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.


  1. Anonymous4:02 AM


    The spring heat has gone to your head! The tuberous spring flowering Tropaeolum that you show is T.tricolor. T.speciosum is an autumn flowering one [grown outdoors in UK]. I have tricolor and brachyceras in bloom under unheated cover here. Mind you, we grow Camellia out side as well. Our gentler seasonal transitions mean they flower with less abundance but over a much longer season. St. Ewe for example will flower here from December right through to May.

    Good luck with the Dahlia society. I cheat. The UK National Dahlia Collection is just down the road, so I enjoy their full range and only grow a few myself.


    1. Oh gosh, you are right! I have no excuse handy other than it was late, and perhaps a glass of wine! I aways welcome corrections! I do have two pots of T. brachyceras in bloom as well and I have never been able to grow T. speciosum, so i have no idea where that even came from! Ugh. Maybe I am getting old?

  2. Congratulations on your blogger award nomination! The camellias and puppies are wonderful!

  3. john in cranston9:06 AM

    Margaret's cartoons are not all THAT funny, to be honest. But I do love her blog.
    Good luck to you

    1. I was only joking, Margaret and I are friends enough! vote for any of us!

  4. Anonymous1:40 PM

    dear matt
    congratulations on the nomination, and thank you for the enticing, comprehensive post.
    not sure what contacting you privately consists of, but if i could get to the mainland, would i be able to join you on mar 5th?
    all best,
    ~ 02568

  5. Not sure that it would be worth a trip over on the ferry! But if you decide, my contact info is mmattus@charter.net, you are always welcome!

  6. Anonymous3:23 PM

    Hi Matt,
    How about doing a post explaining how to grow freesia indoors in the Northeast in time for an Easter bloom? Do you need a heated greenhouse or is there another way? Are they finicky?

  7. Anonymous12:09 PM

    Congrats! Lovely as always!


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