Princess Diana Clematis, Year One

Clematis texensis ‘Princess Diana’

I have never been a Clematis person. I wanted to be; I yearned for the vertical gardening, and needed something to put color on my garden fence. Not only would Clematis not do well for me for years, but they would die, despite amended soil, watering, lime, shaded roots. They scorned me, so for years I gave up, and scorned them in return, not buying or even thinking of them.

Over the last couple of years I have done slightly better with a few of them, after moving them to better locations, but their performance has still been poor in general, and their dead-looking vines are a bleak depressing sight during the winter, hardly worth tolerating, for the possibility of blooms the next summer.

Perhaps ‘Princess Diana,’ a type 3 Clematis with tulip-shaped bright pink flowers, will fulfill my need for a colorful vine that doesn’t give up after one pathetic show. My princess is only in her first year, so it is premature to hope, but she has grown six feet since May, and has presented me with two very long, very bright, very tulip-like flowers, in October!

Shall I hope that the happy, bright princess displays more blooms next year, or shall I continue cynical with regards to Clematis? Next year I will post an article showing how she does. If she does well, she will have, with her magic, changed my cynical attitude toward all Clematis, enchanting my mind with the power of her beauty.

Princess Diana is hardy to zone 5, and as a type 3 Clematis can be cut down close to the ground in late fall, eliminating the existence of old dead vines all winter. She is fast-growing, likes moist soil, and tolerates a fair amount of shade. She is said to sport a long growing season, July through October in the Northeast.







Culinary Ginger can be a Houseplant

Ginger, Zinzibar officinale, showing new and mature growth

I’ve tried to grow ginger a few times, and had no luck with it until 1 1/2 years ago. My instincts were right to try with a piece of ginger that had a few eyes – the nobs of pale growth, not yet covered by the dry brown skin that’s on most ginger root, although my first efforts failed. Trial and error finally led me to success.

Ginger in a 24″ bowl, with bamboo supports

It’s important to find a piece of ginger that has nubs of new growth. Much ginger sold in grocery stores has been treated to inhibit new growth, and finding one with these growths is evidence that the ginger is untreated. Take your ginger home, and put it in a shallow dish with about 1/2″ of water. Let it stay there at least overnight. You can even replenish the water and leave it for a week or two until you have time for the next step. If you leave it for a longer period of time, it might start to send out roots – this is another sign that it wants to grow.

Plant the ginger in a good potting medium, in a wide, shallow pot. The ginger should be partly above ground or barely covered. Water it until the soil is moist, but not soggy. Before long, you’ll have green shoots growing. The grass-like stalks can get 3 to 4 feet tall, with alternate leaves. They do not withstand strong breezes, so I have staked mine with bamboo hoops.

Ginger, with roots attached

I started this plant in a bulb pan in summer of 2016. All of the leaf stalks died over the following winter, and the plant resprouted in the spring. This summer, I repotted it into a larger, decorative pot with a drainage hole. I water it thoroughly once a week. Though I think it might prefer to be watered a little more often, it is happy enough that it’s sending up more leaf stalks, as you can see in the top photo.

To harvest, carefully scrape back some soil to uncover a mature part of the tuber, cut it, and gently pull it from the soil. There will be long roots as well as the ginger root we’re used to seeing. I left the cut end exposed to dry out, and will replace the soil when the cut no longer looks fresh.

Today was the first time I’ve tried harvesting any of my ginger, so I decided to exercise caution, and did not cut a very large piece – this is just enough to use in a recipe for pickled cranberries, for Thanksgiving. I will use the tender roots, as well as the more mature ginger root.

Dahlias – Fall Maintenance

Dahlias are a common topic of discussion among club members this fall. Some of us are new to growing dahlias, some are new to success with dahlias, and others are long-time growers with heirloom plants.  We all agree that these are wonderful additions to our gardens. At our October Horticultural Conversations meeting we shared our secrets to success.

Starting the plants 6-8 weeks before outdoor planting time helps to achieve a longer period of bloom. A good quality growing media,  a large pot, and a warm spot with bright light will encourage these natives of Mexico to grow. Some varieties may even start to flower while in their pots. We’ll write another post early next spring with more detail about how to start them. Now that we’ve had some light frosts and expect a hard frost sometime soon, it’s time to think about keeping our dahlia tubers for next year’s garden.

The winters in Massachusetts are too cold for dahlias to survive in the ground, so the tubers need to be dug each fall and stored until the next spring. Many gardeners leave them in the ground until the frost kills the tops. They can also be dug earlier than that, especially if a hard freeze is expected with the first frost. Either way, cut back the foliage to leave about 4-5 inches of stem and carefully lift the clump. Be sure to dig with your fork or shovel several inches away from the visible stems.
It helps to make labels with the name and color before you dig the tubers. Turn the tubers upside down and leave them to dry out – this can be outside or in a basement or garage. Leave them for a few days and then brush off as much dirt as possible. Some professional growers wash the tubers and then leave them to dry. Either way, it is important for the tubers to be dry before storing them, so that they don’t rot over the winter.
Gardeners have different ways of storing their dahlias – some throw them in a box with crumpled newspaper, others store them in dry peat moss. One of our members stores the tubers in a paper bag from the grocery store, with the label in the bag, or even written on the bag. Whichever method you use, it is important to store the tubers in a dry, cool place that is protected from freezing.

Carnivorous Plant Show

Nepenthese – pitcher plant

I am experimenting with ways to control pests on my indoor plants, and have read that some of the carnivorous plants are effective at trapping fungus gnats. The New England Carnivorous Plant Society hosted a plant show and sale at Tower Hill on September 9 and 10, so off I went to learn a little about these plants.

Unfortunately, I did not find any Pinguicula (butterworts) which are the best for controlling fungus gnats, but I was fascinated by these unusual plants. They have colors that range from brilliant to subtle, with a variety of shapes and textures that give us as much interest as the plants we’ve seen in our gardens all summer.

First Place awarded Sarracenia – pitcher plant

Nepenthes are reminiscent of an ornately carved meerschaum pipe, while the Sarracenia bear a resemblance to immature skunk cabbages. Although both of these are commonly called pitcher plants, they have different growing requirements. The Sarracenia should not be allowed to dry out, and likes to grow in standing water. Nepenthese want to be kept moist, but will rot in standing water.

Sarracenia with flowers, and a white Sarracenia in the background

There are many other genera of carnivorous plants: venus fly-trap (Dionaea), sundews (Drosera), butterworts (Pinguicula) and Utricularia (bladderwort) are just a few of the more commonly found plants.  Some of the Sarracenia pitcher plants are native to New England, and you might notice them in wet, boggy places.  The more delicate sundews are also found in bogs, and the bladderworts are found in shallow water.

There are many on-line resources for readers who want to know more about these fascinating plants. There are also a lot of resources through the New England Carnivorous Plant society at