February 17, 2009

February Valentines Day Bloom

Sorry for the delay in posting, Joe fell down the stairs Saturday mornings as a nice VD gift to himself, and ended up with a broken leg. OF course, we first spent the day at Logee's Greenhouses, where he walked on it for the day! Plant hunting is indeed a tough sport.
Buddleia asiatica

This Buddleia species was a common cut flower in New England and in the big east coast cities during the nineteenth century ( before air travel allowed flowered to be flown in from around the world). Rarely seen today, this tender Zone 9 Buddleia asiatica not only blooms in cold greenhouses during the winter, it produces these fragrant flowers, which smell not unlike baby powder. This plant was planted in the ground in the greenhouse, near the rear foundations, and it grows so quickly, that I need to cut it back annually almost to the ground. It roots easily from cuttings, and one could attempt growing it in a cold unheated room, porch or conservatory.


I grow far too many South African Oxalis species, but this one is new for me, and even though this is its first year in my collection, I am moving it up on my list of favorites. This pot of Oxalis annae, from Telos Rare Bulbs, has been in bloom since October. Most, if not all of these bulbous Oxalis bloom generally, for a month or so, and then call it a day, producing foliage for the rest of the winter growing season. Since this pot only contains three bulbs, I can't wait to see what pot of perhaps 20 bulbs will produce next year ( if Telos doesn't sell out, again!). Shhhhh...don't buy any.

Just an interesting seed pod assemblage on my pot of Massonia. Another South African bulb, but one which is pollenated by Gerbils in the wild. (?) ( ! ). Gerbils and sex? Who'd a thunk Mr. Gere).

With the price of everything going up, I am now glad that I took the time to dig up some of the many tender bulbs last autumn, such as Dahlias and Alocasia. Here, an Alocasia 'Coffee Cups" is divided, and repotted. So that $35.00 'investment' is truly that! Take THAT MR. Madoff!



The last of my WWF Amaryllis, the new hybrid 'Bogata' blooms displaying it's noteworthy stamens that extend far beyond the flowers. These 'Cybister' crosses are very impressive, and their very 'species' look are more appealing than the big, blousy crosses we see at the supermarkets.


Another view of my alpine troughs, with some protection from the ice and wet snow. Under this plate glass grows Saxifrages, Eritrichium and Primula allionii who prefer dry, cold and frozen conditions without thawing or ice.

Lastly. The rarer Nasturtiums that are bulbous, and appropriate only for the coldest greenhouses, are known for being fussy and finicky, often not emerging for tow or more years, then, when they do, not blooming. This year I have two which decided to start growing again, the more often grown T. tricolor and the stubborn T. azureum. Both look as if they are going to bloom soon, but the foliage is so tiny and interesting, I thought I may post an image earlier, incase the decide to go back to sleep again.....I guess I needed to provide some proof that they exist!

February 8, 2009

A Home, a Garden, a Family, a Lifetime.


This weekend my Dad turned 95 years old.
Here he is, in a photo from 1929 at thier clubhouse, up on Packachoag Hill, behind our house. This is the location where Robert Goddard ( Of Goddard Space Center fame), fired his first fuel-powered rocket, that marked the beginning of the space age. Or something like that....anyway, my dad and many of his brothers are in the famous photo, which was taken at this field, which now is a golf course, on the hill behind our home. A monument stands where Goddard fired the rocket, ( remember the film October Skies?)( Different rocketeer, but same story). My dad tells me the the rocket landed on Mr.s Hooks barn, and burned it down, which I hear, almost ended the dawn of the space age.

Dad is still healthy, in fact, amazingly so....picking and eating all of those wild blueberries which he keeps in the freezer in the cellar and eats ever day, does the trick....he lives with us, in this same house that he was raised in, along with his seven brothers, Ted, Joe John, Frank, Vincent and Robert ( Bobby)m the youngest of the Mattus clan who turned 8o this year, and who came up to visit the house and garden that he was born in, and to surprise, his older brother,(my Dad) Vitty. All of the rest are gone now, but all of thier children and grandchildren and great grandchildren came to celebrate at Dad's big 95 fete.

Uncle Bob, now 80, ( young kid here on the left, showing our house as it did in the 1930's before the addition of the studio.

Dad is still healthy, he has a girl friend,( she's 80) and goes ballroom dancing every weekend. Being so vital, he has a large circle of friends, so this weekend we hosted a party. Bobby and Vitty are the last of the seven brother alive, yet all of their offsring and their offsring, so on and so on, came to the party Saturday night. With lot of wine, lots of old Photographs and lots of memories shared amongst the many relatives, we all became a bit sentimental but also joyful, after all, it is often so easy to only make time to be get together at less cheerful events during these late phases of our short lifespans.

My Uncle Frank Mattus, with his Gardening Business Truck in 1924 on our property. He won an award at the New England Spring Flower Show.

Our home when it was first constructed in 1918, notice that there are no trees. Dad tells me that they had no electricity or running water until two years later, because the city had not run the pipes yet. Image.....7 boys, a wood stove, and a wash basin with no running water, just a well and no electricity........Oh that reminds me.. We ran our of Fresh Linen scented Tide this weeked, but I drove to Target and bought some, along with some Febreze and Paper towels...Time sure has changed. And I yell at Dad for keeping a Pee jar in his room! (shhh).


Our home circa 1945, the trees are getting taller.

In many of the photos, I was reminded of the strong gardening heritage which exists in my family. Last night, we realized that all of us garden like our Dads did, even my cousin Penny from Florida was commenting on my Uncle Bobs garden, and his organic mindset towards healthy living. SInce I was raised in the same house and garden that all seven of my Uncles had been, and the same house that my Grandfather had built in 1918, I feel a deep connection to the garden, a rare thing in any American garden, for each of the trees and shrubs, or tall spruces that many of you comment on, we're planted by these seven during the early 20th Century. These old noble trees, were already tall by 1959 when I was born, and today are as tall as any tree in an Olmsted park in New England.

Our storeroom, in our cellar where my parents stored all of the canned goods and many squash varieties they grew for the winter. The room also held barrels of apples, and had a zinc pipe that bring in the cold winter air from the outside along with a thick, cork door. The room is still there, and we still use it for home made preserves, for forcing bulbs and for forcing trays of winter greens like Belgian Endive. Before stores carried it, we grew it ourselves, not knowing it was so trendy.


A vase of Nerine undulata and some fragrant Tulbaghia fragrans on my desk as I type this.

Joy. Spring is near. I can feel it, I can smell it, and I can even hear it. Finally, winters frigid grip has relented, just a bit, enough for the two inch sheet of ice that coats our stone walks and drives, to at least, reach a temperature where now a little bit of sand, will actually stick to it. Today, here in New England, where temperatures have remained far below zero degrees F. since Christmas, it reached a balmy 48 Deg f. I saw two robins, heard the cardinals, and even smelled spring, although, it was indoors, and rather a surprise....I picked some Nerine undulata and placed it in a bottle in my office, along with a stem of a species Clivia C. caulescens, and a stem from a rather sad looking pot of Tulbaghia fragrans. The Tulbaghia fragrans always blooms for me, during January and February, but only after the leaves rot away a bit, and the entire pot becomes quite, well, dead looking. Just as the foliage begins to re-emerge, the flower spikes appear, and the white umbels bloom. In the hot greenhouse of a sunny February day, they have a slight fragrance, but tonight, the stem that I brought into the house is scenting the entire room. It is fabulously strong and rich, and makes keeping this somewhat under appreciated member of the Tulbagia clan, easier. I know in California, many bulb growers snub their noses at the bulb, as being a lesser cousin to the more skunky,yet lavender, Tulbagia violacea, the common society garlic. But I am ready to rally for it's more fragrant but unattractive cousin, for it's hard to beat such fragrance in winter.

Another sign of spring, the first vegetable seeds- storage onions, are sown in the greenhouse.


The onion seedling will be stong enough to plant out by the middle of April. Seed grown onions are much better for achieving award winning sizes that by growing bulbs from sets. Remember, onions are bulbs.


Also, Parsley was planted, along with some Violas, and Pansys. These need light to germinate, so I just covered them slightly with fine Vermiculite, and are keeping them in the house at 68 degrees F until they sprout. The onion seed was covered, and remains in the greenhouse, to experience a more diurnal temperature range of cold nights, and warm days. The greenhouse was built over my grandfathers vegetable garden, and I wonder what he would be thinking if he knew that his two sons at 80 and 95, were able to pick lemons and camellias that are now growing in the same soil?


So...life goes on.....and the once cold days of 2009 are getting longer... every day, the sun is setting later, we can feel it! I love to watch the sun hit the greenhouse with winter on the outside, and summer on the inside. WInter light, is so nice.


A Trough with an Ikea Ice Shield - fancy.

Over the Holiday break from work, Joe and I re-designed the home office, and we had some plate-glass computer tables that had nice, modern chrome rods attached to them to form glass shelves behind the computer. They were too nice to throw away, but Joe had an idea, and he was right...they fit perfectly over the troughs, which now allows me to keep our icy, wet snow off of some of out more precious alpines, yet allows them to remain in a deeply frozen condition, as if they are deep in a mountain crevice. We shall see soon if this did any good. Many alpines prefer snow, but not wet snow and ice. Remember, in the alps, the snow is deep and dry, then it melts, and the alpine flowers bloom. Here in New England, the alpine plants that we keep in stone troughs, can get wet snow, ice, thawing, hot sun, more wet snow, below zero temperatures, then 70 deg. F temps in Jan, then ice, then......... since we've had a nice snowy and cold winter, they probably would have survived just fine, and I have been shoveling the walks and burying them even deeper in the protective snow. I just covered a few of our more fussy plants, to see if keeping them both dry and fozen, might be better. Go go go Eritrichium! Spring is not far away! Maybe I will even have Soldanella this year ( no covered in anything but deep snow, they are).


One last thing_ ( I know, I'm all over the place!)...I brought this Clivia seedling into the house, since we brought in many of the larger blooming plants for the party, and once in the house, I was impressed with how nice its form and color is. These are offspring that we brought back from Mr. Nakamura's farm in Japan in 2001, and many are starting to bloom. None are named, and they are all one of a kind, but this one is a keeper. It's blossoms appear double, although I think they are just shorter than many of our other Cyrtanthiflora group Clivia, and the color is of such a vibrant vermillion, that it is difficult to accurately capture it on the camera. Still, I wanted to share it, since the umbels are so dense, that the over-all effect is more 'carnation'-like that Clivia!.

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