June 17, 2006

Iris variegata

After a week away at a conference in the heat of the desert in Las Vegas, it's nice to come home to late spring again, although, it is predicted to reach a very Vegas-like 92 degrees here Sunday. I am not one for fancy Iris, prefering simple species to the fancy German Bearded types, but this simple beauty is in the Germanica group and yet is exhibits a refined beauty that I find very pleasant in the early June garden.

A true species from hungary, Iris variegata is not variegated at all, at least the foliage isn't as one may be lead to believe by it's name. Instead, it is a Standard Dwarf Bearded (SDB) type with great potential in the border, if, again, you can find a source for it. The now closed Heronswood Nursery is where this clump arrived from four years ago. The yellw standards are brilliant, but the veined cream and blackberry falls are what makes this plant so striking, even from a distance. I love the brownish, muddy colors of the lost and vintage German Bearded Iris, and this species reminds me of them. Slightly fragrant, it does well, in this bed in front of the greenhouse.

June 9, 2006

Shake Your Rebutia

The Bolivian cactus Rebutia pulchella
What's wrong with people? Why don't other people grow these? Ther are SO many genus and species of various South American Cacti that are remarkable growable; plants that just need the simple conditions of a cold dry winter windowsill that is sunny, or a poarch that doesn't freeze, or a garage window, where they can be forgotton, literally, from October until April, and then watered. And look what happens.

Now, granted, I never really had success with these plants until I built the greenhouse, where they survive total neglect and abuse, but I think I am having some success because they can get ice cold, near freezing, which is what really triggers them to bloom, and I can keep them bone dry and still give them direct sun through single pane glass. But I do know that I have a studio room that is unheated with southern exposure windows, so one could try these over-blooming cacti if you have such a place as a cellar window that stays cold in the winter and gets sun.

Rebutia perplexa

I first became introduced to these blooming cacti during a visit to the Chelsea Flower Show one year. A gentleman there exhibits an spectacular display of cacti, in fact, almost unbelievable in it's diversity. I then foudn a book on Echinocerus publishedc by Kew Monographs, where it talks about the popularity of collections in the UK of blooming cacti in unheated small greenhouses, much like an alpine house. Here in America, I think it gets too cold in the north east for many of these South American beauties, but there are many other cacti that can live outside if given the right conditions. But I wanted to grow these in pots. After finding a few genus to try, I discovers that there are many Bolivian cacti that have an amazing range of flowers. Rebutia, Lobivia, Notocactus - try google and see what you can find. Even on eBAy, there are many available, most under $5.00 US.

Lobivia arachnacantha with it's dark stem color and spider-like thorns

I potted my collection up in a loose, fast draining mix composed mostly of sand and pumice, with some peat and perlite added. The plants are kept in the sunniest part of the greenhouse year round, and simply get waterd occaisionally starting once buds form in May, and then throughout the summer. In the fall, I withhold water, and the pots are pushed up right against the glass, where they get full sun in the winter, but ever frost over a bit on cold nights when the temps ouside fall to below zero F and the glass frosts over. This cold, triggers the plants to bloom, and many cacti can indeed freeze if they are kept dry, and the cell walls are less turgid.

A collection of blooming cacti at the Chelsea Flower Show

June 4, 2006

Garden walk in the rain

Cyrtanthus brachyscyphus
The rain has not kept us from working in the garden, and even though it is flooding, many things we're still planted since the weather has been at least, good for that!
A walk around the yard, with the camera reveals some surprises. Like this first blossom on a winter dormant South African Cyrtanthus bulb, C. brachyscyphus. Samll, no taller than 8 inches, I was happy to find it establishing itself in a small clay pot in the greenhouse. You can tell why it is called the fire lily in South Africa, it provided a little spark on such a dready day.

A blizzard of Enkiathus Blossoms
Somtimes, it's not about the flowers on the reen, or in this case the shrub, but it's more about the geshtault of the moment. As the Japanese find great respect in this (FOr instance, Cherry blossom festivals or Sakura are really not about the flowers on the tree, but about how the shatter and fall, twisting in the wind and the patterns they make on the rocks, streams and ground. How very Wabi Sabi. Anyway, I could not help but think of that, as I discovered this dusting of Enkiathus blossoms on the gravel walk to the greenhouse.

Camassia leichtlinii semiplena
The Camas Lily, native to the pacific north west is a North American bulb that provides welcom color and the magnificence of height, during a time when there are remarkable few bulbs in bloom, at the begining of June. I feel a special attachment since my brother had once lived in Camas Washington, and it was there where I first found fields of this beautiful American bulb plant.; Typcally blue, there is a white form, and above, a rarer double form of the white Camas lily. Inexpensive enough, one can afford a dozen or two, look for them in specialty bulb catalogs, they are not that difficult to find.

Saxifraga X 'Sieben'
We keep a number of troughs, and this is a tiny one, kept mostly in the Alpine house where we keep many of the Saxifrages. Here, S. 'Sieben" shows a dainty wire of a stem, with tiny white saxifrageous blossoms. It appears happy enough to not be in the rain, where the pounding drops could dislodge some of the llimestone dusting on the foliage of this high elevation alpine plant from Europe.

Rhodohypoxis baurii in a trough
I have one trough that is in full sun, and for the fun of it, I planted some bulbs in it too, including some frost tender Rhodohypoxis, another summer blooming South African that I happen to be fond of at the moment. I have so many, that I decided to stach a potful in the sunny trough next to an Allium.