November 28, 2010

The Importance of Daylength and Light

EVERY FALL, I BLEACH THE TEAK POTTING BENCH IN THE BACK OF THE GREENHOUSE, TO KILL ANY BACTERIA AND FUNGUS, IN PREP FOR THE COLD, DAMP CONDITIONS OF WINTER. DAMP POTTING SOIL AND WET CLAY POTS CAN EVEN ROT THE MOST TROPICAL OF HARDWOODS.

As winter approaches, the low angle of the sun and the short days and long nights, make every minute of sunshine, precious. Grumble, as we may about these long nights, without them, many plants will not form buds on schedule. I get asked so often about how I get certain plants to bloom which are notoriously shy about blooming as houseplants, and all I can say is that now that I have a greenhouse, I really don't think about this challenge anymore. There was a time when every October, we would moves the large pots of Christmas Cactus, Poinsettia and Clivia into the dark, cool cellar for a month, to 'trigger' bud formation. A move that rarely seemed to work well. But once we built the greenhouse, every plant blooms on schedule, give or take a few weeks.

 I can look back every December on this blog, and see that my Haemanthus should be in bloom this week, (and it is). Clearly, day length is critical, and I would venture to say that it, along with temperature shifts, are the key triggers for bud formation with many plants. It does make one wonder, do humans respond to seasonal shifts in temperature and light? I mean, beyond the known benefits of light exposure ( which, I must admit, a sunny day in a winter greenhouse does wonders for those suffering from seasonal disorders, which Joe has, and I think that I do not). But I wonder if there are any other benefits from humans being exposed to natured elements that we not miss in our climate controlled homes?

AS YOU CAN SEE, THE FALL CAMELLIAS ARE STILL BLOOMING, AS IS EVERYTHING ELSE THAT SHOULD BE BLOOMING RIGHT NOW. THE ZYGOCACTUS ( CHRISTMAS CACTUS). WHEN GROWN UNDER GLASS, THIS PLANT RESPONDS NATURALLY TO THE SHORTER DAY LENGTH AND IT FORMS FLOWER BUDS WITHOUT ANY 'CELLAR TRICKS'. EARLY NARCISSUS ARE BEGINNING TO BLOOM, TOO.

EVERYTHING HAS A SEASON, AND POINSETTIA BLOOM NATURALLY IN MEXICO FROM AROUND CHRISTMAS THROUGH  JANUARY.  THIS WILD SPECIES FORM IS JUST STARTING TO FORM THE PLANTS ICONIC RED BRACTS.

The Poinsettia we see at the supermarkets are artificially subjected to short daylength periods earlier in the season ( draped with black plastic).  At home, it is almost impossible to get a plant to rebloom unless you are prudent about daylength ( even a streetlight or a lamp can throw off the photo period). The above plant I have is actually the wild form of Poinsettia, or EUPHORBIA PULCHERRIMA. As you can see, it is just starting to form colorful bracts, which is normal for late November. In the wilds of Mexico, where this plant is native, the same thing is happening. When I lived in Hawaii, I remembered old Hawaiian cottages that looked very much like New England cottages, but instead of blue Hydrangeas, red Poinsettias were in bloom in January. 

The plants we see now everywhere are not only hybrids, but drenched in growth retardant, which keeps them short enough for retail ( even shelves on shipping trucks are kept at  certain height to maximize profits). So good luck finding a tall, old-fashioned poinsettia unless you know of a good florist who grows their own ( rare these days). The wild form is weedier, but I am fine with that. My only concern is as the weather cools down, the greenhouse will start to stay at around 40 degree's which is too cold for this genus, which prefers to stay above 50 deg. F. So I may move this, and a tree aloe which is forming a bud, into the studio for the winter, to see if that helps.

November 23, 2010

In Bloom Today - Aechmea chantinii 'Samurai'

AECHMEA 'SAMURAI' HAS CORAL AND MUSTARD GOLD FLORAL BRACTS AND VARIEGATED LEAVES THAT HAVE A STRANGE BUT ATTRACTIVE DUAL PATTERN IN THE FOLIAGE CONSISTING OF HOROZONTAL SILVER BANDING AND YELLOW VERTICAL STRIPING

Aechmea chantinii 'Samurai' is an beautiful bromeliad cultivar that has both striking flowers and awesome patterned foliage with variegation and silvery bands.  There are many, many cultivars and forma of A. chantinii (amazonica var. fuchsii, ET), and many of these are being tissue cultured in Japan. This cultivar is one of the names forma, and it makes a rather impressive statement in container plantings. I purchased this plant in the spring, and kept it in full sun all summer with my container plants, and right now, I have planted it in a large hanging basket in the greenhouse with some begonia 'Marmaduke', since the copper speckled foliage plays nicely with the intense, over-designed patterning in the Aechmea foliage.

I don't grow many bromeliads but I think I will start collecting more, since they make great container specimens in the summer outdoors, and they are pretty care-free when kept in the greenhouse or in a bright window.

November 22, 2010

Preparing Outdoor Containers for Holiday Greens.

NOT ALL HOLLY IS RED, THIS PATENTED CULTIVAR OF MERSERVE HOLLY, ILEX X MESERVEAE  'MESGOLG''GOLDEN GIRL®' LOOKS AN ENGLISH HOLLY BUT WITH BRIGHT YELLOW BERRIES. DON'T YOU LOVE IT? IT WAS INTRODUCED IN 1990, AND HAS GREAT FORM. RED FOTHERGILLA FOLIAGE IN THE BACK IS ALSO CUT FOR DISPLAY, THE FOLIAGE IS BRIGHT AND  LONG LASTING. ONCE IT DROPS, THE BRANCHES ARE EQUALLY ATTRACTIVE.

Next weekend, during my Thanksgiving, as I watch neighbors drag out their plastic deer and inflatable giant snow globes between football games and turkey, I usually like to pick greens and branches, and other wild or cultivated plant material which I will use to fill outdoor garden containers that can handle the heavy winter conditions we get here in New England.

There are many containers that remain outdoors here, they may be empty stone troughs or cast concrete containers, or cast iron urns. Without spending a dollar, I can fill each of them with a unique motif appropriate for the season. 
THIS CAST IRON URN IS TYPICALLY PLANTED WITH ANNUALS FOR SUMMER DISPLAY, BUT FOR WINTER, I FILL IT WITH GREENS GATHERED FROM THE GARDEN. WITHIN A WEEK, THE SOIL INSIDE WILL BE FROZEN, SO PREPARING OUTDOOR CONTAINERS BEFORE SOIL FREEZES IS HELPFUL. 

I start with foundational greens, which might be anything, since this is random pruning, quick snips from various shrubs and evergreen trees which I either feel have nice, structural branches, or have evergreen colors that are different and unique. If I wanted to fuss, and plant some of these containers, ( and I will later on), then I would plant and design the result, but for most of these containers, which are in odd places around the property, such as this large steel urn near the door of the greenhouse, few people ever see except us and the dogs, so this is more an an exercise in hiding the soil in the pot, than it is in creating a stunning photo prop. I completed this speedy arrangement with some purple kale, and som bundles of fall foliage which will only last a week, if that, but will add that touch of autumn that the dogs will enjoy as they go out to pee. I know, we are crazy. Indulgent deco.
FOR THE THANKSGIVING HOLIDAY SEASON, I'VE LIMITED THE PALETTE TO YELLOW ILEX (HOLLY), PINES, CEDAR AND PURPLE KALE AS WELL AS SOME AUTUMN FOLIAGE FOR A TEMPORARY TOUCH OF COLOR. RED BERRIES AND BARE SILVER BRANCHES WILL BE ADDED NEXT WEEKEND. THE COLORED FOLIAGE ONLY NEEDS TO LAST A FEW DAYS.

 Now, I'm off to pick our native Winter Berry, or Ilex verticillata before the heavier frost arrives tonight. These I will keep in bundles outdoors until temperatures drop well below freezing, which will cause them to turn brown. I can keep bundles on the back porch or even in the greenhouse until I need them for Holiday decorations in a week or two.


CHRISTMAS IS COMING! ILEX VERTICILATA CUT FROM THEM GARDEN HEDGES IN PREP FOR HOLIDAY ARRANGEMENTS LATER IN THE MONTH. 

CAMELLIA ' SHIBORI EGAO'

The Japanese cultivar, 'Shibori Egao' has bicolored petals that can sometimes produce flowers which are entirely white, or completely pink. The best, however, are those which open in this bicolored pattern. While we in the west prepare for what designers tell us are iconic autumnal decorative elements such as squash, pumpkins, gourds, turkeys and such, other northern hemisphere cultures enjoy a broader celebration of nature, which yes, includes pink, rose, red and dare I say Blue Pheasants?

November 14, 2010

The Camellias of Fall-Orange and Pink? it's natural.

Camellia sasanqua varieties start blooming in mid-autumn.
The Japanese cultivar C. sasanqua 'Omogoromo'

Camellia japonica  'San Dimas'

Being born and raised in New England, Camellia's we're known only as old greenhouse plants, found in century-old glasshouses on estates or as old florist greenhouse trees, where a few old florists still had an eighty year old tree growing in the ground left over from an earlier time when fashion stated that one must have a Camellia corsage for an important event. Today, the idea of a Camellia corsage ( or any corsage for that matter) is as quaint as a gloves are with an evening gown. Camellia's are left to those who live in the deep south, or in California, where they are still grown as landscape trees and shrubs, but not really collected passionately.

The lovely Camellia is making a comeback, slowly. Here in New England, although there a none that are truly hardy, a few new forms are surviving on Cape Cod, and in Southern Rhode Island, new crosses that combine the hardiness of more northern species from China. Slowly, Camellia's are being grown in more northern gardens, and with global warming, maybe it won't be long before I too can try some in my Zone 5 garden. But in the cold greenhouse, there are many I can grow, and every year, I try to add as many as I have room for.

It was surprising, to me, that there are many types of Camellia, and that the autumnal blooming species ( Camellia sasanqua and crosses) are typical Asian subjects in many gardens in zones 8, 9, and 10. The woodlands of China, Korea and Japan include wild species of Camellia in full bloom, along with the bamboos, the Japanese maples and other fall foliage displays. So, although it may seem visually harsh to see brilliant fall foliage and pink Camellia's, think again, for it is more than normal, it is nature.

Autumn Chores


THE WALK TO THE GREENHOUSE IS CLUTTERED WITH POTS AND PLANTS STILL WAITING TO BE MOVED IN FOR THE WINTER.

With a four day weekend in November, and warmer temperatures than normal, I've been able to catch up with some chores in the greenhouse, and out in the garden. For those of you who keep asking me to share some of my disasters as well as the successes, as to those of you who think everything looks beautiful in my garden ( not for those of you who have actually visited and seen the truth!), I share some un-edited shots which are less than pretty.
WHAT THIS FORBIDDEN AREA ( THE MIDDLE OF THE GREENHOUSE) LOOKS LIKE AFTER A YEAR OF TRASH, AND PLANTS GET PUSHED TO THE CENTER. MOST OF THIS IS HIDDEN BEHIND RAISED BENCHES AND PLANTS

I Decided to move a large bench out of the greenhouse so that I can access the center aisle, where some large trees have grown ( Acacia trees and an Osmanthus fragrans). I needed to cut out a couple of trees, and rake out the debris in order to make room for some larger tubs of plants that will need this space for the winter, mainly,  our very large Gardenia, and some rosemary, Olives and Agapanthus.

I call this litter my California mulch - acacia leaves, Osmanthus and other sub tropical foliage. All ready for the compost pile. It always amazes me how much foliage grows in the greenhouse, once I remove the trunks and branches. 
I also trimmed the boxwood hedges this weekend, they get trimmed twice a year, once in June, and once in November so that they look tidy for the winter. These are still young, and this year I decided not to train them as globes, but as a continuous circular hedge, so they will need a couple more years of growth to catch up.
A bit of a disaster, I think. This is the tender shrub, Edgeworthia, and I thought that perhaps I could let it stay outdoors until November since I have seen them in Tokyo in the snow ( they bloom in February), but with two frosts now, the leave just curled, and the flower bud buttons are shattering, so I don't know what I did wrong. Maybe I have just brought the shrub into the greenhouse before the frost? I fear that I might have lost this plant.

Some rare bulbs came in the mail this weekend, so I've been potting them up. This here is a bulbous Nasturtium, called Tropaeoplum brachyceras, a plant from Chile. There are about 70 species of Tropaeolum, and some tuberous speices are good subjects for alpine houses and winter greenhouses, although difficult to fine, and notoriously stubborn-some ramain dormant for years in their pots refusing to grow. This is a vine, and will make gorgeous yellow flowers this spring, but I must plant is very deep, and never let the plant get warmer than 75 deg. F.
PLANTING THE TUBER VERY DEEP IN THE POT, IF I COULD POT IT TWO FEET DEEP, I WOULD.

This wirey stem is another  relative of Nastustium, Tropaeolum azureum, another Chilean plant that is fussier to grow than some other tuberous species, and I often screw things up since I sometimes cannot see the new shoot ( it literally is wire-thin) and one can easily snap it off, or pull it out by accident. I have learned that if you pinch the tip of this wire while young, it will branch more, which is a scary thing to do when this is a plant that sometimes takes 6 or 8 years off before it decides to send up a stem! Now, I must look for an appropriate trellis for it to grow on. This too, is potted in a 24 inch deep pot, near the bottom.
 
TROPAEOLUM AZUREUM STEM

Other bulbs are being planted, many are first-time rarities for me, since I was getting a little bored, as you all know! More on these, later.

Here is that messy center of the greenhouse, with new pots, all cleaned up, and nestled in for the winter. I feel better now, and as if I accomplished something this weekend! That said, my dumpster is full.

November 12, 2010

Daily Awesome - Oxalis lutea

THE BULBOUS SOUTH AFRICAN OXALIS CAN BE VERY IMPRESSIVE, CHECK OUT THIS POT OF OXALIS LUTEA.


It's almost as if these bulbs knew that I was bored with them, and, as usual, I left them outside to freeze, but at the very last minute, I get a soft spot and bring them into the greenhouse. This pot of Oxalis lutea, I admit, is a favorite while it is in bloom. I divided the bulbs this year, and tossed many out, since although not invasive like many Oxalis, this one does produce lots of bulbs. I accidentally spilled a pot of dry bulbs into a soil mix, and now they are coming up in other pots, which, I rather like. As if I have tiny pots each with a 'bit of meadow', well, more like if you took a meadow in South African, Chile and Spain, and mixed it all up! ( Oxalis, xxx and Narcissus species all growing together). Sloppy gardening sometimes works. 

November 11, 2010

Forcing Bulbs

PLASTIC POTS ARE BEST, SINCE THEY DO NOT CRACK, BUT THEY ARE UGLY, SO FIND SOME THAT FIT INTO CLAY POTS SO THE WHEN YOU BRING THE POTS INTO THE HOUSE TO FORCE, YOU CAN HIDE THE PLASTIC.

YOU CAN REALLY JAM-IN BULBS (THEY PREFER IT), IT GIVES YOU A BETTER DISPLAY. THESE POTS ARE SMALL, BUT I AM ONLY FORCING A FEW BULBS THIS YEAR.


Every year, I want to force a few bulb, for there is nothing like the scent of Hyacinths or Narcissus on a snowy, winter day, be it in the greenhouse, or on the windowsill indoors. Forcing isn't something I fuss about, since I plant most bulbs outdoors, my method is simple, I just sneak a few bulbs out of the bags that I am planting, to pot up for earlier bloom. Six Hyacinths here, five triumph tulips there, a dozen crocus - all make great forcing subjects. Hey, it's fun and I really don't ahead except with some fancier bulbs which you all know about.

I use plastic pots, since the bulbs must be placed in a cool, near freezing location for ten weeks, and clay pots might crack. But since I dislike the color of plastic pots, I make sure that I have sizes that I can slide into clay pots, once I bring them into the greenhouse. No fancy soil, I simply use ProMix, a professional potting soil, and just plant my bulbs halfway down the depth of the pot. They are watered-in, and placed in a trench in the garden, where I cover them with leaves and a tarp since they need darkness. I will move them to a dark, storage room in our cellar, where root vegetables used to be kept, around Christmas, since heavy snow will make removing pots difficult. Around the New Year, I will begin introducing pots into the greenhouse, where my winter will be enhanced with daffodils, hyacinths and tulips. 

The Impressive new Martha Stewart Living App for iPad


THE FUTURE JUST GOT BEAUTIFUL. THIS COVER SHOT IS A MOVIE!, YOU CAN WATCH THE PEONY OPEN, OVER AND OVER AGAIN!

Today we've been busy playing with our iPads, and the new Martha Stewart Magazine digital App called - Boundless Beauty, exclusively for the iPad, which was released today by the amazing creative people at MSLO. As an big Adobe, RISD and MIT Media Lab fan, I've been hearing about this for a while. It's been worth the wait.


Imagine scrolling through a long vertical image where many dozens of Peony are shown with the flick of a finger.

If you have not tried any of the iPad apps, which are different than simply downloading a digital magazine, you must try any of the incredible apps in addition to the regular magazines. Adobe InDesign 5 had many significant improvements, particularly, this new method of creating interactive documents (imagine a pdf where you can scroll with your finger, up, or down, left, or right, tap on a picture and it becomes a movie, tap on another and the illustration might rotate, tap on a caption and the image changes. Better yet, imagine taking any paper magazine, and tearing out all of the pages, and then rearranging it in a grid, like a giant poster, where all of the articles are aligned vertically, yet you can scroll sideways. Amazing.


I encourage all of you to try this new Martha Stewart Living app, since there are terrific articles on peonies, orchids, and all of the things you used to love about her brand, before it became too branded. And, for $3.99, it's a bargain! Of course, you do need to buy an iPad, but you must. It is changing everything!

P.S. Any garden society who isn't thinking about this is crazy. Look....your journals are already being designed in Adobe InDesign and saved as a PDF to go to the printer. So there is no reason why you cannot do this, too. All you need to do is to buy the upgrade to CS5, and save your doc as a grid pdf. When you add a photo or image, you can choose if you want a video, instead. SO - Plant societies take notice....who is going to take their expensive printed-on-paper journal and do this first? I know my next issue of Plant Society will be designed in this format....but there is NO reason why NARGS, the Daffodil Society, even the American Primrose Society can't do this for minimal investment.  It's been 3 months since I bought my ipad, and it never leaves my bedside, ( Except when I travel).

November 3, 2010

The challenge of photographing Nerine

ABOVE - UN-RETOUCHED IMAGE OF NERINE 'KEN SCOTT', NOT AN ACCURATE REPRESENTATION OF THE REAL TINT.

DRASTICALLY PHOTOSHOP ADJUSTED IMAGE, WHICH DOES NOT LOOK REAL, A SIDE-BY-SIDE PERFECT MATCH WITH THE LIVE FLOWER.

Nerine sarniensis 'Ken Scott' has this amazing smokey color.  A new Nerine that I added last year to my collection, this photo may look too color-adjusted, ( it is) but this was my attempt to try and capture the actual color of this unique flower color. I feel that the petals here are exactly what the live blossom looks like. Nerine are so challenging to photograph digitally. Below, are some images of 'Ken Scott' without adjusting the color, for some reason, the yellow tint really intensifies in sunlight, and in shade, it goes orange.
MORNING SHOT OF NERINE 'KEN SCOTT'


NERINE 'RENOIR', WHICH IS EASIER TO PHOTOGRAPH FOR SOME STRANGE REASON, I IMAGINE THAT MUCH OF THIS HAS TO DO WITH HOW LIGHT IS REFLECTED WITHIN THE PETALS.

A PALE PINK NERINE SHOT IN SHADE, IS MORE ACCURATE SINCE LESS LIGHT IS REFRACTED

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