Showing posts with label techniques. Show all posts
Showing posts with label techniques. Show all posts

April 24, 2013

Dividing Perennials Through Simple Division

This clump of Helenium is at the perfect stage of growth for proper division, a task which must be carefully timed if you intend to avoid any disturbance in growth.

There was a time when the bi-annual division of perennials consumed most of a gardeners time in early spring, but that was at a time when one either started perennials from seed ( I still do with some), or obtained choice varieties from a limited number of nurseries. This was a time before the internet, before mega-nurseries, before eBay. But some perennials are still difficult to track down, and so it is with many of the more beautiful helenium selections. Helenium is all-American, with most species native to the eastern half of North America. A choice perennial hoarded by those 'who know' and shunned by others who hate it, until they see one in bloom. It's one of those plants which I continually am asked to share, once visitors see it in bloom. Three or four feet tall ( unless you choose to cut it back early in the summer so that it will branch), helenium over-performs, and that's something which I never complain about as a gardener.

December 20, 2012

The Forgotten Christmas Flower - Lily of the Valley

Two florists in a London Flower market admire forced pots of Lily of the Valley, a lost winter traditional pot plant which is due for a comeback. But why wait? I say it's time to force your own. Downton Abby style.

One Hundred years ago, flowers were a luxury item. Aside from a black laurel wreath for a funeral, or simple bouquets for a wedding, flowers rarely entered the home of the working class. What we know of today from gardening books and documentation, comes from a different lifestyle, that of the privileged - for unless was a gardener or a caretaker, a love of flowers, appreciating their beauty as well as that of nature was a practice of the single lady - the wealthy - the upper class. Everyone else shovelled coal, carried lunch pails or cleaned houses.

Today we are fortunate to live in a different world ( I think!). A world where orchids can be found at every hardware store next to inflatable snowmen and reindeer outlined in trailing disco running lights. Ahem. At risk of sounding curmudgeonly and old fashioned - what the hell happened to the poinsettia? The last time I looked, they were spray painted with glitter and as short as a silk point. They might as well be fake. I think it's time to take Christmas plants into my own hands. Time to zoom back in time to a quieter and more realistic era, that of 1805 to 1900.


Boxes of florist Lily of the Valley in a 1902 image 



I am forcing my own Lily of the Valley's this Christmas.

Why? Well first of all, just try and find some Lily of the Valley pips ( perhaps While Flower Farm?). They are impossible to find, yet I have a yard full of them. Second, you know I am a huge fan of forgotten flowers - those lost gems of Victoriana, the 18th and 19th Century when greenhouses and glasshouses first came into fashion, and thirdly - I am cheap. Yeah, finally I can admit it. I just can't bring myself to pay $75 dollars for 2 dozen pips to plant in a pot or two. My dad said that he and my mom always used to force their own at the Holidays ( often starting at Thanksgiving, even before that, potting up pips in mid-October, but as we are having a mild winter, enough so that I can still dig in the soil, and because in the past, my mail order sources delivered pips around Christmas, I figured, why not try my own.

We've lost so many horticultural traditions that surround Christmas. There was a time when white and red anemones, large white Christmas roses ( Hellebores), ruscus, Holly, Cyclamen, chrysanthemums, violets and Lily of the valley meant Christmas flowers. Even as recent as one hundred years ago, Christmas flowers were quite different. In some family photo albums from 1912, many of the flowers which we associate with the Holidays season were still unheard of yet images of camellia corsages from local florists appeared on everyone.

Like Petticoats and waistcoats, fashions change with time, and in the world of flowers, change happens just as quickly, but throughout the 18th and 19th Century, most Holiday plants and flowers remained the same. Before poinsettia and silk flowers, there were only those plants found in ones own garden, or if you lived near a large city where florists could be found, those plants and flowers which could be forced into bloom during the shortest days of the year.

1910 Lily of the Valley plants from a florist show some variation. Not all garden-dug pips will produce flowers, but most will. The larger the pip, the taller the floral stem.


Forcing such plants required skill and the proper materials. Not unlike many of the forced vegetables in the 1800's. Lily of the Valley were forced In hot beds, deep with manure and steam pipes, kept under cold glass with hot steam pipes running beneath the plunge. Pots could be forced into fragrant bloom from late December until April no matter how deep the snow was.




In 1900 most American and European home gardens had many greens and plants which could be dug for the Holidays. Of course there were fresh picked Holly greens, pines, spruce cones for craft and other evergreens as well as tiny woodland plants, especially those with red berries. In Europe, where Convallaria is native, the flower was often a traditional New Years flower, often strung on threads like pearls and used as a fashionable element for proper ladies. But from the florists, there could be found many choices which had been so traditional for generations whether one had their own hot houses for force in, or money to purchase such luxuries from the local greenhouse. Christmas at the turn- of-the- last century meant tables with Hellebores, white Anemones,  white chrysanthemums, and yes - white lily of the valley.

My own lily of the Valley pips show how many roots they can have. My hands were frozen, but I was able to carefully dig a few clumps out that look liked they have strong buds or pips. 


In 1910, all well appointed plant supply catalogs offered cleaned Lily of the Valley pips for home growers to force on windowsills and in their home greenhouses, in fact, until WWII, Lily of the Valley pips were as common as Paperwhite Narcissus are today. Old time gardeners used to trim roots back by half,  from their own rooted stocks, but I have found that a little rinse under the green house hose is enough. I fit as many as I can squeeze into a clay pot, add fresh soil and a gravel mulch, and then bring them into the house to force at warmer temperatures. Easy peasy. 

Some older books suggest that bottom heat is better than a hot room, some even suggesting that one keep pipes of hot water underneath pots bringing the temperature of the pots up to 85ºF while the room remains near 50º, ( i.e radiators or a nearby fire which is allowed to go out at night for that all important temperature shift) but I have found that by placing pots of freshly planted pips under lights which are on a 16 hour cycle an easy solution. Pots also work well on a cool windowsill, but pots which I keep in my cool 40º greenhouse slow down, often taking 5 weeks or more to bloom.



In Germany the Poinsettia was not a common Holiday plant. Here, where Christmas trees and Chrismas greens come from, the Lily of the Valley reigned as the choice, proper Holiday flower. What happened? I think the Lily of the Valley needs a new marketer, for somehow, we have forgotten all about it.


I spend so much time studying these lost trends in old books, but the idea that one can force ones own Lily of the Valley always captivated me. Victorian Christmas cards often showed clusters of Lily of the Valley, often alongside early camellias, Hellebores and even illustrated along with berries and holly. How in just one hundred years could such trends become lost? Such memories become forgotten?  I suppose the twentieth Century killed many traditions, and yet I doubt that today's Christmas icons of silk poinsettias or Rudolf will ever go away one hundred years from now, but I can't help but feel some sadness that all silk or plastic poinsettia found at local craft stores are modeled not after authentic tall poinsettias but instead, are modelled ironically on those which have been drenched with growth hormones to be less than 14 inches tall, a more manageable size for shelving units in shipping trucks and for peoples home. So sad that we are now reproducing genetically altered  plants and oddly iconizing them. Future generations may never know what  proper Point looks like.







In an effort to celebrate the gardening method of a century ago, I am going to force some of my own Lily of the Valley this year. Here in New England, we have been experiencing a mild December which has allowed me to dig a large clump (mat) of Convallaria ( Lily of the Valley) up from the front garden. If you have Lily of the Valley out doors int he garden, you must try and force some this year. If the soil is still soft, see if you can dig a few clumps up - they will force easity on a cool windowsill.




Once dug, I cut the mat of roots into pot-sized clumps, rinsing them off in water so that I could carefully see the pips or spike which will form the single leaf and flower stem. Those spikes with points tips will produce leaves, and those with a blunt end will produce a flower stem. Forcing Convallaria in December is a tradition which goes back at least 200 years, a popular home garden craft in Switzerland, Austria and Germany, where many New Years cards in the Victoria era showed Lily of the Valley flowers. In 1880, the most popular winter cut flower were scented violets, forced lilacs and Lily of the Valley, and even at the launch of the Titianic, guests were treated with garlands of strung Lily of the Valley blossoms and strings of Lilac flowers.

September 17, 2012

Four Chrysanthemum Facts You Need to Know


JAPANESE SPIDER MUMS, WHEN PROPERLY GROWN TO 6 FOOT TALL SINGLE STEMS AND DISBUDDED TO A SINGLE BUT, CAN PRODUCE THE MOST AMAZING FLOWERS IN OCTOBER- THIS ONE THAT I GREW A FEW YEARS AGO HAD A FLOWER MORE THAN 1 FOOT IN DIAMETER,


Chrysanthemum season is nearly here, but aside from those hormone drenched, growth-retardant treated perfect mounds that we see at every garden center, our current love/hate relationship with this autumnal standby goes much further back in horticultural history than this current mumification of North America - the Chrysanthemum may very will be the most cultivate flower on our planet, yet few of us ever see the sheer beauty this genus can produce. To truly appreciate the Chrysanthemum, we must first look backwards more than 3000 years ago, for in China and Japan hundreds of varieties were grown to perfection for autumnal celebrations and winter holidays.


1. Did the name Chrysanthemum really change recently?  


Yes.  No*. see end of paragraph for revision.

We really should not be calling these plants Chrysanthemums anymore. If you really want to show off,  Chrysanthemum is incorrect thanks to taxonomists who reorganized the genus, but I don't ever expect the retail growers to ever change their signs in much the same way that any bicolor corn will forever be 'Sugar and Butter'.  Scientists recently have moved many of the species which we once clumped together under the genus Chrysanthemum into a multitude of  genera, leaving only two species in the genus of Chrysanthemum - two annual daisy forms in fact.  Our familiar Hardy Mum plant which we all visualize as a 'Mum' as well as all of the florist varieties, is now known as Dendranthemum.

* Apparently, the name Chrysanthemum is still being used. Thanks to a blog reader who shared his thoughts, I researched this a little bit more, and here is what I found:  Both Chrysanthemum and Dendranthema are still valid, but Dendranthema is now a subsection within the genus Chrysanthemum. ( Often called Chrysanths). The name I learned to use back in college, Chrysanthemum x morifolium is still sometimes used once again, but finding any literature on this has been challenging without access to JSTOR or an botanical university library - I welcome any expert to share their knowledge! The last update that I could find was  from the taxonomy journal TAXON in 1998, a citation with a proposal to conserve the name Chrysanthemum (44:439-441.).


Web searched find anecdotal reference for a change back occurring in 1999, but I could find no factual information. I did find this list which may help the geekier of us, to find where other members in the genus netted out. Oh, thank God I never became a taxonomist! I think that they must be the lawyers of the plant world.

Other changes in the family are here:

Arctanthemum (arctic chrysanthemum, 1 species) - C. arcticum

Argyranthemum (marguerites and Paris daisies, 23 species) - C. anethifoliumC. foeniculaceumC. frutescens
Chrysanthemum (florists’ mums, ca. 40 species) - C. xgrandiflorumC. indicumC. japonicum
Glebionis (corn chrysanthemums and crown daisies, 3 species) - C. segetumC. coronarium
Heteranthemis (sticky ox-eye daisy, 1 species) - C. viscidehirtum
Ismelia (tricolor chrysanthemum, 1 species) - C. carinatum = C. tricolor
Leucanthemella (high-daisy, giant-daisy, 2 species) - C. serotinum
Leucanthemopsis (alpine marguerites, 6 species) - C. alpinumC. pallidum
Leucanthemum (ox-eye daisy and Shasta daisies, ca. 26 species) - C. leucanthemumC. maximumC. lacustreC. xsuperbum
Rhodanthemum (Moroccan daisies, 12 species) - C. hosmarienseC. gayanumC. atlanticum). 



2. Are my newly potted 'hardy mums' really hardy? 


Sorry, they are not really 'hardy'. The Mums that we see in garden centers are NOT reliably hardy in most North American gardens, so forget what you read in books or what the sales associate tells you, it's just the sad truth. These are varieties designed to be disposable.  I know, I know - technically, they are considered to be a 'hardy perennial' in many gardening books, but the modern varieties used to commercially produce the common mum plant that we see sold as 'Hardy Mums' are not truly bred to be hardy.

I'm not saying that some will survive, but proceed and invest carefully, as winter hardyness varies between the many varieties sold. Breeders select varieties for color and uniformity more than they do for hardiness. So thanks carefully before investing in that $16.00 giant perfectly grown mound. It may be best to consider the purchase a disposable one.

3. Why don't we ever see Spider mums and Football Mums in our gardens?


These varieties, along with many other beautiful forms are all known as exhibition mums, not only are they late bloomers - often flowering in late October and November, they are also more demanding to grow - requiring often daily care, staking, disbuding, trimming to only one or 3 stems,  and heavy feeding. Growing exhibition mums is quickly becoming a lost craft, but as many of you already know, it is one which I am fervently trying to reintroduce. Soon you will all see my exhibition mum collection, as it is one of my 2012 Projects, but they are not ready yet - but here are a few photos to show you where I am with them.




Chrysanthemum 'Gethsemane Moonlight' is a truly hardy mum, which is more reliable and truly perennial in the border. Look for other named varieties in white, peach and pink.

4. There are some very nice truly Hardy mums - but you had better like daisy-shaped flowers. 


It's true, some truly perennial mums exist, but don't expect them to be as dense and nice as the tight buns seen at retail right now, these are more loosely growing, more like daisy's than what you might imagine a chrysanthemum to look like in your mind, but these varieties spread slowly, and will quickly become a share-a-long plant. Look for Chrysanthemum 'Snow Dome', or Chrysanthemum 'Gethsemane Moonlight'. both from Plant Delights Nursery.


My Mum Project Update

My Exhibition mums arrived as cuttings in may, and were quickly potted up. In June more cuttings were taken, at on the Fourth of July, another set. After the Fourth, no more stopping occured, and plants were allowed to product only three stems per plant. 


Exhibition Cuttings arrived earlier this year, in May, which gave me some time to take two or even in some cases, three sets of cuttings, essentially tripling my collection. These will mature into tall 6-7 foot tall exhibition mums by late October, when the pots, complete with 6 foot tall bamboo stakes, will be relocated back into the greenhouse for blooming in late Autumn. This is a method used by growers for hundreds of years in the US and European estates where the Chrysanthemum was often the first floral show in an estate conservatory, but of course, the Japanese and the Chinese had more elaborate methods which they perfected over 3000 years.

Growing mums like this time consuming, and impractical, but I am fascinated with heritage methods - those that come from another time when wood and glass stove houses kept rare orchids and giant palms. Exhibition mums are not for the home grower, but I am sharing with you the process, since I think it is interesting, and it is something you can try, if you have a cold porch or sunroom where you can bring the pots in for their display period. 

Exhibition chrysanthemum culture is a long, tedious process, hearkening back the 1800's. when any New England Estate with a greenhouse complex, would have been practicing.  Even in Europe, and particularly in England, mums would be planted out into staked rows in a bed behind the greenhouse complex, and carefully maintained until frost arrived. They then would be carefully dug and repotted, and brought into the cold glass house for final prep and they display which would soon follow.

It's a method and culture sore rarely seen today, that one may only experience it at some of the worlds leading botanic gardens.  An exhibition of tall, trained and staked mums in a conservatory or courtyard is a relic from another time, but I am dedicated to continue this art as long as I can in my own home greenhouse.


MY EXHIBITION MUM CUTTINGS ARE NOW MATURING, AND THEY ARE NEARLY AS TALL AS I AM. FLOWER BUDS ARE BEGINNING TO FORM, BUT ALL SIDE SHOOTS MUST BE REMOVED, AS WELL AS THE TINY BUDS, LEAVING ONLY ONE FLOWER BUD PER STEM.


NO FLOWER PRODUCING STEM IS ALLOWED TO MATURE, SO DAILY NIPPING AND SNIPPING IS REQUIRED. IT IS BEST TO REMOVE STEMS BEFORE THEY GET TOO LARGE.

ONCE ALL SIDE FLOWER BUDS ARE REMOVED, THE CAREFUL TASK OF REMOVING ALL BUT ONE SINGLE CROWN BUD REMAINS. TIMING IS EVERYTHING HERE, FOR ONE MUST REMOVE BUDS WHEN THEY ARE STILL EASY TO ROLL-OUT WITHOUT MUCH DAMAGE, BUT NOT TOO SOON WHICH MIGHT DRAIN ENERGY OR DAMAGE THE ONE REMAINING BUD. THIS REMAINING CROWN BUD WILL NOW GROW INTO A GIANT, PERFECT EXHIBITION MUM, BE IT A SPIDER, FOOTBALL, INCURVE OR RECURVE TYPE.


MY 'GROWING WITH PLANTS' EXHIBITION MUM PROJECT - STILL GROWING, BUT SOON TO BE RELOCATED INTO THE GREENHOUSE ONCE FROST THREATENS. FLOWERING WON'T OCCUR UNTIL LATE OCTOBER OR NOVEMBER.


May 7, 2012

Training a Tree Wisteria


A tree wisteria is simply a wisteria vine, trained to grow as a tree - essentially, it is simply a wisteria standard or a wisteria topiary, if you will. It takes many years, and careful and dedicated attention with hand pruners to achieve a mature specimen, but with grafted stock becoming more available ( to endure that flowering material is used rather then seedlings) a beautiful wisteria can be trained to grow into a small, weeping tree form in about ten years. I have seen some very impressive specimens in large, terra rosa pots, but these must be stored in frost-free conditions.


Wisteria can easily become a rampant weed, with runners creeping lightning fast across or just under the soil surface, or running up a tree quickly engulfing it, but there is no other plant quite like it, and a tree-form wisteria may be the best way to control a plant such as this vine. I suggest investing in a pre-trained graft, which can be costly ( $100 - $200) but it will guarantee both a selection that has the highest quality blooming stock, and a root stock that is less aggressive.

Wisteria can be very fragrant, the scent reminds me of orange blossoms. It can drift across the garden on warm, spring days.

Pruning aggressively is key, but always with a thoughtful eye. eventually, these tiny branches on this three year old specimen will mature into thick, trunk-like branches, making what was once a lowly vine, a stunning tree-like specimen. Pruning can occur throughout the year, but to endure blooms, it is best to prune heavily just after flowering.

March 14, 2012

Nineteenth Century Conservatory Rarities

In the equatorial house, cycads and palm grow in the high heat and humidity. It was so hot and humid in the Smith College conservatory that my camera steamed up - I sort of liked the effect.
Here are a few more photos from our trip to the Smith College Conservatory this past weekend. I thought that I might share a few photos of some plants that caught my eye beyond the bulb displays. A little bit of this and that, and a few things to add to my wish list for my greenhouse collection.

One could almost miss this tall orchid amongst all the Dutch bulb, but it was its scent that first reached me - a little like a wine glass that had Merlot in it the night before, and then it dried out - I don't know how else to describe it. It was a little like evaporated red wine, and the way an old flannel shirt smells when you are stoking oak wood into a fireplace, with smoke on a cold winters night. Know what I mean? Orchid scents are strange yet awesome.


Mixed tropical specimen plants include Begonia species, bromeliads, citrus and lots of orchids.


Banana's, Heliconia and Philodendrons in the tropical palm house. Yes, it was snowing outside, but near 90 degrees inside under the glass.


Me likey Lycopodium - as if I need another genus to start collecting! But this is the second time that I have been smitten by this prehistoric genus. Maybe the time has come to build a Victorian Fernery.

This was the first time that I've seen this Peperomia species. - Peperomia fraseri, from Ecuador and Columbia.

A small hanging Vandaceous orchid reminds me of when I lived in Hawaii - we used to grow baskets of these on our clothes line.


Another fantastic orchid specimen, this relative of the dendrobium is Dendrochillum cobbianum , this specimen has fully encased its basket.


This Ruttya fruticosa was once commonly grown in conservatories in New England, my 1805 gardening book talks about specimens growing in glasshouses in the Boston area.


February 11, 2012

For the love of Pinterest


Here is an arrangement for all of my fabulous followers who so kindly invited me to Pinterest. Thanks so much! So for you, I made this - A selection of heart-shaped leaves and petals from my greenhouse on an cold, overcast and snowy, winter day outside of Boston. 


  1. Cyclamen graecum leaf, on reverse side
  2. Clivia x Interspecific  - cross between C. miniata and C. caulescens ( three color versions shown), all from Mr. Nakamura in Japan.
  3. Hardenbergia violacea - old fashioned greenhouse vine, a winter-bloomer for cold greenhouses from Australia with brilliant blue-violet pea-like flowers in wintertime.
  4. A petal from a variegated Camellia.
  5. Muscari macrocarpum 'Golden Fragrance' - a fragrant, chartreuse Muscari, or grape hyacinth.
  6. Cyclamen hederifolium 'Silver Ghost' - a cyclamen with an all silver leaf.
  7. Westringia rosemarifolia - it looks like Rosemary, but it's not. Easy-to-train as topiary or as a clipped dome-shaped greenhouse shrub.
  8. Stenomesson piercii - a rare Equadorian bulb, with greenish-yellow bell shaped blossoms.
  9. Camellia - a rose form
  10. Cyclamen hederifolium - the ivy-leaved Cyclamen.
  11. Cyclamen graecum  (with a camellia sasanqua petal on it) two, heart shaped objects, the cyclamen leaf has a burgundy back-side, so I displayed it upside down.
  12. Camellia japnica 'Lipstick' - an anemone-flowered form.
  13. Rhododendron - Vireya 'Valentines day', a tropical rhododendron from Borneo
  14. Nerine undulata - a pink, graceful species of Nerine, a tiny bulb in the Amaryllis family, which is easier to grow than other species, and a winter-bloomer.




December 28, 2011

Growing like it's 1855 - Inspiration from the past for a new gardening year


A WARDIAN CASE IS DIFFERENT THAN A 

At the end of each year, I treat myself to a small selection of rare gardening books. Like many gardeners, I prefer to choose my own books, as many of you would understand, I am not the easiest person to buy a plant book for!.   This year, I've found 5 very nice vintage gardening books, all printed between 1802 and 1908. , and most focus on the subject of growing potted plants indoors, either under glass in some of the country's first greenhouses, or in conservatories. I find the subject of 18th century greenhouses appealing for many obvious reasons, but mainly, as a New Englander with a glass house, living just outside of Boston ( where many of these books were published), I can relate to this desire  people had for 'keeping a glass house'  in the middle of winter where one can grow tender plants, trees and shrubs collected from around the world. 

July 19, 2011

Topiary and Pleached Potted Plants



PLEACHING A TINY HEDGE OF PINK-FLOWERED ROSEMARY, MAKES AN INTERESTING DESIGN ELEMENT FOR A DECK OR TERRACE
 Mid summer is a great time to start cutting for potted topiary trees or to train existing topiary. This year I am trying a few different things, and the most exciting is my project called Pleached Rosemary Hedge, which I am growing in four window boxes. Pleaching trees or shrubs, is a classical training method that usually involves weaving branches or trimming and training a series of trese or shrub to create what is essentially a raised hedge. What I am doing it bringing it down in scale - really down. I am not sure what I will do with my tiny hedge, but it is portable, since I am growing it in window boxes, so at the very least, it will look nice on the railing of the deck, or along a walk.

THE TWO LARGE TOPIARY TREES ON EITHER SIDE OF THE GREENHOUSE ARE BAY LAUREL TREES, AND THE TWO SMALLER TOPIARY TREES ARE A ROSEMARY ON THE LEFT, AND A WESTRINGIA ROSEMARIFOLIA ON THE RIGHT.
THESE SMALL ROSEMARY TREES ARE IN NEED FOR A TRIM, IN FACT, A TIGHT TRIM ALMOST BACK TO THE MAIN STEM. WHY? BECAUSE A DENSE INTERIOR BRANCHING WILL GIVE YOU A TOPIARY THAT IS MORE FULL, AND LESS LIKELY TO SPLIT.

February 22, 2011

The Last 'Scented Violet'


A pot of scented violets currently in bloom in my greenhouse. The powerful scent is all you can smell, when you first enter.


A Violet grower in Hudson Valley New York, circa 1898



 As a cut-flower, scented violets were as essential as orchids or camellia blossoms.


Viola odorata - the classic 'scented violet'

 If this blog was scratch 'n sniff, you would know what the greenhouse smells like this morning. The scent of violet is one which few people experience, but one hundred years ago, it was a common scent as well as flavoring for chewing gum, perfume and for pastry. Today, it is a rare and beguiling scent. Here, a the uncommon true scented violet, Viola odorata looks exactly like the garden violets we have growing in the garden in spring, but these are indeed different. Hard-to-find today, look for them at specialty catalogs like Logee's and others for the ultimate authenticity in 'old-fashioned', heirloom arrangements and gardens.




Viola odorata, when grown under cold glass, blooms in February in cold pit houses and greenhouses where winters are cold. New York State's Hudson Valley was once the United States' epicenter for scented violets where they were grown for the New York City market until the 1920's. A posh winter wedding or a trip to the opera required a proper nosegay of violets, but today, they are grown by no commercial nursery, and are lost forever as a cut-flowers. Winter weddings are no longer the same.

Images from PRACTICAL VIOLET CULTURE, 1910





February 20, 2011

A Winter Garden of Bulbs in Pots

A collection of potted of small bulbs brings winter interest to a cold greenhouse, as the snow begins to fall outside.

There are so many pots of small alpine bulbs and South African bulbs blooming in the greenhouse right now, that I assembled some of them into a 'group shot', and it's amazing to see how much color there really is, just a 1/8th inch of glass away from the freezing temperatures and snow outside. The scent is incredible, especially from the Viola odorata and the Hyacinthella. The species crocus continue to bloom, as well as some of the Oxalis species. As you can see, the Cyclamen coum, the tiny bright pink Cyclamen you can see above, is just starting its season. Almost hardy enough for culture outdoors here in Zone 5, I dare try it, as I prefer to enjoy them under glass.



 Above, you can see Nerine undulata, the tall pink nerine in the upper left, there are two Cyclamen species, in the rear, a wild form of C. persicum, and in the front, the bright pink of C. coum. Some Lachenalia species and hybrids are just beginning to open, by next week there will be posts on Lachenalia. Add old fashioned scented violets ( lower right), so brilliant orange and yellow Oxalis obtusa ( center) and pots and pots of species crocus, and my winter garden begins to take shape.








February 16, 2011

The Experience of Forcing Bulbs

A tray of Dutch bulbs brought in from the cold frames, ready to force in the greenhouse.

Forcing bulbs. I know, just saying it sounds a bit effected (affected?). You know, in the way one may say " We're taking a tea" or "Release the hounds. Oh so very British, I suppose, and yes, that's where this all began, so we have the British to thank for forcing bulbs, hot beds, and so many fine gardening past times that makes gardening today so, well.....stylish and enjoyable.

 The very idea of 'forcing bulbs' is not new, it dates back to the 1700's when the trend began with some of the earliest glass houses, or stoves - glass growing structures that were heated, allowing people to grow plants they never could have grown before, and the timing couldn't have been better, as exotic plants were being collected and brought back by explorers sent out by Kew gardens, out to collect rare and new plants all in the name of the Queen. Plants and bulbs were arriving from Turkey and South Africa to be and ultimately, being 'collected' and 'forced' by enthusiasts into bloom in proper British glasshouses, cold frames and hot beds.

Today, we continue to 'force bulbs', but not exactly with the same passion or tools that the great British horticulturists did. But think about for a minute, if you lived in 1810, how incredible it must have seemed to have fresh pineapple, tulips in bloom and fragrant citrus in the depths of winter. Remember, this was a time when books were even rare, and of course, there was no TV, no radio, no automobiles. 

In our modern world, the idea of forcing seems rather old fashioned, like many things today, has become diluted and simplified, something that is unnecessary, yet quaint.. The art, one might say, has lost it's panache - no longer a romantic folly of the wealthy and privileged, who might have wooden coldframes, greenhouses and gardening staff who can take the time to pot up clay pots of Dutch bulbs in October, bury them in sand within the protection of a cold frame, and then, brought into the glasshouse in late winter to be forced into bloom, but rather, it is something that hipsters may try, in much the same way they may raise bees for honey. I'm not knocking it, but I will admit that it takes a certain soul to appreciate forcing bulbs, or any plant today, in our modern world.


Many garden writers offer advice and guidelines on forcing bulbs. We are advised that we can still 'force' bulbs, but often advised to take the easy route, and, the less romantic. Use plastic pots so they won't crack, buy bulbs at the supermarket on sale in the fall, pot up the bulbs in potting soil from Home Depot, bury the pots in black plastic garbage bags full of leaves that you raked up with your kids, tie it off, and stash it under the deck until mid-winter, and then, bring the pots into the house to force in a sunny window. 

Hey, it works, but it still isn't quite the same experience. May I suggest a few options, to help improve the experience? I shall.

1. Buy bulbs anywhere, but enjoy perusing the websites and catalogs, and plan a little. Planning on what bulbs to purchase is almost as pleasurable as the actual 'forcing' part.

2. Raise the Bar on the Experience Level at Every Step - Look, you are not forcing bulbs just for the flowers, you hopefully are doing it because you love gardening, so why ruin and waste the entire process just to enjoy a few days of tulips after a long day at work?   Use clay pots ( or plastic, and then bury -hide- the pot in a clay pot once brought indoors). Plastic pots won't crack if they freeze, but if you do have a real cold frame, and if the pots are buried in sand and covered with a thick layer of leaves, they will not freeze, and you can use clay. 

My best advice is to - amp up the experience at every step.  Make the experience beautiful, pay attention to every detail, and enjoy the minutia. I prefer real wooden cold frames with glass lights, real clay pots preferably hand made, nice sand, nice imported English heirloom trowels, real Haws brand copper watering cans, elegant labels.... make every touch point a pleasure. Buy interesting bulbs, experiment with odd, new or rare bulbs.


3. Lastly, exhibit the pots. I designed a bay window over my sink to function as a display window. I had lights installed, so that I can dim the halogen spot, or increase them at different levels, and every weekend, I can set up a display of pots that I bring in from the greenhouse just as a retail store  or a botanical garden might. Silly? Maybe, but I don't think so. I invest alot of time and effort, and dollars into my greenhouse, the care of my plants, and in selecting what to grow, I might as well enjoy the results!

 Lachenalia cultivars almost ready to bloom.

Tulips will tell you that they are ready to be brought into the greenhouse but how long their shoots are.

 Find the sunniest spot on a windowsill in a cool room, or in your greenhouse to allow the bulbs to slowly emerge into bloom.


These Hyacinths are ready to bring indoors where their intense fragrance will make the kitchen smell like a spring flower show.


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