May 7, 2006

American Primrose Society National Show

Show Auricula's at the National Primrose Show

A fancy striped show auricula, with outstanding coloration

There have been no postings for the past four days, since I was busy with the National Primrose Show, which was hosted, once again, by our New England Chapter, and held at Tower Hill Botanic Garden, in Boylston Massachusetts. What I like about primula, is that it is a genus that is more challenging, and one that few people see reresented well since few see beyond the silly little acaulis primroses that one finds in supermarkets for 99 cents in January.

Show primula are some of the most beautiful flowers favored by botanical artists
After hosting a party at the house on Thursday evening, we tours local gardens on Friday, and the exhibition and events, such as speakers and the banquet which occured over the weekend. Now, late on Sunday night, exhaustion has fianlly caught up with us, and it is time to rest, and think about next years Nationals, which be held in Juneau, Alaska.

Another National winner grown by Susan Schnare
Before I go to bed, here are a few shots of some winning show auricula, these are the winners and could be considered the best primroses in America, grown by Susan Schnare of New Hampshire, who also won best in show.

May 2, 2006

May Day Alpine Wall

This May is the anniversary of the raised stone alpine wall along the west foundation of the greenhouse. Alpine walls are basically, rock retaining walls, filled with a special fast-draining soil mix and rocks, with added drainage pipes, used to grow fussier alpine plants which require such conditions. As this bed reaches three years old, the plantings are finally maturing, and it is fu to see seedling appear, even of tulip species, since bulbs love the fast drainage and more protected environment.

A raised alpine garden with planted rock wall

This wall is planted with alpine plants and bulbs, that are found throughout the world. Some rock gardeners focus on specific areas, like Turkey, or the alps. but I prefer to mix it all up, based on the sunny aspect of the location. Alpine gardens generally peak in bloom around May and June, which happens to be the peak alpine bloom period in the wild, so plants can grow quicly and reproduce int he short alpine summer, enjoying the spring run-off.

Tulipa whittalii

Native to Turkey, Tulipa whittallii is an easy species. If you haven't tried species tulip, you will find them more prolific than regular tulips, more like daffofils. Species tulips are by far the most effective tulips to grow. I suppose there is a place for hybrid tulips, but as everyone knows, they don't last long. Species forms of tulips should be planted en masse, with a hundred or so in an area. They can also be had at most garden centers and home stores, as well as most good catalogs. They never seem like anything interesting, but they always get comments once in the garden. And they come up every year.

Viola pedata - Alpine Birds Foot Violet
Last year I planted many pots of viola species seed, including this jewel, Viola pedata, the birds foot violet. Theya re very easy from seed, requiring a brief chilling to stratefy in the spring, and then the flats are kept out doors until fall, when they can be planted in the garden. These violets are also hard to find at garden centers, and can only really be found at alpine nurseries via mail and online. When I bring these plants to a plant sale, they always get left behind, unless I show one in bloom, and then they are gone in a snap. It's the violet thing. It scares people. But this genus, Viola, is broad, and many are not invansive at all. Remember, Pansy's are Viola's too. These alpine and woodland gems are extremely floriferous and have a hue that is unmatched in the spring garden. I am currently looking for Viola pedata biflora, which has a bi colored flower.

May 1, 2006

Africa's Rarest Pelargoniums

Pelargonium incrassatum

The genus Pelargonium is largely South African, with more that 80 percent of the 270 species found on the continent. Without going into the details of the differences between the name Geranium and Pelargonium, for those newer to plants and taxonomy, a gentle reminder that Pelargonium, what I am writing about here,is the genus encompasing the red 'geranium' of Memorials and windowboxes,'and must not be confused with the Genus Geranium, the familiar and trendy Cranesbills, the hardy garden perennial. The species you will see here are about as far away one can get from the red geranium from the cemetary and still considered a Pelargonium

Pelargonium auritum

Of the 270 species of Pelargonium, many are diverse whihc we are already familiar with, such as the scented geraniums, but by far the most unknown and the most interesting are these, the geophytic and tuberous forms, collectively known as the Section Hoarea Pelargoniums.

P. crithmifolium

These curious Pelargoniums look nothing like thier over hybridized cousins, yet they still have some characteristics familiar to the eyes of the more keen gardener. I remember my mother telling me that in the 1940's they could pull up thier Red Geraniums, and hang them bare-root in the root cellar, where thier fleshy thick stems would hold water and in spring, replant them. This water-storring capability is a trait which many African plants exhibit, many Section Hoarea Pelargoniums have potato-like organs, or woody carrot-like stems, and some even have thick fleshy leaves. These are indeed some of South Africa's rarest plants, and recently becoming highly collectable amongst those who not only collect Caudex plants, but with those who like strange and unusual specimens. Generally, these are not considered pretty plants by todays garden center-supertunia-standards.

P. echinatum

A more geophytic pelargonium, which may be more "growable' for the beginner is this gem, P. echinatum. Its greyish foliage and showing blossom are practically ornamental, well, as ornamental as these species can get. It is safe to state that if you are not a coinnoisseur of plants, you may find these species a bit unattractive, "pretty' is rarely attached to any of these pelargoniums. They are the less-attractive cousins to the Geranium. My brother laughs when I show him my Section Horeas Pelargonium in the winter, with thier twisted bare thorny stems and three leaves, as I exciteldy point to a skinny thin single stem with five barelt noticable buds on it. One wonders why we are attracted to the unusual, when others clearly don't see the magic.

Pelargonium crithmifolium is another species with less noticable flowers (as if the others are showy!) but the foliage is beautifully detailed with thick bulbous stems. This is a species which can be easily grown on a sunny windowsill in the winter.

Pelargonium auritum is a true Section Hoarea species, with the classic habit of going dormant half the year, and then sending out foliage in the fall, and flowers in the spring before entering dormancy again. Teh almost black flowers and tiny, and the plant itself is no taller than six inches, as many of these Hoarea are.

If you are interested in attempting or collecting any of these noteworthy plants, a handsome collection can be started, since they are highly collectable and choice. As it is with many of these types of plants, they are very difficult to find. The rarer forms can easily be grown from seed however, and there are two very good sources for seed (and occaisionally plants), yet newer restrictions are making importing seed more difficult, I did order some this past fall, all have germinated in two weeks. Seed can be ordered from Penrock Seed, in South Africa, and , B&T World Seeds in France. Both are reliable and provide excellent fresh seed and collect responsibly.

P. echinatum spending some time in the direct spring sun. This is perhaps the closest in appearance to the more common Pelargoniums which you may know.

I encourage anyone looking for something different to try these more interesting Pelargoniums, they are completely growable indoors, yet I grow ours in a greenhouse, I had kept many species indoors in sunny windows. Other geophytic species can be found at Logee's Greenhouses in Connecticut (but call them, since they do not list these on-line or in thier catalog. They carry P. echinatum and P. crithmifolim, as well as a couple other species).

P. appendiculatum is a very unusual tiny plant in the Section Horea, with denst furry leaves growing from a woody caudex stem which looks like a carrot.