July 31, 2006

Summer Variegation

July variegation ranges from stripes, to spots
Stong and violent thunderstorms blew through our garden last evening, drenching the plants with natures Gatorade. These nitrogen-rich summer showers inject new life into foliage, and followign a rain shower is the best time to observe foliage in its element. . The quenching summer showers that precede cold fronts, in our area of the U.S. also blow out the white, hazy sky's and humid temperatures, leaving behind a fresh, buoyant and cobalt sky that promises a brilliant and refreshingly cool morning.

It might even be a small factor that the air conditioner in the bedroom is finally off, and one can sleep better, or perhaps it's just morning chorus of songbirds and their vociferous attempts to lure lusty mates at 5:00 AM for maybe a try at a second clutch for the summer. But mostly, one feels the need to rise early since there is nothing quite like the garden, after a soaking summer rain.
Bare feet soaked in dew, cold grass clipping stuck between toes and mosquitoes who presumably are hung-over after a busy,hot night on the town, all makes for an experience that only comes a few days during the summer. The clarity and freshness of the atmosphere makes everything sparkle, and as a fan of unusual and rare plants, I have to admit that even the variegated foliage looks beautiful.

I'm not afraid to say it, I just don't care for variegation in most plants. Sure, there are those who like such anomaly's. Just as there are others who like to collect Crested growths and contorted sports, to me, it;s the same as saying that one like to collect tumors and pre-cancerous moles. OK, a stretch, I know....But regardless, indeed some variegation is just a step away from becoming a virus.

However, on this morning, I started cutting some variegation leaves after seeing how striking a new Brugmansia was looking outside of the greenhouse after being spared, this time, by hail piecing it's cream and green foliage. After reading a Martha Stewart Living magazine over a Starbucks this morning, I was inspired by a striking and beautiful photograph which accompanied an article on Canna. So I grabbed my camera, and without the aid of a few assistants, filters or stylists, I attempted to see what I could collect around the property, limiting myself to a green and white palette (No coleus allowed).

Maybe for another posting! :)

July 29, 2006

Repotting dormant bulbs: Bulbous Oxalis

The rarer and slow growing Bulbous Oxalis species perform best when repotted in the summer while they are dormant.
The highly collectable bulbous Oxalis species that hail from the winter growing areas of South Africa and South America are a far cry from the weedy pest that plague our gardens and greenhouses. This is an enourmous genus and are truly sought after by plant collectors. Once you try a few of these winter growing and summer dormant species, you will be hooked and then the collecting begins. And that is not an easy thing to do, since the finest bulbous Oxalis species are only available suring a few weeks of the summer and only from a handful of catalogs, if that.

Carefully repotted summer dormant bulb species all lined up and waiting

My greatest mid-summer chore is repotting all of the bulbs which are now dormant in the summer. A great many of my collection does come from the southern hemisphere, and most of these transcend into a deep, summer rest, with some wanting to bake high on the sunner shelves of the greenhouse where they can remain bone dry, and others just want to get splashed occaisionally to keep their cell wall turgid, but not enough to ever signal that the fall rains have arrived. Late July is when I start repotting most of these winter bloomers, and this incudes collections of Cyclamen species, Narcissus from the Mediterranean and the bulbocodium type like N. romieuxii, N. cantabricus et al, Lachenalia, Romulea, and of course, the Bulbous Oxallis species, the jewels of the collection.

1. Carefully Remove dead foliage and topdressing.

Once Oxalis stop growth and whiter around May or June, allow the pots to go bone dry until you are ready to repot.Carefully remove old foliage and discard, being careful that no bulbs are attached to stems.

2. Dump compost carefully into sieve.
Be sure to selct a sieve with holes large enough to catch bulbs. Bulb size and shape differs greatly with species. I dump the entire pot into the sieve and then depending on the species, wither remove bulbs as I see them since many migrate to the bottom of the pot and are easier to remove before crushing the root ball, or with less robust species, carefully breaking the rootball to see if bulbs have divided at all.

Many Oxalis speces send bulblets down into the ground deep, so they line up against the bottom of the pot. One theory is that these bulbs remain dormant for years. Mother Natures back up system perhaps, in case a population burns or gets eaten by baboons I am guessing.

Removing these bulbs allows you to grow your collection, which is a good thing since on a whole, thes are not innexpensive bulbs since they sell for about $3.00 - $4.00 each and one must pot at least a dozen or more to get a nice display. You will want to propagate them this way since they do not produce viable seed.

3. Sift and clean.
Carefully pick out the bulbs, which is sometimes easy and at other times a challenge since some bulbs look exactly like rocks. This is also the fun part since you can see if you either lost a collection or grew is. Some species multiply well, while others remain about the same. It's a bit like digging for potatoes.

4. Store dry until repotting in early August.

Since I am repotting a day or two later, I am using platic zip-lock bags which I keep open, I would not suggest this, they we're just handy. Some may want to catalog or keep a spread sheet on bulb count, and I have done this for some species but not yet for Oxalis, I just don't have the time, but memory does tell me that some species that I ordered from Telos last year have multiplied well. I usually order 6 bulbs and all of last years pots have grown to about 30 bulbs, of various sizes. I save even the tiniest ones, so blooming size bulbs surely are at a minimum. I think I will repot some smaller bulbs in propagation pans so that they will have mroe room to grow and pick out the larger bulbs for show pots.

Uncommon South African bulbous Oxalis in bloom in the cold greenhouse in November

Watering for all of these dormant bulbs will commence with the first arctic cold front sometime in early September. The theory here is that not only do the fall rains trigger growing but also the temperature shift. I have watered as early as Labor Day, around Sept 1, and as late as Oct. 1.

Summer repotting will continue, starting here with Oxalis since they seem to send hair-like roots first, then Cyclamen species which have a very brief dormancy if at all. I then continue with the Narcissus, the followed by the balance of the minor South African bulbs with the ultilate goal of everything repotted dry and resting on the benches by the second week in August.

The Amaryllids like my collection of Nerine sarniensis are not repotted per say, just top dressed since thier roots do not go dormant, and the bulbs are, in fact, actually growing a bit during thier summer break of foliage. These also are getting an occaisional spritz of water.

Summer dormant Bulbs can only be shipped in August, so order now for winter bloom.
This is also the time to order bulbs that will bloom in the winter. If you have a cool greenhouse that remains frost free and cold, or anyplace that is bright, sunny and frost free, the winter growing bulbs from South Africa are some of the best performers and relatively easy once you master the cycle of winter wet and summer dry. For me, in the North East, this is easy with a glass greenhouse that is kept at 45 deg. F in the winter and allowed to get hot in the summer.

July 27, 2006

Easy Gentians for beginers

The easy Gentiana daurica is available at many garden centers

If you are looking for that clear, gentian blue color, then you really must try growing Gentians, themselves. Generally considered as 'fussy' plants, since most Gentiana require alpine conditions (as does this species) with fast draining soil, yet moist-ish conditions, something of an oxymoron, there are still some speices which are more forgiving than the more challenging true alpine forms.

Distributed by Sunny Border Nurseries (look for it on the label) you can find Gentiana daurica in your local garden centers Rock Garden plant area, or where they may keep alpine plants, if they are a large retailer.

Provide the right conditions of Lime-free soil and fast drainage, this zone 4-7 plant will provide you with a mid-summer show of true Gentian blue flowers that can't compare to anything else.

July 23, 2006

Scadoxus multiflorus ssp. Katherinae

This Scadoxus was once known as Haemanthus

Once classified by taxonomists as Haemanthus katernae, the re-classified Scadoxus multiflorus subspecies Katherinae is more commonly known as the Blood Lily. The fact that taxonomists separated the two make sense when one considers that Haemanthus have more succulent leaves, and are more like 'true' bulbs, than Scadoxus, which is just 'somewhat' bulbous. Scadoxus have rizomes attached to the bulb plate and behave more 'geophyte-like' than 'true bulb-like'. I know, not making sense, but let's say that the Scadoxus don't produce the dry, papery-skinned dormant type of bulb which we think of as 'bulb', although they die to the ground, certainly these are all geophyes, it's just that whole onion-and-Leeks-are-both-bulbs-but-are-different-thing.

This is a bulbous plant which may be uncommon to those who live in colder areas, but one which Californian and tropical or Zone 10 and higher may be familiar with as a l ong lived garden plant.

As an indoor house plant, we have grown these for years in the house, and they behave much like Clivia. Fussy to bloom and a little challenging. We have had better luck in the cool greenhouse where they get tossed under a bench for the winter in thier pots, and forgotton, go dryish and stay cold. In spring, the pots are brought outside and they bloom every July. This been the pattern for five years now. Below, you can see that all of the summer growing South African bulbs are placed out doors, where they can get the benefits of rain and the bright light of the sun. These plants are from seed which we started in 2000. They are potted up in a fast draing bulb mix that I use for most of the South African bulbs, a mix containg equal parts of commercial peat based Pro Mix, perlite, pumice, sharp sand and and gravel.

July 17, 2006

The orchid days of summer

Rhyncholaelia digbyana displaying its finest fimbriation on a hot and humid evening in July

Perhaps more suited to this hot and humid, near 100 percent humidity weather than I, the cattleya relative Rhyncholaelia digbyana also surprises us with the fact that it also can handle the near freezing temperatures that the glass house presents it with in January. It's home, is on a slab of tree fern bark, hung against the trunk of a large Acacia dealbata tree near the back of the glass house, where it occaisionally gets a splash of water and maybe fertilzer, when I think of it. I don;t tend to fuss with orchids, so those that do well, do well, and those that wish to die, never come back./

I did go through an orchid collecting phase, but found it difficult to join our local orchid society in Massachusetts couldn't find thier websiote, they no longer cooperate with our local botanical garden, something over a squable or something, and so, I moved on. No need for that I say...We raise dogs, and it is well known that the only ones crazier than Dog Breeders are orchid growers, so I moved on for now.

I do collect many Japanese orchids, neofinetia and Dendrobium moniliforme, as well as many cultivars of Chinese cymbidiums, but these are not generally respected as much as showier (I have tried to strike up conversation with local members at shows here at the Tower Hill Botanic Garden about how I could join the ORchid Society, but they didn;t seem that interested in helping me with even where I might get a membership, or lead me to thier website,so I joined the National groups, the AOS, but have since dropped out since I have foudn them strangely unfriendly to newbies. So unfortunate since most plant groups are starving for younger collectors to join and become active, I must assume that the Orchid Society is doing quite well! I have found the British groups such as the RHS muchmore cooperative both with accepting manuscripts and with encouragement.

_Off Soapbox_ and back to the greenhouse!

July 16, 2006

Ornithogalum convallarioides

This small bulbous Ornithogalum species is native to Madagascar

Of all of the Ornithogalum species which I grow, this precious tiny specimen has been the most challenging. Mainly because after recieving hte bulb from England last autumn, slugs in the greenhouse devoured each leaf as it emerged. I had given up on it ever blooming, and set it far away on a shelf.

This spring, I noticed a leaf fragment surviving so I relocated the container on an upsidedown clay pot positioned in a pan of water, with the theory that slugs could not travel across the water to get to the apparently tasty foliage.

This still did not work since slugs had made a home within the soil, and emerged at night to dine.

Now, after carefully repotting, it had successfully grown its distinctive, and, yes, very Convallaria-like foliage (Convallaria = Lily of the Valley).

After a week away on a trip, it is nice to come home to surprises like this.

July 9, 2006

Mid Summer Pleasures

A new hybrid Daylilly

Spending a hot, humid, Sunday weeding the back vegetable garden reminds me of my childhood. Here in my garden, in this same soil, my father, and my grandfather tended precious plants for over 110 years. Each year, the same weeds greet me which had greeted them, I imagine that the same scent of the rich soil when the weeds are pulled out, and the sound of the cackling chickens as they get to toss and peck through the bushel baskets of weeds that get thrown into thier pen is all the same as it was in 1900.

Weeding tomotoes, The dusty sweaty, muddy chore that always seems to happen on the hottest days of the year, and one which will need repeating every two weeks is not all that bad I suppose. I remember as a child, spending much of the summer, so it seemed, hoeing and pulling weeds, but I know that we still spent time at the lake.

At least the hot sun keeps the mosquitos away, and I wouldn't trade a cold shower under the garden hose for anything. Even then, when the mud and dust have you all choked up and you just don't care anymore, you may come across a pristine blossom, somehow so clean and crip amongst all of this soi; and mud...here, from a new cross of Daylilly seedlings planted out two years ago, one is quietly reminded of natures magic.

English Sweet Peas in Bloom
In March, I posted how i plant the English Sweet Peas, and they always begin to bloom for us, around the Fourth of July. This year, they have started on the 7th. The fragrance, in the evening, is strong and like nothing else, certainly another pleasure which has no equal. If the weather remains cooperative, and the spent blossoms kept cut off, the Sweet Peas will continue to bloom until the first few weeks of August, then they will exahust themselves in the high summer heat here in New England.

Topiary and hard sheering in the summer
The collection of plants which I've trained as topiary standards is growing. Now, since they are moved out of the greenhouse for the summer, they still need tending to. Every Sunday, they get a drink of 10-10-10 fertilizer, and every three weeks, they get sheered back hard so that they can grow more dense and full. The summer is the best time to keep most topiary sheered hard, exposing them to stong light, and never, ever, letting them dry out. Daily watering is essential. Here, I am giving some of the Rosemary's, Westringia rosmarifolius and some Myrtles a good hard cutting .

July 5, 2006

Perennials from seed - do the math

Primula "Wanda" blue from seed

Even though I should have repotted these seedlings earlier, growing Primorses from seed is by far the most economical way to start a collection, and since many of the species and crosses are hard to find in the trade, especially in any quantity, the benefits of sacraficing a few hours is well worth it.

First, do the math. These seedlings of Primula Wanda 'blue strain" are sold only at a fe mail order catalogs, ranging from $8.00 to $12.00 a single plant, then factor in the shipping cost at around %20 and the small window in which they can be shipped (early spring or after September, you can clearly see how a $12.00 packet of seed can be so cost effective when you end up with over 120 plants, which will bloom in thier second year.

The seed may seem costly at first, but that is because I not only by seed from the North American Rock Garden Society seed exchange (NARGS) and the American Primula Society seed echange (APS), where packets are free or only a dollar or so, I also buy pre-chilled seed from commercial suppliers, like Jelitto in Germany. A twelve dollar packet of thier pre-treated perennial seed ranges from $4.00 to 12.00 for more unusual varieties, but if you are interested in getting near 90% germination and don;t wish to fuss with freezing the posts and chilling hte seed to stratify, they have done the work for you.
I grow seed from all types of sources, but I still order some prechilled seed from Jelitto every year, for things like Rodgersia, Trycyrtis, Campanual and more, basically, those varieties that I would like to plant in larger numbers, but that I feel are too costly at $12-$18. per plant at a nursery. If you have ever visited Kew Gardens in ENgland, you can see how effective 18 to 30 plants of each perennial is when planted in an area. In fact, that is the only way to plant when you want a garden to look like a real English border, or like the cover of a White Flower Farm catalog. It's simply a fact of Math. I see so many peopl buying one to three plants of something like Echinacea, when they should be planting a clump of at least 15 pots to get a display that looks right.

Now you could easily end up with a surplus of Rodgersia, which isn't a bad thing at all!
NExt spring, try ordering pre-chilled seed from Jelitto, and by Autumn, you could be planting out hundreds of plants that you could otherwise never afford to plant in drifts.