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

November 4, 2006

Peak Nerine sarniensis bloom


A selection of Nerine sarniensis crosses, most from the United Kingdom's National Collection, kept by Ken Hall at Springbank Nursery on the Isle of White. As is still alot of taxonomic uncertainty, please use these representatives loosly, since I have duplicate clones that are, well, different. Regardless, all are still beautiful, and I can't imagine autumn without these relatives of the Amaryllis in bloom.

Here are a selection of named varieties which mostly are from the U.K. and a few unnamed varieties. Known commonly as the Guersey lily, Nerine sarniensis are relatively unknown in the U.S., if one does find Nerine available at a garden center or catalog, most likely it will be the other autumn flowering Nerine, N. bowdenii. N. sarniensis reportedly are known as Guernsey Lilies because of a ledgend about a ship bound from South Africa, sunk off the shore of Guernsey, and hundreds of bulbs washed ashore, where they are now naturalized.

Nerine sarniensis are noted for another strange phenomenon, they sparkle when sunlight refracts or reflects off of them, something Victorian growers in England called Gold (on some red varieties like Wolsey) or silver Dusting. See some of the photos below to see how spectacular this sparkling can be. Also, some varieties have wavy petals, an effect that many breeders try to target while breeding. In my own breeding efforts, just getting seed to take has been enough to ask for! But since I have had some luck getting these normally 'challenging-to-bloom' species to over perform this year, hopefully, I can now start to attempt a bit of a breeding program.


Nerine sarniensis 'Wolsey'

This Nerine sarniensis hybrid is a seedling selection bred by Harry Dalton, and acquired from Ken Hall's National Collection in the U.K.


Nerine sarniensis 'Rushmere Star'
One of the few N. sarniensis hybrids available from a couple of rare bulb dealers in the U.S.


I lost the name tag on this Nerine sarniensis Hyb, but it may be November Cheer. Any ideas?


Nerine sarniensis var. curvifolia f. fothergillii 'Major'

Taxonomy aside, this bulb had the largest flower in my collection. yet the name is questionable. I am simply using the Royal Horticultural Society's name for now, please send me your comments regarding taxonomy and cultivar, this genus is still pretty confusing.


Nerine sarniensis 'Lyndhurst Salmon'


Nerine sarniensis 'Hanley Castle'


Nerine sarniensis 'Cynthia Chance'


Nerine sarniensis ' Berlioz'


Nerine sarniensis 'Blanchefleur'

September 4, 2006

Clerodendron bungeii


Clerodendron bungei

Fast growing tropical plants with magnificent late summer displays like this Clerodendron bungei, were at one time, only found only in botanic gardens, or private estate conservatory's with knowledgable staffs. Today, they are becoming readily available and can either be mail ordered or found at progressive fine garden centers. Adventurous home gardeners can find these alternatives to mums and hydrangeas with a little effort. A great way is to simply pay attention the next time you visit a botanic garden, and note what they are planting in containers for seasonal display. Popular publications like gardening magazines rarely show more unusual specimins since editors prefer to deliver content that not only is easlily available, but which is somewhat familiar. Trying something that is not only new to you, but new to anyone that you know, takes a leap of faith.
Still, many of these 'temperennials', a term coined by Dan Hinkley of the landmark yet now closed Heronswood Nursery, are affordable enought to be temporary yet perennial in more tropical areas. In the north, they can be allowed to grow fast all summer, and then freeze. The gardener simply needs to replace them in the spring by either taking cuttings in the fall and carrying them over indoors or buying new ones which sometimes is just easier, and better.

Regardless, if you what something different, and cool, this are the 'it'plants. They are all rage right now for home gardenering in the know. They can be found at the trediest of garden centers. Other disposable tropical annuals like Brugmansia, tropical salvia and many other tropical plants can be grown successfully in one season, with autumn as the season where they really strut thier stuff. Basically, they are treated as annuals, but unlike most annuals, these tropical plants deliver a punch that often is not seen in the late summer. Take many of the Clerodendron clan, for example.

Purchased as rooted cuttings in April, this Clerodendron bungei, a native of China and the Himalayas, starts off as nothing specia, a four inch cutting. Three cuttings were planted in a ten gallon pot, but by June, they grew quickly to about two feet tall. The growing point was pinched out, and one the hot and humid summer weather hit in July, the plants exploded into growth.

This C. bungei presents a new perspective to the late summer terrace.

Many tropical non-vining Clerodendron species that are more shrub-like in habit can successfully be grown in a single summer cycle, with the reward being spectacular hydrangea-like heads like these that are surprisingly fragrant and attract butterflies as well.

I will cut this plant back and move it back into the greenhouse, for the winter, since it is frost tender. There, is will send up new growth in late winter, where cuttings will be taken to start the cycle over again.

August 16, 2006

Madagascar Summer


Uncarina grandidieri has 3" wide flowers
Caudex or Caudiciform plants are perhaps the strangest plants which are collected by enthusiasts. What often look like a dead branch or stumpy apendage, with a weak, tiny green stem or leaf is often a priceless rarity. Cadiciform plants are those plants which have water storring capabilities, and and generally found in Africa, and Madagascar. They are usually unatractive, and in fact quite ugly with crusty bark, little foliage and dangerous thorns. Add that the fact that since they grow in sme of the harshest conditions on earth, the remain dormant, or, well, let's say they look dead, for more than half of the year. All of these reasons are why collectors go crazy over them. Anotehr reason to grow Caudex plants, is for thier blossoms, which appear rarely on the hottest of summer days and which contast so interstingly with the rough nature of these fascinating plants.

Uncarina is a genus from Madagascar with less than 10 species. I keep three in my collection and although not truly 'rare' excep[t by eBay standards, one needs to search specialty cactud nurseries to find them. Uncarina are easy enough to grow, even in a house or appartment. During the summer, they like lots of water, and when fall comes, after blooming, the plants, (which are really small shrubs) are allowed to go bone dry, and they remain so until spring.

Uncarina roeosliana has a smaller structure, overall.
I have found that after losing a few to rot in the greenhouse, that the Uncarina as well as other Caudex plants like to not only be dry in the winter, but they don;t want to be too cold either. The greenhouse is kept at 45 deg. F in the winter, and combined with the cold damp air, even though the pots are kept bone dry, they ultimately rot. Lately, they have been spending the winters indoors in a sunner picture window, in the studio, where it is still cool, near 60 deg.F., but more to thier liking.

U. roeosliana has no dark center in the flower.
Growth starts again, after the weather warms up in May, and the dead-looking plants suddenly start to sprout new shoots. But July, they are in full bloom again, and need o be watered every day, sometimes twice while in full, lush growth. A lite fertilizer is applied occaisionally, but really, no fussing except that they are kept in the glass house for the summer, in full sun where temperatures often reach 110d. F.

July 23, 2006

Scadoxus multiflorus ssp. Katherinae


This Scadoxus was once known as Haemanthus

Once classified by taxonomists as Haemanthus katernae, the re-classified Scadoxus multiflorus subspecies Katherinae is more commonly known as the Blood Lily. The fact that taxonomists separated the two make sense when one considers that Haemanthus have more succulent leaves, and are more like 'true' bulbs, than Scadoxus, which is just 'somewhat' bulbous. Scadoxus have rizomes attached to the bulb plate and behave more 'geophyte-like' than 'true bulb-like'. I know, not making sense, but let's say that the Scadoxus don't produce the dry, papery-skinned dormant type of bulb which we think of as 'bulb', although they die to the ground, certainly these are all geophyes, it's just that whole onion-and-Leeks-are-both-bulbs-but-are-different-thing.

This is a bulbous plant which may be uncommon to those who live in colder areas, but one which Californian and tropical or Zone 10 and higher may be familiar with as a l ong lived garden plant.

As an indoor house plant, we have grown these for years in the house, and they behave much like Clivia. Fussy to bloom and a little challenging. We have had better luck in the cool greenhouse where they get tossed under a bench for the winter in thier pots, and forgotton, go dryish and stay cold. In spring, the pots are brought outside and they bloom every July. This been the pattern for five years now. Below, you can see that all of the summer growing South African bulbs are placed out doors, where they can get the benefits of rain and the bright light of the sun. These plants are from seed which we started in 2000. They are potted up in a fast draing bulb mix that I use for most of the South African bulbs, a mix containg equal parts of commercial peat based Pro Mix, perlite, pumice, sharp sand and and gravel.


July 16, 2006

Ornithogalum convallarioides


This small bulbous Ornithogalum species is native to Madagascar

Of all of the Ornithogalum species which I grow, this precious tiny specimen has been the most challenging. Mainly because after recieving hte bulb from England last autumn, slugs in the greenhouse devoured each leaf as it emerged. I had given up on it ever blooming, and set it far away on a shelf.

This spring, I noticed a leaf fragment surviving so I relocated the container on an upsidedown clay pot positioned in a pan of water, with the theory that slugs could not travel across the water to get to the apparently tasty foliage.

This still did not work since slugs had made a home within the soil, and emerged at night to dine.

Now, after carefully repotting, it had successfully grown its distinctive, and, yes, very Convallaria-like foliage (Convallaria = Lily of the Valley).


After a week away on a trip, it is nice to come home to surprises like this.

May 17, 2006

Rediscovering Scented Violets


I tend to become obsessive about plants that are either new to me or new to culture,often spending hours researching on-line or in books, lost a complex but delightful moment of discovery and learning. But sometimes plants are not new, but have merely fallen out of fashion for one reason or another, a fact which may make them more fascinating since they now have a story. Which brings me to a current obsession, the Parma violet. Although I have experimented with growing a few scented violets in the cold greenhouse, I can't say that I have ever been accused of becoming obsessed about them, until now.

All of this was triggered by an article in the latest issue of the fine journal, HORTUS which inspired to examine growing these once popular plant again, before others discover them, or help re establish a popularity, or feed the phenomenon. Humans must be ready to rediscover these rare and precious plants again, since it has been nearly a hundred years since they we're found in a florist shop or garden center, and surprisingly, the common sweet violet,Viola odorata and the Parma Violet, we're both flowers that once we're the third most popular cut flower in the world, surpassed only by the rose and the carnation.

Parma and other scented Violets are not the wild violets that one find in their yards. They may look similar, but these are tender, and not only can they not freeze, they do not set seed, and therefore never become a pest. In the eighteenth and nineteenth century, Violets were such a popular cut flower, both in America and in Europe, that Napoleon and Josephine declared them their most favorite, aiding in their popularity. Trains from Toulouse France would deliver over 13,000 bunches a year just to Paris and Russia. In America, there we're over 300 violet nurseries in the Hudson River valley alone in 1880, and every major city had bunches of the fragrant purple flowers ready for a gentlemens lapel, or for topping off a box of chocolates, or for a nose gay to take to the opera. The violet scent, so distinctive, yet so fleeting, since the flowers scent will numb the nose, since a chemical in the violet fragrance temporarily knock out ones sense of smell, not a bad thing in those times of open sewage and few baths.

For a number of reasons, violets quite suddenly fell out of favor in the early twentieth century. After 1910, most violet nurseries we're gone, and with them, the classic old varieties, most are now lost. Which just adds to their appeal for me. Bunches of violets were no longer a fixture on the streets of New York and London. Many of the named French varieties we're either lost through neglect or through the wars. After WWI, most violet production in Europe came to a halt, and WW2 finished off the rest of the growers in France. In America, the violet fell out of fashion, as imported African Violets (saintpaulia, and not related, came into the scene.).For nearly ninety years, fragrant Parma violets, once the choice for the finest weddings, special events and as a fragrance for candies, perfume and gum, we're virtually extinct. The classic gift at Christmas and for Saint Valentines Day,the bunch of twenty five large scented violet blossoms, with a White Camellia, gone. Replaced now by the newly introduced poinsettia or other cut flowers.

Recently, in the past few years, a few of the classic named varieties are reappearing, some have been found growing behind fallen down greenhouses in Europe or in back yard gardens. And in Toulouse France, the Violet is once again celebrated, even if they are mostly grown for the perfume industry.

Now, my goal is to acquire as many of the vintage varieties again, and grow them, photographing them for my book, and learning the classic cultural techniques for cultivation. I've been lucky enough to find two classic vintage books from the early 1900's on growing scented Parma violets commercially in England, and a book from America, as well as finding a source for some plants. Since they have to be ordered in May, this was perfect timing.

Even though I have a few Parma violets growing now in the greenhouse, I will be adding five other named French varieties, and hopefully propagating them for some cut flowers this winter. I find that the idea of recreating a lost cultural tradition such as the presentation of a nosegay of cut parma violets, fascinatingly charming, and exactly the direction that modern gardening should turn to. If one wishes to discover something new and meaningful about plants that others forgot about. Living antiques. Let's see this autumn, when they start blooming, if I can recreate the success that the French have had, and regardless, I am planning a trip to the Violet festival in Toulouse next October.

March 30, 2006

Lachenalia aloides var. vanzyliae

Lachenalia aloides var. vanzyliae
Cape Hyacinth's are rare enough, but the teal colored Lachenalia aloides var. vanzyliae is perhaps the most choice form, for collectors. 


Lachenalia aloides are by far the most popular of the genus Lachenalia, the easy to grow winter blooming South African bulb related to the Hyacinth, and found in some specialy bulb catalogs in the fall. I have a few varieties of Lachenalia aloides in bloom right now (see blog from last weekend). The most beutiful is L. aloides quadricolor, with four colors in its blossom, and then there are two all yellow varieties in blooom now, L. aloides var. aurea, and L. aloides 'Nelsonii'.

The one I am showing you now, is a much rarer variety, and one which I have been trying to find for a long time. L. aloides var. vanzyliae is not common at all, yet it was introduced to Kirstenbosch Botanic Garden in 1927. It is the most unusually colored form, with conspicuous white bracts and pendulous flowers with green segmenets, that fade into pale blue at the base. It is a highly desirable variety which I have never seen available anywhere. It seems to like full sun, and since it is one of the last Lachenalia to bloom, I find it interesting the the Lachenalia season begins with a green species, in December (L. viridiflora) and closes with this green variety of L. aloides.

Lachenalia aloides


The foliage is beautiful too, with dark maroon spots, and bluish green leaves. I should note that I still ahve one more species to bloom, which I saw well budded in the greenhouse sand bed, and that is a pot of L. matthewsii, which we're started from seed four years ago.

Amorphophallus Bulb

Repotting Amorphophallus
My largest Amorphophallus konjac bulb, is really getting big!
Any gardener who has grown to become a plant enthusiast can remember, as a child exploring encyclopedias seeing rare plant photos from the past. Gardening in the nineteenth century often meant collecting terribly exotic plants merely for the wow-factor. Remember those grainy, black and white vintage images, with perhaps a little girl standing on a giant 12 foot wide Victoria water lily pad....or bearded men with long saws, proudly posed under a felled giant Californian Sequoia log, or a very proper British dude in tweeds and bow tie, standing next to a large wooden crate in an misty conservatory, next to whom stood a giant twelve foot tall Jack-in-the-Pulpit-ish inflorescence? Well, that is what grows from this dormant bulb that I now hold, above. Now if that's not cool, what is?

The genus Amorphophallus is gaining popularity with plant collectors, once again. They're fun to grow in the summer outdoors in pots, as many of the species are quite easy, and they can be grown anywhere in the country. Although they are tropical, and native to South East Asia, Borneo and the like; they are dormant all winter long, and the tubs that you must grow them in can just be pulled into a cellar or unheated garage where they can stay, nice and dry and not freeze.

I take my eleven species out from under the greenhouse bench every March, to repot and to explore. I love seeing how big the bulbs have become, it just seems like magic, some even multiply. Not all species produce giant flower, many are smaller, with inflorescence no larger than a human hand. The only caveat is that the blooms smell like rotting animals, but I think that just adds to the whole experience.

This particularly nice bulb is Amorphophallus konjac, the most common species and easiest to obtain. (try Plant Delights Nursery or eBay). Every year I re pot the bulb, remove it's many offsets to share with friends or toss, or even eat, since the bulb is immensely popular in Japan and Korea where fields of them are an important agricultural crop for producing a starchy flour to make Soba noodles with.

Amorphophallus grow differently that other bulbs, so you must plant the bulb accordingly: the roots do not come out of the bottom, they come out of the top of the bulb, and from the stem near the bulb. To plant a bulb, Find the largest tub that you can, I use 30 gallon nursery tubs. It plant in a regular potting soil, and set your bulb down deep about four inches from the bottom, and then place a soil less mix like Promix on top, the bulb should be about 8 inches or more deep. Don't water until you see growth, around May or June. Amorphophallus bulbs produce generally just one long beautifully mottled stem with an umbrella of compound leaves at the top, like a giant Jack in the Pulpit, another relative from the Arum family. Fertilize while the plant it growing all summer, weekly, with a tomato fertilizer so the bulb will grow large. Be certain that your Tomato fertilizer has a the last of the three numbers higher than the first too on the analysis (like 18-18-30), phosphorous and potash are what bulbs need to get giant.

It does take time for Amorphophallus bulbs to build up enough energy to bloom, but they are lovely grown for the foliage alone. A bulb may not bloom for three or four years if you plant a potato sized bulb. This bulb is four years old now, and I have hopes that it may bloom this year or next. The inflorescence on A. konjac can reach 3 or 4 feet tall, but this species isn't even close to the largest that we have. That honor belongs to A. titanum, which is one of the more challenging Amorphophallus to grow since it requires a faster draining soil mixture and warmer conditions. That inflorescence can reach 12 feet tall, and only a few have been successfully raised at botanical gardens where the event is always celebrated with T-shirts and all night vigils with champagne. You can do the same when yours bloom, we will! Say tuned.

March 28, 2006

Pleione Orchids

Pleione bulb flower






































Pleione orchids are a precious small orchid from western China that grow from bulbs, like a paperwhite. They are challenging to find, but are completely growable, and are as easy as paperwhites to bloom too, the first season after planting. The real skill will be getting them to bloom again, since they are terribly expensive and you won't want to throw them out. With careful cultural care and attention, success is achievable and encouraged since they are so unique and no one has them anymore, and they can get better with age and multiply.
Pots of Pleione in the greenhouse













As for finding bulbs to buy, few if any catalogs in North America sell them, and I only know of one Canadian nursery carrying them at the moment. If you do find some, they are rarely the choice new crosses that one finds in England, such as from Plione expert Ian Butterfield or Pottertons, but more likely they are species forms, and one too must be careful that they were not collected from the wild. In Europe, there are spectacular crosses and grex's available, as well as many species. The British bulb retailers carry some nice crosses, but you must order them while they are dormant, around late November until January, since by Valentines day many have started to show buds, and they will not ship them. Everything has a season, especially uncommon plants, that is why you don't see them at American retailers. Short shelf life, and you can't sell them in bloom. It's a real problem with American Garden Centers, as a reason why every one's garden looks the same, in late May, since that is the only time people go to the garden center to buy plants, and they only carry plants that are in full bloom at that season. But we hortiphiles are informed gardeners, and won't be affected by such things.

Pot of Pleione orchids

In my cold greenhouse, a few grex's as well as some species, these I received from a friend in the UK, and we're well budded when I planted them. Culturally, they require a full growing season from the first sign of blooms, until October. They prefer cooler conditions year round, which is tough in New England, since the summers are hot. Just remember that they grow at higher elevations, in cloud forests usually on mossy branches, or moss covered rocks. Cool, damp and misty as well as buoyant air, it critical.

Pleione orchid blossoms

The Plieone year: Purchase bulbs around Christmas, plant in January, in a fast draining mix of fresh sphagnum moss, some woods chips, old beach leaves and charcoal bits to keep the mix fresh. Keep cool to cold, even near freezing. Buds start to appear in late February, when you can start watering. After blooming, it is safe to place them outside on the north side of the house, or under a tree well after frost. Make sure that they don't dry out, and fertilize with a week solution of fertilizer each time that you water, rainwater is by far the best, they are sensitive to Chlorine and chemicals. Basically, I just keep them outside until the first frost, when the leaves yellow, and die back, and the pots are brought in to the Greenhouse and kept dry until buds show again.

March 27, 2006

Erythronium, Fawn lilies and Dogs Teeth

Growing with Plants blog
Erythronium, Dog Tooth Violets

After admiring postings of Ian Youngs'pots of Dog's Tooth violet's, or Erythronium on the Scottish Rock Garden Society's (SRGS)bulb log for three years, and, after having the other SRGS members tell me that I was just so lucky to be living in America, where they are native apparently assuming that I could cultivate drifts of such rare bulbs, I decided last fall to invest in a few.

My experience with the Dogs Tooth Violets (so named because of the shape of the bulb), or fawn Lily (because many species have attractive mottled or reticulated foliage like a fawn) was limited. I do grow a patch of the yellow hybrid 'Pagoda' in the garden, but beyond seeing a native colony while hiking on Wachusett Mountain, where we go hiking, I have never attempted growing any. The most attractive species are native to the Pacific northwest in Washington or Oregon, the Cascades. There, I have photographed literally drifts of thousands in bloom at the tips of the melting glaciers on Mount Rainier and on Puget Sound.

I ordered handfuls of a number of species this past autumn, which I planted deeply a woodsy compost and in mesh baskets. I then plunged them into the new sand bed along the eastern exposure of the greenhouse, where they rested deep in the sand until the great sand bed disaster, or more correctly, MUD disaster last January.

I rescued all of my Erythronium baskets, and brought them into the greenhouse, and placed under the benches where it was cool. I believed all was lost, until a few weeks ago, growth started in some of the baskets. I immediately relocated them to the alpine plunges in the small alpine house, where they are starting to bloom. The pink form of Erythronium dens canis as well as the white Erythronium californicum are now the stars of the week (but don't tell the Pleione).
Erythronium detail