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Fooling Around With Plants

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

While we're greenhousing around, I'd like to  show you a plant that has won my heart.

It's a gesneriad, which means it's in the same family as African violets, gloxinias, sinningias, and Smithianthas. They tend to be hairy leaved little critters, like evenly moist soil, high humidity and semi-shaded light, and they have fabulous flowers.

Gesneriads are really fun because they have some interesting means of propagation. Ever broken a leaf off an African violet, stuck it in soil, and rooted it? A brand new plant, a clone of the mother plant, will spring up from the roots at the base of that leaf in just a few weeks. It's like magic!

 Achimenes "Pink Nighty" stole my heart when I saw a tiny plant blooming its head off at The Glasshouse Works several years ago.  Such an awesome brilliant, clear pink, and I liked the trailing growth habit. It makes an absolute mound of color, and it blooms hard all summer. Of course I bought it and it went forth and multiplied, with a little help from me. I had five pots of Achimenes last summer, lighting up the front porch. They say redheads shouldn't wear pink. My house blushes. I think everything looks OK against barn red.

I always grow it in containers; it's not the kind of thing you plant in your flower bed. A bit too delicate for that. My friend Nancy had given me some lavender Achimenes many years ago, and I'd really enjoyed them, but I'd lost track of them, and I was really glad to re-up on this magical plant.

Because Achimenes has a secret at its roots.

You'll be growing this plant and enjoying it and the nights will start getting a snap to them and the plant will suddenly start winding down. It just sighs and lies down, says it's done. If you didn't know better you'd think the cold had killed it. Not at all. It's just going into a sort of larval phase.

For when you pull the plant out of the pot, you'll find these strange white tubers at the root, right up near the top of the soil. They're scaly and brittle, almost like friable pine cones. Corms? I'm not sure what you call them. I checked a few garden forums, and people are all over the map, calling them tubers, corms, bulbs...and then I found one woman declaring emphatically that they're none of those, they're RHIZOMES. And she put it all in capitals. Hmmm. Well, maybe. You're shouting, but does that make you right? Always pays to be dubious on the Interwebs. They don't look like rhizomes to me, nor do they act like them. I poked around a little more and found an historic text that refers to them as rhizomes: The Standard Cyclopedia of Horticulture. OK. Rhizomes they are. But I prefer "cormules." Mostly because I like the word. And maybe that lady will come here and shout at me. Heh.

You break these... thingamabobules gently off the roots, keeping them as intact as possible, and gather them from each pot.

I harvested a schtun of rhizomes. Cormules. Hunnerts of 'em.

I put them all in a plastic tub with the lid on loosely, and I'm storing them on the bottom rack of my greenhouse shelves, close to the cold floor. 

I'll check them throughout the winter to make sure they aren't drying out or (ack) getting moldy. 
As spring approaches, they'll start sending out tiny red threadlike shoots, and that's when I'll know they want to grow. They've already turned red and green in response to the light.

When growth starts, I'll plant them up five to a rather shallow 6" pot, like an azalea pot, and start growing them!

I have way more than I can use here, so if there's sufficient interest, I may offer them for sale. Just a trial balloon. $7 for a set of 5, includes postage. Two sets, $12; three sets, $17. You can pay by hitting the "DONATE" button on the right sidebar. Paying by Paypal will give me your name and address. 

 I've always wanted to be an Achimenes farmer! Give me a holla in the Comments section if you think you'd like to try growing "Pink Nighty" as a houseplant or container plant this spring. That way I'll know to look for your $7, $12 or $17 "donations" in my Paypal account. 

The same garden friend, Nancy, gave me a Smithiantha rhizome last summer! I started it this fall and it's slowly growing, with some thrilling buds which will grow into something like THIS.

photo by Ruth Zavitz, borrowed from

It's been a bit fussy and slow, but it seems happy enough. Making a big cluster of buds!  The growth you see in the first photo is all it's done since August. That's OK. I'm waiting anyway, as my dad used to say. I read that Smithianthas need warm temperatures and high humidity. Got it. It seems happier in the greenhouse, under a shady shelf. I cannot wait to see these blossoms.  And I hope it makes more thingamabobules for me to play with this fall.

The things I nurture and watch and preen, repot and spray and fertilize in the greenhouse get me through the winter. They replace things like these

that even now, only a few weeks after a frost finally blasted them away, seem so extravagantly beautiful that I can hardly believe I grew them.

That's how the seasons turn. Slowly. But then one day you look at a photo of your summer flowers and you think, Naww. It wasn't that beautiful! How could it have been that beautiful? Nothing like that around now...ehhh....ohhh...the days are getting shorter...I'm melting....

Right there, at that point. That's where the greenhouse comes in and saves me. I walk in and breathe the green moist air and feel better.

The Path. I see it!

Creole Lady opens at dawn.

She's never more beautiful than when she's waking up.

 Still a bit furled, around 9 AM

By noon, she's dancing like nobody's watching. 


Nifty plant, indeed. I've tried my hand at some gesneriads, but never even *heard* of these. If it weren't for the fact you probably aren't allowed to ship outside the U.S., I'd be tempted to send you $7.00 to try this beauty next spring!

I'd like to give those cormules a try. On Friday I'll PayPal you. Since moving to FL I have been totally spoiled, plantwise. I remember what a triumph it wasvin NY to grow an orange tree and to set up an indoor greenhouse for my plants each fall, to coddle them through the 6 months before they could be outdoors again.I mudtxsay it was an unpleasant surprise to go from nurturing with the reward of a lovely plant to trying to stay on top of the rampant growth that plants experience in this semitropical state. Love this blog entry.

Posted by Gail Spratley December 9, 2015 at 6:39 PM

I'd like to try pink nighty! PayPal coming your way------

Hey Julie, I would like giving "Pink Nighty" a try as a container plant this spring.

Yes! I want Pink Nighty - 2 sets!

Posted by Mary Bond December 10, 2015 at 4:26 AM

No cormuleys for me, thanks, but would kill for a Creole Lady. What a gorgeous flower!

No cormuleys for me, thanks, but would kill for a Creole Lady. What a gorgeous flower!

Two sets for pink nighties please! One for me in what my mother termed 'tropical VA' and one I'll share with my sister in upstate NY. Paypal is completed, thanks, Ev

Oooohhhh, a new Gesneriad for me to grow! (As if I don't have enough African violets to contend with....) I would love to grow your 'Pink Nighty' - LOVE the name! Moolah coming your way.

Would love to try this flower! I do have a Paypal acct.
I live in CA: is that a problem?
Kerry [Mrs. Sam] Reynard

Yes, I will order on your website.

I'd love to try Achimenes. I'm kind of hooked on overwintering things that are too tender for our zone 5 climate so this is right up my alley. I'm in for a set of 5 for sure. I have a Paypal account and will happily pay the Pink Nighty farmer.

I also wondered where you got your Fuschia 'Transden Bonnstadt'. Reminds my of the Gartenmeister B Fuschias that I overwinter in the house, but a slightly different look. Lovely. Thanks for sharing your beautiful flowers with us, Julie.

my hibiscus (rescued from a curb- I have a shelter for homeless plants)
used to bloom every day and then some one who kept bumping into the branches
(yeah they did sort of block the refrigerator after awhile) cut it, and no blooms since :(

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