GardenSmart :: EPISODES :: 2003 show21
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Show #21

Dr. Rick feels that one of the greatest gifts you can give children is a love of nature and an appreciation of gardening. This week we visit the Children's Garden at The Atlanta Botanical Garden and show our viewers plants that interest children. We also look at Begonias and how they can be used inside or outside the home.

Tiffany Jones is a horticulturist and today shows us a few of the most interesting plants in the Children's Garden. There are a lot of folks enjoying this area, she's been effective in designing a garden that is child friendly. Tiffany has been working in the Children's Garden for most of two years. She loves the energy and excitement that kids bring to the garden. They are always excited about new plants or plants that are different or unusual. Management gives Tiffany a free reign in this area to try things that may not be horticulturally significant, but may just be fun, strange, weird or a novelty.

We first look at gourds. Tiffany, for the first time in this garden, is growing a Bushel Gourd. These can weigh as much as 25-50 pounds. These gourds use the fence, even surrounding corn plants for support. Their Tendrils attach themselves to sturdy, more upright forms to assist in growing. After these gourds have grown and dried there are endless uses for them. One could drill holes in them and they could become a birdhouse. Or they could be painted, becoming a pumpkin, all sorts of craft ideas can be tried.

Sunflowers are one of Dr. Rick's favorites. They come in all sizes and shapes and are colorful. Since they're easy to grow and they grow rapidly and they achieve great size they can be used in a maze. As well they have a variety of additional uses. Their seeds are popular and healthy for people and birds. Their flowers are attractive in the garden or inside. The Sunflower tracks the sun allowing it to maximize its potential for Photosynthesis. If you look at the flower in the morning it would be facing east, in the afternoon, west. The seeds come from the head. Once the flower is spent, the seeds can be roasted for 30-40 minutes at 300 degrees or they can be boiled. When boiled the shells are left on just like a peanut. Some Sunflowers have very large flowers - some may grow to 6-10 feet tall - there are other varieties that have much smaller flowers. These can be used in smaller gardens when space is a consideration and they too are ornamental.

One of the smaller plants is called Sunflower Teddybear. It grows to about 2-3 feet in height and is ideal for a cottage garden or a small area. This plant doesn't produce seeds. It is a hybrid Sunflower, meaning its parents were crossed which often results in sterile offspring.

Dr. Rick likes to buy a 50 pound bag of Sunflower wild bird food, till the ground, throw in the seed and a mass will grow at a small cost. It's a great way to get a lot of color.

We next look at an Armenian Long Cucumber. They can reach almost 36 inches in length, but taste best if picked at 8-10 inches. It is a burp less cucumber and is strange looking making it a sure crowd pleaser.

Bitter Melon has an interesting ripening procedure. It turns orangish-yellowish as it ripens, then the end explodes, and it separates into three pieces, at this point its seeds are released. It is a gourd and warty. Its leaves, in fact all parts, are edible. It's seeds and the flesh of the fruit have many medicinal properties. It may offer some relief for Arthritis and research is now being conducted to determine its effectiveness in dealing with HIV.

Drought is effecting many parts of the country. This has been one of the most severe droughts in the last 108 years. So far it isn't as serious as the 1930's dust bowl, but we haven't seen a drought like this since the 1950's.

A plant that thrives in drought conditions is Heavenly Bamboo, Nandina Domestica. Nandina is originally from China or Japan and it belongs to the Barberry family. It looks like Bamboo with its lightly branched, cain-like stems and delicate fine textured, lacy foliage. In Alkaline soil, it may have Chlorosis or yellowing of the leaves. Adding sulfur to the soil will help. Generally this plant will tolerate just about any soil condition. The foliage may tend to be vacant at the base of older plants, if so it tends to become top-heavy. It is advisable to cut back one third of the branches each year. By doing that a flush of new growth is encouraged at the base filing in the unsightly void. By cutting back 1/3 the look of the plant isn't destroyed and growth is encouraged. It produces red berries in the fall and can be used indoors or in floral arrangements. One variety, Alba, has white berries and provides a different look. Nandina Domestica, Heavenly Bamboo, is a great plant for the water efficient garden.

In the middle of the summer, it's hot, when gardening we try to find some shade, looking for areas where it's a little cooler. Tom Harvey talks today about Begonias. These plants thrive in atriums, greenhouses even on porches. Begonias have always been known as house plants. Tom's grandmother always had Begonias on her back porch. They are becoming more popular today because there are a lot more varieties and species being developed. There are some incredible new textures, sizes, shapes, and leaf colors. There are new varieties with different mottling, some are fuzzy, some soft, some not, they vary widely. One group - Angel Wing or Dragon Wing - derives its name because of the shape of its leaves. If you were to break its leaf in half it resembles an angels wing. Some Begonias have round leaves, some are large. The plants with large leaves are tropical, but like a high shade condition. When grown in containers they like a soil that is a light mixture, one that drains very fast and is rich in organic matter.

Begonia Ludwigii has a huge, fuzzy leaf, not what one normally associates with a Begonia. This plant contrasts dramatically with Begonia Listada. It has a variegated vein and is almost like velvet.

Begonias can be propagated easily from a leaf or stem. Take a leaf, turn it over and cut along the vein. Put it in a potting mixture and it will root. One can get several small plants from just one leaf.

Begonias have very few insect problems. They like medium to low fertilization. If an indoor plant, fertilizing them once a month is ample. If you normally add a tablespoon of plant food per gallon of water, for Begonias add only 1/2 to 3/4 per gallon. They like plenty of moisture, plenty of humidity, bright light, but not direct sunlight coming through a window (magnified light coming through a window will burn the leaves). If provided, these conditions will allow Begonias to thrive.

Georgia visits this week with Ruth Levitan. Ruth has been featured in The American Woman's Guide to Gardening. Ruth's garden is filled with wonderful whimsies - great ornaments. Ruth enjoys having decorations and ornaments and she like everyone else thinks that their collection is the epitome. One must guard against what Ruth refers to as a "miniature golf course look." She tries to be restrained although it's hard to resist the cutsie-pooh look. We first look at a beautiful Clematis held up with an arch. The arch holds the plant up beautifully, but it is also practical, it serves a function in the garden. It is made from piping available at any hardware store. The flowers were hand-crafted by Ruth from tin and resemble the Clematis, which now grows on it. Georgia likes the peek-a-boo hole in the fence. Ruth believes the best garden whimsies are the things that have a reason for being, they're not just a decoration added. This fence needed to be 8 feet tall to keep out deer. The hole provides a sense of being welcomed in, it allows a peek at the garden from the other side. Ruth has utilized a birdbath in another location. The problem with birdbaths is the water needs to be changed frequently or they don't work. Ruth has filled one with chips and dirt, put in plants, like Sedum and others, added a statue of a little rabbit with a May Apple umbrella. It makes a great container, very unusual, yet functional. Ruth has two cement carousel type horses. She frequently gives them a fresh coat of paint and plants flowers around them. They provide a focal point in the garden and add a lot of interest as well. Ruth's garden whimsies make her garden more personal and more interesting. Thank you Ruth for sharing your ideas with all of us.

Tiffany shows us another plant that interests children. Chinese Lantern has great orange fruit, seemingly filled with air. When pushed it feels hollow, like a balloon, which gives it a lantern quality. It is full of seeds and comes back year after year.

Celosia Cristata, Crested Celosia often called "brain on a plate" is a bizarre looking plant. It is unusual in the garden but afterwards can be used in dried flower arrangements or as a cut flower.

Kids like to smell and taste everything, therefore Tiffany has many plants that are aromatic. Lavender, Thyme and Mint are a few. One must keep Mint in a container or a space where it won't sprawl and take over the rest of the garden. Tiffany has used chocolate mint in the garden before currently she has spearmint Mint, just like chewing gum. She's planted this in an old bathtub, kids too like garden art. These plants like full sun, dry soil, they rarely need water, they're very low maintenance plants.

We next look at a Mangle, a Beet relative. Cows are said to like both the foliage and beet portion of this plant and Mangle can be produced inexpensively as feed. They are also edible for humans and are quite tasty. Since Tiffany doesn't like to use chemicals in this garden, insects often have their way. Caterpillars within a few days had decimated the leaves of the Mangle. This provides a learning experience for kids and since the leaves aren't the important part, it's what's below ground that is important, Tiffany just let it go.

If you have a pond or water feature and kids you might consider a Lotus Plant, Lotus Nelumbo. Its leaves repel water, they have almost a waxy surface on top. Water beads on the leaf like it was made of wax. The leaf is edible and can be used similarly to seaweed in sushi. The Rhizomes or underground stems can also be boiled and eaten. The seeds in the pods are also edible. When the flower is fertilized, the pod forms and the seeds mature and ripen. At this point the pod bends over enabling the seeds to fall into the water and germinate, producing another Lotus. People cut the flower and use it in flower arrangements or dry it and use it in dried arrangements. Its flower resembles a Peony, it has at least two or three hundred petals. Records say it has been around since the 12th century and it has spiritual meaning for different groups. Fertilize it every two weeks. It is one of the largest plants in the pond and one that needs the most fertilization so it will flower and its leaves stay greener. Remove yellow leaves or any leaves with insect damage and it seems to thrive. It is a very large leafed plant, its leaf style is called orbicular, which means the stem comes right out of the center of the leaf. It is a beautiful and unusual plant.

Dr. Rick thanks Tiffany for showing us some of the unusual plants in this children's garden. Tiffany would encourage parents to purchase any kind of seed for their children. Anything that can be grown at home, even in a small pot is a great way to get children excited about growing their own plants and learning how plants start and survive.

Link: Atlanta Botanical Garden

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Photos and story by Monrovia Nursery Company

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