February 28, 2011

My Camellia Collection Blooms


If Valentines became flowers, they would be Camellias.
As February draws to a close, so does the Camellia season. Even here in New England, where one must grow Camellias under glass, the season remains the same. I thought that I would just share some of the highlights from this years' Camellia season in my greenhouse, since many of the plants bloomed for the first time, after I had added about 20 new varieties to the collection last autumn. The plants, most potted in large tubs and clay pots, will only become better over the years since these are long lived shrubs and trees. They will live as long as I will, or as long as I can afford to heat the greenhouse!
The large red single known as 'San Dimas' seems to have the longest lasting blossoms, I have had one floating in a bowl in bloom for 3 weeks.

The anemone form is unique, as can be seen in this tufted-style blossom. This variety, named 'Litstick' is smaller than other Camellias but makes a beautiful small shrub for a pot.

Guillio Nucco has an interesting variegation, red, with spilt milk, I would say. It's lovely.
Finlandia variegated, demonstrates how a white camellia that has a genentic trait for streaking can create a new cultivar. There is 'Finlandia' and then there is 'Finlandia variegated", a peppermint stripped variety that I cannot resist!

The giant boss of stamens in 'San Dimas' is impressive along, but when it is paired with the crimson velvet petals, the blossom suddenly become awesome ( or is is auspicious?).  Go China! Probably the most photogenic Cam in the collection.



 The classic  iconic Rose Form. This form is my favorite, for there is nothing else like it in the plant world. They look like silk flowers from a Nineteenth Century millinery shop.
My happiest surprise this year? The variety named 'HighFragrance', can you guess why? Like lemon custard scented baby powder. Upon entering the warm humid greenhouse in a snowstorm, I could just eat it up!




Rhodohypoxis- the Lemming of the Plant World

What this on your deck or terrace? Follow these directions on how to grow one of the least known and most showy of South African bulbs.

Rodohypoxis baurii corms ( the extras) are planted out in flats for new containers to place around the garden. Most are being potted up in fiberglass ornamental window boxes, so that I can use them to edge the deck, or place on railings while they are in bloom.

You may not me familiar with Rhodohypoxis, but this is perhaps the most asked about plant in my collection, for whenever anyone visits in the spring, they are bowled over by the display factor that these plants have. I find them very easy to grow, for they spread like crazy with one corm dividing into dozens within a year. They are not hardy in Zone 5, so I simply bring the pots into the greenhouse for the winter, where they go dry and dormant, and kept cold. You could easily bring your pots into a cellar, or cool garage for the winter. They are about the easiest South African Bulb to grow, and the easily put on a spectacular show ( which is something I can say about few rare bulbs).
Rhodohypoxis corms are planted in window boxes that I bought at Target. Every year I repot them, and now I gave 6 boxes full. They also grow well in large bonsai pots. These plants will emerge shortly, with foliage that looks fuzzy grass, and indeed, the foliage looks like a neat lawn, growing thick and lush, and no taller than 5 inches. Flowers emerge a few weeks later in such abundance that they practically hide this grassy foliage, staying in bloom for about a month. After that, the boxes will just look like Rye grass, but with a neat, lush look, growing so thick that They will look like those stylish boxes of ornamental grass one sees at boutique hotels ( the more contemporary the container, the better! - A box maybe?)

I spent the early part of this weekend dividing the many flats and containers I have of Rhodohypoxis baurii, an easy-to-grow tiny South African Bulb ( corm)  which blooms in the late spring, but which remains in growth all summer long, going dormant in the autumn where the pots all spend the winter cold and rather dry, under a bench in the cold greenhouse. In a few weeks, they will start blooming and the show will begin once again.

Theya re hard to find, but I did see that McClure and Zimmerman has some this year, and remember, all you need is one, since they will spread!

If you don't believe me, when I say these bulbs are worth tracking down ( they are hard to find!), check out these photos from my garden last year.






February 27, 2011

My Own, Private, Spring Flower Show

It's a little self indulgent, ( um....a little?), but I just can't help myself. I mean, how could I not post these images that I took today of some of the many flowering bulbs and plants in the greenhouse. Especially when the sun came out after a snow storm hit outdoors.

Winter trudges along with 5 inches today, and with 4 feet still on the ground in the shade, it seems spring  may never come. But as we gardeners know, in six weeks, we know that the ephemeral wild flowers will be in bloom, and the maples, magnolias and native trees will burst into bloom. So bring it on, man, bring it on.

Ho hum ( yawn), just more pretty spring flowers photographed against a snow covered woodland. What ever.

I moved the Cyclamen out of the sand bed in the rear of the greenhouse, so that I could arrange my own little flowershow which sadly, no one will see except me ( which is a little wierd when you really think about it, for, 'why' do I grow these anyway?). Maybe I can call this my digital flower show?

Lachenalia: A New Classic and an Heirloom Classic Species

Lachenalia 'Romaud', one of the easiest new bulbs to 'force' into bloom on your windowsill. Still rather new to culture, these hybrids are fool-proof versions of a genus once only known to rare bulb collectors.

A close-up of a pot of the very easy-to-grow Lachenalia hybrid, which is rather new to culture. Look for Lachenalia 

Cape Hyacinth's, which are not Hyacinths, but are related, are actually a genus called Lachenalia.  Grown by bulb collectors and alpine plant enthusiast for years, a new hybrid series has become available which makes the genus more accessible for home gardeners. I buy them for fast and easy greenhouse color, and for novelty sake, since I grow many of the more rare species forms of Lachenalia. I happen to like them both, the easy-to-grow hybrids, and the fussier wild forms. As easy as Paperwhite Narcissus, the new Lachenalia varieties sold under the trade name of 'African Beauty' series, is worth searching out.
It's all about color, and the Hyacinth family really delivers a color boost in the greenhouse at this time of year. You can see how similar these hybrid selections of Lachenalia are to their relatives the Hyacinth we all know from our spring garden plantings. Velthiemia too, are relatives and perhaps you can spot the little pink Velthiemia bracteata in the photo above.

 African Beauty series Lachenalia can be ordered both in the spring and summer catalogs, ( when you would order Canna, and Calla's for use in the garden, or in the Fall Dutch bulb catalogs, when they can be potted up as windowsill bulb plants. Lachenalia hybrids require no chilling, or special care beyond water and bright light. Relatives of the Hyacinth, this yellow variety has a scent which is similar to nutmeg. I would plan on tossing them after the bloom, for these varieties are best grown for one-time displays. The species form of Lachenlia such as Lachenalia aloides, ( the red, yellow and green flower on the right), should be kept from year to year, but it requires a bone dry and hot summer bake in the greenhouse, and a cool, damp winter.
Lachenalia aloides ssp. quadricolor has four colors in it's flower. This is a species form of Lachenalia native to South Africa. A classic South African greenhouse bulbs, it is more precious, and must be grown from bulbs or seed and kept dormant for half of the year.


An engraving of Lachenalia aloides ssp. Nelsonii from a Nineteenth Century book. These classic winter bulbs for cold greenhouses had been grown in collector greenhouses in the UK throughout the Nineteenth century, but they fell out of favor in the Twentieth Century. Still hard to find, look for the species bulbs at the specialty bulb sites and order them in July and August for winter bloom.

A turn of the Century photo of Lachenalia aloides being grown in a hanging container. This image gives me some new ideas for how I can grow these easy bulbs. This would be easy enough with the new African Beauty series varieties. Just plant them and water. Maybe, in an orchid basket?




Greenhouse Mecca - A visit to The Lyman Estate

The Camellia's are in full bloom this month, at the 200 year old greenhouses at the Lyman Estate, a half hour west of Boston.

View from the service entrance, of some of the oldest greenhouses in America at the Lyman Estate, in Waltham, MA.
Camellia's in the Camellia house at the Lyman Estate. February and March is the peak blooming season for Camellia in New England ( in greenhouses, since they cannot be grown outdoors here).



Today we visited the Lyman Estate, which is one of the properties today managed by Historic New England, and it is open to the public year round. One of the best times to visit is in late winter, when their famous Camellia collection is blooming. Historically important for many other reasons, for people like us who keep home greenhouses, the estate holds a noteworth record of having perhaps the oldest greenhouse in America.

The entire greenhouse complex was built over the span of the nineteenth Century, far before electricity and furnaces. In the UK and Europe, early greenhouses were still being perfected, with primitive glazing systems, complex heating systems using everything from manure to heated air which came from coal and wood fired stoves ( early greenhouses were even called Stove houses).


On the Lyman estate, there is a well known older pit house, which most likely is the oldest greenhouse structure in the United States. It was featured in a rather unsuccessful yet collectable book from the early 20th Century entitled Winter Flowers in Greenhouse and Sun Heated Pits by Katheryn S. Taylor, which is one of my favorite books on keeping a cold greenhouse ( you must track one down if you are ever to grow such plants in the north!).
Images from Kathryn S. Taylor's books on Sun Heated Pit's showing the old pit house at the Lyman Estate when it was still in use.
Today, you can see the same pit house in the back, covered with plastic while it is being repaired. It most likely is the oldest greenhouse in America.

The Grapery with 200 year old vines of Muscat grapes.

Cast iron heating pipes keep the Grapery just warm enough for the fancy grape varieties to winter over.

In 1804, the Lymans began building a new greenhouse system, starting with a ‘Grapery’, which was heated by a boiler in the new ‘English style” popular at Kew, with pipes, glass and brick walls that could hold in the radiant heat from the sun where they could grow fancy Muscat grapes which required protection from New England’s harsh winters.

Grape vines are trained on wires that lead the vines along the panes of glass. This greenhouse must be cozy in the summer with the canopy of leaves.


Mr. Lyman also collected grape varieties from his business trips to England, bringing back via ship Black Hamburg grape cuttings  from the Royal Greenhouses at Hampton Court, to grow on trellises that elevated the vines near to the glass, these vines are still alive today. Green Muscat of Alexandria grapes were a popular table grape in the late 1800’s, and they are golden colored, with a brownish bloom, and extremely sweet.
The grape vines are just starting to come out of their dormancy.


The long greenhouses are actually lean-to's, which take advantage of a southern exposure. Backed with a brick wall which retains heat, the system is still efficient, even today.

February 22, 2011

The Last 'Scented Violet'


A pot of scented violets currently in bloom in my greenhouse. The powerful scent is all you can smell, when you first enter.


A Violet grower in Hudson Valley New York, circa 1898



 As a cut-flower, scented violets were as essential as orchids or camellia blossoms.


Viola odorata - the classic 'scented violet'

 If this blog was scratch 'n sniff, you would know what the greenhouse smells like this morning. The scent of violet is one which few people experience, but one hundred years ago, it was a common scent as well as flavoring for chewing gum, perfume and for pastry. Today, it is a rare and beguiling scent. Here, a the uncommon true scented violet, Viola odorata looks exactly like the garden violets we have growing in the garden in spring, but these are indeed different. Hard-to-find today, look for them at specialty catalogs like Logee's and others for the ultimate authenticity in 'old-fashioned', heirloom arrangements and gardens.




Viola odorata, when grown under cold glass, blooms in February in cold pit houses and greenhouses where winters are cold. New York State's Hudson Valley was once the United States' epicenter for scented violets where they were grown for the New York City market until the 1920's. A posh winter wedding or a trip to the opera required a proper nosegay of violets, but today, they are grown by no commercial nursery, and are lost forever as a cut-flowers. Winter weddings are no longer the same.

Images from PRACTICAL VIOLET CULTURE, 1910





February 20, 2011

A Winter Garden of Bulbs in Pots

A collection of potted of small bulbs brings winter interest to a cold greenhouse, as the snow begins to fall outside.

There are so many pots of small alpine bulbs and South African bulbs blooming in the greenhouse right now, that I assembled some of them into a 'group shot', and it's amazing to see how much color there really is, just a 1/8th inch of glass away from the freezing temperatures and snow outside. The scent is incredible, especially from the Viola odorata and the Hyacinthella. The species crocus continue to bloom, as well as some of the Oxalis species. As you can see, the Cyclamen coum, the tiny bright pink Cyclamen you can see above, is just starting its season. Almost hardy enough for culture outdoors here in Zone 5, I dare try it, as I prefer to enjoy them under glass.



 Above, you can see Nerine undulata, the tall pink nerine in the upper left, there are two Cyclamen species, in the rear, a wild form of C. persicum, and in the front, the bright pink of C. coum. Some Lachenalia species and hybrids are just beginning to open, by next week there will be posts on Lachenalia. Add old fashioned scented violets ( lower right), so brilliant orange and yellow Oxalis obtusa ( center) and pots and pots of species crocus, and my winter garden begins to take shape.








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