November 26, 2012

Return of the Great Winter Finch Superflight

Evening Grosbeaks at our backyard bird feeder circa 1960.
The forecast is in, and it's going to be 'Evening Grosbeaks' galore this winter, not just according to Ron Pittaway's Winter Finch Forecast for 2012 ( yep, didn't make that up) but also by the hundreds of birders on line who can't seem to hold back their Grosbeak excitement. - As I seem to be re-kindling my interest in birds, suddenly, every bird blog and website is chattering about an abundance of Evening Grosbeaks. But why have we not seen them for so long and where have they been?

According to the American Birding Association website (ABA), the answers why Evening Grosbeaks started changing their habits might be many. There was a time, between the 1950's and the early 1980's when massive flocks of these colorful, parrot-like finches 'migrated' in the winter south, to the United States states and southern parts of provinces during  the winter, bombarding backyard feeding stations and driving up the cost of sunflower seeds. But around 1981, things began to change, and it seemed, no one knew why. For many of us, the sight of these striking creatures is just a memory, or as I am sharing here, memories in family scrap books, but for others, they are new denizens, as it seems, the more we learn about bird migration, the more mysterious it all gets, but one thing is for certain, nothing is as it seems when it comes to bird populations, and in the end, it always seems to be about food.

Nature is a fickle creature herself, which we are now learning as new studies are causing some scientists to theorize that other causes might be at hand, and such ideas as a rising spruce bud worm outbreak both in the east and in the west might be affecting such irruptions, but whatever the cause, the fact is this winter will be a record breaker for the species both in the east and in the west. The website eBird documents local sightings, and when I last checked this morning, a few dozen birds had been sighted near my home town, but not near my neighborhood.

the eBird website shows me daily reports of any species of bird which are sighted and entered in by site members. This is the November Evening Grosbeak data for my area in Massachusetts, and I can zoom in to street level if I need to.

This weekend well be dragging out the power tools and building tabletop feeders not for the squirrels, but for these rare visitors from the arctic which once were common winter visitors in the mid-20th century, but whom today, only periodically decide to migrate south. This year, for some strange reason, grosbeaks and many winter northern finches are traversing south - farther south than ever before, and as scientists and hobby birders are sharing on-line, they are doing this both on the east coast of the US and in the west - an unprecedented southern migrations, or to what they properly call an irruption.

There was a time, when I was a child in the 1960's when here in New England, the first blast of cold, winter weather was only one sign that winter was upon us. It also meant that one of the great joys of winter birdwatchers was about to begin - the winter migration of far northern bird species like Pine Grosbeaks, Evening Grosbeaks, Common Redpolls, Crossbills and Bohemian Waxwings. One of my earliest memories as a child was my father, who was an active birder his entire life, lifting me onto his shoulders so that I could spread wild bird food seed on the many table top feeders he kept in our back yard. So influential was this experience, that for many years, well into high school, I had plans of being a ornithology major, with hopes to attend Cornell.

One of my fathers illustrations from our local newspaper documenting a Forbush Bird Club field trip. The club is still active, and many  members have their own blogs. This might be from the 1950's. or even the 1940's ( I have many of these from the 1930's until the 1960's). My favorite items are the red felt Forbush Bird Club patches from the 1950's.

Recent chatter on the many birder blogs which I follow have raised my interest in birds again, mostly because many of these blogs are all talking about a recent influx of many of these boreal birds in our area.  In the bird world, something very exciting and rare is occurring Large movements of Pine Siskin, Red Crossbills and even Evening Grosbeaks are making an eastern push - which they are calling the Winter Finch Superflight! - the largest since 1997. The birdworld is abuzz. You see, one of the last great irruptions happened in the early 1980's ( with smaller ones after that), but there was a time when many area back Yard bird feeders were bombarded with the  gold, black and white squawking Evening Grosbeaks. In case you haven't noticed, they've been gone for many years.

Like father, like son ( well sort of - he was a better artist!).
I observed a flock of redpolls and pine grosbeaks when I was 18 in our yard, and I have some earlier ones which I illustrated for the local column showing red crossbills which decided to dine in one of our Hemlock trees when I was 14 years old. Yeah, I was a nerd even then.

Evening Grosbeaks were once the favorite bird feeder bird before the Cardinal started migrating north, and began appearing on dish towels, calendars and Holiday ornaments. Maybe now that gold and grey is back in vogue, the Evening Grosbeak stands a chance. There was a time when flocks of these parrot-like birds crowded onto backyard feeders preferring sunflower seeds and flat, tabletop feeder sans squirrels. This weekend, I hope to build a large tabletop feeder to see if perhaps I could attract some of these beautiful denizens of the north to our winter table.

Another sketch by my father showing various birding ventures. Also from the 1950's

This year it appears that another record irruptive year is starting, with significant sightings of Redpolls, crossbills and yes, Evening Grosbeaks appearing on on-line bird tracking sites like eBird, and hopefully, at some of our backyard feeders here in central Massachusetts.  Maybe now it's time for me to either join a birding club, drag out my dad's old Forbush Bird Club patches and paraphernalia, the old scope and binoculars which I have not used sine my early college days scoping for snowy owls on Plum Island, and brush up on my ID skills, since the last time I properly identified a kinglet from a kindbird what during my summer college jobs at the Ashby Bird Observatory where I spent many summers collecting migrating songbirds from three miles of mist nets and banding them. ( see, I was pretty serious about it!).

According to Matt Young from eBird, "So far we’ve already seen large movements of  Pine Siskin, Red Crossbill and Red-breasted Nuthatch (an honorary finch) on both coasts. All three have shown up farther south than typical. Red-breasted Nuthatches have been reported in central Florida and throughout the Gulf Coast states. Pine Siskins have smashed records at several sites including Hawk Ridge, Minnesota and Cape May, New Jersey. A flight on Long Island on 21 October yielded an amazing estimate of 20,000 siskins.  Purple Finches are already being reported well into the Southern Appalachians.
Evening Grosbeaks, that favorite feeder bird from yesteryear, looks to be making its largest eastward push since 1997-98. In recent years Evening Grosbeaks haven't appeared in Pennsylvania or Connecticut until November and December, with scarcely any even then, but this year made their first appearances at the end of September. Evening Grosbeaks have already reached Maryland, West Virginia and Delaware, and some should be expected into the Carolinas and perhaps the mountains of Georgia this year.

I sometimes think that there are more photos of bids in our old family photo albums as there are of people. Here, and Evening Grosbeak pair dining on our window feeder in the late 1950's.
After an unprecedented  Red Crossbill flight that materialized in August across the Northern Tier States, crossbills look to be on the move again. In the last two weeks both Red and White-winged Crossbills have been reported nearly daily at Whitefish Point in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and at Hawk Ridge in Minnesota. Migrating Red Crossbills have also been reported several times in recent weeks at Hawk Mountain in Pennsylvania, with others in Massachusetts. "

November 25, 2012

Gifts for Plant People

1. Zinc Planters - Copper House Living - EUR 169.  They would need to be shipped from Germany, but these are nice and unique enough for year round decor in the potting shed.
2. String Bobbin Garden Trading, £10 Under twenty buck gift for the potting shed.
3. 'Gardeners I have met and liked' Notebook available from ShopTerrain - $14 The other titles ar eworth checking out, but this one is be far my favorite.
4.  Honey Tobacco Beeswax candle - Terrain, $14. Made from bees who smoked cigars.
6. Galvanized Door Mat - Garden Trading, UK - £32 Simplicity reigns.
7. Vintage Potato Sign - One Kings Lane , $199. This one is most likely sold, but snoop around the One Kings Lane site for interesting gifts.
8. Botanical Handmade Candy from Pappabubble -  From Pappabubbleny.com With flavors like orange and cardomon, lemon and lavender, strawberry and pine or pear and bergamot, it's easy to see why these hand pulled hard candies are a secret amongst many of us ( my fav? Their watermelon, salt and chili). $5.50 and up.

1. Toddland Knit Fjiord Bear Boxer Briefs - Toddland.com $18. Freak out your boyfriend with these boxers.
2. Toddland Lazer Bears Wallet  Toddland.com $24. Everyone needs a bear wallet.
3.Upper Penninsula Snowshoes - shop Terrain $98. Real gut snowshoes for decor or for racing.
4. Stanley Classic Flask - Urban Outfitters $28. To warm you up while bringing in the wood.
5. Trail Crew Soap (shown in Steep Ravine scent), Juniper Ridge.com $35.
  Juniper sap, tree pitch and other steam-distilled essential oils all pressed on vintage juice presses and distilled in converted whiskey stills ( you know the type - crazy copper pipes and steam). Try their Steep Ravine trail crew soap, or any of their other scents like Cascade Glacier, Big Sur Trail Crew Soap or Siskiyou Trail Crew Soap. 
6. Backpackers Cologne - also from the folks at Juniper Ridge comes wild plant distilled backpackers cologne - guaranteed not to attract bears. Distilled from conifer pitch and other wild plant ingredients. $85.

1. Japanese Tamamaki Twine - Japanese gardeners know good twine, and the best is made from the hemp palm. Hand made by a small multi-generational family business in japan, it is available from The Japan Woodworker -$10 - $18. Japanwoodworker.com.
2. Zinc Floral containers. In cream, available from Copper House Living. EUR 179. 
3. Wessex forge Haws watering can. In various colors and sizes, from Wessex Forge. I love Haws, but these colors take the classic to another level. Need to be imported, but always a cherished gift for a gardener. I keep three Haws cans, and I'll have them for a lifetime.
4. Ben Wolff Hand-Thrown Pots -  His dad Guy Wolff is well known, but his pots might be too expensive for most people, but I also like Ben Wolff'f hand-thrown pots. They range from $12 - $36 available directly from his studio at Ben Wolffpottery.com.
5. The Genus Lachenalia monograph by Graham Duncan - Kewbooks - $200. The book every plant geek is dying to get. It's on my list as there are only 1000 copies. The cost is high becuase these Kew Monographs are printed on the highest quality paper, and include color plates. This book is not tiny either, with 650 pages, it is practically a bible. Few books have bee written on the subject of Lachenalia, so bulb collectors are scrambling to count their pennies for this one.
6. Rubber Dramm Colorstorm Hose - $50 and up  Dramm.com
7. Bamboo Japanese Plant Tags - Alitags.com  $12. - $47
8. Alitags Plant Label Maker and Stamps - Alitags.
Stamp and make tags like the botanic gardens do. Only available from England.

1. Cornelis Souvenir Vase - Anthropologie $348.
2. Birchbark Straws - Terrain $8.00
3. Naturally Shed Color Blocked Deer Antler - Anthropologie - $60
4. Balsam Fir Incense - Terrain $6.00

November 24, 2012

Rare Bulbs, Common Bulbs

Massonia jasminiflora

Bulbs, whether they live indoors or out, are often like distant loved relatives, they visit, only staying for a while and then disappear from our lives for a year or so, only returning, sometimes more healthy and vibrant, even taller and more mature, or sometimes not. The best ones get better each year, as they mature. Some have children, some mature into impressive specimens, and others, are just nostalgic reminders each year, when their returning presence seems to make the season complete.

And so it is with these bulbs which I share with you today. Some rare, some ridiculously common, so just difficult to find. The first one I share comes from South Africa - Massonia jasminiflora. One of the twin-leaved adpressed Massonia's. this one is only recently described, being classified only late in the 20th Century. Known only to serious collectors who can grow it under cool glass, this gem spends most of its life underground, but extends it's two beautiful spotted leaves during the summer in the southern hemisphere( winter, here in the north), where in the wilds of the veldt it is pollinated by gerbils who can nestle their whiskers around in the floral parts which smell nothing near jasmine, but more like Clorox to me. But then again, I am no gerbil.


The second bulb I share also comes from South Africa, but it is not exactly rare, just hard to find today. It's shaving brush blossoms are common enough in most cool-growing greenhouse collections, and this is one of those bulb plants which never goes dormant, with odd specimens often filling large tubs in old conservatory collections. Haemanthus albiflos is worth seeking out if you are looking for a sturdy window sill house plant, for this is one South African oddity which will thrive on neglect. I divided my mother plant this year, and now have dozens, which once I get a retail aspect of my site up in the spring, I will offer for sale if people are interested.

My Haemanthus albiflos blooms every December like clockwork, extending dozens of bottlebrush blossoms anytime between Thanksgiving and the third week of December. There are nicer and rarer Haemanthus species, but this by far is the easiest to grow.


The third bulb I am sharing is indeed rare - Strumaria unguiculata, which is one of those plants which I can only assume is rare as when I Google it, my bulb photo's keep coming up each year. For three years I have only had one, simple leaf emerge each fall, but this year, I have two. I know, not very exciting, but one of these years, this little known species in a genus which is even more uncommon may bloom for me. Until then, I grow my bulb in sand, in a tiny pot with a tiny leaf or two, and wait.

The fourth bulb of this Christmas season is once again, my trust Cyrtanthus cross which is still a mystery to all of us. Purchased ten years ago at a rare bulb auction at the annual meeting of the International Bulb Society at the Huntington Garden, this seedling from an Amaryllis breeder has bloomed for me ever year since. I do know that it is one half Cyrtanthus elatus, but the other half may always be a mystery. I could muster a guess and say that it was crossed with another Cyrtanthus perhaps one with a dangling blossom, but regardless, I adore this cross, and I have finally divided my plants into a few dozen which I hope to start sharing next year. It always blooms for the Holidays for me, which is a nice time for a red, large blossom. This division has three flower stalks on it, and each flower is nearly 4 inches long.

WIth Thanksgiving over, it's time for Paperwhites. Traditionally, I always remembered planting paperwhite narcissus with my mom on the weekend following Thanksgiving. I never tire of the scent and the sound of the gravel being poured into ceramic bowls, pans  and pots when the weather is cold outside. Like many plants, especially at the Holidays, nostalgia factors into the enjoyment no matter how simple the plant may be.

Lastly, Amaryllis. If one wants flowers for Christmas or the New Year, bulbs of the earliest flowering varieties must be potted now. I try to start a few early, and then stagger bulbs throughout the winter. The finest varieties I feel are those which bloom in mid winter or in late winter - the spider flowered cybister forms, and the newer hybrids. Still, a simple red and white Amaryllis is magical, with large fat buds emerging each winter, who could spend a year without these annual treats?

November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving

A happy Thanksgiving to everyone. Our home raised turkeys were moist and tender, as were our carrots, cabbage, potatoes, garlic, onions- all from our garden. If only we could grow enough to eat this hearty for the entire year, but with our small garden, a few meals a year which are completely home grown are all we can muster.

November 19, 2012

One Million Page Views!

Camellia sassanqua is an autumnal blooming species native to the the coastal evergreen forests of southern Japan in Shikoku, Kyushu and in the higher altitudes of Okinawa. This cultivar. 'Yuletide'  is a popular one as it blooms around the Holidays. Still outside, as temps dip to 24 degrees F. tonight, it gets moved to the greenhouse.

Many thanks to all of my readers, who have all helped to made my blog Growing with Plants so popular. Today it reached a milestone - 1 million page views, an entire month earlier than I had predicted. Thanks to each of you who take a little time each day to read or comment on Growing with Plants.

Future plans? Well, I will continue with the redesign over the Holiday break, as work keeps me far too busy it seems to do anything on my own time. I'm going to try to take some vacation time over Christmas and use it to improve the design. I have big plans, but I will have to implement then slowly so please bear with the utter simplicity until I add the fun and pretty bits. All I can say is that there are some exciting plans for the future, but each one takes time.

November 18, 2012

Slaughtering our Turkeys

Feathers mark the spot. It wasn't as awful as we imagined, and for me, it touched a nostalgic note, as we raised and killed these birds on the same soil, in the exact same spot where my parents would raise and butcher their own birds from the 1940's until the 1980's, and where my fathers parents raised their birds from 1910 until 1945. Not that I could do this every day, it's true, the first one is the hardest.

If there is one single thing I've realized about trying to be more conscious about where our food comes from, is simply this - raising your own food is crazy hard. Just slaughtering ( as sanely and respectfully as we could) our own home-raise, free range heritage-breed turkeys, as well as a couple of geese for Christmas, took an entire day. A day which required recovery for our sore backs from the heavy plucking, plucking and more plucking, let alone the gutting, cleanup and butchering.

Then, there was the plucking.

...but first, the dirty deed.

(I will spare you all the graphic details, but in case you are interested - click on the MORE button below, for  narrative (yet edited and bloodless ) images.

November 15, 2012

Confronting Turkey Slaughter

It was our intent to raise our own Thanksgiving dinner this year, but as we close in closer to the date, the reality of slaughtering our own gobblers is keeping us up at night. We agreed that it was essential to confront where our food comes from if we were ever going to be truly serious about living even a tiny bit more sustainable. The truth is more than 95% of our food still comes from the store, the factory farm, the local market. I find it funny that a co-worker commented that it was disgusting that we were killing our own turkeys ( as he chowed down ironically on his 6" roast turkey sandwich from Subway).

The deed will happen this Saturday, rain or shine. I will spare you all the gore but I will cover it on this blog somehow, so, just preparing you all. Our heirloon, free range turkeys will provide a dinner for our closest family and friends. Living and growing in Massachusetts, makes this all very close to home - 30 miles from where the first Thanksgiving took place, our heritage breed turkeys, which are half wild turkey, will meet a fate not unlike their ancestors, on a cold, November day as the wild cranberries ripen in the marsh out back.

November 13, 2012

Crabby Matty's Real Estate Deal

As the crab apples come into their own season, I too become crabby, since I now have to deal with selling a second house on our property. I dream of a day when I will not have to pay two mortgages and two sets of utility bills. Until then, fewer posts perhaps as I scramble to focus on painting, cleaning and making the place look snappy.

It's true - you can now buy a house on our property right here in lovely Worcester, Ma. Really. I am selling our second house, which looks like our garage ( you never see in pics here because we never were able to landscape it, but it overlooks our woodland and garden, and shares our 200 foot driveway, plus it has a private entrance of it's own.

I am in the middle of selling a house and part of my garden, which pains me, but it is something which needs to be done. This is why I've been posting less, as I paint, clean, repair and landscape a former 3 car garage which was built for my sister 12 years ago on the corner lot which was once my property. At 62, she has some problems, and in an effort to help her, I purchased her home, which also meant that I would dave 1/4 of my garden, and help her at the same time. So - I'm a bit crabby until I can sell this burden - imagining that day hopefully soon when I won't have to pay two mortgages and two sets of utilities, as I have been doing as a good brother for ten years. Help me Obi wan.

You sometimes see this house in many of the photos here on this blog. If you know of anyone looking for a quirky, modern home with a 2 car garage on the first floor ( it was designed to look like a 3 car garage to match our house) but with a huge open living space upstairs - like living in a treehouse in a park- then let me know. one hour from Boston, right on the Mass Pike, crazy low price since hey - I'll say it - this is Worcester, after all, which never helps prices,  ( even though Auburn MA is 1000 feet away!). A hip modern house in the woods can be yours for $169,900. Spread the word.

The property, which once was the left-hand corner of of our property, of course was once my parents home and before that, my granparents' home. But with the housing market still falling, and my renter who rented the upstairs of the house, a fabulous open space built under my direction with a contemporary open living space complete with stainless steel kitchen, a large master suite with a fireplace and cathedral beamed ceilings. This quirky space which basically has 1700 sq. feet of large open kitchen opening into a large great room, and then one large single bed room is now for sale. I only share this in case any readers are  looking for such a space in a commutable distance from Boston ( 40 min - 1 hr) Providence, RI (1 hr) or the Route 128 area. Centrally located, the prices are crazy low here in Worcester. Quiet road, heated 2 car garage below the house, and a mother-in-law's suite. The quirks? No landscaping, no front door, tine yard ( but great for a city garden).

This brilliant golden crab which we saw on the campus of Smith College this weekend, reminds me to order a few to make a hedge that will brighten autumnal days.
A bit more about the house.....

The great things about the house in case you want to spread the word? A Laundry room on the second floor, the entire space is new-ish ( built in 1996), a long balcony deck which overlooks our entire garden and woodland, a massive brick fireplace in the bed room which also overlooks the garden, and it's in a quite, dead end unpaved road which runs aside our property, so need I say, it is quiet. The sort of bedroom where all you hear at night is crickets, and birds in the summer when the doors to the deck are open, and in the winter, the crackle of the fire and the snow falling over the woodland, as the house living area in on the second floor, and the garage below.

Viburnum opulus with bright, red berries keeps local song  birds happy for the entire month of November.

And now for Puppy Cam...

Our tiniest runtlet is surviving, but her eyes are not yet open. Still, 1/3 the size of her brother and sister. Amazing.

Momma Lydia keeps an eye on all puppy tasks.

November 11, 2012

Winter Vegetables

Espalier apple trees and winter vegetables survive an early snowstorm which dumped 9 inches of
snow on our garden this week.

This week we experienced an early snow, thanks to another coastal storm. It's not unusual for us in central Massachusetts to get heavy un-seasonable snow, as we are located in a snow belt. Worcester, MA is positioned directly in the center of Massachusetts and as the state extends into the north Atlantic, the rain/snow line for many autumn, winter and spring coastal storms exists directly over Worcester, MA, due to our elevation and distance from the ocean. It's OK. I love snow, although, not this early.

Our raised vegetable beds are still packed with winter veggies. Most are covered with either remay cloth, or cloches, such as these I want to show you today. Heirloom lettuce, growing under plastic cloches can extend the salad season well into November, and even into the first few weeks of December if the weather cooperates. As long as the night time temperatures stay above 24 Degrees F. one can harvest lettuce. I am growing iceberg leaf lettuce, and red Romaine under these cloches. Yeah, I like Iceberg, and I am not afraid to admit it.

Red Romaine Lettuce survives an early autumn snow under the protection of cloches.

The soil is not frozen yet, so radiant heat from the earth continues to keep many young vegetable crops alive in the garden, thus extending the salad season a few extra months.

Rosemary topiaries can handle cold weather and frosts,  but I will bring these into the greenhouse once night time
temps tumble below 24 degrees, or when the pots begin to freeze solid. I find that my rosemary plants bloom better
when subjected to some colder winter temperatures.

November 10, 2012

Smith College Chrysanthemum Show

Japanese Spider mums and recurved formals, each trained in the classic Japanese form - disbudded to a single bloom received
much attention at the annual Fall Chrysanthemum Show at Smith College.

 The annual Fall Chrysanthemum Show at the Botanic Garden of Smith College traditionally opens on the first Saturday in November in the 100 year old Lyman Plant house conservatory, set in on the iconic campus designed by the firm of Frederic Law Olmsted. Smith College, located in Northampton, MA hosts two major floral events annually, the Spring Bulb Show in March and this, the Autumn Chrysanthemum show. Horticulture students display some chrysanthemum varieties which they must breed for a class on hybridizing, as many exhibition mums are on display, in much the same way nineteenth century conservatories in America might have displayed mums, showing traditional Japanese and Chinese training methods.

The whole show is very charming,  of course the vintage conservatory, the quaint decorations, the naive thematic elements ( this show had a butterfly theme with home made sculptures of people in kimono's catching butterflies with nets), and the collection itself - 12,000 square feet containing 1500 taxa, a collection of plants which includes succulents ferns, tropicals, subtropicals, and epiphytes - a woman at the information desk was quite enthusiastic about a 'baby pineapple' which she insisted made a point of visiting and mentioning.

Visitors of all ages enjoyed the fragrance and color on this cold, November day. There is nothing like a greenhouse full of flowers when it is cold outside.

The Lyman Conservatory viewed from the upper campus at Smith college.

Joe and Jess discuss how they might have trained the cascade style mums. They require constant care, and are not easy grow to perfection. These were trained onto chicken wire, which any Japanese gardner would turn their nose up at, but it is something we may try next year as the traditional method is difficult requiring single canes of bamboo. Our guess is that these were trained onto a flat, horizontal or angled plane of wire, tied to it, and then placed in position once the buds were forming.

November 6, 2012

An updated look

Even in November, a walk around the garden, and greenhouse, along with a stop at the pheasantry for some feathers, results in an unusual yet totally authentic autumnal arrangement. Gotta love the White Callicarpa berries and the golden orbs from a rare, yellow Nandinia. Nerine and Clematis 'Jingle Bells' add charm.

A mixed bouquet of hybrid Nerine sarniensis picked in the greenhouse today.

First of all - yes, I am significantly redesigning my blog. This is part of a more elaborate transition, as I reach 1 million page hits next month, I felt it was time to grow up, and create a blog design which is more interactive, more simple, more   friendly and yes, something we can grow with. This is just phase one of many changes you will see over the next month as I tweak the design. Please bear with me with odd images, and odd-centered objects - I need to do this on my own time late at night, and I fear it will take some time. Please, do let me know what you think about the design.

Again, it is Nerine season in the greenhouse. Every year I swear that I am going to give them all away so that I can clear off the benches to make room for something new, but then, they bloom, and I can't even imagine what October or November would be like without their coral, pink, scarlet and white blooms. Also,  I'm one of those rare fellows who loves November. In fact, I love winter. Odd, yes - for a gardener, but there is something about crisp, cold weather and snow that allows me to focus on plants. Maybe it's because summer offers too many distractions. regardless, I admit that I like those transitional seasons. Spring and Autumn - it may just be a simple case of getting bored. Just when I begin to yawn with boredom, everything changes again.

Puppy Cam - Big Puppy, Tiny Runt Puppy. Their eyes are not open yet.

November 4, 2012


'River City' is a Recurve with an unusual color. A light champagne salmon.

'Coral Charm', a new coral or salmon colored variety. I disbudded this plant to achieve this larger flower, but typically this is grown as sprays. with many smaller flowers in a cluster.

Once the iconic blossom of autumn in Asia, the chrysanthemum moved from being a most auspicious flower to one of dull funereal status in the west. Today, it is being rediscovered by a new generation. I made this arrangement inspired by those loosely constructed by the stylish Brooklyn, NY firm of Saipua. It incorporates branches, autumnal leaves and other random clippings found around the garden today.

'John Lowry' A Reflexing Bloom in the style preferred in England. Bred by Harry Lawson in the U.K., This variety has one of the brightest colors in the greenhouse right now.

'Fort Smith', an Irregular Incurve, highly esteemed for exhibition potential, these are the giants of the Chrysanthemum world. These must be disbudded in order to achieve this size.

In the greenhouse, the exhibition mums are reaching peak bloom. Some of these plants are 6 feet tall.
The Chrysanthemum is experiencing a comeback.

Only kidding. Well, If I keep saying that maybe it will.  I will admit that the 5th most popular page on this blog remains exhibition chrysanthemums, so there must be SOME interest! I've have over 10,000 hits on those pages.

This bronze beauty is an exhibition form  known as 'regular incurve', a class , 'Heather James', is a new variety.
Blooms in this class are formally incurved with the ideal bloom forming a complete ball.

Sadly, aside from funeral mums, those florist mums, the cheapest of cut flowers, and those dreaded 'hardy mums' available in the fall, and yes, even those 'gift' mums wrapped in foil - the era of exhibition chrysanthemum is over. Growing exhibition mums is fun, and it only takes one season, but as they bloom later than the earliest frost, one needs a greenhouse or conservatory - and time. Did I mention time? I'll be honest, my mums look pretty crappy this year. I ran out of free time. I was lucky to even get them into the greenhouse on time before the froze. You can see how the foliage is a little damaged too from fungus.

Exhibition mums need a little care each week during the summer, and in normal years, they are quite growable. Cuttings arrive in May, I pot them up and take a second set of cuttings, pots are set out into the garden, and aside from some fertilizer each week, daily watering and  weekly pinching and some disbudding and staking as they grow, they are relatively easy. Watering is therapy after work in the summer when sometimes, if I get home in time, standing in the setting sun with a hose is exactly the decompression time that I need. 

In American, these are sometimes referred to as Irregular Incurve. In the USA we call them Football mums,' but in Japan, they are carefully trained and respected. This cultivar is 'Kokka Bunmi'. It is a very typical Japanese style flower with a long skirt of trailing florets dangling below it.

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you also know that I am a sucker for exploring old fashioned horticultural techniques. Seventeenth Century, Eighteenth Century and Nineteenth Century growing techniques is fun for plant geeks like me who enjoy to exploring early horticultural methods, but sometimes I need to remind myself that such tasks were typically executed by large gardening staffs on private estates, and not by a single person with a full time job and a two hour commute. I found that the mums this year took a little too much time, considering that I also explored Sweet Pea culture and annual poppies at the same time.

Some mums have been bred to have very tiny blossoms, such as this bonsai-form known as 'Koto No Kaori'
Here is the same variety as seen at the New York Botanical Garden last year

I need to keep this post short, since I am still hand feeding one puppy, and she is crying. Plus, this week at work has been a bit of a Hell week, which has had me getting up in the dark in the morning, and returning near midnight - I've had little time for anything, it seems. Even finding time to eat has been difficult, let alone laundry, hurricanes and bill paying.

For more information about Chrysanthemums, check out the website for the National Chrysanthemum Society. If you want to try growing exhibition mums next year, order your cuttings from Kings Mums.