March 30, 2006

Lachenalia aloides var. vanzyliae

Lachenalia aloides var. vanzyliae
Cape Hyacinth's are rare enough, but the teal colored Lachenalia aloides var. vanzyliae is perhaps the most choice form, for collectors. 

Lachenalia aloides are by far the most popular of the genus Lachenalia, the easy to grow winter blooming South African bulb related to the Hyacinth, and found in some specialy bulb catalogs in the fall. I have a few varieties of Lachenalia aloides in bloom right now (see blog from last weekend). The most beutiful is L. aloides quadricolor, with four colors in its blossom, and then there are two all yellow varieties in blooom now, L. aloides var. aurea, and L. aloides 'Nelsonii'.

The one I am showing you now, is a much rarer variety, and one which I have been trying to find for a long time. L. aloides var. vanzyliae is not common at all, yet it was introduced to Kirstenbosch Botanic Garden in 1927. It is the most unusually colored form, with conspicuous white bracts and pendulous flowers with green segmenets, that fade into pale blue at the base. It is a highly desirable variety which I have never seen available anywhere. It seems to like full sun, and since it is one of the last Lachenalia to bloom, I find it interesting the the Lachenalia season begins with a green species, in December (L. viridiflora) and closes with this green variety of L. aloides.

Lachenalia aloides

The foliage is beautiful too, with dark maroon spots, and bluish green leaves. I should note that I still ahve one more species to bloom, which I saw well budded in the greenhouse sand bed, and that is a pot of L. matthewsii, which we're started from seed four years ago.

Amorphophallus Bulb

Repotting Amorphophallus
My largest Amorphophallus konjac bulb, is really getting big!
Any gardener who has grown to become a plant enthusiast can remember, as a child exploring encyclopedias seeing rare plant photos from the past. Gardening in the nineteenth century often meant collecting terribly exotic plants merely for the wow-factor. Remember those grainy, black and white vintage images, with perhaps a little girl standing on a giant 12 foot wide Victoria water lily pad....or bearded men with long saws, proudly posed under a felled giant Californian Sequoia log, or a very proper British dude in tweeds and bow tie, standing next to a large wooden crate in an misty conservatory, next to whom stood a giant twelve foot tall Jack-in-the-Pulpit-ish inflorescence? Well, that is what grows from this dormant bulb that I now hold, above. Now if that's not cool, what is?

The genus Amorphophallus is gaining popularity with plant collectors, once again. They're fun to grow in the summer outdoors in pots, as many of the species are quite easy, and they can be grown anywhere in the country. Although they are tropical, and native to South East Asia, Borneo and the like; they are dormant all winter long, and the tubs that you must grow them in can just be pulled into a cellar or unheated garage where they can stay, nice and dry and not freeze.

I take my eleven species out from under the greenhouse bench every March, to repot and to explore. I love seeing how big the bulbs have become, it just seems like magic, some even multiply. Not all species produce giant flower, many are smaller, with inflorescence no larger than a human hand. The only caveat is that the blooms smell like rotting animals, but I think that just adds to the whole experience.

This particularly nice bulb is Amorphophallus konjac, the most common species and easiest to obtain. (try Plant Delights Nursery or eBay). Every year I re pot the bulb, remove it's many offsets to share with friends or toss, or even eat, since the bulb is immensely popular in Japan and Korea where fields of them are an important agricultural crop for producing a starchy flour to make Soba noodles with.

Amorphophallus grow differently that other bulbs, so you must plant the bulb accordingly: the roots do not come out of the bottom, they come out of the top of the bulb, and from the stem near the bulb. To plant a bulb, Find the largest tub that you can, I use 30 gallon nursery tubs. It plant in a regular potting soil, and set your bulb down deep about four inches from the bottom, and then place a soil less mix like Promix on top, the bulb should be about 8 inches or more deep. Don't water until you see growth, around May or June. Amorphophallus bulbs produce generally just one long beautifully mottled stem with an umbrella of compound leaves at the top, like a giant Jack in the Pulpit, another relative from the Arum family. Fertilize while the plant it growing all summer, weekly, with a tomato fertilizer so the bulb will grow large. Be certain that your Tomato fertilizer has a the last of the three numbers higher than the first too on the analysis (like 18-18-30), phosphorous and potash are what bulbs need to get giant.

It does take time for Amorphophallus bulbs to build up enough energy to bloom, but they are lovely grown for the foliage alone. A bulb may not bloom for three or four years if you plant a potato sized bulb. This bulb is four years old now, and I have hopes that it may bloom this year or next. The inflorescence on A. konjac can reach 3 or 4 feet tall, but this species isn't even close to the largest that we have. That honor belongs to A. titanum, which is one of the more challenging Amorphophallus to grow since it requires a faster draining soil mixture and warmer conditions. That inflorescence can reach 12 feet tall, and only a few have been successfully raised at botanical gardens where the event is always celebrated with T-shirts and all night vigils with champagne. You can do the same when yours bloom, we will! Say tuned.

March 28, 2006

Pleione Orchids

Pleione bulb flower

Pleione orchids are a precious small orchid from western China that grow from bulbs, like a paperwhite. They are challenging to find, but are completely growable, and are as easy as paperwhites to bloom too, the first season after planting. The real skill will be getting them to bloom again, since they are terribly expensive and you won't want to throw them out. With careful cultural care and attention, success is achievable and encouraged since they are so unique and no one has them anymore, and they can get better with age and multiply.
Pots of Pleione in the greenhouse

As for finding bulbs to buy, few if any catalogs in North America sell them, and I only know of one Canadian nursery carrying them at the moment. If you do find some, they are rarely the choice new crosses that one finds in England, such as from Plione expert Ian Butterfield or Pottertons, but more likely they are species forms, and one too must be careful that they were not collected from the wild. In Europe, there are spectacular crosses and grex's available, as well as many species. The British bulb retailers carry some nice crosses, but you must order them while they are dormant, around late November until January, since by Valentines day many have started to show buds, and they will not ship them. Everything has a season, especially uncommon plants, that is why you don't see them at American retailers. Short shelf life, and you can't sell them in bloom. It's a real problem with American Garden Centers, as a reason why every one's garden looks the same, in late May, since that is the only time people go to the garden center to buy plants, and they only carry plants that are in full bloom at that season. But we hortiphiles are informed gardeners, and won't be affected by such things.

Pot of Pleione orchids

In my cold greenhouse, a few grex's as well as some species, these I received from a friend in the UK, and we're well budded when I planted them. Culturally, they require a full growing season from the first sign of blooms, until October. They prefer cooler conditions year round, which is tough in New England, since the summers are hot. Just remember that they grow at higher elevations, in cloud forests usually on mossy branches, or moss covered rocks. Cool, damp and misty as well as buoyant air, it critical.

Pleione orchid blossoms

The Plieone year: Purchase bulbs around Christmas, plant in January, in a fast draining mix of fresh sphagnum moss, some woods chips, old beach leaves and charcoal bits to keep the mix fresh. Keep cool to cold, even near freezing. Buds start to appear in late February, when you can start watering. After blooming, it is safe to place them outside on the north side of the house, or under a tree well after frost. Make sure that they don't dry out, and fertilize with a week solution of fertilizer each time that you water, rainwater is by far the best, they are sensitive to Chlorine and chemicals. Basically, I just keep them outside until the first frost, when the leaves yellow, and die back, and the pots are brought in to the Greenhouse and kept dry until buds show again.

March 27, 2006

Erythronium, Fawn lilies and Dogs Teeth

Growing with Plants blog
Erythronium, Dog Tooth Violets

After admiring postings of Ian Youngs'pots of Dog's Tooth violet's, or Erythronium on the Scottish Rock Garden Society's (SRGS)bulb log for three years, and, after having the other SRGS members tell me that I was just so lucky to be living in America, where they are native apparently assuming that I could cultivate drifts of such rare bulbs, I decided last fall to invest in a few.

My experience with the Dogs Tooth Violets (so named because of the shape of the bulb), or fawn Lily (because many species have attractive mottled or reticulated foliage like a fawn) was limited. I do grow a patch of the yellow hybrid 'Pagoda' in the garden, but beyond seeing a native colony while hiking on Wachusett Mountain, where we go hiking, I have never attempted growing any. The most attractive species are native to the Pacific northwest in Washington or Oregon, the Cascades. There, I have photographed literally drifts of thousands in bloom at the tips of the melting glaciers on Mount Rainier and on Puget Sound.

I ordered handfuls of a number of species this past autumn, which I planted deeply a woodsy compost and in mesh baskets. I then plunged them into the new sand bed along the eastern exposure of the greenhouse, where they rested deep in the sand until the great sand bed disaster, or more correctly, MUD disaster last January.

I rescued all of my Erythronium baskets, and brought them into the greenhouse, and placed under the benches where it was cool. I believed all was lost, until a few weeks ago, growth started in some of the baskets. I immediately relocated them to the alpine plunges in the small alpine house, where they are starting to bloom. The pink form of Erythronium dens canis as well as the white Erythronium californicum are now the stars of the week (but don't tell the Pleione).
Erythronium detail

March 26, 2006

Crocus and Ruksans

Eranthis in an alpine garden
The Eranthis hiemalis, or Winter Aconite are blooming between the tightly poised rocks in the new crevice garden, as are some new crocus purchased from Janis Ruksan's bulb catalog in Latvia. I wish that I could afford more, one wants them all! I've been able to save some seed from last year, when I made some crosses, but I think that it is going to take more practice (and time) on my part to master my goals of rows of new crosses in my own garden.

Crocus 'Ruksans'

Janis did appear as a crocus though. The crocus above is named, 'Janis Ruksans. It is a new collectible form from Lithuania, available from his catalog, but also seed sibling ,'Ego' is also available, and in America from Odyssey Bulbs in Maine. Much taller before it opens. 'Janis Ruksans' surprised me this year, since I had left it in the bulb bed, and noticed last week that it's distinctly striped buds were protruding from the sand. I lalso learned today that many Latvians and Lithuanians are leading the way in crocus breeding. Funny, I'm 100% Lithuanian, so I wonder if there is a connection between that and my Crocus fetish.

Siberian crocus in rock garden
Crocus in crevice garden
I was asked to speak today at the New England chapter of the North American Rock Garden Society. Janis Ruksans, was supposed to speak on a national NARGS tour, but unfortunately he broke his leg, and had to postpone his tour, so I filled in, though not nearly as interesting, I am sure. I presented a digital presentation about my trip to the Italian Alps botanizing last year, (in the Dolomites). But Janis' slides, which he had sent along anyway to show earlier in the day, we're still most interesting to me. Imagine rows and rows of not lettuce, but Corydallis solida or Crocus. I am already making my order for July delivery this evening. ( he only ships one delivery in late summer). Also, Russell proprietor of Odyssey Bulbs attended our meeting also, with some impressive collections of Crocus and spring blooming Colchicums.....can I ever afford them all? His catalog is just as impressive.

March 24, 2006

Sunbird Nirvana

Lachenalia and South African Bulbs in greenhouse
Cape bulbs in my greenhouse this week - where are the sunbirds?

If I was a sunbird, I could be darting between the late summer blossoms of the veldt at the tip of South Africa, pausing to slip my slender curved beak deep into sun warmed tubular blossoms to sip warm sweet nectar, which nature created just for me. Would I be at home in this northern hemisphere vernal spring? A not-so-sunny, and pretty chilly March afternoon? Perhaps, but outdoors, it is 25 degrees F. and not a flower to be seen except a few crocus and a snowdrop or two.

There seems to be a seasonal peak, even in glasshouses. Last March, I too had photos that we're quite similar to this, just with slightly different plant material. After all the confusion that exists about how to get a Clivia to bloom, isn't it interesting to note that once relocated to the greenhouse, our Clivia collection blooms on schedule,practically to the day. I assume that it has more to do with day length than temperature and water, since our plants are just about always damp.

The last flush late winter color from the South African bulb collection, include Lachenalia aloides "Nelsonii and L. aloides 'aurea' as well as the more colorful L. aloides quadracolor in the foreground, with a lone Aloe species. Behind that some of our crosses of Clivia, some lovely white Iris magnifica (although not South African), and two Velthiemia bracteata, including the uncommon yellow form 'Yellow Flame".

March 19, 2006

March Alpine House


In the Alpine House, a number of the last bulbocodium type Narcissus are blooming (above). Narcissus tenuifolius, with foliage low to the ground, and N. filifolious, with more grassy, taller foliage are both good examples of this tiny tender alpine bulb rarely seen grown successfully in American gardens. Here, in New England, our winters are too cold to keep bulbs outdoors without protection, but also, the humid, rainy summers are too damp, to provide them the summer dryness and baking that they get in thier native mountains of Turkey and Morocco.

In my attempt to create an active and successful alpine house in New England, I've had to manage my own expectations, since I realized that there is a real reason for why there are no, or very few alpine houses in America. But I don't give up easily. First, for those of you new to the concept of growing alpine plants; in the United Kingdom, there is a long and rich history of competitive alpine plant culture, both those grown in the rock garden, as well as in pots for exhibitions. In fact, there are very competitive alpine societies in the UK.

Alpine houses are traditionally a frost free, rain free cool and buoyant atmosphere, which closely mimics the conditions found at high alpine elevation, where these alpine plants grow into their classic dense buns, tuft's and mounds. Plants can be carefully watered, fussed over and the environment can kept cool and cold, and fresh. Our hot and humid summers are difficult challenges to overcome, but I believe that if carefully sited, one can provide, a decent environment for some alpines.

In the UK, precious alpines like Draba, and Dionysia as well as small bulbs like these Narcissus, are grown under the protection of glass year round, but thier cool summers, and mild winters provide a more stable alpine house environment. Here in the Boston area, zone 5, we have to deal with extreme winter weather (below zero deg. F) and summer temps that can reach 100 deg. F. with humidity. So it is more challenging to recreate high alpine conditions than it would be in Seattle or Vancouver.

Some plants can handle the winter extremes, and remain in the raised sandbed plunges in the Alpine house all winter,(Primula, Androsace and Saxifraga all thrive with this treatment), frozen solid with the roof vents and door open to all but he most extreme blizzards. I can achieve some success with the more tender alpines, like marginally hardy bulbs, Fritillaria, tender Narcissus, Cyclamen by bouncing them back and forth between environments simply responding to seasons and to weather conditions. Creative use of an outdoor sand bed plunge, where hardy bulbs can be nestled down deep under the protection of a foot or more or sand, and the use of the cold glass greenhouse where winter temperatures can't drop below 45 deg. F. so plants never freeze, is the trick for successs like these bulbocodium, which are winter growers and need to perform thier growth cycle between September and April. They just want the same conditions that they recieve in their native lands, frost free, cool rainy winters, and a ho,t bone dry summer.

March 18, 2006

Clivia Giant Yellow X

OMG! - When this monster bloomed this week, it made that trip to Japan (to hand-pick seed from Mr. Nakamura's collection) worth the pain of being squeezed in a middle seat (in coach, mind you), for 16 hours SO very worth it. As of today, this plant is by far the best in our collection. Most yellows available today are jsut average, hardley ever really as robust as the classic ornage C. miniata we all know and love. However, one can clearly see the difference when a gene pool that is twenty or thirty years deep is added from Japan. (Mr. Nakamura inherited his collection from another prestigious plant breeder).

Also, be careful this spring while atending sping flower shows, don't get caught-up in Yellow Clivia frenzy. There are many week crosses out there, and I wouldn't spend mroe than $20.00 for an un pedigree yellow Clivia. For instance, a typical yellow Clivia miniata which purchased from a reputable high-end mail-order nursery years ago for a let's say a week's worth of salary (come on, we've all done that!), has a blossom which is 1/4 the size of this, and one can't even compare the quality and the form. This yellow is Supreme. (Hey, maybe I'll call it Custard Supreme?) It's so delicately fragrant, not strong, but it's sweetness does travel. One could smell it while doing dishes, from it's pearch in our plant window above the kitchen sink.

But imagine this specimen, four-inch custard-colored blossoms, that are flat and wide, and sweetly fragrant to boot. I'm so impressed. Next year, when it blooms with a bigger flower-head, it will give us a better impression but this first flowering from such a promising seedling still knocks me over. A couple of the blossoms dangle also, which adds a curious lily-like aesthetic to the plant. On this cold March Saturday, this display is so powerful that it could potentially attract a few South African sunbirds to drink it's nectar. I need to think of a name for this cross, which we will keep just for ourselves, until a decent naming convention can be agreed upon by the Clivia Societies.

Clivia 'Flame' x C. gardenii

Why is it that every Clivia that blooms for the first time instantly becomes my current favorite. The flowers on this cross are smaller than most, but the umbel is carried on a tall stem, which is strong, and the overall denseness of the flowerhead is attractive. Not as red as "Flame", which is one of it's parents, this seedling is still promising, and certainly wont end-up in the compost bin.

March 16, 2006

Cyrtanthiflora Clivia Cross

Todays Clivia picture is another cross of our own. Not sure if it is worth moving ahead breeding with, but I admit that I do find interest in the these less showy greenish forms, and this blossom shows lots of green at the tips. Also, it is quite large for a Cyrtanthiflora group Clivia.

I crossed it this week with another first-time bloomer, an impressively large-flowered yellow Clivia miniata from our Nakamura seed from Japan trip five years ago. I will photograph that one Saturday, and then post it to share. In the greenhouse, some Hime Daruma dwarfs and a Chinese plant are opening thier buds, as well as a cross of 'Red Flame' x C. gardenii we recieved from Harold Koopowitz, author of the first book on the genus, CLIVIAS Timber Press). Since it is still dark when I arrive home from work, I haven't had a chance to see it yet.

March 15, 2006

Interspecific Clivia

I am, and shall remain, an amateur plant breeder. So,it is with a dabble of pollen here, and a paintbrush there, that occaisonally I attempt to make some informed crosses between a few favorite Clivia, frantically executing the proceedure far too early in the morning between a mug of coffee, blurry-eyed and certainly in a bit of a frenzy before commuting to work.

The above clivia is a cross that Joe actually made while simply playing-with-pollen, it demonstrates that results are often nice surprises,especially when combining two species to create, what is essentially an Interspecific cross, or more botanically correct, a Clivia that now belongs to the Cyrtanthiflora Group of crosses.

This cross between the more common Clivia miniata (a typical orange Flowered form) and the more uncommon species, Clivia caulescens, shows how easy it is to get nice results from at-home plant breeding. It will just take a few years to get blossoms.

March 14, 2006

Clivia Season Begins

Clivia Daydream

If your idea of a Clivia is the bright orange Clivia miniata, then bookmark this blog, since the first of a collection of a thousand or so seedlings from my trip to Japan five years ago are starting to bloom this month, and expectaions are high.

In 2001,we were invited to visit some gardening friends in Japan, and had the fortunate honor of being a guest of Mr. Yoshikazu Nakamura, perhaps undeniably, the worlds premier Clivia breeder. It was there that I was able to acquire a large selection of his crosses via seed. After a day at his strangely secret Clivia Breeding Plantation, nestled at the end of a muddy road deep in a bamboo forest in Chiba prefecture, I left with not only a few pounds of seed, but many presumably choice Clivia seedlings which he so generously shared as gifts.

So this March they are all blooming for the first time. So far the highlight has been this incredible Clivia, Clivia[Cyrtanthiflora Group]'Daydream' x 'green throat'. This delightfully tinted cross is one of five seedling Clivia that are decendents from Mr. Yoshikazu Nakamura's famous "Daydream", a celebrated breakthrough peach colored Interspecific cross between two Clivia species,( C. miniata and C. gardenii). In an effort to simplify nomenclature, these crosses are more properly known as the Cyrtanthiflora Group, (because thier blossoms are more trumpet shaped, and dangle from the inflorescence like thier South African cousins, the genus Cyrtanthus.

Although Clivia are easy from seed, the pods need to ripen for nearly a year on the plant, then they are slow growers producing two leaves a year and reach blooming size after five or six years. They do not come true to seed, so be wary of expensive seed that is named. These have a reduced chance of coming true to type. Such seed should properly be labed as the cross such as "vico yello x vico gold".

I encourage all to try Clivia. They are long-lived, sturdy plants that can handle neglect and bloom annually. I will write later on Clivia culture and share hints on how to get them to bloom, since this is the question I am most asked. Stay tuned for more March Clivia, as the collection is well budded, and new surprises await every morning as I check the greenhouse.



Both in spring, and autumn, the plant collector gets to enjoy a bit of cross-over. That strange period where plants from the southern hemisphere are blooming in their "autumn" while plants native to the northern hemisphere are enjoying the warm protection of the cold greenhouse. Thus, one can get displays that combine tender South African winter blooming bulbs like the Lachenalia above, with Cobalt blue Tecophilia cyanocrocus, the rare South American Blue Chilean Crocus (not a true crocus), combined with tender greenhouse alpines like the unusual frost sensitive polyploid primrose, Primula x "kewensis"with it's spikes of yellow flowers protected from the deep cold under glass.

Even stranger cross-over's happen since there are some southern hemisphere plants that convert growth cycles to the northern cycle, so that their "spring" is the same as a northern hemisphere spring, and some northern plants that are more hardy, are brought in from the still-frozen bulb bed, like crocus and fritillaria, and forced a few months earlier. Confusing, I know, but the plants lead you there, and you just follow and let them do what they do, and the result is a brief period where you ger spring and fall bloomers from both the southern hemisphere and the northern, all blooming together. Not a bad jumble, especially in this case since I gathered all the yellow and blue colors together.

I have a few friends who actually hate winter, and complain that they can't wait to move to a warmer climate. I never really could relate to that, even before the greenhouse was built, nor do I have any issues with winter, or early spring and the pending mud-season. The light, the scents of the damp muddy soil, the color of the frost as the buds begin to swell all excite me. Sure, to the uninformed, the outdoors does seem a bit grey. But to the more clever and adventurous gardener who is curious about life in all of its forms, this dullest of months in the northeast can provide hope and inspiration. Oh sure, and a greenhouse with a collection of interesting genus also helps with coping on overcast damp days, during what can be the smudgiest season of the year - March

March 13, 2006

Lovin' the Lachenalia

These easy of easiest bulbs still impress me, not only because of their ease, but because they perform so nicely in the cold greenhouse year after year. Natives of South Africa, there are just dozens of species that do well in a cool conservatory or greenhouse, and many more species that can be obtained from seed (More about that in another entry). Long known to bulb collectors and plant enthusiasts for three centuries, Lachenalia are virtually unknown to most people in the united States. But expect to see more of these precious bulb flowers appearing here since recently, both the Dutch and the South Africans are investing in the Lachenalia's future as a commercial pot plant. Already available in European bulb markets as an ornamental potted plant, a hybrid series known as the African Beauty® series bred for it's slightly more robust characteristics, is starting to become available to North American growers.

This relative of the Hyacinth family (Hyacinthaceae) doesn't carry the intense fragrance of it's cousin (although some yellow hybrids have a mild nutmeg-like scent), but it is just as easy to grow as long as you remember where they come from. Order bulbs in the late summer, for winter bloom (remember, as withmostt winter blooming South African Bulbs, our winter is summer in the Southern Hemisphere).

Order Lachenalia in late July and early August, I pot all of my Lachenalia, in August so that they can be plunged into a dry sand bed in the greenhouse to await their first watering around the first week in September when the temperature breaks and starts to get cool here in New England. Most of the winter blooming South African bulbs like Velthiemia, Watsonia, Nerine sarniensis and Romulea all stay dry in the summer under glass. Only the Nerine get a spritz of water now and then to keeptheirr bulbs firm.

The best Lachenalia to abeginnerr to try is Lachenaliaaloidess ssp. quadracolor, or one of the many other L.aloidess forms available from the few sources that carry them. L.aloidess quadracolor (pictured above) offers foliage that is sometimes handsomely marked with reticulation as well as striking flowers that blend from lime green to magenta which creates four colors, hence, quad-ra-color. If you can find the African Beauty series, they perform nicely too.

Recently, the African Beauty Series has become available for planting in the spring, terrific for containers and window boxes for a early summer blast of color for a few weeks. Last year, I potted a few pots up in March, and had blooms in the Alpine House until late June. Unfortunately they didn't seem to last as long in the summer heat as they do in the winter, but I am growing more again, having just placed a order for more from BRENT and BECKY'S BULBS.

Hybrids aside for a moment, with over 110 species in the genus, most all are viable for pot culture. Only a handful of species are available from a few growers, but starting a collection from seed is easier than one would think. The larger South African Seed catalogs such as Silverhill Seeds, offers many species. Potted in a loose gravelly fast draining soil, again, in September, kept well watered, you could expect flowers in three to four years. Since some species may cost $12.00 a bulb, and a full pot of a dozen or two bulbs are needed for a decent display, a packet of a hundred seeds for $3.00 is quite reasonable.

If you grow from either seeds or bulbs, all of my Lachenalia get their first water in early September, and once growth is visible by October, are kept in a plunge bed of damp yet fas tdraining sand all winter long, in full sun in a cold greenhouse (kept at 45 deg F at night, and perhaps 65 in the day (and I will only speak from my own experience here). I fertilize with a tomato fertilizer once a week, and never let the plant sit in water, although they do sit in a muddy sludge for a few hours after watering, in South Africa many grow in Fields that are sopping wet with run-off after heavy rains. Mine are actually kept quite wet but the soil is pure gravel and pumice, with large air spaces.

Species bloom at different times throughout the year, starting with the incredible teal-blue L. viridiflora around Christmas, and by spring, the last to bloom are the Hybrid African Beauty series as well as L. framesii and a rare green flowered form of L.aloidess 'vanzyliae'. Some species are more showy than others, but all offer something of interest to bulb collectors, since an interesting collection can be made, not only for flowers, but based on foliage as well since many species have curious features to their two leaves like spots, hairs or pustules that look like blisters.

sincee the last of myLachenaliaa are starting to bloom, I thought that I might share some photos of these rare plants, and to keep in yourmindd that now is a good time to start placing your orders for seed as well as some hybrids for spring delivery to color your deck or plant some pots to impress your neighbors. Just remember to buy as many as you can afford, and pot as many as you can in a pot for the best show.
Hail the Mud Season

I sometimes imagine that the gardeners calendar is not that of twelve months, but that of fifteen. Fifteen distinct seasons. Someday I'll either design my own calendar or write a book based around that concept. Plant people are closely connected to nature, and can sense the slightest change in both spirit and growth,that the difference between November and December is not nearly as distinct at that moment between first heavy frost, and the day after.

I can think of many ways to creatively divide summer itself. Maybe breaking it down to at least five or six seasons, : Peak solstice in mid June when here, in New England, the gardens have turned into a high-deff vision of early summer bloom that rivals no other: bloomy moss roses, floppy peonies, phalanxes of German bearded Iris in curious shades of cocoa, liver and mauve and, and spires of foxgloves. Yet the seasons can change practically overnight. High Summer is quite different, those last two weeks of July and the first two weeks of August, where the humidity can approach 100 percent, and the air is as thick with the tooth-pasty creamy scent of trumpet lilies and Asiatic lilies. Barechested, and barefooted, one can walk blindfolded through these summer seasons and know exactly what week it may be.

But it is now, in early March, the beginning of not only the classic Mud season, but indeed the outdoor gardening season here in Zone 5b. The snow has melted, the early shrubs are blooming and the crocus seiberi are up with the galanthus. And even though it may snow again, we know that since the morning chorus has started ( a week ago here, with a confirmed migratory Robin sighted and heard last Sunday), spring is on it's way.