Showing posts with label Bulbs. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Bulbs. Show all posts

August 5, 2016

The Lost Art of Growing Tuberous Begonias

First, the dahlia has made a comeback, second - maybe the gladiolus, third, or at least on deck should be the tuberous begonia - an old-fashioned classic which deserves a revisit, or dare I say, a resurrection, since they are almost forgotten by most who garden today. Let it me known that from this moment forward, I move that the tuberous begonia be considered as the ultimate summer potted bulb (tuber, really) for displays on decks, porches and even fire escapes. Suddenly, 'showy' is cool again, and believe me - nothing is showier than a giant, colorful pot of tuberous begonia blossoms in mid-summer.

At Connecticut's White Flower Farm, a very special offering of tuberous begonias exists - if you live anywhere in the North East - a visit may be worthwhile - for the Blackmore & Langdon strain from the famed UK nursery, is by far, superior to Dutch strains which we so often find at home centers in the spring.
A couple of weeks ago, while visiting White Flower Farm, I was treated to this amazing display of Blackmore & Langdon Tuberous Begonias. I remember seeing this collection 15 years ago (maybe even 25 years ago when I visited with my mom and sister!) , and I was thrilled and delighted that this American nursery still has made the effort to maintain a breathtaking collection of these tubers and plants, as well as offering these lovely (and admittedly, costly) tubers to the American market.

February 19, 2015


 Even just 5 bulbs of Iris 'Katherine Hodgkin' makes a scene. Bred in the 1960's it's a cross between two rarer small iris, I. winogradowii and I. histriodes, both delightful choices to force if one dares to risk ruining their bulbs ( I prefer them in the garden) but 'Katherine Hodgkin' is easy, and relatively available - it just sells out early in the catalogs.

The snow here in the Boston area is insanely deep, the icicles are nearly 15 feet long, and connect the roof gutters to the ground, and although I am tempted a bit to snowboard off of our roof into a snow drift, now that we are back from New York, I am focused on the bulbs I have been forcing for a mid-winter flower show, being held this weekend at the Tower Hill Botanic Garden (you MUST come visit it, as nothing will lift your spirits more!).  I've talked them into regenerating the classic winter bulb show, very much like the way most spring flowershows began in Boston, Philadelphia and New York in the mid 1800's - it's in their DNA to to sponsor such an event, and I have so much hope that this event will inspire others to grow and enter plants during the winter months.

Even though I knew that I wanted to force many plants for this first of what I hope will be an annual show, I just didn't realize,  back in October when I started potting up bulbs, that this last week of February would require me to be traveling (New York Toy Fair and Westminster Dog Show). This is a critical time when one is forcing different types of bulbs, as timing can become tricky - snowdrops rush ahead as tulips need care, when coaxing them into bloom, small iris can burst into flower within a couple of warm, sunny days while the rarer muscari slug along hoping for a sunny week of 70º weather in the greenhouse. Needless to say, it's been a challenge to time everything to bloom on a single Friday.

Click below for more!

July 6, 2011

A Chinese Lantern Lily? More like, neither.

 Even we gardeners fall into ruts. Ordering the same plants and bulbs each and every year. But why not change it up? Have you ever wondered who grows all of those odd little bulbs that you see in the spring and summer catalogs? You know, Gloriosa Lilies, Tigridia, Tritonia? Well, this year I am trying new things that I have never grown before, many are those lesser bulbs that we all seem to overlook.

This week, a slightly unusual South African bulb plant is blooming in a container, Sandersonia aurantiaca. More common as a specialty cut flower,I am finding that a container with 8 roots ( which look like bulbs, but are actually thick, brittle roots) make a less than exciting in a container. I think even if you planted u a dozen, the display might still be not worth the investment.  Commonly known as the Chinese Lantern Lily or Christmas Bells, most catalogs sell the plant by its Latin name, more likely because it is a single genus, with one species. In South Africa, this plant blooms in the winter ( which is summer there), near or around Christmas time in December. In our July garden, it illuminates a mixed container nicely, but in the garden, I think it can get lost, so I am not sure that I will grow this again.

Sandersonia is related to the Gloriosa lily which naturally is not a true lily, and neither is the Sandersonia  for that matter, both are members of the Colchicaceae family, ( You know - autumn flowering Colchicum - go figure).

Order Sandersonia in the late winter or early spring, I purchased mine from Brent and Becky's Bulbs.  I would suggest buying a few, since I bought 12, only 3 grew, so I am guessing that the roots are rather fussy and may not sprout uniformly. The root stalks that you will receive in the mail are very tender, and for success, they much be planted in pure coarse sand so that they can have perfect drainage. Potting soil can then be added to the surface, which I then mulch over with gravel.

April 16, 2011

In the greenhouse - the last species Gladiolus

 The last of my winter-rainfall ( i.e. winter greenhouse growing) Gladiolus species are blooming now, and it seems as if the best wait until the last moment. I knew that Gladiolus tristis ( far below) would bloom near the end of the season, since I've grown the species for a few years, but with the dozen or so new species I tried this year, I never really knew what would bloom next. If you remember, I decided to try something new in the greenhouse raised beds this winter, because I was just becoming a little bored with my Oxalis species and other South African bulbs. So in October, I planted a collection of rare South African winter growing Gladiolus that I obtained from Telos Rare Bulbs. They continue to live in my collection, but I needed something new to explore and discover, and the species gladiolus seemed to make the best sense.
Gladiolus alatus has remarkably colorful flowers, much smaller than I imagined them to be. The overall plant, as with many South African bulbs, is rarely shown in photos, since the habit is often lazy and lax because most of these bulbs growin deep, dense grass or Fynbos in the wild. There is nothing wrong with the floppy leaves and stems which one should stake, for nature evolved these species to lean on their neighbors.

 It may be safe to say the G. tristis is my new favorite plant. Not only does it make a nice show as a pot ( or garden plant), with lots of flowers and stronger stems, it is intensely fragrant in a way that makes one close their eyes and swoon. I ADORE G.TRISTIS! It is scented during the day, but in the evening, the show really begins. There are times when I forget that it is in bloom, and  I walk into the greenhouse and I am hit by the scent which is far for being too sweet or intense, rather is is deeply rich  and more like rich, sweet cream and jasmine, combined with gardenia and lily of the valley, with a hint of cinnamon and clove. Add in vanilla and this plant smells like a cinnabon crossed with a gardenia. Yummy. I have three pots now packed with bulbs, and I purchased 100 bulbs for growing in the summer garden from McClure & Zimmerman who is offering it as a late summer bloomer. It's not hardy in Zone 5, so pot them up incase an early frost arrives.

January 16, 2011



As the snow falls outside, under the protection of glass, tiny bulbous oxalis species from the western Cape, continue to bloom in their pots. In the center, the large pale pink blossom of Oxalis zeekoevleyensis, which grows in wetter places in its native habitat, grows in a pot which is set in a pan of rainwater. I am always surprised at how much water some of the winter-blooming bulbous Oxalis can take, even standing water. 




July 20, 2010


Conca'd Or Lilies fill the air with their intense spicy fragrance.
I can't even imagine the mid-summer garden without fragrant, tall, true lilies ( not daylilies) but lilies. Long lasting lilies (the type grown from bulbs which you must order now, and then plant in the autumn), are rewarding for many reasons, not the least of which is their intense fragrance, unmatched by any flower in the perennial garden. It is deep, rich and creamy wafting through the garden with it's unique almost undefinable blend of scents, be they citrus and cloves, toothpaste or vanilla spice ice cream. Of the three types of garden lilies grown, ( Asiatics, Orientals and Trumpets), the later two, the Oriental lilies and the Trumpet lilies are the later, July and August bloomers, and they are the ones with the intense fragrance.

January 23, 2010

Gladiolus priorii, and other Winter Blooming Species

We all are familiar with the common Gladiolus, an all too common florist flower often seen in funeral sprays, or in summer garden shows in bright colors. But, there are a slew of wild species available ( mostly from seed) 163 species, to be exact, most of which are native to the winter rainfall areas South Afirca, and most, are pot worthy for a cool greenhouse in the northern hemisphere. I think I am truly becoming addicted to these little known species.

One of my favorites is Gladiolus tristis, a fragrant winter blooming species which will not blooms until March, for us here in New England, but it you live in California, many of these species can be great garden plants. Two years ago, after planting a pot of G. tristis bulbs in September, and watering them, I was surprised with a flower stalk, which arrived just after the foliage emerged. Obviously, a different species of Gladiolus had become mixed up with the G. tristis, and what I had first identified and G. huttonii, I now believe is the fall blooming G. priorii. SInce it either blooms in October, or even as late as January, and, they flowers dangle, looking down to the ground.

I'm still not certain, but these things are often muddy, since there are few books which show all of the many Gladiolus species, and even fewer that show photographs. I am relying on the web site of the Pacific Bulb Society, which has an awesome site with many member images of interesting bulbs. I suggest that you consider joining them, since not only are they friendly and fun, they have an amazing network of growers and fans, who are all very active on line, and in exchanging seed and bulbs of rare and hard to find geophytes.

This cold, January morning, I was again, surprised to see a single flower stem of this salmon colored gladiolus, which had nestled itself in a Nerine undulata umbel. With all of the ice and bitter cold outside, these colors glowed in the sunshine that was reflecting off of the snow.Later in the year, this same pot will have a dozen or so fragrant stems of G. tristis, but for now, it brightens this very chilly day, and makes winter more interesting.

Some Gladiolus tristis from last year, which bloomed in February and March. As you can see, the entire plant is more delicate and less gaudy than it's showy cousins of which we are so familiar with. These are truly coinnoisseur Glads.
THe scent of these G. tristis are beguiling and crazy rich, but only at night. During the day, they are almost scentless, so plan to bring a pot into the house on a cold, March evening. These, are from last year.

Gladiolus tristis can be grown, both in the summer, or the winter ( from different stock, either planted in the fall, or in the spring in pots in the north.).
While looking in my files for the G. tristis images, I was lost for a few minutes in the folders entitled March. Such fresh images of spring, are so hopeful, aren't they? At least from the snowy perspective of mid January.

November 15, 2009

Autumn Narcissus begin to bloom

The tiny flower of Narcissus serotinus, no wider than a half an inch, has a scent that rivals it's relative, the Paperwhite Narcissus. Still, the single flower surprised me in the greenhouse, since I forgot that I had it, and I could smell it, then found it.

The green flowered Narcissus, N. viridiflora is starting to send up flower buds. Each year, I've been repotting the one bulb that I have of this rare Narcissus, and now, I have eight bulbs in the same pot. The buds are so slender, that they are difficult to distinguish from the foliage. Look carefully, and you will see two flower stems.

This rare South African Oxalis, Oxalis kaajagdensis, has a very Oxalis-like flower, but very unconventional foliage for this typically 'clover-leafed' plant.

The Cyclamen continue to flower in the greenhouse, here, Cyclamen cyprium ( from Cyprus) shows it's tiny flowers.

Cyclamen rholfsianum has distinctive leaves that set it apart from the other autumn blooming species. For whatever reason, the flowers are shorter than the foliage this year. Last year, the flowers emerged in August, before the foliage.

November 1, 2009

Nerine sarniensis 'Isandwlana'

This year, the Nerine sarniensis are blooming incredibly well, with most in full flower as I type this. I have added a few new Exbury hybrids and this one is particularly unusual, especially it's name, which I first thought was an error, until I Googled it, and discovered that Isandwlana is a place in the Province of KwaZulu-Natal, in South Africa. sandlwana, in Zulu, means "something like a little house. " according to a tourist site description. Regardless, at lease I know that this is not an error in my typing! Which, of course, never happens!

This variety has unusually stripped petals, and, has a stunning pigment of bluish- violet not found in other forms of Nerine sarniensis cultivars. It's color has been difficult to capture in these photographs, so I have tried multiple exposures and in different light levels such as cloudy, sunny, overcast, etc. Still, you can get a good idea of what it looks like.

Sorry for the delay in posting, I've been traveling, west coast, Los Angeles for work, and now, home again.

September 15, 2009

Ten ideas for Planting Spring Bulbs

It all starts so innocently. A glossy Dutch bulb catalog arrives in the mailbox in mid-August, and I pretend not to notice it, slipping it quickly into the trash bid along with an L.L. Bean catalog. After all, it's August, it's all just junk mail. It just seems wrong to be ordering Narcissus while wearing shorts and flip flops. Bulb ordering is a task to be reserved for cooler weather, an arctic cold front, a rainy Saturday night, the sort of heavy, cold rain that only comes in the very last days of summer, making the last of the green tomatoes shine as if lacquered green orbs, the type of rain that doesn't even have a smell, for it is more of a sound. An event, even. Which brings me to the subject of rain.

In New England, cold rains in August are one of those events that signals that a change in seasons is beginning, for one will go to bed listening to the warm pouring rain, and then awaken in the middle of the night, to shut the windows, for the weather has shifted. You can see your breath, and suddenly, it's feeling very autumnal. Soup is made, the fireplace is lit for the first time, and the home is now scented with dusty heat, since the radiators are starting to come on for the first time since early spring.

It is at this time of year, cool, autumnal nights, early sunsets, when the bulb catalogs feel more attractive. In fact, stacks of them sit in the basket near my chair, even right now. They demand careful attention, for ordering species Tulips and selecting the perfect cultivars of Narcissis requires not only planning, but a hot bath, a glass of red wine, a pen a laptop and ...ok.......Trueblood and Hung marathon playing on the TV for background sound ( I KNOW, but one can't control both bulb ordering AND the remote, I don't have control over such things, I am only human).

I plan bulb ordering for a single weekend in mid September. Starting with Naricissus,miniatures for the greenhouse, bulbocodium types, Narcissus romieuxii, N. cantabricus and the like, those tiny, tender winter blooming Narcissus that can't freeze, and that bloom not unlike short, fat Paperwhites in tiny pots in November and December. Then, of course, there are Paperwhites, which I find sell out quickly if you want the more choicer cultivars, there are about 12 to choose from. I order 50 of each, since one can never have enough, they are perfect for hostess gifts if you don't feel like buying wine, a half dozen bulbs in a bowl with gravel, is a gift everyone loves. Then I order unusual bulbs for the gardens, Fritillaria's, tiny ones like F. pudica, and large impressive ones such as F. imperiallis, the crown fritillary. Last year I planted a dozen F. persica, which did very well in the raised rock garden, where the soil drains well, so this year, I will order the white form and maybe try for 24 bulbs.

Quantity is critical, with all bulbs. The trick for impressive displays in the garden, is simple, plant as many as you can afford. A hundred or two hundred Crocus make an impression which is difficult to forget. It is better to limit your selection to three of four species and get a few hundred of each, rather than to resort to 8 or 12 bulbs of twenty cultivars. A clump of ten bulbs is nice, but it is rarely impressive. If every year you buy two cultivars of Narcissus, but by a hundren bulbs of each, imagine what your garden will look like in five years.

You of course, do not need to order bulbs from a catalog, for since Fall is nearly here, boxes of Dutch Bulbs are appearing at local garden centers and Home Stores. Just be careful that they have not been stored indoors, for the heat of an average store will cause the flower bulds to abort, or become deformed. The best garden centers will store their stock outdoors, or in cool greenhouses. Remember, bulbs are alive, and poorly stored bulbs are not worth the price. I do, however, do not pass up sale bulbs at Home Depot and Lowes around Halloween, for a bag of Narcissus,even if plain yellow, are perfectly fine for naturalized plantings, for the few that have aborted one does not notice.

Right now, bulbs are everywhere, and it is the perfect time to pick some up, and plant them, they are practically fool proof.

August 31, 2009

Mmmm..... Stuffed Cyclamen graecum Leaves

I know, it's a little overkill for a kitchen sink ( pardon the dirty stock pot), but with all of the rain we've been having, the cyclamen make it in again, even though these lost alot of flowers in the rain, they are still starting to bloom. Two more weeks, and the window will be full, as will the walk outside of the greenhouse, since I brought the pots all outdoors to get a good, soaking rain to start them into growth.

In this season of transition, the first cool nights, hot days, autumnal rains, bulb plants from the Mediterranian and South Africa begin to emerge from thier summer rest across our planet. It's one of the wonder of the plant kingdom. Cyclamen species are particularly seasonal, as such, most species are begining to emerge in the forests around Rome, in the gardens of those living in the northern hemisphere, and on the Greek Isle of Rhodes, where, the leaves of Cylamen graecum are surely being picked for eating. Yes, eating. hmmm Check this out.

OK, I know, strange to many of us but I happened across the site History of Greek Food, and here is what they have to say abour our precious Cyclamen graecum leaf thanks to Blogger Rachel Laudin.
“In ancient years the cyclamen was especially known for its medical virtues (it contains a powerful purgative poison). Its tuberous Rhizomes (thickened roots) have cyclamin which is a toxic saponin, so never try to eat them. The leaves of Cyclamen graecum have a bitter- sweet taste.
The best known florist’s cyclamen, Cyclamen persicum, is an important edible wild plant in Iran and Palestine. Its leaves are also cooked filled with rice, minced mutton meat, spices and eaten with yogurt (Palestinian Za’ matoot, Iranian dolme). I do not know if the leaves of this species have different taste.
However, the Greek cyclamen recipe is old and almost forgotten. In fact, the use of local Mediterranean food plants stands at a crucial point. As you know, Eastern Mediterranean communities were very much centered around cultivated and wild food both for subsistence and profit. After World War II the consumption of wild plants and seeds changed following the socio – economic changes. Unfortunatelly the amazing traditional knowledge regarding wild plants resources has not been infused to the young generations and I wonder if it already is on the brink of disappearance.”

August 23, 2009

A Rare Event - A Nerine falcata Blooms

There are a few bulbs in my collection, that I lug back and forth from the greenhouse, each year, as they slowly mature. Many of these South African bulbs are challenging, and demanding such as Boophane disticha, or some of the Cyrtanthus species. I adore Nerine sarniensis as many of you know, but the genus has a few rarer species, one of which is this, Nerine falcata, a close relative of N. laticoma, both are summer growing species that adore hot temperatures, and dry winters under glass.

According to the collector of the seed, "there are three main groups of Nerine. - winter-growing, summer-growing and evergreen species. Although some are very common and others extremely rare, none are too difficult in cultivation givent that you have an alpine house, or greenhouse, for none can freeze. The main key cultural point is to allow for their correct time of growth and dormancy.

A relative of N. laticoma this is horticulturally very distinct with upright light green leaves below huge spherical umbels of strongly recurved, large, bright-pink flowers each borne on a 25cm long peduncle.

The flower stalk is topped off by, what else but long peduncles and when topped off with the large brightly coloured flowerhead, is rather is show-stopping.
Culture is not too challenging, again, if you can provide exactly what it needs. I suppose, if you live in San Diego or southern California, you may grow this outdoors, if you can find one. I grow my plant in a large, long tom pot, which is filled with granite rock chips and sand, so it is extremely fast draining, and, extremely heavy. I really never expected this plant to bloom, for I have have the bulb for about 8 years now. Last week while watering the summer growing bulbs on the gravel bed, I saw this bud emerging, so this was a surprise.
The bulb of Nerine falcata is large and it needs a good sized pot or a free root run to do itself justice. They like high, even very high, summer temperatures which is rather odd for Nerine species, but unlike N. sarniensis, or N. bowdenii, this species demands a completely dry winter period.

I fertilize rather heavily during the summer, early in the summer with 10-10-10-, then in late July, 0-6-6. Flowers are borne from the current season’s growth, in autumn, so it is up to your horticultural skills if they flower or not. This bulb is 9 years old, and this is the first year it has bloomed. I wonder if last year's hot temperatures helped the bulb form a flower bud deep inside. The pot usualy sits on scalding hot granite, and I allow it to dry out between waterings, after all, it is planted practically in rock and sand, but it seems to relish this treatment, and of course, this year, I am very pleased for the treat.

A lucky honey bee treats himself to some Nerine nectar.

August 9, 2009

Mini Glads are like Salt Water Taffy

Silly, I know, but sometimes I can't resist the common , (but still rarely seen outside of farmers markets) Mini Gladiolus. Mini glads are my junk food in the summer. A secret indulgence of mine, and when ever I see a bunch at a farmers market, or at a Gladiolus show, they remind me of why I am so fascinated with flowers. Even wierder, to me, they remind me Salt Water Taffy. Yeah, I know. But here is why:

When I was very young, my family would spend a couple of weeks at the beach. The ocean is only a one hour drive from our home, and Cape Cod and the coast of Maine, is an hour and a half. After playing on the beach, and swimming in the ice cold Atlantic, I can remember going for a walk on the board walk, and possibly get fried clams. Sometimes we would be allowed to go into a candy store and choose a pound of freshly pulled, Salt Water Taffy. There would be 20 or 30 flavors, and each would have a different color combination. Pink with a burgundy spot, light yellow with a teal green center, or red and white striped, lavender, green and yellow, I could never make up my mind which one was prettier, so I would pick one of each, never actually thinking of what flavor they were. See......Salt Water Taffy.....mini glads.....get it?

Love them or hate them, mini glads will always appear in my plant windows during August. Their colors are odd combinations, but somehow they work when mixed together in a 'carny way'. Sure, gladiolus that are not a rare species form might be a little too circusy for some of us hortiphiles, but on an August afternoon, I think they are perfectly sweet and appropriate. LIke taffy.

A SNOWBERRY CLEARWING Hummingbird Moth ( Hemaris diffinis) sipping nectar on a Verbena blossom.

July 4, 2009

July and lilies, smells like summer!

Lilium 'Ariadne' a downfacing, pendant asiatic with peach colored turkscap flowers in abundance. These bulbs, planted three years ago are maturing into large specimens with tall 5 foot stems with nearly two dozen flowers on each. They remind me of our native Lilium canadense, a little bit, at least in thier general form. When the Lilium superbum blooms in a few weeks, I will have an even more similar form. Still, as pendant asiatics are difficult to find in retail nurseries, let alone at mail order nurseries, one can still find them at a couple of lily specialist sources such as the Lily Nook in Canada or where I got mine, at the Lily Garden in Vancouver, Washington, or at B&D Lilies, where anyone wishing to grow lilies must order their catalogs now, or place their orders in August, for October planting. DO order some of these harder to find lilys, which are only seen in gardens of those in-the-know. Better yet, in the next few weeks go check out a lily show in your town, most likely there is one held in association with your local Lily society ( not Daylily, that's different, of course, but do that too!). Check out the North American Lily Society or your national lily society for local info. google6d65ecfd2405ed7c.html

Lilium regale, is a chinese species which produces trumpet flowers with an intense, mysterious scent which I like to describe as heavy whipped cream, toothpaste and gardenia, all combined.

May 17, 2009

Calochortus to Ixia - Small Rare Bulbs in Pots

Calochortus uniflorus, the last of the calochortus to bloom, is also the tallest in my collection, at 14 inches. These bulbs were planted in pots in September.

The extraordinary teal color of the South African native, Ixia viridiflora, is very difficult to capture on a camera. I tried a couple of different settings, and locations, but still, the faint teal color washes out. Still, these are amazing Ixia's, and a bulb which had been on my wish list for at least ten years. I am so happy to have a pot in bloom, and to see them waving in the wind.

The troughs continue to bloom with alpine plants, on the walk that leads to the greenhouse. Every year I try to add another trough to this walk.

I love Pleione orchids, and although very hard to find in North America, as least the named varieties, I still keep a few, like this one Pleione 'Irazu Mallard'. They bloom before the foliage, and I grow them in a loose orchid mix augmented with fresh sphagnum and beech leaves.

Rhododendron fragrans

Even as the more common Rhododendrons peak out of doors, there are a few tropical or tender forms which I need to keep on the protection of the hot house, such as this rather weak specimen of Rhododendron fragrans, which I 'rescued' from a friend. I have a new form of this species from Borneo, which has denser growth, but I have to admit that this old form is much more fragrant, but less floriferous. Usually it blooms in January, when one can truly appreciate a nice, scented tropical, but even in May, it holds its own.

Pandorea jasminoides, a vine which is growing in the greenhouse ( from Logee's), I almost missed it in bloom, since the flowers are so high in the greenhouse, but joe pointed it out from the deck, and then I could see the flowers and the vine, where it has now wrapped itself around the supports that hold the furnace. This will need to be cut back, unfortunately, but I will wait until after flowering.