February 29, 2008

Tokyo -Day one

Cotton Candy Pink Primroses- at the train station.

My first day in Tokyo was filled with shopping, shopping and shopping for my day job as trend director at Hasbro. But, at least I was able to squeeze in some hoticulture on my train ride home. On this busy Friday night in chilly Tokyo, potted plants were available at every train station, including these stunning potted Fairy Primroses, Primula malacoides. So much better than mine in a previous post! I wish I has the seed of this cultivar. I think the way that they were displayed, in a wooded basket, and the fullness of the plant, combined with their cherry-blossom pink color, made them a perfect expression of Japans Japanesseness.

Ume Plum blossoms, and mustard flowers

My hotel has a massive urn in the lobby, filled with 10 foot tall branches of Ume (Japanese flowering Plum, or Apricot) the celebration plant of the current season.

I am probably missing my Convallaria blooming which I forced this year, since, when I left Boston, I noticed them starting to open in the greenhouse. THese are at a florist in an upscale Tokyo department store in Sunshine City, a popular shopping area north of Shinjuku station.

These terribly hybrid potted Begonias we're being sold at a large department store. THe colors we're beautiful, with coral and pink blending together.

Girls Day means SPRING, and spring means Sakura blossom (Cherry Blossom)

Takara's Hello KItty is popular enough, but this weekend marks Girls Day, a day when parents and grandparents but small dolls for thier little girls, often displayed in expensive glass cases, elaborate and often costing a thousand US dollars or more. The tiny Daruma-type dolls dressed in Kimono fabric are elaborate, but not nearly as cute as Hello Kitty, herself, as you can see here, decorated in her Girls Day, Sakura Blossom costume.
Even Starbucks joins in on that Sakura theme, with a full selection of Sakura pink decorated coffee mugs, glasses, takout containers, and a delicious Sakura chiffon cake, complete with a pickled Sakura Cherry Blosson on top of the white whipped cream frosting and pink cake, and a selection of pink sakura butter cookies, made with sakura blossoms.

Celebrations and festivals are popular in Japan, and they often revolve around plants, and the specific blooming times of certain flowers which are cherished by the Japanese. Be it Cherry, Chrysanthemum, Morning Glory (asagao) or many of the other Japanese plants which are so closely tied to culutral beliefs left over from the Edo period as well as from their specific relationship with Shinto beliefs, which is not so much a religion ( as, let's say, Buddism is) but perhaps better expressed as being "Japanese". Shinto, has more to do with the emergy and spirists of the forest, rocks, trees, and plants, than any diety or "god". Shinto shrines around the country celebrate many of the floer festivals, and tomorrow, I will be visiting the celebration of the moment, the blooming of the Plum blossoms, UME. Also, the current season here is all about Hepatica, Camellia and the other plants which bloom at the moment.

February 22, 2008

Lesser winter bulbs

Asphodelus acaulis

This small, winter blooming bulb is the perfect candidate for a potted alpine bulb collection for an alpine house, or a plunge bed. Somewhat hard to come by, this plant comes from Morocco and it produces these pure cotton candy pink flowers which grow on a very short stem. I have had this plant for three years and it is starting to create a nice, multi-crowned plant. The foliage is lax, and somewhat protrate, if not alpinesque in appearance, although, not actually an alpine. This is also not technically a bulb, but rally only rarely available from those few retailers who sell extraordinarily rare or unusual bulbs,suc as Paul Christian in London. This is more or an geophyte with strange, fleshy storage roots, which allow the plant to go dormant during the hot, dry, moroccan summer. Not unline an Eremurus, actually, but much smaller. The Asphodelus flowers open on sunny days in the winter, around late January or February, and given the high production of bud, we will be enjoying it's pink lily-like flower until true spring.

Ornithogalum fimbriatum var. Oreadra
This year I was fortunate to acquire three names forms of Ornithogalum fimbriatum, and this is the first to bloom. Unlike the more Wal-Mart-y Ornithogalums, this baby is less trailer park, and more Kew. I will get a better shot on a sunny day, when the flowers all open like white waterlillies, but on a snowy day like today, one can also enjoy the apple green outside markings on the petals. All kidding aside, I am smitten with all of the Ornithogalum speces, trashy or not. But these 'fimbriated' forms, ( see the serated outlines on the leaf?) are terrific alpine subjects for a collection in a cold greenhouse.
I grabed a quick shot of some of the interspecific Clivia which are now blooming. I leave for Japan this Wednesday, and these remind me of the seeds I brought back a few years ago, since, these are them. First time blooming, from Mr. Nakamura's Breeding Plantation. Mr Nakamura and Shige are great hosts, when I visited, and the hundreds of Clivia seeds which we brought back are all starting to bloom, I am so excited. Although, I may miss many of them due to this trip back.Perhaps a few will make it into the New England Spring Flower Show this year, if they hold off.

Nerine undulata

Some Nerine species are still blooming, and this dainty species with undulating petals is proof of the name. ( syn. N. alta). It is much more graceful than it's showier cousins, the N. bowdenii and N. sarniensis that bloomed in the autumn. Of course, there are a few much showier relatives that I hope will bloom soon, but maybe next year.

Margaret takes a nap, recovering from her throat surgery last week at Tufts University Hospital. Poor Muggles, has a serious Larynx problem. But, for now, the laser surgery went well, and at least she can breath a little easier, at least for a while, but we still can' t leave her alone.

February 18, 2008

The trouble with Lupines

Russell Lupines at the Chelsea Flower Show
The chatter amongst those in-the-know about lupines is that suddenly, they've become difficult to grow well. It's true, In 1997, anthracnose began showing up world-wide, in populations of Lupines, reportedly due to the commercial growing of Lupine species as a protein seed souce, worldwide. Anthracnose, is a fungus, spread by moisture dripping on t foliage, or soil born. Whatever the actual cause, if one wishes to grow award winning lupines, such as the Russell Lupine above, photographed at last years Chelsea Flower Show in London, one needs to take precautions.

It's not surprising that most retailers who sell seeds, fail to mention this problem. A problem that can be overcome by home gardeners if they take a few precautions which may seem elaborate, but necessary.


German seed supplier Jelitto, is the only source that I know of, but there may be others who can supply to the home gardener. You must get seed which has been heat-treated, and Jelitto has a patented Jelitto JET® process which renders their Lupine seed virtually free of Colletotrichum acutatum, or, Anthracnose. But, attack from other sources cannot be ruled out.


This is critical. Home sterilization is relatively easy, if you have an oven, some foil and time. OK....so what are a few worms in the All Clad! This weekend, in the thaw, I was able to dig up some soil from outside in the garden, and baked it at 400 Degrees F. for two hours, along with some sharp gravel. This, I mixed with some perlite to create my peat-free mix.


Common sense here, I simply soaked some seed pots and trays in household clorine bleach and water, 2 tablespoons per gallon (as if I measured!).

4. SOAK SEED FOR 30 minutes at 131 deg. F ( 55 deg. C). to kill any existing spores. This may reduce your germination rate, but it will be worth it.

5. PLANT SEEDS AND TRY TO KEEP SEEDLING FOLIAGE DRY. This is important, since you want to avoid spraying with a fungicide, I would imagine. Although, I try to practice organic gardening, I personally don't have a problem with Fungicides. They are useful if your plants are to be growing in a damp greenhouse for the spring, or outside in a wet area.

Other than that, it's easy! Lupines are magnificent when grown well, but understanding the issues they can now have, will help you if you plan on investing on some seed or plants at your local garden center. Don't expect to find this info on the seed packet or in the seed catalog from most seed retailers. Clearly, it will put people off.

February 16, 2008

Hyacinthus orientalis magnificus

Dutch multistemmed Hyacinth "Festival Blue"
They say that we remember scent, better than anything. For me, nothing say's "spring is coming" more than the scent of Hyacinths. I know it roots straight to my past, as a young child, attending the great spring flowershows here in the eastern part of the US, particularly the Worcester County Horticulutral Society Spring Flower Show - one of my earliest memories, being carried on the sholders of my dad, usually, in what felt like a blizzard- and then walking from the parking lot of the great Horticultural Hall, past the nineteenth century windows, to the main entrance, where even through the bitter cold air, the amazing scent of Hyacinths wafted out. Today, I try to recreate this moment, although, Dad at 94 (this week) can hardly carry me anymore, he can still enjoy the scent, as he noted while feeding the birds this week. The vents we're open on Valentines day, and the scent of Hyacinths floated out, over the snow and ice. This is the time of year, o ne enjoys it most. Although, I have this whole "freshly-laundered, air-dried-sheets-hanging-on-the-line-in-April-then-making-the-bed-and-next-to-it-a-vase-of- freshly-picked-Hyacinths-thing that I might talk about later ( clearly, mom implanted her burdon of memories too!). I prepared an urn, for the plant window, with the Festival Blue Hyacinths. Here it is, outside, for only a moment, so that I could shoot it for the blog. The color is so much nicer under natural light. These bulbs send up two or three flower stems each, and they are less full, so the appearance is more natural. I planted many outdoors, but they won't be in bloom until April or May.

The amazing rich color or the Hyacinth variety called 'Woodstock'.

Too cold to be outdoors for too long, it reached 30 degress F. today, so, I shot a pot of 'Woodstock' Hyacinths, in the setting sun, so you can see the color, accurately. I can't wait until my new Nikon d300 arrives this week, hopefully in time for my trip to Japan next week. This camera, a Nikon D100 is getting a little old, and beaten up after traveling around the world a few times, it is pretty beat, as are some of the lenses. So I treated myself to a new Nikkor 105mm too. Now that my design book is almost finished, I can get back to attempting to write and design a gardening book. (in my spare time!).

Arrrgh!!! Fergus!!!

February 10, 2008

Rare South African Lachenalia from Seed

Rare species, such as this green-flowering variant of the more common, L. aloides, Lachenalia aloides var.Vanzyliae can only be obtained by seed.

Now that a big part of my design book is finished, I can finally refocus on the greenhouse. Last Sunday was one of those fabulously sunny, yet cold, winter New England days, which, even by early February, can make the glass greenhouse feel like summer. The sun is already beginning too feel stronger, and as many of us gardeners note, subtle and not-so-subtle changes are ocuring in nature, signifying that winter is waning. I love this time of winter, February and March. I know, you might think I am crazy, but underglass, it's not mud season, really.
The plants which one can grow in a cool greenhouse are generally those Mediterrainan types one sees in the south of France, southern Italy, or California - shrubs and bulbs which respond in February to the increase in light levels. I was telling visitors yesterday, that March, is the season of full bloom in my greenhouse- how could I ever hate March? There is nothing, like sitting in a sunny hot greehouse, with three feet of snow outside, wearing nothing by shorts and sneakers, potting up seeds in the hot sun.
You can hear the birds outside, and when focusing on what you are doing, you could swear that you can hear lawn mowers and smell cut greass and charcoal grills maybe! but actually, that's the nicest part! you can't!
It's just you, the woodpeckers on the feeders, a hark getting cracnkiny high in the hemlocks about the pigeons in the coop, and you hear nothing else..., no kids screaming, no lawnmowers and no weedwackers.. nothing. Not even cars going by in the distance (of course, the Patriots were playing in the Superbowl, so maybe that had a little to do with it!). I'm sort-of not ia sports fan!

Usually, one must purchase and plant seed for South African bulbs which are winter-growing, in the autumn. A sowing in September or October, would guarantee a winter of growth, before thier inevitable summer rest of dry dormancy.
This year, I am taking a chance, and planting a collection of selected seeds in mid-season winter, these are seeds which I purchased on line, from Silverhill Seeds (a respected collector of rare, South African bulb seed, of wild collected species which are not available anywhere else. Although late, it is not impossible to get a years worth of growth on these plants, which are quite easy to germinate and grow, given that one has a cool greenhouse, or a protected area outdoors if you live in a mild climate ( like California).

All I need is a few months of strong growth, which I will get here in the northeastern part of the US during February to June. I have found that since December to January provides weak sun, I can usually "catch-up" many species in this later part of the season, and c an even continue thier growth until mid July, before drying off the pots, to provide a couple months of dry "winter", then restarting them a bit later than the other established bulbs - let's say, October.

This year, I am focusing of Lachenalia species, with 38 new species being added to my collection, and then, a few Moraea, Ornithogalum and single species which have captured my attention. The process for all, is the same, with the exception of a species or two of Lachenalia which demand pure fast-draining sand. I mix one large batch of fast-draining soil, which isn't too fussy, just Pro-Mix, a commercial peat-soil-less blend, sand, gravel and large perlite. The seeds are surface sown, then covered with gravel chips. It's large gravel, but it's all I have, so time will tell if this even makes a difference. The gravel helps keep moss and weeds from growing on the surface, since these bulb seeds will stay in the same pots for at least three years, before repotting.
Lachenalia species, wild collected rare species, planted three years ago.

Most of these species will bloom in 4 to 5 years, the Lachenalia flat, may have a few early bloomers in two years, and many in three.