December 31, 2006

New Years Eve Clivia

Our first seedlings are blooming that are crosses between Clivia miniata and Clivia gardenii. Many of these are F2 crosses from seeds that we brought back from our first trip to Mr. Nakamura in Japan six years ago. As you can see, many of these are similar, but a few are quite different. Clivia gardenii has a dangling blossom, so the characteristic in these crosses is certainly this feature.

It is hard to choose which is nicer, althogh I tend to like either the green tipped blossoms, or a few of ours that get quite dark pigmentation on the outside of the blossom as it ages. More shots later on those. Regardless, they are all lovely, and I admit, I feel a little luxurious to be able to run to the greenhouse on a cold December day and pick a dozen of the rare crosses, since they are virtually unknown in the trade, unless you belong to one of the Clivia fan groups.

Within the groups, these crosses are sometimes refered to as Cyrtanthiflora types, or more accurately, Clivia cyrtanthiflora group. This comes from the fact that the blossom looks a bit like a Cyrtanthus, another member of the amaryllis family that grows in South Africa.

Wishing all readers the happiest of new years! Post to you in 2007!

December 26, 2006

The Diversity of White

White flowering bulbs from around our planet, show how hopefull the winter solstice can be. Just imagine a world without humans for a moment. In meadows from Iran to Turkey, to Iraq to South Africa - flowers are blooming that ignore borders, religion, politics and hatred.

Tiny bulbs like these winter growers are worth collecting and growing if you have a cool greenhouse with bright light. One will never suffer around the winter solstice in the Northern Hemisphere, if one wakes up to a display like this with ones morning coffee during a holiday break from the office, it too reminds one that the world is special and rare too.

Note the early flowering Lachenalia viridiflora, a rarly found near white but truly teal-green flowering bulb from South Africa that balances out the rest of the Lachenalia which tend to be orange and yellow flowering, or weedy-white. It is one of those rare colors in the plant world, remarkably found in two south african bulbs - L. viridiflora and Ixia viridiflora.

Ornithogalum fimbriatum
This tiny member of the the Ornithogalum clan, a group of interesting yet still not widely known nor grown genus clustered in the Family Hyacynthaceae, is perfect for small pots, and blooms in cool to cold greenhouses in the winter. Slow to increase, it is not as common perhaps as other Ornithogalum's. like one would see as a cut flower at a florist shop, is low and dense growing, more alpine like, and thus, often grown in shallow alpine pots in a protected cold alpine house.
Native from the Ukraine to Turkey, this is a tiny bulb worth finding and cultivating if you have a spot for it.

Sure, the Holidays are basically over, but I wanted to share a small container that I brought back from Japan ( a sake box) that I filled with tidy rows of plant material gathered from the greenhouse, and from the garden in December. Aranged in floral foam, this small display should last for a few weeks.

Freesia fucata from seed

A few years ago I purchased a load of South African bulb seed from Silverhill seeds, and this year some are starting to bloom. As I have said before, if you have a cool greenhouse protected from frost, this is the most economical way if not the only way to get rare species that are not sold in the trade. The common Freesia may look liek this, but this species is a bit more precious, and authentic. This Freesia fucata grows on mountain slopes and hillsides in the southwestern part of the Cape, it is fragrant and flushed with violet marks, another of the Freesia that grow in the winter rainfall areas of the Cape in South Africa.

Mendera trigyna

This relative of the Colchicum is sometimes grouped with the fall and winter-blooming Colchicum, but from Armenia and Azerbajan to Northern Iran, and differs from Colchicum clearly because it has no tube, and has six segments.

Tulbaghia simmleri

Somtimes clossified as Tulbagia fragrans, this white and winter flowering species of the more common, T. violacea lacks the skunky-ness that gives this genus the common name of Society Garlic. Instead, the foliage is not scented, but the beautiful white blossoms are, and they come at the perfect time for such scent - winter. I know these are quite common in Claifornia and other warm areas, but in the Cold of a December winter in New England, they are welcome and quite special.

December 25, 2006

Holiday Blooms

Tis the season.
But here in New England, even though, as I miss-informed you in my last posting about the zone changes (I really need to do my homework better!), it still has been an warmer than average winter, by at least twenty degrees. Hardly a white Christmas. Regardless, here are some shots from around the house today,overcast, but still festive, even though it was near 45 deg., F.

I collect vintage bottle brush trees, here is a view of some of the collection on the piano. Most are early to mid twentieth century. The older, the better I say.

The Japanese camellia 'Tama No Ura' also blooms at this time every year. I grow this in a Chinese pot, but it it still doesn't seem to mind. The blossoms are very seasonal for this time of year, and I have never had such a nice budset.

In the dining room, the feather tree is decorated with vintage ornaments, and some of the many crosses of Clivia are starting to bloom, here, three new crosses from Mr. Nakamura's visit, all are Clivia miniata x gardenii. One has impressive green tips on the flowers.

December 21, 2006

USDA Zone Changes

Just in case you have friends who don't believe that global warming is happening, please note this landmark event--- The National Arbor Day Foundation has just released the revised USDA grow zone maps of North America, and as many of us have noted, we indeed have become warmer by at least one zone. Horrors!

I am now USDA Zone 6!, and not 5. hmmmm,

I see good and bad in this news only from the perspective of 'what I can grow now' but, of course, fundamentally, this is tragic news and a confirmation of why so many things are happening - I haven't seen an Evening Grosbeak since the early 1980's, since now they don't migrate this far from Canada any more, so the sunflowerseed tabletop feeders that once would be covered with these gold and black, parrot-like birds from my childhood memories, and that.....just memories. BUt my heating bill for the greenhouse is remarkable low this year, and some hardy camellia are growing in my formally zone 5 Massachusetts garden, as well as Nerine. Maybe Burpee will start offering the formally "too tender to grow" species from Heronswood now, since that was one of the reasons why they felt that the landmark nursery fails to deliver a profit to them. Now that we are all zone 6 or higher, let's bring back the 1" think bible of a catalog! (more on that later!)

But come on.......USDA zone changes? Wow....I suppose this will come as good new to some, but to most gardeners, this is frightening news. Especially to alpine plants growers and thsoe who grow Primula and other cold loving plants. I surely can see the joy in keeping more tender bulbs, over in the garden now, and have been noticing myself that I was having success with wintering over zone 6 and 7 plants. But overall, this indication of global warming scares me to know end...

NOTE: Thanks to viewer Doug Green, who kindly responded with additional (and more accurate information) the USDA is NOT currently changing the zone status, the information which I provided come only from the Arbor Day Foundation, and not the USDA, Doug notes: "I think you'll find that the official USDA zone map has not changed. What has changed is the arbor day organization zone rating. These are two unconnected projects. The USDA map is in the working stage to change from a 15 to a 30 year data map but is not yet done according to Tony Avent who sits on the committee and reported same on the alpine-l listserv. Just to clarify things a bit. Doug "

Thanks Doug...I gues that'a what I get for rushing and not doing my homework!

December 8, 2006

Move over Paperwhites... Welcome to the other winter narcissus

Narcissus viridiflora, the rare green flowered Narcissis

Not all Narcissus are yellow or while, just as not all narcissus are spring blooming. This precious Narcissus had been on our wishlist for quite some time, and this is the first year that I have recieved a couple blossoms. The fragrance is strong, but not as intense as the Paperwhite, which I happen to love, the scent of this N. viridiflorus is more clove-like, but on a sunny day underglass, which is where one must grow this gem, it is quite noticible. It was how I discovered it to be in bloom, since the blossom blends in with all of the other green growing around it, I could have easily missed it. Again, dry in summer, moist and fast draining in the winter, cool greenhouse, under glass.

In North Africa in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco to Turkey, to the mountains in Spain and Portugal, Narcissus start blooming in the Autumn. In these areas, the rains begin in early autumn, which triggers growth, along with the colder temperatures. These areas are also where one find Narcissus papyraceus, the species we know as Paperwhite narcissus. Paperwhites are more technically classified as Tazetta-type to those who collect and grow Narcussus, bot most of the fall blooming species belong to a lesser known group known as the hoop daffodils. narcissus bulbocodium is perhaps the most common of the hoop narcissus, which all tend to grow quite short, no taller than four or five inches in height, and bloom in early spring. Thier most notable feature is thier enlarged corona, the trumpet part of the blossom, and the petals are much smaller, if hadly visible at all.

Narcissus cantabricus

Now, as hoop narcissi go, the species forms are as taxonomically mumbled as one can imagine, but the blooming cycle helps me identify this one, since it is the first of the Hoop narcissi that are tender, and winter blooming, to bloom. Usually around November to Christmas. The scent is so sweet, like honey, without any of the muskyness one sometimes finds with paperwhites. I know, these bulbs speces are not for everyone, since first they are challenging to grow unless one can provide the perfect condidtions, like a cold greenhouse, frost free with bright sun and not too woar, during the day. But they sure are worth it when one can dedicate thirty or so species to a corner where they can basically be forgotten through the summer, except for repotting, and then watered throughout the cold winter. I love them all, and this year have added many new species to the collection of Narcissus that grow during the winter. Stay tuned for more shots as they progress.

December 3, 2006

Now for the rare stuff...

Cyrtanthus species (most likely C. elatus X)

This unknown species, or most likely a cross between two species of Cyrtanthus blooms regularly for me in early December. Purchased at an IBS (International Bulb Society) bulb auction at the Huntington Botanical Garden in Pasadena, CA, in 2000, this bulb has grown to fill two pots, and for a species notorious for being difficult to bloom, for some reason, I have had good luck with both pots.One pot has soil which is mostly granite chips, perlite and sand, and the other pot is 14 inches wide, with simply peat-based Pro-mix, a professional mix containing perlite and peat. Both soil mixes have been augmented with gravel, but I wanted to test the differences of a smaller 6 inch plastic pot and a massive clay pot. Both have grown to fill thier pots, and bloom about three weeks apart.

Lapierousa montana
This tiny lapierousa was started by seed in 2002, after the advice of some friends during an online chat on the Pacific Bulb Society (PBS). I had complained that the cost of South African bulbs as well as the availability of finding any species in the U.S, let alone in the world seemed prohibitive for most collectors. I was encouraged to purchase seed from one of two seed suppliers in South Africa, Penrock Seeds and Silverhill Seeds. I gathered my books and journals, and cross-referenced what species and genus I wished to try, and placed an order. They all grew so easily, and are now begining to bloom. I find it fascinating to have fifteen to twenty of one genus blooming, so that one can see the differences between them, let alone the fact that hardley anyone grows the lesser known species, nor even the more 'common (?) species of many of these genus.

Brunsfigia bosmaniae

Perhaps my rarest bulb, after acquiring it last year, and allowing it to 'bake' in a large dry pot in the back of the glasshouse, this precious Brunsfigia bosmanniae surprised me this weekend with a spurt of new growth, just on time after it's first watering a month ago. Of course, I don't expect it to bloom, but naturally, I will dream of it. This species is so difficult to bloom in captivity that my hopes are not that high, but you never know. This plant will take ten or more years to mature before I can expect any chance of it's spectacular and rare blossom, which will appear in our Northern Hemisphere's late spring, after the bulb starts to loose it's foliage, and go dormant.

Haemanthus albiflos

Well, not rare, but certainly more unusual and less common to most people, but this is one South African plant that you could grow as a houseplant, (avalable at Logees Greenhouses online, if not, I know that have it). This Haemanthus also blooms exactly this week in December every year. The shaving-brush blossom is unique with it's boss of thick white stamens, which is more beautiful in a photo than in real life, since it tends to get lost in the greenhouse. However, the foliage is superb, and as this plant is dividing nicely, I can expect a nice full pot by spring, when I will most likely divide it before allowing it to go ratty and dry for the summer.

November 28, 2006

Final Nerines

French Parma Violets

I wrote earlier (like in April) about the lost art of growing French scented violets, or Parma Violets, and now, as promised, I found some heirloom varieties from southern France, where they still grow these for the perfume industry, and I am attempting to cultivate some in the method of the late nineteenth century growers, here in America. the first blossoms appear in November, and right on target, here they are.

And, the last of the Nerine sarniensis blooms are fading, the last two varieties to bloom are....

Nerine sarniensis 'Kola'

Nerine sarniensis 'Bagdad'

Now, tell me I am crazy, bu I have decided to publish a magazine, at least to provide it for free, as a PDF through this blog which you can print from your home printer. let me know what design you like, I am starting with this one.

November 24, 2006

Giving thanks for foliage

English Oak -Quercus rober

This collumnular english Oak not only produces beautiful slender acorns, it also displays this curios color of chartruse yellow in the autumn, if frosts are gentle, as they have been this year. Most of out naitive oaks here in New England turn brown or beige, and a few turn a dark burgundy red. But this English Oak at the corner of our home is the favorite, especially for cutting since it's foliage is so small and looks great even cut in a vase.

Enkiathus campanulatus var. sikokianus

Native to Honshu, in Japan, this Enkianthus is different than many other Enkianthis species available since it has dark red flowers, and always draws attention during spring garden tours here. I think that the foliage is even finer in color than the other Enkianthus species that I have, and since this variety has been hard to track down lately, it relinds me that I should propagate it since now that Heronswood Nursery is gone (closed by Burpees after they found it non profitable), I don't knwo where else to find this particular species unless I feel like heading over to Honshu again!. Hey, it's an excuse!
which is a treadure which I puchased from the first Heronswood Nursery catalog that I ever had in 1996, and which never seemed to carry it again, and now that the nursery had been purchased and thus closed by Burpee Seed Company,...blah, blah, blah....don't get me going, but you know what? It's all business at the end of the day, and Dan Hinkley will surely move beyond all of this,( as if it was his fault) and he will soar higer with a new vision since the development part of any venture is certainly more invigorating than maintaing expectations to a customer base. If I was he, I would find the exploration and discovery part of the process most stimulating, since it's all about invention and tweaking that curious part of the brain...isn't that why we are so fscinated with nature and plants that are authentic and real? This Enkianthus reminds me everything will be new and better and he will do something even more brilliant in the future, I am sure. And until then, only those who have it, have it! (Of course, now as I think about it, maybe I bought it at Gossler Farms?!) Whatever.

A Acer japonicum which lost it's label, but it was a choice one.

Yes. Even I loose labels. But this Japanese maple was planted from seed in 1996 which I brough back from Japan, and without a key handy, It's still quite nice with it's foliage that progresses the spectrum from light saffron to persimmon all on the same branch.

Sasa vietchii

Speaking of Japan. OF all of the hardy bamboo that we can grow here in NEw England, this relatively manageable groundcover is annually spectacular, especially in the fall and winter, since the foliage dies just on the edges, producing this bicolor variegated effect. Also native to Japan, this is perhaps the nicesest of the Sasa bamboos, yet we grow another Sasa, Sasa japonica with is taller than the 2 foot dense growth of this species, but it does tend to run a bit more, yet hardly a pest. ....really.

Other bamboos?.......that's another story.
More and bamboos on another post. If you ever see Sasa vietchii, get it.

OK, Bloodgood is everywhere. It's arguably the most common japanese maple variety, available at any home center, and shouldn't even be allowed on this blog which is dedicated to rare and unusual plants. But I am talking abotu foliage here, and not rareness....so....presenting, an exceptionally nice year for Acer japonicum "Bloodgood". Go home Dept.

Lastly, a lone primula in bloom in the woodland garden. It's not uncommon at all for many spring blooming primula to show a few blossoms in the late fall. This P. aucaulis will be one of the first primroses in bloom in the late winter or spring, blooming along with snowdrops, even while the snow is still falling. Since it is almost December, I can now say that we can have flowered out doors year round, here in USDA zone 5.

November 15, 2006

More Fall Mums

Seizan is a yellow, small flowered Mum known as a cascade type, the plants are planted in June as cuttings, and then trained along horizontal bamboo poles until September, when I start to lower the poles to become verticle. The final effect is a waterfall of Chrysanthemum blooms, that reach down nearly five feet.

Seatons Ruby is a lovely Anemone flowers mum.

Purple Thistle

Satin Ribbon is an apt cultivar name for this loose recurve mum.
The plants are almost six feet tall, and bloom late, so they are grown in containers outside, and moved into the greenhouse for late autumn display.

November 11, 2006

Fancy Chrysanthemums

Like so many traditions, the art of fine Chrysanthemum growing is long forgotten in most of the world, replaced with growth-retardent hyper-pinched and fertilized monster-mums displayed in bushel baskets and then tossed into the trash like any disposable holiday decorations, the chrysanthemum has gone the way of fine English carnations, to even become lower-class supermarket plants with a status that often has no other plant lower.

This is ashame, for in Japan and China, the Chrysanthemum continues to to be an important part of the culture, with spectacular displays that continue today. In America and Europe, the lowly 'mum' has suffered a fate the few can ever pull out from. Until the twentieth Century World Wars, the Exhibition Chrysanthemum was grown for display and cut flower, and many private estates based thier entire autumn display season around these late blooming plants. The American Chrysanthemum Society, classifies Mums in categories that still reflect thier heyday, yet only one mail order supply house still carries the classic varieties (Kings Mums). Why not consider growing a ledgend, and bring back the Chrysanthemum. We did it with English Sweet Peas, but many other classic heirloom plants need to be resurected before they are gone to the compost pile forever. This includes many plants found on this blog - Scented Parma Violets, English Auricula Primroses, Japanese Chrysanthemums - one of the first plants ever cultivated by humans in China.

tiny Nerine rehmannii

Nerine rehmanii

This tiny Nerine, is very small, the flowers reach barly four inches high. Nerine rehmannii is native to Swaziland in South Africa, and I just wanted to show you one of the species since I have been focusing on the fancier NErine sarniensis hybrids so much. Although not truly rare, this is a bulb which is very hard to find but look while ordering your unusual bulbs in the summer catalogs, ( again, look at Paul Christians rare plant site in the UK, and Odyssey and Telos here in the states, I have only seen this sold once), since it is shipped then while it is dormant. Not difficult to grow, it should fill a pot in a few years, we shall see.

I have seen nice pots of this species on some collector sites, so hopefully it will grow and thrive for me. As you can see, it seems quite precious since the flower umbel is no larger than my fingernail, and the foliage is thread-like.

November 4, 2006

Peak Nerine sarniensis bloom

A selection of Nerine sarniensis crosses, most from the United Kingdom's National Collection, kept by Ken Hall at Springbank Nursery on the Isle of White. As is still alot of taxonomic uncertainty, please use these representatives loosly, since I have duplicate clones that are, well, different. Regardless, all are still beautiful, and I can't imagine autumn without these relatives of the Amaryllis in bloom.

Here are a selection of named varieties which mostly are from the U.K. and a few unnamed varieties. Known commonly as the Guersey lily, Nerine sarniensis are relatively unknown in the U.S., if one does find Nerine available at a garden center or catalog, most likely it will be the other autumn flowering Nerine, N. bowdenii. N. sarniensis reportedly are known as Guernsey Lilies because of a ledgend about a ship bound from South Africa, sunk off the shore of Guernsey, and hundreds of bulbs washed ashore, where they are now naturalized.

Nerine sarniensis are noted for another strange phenomenon, they sparkle when sunlight refracts or reflects off of them, something Victorian growers in England called Gold (on some red varieties like Wolsey) or silver Dusting. See some of the photos below to see how spectacular this sparkling can be. Also, some varieties have wavy petals, an effect that many breeders try to target while breeding. In my own breeding efforts, just getting seed to take has been enough to ask for! But since I have had some luck getting these normally 'challenging-to-bloom' species to over perform this year, hopefully, I can now start to attempt a bit of a breeding program.

Nerine sarniensis 'Wolsey'

This Nerine sarniensis hybrid is a seedling selection bred by Harry Dalton, and acquired from Ken Hall's National Collection in the U.K.

Nerine sarniensis 'Rushmere Star'
One of the few N. sarniensis hybrids available from a couple of rare bulb dealers in the U.S.

I lost the name tag on this Nerine sarniensis Hyb, but it may be November Cheer. Any ideas?

Nerine sarniensis var. curvifolia f. fothergillii 'Major'

Taxonomy aside, this bulb had the largest flower in my collection. yet the name is questionable. I am simply using the Royal Horticultural Society's name for now, please send me your comments regarding taxonomy and cultivar, this genus is still pretty confusing.

Nerine sarniensis 'Lyndhurst Salmon'

Nerine sarniensis 'Hanley Castle'

Nerine sarniensis 'Cynthia Chance'

Nerine sarniensis ' Berlioz'

Nerine sarniensis 'Blanchefleur'