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 fetish for the forgotten.

Violet, red and coral Dahlias.
A selection of various violet, coral and purple Dahlias.

There are 3 reasons why I am growing Dahlias this year.
Martha Stewart, Martha's Vinyard and Mothera (well, I mean Tokyo).
You see, last yearI saw a rerun from an episode of an older Martha Stewart Show - one where Martha visits a Dahlia farm Swan Island Dahlias , the images of her strolling around the fields with giant mums, and then on her new show, a florist in New York City artfully demonstrated just how stylish the poor Dahlia can be when used thoughtfully, monochromatically. I later visited my Brother in Marthas Vinyard in September, and was so impressed with the jewel-like displays of Dahlias in front of the quaint, New England Homes...most amazing was that just two hours away, my garden was over for the season, it had become rather dull. Then, Last February, while trend hunting in Japan for work, I found some stunning floral design books which just happened to showed amazing and beautiful arrangements of Dahlias--- in stunning colors, tastefull monochromatic. I had to order some, it was in the stars.
Red, burgundy and sages--- an arrangement for the reception desk. It always helps to schmooze the assistants!

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 sprint,order a few. But be careful..I had a idea that I would order 6, but I ordered 60! These Dahlias were color coordinated - mainly purples, violets, magenta, coral and reds. I felt that this palette would be refreshing in a genus where one normally sees perhaps more horrid colors such as nuclear yellow and honey muck colors. You know - that wierd mix or orange, yellow and circus red. Ugh.

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 alot! 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.

Still...people dispise Dahlias. Come on, I'm a huge plant snob, and I grow them!
When I told people that I was growing Dahlias, I was'nt too surprised at the response. "You're what?"
The poor Dahlia, ( and for what its worth...the poor, poor tall and elegant exhibition Chrysanthemum!), but then again, I may collect rare winter-blooming orchids from Borneo, I also love the smell of plain-old rusty-colored Marigolds.

Two years ago, I posted about growing exotic Chrysanthemums after another trip to Japan, and then I shared my results after spending a summer growing and training various exhibition Chrysanthemums. This year, I promised to indulge my passion in two other missunderstood classic plants - Tuberous Begonias- you've seen my Exhibition begonias last month, and now, I share my Dahlia experiment, as well as some thoughts on color palettes currently in my garden.

No color works monochromatically better than shades of green. Some lemons in my garden, begging to be picked for a stone bowl in the bathroom.

Lime greens provide foolproof contast in most contemporary gardens. The true Pitcher Plant, our native Sarracennea demonstrates just how effective lime green can be in a season of autumnal colors. Now offered as a cut flower in tony flower shops in NYC, these plants can easily be grown in a tray of water on your terrace. I have then in flat clay pots sitting in trays of water under the tall Martin house. This fall they are exploding into new growth, with some pitchers nearly two feet tall.

The Berkshire Botanice Garden Gravel Driveway- a source for ideas.

Last week I had a meeting of the American Primula Society which we held at the Berkshire Botanic Garden. I flew in from LA the night before, but still made some time to bake some yummy oatmeal peanut butter cookies ( um...also from Marthas new book - I am such girl), anyway, at the Botanic Garden, I took some photos to remind me to try bronze plants in containters. We have loads of container plants all over the property, and I am pretty good at creating nice color palettes, but sometimes, I see things which I simple will forget, unless I document it. I like to take photos and post them on my bulletin board, and in folders on my desktop, to remind me. Bookmarks are an amazing tool, and I think I must have hundreds. I save them on color ideas, combinations, inspiration, sources, all in folders. I'm on a Mac, so I use the web browser Safari. It's been easy to file my reference sources into neat, tidy folders. I don't think I would have been able to finish my design book BEYOND TREND, without using a deep resource library on my desktop. On a plane, it's easy to refer to ideas, and a great place to re-file these ideas into your mind. We are ALL influenced, but exercising your influence is what makes your ideas come to life. It would have been far too easy to watch a show on Dahlias, think a bit about how nice it would be to grow some next year, and then forget about it a month later.

A nice use of bronze and lime.

A new Canna variety, from Plant Delights Nurserycalled 'Pacific Beauty' ( oh yeah, I tried couple of dozen new Canna this year too). 6 foot tall, blue grey thin foliage, and pumpkin orange flowers. Gorgeous against the blue sky and golden needles on a rare yellow strain of Pseudotsuga.

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!


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