April 5, 2006

Unusual Velthiemia bracteata

Yellow Velthiemia in bloom
Velthiemia bracteata, in a yellow form

Since it is snowing today, at least 6 inches, it's back to the greenhouse for some late South African winter blooming bulbs. Velthiemia bracteata, a large, easy to grow, even in a home, produces a large rosette of shiny wavy-edged leaves very much almost hosta-like, all winter long. In late winter and early spring, a flowerbud emerges from the center, and a stalk similar to a Kniphophia, or Red Hot Poker, rises topped off with a panicle of flowers. Commonly found in a pink form, there are a few named varieties available but they are very hard to find.

Velthiemia bracteata 'rose alba' in bloom
Velthiemia bracteata 'Rose-Alba'

An all yellow form, Velthiemia bracteata "Yellow Flame' has been available since the early twentieth century, but I have only seen it available once. Not truly yellow, at least in the weak winter sun that we get in the north easter U.S., it is lovely, and my favorite.

The plant, like other South Africans, likes to spend the summer dormant, and dry, and beins growth in Septemeber, when the temperatures begin to become cooler, and you start watering again.

Velthiemia bracteata rose alba
Some varieties of Velthiemia are very collectable, such as this pale form sold as Velthiemia 'Rose-Alba'

A more unusual form of V. bracteata, is V. bracteata 'Rose-Alba', shown here with yellowish cream blossoms that fade to a pink near the base.

April 3, 2006

Petasites, Giant Japanese Butterbur

Petasites flower in garden
Petasites blossom

Behold, the Giant Japanese Butterbur. Well, OK...it's not too 'gian't yet...but just wait. This garden thug is one you may want. It is by far the earliest perennial to bloom here in central Massachusetts. Petasites japonicus 'Giganteus', is indeed the largest of the Japanese Butterbur's. Most petasites are lush and tropical when viewed in mid-summer gardens, but in late winter, it's the blossoms which provide some well needed garden interest.  In our Massachusetts garden, when we have no snowcover, the petasites emerge in February, surprising us with garden flowers when least expected, and  open for business for the bravest of honey bees.

Flowers on petasites
Petasites flowers emerging in our woodland garden.

April 2, 2006

Snakes Head Iris

The Snakes Head Iris, or Widow's Iris (Hermodactylus tuberosus), is an easy, but less familiar bulb plant native to the former Yugoslavia and Greece. It's not rare at all, people just don't ever grow it. It is commonly found for sale in the autumn in garden centers and catalogs, but gardeners either tend to avoid the bulb for the Dutch classics ( tulip, Hyacunths, etc.) or it may just seem to be difficult to grow.

I can't really speak to its garden performance, since I grow these by bouncing them back and forth from the bulb bed, back to the greenhouse.I do question how showy it would be in the garden, since it's natural blooming time would be in late May outside, and it's green and brown flowers could easily be lost in the mess of the competition, but forced in the greenhouse, it is a pleasant show on a cold April evening.

As you can see from the photo, the blossom is unusually colored, and is difficult to describe. But the rich velvety chocolate falls complement the green shades in a very stylish way.