December 26, 2008

Unusual Greenhouse Christmas Bulbs

It was a rather mild Christmas day, and finally, the sun came out, enough to raise the temperatures in the greenhouse to near 70 degrees F, opening the vents. This is not unusual for New England, and looking back at other late December photos, I can see my honey bees taking advantage of a warm-ish 40 degree heat wave. This short jaunts are fine for them, as long as they can return back to the hive in time, before the automatic greenhouse vents close.
Every Christmas day, I like to take note of what is in bloom in the greenhouse. It's interesting to see what plants bloom exactly on schedule, and which ones take a year off. Certainly there are many reasons, daylength is critical, but then, so is temperature. How many cloudy days, vs. how many sunny days also factors in. With the greenhouse, one thing is for certain, WInter never feels dead to me, in fact, it is quite alive and vibrant under the glass.

The newest addition to the greenhouse bulb collection this year, is the Calochortus species I purchased. I've avoided collecting these bulbs for no reason, other than to save something which I could collect when I am older! Sad, but true. Alas, I could not wait, and although I certainly am 'older'. ( turning 50 in 2 weeks), I am still learning when it comes to plants. Calochortus is a genus native to North America and the new world, with near 70 species. I saw my first Calochortus, not in the wilds of Colorado or northern California, but in the alpine house at Kew, in England, growing in pots. That one June visit, convinced me that I must grow this amazing genus, but the rare bulb nurseries carried so many species, and they were a little pricy, that I would end up making wish lists in the fall, but then never getting around to ordering them, becuase I could not make up my mind once I realized the cost involved. Not that they are expensive, but when added to my Oxalis, and other South African bulbs on my wish lists ( which you can imagine are quite wishy), I simply had to edit, and the Calochortus were the first to go.

Calochortus uniflora

This year I finally started with 5 species, and the first bloomed on Christmas day. I know that I made one mistake already, I potted my bulbs in small pots ( 6-8 inch clay pots in sandy, fast draining soil). I read later that they prefer larger pots, but since they are plunged in a sand bed, maybe they will be alright. The first species is this lovely lavender species Calochortus uniflora. The stamens are vivid powder blue, which is so different. I think I will order some seed of other species and try growing some from seed, since I am told that that is not that difficult.

Some Velthiemia are in bloom also. I received this plant as a gift from a friend who told me that it was the one species of Velthimia which I did not have Velthiemia capensis, but I believe that it appears that the plant is simply the still beautiful, V. bracteata, which is more common, but still nice, although I have ten of them. Still, it bloomed early, at Christmas, so I brought it into the plant window for a little South African cheer.

Velthiemia bracteata

Narcissus romiuxii are still blooming, with many more on the way.

Clivia caulescens

Also in bloom, Camellia, Cymbidium orchids, Clivia species, Oxalis species, Vireya Rhododendron, Haworthia, and in bud are many more plants, like the tree aloe that froze last year, a massive green flowered Cymbidum orchid that I recieved as a gift from a supermarket ( Whole Foods) last year, and this year it has 11 spikes! We are all convincing ourselves that winter is almost over, and imagining that the days are already getting longer.

December 24, 2008

Rediscovering the Craft of Berry Bowls

A Vintage advertisement for 'Berry Bowls' from a HORTICULTURE Magazine, circa 1957

Born and raised in New England, I had grown accustomed to the Berry Bowl, a traditional craft which was simple, inexpensive and beautiful. It's been difficult to research the history of the Berry Bowl, but what little I could find, explained that colonial women would gather woodland plants in late autumn and early winter, and arrange or plant them in moss, also from the woods in a glass vessel, which would undoubtedly be something they had arround the house, such as a fancy glass, or a canning jar. Essentially, this was a terrarium, which would last for the entire winter indoors, in a cold house, reminding them of the summer woodland. The plants in Berry Bowls are strictly limited to a few species, all grow in New England, and near my home in Massachusetts, and they include the Checker Berry ( which tastes like wintergreen), rattlesnake plantaoin, ( Goodyera pubescens), with it's white and green netted foliage, a native wild orchid and Partridge Berry ( MItchella repens) a vine which creeps along the forest floor and whose vivid bright red berries are most decorative once the leaves fall off of the trees, between October and Christmas.

The Berry Bowl Reinvented with cultivated plants.

When I was young, I was quite active with the Worcester County Horticultural Society, a very active and prosperous Horticultural Society ( now transformed into Boston's premier Horticultural center, the Tower Hill Botanic Garden). In the 1960's and 1970's, I was very active in competitive classes in the Society's annual exhibitions, and the Holiday exhibition was most competitive, with classes to enter in such things as Della Robia swags and wreaths' ( think- old Della Robia paintings, or better yet, Xmas decorations at Colonial Williamsburg with lemons, oranges, other citrus, pineapples and greens), and classes like Pomanderballs ( clove studded citrus), and most competitive, the Christmas Tree decorating section, I don't know what I was thinking competing against garden clubs and private estates, but even though I was out of my league, and 30 years younger than everyone else ( I think most joined these old societies for the cocktail party opening events,- I mean, founded in 1856, china in the old kitchens with the seal of the society on them, cocktail trays,...) but since I could not drink yet, it was the Berry Bowl class which I would enter, which at least would get me out into the woods for a week searching for the perfect Goodyeara or even a Pipsissewa ( Chimaphila maculata) if I was lucky to tear out of the ground. Not unlike truffle hunting, each competitor had their own secret source for such rarities. I still can;t look at Richard Jordan, another local boy who, in a year with no sign of a Rattlesnake Plantain in a 20 mile radius, would show up with a massive glass brandy snifter with three stunning specimens, claiming the cash prize of $6.00 and the treasured State Rosette.

My New Berry Bowl Experiment.

Today, things are different. I can't imagine collecting wild orchids and 'secret sources' for Partridge Berries' from the 'wild', although not all on the endangered species list, most of these plants are, or should be protected. So in my search for a replacement, I am trying some experiments. All the same, I have some rules, such as, keeping the same aesthetic and a similar species list, with substitutions. Here is my first attempt which I tried yesterday. Moss from the woods, and instead of Partridge Berry, I used some cuttings that I took of the Japanese evergreen Ardisia, which I grow in the greenhouse, and combined this with a relative of the Goodyera orchid, another 'Jewel Orchid', (Sarcoglottis septrodes), which I selected for it white veined foliage.
I used a glass vessel that one would place a pillar candle in, a sort-of hurricane glass, in which I placed a layer of pebbles, a tuft of Sphagnum moss, since the Sarcoglottis will need moss and not soil, and then I used the root ball of the Ardisia which is composed of mainly Pro Mix, a commercial soiless mix intact, but placed deep into the moss. The entire surface was then covered in a tuft of moss, and in that, I planted a cutting from a Rabbit's foot fern ( in place of the Rock Polypody, which would have been easy for me to 'collect' from the granite boulders in the woodland behind my house, but irresponsible, to do so, none the less. I feel pretty great with the results.

Everyone loves a soil test kit for Christmas. Double click the image to see the caption, ahhh.....the 50's.

December 23, 2008

Snow White

This morning, we awoke to a Disney wonderland. These scenes remind me of the images one used to see in the vintage Viewmaster's, technocolor snowscenes of National Parks and the like. OK...it was 6 below zero, and the ducks needed boiling water brought out to their hutch, and the squirrels were starving....but one cannot deny the beauty of a new, deep cover of fluffy snow. Natures mulch of deep snow is exactly what the garden needed, and although it arrived late, it arrived with perhaps enough time to curve the risk for deep frost which can permeate the soil when it is not covered. I was hoping for a deep snow like we had last year, which never melted until March -the perfect plant winter. Since many of us more intense gardeners like to experiment with plants from more tender zones, these deep snows raise the staked that we might be able to have zone 7 or zone 8 plants growing in a zone 5 or 6 garden. Often, the risk is not cold temperatures for many plants, it's the thawing and freezing cycles, or moisture. Either way, my celebration on successfully overwintering Agapanthus and Kniphophia last year. Hopefully, the snow will last all winter, exactly what happens in the high alps and rockies. And exactly what the alpines need. Without snow, the troughs of alpine plants that spend the winter exposed to the elements can suffer, not from cold, but from ice, rain and the thawing and freezing cycles which never happens in their natural environment.

Japanese Ardisia as a Holiday decoration.

One of the many plants which the Japanese are obsessive about is the genus, Ardisia. Difficult to find, one can find two species at Logee's greenhouses in Connecticut, and at Barry Yinger's fabulous collector site, Asiatica. At Asiatica Nursery, one can usually find more rare cultivar's, but the genus is large, with nearly 300 species world wide, some invasive, some recently found to have interest as phytopharmaceuticals like ardisin, reportedly a powerful antioxydent ( since I HAD to Google this!) and bergenin, apparently sold on every boby building site as a drug that "stimulates thermogenisis" rrrrright. Anyway, don't eat the berries because I said to, beside, we have Ephedra in the rock garden which will do just fine.

Ardisia are sub-hardy to zone 8, and we keep ours in stoneware pots outdoors until after Thanksgiving, in mid November since even temperatures around 25 degrees F. does not hurt them. Although costly, the plants are sturdy and spend the summer in decorative pots on the terrace, where their berries, which they hold most of the year are often on display along with the tiny white flowers they produce in July. This is a 24/7 plant, they look good year round, and some species spread enough to fill a pot, whilst others, like remain shrub-like such as Ardisia crenata.

A Holiday arrangement made not from traditional materials, but from tender plants from the greenhouse. What looks like variegated holly, is actually Osmanthus, and the red berries are Ardisia. WHich gives me an idea. I've been throwing around an idea for a modern berrybowl.........

December 22, 2008

Winter Solstice or Winter Soul-stice

Really, I like snow. People who know me, know that I really LOVE snow. But come on....50 hours of snow? At least we are guaranteed to enjoy a white Christmas.
Much of North America is experiencing an early jolt of winter, officially, it's 'early', since the storms started Friday, and ended last night.....winter solstice was this morning at 7:05 AM. EST. OR there abouts. Clearly, winter is here. I livd in Worcester Massachusetts, which is about one hour west of Boston. Friends have been calling from Florida and California, asking about the big ice storm we had last week ( before all of this snow was dumped on us), they were worried about the greenhouse. We did lose power for most of Thursday night, but the temperatures we're just above freezing, so no damage was done. I had teh tank of propane filled hours before this storm on Friday, and today, Monday, it is half gone. It's a 100 Gallon tank, so basically, it has cost me $100. a day to heat the greenhouse when the sun is not out, and the temperatures are near 0 deg. F. It doesn't get much worse than this. I love snow. I love snow.

A lovely yellow needled Japanese Spruce, Picea orientalis 'Skylands'

A Japanese pine, with snow.

The greenhouse when the temperatures are near 0 Degrees F. I try to maintain the inside atmosphere at 40 Degree's, but I am having problems with the furnace still, a combustable air quality issue ( i.e. too many plants means too much moisture), so it explodes on a ten minute rotation. Ugh. I need to order a new one, but not sure how they can install it in a day's time. So each morning I sneak a peak outside to see if A: all the glass is frosted over right to the peak, meaning that it froze last night, or B: Hope to catch a glimpse of steam rising from the flue or C. See if all of the glass is blown out of the greenhouse in a gas explosion. I love snow, really I do.

As the snow continues to fall, deep and fluffy in the near zero temperatures, I keep hoping that the greenhouse will make it until the sun comes out or the temperatures rise to at least the 20's. F.

December 16, 2008

Holiday Gift Guide part 2

Gift number 6
A subscription to a fine Horticultural Journal.

Memberships to plant societies often will include a quarterly, or annual journal, and many of these are very nice, such as the four-color quarterly of the American Primula Society, the color journal of the Americal Daffodil Society, or the Gesneriad Society. My personal favorites are the quarterly printed Bulletin of the North American Rock Garden Society, the bi-annual of the Scottish Rock Garden Society, or the UK’s premier alpine publication which comes free with membership to the Alpine Plant Society, THE ALPINE GARDENER. There are a few other magazine type of journals, such as ORCHIDS, which comes free with membership to the American Orchid Society, and the Royal Horticultural Societys publications, THE GARDENER, and their premier publication, THE PLANTSMAN. These are a little costly, although THE GARDENER is included free with membership to the RHS, THE PLANTSMAN will cost around $80.US if you live in the USA. Still, the best journal is a scientific one, CURTIS’s BOTANICAL JOURNAL, which can be delivered quarterly via the Blackwell site, where one can get every science journal from NATURE to SLUGS. CURTIS’s is the classic, with frameable color prints which it has featured since the 1700’s, this is one of the world’s oldest magazines, I mean…Darwin spent nights on the Beagle reading issues to pass the time away! CURTIS’s is where one will find the announcement of the discovery of a new species. All of these make incredible gifts, and these are all the sort of publications one saves for their entire life, and then passes on to their college library or plant society. I’ve bought a few collections at plant society auctions, to fill in gaps.

Number 7
An Authentic HAWS Watering can

I can never have enough of these!! Haw's are the best. Even the vintage ones on ebay are nice, if you can afford them. This is the sort of gift that gets better with age, and there are only a few things that so that, mainly Stieff Teddy Bears,, Red Wing Biker Boots, Japanese Maples, Cast Iron Pots and Haw's watering cans. When you die, these are the thigns relatives either fight over or they go to eBay. Sure, they cost nearly a hundred dollars each, but the list to rationalize their purchase is just as long. They last forever, they get better with age, they look incredible, one can never have enough, blah blah blah......by me one Joe ( I need the small copper one).

Number 8
A new gardening book From Timber Press ( They all are good), but check out thier newest releases like this book on Succulents by Gwen Kelaidis.

Number 9
A gift Certificate to a plant nursery

OK, I know, everyone is telling you to avoid gift certificates this year, but although I have never received one, I sure would love to. I mean, what could be more fun than spending a winter night in bed, shopping and dreaming about the summer! Sure one could give cash but there is something more permissive about a certificate one MUST spend. You Must Buy that Vyrea. You Must choose 50 varieties of Camellia. You must. It's like a shopping spree.

Number 10
The gift of Extinction - The Wollemi Pine

Isn't it amazing that new or extinct species continue to be discovered in our modern world? Thought to be extinct, a few years ago a small population was discovered In a valley in Australia. Wollemi Pine was discovered a few years ago. Thanks to the National Geographic Society, we all can now add to the population, after all, there are only less than 100 adult trees living on earth. Indoors or out ( in Zone 9), it might be an interesting gift for the caveman in your life.

November 30, 2008

Duality - Bulbs with Interesting Pairs of Leaves

Dormant for one year, this lone, single leaf on a Resnova megaphylla shows how stunning even a single leaf can be. Native ot a specific area of South Africa which has a wealth of these relatives of Ledebouria, these species range from cold climatically severe grasslands in the interior summer rainfall areas of the country to narrow endemics only known from one mountain top.

Some species like this are rare and vulnerable to habitat degradation and destruction. This applies particularly to several dwarf species such as this one, known from only a handful of localities on the Mpumalanga escarpment. this tiny bulb finally emerged after a two year domancy with the hope that next year, this tiny rare bulb may actually bloom. Even if it doesn't, the leaf -"although it be tiny, it be cute". The leaves are awesome.

Other plants with oddly paired leaves are many of the Lachenalias, which only produce two leaves, and the Massonia, here, a Massonia echinata shows it pair of fleash, ground-hugging leaves, and it's seasonal shaving brush tuft of flowers. The Massonia are quite fascinating, some have pustules on the leaf surface, like tiny blisters, and other species have fuzzy hairs covering the leaves. They are all small, tender South African bulbs which each produce only a pair of leaves, and with similar flowers during the winter months of December and January.

This rare Brunsvigia bosmaniae, another South African is slowly every so slooooowly growing, in its giant pot of fast draining soild. Dormant for most of the summer, I hope that it blooms in my lifetime! I carefully spends each winter on this sand bed, carefully watered and fertilized, tempting me with the possibility of bloom. IT will probably freeze before it ever blooms, the greenhouse ran out of gas last night, and thanks to a rather unfriendly gas company I use, I had to wait until today to get the tank refilled. We are having problems with our heater, since the greenhouse is kept rather cool, condensation creates an unfavorable combustion atmosphere ( my guess, anyway) so the heater explodes when the gas runs out, and then is refilled. Or on chilly damp days, tomorrow I will spend time on the phone trying to find out what the problem really is. Until then, my not-so-friendly Arrow Gas Company in Rochdale Massachusetts fined me $150.00 for running out of gas, even though they installed a self reading gas meter which does not work, and which I could not read because the locked a cap over it. Nice.

Looking for a great Holiday gift for your naturalist friend? Check out the Cornel Ornithology Lab Above! On this site which offers many creative options that are terrific for both bird lovers and for the birds, you will find such innovative 'green minded' gifts that will surely surprise someone, and delight them, especially if all they were expecting was the typical bird feeder or a scarf from the Gap. If you select BROUSE ALL GIFTS, you will find gift ideas such as a membership to the prestigious Cornell Ornithology Lab, join PROJECT FEEDER WATCH, where a one year gift participation gets bird lovers involved in a more meaningful way. Participants can see how populations are changing, track their their own sightings of back yard birds, and it is fun for most any age young to old. Believe me, my dad does not need another bird feeder! The best part about these gifts is that squirrels HATE them, because they cannot get on line ( but they can run along the power lines!). Um....., Cyber monday get you crazy to buy buy buy?.....then but a gift subscriptione to Birds of North America ONLINE, the must, go-to site for information on over 700 species of birds, exactly when you need it, and there are lots of great ideas for getting your children involved with nature, and birds with BIRDSLEUTH ONLINE, and with Birdsleuth cards, plus home study courses and more. Check it out.

November 29, 2008

A Walk in the November Woods and Berry Bowls

Partridge Berries (Mitchella repens) in the woods near our house. Once collected for use as a winter Holiday decoration in small, glass bowls called Berry Bowls.
Walks in the woods late in the autumn are a favorite, nostalgic memory for me. The cold air, the smell of the dead leaves, the sounds of the Nuthatches and Chickadee's high in the trees, the taste of the Wintergreen and Teaberries - all remind me of my childhood, and even my dad, of his childhood ( he is still alive at nearly 95, and went walking in today too). The dogs were itchy to get out, so off we went to Purgatory Chasm, a few miles from our home, where old growth forests still grow, and a canyon-like chasm, provides dramatic granite scenery.

As a kid. we would spend many summer days picking mushrooms here, with my mom, or nut in the early fall, and around Thanksgiving, an annual trip to cut a Christmas tree from the wild, a very Charlie Brown-like White Pine ( white pine needles when heated by Christmas lights, still brings me back!). Sad looking trees, but when you are 5, you think they are the best.

Later, I would pick a selection of plants, which many New Englanders would pick, to make what are known as 'Berry Bowls', a colonial craft not unlike terreriums, where certain woodland plants would be gathered from the woods, and arranges in soil and moss, in a jar, or brandy snifter, cover with a sheet of glass, and decorated with a red ribbon. Perhaps not truly a colonial craft, I would imagine that it was more likely a craft which started in the late 19th Century, and then peaked in the first half of the 20th Century. In the 1950's and 1960's, they could be mail ordered from New England Nursery's via ad's in HORTICULTURE magazine or GOURMET. Florists would carry them selectively until the 1980's from those who still gathered greens from the woods and sold them wholesale, but today, the craft is understandably discouraged upon for obvious reasons. THe endangered habitat of many of our local plants is at risk, and even casual collecting is not encouraged, even if it is your own property.

Still, I have an idea, which I am working on, that used commercially available plants, some tropical, that might achieve the same effect - a 'greener' more responsible berry bowl, perhaps?

Galutheria procumbens, or wintergreen ( or as my father called it, Teaberry or Checkerberry). Traditional New England woodland berry which tastes like the old Teaberry gum, or better yet -Peptobismol.

The Rock Polypody (Polypodium virginianum) An evergreen fern which grows on granite rock in many New England woods.

A view of the woodland in central Massachusetts, this old growth forest of Tsuga canadensis is being lost to the wooly aldegid, some 200 year old trees are now missing from this shot.

Another candidate once collected for 'Berry Bowls". the common Pipsissawa ( Chimaphilia maculata), also known as the Striped Windergreen, or Striped Prince's Pine. I suppose, many of the native New England woodland plants which are evergreen, had common names such as 'wintergreen' or 'Prince's Pine' ( or even, Princess Pine).

The mosses are outstanding in the oak forests this time of year, just before snowfall. The brilliant green stands out amongst the oak and chestnut leaves. One can see how colonial women would be tempted to pick these plants for glass jars and jugs to bring into the home during the winter, the red and green colors are so brilliant in the fall light.

Margaret and Fergus keep an eye out for wild turkey's and perhaps a squirrel.

More moss

The central Massachusetts forest is generally a mixture of oak, maple, beech and ash, with evergreens such as our native White Pine, Pinus strobus, and Canadian Hemlock, Tsuga canadensis. These are the same forests the pilgrims traveled through, and this particular site in Northbridge, MA was a camp for Nipmuck Indians. The caves and tools are still found here. As children, my father would take us here hiking the day after Thanksgiving, and we would gather burlap feed bags full of Holiday Greens such as Lycopodium or Prince's Pine, which we would wrap with twine and wire to make garlands and wreaths for the house. He used to go to the same woods with his brothers, during the 1920's, so I still like to go for a hike the weekend after Thanksgiving, to not collect plants, but to look at them, instead. Usually, this is the week that we would get out first snowfall, but the first flurries of the season are expected tonight, instead.

November 25, 2008

What Plant Societies Need to Do to Survive

My prototype for a modernized, yet very classic looking Journal design for the North American Rock Garden Society.

A website design, for a modern plant society which offers more than just meeting dates.

After a lively discussion online two weeks ago on the Alpine-L user group, an online group dedicated to discussions and chat about alpine plants, woodland plants and bulbs, among other things; a recent thread emerged that raised the fact that many, if not all specialist plant groups are experiencing a drop in membership. There surely are many reasons for this, ranging from a busier world, to other options either on-line or lifestyle changes. Regardless, I had suggested that one way some plant groups could increase membership is to revise what they offer. The Scottish Rock Garden Society is a great example, their website offers blogs, posts, membership and photos. So I decided to go out on a dangerous limb, and design what a potential site could look like for the North American version of the Scottish group. Many of you know that my day job involves designing intellectual property, managing mega brands and inventing new portals for these brands. I am not a web designer, but I am a graphic designer, so note that these comps are created in Adobe Illustrator and Adobe Photoshop - they would undoubtedly be expensive websites to construct, but I wanted to make a few points.

First, becoming more modern does not mean that you would need to stop printing a journal, we all love paper. Second, manhy of us are on-line already, and we exercise our plant passions in different ways - I have a blog on blogger, I post images on Flicker, I use YouTube daily, and I know that there are other NARGS members on Flicker and Youtube - I link to them. So I am already chatting, and linking to others on line. I am not alone.

Think about it. You take digital photos, you may even take videos on your travels, or of your garden. You already are on-line, or you would not be reading this. I web site, and a society, are very similar - they are social places, so how terrific would it be if the ultimate plant society site evolved, someone will do it someday - but the question is who will lead?

There are many issues here to overcome, there are issues about heritage, about if perhaps should a group of plant societies join together ) Primrose, Androsace, Saxifrage, Bulb Groups, Rock Garden Society, etc) to become one mega-site. But whatever happens, I only hope that someone takes a step soon. As members, we all want to enjoy our membership. A publication on paper is fine, and in digital worlds, this can happen is different ways, a downloadable PDF file, or an iPhone sized mini newsletter - technology is becoming more integrated every day, and experts are saying that in four years, we will al be fully converted - which is expected to change how advertising to political campaigning works - the Obama campaign is already looking at four years from now, and how they will focus on cell phone advertising with videos. One of the greatest issues is WHO will manage these sites, who will design and maintain them, much needs to be considered, and I realize that it is not easy. There are non profit groups who have restructured and who have incredible web sites and more - take the National Geographic Society, now known as NatGeo. Advertising subsidizes the website, with links to travel, hiking, outdoor outfitters, and camera companies. Modern groups license their name, offer product such as backpacks, logo merchandise if it is designed nicely, but these are all attainable goals. The world is changing fast.

Whatever all of our plant societies do, I only hope that they remain open to change, to technology, and realize that these too are changing fast. But wouldn't it be nice to have a site where you could download a document in excel where you can organize your collections, where you can post photos of your gardens, or videos of your successes. OF course, these sort of site would require significant restructuring, an editor may need to be subsidized, or an initial cost for design and architecture may need to be spent up front ( another reason for sites to join in some idea of a Global Plant Society home page), where costs could be shared), whatever happens, modern plant groups have a long road ahead if they want to survive - they need to offer more, be more informed and offer more value.

November 24, 2008

November Cheer in the Greenhouse

A view of the greenhouse on an unseasonably cold November day.

As temperatures hovered near 18 deg. F, ice forming on the glass and winds reaching 30 miles per hour, inside, the sun was strong enough to keep the temperatures near 80 degrees making the weekend task of winterizing the glasshouse with bubblewrap warm enough to take our shirts off. This view, down the aisle on the western side of the greenhouse shows some of the blooming plants, mostly South African Cyrtanthus, Nerine and Haemanthus this time of year. The steamy air, as evening closes in, is just beginning to freeze into ice crystals on the glass walls in the back. Still this is one of my favorite times of day in the greenhouse, when the sun is just at that special angle, the air is warm and fragrant with Rosemary, Fragrant Olive and early Narcissus. It is sweet and fresh, yet moist and damp - just unique to winter greenhouses, I think, but good for the soul. I never get bored with the seasons with the greenhouse now, each season is now just a different list of superlatives.

Lachenalia pusilla

Started four years ago from seed gathered in South Africa, these rare Lachenalia species is blooming for the first time. Lachenalia pusilla is rather prostrate, with speckled foliage which remains close to the ground. The stemless flowers bloom low, in a raceme, and when the sun hits them at mid day, the smell a bit like coconut ( they look like it too!). This Lachenalia also has a bit of an identity problem, there appears to be some taxonomic confusion whether this is truly a Polyxena and not Lachenalia. As taxonomists fight it out, we enthusiasts continue to keep it in our collections as Lachenalia pusilla. They look a rather bit like an undersea anemone, don't they? I potted them in a home made terra cotta pan, which I think makes this pot quite attractive. This autumn blooming Lachenalia is the first of the genus to bloom for me this season.

Lachenalia pusilla

I have found that there are some real benefits with single pane glass, and one of them is not heating costs. The benefit is light quality, so critical for many Southern Hemisphere plants which are primarily winter blooming as demonstrated but this pot of seed grown Lachenalia pusilla. When grown in the brightest sun possible, one can achieve the best characteristics with many of these plants, who naturally grow out of doors in direct sunlight. I have found that when I keep many of these mottled or reticulated species in the sunniest part of the greenhouse, near the glass, their foliage darkens, the spotting becomes more abundant, and their overall form is more dense.

Please help identify my mystery Gladiolus.

Received as Gladiolus tristis, this pot of winter-blooming Gladiolus has bloomed in a very uncharacteristcally tristisness. Perhaps it is a Homoglosum? I have many books and photos, but the genus is quite unfamiliar with me. I have been holding off on collecting the many wonderful species of South African Gladiolus for a while now, but got some this year to try. Gladiolus tristis has been a classic cold greenhouse plant for years, so I thought I would begin with this. Especially since it is known to have an intense fragrance in the evening, which one can enjoy by bringing the pots indoors. No fragrance with this beauty, but it is still quite striking. Please help!

Gladiolius tristis not?

The first pot of Narcissus romieuxii ssp. cantabricus with buds emerging.

These tiny bulbocodium-like Narcissus are the earliest of the fragrant, winter blooming species native to Morocco, the Atlas Mountains and Turkey. A favorite of mine, they are common amongst many plant collectors who grow miniature bulbs, or alpines in cold greenhouses, so they are a true cross over plant, which appeals to many. Rarely seen in the states, this is a narcissus one will probably only see at a Botanic garden or at the home of a collector. I know of only two sources in North America where one can buy bulbs, and actually, only one carry's more than one species. If you think Narcissus in the fall and winter is strange - remember the paperwhite ( Narcissus papyraceus), a neighbor of these species. And, in case you were wondering, yes, you can bring Paperwhites back into bloom year to year, in exactly the same what one cultivate the other winter blooming Narcissus species. Not practical for home growers, but if you happen to have a cold greenhouse or a room which stays cold, bright, and never freezes, you can do it too. But my point is, many of the more unusual Narcissus are autumn or winter growing - why be so normal?

Nerine x sarniensis 'Kola'#1
The last of the Nerine sarniensis are blooming this week, and an interesting thing has happened. I mentioned earlier that many if not all of my Nerine sarniensis have bloomed this year, and I am relating this phenom to a late division of bulbs which I executed in early September. This variety, named 'Kola' has unusually wavy petals, ( undulata-ish or Alba-ish?!)...anyway, an even more interesting fact is that each of these divisions is blooming with a slightly different tint of pink. Call me crazy ( or mixed up, since, sure, I could have mixed up the bulbs too, (but I don't think so), ( besides...the wavy petals are unique to this variety), something has gone wrong here, yet the similarities are interesting.

Maybe the soil is different in each pot, which it is, but then again, the bulbs have been formed for a year, or two in advance, so that could not be the case....a mystery unfolds ( or curls) but whatever the cause, these late bloomers in the Nerine world are pretty nice cheer, for a cold, wintery day in November when everyone else is raking leaves and complaining about how cold it is, I am sitting stripped to the waist, drinking a beer in the hot sun enjoying the rest of the day in the garden ( or I am high from the bubblewrap spray mount).

Nerine x sarniensis 'Kola' #2