February 29, 2016

A Weekend at Americas Oldest Flower Show

An entrants camellias await being groomed and set out on the benches at America's oldest flower show, the 187th Camellia Show held by the Massachusetts Camellia Society held this past weekend at the Tower Hill Botanic Garden.

It's as if Downton Abbey meets the Philadelphia Flower Show, or as if a greenhouse from the nineteenth century suddenly came to life again in the middle of winter. This weekend, I participated in the Massachusetts Camellia Society's 187th annual show - which happens to hold the honor of the oldest continuous flower show in the United States. So special and rare today, at least in the North, camellias continue to capture the imagination of flower lovers, and maybe, just maybe, they are making a comeback, even if only a handful of people can raise them today.

Some very nice Semi Double camellias, waiting to be benched.

If you live in California or in the south, it may seem rather unimpressive, the idea of a camellia show, but in the north where camellias are not hardy, they are today, a very special thing, as few people can grow this somewhat tender Asian tree unless they have the luxury of a cold greenhouse. I would would go a step further and say that not only do very few people raise camellias anymore, but most people north of Washington D.C. have even seen a camellia, let alone touched one or smelled one (some can be very fragrant, although most have no scent.).

My tray of camellias, which I picked that morning, make their way into the exhibition hall at last Saturday's 187th annual Camellia Show hosted by the Massachusetts Camellia Society, held at the Tower Hill Botanic Garden in Boylston, MA.

In many way these are living antiques in the north, which is sad, since a hundred years ago they were as common at florist's greenhouses and in estate greenhouses as were carnations or chrysanthemums in the winter. Native to China, Korea and Japan, camellias do prefer cool to cold winter temperatures, but since they are late winter blooming and have glossy, evergreen foliage, they cannot survive hard freezes below the mid 20's without damage. In a cool or cold greenhouse they thrive in the cool, damp sunny environment, spending the summer out of doors when they do most of their growth, and then wintering over under glass - there is hardly a more perfect winter blooming tree.

In a home, they are practically impossible to grow, unless one owns an old house with an unheated bedroom, which preferably is drafty with bright sunshine. A few people can raised them on unheated porches which are glassed-in, or in conservatories, but generally, camellias are known as rather low maintenance, long lived greenhouse trees which prefer to be planted in the ground under glass, or in large tubs where they can remain for decades.

Exhibitors entering flowers take great care, from picking them in the morning early, to selecting only the most perfect, with no damage on the petals, no pollen stains, and good leaf arrangement. These here are from the Lyman Estate greenhouses in Waltham, MA, another old collection in the Boston area.

At this weekends show at Tower Hill Botanic Garden there were a few hundred blossoms on display. I think that guests never realized that there were only about six exhibitors, which gives you an idea of how endangered the New England camellia collections are. I was asked to be a judge again (I judged two years ago) and my good friend Glen Lord was also asked - we are both camellia growers, but not very serious collectors, at least yet. Camellia enthusiasts are a rare breed in the North today.

Most of my plants came from Nuccio's Nursery in California. When I travel to LA on business, I always try to make a side trip to this landmark Pasadena nursery. I have them pack plants up in crates which I bring back on the plane. I prefer to pick out the varieties I want (usually in early February) when they have them displayed on wooden tables. Camellia shows display flowers in small dishes or in bowls, in much the same way we home growers display camellias in our homes - in plates, or floating in a bowl. I've come to appreciate a February holiday such as St Valentines Day or Presidents day as represented by a bowl of camellias. Surely, any 19th century person would find such a display a very proper solution, and an appropriate one for an parlor or dining table in the era.

The Formal Rose or Formal Double form is perhaps my favorite, often the petals of these forms are so perfectly arranged in lovely fibonacci symmetry. I an imagine Mrs. Lincoln with one of these as a corsage, can't you? 

Some white anemone forms which never made it onto the display bench. This is how one exhibitor brought his flowers to the show. They are picked in morning early, and last out of water for a few hours before being groomed and set onto the benches.

Pale yellow forms are being introduced. This one is the color of heavy cream, but considered close to yellow. The variety is a Japanese one 'Ki-No-Senritsu'. 

Extra flowers are often not tossed into the trash, but arranged on a tray to fill some of the tables. These are some of mine, which I did not exhibit.

More Formal Doubles arranged and set on the bench awaiting judging. 

Flowers can be entered as singles or as a triple entry. This plate of 'Charles Sargent' each showed some very nice variegation, and nice arrangement of petals. 

This  tree won Best in Show in the potted plant category.

The flower on the right made it to the Best In Show table to be considered as Best in Show, while the anemone form flower on the left called 'Lipstick', which I entered, came in second in the anemone flowered class.

Can you guess who this man in in the middle with the beard? That's Roger Swain from the PBS show Victory Garden. He joined us at the judges luncheon, and entertained us with stories. He admitted to me that he's a huge blog fan, and I was very flattered! More excited than when I met J.J. Abrams!

Just before judging, the final touches are made. Extra flowers that never made it to the bench, are removed, and all labels are checked for accuracy.

By noon, the crowds arrived. The line to enter the botanic garden was long, and the parking lot was full. Not bad, for a camellia show!

I was shocked to have one of my flowers win Best in Show! I stepped out of judging at this point, it just didn't seem right. I was very honored.

There were many entries which I felt should have won, like this bicolored semi double Higo type.

Both Glen Lord and I fell for this ruffled one. It's named 'Mooching', and it's a Camellia reticulata, a different species from most of the doubles, which are bred from C. japonica.

I love the boss of stamens on this bright red Higo type. Most of the potted trees in the displays are part of the Tower Hill collection, which came from the collection which was once housed at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. Talk about an important collection with provenance.

February 23, 2016

More Camellias, Plant Propagation, and a Big Blog Honor

Pots of camellias blooming on the floor of the greenhouse - I just can't hold them back, so they will miss the Camellia Show at Tower Hill Botanic Garden this coming weekend ( but you shouldn't miss it - it's the oldest flower show in the US!), and I'll be one of the judges again this year.

There are times when I feel as if I am just repeating myself, so if this all feels a little redundant, please let me know, but gardening is a seasonal venture - a month-by-month, week-by-week process which may seem to barely change from year to year to the novice yet to the more observant , rarely does anything repeat itself in precisely the same way. So while last year, as we were in the middle of our coldest and most severe winter in recorded weather history, my camellias bloomed in mid-February (two weeks before the Massachusetts Camellia Society exhibition), this year, while in our record breaking mild winter, they are blooming - at the same time. Great. So much for repeating anything!

It's The Oldest Flower Show in the Nation, This Weekend.

I've been asked to be a judge again at this camellia show, which happens to be the oldest flower show in the United States, so perhaps it is best that I may only enter a few, tender blossoms from the latest blooming trees, but it does trump my visions of blowing away the competition (the handful of us poor, pathetic camellia growers in the North East who still bother to raise these old-fashioned plants from another era under glass). Maybe next year, they will all bloom a bit later. Until then, it's just another 'private' flower show for me, Joe and the dogs. So I will share a few photos here, as I suspect by next week, few will be left.

A plate of Camellias ready for - a private show, in the house. Sad, I know, but they only last a day or two.

Nominated again!  Growing with Plants is again, a Top 10 Garden Blog by Better Homes & Gardens - They've asked that we request our readers to now vote for the best. 

I am honored to announce that again, Growing with Plants has been nominated by the editors of Better Homes & Gardens as a Top 10 gardening blog. I think that it's kind-of amazing, but a very flattering fact, especially given that this is my 10th anniversary of posting. So now, for the shameless request for votes. Oh, I really don't care all that much for such things, but of course, it's always a nice thing to actually win, as well.  Hey, I made it this far!

So if you wish, go to the BHG website and vote four your favorite blog (there is one in each of their lifestyle categories, so you will have to click through and vote on others). Of course, I should mention that you can vote once a day ( incase, you have nothing better to do!  You can vote here. 

All of the nominees this year truly deserve to win (I mean really, Erin from Floret Farm? Margaret Roach?  Come on!).  Since most are my friends, we consider ourselves all winners. Maybe I should note that I am the only guy. I wonder what that means?

I'm honestly fine with just being nominated. Voting does result in a 'winner' however ( a prize),  aSo clearly, I will need to bribe you (wait, shamelessly?). Oh Hell, I am competitive, who am I fooling!  I may not have the funny cartoons that Margaret has to share, and I come not even close her excellent prose (but she was the editor of Martha Stewart Living, after all!).  And that gorgeous Erin form Floret Farm? How could I ever compete with her? OK, maybe I was the first lay claim to starting the sweet peas craze, she has acres!). 

Still, to temp you to take the time to vote (ha - every day between now an mid-March, mind you!), I feel that I shall need to bribe you. 

So here is a photo of Daphne's über-cute, 5 week old puppies.

A darling photo to bribe you to vote!


Back to gardening....

Is it spring? Or mid-February? It's shirtless time in the greenhouse!

February Under Glass Means Chrysanthemum Cuttings

I shan't write about the weather, I promise. But it's been a little crazy around here, with record breaking cold that shattered 100 year old record, and now spring-like warmth which while not record breaking, is still 70 degrees warmer than the previous weekend. In the greenhouse it feels very much like summer, and with nothing more than a t-shirt and jeans, I began rather summer-like chores under glass, which resulted in wet muddy jeans from the watering, and  even a bee sting from one of the honey bees that made its way in through the open vents in the ceiling. 

Here's an interesting observation - there were plenty of opportunities to observe examples of certain tasks which I have read about in those nineteenth century greenhouse and florist books. Take propagation, for example. I saved many of the exhibition and Japanese chrysanthemum 'stools' under the benches, as advised in most every Victorian gardening book, which all advised ..."will begin growth as the days grow longer, requiring one to strike cuttings beginning in February."

Time to crank up the propagation mats. This one contains both chrysanthemum cuttings, and some dahlia tubers, which I m forcing for cuttings - Cafe au Lait, on the right, if you look carefully, you can see the tubers peaking out.

On schedule, the once very dead looking chrysanthemum stools, which had indeed been spending the winter under the benches, began to send out new, healthy growth. I was so pleased to not only see these plants begin doing exactly what they were supposed to do, I was able to take over 150 cuttings, with plenty more to come.  If there is one thing that I am struck by in reading these 150  - 200 year old books, is that most of what I feel is unique or novel in our modern world, isn't really all that new at all. If anything, we have less choice with much of the plant material offered today for greenhouse culture, but I can say that what we can grow in the North under glass, has all been done before. We've just taken about a 120 year break.

Some mums went onto another heating mat, this one with covers, which means that they need to be positioned out of the full sun - only a bit of sunshine late in the day strikes this flat. With rooting hormone and bottom heat, all o these cuttings should root quickly. It's so nice to be thinking about summer already - even though there is still snow outside.

After striking my first round of chrysanthemum cuttings, I divided a few of the nicer varieties of dahlias which I laid out in vermiculite, sand and perlite soil, prepared over heating mats, to force some dahlia cuttings - a practice so common in the old days of greenhouse gardening, but one which I recently discovered is still practiced by dahlia enthusiasts who are eager to propagate some of their finer exhibition varieties. I felt that it was something worth trying, especially as I start to become more invested in exhibition dahlias (most of mine are just cut-flower varieties right now, but I need to practice).

Speaking of dahlias, our first meeting of the newly formed New England Dahlia Society will be held March 5th at our house at noon - if you are interested in joining, send me a private note, and I'll add you to the luncheon guest list. I've started ordering some exhibition varieties this weekend, a little late, I know, but I was able to study the Fab 50 list on the American Dahlia Society website, and finally found some of the varieties I was interested in from the many smaller nurseries listed on the ADS source pages, but I fear I will be running out of room, especially if I still want to raise some vegetables this year! The space war has begun.

The beauty of this modern  'Margaret Davis' camellia, is hard to beat.

I'm sure that I've shown many images of each of these camellias in the past, but what's wrong with sharing a few more. 

Rose form camellias are perfectly symmetrical. This one is 'Mrs. Tingley'

Oh Daphne. I know that you've been locked up indoors most of the winter with a litter of puppies, and that the soft, deep soil is irresistable to dig in, but really? All of my new French tulips? Naughty, naughty, terrier. Naughty.

Some other horticultural events happening in the greenhouse

The South African bulbs are starting to bloom, as they are in many greenhouses in the Northern Hemisphere (I just saw a photo of the same plants blooming in the greenhouses at the Denver Botanic Gardens). The show here usually starts with the ROmulea species, followed by the Babiana, backed up with the Lachenalia - one of my favorite genus - and a genus, I should mention which was terribly popular also in the Victorian era, but just try to find any today, aside from the few new hybrids marketed in the past few years under the brand name 'African Beauty' strain.

Lachenalia 'Rupert', one of the African Beauty Strain of Lachenalia, or Cape Hyacinth. Isn't the foliage beautiful? Look for these easy to grow (without pre-chilling) bulbs in your fall Dutch bulb catalogs. I always get a few each year, for winter color under glass. Can you tell that this is related to the common Dutch Hyacinth?

Wow. This massive specimen of a very large growing dendrobium (orchid) species is my plant of Dendrobium speciosum. It's nearly 6 feet in diameter, and this year, it has 14 flower spike forming. If it was in better condition, I might have bothered  to bring it in as a specimen plant to a Massachusetts Orchid Society meeting for judging, but it has some damaged leaves, and I know how those orchid folk are about perfection! So, I will just leave it in the greenhouse - maybe the dahlia society folks will enjoy it more? It should in be full bloom by the first week in March.

This larger shot should give you a better idea of the scale. It's a little blurry, but it does show the size. I first saw this species at the Tokyo World Orchid Show in 2008, where it was displayed in back of a pick up truck! I then had to find one (Santa Barbara Orchid Estate).

Do you remember back in September when I decided to raise some cold weather annuals for the greenhouse? Well, maybe it was too cold in the greenhouse, but most are still growing, but they are very small. With the lengthening day, I can see changes however, and some, such as this Godetia above are starting to grow larger leaves.

Nemesia seedling can be as challenging as snapdragons, pansies and petunia, if you have ever tried to grow them from seed -just not as easy as one might think, with yellowing leaves, and sometimes just weak, chlorotic growth. Yet, there is a trick, I'll be writing more about these tips later, but it all has to do with soil pH, electrical conductivity (yes), and nutrients - particularly, calcium and magnesium. A little pinching helps too. I plan on these seed raised nemesia to fill this pots by  Easter with loads of colorful blossoms.

Tropaeolum speciosum tricolor covers a little trellis with its thin vines, and tiny, yet colorful blossoms.

Tuberous tropeolum take over the greenhouse.

I know, I can't get enough of these rarer tropeolum, but they are not that difficult, if one can keep them cool (most will sulk and go dormant if daytime temps remain over 65 degrees). These Chilean and Argentinean treasures are lovely, and they are perfect for raising on those little trellises one finds in the gardening decor aisle at discount stores, which typically are useless for most anything else, practically speaking.

A larger view of this tropaeolum tricolor. I should note that the one Tropaeolum azureum which f suffered a decapitation during a greenhouse accident  involving a giant Bay Laurel tree back in December, seems to have survived. I had feared that I had killed it, as it's single stem had separated from its tuber. It seems to have re-rooted (or at least, it is still alive and appears to be growing). I will resist peeking at its roots until it goes dormant in the spring, but since the plant has continued to grow for two months now, I am hopeful that it has survived.

Freesia corms starting to emerge - maybe some fragrant freesias for the Easter Table?

Winter blooming primroses are a must in the cold pit or greenhouse. If only we could find the finest one, Primula sinensis, but it remains lost in culture. Until someone sends me seeds? I shall have to be happy with Primula obconica (but not this year) and Primula malacoides, which is what you are looking at here. It's a bet fragrant in the strong, late winter sunshine.

February 13, 2016

Gooseberries, Mignonette and Martian Regolith Simulant - My 2016 Projects

Gooseberries, once so popular in North America, were restricted during most of the twentieth century because of concerns that the  genus was a vector for a certain virus which affected white pines. Today, most of these concerns no longer exist, and plants can be ordered and planting in many states.  Not just green, the gooseberry continues to enjoy a large fandom in the UK, where many varieties still exit, some with fruit nearly as large as hens eggs.

It's time again to share with you some of my 'special projects' which I am planning to focus on this year. If you remember, last year I was consumed with raising my exhibition chrysanthemums, and in earlier years, I raised in-depth collections of English Sweet Peas, Belgian Endive, Columbine and alpine primroses. This year, my list is still rather ambitious, but you know me, I may only be able to attempt half, or three quarters of the ideas on this list, but what gardener doesn't feel omnipotent while relaxing on the sofa while the snow flies outside? Here then, are some of the project I am seriously thinking about undertaking in the coming year:

Prize Gooseberries!

My grandparents and parents used to raise many gooseberries here, as well as their close relatives, currants, but over time, they've moved on ( well, to be more truthful, the greenhouse now stands where they once grew). Making a bit of a comeback with enthusiasts today, now that virus rust* (please see long addendum at the end of this post). while some fears have been abated with White Pine at the greatest risk for White Pine Blister Rust, the gooseberry just might be experiencing a phoenix moment with disease resistant and immune varieties now being grown in much of New England. With Gooseberries and Currants,  don't expect these lovely berry to taste as the look on the bush, these are not exactly the most delicious fruits when snacked on in the garden. Even for kids, it will take some fortitude to overcome the sour tartness of a gooseberry, or the sharp, acidic tang of a black currant which can lead some to recall a kitty litter box. Let me put it this way - these are not fruits for hand eating out of the garden, but in the right recipe, for folded into a Fool with freshly whipped thick, Jersey cream,  or some luscious gooseberry jam, all thick and tart, spread on a flaky, buttery croissant - appreciation develops.

The flavor is more or less, sour, but when prepared in dished, pickled, preserves, jams and jellies, they are sublime. England, they certainly have their fans, which is why that is where competitive gooseberry forms rank along side the art of competitive Leek raising. Excellence is measured by size and color, first and foremost. Flavor? Well, with Gooseberries, one must remove any idea of 'berry' from ones mind. My first encounter with Gooseberries came as a young child. in the same garden where I live now, of course. Plants grew out by the old chicken coop, but never enough to eat - just more thorny than anything else.

A selection of varieties from Florist and Pomologist, 1858 shows just how many varieties of gooseberries there once were.

 There were self-seeded plants here and there appearing over the decades, but I have always removed them. It's time to reintroduce this old fashioned fruit plant now that any fears about white pine rust have been reduced. My British friends ask me when am I going to start raised some gooseberries, so all signs are pointing to a gooseberry plot in my future. Besides, the foodie in me is really pining for the new varieties, which can have fruit as large as a hens egg, and new 'ancient' varieties from Switzerland and Germany with fruits that are blush, violet, pink, golden yellow as well as green.

It's time again for me to share what some of my 'special projects'  will be for this coming year. These are more in-depth, if not 'deep-dives'  (where I really dig in and either collect many forms, or grow a large number of specimens to the finest state of perfection as I can).  I sometimes can't always get to all of these projects, which is probably a good thing given my time constraints, but I like to keep lots of options open in the beginning of the year.

In the past you may remember some of my more successful in-depth studies like English Sweet Peas, annual poppies, or Belgian Endive. Most recently, last year, my exhibition chrysanthemum project, which consumed much of my year. I will be continuing that project into this year, as well, but in addition to that, I am adding these to the list (not all will be completed, but on this snowy night, they are on my short list:

The 19th Century Method of raising Clematis in Pots

I go back and forth on this one, but for whatever reason, this appeals to me. I've never considered myself a clematis guy, and I am not sure that I want to raise many of these, but perhaps one or two specimen plants in a large tub, might be interesting. I found this chapter in a book from 1856, which inspired me to try growing a magnificent tub of clematis.

Shishito Peppers, from Trader Joes - but why buy them when you can grow them yourself?

The New Craze for Shishito Peppers

How these little treats snuck in under my radar, I have no idea. I can't even remember where I first read about the Shishito pepper. It was just before Christmas, so I might have been in one of my new Japanese cook books I bought myself, or it was on-line, but all I  know is that when I mentioned that I read about this craze to my good friend Rochelle Greayer over dinner one night, she said " Oh my God! My parents are SO into those right now too!", then I knew something was happening. Maybe the are hot for Shishito's on the west coast ( or in Colorado, in Rochelle's case), and they are just taking their time making it to the east, but....all I know is that I think I need to grow some of these apparently tasty, small, green peppers that took Japan by storm! They are available from Baker Creek Seeds.

'Phloxes in Pots'

Some of you might have read my post on Facebook where I freaked out about not being able to find good seed for annual phlox, but now I have some better varieties ( there was once were many sections, a hundred and fifty years ago). Mainly, I am talking about Phlox drummondii. But why you might be thinking? Again, now, a month later, I am not sure why I was so crazy for the species and it's many selections, but I do know that a good, perfect crop of P. drummondii is something I've been lusting for ever since I read about Ruth Stout growing a carpet of them in her first book, back in 1971 - that summer when my mom bought me my first gardening book.

It's just not an annual we see grown well, if not at all. If my seed comes in on time ( from the UK) and if it germinates well, I hope to share a successful bed, perhaps under the espalier apple trees. If not, I may attempt these in pots - probably bulb pans.

Erica species from South Africa have larger, showier blossoms, and the plants grow tall, perfect for cold glass greenhouses in the north, they have been difficult to find, but now, with a few nurseries carrying them, those of us who have craved these colorful tender shrubs, can now have them.

Rare South African Hummingbird Erica's  and Heaths, in pots

This started with one of those moments, when I was chatting on line with Marc Hachadorian from the New York Botanical Garden about what plants we wished we could find....and somehow, it lead my to finding sources. Actually, it began with my hunt for old border carnation varieties, and then a mad hunt for chrysanthemum cuttings after Kings Mums ran out last year. Our discussion morphed into how much we  really wanted to grow the larger erica species, the sort one needs to grow in a cool greenhouse, so yeah, these are not for everyone.

You know how I love plants which one rarely sees anymore, an especially ones which are almost exclusively good greenhouse plants, so imagine my delight when I was reading a 19th C. book on conservatory plants, when I decided to search around on line looking for a good source for these tender, South African species. Rare and spectacular, I am happy to have found a source for these terrific cool greenhouse, winter growing species such as Erica canliculata, E. curviflora, E formosa E gladiolas,, E. ventricosa

French Mignonette in Pots

Once again, this nineteenth century Victorian plant makes an appearance on my projects list (honestly, it's been a bit of a pill, to try and grow). This time, I am determined to master it, only because I want to experience it's sent. Look - along with the Tuberose, Mignonnette is like taking a whiff of history, as if one could smell was Abraham Lincoln's funeral smelled like (eww, right? Maybe not the best example, but you get the idea - maybe, this is what Abe sent Mary for Valentines Day perhaps?). Historical scents fascinate me though, and since every decent 19th century florist had cut stems and pots of Mignonette, how could you not want to experience it's scent? I've ordered a collection of scented violets this year, to round out that collection, so this will simply enhance the entire scheme of 19th century fragrant plants in the greenhouse and cut flower garden.

Exhibition Dahlias

Now that I've kickstarted this new chapter of the American Dahlia Society - the New England Dahlia Society, it should come as no surprise that this was all really just a scheme to order lots and lots of dahlia tubers. Consider that done, so expect loads of pictures this coming year of not only our new dahlia beds, but of our first dahlia show at Tower Hill in mid September.

Exhibition Gladiolus

And, along with dahlias, come glads - perhaps my next passion, since I can't seem to keep my hands off of every old fashioned bulb which deserved a revisit or a makeover, and believe me, no bulb (or corm), deserves this more than the lowly glad. If you don't believe me, skip the Dutch commercial varieties available at the nurseries, glossy mail order color catalogs or from the big box stores, and visit a collectors web site - preferably a gladiolus breeder ( I suggest Pleasant Valley Dahlias and Glads, in CT). New glads, and by 'new', I mean the ones bred grown for exhibition in gladiolus shows which look nothing like any commercial glad you have seen or imagined. Forget funeral arrangements, cheap dollar-store bunches or even glamellas -instead, think of brownish bronze, super-ruffled 5 foot tall wonders -- colors like cinnamon, chocolate, dark blackberry colored eyed forms, or some with pie crusted ruffles show fancy, that each floret could be a corsage. Do it. Order a few, and let me know. I promise you, they are SO worth it!

Old Victorian Carnations

I will continue to build my collection this year of old (and new?) varieties, if I can ever find them. I suppose that I really need to get over to the UK, where I could shove some cuttings down my shorts, but until then, I need to rely on Annies Annuals and a few secret sources for what was once, American's darling cut flower 100 years ago.

Now, on my "maybe I'll try them" list

A serious collection of begonia species

After my talk to the Begonia Society here in Massachusetts last weekend, I think I stimulated some latent Begonia gene not-so-deep inside of me. So, who knows what will happen here, but I wouldn't be surprised to see a few dozen new begonias show up on a window table, or in the greenhouse this year.

Vintage Florist Techniques from the Nineteenth Century

I have been curious about this subject. Think - Downton Abbey flowers I suppose. Back in the mid to late 19th century, an arrangement or flora or greens, was generally reserved for the wealthy, those who owned a greenhouse, and the gardeners who could supply it. I'm not sure who would have made the arrangements, but most likely it was a footman, or a house maid with some skill. This was a time long before Oasis and floral foam, before Gerbera, alstroemeria and many of our standard supermarket florist flowers were introduced. Instead, damp moss and wire was tucked into  a shallow bowl, terrine, or a tiered fruit  stand, in which camellias, jasmine, and most any flower gathered in from the glasshouse or conservatory was arranged, along with bits of fern and mosses. I am curious about finding more books and reference materials about forcing plants for the conservatory, and I keep discovering chapters on these arrangements, so I wouldn't be surprised to see some of this craft appear as a study, here.

My Greenhouse Bulbs raised in Martian Regolith Simulant

A new hire at work (Samir) introduced me to this when he discovered that I liked plants. I couldn't believe that I never saw this, have you? Apparently NASA and generally, scientists are encouraging Americans to test raising plants in this  Martian Regolith Simulant. You make this stuff up. Regolith Simulants are basically fake soil, mimicking the soil conditions found on either the moon, or Mars. Surely the perfect science project theme for your kids, if you'v been looking for someway to connect your plant passions with them, right?

Go on, if you haven't yet, go Google 'Martian Regolith Simulant', and you will find everything from sources for soil, to complete kits. There are also all sorts of on-line communities for folks who are playing around with this soil. The soils seem to be coming from a volcano on Hawaii, and not from the Moon or from Mars, for that matter, which can be a little disappointing, but hey - if you are bulb collector and complaining about not being able to find pumice, this might be an alternative, and something that will certainly enhance your next presentation at the NARGS or PBS meeting. Let the scientists play with trying to raise food on Mars, I am going to see if I can raise Narcissis cantabricus when I visit there!

Exhibition and Japanese Chrysanthemums again

Yeah, this goes without saying, but oh....at a massive scale this year. Just wait!

Marigolds - strung on strings, or raising every variety that I can find
I may still do this, but losing interest in it slightly.

Alpine plants in raised vegetable containers.

*Addendum  to Gooseberrys
Ian adding this because my friend Mike Huben sent me this note fro Ecuador, where he is now living:


For some unknown reason, I can’t post a comment, so here are a couple of quibbles.

I’m a little surprised that you wrote at least twice about gooseberries carrying a virus that affects pines: rust fungi are not viruses.  And later you did talk about the rust fungi.  Here’s an excerpt from the wikipedia article on gooseberries:

"Like most Ribes, the gooseberry is an alternate host for white pine blister rust, which can cause serious damage to American white pines.[11]Gooseberry cultivation is thus illegal in some areas of the U.S and quarantines are in place to help control this disease. Maine law prohibits the planting and cultivation of currants and gooseberries in most of southern Maine, and prohibits the planting and cultivation of European black currants and their hybrids anywhere within the state.”

I’d be curious to know why you say "now that virus fears have been abated with White Pines”: I haven’t heard that and would like to know.

Mike, first of all, you are right. There is no excuse for me missing that fact, and I should have known better - excuse really was, it was late at night, and i felt that I had better post something, since I had missed an entire week of posts! Plus, as I wrote it, I knew that I would have to go back and correct it ini the morning - I was working off of my memory, that A. Gooseberries and Currants are again showing up in mail order catalogs without the shipping restrictions for Massachusetts, and B. I knew that I had read about the rust concerns being at least, reduced or lifted for one reason or another. Now, I had to go do some homework to confirm this.

Here are a few facts which i found both on the Cornell.edu site, and from other sources.


White Pine Blister Rust (WPBR) is a decimating fungus which infects white pine (Pinis strobes) in the North East.It also infects the genus Ribes, which includes Gooseberries and currants. Many states have prohibited planted Ribes for most of the 20th century due to this relationship, as the White Pine is a important forest and wood tree in North American forests.

In the 1900's, state and federal laws outlawd the cultivation of currants and gooseberries to prevent the spread of the devastating  white pine blister rust (Cronartium ribicola). Many of can remember seeing these laws briefly explained in most any fruit tree catalog  where consumers were often told that they could only plant gooseberries or currants if they lived a certain distance from the nearest white pine.

The federal ban was rescinded in 1966, but a few New England states continued the ban, yet only for black currants.

In 2003, the state of New York modified its ban to allow commercial growers as well as home growers to grow newer red currants, gooseberries and immune or resistant varieties of black currants.

As for Gooseberries, there are two types the American (Ribes hirtellum) and the European (Ribes ova-crispa). American types have smaller fruit, and are known to be more resistant to mildew. Overall, they are known as healthier plants, being more productive. The varieties suggested as the finest for home growing are: 'Poorman'. Oregon Champion', Hinnonmaki Red', 'Hinnonmaki Yellow', 'Captivator', and 'Pixwell', the variety most commonly available as it propagates easily.

The finest European varieties, which will have much larger fruits and far better flavor, are:
'Invicta' (best flavor), Leveller', 'Careless', Early Sulfur', 'Catherina', and 'Achilles'.

Cornell University lists sources for these plants here:

1, There are new 'Immune' varieties  now available, so the restrictions have been lifted in most states except Main.
2. There are studies looking at a new mutation fungus, which does infect the new 'immune' varieties. (figures), but it can be controlled with fungicide applications.

Mr. Hueben also noted that I wrote this: 'Hummingbirds do not occur in Africa: the biological equivalent there are the Sunbirds, and the Ericas there have probably co-eveolved with them."

Mike , good catch! I will say that I thought twice about saying 'hummingbird erica's, as I am well aware, as a birder and a lifetime amateur ornithologist,that someone would catch that! Here's why I used hummingbird instead of Sunbird. The nursery, which I forgot to list as a source, either has trademarked their erica's as Hummingbird Heaths ™ or lists them as Hummingbird heather and heathers.  Naturally, I many tubular blossoms from South Africa, particularly many of the geophytes you know that I collect ( lachenalia, clivia) are all pollinated by the sunbirds found in the cape area of South Africa. I probably should have made this clear to readers, even though most won't catch the error, and yes - most, if they do grow any of these Erica's either in their Californian gardens, outside in the south west, or even in our country of the far, cold northeast, will indeed only see hummingbirds visit their plants ( well, maybe not in the northeast, since they will be blooming in the winter under glass in a greenhouse!>

As always, I welcome your notes and geekyness, Mike!

Hope everything is working out terrifically for you in your new adventurous life in Ecuador - your plants are doing well in our garden, if they can survive our -16 below zero temps last night!