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


  1. Enjoy your posts very much. Awhile back, there was a pause in entries, but just as I was about to enquire, they started again, Yeah.
    My family had a wholesale florist business when I was growing up and your first photo in this blog entry reminded me of those days. We used to get 3 foot long icicles off the ends of the greenhouses. Needless to say we had swordfights and spear chucking contests. Great fun. Thanks again for a link back to past memories.

  2. Anonymous9:54 PM

    I think the gladiolus is Gladiolus priorii

  3. It could be a Homoglad hybrid - an interspecies cross between Homoglossum and Gladiolus tristis. Of course, Homoglossum has now been outmoded as a name - they're grouped back with the Gladioli. Sort of a shame, though. Homoglad is pretty catchy. According to the PBS wiki it's Gladiolus huttonii × tristis now.


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