Chesterton Tribune

It is December and Poinsettias are in the spotlight

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Of Wonders and Weeds


December is for ..... a new look at an old holiday favorite.

The venerable poinsettia just isn’t want it used to be. And that’s great because we have more choices than ever before to use this plant for brightening an otherwise drab winter.

At a recent nursery I was taken aback by what hybridizers are doing to poinsettias. I had forgotten they are members of the large euphorbia family, E. pulcherrima to be exact. In tropical climates like Mexico poinsettias can grow to 12 feet. The colorful “flowers” are really bracts, neither a leaf nor flower.

After hybridizing bract colors from red and white to salmon shades, then making the leaves and bracts twist and curl, the new poinsettia rage is purple hues. Dusky ‘Plum Pudding’ is eye-catching, as is the darker ‘Cortez Burgungy.’ Some poinsettia are even being pushed to look like caladium, bulbs planted for summer here that display large leaves of often wild color variations and variegations.

‘Carousel Pink’ poinsettia has prominent veins, and ‘Winter Rose White’ is a curly, creamy semi-variegated cultivar. ‘Winter Rose’ has some marbling, and the unusual ‘Silver Star’ has mottled grey-green leaves and red bracts.

So what did I choose? ‘Avant Garde’, but not for its medium pink bracts, each irregularly splotched with cream on its edges and even some green. I bought it for the leaves that remind me of the annual coleus, known for its wild leaf colors and combinations. ‘Avant Garde’ leaves are almost maple in shape, darker green on the edges moving to a lighter center green with random darker splotches.

Yikes, you’re probably saying. What a gaudy plant. I prefer the term eye-catching. I wanted something that would make me smile, not yawn.

Proper care now is to water poinsettias thoroughly but to allow the soil to dry between waterings. Bright light is best. Then we can cut them back in the spring if leggy and move them outdoors when warmth arrives; that’s followed in summer by some secret ritual in a closet to get the poinsettia to rebloom for Christmas.

I won’t waste my time on that, but throughout the summer I hope to have a lovely bract-less poinsettia plant with great leaf interest to enjoy outdoors. People will probably look at it and say, “What an unusual coleus.”

Speaking of the holidays, here are some unusual gifts for the gardener in your family that you might not have thought about but probably would be welcome nevertheless. Some can be saved to enjoy during the peak of the gardening season.

A good outdoor thermometer. In spring and fall especially, gardeners need to know how cold it is. The kind that records the daily high and low temperatures is great, and remote thermometers that provide a detailed indoor read-out of outdoor conditions are even fancier.

A gift certificate for a manicure/pedicure, massage or facial at any fine local salon like House of Berggren or Indian Oak Inn that provides these services. Gardening, even with gloves and sunblock, can be damaging.

A gift certificate to DSW Shoe Warehouse in Merrillville, or any other shoe retailer. How many gardeners have gone outside “just to look around” and ended up doing some messy project? A nice pair of Anne Klein shoes I purchased at DSW have permanently green soles because I forgot and mowed the grass in them. Perhaps your gardener may even want to buy some sturdy, comfortable gardening shoes.

If the gardener’s also the family cook, ask them to pick a day they want to do an involved gardening project and offer to make dinner. And eat later than usual if the gardener chooses to give them extra time to complete their work.

If diamonds are involved, a great gift is taking the gardener’s ring(s) to Ashley’s or another jeweler to have the prongs checked. I do this periodically and am lucky no stones have fallen out. I also smashed a ring (I don’t remember how) that went oval instead of round until it was restored. Best of all, take rings off BEFORE gardening, unless like me you have osteoarthritis in your fingers and sometimes can’t get them off.

Lastly, gift certificates, gift certificates, gift certificates! Most avid gardeners at some point wonder, “Am I spending too much on gardening?” When that fleeting thought strikes, whip out a gift certificate to buy the newest plant you just can’t live without.

Is it just me or does Horticulture magazine have increasingly fewer pages? My subscription expires next summer and it’s $28 a year for six issues without a special promotion. Decisions, decisions .....

I received a solicitation labeled “Especially for Avid Gardeners Like You” to join the American Horticultural Society. It’s $35 for one year, $60 for two and you receive their bi-monthly American Gardener magazine with your membership. Other benefits also are available like a toll-free help line, and you get gifts to join. I’ll see if I can check out their web site first.

There’s still time to register for the Jan. 17 Winter Scientific Meeting of the Midwest Regional Hosta Society at the Hyatt Regency Woodfield in Schaumburg, IL on East Golf Road in the shadow of some of the best shopping and dining around.

Registration for the meeting is $45 per person, and the Hyatt has extended an $86 per-night room rate until Jan. 5 while still available if you mention the hosta society.

Speakers, which begin at 8 a.m. Jan. 17 (registration begins at 7 a.m.), include Furnessville’s Olga Petryszyn discussing Hybridizing with a Difference. She has developed some of the largest, loveliest hostas on the market today with more yet to be introduced.

Remaining speakers will discuss Major/Minor Small Bulbs for the Garden; the Tardinias, a specific group of hostas; another in Mark Zilis’ always-popular Hostas of Distinction series; and well-known hosta wholesaler and retailer Bob Solberg. There’s even a presentation on the Chelsea Flower Show.

The handouts and free catalogs are plentiful at Midwest Scientific, and a continental breakfast and deli lunch are included; many people arrive Jan. 16 to take advantage of the hospitality suites open both nights. And let’s not forget the mammoth Ikea store, an adventure itself, is just down the street.

Hyatt reservations are available at (800) 223-1234 and conference registration and fee should be mailed before Jan. 6 to Morgan Wilson, 1880 N. Hennepin, LaSalle, IL 61301. Include your name, address and phone, and checks should be made payable to the Northern Illinois Hosta Society. Registration after Jan. 6 is $55. Call (815) 224-1383 for more details.

I want to leave this year in gardening with a quote I’ve saved for some time. I believe it came from HGTV’s fine show A Gardener’s Diary that’s broadcast periodically.

Each episode a gardener gives Erica, the show’s host, a tour of his or her garden and discusses how they manifest their passion for plants. As I recall, May Brawley Hill once observed, “Gardening is the slowest of the performing arts.”

A wise woman, indeed.

My sincere holiday greetings, and have a wonderful New Year!


Posted 12/17/2003