February 28, 2012

Planning and Planting the Perfect Sweet Pea Crop


It's nearly March 1st, which means seed-starting time - at least for early crops. I too have been guilty of the most common mistake that new gardeners often make -starting their vegetable and flower seeds too early. Most seeds must wait, until the end of March or even mid-April for crops such as tomatoes, but there are some crops that benefit from early kick-starts, and cut-flower sweet peas is one of them. If you love the classic, old-fashioned long-stemmed sweet peas that you sometimes see in stylish weddings and florists,  then you must grow the proper varieties - welcome to the cultivation of the rarely experienced English Spencer varieties of sweet peas. The sweet peas that true sweet pea fans grow, and the same varieties used for exhibition in England, where they are so popular. If you too want to experience these amazing long stemmed, fragrant and colorful sweet peas, now is the time to plant them - starting with seeds.


Growing cut flower sweet peas to perfect takes planning, and dedication. The finest seed should be acquired ( I get mine from Owl's Acre Sweet Peas in the United Kingdom). I find that I do not need to soak seed overnight in water, but you can do that if you want to speed up germination. Do not leave seed in the water longer than 12 hours however, or you risk damaging the embryo - you don't want bean sprouts before you plant them! Plant hard, fresh seed in damp soil, and you will be all set. Leave the soaking to the old-timers and the inexperienced.


Most sweet pea varieties available in the United States are either old strains, those heirlooms with small or bi colored flowers, the fancy stripes and flakes ( those really-vintage red and white flecked forms) or those known as Spencer varieties- long stemmed exhibition forms, which are the most commonly grown long-stem varieties popular in England. There are fine sources in California from some classic names Spencer varieties, but as I spend a lot of effort growing the finest cut-flower methods, I figure that I might as well order the seed that the sweet pea exhibitors grow, from the same sources. You may have just as fine a result from American grown seed, I saw get what you wish, for I've even found some of the old-fashioned Royal varieties nearly as nice, and in fact, if a warm summer is expected, they may perform better.


One of the tricks in growing fine sweet peas is getting the young plants off to a good start. Most professional exhibitors use these root trainer pots ( sold under the brand name Rootrainers). They are costly, but I've found nothing better. Trendy newbies may suggest using toilet paper tubes, which I am also using, but you must be careful, since they deteriorate quickly. The goal is to provide a deep root run, since sweet peas want to send a long root straight down, and the more depth you can provide, the better off your mature plant will be. 

A cultural note here - you may plant seeds directly out in the garden even around March 1st, (even here in USDA zone 5) if the ground is 'workable' but germination may be delayed, and can take as long as a month, wasted time if you want to maximize the cool weather for growth before it gets warm. You will find that germinating seed at 70 degrees F, and then relocating the seedlings to a cool if not cold growing area where temperatures shift from around 65 deg. F during the day, to about 45 degrees F. during the night as ideal growing conditions.


Labels can be created if you want to keep track of the varieties you are growing, or, if you are like me, to remind myself which varieties I did not order, since  I just decided to order all of the other varieties that I did not order the first time around.


Fresh seeds are planted into the Rootrainers, as soon as the seed arrives in the mail. I use a professional soiless mix ( ProMix) in which to start seeds since it is sterile, and the texture is perfect. Seeds are pressed into the surface of the soil, with the eraser end of a pencil and once watered well, I check again to make sure that the seeds are completely covers. The seed trays are then brought into the house, where this sit on a warn shelf above the over until I see shoots emerging - which takes about six days. Then then are imediately relocated to the greenhouse, where it is much cooler.

DISASTER STRIKES A FLAT OF NEWLY SPROUTING SWEET PEAS. ONE SUNNY DAY, AND THE VENTS DID NOT OPEN PROPERLY IN THE GREENHOUSE - SEEDLING COOKED IN THE NEARLY 85 DEGREE HEAT. I ALREADY REPLANTED SAVED SEED IN THE SAME POTS.

This one flat was brought out to the greenhouse and placed in the full sun by Joe, who forgot to water them. Pea shoots are very tender at this stage, and one hot sunny day, even if it is February, can roast the tender tissues. I lost four rows and two varieties ( of course, the ones that I had no extra seed for!). Typically I would lose seedlings to mice, but I've set traps in anticipation, two weeks ago, and we've caught four already. I took photos but thought that I would spare you the images. I am certain that there are more ( like, maybe 30?) so the traps are still set with peanut butter, our bait of choice. My fear is that one of these mornings, I will walk in and see every pea plant chewed off to the ground ( again) since that is what happened in October with my winter-blooming greenhouse crop, but I am banking on the fact that our mouse population is satiated with their steady diet of Rhodohypoxis ( remember those large, wooded trays with a few hundred bulbs each that I grew my collection into? They are all gone. every single one. <sigh>. Time to get us some terriers.......no, wait a minute....  ugh. We have the only Irish Terriers in the world who prefer Brussels Sprouts over mice.


A good example of why root trainers work. This seedling ( sun roasted on the top) shows just how fast and how straight the sweet pea roots want to grow. This root is nearly 6 inches long, in just 2 weeks. Seedlings will be pinched back once they produce their first set of true leaves, which will stimulate a side growth which will be surprisingly more aggressive. It's always hard to do, but once you get over the first pinch, a finer crop of sweet peas will be in your future. Now? Off to order new bamboo poles to construct the cordons on which I will be training this crop.

February 27, 2012

Giants of the Orchid World

A large tub of the awesomely large Australian naive Dendrobium speciosum, blooms next to a smaller, and more common cousin, Dendrobium kingianum. Both are relatively easy to grow in a cool, sunny greenhouse.
Any visit to a spring flower show will feature orchids of all sorts, if not on displays sponsored by your regional orchid society, most certainly at the retail tables where Phaleonopsis and slipper-orchids can be found for around $20-$35 dollars. Although these might be cost-of-entry for any orchid collector, once you explore this amazing familiy of plants ( one of the world's largest), you will soon discover hundreds of names which you will not recognize. With mass-produced Orchids today as common as geraniums, being found at most florists, supermarkets and even at the hard ware store, the selection is still limited to a few sturdier forms. So those $9.99 toss-away dendrobiums may not be able to compete with some of the gems of the genus. Here are a few late winter - spring bloomers that are in bloom this weekend in the greenhouse. Most happen to be Australian orchids, for that continent has some of the most magnificently large and impressive species in the genus dendrobium than any other Pacific country.

I've been wanting one of these larger dendrobiums ever since seeing a large specimen plant at the Tokyo World Grand Prix a few years ago. A mature plant can be 12 feet in diameter! This plant is still young, so I have a few years to wait, still, with 5 spikes this year extending 5 feet out from the pot, I a looking for a large, teak basket in which I can pot-up this giant. Also, at $250 a division, cultivating one of these beauties is very much like growing a sofa, it requires care, and investment in you want good results. (But I don;t have the crazy orchid collector gene, really.....I don't have it.). ( but I did finally add another rare dendrobium to the collection this weekend.....d. hancockii - another species seen in Tokyo 5 years ago that grows branchy, looking more like a Forsythia). See a mature one here. I do love things big!

Dendrobium speciosum is available from Santa Barbara Orchid Estates, a fine orchid grower in Santa Barbara, CA. I like to check out thier site daily, since they also offer daily specials in-bloom or in-season. My plant came to my home beautifully packed (in New England) in a box larger than a kitchen chair, and the plat was already well established in a 2 gallon container. SBOE specializes in Cymbidiums though, so make sure you check those out if you have a cool room or a cold greenhouse.

There are hundreds of Dendrobium species to try, and I think that I could just collect all dendrobiums and never run out of new ones to try. This complex cross is also one made from two Australian types.  Dendrobium  Butter Star 'Pale Moon'  is a grex between the cross of D. 'Star of Riverdene and D. gracillimum. These plants are more manageable, with an overall height of 12 inches.



Cymbidiums are in season too. This green-flowered plant is un-named, a supermarket purchase a few years ago at Christmas because it had 6 spikes! Every year, it sends up a few spikes after spending the summer outdoors, and these, we just cut and bring into the house. I adore green cymbidiums, but as you can tell by the damaged blossoms, I don't fuss over there.


I am attracted to brown and tan cymbidiums, and this giant has been a fine bloomer. Lost the tag, but I think it was names "Bay State' or something like that. Each year, I try to add one new Cymbidium to the collection, there are just so many now to choose from. I prefer March bloomers for nostalgic reasons. The cut arched spiked brought into the home on grey, now squally days, are synonymous with March, to me.



February 26, 2012

South African Bulbs - Peak Week

Gladiolus splendens, is a tall, red-blooming species that looks nothing like the hybrid summer-blooming forms most people are familiar with.

Late February and Early March marks an important time of transition in the the plant collectors greenhouse. It's the start of autumn in the southern hemisphere, and spring, in the north, and plants react to the lengthening day light, and the brighter sun. We, as humans working cubicles and under florescent lights sometimes miss this subtle seasonal shifts, but there is nothing subtle about how the plants react. This is the season of orchids, since many bloom now ( as they do in the autumn) than in any other time of the year, and, this is the season for many bulbs which naturally want to grow with the lengthening daylight, ( which is why spring flower shows are scheduled for this time of year).

South African bulbs are the stars in the greenhouse this cold February Sunday. After missing a snowstorm by a mere 50 miles this weekend, ( it did snow in upstate New York, yet we only enjoyed the beauty of blinding snow squalls and fierce winds). 

The brilliant carmine-red of Gladiolus splendens can be seen from across the garden. Native to the Roggeveld Escarpment in South Africa, where it grows near streams, these winter-blooming gladiolus make excellent cold greenhouse flowers, but the plants themselves are rarely attractive. The wiry-stemed gladiolus are weak, since they are designed to grow through scrub growth and grasses. A little creative staking is often needed.

Pink Velthiemia make cheerful potted winter-blooming bulbs, but the pale-yellow form of Velthiemia bracteata is less common. Here, V. bracteata 'Lemon Flame' begins its season - the flowers are almost open.

A Velthiemia bracteata 'Lemon Flame' blooming in a Guy Wolff long-tom pot.

Even less common, Velthiemia bracteata 'Rose-Alba', has ivory and salmon blossoms, along with wavy, bluish leaves.

Lachenalia aloides var. peasonii, a selection of Lachenalia aloides with only two colors in the blossom, instead of the four colors typically seed in L. aloides var. quadricolor. The term 'aloides' means that this species has blossoms that are reminiscent of the aloe, another South African native.

I am sparing most of you the boring photos of Romulea, the many species of this crocus-formed South African that also bloom in tiny pots around the greenhouse. This one is blooming in a pot of seedlings labeled Romulea hartwegii ( I never know if these are the true species or not, without properly keying out. For now, I will leave it as R. hartwegii since I doubt many of you will actually care. I love the tiny Romulea species, for the always surprise me with they flowers on sunny winter days.


A few more Clivia that are blooming right now. This cross, again, another C. miniata x C. gardenii has darker trumpet shaped blossoms.

This variegated-leaved Clivia has wide leaves, and wide blossoms that have a broad, yellow center , very much like many of the early 20th century French forms. It was raised from seed that we brought back from Japan. SO many clivia are blooming now that it's hard to keep track.

February 24, 2012

Glamelia's or Camellia's? Nostalgia at the Oscar's

A REAL CAMELIA - THE INSPIRATION FOR THE FAUX GLAMELIA
This Sunday's Academy Awards will feature Glamelia's on the tables at the Governor's Ball, or at least according to ABCNEWS. Glamelia's, in case you do not know, are constructed rather than grown - popular in the 1940's when real Camellia's were too costly during the war, they were built by a laborious method where a Gladiola ( gladiolus) flower was used as the center ( wired and taped), and a hundred or so separate gladiolus petals, each separately wired and taped, would be arranged around the center bud and blossom, to create a symmetrical, rose-form camellia-like arrangement that looked like one, massive flower. Also popular in the 1950's and 1960's with many American florists, they quickly fell out of fashioned, and were considered tacky and cheap alternatives to camellias, until recently, when the craft movement and the need for something different and still pretty re-popularized the trend.


What I can't help thinking about though, is the fact that Los Angeles is smack dab in the middle of Camellia country, and, this very weekend marks the peak of the season for Camellia's in the Los Angeles area where Camellia shows have been happening all month. Of course, a fake Camellia somehow seems appropriate also, since after all, this is Hollywood, but the glamelia's being created by hip LA florist Mark Held of Mark's Garden are constructed from red roses, ( he created a white glamelia and pine needle bridal bouquet for for Kathering Heigl's wedding in Deep Valley, Utah). Glamelia's are suddenly back, and they seem like the perfect match this season for the Academy Awards, since many of this films nominated deal with nostalgia ( silent films, 19th century when glamelia's were first invented, and of course, the south in the 1960's where both glamelia's and camellias reigned amongst the hair spray.

GLAMELIA'S ARE QUITE HIP TODAY WITH WEDDING DESIGNERS, CONSTRUCTED FROM ROSE PETALS MORE OFTEN THAN THE ORIGINAL GLADIOLUS PETALS, SOME ARE EVEN BUILT FROM LEAVES.


February 23, 2012

A New Fragrant Yellow Clivia is Born

We have a few hundred clivia seedlings, but this one is awesome. ,A deep golden yellow, this clivia has bloomed for the past five years for us and it is always the best. It's so nice that we have decided to name this clone Clivia miniata 'Muggy Bunny' in honor of our sweet dog Margaret who we lost this past summer (and who we still miss so much). It will never be sold, so we can name it whatever we want, and if we share a clone ( division) the name can be passed on. Normal one would need to register a name, but this is just for us.

One of our own yellow Clivia crosses is a cross between Vico Yellow and Vico Gold, crossed again with a Nakamura 'thick-petal' yellow. The best thing of all? This beauty is fragrant too. Out of the hundred or so seedlings that we have bloomed so far, this one is simply the nicest, and most favorite ( like Margaret was). One always stands out from the pack ( like Margaret) and one always is the most special ( like Margaret). Plus, Clivia 'Muggy Bunny' has wide open blossom with 4" wide florets with a massive umbel more than 10 inches wide. If that is not incredible enough, that fragrance -t this clivia smells like an Easter lily ( not quite like Margaret). 

Artist Carolyn Gavin




Artist Carolyn Gavin, who has a blog, and who is the principle designer for ecojot in Toronto posted some very cheery and plant related patterns that I thought I might share. Seeing plants interpreted by artists sometimes does not work, since botanically they are often incorrect, which freaks many of us out. Still, photo-realistic patterns are not that interesting either, since they lack personality. Since I assume that many of you who read my blog appreciate design as much as I do, I though I might share Carolyn's latest work here for a Thursday, pick-me-up.

Growing with Blogs - now in the top 12

Succulents enjoying the warmth and bright late February sunshine in my greenhouse. Direct sun enhances the color and form of  succulents and cacti, keeping the plants 'in character' and growing densely.



2012 year is only 2 months old, yet so much has happened with this blog- king of a growth spurt. Maybe being featured in Martha Stewart Living helped with an 'Opera Effect', but the numbers started a couple of months before that. It's always surprises me how fast things can grow and connect on-line sometimes, but then again, that's how the Internet works.


I hate to waste a post with self-bragging, but I guess that gardening does have its competitive aspect too, right? It really doesn't change how I do anything around here, but it does provide some good old-fashioned back slapping and attaboyness. Growing with Plants is now officially arrived - listed as a top 12 gardening blog on many statistic sites ( even the big ones like Google and INVESP), as well as  this mornings post on E-Junkie, which is beautifully written. Still, all of the really doesn't mean much, since impressions and numbers on the Internet all depends on the hour, the moment and the category you look at. For whatever reason, I do keep track of such things from time-to-time - I think it's simply because blogging is actually a very lonely practice - done in private, and often with little interaction from real people beyond a "like" or a "pin" ( it's why we bloggers love a little interaction from time to time, lest we end up being more like computer programers tapping away alone in dark rooms, when we'd rather be out in the sunshine and fresh air - maybe that's why so many garden writers never really spend much time in the garden. I won't let that happen.


February 22, 2012

A Squeeky Clean Spring Refresh

GALANTHUS ( SNOWDROPS) ARE BLOOMING EARLIER THIS YEAR DUE TO THE EXTREMELY MILD AND SNOWLESS WINTER - OUR WARMEST WINTER EVER SINCE RECORDS WERE KEPT.

I don't know if it's because it's becoming to feel like spring out there, or because it feels like spring outside.....but I feel like I need to play with the design of this blog once again - a subtle tweak, to freshen it up, make it whiter - more New York Timesy, classic, clean and more ownable. So please share your thoughts about it, as I tweak various type elements and try to simplify my color palette -- which happens to match this fab Snowdrop which was proudly waving its winged petals while in bloom in the sunshine this morning in the alpine bed that runs along the greenhouse.

OXALIS OBTUSA, SHARES A BEVY OF BLOOMS WHICH OPEN ONLY WHEN THE SUN SHINES BRIGHT. THIS SELF PLANTED ESCAPEE-BULB FOUND ITSELF IN A LARGE, DEEP POT WHERE IT SHARES A HOME WITH A BRUNSVIGIA TEN TIMES ITS SIZE.

Sometimes plants tell you how they like to grow. As many of you know, I grow many species of the bulbous South African Oxalis - the winter blooming species. Experts say to grow them in fast-draining mixes, in small pots, but this errant bulb ended up in a huge 30" container which houses a massive Brunsvigia, it must have happened while repotting the dormant southern hemisphere bulbs every July. The difference is that this misplaced bulb is doing far better than its kin in smaller pots. This plant has a root run nearly 24 inches deep, and I am convinced that these tiny South African bulbs prefer large tubs  of sandy soil, where they can run roots deep, often where the bulbs end up, pressed against the bottom of a pot no matter how deep it is. A repot this summer while all is dormant will reveal the truth.

February 20, 2012

The Writes of Spring

HAMAMELLIS x INTERMEDIA 'ARNOLD'S PROMISE', JUST BEGINNING TO UNFURL IN THE BRIGHT, FEBRUARY SUNSHINE IN MY GARDEN. NOW ALMOST A TREE, THIS 15 YEAR OLD SHRUB WAS ALMOST BROUGHT DOWN BY OUR OCTOBER BLIZZARD.

At one time, long before there were blogs, there were newspapers, and in those newspapers, at least in the great ones, there was often a weekly gardening column. Behind most every fine gardening column, was a garden writer, and many of these garden writers, were indeed fine gardeners. Names like Thalassa Cruso, who wrote for the Boston Globe as well as McCall's Magazine, and perhaps even greater, if not the greatest garden writers of all Vita Sackville-West and her weekly notes in the London Sunday Observer blazed a path few take today. Like so many things today, the idea of a weekly column seems more quaint than practical, if only for the fact that it arrives on ones doorstep in a newspaper. The Sunday Times or Washington Post? Absolutely. I look forward to it. My daily local newspaper? Not so much.

 However, there is a news-like quality to garden writing, and for garden news, for that matter. So where does one go to find the daily or weekly gardening task lists? I suppose the answer is blogs. Briefer, and not as eloquent as week columns in newspapers, at least, they capture a moment, personal share of the tasks are a constant, events happen daily, and often there is enough news for both the morning paper and the evening gazette, at least in my garden. But sometimes the news becomes less than newsworthy; and more about ritual. Garden writing reminds me of the Weather Channel, or better yet, it's the offspring of both the Weather Channel and the Cooking Channel. When things are bad, (really, really bad, like 9/11 bad), the safest place to turn the channel on the television is to either the Weather Channel or the Cooking Channel. Both provide a comforting tone, a mix of seasonal pace,( autumn apple pies or brisk Canadian cold fronts), a ritualistic repetition (the cycles of the moon, crank up the grill for summer fun), a touch of nostalgia ( the blizzard of 77, or Monkey Bread) and no news.

It's no surprise that gardening itself relates so closely to both the weather and food, after all, one can't live without the other. Weather is as immediate as anything can get, as is gardening, and garden column writers, if any good, must write in-the-moment, (for if one sees a flock of robins bathing in the koi pond as I did this morning, it is indeed newsworthy -- and not the sort of robins who spend the winter, I am convinced that these were genuine Florida robins - they were far too delighted). Garden column writers announce the first snowdrop, the first crocus, the proper time to plant asparagus root, as well as share their favorite recipe for something with Zuchinni in it.  Today, garden blogs are filling that gap - from Groundhogs to Hellebores, to Heirloom Tomatoes to the first frog in the pond - our favorite gardening blog provides us with a brief moment of mindless gardening (which sometimes is even better than actually doing it yourself), just the 'idea' of planting a 50 foot row of coral peonies is enough - and yes, occasionally, an "Oh, OK, I can do that" or, "mine is blooming too!"Like 'cooks' watching the Cooking Channel, not all gardeners garden.

This weekend in late February, across North America, garden writers are tapping away at their laptops articulating the sublime benefits of the overlooked Hamamellis, or Witch Hazels, which are in bloom weeks earlier this year than in the past five years. Many are re-crafting profound statements about the 'unseasonably warm'  winter, its record-breakingness, (or not). Month-by-month the titles are similar. February - First Eranthis, early crocus, Snowdrops and the errant robin. March: Providing sollice to those without their clivia in bloom, celebrating slate colored and double Hellebores, a few reports from the local spring flower show, and stern advice on how to restrain the need to start ones tomato plants too early. Annually these subjects inevitably repeat, but with subtle changes. "Why last year, these Hellebores bloomed a full six weeks later than this year!, and we? Well, we concur, we disagree, we relate, we rejoice, and the result is that we the audience find comfort in the rhythms and cycles that Mother Nature gifts us with so mysteriously and obviously at the same time.

I am no garden writer, I will say that.  I can share my knowledge and passion as best I can with words and pictures. I can't even say that "I'll do my best.", for I can write far better than time allows me, but I am time poor and far too lazy to worry about it. Yes, blogs are a fast medium, most are  quickly typed out in-the-moment, on mobile phones and laptops before work or while in bed, with photos downloaded and added while one is often still in the greenhouse or sipping coffee before work. "Must share that perfect camellia", or that special moment with the mouse trap and the peanut butter ( I'll save you from that! - but I see sweet peas in our future!!) -- But as newspapers wane and blogs start to take a place somewhere in our lives, at least we know that the gardeners voice ( be it far less articulate than Ms. Sackville-West's); continue to comfort us with that Weather Channel-ness of white noise, that at one time says nothing at all, while at the very same time, provides a reassuring beat to our daily lives.


February 19, 2012

Sunny, Sunny, Sunday

LACHENALIA, THE CAPE HYACINTH ( left), SOME MORE CAMELLIAS AND CYMBIDIUMS IN PEAK BLOOM ON THIS SUPER-SUNNY SUNDAY


Each year, there comes a time in my greenhouse when the plants that bloom in winter, peaks. It may happen in March, or in April and in some years even as late as May, but this year, it happens be in February. Such abundance is a little obscene, a mish-mash of color and species since even though these are generally winter-blooming species, they come from various corners of the world, so they don't always work well together. 

On this very sunny morning, as I recover from a bout of the stomach flu, which has kept me completely off this laptop for three whole days, I find the brilliance of this sunshine so very welcoming. A quick stroll around the garden shows plants blooming both outside, and under glass, so I will begin with the greenhouse, since it is spectacular today.

VIEW FROM OUTSIDE THE GREENHOUSE, WHERE IT IS COLD OUTSIDE, BUT SUNNY AND WARM INSIDE. NOTICE THE  Gladiolus splendens ON THE RIGHT JUST COMING INTO BLOOM.

YELLOW CLIVIA ( FRAGRANT ONE!), AND A MESS O' FORCED BULBS PROVIDE A RIOT OF COLOR




VELTHIEMIA BRACTEATA  var. ROSE-ALBA, A MORE UNUSUAL SELECTION OF VELTHIEMIA WITH CREAM AND PINK BLOSSOMS


February 14, 2012

Happy Valentines Day


HAPPY VALENTINES DAY ! - CHOCOLATES ARE NICE, BUT CAMELLIAS ARE PRETTIER!

Avery special thank to everyone who came to my talk last night in New York for McNARGS, and a special thanks to Abbie Zabar for her thorough, thoughtful and gracious introduction. Abbie, I have no idea how you assembled all of that research about it, and then so eloquently spoke about my background, experience and contributions, I so appreciate the time and care you took with every detail for this great event. It was a lovely evening in Manhattan. Today, I arrived home to a home full of that nasty stomach flu, and without any further detail, it's feeling a little like Dowton Abbey about here today - this weekends' episode about the Spanish Flu.  (sans the nurses and staff, naturally).

February 13, 2012

Tweeting the Alps - Tonight, in NYC

The Hort

Murren, Switzerland

As a guest of the Manhattan chapter of the North American Rock Garden Society, I will be presenting  talk and slide show on some recent trips to the Alps of Italy, Switzerland, France and Austria. Common  destinations for many alpine plant enthusiasts for over 150 years, my take it a little different - using technology, digital cameral, new recording devices and mobile tech, we are discovering a new way to share images via Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook, plant enthusiast forums  and more.

Primula auricula near the North Face, Switzerland
Primula auricula on the slopes of the Eiger, Engadine, Switzerland




February 12, 2012

A Weekend in the Winter Garden

HARDENBERGIA VIOLACEA, AND AUSTRALIAN VINE ONCE COMMON IN OLD GREENHOUSES IN NEW ENGLAND, IT WAS BROUGHT BACK ON WHALING SHIPS IN THE LATE 18TH C., AND OFTEN WAS FOUND IN TURN-OF-THE-CENTURY GLASS HOUSES. ITS COLOR IS INTENSE, AND DIFFICULT TO CAPTURE WITH A CAMERA.

This has been an incredibly mild winter here in New England, and out lack of snow may end with the promise of a few inches today, but it is bitter cold - 8 deg. F. today, so clearly, it is still winter. But as St. Valentines day closes in - the date when I sense the shift in sun intensity, both outdoors and in the greenhouse, it is in the later space where suddenly, it begins to feel very April-ish. Thanks to the many tender shrubs, vines and bulbs from warmer parts of the world, that we now keep in terra cotta pots and large tubs. It may be snowing, but thanks to Australia, New Zealand, China and South America, there are plants that love these shorter daylight days, and these provide bloom and greenery throughout winter in the greenhouse. 

When I built my greenhouse ten years ago, I asked to keep the floor open to the natural soil, mainly so I can plant woody shrub and trees right into the ground, making a sort of winter garden. The result is a winter garden, complete with the downside of muddy boots and sneakers, the soil floor makes the greenhouse very special, adding to the experience with the scents that gardeners crave, that of dirt and freshly pulled weeds. The soil floor also allows for lush clambering vines that twine and twist up the support system to bloom near the glass, and fragrant sub-tropical shrubs for the four corners of the world bloom as the snow flakes twirl beyond the thin glass. So, as I prepare to leave to New York City to speak and give a slide presentation at the HORTICULTURAL SOCIETY OF NEW YORK Monday evening as a guest of the Manhattan Chapter of NARGS ( come attend if you wish, check it out, here) I thought that I might share a few plants that are in bloom today.

CYCLAMEN COUM BLOOMS IN A POT. HARDY IN PROTECTED SPOTS OUTDOORS EVEN IN OUR ZONE 5 GARDEN, THIS WINTER BLOOMER PREFERS TO STAY UNDER GLASS.

NEW VARIETIES OF CAMELLIAS OFFER EVEN MORE COLOR THAN VICTORIAN FORMS. ON OVERCAST DAYS IN FEBRUARY, NOTHING IS BETTER THAN BRINGING A BOWL OF CAMELLIAS INTO THE HOUSE TO BRIGHTEN THE DAY. WE PICKED A PLATE FULL, AND WENT ACROSS THE STREET TO VISIT ELENOR, OUR 86 YEAR OLD NEIGHBOR, IT WAS HER BIRTHDAY.

A ROSE FORM CAMELLIA JAPONICA OPENS JUST AS THE SNOW BEGINS TO FALL OUTSIDE. ONLY A COUPLE OF INCHES EXPECTED, AS THE NOR'EASTER MOVES FAR OFF OF THE COAST OF NANTUCKET, WE ARE SPARED A DEEPER SNOWFALL.

CAMELLIAS TRANSFORM THE FEBRUARY GREENHOUSE INTO A COLOR-RICH GARDEN, NO WONDER THEY WERE SO POPULAR AS GLASS HOUSE SUBJECTS 200 YEARS AGO.


A POTTED  SARCOCCOCA HOOKERIANA VAR.  DIGYNA 'PURPLE STEM', A FRAGRANT SHRUB OFTEN GROWN OUTDOORS IN WARMER PARTS OF THE COUNTRY, MUST BE POTTED AND KEPT PROTECTED. THIS WAS A CLASSIC 18TH CENTURY CONSERVATORY SHRUB.

DETAIL OF A SARCOCOCCA HOOKERIANA - THIS SHRUB FROM CHINA ( FOUNDED BY HOOKER) HAS THE SWEETEST SCENT, ALMOST JASMINE-LIKE. JOE KEPT ASKING ME 'WHERE IS THE SCENT COMING FROM?". IT IS STILL A SMALL SPECIMEN, BUT IN A FEW YEARS, IT WILL SPREAD TO 24 INCHES IN A LARGER POT.
YES, EVEN A FEW RARE CAMELLIAS HAVE FRAGRANCE -  CAMELLIA, 'HIGH FRAGRANCE' CAN FILL A ROOM WITH ITS SWEET, BABY POWDER SCENT.




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