March 30, 2010

The 120 Year Miracle - Our Bamboo finally Blooms, (and Dies)

Many bamboos bloom, curiously, at the same globally, and we are in a period where many Fargesia nitida populations are blooming, and then, dieing, globally. It's natural,and one of natures wonders.

Fargesia nitida cultivars are available from New England Bamboo Company., where I have purchased many of our bamboo species.

The idea of a Bamboo population dieing may not sound like a bad thing to many people, for any gardener who has suffered above the running rhizomes of any Phyllostachys knows, Bamboos in a controlled garden setting are anything but well behaved. But the genus Fargesia is different, and, rather precious since this particular genus is less likely to run rampantly, and often is called the non-running bamboo. It tends to grow in tight clumps, and had beautiful foliage that on some selected forms, hangs over and cascades, not unlike a waterfall of bamboo.

We have one of these culitvars, undoubtedly an old one since I acquired it at a rare plant auction 20 years ago under the name Fargesia nitida 'Nymphenburg", also known as a 'Blue Fountain' type, of which, there are many named forms today, these older varieties can be traced back to the 1880's to an earlier collection in China. Since Fargesia bloom every 100 to 120 years, and all plants around the world who can trace their roots (rhizomes) back to a mother population, will bloom and perish at around the same time, give or take a few years. Since 1996, old populations of Fargesia nitida have been sharing their global bloom period, and we knew that it was only a matter of time, before out mature specimen decided to call it a day, and join the big Bamboo God in the sky. That day has come.

Now, we share the great Fargesia bloom, with valleys deep in China, with plants at Kew, with massive clumps in Japan and Argentina, here, just after the turn of a millennium, after a long and prosperous life of lending brilliant color and texture to landscapes across Europe and the United States, Fargesia nitida are now in the midst of their 120 year flowering cycle. And saying good bye to us. This first generation of collected forms of F. nitida loved by many, will flower and abruptly perish within the next few years.

I may try to save seed and see if I can start it, but our plant bloomed in the autumn, and seed may have been too frozen, or chilled over the winter. I am OK with this, since our plant was sited poorly, and it's demise will allow me to enlarge the vegetable garden. And, it's a little magical to 'share' a global bloom with Fargesia nitida all over our planet, besides, there is not chance of our population affecting any populations of Panda! For one valley in China saved as a 'reserve' can bloom in one summer if the population originated from one plant, and an entire population of Panda can suffer.

March 27, 2010

I Design a Botanical Wedding

This weekend we designed a wedding! Congratulations Nici and Steven!

Every extra succulent cutting in the greenhouse was harvested Saturday, and masterfully crafted into tiny table seating cards thanks to my designer friend, Jess who used sheet moss, bamboo cocktail stirrers and Adobe Illustrator to create tastefully unique name cards. Each table was named after a town that the bride and groom had personal associations with ranging from New England,(the wedding was in Connecticut ) to Hawaii.

I don't design Weddings. But occasionally you just can;t say no, and so, I found myself in a position where my best friend and colleague's daughter ( who happens to work at Logee's designing the catalog) decided to get married, I became the most logical choice for many reasons, to help design the wedding, and I could not say no. Besides, I knew that it would be fun.

Billy Buttons ( Craspedia) was the first flower that Steven and Nici had requested, so I knew that right away, this was going to be a fun wedding to design. When we found out that it was going to be held in an historic Inn in Sturbridge, MA that was almost 300 years old, and that Nici wanted the wedding to be horticulturally interesting yet pretty, the challenge was on. I recruited my designer-friend Jessica from work ( at Hasbro) and together, we put on our finest 'Wedding Planner" hat.

The arrangements followed a natural theme of white, moss, green and some gold. Containers, we're kept simple, cedar cubes and trays. We had a very tight budget, but thanks to florist friends, our greenhouse and garden as well as the generous contribution of some choice plant material from the brides employer ( Logees!), we were able to assemble a fine collection that was both interesting and pretty.

A New England wedding on a March Evening that was cold and overcast outside, made the lighting indoors perfect for hundreds of candles in vintage glass canning jars. The night was sublime, and the scent from all of the Jasmine and Pittosporum we included was probably stronger than when even in the greenhouses at Logee's! We were able to combine the nineteenth Century and the Twenty First Century with flowers and plants.

Nici's bouquet is a hand held wrapped bouquet composed of primarily white Ranunculus, Lily of the Valley, which I forced in the greenhouse, white Amaryllis, Ivory French tulips, and white Anemone.

The boutonniere's are most unique, since Nici wanted a woodland, natural look that was botanically interesting, we crafted Camellia leaves and Stewartia buds, along with individually wired bracts from a Euphorbia that added a lime green color. These elements were then wrapped with brown floral tape along with Billie Buttons ( Crasspediae), and a single feather from a Guinea Fowl, we just loved the speckles, and it reminds me of feathers one sees in old felt hats from the Alps.

The table arrangements are designed to feel both garden-like and loose, with green sheet moss, bulb flowers like Anemone's and Ranunculus, and many unusual tidbits that we we allowed to collect around the greenhouses at Logee's and from my greenhouse. Some arrangements had begonia leaves, others, included jasmine, Camellia buds and branches of Cornus mas.

Jessica helping craft some of the table arrangements in the greenhouse. I wanted really unusual cut flowers, so some forced tall Euphorbia along with lots of height from forced branches of Stewartia, Cornus mas, Magnolia and Fothergilla, were combined with bits of rare plants like species Begonia leaves, wild species of Camellia, and various bulb flowers from South Africa (Lachenalia) and Dutch imports like Anemone and Ranunculus. All colors, fell into a well designed palette of white, lime and ivory. Fragrant clipping of Lemon, other citrus and Pittisphorum were added to snippets of Jasmine to add even more interest. No two arrangements were the same, yet the overall branchy look with sprouting buds looked fresh and cozy in the dim, golden firelight in the barn.

While Jess and I we're scooting around Logee's on Friday looking for interesting material that Byron would let us snip, we saw this Strongylodon macrobotrys! ( No snippy, please!). Besides, the color theme would have been ruined since what color goes with this besides Tupperware! But still.......Wow! But, now that I think about it, I did have some Ixia viridiflora at home....perhaps another wedding.

March 25, 2010

10 New Far-From-Ordinary Plants for Collectors

Today, it's hard to find anything new, but I think I've compiled a list of some plants that are not only new to me, but hopefully will be new to you. So, I share, but please don't order until I do!

Sinningia sp lbiticoa
Yes, a new Gesneriad, but this is no ordinary relative of the African Violet and Gloxinia, this is a Gloxinia with cache. Clusters of deep purple nodding flowers, broad light green leaves. Dormant in winter, this is a fine addition to a shaded breezeway, a porch or a shaded summer greenhouse collection. It is native to Brazil. From Kartuz Greenhouses.

Paliavana prasinata
An unusual gesneriad from southern Brazil. This evergreen shrub to 7 feet is closely related to Sinningia, but does not produce tubers. The large, waxy campanulate clear green flowers are speckled with purple. Pollinated by bats, which are attracted to its abundant nectar and strong odor. Needs bright light to bloom freely. Although drought tolerant, it should be watered frequently while actively growing. By keeping potbound, it can be brought into bloom at a small size. Grow outdoors in mild climates. Available from Kartuz Greenhouses.

Scyphanthus elegans
Hey plant geeks! Over here! Uber cheery glowing yellow flowers smother this delicate vine when it is blooming at full tilt. It is both a “must-see” & a “must-have” for folks who love things rare & strange. First brought in cultivation in 1824, but seen very little since - we've brought this rare & fascinating climber from Chile back into our gardens, & find it to be a fascinating little plant. Each cup-shaped flower measures around 1”, with intricate architecture, including shiny mahogany-red floral structures. Produces copious amounts of flowers through several months or even more (start date depends on when it is planted) it climbs or scrambles from 3-8'. Plant it at the base of a shrub & let it climb through, or on a trellis as its own show-piece. Some of this plant's relatives are cloaked in stinging hairs. This one is friendlier – no stings & we're so glad! Try in a hanging basket, pots, or the ground. Yes, from Annies.

Calceolaria arachnoidea
“Capachito Morado”
Freaky flowers & fuzzy leaves make this Chilean perennial a total must-have. Plus, it’s easy to grow – it just needs regular water in average to rich soil & good light. Blooms first year from seed & is most stunning – the flowers can range in color, but are sometimes almost black, & are of course nicely contrasted with the white foliage, which is densely “webbed” & soft to the touch. The foliage grows 4” high by a foot or more wide, & is topped in Summer by heaps of half inch “pocketbook” flowers that are borne in clusters of 4 or more on 2’ stems. Cut back almost to the base after bloom, & side dress with compost. Stays evergreen (everwhite?) in winter. From Annies Annuals.

Iochroma cyanum

Iochroma 'Frosty Plum'

Iochroma fuchioides

Iochroma 'Plum Beauty'

Iochroma 'Sunset'

Iochroma are not rare, but they are unusual enough to raise even the eyebrows of a horticulturist, for they are harder to find beyond the blue form of Iochrona cyanum ( which still, is not ALL that easy to find). Grown in pots and tubs on the deck, Iochroma's are spectacular in bloom, though usually only seen at Botanic Gardens. These are certianly growable in your yard,in a container or treated as a summer temperennial. Now, they come in a full range of colors. Here, available from Kartuz Greenhouses.

Bomarea species from Telos Rare Bulbs
I've been looking at these tropical jewels for some time now, and finally think that it is time to add some species to my collection. Bomareas are tuberous rooted climbers that grow in South America and Central America. They can be found from Mexico to Patagonia, and are related to Alstroemerias. The dense flower trusses appear at the end of growing shoots, and they can be grown in containers much in the same way Altroemerias are. Hummingbird magnets in the summer, they are available from Telos Rare Bulbs, and sometimes on eBay.

Psoralea fleta
“Weeping Blue Broom”
The amazing blue pea shrub, available from Annies Annuals. She says: Oh my gosh, little did we realize when we trialed the seed of this obscure South African Psoralea that we would cause such horticultural pandemonium! Pandemonium because that incognito little seed quickly grew into a beautiful small tree, that, as it began to bloom, had everyone’s lust-o-meter spinning off the dial! Large Wisteria-like panicles (to 12” long) of large 1” lavender white Sweet Pea flowers permeate the air to quite a distance with a sweet & wistful grape soda fragrance – far more fragrant than Psoralea pinnata. They are so beautiful & appear so profusely (woo-hoo!) from early to mid-Summer – they’ll stop everyone in their tracks! Multiple trunked & only 12’ tall, “Weeping Blue Broom” makes a magical specimen tree for a small garden. So appealing, too, even when it’s not in bloom with its graceful arching branches & unusual long threadlike blue-green leafless foliage. Fast & super easy, it should bloom by its second year requiring only well-drained soil & an annual bit of compost.

Arthropodium cirratum “Renga Lily”
From New Zealand comes this adaptable & appealing Lily used widely there as a groundcover for dry shade & under trees. A mass in bloom is quite breathtaking. Forming rather large clumps (3’ x 3’) of broad, medium green, arching foliage, it bears graceful, airy sprays of lovely, white, star-flowers on 3’ stems from Spring to mid-Summer. The flowers have purple & yellow stamens which curl at the end. Thrives almost anywhere in bright shade, but do bait for snails. Tolerates coastal winds. Good cut flower. Hardy to 15 degrees F. Also, available from Annies.

Eucrosia mirabilis, Eucrosia bicolor
Eucrosia are bulbs that have been on my wish list for a loooooooong time. They are a small genus of bulbs that are mostly native to Peru and Ecuador, where they grow in mountain
forests that experience seasonal dry periods. They are unusual in having extremely long stamens,
sometimes protruding from the flower tube by as much as five or six inches. The neat, symmetrical
arrangement of the umbel, with the flowers evenly spaced all around the stem, together with the lacy
protruding stamens give Eucrosis a most exotic and unusual appearance. Given warm conditions, these
bulbs are not hard to grow, but they do require greenhouse conditions in areas with cool or cold winters.
Available from Telos Rare Bulbs

Podophyllum veitchii
After hearing plant breeder and friend Darrell Probst talk about this plant at last weeks NARGS Eastern Winter Study Weekend, I MUST have it, and so, here it is, all $45.00 worth. Available from Asiatica.com. while supplies last!
This Chinese mayapple is one of most exciting new shade perennials in years. Fuzzy umbrellas emerge with dark snakeskin markings, often on a red background, changing to patterned green. Flowers can be red, pink, or white. Also called Podophyllum delavayi or Dysosma. Thrives in rich, well-drained soil in light to moderate shade. Not eaten by critters or deer. USDA Zones 5b-8.

March 23, 2010

The return of the Boston Flower Show - BLOOMS! 2010

Since we we're invited to create a small space at the newly revised and renamed, Boston Flower Show, which was absent last year after a 180 year run, I thought that even though this week was very busy already ( with a wedding to design, a big presentation at work, and the National Rock Garden Society Eastern Winter Study Weekend), it seemed like the right thing to do.

It's alot of work for us, since we are neither professionals with a staff, nor are we simply bringing in a pot or two for the amateur section. Technically, we are amateurs, and even though our display is only about 8 feet across, it requires growing enough material to follow a theme ( ours was plants of the southern Hemisphere), and, hoping that they bloom in time ( most didn't), then selecting the plants a few days ahead, and them loading two cars and SUV's ( oh yeah, and buying props from Ikea!) then taking a day off from work, driving into Boston early, unloading at the convention center, parking the car, and so on. Still, it's sort of fun once it's all done, we feel good about it.

We lucked out, and had our little greenhouse display located in a good site, between the Alan C. Haskell exhibit ( complete with many live birds in an aviary) and a beautiful pond display. I am usually pretty critical about these shows over the past few years, since they seem to be more lawn and lawnmower shows, than any representation of the glory days of flower shows. But this show, be it smaller with fewer exhibitors, is incredibly beautiful. The designers were still installing tonight, as we left, but we saw incredible forced foxgloves, perennials, English garden plants, ponds and water, and lots of great forced plant material like trees and shrubs. This time, it's not one of those shows where you only see wood mulch, cedar fences and patios. This show has real horticultural interest.

Not sure how we will fare competitively, but here is a sneak peak of out display, which we really had to pull together with very little nice plant material, for whatever reason, very little came into bloom in time. Those plants! You can't depend on them!

A view of the GROWING WITH PLANTS garden room display we set up tonight.

If you are in the Boston area this week or weekend, please stop by and see this nice show, and support the Massachusetts Horticultural Society as they re-ignite the heritage of one of the most beautiful and oldest spring flower shows in the country.

Another display at the Boston Flower & Garden Show, this one by a commercial nursery was setting up a nice garden pool.

March 21, 2010

Welcoming in the spring Equinox

Adonis amurensis bud emerging.

One of the first, and most beautiful winter-blooming perennials for cold climates is Adonis amurensis, also known as pheasant's eye. An Asian species this choice early ephemeral wild flower is cherished by plant geeks, and being difficult to dig and share, remains rare in most collections. It likes rich, well-drained soil with lots of humus that is moist in spring during the growing season. The very showy yellow flowers bloom as early as January in zones 7, but in gardens that are in zone 5 or 6, it wait until Febrary or March to emerge, often the first color of the season, arriving just after the Petasites japonicus cobs, which arrive in our garden, as early as mid February in some years. With the lovely Adonis amurensis in your garden, it may not be unusual to see the flowers displayed against the snow. The fern-like foliage is pretty in spring, disappearing by early summer. Adonis are best growing in beds that are left to themsleves, an ecosystem of leaf duff, and preferably under deciduous trees. We grow ours with the Hellebores, Corydalis solida and other woodland ephemerals in deciduous shade where no wood mulch is spreak. Rather, a late autumn blanket of shredded leaves cover the plants for the winter, and it is not removed in the spring. This, is the most environmentally proper way to grow many woodland perennials that dispise woodmulch. i In Japan Adonis amurensis is one of the essential flowers for welcoming the new year, often sold in small container gardens in bloom. Selected named varieties have been grown for hundreds of years, and some rare plant nurseries have very expensive clones. You can find some in the US at Asiatica.com.

A jeffersonia blooms in the early morning sunshine.

This weekend I attended the North American Rock Garden Society's Eastern Winter Study Weekend, which was held near my home in Devens, MA. The event was inspiring with many knowledgable speakers and members, always a fun event. Since we are setting up a display at the New England FLower Show (Blooms) tomorrow, I could only attend the conference for two of the three days, but I still gave the check book a work out with the many fine vendors. This Jeffersonia dubia was actually the floral centerpiece that appeared on the banquet tables the first evening, grown and donated by Iris guru's and friends, Jan and Marty of Joe Pye Weed Gardens. It will be a welcome addition to my ephemeral bed.

We can't get enough of Snowdrops (Galanthus) during this veryr grey and muddy time of year. Here are a couple of shots of some cultivars from around the garden today.

I always wanted a Crocus lawn, essentially, a lawn, planted with a few hundred or thousand Crocus. I only planted 200 bulbs of Crocus tommasinianus, an early blooming species that is more delicate than the more common crocus that we see planted. My Tommies are awesome in our back lawn that was once a bowling green planted with bent grass in the 1920's by my grandparents. Now, it is dotted in violet, and very pretty.

The Tommies in the new crocus lawn

My favorite early spring crocus species, Crocus chrysanthus, here, the cultivar 'Gypsy Girl', with it's burgundy striped petals.

A Petasites japonicus ssp. giganteus floral cob, our first official flower of the season, emerging about a month late this year. These cobs are edible, and sold in produce markets in Tokyo every January and February.

A Saxifraga 'Pluto' starting to show some flower buds. These sturdy, hard, lime-encrusted alpines that grow only in the highest of peaks in the Alps, are planted here, in pure rock chunks of a porous limestone called Tufa rock. They stay exposed all winter to snow and cold temperatures, and always surprise me with how tough some alpines can be. Cultivated in a stone trough, my collection of silver and encrusted saxifrages grew a bit this weekend, with some new varieties from Harvey Wrightman Alpines, who had an incredible selection at their booth at the NARGS EWSW.

Last year I planted some seedling Primula denticulata ( Drumstick Primroses) in the garden near the raised alpine bed. This weekend, they grew 4 inches in 2 days. Moisture lovers, mine are growing in good, deep loam that is far from being wet, but this helps them stay to a more manageable size.