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

January 18, 2011

Oh, beloved Violette de Parma, though shalt never return

The true Violette de Parma, as picked in my greenhouse last year. Here, Viola 'Parme de Toulouse'

Today I am trying something new, a few of us are cross-posting about the same subject which today is 'WHAT'S OLD IS NEW AGAIN'. Let me know what you think! And be sure to check out my fellow bloggers posts on the same subject. First, Joseph at GREENSPARROW garden shares his interpretation of what's old is new again. Also Francis at the popular blog FAIREGARDEN has a post where she covers the iconoclasts of classic old-fashioned plants, (what I personally remember from my childhood- yeah, I'm old! )  an inspiring post on those vintage plants that many of you may find in abandoned gardens or homesteads.

 Francis writes about what I remember that was in my mothers garden; the stately Oriental Poppies, those muddy colored Daylilies, and brownish grapey German Bearded Iris. The last participant is Ryan of NOMICSCIENCE ,  who writes about many old-fashioned plants that come to his mind,  as he explores his thoughts on what old-fashioned plants are. Ryan, Primula are certainly appealing to think about in January where I live!

My contribution to this list is the rarely seen Parma Violet, or scented violet ( not to be confused with the common garden violet, or African violets, for that matter). Parma Violets may not be familiar to you, but your great grandmother surely would swoon over the scent. One of the most popular cut flowers commerially around the turn of the Nineteenth Century, the Parma Violet is one old fashioned plant that Even though I have an attraction to truly old-fashioned plants like Scented violets, I have to admit that  a true comeback is doubtful. It's a different world today.
 Experience the flavor of violets in some candy and gum found in Australia or on vintage candy websites.

Cultivated for centuries in Europe since the 1600's, scented violets come from a mysterious place since botanically, their taxonomic affinity has not been found to link to any other violet. Viola odorata is the closest relative genetically, perhaps combined with V. suavis and V. alba that we find wild in our gardens, Parma violet cultivars have a clear connection with many Viola alba varieties but most scientists today connect them with all three species, in some what, and include them with the Mediterranean Viola ssp. dehnhardtii.

All violets are Viola species, so technically, Pansy's, and Johnny Jump Ups  are all Viola's, but when most people think of violets, what comes to mind is the garden violet, or the self seeding garden pest that we all still love,  Viola sororia. Which looks very much like Viola odorata, but which spreads invasively in North American gardens. Still lovely when picked, it lacks the intense fragrance of the Parma Violet, or Viola odorata. I sill like them, ( although my favorite violet is Viola jooi, and alpine plant, or Viola pedata, the birds foot violet.).My new fav is the Korean Violet, Viola coreana. Still, no fragrance but what a show!

January 17, 2011



It may only be the third week of January, but it is not too early to force branches ( if you happen to live in place where it is snow covered right now!). Even as a child, I would pick random branches from the woodland and garden to fill various glass caning jars and bottles in my bedroom, to see what I could force into bloom or leaf early. It was a ritual in my family to go out into the woods and pick pussy willows in long, 6 foot branches, every March 7th ( I don't know why). My dad would bring them into the cellar and place them in large crocks of warm water to force, since he believed that the catkins would turn more pink when forced in the dark. I cherish these memories, and I encourage any of you who have children to try forcing some branches with them this winter, it fosters an appreciation for nature, as well as a love of plants at an early age. Indoors, everything is closer and more intimate, and watching a bod open, even if what emerges is a leaf, is still magical to the young, and the young at heart.

 It may be too early to pick apple or  cherry branches, but some shrubs are just ready to prove to us the spring is on its way. I like to start with the Witch hazel, particularly branches from our massive Hamamelis x intermedia 'Arnold Promise' , which grows on the eastern side of our home between the greenhouse and the the house. 

This is  a shrub that is ready to bloom right now, for in some years, it starts blooming in early February even with a full, deep snowcover. The buds are still tight and protected against our frigid air ( it was 2 deg. F this morning here in central Massachusetts), but after 24 hours in warm water, the bud began to open. Now, a week later, the rooms are fragrant with the fresh scent of Witch Hazel. Sometimes I pick very large branches, about 8 feet tall for parties in the Studio, but for the Primula Society meeting last weekend, I just picked a few 40 inch branches. They provide hope that winter will eventually end ( at least to those who want winter to end!).



I remember forcing shrubs for the spring flower shows in Boston, and I learned alot about how to force more difficult types like Lilac and Rhododendron. We would bring rhododendrons and lilacs into the greenhouse, and wrap their buds in cotton balls and thread. The cotton would be misted with water daily, to keep the buds moist, as the heat was gradually raised.

November 11, 2010

Forcing Bulbs



Every year, I want to force a few bulb, for there is nothing like the scent of Hyacinths or Narcissus on a snowy, winter day, be it in the greenhouse, or on the windowsill indoors. Forcing isn't something I fuss about, since I plant most bulbs outdoors, my method is simple, I just sneak a few bulbs out of the bags that I am planting, to pot up for earlier bloom. Six Hyacinths here, five triumph tulips there, a dozen crocus - all make great forcing subjects. Hey, it's fun and I really don't ahead except with some fancier bulbs which you all know about.

I use plastic pots, since the bulbs must be placed in a cool, near freezing location for ten weeks, and clay pots might crack. But since I dislike the color of plastic pots, I make sure that I have sizes that I can slide into clay pots, once I bring them into the greenhouse. No fancy soil, I simply use ProMix, a professional potting soil, and just plant my bulbs halfway down the depth of the pot. They are watered-in, and placed in a trench in the garden, where I cover them with leaves and a tarp since they need darkness. I will move them to a dark, storage room in our cellar, where root vegetables used to be kept, around Christmas, since heavy snow will make removing pots difficult. Around the New Year, I will begin introducing pots into the greenhouse, where my winter will be enhanced with daffodils, hyacinths and tulips. 

January 21, 2010

How to make a Euryops pectinatus Standard

Last Saturdays fine weather kept me in the greenhouse for most of the day, and it wasn't difficult to find chores to be done, most of the pleasant. On the rear wall sill above the foundation, sat a tall lanky Eryops pectinatus, a rather common South African daisy, often grown as a summer pot plant for its golden yellow daisy's and silver foliage. Euryops = from the Greek "eurys" = large and "ops" = eye referring to the showy flowers. pectinatus = from the Latin meaning pectinate (i.e. with narrow divisions like a comb referring to the divided leaves).Euryops grow woody with age, looking in Californian gardens, more like an aged sage shrub rather than a daisy. As I said in my previous post, I am generally, lazy, and find myself wasting money on new plants each year for no reason, which is silly, since I have a greenhouse. Euryops cost me about $8.00 per plant, which is nothing more than a rooted cutting in a two inch pot. For a plant which roots easily, I decided to bring last years plant into the cold greenhouse, and then take a few cuttings, which I did last weekend.
A little damaged from frost, the plant still gave up about 9 cuttings, which I dipped in rooting hormone, and placed in soil on a heated bench to root. I will most likely repot these cuttings in a month, and pinch them back after taking another set of cuttings later this winter. By spring, I may have a flat of 30 or so cuttings, which will allow me to plant a hedge or something more impressive than a single pot. I was left with the mother plant, which I was going to toss into the compost pile, until I noticed that if I trimmed the plant, I could have a standard topiary with little effort. Eryops make terrific standards - plants trained to a single staked stem, then allowed to branch out at the top. Euryops can be trimmed, but carefully, one has to be careful to leave enough growth for flower buds to form, since they form only on the newest growth, terminally. Even though I have trimmed this specimen harshly, by May, it should branch out beautifully, and by summer, I expect it to be perfectly gorgeous.

SO first, I need to find a large clay pot.

I was surprised at how tight the rootball had become. Clearly, this plant needs a much larger pot, so I decided to save the plant, and pot it in a significant pot, for if one is going to commit to growing a South African Daisy, I might as well go all the way, and let is have it's full root run, which is deserves.

The first task was snipping the root mass, to stimulate new root growth. This may seem severe, but it is less invasive than tearing the root ball open, which could damage the root connections to the stem, and could crush the tender roots disabling them.

When I placed the root ball into the fresh soil and pot, I realized that the angle needed to be changed, since I had trimmed the multiple stems down to a single stem, which was growing off at an angle. It was easier to simply tilt the root ball rather than to tie and restake the stem.

Once the rootball was properly positioned in the pot, I filled the gaps with soil, and placed a new bamboo stake close to the stem. The only thing left, was to tie the stem to the stake with strands of damp raffia, which protects the stem from possible damage which often occurs with wire, or rope.

Straightened out.

It's difficult to see in this photo, since the topiary behind this is blending in, but if you look carefully, you can see the Euryops in the foreground. It has no leaves, but in a few months, this should look completely different, and it will look awesome on our bluestone terrace as a specimen plant, blooming all summer.

December 28, 2009

Holiday topiary get a trim for the new year

The art of training shrubs and trees into standard topiary shapes, comes and goes with the fashion of the moment, just as bonsai become trendy, or certain colors in flower. But I've always found this style of training plants fascinating, and fun. Topiary styles have changed over time, but the earliest form of Mytrus species ( Myrtle's, which these are) , started in the Roman
times of Pliny the Younger. The form came back into fashion in Europe during the 16th Century, when the French clipped hedges and elaborate gardens with parterres complete with cones, spirals and even shapes that depicted animals. In Britain, the art form really thrived in the late 19th C., and it was the wealthy industrialists, who introduced the artform to America in their private estate conservatories and greenhouses.

I really enjoy keeping and training various topiaried tender trees and shrubs, in the temperate greenhouse in my garden. Here, in my studio, I am giving some of the Myrtles a trim and clip, before returning them to the glass house where temperatures are colder, and moist. Nothing kills a Myrtle faster than the combination of winter dry air indoors, and a lack of water, which is what I will undoubtedly do. The same goes for Rosemary, of which, about a third of my topiary's are.

This past September, I took cutting from the various topiary trees I keep, so that new ones can be started, since there comes a point when they outgrow their size, and the sphere's become either too dense, or grow out of scale.I've let a number of Rosemary topiary freeze this autumn, since they seem to outgrow their form faster than Myrtles. Other Genus are kept in the greenhouse until they bloom, for they require different treatments, such as Citrus, Westringia and those plants in the legume family.

April 28, 2009

Espalier Apples

This weekend I planted four espaliered apples along the back of the kitchen garden, infront of the greenhouse main bluestone walk lined with boxwood. This part of the garden, which was all weed trees and weeds chest high four years ago, is still in the re-building phase, even though you might think that the photos make it look rather fancy, if I stepped sideways or turned around, you would see the mess......maybe I should do that for a posting...show the reality of the place! It's a little embarasing.
Training fruit trees into classic and simple forms for beauty or space, is an ancient art perfected by the French in the 17th Century. In the 17th Century, 'espalier' originally referred to the frame or trellis on which the plant was trained. Today, espalier refers to both the two-dimensional tree or shrub or the horticultural technique of actually training the plant. My first exposure to espaliered trees came at a young age, when I was working at a private estate while in high school. Espaliared pear trees, not unlike my new set up, were planted in Mr. Stoddard's boxwood garden she called the Williamsburg Garden, a tiered, formal boxxwood planting which enclosed small plots of vegetables for her kitchen. We mostly grew herbs and Romain lettuce, if I remember correctly, but the one thing I did remember was her two rows of espaliered pears, which never became ripe in time for me to enjoy, for I had to return to school in the fall. ( clearly, I am not over it yet!), But now.......

I will have my own fruit harvest!!! This time, appled. Winter Banana and Cox' Orange Pippins anyone?

It doesn't matter where one lives, you could have espaliered trees......All you need is a wall, or a fence, or construct a structure like this one in Australia.

Image from Sydney Morning Herald, Australia ©Cheryl Maddocks
Even in Japan, or Germany I have seen amazing espaliered forms of fruit trees and other woody plants, trained into classic 'espaliared' froms or even in simple rows, for the main reason is space reduction, even though they look beautiful to the eye year round. This is an economical way to both add structure to you garden and to add to your harvest. Add in blossoms in the spring, and a nifty hedge, and it's clear that this is a 24/7 hit.

Classic Espaliered forms can be found in many vintage books on gardening
Even Martha Stewart has Espaliered trees....but a few more than I do! check out her blog posting from last week....

December 17, 2007

Forcing Lily of the Valley Pips

Lily of the Valley Pips arrive via post

I am fascinated with things that fall out of favor, culturally and horticulturally. The list of forgotten plant favorites is long, fragrant bouquets of Parma violets scented that scented the air of railroad cars at the turn of the century, bowls of Anemones that once were the traditional Christmas flower, long before the Pointsetia made its way into cultuvation in the 1920s. Camellias, Chrysanthemums, and perhaps most lost of all, bulb pans of forced Lilly of the Valley. Once commonplace, featured in ads in gardening magazines right through the 1960's, for whatever reason, the tradition of ordering single plants of Convallaria majalis, known as Pips in the trade, fell out of fashion in the last quarter of the twentieth century. As a child I rememebered seeing full page ad's in my uncles Horticulture magazines, and I often dreamed of someday finally having money so that I could order them to grow in the greenhouse that I, of course, would someday build and own. Well, the day is finally here, except finding a source for Pips was more difficult than I imagined. Thanks to White Flower Farm, pips are available, I suspect that they are the last retailer in the US to carry them, and although a bit expensive, I believe it will be worth it. Most likely these pips are from a source overseas, either in Germany or the Netherlands. The only source I found was a Dutch wholesaler, and I would bet that they supply White Flower Farm.

The pips arrive safely wrapped in newspaper, and the simple procedure of planting them in moist soil is as easy as potting up paperwhite bulbs. The pips are large, not even remotely similar to pips dug from your home garden. These are at least four times as large, and have already been vernalized (kept cold in a false winter for a period of 16 weeks). All that needs to be done is to plant, water and wait.

15 Pips we're potted into a 10 inch bulb pan, watered and places on a plunge bed in the winter sun. The cool temps and moist air of the cold greenhouse will ensure sturdy growth and be early January, will deliver the fragrant white bells that say "june wedding' during the darkest days of the year. I can't wait!

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.

April 21, 2006

Pleaching Hornbeams

This week I pruned the pleached Hornbeam hedge along the stone walk that leads out to the woods behind the house. I also decided to plant a new Pleached hedge of Hornbeams (Carpinus) along a new herb garden that I am planting on a very messy side of the house, since a huge 200 foot long Hemlock Hedge (Tsuga canadensis) that has been providing privacy in our yard since my grandfather planted it nearly a hundred years ago, is weakening and soon will be gone, due to an infestation of the Woolly Adelgid.

Pleaching is a ancient method of weaving branches to produce a hedge, often with the trunks showing. This French method is time and labor intensive, something that should make me reconsider the project, but on the other hand, it makes it seem even more attractive. Pleaching comes from the work Plechier, to weave, and one must use a tree species with flexible branches. Hornbeams are traditionally used, but one may also use Beeches.

The new planting will take at least five years before it starts to look good, but the bamboo structure helps to make the area seem less ugly.