August 27, 2007

Summer Bulbs in Containers

Surely not very exciting to most growers unless you are a collector, I share with you a collection of summer-growing South African bulbs.

Relatively rare, or at least, hard to obtain, these are bulbs that grow during our northern hemisphere summer, enjoying the frequent thunderstorms and heavy rains, as well as the bright, hot sunshine, which is essential along with fast drainage in an almost ridicoulously gravelly soil mix which makes the pots very heavy, but ensures little root rot.

From the left, a tiny pot of the tiny Nerine rehmannii, which look like grass, this is set into a larger pot of Boophane disticha, with it's fan of wavy leaves. I though I lost this precious bulb earlier in the year, since the bub was soft, and reduced in size, but then it surprized me with some growth. I am sure I will loose it this year, mostly because it is the most expensive bulb in this collection!.

Next to that is a bit of a mystery, lost lables are a nasty problem, thanks to the squirrels. This is perhaps Stenomesson piercii or ?? Regardless, that's what I am stiicking with for now....I am treating them as Stenomesson, and thusly, planting the bulbs deep, at the bottom of the pot and providing winter dryness, even though it is reportedly a winter grower. This seems to emerge and go dormant randomly, so I have decided to relax, and just stuck to pot outdoors for the summer, to see what would happen.

Afer this, a large, deep pot for the rare the summer growing Nerine, N. falcata, still a young bulb, but one of these years it will reward me with a blossom at the end of summer. More challenging than most Nerine, this bulb does not want to be disturbed, and needs hot summer temps and fast drainage to thrive.

This larger pot is Tulbaghia simmleri, a winter greenhouse blooming Tulbaghia not unlike T. violacea, but sweetly fragrant, not skunky like T. violacea, which I grow in pots too, because I actually like the scent of this 'Society Garlic". Skunky is good, and it reportedly keeps snakes away.

Lastly, ( I know, these all look the same!) are the pots of Cyrtanthus alatus x hybrids, that bloom for me every autumn with pendant, vermillion blooms that we love so much around the garden here at Greenwood. ( We are thinking of naming our garden, not to be pretentious, but simply Britishy, and, well, it seems like it is going to need a name, since it is growing most every day. So far, Greenwood is the name I am thinking of......Greenwood Street is the streeet at the end of our road, which is Spofford. But Greenwood provides a better garden name, and it is the main street leading to the city.

August 19, 2007

Samurai Orchid

Neofinetia falcata, or the Samurai Orchid, is a tiny, fragrant, and highly collectable orchid from Japan, where it has many fans, and clubs organized around this culurally meaningful orchid. In Japan, we visited tiny exclusive nurseries dedicated to growing this plant, as well as a few other collectable Japanese Orchids like Dendrobium moniliforme.

Although, selling for near $100. in the US, many rare forms and mutations in Japan sell for well over $100,000., but most in the $300 - $1500. range. Hence, elaborate pots are designed, and sold at Toyko orchid shows, and special growing techniques are exchanged at club meetings throughout Japan. The name comes from the legend that Samurai would wear these tiny orchids on thier belts, to symbolize thier strength and endurance, since these tiny jems bloom and grow on the outer islands of Japan. Neofinetia we're some of the earliest orchids grown by humans, where in Japan, during the Edo period in the 1600's, the present day culture began.

Today, you can grow these, for they are quire easy if you have a cool porch that doesn't freeze, or certainly a cold greenhouse. These are cold weather orchids, that don't go dormant, but that like to grow epiphytically, on the surface of fresh sphagnum, or a ball of sphagnum, and prefer to go dry and near freezing in the winter, and then warm and moist in the summer. This suits me fine, since I an keep a collection of Neofinetia in the greenhouse, virtually forgotten in the winter, on a high shelf near the glass where it stays cold, and then bring the plants out onto the deck in the summer, on wire racks, where the summer storms can drench them with rainwater.

August 15, 2007

High Summer, hello autumn?

The tropicals front of the greenhouse continue to mature in the late summer heat of last week. I think Fergus can smell the brugmansia.

Although the heat and humidity of high-summer in New England peaks around the middle of August, the first cold fronts from Canada are also introducing cooler nights after violent thunderstorms. These cool temps might mean the end of summer for most gardeners, but for me, it simply signals a shift in plant material, for as summer-blooming plants begin to mature or go dormant with the temperature shift, and day-length shift, an entire series of collections are beginning to stir into activity, being triggered by the same environmenta changes.

Cyclamen species in the greenhouse are even beginning to boom earlier than normal. Here, a sand plunge, where I keep a collection of many Cyclamen species, shows that even one C. hederifolium has even thown out a blossom a bit early.
Last year, I had a disasterous result from repotting by Cyclamen collection in July, losing many of my species since I made the mistake of treating them like my other summer-dormant bulbs, and letting them go dry. But not unlike some of the Amaryllis relatives from South Africa, the Nerine, which I used to let go bone-dry and 'bake' in the summer on high benches in the greenhouse, I now keep a little moisture available via some damp sand below, or with a spritz of water once or twice during the summer months.

This is critical for Cyclamen graecum, according to expert, and buddy John Lonsdale, who now lives and grows many rare plant collections in his Pennsylvania garden, Edgewood. (Visit his site, it is spectacular - I'd provide a link here, but having problems since I am on a Mac, and Mac's Safari browser doesn't work well with this Blogger software which also is my excuse for spelling errors!). John, whom I visited last fall just when his Cyclamen where in peak bloom, told be that C. graecum prefer to stay a little damp, especially thier 'feet' during the summer. So this year, I did not repot any Cyclamen, until last week, and at that, I just carefully slipped the rootballs into new pots, without disturbing the soil too much. I noticed that the graecum all had extensive roots systems than ran out of the drainage holes in the pots, and down into the damp sand, which remained damp because of the broken greenhouse glass from the summer, so rain fell on all the cyclamen in tiny amounts - probably perfect, since many I can see, are starting to send up new growth, and I only lost one through the summer. I will start watering deeping in a couple weeks, around September one, and we will see what happens then! I can tell already that the C. graecum have buds, as do the C. africanum, a more tender species from Persia.

Cyclamen graecum, the tuber showing not only new growth beneath the thick layer of grit I keep on top of the tuber, but it shows the size of the tuber, and that it is firmly rooted in the soil through-out the summer. Much like my Nerine sarniensis, although the bulb appears dormant through the summer, below soil, the roots are quite alive, and actually making substantial growth, in search of a little moisture perhaps, to make it through the summer heat.

The autumn and winter-blooming narcissus also have taken a year off from repotting, in an experiment to see if this will make a difference, and because I am too busy to do anything more than re-topdress with gravel, and to clean-up the pots and relable. I moved the collection into the Alpine house for the summer, so that they can really bake well, and because the broken glass in the greenhouse was allowing too much rain to fall on the pots.

August 7, 2007

Hot Plant Trend alert- Welcome to Crocosmia

Crocosmia - the Gladioli of the millenium.

Well, more acurately, the Irid of the Millenium. These members of the Iris family are the South African bulbous plant that is taking the horticultural world by storm,a dn just because you can't find them at your local Home Depot, Tescos or Home center, it doesn't mean that thay aren't hot. Hardy in USDA ZOne 6 and warmer (I am in zone 5B, outside of Boston) they can winter over a zone or two colder given the right site.

Once known as Montbretia, (and still referred as such in old gardening books) the Crocosmia is quicky becoming the 'IT' plant, well, if you can find IT. Sure, you can find the old stand by Crocosmia 'Lucifer'. a hardey redish flowering form sometimes available at garden centers, but I urge you to try some of the new crosses, for they are still relatively unknown, and why not be the first person on your block with these flaming colors in your garden. The new crosses are more available in the UK, where many new crosses exist, as well as some major collections, here in the USA, only a few mailorder nurseries carry the truly fine crosses,, and they sell out early. Try Heronswood (www.heronsnwood.com and Plant Delights. The plants I recieved from Plant Delights Nursery, we're much more vigorous and larger than the Heronswood plants (I ordered a dozen from each, but the varieties are different, so it's worth trying both as sources. The Plant delights plants arrived planted in square nusery pots, nicely tied in plastic bags, the Heronswood (now owned by Burpee) plants arrived tossed around loose in a box, with only newspaper as packing material, and the plants we're almost dead, knocked out of thier soil and pots. Of course, this could have happened in shipping, but with ten years of Dan Hinkley directed packing, this never happened.

This fall or next spring, be sure to order the new hybrids and crosses of Crocosmia, not only are they spectacular performers, spreading slowly and nicely, they are a brilliant burst of color, in the August Garden, and in a palette that is complementary with stylish limes and chartruse, as well as burgundy foliaged plants.

A selection of my first year planted Crocosmia.

From left:
1. Crocosmia 'Lucifer'
2. Crocosmia masoniorum ' Blaze'
3. Crocosmia masoniorum 'Emberglow'
4. Crocosmia x crocosmiiflora "Star of the East' (without brushmarks on petals..it seems to depend on what source.)
5. Crocosmia Walcroy PPAF from UK's Davis Tristan

August 5, 2007

The rest of the family

Our newest - Meet the Homing pigeons. Rollers, actually.

Just realized that I havn't posted in a week and a half, guess that's what book deadline does to someone as busy as I am.....this weekend in New England was BEAUTIFUL. Sunny, cool, dry.... so I only have a short time to post this Sunday night. Visiting you best nursery in August is a great time to snatch plants that are in full bloom, that you might not ordinarilly buy out of bloom. I needed more blue and yellow, in just the right shade, as you will see later in another post. So I came home with a dozen pots of an extraordinary periwinkle catmint, and some hyssop. something that I would never have bought out of boom, but now know that it will fit nicely in the blue and yellow garden that is being constructed in front of the greenhouse.

August is also the time to order spring and some summer bulbs like lily's, which will need to be shipped in October for fall planting, I ordered all of my lily bulbs this weekend, 24 of each variety, since the few trumpets that I had in the new front garden did so well, I might as well plant huge significant clumps for next year. Next time you are at a botanical garden, notice how many plants they plant of each perrennial or bub. Last year at Kew, I counted at a minimun, 36 plants in eack 10 foot diamet clump. This is how the English plant thier borders. Here in the US, I see ( and I am guilty of this too!) people buy one of these, and one of those, maybe three of something else. I have been trying to think broader, and buying in at least 6 or more batches. I am fotunate to have the room, so if you don';t do certainly buy at least 3 of anything. Lilys doo look best in mass clumps.

Well, I thought I would introduce you to the rest of the gang around here, beyond Fergus and Margaret, our Irish Terriers (Fergus got sprayed buy a skunk twice this weekend.)/ Margaret is smart - once last year and she stay's away!). Irish Terriers are unusual, less than 100 puppies are born in the US every year. The movie Fire House dog which just was released on DVD is a story about an IRish Terrier. Joe and I are active in the Irish Terrier Club of American, bothe Margaret and Fergus have won significant shows and many of you know, of course, here, they look rather trailer-park-ee shot in the back quarter near the chicken coop, as they watch a rabbit.

Fergus, left, and Margaret.

Fergus was named after Fergus Garrett, British garden expert the late Christopher Lloyd's head gardener, when we met him once, we liked his name. Margaret, was a name we just liked!

A wild cotton tail rabbit. When we we're kids, my mom and dad ofen ended up with a shoebox of cottontails,when a dog or something destroyed thier nests around the chicken coop. We have fond memories of raising many litters of bunnies, as well we squirrels, feeding them with an eyedropper. This bunny, may be a decendant since we have live here since 1920, on this property.

Thumper - the Cockatoo.

We resuced Thumpie about fifteen years ago from a vet who knew that he was wild caught. He plucked and picked his feathers, and was basically naked. We had little hope for him. But here he his.....loud, but feathers grown in, and quite happy outdoors getting his cage cleaned.

Fred - The Spurred South African Tortoise
Joe brought Fred home when a co-worker at his office announced that he was up for grabs. Fred was living in an aqarium, and never saw sunlight, nor any green vegetable, a primary staple in his diet. Fred loves and must have plants like chicory and dandilions. That's why his 'beak' and jaw are uneven, a deficiency in his diet causes his shells to grow irregular, and his shell is now somewhat deformed. Still, this doesn't stop him one bit...he zips around in the summer at his new home, on the golf-green, a circle of bent grass that has been in my family since the 1920's, when my dad and his brothers built it for my grandfather, they all worked summers at a nearby golf course. You know, No one ever golfed in my family, ever. Yet this lawn is maintained in strict order, with antique metal numbers on poles. lead lined holes, a special lawnmover, and now, Fred, who spends his summers there teathered to a chain that runs from his shell-piercing near his tail, where a previous own drilled a hole and connected a shower-curtain loop ( I know! but it works) and Fred think's it's quite cool. (no tattoos yet, though).

This is Kojo, the African Gray Parrot
He's looking a little pisse here, because he was getting his cage cleaned outside, and he was sprayed with the hose. But it was 90 degrees ouy, and he needed a bath.

Kojo is six year old now, I bought him for Joe as a birthday gift, when Kojo was just out of his egg. Joe hand fed him, and raised him. Now Koj is Jealous of Margaret and Fergus, so he bites Joe, and prefers me ( 0r our friend Jess, who brings him mini-corn in a can). Kojo really like women.
Kojo talks ALOT. HE says stupid things, full sentacnce, sings, barks, calls the dog.." Margaret.....Knock it OFF!" He doesn't swear, but he learns just bout anything we want him to learn, in about two days. And he learns everything we don't want him to say, naturally.

His favorite? the dumpster truck backing up., BEEEEEEP BEEEEEEEP BEEEEEEP. or the phone.