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).


  1. You wrote: "Chinese and Japanese Festival Plants

    Odd, I know, but I am curious (once again) about traditional growing methods in China and Japan, in particular plants with auspicious meanings, or those with celebratory or religious meaning, the sort that are grown for decorating shrines and temples, used for decor on Holidays or for any celebratory reason not known here in the West."

    Here in Monterey Park, California, the only city in the USA with an Asian majority population, a new tradition is in the making. The merchants are selling the standard, red-bracted, Christmas-time poinsettia as a celebratory plant for the Chinese New Year. It's bright red color wards off evil and brings good luck.

    Jane Strong

    1. Hi Jane. I am now very curious about Monterey Park! Even more so about the Poinsettia trend, although, I guess it is red, almost the perfect shade, right? I wonder where that started? In the US or in China?

    2. Matt, I don't know the answer to your question.

      I would have thought it started here since the Paul Ecke Ranch in southern California grows over 70% of all poinsettias purchased in the United States and does about 50% of the world-wide sales.

      But it seems to be a world-wide phenomenon according to this excerpt from a National Farmers Union newsletter:

      “Christmas herald in the west, New Year's plant (in the East). The winter flower is also gaining more followers in East Asian countries, such as China, Japan, Taiwan and South Korea where, western-style Christmas celebrations are becoming increasingly popular, especially among young people and in the cities. This has allowed the poinsettia, as part of the western Christmas culture, to gain access into these countries. The poinsettia now even appears as a decoration and gift at both the Japanese New Year celebrations, and the Chinese New Year, which is traditionally celebrated between January 21st and February 21st.”

  2. Daniel Otis3:07 PM

    Sounds like an exciting year. Based on the images, I can see the appeal of the hollyhocks. A number of years ago, there was a magnificent display in front of a house on Newbury Street in Boston--my wife still talks about it.

    I've tried them several times--my grandfather used to grow the singles, so they have sentimental appeal. I find, though, that by the time they flower they are often nearly defoliated by rust. I'm not sure if there are resistant varieties; if not, I'd go with something else.

    I have a question related to one of your posts from a year or two ago. I was excited to see your suggestion that we try forcing lily-of-the-valley, because I have a big patch of them. In November of 2012, I dug up a patch and stuck them in a pot, bringing them into the house in December. They grew quite well, but only a couple of them flowered.

    This year, thinking that I hadn't selected them carefully enough, I zeroed in on the biggest, bluntest-budded pips, and again they are growing well, but I think there will just be a few that flower this year.

    Has this been your experience? Also--have you ever tried fertilizing the hell out of them, still in their pots, to try for better flowering the next year? I want big lusty pots of flowers like the ones in the old illustration you included in the original post.

    I like the idea of growing the full range of cultivars; seems to me that nearly any genus or species would be interesting if examined in full breadth. I once grew every Acer taxon I could get my hands on. I got up to about 75, with a hundred or so cultivars as well. Ultimately it became more than I could manage or even appreciate, so the collection is much diminished now.

    1. Thanks Daniel. I believe that this Jelitto selection might be more resistant to rust than others, but I am quite certain that all will succumb to it eventually. I had the same concerns. As for Lily of the Valley, I am hardly an expert, but I can tell you that I did select the largest pips, the one with the bluntest tips, as books advise, and had pretty good luck, however I would not say that they were 'big and lusty' as those in the old photos. That said, they were no larger than the expensive imported pips I ordered from White Flower Farm a few years earlier. Those pips were larger, but the floral display was no better. I wonder if they were simply forced too early? As later pots, some with smaller discarded pips, which I had dug that same fall, seemed to grow larger. They were not forced early, but kept in the greenhouse until March, so they slowly developed over time. I think this may call for some further study and research. I wonder what the Dutch do to theirs for the florist trade? Surely they fertilize well with the proper elements, I imaging something like 7-46-23, which they use for other bulbs. Good luck with your crop this year. I never save them from year to year, feeling that they become too drained to re-force.

  3. hopflower9:57 AM

    We grow hops every year and have for ages now. They are beautiful, and my dh won a Silver at the American Brewing Festival when he used to home brew using his crop. I would try growing them first, before you get into barley and other grains etc. just to see if you like home brewing. It is a lot of work, and you have a lot on your plate anyway. Some people love it; others don't take to it as well as a lot of water is required and a lot of room to have brewing equipment. But the hops can be grown for their ornamental value as well.

    1. Ohhhhh! Now I understand your handle - Hopsflower:) Duh. I think I need to hear more about this, I am more than fascinated!

  4. Raintree nursery has Oca (and had one of the edible tuberous Nasturtiums but is sold out). It doesn't tell you what variety though the picture is much pinker than the one in territorial seed.


    They also have Yacon, another lost crop of the Inca that is either a type of Dahlia or really closely related (I don't remember which).

    1. Thanks, although I think Raintree is sold out. I will check again, but now that you mention Yacon, I think I have another source I need to revisit. ( keeping it secret until I order) Snap!

  5. Looking forward to seeing how you do with your living stones. I can grow mine outside but I am looking forward to building a greenhouse when I buy a house. I think they will be much happier with the added warmth and better control of water (and most importantly protection from the birds who love to destroy them with their sharp beaks!).
    Definitely recommend growing them from seed. Try Silverhill Seed if you haven't already. Very rewarding plants to grow from seed and the seedlings are adorable to boot.

    1. Hey Kaveh, yeah, I ordered my seed from Silverhill - what a selection. The rest, from Mesa.
      I have seen photos of the seedlings - yeah, adorable! Alien, but adorable! You actually can grow them outdoors? Amazing.

  6. Horizon Herbs has potted Oca for sale and, if I'm remembering correctly, Seed Savers Exchange had some listed in their yearbook last year. Good luck with your projects!

    1. Thanks Fritz, I will check them out. I really would like to grow a number of varieties.

  7. Haven't seen it in awhile, but if you haven't seen Russel Page's Gold Garden @ Pepsico's World Headquarters in Purchase, N.Y. you should take a look. Was a gardener there and never was impressed by it until I happened to be there one summer evening to see the genius of it. The gold thuja, the gold junipers, the gold Robinia, the gold privet had a brilliance I had never witnessed. Location, location, location goes for planting too. And of course, timing is everything.

    1. I never heard of this! I must see. I remember my parents stopping to view some gardens in Purchase New York when I was a kid in the late 60's and early 70's but I wonder if this is the same garden? Thanks for sharing this - a must visit, indeed. I think the gold border in Fletcher Steele's Glocester Stoddard estate is now gone, but I know their grandchildren, and they tell me that part of the garden is still there, so who knows. TIme for a visit, perhaps.

  8. I don't think my last comment made it through so I'll just summarize what it was.

    My picks: Oca, begonias, and the alpine project

    Btw, where are you buying the colored tuberoses? I see Brent and Becky's has a yellow and PDN has a pink.

  9. Your project on exhibition tuberous begonias inspired me to try them from seed. Ordered packets of mixed pendulous and non-pendulous forms last spring from Blackmore and Langdon and potted the resulting tubers up by beginning of summer. By the end of summer I had hundreds of blooms in different colours and plant forms. Starting these over-wintered tubers under lights this week and hope to choose a dozen of the best this year and give away the rest. Lots of fun and not something I would have thought to try. Hmmmm. What do try this year?

  10. I have lots of varieties of oca for you to check out. There are quite a few varieties available in the US, although they are nothing compared to the hundreds or thousands of varieties available in South America.


  11. I have at least one hollyhock each year in my garden. I grew one from seed a few years ago, it grew big, bloomed and was spectacular. It self seeded from there. I had been discouraged to grow them because of mildew but I haven't had any problem with mildew. I encourage you to try them from seed. They are spectacular, bloom for a long time and are easy.

  12. Hi, Matt, I found another auspicious Asian plant: Adenium obesum. See


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