September 26, 2006

More Fall Bloom

Clerodendron speciosissimum

This striking red flowered member of the clerodendron clan also blooms in the autumn, just before frost. Started from cuttings in april, these are planted out in tubs in the greenhouse, and then moved out doors after the threat of frost has past. These south east Asian native bearts brilliant red blossoms, and resides on the deck until frost kills it. For me, it is easier to keep a plant or two struggling through the winter in the greenhouse, where it is cold, and then take cuttings in the early spring for next summers bloom.

Tricyrtus hirta
These toad lillies are from seed that I brought back from Japan in 2002, and now live in a nice colony near a large yellow magnolia, along the walk to the greenhouse.

Second generation Tricyrtus seedlings
Last year, they set seed so we saved them and started a second planting in a flat. the seed was planted last fall, and kept in the cold greenhouse. To my surprise, the seedlings, although small, all are blooming with a single blossom, surprising me with a few spotless white forms, as well as some variations of violet - sweet.

The first buds emerge from Nerine sarniensis

In my fifth year of growing Nerine sarniensis, I think I am starting to master thier culture. So much about what one reads about cultural requirements with growing these jewels of the Nerine world contradicts itself, that I decided to just learn for myself. And, of course, what works for me, doesn't neccessarilly work for others. All I can say is that although Sir Peter Smithers had tremendous success in growing these Exbury hybrids in tiny three inch clay pots, and fast draining sand and pumice with no peat or fertilizer, I use Promix and perlite, plastic pots, sand bed which is kept wet, and never drying out while they are growing, and weekly fertilizer which is low in nitrogen - I now have clumbs of the largest bulbs, I have ever seen, the size of apples. I also have now divided many since they have divided into two to four bulbs, some pots have two buds each emerging this year.
Of course, my luck can change in a flash, but so far so good. More on Nerine's later, when they bloom.

September 19, 2006


The first day of autumn is officially Thursday, but why has it felt like fall since the first week of August? Yeah, it has been the warmest weather on record this summer, according to the National Weather Service, the warmest since record keeping begain but we aren't experiencing global warming now, are we?
Oh yeah, it's voting day.....that reminds me.....gotta go :)

Ok, ok, the kids wanted to say 'hi' again. Margaret and Fergus mug for the camera, before Ferg goes off to the spa to "kool his jet" and Mugrat goes into heat for a couple weeks. Why doesn't anyone design tasteful panties for dogs? Crazy people design and buy fancy dog clothes at Target and Barney's, but sometimes the little girls need soem protections, and they only come in Denim and, one company, on-line, has them in denim but with a touch or red bandana material around the tail hole?! ! Ugh.
Makes her look like she's wearing daisy dukes ...then she looks more like a trailer-park dog named Crystal, and not a national show winner, Hmph..... I hate the whole Dog show thing, but I inherited it with these guys, and had to follow it through....but at least she ranked high, and after her next litter...she can retire and finally be a dog again and enjoy life. I think they should outlaw dogshows, and beauty pagents. Oooh. this is getting bloggy.

Fall = Orchids not Mums

You all know how I feel about bushel basket mums the size of dairy cows, all hormoned-up and perfectly perfect in every way. These Mary Poppin's of the Chrysanthemum world are unfortunately ubiquituos at farm stands and North American nurseries this time of year. But what did gardeners do before these beasts come along?

Well, first, we did grow Crysanthemums, of course, but not these mounds we know now as "garden mums'. I will write this weekend and show the mums that I am growing, but that are now sadly not only difficult to find, but are only carried by a few, if not two, plant suppliers. My trips to Japan have converted me to many Japanese techniques that have never been completely understood in the West, and the art of Chrysanthemum culture has been another passion that I have bee trying to perfect here in the states. The are still budding up, so I will show my Asian mum collection, later. Besides, they don't really bloom until late October, and have just had thier last pinching. These include cascading mums, tall standard spiders and many fancy anemone types. But more later....because this is also the season for many orchids, especially these rare Pahiopedilus species from Borneo like P. rothchildianum, P. sanderianum and other Paph species (not the plastic hybrids that one sees more commonly) but these, some of the rarest and most sought-after orchids in the world.

Most Paphs with these long tepals grow only on the Island of Borneo, on Mount Kinabalu. Of course, Pahhs grow all over South East Asia, but I am only showing the Paphs from this particualr cloud forest since they have a type of blossom and character that I, as a designer and botanist, find most appealing and fascinating. Here, I jsut combined them with some unusual species begonia plants, as well as a tropical shrub with equally similar blossoms, for a cover photo-comp for a book idea that I have of rare plants.

In the greenhosue, a laeliacatleya explodes into bloom with 23 blossoms. Not fragrant, but certainly delightful, this plant actually surprised me, and I suppose, if I was an 'orchid freak", which I am not, I would bother to take it to a local orchid show to get points awarded to it (something that the American ORchid Society does, in order to rank species and crosses - those are the letters one sees after an orchid name in some catalogs, like AAS, or Catleys Blah blah blah CCP, Certificate of Cultural Perfection, or whatever -sorry orchid fans.... whatever).

Chores pervail. Washing pots is something that I HATE!. Especially with my busy work schedule. SInce I am not a gardener by trade, but a creative director for a corporation, I really only get about a few hours a week to garden.....so washing pots is not something that I look froward to. Making pots? yeah, I look forward to anytime I can get a the wheel in my pottery studio, which too, is rare, but washing them, no. But it needs to be done, and the warm weather this week allows me to take many of the pots not being used and scrub them in a 10% bleach solution and air-dry them in the sun. Now they are ready to be used in the greenhouse with the upcoming rush of relocating the collections in for the winter.

September 12, 2006

First Fall Bulb Growth

Colchicum 'Poseiden'
The first of the potted Colchicum are blooming, this new bulb of C. "Posieden' a colchicum of which Russel Stafford of Odyssey Bulbs describes as the deepest color in any Colchicum, is also one of the largest. This one bulb has so far produced four flowers from the one bulbs, which shows how prolific the fall blooming species are. My Colchicum collection is getting started, well, what I mean, is, that I am just starting to collect Colchicum species, which is just another genus that I have tried to keep on a back burner until I hit the lottery. My new Narcissus obsession is bad enough! With the Colchicum, as with crocus (yeah, another obsession), I decided to start with the spring blooming species. Many people aren't aware that there are also spring bloomin Colchicum, and another common mistake is to call them 'autumn crocus", for, there are true crocus species that bloom in the autumn.

That said, I did acquire a few fall blooming forms of Colchicum this season, just because I was tempted. I will be sharing photos of them with you as they bloom, along with some that have been in the garden for a few years. I am attempting to grow some them in containers, a very British thing to do, and then perhaps some in the ground too. the container grown plants, will allow me to keep them in the alpine house, and out of the rain, so that I can study then closer, but I will most likely be planting them later into the outdoor beds.

Wow-new growth from last weeks first watering!

The fall watering last week, the first watering of the season for the fall and winter growing bulbs, has surprised me with growth, in just four days! Five pots of Oxalis species and these hybrid Nerine sarniensis x bowdenii sust poped into growth in these first four days of moisture. Surely, the cold nights have helped too, it was 38 degrees F this morning, but rose to 75 during the day. As I said before, the cold nights combined with the fall 'rains' from the hose will trigger these South African winter growers into growth. Nature is amazing.

An Oxalis fragrans bursts forth into growth four days after it's first watering.

September 6, 2006

The Rainy Season Begins

Nature has a way of managing cycles. Moon cycles, daylength cycles, temperature cycles, moisture cycles, even wildfires all combine to stimulate a chemical reaction within all lifeforms to grow, to hibernate, to reproduce, to feed, and to migrate. In plants, bulbs, in this case, one set of stimuli is the arrival of a rainy season, and around our planet, this is occuring and we have no control over it.

My African veld under glass
Since a good part of my bulb collection consists of species from summer dormant, winter growing areas of the southern hemisphere, like Afica or the Middle East, our New England autumn is the time to initiate the growing season with the comencement of watering. This is a landmark event in my horticultural season - the first watering of the winter bulbs. An event which I look forward to all summer.

Pots lined up and ready to have a single, deep soaking.
It's funny, becuase so many of my friends moan and groan about the end of summer, and the death and decay that autumn brings, yet one can also look to this season as a time of growth and renewal. We become so trapped in the marketing of Fall: Pumpkins, mums, scarecrows, fall foliage, especially here in New England, that from the front lawn displays to retail displays, one is swept up in a sea of orange and brown.

But there are so many other ways to look at autumn. I enjoy both, but I also know that most people don't realize that around the world, events are happening which we simple never notice. Of course, it is spring, in the Southern Hemisphere, that's a given. But even in Turkey, and Greece, the mountain meadows are violet with autumn crocus and Colchicum species. There are forests in Italy where the ground is pink with cyclamen species, jsut starting thier growing season, and a slew of autumn flowering narcissus are starting to bud, just as we are buying Halloween candy.
We all have a choice, on what we wish to notice or celebrate. I guess, I feel fortunate to have a greenhouse, where I can capture many of these events, all which add a new dimension to Autumn, and winter, or early spring.

November, around here is not only a time of Thanksgiving,Pilgrims, grey skys and cold temperature with a bit of snow, but it is also the time when in the greenhouse, the Narcissus romiexii are in full fragrant bloom, the Nerine sarniensis Exbury hybrids are in peak display with thier pinks, and magenta blossoms, and the hundreds of pots of bulbs from all over the world are starting to bud, for a succession of bloom throughout the winter.

But this all starts this weekend, with the first watering.
All summer, during spare moments, the dormant bulbs have been carefully repotted into new growing medium, generally a fast draining mix. Pots we're washed, sterilized, and bulbs were cleaned and repotted, and topdressed with gravel, and kept dry until the first week of September.

Nerine sarniensis hybrids getting a full watering to trigger fall bloom
The trigger for the autumn growth, come not only from increased moisture, but from cooler nightime temperatures. I like to wait until the night temperatures drop into the high 50's before commence watering. A single, deep and slow soaking them occurs, with the hose, and then the pots are not rewatered until growth starts showing, in about three weeks.

This treatment applies to most of my crazy collection, including the Narcissus species from Morocco and Turkey, (N. romieuxii, N. cantabricus, etc), and all of the miniature species of Narcissus that I keep in the cold greenhouse in pots; it includes all of the Cyclamen species from Europe, and all of the South African bulbs, including collections of Albuca, Lachenalia, Romulea, Fresia species,bulbous oxalis and Nerine species, to name a few.

Random ramblings - September week 1

Ipomoea platense
This relative of the common morning glory look more like a cactus than a vine, but once it blooms, one can easliy see the resemblance. OF course, this will be entering it's dormaYeah, this is another one of those plants, known as Caudex plants, so named because of thier thickened stems, or modified roots that hold water, and which allow these Madacascar natives to survive in a near dormant a(read-dead) state for most of the year until the summer rains come. I know, you may ask "why?" but caudex and caudiciform plants are regarded as highly colelctable, just enter the word CAUDEX on eBay, and see what shows up. Crazy, we plant folk are!

The alpine house, cleaned and ready for fall
With the onset of cooler weather, and rains, I am starting to move the potted alpine collection back into the alpine house. These saxifraga did will on the stone walk that leads to the greenhouse, where I could keep an eye on them and make sure that they were watered properly all summer, and where they recived bright light, but we're somewhat protected from direct sun. I think I might be starting to get soem success in growing the encrusted Sax's, at least I am not killing as many as I did two years ago when I started with alpines!
Moving the potted alpines back to the protection of this little house, helps keep the pots more consistantly damp, but not too wet, since I plunge them in my sand beds, and since the rain can't fall on then (and soon, snow) the foliage can develop more characteristically.

Alpine Auricula enjoyed the cooler summer this year
Even though July was terrible and unseasonally hot, our weather in New England suddenly switched to fall-like cycles early in August, where the thermometer only reached 80 deg. F once. I think that my success with many of the potted alpines was aided by this fact, as well as a routine that now includes a systemic for root aphids (something which has plagued my primula) and a regimine of maintenance that includes careful fertilization. This year, in an effort to master these tough-to-grow-in-the USA auricula, I changed my soil (to a fast-draining mix comprised of 50% fired ceramic Soil Conditioner, 20% perlite, and 20% ProMix, a peat soiless mix.) TO this I add some unsterilized garden soil and compost. These are roung measurements, of course, I just pour piles of material on my potting bench, and toss well.

I also now add a fertilizer in the fall, a 0-10-10, to encourage bud formation - as the brittish growers do. So who knows, at least the fall flush of foliage looks good, and the alpine Primula allionii and P. marginata are mounding up nice and dense. The roots are so strong that some have wraped around the tags. I may have to root prune soon.

Petraeovitex bambusetorum from Thailand
If you have ever visited Bangkok, you may have seen this vine. A relative newcomer, this rare and hard-to-find vine is easy to cultivate, and is something that you most likely will be seeing more of. Although, tropical vines are not something that anyone can grow, due to space issues, this is one that will bloom if kept trained to a hoop or a trellis. In the glass house, this is the first year that I have grown it, but I am so pleased with it, that I have trained one on a pole that leads to the 16 foot cieling, and another in a large hanging basket. If you plant to try this plant (I only know of two retailers in the U.S. who carry it, Logees.com and Toptropicals, you will need to leave enough room for the blossom stems to hang, since they can hang as long at three feet down. The hanging bracts are a nice touch during the end of summer.

September 4, 2006

Clerodendron bungeii

Clerodendron bungei

Fast growing tropical plants with magnificent late summer displays like this Clerodendron bungei, were at one time, only found only in botanic gardens, or private estate conservatory's with knowledgable staffs. Today, they are becoming readily available and can either be mail ordered or found at progressive fine garden centers. Adventurous home gardeners can find these alternatives to mums and hydrangeas with a little effort. A great way is to simply pay attention the next time you visit a botanic garden, and note what they are planting in containers for seasonal display. Popular publications like gardening magazines rarely show more unusual specimins since editors prefer to deliver content that not only is easlily available, but which is somewhat familiar. Trying something that is not only new to you, but new to anyone that you know, takes a leap of faith.
Still, many of these 'temperennials', a term coined by Dan Hinkley of the landmark yet now closed Heronswood Nursery, are affordable enought to be temporary yet perennial in more tropical areas. In the north, they can be allowed to grow fast all summer, and then freeze. The gardener simply needs to replace them in the spring by either taking cuttings in the fall and carrying them over indoors or buying new ones which sometimes is just easier, and better.

Regardless, if you what something different, and cool, this are the 'it'plants. They are all rage right now for home gardenering in the know. They can be found at the trediest of garden centers. Other disposable tropical annuals like Brugmansia, tropical salvia and many other tropical plants can be grown successfully in one season, with autumn as the season where they really strut thier stuff. Basically, they are treated as annuals, but unlike most annuals, these tropical plants deliver a punch that often is not seen in the late summer. Take many of the Clerodendron clan, for example.

Purchased as rooted cuttings in April, this Clerodendron bungei, a native of China and the Himalayas, starts off as nothing specia, a four inch cutting. Three cuttings were planted in a ten gallon pot, but by June, they grew quickly to about two feet tall. The growing point was pinched out, and one the hot and humid summer weather hit in July, the plants exploded into growth.

This C. bungei presents a new perspective to the late summer terrace.

Many tropical non-vining Clerodendron species that are more shrub-like in habit can successfully be grown in a single summer cycle, with the reward being spectacular hydrangea-like heads like these that are surprisingly fragrant and attract butterflies as well.

I will cut this plant back and move it back into the greenhouse, for the winter, since it is frost tender. There, is will send up new growth in late winter, where cuttings will be taken to start the cycle over again.