Plant Preview

Welcome to Plant Preview, a blog dedicated to helping gardeners learn about gardening techniques and preview new plant cultivars. Read about new plants here first and hear how your "comrades in compost" are making use of new plant introductions in their gardens and landscapes. Blog author Geri Laufer is a life-long dirt gardener, degreed horticulturist, author and former County Extension Agent. Plant Preview is copyrighted by Geri Laufer.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Wood of the Gods! Sterling Frost Deodar Cedar

Deodar Cedar is a true Cedrus with a long history and multiple uses. The new cultivar, Sterling Frost, offers all this background, plus attractive silvery-blue needles that stand out in landscape use. 

The variety name, Deodar, goes all the way back to the Indo-Arian language of Sanksrit where the word devadaru comes from combining deva (god) and daru (wood). The tree is worshipped as a divine tree among Hindus. Sumerians believed Cedrus groves were the dwelling place of the gods. This tree is mentioned in both the Bible and the Talmud.

Cedrus deodorus is often called the incense cedar because the inner wood is aromatic is used as incense and the resinous oil has been used by humans for millennia.  Cedrus has a camphor-like top note with a woodsy, balsamic undertone. Essential oil of cedar is used in aromatherapy for its aromatic properties, and in soaps, household sprays, floor polishes insecticides and as a low note in perfumes.

The bark was used to make baskets, while cedar twigs were made into brooms. Fine wood powder can be bound into incense cones and burned for the aromatic smoke, plus simple wood chips are great for potpourri.

Historical Medicinal Uses
Historically, cedar oil was used medicinally in steam to treat respiratory infections, as well as used as an astringent in facial preparation, and as a sedative for the nerves.

Construction and Uses
The Old Testament relates that wood of the majestic Cedrus was used to build King Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem in about the 10th century BCE and was selected because its aromatic qualities were thought to lead worshipers to prayer and closeness to God. Cedar timbers are also durable, rot-resistant, close-grained and can be burnished to take on a high- gloss polish; all qualities excellent for construction. In the landscape the tree grows 40 to 70 feet, while in their native Himalayas they reach 250 feet. The wood. Deodor Cedar had many other construction and ship-building uses.
Landscaping Uses
Today, the landscape industry is enhanced by the silvery-needles of new Sterling Frost Deodar Cedar by Garden Debut®, trees with all of the weight of history behind them. With slow to moderate growth rate, Sterling Frost has a pyramidal shape in youth but is wide-spreading flat-topped at maturity.  Enjoy the silvery foliage effect in the landscape, or add the needles to holiday wreaths.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Christmas Jewel® Holly PP14477 Wards Off Evil Spirits

Ever wonder why Decembers are typically filled with evergreen swags and holly wreaths with bright red berries? The color red was revered as the color against evil and the evergreen quality was believed to keep evil spirits away during the dark part of the year.  Red rosehips, red mountain ash, red haws of hawthorns and particularly red holly berries, have long been hung around house doors and windows and on barns and livestock fences to keep people and animals safe.

Holly, plant of power, was thought to ward off the evil eye and to provide protection during the dark of the year. Ancient Romans associated holly with Saturn, their god of time, justice and strength and gifts of holly were given during Saturnalia. In the first century C.E., Pliny the Elder, author, naturalist, and natural philosopher, wrote that Holly planted by the house kept away witchcraft.

Celtic people used the fresh, evergreen, undying holly leaves and branches to adorn their homes during the Winter solstice and to crown their Celtic chieftains. They believed that fairies would take shelter in the evergreen branches and bring good luck because of the hospitality. 

Holly’s protection was also adopted by the early Christian church. Holly was known as holy tree or Christ thorn, while the name, holly, comes from the Old English holm or holen. Prickly holly with its red berries like drops of blood commemorated Christ’s Crown of Thorns. Other legends told that the berries had been white before Christ’s blood stained them red, or that the Cross was made of wood from the holly. Another Christian parable told how holly miraculously grew leaves in order to hide the Holy Family from Herod’s soldiers, and afterward it became evergreen in gratitude.

In medieval times, holly was used medicinally for ailments including arthritis, kidney stones and bronchitis, and was calming for meditation. Holly’s apotropaic power was used to preserve children from whooping cough if they drank milk out of a cup carved from the close-grained white holly wood, and holly joined with bittersweet cured “hag-ridden’ horses and stopped their abuse by pixies, elves and little folk.

As late as 1640 John Parkinson wrote about holly in his Theatrum Botanicum that ‘the branches with berries are used at Christmas-tide to decke our houses withall, but that they should defend the house from lightning and keepe themselves from witchcraft. . . .’

In the twenty-first century, keep the traditions alive while beautifying your landscape with Christmas Jewel® Holly PP14477, renowned for large, brilliant red berries and glossy foliage. Plant several Christmas Jewel(R) shrubs in order to have plenty of berried holly boughs to cut for treasured winter decorations for years to come.

Lore adapted from The Englishman's Flora, Geoffrey Grigson, J.M. Dent and Sons, Ltd., 1953, London.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

How To Dry Nantucket Blue™ Hydrangea Flowers for Winter Arrangements

The ocean of fresh blue blooms in the landscape all summer is provided by long-lasting NantucketBlue™ Hydrangea.

Nantucket Blue™ prolongs the display,continuing with fresh flowers for months. Unlike common hydrangeas, this unique beauty blooms repeatedly on new growht throughout the growing seson and may bloom from early summer well into early fall. 

However, even Nantucket Blue™ will not go on forever. A great option is to preserve those blue mopheads for winter arrangements by drying when the flower heads are fully mature and beginning to dry on the shrubs.  

Step 1
Evaluate blossoms. In order to dry without wilting, flowers should be fully mature, beginning to dry on the plant, with the first few florets just beginning to brown

Step 2
Cut blossoms with about a foot of stem

Step 3
Strip the leaves

Step 4
Place in a vase and dry in place, or else hang upside down to dry. Some swear by adding an inch of water and allowing the flowers to slowly dry as the water evaporates.

These dried flowers will retain the rich New England Blue for years if they are kept out of direct sunlight. Mix them in dried arrangements, or wire the flowerheads into wreaths on a springtime will wreath.  

If you like the flower form but don’t need the blue color, and you wish the flowers to remain flexible, a second option is to dry using glycerin. Prepare the flower stems as before, but put in a vase with room temperature water, Meanwhile, mix glycerin from the craft supply store with hot water, fill a roomy vase and allow to cool to lukewarm. Add the hydrated hydrangeas to the glycerin mixture, and when they are leathery golden brown they are ready. (Note: the remaining glycerin mixture can be re-used..) 

Post photos of your dried Nantucket Blue(TM) Hydrangea creations on the Garden Debut(TM) Facebook Page. 

Photos courtesy Garden Debut(R), Wiki Commons, AnemoneWeddingBouquet.Blog 

Thursday, June 7, 2012

How to Make Gardenia Perfume Oil with Crown Jewel(R) Gardenia PP19896

Fragrance is a highly prized feature in my garden. I select plants and shrubs based on their fragrances, such as the new perfumed Crown Jewel Gardenia PP19896 or the compact lemony Teddy Bear® MagnoliaPP13049, both from Garden Debut®. In addition to enjoying them on garden strolls, I have been using these flowers for more than thirty years to make fragrant gifts like potpourri, flower infusions and essential oils for use in herb crafts and perfumery.

Gardenia Perfume Oil, akso known as Scented Flower Infusion or Enfleurage

Making gardenia perfume oil, also known as flower infusion or enfleurage, is the craft of steeping flowers in a carrier oil in order to remove the scent from the petals and deposit it in the oil. It is a method of making essential oil or perfume oil by extracting the fragrance from selected scented flowers such as fresh gardenias submerging them in pure oil because they are too fragile to withstand heat-facilitated extraction.

Historically, flowers and fats (even rendered lard) were placed between glass sheets and pressed. Fat-soluble fragrance molecules in the thick petals dissolve and transfer their fragrance from the flowers into the oil they are soaking in. (Water-soluble fragrance molecules will not dissolve using this method; steam distillation is an entirely different process.) notes that rose oil is a yellow or colorless liquid and the major component, phenyl-ethyl alcohol, is extracted from the petals in distillation. 

Some recipes indicate specialty non-scented oils such as coconut, jojoba, almond, grape seed or safflower oil, later fixed with Vitamin E oil, but beginners can use any oil (such as baby oil or even hydrogenated vegetable fat such as Crisco) to try out the technique.

How to Make Flower Perfume Oil using Crown Jewel(R) Gardenia PP19896

Collect perfumed flowers 

 Remove green calyxes, leaving petals

 Place flowers in a ceramic bowl or glass jar 

 Bruise or macerate petals slightly with a wooden spoon

 Submerge them in a small quantity of non-scented oil; a ceramic bowl or mason jar is good for this step

Cover with a cup of oil and steep for a few days  

Remove the first batch of fragrant petals using a very fine stainless steel tea strainer and repeat adding fresh petals, but re-using the same oil to increase the fragrance intensity

Strain any remaining petals or fragments from the oil using the stainless steel strainer; can add a small amount of vitamin E or tocopherol as a preservative

Bottle the finished flower perfume oil in a tightly closed glass bottle or an eyedropper bottle
Store at an even, cool temperature such as a fruit cellar

Use the gardenia enfleurage sparingly to scent dry potpourri, Epsom salts for the bath or glycerin hand lotion.  Or add a small amount to high-test (150-proof or higher) alcohol to make cologne out of the infused oil.   

In addition to gardenia flowers, magnolias, roses, lily-of-the-valley, lavender, lilacs and whatever fragrant flowers which appeal to the crafter can be used. All the aromatic herbs such as sweet marjoram, lemon verbena, oregano, basil, plus spices like cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, nutmeg, allspice and cloves, may all be used to scent oils. On the internet today, Deborah Dolen points out that even saw dust (albeit from scented woods), can be used to make a perfume in a fatty Effleurage method.  So give it a whirl.  

 I have a library of books on the topic of fragrant crafts and perfumes dating back to Ann Tucker Fettener’s Potpourri, Incense and Other Fragrant Concoctions published by Workman in 1977; Edwin T. Morris, Fragrance, the Story of Perfume from Cleopatra to Chanel by E.T. Morris & Company in 1984; Guiseppe Donato and Monique Seefried’s The Fragrant Past put out in association with an exhibition by Emory University Museum of Art and Archeology in 1989; Gail Duff’s Personalized Perfumes by Simon and Schuster in 1994; and Donna Maria’s Making Aromatherapy Creams and Lotions by Storey Books in 2000 (to name just a few my dozens). Each adds a different perspective or contributes additional knowledge to the mix. I'd like to hear about your crafting! 

Friday, June 1, 2012

Extremely Versatile Crystal Falls® Mondo Grass PP17430

Some plants are more versatile than others. Giant Lily Turf, Mondo Grass or Ophiopogon jaburan is a grassy-looking plant that is actually in the lily family.

Outdoor Groundcover
It grows well outdoors as an evergreen groundcover or lawn substitute in areas that are too shady for turf. For example, as the lawn thins out under a tree or in the constant shade of a house, Mondo Grass is the perfect choice to provide a fine texture with its clumps of narrow leaves. In the southeast, it is well-known as an edger for pine islands or perennial beds, and it is also striking in rockeries. Crystal Falls® Mondo Grass PP17430 Ophiopogon jaburan has sparkling white flowers and is a great choice for all of these landscape applications, with its narrow leaves growing 24-30 inches in length. Sparkling white flowers in July to September change to dark blue berries by November for an added ornamental feature.

Mondo grass also doubles as a tough indoor houseplant. The fact that it is disease- resistant and practically pest free is one plus. Because it grows outdoors in shade, it is ideal for the lowered light levels indoors, another plus. In its role as a houseplant, it can be planted in mixed containers as a dark green evergreen “grass” in the tall- to mid-range in height, or in hanging baskets accompanied by trailers like sweet potato vine or fan flower. The bonus here is that Crystal Falls® Mondo Grass PP17430 contributes white flowers in late summer.

Aquatic Plant
Purveyors of aquatic plants suggest that both Ophiopogon japonica and Ophiopogon jaburan (like Crystal Falls) be used for aquariums, terrariums and bog plantings. The blunt-edged grassy leaves emerge in clumps and are particularly desirable because they resemble ocean kelp when planted submerged in aquariums. The consensus on the internet is that they last underwater for months (!), rooting in the pebbles at the bottom, but ultimately need to be changed out.
                                                                                              Caption: Mondo grass second from left

Let’s hear how you use Crystal Falls® Mondo Grass PP17430 from Garden Debut(R) – indoors or out.