September 30, 2010

Rare Tender Rhododendrons for Greenhouses

The hard to find Rhododendron 'Cinnkeys' has tubular blossoms that look more like a Cyrtanthus falcata from South Africa ( a bulb in the Amaryllis Family) than it does a Rhody. It can be awesome in a container, if you can find a plant. Image from the Quarterly of the ARS.

I am addicted to the Rhododendron species that are more tender, particularly those which require protection from the cold winter temperatures we get here in New England. If I lived in Seattle, Oregon, New Zealand or the United Kingdom where the climate is both cool in the summer, and winters are wet and temperate, growing these rarely seen Rhododendrons would not be a problem. But most of us live in areas where the temperature shift is too wide, where extreme heat or extreme cold makes any success with tender Rhody's nearly impossible.
The Rhododendron nuttallii form named 'John Paul Evans' is large, but magnificent when in bloom. At five feet tall when mature, it would require a redwood tub. ©singingtree gardens.

With a cold greenhouse like mine, where winter temperatures remain near 40 deg.F in the winter, I've discovered that tropical and tender Rhododendrons thrive. Most of them perform excellent in pots, where they can be hauled out in the summer and kept under the shade of trees. They must never dry out, but with proper care, many of these plants ( or small trees) can make spectacular specimen plants. There was a time when estate greenhouses and botanic gardens often had displays of tender Rhododendrons, but today, only a few people grow them as container plants, since modern homes  have atmospheres that are too hot and dry with central heating, and modern luxuries like insulation and reliable thermostats.

If you happen to own an old home, you may have some luck growing these plants indoors, with the best success coming from an unheated room, where there are large windows, and perhaps a window seat which has been converted into a plant window with gravel in trays for added moisture. Ideally, success will come easily with a glass greenhouse, or a conservatory, where the air is kept cool and buoyant.  If you are interested in more info, check out the American Rhododendron Society, and the Rhododendron Species Foundation for details and links to nurseries. For Vireya's, check out the Vireya net site.

The Vireya type Rhody named Rhododendron macgregoriae from the Vireya net site.

The classic Rhododendron species for conservatory culture in containers are the Asian species, particularly R. fragrantissimum, R.  Fragrant, bell shaped white blossoms, which include R. edgeworthii, R. nutallii and others. Perhaps the most tropical provide the brightest colors, and those would be found in the group known as the Vireya's ( most are native to the cool misty mountain slopes on the island of Borneo). Few nurseries sell Vireyas, but Bovees Nursery in Oregon is the number one choice, and this is the best time of year to order them.

Vireya R. crassifolium has unusual shaped flowers. ( Bovees Nursery)

R. macgregoriae ( from the Vireya Net)

R. sainpauli, a new species with very interesting flower. It would be great in a hanging wooden slat basket, as many Vireya like.
Vireyas make amazing potted plants, and of all of the tender Rhododendrons, are the best suited for cultivating on window sills and plant windows, as long as nights are cool, and moisture can be added to the air.

September 27, 2010

My Brunsvigia bosmaniae Blooms. A 'documentary experience', right in my own back yard.

BRUNSVIGIA BOSMANIAE Blooming in a large container

"Is it? Is iT? Oh my gosh! Oh my Gosh, Oh my gosh!!! It's a freaking bud" Was all Joe could here a couple of weeks ago, when I spotted what looked like a tiny bud emerging from one of the Brunsvigia bulbs that I had repotted carefully into a much larger pot. 

Brunsvigias are the queens of all of the South African bulbs. Large, showy, fussy, rare, they have everything that makes us collectors desire them even more. In a recent BBC nature documentary series in the UK, Sir David Attenborough describes how the inflorescence of the Brunsvigia bosmaniae, breaks off if its peduncle when dry, and then rolls along the veld dispersing seed as it goes. 

"Tonight, somewhere under the bright moonlight, perhaps in a broad,  sandy veld in the Natal area, a massive display of natures finest special event is happening. For every 7 years of so, a bloom flush with the genus Brunsvigia is transforming a valley which is normally just sand, into a sand bed with beach ball sized heads of pink lilies which will have the traffic stopping for days, and plat enthustasts with their cameras and new hiking boots snapping their digital pictures until the sun goes down each day. But here in our New England garden, something even more magical is happening. Four weeks before Halloween, just as the Macintosh Applies are being picked , a large English clay pot full of stone and sand presents us with a surprise and a very special gift. A massive head of pink lilies from a B. bosmaniae bulbs purchased then years ago for overseas, which has decided to reward us with it’s umbel of punk Lily-like flowers. Saying that we are delighted, would be an understatement. Apparently all of that coddling and special fertilizer really paid off.
The blooming of any bulb called Brunsvigia is big news, for these large, papery bulbs from South Africa are the queens of all bulbs, they reach enormous sizes, they are rare enough that when on blooms, it sometimes makes the papers and they require just the perfect amount of light, rain and rest, which can only be provided in the north with a glass house. 

Iconic to certain river valleys and dry lake beds in Natal South African, where local people wait decades to see one of the most magnificent sites in nature, the mass blooming of a large population of these plants, generally in a sand basin which is transformed into a sea of pink lilies. My one single bulb in a pot is hardly a veld, but I don’t care, I am so excited that I feel like  a new dad. Look, this is pretty big news around here I mean, there are probably only 5 or ten bulbs in private collections in our entire state, and few if any ever bloom.
The BBC Nature documentary 'LIFE'  featured a story about the Brunsvigia bosmaniae bloom in South Africa.

A wild population in Nieuwoudtville, South Africa blooming after a autumn rainfall, a phenomenon rarely seen.

In its native habitat, species of Brunsvigia, grow in a widespread area but mostly in the winter-rainfall areas of the Cape. When plants bloom ( usually in large populations), it occurs as a mass-bloom. The event is rare enough since there are a number of factors must occur ( sudden downpours after a long perious of drought, hot, searing summers, cooler evenings, perhaps even a full moon). Most botanists agree that the main trigger is a brief, heavy autumn downpour ( which in this area is not a guaranteed event), but if a rainstorm does pass over this dry area of Nieuwoudtville, botanists and plant enthusiasts know that the veld with be transformed precisely three weeks after the storm. 
We are more than thrilled about our Brunsvigia bosmaniae  blooming, since any guide to the cultivation of this genus will state that all Brunsvigia’s are notoriously erratic when removed from their native habitats. We can only hope that the other species in the collection bloom but it doesn't look like it yet. Best of all, it seems to be forming seed capsules. In it’s wild habitat, it is pollinated by nocturnal moths, but we’ve seen the honey bees on the blossoms all week so we are encourages that we may get seeds. Still, once sown, we will need to wait 12 years to see flowers from our seedlings, but hey, I might be retired by then!

September 24, 2010

The African Foxglove ( as if Africa has foxes ...and gloves).

Ceratotheca triloba is hardly 'new', it was popular amongst the informed British gardeners in Victorian England, and featured  by Jos. Hooker in an 1888 Curtis' Botanic Journal. For whatever reason, over a century later, we are just discovering the genus' contribution to our late summer borders. The only problem? Finding seeds of the easy to grow annual. Go find some now, for they will sell out in the spring.

 The African Foxglove, Ceratothica triloba, may not be a true 'Foxglove" (Digitalis) but does offer worthy color and structure in the early autumn border. The best thing is, no one will know what it is!
There are a handful of rarely grown annuals from the Southern Hemisphere worth trying, but Ceratotheca is perhaps the finest.

Oh dang... I SO want to type Cero-theca, but it's Ceratotheca. Take care in typing as you search for seed. I think 'Mr. Cerato', to aid me in remembering the name ( not unlike Ms. Sawyer's admission that she once used the phrase 'Mr. I'm A Dinner Jacket') to remember a world leaders' name.).
It's a trend...almost. Plant enthusiasts are discovering annuals from Chile and South Africa that are far from typical. Ceratotheca triloba, or 'African Foxglove', is a great example. This fast growing annual ( grows and blooms within one season, after starting from seeds in early spring) can make all the difference between a boring autumn border, and one that stops visitors in their tracks. They might even become jealous.

September 22, 2010

The Gardening World Mourns the Loss of Wayne Winterrowd, horticultural Legend, Dead at 68.

Wayne Winterrowd (right) , garden book author, with his partner Joe Eck ( left). and their dog Harry.
According to their son Fotios, "Today, there is yet another gardener beautifying heaven." Indeed.

I am saddened to report that Wayne Winterrowd, author, garden designer and innovator, died at his Vermont home yesterday after a brief illness at age 68. Wayne, and his partner in life and gardening, Joe Eck helped transform American gardening, through their many books, and their popular gardening symposiums held annually at their unique garden, which they carved out of an ancient Vermont woodland nearly 30 years ago. The complete obituary in the Burlington Free Press is here

Co-Author of 'A YEAR A NORTH HILL along with Joe Eck, Wayne, who is perhaps my most influential garden writer ) aside from their friend Dan Hinkley, is a frequent contributor to HORTICULTURE magazine. 

I never had the chance to meet Wayne, but his writing and lifestyle affected me tremendously.
Just this past weekend, perhaps while he was passing, I was referring to the couples most recent book which I read last year, OUR LIFE IN GARDENS, where he rambles on passionately about growing Rhododendron maddenii species under glass, which reminded me to go order some, or to try growing a Prunus mume in a pot in the cold greenhouse ( this, I still must do). If you don't believe how influential he was to me personally, just compare the photos of the North Hill Garden, with mine. The first time I saw their stone alpine wall against their greenhouse foundations, I felt that I could create one too. Their books inspired me to grow winter growing Gladiolus under glass, Camellia's, Cyclamen coum naturalized in the winter garden in my glasshouse- in fact hardly a week goes by when I don't think of his inspirations, I know he will continue to inspire us in written words, but that his physical presence will be missed by many.

Friend and fellow gardening guru Fergus Garrett commented "Since the early 1990s, horticulture in America has really taken off in an exciting and sophisticated way. And Joe and Wayne were among the leading forces in that. They are one of the driving forces in North American horticulture,". Fergus Garrett, is the head gardener of Great Dixter in East Sussex, England, the renowned garden of the late Christopher Lloyd, both friends and peers of the Vermont couple.

Mr. Garrett continues:

"Wayne set a great example of how to be in the garden and at home, and as a result they created a place they could share and a community of people around it. There was an incredible life force behind North Hill," Garrett said. "Wayne will live on in his words and accomplishments. And we are lucky to continue to have Joe."

Also, The Garden Writer’s Association distributed this release to members which shares a more personal account:

Dear Friends,
“We’ve lost another great gardener - Wayne Winterrowd. I just received this
email from Fotios, Wayne’s and Joe Eck’s son.

“We brought Wayne home yesterday to die in his own bed. He was hospitalized
on Monday where he suffered heart failure, was revived but never recovered
from it. He died peacefully around 6:30 pm to the sound of his canaries and
many people who loved him were there to see him off.”

Today, there is yet another gardener beautifying heaven.”

The family will hold a small private gathering at home with the planting of four birches to create a memorial garden, their son, Fotios Bouzikos said. A fund has been created in Wayne Winterrowd's memory. Checks may be made to North Hill Garden; P.O. Box 178; Readsboro, VT 05350. For more information on North Hill visit the website northhillgardens.com.

 A blue Meconopsis Poppy, made famous in thier first book, A YEAR AT NORTH HILL, because they we're able to bloom this rare plant in their Vermont garden, and not in Seattle where it prefers growing.
The alpine wall along the foundation of Wayne's North Hill Garden.

September 21, 2010

Colchicum or Autumn Crocus? What should you plant?

Colchicum 'Waterlily', a single bulb will mature into a small clump in a few years.

 Colchicum always surprise me. I mean, I know where I planted them, and I know when they are supposed bloom, but I am never really prepared for when they emerge, which seems to be virtually over night. All it takes is a few chilly nights in September, and suddenly, a sea of purple opens up driving the bees, crazy. Last Saturday morning, I noticed some of my populations blooming even nicer than the week before ( when I had mistakenly believed that our Indian Runner Ducks had extracted each of the early blossoms). One week later, the clumps looked not worse for the wear, and in the late summer sunshine, opened up their petals for a magnificent show.

1. Order Early.
The 'Waterlily' Colchicum above are an impressive display at the Tower Hill Botanic Garden. It demonstrates the best way to site these autumn flowering bulbs. There are a few things to remember, First, plant Colchicum early, which means that you must order them early.

2. Site them where they will look awesome in September.
This is important for two reasons. First, Colchicums bloom immediately after planting in the autumn, but they send up their foliage in the spring, which can be rather aggressive. The foliage is not unattractive, but it dies down in early July, so plan for this ( combining Narcissus is a good idea, but not Hosta, for when the plants bloom in the fall, you will not see them). The idea location, is an open spot in a mixed shrub border, which remains bare as above.

3. Plant lots of bulbs
If you order from a major retail mail order source, they will arrive at the proper time to plant for your zone, but like all bulbs, the more you plant, the better the display. I calculate that the drift of 'Waterlily' colchicum at Tower Hill came from about 50 bulbs, planted about ten years ago. Even 25 bulbs plants 1 foot apart, will give you the same look in 3 years. These are plants that become better with age, so feel good about investing in them.

4. Here is the confusing part. The common name for Colchicum is 'Autumn Crocus', but they are not true Autumn Crocus, for there are many species of true crocus which are autumn blooming, and most look very much like spring blooming crocus which you surely know. The genus crocus is not related to the genus Colchicum, and out of the 80 or so species of true crocus, about half are autumn blooming. Sadly, many true autumn crocus are not hardy beyond Zone 6, and collectors tend to grow crocus in greenhouse collections.  You may have heard that Saffron comes from Crocus, which it does, an autumn blooming one, Crocus sativus.
Colchicum are a different genus, and, not all Colchicum are fall blooming, some species bloom in winter, and others in the spring.  There are many named varieties which are very old to culture, but the pure wild forms, or species number around 60. Most are native to Turkey, the Middle East and Southern Russia. These are generally collector species, and only a few micro collector nurseries carry the spring bloomers, so don't worry about getting anything but a fall blooming Colchicum from your local garden center, or from a Dutch bulb dealer.

A Pleasant Visit to Pleasant Valley

First, the Glads....

 Sunday we visited a local farm just over the border in West Suffield, CT called Pleasant Valley Glad's and Dahlia's. A family owned business in it's second generation of business, they are one of the countries few last growers and breeders of Gladiolus. I have an affinity for these most underused and under-appreciated of all summer bulbs, and I don't know quite why. It might simply be by association, for the remind me of late summer gardens, and the gardens that my mom maintained. Regardless, anyone looking for late summer color should think about planting some exhibition glads, for the colors and varieties are endless, and as I found out on this visit, some new varieties might be perfect for large clumps in perennial borders, which is how they look best. So if your idea of gladiolus is limited to the handful of commercial varieties used by florists for funeral baskets, think again. Go Google Gladiola grower, and see what fancy varieties you will try next year in your garden. You might be pleasantly surprised!

September 19, 2010

Show Report -A Cactus and Succulent Show


Yesterday we attended the Massachusetts Cactus and Succulent Society show, held at Tower Hill Botanic Garden in Boylston, MA. I've been trying to resist collecting cacti and succulents, but one can stay away only so long. Attending a show like this is very inspiring, we brought along a friend of ours who had never been to a plant society show, and she left with a tray of plants, and I think I can sense that this won't be the last time she goes to a society show.

DYCKIA and related species have striking leaf forms, and a collection of like-species is sharp!

Plant societies shows often have plant sales, tables where members sell cutting and starts from their own collections, and specialist nurseries who sell plants often not found anywhere else. I left with a tray of Gasteria species and Haworthia species, as well as a large Bulbine caulescens from the rare plant auction which I was trying to avoid, but this caught my eye ( and ear) as I was passing by.

September 18, 2010

My New Bulb Rules- 10 Ways to Justify A Frivolous Fritilaria

Colchicum 'Disaraeli' in my garden this morning.
Colchicum 'Waterlily' at Tower Hill Botanic Garden

It's already Colchicum season, which always arrives faster than I expect. If you are seeing these lovely fall-blooming bulbs in your local gardens, make a note to order some next August, for the window of opportunity for which you can plant these summer dormant bulbs in is rather short. By the time September arrives, the few retailers who carry them won't ship bulbs if they are already showing flower buds. Bulbs work on an internal clock, and since most can only be planted while dormant, being efficient in both ordering bulbs and timing the orders is as critical as exercising ones skills of vision, for one must imagine both color palettes and time of bloom, as well as companion plants.

As the weather starts to cool, and the Dutch bulbs start to show up in cardboard displays at the big box stores, many people are just starting  to think about buying bulbs, but for those of us who are more informed, tis the season for major bulb purchases. If I was rich, I would just order them all, but I am not, and thus, I cannot. So I must exercise restraint. Buying ones bulb in big box stores might be convenient. but you are limited to the commercial varieties which are mass marketed, and well, I just require more interesting bulbs than a mesh bag of Dutch Master Daffodils.

 Experienced gardeners know better, and plan a little more, but mostly, they know where to order more interesting bulbs that are premium. If you are wondering where we go, or what we buy and why, let me share with you my 10 strategies of bulb buying, since it might provide a some helpful hints that you can use. Actually, these are more like my 10 rules of justification - as in, "I HAVE to buy three more Fritilaria to complete my collection of high alpine Frits in the raised bed'. It works.

The practicalities of bulb ordering in a digital world are different than those in a paper world, since it is far too easy to make 'faux' orders, and become overwhelmed with a $3500. order. Here is my strategy for tiering how I order my bulbs.

CLICK 'READ MORE' for my ten rules, and sources.....

September 14, 2010

Cape Fuchsia's Never Stop

Two varieties of Phygelius capensis in my African border.

 Phygelius capensis, or Cape Fuchsia ( not really a Fuchsia), provides long lasting color in warmer gardens, but even if you live in the north, they make great temporary additions to container plantings, or in borders. Next year I will grow more ( especially the yellow and white forms), but I know that I should order early, since most of the nicer varieties sold out by February. Take cuttings now, for plants that you can winter over indoors or under glass.

September 13, 2010

My own private Wisley

 I always admire the raised sand beds at Wisley, the Royal Horticultural Society garden in the UK. So when I built my dream greenhouse, I knew that I wanted something similar in which to display various alpine plants, and precious bulbs. Not quite Wisley, I keep four raised sand beds, two in the front of the greenhouse, and two in the rear. In the front beds, I like to switch our year round, various plant material, whatever looks great at the moment. I know, lame, it's like setting a display for myself, since no one else see's them! My own little botanic garden, I guess.


 Last weekend I switched out the Pelargonium collection, with some early autumn flowering bulbs from Turkey, the middle east and from Africa.
Early Cyclamen species in the plunge bed. In two weeks, this bed will have more interesting plants in it as the South African bulbs begin to grow.

September 12, 2010

Heirloom Tomatoes and Heirloom Eggs

 Oh, sweet tomato. These heirloom varieties all grown from seed that I purchased from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds are from only a handful of plants, ( about twelve, so...OK, a mutant handful). We decided to pick all that had even a little color because our new puppy Lydia ( Liddy Bug) has discovered that what she likes more than hunting the bunny on this side of the garden, and knocking over rare pots of bulbs, and even more than chewing on Echeveria, is eating tomatoes till she pukes.
 Oh, Liddy. At least her mom and dad eat the Kale and Cabbage which they started munching on last week.... ( I don't know why, maybe because they are Irish Terriers).  But the tomatoes are too precious.
This year we grew four plants on bales of straw, which worked out quite well.

The new black and blue Indian Runner ducks have started laying eggs last week, too. The eggs are different shapes at first, some look like pheasant eggs, others, like pigeon eggs. The greenish eggs are from the darker ducks, the grey and the black, and just incase you are thinking that they look exactly like wild Mallard Duck eggs, they do, which is not surprising since Indian Runners are bred from Mallards. Tomorrow? Scambled eggs and heirloom pineapple tomatoes for breakfast!

Extraordinary fall bulbs

 As our days grow shorter, many bulbs begin growth in earnest. The bees are buzzing so loud around the large long-tom pot of Nerine masoniorum, that I can hear it from 12 feet away. This morning, not only was it busy with bees. but with small, colorful moths, eagerly extracting every drop of nectar.
Cyclamen graecum flowers stay low and close to the bulb., which sits on the surface of the soil. This Cyclamen, which is different than the typical florist Cyclamen we see in garden centers, is tender, and must be brought indoors, under cool glass, like many of these bulbs on this post, but I try to keep all of my Cyclamen collection outdoors so that the bees can actively pollenate them all. 
A top view of the Nerine masoniorum and Cyclamen graecum, grown in pots so that they can go back into the greenhouse once freezing weather arrives, also makes them easy portable fall color for displays, and an interesting alternative to Chrysanthemums.

September 11, 2010

My Happy Experiment with Two Vines

 Sometimes breaking rules pays off. It all began last year. I had a surplus of the common houseplant known by many as the Sea Onion, or Bowiea volubis, a South African native, you might be familiar with seeing it at spring flower shows, or on windowsills grown as a novelty, with its strange twining branches which look exactly like emerald green branches of coral emerging from a shiny, fleshy perfectly green sphere which sits on the soil like a large dinosaur egg. The problem with Bowiea, is that one never really knows what to do with it, and it usually is seen just tumbling out of a clay pot, and hanging off of the windowsill.

I really don't remember why I decided to pot the Bowiea I had into a large pot, but I do remember thinking about throwing them into the compost pile since they had divided into far too many than anyone could ever want or need. But there were too large, almost softball size spheres that I felt required a future, but I needed something for them to grow on. I found the trellis, but it only fit into one massive 14 inch clay pot, but then it all came together. Why not do something indulgent, and pot ALL of my Bowiea into one large pot, and watch the branches twist and crawl up the trellis?  To make a long story short, I did this, it looked awesome, and by July, the entire cone was covered with green coral. Lovely.
 Cardinal Creeper is a funny little annual which is rarely seen or grown, I think because it's just one of those annuals that one always sees in the catalogs, but which you never grow. I hadn't even tried it before, I think because I really don't have a place to grow it. But then, who really has a 'place' ready for morning glory's and  Ipomoea x multifida any way? The only way around this handycap, is to find places, and found this pot of Bowiea. The foliage on the Cardinal Creeper might be its best asset, but then, that is also the best asset if not the only asset of Bowiea. A perfect marriage.
In this image from June, you can see the young Cardinal Creeper foliage just starting to climb.
By late August, and Early September, the mature column is full of both foliage and red the red flowers of the Cardinal Creeper which is, a Hummingbird magnet.