Showing posts with label Plant Profiles. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Plant Profiles. Show all posts

August 12, 2014


This summer I have been assembling and training a collection of about 25 upright fuchsia selections, some historical, others just curious, which I am training to be either standards ( topiary) or bush uprights, a method of growing fuchsias once popular in conservatory displays at botanic gardens and private estates were gardeners trained fuchsias for summer displays in greenhouses or on the porches of grand, summer cottages in Newport and Connecticut. If you are looking for true coral colored flowers, long, delicate clouds of bee-sized blossoms in shades of lavender-grey or peachy pink, with little skirts or magenta and raspberry looking more like those engravings from a nineteenth century fairy tale book than a floral display, than maybe these old-timey fuchsias are for you.

Upright fuchsia varieties have all types of blossoms. Some are very small, others quite large, but they all hang.

There are many reasons why good plants can't become commercial, and certainly, height is one of them - just try to find a perennial taller than 16 inches at a home center or big box store nursery - the reasons are more practical than one might think - they just don't fit on the shelves, so merchandising is out of the question. One is most likely to find small fuchsias, in bloom and in 4 inch pots for window boxes (treated with growth regulators) than any interesting species or selections known for their amazing floral color or display.  All this aside from those horrid hanging basket fuchsias (nothing wrong with them, ecxept that I find them revolting).

October 17, 2010

Oh Nerine, you move my soul.


Nerine sarniensis are in peak bloom this weekend in my greenhouse, so I thought that I would share some of the different varieties that I picked today. I had wanted to document each variety I have in a photograph, as well as number some of my crosses so that at least, I will have some sort of record incase I ever decide to do something with mu collection which is becoming pretty large. This year, the quantity of bloom has been incredible, almost 100%, since many that did no show buds a week ago, are starting to send up buds. I also had many pots with double and triple stems, which has never happened.
After photographing each variety, I had some fun and arranged them by color. Only then did I realize how challenging it can be when photographing Nerine sarniensis, since they colors are complex, and the faceting within the cellular structure in the petals sometimes plays tricks with the lenses.
( from left) Rushmere Star,  the deep clear red of 'Leila Hughes' on the far right. 
There are so many pinks and salmons varieties in Nerine sarniensis, that many of my crosses are simply named "pink #12, pink # 2, and Salmon # 5.
Lined up in front of the greenhouse, these Nerine sarniensis selections really impress once cut and arranged.
The dark striped bicolor at the top left, is a variety called 'Amschel'

September 24, 2010

The African Foxglove ( as if Africa has foxes ...and gloves).

Ceratotheca triloba is hardly 'new', it was popular amongst the informed British gardeners in Victorian England, and featured  by Jos. Hooker in an 1888 Curtis' Botanic Journal. For whatever reason, over a century later, we are just discovering the genus' contribution to our late summer borders. The only problem? Finding seeds of the easy to grow annual. Go find some now, for they will sell out in the spring.

 The African Foxglove, Ceratothica triloba, may not be a true 'Foxglove" (Digitalis) but does offer worthy color and structure in the early autumn border. The best thing is, no one will know what it is!
There are a handful of rarely grown annuals from the Southern Hemisphere worth trying, but Ceratotheca is perhaps the finest.

Oh dang... I SO want to type Cero-theca, but it's Ceratotheca. Take care in typing as you search for seed. I think 'Mr. Cerato', to aid me in remembering the name ( not unlike Ms. Sawyer's admission that she once used the phrase 'Mr. I'm A Dinner Jacket') to remember a world leaders' name.).
It's a trend...almost. Plant enthusiasts are discovering annuals from Chile and South Africa that are far from typical. Ceratotheca triloba, or 'African Foxglove', is a great example. This fast growing annual ( grows and blooms within one season, after starting from seeds in early spring) can make all the difference between a boring autumn border, and one that stops visitors in their tracks. They might even become jealous.

July 13, 2010

A hardy gloxinia -Sinningia tubiflora

I think I have finally mastered growing Sinningia tubiflora, one of the many new 'hardier' gesneriads, those plants in the African Violet family, which are getting more and more collectable by those in-the-know. This week, my gravel container garden has been overcome by a magnificent specimen, which, I have to admit, was an accident. This Sinningia tubiflora  is growing in a deep terra cotta pot, and its become essentially, a giant lemon scented air freshener, yes, its evening fragrance lingers across the garden in our hot, humid summer weather.

Thanks to fellow blogger, reader and friend, Brian Morely, who shared this plant with me last year. He had send me a few tubers in the mail, wrapped in newspaper. Thanks Brian!  I've tried Sinningia tubiflora twice before, with little luck. Apparantly, I am not alone in finding this species difficult to bloom. Lots of foliage, ( which often spotted and became sloppy) and when flower stems finally did appear, they flopped over before blooming, leaving them twisted and deformed. Last year, I only had three stems with a few flowers.
This year, it's a whole other story. I can only guess that a few changes in how I treat my plants may have helped, I can say, that I have not fussed with the plant, if anything, I have ignored it. First, I didn't divide the tuberous mass of potato-like tubers, instead, I dragged the overgrown pot into the greenhouse on a cold, frost-threatening day in October last year. Yes, it says 'hardy' but it is not deep-freeze hardy here in New England. I grow Sinningia tubiflora in containers. Once in the greenhouse for the winter, the plant stumbled along at near freezing temps. Once in mid-winter, I had decided to toss the plant, but I decided not to since Joe would see the rootball on the snow ( he hates that, and I am too lazy to drag my butt out to the compost pile. Once I unpotted the mass of tubers, I was impressed, and a little overwhelmed, so I like any guy who is lazy, I shoved the mass under a bench and forgot about it. There it spent the entire winter, never looking worse for the wear.

April 19, 2010

Barnhaven Primroses - A Blooming Legacy

I picked a selection of my Barnhaven Polyanthus Primroses and arranged them in a homage to a 1950's American Primrose Society Quarterly cover that I saw in our bookcase.
In the world of Primrose culture, the name Barnhaven carries as much cache as the name Gucci or Versace does in Fashion. Or, more accurately, when one grows primroses from Barnhaven seed, or obtains Barnhaven plants, it' the same thing as buying an outfit at a couture Milan Fashion house. So today, I am remembering the heyday of Primrose mania, in the United States during the 1930's and 40's, inspired by my Barnhaven seedlings.
A 1946 ad for the original Barnhaven primroses.

Simply said, Barnhaven equals provenance, for the breeding lines can be traced back to 1935 when the tiny nursery founded by Florence Bellis in rural Oregon  during the depression.  Last Year, when the current owners of Barnhaven visited our gardens during the American Primrose Society National Show, they shared some seed with us from their specialized collections of Polyanthus primroses. Today, anyone can order these most exclusive of primroses, but only from the source, Barnhaven Primroses. My seedlings are starting to bloom, and are very choice and beautiful, but the back story of this famous line is even better.

April 13, 2010

The Butterfly Pelargonium

Pelargonium papilionaceum

This rare Pelargonium ( Greenhouse Geranium ) also known as the 'Butterfly Pelargonium is a hard t o find, yet easy to grow Plant in a highly collectable and growable genus, Pelargonium. These South African plants can be divided generally into three types, those which are summer dormant, those which are winter dormant, and those which grow year round. Pelargoniums are perhaps the most familiar of house and window box plants ( think - the common red geranium and swiss balcony geraniums), and one can see the similarities when you zoom in close to the blossoms on many species, but this one is particularly nice.

It is a new addition to my collection, and the first time it has bloomed for me. Available from Geraniaceae.com, this plant hasn't turned out to look anything like it's original description, since the flowers are smaller than I imagined ( it was described as having large butterfly-like blossoms with two large petals. Up close, I get it, from a foot away? They are the size of a fingernail, or a small, pantry moth. Still, the entire inflorescence is lovely, and it stands out in the greenhouse.). In the wild, in it's native environment, this is a Pelargonium which does not like full sun, but prefers shady, stream banks called Kloofs.

I expect this Pelargonium to perform well all summer in a container out doors, perhaps planted with other species forms. At first glance, it looks like one of the peppermint scented Pelargoniums ( geranium), with large 4 inch fuszzy leaves, and a branching habit. Described as having a fragrance, or as being scented, the one aspect they left out of the description is that the scent is exactly that of a musty sponge left in the kitchen sink. I hereby rename this, the Moldy Scrunge® Scented Geranium ( or the Panty Moth Pelargonium). Still, very pretty, isn't it?

January 31, 2010

A weed by any other name, Primula malacoides

In the fine Timber Press book PRIMULAS, the monster monograph on the genus primula by John Richards, one can discover that the lovely florist flower we sometimes find in better greenhouses on these short day-length winter days Primula malacoides was considered a lowly weed. According to turn-of-the-Century plant explorer George Forrest, " P. malacoides is clearly an abundant field weed in these localities of Dali, Lichang, Tengyueh and Yunnansen" . Yet, as abundant this "weed" apparently was in 1900, today, modern cultivation methods may have rendered this man-dependant species very rare in the wild.

First flowered in cultivation from seed collected by Forrest in 1908, the species of P. malacoides was quickly adopted by commercial seed growers in England, and within a decade, became a fragrant,colorful strain sold in the cold greenhouses of Europe and the United States. Many named strains were introduced in the early 20th Century, and suddenly, Primula malacoides became one of the most popular pot plants for conservatory culture, especially since it is primarily a winter grower, and, profitable for commercial growers, since it's roots of once being a weed in the rice fields of China, meant that it was indeed and annual, so new crops would need to be grown each year, to fill the plant windows and conservatories in the winter.

Today, the species is less common, being short-lived in our hot, dry modern home climates, and this species, along with it's companion species which shares the same growing season, Primula obconica, shares the trait of having primulin, a chemical in all primula species, but particularly irritable in these two species to a few people who are allergic to it. For some simply touching the hairs on the leaves of these two species, may cause a dermatitis or an itchy sensation not unlike poison ivy, but can cause a severe rash headaches or nausea. This has been somewhat bred out of newer hybrids, and relatively few people have a severe reaction.

Primula malacoides is an annual that blooms in the short days of winter, so seed must be sown in the greenhouse in June or July, if one wants plants for January. Most growers today use a peat based soiless mix, but many experts prefer a loam based soil. This is a plant that should never be allowed to dry out, and it prefers a buoyant, moist cool atmosphere. If you happen to find a plant of this Primrose, it may be best to pot it up into a larger clay pot, for the 4 inch plastic pots that commercial growers use are unsuitably small, and dry out in a day or two. I repot store bought or nursery bought plants into 6 inch clay pots, and let them sit in water once or twice a week.

Primula malacoides grows in Burma, and Sichuan at 5000 ft in meadows and damp fields, so take a lesson from it's native haunts, since it grows wild around the mounds and shores of rice paddy's. There are related species which have completely fallen out of favor in commercial horticulture, P. forbesii which was introduced by Vilmorin of Paris in 1891. Reportedly, this species was common in spectacular winter conservatory displays in Paris around 1900, with pink blossoms virtually covering the plants in massive plantings underglass. Today, I have yet to find it.

This weekend I found some P. malacoides at a local garden center, and I grabbed one of each color. We hosted a meeting of the New England Primula Society on Saturday for a luncheon, and I needed some Primroses since this year I did not grow any. These potted plants are so fragrant, that it felt like spring as soon as you walked into the greenhouse. I've been looking for my favorite, but rarely grown florist primrose, Primula obconica, but could not find them again, anywhere. But the nursery where I bought these, had seen some at the Boston Flower Market, and promised to buy a case for me, for next weekend, I cannot wait.

Last year, while in Japan during February, I saw incredible cultivars of both P. malacoides and P. obconica, both distributed by Sakata Seed, but not available here, in the US.

September 1, 2009

Bane Berry and Spikenhard - Harry Potterness in the Backyard

Actaea pachypoda, or Dolls Eyes, reminds us all that Halloween is not far away.

As fall sweeps in with 45 degree F temps last night, I start to notice berries in the yard more than flowers. Two native North American wild plants are in full glory, and they are both not that unrelated. The spooky white berries of Actaea pachypoda ( there is also a red-berried form, both native to Eastern North America. Commonly known as Dolls Eyes, this plant is a transplanted clump. a self-seeded plant, removed from growing behind our chicken coops.The berries are poisonous. I prefer the blossoms of this plant in April, more than the berries, but most folks prefer the silly name, and the obvious reference.

Aralia racemosa, or American Spikenhard ( great name), disp[ays it's berries for the first time, after being planted two years ago, Purchased at the Framingham, MA Garden In The Woods, a spectacular wild flower garden near us in central Massachusetts run by the Massachusetts Wild Flower Society, this plant is finally starting to reach its magnificent promise of being a massive plant, almost tropical in appearance. The berries are a nice bonus, but grow this plant in your shade garden for its foliage. American Spikenard's large roots are aromatic and spicy, they were once used as one of the ingredients in root beer and as a remedy for respiratory ailments in man and domesticated animals. The berries are not considered edible.

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.

March 9, 2008

Obsessive about obconica

New Cultivars of Primula obconica such as Embrace™ , a hybrid {. obconica distributed by S & G Flowers and Sygenta Horticultural Services, a company suppling commercial growers with premium varieties of plants. It may just be a matter of time, before growers in the U.S become confortable trying new crops, where in countries like Japan, these magnificent varieties are already out on the corners and in the trainstations.

In Japan, I was so impressed by the Primula obconica, P. malacoides and other primula commercially being grown for home use.I thusly became obsessed with searching for these varieties, to grow in my home greenhouse.

New picotee versions of Primula obconica varieties are available in Japan, but are snubbed by American growers. They also are not available to everyday consumers as seed, so for now, we are limited to "safer' varieties such as Libre.

Primula obconica may not be that familiar to many. In the early part of the twentieth Century, it was a common conservatory plant for the cool greenhouse, and plant window, providing color from early January, until May. This Primrose is tender, and cannot freeze, but struggles a bit in our warmer and dryer conditions that exist in modern apartments and homes, but if you have an old home, with a cool spare room, and and provide bright light, this is an excellent potted plant for the winter/spring season.

My first encounter with Primula obconica was in the late 1970's while I was in High School. As a horticulture major, I was awarded a job as a horticulturist at the estate of Helen and Robert Stoddard, in Worcester Massachusetts. Mrs. Stoddard was an avid horticulturist herself, and I still recall on all that I learned on the Stoddard's many acres of alpine gardens, greenhouses and specialty gardens, a garden that was popular on the garden-tour circuit at the time, and most notably, a garden that was designed by landscape architect, Fletcher Steele. At the Stoddard's, I fell in love with many plants, but it was the greenhouse full of Primula obconica, that I most appreciated. What would not fit in the staged plant window, I was able to take home to enjoy in my greenhouse. Besides, Mrs. Stoddard was allergic to the foliage, which related to today's absence of the species from many growers lists. Primula obconica foliage can be like poison Ivy to many, causing dermatitis from the chemical Primin which occurs in many Primula, but mostly in the leaf hairs of P. obconica.

My memory of P. obconica, includes their baby-powder fragrance, their lovely colors and their fragrant foliage. I can't remember if I ever broke out from them, by Mys. Stoddard would wear long gloves while grooming the plants. I bring all of this up for a reason- while in Japan last week, I saw stunning strains of Primula obconica, varieties and colors like I never have seen before, and since the few commercial forms and seed-grown forms that are available here in the US are so unexciting, I started an obsessive - post-jet lag search for newer varieties and strains, and hopefully, finding some seed for these amazing Japanese forms. As well, as some seed for the striking forms of Primula malacoides and Primula elatior or P. acaulis selections seen below in my postings from Japan.
What I discovered was disappointing news. The good news is that I think I found the source or these new varieties, but I also found that one must own a commercial license to obtain seed. The seed sold in America retail establishments are limited to primin free cultivars, such as P. obconica Libre™ . The amazing plants I saw in Japan, planted in street containers and available as massive potted plants, we're clearly the newer varieties being developed by Japanese and Dutch commercial breeders such as Sakata Seed. A California company has been testing some of these new Picotee forms, under numbers names in field tests, but most of these plants are not available, unless one purchases them from one of the 2 or 3 commercial sources. My guess is that most if not all commercial providers of seed in the US, as well as most, if not all of the commercial growers are avoiding Primula obconica as a pot plant unless they can buy Primin-free plants. The newer varieties that are so beautiful, still contain higher amounts of Primin in the foliage that the Primin-free forms ( none are completely Primin free), so err to caution and law suits, we, the public are left with less- beautiful forms. IF you can even find them.

I have ordered some seed from the UK for 3 varieties of Primula obconica, which I will try, with the Twilly™ series from Thompson & Morgan, possibly coming close to providing some bicolors. But look at the images of the Japanese forms, or the Dutch forms which are currently available everywhere except in America. They are amazing.

As for Malacoides, te better forms are only provided to commercial growers, leaving the crappy old forms available to us, via traditional seed catalog sources, which is unfortunate. I was able to find a premium Mix from B&T World Seeds in the UK, so I will try those. And as far as finding some of the striped and outlined poluanthus-acaulis-elatior primroses, and shown in the previous posting......If anyone has an idea on what variety this is, please let me know. Harlequin is a commerical variety that I found, but again, unless I can order from a commercial supplier, I am out of luck. This hwol Intellectual Property thing, in plants, is annoying, but, I suppose, necessary. I guess I just wish that there was an iTunes for plants, so that even amateur growers with greenhouses could still obtain some of the commercial forms, if they wished.

March 11, 2007

The lost Camellias of New England

A peppermint colored rose form

Camellias may be iconographic to the south, and grown in southern California, but they also have a rich heritage in New England, where florists grew glasshouses camellias for cut blossoms and corsages that filled the florist shops of Boston, New York City and other northern US cities throughout the long winters of the nineteenth century.

Camellias are sadly absent today in New England, only grown by a handful of enthusiasts who have cold greenhouses, since they are not hardy out-of-doors. Although there are some new cold hardy varieties now available, I can't seem to find anyone who have had luck with them north of southern Connecticut or the tip of Cape Cod, Zone 7, and even then, the fluctuations in spring frost seem to still kill them.

Today, Camellias are a glimpse into the past, when viewed in New England. My first camellia was seen in an old glass and wood greenhouse, once known as Holmes Greenhouses, a series of massive glass greenhouses that once populated man smll towns surrounding Boston with violets, roses, carnations and camellias throughout the turn of the century, Htese trees, with thick smooth trunks and glossy green leaves, we're nearly 18 feet tall, and planted in the ground, against the back of one house. We we're onyl sent out to the trees when an old lady would ocaisionally call and request a camellia corsage, since the floral supply houses no longe carry camellias, this establishment still could deliver a rare blossom. I would drive down in my fathers station wagon to the Holmes Greenhouses, which we're an annex to the more modern houses that I worked in, and pull out my knife and cut a tray full of the precious pink and magenta blossoms. They seemed so special then, as the winter darkness fell early, and the tree's we;re only lit up with by the nearby street lights, with snowflakes falling below the lights. I imagined a day when train cars full of camellias and scented violets filled the stalls of florists in the big east coast cities, long before brigh orange gerbera and neatly dwarfed mums took over.

Of course, in California, especially near Pasadena, Camellias are not such a big deal. There, one of the nations largest grower, Nuccio's Nursery, fills acres with hundreds of clones and species. Whenever I am in the LA area on Business, I always make a trip to Nucci's, where Joe Nuccio is more than happy to pack up a shipment of plants for me to take home. When at Nuccios, eat lunch at the bottom of the hill at Kips (Tacos and Chili Fries to die for) and then head over to the Huntington Gardens for a real treat!

I still enjoy a loove affair with the camellia, and every February, when the vintage camellias and trhe new hybrids bloom, my desk, the house and my friends all enjoy a little vintage blast to the past. There is something so nice about having a living piece of history, blooming along buddleia asiatica, and acacia.

Buddleia asiatica, a tender species, which is scarce, and a winter blooming form of the plant we know as butterfly bush, the Buddleia. This fragrant winter bloomer was a stalwart of the winter cut flower trade in New England during the nineteenth century, in fact, Logee's Greenhouses in Connecticut, known today for it's wide selections of rare plants, began in the 1800's thier business by suppling the flower market with Buddleia asiatica.

Fragrant plants seem to reach thier peak in February and March in the cold greenhouse. Includind Jasmine, Rhododendron fragrantissimum and Citrus blossoms. Basically, your great grandparents' nineteenth century Wedding bouquet if they we're married in the winter.