February 26, 2014


This past weekend I made a journey down to Logee's Greenhouses in Danielson, CT. Not much of a journey as Logee's is only about 6 exits down on the highway from my house, but none the less, it's always an adventure, especially when hunting for interesting begonias, as Logee's has a long history with both begonia breeding, and with the American Begonia Society.  I am starting to think about summer containers, and although I will be writing a future post specifically about my ideas for interesting container specimen plants, I wanted to share with you some of these begonias, and then few other treasures which I found this weekend at Logees, (and in my own greenhouse).

Begonias, especially the rhizomatous type such as this B. 'Shooting Star', have fancy leaf patterns, with endless combinations of color, but when assembled together in a collection of like forms, somehow, appear more botanically interesting. Add some nice Guy Wolff pots, and... 'Boom - Epic Wow'.

I never tire of the begonia clan, especially those know as Rhizomatous Begonias, classing old fashioned house plants from Victorian days, they also make impressive summer container plants for shady spots outdoors, and this is the perfect time to start assembling a collection, as the few nurseries who carry them will have the largest selection. Lovers of warmth, bright shade and a good, peaty potting mix, these tropical woodland plants also crave humidity, as long as there are gentle breezes to dry their delicate leaves off after a summer rainstorm, but many also make excellent and well behaved house plants.

A collection of begonias provides color and interest for a shady side of the house, an entrance or on a deck, where I keep much of my collection, on some custom made steps that I had a local handyman make.

A north windowsill or office desk will suit them fine, but you may want to take a tip from the Begonia Society folk, and grow some in a terrarium or a large, glass bowl, where they truly shine. I prefer to keep collections through the winter in an unheated room, but then allow them to truly show off in some of my summer displays out of doors, where I try to assemble as many forms as possible in tiered displays on our shady deck, and on the back porch.

I tried to focus on begonias, while at Logee's but it was difficult to resist some of the other plants, especially the newer introductions. I still left with only two boxes of plants. I will shop for other summer container plants later, such as salvia.

It may seem as if it is too early to start buying plants for containers, as there is still plenty of snow on the ground, but since I have a greenhouse, I might as well make some use of it, right? Besides, as we all know, one must grab while the opportunity exists, for like the perfect pair of shoes, or a cool shirt in the perfect size and fit, the perfect plant can too simply not be there when one returns to buy it a few weeks from now. At least I have convinced myself about this fact. Shut up.


Even if you do not have a greenhouse, if you have a bright garage, a glassed-in porch, a sunroom or a cool, unheated bedroom - you should be taking advantage of this bit of time, tuck in a few brugmansia or oleander, which will surely sulk until the weather warms, but in a large pot, they will readily focus on root formation, building a strong foundation, making their transition from stump to sturdy growth in May, when you will move their large pots out into the garden.


 At Logee's I also discovered some new plants, as you will see, but also many rhizotomas begonias, of which I can never seem to have enough of. These, in particular must be purchased when one sees them, for with 200 or so varieties, and only 5 or 6 of each available at one time, I rarely see many of these for sale at the same time. I've been going to Logees for - dare I say, 35 years or more, and I still find new begonias and tropicals to add to my collections. These small, 2.5 inch pots will quickly fill a 6, 8 or 10 inch clay pot by mid summer, and with a few dozen varieties displayed all together, will make an interesting display.

Many of these types of begonias actually bloom in late winter, or spring. An added bonus for those of use who keep such collections for a few years. This tall blossom belongs to B. 'Madame Queen'.

This standard Genista canariensis captured my attention, not because it is so awesome, but because I let mine freeze this fall ( I was lazy, and left it plunged in the garden). It was about the same size as this. Now, I wish I brought it back into the greenhouse. Still, sometimes it good to take a couple of years off from a plant.

In the main house at Logee's. a typical conservatory display of orange Streptosolen jamesonii, or Marmalade Plant, blue Coleus thyrisoides and Chenile Plant, transport visitors back into the 19th century.  Sorry, poor iPhone photo.


I thought that I would share a few of my Clivia crosses. Right now, I am just numbering them.

I was calling this favorite, 'Muggle Drops'. after our late Irish Terrier, Margaret. It's both green and orange, and a favorite of mine.

I love this dark salmon color, and these long, tubular shaped blossoms. Any name ideas?

It seems that the snow will never end here in the Eastern US. With bitter cold temperature expected to dip near 0º F this week, my little side trip to Miami tomorrow is starting to excite me. More about that, soon.
If you are interested in buying some of these begonias via mail order, I highly recommend these sources:

Logee's Greenhouses
Kartuz Greenhouses
The Violet Barn
Lauray of Salisbury

Oh, and I almost forgot.... I'll be speaking at the annual Sakonnet Garden Symposium in Rhode Island this July 26th. The theme this year is The Art of Vegetable Gardening. Please plan on joining me along with Aaron Bertelsen of Great Dixter, and Margaret Roach whom we all know and love from her well written blog awaytogarden.com. I plan to present a  new presentation on bespoke veggies, forcing, heirloom and hard-to-grow veg.


February 23, 2014


As the sun becomes warmer under glass, both spring forced bulbs and early blooming cool-loving orchids make a nice display in the greenhouse. Note the Dendrobium kingianum on the right, a cold-loving Australian orchid.

Of all the orchids in the genus Dendrobium, D. speciosum may just be the largest. This plant, in a 24" basket, now weighs nearly 60 lbs, and although hardly perfect, with some leaf burn, it is impressive with many, long spikes of flowers. It's so big, that it's difficult for me to photograph it.
As many of us in Eastern North America discovered, this weekend in last February was our fist taste of spring, that is if you can call 48º F spring. With temperatures rising above freezing, I decided to repot some orchids - a long overdue chore - is it OK to admit to you all that I only decided to do this because while looking for more bags of bird seed on the back porch,  I found a big bag of orchid repotting supplies that I had completely forgotten about? - with tshirt weather under glass, brilliant sunshine and  only the sound of winter birds outside the glass, I could use some orchid-repotting therapy right now - especially after 4 snow storms in one week.

I don't have the perfect greenhouse for raising many orchids, we keep a few in the house during the coldest months of December and January, with many occupying windowsills and plant windows, where they sit on gravel trays which provide some moisture, but most of these orchids are ordinary super-market purchases ( still beautiful, but not botanically interesting to folks like us). So although we keep these phalaeonopsis and paphiopedilum, the lady slipper orchids, warm and safe, as they like the same temperatures we do, and throughout the winter, they provide us with at least some hope that warmer weather will eventually return. We can't grow all of the orchids, but I do keep a few selected rarer species - the real treasures, out in the greenhouse, where I am limited to those species that can handle the colder temperatures, of which, there are plenty.

Cymbidium orchids have been bred into thousands selections, which thousands of named crosses now available. Most are cool to cold loving plants, and will thrive in a cool greenhouse in the north, or outdoors on terraces and in containers in areas that do not freeze, such as Northern California. This selection was bred in Massachusetts, and it is called 'Bay State'. I leave plants outdoors until a hard frost hits, and I bring it in just before it freezes, which stimulates it to form spikes. There are cymbidums to please most every taste, and varieties that will bloom in most every month.

You may think that all orchids need tropical rainforest conditions, but that's just not true, as there are many which prefer cool or cold winter temperatures, and even some which can handle very light frosts.Orchid collectors divide  the great orchid family (one of the largest plant families in the world) into three broad groups, based on cultural conditions - cool growing, intermediate and warm. Cool growing orchids (those which perform best with some periods of either near freezing or night time temperatures around 40º are best for us, while we find some success with intermediate orchids, which often can handle temperatures around 50º at night. Warmer orchids are not growable, as they mostly demand hot and steamy conditions, and cannot tolerate  temperature swings often preferring constant temperatures above 70ºF.

This Dendrobium aggregatum, a miniature creeping dendrobium likes to grow on a slab of tree fern bark. I purchased this young plant in a pot, but I am repotting it to grow as a 'slab' orchid. I first remove the old growing bark, wash the roots carefully, wrap them in long fiber sphagnum moss which was soaked in warm water, and then wired the entire plant to a square block of tree fern bark. I a few years, it will completely cover this slab, when it blooms in the spring.

Once wired and pinned, I wire the tree Fern bark to a wooden slab, which will allow me to hang the plant in the greenhouse during the winter, and outdoors, under trees in the shade in the summer, where the plant can enjoy summer downpours and thunderstorms. When it blooms, it could look like this:

Even in a cold to cool greenhouse in New England, there are many orchids that thrive in this atmosphere. Many are in the Dendrobium clan, but note, not all dendrobiums like cool temperatures, as the genus is large, and has species that live across the temperature spectrum. With orchids, it's generally elevation that dictates what conditions they prefer. If you think of Borneo for instance, you may imagine steamy, tropical jungles, but there are mountainous areas that reach near to the snow line, and there are orchids at most every level. Mostly, I grow Australian dendrobiums, or those from higher elevations in Asia.

A young Dendrobium aggregatum freshly wired to a slab, and soaked for an hour, enjoys some mid-winter sunshine in the greenhouse where the snow is nearly 3 feet deep just pass the glass wall.

A Brassio Cattleya cross, is growing out of its container. It's clearly time for repotting before it sends out new growth which will bloom next autumn. One must be careful in removing a plant like this from a pot, as you will need to be careful not to damage the newer, white roots, which adhere themselves to most any container.

This plant I potted in a clay orchid pot, which I will hang from the rafters with clips. It is centered in the pot, and sits at the same level as it sat before. Epiphytic ( growing on tree branches) this orchid like most, needs perfect drainage.

This is a cross between a Neofinetia falcata orchid, and a Vanda. Both species are related, so this is not an odd cross. It should produce flowers larger than the traditions Japanese Neofinetia's which one sees in so many Japanese plant collections, but with the size and perhaps color of the vanda clan. This is a genus that liked to grow in an airy mix, and although I could grow it in a pot, I have decided to pot this up in a wooden slat basket.

I place the Neofinetia Vanda cross in the bed of Sphagnum, and then use a good quality orchid bark mix to fill in around the roots. A bit more sphagnum, and I am done.

Once repotted, this neofinetia Vanda cross is well watered.

I am using a traditional Japanese container for one of my Neofinetia orchids, preferring to pot it in the traditional Shogunbutsu method, where the plant is placed on a mound of sphagnum. In Japan, many orchids are grown in this way, and most are native Japanese orchids, which were so popular during the Edo period, and said to be raised by the Shogun. Check these amazing images out of an orchid show in Japan. I try to grow them like this, but not nearly as nice.

While repotting my Neofinetia falcata, I need to do some housekeeping, as I had been slacking. Old fans which had died, needed to be removed, as well as dead roots, and dead flower stems, This is a genus that like to form clumps, and it makes a better specimen plant if allowed to grow large, but to get them to any size, one must keep the plants clean. I could have divided the plant also, but decided not to.

Now repotted with a nice, clean mound of sphagnum, is still looks nothing like the specimens one sees in Japan, where this orchid had a strong, passionate following. Here is what it will look like when it blooms for me, in August.

Dendrobium speciosum, another view, as the sun begins to set.

I keep trying to get a good photo of this big Dendrobium speciosum. Here is what it looked like when I saw it in Tokyo at the Orchid World Grand Prix a few years ago. HERE

One last thing, if you've bothered to read this far.....The folks at Better Homes & Gardens have nominated this blog as a top Garden Blog ( there are currently five) and they are asking my readers to please vote for which gardening blog they feel is the best from this list of 5. A bit of a popularity poll, I guess. Please vote for any of us, by clicking this link - and note that it will ask you to share your vote on Facebook, but you don't need to, your vote was already automatically counted. Thanks!


February 18, 2014


Last Saturday while speaking at the monthly meeting of the Connecticut chapter of the North American Rock Garden Society held at the Comstock,Ferre & Co. complex in Old Wethersfield, CT, included a bonus shopping spree in the Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds retail store, who now owns are stewards of the oldest seed company in America.
One of the things I love most about living in New England is the history. I can drive by family farms with histories dating back to the late 1500's, stop by Longfellow's home on my way to a Rock Garden Society meeting, see camellias growing in a nineteenth century greenhouse, sit on the shore of Walden Pond for lunch. What's most incredible, is that today, I pulled open an oak drawer with corn seed in it, the very same drawer that maybe my grandfather pulled open in that spring of 1914 as he shopped for vegetable seed for his field crops, and even more amazing, it could very well be the exact same drawer and scale used by a farmer from 1825, as yes - this is the same seed store, the same creaky chestnut floor, the same wood stove, the same cash register even. I do love New England for experiences like this, but, a couple of years ago, this was almost lost forever.

Once empty rows in in old Comstock, Ferre & Co. seed store in Old Weathersfield, CT, are once again full of seed for both the vegetable garden and the flower bed. All, non GMO and many interesting varieties found no where else.

Today, although I miss the old ox blood stained buildings of the old Comstock, Ferre & CO from my memories of seed shopping here in the 1960's and 70's with my mom and dad, this American landmark has been not only saved, it has been truly rescued, and thanks to the generosity and support of a true visionary - Jere Gettle of Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, this gem from the past is now shared with the public not unlike the heirloom treasures so carefully preserved, within. The Gettle's care, not only about supporting non GMO seed saving, but they care about even more important things. Heritage, family and what many of us so easily forget, the DNA of our human experience.  The Gettles have kept their promise to operate this landmark in Old Weathersfield as if it existed in the 1800's. 

Read more, below:

February 17, 2014

A Day at Westminster, and In the Garden

It was an incredibly sunny day in the greenhouse today, the sun is really is starting to feel hot under the glass, even though we have a foot of snow on the ground, and another foot on the way tomorrow. This Tropaeolum brachyceras started rambling up through a Meyer Lemon and an olive tree, so I just let it go wild. It grows like this in the wild, in the Andes in Chile, and its been interesting to see how much larger it grows, then when I allow it to just twirl on a trellis.

This is the moment, and we cannot complain. Our Irish Terrier 'Weasley' never made it onto the floor of Madison Square Garden tonight, but he did win best of Opposites at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show tonight, and we are very proud and honored. I won't go on, as this is a plant blog, but here area  few shots for those of you who might be interested.

Click more, below:

February 15, 2014

Garden Blogger's Bloom Day, February 2014

Potted Camellia's are the star of the February greenhouse. Inside, a somewhat toasty 60º F, outside, a blizzard blows fierce, once again. At least the propane delivery man was able to make a delivery today. I am stuck indoors, sipping Jasmine tea, making soup stock, and ordering seeds. Things could be worse.

I almost forgot about today being Garden Blogger's Bloom Day, a themed special post that is shared with many other blogs - but thanks to my friend  Kathy Purdy, I was reminded by her post, before it was too late to take any photos out in the greenhouse. Here are some shots from inside the greenhouse on this very snowy day in central Massachusetts, and a few from inside the house.

Snow slips off of the greenhouse, and piles up on the alpine bed. Something I need to monitor, incase the snow reaches the curved glass. I frequently need to shovel out the snow along the foundation, so that it does not drift.

For more photos from today's snowstorm and flowers, click below:

February 12, 2014


Some flowers from the greenhouse, for a Valentines Day Composition.

I also just wrote an article for the lifestyle site STYLE NO CHASER, you can view it here.

Come on....I didn't mean it THAT way. What I mean is that by St. Valentine's Day, winter has begun to show some weakness. Sure, the biggest snows may be yet to come here in New England, but the sap in the Sugar Maples begins to stir. By February 14th, the sun seem suddenly to be much stronger, brighter even, as it reflects off of the show. Skiers and snowshoers feel and see the effect of their forheads and cheeks, and this ever-warming sun suddenly becomes most evident in the greenhouse where vents begin to rumble and squeek on sunny days, opening often for the first time this year, as temperatures edge , and beyond 75º, virtually beach weather under glass.

The facts are there - the days are indeed longer now growing longer each day, not by mileseconds as they were around the summer solstice, but now stretching each day by minutes.  Considering all of this together, justifies my new lable for this horrid holiday of boxed chocolate, long dull roses and crowded, overpriced restaurants. Valentine's Day  is now officially Hump Day. So guys, try explaining that to your other half without getting slapped.

So what do I give for Valentine's Day? Click for more:

February 9, 2014


Solanum mammosum, or 'Nipple Fruit', an ornamental egg plant, is used in China as one of the plant materials used in the creation of New Years Trees, used because of its auspiciousness ( it's gold color, good for prosperity in the coming year)
Image from Bluebalu - Living in Hong Kong.

Here is a long list of some Garden Projects I am currently exporing as potential candidate for my 2014 growing season. So many of you responded with nice things to say about these prokjects, many of you mentioning that it was your favorite part of my blog, that I want to amp up my explorations. These step-by-step projects are fun to do, yet they require some prep work, so I am sharing this unedited list first to get some responses, and other ideas if you have them.

Note: In the past, here are some other projects I attempted ( projects are in-depth challenges where I may grow as many selections of varieties of a plant, or start a collection, or try something to grow that few of us ever seem to try in our gardens, in an attempt to inspire others).

In the past, I've shared these:

OCA - Oxalis tuberosa 

I've been more than a little curious about primitive varieties of veggies ( which is why I experimented  with Green Oxacan Corn last year). Today, many are proposing that heirloom and 'lost crops' are worth growing for either nutrition or flavor, so as seed catalogs start to promote more of these heirloom varieties of potatoes and other root crops, I could say I am concerned about healthy alternatives to big, baked potatoes but let's be realistic - I only have nine raised beds, and there is no way that I am going to live off of my garden. OK, honestly, the real reason I want to try this particular crop is because it is a tuberous oxalis and if you have ever visited me, you would know that I am a collector of tuberous oxalis.

 You may have seen Oca in specialty markets ( often at some Whole Foods in the fall in the US), yet in its native country of Peru, the Oca tuber is a staple food product, and in many South American countries, it comes second only to  potatoes.  I am following many of the techniques and advice outlined a blog I found on growing Oca called: Growing Oca by Ian Pearson. You may wish to check out this post too on Oca Testbed, for some sneak peeks on what this crop could look like. I am still gathering information from these sites, but don't worry, I won't be watering mine with diluted urine as he did.  Oca plants are available from Territorial Seed but I am on the look out for other sources of tubers - I would appreciate and sources you may find as I would like to grow a wide variety of selections.

Fermentation Projects -  Kombucha to Kimchi

There is this idea 'fermenting' in my head - call it a 'gut response' (sorry). Pickling with natural fermentation is something that my parents did when I was growing up in the 60's and 70's, something I considered so normal that I thought everyone did it, maybe because many of our neighbors also fermented veggies. This neighborhood that I still live in was once composed primarily of Eastern European immigrants, from Poland, Lithuania and Russia, and pickling was a common as cabbage. I found my grandfathers sauerkraut directions typed on some cards upstairs, and he died at 99 years old back in 1986, apparently while trout fishing ( well, he DID take up smoking at age 90).

Naturally fermented foods and my home here have many connections, and it's time to explore this in depth, which should be easy since we still have all the crocks in the cellar, stored in the 'store room' with the old cork door on it. To be honest, I thought all pickles were vinegar pickles, since I only helped my parents slice cucumbers and onions or shred cabbage rarely paying attention to the details later on in the process.

To be honest, this natural pickle project is a response to recent writings and talks that I have heard about gut flora and microbiota cultures inside of us, all thanks to author Michael Pollan; and this landmark article published in the New York Times earlier this year. This article has him still making appearances on NPR and heath programs, speaking about gut biomes and bacteria communities, and how essential they really are for good human health. He also promotes  the Human Micro Biome Project, and the Human Food Project, (visit their site) and their American Gut project - which is attempting to sequence the gut communities of thousands of Americans. Another related topic I may cover as elegantly as I can.

I admit that I am heavily swayed by this particular selection called 'Chatter's Doubles" available from the German seed company, Jelitto. Swoon worthy Hollyhocks in chestnut, chamois, peach and cinnamon. 

A  Hollyhock Project 

Join me as I rediscover the joy of old fashioned Hollyhocks on this two year journey, which may include a few other biennials like Foxgloves and campanula, not always the easiest to raise from seed. We rarely see the stately Hollyhock anymore. So I think it's time that we rediscover this fine, tall biennial - a classic in New England cottage gardens, old English cottages, fairy tale cottages and in the front gardens in those paintings of candle-lit cottages by Thomas Kincaid  . I am often asked about cottage gardens, and since biennials are key components of the more iconic cottage garden scheme, I think I should start with more projects involving the culture of true biennials, as I know that they are challenging for many people to master, so this might be a good step-by-step topic to cover.

Biennials are rarely seen today because of a very simple fact - in order to grow them well, they must be planted (sown) during the previous year, then wintered over and then allowed to grow to blooming size in their second growing season.  If one is lucky, they will set seed, and resow where they really want to grow. It is because of this very habit, that we rarely find them available at garden centers. You may find plants in-bud, and one may assume that some well intended nurseryman did all of the hard work for you, but these pot grown specimens are always a shadow of what they could have been.

This also could change, since I really was excited about hollyhocks two weeks ago when I began this post, but now, in mid-February......meh. I still need to find one flower where I can grow ALL of the selections available, and for some reason, I keep going back to old fashioned nasturtiums. So common, and yet, when do we ever see all of them arranged side-by-side in a comparison study?

A collection of Lithops grown by Tony Phan

A Lithops Collection

I have a friend who boasts about having the world's second largest collection of conophytum. I also have a friend who boasts about having a serious collection of most every species of Haworthia. The same goes for a collection of Dykia that I know.  These collections are amazing when arranged together for viewing, and I have been envious everytime I see them in local Cactus and Succulent Society shows. There is something about seeing a collection of like species or species within a genus arranged side by side, so that one can study and appreciate the nuances between them all.

I am seriously thinking about starting a collection of lithops, and Conophytum species ( all grouped as living stones), which will need to be sown by seed so that I can collect most of the species available, but a few can be purchased.  I plan on collecting as many of the Living Stones, or Lithops (and related genus/species) starting with 2014. I imagine this collection as more of a botanic collection than an ornamental one, displaying the seed raised containers in tidy rows, with lables showing proper identification. I have at least 65 named selections ordered, and I may order some prestarted species to fill in gaps. I feel the urge to add another serious collection to the greenhouse.

Dahlia Trials part 2

Yes, I plan to try dahlias again this year, as it has been 5 years since I last attempted a trial of dahlias. In that year, the results were spectacular, as I composed a palette of violet, purple, magenta and lavender dahlias.This year I think I am ready to try more, but I just need to find the right place to grow them as they require sun, high fertilizer and lots of water.  I was planning on growing another trial of Chrysanthemums ( the exhibition type) but one of the country's only sources Kings Mums, has had a tragic and catastrophic disaster, with plant losses causing them to shut down for one year. So Dahlias ( or tuberous begonias?) it is.

The High Alpine Rock Garden Project - Crevice to Scree

I have a few rock garden projects planned for this year. First, I will be continuing our crevice garden planting near the main entrance to the studio, a project I started five years ago when we had a few influential rock garden enthusiasts stay with us while touring the country on speaking tours ( Josef Halda among them). It's time to continue with my long term planting scheme, and add another 200 sq feet of rock, placed vertically, end upon end, in this newly introduced (from the Czech Republic) style for creating a rock/alpine garden. Halda shared some secrets with us which I would like to share, and with my growing passion for alpine and high elevation plants, I feel the need to build more rock gardens around the  property once again.

A formal garden planting - maybe culinary herbs 

I admit that have been thinking about designing a formal culinary herb garden,  perhaps planted behind the house where our golf putting green used to be ( I know- so snooty - a"golf green". right? But yes, there was a bent grass putting green in our garden for at least 70 years - a long story for another post).  I have allowed the lawn to grow out, and I am still deciding what to plant there. Maybe a boxwood parterre, maybe a formal peony garden, or even a Fletcher Steele inspired garden ( see below). Or a rock garden. I need to address this issue soon, so here I go with some ideas.

I do grow many herbs, but they are placed throughout the garden, in spare spaces in the perennial borders, along walks or planted en mass in the vegetable gardens, usually in rows, which is the most practical way to grow herbs, as I can feel free to harvest large bunches as needed. In veg garden, I have both annual and perennial herbs: annual seeded herbs such as 3 of 4 dill varieties ( some grown for seed heads for flavoring pickling spices, and other as fresh green dill for salads, egg dishes and most everything else one needs dill added to. I also grow a wide selection of Basils, summer savory for summer squash dishes and sages, but I always wanted a culinary, or even a more traditional New England style cottage herb garden - the sort one would have seen in the 17th century, with a selection of essential kitchen herbs as well as medicinal herbs.

A Fletcher Steel Inspired Border
This summer I will be presenting a couple of talks about my experiences as a gardener at a Fletcher Steele garden ( the Stoddard Garden) once again. I've been surprised by the interest in this subject, and I am just beginning to realize or appreciate the gift that experience gave me back in the late 1970's and early 1980's when in college. I remember so much, exactly what was planted in each border, the exacting detail required for proper maintenance of everything from a planted tufa rock wall with a large collection of encrusted silver saxifrages, to how to maintain a collection of gentians. I really want to recreate a few of the perennial plantings that I remember so well, and I think that this may be the year, as even scholars who study this most well known of American landscape architects, have lost many of his planting schemes, those very schemes which exist in my brain. I think it's time that I exercise some of that knowledge.

Another Fletcher Steele idea which I have been eager to visualize is a shrub border composed of primarily golden leaved shrubs. That may be more realistic.

Pansies on display at the Chelsea Flower Show, where growers showcase a display of as many varieties as possible in massive, tiered displays. I am still thinking of what I could grow this year - ideas are welcome. Zinnia? Nasturtium? Marigold? Gladiolus? Tuberous Begonia's again?

A Floral Audit  Collection like Chelsea
OK, in the past, I grew every variety of sweet peas that I could find, I covered how to grow annula poppies growing all of the Shirley poppy varieties available, or Japanese Chrysanthemums - and then documenting the process with images. I admit that I am influenced by the displays in the growers tents at the Chelsea Flower Show, were one can view a selection of  varieties, side-by-side, but I am not sure yet what flower I will grow this year.  I am open to ideas. I've been playing around with more common annuals, like nasturtiums or marigolds, as we rarely see these all grown together, and displayed in ways that would make us want to grow them in our own gardens.

Please share thoughts on what I might grow as my Chelsea Floral Audit this year.

Greenhouse Cucumbers and Tomatoes
Another project that I have been wanting to do for a while.  A few years ago, I grew heirloom and gourmet melons in the greenhouse, when I realized that all of that space was going to waste during the summer. This year, I am exploring growing English and Asian cucumbers, and a few tomatoes ( even a crop of Chinese Yard Long Beans, all possible crops for a summer greenhouse.

I failed in growing a crop of tuberoses last year ( inspired by a few of my 18th and 19th century books), but I am learning, and will try again. So my Tuberose project continues once again.Especially as some breeders have introduced colored selections of tuberoses.

A Cutting Garden of Woody Plants
Another project that I keep pushing out, but maybe this is the year. I imagine a cutting garden for shrubs and small trees. Each winter and spring, I want to cut many branches to force. quince, plum, forsythia and other force-frendly shrubs so that I will not damage specimens near the house. It makes sense to plant such a luxury, as indeed, it is a luxury, but I have the space and the means, so why not? I also would like to plant lilacs, as they are horrible garden specimens, as maybe a few rows of cut flower perennials like peonies and roses. A serious, long term cutting garden, planted way out back where my mother had her cutting garden of peonies and poppies in the 1950's and 1960's.

Auspicous Asian Plants

I continue to be curious about the many traditional, and very ancient flower festivals and celebratory elements about plants in much of Asia, in particular, China and Japan. In China, for instance, plants are used which they believe have auspicious meaning to them, often due to their gold color or associated value, and how that may contribute to good luck and prosperity throughout the coming year. Take for example the plant we now are starting to see sold as a rare heirloom eggplant here in the states often called 'Nipple Fruit'. In China Solanum mammosum is used to create New Years trees ( more typically created with oranges). 

Then there is the Ground Cherry or Japanese Lantern plant, a weed in many of our gardens, as rampant as many species of Lysimachia, in Japan, its used in a festival called Hozuki ichi, the Ground Cherry Festival held in July. Whenever I am in Asia, I discover something new. The Aoi Matsuri or Japanese Hollyhock Festival in Kyoto is a good example. One may think that this festival is another floral one, similar to the Umi Plum Festival or the Cherry Blossom Festival we are all familiar with, but in reality, it only celebrates the leaves of the Hollyhock, as they are believed to ward off natural disasters. So interesting.


I thought about growing hops and then making my own beer, but I think I will hold off on this project until next year. I may give in, if I can figure out where to grow them, but then I should grow barley too, right?

Also on my radar.... Fuchsia? Geraniums/Pelargoniums? Streptocarpus? Gloxinia? True Lilies, Trillium, a traditional English Cottage Garden, Heirloom Winter Squash, Sunflowers... Ugh, I need to stop.

Oh, and thanks guys for telling me that my side bar links are all screwed up! Now, at least, I have something to work on at night next week while babysitting my dad while Joe is in NYC at Westminster where our Irish Terrier is competing ( I know, I feel like an Olympic parent at home).

February 8, 2014


Krasnaya Polyana? Yes, it's where Snowboarding in Sochi currently rules…..but in the summer, these hills are alive with the sound of  plant people botanizing. This resort area known as the 'Switzerland of Russia', was off limits to any Westerner until maybe, hopefully now. This area around Sochi opens up a new botanical world to explore.

The answer is obviously, Sochi Russia, and with the Winter Olympics well under way, we are getting a chance to see some of the impressive scenery that exists in these remote villages in the western Caucasus'. Particularly in the small village of Krasnaya Polyana, where  most of the snowboard  events are held. Knows to Russians, for both skiing and summer hiking, few outside of the country have ever had a chance to visit, and explore these peaks and valleys so rich in flora. As I watch the snowboard events today, with those breathtaking images of icy rivers and footage of inspiring snow capped peaks in the NBC bumpers and interstitials, I can't help but wonder about the inspiring adventures we could have there soon - searching for plant species as we hike and explore a region which, until recently, was difficult if not impossible to visit as an American.

In he autumn, the high elevation areas around Sochi offer spectacular scenery with streams, waterfalls and forests as well as one of most plant species diverse areas in on the planet in its alpine region.

Aside from the natural beauty and friendly people of this mountainous region, where the Caucasus truly become valuable is with its botanic treasures, many species which are unique to this area, are related to the forests along the same latitude ( primarily maples, beech and spruces), but in the high mountain meadows, and high mountain forests, the real treasures lie. Hellebores, Trolius, Delphinium and a few choice Galanthus ( Snowdrop)  species only found on these slopes, yet tragically, one the five known sites of an endangered snowdrop, Panjutin's snowdrop (Galanthus panjutini),  which was just recognized in 2012, was reportedly destroyed by construction crews preparing the area for these very Olympic games. The species is now considered to be Endangered according to IUCN Red List criteria, as it is known from only five locations, and its only area of occupancy (AOO) is estimated to be 20 square kilometers, with a major part of that now destroyed due to the new Olympic facilities.

 On a lighter note, the Olympic Snowboard events are held in the small resort town of Krasnaya Poliana, a name which in English translates roughly into Red Meadow. The alpine plant authority Vojtech Holubec mentioned in his book THE CAUCASUS AND IT'S FLOWERS (Loxia 2006) states that the name may come from bright red autumn foliage of a large Rumex species which is abundant on these slopes.

Mountainous areas around the world are popular with plant people, where trails and lifts open up areas which would typically be inaccessible if it were not for ski resorts, and their gondolas.

Most mountainous areas share the same genus are certain elevations, like Pulsatilla, Anemone Trollius and Gentiana, these are the Pasque Flowers,  Buttercups and Gentians we all see on place mats at ski resorts, but the same genus here are unique. Pulsatilla aurea instead of the species common in the Swiss Alps, Pulsatilla alpina for instance. Of course, there are over 33 species of Pulstatila worldwide, each specific to a different mountain range, but without getting too geeky, those species of most alpine plants in the Caucasus are perhaps the most undiscovered, and when it comes to botanizing - hiking to see plants and then identifing them, photographing them and yes, Instagraming them, the Caucasus are going to offer us a whole new world to discover soon.

Other plants you may know, but which have rare relatives which hail the Caucasus include many species of Peony such as Paeonia mlokosewitschii (yeah, Molly-the-Witch), the ferny leaved alpine peony, P. tenuifolia, P caucasicam, P. wittmanniana and P. lagodechiana. Now, add to this many species of Corydalis, Saxifraga, many rare Primroses not in cultivation (Primula), and many campanula species and you can start to see how rich this area is with plants - and I haven't even mentioned bulbs. If you are interested in hiking and exploring the Krasnaya Polyana area, you may want to visit the website Russkie Prostori, which presents many of the hikes and trails in the area which is also known as the Switzerland of Russia.

Now that there are modern lifts in at the ski resorts, it will be easier to explore the alpine flora in Krasnaya Polyana. which offers more species per square meter than any mountain in the Swiss Alps.

 I hope the events go well, for both the athletes and for the people who live in this once remote area of Russia, for now that there are hotels and ski resorts here, and many sporting events planed for the future, that the area will also be open for hikers and trekkers looking for new places to botanize. Ski areas with modern lifts offer a secondary benefit of summer high elevation sightseeing and sports, but before the mountain bikers take to the trails, it's common for hikers and plant lovers to take gondolas and lifts up to the highest peaks, to not only save time in trekking up the mountain, but to save ones knees and legs.

February 7, 2014

Sochi and Plants

I have little doubt that the opening ceremonies of the Sochi Winter Olympics will dazzle and impress, but outside of the stadium, I wonder how the organizers prioritized construction and showmanship, with less important concerns, such as how the Olympic experience is enhanced with plants, nature and flowers? Let's check it out.

As the Winter Olympics open tonight in Sochi, Russia, I can't help but think about what it must be like to attend both the opening ceremonies and some events - a life long bucket list item of mine, which I am afraid, I will not experience. Still, I will celebrate tonight by watching it on TV, while eating appropriate Russian food ( Beet soup) and of, since I have to, Vodka. So much drama exists around this years; Olympics, that I am certain the flower and gardens in and around the Olympic Park will be the last thing anyone is worrying about, so, I will explore it a little.

By now, we've all seen the images of tainted water, Chobani, Gay Athletes, unfinished construction projects and heard about potential threats from terrorists, toothpaste and Pussy Riot, but I can't help myself in searching for some garden/plant related facts from these Olympics. I had such high hopes for Russia four years ago, when they announced the next event at the Vancouver Games, and I wish the organizers, visitors and the athletes all the best, naturally, hopeing that all goes well.

A last minute planting Trees last week near a Sochi highway.

As for what the official Olympic victory bouquet might be, I tried to find some information or even leaks online on what the official Olympic Victory Bouquet's might look like, but it seems that the Russian officials are keeping that a secret too. As for the floral bouquets presented to athletes, officials seem to be keeping what these will contain under lock and key ( but I can imagine a hand-tied inspired bouquet with potatoes, beets and pussy willows (get it?).

My search did lead me to some Russian media sites for the city of Sochi, Sochi magazine, and some Russian sites for the Olympics which provided some entertainment. Here is what I discovered.

From the official City of Sochi website ( full of propaganda) this shows a container  or 'Mobile Flowering Tree" being planted in December, in prep for the Winter Olympics. Nice.

 According to an “official” municipal website for the city of Sochi, the city has been adorned with 'winter gardens', planted with primroses, hyacinths violas and cyclamen.”  After confirming this hopeful goal with Western media sources, it was sort-of confirmed…. ( below, from today's post on the Wall Street Journal's blog.

Artificial Flowers 'Bloom' in the ski city of Adler, where many Olympic athletes are staying.  from Rachel Bachman's post from the WSJ.

Not surprising, as the city is rather warm in comparison to the events at higher elevations, and I can imagine that much of the city is beautiful, so says Elina Baranskaya, who has the title of Chief Artist for the city of Sochi.  She says “While preparing the resort, we found common ground between the Olympic Mountain and Coastal clusters. No Russian city has flowers blooming in February. But Sochi does!” .

This image from CTV News by Joy Malbon, shows viola's being planted outside the Adler Arena last week.

According to the official Sochi Russian Olympic Web Site Press release:

Two million of fresh flowers will appear in Sochi before the Olympics!

Today, teams of gardeners continue to beautify flowerbeds and plant flowers. International hospitality zones are decorated with hyacinths, primroses, cyclamens and violas. In the last stage of work, landscapers will plant nearly half a million flowers. The resort will have 28 new flowerbeds. Tulips will also be planted there. Blooming tulips will be planted a few days before the Olympics. This will be done at the last moment, to ensure that the flowers will not die from possible frosts, which are not rare at this time of the year on the coast, reports Sochi News.

The Washington Post shared this image of primula and Viola being planted in equally lovely combinations and in poison-green window boxes in Sochi.

The Sochi site makes an attempt to explain these green planting structures: 

They are placed in different places around the beautiful city of Sochi. Along the roads and in the parks. 
Today mobile trees were installed near the Sochi seaport which have been planted with beautiful

Cyclamen, juniper, brier, and violets. Violas have been planted today in flowerbeds. In total, about 400 similar structures of different types will be installed in the city. These are vases in the form of bridges, firs, columns and decorative flower bunches. 

“Such forms are exhibited across the Central District in the guest area, there are several, they are approved by the artists and architects. During the holidays and after the Olympics, we will take care of them. These will once again accent our city as a charming resort town, which meets all the requirements of international standards of hospitality,” said Sergey Pavlenko, head of the Central District Administration of Sochi.

I would not mind, however, visiting Sochi and the near by Caucasus Mountains at snowmelt  to view the many rare alpine plants and alpine bulbs that grow in the subalpine meadows. 

Tagil Roses painted on trays will be presented to guests.

Tagil trays have been known since 1747. They received recognition for lacquer painting on metal. Since the mid-XIX century, steel trays were forged from a single sheet with perforated handles. It was painted with fruit, vegetable and floral patterns, and especially with a fabulous flower – the “Tagil Rose” on the background imitating malachite or wood. Tagil roses are also know as “one stroke” painted roses.

Olympic mascots are depicted on the cut of a pine nut by a skilled craftsman from Novosibirsk

Bashkir Honey Gatherers, from TheHoneyGatherers.com

Guests of Sochi Olympics will be treated to Bashkir honey, considered a delicacy around the world, and the worlds most elite honey.
According to a Kiev news site: The Bashkir Research Centre for Beekeeping and Apitherapy has worked with the Krasnodar Krai Administration on a presentation of Bashkir honey at the fair, which will open at the Barkhatnyye Sezony Complex in the Imeretinskaya lowland on February 1. Five tons of honey will be delivered to the resort. Besides honey, other products will also be presented – pollen, beebread and propolis, and medical and cosmetic items using bee products, reports FederalPress.

As for PO3A XYTOP?  check this out if you had not seen it.