October 24, 2016

Autumn Portraits in a Conservatory

Shaggy elegance or shabby chic? This exhibition mum which I've been training all summer by pinching and removing side shoots to allow only a giant, single bloom,  is really performing now in the greenhouse. 'The variety, called 'Paint Box', is available from Kings Mums as a cutting early in the spring.

The autumn glasshouse reinvigorates my gardening passions causing me to seriously rethink if I really even enjoy outdoor gardening in the summer, especially given this past summers drought and heat here in New England.  The greenhouse makes gardening feel fresh and new, as the seasons change and the approaching cold weather means that it is once again packed with plants. Fragrant, damp and feeling alive, it's a second spring, in a way. Certainly a second spring literally, as spring blooming bulbs from the southern hemisphere begin to emerge, but also because fall blooming heirlooms - the old fashioned conservatory shrubs, potted winter blooming trees and shrubs and certainly the tall and cascading exhibition chrysanthemums from Japan and China come into bloom.

Experiencing a greenhouse in full autumn glory is a rare thing in the 21st century. A time when the idea of a 'greenhouse' is either limited to a plastic hoop house on a farm, or a sterile commercial structure of twipolycarbonate at a home center, and at that, it is more likely to be packed with rows of 'hardy mums' for bedding out in that disposable way, or pallets of rock salt and a few mark-down shrubs as room is being made for Christmas Tree's.  For many, an autumn or early winter greenhouse, which should be a place of wonder, has become something rather depressing.

The fact that a home greenhouse is a luxury item doesn't escape me, and although I sometimes wonder why they are not more popular in the US (as they are in the UK), the realities quickly become apparent once it snows. Heating costs are high, and maintenance costs often keep the fantasy of a greenhouse in ones back yard, just that - a fantasy. But I do wonder if glass houses at home, in the American back yard couldn't become a reality - even if barely heated, not unlike the glasshouses of a hundred years ago? In these structures, often kept just above freezing, many things can still be raised if the foundation is deep, and the soil exposed. Nature has a way of creating a moist, damp environment - a pit house, a place where scented violets, camellias and other cold tolerant plants can thrive.

Greenhouses like mine are kept at temperatures just above freezing, often dropping to near freezing on the coldest of winter nights, it still brings life to that long, cold season. One scented with Osmanthus, the fragrant olive so omnipresent in old greenhouse in the north, along with a seemingly endless supply of pink, red and white winter-blooming camellias. Right now? It's all about the big, fancy exhibition chrysanthemums and countless varieties of South African bulbs. Enjoy.

As I kick-off this new season of gardening under glass, I can't help but be reminded of the old estate greenhouses here in the North East. Any book about gardening in the 1800's offers a glimpse of just how common a home greenhouse once was. The conservatory was essential to many, if not to raise pineapples and lemons for the winter kitchen, then to force beds of freesias, ranunculus and for tender shrubs to augment floral arrangement for the home.  I so enjoy reading about the same plants that Lincoln or Longfellow may have experienced -  the tender Asian butterfly bushe that filled the bouquets in fireplace heated parlours and winter weddings, the trays of forced lily of the valley for the Holidays and the Saint Valentines Day traditional tussie mussie of scented Parma violets.  Even clay pots of Lachenalia - the Cape Hyacinth, which was more common in 1850 than it is today as a windowsill winter blooming bulb harks back to a time when one only had time to appreciate plants between the stresses and labor of another era.

Large yellow incurves and other mums are blooming, but I am fussing a little less with them this year. Just trying to get a few varieties which I have not grown yet, to bloom.

People often ask "Why do you bother?" when they see or read about these plants hidden behind the hedges and fences where I live, but these  are all simple the rare experiences I seek.  I suppose I don't need to defend this luxury, for I truly can barely afford it. The sacrifices are many. A house peeling without paint, weeds and trees which need to be cut down, older used cars and a never ending heating bill which keeps one storing ramen for those 'just in case' overdraws at the bank. Greenhouses are not cheep,  but they do offer more than just flowers. I suppose the cliche is that they are medicine for the soul. Maybe so so they can also be stressful, a constant worry that the fuel will run out, as it undoubtedly will often on that coldest night of the year, but somehow, their therapeutic benefits out weigh the negatives, in so many ways.

One of the shaggier giants from England will hopefully open before mildew gets the best of it, but if not, I think it is quite nice as it is. It's almost 7 feet tall, and this bud is larger than a softball already.

Nerine sarniensis seedlings are so colorful, not one is ugly. They grow from bulbs just like amaryllis, which they are related to - a bulb which sits halfway into the soil in pots, but these are a bit more challenging to grow well. Rarely seen today, even at botanic gardens, each year I cherish my collection which now has grown to over a hundred bulbs which originally came from both the Exbury collection in England, as well as from Sir Peter Smithers in Switzerland.

Even though the idea of a conservatory may seem to be a relic of the past, I can't help it but try to recreate this experience in my own greenhouse.  It's a constant journey, an exploration, really. Sourcing antique and old plant material can addicting, as all collecting can be, but keeping such collections and watching them grow, both in rarity and in number, is very special. It's true, I sometimes am embarrassed to share these oft repetitive experiences here on these pages, but I feel that someone you really don't mind. 

Here are a few pictures of what is now blooming in the greenhouse if only because my post on digging and dividing a growing collection of dahlias, is still being composed.

This neuron is nearly purple, and so bright, that the color is difficult to capture with a camera.

If you've never seen Nerine sarniensis before, don't feel bad. This insanity of color,mostly in the pink, salmon and coral range, is special.  Only a handful of collectors seem to have any of the named varieties, so I am reluctant to share or sell any (for now!). 

A blush  toned Nerine sarniensis  is an old estate variety from the well known DeRothchilds. The name, now lost only adds to it's romance, like a lost painting or a rare wine with a label which has decayed. 

While visiting Longwood Gardens one time, I saw a large clay pot in one of their conservatories with an X Amarcrinum planted in it. An artificial cross between an amaryllis and a Crinum. Now, I have one and it blooms every autumn in a large, Guy Wolf pot in the greenhouse. So fragrant, it's a bit like cotton candy.

It's been a bit of a mad rush to try and get everything moved back into the greenhouse this year, but the camellias can stay outdoors for another month or so. They can handle freezing temperatures, sometimes as low as 20 degrees F, but I do want to avoid the pots from freezing, as this is often the thing that kills potted camellias. 

I know that I shared this Narcissus serotinus in bud, in my last post, but I can't help but show it again - reserved only for the supergeeky, this native of southern Europe is a bulb so rare in the trade, that is is only available from one or two sources overseas.  Now, after ten years, I have three buds coming from my two bulbs. Does this mean seed, perhaps?

Outside the greenhouse, some self seeded annuals are still blooming near the foundation such as this Nicotiana langsdorfii, which has been self seeding now for nearly 12 years. There are many selections, some with larger blossoms and perhaps worthy of propagating, particularly one which is still in bloom, and 5 feet tall.

Outside, woody culinary herbs can remain which includes all of the sages, thymes, lavender, rosemary pots and bay laurels. These will be moved back into the cold greenhouse around Thanksgiving, in late November.

The harsh violet Callicarpa is fine for some, but I'm just not a fan. It;s color is magical, but a bit too Las Vegas for me. Don;t worry, I grow it too, but it's difficult to work into most schemes. My choice is this, the all white 'alba'  form.  If we get a late freeze, it remains white well into November. If not, it does turn brown.
Planted along with the Japanese bamboo, Sasa veitchii ( it's a runner - beware! But since I can't get rid of it, I have to pull a Tim Gunn and 'make it work'). Together, this combo looks stunning. The edges of the foliage on this low growing bamboo dies back a half inch or so,  to a brilliant white, which starts around November first.
In a couple of weeks, this motif will look amazing.

October 19, 2016

Mum Season Begins with Early Blooms and a Feature in Martha Stewart Living

A very random bouquet of late fall blooming rarities from the garden. Tricyrtus hirta, Saxifrage fortunei, Allium thunbergeii, Cuphea viscosissima,  a white bottle Gentian clausa var. alba and Daphne transcaucasica - all post-freeze survivors.

Our first hard frost arrived last Friday, which knocked out the dahlias and most of the tender annuals. One season ends, while a new one begins in the greenhouse.

 It seems that every weekend has been booked since June, but I think my schedule slows down a bit beginning this weekend, which I cannot wait for. For example, this past weekend I attended a Dahlia Society demonstration, hosted the Primrose Society for a lunch, bought paint to paint the house, needed to sow seeds of bulbs in the greenhouse, and had to attend Joe's pet project, a Halloween doggy dress up party in Connecticut.

The earliest of the large exhibition chrysanthemums are beginning to open. Derek Bircumshaw is always the first one to bloom on the large dis-buds. Keeping them dry requires fans, and time under glass at this point.
I really wanted to drive down to the New York Botanic Garden for a personal tour that some officials offered me so that I could see their Kiku chrysanthemum exhibit which is up until the end of the month (I know that it is incredible as I have seen it before), and I wanted to attend the Tri State NARGS meeting  - which I always seem to miss, but I just couldn't find the time to do it all.

Last summer and autumn, the editors at Martha Stewart Living wanted to come see the chrysanthemums. I felt that they were not the best (this years are much better) but they still came - the results of that photoshoot can be seen in this months Thanksgiving issue.

I'll share much more about my ongoing chrysanthemum projects, and as I hinted at, they are being featured this month in the Thanksgiving Issue of Martha Stewart Living (I added some screenshots at the end of this post).  I won't be exhibiting any this year, since it seems that our northern grown mums bloom a few weeks later than those on Long Island, which happens to be where the nearest chapter of the American Chrysanthemum Society holds their exhibit. Maybe next year. For now, my chrysanthemums will stay in my greenhouse (but I may exhibit a few at Tower Hill Botanic Garden in mid November, so that others can see them up close).

So, for now - some catch up on what's been happening around the garden, and greenhouse.

We hosted the New England Chapter of the American Primrose Society last Saturday, and our friend Amy Olmsted from Vermont brought these treasures for us! - These hardy orchids have long been on my wish list. Spiranthes cernua 'Chadds Ford' will be set out in a special damp spot in the garden next weekend when I can find some time.

At my friend Mike Fusaro's house this weekend in Connecticut, a lovely white fall-blooming Japanese Anemone reminded me about how much I love this plant. Any late blooming perennial, for that matter. 

How striking is this big old fashioned Flowering Maple? Abutilon 'Red Tiger' available from Logee's Greenhouses is a big plant, with large leaves and giant flowers. Vigorous and worthy of a big pot in your parlor or greenhouse.

I found some time this weekend to sow seed of bulbs and tuberous plants which require an autumn sowing, as they are winter growers. Cyclamen species and many rare narcissus were added to the collection this year. All sown deep in 2.5 inch pots in a fast-draining lean soil mix made from 50% pumice and 50% soilless mix.

A favorite autumn blooming narcissus is just starting to bloom, it's blossom is smaller than a blueberry but so fragrant. Narcissus serotinus from Spain, Portugal and Greece. Not all narcissus are spring blooming.

Narcissus seed from England ready for sowing, a task I do every autumn. Most of these are smaller species from collectors, types which are best grown in a cold, winter greenhouse. They include many crosses of Narcissus cantabricus, N. romieuxii and other hoop types or small, rock garden types favored by alpine plant collectors. Real treasures.

Small bulbous iris, such as Iris reticulata and I. histrioides have their bulbs set shoulder to shoulder in square pots to root. They are kept near freezing under a dark bench for 12 - 14 weeks, a little less than tulips which are better when forced after 16 weeks. These little iris will emerge and bloom in just a few days in mid winter - just when you need a touch of spring.

I love the scent of hyacinths in January, and new bulbs produce a wide fan of foliage and have enormous if not monstrous buds, so I plant them further apart so that they have room to 'spread their wings'. 

Small bulbs are set into square plastic pots that I can set under the back benches in the greenhouse to root where the it is dark, and near 38 degrees during the winter. It's  a method that works for me. Pots of these narcissus, species tulips, muscari and Iris reticulata are then brought out into the greenhouse to force beginning just after New Year Day.

The Napa cabbage and Chinese greens planted in these, the Elevated Cedar Planter Box which I am now raising most of my veggies in, they are from Gardener's Supply Co. are maturing, enjoying the shorter days and colder temperatures. These will be ready to harvest in just a few weeks.

Now for some silly fun - two years ago Joe started the New England Irish Terrier Club, a regional club for those who own Irish Terriers, an endangered breed which was once quite popular in the New England area as they made good, hearty farm dogs. Our Weasley (Grand Champion Red Devil's Lucifer's Fire) dressed here this time not for Westminster or the World Dog Show in Milan, but....as a Ghost Buster.

Lydia, decided to tramp out as a sexy little Oktober Fest Frauline complete with braids. She kind-of enjoyed it.

The line up of some members with their dogs. It was a beautiful autumn day, as well.

I designed some quick solutions for prizes - tiny garden pumpkins was all we needed.

Check out the feature on my chrysanthemums and greenhouse in this Thanksgiving's issue of Martha Stewart Living available now.

Lastly, I am so humbled that my garden has been featured in two significant articles this month in two great magazines. You can find a wonderful feature which was shot last November here on my chrysanthemum projects in this November's Martha Stewart Living. This was a huge project, which began in May 2015 and which ended in November 2015 when they flew a photographer from the UK out for 2 days of shooting that ended up with the fire department coming (hey, he wanted a romantic, foggy greenhouse scene and it happened to be warm and sunny! He needed a smoke machine - stat.

So Joe got his bee smoker going with some pine needles, and started a fire in the fire pit, and basically,the rest was history but the shot never made it into the article. Somehow, they got the shots they needed ( yeah, it's a long story as these big shoots tend to be).  The best part was that to top it all off, Daphne, our youngest terrier decided to - how do I say this elegantly - - well, she decided to get layed right in front of the greenhouse. She was actually due to be bred that day, and the male was visiting, Needless to say, this was the highlight of the shoot - out came the smart phones so that they could all document the biology and text them to Martha. We named one of the puppies after the art director, Jaspal. (but her name was changed, as she now lives in the Netherlands).

If you happen to be in South Africa, the South African House & Garden magazine by Conde Nast also wrote a wonderful surprise piece which features four garden bloggers that they feel are the four best Online Gardeners to follow. (gush!).  I'm so honored to be associated with these other media writers such as David Marsden from the Anxious Gardener, my friend Non Morris from the Dahlia Papers, Debbie Tenquist from South Africa. Thanks, Condé Nast! 

October 16, 2016

Recreating Seattle's Amazing Dahlia Wall To Close Out The Growing Season

We recreated the famous dahlia wall originally created at the Seattle Wholesale Flower Market - although we never intended it to look exactly like the original - it did.
Sometimes things just don't go as planned, and last weekend we learned a lesson about how influence  can sometimes backfire. Just a week before our first frost date, a casual conversation with Grace Lam from FiveForksFarm (a flower farm that many of you have seen featured by Erin on Floret Farm's blog), and myself were talking about how this years serious drought here in New England. Dahlia crops across the northeast have been terrible, due to the extreme heat and the record breaking drought. 

I went to visit Grace to see if she could donate some dahlias for arrangements at the Dahlia Show at Tower Hill, since I was afraid that we would have only a few entries. Grace was talking about this dahlia wall that she had seen at the Seattle Wholesale Growers Market and She thought that maybe her farm and the members of the Dahlia Society might like to create something like this, but we didn't have enough time to get something designed in 2 days, but that maybe we could create something their fall festival on Columbus Day weekend. 

What happened next was magic.

October 2, 2016

Training Japanese Chrysanthemum Cascades

Now that it is officially autumn, our thoughts often turn to chrysanthemums, but as you probably know already, my opinions on chrysanthemums is a bit different than those of most people. It's become one of my missions as a plantsman to keep alive so techniques and traditions with chrysanthemum culture, which has almost been lost in our mass-market obsessed culture. 

For a about 15 years now, I have been collecting heirloom and new (but so hard to find) varieties of exhibition chrysanthemums, those mums that look nothing like the ones you see at your local garden centers sold for fall displays. Instead, these are varieties which are more suited for conservatory display - raised in the most traditional methods which were once practiced in most every North American conservatory or botanic garden pre-20th century, and a method which is still used in Japan today, where the chrysanthemum is still revered.

October 1, 2016

The Living Historical Collections of Amy Goldman-Fowler

Last month Joe and I paid a visit to author and seed saving evangelist Amy Goldman Fowler's amazing home, farm and were able to tour her garden. Amy lives about 7o miles north of New York City in Rhinebeck, NY, not far from the Hudson River. Her 18th century farm house, which she lovingly restored sits on many acres of woodland, pastures with stone walls, where she planted immaculate formal gardens, constructed an English-style greenhouse, and acres of farmland where where she raises not only heirloom breeds of beef cattle, but perhaps one of the worlds most comprehensive collections of selected food crops.

Amy (and her husband Cary Fowler) are dedicated seed preservationists, and they treat their property as both a living laboratory, as well as a museum of studio. Projects are everywhere as are works-in-progress. In some gardens, only ornamentals are planted, Amy is an artist too, so things much look good, but one doesn't need to go far, to find little hints of little research projects. Some heirloom pea varieties in pots, set in the protection of the greenhouse only had reference numbers - something about protein values - but just another secret research project that one doesn't see everyday in our home gardens. Join me for a tour of Amy's wonderful secret gardens.