Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Vintage Gardens: Spider Plants and Fancy Pants

Cleome  a/k/a Spider Plant

Cleome (Clay-oh-me.)  Even the name sounds vintage.  These energetic girls were annual features in Ciocia Maryann's garden.  Lacy and frilly on top, with slightly curved stems, these plants can bloom up to four feet.  Also known as the "spider flower"  due to the bendy legged appearance of its blooms, these plants are far from spidery in their popping presentation of multi hued pinks, purples and whites.  Sorta like fireworks on a stick. 

Rarely available in flats, most large scale nurseries carry Cleome beginning in June.  If you're fortunate enough to find the Proven Winner version, Senorita Rosalita, grab it.  Unlike the originals, this elegant hybrid will knock the calcentines off any gardener from July through frost. This introduction grows lower and profusely blooms from a single plant.
To quote the sophisticated Rosalita,

"Now I, Senorita Rosalita have restored Cleome’s reputation. The magnificent dark leaves on my 3-5 feet tall upright branches are topped by clusters of bright, lavender pink flowers. And they bloom with abandon from late spring through fall. I scoff at heat, and renounce all thorns and sticky substances. Deadheading is no more. All I ask is that you plant me in full sun in a place where water drains freely through the soil".  http://www.provenwinners.com/

Purebred or hybrid, these lacy lovelies are surprisingly low maintenance.  If so inclined, a bit of pinching back will result in spikes of new blooms in short measure.

Otherwise, leave the ladies alone, and they will provide a show on their own. 

These delightful darlings dance with the wind, never wilt and readily reseed if left to do so in the fall. The upper portion of the stem sprouts elongated pods containing hundreds of tiny black seeds. The pods pop on their own in late fall.  For best reseeding results place a few flat stones atop the soil at their base and leave  in place during the winter.   The tiny seeds congregate at the base of the stone and hibernate through  the winter.  The stones hold a bit of warmth and encourage growth.  Just be sure not to pull out the notched leaf volunteer plants, mistaking them for weeds. Easily done.  The volunteers can be relocated once they reach a height of six to eight inches.  Cut the baby plants back by one third to encourage a more bushy growth.

Gardens often reflect the gardener.   Maryann possessed both elegance and exuberance.  She laughed readily and heartily with never a harsh word for anyone. Including her niece, who tried, on occasion, to get a rise out of her.  She got even in her own way--birthday gifts could be new gotchkies tucked into the ends of wrapped cardboard tubes.  When her beloved husband  passed away, she passed on black garb to the funeral, because he loved her in red.  She never said goodbye, instead "I love you sweetie."  

If you wish your garden to be more than ordinary, experiment with a few cleome. 

A favorite photo of my aunt comes from my parents' wedding, as she danced with joy, swishing her skirts, her family laughing heartily around.    The same vitality was found in her yard.  Mine are planted under my dining room window. 

Each time those lively Cleome dance in the breeze, I nod to my spirited aunt, and smile. 

Love you sweetie. 

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