October 27, 2013

Greenhouse Treasures and Collection Management

Eucomis vandermerwei, a small, low growing,  alpine species of Pineapple Lily looks spooky just in time for Halloween, but it needs the protection of a greenhouse this time of year, as frost forms on the pumpkins.   I didn't grow this one, it was a gift from a rare plant auction, which followed a talk I gave  at the
Adirondack chapter of the North American Rock Garden Society last month. I just upgraded it from a plastic pot, to a Guy Wolff pot.  Added some gravel, and nature provided the dramatic lighting.

 Now that I have sold my other house on the property ( closing next week!!!), I am almost done painting the interior, and hauling junk to the dumpster. I can't WAIT until this nightmare is all over. Even though I will be losing a quarter of my property, I will finally have what I cherish most - more time. And with no more speaking engagements, nor travel plans ( last week I was in Los Angeles) - I can now begin to center myself, and focus. >breathe<.... Ahhhh. Back to my more typical, abnormal/normal pace.

We had our first frost this week, our first killing frost, which marks a significant gardening moment for me - a time when gardening moves under glass, into the greenhouse, and I couldn't be happier. You see, I really prefer gardening in the 'off season', that is, gardening 'under glass'. A greenhouse allows one like me to focus, which means that I enjoy the process more.  It's like down-grading to a 30 foot by 30 foot garden. Ahhhh. Little pots of treasures, a 15 foot hose, two watering cans and some mice. Oh, those mice. Hey, all I can say is that right now, the greenhouse smells more like peanut butter and aged chedder cheese than it does like Osmanthus fragrant - just sayin'. Dinner is served.

This is the week when I can evaluate each plant. Decide if it is worth dragging back into the greenhouse, or if it should be brought to the dumpster. Anyone with a greenhouse knows how valuable space is, and last year, this fact struck me - most of my collection has been with me for nearly a decade now, and although some plants are indeed true treasures, others are simply just baggage. The last think I want is a maintenance collection - watering, fertilizing and repotting the same old Acacia trees and Gardenias year after year - yawn.

So pink slips have been handed out, and out go more Clivia and agapanthus, and in will come more interesting plants, that is, if I can find something that I have not collected or grown yet!

I haven't shared many photos of my Nerine sarniensis this year, but don't feel bad, I missed most
of them blooming too, as I have been traveling. At least I was able to still see this choice selection, which
I added to the collection two years ago. Nerine sarniensis  'Exbury Renoir'.

This sand plunge bed ( one of five I keep in the greenhouse), is currently featuring Gasteria and a few Haworthia. Ordinary, I know, but for some reason, I like these easy plants as a collection. As you can see, I've added a few other South African treasures. I like grouping 'like' plants together ( which means few South American plants hanging out with the African plants - OK, eagle eye Mangave - maybe I allowed two interlopers, and you call me a plant geek.).  
 My sand beds are raised, aluminum beds with sharp sand which I keep damp. Clay pots can then pull water, through osmosis which provides a more natural source of water for many winter rainfall plants, such as those found growing in the western Cape of South Africa, or Chile. Each year I try to mix things up, changing the displays in these beds to please my crazy mind ( come on, now one else sees them!). So I can curate them any way I want. I've been thinking about dedicating one to winter vegetables, perhaps salad greens or micro greens - a kitchen garden maybe. Another bed I may plant Carnations in, as that is a crop which I have not grown yet.

One thing both Joe and I have agreed on, is that we are bored with much of what is in the greenhouse right now. Clivias and Agapanthus may be sacraficed in order to make room for new collections. I've been thinking about adding to the camellia collection, and to the orchid collection ( cymbidiums and other cool growing orchids), and maybe more of those cool, high elevation rhododendrons from Borneo - the Viryeas. Every plant collector frequently shakes things up a bit, and I think this is the year I try some new things. Otherwise, I risk just becoming a caretaker, and not a discovery agent.

I was delighted and surprised to have found my pot of Strumaria unguiculata. A bit of mouthful, I know, but quite rare
and unusual, if you are a SouthAfrican bulb collector. You would need a greenhouse for this one. I've had the bulb for four years, and it has slowly progressed, producing a lone, single leaf each winter, before going dormant in spring. This year, it finally sent up a flower spike. I grow it in pure, sharp sand, and allow it to go dry for the entire summer. I love fussy bulbs like this - well, 'fussy' is a loose term - I almost missed this blooming, as it was still in my dry corner. How fussy is that? I ignored it for 7 months, and then found it blooming. Brilliant.

PUPPY CAM    - Freshness Guaranteed
The puppies eyes are just opening, so they are still a bit cloudy or blueish. My plan was to fit all 5 in a Devil Dog box, as they all have a tiny white spot ( where they filled them with creme?), but alas, they have grown too quickly, and only one can fit into the box at a time. They are still in their 'ugly' phase ( come on!), but it's true - I will prove it in a couple of weeks when I post photos then. These will look like gorilla puppies in comparison. OK, they are still a tiny bit cute.


  1. hey matt,
    Great photo of the Nerine! And I am still dreaming of the day I'll have a greenhouse! We are closing on the property inS. Egremont so perhaps that day is closer than I thought! The pups ARE growing so fast and I'm looking forward to seeing them in January. Take care....amy

  2. oh this post, just one fabulous surprise after another! puppies!!!!! who knew you were growing them too!

    truly enjoying the "discovery agent" side of your "crazy mind". happy growing!

  3. Thanks Mille - Oh the puppies were 'planned', but their deliver sure was a surprise - happening on the weekend that Joe was traveling, and with momma dog ( Lydia) in bed with me. "surprise at midnight!"

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  5. Congratulations on the sale! And the respite--I don't know how you juggle work, your fabulous gardens (and greenhouse--yikes!), pets, family, travel and make it all look so dang cool! Your succulents look positively edible and your puppies are cuter than bug's ears...Miss you Matt--gotta figure out how to lure you out here again (just what you want to hear now that you have a moments peace.) Enjoy the Indian Summer!

  6. Anonymous9:59 AM

    So glad you have a greenhouse and will keep us supplied with fresh photos of fresh plants through the winter - and of cute puppy photos!

  7. All I can say is that I wish I lived closer. I'd definitely be dumpster diving to get what you're tossing!!

  8. aluminum beds with sharp sand which you should keep damp. I completely agree about the materials and aluminum. It is easier to retain moisture. But I also measure the level of moisture that would always know its level. There are many devices, you can use microwave moisture sensor for measuring it in the soil.


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