March 12, 2016

Welcoming an Early Spring

Nemesia which was sown last October, begins to bloom as the days become longer. Well pinched and fertilized with
a complex mix of water soluble 12 - 6 - 22 allows this species to now absorb and use  iron...but why?Two weeks ago, this was a pot of spindly, chlorotic seedlings but with just an adjustment of food, it has taken off with just one tweak. A perfect example of why one should pay attention to soil pH, electrical conductivity, and special fertilizer formulas.So even though they needed calcium and magnesium, if I added egg shells, or Epsom salts, I would have killed them.  I'm working on this story for another post. Fertilizing is much more complex than we could ever realize.

Joe and I are hosting a baby shower for our good friend Kelly this weekend. This is completely new territory for us, and I realize now was we got ourselves into. I had visions of French Macarons and  Pinterest-worthy Ombre baked goods, but I may have lost control as balloons are being tied onto out lamp posts outside (I suppose, in case someones Google Maps isn't working), and I am certain that a 'diaper cake' will be arriving soon.

I've been fussing with these Nemesia seedlings this year, discovering what I was doing wrong all of these years. It all comes down to soil conductivity ( electrical conductivity), how it affects pH and fertilizer uptake.   This is a common imbalance with petunias, snapdragons and nemesia, and it will result in yellow foliage, slimy green soil and a chlorotic plants - all signs of a deficiency of magnesium and iron. Do you know what you are feeding your plants and why? It's science, but easy to fix if you don't mind getting a little geeky with your research. More on this, later.

Given that last week we hosted the inaugural meeting of the New England Dahlia Society here, and now 50+ guests on a Sunday, and next weeks double lecture I need to give at the Master Gardeners Association (CT), and then Iceland for two weekends - Look, I'm kind of booked until mid May. So, this is my long winded excuse for a shorter than normal post - and even though I am working on finishing my seed starting post which has taken far too long to write, since I wanted it to be unique, it shall have to wait. Maybe for a long plane ride through the night. For now? Random garden images from this week, since these are just plain easier to share with you.

Even through we are certain that this is the warmest winter ever recorded in the Northeast, I am enjoying the warmer than average temperatures - it hit 77 deg. F last week! But then 22 deg on Saturday night. Hey - it's probably good maple syrup producing weather, as long as it dips below freezing at night.

Our mild December didn't seem to harm some early blooming shrubs, even though I though that it might. This Hamamelis x 'Arnold's Promise', is not only a reliable bloomer during mild winters, it's hardy for us.

Long branches of this Cornelian Cherry, or Cornus mas, a dogwood from Asia, are perhaps the easiest to force. These came into bloom in just 24 hours once brought into the house.

In the greenhouse, the camellia's continue, but I have to be careful, as the shade cloth is not up yet, and if the vents don't open, the temperatures can rise to above 80 deg. F in just a couple of hours on a sunny day.

The greenhouse vents have remained open most of the week, which is a good thing, since may cool-greenhouse plants have yet to bloom, and a warmer than normal season can abort many from blooming. I try to avoid great temperature shifts in the spring but many plants require the difference, especially some seeds. Peppers, tomatoes and eggplants as well as snapdragons and petunias don't, so they remain indoors until the spring temps regulate more.

Cape Hyacinths, or Lachenalia species are blooming like crazy now. So easy to grow in a cool greenhouse, you could attempt some in a cool plant window in the winter, as they are like paperweight narcissus in that they don't require cooling off or vernalization. That said, they do require day to night temperature shifts, and cool, air temps during the day.

Lachenalia now are available in hybrid crosses, the most common being African Beauty series. Look for them in both spring and fall bulb catalogs, they often include a few, but remember, they are not hardy outdoors.

When offered in the spring, Lachenalia can be potted for outdoor spring displays (short lived) or in window boxes. Just be sure to pull and dry the bulbs off for the rest of the summer. At that point you could repot them for winter  flowers, swapping over their normal 'Southern Hemisphere/Northern Hemisphere growing cycle - remember, they typically bloom in South Africa, during their winter, which is our summer.

I lovely new camellia blooming late, in the greenhouse. This one is Hi-No-Maru.

Cafe au Lait dahlia tubers, being propagated - these are planted in wooden flats so that I can strike cuttings.

An impressive Tilandsisa  xerographica which was a gift from my friend Chau Ho, who came to our Dahlia Society meeting on Saturday.

Dahphe (Doodles), looking rather lion-y since she hasn't been groomed. Kind of funny to think that her twin brother was the No. 2 Irish Terrier in North America, and No. 3 at Westminster last year. Doodles? She's rather get muddy and chase squirrels (and dig up lily bulbs).

Here's a view you don't often see - a new border of Himalayan Birch trees that I planted along our front fence. They are just beginning to show some color in their bark. Layers of weed block are still trying to hold back a colony of bamboo, which had been there for years. It's almost gone...almost.

I am still trying to master raising Auricula primrose. Most of these are alpine forms, potted in a mix which is mostly pumice, with some soil. They survived the winter in a raised bed which was covered in a half-assed way, since my new cold frame cover had not arrived yet. 

They were cleaned up last weekend, dead leaved removed, and fertilized with their first dose of weak all-purpose fertilizer, necessary during these first few weeks when they awaken. They will be covered again with the poly cover, to protect their nice foliage from rain. The exhibition varieties have a white coating on their leaves, which can be washed off. In the Alps, they grow in the clouds or higher, where rain cannot rinse off the powder, which protects them from the UV rays in the bright, alpine  sun.

A pretty Tropaeolum tricolor again (I had to share it one more time) in the greenhouse. This nasturtium family relative grows from a potato-like tuber, and has been a secretly popular cool greenhouse bulb since the 1800's, but rarely seen today.

I am raising a collection of rare sweet peas - or peas, to be more accurate ( Lathyrus species) which are raised by plant collectors for their flowers. One of my many projects this year. I know, I didn't mention it on my projects list!

A rare bulb blooms in the back of the greenhouse - any idea what this one is? I have the name on the tag, but maybe a prize exists for anyone who wants to name this spring blooming bulb which is the only one in it's genus, but closely related to the gladiolus.


  1. Anonymous4:18 PM

    Considering our plant pallets are so similar I marvel at how different out temperatures are. In Cornwall [UK] our yearly temperature range is similar to your daily one at this time of year. In a year we seldom go over 71F in summer and 22F is about the worst we get in winter. That our growable plant range overlaps so much is amazing.

    Is your rare bulb Melasphaerula ramosa? Difficult to be sure without seen a bloom face on; but there are few Iridaceae that branch like that.


  2. Is it Melasphaerula ramosa?

  3. Melasphaerula ramosa! One of my favorites that I never see grown anymore. Thanks Matt for sharing your treasures!

  4. Anonymous4:19 PM

    I'm also in MA and enjoying this mild weather. The scilla and crocuses are blooming and I forced some forsythia indoors a few weeks back that is just beginning to fade. Forced, cold-frame tulips are also coming up, fingers crossed there are flowers and not just leaves. I saw my first daffodils (not mine) blooming outside on Sunday: Tete-a-tete?

  5. Anonymous7:22 AM

    dear matt
    thank you for lush pix of current plants. the fence and birches should be a pleasure for years to come with many possibilités (xmas lights, underplantings!) as it develops.
    you are consistently inspiring and set the bar high for what is possible. does any of this spread to your neighbors?
    on a different--not necessarily to be posted--note with reference to baby shower, cheeky me observes what with all the nurture projects at your house--baby poultry, baby plants, puppies--seems like about time for a baby person?
    all best,
    ~ 02568


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