How do you keep them looking the way you want them to look? I didn’t have enough space last column to finish the subject, so there are two issues still worthy of consideration. The first of these is dead-heading and the second is protection from heavy rain.
Large nurseries hire people to do nothing but dead-head; if you spend enough time in one of their greenhouses, you can watch them. Dead-heading is simply the removal of spent blossoms. This is a worthwhile chore because it keeps the plant, whose task is to bloom, active, which is what you want.
The plant knows (at the risk of being anthropomorphic) that it has a limited time in which to succeed. If there is nothing at the end of the stem, the plant will work to put something there. If there is a dead flower there, the action slows.
Some plants are called “self-cleaning” and they almost are. All plants need attention, some more than others. One of the best is callibrachoa; the common name is Mission Bells. They look like teeny petunias but they come in masses.
You should try to schedule dead-heading on a regular basis, at the very least, once a week. I recommend bringing scissors and the wastebasket from the kitchen and doing it outdoors in the cool of the morning, with the still-hot cup of coffee. If you make the task pleasant you’re more likely to do it.
Rain is always welcome, except when it is not, and when it’s a deluge, it is not. Heavy rain breaks stems and damages their bloom. It can literally wreck a brand-new plant.
Watching the weather reports obsessively, as gardeners must, I was always careful to bring my best plants indoors when heavy rain was expected. This was an annoying chore, not only because they were heavy, but there was never any place to put them. However, I did it.
With increasing age, I found that the pots seemed to get heavier and I began to obsess about “plant umbrellas.”
What should they be made of? They had to be heavy enough so that they would not be blown around in the strong wind that usually accompanies heavy rain. Cardboard boxes would not do. I canvassed local stores, looking for the old-fashioned wooden crates; if they’re still around, no one had any.
I was talking about this with a friend. We were going through possibilities and in the middle of the night, the solution presented itself. The next time she was visiting, I brought her out on my deck and announced that I had solved the problem of the plant umbrella. I had invented one and asked if she would like to see it. When she answered in the affirmative, I picked up the plant from the lovely glass-top table on which it had been sitting and put it underneath. Greatness!
Eat Your Heart Out Moment of the Week: Check out the roses on the fence in the house diagonally opposite the Catholic Church in Greenport. I interviewed the owner there several years ago, wanting to know how he cared for those roses, which bloom so exquisitely every year.
He teased me mercilessly for a half hour, explaining that the fertilizer was a family secret that he was sworn to maintain. Finally the torment stopped and he owned up. The answer was he didn’t do anything. Nothing. Not a single thing.
Thinking it over afterwards, it seemed plain to me that the secret had to be in the soil. My guess is it was a potato farm and the roses are growing in that soil. I wish mine were.