January 31, 2011

Thinking big, and small, with mini lettuce

A photo of mini lettuce growing in a garden high in the Swiss Alps in the village of Mürren. The European consumer prefers these mini types, they are also the only varieties sold in markets there. 

I have decided to grow a garden of mini-head lettuce. If you wonder why Europeans like mini heads of lettuce, next time you are in your market, by one of these small heads which we Americans usually pass over for poly bagged mixes ( eew...washed in chlorine and tasteless) or for large over fertilized Iceberg heads, and find out why they are so preferred, the nutty taste and sweet flavor might convince you too. It converted me, and I am a classic Iceberg fan and not afraid to admit it!


CRAQUERELLE DU MIDI

An extra compact heirloom variety that Johnny's Selected Seeds calls Winter Density, is known in Europe as Craquerelle du Midi. Technically a Buttercrunch type, this head remains small, allowing for individual-sized heads that can be planted 8 inches apart.

I've been thinking about what to grow this summer since my space is rather limited ( at least in my raised beds). Last year in Switzerland, we noticed so many perfectly tended gardens high in the Alps, and it seemed that all had tidy, neat rows of mini lettuce heads and mini cabbages, which inspired me to think more European, and try growing these tastier, small varieties that they love so much. Sure, here in America, many of us were raised to love 20 ounce steaks, 5 lb cabbages and foot-wide genetically altered lettuce heads. Supersizing may work in the produce aisle at your local Super Wall Mart, but maybe it's time to down size a little. So this year, inspired by those Swiss gardens, I too am experimenting with mini-heads of lettuce. Besides, I think they will be pretty, too.

DANCINE

Dancine, a new organic mini-head lettuce perfect for 1-2 people. This variety was bred for greenhouse growing but it does well in New England gardens, and in the Pacific North West.


RHAZES

Rhazes is a new Little Gem-type of red lettuce that has a most color leaf, with both lime green and red. 
I am ordering all of these seeds now, all are from Johnny's Selected Seeds  ( as are these photos). I won't start them until the end of February which reminds me to mention the tricks, or shall I say, the facts on raising lettuce.

All lettuce is thermal dormant, which means, all lettuce seed is dormant at high temperatures, or very cold temperatures. Seed can be sown right in the garden as soon as the soil can be worked, but what does that really mean? It's simple. Lettuce seed germinates best at around 45 - 50 degrees F, and seedlings, if started in a greenhouse ( which you must if you want strong seedlings early) must not every experience temperatures above 75 degrees F. In the garden, you can sow seeds in March since seedlings can survive lows of 20 degrees F, but use pelleted seed since it allows you to space the seedlings better, and the pelleting material will broaden the temperature range that the plants can handle.


AUSTRALE

A lolo rosso type that is very popular in Europe, I think every garden in France and Switzerland grows this in the spring, and for a good reason, it is beautiful and tastes delicious. It doesn't ship well, so we rarely see this or other mini heads in the US.  I have to grow this variety even though it is not a true mini-head. Usually only found in high-end markets in the US, this is the variety it seems every garden in Switzerland had a row or two of.

Start seeds early in a greenhouse for a cool, bright room like a porch, sow the seeds in 3/4" cell trays and in 4 weeks, transplant into 2" cells using pro mix potting soil. The best way to harden off seedlings is to withhold water for 2 days and then subject the young plants to 3 days of cooler outdoor temperatures. Since the seedlings can then be exposed to 20 degrees F, one can start seeds 4 weeks before one plans to plant outdoors. I will start my lettuce on Valentines Day, February 14. Stay tuned to see how this garden grows as I document it step by step. I will also be growing mini-cabbages, to carry through the Euro theme.

BREEN

Breen is a very compact new mini romaine that stays less than 8 " high, it is dense, crisp and resistant to many diseases. It's shiny leaves are stunning and flavorful in salads.

Mark my words, you will do this: Grafting Tomatoes


HEIRLOOM TOMATOES FROM MY GARDEN LAST SEPTEMBER, TYPICALLY PRONE TO DISEASES, IF THESE WERE GRAFTED PLANTS, I COULD INCREASE MY HARVEST BY 200%, ORGANICALLY.

 They're calling it the ‘Jack in the Bean Stalk Effect’.

It doesn’t include any fancy chemicals, secret hormone or electricity. It doesn’t even involve a wicked witch or a fairly godmother for that matter, all you need to do, is to graft any tomato variety onto a root-crazy rootstalk variety. It’s akin to grafting the body of Octomom onto the legs of Lance Armstrong, OK, pathetically poor analogy, but in the world of home grown tomatoes, you can only imagine what that means. But I am jumping ahead of myself……

Ten years ago, the method started in Japan, and six years ago, commercial growers in North America started hearing about it and trying it. Today, many greenhouse tomato crops are grown on grafted plants, and a trend has been born. This is still a new strategy in avoiding soil-borne diseases with tomato crops is taking root with a few in-the-know home growers.

Grafted tomatoes. The idea is simple. Take any tomato variety, heirloom or F1 hybrid like Big Girl, and at a young stage graft the plant onto another variety selected specifically for it’s super-turbo root growth and disease resistance. Suddenly, the best, greenest, most sustainable and paradigm shifting method for overcoming the soil-borne diseases that blight our home gardens with our most favorite crop has been overcome- if you haven’t heard of home-grafted tomatoes yet,  you will. Why not be the first to try them?
 
A JOHNNY'S SELECTED SEED'S IMAGE OF A GRAFTED TOMATO, A GARDEN VARIETY PLANT IS GRAFTED ONTO THE ROOTSTALK OF A MORE AGRESSIVE GROWING VARIETY THAT DOES NOT BEAR FRUIT.

Grafting does seem scary, but this isn’t; the sort of grafting that takes time nor messy materials like beeswax and time- since tomatoes are grafted on soft tissue as young plants only weeks old, the grafts are quick to heal since the plants are young, and in a couple of weeks, they can even  be planted out.  But that is the best part, for a newly grafted plant may look exactly like its counterpart, once planted out in the garden, stand back...for farmers already joke about this phenomenon which they have coined, the “jack-in-the-bean-stalk” effect.   The JITBS Effect happens as the rootstock takes off deep into the ground, and the plants are turbo fueled to take off. Suddenly, everything is different for home tomato growers - once this method is adopted by nurserymen. Until then, you can do it yourself!
 
Simple, right? Well not so fast, we may all want to try this but when was the last time you tried to graft something at home? Thanks to Japan, things are getting easier with the introduction of easy-to-use grafting clips that look like colorful plastic clothes pins and new videos showing up on YouTube, we can all, at least try this method this year. Also, thanks to Johnny’s Selected Seed, the premium rootstock varieties ( mainly, a variety called Maxifort) are now available so that we all can start both sets of seedlings and try our own grafts at home.

Grafting tomatoes and other crops is still new, even to farmers, but most grafted crops are limited to organic greenhouse growers, but since the method works so well, I predict that it won’t be long before we all are buying pre-grafted tomatoes by fast reacting nurseries. Recent studies show that grafting a hybrid or heirloom plant onto a more root aggressive ‘wild’ form of tomato is quickly becoming a key factor in improving vigor and disease resistance in many crops, best of all, it is sustainable, organic and low-input. Grafting might be the key in mastering more disease prone varieties like heirlooms and non-hybrids, and many organic growers are already exploring its benefits.

In the USA, grafting is relatively unknown to home gardeners, and is mainly a practice used by a limited number of hydroponic tomato growers who cultivate tomatoes in poly tunnels. We all know that tomatoes are prone to viruses and other soil borne diseases, but imagine what greenhouse growers have to deal with, since they don’t have the luxury of rotating their crops to avoid the pathogens that developed under plastic in just 3 years.

According to a paper written by organic guru Jack Manix of Walker Farm in Dummerston, Vermont, a pivotal article about the methods and advantages of grafting tomatoes by a Canadian agronomist , Andre Carrier, changed everything for commercial growers, but it provides insight for may home gardeners too, since rotating crops is often not practical on a ¼ acre lot.

The benefits of grafting tomatoes onto a more aggressive rootstalk has been so extraordinary, that the idea of non-grafted plants may be outdated in a few years as we all adopt this method for our home crops. Tomato crops are notoriously fussy about susceptible to soil and air borne diseases, this may be the greatest discovery since grafting itself was invented (centuries ago). Grafted tomatoes are greenhouse growers secret method in avoiding diseases with their crops, but now, you no longer need a range of hoop houses in order to try grafting tomatoes for your own home garden.  Johnny’s Selected Seeds sells everything you will need, including the Japanese grafting clips and other clips, that you simply snap over the cut portions of stem, as the plant cells fuse together. Unlike apples and other woody plants where we normally see grafting used, tomatoes heal quickly once grafted, so clips are used for only a couple of weeks. Once healed, the plants are hardened off, potted into 4 inch pots and then moved to the garden where they take off at a growth rate three times that of non-grafted plants.

I am trying tomato grafting myself this year, since I think it will be easier in a home greenhouse than for a windowsill grower, but if you grow under lights, you may have more luck. An Internet search will bring you to many videos and step-by-step slide shows on the subject, and the greatest cost, which will be the rootstalk seed, can easily be justified by the number of plants you plan to graft.

So if you want the best tomato crop that you ever had, you mission is set….go graft!

Expect to see grafted tomatoes at some garden centers this year, but you can order some through the mail. Try here, at Log House Plants, or Territorial Seed.

January 29, 2011

HANASHOBU - The Art of Growing and Displaying Japanese Iris


THE FIRST BULLETIN ON HANASHOBU, PUBLISHED BY THE JAPAN IRIS SOCIETY IN 1931.

In Japan, Iris culture is like many things the Japanese practice, it's an art.  I seem to cover many of the cultural techniques seen in Japan, but for whatever reason, I have not shared my discoveries about the Japane Iris, Iris ensata. The culture of which the Japanese call HANASHOBU.  These are beautiful Iris that you too can grow ( if you can find them), for they are easier than many of the bearded iris, and they have a blooming period in mid summer, when you really need a boost.

 Thanks to the Japan Iris Society, there are more ways to grow these than just in the garden for many Japanese enthusiasts grow them carefully tended in pots. The writings of Hiroshi Shimzu, of the Japan Iris Society is most influencial, and I encourage you to visit their site, and learn more about these elegant plants.


A HANSHOBU DISPLAY FROM 1900



IN THE EDO PERIOD, HANASHOBU DISPLAYS WERE VERY POPULAR AS SEEN IN THIS WOOD BLOCK PRINT CIRCA 1700

January 28, 2011

Snowmageddon


Snow gathers on the alpine bed, which is buried under 7 feet of snow, and deep enough to stop the snow from sliding off of the greenhouse roof. A dangerous situation that needed prompt attention before the glass caved in.

Not to bore you all, but come on! Will is ever end? I do love snow, don't get me wrong, but with over 60 inches this year, and another 14 inches last night, I am reaching my limit. That said, I did spend an hour in the warm, sunny greenhouse today, but only after 5 hours of shoveling snow and shoveling off the wet snow that was clinging to the greenhouse roof. It was so heavy, that I was rushing to shovel as fast as I could, because the sun was heating up the interior so fast. Maybe that is a sign that spring is coming, the sun does feel a little bit stronger.
Picea orientalis 'Skylands', with golden yellow needles.

Happy little duck, they really don't seem to mind all of the snow. We lost another Indian Runner Duck, most likely due to feral cats that live in the woods behind us.

Many paths have to be shoveled around the garden, this one leads to the greenhouse behind the house.

January 26, 2011

Daily Awesome

The mottled bark of Pinus bungeana
Camellia japonica'Betty's Beauty'

An interspecific Clivia cross, between C. miniata and C. caulsecens




January 23, 2011

Rare Bulb Progress

The Brunsvigia bosmaniae, which bloomed for me this last September, has the most amazing leaves that stay pressed to the ground. I make sure that it receives the brightest sunshine, as it sits in a damp sand bed near the glass.
A Strumaria unguiculata enjoys the January sunshine under glass

Strumaria unguiculata, a very rare bulb from the northern part of the Cape in South Africa, has formed a nice large leaf, which is normal for this tiny bulb. One can expect two leaves, which will die in spring, and then the spicy scented white floral scape will emerge after a dry, hot, summer rest in September.
Cyclamen trochopteranthum has a name, longer than its flower. 

The mottled foliage is very different than any of the other Cyclamen species. I know, the label is misspelled above, but this tiny Cyclamen is precious and is rarely seen outside of collectors greenhouses. Native to a limited area in sout-west Anatolia, Turkey, this bulb blooms in the middle of the cyclamen season, which fills a gap for me between Cyclamen hederifolium and C. coum.

January 22, 2011

Aloe Arctic Cold Blast

My mystery tree Aloe blooms as more snow arrives and the coldest temperatures in 16 years. Tonight -5 F, Tomorrow, -10 possible. 

Here in New England, the next three days are expected to have low temperature readings well below zero degrees F. Some places may reach -18 near us, and here in Worcester, -8 is a reality. Thank goodness that we have a good blanket of snow on the ground, because without that insulation, the Hellebores, small shrubs and other marginal plants would surely perish. The deep snow should help those zone 6 and zone 7 plants in the gardens survive so I am not worried about the Eremurus or the Red Hot Pokers. What I am worried about are the zone 7 trees, like my never blooming 15 year old Davidia involucrata, and the single pane glasshouse full of plants. So many things can go wrong.
Our latest snow blitz dumped another 8 inches on top of the 22 inches earlier in the week. 

I really hate to keep talking about the snow, but it is impressive. We now have about 50 inches, and more snow is expected. At least the snow insulated the sides of the greenhouse, right? My big concerns? Running out of propane, a pane of glass breaking from falling ice, or freezing pipes. Inside, plants bloom away unaware of the blizzard.
The snow is crazy-deep now, so deep that the dogs can't find the stairs on the deck. I threw Lydia over the side, and she dissapeared under the snow, reappearing moments later all white ( she loves that!).
A Corydalis macrocentra, a rare bulblous Corydalis from Tadjikistan emerges in a double potted pot, which I feel this needs because it tends to run a little and the extra thick wall of gravel helps keep the roots temperatures and moisture more stable. 

Why the snow in the pots? Don't laugh you experts, but I add snow, few handfuls at a time on sunny days, to many of my emerging snow-line ephemerals for no other reason than it seems to make sense - natures rain water, I guess. These are plants the emerge through snow, and maybe there is extra nitrogen or micro nutrients in it ( maybe not, too), or perhaps the temperatures helps.  Not that I have any scientific reason other than mimicking nature, but in my crazy head, it seems like the right thing to do ( I mean, it's not like I don't have enough snow!)

A Fritillaria sewerzowii 'Goliath' sends it thick bud stalk out of a pot. This is the brown form of the typically green Frit. I can't wait to see it bloom

Fabulousness - NEW CUT FLOWER TRENDS


Green Trick® Series, a brand new Dianthus barbatus ‘Temarisou’ that looks more like a moss ball than a sterile Sweet William.

This amazing new cutflower may mark the end of  those green-dyed Carnations we all shriek at on St. Patrick’s day. Finally, a true green Dianthus is hitting the market.
First, this is not a true carnation at all (Dianthus caryophyllus) but rather, it is a Dianthus barbatus  cultivar, or Sweet William, But a Sweet William that looks more like a ball of moss.

Green Trick Dianthus is the hottest must-have flower introduced last February at a trade show in France and sold only for commercial growers as a cut flower crop.  You may see it at stylish florist shops in large cities where cool green pom pommy things are as sexy as, well, green pom pommy things.
Green Trick Sweet Williams ( not Carnations, as this grower states) being cultivated in an Australian greenhouse.

Bred by Hilverda kooij in Holland, and winner of countless awards this year is a stylish Dianthus barbatus called Green Trick ‘Temarisou’, unfortunately, this is only available in the cut flower markets since it is a registered brand of the Hilverda Group and licensed out only to commercial cut flower growers, so it may be years before those of us who are interested in growing this plant in our gardens, could possibly obtain one. But this is a flower that is already available this year in the larger flower markets in the world, such as New York City, and San Fransisco. As far a cut flower trends go, this amazing new variety is a terrific example of how plant breeders are focusing on new lifestyle flowers that meet the needs of today's new consumer. Short, modern containers with dense mounds of spiky green is exactly what stylists and hip florists are looking for.

I would imagine that when this hits the garden plant trade, that is will be a rather uneventful plant since most green flowers are useless in garden schemes. After all, foliage is green, and this is one of those plants where looks great in photos, and in arrangements with a clever designers hand, but in situ, it sort of sucks. Check out this photo of it being grown in a greenhouse.
If you are familiar with Sweet William plants in your garden, you can see clearly that this new variety is simply sterile ( I am guessing). The flower heads look similar on a regular Sweet William once you remove the blossoms. As a garden plant, this variety may not be as exciting as it is when view in an arrangement, with it's leaves removed.


New Japanese Scabiosa varieties and Dyed forms for florists

I happen to love Scabiosa, both perennial and annual forms, but after seeing new varieties and dyed flowers with new tints at the Japan Center in New York that was featured on Martha Stewart Living last week, I was  quickly motivated to Google away looking for new sources for this year.
Scabiosa on dispaly by BLOOM JAPAN at the Japan Society in NYC. These can take up liquid dye, which is popular in Japan today. This show promoted the Japanese Cut Flower trade as it expands its products into new markets like the USA.

Scabiosa, another old fashioned garden plant that few people grow today, are easier to grow from seed than you may think. I start my seeds in February in the greenhouse, and then pot them out in late April. The plants are tall, and the flower stems are long, which makes them attractive in both the garden, and in arrangements. These are not short plants, but since the flower stems are wiry,  the blossoms seem to float over the garden. There is a very nice dark, almost black variety that looks nice as a cut flower, like the green Dianthus above, most black flowers are ineffective in the landscape, blending into the shadows which makes black anther poor choice for garden display. Keep these for the cut flower garden.
Scabiosa from Japan

A new Japanese purple Scabiosa being introduced for the cut flower trade

Chocolate colored Sweet Peas? Oh baby. Bronze, brown and gold are also offered.

Lastly, English Sweet Peas are nothing like North American Sweet Pea varieties. The Spencer varieties  seen here (when not imported into the US) are finer than any other cut flower form grown here, but if you really want long long stems and large flowers,  here is my secret – order from overseas, and order what is called EXHIBITION SWEET PEAS . You will get stems as long as 14 inches and flowers as large as an egg.. Try these sources listed on the Sweet Pea Society web site, and sow seeds now if you can, and cut them back when they form their second pair of leaves. Plant outdoors as soon as the heaviest of frosts is over ( or sow seed directly into barely unfrozen ground in March), and tie the stem to a bamboo pole ( cordons), and you will have tall, cut flower quality sweet peas.
Even these violet Sweet Peas are dyed a bit to enhance their denim color. Dyeing flowers is not new, in America, it was common to dye many flowers in the 1950's. When a flower takes up color in it's stem, the tint mixes internally, and the effect can be very natural. Spray on the other hand, or dipped tints look very artificial. Sometime, a tint enhancement is OK for design purposes. 

In Japan these long stemmed sweet peas are grown under glass.

Long stems are key, for commercial Sweet Peas. Only the finest exhibition varieties grown to perfection will develop these long, straight stems.

These Japanese Sweet Peas grown for the cut flower trade  are exceptional examples of how trends and lifestyle trends are affecting flowers today. These flowers are dye by adding liquid dye into their water, which is taken up and the tint mixes with the tint of the blossom. Surprisingly, I am OK with dyed flowers like this as a cut flower, since as an artist, the color and tints are tasteful and decorative, and let’s face it, these sort of flowers are really all about being decorative. In the garden? No, don’t dye them! In a wedding arrangement? I likey. Chocolate and bronze Sweetpeas are rather yummy, don’t you think?



January 18, 2011

Oh, beloved Violette de Parma, though shalt never return

The true Violette de Parma, as picked in my greenhouse last year. Here, Viola 'Parme de Toulouse'


Today I am trying something new, a few of us are cross-posting about the same subject which today is 'WHAT'S OLD IS NEW AGAIN'. Let me know what you think! And be sure to check out my fellow bloggers posts on the same subject. First, Joseph at GREENSPARROW garden shares his interpretation of what's old is new again. Also Francis at the popular blog FAIREGARDEN has a post where she covers the iconoclasts of classic old-fashioned plants, (what I personally remember from my childhood- yeah, I'm old! )  an inspiring post on those vintage plants that many of you may find in abandoned gardens or homesteads.

 Francis writes about what I remember that was in my mothers garden; the stately Oriental Poppies, those muddy colored Daylilies, and brownish grapey German Bearded Iris. The last participant is Ryan of NOMICSCIENCE ,  who writes about many old-fashioned plants that come to his mind,  as he explores his thoughts on what old-fashioned plants are. Ryan, Primula are certainly appealing to think about in January where I live!
PARMA VIOLETS ARE GENERALLY DOUBLE, WHILE VIOLA ODORATA, THE SCENTED VIOLET IS SINGLE.

My contribution to this list is the rarely seen Parma Violet, or scented violet ( not to be confused with the common garden violet, or African violets, for that matter). Parma Violets may not be familiar to you, but your great grandmother surely would swoon over the scent. One of the most popular cut flowers commerially around the turn of the Nineteenth Century, the Parma Violet is one old fashioned plant that Even though I have an attraction to truly old-fashioned plants like Scented violets, I have to admit that  a true comeback is doubtful. It's a different world today.
 Experience the flavor of violets in some candy and gum found in Australia or on vintage candy websites.

Cultivated for centuries in Europe since the 1600's, scented violets come from a mysterious place since botanically, their taxonomic affinity has not been found to link to any other violet. Viola odorata is the closest relative genetically, perhaps combined with V. suavis and V. alba that we find wild in our gardens, Parma violet cultivars have a clear connection with many Viola alba varieties but most scientists today connect them with all three species, in some what, and include them with the Mediterranean Viola ssp. dehnhardtii.

All violets are Viola species, so technically, Pansy's, and Johnny Jump Ups  are all Viola's, but when most people think of violets, what comes to mind is the garden violet, or the self seeding garden pest that we all still love,  Viola sororia. Which looks very much like Viola odorata, but which spreads invasively in North American gardens. Still lovely when picked, it lacks the intense fragrance of the Parma Violet, or Viola odorata. I sill like them, ( although my favorite violet is Viola jooi, and alpine plant, or Viola pedata, the birds foot violet.).My new fav is the Korean Violet, Viola coreana. Still, no fragrance but what a show!

IT'S CALLED CORAL BARK MAPLE FOR A REASON

THE SCARLET BRANCHES OF ACER PALMATUM SANGU-KAKU, THE CORAL BARK MAPLE LOOK RADIOACTIVE ( IN A GOOD WAY)  IN THE GARDEN ON A SUNNY MORNING

As I write this, the snow is falling outside in that 'perfect Hollywood' way, as if a set designer directed the staff to create a scene where the largest flakes come floating down, (and settling gently on every little twig and bud), it's beautiful. I should go and take a picture but I just poured a new cup of coffee and I can't work from home today which sucks.  We are getting 4 - 5 inches this morning, and the streets are white,  I need to leave for the dentist this morning, which is a half an hour away near Boston, and then I need to drive another hour to Rhode Island where my office is, for a meeting, so there is little time in my schedule to dilly dally. It's easier for me to share some images from this weekend when it was sunny outside.


IN WINTER, COLORED SHRUBS LOOK LIKE SNOW PASTRY, HERE, PINUS 'LEMON CREME' ( I MADE THAT UP)


After our blizzard last week, ( and the snow we are receiving today), the potted shrubs on the deck are under so much snow, that their containers are completely covered making the shrubs look as if they are planted in the ground. Nothing looks as impressive as this small potted Coral Bark Maple. As I sit indoors ordering shrubs and trees, I discovered another Japanese Maple, this one with bright golden yellow branches Acer palmatum 'Bihou' available at Klehm's Song Sparrow Nursery. I know, it's $60.00 but their plants are so carefully grown and perfectly shipped that I have no problem paying for quality when it is honest quality, ( large container grown plants shipped well). These branches are so beautiful that I almost can't wait to see what this planting will look like on a sunny winter morning next winter!
ACER PALMATUM 'BIHOU' WITH GOLDEN BRANCHES IS ON MY WISH LIST FOR A WINTER PLANTING FOR NEXT YEAR, IT IS AVAILABLE FROM KLEHM'S ONLINE, WHERE THESE LAST TWO IMAGES ARE FROM. IT WILL SELL OUT QUICKLY.

A PURPLE WITCH HAZEL? IT'S OUT THIS YEAR FROM A SELECT FEW ONLINE SOURCES. HAMAMELIS VERNALIS 'GRAPE FIZZ™' - IT'S ON MY MUST-GET LIST.

 My point is that few of us consider what a tree or shrub looks like when it is viewed in January under a blanket of deep snow.  I particularly love the grey and gold motif here, which is something I really didn't think about....no wait, I totally planned it, but I know something....this year I am planning to grow many more small shrubs and trees in containers after viewing my new KLEHM'S SONG SPARROW NURSERY catalog that arrived today.

January 17, 2011

FORCING EARLY BLOOMING BRANCHES

LARGE CONTAINERS OF FORCED BRANCHES ARE FREE, AND PROVIDE A FRESH HOPE OF SPRING, DURING THE DARKEST DAYS OF WINTER


It may only be the third week of January, but it is not too early to force branches ( if you happen to live in place where it is snow covered right now!). Even as a child, I would pick random branches from the woodland and garden to fill various glass caning jars and bottles in my bedroom, to see what I could force into bloom or leaf early. It was a ritual in my family to go out into the woods and pick pussy willows in long, 6 foot branches, every March 7th ( I don't know why). My dad would bring them into the cellar and place them in large crocks of warm water to force, since he believed that the catkins would turn more pink when forced in the dark. I cherish these memories, and I encourage any of you who have children to try forcing some branches with them this winter, it fosters an appreciation for nature, as well as a love of plants at an early age. Indoors, everything is closer and more intimate, and watching a bod open, even if what emerges is a leaf, is still magical to the young, and the young at heart.

 It may be too early to pick apple or  cherry branches, but some shrubs are just ready to prove to us the spring is on its way. I like to start with the Witch hazel, particularly branches from our massive Hamamelis x intermedia 'Arnold Promise' , which grows on the eastern side of our home between the greenhouse and the the house. 
START PICKING BRANCHES TO FORCE THIS WEEK

This is  a shrub that is ready to bloom right now, for in some years, it starts blooming in early February even with a full, deep snowcover. The buds are still tight and protected against our frigid air ( it was 2 deg. F this morning here in central Massachusetts), but after 24 hours in warm water, the bud began to open. Now, a week later, the rooms are fragrant with the fresh scent of Witch Hazel. Sometimes I pick very large branches, about 8 feet tall for parties in the Studio, but for the Primula Society meeting last weekend, I just picked a few 40 inch branches. They provide hope that winter will eventually end ( at least to those who want winter to end!).

A WEEK AGO, THE HAMAMELIS BUDS ONLY SHOWED HINTS OF COLOR, AS THEY WAIT FOR A JANUARY THAW, BUT ONCE BROUGHT INDOORS, THEY OPENED AT ROOM TEMPERATURE IN 6 DAYS

HAMAMELIS BLOOMS AGAINST ICICLES IN THE WINDOW

I remember forcing shrubs for the spring flower shows in Boston, and I learned alot about how to force more difficult types like Lilac and Rhododendron. We would bring rhododendrons and lilacs into the greenhouse, and wrap their buds in cotton balls and thread. The cotton would be misted with water daily, to keep the buds moist, as the heat was gradually raised.

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