April 19, 2009

A nice, busy, spring weekend

A seed-raised blue strain of Primula denticulata, the Drumstick Primrose, blooms in the woodland garden.

A gardeners life revolves around the seasons, and no season is more cherished or busy, as is spring. April in our New England Garden marks the official start of the outdoor gardening season, with endless chores, and endless celebrations and discoveries. This mid-weekend in April, marks the beginning of our Primrose season, with the earliest blooming species, those that hail from the highest elevations of the moist, Alpine snow-melt areas of the Alps,( with the first buds blooming in our alpine troughs of Primula marginata) or the Himalayas ( with the fast growing Drumstick Primroses, the Primula denticulata) which grows in moist alpine areas in China and Nepal. I really like this more natural planting, scattered around the opening in a woodland rather than planted in an mulched with orange mulch, or in a back plastic nursery pot....always thing natural, if in doubt, google the species and see if you can find an image on Flickr or at the a researcher site showing a population growing in the wild. And if you borrow an image, be certain to ask the Flickr member for permission to use the photo if you are bloggin if, for I was lazy or forgot on my last post, and accidentally used an image of a members stunning photo, and I am still feeling badly about not crediting the person. Thankfully, they were very understanding, and a simple apology sufficed. Still, I feel badly about it, and it snapped me back into a more conscious state of blogging.

Primula marginata is a true high alpine primrose, with mealy foliage and dentated foliage, it prefers growing in pure limestone rock or tufa rock. This specimen is growing in a tufa filled trough, where it is exposed to the coldest of temperatures all winter long. There are a few cultivars of Primula marginata available from the alpine plant nursery's, all are magnificent, but just remember that they prefer well drained, gravelly soil with extra lime.

Another seedling, first year blooming, of a white Primula denticulata strain. If growing primula species from seed seems daunting, with the stratification and keeping the pots refrigerated or places outside for the winter, blah, blah, blah, then do what I did with these,,,,by pre-treated seed, seed that has been pre-chilled to mimic a cold winter in the alps. Jelitto Seed carry's a number of pre-treated primula seed ( as well as other perennial species like Delphinium, Aquilegia, Tricyrtis) all are species that an then be sown in flats in the same way one sows and grows Marigolds, and within weeks, the seeds are up and one can end up with 200 pots of Primula denticulata, and a trash bag full of extras. Truly. At $8.00 to $12.00 per plant in the fancy nurseries, this more than an economical way of growing perennials, and many of these cannot be found at most nurseries. Most bloom in the second year after sowing.

Early ( and invasive) Colt's-foot, Tussilago farfara, blooms in a colony near the back of the yard at the edge of the woodland.

I happen to like colt's foot, both, it's earliest of flowers, as well as it micro, Petasites-like foliage, which emerges later and acts like a sturdy ground cover, a bit like small water lily leaves, floating like parasols over the soil, barely a foot high. Weeds don't seem to germinate under it which is nice. This plant was a 'gift', but accident, I am sure....someone gave us this running plant in a batch of wildflowers or primula perhaps. It's pretty, leafless stems of yellow aster like flowers really stand out in the bare, woodland colors of mid-April, but- beware, it is invasive, but we like it where it is, and since it can't escape, it behaves well since it has more invasive neighbors Giant Japanese Butterburr..( Petasites japanicus giganteum) all around it! Come on...what gardener doesn't have any invasive plants that they keep in check.

Our weekend started officially on Saturday morning, with our first outdoor meal of the year - breakfast on the deck which is getting rebuilt over the next two weeks, so this may be our last outdoor meal for a while.
Fergus ordering some Pulsatilla, or......is it salami and cheese snack?

The Agapanthus, ( Blue Lily of the Nile) which have not been divided for nearly 5 years, were removed from thier tubs, and cut and fork split into 5 or 6 divisions, each one getting a new tub to grow in. Here in New England, we cannot grow Agapanthus outdoors, except in the summer. Ours spend the winter in the glasshouse, and are brought outdoors each spring to spend the summer on the decks and terraces, where everyone can enjoy thier tall scapes or blue or white.

After reading an article on a recent plane trip about weaving white willow that is cut in the spring ( Salix alba in the March issue of GARDENS ILLUSTRATED), I decided to try it myself. I cut the plant to the ground, and used the whips to weave a protective barrier in a large pot planted with pansy's and red lettuce. So British!

I love this time of year in the greenhouse, and try to make time every weekend in the late afternoon to sit at the potting bench and either pot-up seedlings of various perennials, vegetables or annuals, or to repot the various collections. Currently, much is happening in the greenhouse, this Vireya 'St/ Valentines Day' is in full bloom, and quite pretty. This is a tropical Rhododendron native to Borneo, and many of the tropical Rhody's have amazing colors such as melon, orange, vermillion or yellow.

Since it seems we will be having alot of gardening visitors over the next 3 weeks ( with gardentours coming with the National Primrose Society, the National Rock garden Society, and with house guests like Juracek, I need to take a little time to clean the greenhouse and to at least, organize some of the pots so it looks like some plant geeks actually live here! Here is a stab at organizing some of the succulents and cacti ( or, more correctly, some Haworthia's. Pelargoniums and Gasteria's).

One can never have enough of the early flowering Rhododenron mucronulatum "Cornell Pink" which opens it's showy flowers before the foliage emerges, and at a time when you really need color in the garden.

Prostanthera rotundifolia, the australian mint shrub, makes wonderful potted plants for cold greenhouses. SInce this one is blooming rather late, and in a container, I moved it outdoors where it can enjoy the cooler temperatures since we are late in getting the shade cloth up onto the greenhouse given Joes broken leg. As with many of the other zone 9 or zone 10 marginal shrubs that we keep wintered over in the greenhouse, most are brought outdoors in April since they can take a bit of frost, or temperatures above 25 degrees F.. This Australian mint bloom incredibly in March and April, and now, the honey bees can enjoy it too. It's interesting how the color appears more natural outdoors, and not dissimilar in relation with the early Rhododenrons also blooming in the garden.

Ordinary? Sure.......that's OK. The term 'it's too ordinary'is a subjective statement we plant snobs often use to dismiss something we reall wish we had in our garden, all along. I love both ordinary and extra ordinary, especially when combined. The Magnolias stellata forms are popping into bloom. Since the sun was lighting this one just perfectly, so I could not resist shooting it.

Fritillaria persica starting to bloom in the alpine garden.

The fast-draining, gravelly soil of the raised rock wall alpine garden, which runs along the length of the foundation of the greenhouse,is favored by many or the larger Fritillaria species, particularly those that dislike sitting in water, which might include all Frits, a genus that prefers hot, dry summers that they experience in the wilds of the Sierra's or in Iran and Iraq, where the larger species come from ( i.e. persica). Location is everything for success with Frits, fast-drainage, with early spring moisture and summer dryness is preferred. This Fritillaria is not quite as commonly seen in gardens as the more flamboyant Fritillaria imperialis, but it is just as easy to find, so it is not rare. I think people are put off by the photos in the Dutch bulb catalogs, since it often appear next to the more flamboyant relatives, but I beleive that once seen in the garden, it's mroe natural color blends in better. Structurally, from a visual perspective, it is supreme, and it is fun to watch the stems emerge and grow quickly to nearly 3 feet tall, before it opens it's deep chocolate-violet bells, or white, since I think I mixed in a white form by accident. These bulbs were on sale at a Boston nursery one rainy day in November, so I purchased a dozen. They are a bit pricey, and I think another reason one doesn't see this often in home gardens, is the $9 or $10 per bulb cost. And certainly, a $100 investment in one bulb planting may seem extreme, but they are best planted this way. Still, quite common enough that every Dutch bulb catalog would carry it, the rule is, plant as many an you can afford, for en-masse it looks even better ( like most bulbs). Imagine a grouping of 50 bulbs, or 100.....as one would find them in the wild. When planting bulbs, image the wild population, scattered around a stream bed, or rocky crevice.

Next week, I need to pot-up the Dahlia tubers which spent the winter in sand in the greehouse. I had better get enough pots, since many of these massive roots need to be divided. If you look closely, you can see the new shoots begining to grow. There is no stopping summer from coming!


  1. Hi Matt!
    I'm glad I found your blog over at blotanical as I realize that yours is a wonderful treasure-chest of information! Love the Primulas! Vireya are completely new to me, but it's strange red shade is very attractive. Looks awesome! Seldom do you see that shade in flowers like in Balsamina impatiens. So many Dahlia tubers! Whoa! I've been unsuccessful in germinating them. Any tips that you can share with me?

  2. *-* beautiful and graceful


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