Hortense Hoelove Answers Questions About Flowers

Hortense Hoelove answers questions about flowers for the plant-lorn and other gardeners.

Dear Ms. Hoelove,

My heart is being broken by a night-blooming cereus! I've been in a long-term relationship with this plant for many years, and when we first got together it was happy and reciprocated my attention by blooming in that special way only a cereus can (of which you are well aware). In the past few years, however, my cereus has lost interest in me, never blooms, and is generally listless and unhappy.

I must confess that there is a large generation gap between me and my cereus. I was introduced to this plant by a childhood mentor who has since passed away, and I feel obligated to stay in this relationship because of our mutual connection. I've tried to revive our relationship with fertilizer, compost, and a sunnier location, but so far I've seen no change!

What should I do? Should I admit that our age difference is just too great, and it's time to let this plant go on to a better place? Is there some way I can make it love me again? Help me, Hortense!

Serious about Cereus
Ramble on Rose

Dear Ramble on Rose,

Oh, dear! You must not let your night-blooming cereus go to a better place, no matter how great the age difference! I recommend that you practice tough love by withholding almost all fertilizer and just keep it watered. That’s what I do with mine and it seems to respond with a bloom or two every year, even though I keep it inside. I also recommend that you take some cuttings of new growth and root those to create some new night-bloomers. You can then either forge a future relationship with them, just in case your current one decides to “go to a better place” , or you can give them to others who will surely covet one of their own if they ever see yours blooming!

I will hardly be able to sleep if you tell me you are giving up hope for your night-blooming cereus, so please post periodic updates!

Also Serious about Cereus,

Night-blooming Cereus at May Dreams Gardens

Dear Hortense,

I’m a little embarrassed by some blooms that showed up in my garden just a week or so ago without any leaves. It is as those they are “nekkid”, but they are quite pretty with pink lily-like flowers. There were lily-like leaves in those same places last spring. Could they be related? Please help!

Pink Cheeks Gardener

Dear Pink,

Relax, those are likely Lycoris squamigera. The leaves come up in the spring and then die back so you think that the plant has died, and then “surprise”, later in the summer the flower stalk shoots up and you have a beautiful bloom, usually in some shade of pink. For that reason, many genteel gardeners call them Surprise Lilies. Other gardeners call them Resurrection Lilies because it seems they’ve died after the foliage is gone, but they return to life with a beautiful bloom. And of course, some gardeners call them Naked Ladies because when they bloom, they have no leaves.

I prefer the more genteel name of Surprise Lilies, but you may call them whatever you’d like to call them!

All the best,

Surprise Lilies bloom at May Dreams Gardens

Dear Hortense,

How long must I wait for a blasted white marigold to bloom in my garden! I sowed seeds for the white flowering marigold, ‘Kilamanjaro’ way back on May 19th, the same day I sowed seeds for zinnias and sunflowers. I’m still waiting for the marigolds to bloom while the zinnias and sunflowers have been blooming for weeks. Weeks!

I don’t know why I’m so anxious to see this white marigold because they’ve been around for decades, or at least since 1975 when Burpee awarded Alice Vonk with $10,000 for the seed of a true white marigold. And now thirty plus years later I’ve decided I want a white marigold in my garden and I want it now!

Carol, May Dreams Gardens

Dear Carol,

Patience is a virtue they say and one you don't seem to have much of! Your white marigold looks like it is just about ready to fully bloom. Really, has it been that much of a wait? I once heard that you waited thirteen years for your night-bloomer to start blooming after you acquired it and repotted it, so maybe at one time you did have patience?

Give the marigold another day or so. You don’t even have your first big ripe tomato! Though, there are some rumors floating around that you have a ‘Pink Oxheart’ tomato ready to pick this weekend.

I would like you to practice more patience in the garden by weeding every day for at least fifteen minutes. And then, while you are at it, I’ve noticed that you still have ten bags of mulch on your patio, that have been there since June. Really, is that mulch doing much good still in bags on the patio? I know you have flower beds that once weeded, should be mulched.

You might also look into some extended sessions with a therapist, like Dr. Hortfreud, because it is impossible for me to address all your issues in one letter.

Good luck,
Hortense Hoelove

First white marigold at May Dreams Gardens


  1. Ms. Hoelove, you are a veritable fount of wisdom! I admire your tactfulness as well, having to deal with such an impatient person as Carol. At least she has a budding bloom! I have been waiting and waiting for some signs of life from my Joe Pye weed that seems to have grown maybe an inch since I planted it in late May. But do you hear me whining? Nor am I whining that I didn't win the seed giveaway; instead, I'm going to congratulate Leslie and hope every seed she plants blooms in her garden.

  2. What would we do without Ms. Hoelove's wisdom. I hope to get up the nerve to write to her one day, but my troubles are sooo embarrassing.

  3. I love your Cereus picture. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Ms. Hoelove, thank goodness I found you! I realise our time difference may mean that You're sleeping while I'm awake but I do wish you would help me out. Like Carol, I'm victim to the most frustrating problem. I would love my garden to be filled with gorgeous temperate-growing plants which I see in blogs like May Dreams Garden but alas! I live a tropical zone. Hot, humid and filled with bugs of every size and colour. What, oh what can I do? Please help.
    aka The Urban Gardener

  5. A white marigold! Wow, I haven't seen these before. I would be impatient for them to bloom too. I love marigolds. It seems that at this time of the year they make themselves worth the wait as they continue to bloom until frost no matter the weather.

  6. Well, I'm lovin' Ms. Hoelove's contribution to your blog Carol. Give her a Hershey's kiss for me.~~Dee

  7. What a delightful post. You entertain and inform us all at the same time.

  8. There are no dates on the letters you posted, but it's August for heavens sake! A marigold that hasn't bloomed by August is not worth growing. Pull the thing out.

  9. I love your combo of Lycoris with the Coneflowers,
    Will Hortense & Dr. Hortfreud ever do a joint post?

  10. I certainly hope Ms. Hoelove will be a regular contributor to this blog, Carol. I'm so impressed with how you are able to make us laugh out loud and still help us learn something. A white marigold? Awesome.

    Can you hear me laughing all the way down here?

  11. Thank you for the advice, Hortense! A couple years ago I made a cutting of my cereus that is growing into a nice, robust plant, but it too hasn't bloomed! That was what made me think my location wasn't sunny enough. I was practicing the tough love of water only, and the lack of blooms then drove me to try fertilizer. But I will take your advice and keep at it! And don't worry, I'll keep you updated. I'm relieved to hear that I can still have a future with my beloved cereus with whom I've shared so much of my life!

  12. Hoe, hoe, hoe, you funny girl. Very interesting Hortensicultural info, too.

  13. Thanks for once again making me smile!