September 25, 2008


Tis the season for Cyclamen, and I don't mean those blousy, cabbagy, foil wrapped florist Clyclamen available at your local supermarket, although, they have their place ( they are hybrids of Cyclamen persicum, and the pure species form is very lovely if you can find it), but what I am blogging about here are the other species of Cyclamen, which are just beginning to emerge from a long summer dormancy world-wide, blooming in cold greenhouses, woodland gardens and on windowsills in the cold, autumn air.

Botanists have described 20 species of Cyclamen, and at first glance, they may all look very similar but with a little knowledge, one can see very distinct differences, mainly the foliage size and pattern, but also flower size and definition, as well as blooming time. The season begins in late August, where woodlands in the UK and in the wilds of Turkey, Greece and the Middle East, cylcamen emerge bringing the un-expected color of PINK to autumn. The fact is, pink is indeed a fall color, since nature has designed Cyclamen to bloom within blankets of brown autumn leaves on the forest floor.

Cyclamen mirabile

In greenhouse, the season starts in September with the blooming of the more tender Cyclamen, C. africanum, followed by the fussier Cyclamen graecum. Even though Cyclamen hederifolium is hardy here in New England, I have yet to try it although I am assured that it will live, especially in those conditions which is loves, mainly under deciduous trees, where the bulbs, which sit on the surface of the soil, can go dry during their summer dormancy. Cyclamen coum is also supposed to be hardy here, but I prefer to keep this tiny gem in pots in the greenhouse, where it can self seed everywhere. I now have many Cyclamen species coming up everywhere in pots. At one time, I thought Cyclamen where challenging to grow, especially from seed. But the solution was easy - get fresh seed, which may sound easier than it is - seed available in seed catalogs and seed exchanges is already dried out. Once dry, Cyclamen seed is difficult to get germinated. But my own fresh seed ( by fresh-I mean hours old) is potted as soon as the seed capsules are ripe in June, and the pots are left unwatered until September, but apparently there is enough moisture in the soil to keep the seeds alive.

Cyclamen cyprium

Alpine plant catalogs frequently carry some Cyclamen species, and I encourage any of you living in Zones 5 and up, to try some of these out doors, or certainly in your cold greenhouse. Having plants that start growing and blooming in the autumn and continue through the winter, makes this season as exciting as Spring all over again.

Cyclamen hederifolium ssp. alba

Cyclamen rohlfsianum

Cyclamen species in my sand bed, with a gas can!

Cyclamen graecum

Cyclamen hederifolium alba

September 22, 2008


My dahlias this year were selected by color. Oh….so nice!

There are 3 reasons why I am growing Dahlias this year.
First, there is Martha Stewart, that one episode where she visits the Dahlia nursery Swan Island Dahlias, second, there is Martha's Vineyard, where every September I am amazed and inspired by front cottage gardens full of colorful dahlias. Third - I love Dahlia shows, especially when I was growing up ( there isn't a dahlia society near me now, which is shocking as I live near Boston.).

Dahlias arrive just when one wants lots of fresh flowers - at the end of summer, and because it is the end of summer, dahlias need to work harder - since there is lots of competition from the garden. Squash, corn, fall foliage and mums. They are extraordinary, especially if grown well. Lush, lots of fertilizer and water, and staked well.

Red, burgundy, violet and sage-- Sometimes it's surprising what one can find in the garden.

One night last February, again in Japan, I was in my room in Tokyo, I had a 3:00 am conference call with work, so I could not sleep, I decided to shop on-line of course! I rolled through my bookmarks and noticed the Swan Island Web Site, which I had forgotten about. Please visit the Swan Island site ( it works very nicely, showing thumbnails of each Dahlia so before you order, you can see the entire palette), and then next sling ,order a few. Yet one needs to be careful. For I had a idea that I would order a total of 6, but I ended up ordering 60! These Dahlias were color coordinated - mainly purples, violets, magenta, coral and reds.

Next time you impulse-purchase a poly-bagged Dahlia at the home center, promise me that you will think about the color palette - and then buy a lot! The more plants, the better. It doesn't matter what color you choose, if you limit yourself to one or two colors, in various tints and forms, the results will be amazing.

Dahlias, when grown by color, let's say a spectrum of like-tones and tints, can provide you with lots of uses. This year, I kept my selection within two color palettes. One limited to purples, violets and pinks, and a second limited to orange and reds. I am so please with the results.

Vernally Speaking...

Colchicum make great and fragrant cut flowers, often lasting over a week in water ( even without water!).

No need for standing eggs on end, harvesting corn in fine clothes or dancing naked at mid-night Pagan festivals of fire and light, for mother nature herself clearly cannot keep a secret. Today's Autumnal Equinox was as expected as the market crash and the housing crisis - inevitable, yet still able to catch you off guard. The only difference was that the Equinox thing ended up with a bit less press.

Coconut scented Oxalis pockockiae, an autumn growing bulb from South Africa.

This is always the first Oxalis to bloom in the fall for me, and therefor it is a fav. On September afternoons when the air is crisp, and the strong sun make the greenhouse warm and bright, this little bulb always surprises my with its macaroon scented flowers. This pot started with a single bulb 6 years ago, and has slowly grown to produce this display of white blossoms. Hard to find, but worth growing in small pots - buy as many as you can afford, for a single flower is hardly a display.

Nerine sarniensis buds emerging weeks after a major repotting. Look at them all! I can't believe it. I wish this bulb was more available, very few retailers carry these in the United States, the majority of this collection came from England, and is comprised of nearly 20 named varieties.

I've been lax in updating and posting due to travel for work, a trip to Los Angeles, a wedding in Vermont and an off-site in the Berkshire mountains for creativity, all in two weeks time. I was eager to come home after a week away, for many plants in the collection were beginning to start growth. This year is never made the time to repot the Oxalis and Narcissus collections, only a few N. romieuxii made the cut. I focused instead on the Nerine sarniensis, which I have been rather lazy with, in the repotting department. My excuse is that it was an 'experiment' to keep the bulbs in 6 inch square pots, where they nested up nicely with offsets, seeing if the crowded conditions would help. Many growers insist that Nerine sarniensis require small pots and tight conditions that are lean. I have had good luck with growing these notoriously fussy bloomers, but now that my pots are jam-packed with bulbs, I decided to repot the larger ones separately. To my surprise, most are blooming, in fact, some names cultivars which only sent one bud per pot of 5 or six mature bulbs, are now each sending up a bud. I can't help but wonder if the repotting each bulb separately has triggered them to bloom, Reinforcing this observation, the pots that I did not get to repot, are still only sending up one bud stem, even though the pot may contain 3 or 4 mature bulbs. I will need to experiment more with this theory.

A rare Autumnal blooming newbie in my collection, Allium callimischon ssp. haemostictum from Crete, blooming in the alpine house.

This is a rarer form apparently of Allium callimischon ssp. callimischon, but I am not convinced that it is not the same sub species. If anyone is an Alliumphile, please share your thoughts. When I match my image up with on-line images, this does look like a distinct sub-species, since it has spots on the petals. According to Paul Christian this fall blooming species is smaller than the type, and more recommended for growing in pans in a glasshouse with some protection. The flower buds form in the spring, yet remain dormant until autumn. Although, it may be hardy here, I have little reference material on Allium, although I know that John Lonsdale grows ssp. callimischon in his amazing Pennsylvania garden, Edgewood.

FIrst Frost warning happened last night, so we picked all of the tomatoes. The frost never arrived, but temps did fall into the forties.These colder temperatures are welcome, as far as I am concerned, for they are one of the triggers that help break the dormancy with the winter growing bulbs that make up most of my collection.

In the greenhouse, the Cyclamen species started sending up thier flower buds earlier this year, some C. hederafolium began blooming in early August, but the peak is certainly now with the majority of the autumnal species blooming such as the other two species that bloom now...C. graecum and C. rohlfsianum.

Various Cyclamen species blooming on the deck display steps.

The 'lovely' combination of lavender Colchicum and rusty orange Marigolds.....nothing says autumn, uglier! Sometimes accidents are indeed, accidents.

September 9, 2008

Corydalis wilsonii seed

The tender alpine house Corydalis, C. wilsonii, has set seed late this year. This monocarpic Corydalis has interested me for a while,ever since seeing one in the Munich Botanical Garden's alpine house. There, it sets seed freely around the alpine house, but my plant, grown from seed acquired from a NARGS seed sale, has set seed freely, but has not spread anywhere, other then a few plants growing in the same pot where the mother plant has grown for three years now.
At the NARGS winter study weekend last year, I met Corydalis expert, Henrick Zetterlund, author of the monograph CORYDALIS, and horticultural curator at the Gothenberg Botanic Garden in Sweden. He suggested that I try growing Corydalis wilsonii in Tufa rock, a porous limestone often used to grow more difficult alpines in. HE advised me to sow the fresh see ( for Corydalis seed must be sown fresh), right in the crevices of the tufa rock. Henrick also said that Corydalis wilsonii, when grown in Tufa, will be more characteristic to plants grown in the wild. With it's notable blue, glaucus foliage remaing dense, and bun-like, rather more like an alpine, than plants grown in a traditional fast draining alpine mix.

So this year, since I have a load of Tufa ready, and some fresh seed, I shall try. The plants are rather ragged, but the seed capsules are still green, and reveal shiny black seeds when gently squeezed between the fingertips. I caught the seed pods just in time, since I caught sugar ants already stealing them for thier sweet sugar. Stay tuned to see if any of these grow. I set the rock in a tray of water, and now, the wait is on. IF I can afford to heat the greenhouse this winter, we may be blessed with some new plants!