August 31, 2006

Bye bye, Summer and a new computer

Tulbaghia blossoms - last of the season
Fall is allabout new clothes, fresh pencils, and new computers. It's back to school time. But, for me, it's the addition of a pottery class, since I dont have anything better to do! (right!). Oh yeah, and the book, and work, and the new Narcissus collection.....

It's one of those transitional times of year again, and in fact, both horticulturally speaking and calandar speaking, the last week of August marks a significant change for many. Experiences are so personal, for many, this week on the calandar marks the week that your kids go back to school, or college. If , like me, you don't have children, you may remember your own childhood. The end of August, for me, still is a sort of rebirth. A time to buy a few new clothes, and, well, school supplies. So, I bought a new compter. A Mac Pro with the new Intel chip. Now, I can add video to the blog, compose music and podcast. So stay tuned.

Until then, hey, it's Labor Day Weekend, here in the US, meaning, it's a three day weekend. Finally, I can get into the greenhouse and spend some time with the plant. The garden has gone to hell, there is SO much work to be done, and since it seems like it has rained everyweekend, big chores like trimming the long 220 foot hedge that protects us from the road still hasn't been done, as well as painting the house, moving five tons of gravel to the new circular garden which I haven't named yet, and a slew of other jobs, trees that need to be cut down, relocating or pruning. It never ends.

Instead, at least some progress was made with the new rock garden complete with a Czech crevice garden (more about that soon) and all of the winter blooming bulbs in the greenhouse have been repotted, and are ready for thier first watering in a week or so. Still remaining, bulbs bulbs bulbs, from many sources, mostly for the greenhouse, and for the new bulb best contructed last year along the east side of the greenhouse, but not used yet. New this year will be a collection of Narcissus for the outside bed, and for pots that will bloom starting in Oct, through spring. Mostly these are N. triandrus and N. cyclamieus types. I think I may have orderd every cultivar that I could find, with hopes of breeding them.

One big chore left is to make repairs to the glass in the greenhouse that has broken or slid off of the roof, and this year at least ten large panels need to be replaced in the next few weeks. An awesome task, but it has to be done.

The new computer has held me up from posting pics, so until Sept. 1, I am just posting this nice pic of a Tulbaghia in bloom now, a South African bulb plant which is easy, and evergreen, yet tender, so one would need a greenhouse to winter it over.

August 24, 2006

Old School Daffs:The Miniature Winter-Blooming Narcissus

August is the time to plant these tiny precious and rarely seen Narcissus species.

I grow many of the bulbocodium types of Hoop Daffodils along with the other summer dormant bulbs in the greenhouse, they are the highlight of the late autumn and winter greenhouse with a bloom period that begins in October and ends in April with the latest of the species. By then, the outdoor narcissus take over and one can have narcissus in bloom for 8 months straight.

Quite rare, in the sense that you will really have to cleaver on-line to find these jems, the lesser of the miniature Narcissus are well known amongst alpine plant growers in England, and to rock gardeners in North America, who have a greenhouse or who live in a medeterranian climate. They demand the conditions that match thier native lands, from Spain and Portugal to Morrocco and Turkey - basically, once again, dry in the summer dormancy, and frost free and moist in fast draining soil in the winter.

This year I am attempting to grow more smaller narcissus, especially the species and hybrids in the sections of N. cyclamineus and N. triandrus. Both are and have been treasured as alpine house classics throught the nineteenth and early twentieth century by bulb collectors and alpine growers around the world. They remain absent in the trade, and can only be found a a very few of the best daffodil growers. both in containers and in he rock garden. A little pricy, or even alot pricy with some bulbs selling between $20 -$45.00 US, it takes an investment to fill a pot of twenty bulbs. I am going to start with 1-3 bulbs each, and see where that takes me. I will still be eating ramen noodles for a few weeks, surely!

A pot of Narcissus romiuxi in bloom last December.

I've become daffy about mini daffodils. In the past two weeks, I've joined the American daffodil Society, ordered most every book on the subject from Alibris.com (a great site for out of print books from all over the world) and I am smack in the middle of ordering mini daff's from the few, not even handful, of mail order nursuries who carry them like Nancy Wilson in the U.S and Paul Christian in the UK.

Uncleaned bulbs after a 'baking' in the summer greenhouse

Now, I should be more clear. Of course there are many other bulb nurseries, like Brent and Becky's bulbs, and others, many of which carry a selection of true miniature narcissus. The named varieties that you will find in most of the more respected catalogs are all the same. A few like the variety Xit and Clare, are harder to find as are the species N. rupicula and N. waterii, but a couple catalogs still carry them from time to time. Don't let this discourage you, al narcissus are great, and all of the miniatures are super and precious in the garden.

Remember, I'm a plant geek, and to those of you who are also plant geeks, we tend to look deeper. Way down to, say, what woudl the rarest narcissis be? What would be considered the most unusual. Many of you may be like me, and atend local meetings and specialty plant clubs during hte winter, all which have little contests where members bring treasures from thier greenhouses to compete against each other. Some of us grow a few pots to enter in the larger flower shows like the New England Flower Show or the Philadelphia Flower Show. So we look for the real unusual, it't what gives us goose bumps, to see a precious unusual species that is often not seen. Plain yellow daff's are stil nice. we are just numb when we view them.

Cleaned Narcissus obesus bulbs all ready for potting up in August

What I am particularly interested in, are very particular types of narcissus, that require special conditions, not difficultu really, but ones that must be grown in an alpine house throughout our cold, New England winter. Requiring bright sunlight, and cool temperatures along with bouyant air and fresh water. Granted, collecting these particular species is this is a subculture, if you will, of either Narcissiphiles or Alpinists, or maybe even both combined. Let me put it this way, it's not going to get me a date! These bulbs really can only be grown by those who either live in a more medeteranean climate like California, or who have an alpine house in the north. Since they require similar conditions as many of the South African bulbs that I grow, they are a perfect fit.

The best results come from crowded pots, the bulbs seem to like touching each other.

August 23, 2006

A walk in the garden - August

The intensely fragrant Cestrum nocturnum shares it's scent only at night
Since I am so busy working on my book on design trends, which is due to the publisher this week, and with my job, I will just briefly walk through the garden and report some noteworthy events of the week since it is now 1:00 AM and I just got back from work. I will be lucky to get time to even water the greenhouse tomorrow morning before my hour commute back in to work, ugh.

It's nearing the end of August, and even though the nights are cooler, we are still getting warm sunny days with temps in the 80's. This Cestrum nocturnum is a new plant for me, and one which I will always grow,since I am a nut for fragrance. This plant really delilvers is punch only at night. Last week, I had fogotten that it was in a pot and plunged into the ground in front of the greenhouse. In the dark, we could smell it and couldn't figure out where the sent as coming from. Now on the deck, on this glorious morning, it had scented the warm, humid evening air after last night thundershowers all night. The entire house smelled of Jasmine, (It's common name is night Jessamine).

Rebutia 'Red Riding Hood'
The cactus collection is still sending out an occaisional bloom. Most of the Rebutias bloom for us in June, this August beauty is brilliant fuscia, althought its cultivar name is Red Riding Hood.

Scabiosa for cut flowers
This spring I was inspired by Wayne Winterrowds excellent book, Annuals and Tender Plants for North American Gardens (Random House),a must have. So I attempted to grow many of the more unusal or lesser grown annuals, the type that wither need to be sown in situ or are not carried by retailers at all. One of the 'lost' old world annuals is Scabiosa, a great cut flower which has had stems last over a week in my office. It's wiry stems twist and turn gracefully and are attractive, this, a selection of a color mix which I lost the name of is attractive with its blend of burgundy, mauve and white.

Boöphane disticha
One of the rarer plants in the collection, this Boöphane disticha, (pronounced Boo-off-ah-knee),a challenging to grow bulb from South Africa which is highly posionous, even it's dried leaves on the dormant bulb when touched cause numbness in my fingers so I must work with rubber gloves even to repot it when dormant. I have it positioned up high outside,, so that the dogs can't get it. Tribesmen in Africa make poison for darts from this bulb. I was advised after 'investing' in it, that I would be lucky to get it to grow. So far, so good. I was able to awaken it out of dormancy, a task in itself. No, if only I can coax it to bloom. It is planted in an extremely fast draining mix of sharp sand, perlite and rock, and in a large container of about 10 gallons. The plant is notorious for not liking to be repoted, and it is long lived.

A view of some of the caudiciform plants in the collection

Summer is the active tiem for these caudiciform plants. Here is an early morning view of some of the best. Kept bone dry in the winter, these plants all have water-storage parts above the soil. During the summer, they can take a surprising amount of water.

August 19, 2006

Zephyranthes- Rain Lilies

Zephyranthes 'Labuffarosa'
I never intended on collecting Zephyranthes, to be honest, one comes across them in many specialty bulb catalogs, and even sometimes in home centers, but my first Zephyranthes arrived in my greenhouse, as an escapee from florida. On September 11, 2001, I was flying home to Boston from Orlando when I became stranded in central Florida. Instead of returning my car rental, I decided to drive home to New England. Since I had just built the new greenhouse, and had an empty minivan, I decided to make the best of it and take my time driving home, hitting nurseries all along the east coast, This helped take my mind off of what was happening, and it allowed me to add sizeable plants of Camellia and Jasamine that I otherwise would not have been able to recieve through mail order.

Zephyranthes candida
The following summer, a bright white flower bloomed in a large potted camellia pot which was outside. I had seen the nice foliage, and thought that it was some sort of bulb which may have fallen in from the greenhouse, but I once it bloomed, I knew what I had. A Zepyranthes candida, the Rain Lily - purported to bloom after heavy rains, (and indeed it does following a dryng off period). I removed it from the pot and found it its own nice container, where it produced a few more blossomss through the summer. In the winter, I let it go semi dormant, under a bench.

I also became interested in growing more Zephyranthes, finding the mail order source PLANT DELIGHTS in North Carolina having a superb collection. By the following summer, I had a half dozen species and named varieties growing, although, this year, I only keep these two since basically, they survived the rough treatment I give them. They only bloom a few days out of the year, so I grow them more as a novelty. IF I am lucky enough to be home when they bloom, as this week, it's a nice surprise. Other than that, I do nothing to them other then rbign the pots in for the winter, and back out for the summer.

August 16, 2006

Madagascar Summer

Uncarina grandidieri has 3" wide flowers
Caudex or Caudiciform plants are perhaps the strangest plants which are collected by enthusiasts. What often look like a dead branch or stumpy apendage, with a weak, tiny green stem or leaf is often a priceless rarity. Cadiciform plants are those plants which have water storring capabilities, and and generally found in Africa, and Madagascar. They are usually unatractive, and in fact quite ugly with crusty bark, little foliage and dangerous thorns. Add that the fact that since they grow in sme of the harshest conditions on earth, the remain dormant, or, well, let's say they look dead, for more than half of the year. All of these reasons are why collectors go crazy over them. Anotehr reason to grow Caudex plants, is for thier blossoms, which appear rarely on the hottest of summer days and which contast so interstingly with the rough nature of these fascinating plants.

Uncarina is a genus from Madagascar with less than 10 species. I keep three in my collection and although not truly 'rare' excep[t by eBay standards, one needs to search specialty cactud nurseries to find them. Uncarina are easy enough to grow, even in a house or appartment. During the summer, they like lots of water, and when fall comes, after blooming, the plants, (which are really small shrubs) are allowed to go bone dry, and they remain so until spring.

Uncarina roeosliana has a smaller structure, overall.
I have found that after losing a few to rot in the greenhouse, that the Uncarina as well as other Caudex plants like to not only be dry in the winter, but they don;t want to be too cold either. The greenhouse is kept at 45 deg. F in the winter, and combined with the cold damp air, even though the pots are kept bone dry, they ultimately rot. Lately, they have been spending the winters indoors in a sunner picture window, in the studio, where it is still cool, near 60 deg.F., but more to thier liking.

U. roeosliana has no dark center in the flower.
Growth starts again, after the weather warms up in May, and the dead-looking plants suddenly start to sprout new shoots. But July, they are in full bloom again, and need o be watered every day, sometimes twice while in full, lush growth. A lite fertilizer is applied occaisionally, but really, no fussing except that they are kept in the glass house for the summer, in full sun where temperatures often reach 110d. F.

August 11, 2006

Oh... whoa... whoa... it's magic, (I know)

Around the world Epyphyllum oxypetalum bloom precisely during the full moon of summer

HAWAII, HONOLULU, SEPTEMBER 1981....... I attending college in Hawaii. (yeah, I know) anyway...there is this drive in the high mountain range that spits the island of Oahu in half. The mountains are mostly a state park with trails and some residences,and they reach tall into the sky with some skinny spires permanently embedded in the clouds. And..you can drive up there. It rains frequently everyday in the mountains of Hawaii, and as the sun sets on the ocean far below, the beams shoot directly up to the misty cliffs and canyons and show us why Hawaii is known as the rainbow state although the waterfall state may have been more appropriate since the ridges in these mountains produce hundreds on waterfalls, an incredible sight. Imagine...velvet green spires, dozens of long, long long waterfalls, fragrant ginger blossoms, and this is truly paradise.

If you are ever in Hawaii, you must rent a car and drive into these mountains. Tantalus Drive starts off as a typical residential Honolulu road, near a high school and homes, but shortly after, one leaves the sense of culture, lights and traffic, and the driving experience becomes a world of flitting jewel-like birds, ytopical rainforest most, tall tree and vines, and fragrant tropical flowers in the quest mist of the canyons. Tantalus takes you to the clouds, it twists and turns through the canyons and velvet green spires of the mountains.

I remember this so well, the cool, moist air, the incredible views of the aqua tinted Pacific ocean with the miniature catamaran in he distance full of luau-plumped tourists. Here, 2000 feet above the Vegan-ness of Waikiki one is left with quiet. Chittering honey creepers gather nectar high in the trees among the ancient Koas and Acacias as insects and butterflies add to the rustling of the leaves in the trade winds. Solitude is rare and precious.

my favorite time for a Tantalus drive was at night. Tunnels, yeah, tunnels, we're pruned into the dangling foliage and dense roots of the Epyphyllum oxypetalum, the Night Blooming Cereus which grow thickly on the strong limbs of trees that grow low over the road. On some turns, you could grab the roots if you were in a convertible. Not native to Hawaii like most of not all of the iconic plants that one thinks of when one visualizes Hawaiian flowers like Anthuriams, Plumeria or Hibiscus, these too were introduced into this fragile ecosystem. The Night Blooming Cereus is still beautiful in bloom though, it drenches the air with its exotic fragrance, a strange, thought not unpleasant sweet scent that is both minty and creamy, almost soil-like in its earthyness. The white ginger that often accompanied it in the mountains was strong smelling and often won the fragrance battle since it grew everywhere and was most common under the High Tension wires which bring electricity over the mountains to the North Shore of the island.

now, today, in my backyard greenhouse in Worcester Massachusetts, I grow Epyphyllum oxypetalum too. It thrives in a giant clay tub on a shelf in the center of the greenhouse. Its long whip-like appendages grow out and over the support structure of the glasshouse in long, graceful seven foot arches, but basically looking like nothing much, until it blooms. An even which is magical itself.

if it wasn;t for the full moon I would not be reminded. Why? Well, mysteriously enough, the plant blooms only in the summer, on, or around a full moon, presumably so that night pollenators like fruit bats and moths can see the dinnerplate sized blossoms. A perfect reason to plan a party around. We never have, but it sounds good and many garden writers say that they do of course. For us, it's more like driving home from Target, we'll say "wow, look at that full moon!'. Then I'll reply, I wonder if the Night Blooming Cereus is in bloom?...." Later that evening the dogs get locked in the spare bedroom (it's skunk season so the doggy door has a curfew at 8:00 pm) and we slip into flip flops and proceed with flashlights in hand out back to the greenhouse. As we step through the cold dewey grass of high summer and approach the greenhouse, we usually can smell the blossoms from outside. Since our plant has a premature issue, it sometimes blooms the night before the full moon from excitement or something, so often, all we find are seven limp spent flowers, and just two in full bloom. As we did this week.

Plants that react to day length to trigger blossoming, like poinsettia, clivia and the like, all need the moon cycles or day length cycles to happen without interference of a street light, or a lamp from another room. That is way it is so difficult to bloom a Christmas cactus indoors, at Christmas. Nature just tells them when to bloom.

A last thought..... on this evening in August, around the world, there are others having a glass of wine at midnight in this bright moonlight, smelling the giant flowers of their night blooming cereus. It may be a Botanic Garden in London, a fire escape overlooking a noisy alley in New York City, a rooftop garden in Tokyo, a backyard in Brazil, a screened porch in Bangladesh or a twisty road high in the reinforced of Hawaii, where there might even be four college kids in a 1981 Fiat spider zooming along saying, Whoa...What's that smell dude?

August 9, 2006

GARDEN TRENDS: Hello Japan 1

The Samurai Orchid, Neofinetia falcata

Gardening and collecting plants is an experiencce which is so deeply personal to each of us, often rooted just between you, and the plant, it's an intimate experience which others gererally don't understand. As an American who both travels and gardens far more than the average Yankee green thumb, I find the combination of other cultures and thier gardening enthusiasm stimulating, not only because it is new to me, but because it appears to be unexploited by others and have been overlooked by garden writers.

Asia continues to lead the trend in Gardening as it does with other trends like desig, no culture has both affected the art of gardening and at the same time be as un exploited as the Japanese have.

Think about it. When you think of Japan and gardening, what do you think of? Most likely, bonsai, followed closely bt Japanese gardens with thier minimalist design and raked sand pools. A few may add Japanese maples and the wealth of plant material that originated from the horticulturally rich island of Japan. But what if I told you that this represents, what I believe, might be just 10$ of what Japan can contribute to the rest of the world? Seriously, within the shores of this island , is an amazing undicovered hprtifulturall secret just waiting to be exploited by someone.

Dendrobium moniliforme
This secret is more of a phenomenon that has been kept within the borders of Japan simply because no other culture could, or perhaps woudl ever understand it. Which still may unfortunately be the case since the relationship between Japan and its plants involves a complex blend of religion (Shinto and its reverence of nature), political history (the inflluence of the Edo period) and modern factors (crowded cities). Combine this with the fact that the over-all culture of Japan defies most western definitions with it's oxymoronic reality of a language and culture which alienates others and keeps the country an exotic anomooy, along with unmatched modernity and technology that leads others on our planet.

I think alot about why the gardening world has avoided this world of Japan, its people and the plants that they grow. My guess is that it might be too difficult to explain. Overwhelming, really. I'm not kidding, here's an example. This is a culture that can take a single plant, like Morning Glories, a planat that Amaricans plant on lightposts and on chainlink fences as a fast growing summer annual. What do you think of when someome tells you that they have planted morning glories? Most gardeners think of sky blue. That color that only morning glories can deliver, others might remember nostagic memories of thier grandmothers, and others might think of weeds, since the genus also can be terribly pesty in some areas.

OK, to be fair to even us plant geeks, Morning Glories might bring connections between other collectable rare plants in the genus.

August 7, 2006

Brugmansia Fragrance

Brugmansia cultivars love the heat and humidity

A week ago today, the buds on this yellow Brugmansia were only an inch ,ong or so, and in this short time of seven days, the blossoms are about a foot long. Growth over an inch a day is not unusual for tropcial plants such as these.
The current craze for tropical plants used as annuals is making fastg rowing giants like these and other plants available at most garden centers, but I remember when, as a kid in the 1960's our neighbor had a Brugmansia tree which he kept potted in an old horse trough in his cellar during the winter, and in the summer, it would be planted in his front yard where it's foot-long fragrant blossoms would halt traffic.

Brugmansia, then classified as Datura and later taxonomists reclassified it, are easy tog row as long as you follow a few key requirements. 1. Never let them dry out, or they will lose thier foliage and go into a semi dormant state, 2. Fertilize heavily, since fresh new growth and not woody growth is neccessary for good blossom set, and 3. Give them full sun and a large container.

These are frost tender, and really only like heat, so cold temps under 55 really affect thier growth. If you live in the north, as we do in New England, you can easily pull the pots back into the cellar and let the plants lose all thier leaves and go dry until spring, just make sure that they get some light, low temps and enough water to keep the stems greenish.

August 4, 2006

Staying Cool with Stylish White

Gardenia blossoms smell better in the moist summer air

If gardenias were wine, connoisseurs would advise that to appreciate the deep, rich, complexity of the scent, one must enhale the blosson in a moist bouyant atmosphere to atruly appreciate it's balance. So, with near 100% humidity here in the New England area of the States, I'd say we are ready for GArdenia tasting. It is this very moist air which not only triggers the potted Gardenia plants to bloom, which have been relovated outside for the summer, but it also brings a certain quality to the rich scent, a quality that somehow makes it more acceptable to those who find it cloying, and a quality which enhances the scent for those of us who love it, like I do.
I think that we may have the largest Gardenia tree in the world. Well, we know it is not, but for a plant that is regarded as fussy to grow in a container, our plant is six feet tall and wide (see inset with Fergus). Each summer is gifts us with hundreds of blossoms, one time over a hundred at one time in bloom. No special treatment fo this old plant,it just gets shoved out in the summer, and pulled back into the Greenhosue for the winter. Sure, the greenhouse helps, but it barely makes it though the winter since it is a trap for scale, aphids and mealy bug. It is the first plant to get any of these. The plant was gifted to us (rescued?) from friends who had kept the plant in thier home during the winters near Boston, so ir's not as it one needs greenhouse conditions. Basically, it doesn't go dry, it rarely has wilted, and occaisional root pruning and repotting has kept the beast healthy.

A pure white Agapanthus stands out in the mid-summer heat

Commonly seen in blue, hence,it's common name, the Blue Lily of the Nile, (although Violet Lily of the Nile might be more accurate to a colorist),I think that this striking white form of Agapanthus is just as quite impressive. This unknown cultivar of ours, was bought (on sale in the winter) at a lage Boston gardencenter without a tag, just because it had beautiful wide foliage. It surprised us to be an excellent form of a "alba' selection, most likely a cultivar from one of the larger plant breeding wholesalers in California like Monrovia or something. Who care what name it has, it still has gigantic flower heads, the size of basketballs and larger even then the purple cultivar called Thunderhead.

I can't say that I have mastered growing agapanthus yet. They dop well enough now that we have the greenhouse, but with nearly ten cultivars in the collection, and a few species like A. inapertus, only two have decided to bloom this year, and last year, the others all bloomed. They all are growing profusely, it just seems that the rest tok the year off. As South African bulb-like plants, although they do not go dormant, they do still get a dry half of the year and a wet, growth time of year. It may be a simple adjustment as dryer and cooler in the winter and perhaps more frequent repotting since they are all quite root bound now.

Although it has been easier with the addition of the greenhouse. I know that many garden writers advise to simply pot them up in tubs or large pots, and after thier summer bloom, drag them to a cool garage or cellar, and let them go semi dormant, at least in the colder parts of the world, like Zone 5 and lower. What's up with this advice? I wonder if they ever have really grown any of the plants that they write about? OR do they just research on-line and repeat poor advice? When I become a garden writer, ( someday) I will promise to write only about those plants which I have mastered or failed with, reporting my successes and advice with authentic accuracy, not acquired information which is second hand, at best.

Fresh Green Papyrus adds balance to white flowers in arrangements and in the garden
I love Papyrus, and the I keep a few species that also go out in the summer, into tubs of water. The cut stems are stylish, in arrangements, and long lasting.