January 29, 2015

OUR RECORD BREAKING BLIZZARD


Unless you've been disconnected from the news lately, you've probably heard about our record breaking snowfall here in Worcester, MA. 35 inches according to the National Weather Service, but since they measure snow at a higher elevation here ( at our airport) we know that the depths were higher here in the valley where we live. My guess is that we received around 38 inches, with drifts up to….well, over our head in some spots (see the awesome video at the end of this post). Still, I love snow. Really. I do. It's so beautiful, but as I age, I am beginning to feel the effects of shoveling such record-breaking snow falls ( this storm broke our all time record for snow in a single storm here in Worcester). Today I am sore ( out-of-shape due to not working out, I know).



Here are a few images showing how the snow drifted higher than our first floor windows.

When I come into the kitchen early in the morning, I could tell that I was in trouble. There is a deck outside this window which is on the windward side of the storm, but still, drifts or not, it was a heck of a lot of snow.

First things first, I had to shovel a pee pee route for the kids. Ol Fergus still loves the snow. Liddy? Not so much. She still pee'd in the house to make a point out of all of this - she is the boss.

The bird feeders were packed, and as you can see here in this cool shot which I took from our kitchen sink through a Christmas wreath which helped hide me, a Red-Bellied Woodpecker and a Chicadee didn't mind sharing the suet.

Fergie, having some second thoughts about attempting the stairs again - and this was early in the morning, we still had another 12 hours of snow coming.

video
Doodles (Daphne), our youngest female Irish terrier, and the goofy sister of Weasley who is going to Westminster, loooooves the snow, but I think that she may have discovered that Avalanche rescue really isn't her thing. This might have been more than she bargained for ( truth be told, we tossed her in with the hopes of winning America's Funniest Video's, but after I saw that first clip, it just looked too mean, even though she had a ball. Doing again, three times until she decided that it was no longer fun.


video


January 25, 2015

SPRING ON DEMAND - WHEN FORCING BULBS AND PLANTS, IT'S ALL ABOUT TIMING

A FRAGRANT SARCOCOCCA HOOKERIANA BLOOMS IN THE GREENHOUSE - AN EARLY BLOOMER, THIS ZONE 7 SHRUB BLOOMS IN A COOL GREENHOUSE OR PORCH WITHOUT ANY ADDITIONAL CARE. 

KNOWN AS THE  HIMALAYAN SWEET BOX, IF I LIVED IN OREGON OR NORTH CAROLINA I COULD GROW THIS OUTDOORS, BUT IN NEW ENGLAND, IT MUST BE KEPT UNDER COLD GLASS.

Timing is everything when it comes to forcing bulbs and plants for spring shows, and it only gets more complicated if one is trying to force multiple species or more unusual plants. So the next time you visit one of those big spring flower shows like Philadelphia or Seattle - pay attention to the type of plants being forced, as this is an indication of the growers skill.


BULBOUS SMALL IRIS WILL FORCE QUICKLY, OFTEN WITHIN A FEW DAYS OF WARMTH, SO THESE POTS WILL GO BACK INTO COLD STORAGE UNTIL A WEEK OR SO BEFORE THE SHOW.

With more and more landscape service companies using the spring flower show circuit to advertise their skills to clients and fewer greenhouses and nurseries forcing plants, the entire idea of what a spring flower show is changing to and event which is more about lawn and garden maintenance and landscape service, and less about true landscape design, horticulture and gardening knowledge.

MY MUSCARI COLLECTION IS NOW READY TO FORCE, I HAVE MOVED ALL OF THE POTS ONTO A HIGHER BENCH. I THINK THAT I WILL HAVE TO MOVE THEM INDOORS TO PUSH THEM ALONG LATER, BUT FOR NOW, THEY SIT IN THE SUNSHINE. I HOPE THE DIFFERENT VARIETIES WILL END UP BLOOMING TOGETHER.

We can all grumble about the good old days of flower shows, but the reasons why these shows have evolved in such a commercial venture revolve more around the practical reasons of cost and economics (ROI)  than it does about anything else. I get it. I don't like it, but I get it.

HYACINTHS ARE EASIER TO FORCE, BUT THESE TOO ARE ALMOST TOO BIG FOR FORCING THIS EARLY IF I WANT THEM IN BLOOM FOR LATE FEBRUARY, SO I AM KEEPING THEM COOLER UNTIL NEXT WEEKEND.

If you see lots of Forsythia, mauve PJM rhody's and lots of greenhouse grown azalea plants along with tulips, daffodils and supermarket primroses all swimming in yards and yards of yards wood mulch it means that very little effort into planning and even less skill was needed in forcing the plants. Don't get me wrong, I understand the economics of managing such an immense display with fancy forced deciduous trees and carefully forced woodland plants with drifts of unusual bulbs, but these days are gone, I'm afraid.




THE LILY OF THE VALLEY ARE READY TO FORCE, WITH THEIR BUDS OR PIPS POKING OUT FROM THE SOIL.

As I plan for my exhibit at a flower show this February, I fear that my display will not be terribly interesting, but I too am learning - for there was a time when the bar was quite high at the great Eastern spring flower shows. Directors of horticulture from Holland would sometimes orchestrate the entire process here at our local exhibit at the Worcester County Horticultural Society show, but today, only a few of us have greenhouses, and even few have the means.

THE ENTIRE PAD OR SOD OF LILY OF THE VALLEY IS SET INTO A GRAPE CRATE FROM THE MARKET, AND WATERED WELL, SET INTO THE SUNSHINE ON A BENCH WHERE IT IS STILL COOL. NEXT WEEK, IT WILL BE BROUGHT INTO THE WARM HOUSE UNDER LIGHTS.

 In an effort to reinvent the idea of the great spring flower shows, I've helped inspire the now reinvented Worcester County Horticultural Society which is now Tower Hill Botanic Garden to attempt reintroducing a spring show. I expect that this show will start off small, but hopefully it will generate a new way to experience the magic of spring a few months earlier, without the lawn mower companies and hot dog booths.

WHILE I'M AT IT, MY SEEDS FROM NARGS (NORTH AMERICAN ROCK GARDEN SOCIETY) ARE SET OUT INTO THE SNOW TO BE EXPOSED TO WINTER WEATHER FOR A MONTH OR TWO. I WILL COVER THESE WITH A FLAT TO PROTECT THEM A BIT FROM BIRDS.

If you live in the New England area, consider forcing a few branches of most anything, and enter a class at the Spring Flower Show Flora in February. Success will come when a number of people become involved. And if you cannot enter this year, start thinking about next year. Start a collection potted plants that might be entered in a Potted Plant Display next February.

SOME OF MY NARGS SEED READY TO CHILL AFTER BEING KEPT WARM FOR 2 WEEKS. THIS IS NECESSARY FOR MANY WILD SEED WHICH NEEDS A COLD PERIOD FOLLOWING A WARM, DAMP PERIOD IN TO STRATIFY PROPERLY.


WE HAD A BIT OF SNOW SATURDAY, ALTHOUGH WE ARE GETTING READY FOR A BLIZZARD WHICH IS SET TO HIT THE NORTH EAST TOMORROW.

Think about bulbs that you can pot up in the fall to force, or plant interesting and rare shrubs in pots to force - it's fun and the more who participate, the better the shows int he future will be. At the very least, pay a visit to Tower Hill and support this effort. There is nothing like a flower show to raise ones spirits when there is still snow on the ground.



FERGUS AND LYDIA ENJOY THE SNOW. FERGUS IS DOING WELL WITH HIS CANCER, THE STEROIDS ALLOW HIM TO BE PEPPY AND PUPPY-LIKE FOR NOW, BUT WE EXPECT THAT THE INEVITABLE WILL HAPPEN QUICKLY. ONE DAY AT A TIME. LIDDY IS PREGNANT, SO WITH BOTH HAPPENING AT THE SAME TIME, IT'S A LITTLE CRAZY AROUND HERE - OF COURSE, WITH WEASLEY GOING TO WESTMINSTER, IT'S CRAZY.


For most people, the easiest plants to force are indeed the Dutch bulbs which we all know - starting with crocus which are the easiest and then the smaller bulbous Iris, and followed with hyacinths and the smaller narcissus. Most just require 15 weeks of cold with temps around 40º and then a gradual warm-up either under lights or on a cool, sunny heated porch or windowsill. Larger narcissus are easy too, but need more chilling time. Tulips and the lesser bulbs can be more challenging and that's where I am currently struggling as I am preparing for a spring flower show which is being held at the Tower Hill Botanic Garden at the end of February, and this whole forcing thing is causing some stress - as it is difficult to find accurate cultural information in regards to dates and forcing times.




 I once had a nice commercial book on ornamental horticulture from college which covered forcing times for everything from greenhouse crops of anemones to Easter Lilies, but trying such information on-line is challenging - thanks to bloggers (like myself!). I too need to be careful when researching cultural information, weeding through the second hand or shared information, I generally rely on commercial sites or even old books from the 1800's, as these often provide advice for cold greenhouses such as mine.

THANKS TO EVERYONE FOR THE KIND WORDS AND SUPPORT FOR POOR FERG. HE'S GRATEFULL FOR ALL OF HIS FANS OVER THE YEARS WHO HAVE SENT THEIR THOUGHTS.


Still, I know that it will take some orchestration as I begin to force my bulbs, not that it is difficult to force any of them, but trying to time them so that they will all be near peak bloom for a specific date will require me hauling them from the cool storage to sunny and cool benches in the sunshine, and then probably up to a warm bedroom under lights, and then back to the cool greenhouse, perhaps setting them on the even colder floor to hold some back, while providing others a higher bench so that they can color-up in the mid-February sunshine - and so, the dance begins.

...AND HE LOVES HIS NEW SQUIRREL SKI SWEATER. THE OL BOY.


January 19, 2015

ALOCASIA FROM SEED, OUR ANNUAL PRIMULA SOCIETY MEETING AND A RARE NASTURTIUM ARRIVES

REGULAR SUPERMARKET PRIMROSES CAN LOOK MORE INTERESTING  IF CAREFULLY CURATED SO THAT ONE HAS NICER COLORS, AND WHEN POTTED UP IN A NICE HUY WOLFF POT THEY CAN SHINE!

Here it is -mid January and the temperatures outside are dipping down below 0º F, but this weather doesn't seem to be stopping some of the tropical plants which are spending the colder month of the winter in the house, since even the greenhouse is too cold for them. This weekend we hosted the New England Primula Society for a lunch and greenhouse garden tour as they are planning the national primrose exhibition which they are hosting this year at Tower Hill Botanic Garden in Boylston, MA in May. I was too busy to take photos this year but we had about 40 guests including folks from Blythewold Mansion, Gardens & Arboretum, author and garden designer Kris Fenderson and many cross-over NARGS friends like Ellen Hornig, Elizabeth Zander and plantswomen Amy Olmsted.).

 I am always surprised at how far people drive here with many coming from New York State, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine and Rhode Island. I tried to keep it easy on myself so that I could enjoy some of the meeting, which lasts most of the day beginning at 11:00 am. I made grilled cheese sandwiches with fancy cheeses, a sorrel, lemon, and golden beet salad and tomato soup.




When we were cleaning up after our meeting Joe pointed out that one of our large Alocasia macrorrhizos  'Borneo Giant' plants which sits in the corner of the studio had ripe seed which somehow we missed - probably because the leaves are still larger than we are, reaching a height of 10 feet or so. The seeds, which are berry-like and dark orange ( they should be red). Even though they are almost ripe, I am going to sow them as in the past, we've even had green seed germinate.




If you brought an Alocasia indoors this autumn, you too may find one of these 'pod's.  Here is how I treat such seeds - but note, this is not a strict, scientific method, and I am not an aroid collector (even though I do grow a few), but the seeds on many aroids are treated similarly. When ripe, the 'pods' split open and curl downwards revealing the white, light green or bright, red fruits which look like 'berries'  but they are toxic so do not eat them and it is recommended to handle them with latex gloves as the flesh can irritate bare skin.




The fruits must be cleaned before sowing, which is a simple task - smearing them across a few paper towels will do the trick. Some growers soak the clean seed overnight, others rinse them off in a sieve, but neither is necessary, and one could simply sow them in good, professional soil mix which is what I did. My seed is not completely ripe, as the fruit is not deep red, but I have had seed germinate throughout the greenhouse in past years, so I am hopeful that this almost-ripe seed will germinate.




Most aroid seed if tropical, require warm temperatures in which to germinate well, and most aroid collector sites recommend soil temperatures no lower than 70º F and no higher than 85º F. Because of this, I am keeping my pot of seed indoors for a while. We keep many selections of Alocasia so I am curious if any of them have crossed with this plant ( I am not even sure if the plants are pollinated via beetles, insects or wind! I am being a bit lazy botanically, I admit.). I am rather certain that any offspring will not truly be Alocasia 'Borneo Giant', perhaps I can label them ex. 'Borneo Giant'? Yes, that would be safest and the most proper way to label these seeds.



My Alocasia seed is spread about in one of my clay pots ( I know, it's a bit dirty and unwashed). A layer of fresh soil is added to the top so that the seeds are set a depth of about 1/4 inch.



The soil is tamped down with hardly any fuss, as I have Alocasia seed popping up in pots all over the greenhouse, so I am expecting that at least a few seeds will germinate for me.


The rare double sterile nasturtium named 'Margaret Long' is treasured by those who know about such things. It can only be propagated by cuttings,never from seed, is so much more than a mere 'hand-me-down plant - a sport off of a double red Victorian plant named 'Hermine Grashof' , a similar form that dates back to the 1880's, this apricot sport appeared on a plant in Ireland in the early 1970's, and had been passed on since then. Such double sports where treasured as pot plants and remain terribly rare.

I am so excited to tell you that I finally have this Nasturtium in my collection!!! I don't use explaimation points that often, so I suppose that you can tell that I am truly excited.  I have been on a hunt for it ever since I first read about it (I wrote about it here). As such things go, plant folk are of a good and generous soul, and thanks to a few people (mainly Gail Read, the garden manager from Blythewold and Kathy Tracey at Avant Gardens - I hear, who passed it on to Gail  for safe keeping in their greenhouses until Gail could get it up to me. Really-- What a dedicated bunch of plant people!). Please don't' ask them for one, as I know they don't have any to share, but apparently Avant gardens does carry it from time to time, as does Annie's Annuals, but currently, they are not propagating it.  I am so grateful and of course, delighted. More on these rare nasturtiums soon! First, I am off to make some cuttings.




January 10, 2015

I'M READY FOR SPRING BUT IT'S STILL TOO EARLY TO FORCE THOSE BULBS

Can you guess what this plant is - - It's a Cymbium elegant ( see photo of it at the end of this post- it's terrific!). I noticed it in bloom while relocating pots of bulbs in the greenhouse so that I can force them for an upcoming flower show in February - will I have enough time to force 100 pots?

I am so eager for spring to arrive now, (maybe because it is not really snowing this year), or perhaps it's just because of last week's fridgid record breaking cold blast - regardless of why, I thought for some reason that my spring bulbs should come out and be forced, after all, Iv'e often had luck forcing the smaller Iris reticulate and crocus species just after the New Year. 

After checking on my pots of bulbs (which have been chilling in cold storage under the benches), I was encouraged, as I could see that some were beginning to emerge - those little green noses poking through the soil which looked so hopeful that I relocated most of my bulbs which were potted on October 11, 2014 and allowed to root slowly throughout autumn until being placed in total darkness and cold temperatures until now (40º or less)- it all seemed to be going so well - until I did some homework. Counting the weeks from when I planted them I realized that I had made a common and grave mistake - I took my bulbs out of cold storage three weeks too early.


I SET MY BULBS WHICH HAVE BEEN CHILLING SINCE OCTOBER OUT ONTO A BENCH TO FORCE. THEY LOOK HEALTHY, BUT I LATER DISCOVERED THAT I AM FAR TOO EARLY TO START FORCING MOST OF THEM.


So back they went into the cold darkness for a few more weeks until I remove them to warmer temperatures (gradually, so that they adjust) around January 26th. You see, most hardy bulbs require at least 14-16 weeks of cold temperatures, just above freezing so that they will force well. Sure, I could have removed these bulbs now, and many would have bloomed eventually, but much can go wrong, depending on the species and selection. Hyacynths are more forgiving, as are crocus, but the larger narcissus could actually talk longer to force when removed prematurely, as I discovered in the past, pots removed in early January sprouted, but the pots removed around February 6 caught-up and the surpassed the earlier bulbs blooming two weeks sooner in the end.

Tulips are notoriously fussy about forcing, with the early tulips and Darwins being a little more well behaved than the late varieties which I just don't bother with at all, I never remove tulips until 16 or 17 weeks in cold storage. Much can go wrong with their flower buds not extending far enough out beyond the foliage, and many will just abort if forced too quickly.

THESE NARCISSUS FROM LAST YEAR WERE TAKEN OUT OF COLD STORAGE IN MID JANUARY, AND THEY BLOOMED HERE ON VALENTINES DAY. NARCISSUS SPECIES CAN OFTEN BE FORCED EARLIER

Once removed from cold storage, potted bulbs must be careful coaxed into believing that it is truly spring, so although they will need to be forced into full splendor indoors ( under lights) for my needs, where it is a balmy 68º F., they must first be gradually introduced to moderate temperatures in the cold greenhouse (or if you are forcing in your house, the coolest spot you can find). Pots of many bulbs when removed to force for a spring flower show or display should bloom quickly, in 2 -3 weeks. If it takes longer, then you removed them too quickly.


TULIPS ARE MORE DIFFICULT TO FORCE WELL, THEY DO BEST WITH MORE THAN 16 WEEKS OF COLD TEMPS IF YOU CAN DO IT. 

AN UPCOMING GARDEN PARTY IN JANUARY? YES!

Joe and I are hosting the American Primrose Society next Saturday - it's our annual Primula Society Winter Luncheon Bash, which of course, will includes walks through the greenhouse and lots of plant chat, as this fabulous group of friends and plant professionals and enthusiasts are essential all plant geeks.  There is nothing like a little garden tour in the middle of winter we discovered. Snow, hearty ski-lodge type food, and then our meeting to plant the spring Primrose show. It's always so popular that it seems that we get more and more people ( and new members) every year.

I AM FORCING A COLLECTION OF MUSCARI, EVERY SPECIES AND SELECTION THAT I COULD FIND - NEARLY 25. MUSCARI, or GRAPE HYACINTHS PRODUCE FOLIAGE EARLY, SOMETIMES EVEN EMERGING IN THE AUTUMN WHEN OUT IN THE GARDEN. BUT NOW, I HAVE RELOCATED ALL POTS BACK INTO THE COLD.


THESE HYACINTHS MIGHT HAVE BEEN OK, BUT MOST BULBS ARE NOT YET READY TO FORCE, NEEDING AT LEAST 3 MORE WEEKS. WHEN READY, THEY WILL ONLY NEED ONLY 2-3 WEEKS OF TEMPERATURES AT AROUND 68º F TO FORCE, AND TIMING IS EVERYTHING SINCE I NEED THEN BUDDED BY FEB. 20.
You may be wondering why I am attempting to force so many bulbs? I am planning to set a display at the new Spring Flower Show at the Tower Hill Botanic Garden and I need enough to fill a 12 foot table (we'll see how that goes! So much can go wrong when trying to time bulbs to be blooming on a specific day!). I almost screwed it all up by removing those which were teasing me with their early emergence - so tempted to force just a couple of Iris reticulate for myself, but nah…..I need them all as surely I will mess up when I do try to force everything for a particular date.

I ONLY LOST A FEW PLANTS WITH OUT FREEZE THIS WEEK, MOST OF THEM PELARGONIUMS OR GERANIUMS, BUT A FEW SURVIVED, SOME, EVEN IN BLOOM.
Timing what you force so that it will bloom on a particular date is a real skill few have. I remember working at the old Worcester County Horticultural Society back when I was in High School where we used to also set up a display in my horticulture class, our instructor would take us to local greenhouses and large nurseries who were also forcing full sized trees and shrubs for the New England Flower Show which was held in Boston around the same time. Many of these nurseries would be forcing trees and landscape material along with perennials and bulbs in different greenhouses. I would watch them move pots from warm bottom heated benched which sped them along, to chilly spaces near the glass or on the floor to hold them back.
I WAS A LITTLE SAD TO SEE THAT THIS BUDDLEA ASIATICA FROZE, AS IT USUALLY PROVIDES FRAGRANT FLOWERS THROUGH THE COLDEST MONTHS, BUT I BELIEVE THAT THE TRUNK IS STILL GREEN. THIS PLANT IS PLANTED IN THE GROUND.

Other forcing tricks included constructing plastic tents around benches that had rhododendrons and azaleas on them, to keep the inside warmer, and to provide more humidity so that their thick buds would open. PJM and Rhododendrons were easier than let's say lilacs or Dog Wood trees, the real skill awards went to the few specialist nurseries with the talent and skill to force an elm tree which was 24 feet tall into full bloom, or a magnolia species. Larger trees were common then in such displays, as were lawns which were forced and then cut with lawnmowers, and unusual perennials. Points were taken off if one only created a display with the easiest plants to force - forsythia, small azalea and rhododendrons - and then the gaps filled in with commercial greenhouse stock such as florist azaleas, primroses and then more mulch than you can imagine.

Today, sadly, this defines most of what one sees at Spring Flower Shows - more 'Lawn and Garden" shows than about the art of forcing unusual and interesting specimens. Yes, it was costly, sure, the audience probably doesn't know the difference, but somehow, I feel that we lost something.

THE VELTEIMIA BRACTEATA 'LEMON FLAME' WHICH WERE FROZEN HAVE BOUNCED BACK WITH LITTLE TO NO HARM. EVEN THE BUDS LOOK LIKE THEY SURVIVED.

HOLIDAY PLANTS HAVE BEEN MOVED BACK INTO THE GREENHOUSE WHERE THEY CAN ENJOY THE DAMP, COOL CONDITIONS.

EVEN A SINGLE VIOLA ODORATA CAN SCENT THE GREENHOUSE LIKE VIOLETS. I ALWAYS ASSOCIATE THIS UNIQUE SCENT WITH WINTER GREENHOUSES.

AND LOOK WHAT ARRIVED IN THE MAIL TODAY - MY NARGS SEED ORDER. ONE OF THE FINEST BENEFITS OF BEING A MEMBER OF THE NORTH AMERICAN ROCK GARDEN SOCIETY. TWENTY FIVE CHOICES IN THE FIRST ROUND, AND THEN THERE IS A SECOND ROUND - WITH MANY WILD COLLECTED SEEDS FOUND NO WHERE ELSE.


Thankfully, we are having a sunny break here in New England, and even though the temperature outside the greenhouse remains below 20º F, inside, the sunshine warms the air near 70º.  Spending a day working in a greenhouse in January is something one can hardly complain about - the scent of soil, the simple joy of turning on a hose and getting a little wet, the moist, cool air and the sweet fragrance of whatever is in bloom offers a contrast so rare when the air outside is essentially dry and hostile. After the big freeze and associated drama this week, I spend a few hours rearranging plants and repositioning some benches which had to be moved for the workmen, when I discovered a surprise - a beautiful Cymbidium elegans in bloom. This, made my day!

Cymbidium elegans
Cymbidium elegans is a species more likely found is the collection of a serious orchid grower than at a retail store, as it is not easy to find ( Santa Barbara Orchid Estate has a few, and it's where I purchased mine a couple of years ago - this is the first time it has bloomed.). Unlike most Cymbidium species, this one, which comes from Northern India, Nepal and Bhutan, has blossoms with a unique form, as they don't open completely. They look like lemon colored bells,  appearing more like a limp tuberose stem than an orchid. This species has a light fragrance, and pendant floral scapes when the plant is mature.

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