My Favorite Houseplant

I first found my favorite houseplant at a neighborhood plant sale in Chicago.

I didn’t know what I was buying, but the seller assured me this plant with fuzzy dark green leaves and pale lavender flowers would do well on my porch all summer and near a window in my apartment the rest of the year.

It wasn’t until I’d had the plant for a few months and learned what a good houseplant it did make that I realized my plant hadn’t come with a label.

This was long before smart phones and plant ID apps, and it would take me years to learn the name of this South African beauty:

Plectranthus ‘Mona Lavender’

One of my favorite things about this plant is how easy it is to propagate through cuttings.

All I do is snip off a fresh stem with no flowers and drop it into a glass of water. Before long that stem will put out roots of its own, and I can pot it up for a friend.

I have found that this plant is often sold as an autumn “annual,” which is how I recently found it labeled at my local big-box garden center.

The good news is that this beautiful plant is NOT an annual, and will thrive indoors all winter in a bright spot.

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Re-thinking Annuals

Do you grow annuals?

Over the years, I have fallen in and out of love with them.

When we are new to gardening, they are our everything. I became a gardener growing marigolds around my tomatoes in an urban community garden and zinnias in front of my shrubbery in a Florida suburban home.

I first became infatuated with growing flowers here at Maplehurst in Pennsylvania by digging up a jelly-bean patch of sod and planting seeds for morning glory vine, moonflower vine, zinnias, cosmos, and, yes, more marigolds.

The annual flower gomphrena was my first attempt at keeping the garden looking fresh into fall. My father told me to plant them, and he was not wrong. The dark purple globes were gorgeous in late summer when everything else had wilted in the heat and humidity.


But I fell out of love with annuals as I gained garden experience.

As I learned more about perennials, and grew familiar with the ones that would do well in my garden and return year after year, annual flowers began to seem like a lot of work for only one season’s worth of color.

Annual flowers often needed more care (like deadheading and feeding). And then they needed to be cleaned up after the first hard freeze, Some, like gomphrena, looked almost better after a freeze, but many, like nasturtium, seemed to dissolve into a puddle of slime. Gross!


Now, more than a decade into my gardening life, I find myself returning to a more balanced appreciation for annual flowers.

As much as I love potting up perennials like roses, there really is nothing like an annual flower (or group of them) to keep a container looking bright and beautiful all season long.

And those purple gomphrena? I still love their late-season color and their ability to withstand the heat and humidity of August.

Here are the annual flowers that are still “must-haves” for me:

  • Zinnias, especially ‘Benarys Giant’ and ‘Queen Lime’
  • Cosmos, especially ‘Purity’
  • Alyssum
  • Nasturtium, especially ‘Salmon Gleam’


My appreciation for annual flowers is now informed by the fact that I know so much more about them.

When I began, I lumped them all into the same category and planted them all at the same time following the words of advice on so many seed packets: plant out after all danger of frost has passed.

Now I better understand the difference between

Hardy Annuals

“… live for one year and survive cold temperatures. Many are planted in fall to winter-over and produce blooms the following spring and summer. These flowers prefer growing in cool conditions.”

and Tender Annuals

“… live for one year and do not survive cold temperatures. These flowers are planted after the threat of frost has passed in spring and the soil has begun to warm. Tender annuals prefer growing in the heat of summer.” – Lisa Mason Ziegler, Cool Flowers

This fall, I’ll be sowing seeds for the hardy annual snapdragons. I love ‘Chantilly’ for cut flowers and ‘Twinny’ for containers. And next spring, I’ll be planting out my cosmos and zinnias as I always do.

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Bulbs to Order Today


Spring bulbs are rarely on our minds in July.

And yet, they should be. If we garden in the northern hemisphere, now is the time to order bulbs for fall planting (if we didn’t place our orders in spring). If we garden in the southern hemisphere, we can anticipate the bulbs that will begin blooming soon.

I love planting bulbs in the garden because they are so easy, require so little care, and make such an impact.

While some are enticing to pests like deer and squirrels, there are many bulbs these animals will ignore, like Narcissus (daffodil), Allium, Camassia, and Fritillaria.


Here are some especially beautiful and unusual bulbs to consider ordering right now:

  • White flowers really stand out from a distance. In the evening they are often the only flowers we can still see in our gardens. I love planting large numbers of a beautiful white lily-shaped tulip called ‘White Triumphator’


  • One of my garden goals is to highlight my flowering bulbs with companion plants rather than mulch. Even the prettiest daffodil looks better set against the colors of other plants rather than the brown of mulch or soil. A tip I learned in this recent article comes from one of my favorite Pennsylvania gardens, Chanticleer. Chanticleer gardeners recommend picking up a packet of purple-leaved lettuce. Bulbs will look amazing contrasted with purple lettuce seedlings.


  • Scilla siberica is a small bulb that can carpet the area under a tree with shades of blue.


  • After blooming, bulb foliage should always be left to die back naturally. Never cut it back before it loses all of its green color. This ensures that the bulb is fed for next year’s flowers. Small, early blooming bulbs can be planted right in the lawn. By the time the grass needs mowing, the bulb foliage has already done its job. I like to plant crocus tommasinianusor “tommies” as they are often called, because they are supposed to be a little less appealing to squirrels than other crocus.



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Planting Roses (for Easier Tending)

Roses may have a reputation for being difficult to grow, but we can make tending them easier by choosing and planting them well.

Choose Well

Do your research! While impulse buys can be fun (and I would never tell you NOT to bring home that rose on the clearance table at the local garden center), choosing your variety with care can mean the difference between a short-lived infatuation and a long-term romance with your rose.

I read books about roses, search websites, and look for blogs by rose growers. Two I like are The Garden Diary and Hedgerow Rose

Place Well

Almost every rose will stay healthier and bloom better if you can maximize the amount of sunshine it receives. Six hours a day is usually a requirement, but research will help you here, too. There are a few roses that can bloom well in less sunny conditions. One I like (and it’s thornless) is the climbing rose Zephirine Drouhin.

For continued good health, air circulation around your rose is important. You don’t want to plant it out where it will feel the full brunt of a winter wind (though I do have a few roses in just such a spot!), but crowding it into a corner, or letting other plants climb all over it could cause problems down the road.

It’s also important to think about access. Roses will need tending. You will want to cut flowers, prune them, and mulch them well. Don’t plant them where you’ll have trouble reaching them later.

Plant Well

If your rose is grafted (meaning the variety you have chosen has been grown onto the rootstock of a different, all-purpose rose), then you will want to take care with the knobby union where the roots and the rose variety meet. In cold climates, that bud union especially needs protecting. But no matter where you live, making sure that thick knobby portion of the stem, below the canes, is underneath your soil can help anchor your rose and keep it from rocking in the wind.

Consider your soil. Roses love rich soil. If yours is not so rich, you might add some well-composted manure or good compost to the planting hole. However, don’t just drop it at the bottom of the hole. Try to work it in all around the area. You want to encourage those rose roots to grow and reach for their nutrition. My clay soil is fairly good for roses, so I don’t bother adding anything when I plant. Instead, I give the newly planted rose a good layer of rich compost as a mulch, right on top of the soil.

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Garden Roses for Hot and Sticky Summers


Roses have a reputation, don’t they?

A reputation for romance, first of all. But also a reputation for being fussy to grow.

Truthfully, the wrong rose will be a very fussy rose. But the right one?

The right one will be so very, very right.

Here are some tips and suggestions for those of you looking to grow roses in hot and humid summer gardens:

  • The Antique Rose Emporium is worth a pilgrimage for any rose lover. Located in hot and humid central Texas, the growers there have made rugged roses their specialty.

I have learned so much about both antique and modern roses well adapted to extreme summer conditions by studying their catalog, reading their books, and studying the guides and resources on their website, especially The Rose Reader.


  • David Austin roses may come from cool, green England, but their print catalog lists a number of roses that do well in heat and humidity.

The Ancient Mariner, James Galway, The Generous Gardener, Olivia Rose Austin, Princess Anne are the pink roses mentioned. White roses include Desdemona, Lichfield, Angel, and Windermere. Yellow and apricot roses are The Lark Ascending, Roald Dahl, and Vanessa Bell.

Personally, I have found that Lady of Shalott (picture above) blooms well through a warm and humid Pennsylvania summer. Of the roses mentioned above, The Generous Gardener and Olivia Rose Austin are favorites of mine for their good health and near-constant flowering.


  • Search out easy-care shrub roses rather than high-maintenance hybrid teas (the formal roses that look like they just came from a florist’s shop).

Shrub roses include the Knock Out family of roses and many others, such as Bonica and Belinda’s Dream.


  • Look for rose growers and nurseries in your area.

For instance, a new-to-me resource for Florida gardeners is Angel Gardens in Gainesville, Florida. You will have a head start on a beautiful Florida rose garden if you are buying your roses from a reputable Florida grower.

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