November 22, 2014

MAKING A REAL, WORKING TERRARIUM

JUST BECAUSE A PLANT IS SMALL, DOESN'T MEAN THAT IT WILL MAKE A GOOD TERRARIUM PLANT. I LIKE TO CHOOSE PLANTS WHICH ACTUALLY PREFER THE HUMID CONDITIONS THAT SUCH A GLASS CASE OFFERS. HERE IS HOW I PLANTED ONE OF MY LARGER WARDIAN-CASE STYLE TERRARIUMS.

I secretly love terrariums. Like many of you, I often converted most any glass container I could find as a kid - old canning jars, old aquariums, even old plastic shoe boxes which I could convert into magical, moss filled terrariums. Hey - it was the 60's and 70's and it happened to be very trendy towards the end of the 70's!

I still enjoy terrariums, they are just so magical, but today, in our overly DIY world, the term 'terrarium' has a broader definition - some blogs advise you to plant succulents in an open glass bowl -ok, not really a terrarium, but then again, not a good way to grow anything. And then there are those very hip hanging glass spheres with nothing in it much more than a tuft of reindeer moss and an airplant.  Still, not a great or effective way to grow plants, but there are so many vessels to choose from today, that really, there should be no excuse for any pocketbook from industrial kitchen jars at Target meant to store cookies or sugar, to more costly designer cloches and domes. I spluged on this one a couple of years ago at Terrain - and it keeps me entertained in the winter months.

I won't lie - there are far more poor directions on-line then there are good ones. Just google the phrase Make a Terrarium, and you will see. Most err on style more than botanically interesting or even botanically correct plantings - succulents cohabitating with ferms! I know, I know - we all did that, so yes - it is one way to learn. And there is no denying that terrarium craft is one of the best ways to get kids interested in plants. If your child is harping for a pet this Christmas, why not offer a nice terrarium instead?

Assembling a good, proper terrarium is akin to assembling a good, proper salt water tank. Perhaps not as specific, but you get the general idea -- no freshwater goldfish in with your salt water sharks, for example.  I know - it seems stupid to say such things, but beleive me - I can't tell you how many cacti with african violets and philodendron I have seen in just the past week! Look - you are creating an environment, a specific habitat. So whether you are recreating  a tiny bit of the high elevation rain forest on Mount Kinabalu in Borneo or a lowland rainforest with napenthes and a few other insect eating plants, please get interesting enough to research a bit - essentially you are creating a biosphere. I would imagine that if you really get into it, building a good, real terrarium can be not only a learning experience for the whole family, it can be truly fun. No need to be so accurate that you only use plants from Borneo, but learm what grows well together - ferns, mosses and begonias for example.



I start by laying a layer of gravel in this Wardian Case style terrarium. It has a copper liner, but still drains so I am potting it in the greenhouse first, and I will bring it into the house in a few days where it will sit on my blogging desk near a north window for most of the winter.

Terrariums have a long history dating back to the early plant explorers who used such 'Wardian cases' in which to bring back plants on sailing ships in the 18th and 19 centuries, later, in the Victorian era, such cases were used to grow fussy, difficult or challenging collections of precious plants which required special conditions. Of course, this is how I like to treat my terrariums - a containers for very special plants, some of which actually prefer the conditions  more than they do inside my larger glass greenhouse.

Even though I don't mind seeming bad advice on other sites, as it seems people still enjoying making terrariums, but it does bother me that few sites seems to offer good advice. You see, terrariums culture is a rather precise science - and there are plenty of plants which grow extremely well in the enclosed environment of a glass terrarium, but few if any of these plants are ever seen featured in blogs or large magazine brand websites which seem to all prefer to show succulents or cacti along with moss, stones and glass. 



I collected various mosses from around the back yard and from the woods out back.

OK, while I am on my soapbox again - endulge --  have no idea how many times I am asked by various major home lifestyle magazine to write an article about this or that - currently and article about good winter  houseplant suggestions  (currently, for a February issue). I complied, then my choices were changed and they asked me if it was OK. I wasn't OK because their editors felt that they wanted to  feature miniature Anthuriums (really). A week later, the editor sent me another note saying that they changed their mind again, because Anthuriums were poisonous they discovered, and asked if I then could suggest something else ( I had originally suggested a few new citrus and colorful rhizomatous begonias). In the end, I heard nothing, but it does show you how such topics are researched and written today.


Of course,  we should not forget the 80's when sandart came onto the scene - jars with layers of multicolored sand in groovy tones of the desert and sea. These were often planted with cacti and succulents - some of the worst candidates for air tight glass containers. If you are interested in making a terrarium, there are ways to create these closed in environments where the plants will actually thrive. There are so many misguided directions out there on the Internet - ranging from succulents like living stones ( Lithops) and cacti in sand, to air plants and moss - all certainly cool looking, but terrible candidates for a terrarium.



Looking around the greenhouse, there are a few plants which I felt would do well together in a terrarium. The ferns are smaller growing species, and the begonias are smaller growing species that actually prefer terrarium culture.

Choosing plants that really demand terrarium culture - really - there are plant that prefer terrarium over any other way to grow them, even a greenhouse - warm, moisture loving jungle plant like ferns and mosses do well together, as do certain gesneriads (African violet family). Many Begonia species and hybrids love glassed in containers.

Plant similar plants together - for example, not all orchids love the environment of a terrarium - in fact, very few orchids do, and any that you buy at Home Depot or the supermarket won't do well in one - rather, it's some tiny species that particularly do well like Dracula and a few tiny Dendrobium species.  Do a little research and you'll be surprised at how botanically interesting a terrarium can be - combining rare orchids like the tiny Dendrobium cuthbertsonii selections with other small terrarium orchids like the pleurothallids - check out Mountainside Orchids in Vermont for some amazing terrarium orchids and begonias.

I considered using the Kohleria, a relative of the African Violet but even with three plants, I think this large terrarium was already over planted. I can always pot this up under a dome or in another terrarium. It's not a perfect candidate for terrarium culture, but I know that my greenhouse is too cold, and my house too dry for it.

When I plant a terrarium, I like to combine plants that prefer the same conditions. A terrarium won't last forever, most need to be replanted every year or at least, edited but again, these are plants, and they grow. If you need to replant your terrarium, you are probably doing something right.





Terrariums are best if kept clean, so I start with a good commercial potting mix. The Perlite in it can be unattractive though, so I mound the soil higher in the center, and use gravel at a higher level on the glass. One would want to avoid white Perlite from floating up onto the moss, but garden soil would be too dense for me to use. A good compost if you have it will do well too. Fast draining soil that holds moisture is best, and most woodland plants, whether they come from the jungles of Ecuador or from upstate New York prefer fibrous, damp aerated growing material. In most cases, a deep layer of moss will do for these plants, as would live sphagnum if you can find it. I only use a half an inch of soil, relying on moss mostly to create my growing medium.



Tucking moss in under leaves of plants that tend to lie on the ground such as the leaves on this Begonia crispula will help keep the leaves healthy.
 Plants are added in thoughtfully, again, selecting species that do well together. I am limiting myself a a few select begonia species, a small rare Begonia from Brazil called Begonia crispula a plant that requires humidity near 85 - 90% - (You can find Begonia crispula here but they are sold out at the moment - it's where I got mine). Begonia crispula is just so choice and precious, that it will be the centerpiece of this terrarium, and a much larger growing begonia (B. paulensis) which will only spend the winter in this protective case. If it grows too large, (and it will) I can always remove it. Until then, it adds a nice texture to the planting.



Along with begonias, ferns are the perfect companion plants for terrariums. This Polypodium formosanum (you can find them on-line here at Black Jungle Terrarium Supply) which has these attractive almost teal-blue creeping rhizomes.  This is a smaller growing fern which I like because it looks like one of our native Polypodium virginianum. This tropical Poly has colorful rhizome which in some light conditions can look pale blueish green, almost like jadite. This is a fern that really demands either greenhouse or terrarium conditions, so it's a difficult houseplant unless one has a very humid house.



I keep a few of these Polypodium formossanum in the greenhouse, mostly in handing baskets where it makes a very nice, but slightly fussy specimen plants. Forget watering it just once, and it will loose it's leaves. I look for rhizomes that I can cut which have a few leaves on the, and these two above are starting to bury themselves near the edge of the pot - so I will cut these with a knife, and remove them for the terrarium planting.




The rhizomes come out easily, with a few roots. IT will transplant well with little disturbance, and by next summer, I can remove it and replant it into a larger container - most likely just one with sphagnum in it, which this species prefers as a growing medium. Until then, my terrarium will act as a propagating case, and no one will know the wiser. I have an unknown Davallia species which I too added to this planting. Another fern, similar to the common Rabbit's foot fern.


No plastic deer for me. A few pieces of bark from where I collected my moss with lichens on it will add the perfect color and tone for this case.






A good drink of water - I mean, a really good drench as there is a pan with drainage in this, is all that is needed. I will rarely have to water it once it is in the house, so I want a good soaking so that no dry soil exists.


THE FINAL PLANTING ALREADY LOOKS HAPPY. IT WILL MAKE A NICE ADDITION TO MY DESK.
SO, I am planning on driving to Black Jungle Terrarium supply this weekend, so I may update some of these plantings. If so, I will add the images here ( you know that I will!). But it all depends on if this nasty cold goes away soon.

November 11, 2014

FORCING HOUSES, CROSNES AND RARITIES - MY AUTUMNAL NOTEBOOK

THIS NERINE SARNIENSIS IS BLOOMING INSIDE THE GREENHOUSE, BUT I JUST LIKED HOW IT LOOKED AGAINST THIS FALL FOLIAGE - PINK ANG GOLD, SO 'MARY BLAIR'.


This was the first weekend in a while that I had both days off - which allowed me to attack my ever-growing to-do list. Even though the chores seem endless, I did make an effort enjoy some of the natural beauty happening around the garden and in the greenhouse - the organizing of which, is still on that pesky to-do list. I really should take a photo of the garden, as I know that it looks rather nice in photos - but believe me when I say that it is a complete mess. Trust me.

Unfinished projects abound such as cobbled together fences, piles of junk and general garden clean up. Clutter and old tools - it's a little crazy, and to make matters worse, Joe who had been promising to help clean up outside broke his foot this weekend, so now we are down to me, and a couple of hours every weekend. At least today, Veteran's Day, I was able to dig a hole for a new post that will hold a new table top bird feeder, as I know the ground will be frozen in a week or so, and I was able to make some kimchi. Just an excuse to not work in the yard, but really - we need gardeners, but that's never going to happen in my lifetime.


IN THE GREENHOUSE, A SIX FOOT TALL LOQUAT TREE (ERIOBOTRYA JAPONICA)  IS BLOOMING FOR THE FIRST TIME. I DON'T EXPECT FRUITS, BUT I PLANTED IT IN THE GROUND THREE YEARS AGO WHEN I FOUND A YOUNG PLANT FOR SALE AT LOGEE'S GREENHOUSES. FINGERS CROSSED, I MAY HAVE FRUIT BY SPRING.

I HAVE HAD THIS BULB FOR TEN YEARS,   NOW MATURING, THIS STRUMARIA UNGUICULATA GROWS IN PURE SHARP SAND - RATHER RARE, AS I CANNOT FIND MORE THAN A FEW IMAGES OF IT ON GOOGLE IMAGES BEYOND MINE.
As bulbs underglass emerge from their summer dormancy, many familiar species return with their autumnal bloom - believing that it is springtime in South Africa or South America. Along with the familiar here are a few new blooms, in particular a sweet little rarity called  Stumaria unguiculata. I bought it in England years ago as a tiny bulb which I was told would mature in a few years. Now, 8 years later I can say that I remained patient with it year after year, first a single leaf for a few years, then a second leaf….so slow but I was reminded of this snails pace when I Google Image searched it, and mostly images of this little plant of mine showed up. That either means that I have the identification wrong, or there are only a few in cultivation. Either way, I cherish the little thing. I suppose it is a little strange that only I see it in my greenhouse, but at least I can share the images here with all of you.

THIS CYRTANTHUS CROSS IS BLOOMING AGAIN, I KNOW THAT I SHOW THIS ONE A LOT, BUT IT IS VERY FLORIFEROUS - BLOOMING EVERY AUTUMN FOR 12 YEARS NOW.
This fire lily, or Cyrtanthus of which I am completely uncertain of the species blooms once again, with little attention or care. It's pendant flowers might be an indication that one of the pendant species is a parent, but I really am uncertain about it's parentage. I've shared images of this plant with the Pacific Bulb Group for at least 10 years now, but as it came from an auction at the Huntington Botanical Garden at the 2001 International Bulb Society summit,  I know a few other members have it.  Still, it is a mystery cross. Apparently it came from a gentlemen who bred many amaryllis, and the label had no parentage indicated on it.  The blossoms are large, nearly 4 inches long. I may share a few soon, as I have divided it into a flat of divisions.


A PLANTING OF FOTHERGILLA NEVER FAILS TO IMPRESS IN THE FRONT YARD.


BUGS? NO. THESE ARE CROSNES - AN EDIBLE TUBER OF STACHYS AFFINIS, 
A few months ago, while I was deep into my that David Lebovitz book 'My Paris Kitchen', you know - the book that inspired me to try growing Potimarron - the red chestnut squash this summer ( yum), well apparently (I am a little embarrassed to admit this) I had ordered some crossne too after reading about them. I know that I had seen crosne before but I really don't know where ( the image above is a little too blurry to see their shape, but they are tasty, crispy white tubers from of all things, a Stachy's - you know, lambs ears and other similar plants in the genus Lamiaceae).  My envelope just arrived in the mail this week, and without a return address, just a post office box in Canada - so I suppose that I ordered them. I do that - order things, then forget about them. I discovered that these Crosnes are best if planted in autumn, so…OK. I also discovered that once you grow them, you have them forever - oh, that reminds me about my experiment with stinging nettle. Hmmm.

They are much smaller than I imagined them, maybe there are different varieties? If the dogs don't dig them up and eat them, I'll let you know. Oh, in case you are wondering, crosnes are pronounces 'crow-knees', as in "that old crony". Always good to know in case you are in Paris.

SOWING A FALL CROP OF CUT FLOWER SWEET PEAS
 I sowed my my experimental fall crop of cut flower sweet peas, as I told you about a few posts ago. This was an experiment that Cornell University did in 1910, and I wanted to recreate it. Much can go wrong, as it seems the best results will happen when seed is sown just before the ground freezes. I am guessing that the ground will freeze this weekend, as predictions indicate a cold arctic blast. I will then cover the soil with straw, and again, cross my fingers. With gardening it's always good to continue to test things.


OF COURSE, I FORGOT ABOUT THE DOGS. THIS IS THE SWEET PEA BED ON MONDAY, THE DAY AFTER I SOWED THE SEED.  HOPEFULLY THE SEEDS ARE STILL THERE, BUT NO LONGER IN TIDY ROWS.


A couple of other experiments include chicory - this red heirloom variety of red chicory, which I grew in much the same way one grows belgian endive for forcing. I am going to try to force it indoors, so I dug the thick roots, which were not as long as belgian endive, but still thick as good carrots, and I potted them up neck-to-neck in an old nursery pot. A few weeks outdoors, and then I will force them in complete darkness to see what I get. I had heard that this heirloom variety was forced in the 19th century as a winter vegetable.


The same goes for celery, which was forced as a winter vegetable.  Yes, forcing houses were once the only place where one could grow winter vegetables 200 years ago. Glass structures with hot beds ( manure filled beds or beds with steam heat underneath) where vegetables were forced for winter markets like asparagus, endive, celery and sea kale. A lost practice today of which I am still fascinated with.

I have read about London markets selling forced celery (blanched celery in the winter) in the 1800's and in New York City, where forced celery was treasured for the christmas table. Forced veggies were often kept dark, under dark cloths or straw, which kept the shoots sweet and crispy, and not bitter. , Forced vegetables were the only few fresh vegetables available for late winter, when any stored vegetables have begun to rot or age to a point where they were inedible, but forced vegetables were also gourmet treats, as one needed to have the means to either grow and force them ( i.e. gardeners and staff as well as greenhouses, or forcing houses) or one simply needed money to afford such a luxury.

My luxury this year are forcing types of celery, a red heirloom celery, a red heirloom chicory and a red heirloom cardoon. So I have potted up the rooted plants, and used the tops for the turkeys (and you know how that story will end in a few weeks!). We sure are not going to live off of these few pots of forced veggies, but it will be interesting to see what results I can get, and as many of you know - I enjoy growing things which I cannot buy anywhere.

THE TOPS HAVE BEEN TRIMMED BACK ON THIS CELERY, AND IT WILL BE KEPT COLD AND DARK UNTIL I AM READY TO FORCE IT INDOORS. IT'S BEEN HARD TO FIND ANY INFORMATION ON FORCING VEGETABLES - YOU WOULD IMAGINE THAT THERE WOULD BE SOME OLD DOCUMENTATION, BUT MY FEW OLD BOOKS EXPLAIN ENOUGH SO THAT I CAN TRY.


One of my biggest chores which I wrote about this spring is repotting out two large bay laurel trees. The two large 40 inch pots that I wanted went on sale as planned in the autumn, so I bought both of them. Light weight and plastic - they will save some sore muscles as these two high-fired clay long toms were incredibly heavy. I just need to buy more potting soil - it's always something.


THESE TWO TOPIARY BAY LAURELS WILL BE EASIER TO MOVE BACK INTO THE GREENHOUSE NOW THAT THEY ARE OUT OF THEIR POTS. I THINK THAT I WILL ADD THE NEW SOIL ONCE THEY ARE BACK UNDER GLASS. NO NEED TO MOVE ALL THAT SOIL NOW.
 As I repotted my Bay Laurels, I've noticed some white cottony root aphis on the roots. I'm not happy about it, as I have only seen this damage on primula when they are kept in pots in the alpine house. At first I thought that it was a fungus or old perlite, but I believe that I have an infestation of root mealy bug. Something that really needs a dose of a systemic insecticide, which I hate using, but sometimes nothing else works. Of course, my concern is that these bay laurels are essentially an herb - I use the foliage in cooking, so I am going to have to try something else. I am planning to trim the root balls, so maybe I will be able to remove much of these pests, as they tend to live near the edge of the root balls. I will also left the root balls freeze a bit - a tricky thing, as I am guessing that although the tops of these plants can handle hard freezes, the roots are a different case.

I AM REALLY HAPPY WITH THESE TWO POTS - SO MUCH LIGHTER, YET STILL LARGE ENOUGH TO HOLD THESE 10 FOOT TREES UPRIGHT AND STABLE.

TODAY, THE SUN CAME OUT FINALLY, AND I WAS NOTICING HOW OUTSIDE EVERY WINDOW IN THE LIVING ROOM THERE WAS COLOR. THANK YOU, JAPANESE MAPLES. WHO NEEDS FLOWERING TREES?


November 10, 2014

AWESOME FALL FOLIAGE MADE IN AMERICA, AND IN JAPAN


Cornus controversia 'variegata' Just because it is a Cornus (Dogwood) does not mean that it comes from North America- this cornus comes from the woodlands of Japan.
 I think that we often dont think about circumpolar autumn, but in Japan, Korea, China, Switzerland, germany, Russia, Finland - it's also autumn, and so many of our garden plants come from around the world.


October 28, 2014

JAPAN AND IT'S TRADITIONAL SQUASH - KYOYASAI, SHISHIGATANI AND KABOCHA

One of the few precious Shishigatano squashes that I grew this year. 

This year I grew some of the rarest and most treasured of Japanese squashes - particularly an old variety called Shishigatani from the early 1800's, the Edo period.   On of the Kyo Yasai, which means the traditional vegetables of Kyoto, it is prepared in many ways, celebrated on greeting cards, posters and artwork, and eaten to help avoid the flu and colds in late summer. Named for the Shishi valley in the Higashiyama area near Kyoto. It's a great example of what one can grow at home which cannot be found at garden centers anywhere,  nor at farm stands or at the market. I am very excited to try cooking it in a traditional Japanese method, sauteed in dash, sugar, sesame and soy sauce.

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