September 19, 2007

fall Bulbs - the quality and price conundrum

Although I am late in placing my orders for Dutch bulbs for planting, both in the greenhouse and in the garden, it isn't too late for most of them. This brings about thoughts about bulb quality and prices. If you are a novice to gardening, please remember these few rules on buying bulbs.

1. Daffodils that you buy from most major retailers, all come from the same place - Holland. The only difference is bulb size
2. Be careful where you buy your bulbs, and plant then at the right time for your zone. Too early or too late can affect some bulbs. Fall blooming bulbs are being shipped now, so it is too late to buy Colchicum and fall blooming crocus.
3. Only a few small independant bulb growers exist, and most overseas growers require you to place your order in July, for August - Sept. deliver. Google and write for the catalogs of Janus Ruksans, worth the five dollars, and he does not have a web site.

The daffodil that one sees at the daffodil society shows,are all grown by only a handful of breeders, all who are more than willing to sell to you. The biggest indi grower - Grant Mitsch, in Oregon, mails thier color catalog in the spring. Try some of these spectacular bulbs next year, and remember - the bulb varieties that one sees in these catalogs are what the collectors grow, and although more expensive ($5.00 to $60 a bulb) they are what your grandchildred will be planting in thier gardens. All of the other bulbs grown by the millions in Holland are more than 30 years old - think about it, in order to build up stock and test, it takes time. IF you want to be ahead of the curve, and grow the future, search out the catalogs listed on the American Daffodil Society website. Remember, there is a reason why all of the photos of Ice Capades and King Alfred all look alike, it's because most likely, the photos were supplied as marketing materials by the big Dutch growers - this is big buisiness guys.

Don't take me wrong, most of these are fine varieties, and many heirloom and species forms are consistantly better performers, but place a new cross from the past five years that cost 30 dollars next to an inferior supermarket mesh bagger daff, and one can see an enourmous difference, in size and quality. The breeders know what they are doing, and one generally gets what one pays for (but not all of the time) so shop around, and you will learn.

The best thing about bulbs is that flowers are juust about guaranteed, only the quality of the display is variable.

Be carefull on choosing bulbs that have been indoors from a long time, like at the major home centers or supermarkets. The hot indoor conditions can affect the vernalization within many bulbs. That said, I still snatch-up the mark-downs at the end of the season, when big retailers are dumping bags of bulbs. Last Decemeber, I planted dozens of bags from Lowes, during a warm spell, not everything bloomed, but the show was still nice, and the price, if I remember, was something like 50 cents per bag of ten.

This year, I ordered 1000 crocus vernus, to plant in the lawn out back, that was once a golf green, some fall blooming narcissus from Paul Christian in England, plus some tender greenhouse bulbs. Yellow french style tulips for the yet unnamed yellow and blue garden around the new martin house, and many allium for the front and greenhouse rock garden. I tried to order large quantities, since hundreds of bulbs are more cost effective, and the show is so worth the extra money! Although the first day of fall is Sunday, we all knwo that spring is just around the corner!

September 16, 2007

Cyclamen graecum

Cyclamen graecum on a cold, September morning

The temperature this morning reached down into the high 30's, near freezing, which reminded me that the 30 panes of glass which need replaceing in the greenhouse, was perhaps even more important than painting the new fence, finishing the stone wall, painting our house, and the second house on the property and even writing my book which needs some redesign work on the first chapter according to my publisher on Friday.

All that, and a few other things which I promised to do made this weekend still, busy, and yet, one of those weekends which felt like I got nothing done, other than spending a well-needed rainy Saturday at Ikea, and today, glueing in glass.

The Cyclamen are rushing into bloom with this cool weather. Here are a few shots of some different forms of Cyclamen graecum as they come into bloom. Notice how this seed-raised strain by Cyclamen guru, John Lonsdale, are blooming with very unusual forms of flowers. I am always amazed with C. graecum, perhaps my fav species, because not only is it the first species to blossom of the more tender forms of Cyclamen, but the plant looks attractive for the rest of the season, thanks to a genetic gift of stunning foliage.

Two forms of C. graecum outside, in the morning sun.

White forms of C. graecum are all the rage, or at least they sell-out first on all the mail order lists from the three mailorder nurseries which carry the more unusual species of Cyclamen. As I have said before, it's always better and more cost effective to raise your own plants from seed, the trick being to obtain fresh seed, since dried old seed is difficult to germinate. I pick seed in June, and pot up in soil, keeping them barely dry until now, in September, when I start watering the Cyclamen again.

Another view of three pots safe on the back porch, where I moved the pots last night, in case we had a frost. It reached near 30, degrees, but no frost.

September 13, 2007

thmells and thounds like Smithiantha

Smithiantha 'Big Dots Rule'

This summer I decided to grow a number of more unusual Gesneriads, all members of Gesneriaceae, the family which includes African Violets and Streptocarpus. Although I am not addicted yet, I did invest in a number of species and hybirds, including this SMithiantha hybrid called 'Big Dots Rule'. In addition to this, you can see in some other containers in the back, the alpine forms of Petrocosmea, with thier nice, neat, uniform flat rosettes, and some others species, of which, I would need to pull the labels out of the containers so that I could remember them.
In the greenhouse, I also planted about 35 pots of Achemenes, as I showed in an earlier post. These little rhyzotomous plants all enjoy the same cultural requirements, and although not an expert, I did learn from some memebers of the Gesneriad Society, and from web research, that most of these are summer growing, winter dormant plants which prefer never to dry out, and like thier roots cool. I have all of my pots of Smithiantha and Achemenes in the greenhouse, where there is shade cloth protecting them from the hot sun, and glass overhead, so that they don't get rained on, but the foliage is still a little spotted, because I was lazy some days with the hose, and so much glass is broken, a little moisture dropped on the leaves.

I am not certain if water on the foliage is even a big deal, since somedays, in the afternoons when it is hot, I spray them all down with fresh water, much as I do my African Violets in the sink. As long as they have time to dry before nightfall, I rarely have a porblem, and visitors mention how nice the foliage looks. In the greenhouse, I have not been so careful, and to be honest, this is just an experiment, to see if first of all, I can grow these plants.

The African Violet relative, Smithiantha 'Big Dots Rule', in my plant window.
I moved a few into glass containers and brought them into the house, I planted sheet moss, which grows on the foundation inside the greenhouse, and placed it under the leaves, and used some vintage bell jars to create a humid environment. Oh yeah, and a shipment of nice Guy Wolff pots which came mistakenly with the saucers attached, and thus, useless in the bulb house, are making nice indoor displays for these gesneriads.

In the next few weeks, I think you will all see more of these plants on this blog, since they are just starting to bud and bloom. It is fun discovering a new plant, and most of these are familiar through pictures, and a childhood of reading the Park Seed catalog, which often featured Achemenes, but I never tried to grow them. Starting with more than 30, is a little fun, since I can see many differences and nuances between the species and hybrids. The Smithanthas I really like, and I will order more next spring. So far, the Achemenes are not thrilling me.

OF note: Smithianthas are a genus named after Matilda Smith (1884 - 1922), she was Sir Joseph Hookers second cousin, and clearly a lovely (and cheerful) lady. Her name immortalized many plants because the painted them for the journals and explorers of the time. (Hooker, head of Kew in that era, and a well known plant explorer from the Mutany on the Bounty days of Kew). She later became a well known botanic illustrator for the horticultural journal, Curtis Botanical Magazine, which is still published today, and worth getting if you can afford it. (google Blackwell Publishing in the states). The plates still sell on ebay, and the magazine is worth the 75 US dollars for the four issues.

Grow Smithianthas in a good, organic, well drained soil, much like that one would use for African Violets. Never let them dry out, keep them cool, perhaps indoors or on an protected terrace where they do not get sun in the summer. These are mainly summer growers, and will start to go dormant after they bloom, between Sept and Dec. They have supposedly little rhyzomes, yet I ordered my plants from Kartuz Greenhouses, Kartuz.com. Order in the spring or early summer. Worth trying for that little something that your neighbors and friends will not find at your local supermarket, yet, just as easy as any houseplant. Best of all, they bloom at a time when little beyond mums and dahlias excite the senses.

September 5, 2007

Chilly Mornings and Tea

Ever wonder what green tea looks like as a plant? Here, Camellia sinensis, or the true green tea tree, which is a Camellia, blooms on a chilly September morning. Mmmm....I want tea.

Nature is so powerful, that I could not hold beack the Cyclamen from blooming. Usually, I start watering the bulbs around the first of September, but these C. graecum are already blooming. In fact, around the world many Cyclamen graecum are blooming early. This is one Cyclamen species that prefers to stay a little damp in the summer, at least it's 'feet', since it has strong anchor roots that prefer not to go dormant. This year I carefully repotted the bulbs, but was careful not to disturb the root system or root ball, and in fact, simple slid the root mass into a slightly larger pot (these nice new Guy Wolff pots which I recieved over the summer!). More postings on Cylcamen later....Of note, the recent fires in Greece, where these are native, are indeed natural, and the cyclamen boom there should be better than normal, regardless if the fires were started by arson or not. Many cyclamen, and bulbs, native to summer-dry areas are designed to survive fires, and even thrive after the competition of grass and shrubs are burned off. Many seeds of such bulbs even need smoke exposure in order to germinate.

These first chilly mornings signify the coming of autumn, and thusly, the Nerine sarniensis crosses have received thier first treatment of "fall rains', to trigger them into growth for the winter. This time I used rain water with about 5% nitogen in it, mimic the first African thunderstorms, to see if this will stimulate these nototiously hard to grow bulbs to send up thier dorman buds.

In the rock garden, a few sprigs of Zauchneria californica are decorating my desk this morning. This plant is thriving in the summer raised bed next to the greenhouse, and apears to be either self seeding or spreading into a large mass after 5 years. Acquired at a NARGS plant auction, this zone 7-8 plant apparently likes it's situation in my zone 5 garden. Micro zones, do exist, as we all know, but I am sure that Global warming is helping!

Another NARGS seed sale item, I think this is Sythyris or something like that...at least that is what the lable says, but it is wearing off.......any ideas anyone? About 4 inches tall, in the rock garden.