}

December 8, 2017

Old and New Holiday Plant Memories

Plant geeks and new gardeners enjoy the simple joys of forcing paperwhites - it would. be a sad winter season if I ever skipped planting a few dozen.


As the winter holidays creep up on us, many are thinking about Holiday plants. While it's nice to buy                        pre-grown plants, raising something from a bulb is even more fun. Amaryllis and paperwhite narcissus are classic standbys for the season, but with three weeks until Christmas, this is the last weekend one can plant bulbs of paperwhites if you want blooms by Christmas Eve. I am fine with blooms anytime before New Year's Day.

Paperwhite narcissus (and amaryllis) bulbs are some of the first plants many of us began growing, they make terrific gifts for children who are showing a slight interest in gardening, as their fool-proof and often spectacular display is easy to achieve and will reinforce a love for the magic of gardening.


Paperwhite narcissus are virtually foolproof. We all probably have a personal memory of our first paperwhite adventure, mine began in the late 1960's when as a kid I would go shopping with my parents to a local landmark store named Spag's, once located in Shrewsbury, MA.


I found this 'Spagtacular' watercolor of Spag's on the site of a local artist (a neighbor, really just a few a streets away from me!). Michael Wackell, Sr. suffers from Parkinson's Disease diagnosed in 2012 yet he is able to paint these amazing watercolors After chatting with his daughter at  Southpaw Watercolors. I was so impressed with his work I just had to share some of it here. This piece really captured the essence of the store in the 1970's  - check out that car! I nice gift this season might include a donation to the Michael J. Fox Foundation which is dedicated to finding a cure.


'No bags at Spag's'  was a familiar tag-line to many residents in central New England, for the store was packed with many odd rituals. A family run business, Spag's himself wore his trademark cowboy hat which was featured on the outside of the store in a large illuminated sign. Customers would enter through a revolving steel - pipe door, find a box and then follow a standard path through a maze (no one could deviate from the flow, much like Ikea, which snaked through the store.



Spag's, a local store near me on bnusy route 9 in Shrewsbury, MA is gone now, but many residents have fond memories of buying bulbs and Holiday gifts there. This image is from the 1950's.


Spags carried most everything and anything, from fishing equipment to sporting goods, furniture to carpets, cans of pistachios (stacked to the ceiling) to board games and toys. Boxes of clothespins, bins of shampoo bottles and of course, flower bulbs. The store is gone now and a new Whole Foods is opening this January, but Whole Foods was nice enough to pay homage to this local landmark with a special sign outside of their new, modern building. A nice touch.




For years, Spags was THE place to buy Dutch bulbs (paperwhites were only .19 cents!), and they would carry all of the color forms, all of which are botanically known as tazetta types, one of the 13 classes of narcissus, often multi-flowers, fragrant flowers. Speaking of fragrance, the tazetta class has some of the most fragrant narcissus known in the garden, but perhaps to some, a few of the stinkiest. I happen to love the scent of the paperwhite narcissus, but I can sympathize with those who feel that they smell like cat pee.

Easy enough to grow, if you find yourself with some paperwhite bulbs this winter, I thought that I would share how I grow mine. I use soil and rocks, but one can surely use just rocks. I feel that professional potting soil offers better root growth (roots need oxygen, too) and the medium feels more natural.I can topdress the pots with gravel, and the soil allows me to add birch, fothergilla or stewartia branches which help keep the stems erect. One shouldn't stake paperwhites, for there is no elegant way.



If you are trying the alcohol method to restrict the height of the foliage and stems (apparently it works according to a study at Cornell), the all-gravel method will be a better choice for you. Do know that this will slow down the growth rate a bit, so bulbs treated in such a way maybe a week or two later in booming.

I pot up large pots and bowls, this year planted about 15 bulbs in a new Guy Wolff salad mixing bowl, but I also pot single bulbs in plastic pots which I can set between the potted plants in my plant window displays.




I used to believe that Paperwhite narcissus was relatively new on the scene, assuming that forcing them was a 20th century invention, but you might be surprised to discover that the Chinese raised the bi-colored tazetta known as the Chinese Sacred Lily as long ago as the year 700 AD, and the paperwhite itself shortly after that. Native to the Middle East, wild populations of Narcissus papyraceus have been some of the earliest bulbs grown by humans, while the selections known sometimes as Narcissis Polyanthus, N. Grandilora or even even N. paperwhite have appeared in bulb importer catalogs as long ago as 1790. They have been grown in the US as long ago as the early 19th century. These are not new novelties.



Potted paperwhite narcissus planted in soil and then top-dressed with sheet moss on a bench in my greenhouse. These will root in the cool environment and grow short and stocky stems with the bright light. They will be brought into the house near Christmas Even to brighten window sills and add Holiday cheer to the rooms.


While the genus Narcissus continues to be a muddled group (taxonomically speaking), most agree on where the paperwhite come from. The American Daffodil Society whose website admits that while there is there is disagreement, about the total number of species within Narcissus (somewhere between 40 and 200)  there are other organizations such as the venerable  Pacific Bulb Society who admit that there may be between 26 to 80 species. Factor in that there are currently more than 25,000 named cultivars and hybrids out there,  things can get quite confusing.
Paperwhites are

I like to research a bit with common plants, and given the topic of paperwhites, I have been curious about where they actually come from, or where they grow wild. Narcissus papyraceus is the accepted and preferred botanical name, yet few of us would use it unless we had some bulbs or seed from a wild population - still,  it's helpful to know names are not proper anymore.

N. tazetta var. papyraceus
N. tazetta subsp. papyraceus
N. linnaeanus subsp. papyraceus,

Each of these is now taxonomically incorrect. Use this post to correct friends and family at a Holiday party. They will be impressed, and then, move on.

You are welcome.


Paperwhite fragrance isn't for everyone, but it is a scent which I would miss every winter.


This week I bought some paperwhite bulbs from Home Depot, and the package had "Narcissus grandiflora" on the front, along with 'Ziva'.

Sadly this is a 19th century name which hasn't been used for over 100 years, but not unusual in a world where a Google search often acts as a copywriters first choice.

Narcissus collectors (yes, there are some) know that there are obscure subspecies associated within the N. papyraceus clan, all are wild populations of a sort-of paperwhite narcissus. These include

N. papyraceus ssp. pachybolbus
N. papyraceus ssp. panizzianus
N. papyraceus ssp.  papyraceus
N. papyraceus polyanthos

Retired forever are the 19th century names for the Paperwhite, this includes Polyanthus Narcissus, Grandiflora Narcissus and Narcissus Paperwhite.


don't you love the term 'Gian Odorous' narcissus? 19th-century bulb catalogs often featured many different types and selections of easy-to-force bulbs like paperwhites. They are hardly new to us.



We in the 21st century have the luxury of choosing from a dozen or so named crosses and selections - clones of choice varieties, some tall, some ridiculously fragratm, some stinky, and some with little to no scent if you are weird.

These include the Dutch propagated selections we most commonly see today like:
N. papyraceus 'Ziva' and
N. papyraceus 'Inbal',
and a long list of other names I don't feel like looking up here - if a variety with a name appears in a bulb catalog today, it is undoubtedly a choice one, just buy based upon your taste.


As for the related species and selections which can be grown (forced-in-gravel) are a few other types, including all yellow, ivory and some bicolored forms  like 'Chinese Sacred Lily', not really a lily of course, but essentially a tazetta-group narcissus which can be forced indoors without vernalization (a cold period).
I've seen some bloggers and writers refer to these as 'tropical' narcissus, but they are simply mediterranean types which are tender. Some of these have a longer cultural tail with humans, especially in Asia. These include some forms here, which bloom a little later in the winter season and take longer to get going in a pot. All sweetly fragrant, they include:

N. tazetta "Grand Soleil d'Or'
N. tazetta "Flore Plenus"
N. tazetta "Chinese Sacred Lily"
N. tasetta "odoratus"

There are plenty of other N. tazetta subspecies which are cold hardy and good choices for northern gardeners outdoors, but I'll spare you. They are easy to track down, just look for bulbs classified as tazetta types.

Every plant has roots to a wild population.   N. papyraceus comes from Greece and north Africa (Morocco) and places like Croatia. Populations have naturalized in Italy, Australia and even in the southern US.

I feel like a slug not posting for an entire month now, perhaps the longest absence in the history of this blog but my book is taking priority along with the work on our kitchen remodel (almost done!!!). Thanks for being patient. It's a busy time of year for many of us, so maybe I am being kind in giving you less to read!

November 14, 2017

November Harvest and our Kitchen Remodel Continues

Shell beans are drying on the porch, most are props for my book on vegetable gardening but they wont go to waste. It's been fun raising a dozen or so varieties of dried beans, as they remind me of one of the first crops I raised as a kid after seeing an exhibit of dried beans at a fall harvest show at the Worcester County Horticultural Society back in the 1970's. 

One month. One entire month since my last post! That's what writing a book does to you. If there is any free time, it seems to go towards writing or photography. I keep telling myself that it will be worth it (even though I well know that one doesn't make money from writing a book - I know that!). Yet, for those of us who are burdoned by a need to create things, it at the very least, satisfies that desire. 

Since it is already November,  if not nearly December, you who visit here from time to time, deserve some sign that I am still ere- even if it is just a post with a bunch of random pictures documenting what is happening in the garden and house over the past few weeks.


Autumn color is late in arriving this year due to a long, frost-free autumn. The low angle sunshine seems to illuminate every inch of the garden right now, but I keep telling myself that winter is just around the bend.



Someone was trying to explain to me why they hate autumn the other day. I hear this often in New England which is odd, since autumn and colored leaves, pumpkins, squashes and even Thanksgiving are all icons which surround us here. I happen to be a hopeless romantic, and can't get enough of these seasonal changes, wanting to immerse myself in every bit of seasonal experience be it gingerbread, Indian Pudding and the autumn harvest crops like colorful dried beans, storage squashes and dried corn varieties.

Because I wanted to grow or find local growers who could allow me to show multiple varieties of rare or unusual vegetables for my book., I've been busy picking, digging and photographing the last crops of the season before it gets too cold -even though there are some crops here that will make it into the winter chapter. Nearing the end of photogrpahy is a bit of a relief, but now I am deep in thousands of digital images attempting to flag the best ones that might make it into the book, and then the daunting task of organizing, storing and backing up images.



Homegrown heirloom potatoes are not unlike heirloom tomatoes in that their flavor is almost indescribable, especially when freshly dug. If you have never tasted a fresh potato hours after being dug out of the soil, you can't imagine the flavor. Earthy,  waxy and just so delicious - I swear that they lose this unique flavor in a couple of days after digging.

With Thanksgiving a week away, and a longer than average summer, many of un in the East have had time to harvest crops which in some years fall victim to early hard frosts. Root crops usually are OK until mid-November, and this year is no exception with record breaking warmth and rainfall, this could be the year of the turnip, radish and potato. I was late in digging our potato rows this year, but they were just fine resting in the ground until I could get to them. 

Nothing tastes like a potato straight from the garden - terroir on steroids. I cannot think of any other crop, aside from carrots maybe, that tasted absolutely different when freshly harvested, and different from garden to garden depending on the mineral content and balance in the soil. Lets face it, potatoes taste like soil (in a good way), and nothing tastes as incredible as a potato from ones own back yard.


Heirloom Blue Hopi Corn has an almost unbelivable denim color in the right light. We'll be making blue cornmeal with this harvest, and then I will have a good excuse to haul out my wooden tortilla press that Joe bought me for Christmas last year.

Black Aztec pop corn fresh from the garden still drying on the porch. Grown as props for my vegetable book, the colors of dried field and popcorn always surprise me when tearing back the husks. So colorful, especially the black varieties which are sometimes maroon or deep violet more than they are black. Ears must be totally dry however if you are going to actually pop the kernels.

While on the subject of black, I have to share these black Spanish radishes. So spicy and crisp, they can function as a storage turnip if kept in a root cellar or in the fridge - that is, if they last that long. We are addicted to using them in stews and pot roast, braised after peeling them like turnips, and for use in kimchi, or freshly sliced in salads. Only 50 days from seed sown in late August, it's a fast autumn crop.

Speaking of autumn crops - Asian radishes are really quite easy to grow - but really only as an autumn crop. Here are some red turnips, watermelon radishes, purple Asian and white Tokyo turnips that a friends farm allowed me to pick. Just about a photogenic that a vegetable can get - you should see some of the shots that have made it into the book!


Not one to waste photoprops, we've been up to out ears in turnips and radishes this autumn. Kimchi, pickles and braised beef dishes are all on the menu.



I'm moving on to squashes now as photo subjects, but it's such a large subject for a vegetbale book, that only a few will make it onto the pages.


While buying cider at the orchard in Bolton MA this weekend, we saw our friend Gayle Joseph from the Dahlia Society of New England across the street digging her tubers after our first hard frost. She has an amazine 18th century brick house in Bolton, MA but her garden and dahlias are insane. I know that she is rushing to get them dug and stored before ski season, as she works as a ski race official at our local ski mountain.


Gayle showed us a little bird nest in a dahlia plant which was just a few feet from a busy road. I think that it might be the nest of a field sparrow. It was only 2 feet off of the ground.



The colors underneath the old tile in our kitchen revealed some interesting tones. Now, I am inspired - what about a pink, coral and orange kitchen with light teal? Sounds like a tuban winter squash to me - so I am off to the paint store!


Now, as if we are not doing enough, the kitchen remodel has taken off again since the Holidays are sneaking up. We've got a bit of help from some neighborhood handimen who are helping us tile, plaster and finally finish this 1 year project. As anyone who has undergone a kitchen project knows, these are painful projects - especially when doing them yourself. Hopefully we are nearly done, and when it is complete, I promise that I will write a great post about the entire project, with before and after shots.


With paper removed, we discovered pink walls and old woodwork. Most of this will be marble tile, but the pink is giving me some ideas.

Subway tile mauy be overused, but I think it works well with my dad's mural and the period of the house.  We are using two types. An all white tile, and one that looks like alabaster or marble.




 `
In the greenhouse its crowded now that the cold weather has arrived. The heat has officially been turned on and the shade cloth removed. It's funny how quickly the seasons change in the autumn. Spring comes on gradually, but autumn, or winter seems to come suddenly. One hard frosty night and every tender plant turns brown and limp. Underglass, however, everything is lush and fragrant. Safe from freezes.

It's where the chili peppers are spending an extended vacation until it gets really cold, something the later-ripening peppers really need such as the habanero, Carolina Reapers and the Rocoto peppers. I never knew that there was this secret society of chili pepper enthusiasts who trade seeds of favortie varieties and keep plants through the winter indoors. Well, it's not really secret, but it's a think that I never knew about until this year.

Some of my chili peppers that are wintering over in the greenhouse.

Pepper enthusiasts are just a passionate about their chili pepper plants as orchid growers are about their plants, and they often share tips  and tricks on-line, either via Youtube or chat groups about how to dig and prune pepper plants so that they can survive a safe winter indoors. Peppers are perennial in long-season areas, but in the north, the hard-core pepper fans keep their favorite chili's through the winter, often for a few years. Some brag that they have tubs of plants over 8 years old.

Certain chilis fare better than others indoors. Mostly folks save their chiltipin types, some habanero and Rocoto types of peppers. Late maturing types are usually brought in (as most raise them in containers), and the peppers are harvested as they ripen through the autumn. Others trim their plants back, and keep them in a semi-dorman state until late winter when the plants begin to show new growth. This past summer I saw some amazing tiny Pequin-type peppers that were three years old, and wintered over in a cellar. They were being raised in 5 gallon bakery buckets.



Cyclamen species, even though they are done blooming, are entering what many beleive are their most attractive phase - foliage. I never tire of looking at a bed of different cyclamen species. My sand beds hold about 8 species, mostly C. hederifolium and C. graecum variations and a handful of others.


I'm at that pont when cyclamen are self seeding everywhere thanks to ants which plant the seeds in May and June from the dried pods where ever they want - usually in the ground near the foundation, or in other pots. This is making my cyclamen beds a bit of a jumbled mess (I mean, trying to identify C. hederifolium from C. africanum drives me crazy!).

The last of the Nerine sarniensis are blooming, with some newer crosses showing some very interesting color patterns. My seedlings from random crosses are beginning to bloom this year. I know that these are not common plants and not something most people can grow unless they have a greenhouse, but I am sharing just the same. They are rarely seen in gardens or most collections these days sine they are winter blooming, and tender - related to the amaryllis.



I have aquired a collection of Zepheranthes and thought that I might keep them in pots . This is Z. drummondii, which has been blooming on and off all summer and now, in the greenhouse.



October 18, 2017

The Art of Over-Wintering Plants, Herbs, Agapanthus and More

The nicest looking house plants make it to the plant window. Joe and I will fight about it, but this window is curated, or at least, that's how I defend what stays and what goes back into the greenhouse. This time of year, it's the begonias that look their best. Palms, Dioon, and warm-loving tropicals get first dibs.


Across the Internet, on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook - we gardeners (in the colder parts of the world) have been sharing tales of 'the First Frost'. While for most folks this just means dragging out a few old sheets to throw over the tomatoes or dahlias, for others it means a mad rush (because we wait until the last moment) to move heavy pots of tender plants, houseplants and the last flowers and veggies into the house. It's an annual ritual which sneaks up on us remarkable fast, for while spring seems to ease in with a few warm days here and there as early as February or March, autumns arrive comes with an immediacy - a fatal blow of temperatures which dip below 32° F for a few hours, usually here in New England sometimes in mid October.

Full disclosure, this post was inspired by a post and podcast last week between two of my friends, Margaret Roach and Ken Druse. It's a great read (or listen) so please do it and others out here if you are doing what many of us are doing in the colder parts of North America this week - moving plants indoors for the winter. 

And of course...our frost never came. At least everything is now indoors or in the greenhouse. Nothing like looking as if I am completely prepared ahead of schedule.




OVER-WINTERING ROSEMARY

If you've ever tried to winter-over rosemary indoors, you know how difficult it can be. I always feel sorry for those Christmas-tree trained rosemary one sees at the Holidays as potted gift plants. Knowing that most if not all will be dead within a week or two indoors drive me mad, but the fact is that rosemary is a Mediterranean shrub. It requires cool, breezy, buoyant air with a touch of moisture, not hot, dry indoor conditions. My rosemary plants tend to get too large now, virtually shrubs which I love. Fresh rosemary in the winter a luxury I will miss if I cant find a good place to winter them over once we stop heating the greenhouse, but I am going to try keeping a few in our un-heated concrete floor studio.

What rosemary needs during the winter months is both the brightest light and cold temperatures. At least as a container plant. The way I treat rosemary now is rather careless. I keep many through the winter under glass where some are even just bare root balls sitting on the gravel under a greenhouse bench, they bloom in the winter and even grow enough so that I can propagate them from cuttings. This tells me that the low temperatures and moisture in the damp. cold greenhouse suits them.

In some ways this makes sense. If this was California or the Mediterranean, these shrubs would be subjected to winter rains and cool weather. In the summer, I unpot most of my shrubs and set them into the garden, which allows them to dry out just enough but also keeps them from drying out completely if I forget to water a container. Rosemary doesn't like dampness, as they are prone to mildew and decay if the air isn't moving, but with fans and sunshine, most seem to be able to handle our New England winter if allowed to dry out between watering.

This large rosemay shrub was planted out in the perennial border for the summer. A fresh pot of soil, some pruning of stray or awkward branches is all it needs. I never cut back rosemary in the autumn, as I want them to bloom in the late winter, and trimming affects the overall appearance. The only rosemary I do trim are topiary forms. This includes domes, cones and topiary standards. I like to use both - natural unclipped rosemary for graceful branching and flowers, and formal clipped plants.


I should mention also that my soil mix for rosemary is a mixture of our local clay loam, sand, and commercial potting mix. A dense, sandy blend which isn't fussy by any measurement, but more loam than it is peat. I also notice that very little root growth happens in the summer here. I can dig or pull a large plant out at the end of summer, and the root ball is intact, even though some significant growth on top occurred. I am not sure why this happens.

I repot many of my plants in early spring, around February or March while still in the greenhouse and maybe that has something to do with the lack of summer root growth. The plants usually about to bloom then, which signals a burst of new growth as well. I loosen the old root ball and generally repot into the same sized pot, or slightly larger. I've found that under-potting suits them well.

Rosemary cuttings are struck now (along with many other woody herbs which are experiencing an autumnal growth spur with the advent of cooler weather). These will root quickly and are already claimed for a project of mine - pots of interlocking globes, or rings-a type of shaped topiary form. I've already ordered the wire, so I am committed. I think I need a straight growing variety, but if not, I have others rooted.


Blue agapanthus blooming heavily - the fact that most form flowerbuds in the previous year should affect how we treat containerized plants in the north, since autumn is a critical time when plants need adequate moisture and nutrition.




WINTERING-OVER AGAPANTHUS
or HOW TO GET AGAPANTHUS TO BLOOM AGAIN (and some news on Nerine blooms)

Wintering over agapanthus, or Blue Lily of the Nile is rather easy, but getting plants to bloom again can be tricky. Myths about over-wintering Agapanthus or Blue Lily of the Nile abound on the internet, which leaves many of us in the north frustrated, while those in warmer parts of the country like California wonder what all of the fuss is about.

 I am a bit of an amaryllid geek (I collect and grow many plants within the amaryllis family), and because of this, I think I have a few things figured out. Not to brag, but I worked really hard trying to master what is perhaps the most notoriously shy bloomer in the family - the nerine. 

Nerine sarniensis, related to agapanthus, are true bulbs, and while agapanthus are also geophytes, it's easier to think of them more as 'Leeks are to Onions'. Not really going completely dormant, and always with a flower bud deep inside. These nerine demand special treatment in summer when the enjoy hot temperatures and dry conditions - in the greenhouse, even though they are hot and dry(ish) they still get a few tablespoons of water now and then, as below ground, their roots are growing madly, and I know that they form flower buds three years in advance - must protect those.


Agapanthus are heavy feeders so plan on feeding them with a rich water-soluble fertilizer all summer and autumn. If you have fear using the blue fertilizer one mixes with water, it may be challenging to get good results with agapanthus. The national collections in England and those who enter the large flower shows like Chelsea feed their plants weekly (yes, weekly) with a 15-15-30 water-soluble feed, and often augment their feeding regimen with additional phosphorus in late summer and autumn when the flower buds for the following year are forming.


In mid-summer, the agapanthus are often the stars of the container garden.

Many of us in the north think that Agapanthus like growing in tub and pots, and that they bloom best if allowed to get rootbound, but actually this myth perpetuates (along with clivia needing the same treatment - another amaryllid). Agapanthus can grow well in pots, but they always do better if grown in open soil. The bit of truth in this myth comes from the fact that agapanthus dislikes having their fleshy, robust roots disturbed, and if they are divided, forget about seeing a good display of flowers for a few years - probably three.

Success in containers comes with three things: 1. Find the largest container you can find - anything to reduce how often you will have to divide them. A faster draining soil is helpful (some Brits add gravel to their mixes but I use a high porosity ProMix HP). 2. Water and feed very well during the summer and autumn, when plants are forming flower buds for next year. Room for active root growth and water with good drainage (along with the removal of the current years' flower stems - no matter how pretty you think the seed heads are) will help the plant focus on foliage growth and flower bud formation deep inside the leek-like trunk. 3. Autumn and winter care that will help protect these flower buds.

A un-named white variety - an evergreen form, makes a large specimen plant for us. We keep four tubs, each divisions from when they were divided three years ago. They are just beginning to bloom well this past summer. 

 Evergreen agapanthus varieties have slightly fleshier leaves and seem to handle some frost, and deciduous ones seem as if they can handle light freezes since these are the hardiest types - but the same treatment goes for both - watch out for hard freezes, for while agapanthus growing in the ground can handle freezes, potted specimens can have their flower buds for the following season damaged.


I hate to say that a cold greenhouse is an answer, but I should say that it is ideal. Similar conditions might be found if you are clever - an unheated shed that never freezes, an enclosed sunroom or porch that rarely drops below 40 degrees. A cellar is fine if it is cold, but I would suggest moving large agapanthus tubs to the protection of a porch or cool room until well after Thanksgiving to allow flower buds to mature deep inside the plant. Not scientific advice, but one which I presume works, as I've tried most everything else, and feel that my problem in the past came from insufficient feed and bringing plants in too early, or leaving them out to experience hard frosts too long.

My theory is reinforced by those who grow collections in the UK. Two major growers have discovered that in some winters, the entire collections of agapanthus have been lost due to unexpected freezes. Now, all of my potted agapanthus, (both evergreen and deciduous) get the same treatment. They are brought into the greenhouse just near frost (around mid-October), set under the benches where they still get some sunlight and daylight so that they can vernalize as best as they can. 

Most importantly, they seem to bloom heavier if I continue to water them well. At least until the weather turns very cold, around December, when I let up.  Adequate moisture and food  seems to be the trick required for heavy bud formation.

Our towering blue agapanthus Storm Cloud were divided two years ago, and many divisions were potted up into 12 inch pots. This year I've repotted them into 16 inch long toms, but blooms are still sparse. At this stage, great care must be taken to not allow the pots to freeze, and with additional food and potassium, they may bloom better next summer, but it's the following year when allowed to grow in 40 inch tubs when they should take off. The seed pods on the dwarf selection on the left should have been removed earlier.

AGAPANTHUS INDOORS

An agapanthus spending a winter in a cellar where it is cool is a fine alternative, but I would try to allow plants to grow a little longer, either indoors or on a cool porch, along with a bit of moisture to ensure that buds fully form. Then bring plants into a cooler location to "sleep".  I wouldn't be surprised that day length and temperature shifts help manage floral displays as well, for clivia and nerine are day-length and temperature sensitive, which affects blooming. The easiest way around this dilemma is to allow plants to get a natural day length, making a window in the cellar or garage with no artificial lights in the winter helpful.

Others write about wintering over agapanthus in breezeways or sunrooms. These should be fine as long as the pots don't freeze. Agapanthus are tough plants, and while the plants can survive even harsh abuse, often creating spectacular foliar displays, it's bloom, and abundance of bloom one really wants. If someone is offering advice to you, make sure that they are showing photos of their results for it is easy to winter agapanthus over, but it is very tricky to get them to bloom well.

If you have not been fertilizing your agapanthus all summer, it may be too late now. Just make a mental note to begin next spring. Additional potassium is very helpful in high summer to really get well-blooming agapanthus. That's what exhibitors in the UK and commercial growers apply throughout the summer growing period along with a balanced feed (20-20-20).  If you feel uncomfortable feeding plants with high doses of plant food, you may want to steer clear of agapanthus, or simply appreciate the foliage.




On the right is a tall, cone-shaped topiary rosemary. This is an upright form, which only wants to grow ramrod straight-up. I don't know the exact variety as I found the plant in an old estate greenhouse in Connecticut, but it has white flowers.  Cuttings of many herbs are taken at this time too since most have produced the strongest and healthiest growth during the summer. These pots of thyme were started from cuttings I took last fall, and are nice and dense now, and ready for new cuttings. On the left, a dwarf agapanthus and a topiary myrtus await being moved into the greenhouse.

HERBS

Woody herbs remain outdoors in my garden until mid-November or early December. This includes all varieties of thyme, some rosemary, and culinary sage. Tender mints and tender thyme (like Cat Thyme) are brought into the greenhouse. Each of these will be propagated in mid-winter for garden plants next year, and the mother plant tossed. Until then, they provide herbs for the kitchen, soups and Holiday roasts.


Some plants that spent time in the greenhouse last winter, were just planted out because I knew that they would be too large and woody to bring underglass for another year. These I will take cuttings of, such as this flowering maple, or Abutilon. The strong growth made during late summer should produce strong, healthy plants.

The same goes for scented geraniums. I have so many, but they are massive. This peppermint scented geranium is in a pot believe it or not, it is nearly 6 feet in diameter, so cutting are in order. It will root easily. I was suprised to hear last weekend at a family reunion that my great aunt who live in abig, white house the street next to ours (and who was born in 1889), had a large scented geranium collection in her house according to her great grand-daughter.

Succulents, cacti and echiveria still go into the cold greenhouse where they remain dry most of the winter. This tree aloe keeps growing, and although it wants to bloom in the coldest months - usually January when the day length is short, it seems to handle the cold, damp temperatures and even a light freeze which usually destroys the flower stalk. It would be much happier indoors near a sunny, bright window though. It's just too big now to bring into the house.

SUCCULENTS

Most succulents do quite well indoors throughout the winter as long as one can provide the brightest light. Sunshine, actually. Aloes, gasteria and agave do just fine on a windowsill with southern exposure. The larger species, however, are more challenging, if only for their weight and size. Around here, we've stopped raising most agave as the thorns can injure the dogs' eyes, if not our own. The few I do keep are planted in taller pots and are very resilient as most succulent plants are.

Many if not most of my succulents simple spend the winter yanked from their pots (before a hard frost), and laid out on seed trays which I set on the high, dry benches in the greenhouse. This blatant abuse seems to suit them. Few grow even a tiny bit until the days start to get longer, in late winter, which is when I pay them a little attention.

If you wish to save you echeveria, aloes or sedums, they should be the most tolerant of indoor conditions, only demanding the brightest winter light, and more water if kept on a warm windowsill, but less if you are keeping them in a cold room or garage window that doesn't freeze.

Citrus, like this Mandarin orange enjoy the greenhouse, it's sun and moist air. Indoors, I may set it in the studio, an unheated room which is bright, but not sunny. This room stays near 40 degrees most of the winter and has bright north light, not unlike a French orangerie. 

CITRUS - A few more tips on keeping citrus indoors

I can remember how exciting it was to grow my first citrus - a Key Lime plant purchased from Parks seed - it was probably 1969 and I was ten or so. My grapefruit seedlings were my real treatures though, even though I knew that they would not produce any fruit, I kept all of my citruses as large houseplants until I left for college a decade later.

Citrus can grow quite well indoors, but it helps if you can do a few things. First, setting plants outdoors for the summer is key. Most will bloom then, and pollination is aided, as well as the rain and bright sunshine which helps eliminate any pesky insect infestation they might get during the winter. It seems ever winter brought an infestation of scale or mealy bugs.

At this time, I am continuing to keep all of my citrus in the greenhouse, but next winter I may try moving them indoors for the winter again. My first choice will be the studio, an unheated room which does drop down near 45 in the winter. A mini- orangerie.




Camellia grown in pots are challenging to indoors in the North. I have seen them kept in protected porches which are glassed-in (we do have one, but I have not tried it yet), or in bright breezeways. Camellia can freeze, but like many plants, it's their roots which need to be protected if they are kept in containers. 
 CAMELLIA

When it comes to raising camellias, one is really limited to keeping them under glass. While citrus can do well in a cool room indoors like an unheated bedroom, a sunroom or a garage with windows and heat - the camellia is harder to trick. Yet,  in a cold greenhouse they practically care free. Able to handle moderate freezes except while in bloom, with the protection of glass, the camellia thrives in pots in the north.

They are really a relic of the past, however. Unless you live in the south or the far west, the camellia is just rarely seen, but read any old 19th-century gardening magazine or book, and one quickly discovers that the camellia once ruled the winter florist trade in the bid North East Cities like New York and Boston. They thrived in cold florist greenhouses, blooming from autumn until March, making the camelia the 'it' flower for Victorian corsages, turn of the century holiday decor and in the conservatories of the rich.

Today, they are so rarely seen as a potted plant outside of where they have grown int he garden, that one could say that the camellia is rare. This appeals to me so much, that I feel that once I stop heating the greenhouse, my hopes are that the camellias might still survive, especially those planted in the ground. Most can handle cold temperatures, at least in the 20's, and a thin layer of glass might afford me that 'winter garden' atmosphere heated with just radiant heat from the ground, and maybe barrels of water which might retain some heat from the sun.

Edgeworthia is a semi-tender shrub, not hardy in most of New England but often grown as a container plant in a conservatory or cold greenhouse. It's a big shrub, and it has a curious growing habit - it forms little 'buttons' of flower buds in the late autumn, so I have to try and keep the tubs outdoors until the Holidays so that they can mature.

Semi-Tender Unusual Shrubs

Unusual potted shrubs one commonly raised in cold greenhouses in the 19th century, or new ones recently introduced from milder climates are other plants which might do well in an unheated or marginally heated greenhouse. This weekend I purchased a rare Stachyurus from a plant auction in Boston for example which might do well in a container underglass, but classics here include Daphne odorum which has been enjoyed through most of the 1800's here in New England by those who could afford a glasshouse.

Edgeworthia blooms in the winter underglass, as you can see here, but these 'button' shaped buds take time to mature, just as the foliage is getting nipped by frost. I try to protect the plant from hard frosts as long as I can, to allow these more tender buds time to mature. This year I have a good crop of them it seems.

The Edgeworthia has grown into a large shrub. I know that I can keep it smaller by keeping the pot size small, but I also want it to bloom heavily. Looks like this year I have an excellent bud set already.



The more rare South African bulbs which are generally summer-dormant are emerging now in their pots, like this Haemanthus humbles ssp. hirsutifolius showing its hairy habit. I know for some collectors, this blooms first but my plants are seed raised from a wild population.

RARE BULBS
Fall also marks the time when my collections of Southern Hemisphere bulbs begin to grow in the greenhouse. There are so many, that I usually touch of a few thematic groups in a post here. For now, I shall spare you the boredom and just say that "they are beginning to grow, again.". I keep learning with each passing year with these bulbs, and usually just when I think I have things figured out, they surprise me. This year, I have been lazy - not offering water until just this week (usually, I start watering pots of dormant winter blooming bulbs in late August or September).

This late "rainstorm" style of watering isn't new, for a few collectors I know practice this, but now I can see why. The bulbous oxalis species which are just beginning to emerge, appear dense and are sending up flowers before foliage - the same goes for the species cyclamen. In their native habitats, often the autumnal or winter rains are late, and plants have to depend on other triggers - usually day length, or temperature shifts, as signs to begin growing. Many of these bulbs enjoy a field fire as well, as they grow in areas where fierce fires occasionally ravage the meadows and grasslands, triggering some species to bloom and set seed. Fire doesn't hurt native plants (such as those in California, Australia or South Africa), especially bulbs which sit deep into the ground. Some collectors even use smoke-sheets - disks of paper impregnated with smoke chemicals, which stimulate some of these bulbs to bloom.

A variegated Christmas Cactus with a massive flower bud, appears to be earlier than normal, this year.

Of course, like many of you, there are dozens of plants which still need to be planted in the ground! I need to stay away from those fall plant sales!