March 22, 2008

Happy Easter!

Fritillaria sewerzowii
Ian Young, from the Scottish Rock Garden Society ( and his very informative and addictive blog) had recently raised the issue that many people ( as if there truly were 'many') who grow Frits that are the more unusual species form, are having issues with the blossoms opening before the foliage comes out. I do have this problem with Fritillaria stenanthera, but not with F. sewerzowii. But Ian's plants, which inspired me to grow these jewels in the first place, are so much larger, it must be the fertilizer he uses ( tomato and Phosphorus) whereas here in the states, more unorthodox formulas are more difficult to find. I do use a 0-0-10 after bloom, but not every week or on the surface, and Ian suggests.
Tomato fertilizer, which is often reccomended for many bulbs in Europe, has a different analysis here in the states, and it depends on which brand you purchase. One may be high in nitrogen ( not good for most bulbs) and others that are completely opposite. Ideally, I like a 5-20-20, if I could find it.

Forced pot of Lilly of the Valley

If you look back in December on this blog, you will see how I planted these Convallaria. They we're slower to emerge than I expected, but quite nice, actually. The fragrance in the greenhouse tells me that it is officially Spring ( and it is!). Out side, I might say that we had the perfect winter, with hardly a temp below 10 degrees F and a full snow cover, which just melted. As long as no below 20 degree nights occur ( and it looks doubtful, since April is about a week away), my zone 5 garden, may continue to have some spectacular zone 7 plants, for another year. Of course, in New England, I most likely just jinxed myself!

Easter Flowers in the Greenhouse

March 17, 2008

Japanese Native Orchids - Shogunbutsu

Dendrobium moniliforme

Dendrobium moniliforme

Cymbidium goerengii

Cymbidium goeringii

Neofinetia falcata'

As many of you know, I grow few orchids, but what I do collect and grow are the species native to Japan which it seems the Japanese only grow, and very few westerners. These include the genus Neofinetia, the species Dendrobium moniliforme, and the species Cymbidium goringii. Orchis graminifolia, Calanthe species and Liparis round out the more common Japanese orchids grown by the Japanese who have grown these species for hundreds of years, and who, over time, have evolve the art and cultivation for each of these species to include elaborate techniques involving pottery, sphagnum potting material style and display. Without going into tremendous detail, these species are worth seeking out and researching, since their history and culture is absolutely amazing and practically unknown in the west.

It amazed me that here in Japan, one can walk through rows and rows of two inch pots of Dendrobium moniliforme, and see most every balcony contain the tiny pots with clean globes of perfectly white sphagnum moss, all topped off with a perfect tiny neofinetia 'wind orchid'.

Just when you think you've seen it all, there is an entirely new world of plants and culture to discover. These orchids all have a deep history to the Japanese, one that involves the Samurai, the Edo period and the fact that these are some of the first potted plants ever cultivated by man. As my friend said, as she toured the displays " I can;t beleive they filled a stadium up with dead plants for people to take pictures of!", But these are orchids that are cool or cold growing, and they bloom often before thier new foliage comes out, so take the time to learn more about them, and if you are interested in getting any, there are a few sources in the US who carry them such as Barry Yinger's Asiatica.com

Tokyo Orchid Show Recap

Just as any orchid show, half the floor is dedicated to retailers selling everything from plants, to fertilizer.

....and 'mouse pad eramu'

An award winning Dendrochilum species

Jet lag from the Orient is a nasty thing to recover from, but I did want to recap my trip with some images of the best orchids which I viewed wile visiting the International Orchid Grand Prix in Tokyo.
Even though I was on a business trip which was non-plant related, I was fortunate to be able to squeeze in a Saturday afternoon at this largest of orchid shows. This was my second Grand Prix in Tokyo, and although it felt smaller, it still motivated me to go buy some orchids. Here are some of the highlights...

A Cattleya with lots of blooms. This is a show, where the specimens have an incredible number of blossoms.

A Dracula species that I did not happen to get the name of.

Amazing Cat's

This is a show where the whirr and buzz of digital cameras and cell phones add to the experience.

First on my wish list, the Australian, Dendrobium speciosum.

Second on my wish list, Dendrobium hancockii, a branchy, deciduous Dendro that was massive in width. I HAVE to get this one!

Lycaste are perhaps the most impressive at this show. I think the cool winters in Japan provide the perfect conditions for this orchid.

Lycaste 'Spring Bouquet"

March 9, 2008

Obsessive about obconica

New Cultivars of Primula obconica such as Embrace™ , a hybrid {. obconica distributed by S & G Flowers and Sygenta Horticultural Services, a company suppling commercial growers with premium varieties of plants. It may just be a matter of time, before growers in the U.S become confortable trying new crops, where in countries like Japan, these magnificent varieties are already out on the corners and in the trainstations.

In Japan, I was so impressed by the Primula obconica, P. malacoides and other primula commercially being grown for home use.I thusly became obsessed with searching for these varieties, to grow in my home greenhouse.

New picotee versions of Primula obconica varieties are available in Japan, but are snubbed by American growers. They also are not available to everyday consumers as seed, so for now, we are limited to "safer' varieties such as Libre.

Primula obconica may not be that familiar to many. In the early part of the twentieth Century, it was a common conservatory plant for the cool greenhouse, and plant window, providing color from early January, until May. This Primrose is tender, and cannot freeze, but struggles a bit in our warmer and dryer conditions that exist in modern apartments and homes, but if you have an old home, with a cool spare room, and and provide bright light, this is an excellent potted plant for the winter/spring season.

My first encounter with Primula obconica was in the late 1970's while I was in High School. As a horticulture major, I was awarded a job as a horticulturist at the estate of Helen and Robert Stoddard, in Worcester Massachusetts. Mrs. Stoddard was an avid horticulturist herself, and I still recall on all that I learned on the Stoddard's many acres of alpine gardens, greenhouses and specialty gardens, a garden that was popular on the garden-tour circuit at the time, and most notably, a garden that was designed by landscape architect, Fletcher Steele. At the Stoddard's, I fell in love with many plants, but it was the greenhouse full of Primula obconica, that I most appreciated. What would not fit in the staged plant window, I was able to take home to enjoy in my greenhouse. Besides, Mrs. Stoddard was allergic to the foliage, which related to today's absence of the species from many growers lists. Primula obconica foliage can be like poison Ivy to many, causing dermatitis from the chemical Primin which occurs in many Primula, but mostly in the leaf hairs of P. obconica.

My memory of P. obconica, includes their baby-powder fragrance, their lovely colors and their fragrant foliage. I can't remember if I ever broke out from them, by Mys. Stoddard would wear long gloves while grooming the plants. I bring all of this up for a reason- while in Japan last week, I saw stunning strains of Primula obconica, varieties and colors like I never have seen before, and since the few commercial forms and seed-grown forms that are available here in the US are so unexciting, I started an obsessive - post-jet lag search for newer varieties and strains, and hopefully, finding some seed for these amazing Japanese forms. As well, as some seed for the striking forms of Primula malacoides and Primula elatior or P. acaulis selections seen below in my postings from Japan.
What I discovered was disappointing news. The good news is that I think I found the source or these new varieties, but I also found that one must own a commercial license to obtain seed. The seed sold in America retail establishments are limited to primin free cultivars, such as P. obconica Libre™ . The amazing plants I saw in Japan, planted in street containers and available as massive potted plants, we're clearly the newer varieties being developed by Japanese and Dutch commercial breeders such as Sakata Seed. A California company has been testing some of these new Picotee forms, under numbers names in field tests, but most of these plants are not available, unless one purchases them from one of the 2 or 3 commercial sources. My guess is that most if not all commercial providers of seed in the US, as well as most, if not all of the commercial growers are avoiding Primula obconica as a pot plant unless they can buy Primin-free plants. The newer varieties that are so beautiful, still contain higher amounts of Primin in the foliage that the Primin-free forms ( none are completely Primin free), so err to caution and law suits, we, the public are left with less- beautiful forms. IF you can even find them.

I have ordered some seed from the UK for 3 varieties of Primula obconica, which I will try, with the Twilly™ series from Thompson & Morgan, possibly coming close to providing some bicolors. But look at the images of the Japanese forms, or the Dutch forms which are currently available everywhere except in America. They are amazing.

As for Malacoides, te better forms are only provided to commercial growers, leaving the crappy old forms available to us, via traditional seed catalog sources, which is unfortunate. I was able to find a premium Mix from B&T World Seeds in the UK, so I will try those. And as far as finding some of the striped and outlined poluanthus-acaulis-elatior primroses, and shown in the previous posting......If anyone has an idea on what variety this is, please let me know. Harlequin is a commerical variety that I found, but again, unless I can order from a commercial supplier, I am out of luck. This hwol Intellectual Property thing, in plants, is annoying, but, I suppose, necessary. I guess I just wish that there was an iTunes for plants, so that even amateur growers with greenhouses could still obtain some of the commercial forms, if they wished.

March 4, 2008

Tokyo Picture tour1

Japan is a country of contrasts. As a trend hunter, I am continually fascinated if not confused, with this juxtapostion that occurs culturally in this amazing country. Whether you are a plant lover or not, this pictures might not be grouped and edited in the appropriate clusters based by theme, but then again, this is precisely what makes Japan so unique - it's how a visitor experiences the country, a blend of extreme contrasts; bright vinyl toys, American media, 5000 year old artifacts and French pastry. Pop culture can coexist here with a deep respect for the past.

I am currently sitting in my hotel room, packing, and waiting. Waiting for the morning clouds to move off of Mount Fugi in the distance, after last nights' rains, it surely snowed on the higher peaks around Tokyo, for I can see the lower half, and perhaps I can catch one more glimpse of this sacred peak, which is rarely seen due to pollution or mist. I am also waiting for the shuttle bus which transfer me, and my luggage oh so packed, the two hour drive to Tokyo's Narita International Airport for my 18 hour flight back to Chicago, then to Boston. Where Joe promises me that I then need to be ready to set up the Primrose Society display at the New England Flower Show ( but I am SO exhausted!). All I really want is a hot bath, a hot bowl of soup and a long sleep to recover from the awfulness called air travel. I can't help but to obsess over the fact that from this moment that I lock my suitcase, to the moment that I land in Boston, it will have been 26 hours.( and I don't sleep on planes).

Ok...stop complaining! Here are some shots, in random order. I will try to comment on them later. As well as those on my design blog, which I still need to update.

March 2, 2008

Japan's Orchid Grand Prix

A courtesy guide attempts to control the crowds at the worlds' largest orchid show.

Perhaps my collegue, Jessica summed it up best, " I wish I had a hobby that could fill a stadium". I felt bad for her, after spending long hours working, attending focus groups with screaming kids, walking and walking and walking for hours and shopping for trends during our stay in Tokyo, I then convinced her to spend a few hours on Saturday afternoon at what is essentially the Orchid world Olympics for orchid enthusiasts - the Japan Orchid Grand Prix International Orchid show, held annually in the Tokyo Dome Baseball stadium.

Imagine, baseball during the summer, and in February, orchids.

This is my second business trip to Tokyo that happened to coincide with the Grand Prix, so I was incredibly lucky, for the show is amazingly enourmous, and there are things to be seen at this show that are not seen at any other orchid show around the world, mainly the native Japanese orchids the Calanthe, Neofinetia and dendrobium moniliforme, that should be familiar to anyone who reads this blog, since I happen to have some remnant of a Japanese gene in me, that makes me pine for these tiny unpretentious orchids which Jess said, looked like dead plants. I will show more of these in the next posting, since there were far too many to incude here.

This massive 6 foot or more wide specimen of Coelogyne crista fma. hololeuca 'Pure White' is  a plant that I have seen here three times. This year, it is larger than ever. I must try to remember to try growing one like this - on a portable shingled roof section.

Coelogyne cristata fma. hololeuca 'Pure White'
Growing on a very interesting and somewhat rustic wooden structure which looks a bit like a piece of a roof, this massive Coelogyne cristata, reportedly an easy-to-bloom species for a cold greenhouse, reminded me that mine has never yet bloomed. this plant, however, what about 6 feet in diameter and
literally covered in fowers. I do know that I must let the plant become cold, near freezing in the winter, and allow it to dry out for the winter, but although it is full and lush, I never get any flowers. So if anyone out there has any advice, please let me know. Perhaps it is a fertilizer issue?

Only Japan could host such as show, since no where else is there such a passion for specific plants. As flower shows around the world (and especially in the United States) experience lower attendance numbers, this flower show fills the largest stadium in the worlds' largest city, and keeps it packed for an entire week and with long que lines, makes a clear statement of the level of horticultural passion that exists in this amazing country. Plant enthusiasts are everywhere in Japan, but it seems no one is as enthusiastic as the orchid enthusiasts are. As Jess said, "after flying halfway around the world without hassle, it took an orchid show guard to search and frisk me. I mean, come on, this is just a flower show! What we're they thinking..that I was going to smuggle in my purse? A vial of aphids or a bomb?"

Orchid cookies for sale.

Imagine seeing these Phalaenopsis at your local Home store! I could not get over the length of the stems and the bumber of flowers. The Japanese have a specific way in which they train their phalaenopsis.I could have done without the foil though.

Incredible Dendrobiums, which remind me of when I lived in Hawaii and we grew them on our clothes line, of course, they never loked like these. New hyrbids, grex's and crosses are selections that look nothing like their parents.

An award winning dendrochillum species specimen plant which I forgot to identify. Spectacular.

March 1, 2008

Ume Plum Viewing in Tokyo

Above the stairway at the Ume Plum temple, signage guides visitors as the Ume plums which are over 250 years old, bloom behind on this cold, February day in Tokyo.

Ume (Plum Blossoms) at Tokyo's Yushima Tenjin shrine
It's an overcast, cold day in Tokyo as we wait for the JR train to take us to Yushima Tenjun shrine to view my favorite floral and cultural event in the great city of Tokyo, the blooming and celebration of the Ume plums.

The idea of viewing plum blossoms, or Ume, has a long and rich history in Japan. Don't confuse these with Sakura, the cherry blossoms though, the Plum, or sometimes referred to as Apricot, are actually varieties of Prunus mume, hardy in the US to about USDA Zone 7, and sometimes zone 6, if protected. In Tokyo's mild climate which is closer to zone 9,, the few winter snows are gone by early February, and that is when the Ume plums begin their long blooming period which sometimes last a month or so.

Festivals surround the blooming of many plants in Japan, but Ume starts the seasons, and on a cold, sunny Saturday, I was able to recreate my visit three years ago, where i attended the Tokyo Grand Prix orchid show, the snow peony's in Ueno park and the blooming of the Ume plums. My only day off during my work trip, gave me full access to these areas, so I will share them with you now.

Viewing plums dates back to the Nara Period (710 - 794), J when the Japanese started to organize :viewings, at temples, around Ume (梅, Japanese Plum Blossoms, since they were the first blossom that signaled that Spring was near. Around the Heian Period, however, Sakura (the showier cherry Blossom) viewing parties became more popular among the elite. Ume remain more restrained, however, and they still seem to draw the crowds to a number of shrines around the country, where at least a dozen Ume festivals are occurring this spring, complete with street food, music, Ume wine, Ume cookies, Ume jewelry, Ume bonsai, and Ume trinkets. even the potatoes being grilled are cut into the shape of the Ume.

Ume wine for sale

Ume Blossoms in Bloom

Crowds come traditionally with students, who write prayer plaques in hopes that they pass their entrance exams.

Wishes are tied in the shrine

On weekends, traditional dance and music accompany the viewing. Very much like a US church even, here, the generations cross as young children run around and eat the special treats, and high school kids sing on stage, as their grand mothers don traditional dress and the fathers take hundreds of photos.

Bonsai versions of the larger, ancient Ume.

A stunning white Ume bonsai - perfection.

The best bonsai are displayed in the Shinto shrine