May 31, 2010

Cypella herbertii, An Iris Relative from Uruguay

Cypella herbertii, is a rarely seen iris relative and it's Iris 'Eyes are Smiling', even thought it's from South America via Uruguay, this grows from corms not unlike Gladiolus. Taxonomists have places Cypella in the plant Family Iridaceae, and although other botanic experts may disagree, it remains there for now. I've been experimenting with some in both the ground, and in containers, to see for myself, how I could help maximize both the ornamental features of this plant, and improve on methods of every-day home cultivation. My advice is plant a dozen bulbs in a container of well drained soil, and enjoy the sword shaped leaves, and include the plant in group container displays where you want something really different. The flowers are short lived, like any iris, but the overall effect is improved when you have a number of waving, wiry stems with floating flowers, the more the better. 

Only a few (one) U.S. mailorder  sources that I know of ( like Plant Delights).  Much like Tigridia, it look better in close up photos, than it does as a single bulb ( corm) planted in the ground. It does provide an interesting and stylish color ( French's Mustard?) for container displays, I would pair it with coral colored Phormium, to spice up it's brief floral display ( it blooms for a day, and then, that's it, but other flowers open on the same stem, so the entire display might last two weeks with more corms plants). Hey, no different than Peonies. So in plantings, plan for other plants to carry on the theme. There is a reason why a google search will only result in close-ups and not in a full container shot. This tells me that there is an opportunity here - buy a hundred, and pot-em up for a photo shoot! ( I did this this year with Galtonia, Anemone coronaria and Ornithogalum-stay tuned, they are coming up). Numbers are what it's all about if you want a display.

Cypella herbertii is but just one of a genus which may deserve more commercial exploitation. C. herbertii is the most common of the bunch, but a few others, about 15 species in all, which according to the Pacific Bulb Society WIKI range from Mexico to Argentina. Check out the other species that some collectors grow, here, at the PBSWIKI. ( And if interesting in learning more about rare bulbs, consider joining the Pacific Bulb Group, don't let the name fool you, it's much more about unusual bulbs from around the globe, than it is about the Pacific bulbs. They just can't find a better name to include the rest of the world, so they are sticking with the PBS.).

Don't expect much from a single corm or two, like many Iris relatives, it's all about mass, so invest in quantity once you find a place where this South American native like to grow. It might be along a warm, sunny wall where it is well drained, and dry in the winter in Zone 6 or higher, or, if you are like me, a fast-draining soil mix enhanced with gravel in a deep pot, which spend it's winter, dormant and dry in the cold greenhouse.

May 30, 2010

Calycanthus raulstonii 'Hartlage Wine'

Today, I share a new plant in my garden, Calycanthus raulstonii, a new bigeneric cross involving the native eastern species of Calycanthus floridus, which some well informed eastern gardeners may have grown. This plant is a significant introduction, and is impressive both as a flowering plant, and as a new shrub for it's foliage it beautiful.  A new plant in the world of horticulture is rare enough, but one which performs so well, is very welcome, espeically one which flowers after the spring flush, and one which prefers shade. So what is bigeneric hybrid? - It's simply a cross between two species, the eastern American species ( Calycanthus floridus), and it's distant cousin from China, ( Sinocalycanthus chinensis).

The new plant was named to honor J.C. Raulstonm Director of the North Carolina State University Arboretum ( now called the JC Raulson Arboretum), a man a never had the pleasure of knowing, but one who seems to live on in the memories of all who had the pleasure of meeting him. This cross was created in the mid 1990's before J.C Raulstons untimely death due to an automobile accident in 1996, and it was Registered in 2001. It should be sought out at better garden centers ( where I found mine),  as it is beginning to be distributed now. There is a related cross, a white form called 'Venus', which looks very much like a tiny Magnolia.

Early Cabbage and Lettuce

I have been surprised at how quickly some crops seem to mature in certain years. Last year, I barely had time to plant seeds for beans and brussels sprouts by June 1st, and this year, I planted cabbage seed ( early cabbage, my favorite) on March 12, since the snow melted in the new raised beds earlier than in other years. I am now able to harvest much of what was sown in mid March, including many lettuce varieties, red Lollo, Buttercrunch, Heirloom Deer's tongue, and early, cone shaped cabbage. Since the dill is also ready to pick, tomorrow a fresh slaw with sweet, crispy early cabbage and dill, is surely on the lunch menu.
The Swiss Chard is also ready to harvest, maybe this week, so that we can enjoy it before the leaf minors ruin the crop. They have already started to tunnel through the leaves which are older. After next weekend, these raised beds will be replanted with tomatoes, summer squash, peppers and beans. 

May 29, 2010

Making a Hot Dog Arrangement, and a Saturday Garden Stroll

We like both, casual and fancy. There are parts of our garden that are well designed, and parts that visitors never see. There are messy areas, and a tidy, well designed area, (like everyone, I guess). So here, near Boston,on an overcast Saturday at the end of May, I share some contradictions and surprises I could see as I walked around the garden.
Flowering radishes,mesclun, arugula, mustards and sage may seem messy to some, but I never got to pull out all of the mesclun mixes, so what was left in the vegetable garden now has extended in the heat, and has bloomed. Normally, I would just pull it out, and add it to the compost pile, but you know, it looks surprisingly pretty and natural, if not very 'Japanese'. So I have decided to make an arrangement with it.
After all, we are trying to save cash for a hiking trip to Switzerland in a month.

Three years ago, while in Tokyo, I was admiring the Japanese mustard fields, and mustard plantings in February, when winter crops of mustard are grown for ornamental purposes, the Japanese have an appreciation for such things. They pick grasses, wild flowers, wheat etc, and arrange it in their Tokudama's and in hand made stoneware containers, with such perfect balance and editing that only the Japanese can do, that a  simply humble bade of grass or branch with a bud, transform into a work of art.

So this year, I purchased a pound of mustard seed to use both as a green manure ( seeded early in my raised vegetable beds, and then turned under in late May), and for food. Then, I saved some for ornamental purposes, and to tossed seed around the garden.
In one section of a raised be, some culinary Sage survived the winter, and has begun to bloom. Sage will do this, but it also is a sign that they plant will die soon, so fresh sage has been planted nearby. The flowers are flavorful, and have a more mild taste than the oily sage leaf.

I decided to challenge myself, and construct an arrangement of cut flowers, simply with was was found in the vegetable garden. ( OK, the fluffy Pulsatilla is out of place, but it was growing in the same raised bed, since I had extra seedlings last year and didn't want to throw them away). You might be surprised at what natural effects can be created bu both observing nature, and by re-creating a bit of it as a center piece, or floral arrangement. Grasses, roadside weeds, meadow flowers, all naturally work well together. A bit unconventional, this arrangement of Radish flowers, dill, sage blossoms and mustard greens somehow 'work' well together. I suppose, I could use it for my Memorial Day arrangement at a cookout tomorrow. I might call it my Hot Dog arrangement. Inspired by Dill pickles, yellow mustard and salad greens.

Vintage Fertilizer Round Up

'nuf said. Nothing say's spring, like spreading Whale Fertilizer.

Before the Japanese and Whale Wars,  the idea of whale fertilizer was not unthinkable. In face, I remember bottles in the 1960's in my dad's chicken coop along with cardboard cartons or arsenic powder and DDT. Ahem. Still, Whale fertilizer when viewed through out filters today, seems an uncomfortable as Women not having the right to vote', segregation on buses  and 'don't tell don't ask '.....no, wait.
Blue Whale Brand Fertilizer was extremely popular with Rhododendron and Primrose growers in the Pacific North West during the first half of the 20th Century. See the bags in the top photo? Blue Whale came both in a liquid form, as an extract created from rendered Whale meat and organs left over from  oil and margarine manufacturing, and, it came in a very popular impregnated sphagnum peat blend which was sold until the late 1960's.

May 27, 2010

A New Generation of Nemesia and Diascia are worth trying

Diascia varieties today are better than before.
Recently, two rarely grown plants have been getting a lot of attention for use in stylish containers and gardens on other gardening blogs, but most of what I could find written about them is exactly the same content, and I traced it all back to a press release from Proven Winners (which is fine, but I wanted more, and you deserve more), so, a quick post about the re-invention of two old annuals, Nemesia and Diascia.

May 23, 2010

Siberian Iris 'Uncorked'

Jan and Marty ( good friends, and owners of Joe Pie Weed Gardens), bred this amazing Siberian Iris, called 'Uncorked', and I am so thrilled to have it bloom this spring. It's color is incredible, a blend of grey, smoke, beige, mustard and glowing periwinkle. I ADORE it!

A couple more white bells

Tulbaghia violacea ssp. alba in the evening sun. This South African native blooms all summer for us, kept in large clay pots around the terraces and walks, it is a plant rather uncommon in New England gardens, but common in California. Known as Society Garlic because of it's smelly leaves,  it's more common violet form is equally as nice. These, seed grown plants, are ready to be divided since this one white form is growing within a large pot of purple seedlings.

Halesia carolina - The Silver Bell Tree, reminds me of the first time I ever saw this southern American native, a large specimen at the Stoddard Estate in Worcester, MA, where I had my first job in high school, as a gardener. I always wanted one, and decided to plant one about 12 years ago. And then, it died. Then, Saturday, Joe came up to me in the greenhouse and said "hey., what's this?" as he held a branch ( this branch). I seems that the edge of the woodland has moved inward, and the "dead' Halesia resprouted from it's rootstock. I am now a proud owner of a ten foot tall Halesia carolina, which is not in the most perfect of shape, more of  a shrubby mess, really, but I still love it.

May 20, 2010

Two Tiny White Bells

A tiny white alpine form of Rhododendron, the plant, growing in a trough, is no taller than 8 inches, but I misplaced (i.e. lost) the tag, an I just assumed that I would kill it anyway, so didn't bother to note its name down anywhere, which should teach me a lesson-somewhere, even in a notebook or on a Word doc on the laptop, note the genus, species and cultivar names of what gets planted in the garden. I can't remember everything! Well, I can't remember much in the first place. There are very few 'miniature' or dwarf Rhododendron species and crosses that are hardy in our east coast zone 5 garden, but as many Rhododendron experts know, rules are always being broken, and sometimes a special spot will result in a surprise micro-climate success. If anyone knows the name, please share.
Just beginning to bloom, is this Billardiara longifolia vine, native to Chile. More impressive photos will come later, but I thought that I would share this, the first flower. This precious tiny vine will have many more in a few weeks. I keep this vine growing in a 12 inch pot with a tiny trellis. For us, it's a terrace plant, kept in a large pot which spends it's winter in the cold greenhouse. Evergreen, it is tender in our zone 5 garden. Grown more for its shocklingly violet fruits which are ornamental in the late summer and autumn, I think I like it's tiny white bells flowers more.

May 17, 2010

Three Cape Bulbs

Lachenalia purpurea ssp. caerulea

A trio of wild-collected ,seed grown, South African bulb plants rarely seen. 
From left, Lapierousia (Freesia) laxa alba form, Lachenalia purpurea caerulea, and Lachenalia unicolor.

May 16, 2010

Rhodohypoxis baurii

The South African summer growing plant that grows easily and spreads if happy. I first tried this cunning little plant ( which is dormant for the entire winter), about twelve years ago after reading about them in the old Heronswood Nursery catalog. Dan Hinkley wrote about how easy this plant was to bloom, and how pretty it looked when grown in low bulb pans, or in bonsai pots.

Easy, as long as you can keep them from freezing in the winter, here in the north, I keep my many pots of Rhodohypoxis dry during their winter dormancy, under a bench in the greenhouse where they don't get a spot of water. They grow from a tuberous rhyzome, or bulbous, rooty-type thing, and one bulb will quickly fill a pan. About 6 years ago, I ordered a selection from a British grower on eBay, so I have about a dozen clones, in shades of white, pink, cerise, redish pink and some bicolored. As you can see, they spread so quickly in pans, that I decided to just fill some window boxes that I bought at Target with them. Now, they fill four window boxes, which bloom like this for about 2 months, and then remain simply foliage planters for the rest of the summer. Rhodohypoxis foliage is nice by itself, like well behave grass, it grows no taller than 5 inches, and the containers look like fancy containers with neatly trimmed rye grass growing in them, as if they were Italian designed pots on display at a boutique hotel.

Try some Rhodohypoxis if you find some, there is always room for something this beautiful, in an alpine trough, a bonsai pot, a bulb pan, or in a window box.

May 15, 2010

Alpine Auricula

Rarely seen, but oh, so growable.....Alpine Auricula, some are still in bloom in the alpine garden wall. Susan Schnare of newly formed Mountain Brook has some of the only ones in the UA, mail order from her nursery in NH.Her award winning plants are getting noticed, and you can get them here.

May 13, 2010

Special Offer - Save 25% on Plant Society Magazine

Magcloud has made a generous special limited time offer to all of you, my blog readers, family and friends. Until the end of May, you get a 25% discount on this latest issue of my magzine, Plant Society. Just go to the Magcloud website here , Just enter coupon code: PLANTSOCIETY510. Thanks Magcloud! ( and, thanks to all of you!).

May 11, 2010

It's here! Plant Society, Issue 3

I just published the latest issue of my magazine Plant Society, available only on Magcloud.com. HP's new digital magazine publishing site. This is a special issue for me, since Magcloud.com contacted me and asked if they could use this issue for publicity. They hired a writer to do a story on me, this blog and Plant Society Magazine, and they will be marketing the magazine at trade shows, social networking sites, at design conference ( featured at HOW DESIGN CONFERENCE in Denver next month) and for advertising for Magcloud product. So I was very flattered, and knew that it had to be awesome. I hope you enjoy it too. There is a very long article on Primula, as well as the usual inspirational material. If you love to garden, are addicted to plants, I would imagine that you will find this issue very stimulating.

Available now on Magcloud.com for $14.00 plus shipping to North America and the UK.

May 10, 2010

An Inconvenient Frost, (conveniently on schedule)

When Christopher Lloyd visited us in 1998, we had a killing frost on May 15th. I can still see the damage in some of the oak forests, which lost most of their new growth which was just emerging. This year, we have had a very early spring, with full three and a half weeks earlier than in a normal spring, by my measurements, (which, would be my blog, for I can see that last year our lilacs were in bloom a week before Memorial Day), still, this weather isn't very news worthy.

Nature has a way of managing such earlu frosts, and many native plants can handle light freezes. But for those of us who raise imported plants, Japanese Maples, Davidia from China, and other jems that have decided to emerge a few weeks early, these are dangerous times. But there is something very odd happening, for this year, our native trees are in full leaf. Still, it's all happened before. As a teen, I have photos of me in 1977, when on May 9 and 10th, we have 12.5 inches of snow here in Worcester, MA. According to our county website, our average last frost date is May 10. So, Bingo.

 But, this year, the plants are far ahead of schedule than in every other year I can remember. So, it all feels more vulnerable. Everything seems to be in bloom right now, with a tremendous amount of cross over. Heck, the oaks have already bloomed, and the Lilacs are all finished...So, who knows what will happen.
It reached 31 degrees F last night, and I could see little damage beyond the new growth on the Lemon trees. Last week, I lost the few annuals and Proven Winners tropicals that I planted out early in some containers, fully aware that our frost free date is May 10-ish. I couldn't help it, the nursery already had their best plant material out two weeks ago, and everyone what buying it. Since I have a greenhouse, I knew that I could still pull plants in, if a cold snap happened.  Still, those poor souls who planted Tomatoes and Petunias out already.

It's the native trees I am worried about. Typically, they wait to start growth until well after the imported Asian species and Norway Maples, which are in full leaf when our native Red Maples are blooming. Still, even the natives can be caught unprepared. Let's keep our fingers crossed. Oh, and keep reminding ourselves that there is NO global warming, right?

Dancing Giesha and Silver Samurai violet

I lost the tag for this Japanese Viola, so if anyone knows it, please share its name. My best guess is that it is once of the Terra Nova Nursery introductions called either Viola 'Dancing Geisha' or Viola 'Silver Samurai', eitehr way, it's been an incredible performer, and if ever see more at a nursery, I will get them. It's has self seeded, but since it has a patent, I assume the the offspring, if any, will be of a more inferior quality.
 It appears to have some V. koreana in it, but I can't find much info on its heritage. Regardless, it is handsome, and it has been blooming for a month, now, in practically a perfect mound, and nothing like out more common violets. 

May 5, 2010

Parrot Tulips

Parrot tulips have a special place in my heart, for I remember my sister showing me how to pick them from my mom's flower beds as a young child ( purple ones). Their feathery petals are so showy if not gaudy, but somehow they 'work' when seen outdoors, in spring. In catalogs, they appear too showy, but in the garden, for some reason, they are just right. Here, I picked some exceptionally bright ones, and placed them in a vintage flower show vase that I found on ebay ( being sold in England as a horse show trophy!). I love the hand painted type and the poison green color which was so common in the 1950's. It seemed like the perfect juxtaposition.

Vintage Pesticide Advertising Round Up

It's so safe and easy, that I can wear my white dress while I spray insecticide, to "get rid of any moving flies".

A couple of weeks ago, while searching through my collection of plant society journals (circa 1940 - 1960), and vintage 1950's and 1960's Horticulture magazines, I was struck by the number of pesticide ads ( and fertilizer ad's which I will save for another post). Here is just a sampling, with little comment from me - since I am working on making the final changes to the spring issue of Plant Society Magazine, which I plant to publish on Magcloud later next week.
Yo, you betta getta

May 2, 2010

American Primrose Society National Show Weekend

A Double mustard colored Auricula Primrose

This weekend, we attended the National Primrose Society National Show, which was hosted by our local Primrose Chapter, the New England Primula Society. With 3 days of dinners, hosting garden tours and a dinner/cockail party, we are wiped. I think I need a week off! Still, if was a wonderful show held at the Tower Hill Botanic Garden once again, and the weather could not have been nicer, even though it was a bit too warm! If you've ever wanted to see some spectacular primroses up close, this would have been the show to attend. For a year where the heat, and rain seemed to make it feel more like June than May, we were all pleasantly surprised to see a record number of entries this year, particularly in the classes that were dedicated to Auricula, perhaps the most beautiful of all flowers. Here are a few...
Some of my favorite primroses are the fancy edge show Auricula, so rarely seen in the United States, and rarely seen in many regional primrose society shows since the are challenging to grow in most North American climate areas, and often require some special attention such as an alpine house, a cold greenhouse, a cold frame or a sunken pit house. The white part of the flower, called 'farina' or paste, is a white, sticky substance which can be ruined by rain, or by careless watering. Auricula are one of the few flowers that can appear in green, or grey, or true black. In the nineteenth century, they were often displayed in elaborate Auricula theaters, displayed on shelves, often with velvet curtains, or painted backgrounds, so that one could view properly, but the plants could be presented with some protection from the elements.
The Grand Prize winning primrose was an Alpine Auricula grown by Maryanne Kuchel from Vermont. It seemed to sweep all of the major prizes, including best plant grown from seed.