be vigilant with oneself, because it is so easy to turn one’s living room into an African violet habitat. I already have quite a few more than I started with and the window sill is full. The purple beauty in the picture is called “Mellow Magic” and has been blooming without stopping since I got it last spring.
African violets like the same environment we do: temperatures in the seventies, a little cooler at night, not too much humidity and bright light, but not direct sunlight. They can be easily drowned, so let the dirt dry between waterings and make sure it drains well. The typical African violet food will help them thrive and bloom constantly.
They come in any shape of pink, white and violet, and any combination thereof. The flowers may be single, double, fully double, ruffled, or cupped.
These little houseplants are so commonplace and modest that people tend to overlook how beautiful they really are, so I took this close-up picture as a reminder. For the chef of the household, they are the plants that will keep you great company (they seem to find their way into the kitchen, for some reason) and cheer you up while chopping, washing and stirring with sweet and abundant displays of rose and purple.
This is a quick project that will put your pebble collection to good use (I’m sure every parent knows what “pebble collection” I’m talking about).
Place colorful smooth pebbles on the bottom of a decorative glass bowl. Fill it about half way. A shallow wide bowl works best for paperwhites.
Place the paperwhite bulbs tight together on top of the ballast and add a few pebbles on top to anchor them down.
Add enough water so that the bottoms of the bulbs are fully submerged, but not more. Keep that water level constant through the growth and blooming period.
Paperwhites are zone 8 bulbs, so they don’t really need chilling, but a cool down period will prevent them from growing too tall.
Place the bowl in a cool location (50 degrees) with indirect light for a couple of weeks, then bring it indoors and place it in a sunny window. You should have a profusion of blooms by Christmas.
As promised, this is what the gorgeous magnolia fruit looks like. The kernels look so much like corn, it’s uncanny! I mentioned it before, the southern magnolia tree is nothing less than amazing. It looks so tropical, because it kind of is, but will not be damaged by harsh winters up to zone 4 and on a bright winter day with lots of snow, try to picture this bright red fruit for contrast.
While it ripens, the artichoke shaped fruit turns from chartreuse to a very delicate shade of pink after which it dries up and the seeds start popping out. Here is an unripened fruit:
I always thought the bright red seeds were great to use in a child craft project, or as a centerpiece in a crystal bowl. Unfortunately the seeds have a high water content and will not last very long. The seeds provide food for little mammals and birds, so I would not think they are toxic. About 50% of them will germinate, so if you want to try your hand at growing your very own magnolia grandiflora from seed, go ahead. The plant will take about 11 years to bear fruit, and in northern states will most likely grow into a bush rather than a tree.
This wonderful little tree is literally weighed down with fruit. Speaking of garden interest for the cold months, these pretty berries will attract many birds through the fall and will create beautiful contrast when set against snow and ice.
Crab apple trees are some of the most popular decorative trees, and for good reasons: in spring they put up a stunning display of rose-white flowers with a wonderfully delicate fragrance that lingers on the wind and follows you around, not strong enough to indicate its source, not faint enough to make it possible to ignore.
In the fall, the branches are weighed down by these pretty, abundant and very much edible berries. If the birds leave some, please see crab apple jelly recipe below.
In winter the remaining berries will look splendid against the white background of snow.
If you have an apple tree that is not self-pollinating, a crab apple that blooms at the same time somewhere in its proximity will solve the problem for you.
So here goes the Crab apple Jelly recipe:
3-4 pounds of crab apples
3 cups of sugar
Crab apple jelly has a beautiful bright red color that makes it excellent for adding color to creams, pastries and other deserts.
There are many plants that provide winter interest, especially on the backdrop of snow. Holly berries, the beautiful red canes of dogwood, wild rose hips, the echinacea seed pods, fountain grasses all provide color and texture during a season when color is scarce. Make sure to plant some of these plants in your garden so that you have something to enjoy during the long cold winter months.
I will follow up with more examples of plants that provide interest in your garden during all its seasons.