August 9, 2006

GARDEN TRENDS: Hello Japan 1

The Samurai Orchid, Neofinetia falcata

Gardening and collecting plants is an experiencce which is so deeply personal to each of us, often rooted just between you, and the plant, it's an intimate experience which others gererally don't understand. As an American who both travels and gardens far more than the average Yankee green thumb, I find the combination of other cultures and thier gardening enthusiasm stimulating, not only because it is new to me, but because it appears to be unexploited by others and have been overlooked by garden writers.

Asia continues to lead the trend in Gardening as it does with other trends like desig, no culture has both affected the art of gardening and at the same time be as un exploited as the Japanese have.

Think about it. When you think of Japan and gardening, what do you think of? Most likely, bonsai, followed closely bt Japanese gardens with thier minimalist design and raked sand pools. A few may add Japanese maples and the wealth of plant material that originated from the horticulturally rich island of Japan. But what if I told you that this represents, what I believe, might be just 10$ of what Japan can contribute to the rest of the world? Seriously, within the shores of this island , is an amazing undicovered hprtifulturall secret just waiting to be exploited by someone.

Dendrobium moniliforme
This secret is more of a phenomenon that has been kept within the borders of Japan simply because no other culture could, or perhaps woudl ever understand it. Which still may unfortunately be the case since the relationship between Japan and its plants involves a complex blend of religion (Shinto and its reverence of nature), political history (the inflluence of the Edo period) and modern factors (crowded cities). Combine this with the fact that the over-all culture of Japan defies most western definitions with it's oxymoronic reality of a language and culture which alienates others and keeps the country an exotic anomooy, along with unmatched modernity and technology that leads others on our planet.

I think alot about why the gardening world has avoided this world of Japan, its people and the plants that they grow. My guess is that it might be too difficult to explain. Overwhelming, really. I'm not kidding, here's an example. This is a culture that can take a single plant, like Morning Glories, a planat that Amaricans plant on lightposts and on chainlink fences as a fast growing summer annual. What do you think of when someome tells you that they have planted morning glories? Most gardeners think of sky blue. That color that only morning glories can deliver, others might remember nostagic memories of thier grandmothers, and others might think of weeds, since the genus also can be terribly pesty in some areas.

OK, to be fair to even us plant geeks, Morning Glories might bring connections between other collectable rare plants in the genus.

August 7, 2006

Brugmansia Fragrance

Brugmansia cultivars love the heat and humidity

A week ago today, the buds on this yellow Brugmansia were only an inch ,ong or so, and in this short time of seven days, the blossoms are about a foot long. Growth over an inch a day is not unusual for tropcial plants such as these.
The current craze for tropical plants used as annuals is making fastg rowing giants like these and other plants available at most garden centers, but I remember when, as a kid in the 1960's our neighbor had a Brugmansia tree which he kept potted in an old horse trough in his cellar during the winter, and in the summer, it would be planted in his front yard where it's foot-long fragrant blossoms would halt traffic.

Brugmansia, then classified as Datura and later taxonomists reclassified it, are easy tog row as long as you follow a few key requirements. 1. Never let them dry out, or they will lose thier foliage and go into a semi dormant state, 2. Fertilize heavily, since fresh new growth and not woody growth is neccessary for good blossom set, and 3. Give them full sun and a large container.

These are frost tender, and really only like heat, so cold temps under 55 really affect thier growth. If you live in the north, as we do in New England, you can easily pull the pots back into the cellar and let the plants lose all thier leaves and go dry until spring, just make sure that they get some light, low temps and enough water to keep the stems greenish.

August 4, 2006

Staying Cool with Stylish White

Gardenia blossoms smell better in the moist summer air

If gardenias were wine, connoisseurs would advise that to appreciate the deep, rich, complexity of the scent, one must enhale the blosson in a moist bouyant atmosphere to atruly appreciate it's balance. So, with near 100% humidity here in the New England area of the States, I'd say we are ready for GArdenia tasting. It is this very moist air which not only triggers the potted Gardenia plants to bloom, which have been relovated outside for the summer, but it also brings a certain quality to the rich scent, a quality that somehow makes it more acceptable to those who find it cloying, and a quality which enhances the scent for those of us who love it, like I do.
I think that we may have the largest Gardenia tree in the world. Well, we know it is not, but for a plant that is regarded as fussy to grow in a container, our plant is six feet tall and wide (see inset with Fergus). Each summer is gifts us with hundreds of blossoms, one time over a hundred at one time in bloom. No special treatment fo this old plant,it just gets shoved out in the summer, and pulled back into the Greenhosue for the winter. Sure, the greenhouse helps, but it barely makes it though the winter since it is a trap for scale, aphids and mealy bug. It is the first plant to get any of these. The plant was gifted to us (rescued?) from friends who had kept the plant in thier home during the winters near Boston, so ir's not as it one needs greenhouse conditions. Basically, it doesn't go dry, it rarely has wilted, and occaisional root pruning and repotting has kept the beast healthy.

A pure white Agapanthus stands out in the mid-summer heat

Commonly seen in blue, hence,it's common name, the Blue Lily of the Nile, (although Violet Lily of the Nile might be more accurate to a colorist),I think that this striking white form of Agapanthus is just as quite impressive. This unknown cultivar of ours, was bought (on sale in the winter) at a lage Boston gardencenter without a tag, just because it had beautiful wide foliage. It surprised us to be an excellent form of a "alba' selection, most likely a cultivar from one of the larger plant breeding wholesalers in California like Monrovia or something. Who care what name it has, it still has gigantic flower heads, the size of basketballs and larger even then the purple cultivar called Thunderhead.

I can't say that I have mastered growing agapanthus yet. They dop well enough now that we have the greenhouse, but with nearly ten cultivars in the collection, and a few species like A. inapertus, only two have decided to bloom this year, and last year, the others all bloomed. They all are growing profusely, it just seems that the rest tok the year off. As South African bulb-like plants, although they do not go dormant, they do still get a dry half of the year and a wet, growth time of year. It may be a simple adjustment as dryer and cooler in the winter and perhaps more frequent repotting since they are all quite root bound now.

Although it has been easier with the addition of the greenhouse. I know that many garden writers advise to simply pot them up in tubs or large pots, and after thier summer bloom, drag them to a cool garage or cellar, and let them go semi dormant, at least in the colder parts of the world, like Zone 5 and lower. What's up with this advice? I wonder if they ever have really grown any of the plants that they write about? OR do they just research on-line and repeat poor advice? When I become a garden writer, ( someday) I will promise to write only about those plants which I have mastered or failed with, reporting my successes and advice with authentic accuracy, not acquired information which is second hand, at best.

Fresh Green Papyrus adds balance to white flowers in arrangements and in the garden
I love Papyrus, and the I keep a few species that also go out in the summer, into tubs of water. The cut stems are stylish, in arrangements, and long lasting.