January 31, 2012

Gardening in and out of your zone.


CAMELLIA'S LIKE THIS ARE STILL A LONG WAY OFF IN OUR ZONE 6a GARDEN, BUT MAYBE A FEW OF THE HARDIER FORMS WILL NOW SURVIVE. FOR NOW, I MUST GROW MOST CAMELLIAS IN THE GLASS GREENHOUSE, WHERE THEIR ANNUAL SHOW IS JUST BEGINNING TO START. THIS STRIPED FORM LOST ITS LABEL, BUT WHO CARES WHEN IT LOOKS LIKE THIS?

While on the theme of cataclysm, hoards of invading beetles, and the whole 2012 thing, I might as well end the month with climate change fears. Last week, the USDA updated its hardiness zone map for the US, and there were some significant surprises - yes, the government has spoken, and yes, it's warmer - just a little, almost everywhere. It does confirm that we are experiencing milder winters in most areas, especially in New England where I live, this January marks the 9th month in a row where our temperatures have averaged above normal, this month, by as much as 6 degrees.

It doesn't mean that we will be replanting our gardens with palm trees, but I have noticed that this is one winter where I have had something in bloom every month. Our snowdrops are in bloom right now, and the witch hazels are just opening, a good 3 months earlier than last year, but then again, last year our winter was the worst in recorded history, so who really knows what is happening?

January 30, 2012

Facing Environmental Disaster

I've been waiting for two years to write about this - and to avoid any bad juju, I just avoided writing about it. But now, I need to face the inevitable - we in Worcester Massachusetts are facing a biological disaster, and my garden in smack dab in the middle of it. We may loose every deciduous tree in the government finds one hole from a not so tiny beetle from China. The Asian Long Horn Beetle - recently escaped from wood shipping containers from China, is threatening the existence of hard-wood trees in parts of North America, and Europe.

January 29, 2012

Seeds from a Collecting Trek in Tibet

A Blue Himalayan Poppy ( Meconopsis) blooms aside an alpine lake high in the Himalaya. These and more arrived from an expedition share in Tibet that I received from Chris Chadwell's latest trip.

January 28, 2012

More January Rare Bulbs

ASPHODELUS ACAULIS, A RARE ALPINE LILY-LIKE PLANT FROM TURKEY WITH LONG, DORMANT STORAGE ROOTS LIKE CARROTS, BLOOMS IN A LONG-TOM SET INTO A RAISED SAND PLUNGE BED IN MY GREENHOUSE. 

 In the front of my greenhouse, on the sunniest side near the front door, sit two raised beds which are filled with sand. Placed into these sand beds are clay pots, many with rare bulbs in these. This is the preferred method in which to grow many winter or summer growing bulbs, since the appreciate the cooler soil that a damp clay pot which is plunged into damp sand provides, and since the terra cotta pots are porous, they wick moisture from the sand providing optimal conditions for many bulbs. The air temperature on sunny days can rise to nearly 75 degrees in January, but the soil will remain more consistent, often near 45 degrees F. At night, the air cools to near 39-40 degrees, and the soil remains warmer. Many plants require this temperature shift as it mimics nature more closely than the constant temps which a plant might get in a modern heated home might get.


BLOOMING EVERY WINTER, I HAVE LEARNED THAT FREQUENT REPOTTING ACTUALLY HELPS THIS SPECIES BLOOM NICER. THE YEAR FOLLOWING DIVISION TO A SINGLE CROWN, WHILE DORMANT IN JULY, HELPS THIS RARE TURKISH ALPINE BLOOM. IN THE WINTER SUNSHINE TODAY, I NOTICED THAT IT ALSO HAS A SWEET FRAGRANCE, WHICH I NEVER NOTICED BEFORE.

 THE POT IS NEARLY 12 INCHES DEEP, AND THE THICK ROOTS ARE SET IN A SOIL MIX WHICH IS MOSTLY SHARP SAND. THIS PAST SUMMER I DIVIDED A LARGE PLANT AND SHARED 5 ROOTS WITH READERS OF THIS BLOG - SHARING IS A GOOD THING, SINCE IF ONE LOSES A PLANT, ONE CAN OFTEN GET A DIVISION FROM A SHARED SOURCE.

TECOPHILAEA CYANOCROCUS ssp. VIOLACEAE
Last post, I shared an image of the rare Chilean blue crocus, or Tecophilaea cyanocrocus var. leichtlinii which has sky blue flowers, here a week later, a less blue and more violet variety is blooming, the equally rare and choice Tecophilaea cyanocrocus var. 'Violacea', a bulb best grown in the protected zone 7 rockery or in a cold alpine house, where one can appreciate its stunning deep violet blossoms. 



 The legendary Tecophilaea, or blue Chilean Crocus ( remember, they are not true crocus), continue to provide the greatest interest in the greenhouse this week, and I am very glad that I have both a somewhat free weekend as well as a sunny one too.  I can enjoy them a bit during the daylight hours as I repot some orchids, train some topiary and sow some seeds. During the week I never get to see anything, as I am still arriving home from work in the dark, and leaving for work in the dark. These are plants that look best in sunlight.
HERE YOU CAN SEE THE COLOR DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE TWO FORMS OF TECOPHILAEA CYANOCROCUS, ON THE LEFT, T. CYANOCROCUS VAR. 'LEICHTLINII' WITH SKY BLUE FLOWERS, AND ON THE RIGHT, T. CYANOCROCUS VAR. 'VIOLACEA'. BOTH ARE SUMPTUOUSLY RARE COLORS IN THE FLORAL WORLD.

Our two rescue puppies that we are fostering after Joe helped shut down a backyard puppy mill in December, are doing well now - all wormed, and ready to go get 'fixed' at Tufts this coming week. Hopefully we will be able to find good homes for the 12 rescues, as well as for these two boys since they are starting to raise Hell in the garden. Below, are some shots of 'Scooby' and 'Scraggy' as the discover some sprouting crocus in front of the greenhouse, which they promptly dug up and ate.
If you are interested in adopting any of the recent rescues, please check out the Irish Terrier Rescue Network and apply. They are all sweet, and healthy, and need good, loving homes.


Please find me a nice, loving home. I promise that I won't eat your crocus.


January 22, 2012

The Rarest of Rare - Hello 'Blue Chilean Crocus'

Tecophilaea cyanocrocus ssp leictlinii, a true-blue flower that comes from a tiny corm. Nearly extinct ( or extinct in the wild) this is a plant that today, only exists in private collections.  It is the Panda Bear of the plant world.

This rarely seen bulb (corm) is one of the real treasures of the plant world. Tecophilaea provides a refreshing burst of true blue to a winter bulb collection ( and will award you with gasps from your friends, or even from the real hortiphiles, as I found out today as we hosted our annual Winter Bash for the American Primula Society. People simply love the color blue, and the plantsmen love it's rareness.

Tecophileae cyanocrocus is considered by many experts as being extinct in the wild due to farming, commercial water use and climatic change, but remains in many collections around the world. We do know that it it is not extinct, it is certainly rarely found in the wilds of Chile anymore.  Today, it  is one of the most desirable bulb plants in the world, if only for its amazing azure color, but surely for its rarity. They can be grown from seed if one has a cool greenhouse, but by far, the easiest way to get success will be to order corms in late summer. Not hardy in cold northern areas, some have survived winters in southern England, and Ireland, or in the US where the summers are dry ( Northern California perhaps?). Beyond that, these are only worth growing under the protection of a cold glass or alpine house.
CORMS MUST BE ORDERED IN JULY OR AUGUST, AND PLANTED IN SEPTEMBER BEFORE THE BEGIN ANY GROWTH. USE A QUICK DRAINING SOIL ( I USE GRAVEL AS THE LAYER BELOW THE CORMS) SINCE THESE BULBS DEMAND EXCELLENT DRAINAGE. FERTILIZE AFTER BLOOMING WITH A 0.5.5 analysis FERTILIZER TO ENCOURAGE CORM GROWTH FOR NEXT YEAR. ALLOW POTS TO GO DORMANT AND DRY FOR THE SUMMER.

There have been reports lately of a native population being found, but this has not been confirmed - regardless, this is indeed a rare plant. Unique in not only the bulb world for its blue tint, it is also unique in the plant kingdom. Not truly a crocus at all, it's common name comes from the shape of its' blossoms, which some might say, are crocus-like, although both are classified as being members of the larger plant family, Iridaceae, the iris family. Corms are sometimes available from specialty sources such as Telos Rare Bulbs, and Paul Christian Rare Plants, but be prepared to pay for rarity - two years ago corms sold for $60-75 each, last year, $25. each. This year, some were available for $18.00 each.

January 21, 2012

Growing and Forcing Belgian Endive

BELGIAN ENDIVE, TOTEM F1 AVAILABLE FROM JOHNNY'S SELECTED SEEDS, IS AN EASY-To-GROW FRESH VEGGIE TO GROW FOR MID-WINTER SALADS, AND IT NEVER HAS SEEN A PLANE.
Growing Belgian Endive at home, is easier than you might think, yet looking back at these photos, I realized how long it takes (9-10 months), before one can harvest a crop. Even though it seems like like long time to wait for a harvest, the labor involved is minimal. If you are looking for another way to augment your winter storage vegetables like roots, potatoes and cabbage, and you are craving something really fresh-picked, why no grow a crop of Belgian Endive - truly a low carbon crop for fresh winter salads. One sows seed in March or April, a little thinning a weeding in May and June, no fertilizer or water needed in the summer, and then ones digs the roots up in October. A day to dry off in the sun, and then the roots are potted up in a long-tom clay pot, and placed in the root cellar until December, when one relocated them to a warmer, yet dark place to spout. Following, are some photos of the entire process.

BELGIAN ENDIVE SEED MUST BE PLANTED AS SOON AS THE GROUND CAN BE WORKED - HERE IN NEW ENGLAND,  THIS CAN BE MID-MARCH.

In the 1700's and 1800's if one wanted fresh vegetables in the winter months, one had to plan months ahead, potting up plants to force in root cellars and hot beds, a common practice on private estates and on family farms. In Europe, methods of growing and then forcing chicories and endives for winter harvests started in the 1600's, yet today, the process has been somewhat modified and modernized, the results are basically exactly the same. Belgian endive that is forced in barns that are blacked-out so the no light at all can turn the chicons green, still provide harvests of endive for modern supermarkets. But if you are looking for a sustainable crop that will provide you with fresh vegetables in the winter

SEED SHOULD BE SOWN THINLY, SO THERE IS MINIMAL HAND-THINNING, WHICH CAN DISTURB THE ANGLE OF THE TAP ROOT. ONE WANTS TO HARVEST LONG, THICK ROOTS IN THE AUTUMN.


YOUNG ENDIVE LOOKS VERY MUCH LIKE THE COMMON DANDELION, WHICH IS, OF COURSE, ALSO AN ENDIVE.

IN MID SUMMER, KEEPING WEEDS AT BAY, WILL BE THE ONLY CHORE. BELGIAN ENDIVE PREFERS LEAN SANDY SOIL THAT DRAINS WELL, WITH VERY LITTLE FERTILIZER. LOW NITROGEN MEANS STRONGER ROOTS, AND LITTLE WATER WILL FORCE ROOTS TO LOOK DEEPER FOR MOISTURE.

JUST BEFORE A HARD FROST, WHICH FOR US, OFTEN MEANS LATE OCTOBER, THE ROOTS ARE CAREFULLY DUG UP.

THE VARIETY I GREW, TOTEM F1 FROM JOHNNY'S SELECTED SEEDS, IS A CHOICE VARIETY FOR NORTHERN GROWERS. ROOTS ARE ALLOWED TO DRY FOR A DAY, AND THE LONG TIPS ARE CUT OFF, AS WELL AS THE FOLIAGE. ROOTS ARE POTTED UP SHOULDER-TO-SHOULDER IN A LONG TOM, OR A DEEP CLAY POT. HERE IS WHERE THINGS CAN GO WRONG.

THE POTTED ROOTS ARE WRAPPED IN A CLOTH TO BLOCK OUT THE LIGHT -  I USED BLACK VELVET BLACK OUT CLOTH, AND THE ENTIRE POT IS SET IN A COOL, DARK PLACE UNTIL READY TO FORCE. DON'T WAIT TOO LONG, THE LAST HARVEST SHOULD BE AROUND FEB.1ST.

I START POTS AROUND CHRISTMAS TIME BY MOVING THEM TO A PITCH BACK, YET WARM LOCATION, LIKE A CLOSET OR A CELLAR WAY, WHERE TEMPS ARE AROUND 68 DEG. F.

IT ONLY TAKES A FEW WEEKS FOR THE CHICONS TO SPROUT. IF YOU USE A BLACK PLASTIC GARBAGE BAG TO BLOCK OUT THE LIGHT, CHECK DAILY FOR MOLD OR DECAY. SHOOTS CAN BE CUT OFF JUST ABOVE THE ROOT TOP, AND A SECOND CROP WITH FEWER LEAVES CAN BE HARVESTED IN A FEW WEEKS.
Today we hosted the New England chapter of the American Primula Society for a mid-winter bash. We presented this first pot of Belgian Endive to Jacques Mommens, ( who is from Belgium), and he was very moved by his gift. As an active member of The National Rock Garden Society and the American Primrose Society, Jacques is a dear friend of many alpine plant enthusiasts across the country, and we are always thrilled when he braves his long journey from New York to come to one of our events.


January 15, 2012

Winter Blues

Solenostemon thyrisoides, a winter-blooming old fashioned conservatory plant, rarely seen today in any collections blooms on a sunny January day in the greenhouse.



Every gardener should have at least one plant in their garden that stops even the most snooty of plantista's in their tracks, forcing them to ask you "Oh my gosh, what is that?!" Here is one plant that may indeed to that, although it is a winter-blooming tender plant intended for growing in the greenhouse.  The best part is, it isn't really all that rare - it's a coleus. A green-leaved, almost succulent form grown for centuries by plantsmen for it's blue flowers in January and February which brought that special color to conservatory displays and garden rooms to brighten even the snowiest of winter days. 

First introduced to Europe in 1875 by Veitch, this pretty yet rather free-growing ( i.e. branchy and not very attractive) plant does have two qualities that keeps it in private collections - it blooms smack in the middle of winter, and those flowers? They just happen to exist in the most incredible shade of a deep true blue - the sort of blue one only sees in morning glories and cobalt glass. 



It's greatest downfall may very well be it's scent; and it doesn't come from its lovely blossoms, for they have no scent, but this plants scent  (actually, a 'smell') comes from it's leaves - a sticky mixture of chum, sardines and cod liver oil, with just a spritz of turpentine. I kind of like it, actually, only because it reminds me past experiences with this plant, and how it used to bloom in old wood and glass greenhouses in wintertime. It's just part of that entire experience.  

Don't be too confused with the Latin name, for it seems to change annually. It belongs to a clan of plants that just keep getting moved around from one plant family to another ( all within Lamaceae - the mist family- you know, all the plants that have square stems). I know it as a coleus, yet it was classified as Plectranthus as recently as five years ago, and now, pushed over into a genus named Solenostemon ( don't worry, I still call them all coleus too). 

You may need to Google all three genus names to fine this species online, if you want to buy one. Logee's greenhouses sells them, yet I don't see it on their mail order list, you would need to call them ( I know they have it for sale, I saw some yesterday). They list it as Coleus thyrsoides, and Glass House Works sells them listed as Plectranthus thyrsoides, and also as Solenostemon thyrsoides. Regardless of what you call it, this continues to be a fine flowering plant for winter windowsills, and especially in cold greenhouses where it really shines.




Plants can be grown from cuttings ( the Logee's plants have bee growing from the same cuttings for over 100 years), but I have recently read that the finest plants are grown from seed, since the plant is formally classified as an annual. I found seed for sale from the South African seed firm of Silver Hill Seeds, which ships worldwide, yet there may very well be a few other sources. It's not necessarily common, but one can find most anything with seven Google searches, right?

January 14, 2012

The Winter Windowsill - Rare Bulbs

THE CAPE HYACINTH

Lachenalia aloides var. quadricolor

CULTURE- Easy as Papewhite narcissus. Purchase bulbs in autumn from specialist bulb catalogs, and some Dutch bulb catalogs. Plant in a professional quality potting mix ( like ProMix by Fafard), or a fast-draining soil mix ( 1/3 gravel, 1/3 perlite, 1/3 compost or loam), water well once, and set on cool, bright windowsill or on a bench in a cool greenhouse which does not freeze. Bulbs emerge in a few weeks, and will produce two to three leaves per bulb. Floral scapes appear shortly after. Provide the brightest light possible ( a sunny, bright window that becomes cooler at night, or the sunniest spot in your greenhouse.

January 10, 2012

My Favorite Seed Sources


Is it just me? Or are there more seed catalogs arriving in the mail than ever before?

Clearly our new digital work has not affected the catalog printing industry. As most of us know, there is still that special 'something' about paper, when it comes to some things.  I would bet my yellow variegated clivia that most people read the paper catalogs , circling favorite choices, crafting a final list, and then places an order on-line.

Every blog on the planet is featuring their favorite catalogs, so I will approach this subject differently. I thought that I might share with you some of my more unconventional sources for seed. Some of these you may already be familiar with, others maybe not so much.  Either way, I encourage you to support these small business, or plant societies - for the truth is that there are very few sources where one can get truly unique seeds. Most heirloom and major seed companies purchase their seeds overseas, in China or all from the same source. Look for those who grow their own, breed their own, or collect responsibly from the wild. Be wary of most seed banks offering "heirloom seed" in large lots that you can bury in the cellar - most are scams, or at the very best, simply selling old seed of out dated varieties that will never germinate once the Mayan calendar runs out.

Here are some of my current, favorite sources - where many of us plant enthusiasts like to purchase the seeds that interest us. If you are looking for something different, unique or something really ...

January 6, 2012

Uncommon Home Grown Citrus

MANY CITRUS MAKE EXCELLENT WINDOWSILL PLANTS, IN MY GREENHOUSE, I KEEP ABOUT TEN TYPES, HERE ARE A FEW.
As a teenager, I was a bit of a nerd ( which I've been thinking about lately - see end of post). Not really into competitive sports, nor other typical teenagy stuff like comic books, music or pop stars; I was the sort of kid who instead of asking for a motorbike, begged my parents for money to buy a lime tree from the Park's Seed catalog ( circa 1972?). The idea that one could grow citrus indoors fascinated me for all it delivers - fragrant flowers, yummy fruit and a cool houseplant. Like many things, this was not always true. A popular book at the time had step-by-step methods for growing your own citrus from seed, ( something that I see even today suggested on other blogs), but although a great way to get children interested in plants, the truth is, most, if not all citrus from seed will not bloom and bear fruit for many years. So unless you child plants to take her citrus to college, and then to her first home, the reality of real fruit from a seed-raised plant is unrealistic.

January 2, 2012

A Sunny Winter Day in the Greenhouse

WITH OUTSIDE TEMPERATURES EXPECTED TO FINALLY DROP TO BELOW 10 DEG. F, A BRONZE COLORED CYMBIDIUM ORCHID ENJOYS A SUNBEAM ON A JANUARY SUNNY AFTERNOON IN THE GREENHOUSE.
Of the many pleasures one has in keeping a greenhouse in New England is the ability to garden during those months when snow is deep, and outside temperatures are far below freezing. It may be frosty outdoors, but underglass - in a t-shirt- I am muddy and filthy in the good way - with hand pruners, loppers, rakes and hoses. I actually prefer gardening in January in the greenhouse more than a June day in the garden. With the scent of almond and jasmine in the moist, green-smelling air, physical labor under glass in ones own greenhouse is one of the most memorable experiences. I have to admit, even as a snow-lover, with no snow this year, this sure beats shoveling snow! ( Lest we forget - last January).

I began my two weeks off from work ( the first full week I took all year), with a long to-do list, and naturally, very little from that list was accomplished. I was never able to get the greenhouse properly prepared for winter with a wrap of bubble wrap inside of the glass, so I do hope that this mild winter continues ( although, 8 deg. F tomorrow!), but I never really expect to get much done on these staycations. I just let each day dictate what needs to be done. 

January 1, 2012

Exhibition Flowers - Why not grow the best?

JUDGES FROM THE NATIONAL SWEET PEA SOCIETY EVALUATING SWEET PEAS IN ENGLAND AS PART OF THE RHS WISLEY TRIALS. LEARNING WHAT VARIETIES OF FLOWERS TO GROW AND GETTING THEM DIRECTLY FROM SPECIFIC PLANT SOCIETIES OFTEN IS THE BEST WAY TO OBTAIN THE NEWEST CULTIVARS.

 photo by  the talented photographer IanJmase ©All Rights Reserved/Flickr

Have you ever wondered why annuals that you buy in the spring in those plastic 6 pacs look so perfect? Why those pansies you buy are covered in flowers,  so green and lush with nice, dense growth?  Growers know that only annuals with flowers on them will sell, that short, dense and bush looking geraniums sell first. Most spring bedding plants are drenched in growth hormones, root stimulator's and are varieties selected primarily for their performance on the sales bench ( i.e. in flower when you buy them) and not for how they perform in your garden. We all deserve more, right?


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