Sunday, November 18, 2012

Holiday plants: Poinsettias, Paperwhite Narcissus, Amaryllis

November 2012

The Merry Weather Garden Club met on Thursday, November 15th, 2012 at the home of Joan Allen in Manchester.  Co hosting with Joan were Linda Latzak and Jackie Reynolds. Members and guests arrived and marveled at the beautiful autumn view at the Allen home on Scenic Heights.  Looking down into the valley, members saw the range of fall colors and along with the dotted pastureland made a stunning fall patchwork quilt.
   Member Marilyn Austen shared her white lily seeds with the club and guest speaker Jo Phillips explained they were Philippine lilies or Formosa lilies, tall, sun loving, hearty, and able to grow anywhere.
   Club members made thorough use of Phillips’ expertise and asked many questions about working with garden and forest greenery in their Christmas decorations as Phillips said they were about to decorate Hills and Dales for the season. Live greenery put in place after Thanksgiving and in cool areas will hold up through the season. If they decorate with live greenery in warm rooms they will amend it through the season or replace it if needed.
   Sally Neal mentioned making boxwood swags and if there was an easier way.  One technique, Phillips said, that prolongs boxwood is to let it imbibe or soak up glycerin for weeks before using it.  The glycerin makes the boxwood pliable and keeps it glossy.  Another decorating trick is to make a ratio of floor wax and water and spray it on leaves like magnolia and mixed greens (not Fraziers) and it helps preserve the luster and slow moisture loss.
   Hills and Dales uses Frazier firs from a North Carolina source for much of its holiday greenery. The eight members on staff plus extra hands at the center help with the holiday decorating.  They will be having a wreath decorating workshops on December 8th but Phillips warned, called quickly as the classes are almost filled.
   Treasurer Jean Biggers who has been suffering with health problems had asked earlier to be replaced as treasurer and Carla Snider volunteered for the job with the club’s approval. Carla had tickets for the upcoming Tour of Homes in Woodbury that benefits the city’s many projects beautifying and decorating the community. The tour is December 2nd from 1:30 to 5:30. Snider also had brochures but unfortunately no addresses for the homes on tour were included so she made those available to the garden club.
   Members noted how lovely the Manchester street lamps were decorated with their wreaths.
   Jo Steele Phillips, the program speaker, was asked about her background in gardening and work. Phillips is a UGA horticulture graduate and her first job was with Farmer’s Supply in LaGrange. When the owner bought West Georgia Nurseries she moved there where she frequently helped Mrs. Alice Callaway with plant purchases. She was asked by Mrs. Callaway to join her staff in 1994.
   The gardens at Hills and Dales precede the Civil War and date back to 1841 as the terraced boxwood garden of Sarah Ferrell. The Callaways wanted the property to be open to the public after their deaths, but it is rare that a garden stays in its original state for such a long period of time. Usually descendents or later owners change the layout or there is neglect, but Hills and Dales is unique in that it is so well preserved from the 1840s.
   Phillips was asked to talk about holiday plants: poinsettias, paperwhites, and amaryllis. The poinsettia is the most popular Christmas plant. Native to Mexico, they are tropical and cannot endure cold temperatures. Careful watering is critical to keeping them fresh and pretty through the holiday season. When the soil is dry, water thoroughly until water runs through the bottom but never leave the drained water in the saucer. The flowers need light but not too bright and they do not like drafts. They are not poisonous as many once thought from their heavy milky sap that flows from a broken stem. The lovely reds and colors of poinsettias are their leaves and the real flower is the tiny button like cluster in the center.  The colored leaves are called bracts.
   Paperwhite narcissus are the easy and fun bulb to force because you simply pot them, water, and watch them grow. The energy is in the bulb, and they don’t need soil. The tall foliage may need support, but they can be grown in a vase with pebbles supporting them. One trick to keep the foliage short is to water them with a solution of alcohol and water. The Grumpy Gardener in Southern Living says, “Buy cheap liquor” but Phillips says you can use isopropyl alcohol (ratio 1:11) or drinking alcohol (one part water to seven parts alcohol).
   Paperwhites bloom four weeks from when they are potted and watered.  Now is the time to pot to enjoy at Christmas or give as gifts. The overwhelming fragrance of the narcissus was noted as giving some members allergies or headaches, and Phillips said the new Israeli cultivars (Inbal and Ziva) have a lighter, fresher scent. Tulips take longer to force-seventeen weeks.
   Amaryllis naturally bloom in Georgia in the late spring, but Phillips encourages gardeners to buy the varieties from South America rather than from Holland because the bulbs are going into their growing season. Buy a healthy plump bulb that has some roots. Amaryllis like to be crowded in a vase or pot but leave the top third of the bulb exposed even if you are planting it outside after the holiday season. Cooler temperatures make the amaryllis taller, but good lighting is important for it to grow.  The plant will pull toward light so rotating it often (daily) is a must. Remove the bloom stalk before planting outside and plant where it will get morning and afternoon shade. Mulch well so the plant does not freeze.
   Phillips had brought three beautiful plants with her to show the club the points she made in her talk. Members always enjoy Jo Phillips’ programs as she is so very knowledgeable yet down to earth and she entertains questions throughout her talk.
   The next meeting of the Merry Weather Garden Club is a Christmas treat as the club will have a Christmas Tea at the home of Carla Snider on December 6th.