March 27, 2007

The Collectors Species Narcissus

Narcissus triandrus ssp. triandrus

A parent of many of the triadrus hybrids that one finds at garden centers like Thalia, this precious rare bulb is perhap the choicest Narcissus for growing in a cool to cold greenhouse or as part of a collection of miniature daffodils in a protected alpine house or alpine garden. Again, native to the Mediterranian, Spain, Portuagal, these species must go dry in the summer, and also can't handle the coldest of temperatures, such as what we here in New England can't avoid.

The triandrus narcissus are perhaps my favorite section, followed closely by the cyclamineus and the bulbocodiums. This particular sub species has twisting foliage and dangling bells of blossoms. I could onyl find two nurseries who still carried the bulb, and only one in the U.S., A little costly, I must admit, for such a tiny precious thing, but I think that my 3 bulb investment may succeed, I have pollenated it with a few other Narcissus species that are blooming now, and time will tell if any seed took. As I said earlier, Narcissus collecting, hace become a new passion. Od course, only the rarest will do! An here are the first to start blooming in the cold glass greenhouse, where they have spent thier winter, protected from frost, but still nestled up against the coldest glass in the corner.

Narcissus bulbocodium ssp. tenifolius

This pot jsut came back after a week at the New England Flower Show in Boston, where it won a cultural certificate from the Massachusetts Horticultural Society. Funny thing is, it is rare, but not nearly as rare and the triandrus species above, which, with nearly a $100 bulb, and five or six blossoms that somehow, magnificantly never rotted away before blooming, still only came in eith an honorable mention. Still, I am so pleased that they grew and blossomed, since they are a bit fussy, (they require fantasically fast drainage, and are planted almost in pure granite chips). The Bulbocodium isn't exactly common, anyway, especially this sub species, in fact, I bet only a handful of growers keep it well in the state, it's just perpective, I guess, since I keep a few pots of this species.

Funn thing is, this same pot won a gold medal and the National Garden Club Gold Medal last year, which surprised us, since it came with an engraved certificate which made my college degree look tatty, and this tiny plant one a silver tray engraved, from a prestigeus jeweler in Boston, yes... All that for a 4" pot of daffodils. A bit ironic, when one thinks that our Irish Terrier Margaret won the national Irish Terrier Specialty best of winners categary at our national specialty show in Montgomery, last year, and all she won, was a glass vase that someone bought at the mall. I'd have to admit that at the end of the day, the Dog show, cost perhaps over $10,000 to win, when one adds in the cost of a nationally rexognized dog handler, the flights across the country to the handler in Santa Barbara, the boarding, the training, ugh. It does't make sense, does it? No wonder the dogs pee on the daffs.

March 18, 2007

A lion in March, and Pi day

Clivia Cyrtanthiflora Group selections

Anyone who lives in New England knows that March can often bring the worst winter weather, fierce Nor'Easters and blizzards are famous this time of year. This week it was not a blizzard, but a quite average winter storm, but since this winter has been anything but average, the storm earned a logo on the Weather Channel (March Snowstorm®) and resulted in closed businesses and schools on Friday. We recieved 11 inches in Worcester, hardly anything, really, considering most winters bring us a seasonal total accumulation of around 120 inches, this year, our seasonal total is barely 16 inches. Still, the storm was exciting, and brought down three panes of glass from the greenhouse again - dang Texas Greenhouse designers - the clips tha thold the glass are simply not designed for ice and wet snow that freezes and then slides down, removing all of the clips in its path.

March is Clivia season, and surprisingly, the interspecific Clivia crosses that we have made, and the ones which we brought back from japan from Mr. Nakamura are still blooming. Interspecific meaning that the cross was made between a two species of Clivia, mostly C. gardenii, or C. caulsecens, with the more common clivia species, C. miniata. The first two species are fall bloomers, and C. miniata is a spring bloomer, so the resulting crosses seem to fill the gap nicely. Not only are they my favorite, because of thier dangling blossoms, they are more uncommon, and not frequently seen in catalogs, or nurseries. Not as showy as the blossomy C. miniata forms, these are still quite lovely, and the above photo shows some of our best color selections taken this week, and from the same week last year. The red ones are more orange, they turn red as they age, the pink form are spectacular crosses from a Nakamura cross called Daydream. Call it peach, or pink, they are beautiful as they change color as the blossom ages.

Acacia cut from the greenhouse brightens up a snowy day.

Joe snowblowing in the March Nor'Easter along side a blossoming Hamamellis 'Arnolds Promise', perhaps New Englands version of Acacia.

March 11, 2007

The lost Camellias of New England

A peppermint colored rose form

Camellias may be iconographic to the south, and grown in southern California, but they also have a rich heritage in New England, where florists grew glasshouses camellias for cut blossoms and corsages that filled the florist shops of Boston, New York City and other northern US cities throughout the long winters of the nineteenth century.

Camellias are sadly absent today in New England, only grown by a handful of enthusiasts who have cold greenhouses, since they are not hardy out-of-doors. Although there are some new cold hardy varieties now available, I can't seem to find anyone who have had luck with them north of southern Connecticut or the tip of Cape Cod, Zone 7, and even then, the fluctuations in spring frost seem to still kill them.

Today, Camellias are a glimpse into the past, when viewed in New England. My first camellia was seen in an old glass and wood greenhouse, once known as Holmes Greenhouses, a series of massive glass greenhouses that once populated man smll towns surrounding Boston with violets, roses, carnations and camellias throughout the turn of the century, Htese trees, with thick smooth trunks and glossy green leaves, we're nearly 18 feet tall, and planted in the ground, against the back of one house. We we're onyl sent out to the trees when an old lady would ocaisionally call and request a camellia corsage, since the floral supply houses no longe carry camellias, this establishment still could deliver a rare blossom. I would drive down in my fathers station wagon to the Holmes Greenhouses, which we're an annex to the more modern houses that I worked in, and pull out my knife and cut a tray full of the precious pink and magenta blossoms. They seemed so special then, as the winter darkness fell early, and the tree's we;re only lit up with by the nearby street lights, with snowflakes falling below the lights. I imagined a day when train cars full of camellias and scented violets filled the stalls of florists in the big east coast cities, long before brigh orange gerbera and neatly dwarfed mums took over.

Of course, in California, especially near Pasadena, Camellias are not such a big deal. There, one of the nations largest grower, Nuccio's Nursery, fills acres with hundreds of clones and species. Whenever I am in the LA area on Business, I always make a trip to Nucci's, where Joe Nuccio is more than happy to pack up a shipment of plants for me to take home. When at Nuccios, eat lunch at the bottom of the hill at Kips (Tacos and Chili Fries to die for) and then head over to the Huntington Gardens for a real treat!

I still enjoy a loove affair with the camellia, and every February, when the vintage camellias and trhe new hybrids bloom, my desk, the house and my friends all enjoy a little vintage blast to the past. There is something so nice about having a living piece of history, blooming along buddleia asiatica, and acacia.

Buddleia asiatica, a tender species, which is scarce, and a winter blooming form of the plant we know as butterfly bush, the Buddleia. This fragrant winter bloomer was a stalwart of the winter cut flower trade in New England during the nineteenth century, in fact, Logee's Greenhouses in Connecticut, known today for it's wide selections of rare plants, began in the 1800's thier business by suppling the flower market with Buddleia asiatica.

Fragrant plants seem to reach thier peak in February and March in the cold greenhouse. Includind Jasmine, Rhododendron fragrantissimum and Citrus blossoms. Basically, your great grandparents' nineteenth century Wedding bouquet if they we're married in the winter.

March 5, 2007

Frit's and Acacia's

Acacia pravissima blooms in the cold greenhouse in March

Native to New South Wales, Victoria, Australia, where the seem for this Acacia came from, this lovely acacia with it's unusual triangular evergreen foliage announces spring has arrived at the same time that the Witchhazel 'Arnolds Promise' does, otside the protection of the glass. I have a certain fondness for all Acacia's, they instantly bring me back to my childhood, when my parents would drive to the New England Spring Flower Show, one hour east of us, in Boston. Throughout the 1950's, 1960's and 1970's, I would look forward to a particular contributor at the great east-coast flower shows, the famed Stone Family Acacias, an important collection of large-tubbed Acacias, trained and sometimes forced into bloom for spring display. For anyone who ever had the pleasure to see the collection, you know what I mean.

In my own home town of Worcester, MA, the collection was displayed a few time at our own Horticultural Hall. The scent of the primrose yellow clouds drifting over the ferny soft bright green foliage scultped to forms more reminiscent of victorian umbrellas on trunks, than of trees, was simlar to that of baby powder. I imagined that someday, I would have my owen collection of magnificent Acacia trees, and I suppose I do, although the collection consists of three species. Amybe if I win the lottery, then, I would build a greenhouse to meet the requirements for all the plants that I would want to grow! Clearly, i would be an ecentric millionaire!

Hamamellis x. 'Arnolds Promise'
Even though we had 70 deg. F temps in early January, and this shrub started to throw out some color, it all retracted with the cold blast that has stayed with us for 8 weeks. I thought that maybe we lost the blossoms this year, but here they come, although a few weeks later than normal, now. Tomorrow, it is supposed to become fridgid cold again, with wind chills below zero F, but, I expect that this Witchhazel will still burst forth into bloom, as the mild weather catches up. I love the yellow against the snow.

Fritillaria gracea

These poor bulbs we're bought at our local home depot, marked down in November, so I threw them into a pot, along with the other Frits that I keep protected in the greenhouse. My Frit collection is growing, this I may plant out in the garden again, but say, doesn't it look like it has twice the petals than it should? Am I crazy or what?

Fritillaria sewerzowii

Like clockwork, this Frit blooms exactly the same week, every year. Really, quite easy when grown in pots, kept in a cool or cold greenhouse. This was the first Fritillaria that I started growing in pots, which I never let freeze, and keep dry on a bench, inthe greenhouse during the summer...I now have many more species that I am starting to grow this way. They are addictive, because not only are there so many species no available, they are pretty easy to please.

Fritillaria stenanthera

This pale pink Frit is blooming in a broken pot, last year, it's first year with me, it suffered some damage to the blossoms with rot. Expected, since I grow these cool growers in a greenhouse along with all sorts of plants, so the conditions are not ideal, but I try to find micro climates, and move them around to recieve either more sun, colder temps on the stone floor, etc. Easy 'nuff.