February 25, 2007

Romulea season

Romulea bulbocodium ssp. leichtliniana

The Genus Romulea is relatively unknown by most, since one rarely finds the corms available in the trade, and thus, they must be grown grown from seed, an easier venture than you may imagine. Seed is often found in plant society seed exchanges, and most people skip over these, opting for the trendier Arisaema and Paris. These tender, crocus-like corms are grow mainly in South African, but also in the Medeterranian area. This is a good hint, that tells us that they can be grown outdoors in North America in California, and in the UK, or anywhere where winter moisture occurs with summer dryness, and the ground doesn't freeze.

Romulea requienii

The three species shown here are quite similar, and I am glad they they bloomed together so that I can see thier differences, as well as thier similarities. I am also glad that it was sunny this weekend, for in the cold greenhouse, they only open when the sun is brilliant, and the air becomes warm. Poor bees, they can't reach them, so the pollen falls on the petals, at least ensuring that I get seed again, to grow more corms, which I need, since Romulea need a crowded pot to give a decent display.

Romulea bulbocodium Knight Shades Shay's Form

My collection was a gift from a local plant collector, he purchased the seed from plant society seed exchanges, either the Scottish Rock Garden Society, the Alpine Garden Society or NARGS, but he told me that he decided to order one of each packet, to see if they would grow. We split the corms a few years ago, and we each have about a dozen species. A few bloomed last year, but this year, the pots are becoming more full, and February is starting to become Romulea season, as well as Lachenalia season and Narcissus season in the Greenhouse. Spring doesn't seem that far away, when one can spend a Saturday in the hot sun of an 80 degree greenhouse, even though the temperatures outside near zero F. the sun is stronger, and one can feel it as well as the plants. One of the greatest benefits of having a greenhouse in New England, I have found, is that by February, the hot bright sun, combined with the fact that one can be elbows deep in soil, and amid fragrant blossoms while the snow still sits on the ground, makes winter so much more bearable. At the end of the day, your pants are wet from the hose dripping water on them, your boots are muddy, ytour face is red from the heat of the sun, and your nails are filled with soil - summer may be four months away, but teh gardening season has certainly turned a corner.

A trio of similar looking Romulea show how taxonomists often find slight similarities when keying out species.

February 17, 2007

Seeds then and now- a nostalgic moment

How things change over time given intellect, passions and curiosity. There once was a time, perhaps when I was in grade school, that I spent hours upon hours perusing the seed catalogs of the 1960's and 1970's, circling items that I could never afford, like green and blue amaryllis from Parks catalog, or Lapegeria from the Thompson and Morgan catalog, or even dreaming of perhaps growing a white marigold and winning the annual white-marigold contest, in the Burpee catalog. Secretly, and maybe because it was the middle of winter, and we we're buried under feet of deep snow, I wanted to own a strawberry pyramid, ripe with 'Bushels of red, juicy strawberry's', or grow cabage walking sticks and gourds with penguins painted on them. Even the language spoke of its time.... Names like Illini extra-sweet, and Parks Whopper, Love in a Puff, and Salidisy (Salid-Easy -Thompson & Morgans early version of todays trendy mesclun), all bring back nostagic thoughts. I guess I was hopeless, since most kid of the day, went to sleep dreaming of Carl Yazstremsky and the Boston Red Sox, I went to sleep dreaming of giant state fair zinnias and 5 in 1 apple trees.

Today, things are much different. SImple annuals rarely excite, although, last year, as I posted, I became re-inspired wioth lesser known annuals due to the discovery of Wayne Winterowds book on Annuals (search on Amazon). I do still grow many, especially english sweet peas, scabbiosa, and yes, Zinnias for cutting, but when it comes to seeds and sowing,maturity leads one to alpines, bulbs and woodl;and plants, the seed which are annually available from the many seed exchanges when one is a member of the major alpine societies. You see, one of the greatest benifits of being a member of plant societies that are specialized, like the Androsace Society, or the Fritillaria Society, is that one gets to buy seeds annually, often seeds that are available knowhere else in the world, since the seeds are collected by Society members from expeditions to China and elsewhere. Often, seeds arrive with such details, as the elevation and the specific valley in Nepal where they we're collected. Just the sort of thing that excites crazy plant folk like us. Snow White marigolds don;t have a chance against a pot of sprouting Meconopsis!

Most of these seeds are ordered in December, and arrive in late January. Planting for many, is dictated by the type of seed, and the requirements needed, but most seem to require planting, and then a cold period for some weeks, before being brought back into the greenhouse for germination. Others, require a much more complex treatment, and some even require a few years before germination. I won;t go into the messy and complicated details, or, let's say Lillium canadense, which requires a complex system of indoors 3 weeks, outside, 16 weeks, a bulblet form underground, inside it comes again, then outside, and then, blooming 6 years later. Same goes for Trillium, Paris, etc. Yes, I have sown all of these, and all have specific requirements, but since this is a short blog, I jsut must say that this month keeps me busy with Primula species, Arisaema species, and Erythronium, all are three species that I am focusing on this year, although, there are many others which I am growing, these are the ones, especially Arisaema, where I am simply trying to grow as many species as I can. My New Years resolution has me focusing on onyl a few species, as last years directed me towards Narcissus, this year Arisaema, Erythronium, Trillium are topping the list, so far!

Seeds ready for cold treatment outside.

February 2, 2007

Beware Groundhogs...flowering begins

Corydalis wilsonii under glass
Two weeks aso, at the NARGS Eastern Study Weekend, Corydalis expert, Henrick Zetterlund told me that the best way to cultuvate Corydalis wilsonii is to grow in in chunk of pure tufa rock. So Joe and I loaded up the truck with tufa rock from a local dealer who was selling some of this precious (and pricey!) porous, limestone rock which only cut our hands a little, and drove it home the 300 miles to Massachusetts. Although my brand new Toyota FJ cuiser is now full of dusty white powder, I now have a good supply of tufa, well, at least a few dozen pieces! When my NARGS seed arrives from the annual seed distribultion, I will be planting some seedlings into tny drilled holes, and hopefully next year, can report of further success with this slightly fussy, tender Corydalis which seems to peak in bloom, here in my greenhouse around February. Henrick says when grown in tufa, it will stay more in character, low, dense and almost bun-like. I can't wait. This plant I currently cultivate in a gravelly, standard alpine mix. Seeds are sometimes avalailable from specialty lists (Ron Ratko, NARGS, Scottish Rock Garden Society), you can grow in zone 9, or under glass in a cool or cold greenhouse, with protection.

Lachenaia aloides are starting thier peak season

Anyone who knows me, knows that I specialize in a few genus, which I tend to collect more than others. A few years ago, I discovered Lachenalia, a South African relative of the Hyacinth family, easy enough from seeds, the bulbs bloom in three years, and for what ever reason, I have had luck with the genus. Although some species start blooming around Christmas (L. viridiflora, L. rubida) the peak season is just starting, and the stonger February sun (yes, stronger....ask anyone with a greenhouse!), coaxes the bub from deep withing the twin leaves of the easy to grow, but difficult to find, bulb. The above L. aloides forms are all collected from my own seed and leaf cuttings, they start their blooming season now, and will continue until late March. Definately something that brightens up the winter on snowy days. The experience of trudging through a dark snowstorm to the greenhouse, and then seeing all this color is an experience that I look forward to every year. On a sunny day, it is really extraordinary.

Speaking of color....

The rare Chilean Blue Crocus, Tecophilieae cyanocrocus is peaking also, the last flowers in fact are blooming this week, and hopefully, this year, I can get some seed from the few that I have. Ridicoulously expensive, for such a tiny corm, these are still a collector item, requiring some exact conditions such as coolness, moisture, fast drainage and a summer dormancy. But isn't it worth it? Blue is such a compelling color. One needs to remortgage and plant a dozen of these in a pot, or grow some from seed as I am trying. This is how they look best. Slow division is the second way that I am getting there. Last year four, this year six. hmmm....

Asphodelus acaulis
Most asphodelus send up tall stems with rather unimpressive white flowers, but this bulb, which I bought in England a couple of years ago, is, as the name hints, stemless. Grown in the UK as an alpine house specimen, here, it proves why. I never was able to see it in bloom, but now, I am thrilled that in its third year with me, is producing a lovely batch of flowers, and that they are pink and not white. We shall see in a few weeks, how nice it looks if they all open at once. If our sunlight was stonger, the foliage would be 'tighter" but even in this condition, the plant is setting itself up as a perfect alpine specimen from a genus noted for agressive robustness.