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.

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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

November 16, 2008


Nothing "says autumn" like berried plants, and never really appreciated until the leaves fall here in New England, are the berried plants which for most of the summer, look rather ordinary. I am particularly fond of yellow-berried plants, and this Viburnum dilatatum are some of the best yellow berried plants around. Great for attracting birds during the fall migration, and for winter foragers, as well as for color, this is tops on my list.

New Englanders may be familiar with the deciduous holly, Ilex verticillata. the winter berry, seen on road sides and swamps with screaming red berries used to decorate window boxes and wreaths for the Holiday season, but you might not be as familiar with the yellow form, Ilex verticillata ' Winter Gold'. ( Admittedly, a little orange here, since it is exposed to bright sunlight. OTher forms are orange, melon and darker red.
Callicarpa bodinieri var. giraldi 'Profusion' is the most brilliantly artificial yet car stopping fall shrub for display. Actually, it carefully sited, it does not look that bad in the landscape and who can resist these berries which lose their color after a very hard frost. They are amazing! This just never looks like a zone 5 hardy plant to me, yet it is. No wonder it is called the Beauty Berry. Look for it sold in the autumn at retail centers, or ask for it in the spring, for it never will be out for sale then. ( it's flowers are barely seen). This is a plant that truly waits until autumn to show its colors.

Late Bloomers

Back in February, while attending the World Orchid Grand Prix in Tokyo, you may remember my complaining that my Coelogyne cristata has never bloomed, especially since I purchased one 6 years ago when I first saw the mega-plant in the Tokyo Dome. Well, readers posted what I should do ( basically, provide more fertilizer, and repot, more water, etc....and look what I found today while taking a quick stroll through the greenhouse- only a handful of stalks, but finally, it did bloom. Perhaps next year, I will fertilize it more, and see what happens. The plant spent the summer outside, where the unusually proficient summer thunderstorms drenched the plant daily. I think I should have fertilized it more frequently, but I mixed up a weak manure tea with pidgeon poop and duck shavings. Just playing.

Haemanthus albiflos - getting bigger and blooming on schedule in the greenhouse.

This plant blooms the first week of December for me, so actually, it is blooming a couple of weeks early. This South African is easy to grow, and rewards one with these distinctive shaving-brush like blossoms.

Camellia sassanqua

One often associates Camellias with February and March, but there are some species which bloom in the Autumn. Camellia sassanqua , this particular variety lost its label, can handle some frost, so I leave some pots near the front of the greenhouse along with other plants which look best in the fall, and which can handle some light frosts. With temperatures falling this week into the low 20's, I moved everything in under glass. Officially, winter is about to arrive.

Fergus watches the last of the potted tubs outside the greenhouse get prepared to be moved in for the winter. I think he is hoping for a mouse to appear.

Another annual fall bloomer, my trusty Cyrtanthis alatus x, which I divided this year into a dozen plants. Three divisions have buds, which always surprises me since Cyrtanthis dislike root disturbance. That said, so to Nerine, and I have had nearly 100% bloom this year, a year when I disturbed and divided all of my bulbs. Maybe the disturbance actually stimulates some to flower?

November 6, 2008

Massachusetts Orchid Society Show

LAst weekend ( halloween weekend here), our local Orchid society held its annual show at the Tower Hill Botanic Garden in Boylston, Massachusetts, an hours drive from Boston. Many wonderful orchids were on display, and I was impressed with the quality and variety of species that were shown. The Orchid Society is one group which I am not a member of, I think I passed through my 'orchid phase' a few years ago, but I encourage others to consider joining - this particular chapter is interesting because it meets on weeknights rather than on weekends, which fits my calendar more conveniently.

November 1, 2008

Narcissus viridiflora

Another autumn flowering Narcissus, the green flowered Narcissus viridiflora is currently in bloom. Every fall I seem to want to post a photo of this plant, I guess I like it. With a scent a bit like cloves ( or nail polish remover!), this jem has begun to product more bulbs, and my onetime purchase of 2 bulbs, has grown to 7, which is nice.

Not much of a plant, I suppose, but still a nice, annual, visitor. It wouldn't be Halloween without it! I still love it, even though is grows slowly. How could one not love a green Daffodil, especially when in blooms in the fall?

This Oxalis lupinifolius ( I think, the tag is missing), is a shy bloomer. But the pale pink color, which is difficult to photograph, is pure and light. The foliage is certainly Lupine-like, and looks nice in a bulb pan for most of the winter, although it only blooms briefly in October.

More shy ( and rarer yet) is this beauty, Oxalis monophylla. A single-leaved Oxalis ( or monofoliate form) which I have had in the collection for four years, growing in pure sand. It finally sent up a couple of flowers which open ever so briefly when the sun is out. This species is rather uncommon, in both collections and in herbariums.

Oxalis monophylla, a unifoliate species of Oxalis from South Africa.

The maples I ordered after visiting the NYBG arrived from Forest Farm quickly, I was able to get all but one on my wish list. Now, all I need to do is to decide where I will plant them.