August 31, 2006

Bye bye, Summer and a new computer

Tulbaghia blossoms - last of the season
Fall is allabout new clothes, fresh pencils, and new computers. It's back to school time. But, for me, it's the addition of a pottery class, since I dont have anything better to do! (right!). Oh yeah, and the book, and work, and the new Narcissus collection.....

It's one of those transitional times of year again, and in fact, both horticulturally speaking and calandar speaking, the last week of August marks a significant change for many. Experiences are so personal, for many, this week on the calandar marks the week that your kids go back to school, or college. If , like me, you don't have children, you may remember your own childhood. The end of August, for me, still is a sort of rebirth. A time to buy a few new clothes, and, well, school supplies. So, I bought a new compter. A Mac Pro with the new Intel chip. Now, I can add video to the blog, compose music and podcast. So stay tuned.

Until then, hey, it's Labor Day Weekend, here in the US, meaning, it's a three day weekend. Finally, I can get into the greenhouse and spend some time with the plant. The garden has gone to hell, there is SO much work to be done, and since it seems like it has rained everyweekend, big chores like trimming the long 220 foot hedge that protects us from the road still hasn't been done, as well as painting the house, moving five tons of gravel to the new circular garden which I haven't named yet, and a slew of other jobs, trees that need to be cut down, relocating or pruning. It never ends.

Instead, at least some progress was made with the new rock garden complete with a Czech crevice garden (more about that soon) and all of the winter blooming bulbs in the greenhouse have been repotted, and are ready for thier first watering in a week or so. Still remaining, bulbs bulbs bulbs, from many sources, mostly for the greenhouse, and for the new bulb best contructed last year along the east side of the greenhouse, but not used yet. New this year will be a collection of Narcissus for the outside bed, and for pots that will bloom starting in Oct, through spring. Mostly these are N. triandrus and N. cyclamieus types. I think I may have orderd every cultivar that I could find, with hopes of breeding them.

One big chore left is to make repairs to the glass in the greenhouse that has broken or slid off of the roof, and this year at least ten large panels need to be replaced in the next few weeks. An awesome task, but it has to be done.

The new computer has held me up from posting pics, so until Sept. 1, I am just posting this nice pic of a Tulbaghia in bloom now, a South African bulb plant which is easy, and evergreen, yet tender, so one would need a greenhouse to winter it over.

August 24, 2006

Old School Daffs:The Miniature Winter-Blooming Narcissus

August is the time to plant these tiny precious and rarely seen Narcissus species.

I grow many of the bulbocodium types of Hoop Daffodils along with the other summer dormant bulbs in the greenhouse, they are the highlight of the late autumn and winter greenhouse with a bloom period that begins in October and ends in April with the latest of the species. By then, the outdoor narcissus take over and one can have narcissus in bloom for 8 months straight.

Quite rare, in the sense that you will really have to cleaver on-line to find these jems, the lesser of the miniature Narcissus are well known amongst alpine plant growers in England, and to rock gardeners in North America, who have a greenhouse or who live in a medeterranian climate. They demand the conditions that match thier native lands, from Spain and Portugal to Morrocco and Turkey - basically, once again, dry in the summer dormancy, and frost free and moist in fast draining soil in the winter.

This year I am attempting to grow more smaller narcissus, especially the species and hybrids in the sections of N. cyclamineus and N. triandrus. Both are and have been treasured as alpine house classics throught the nineteenth and early twentieth century by bulb collectors and alpine growers around the world. They remain absent in the trade, and can only be found a a very few of the best daffodil growers. both in containers and in he rock garden. A little pricy, or even alot pricy with some bulbs selling between $20 -$45.00 US, it takes an investment to fill a pot of twenty bulbs. I am going to start with 1-3 bulbs each, and see where that takes me. I will still be eating ramen noodles for a few weeks, surely!

A pot of Narcissus romiuxi in bloom last December.

I've become daffy about mini daffodils. In the past two weeks, I've joined the American daffodil Society, ordered most every book on the subject from Alibris.com (a great site for out of print books from all over the world) and I am smack in the middle of ordering mini daff's from the few, not even handful, of mail order nursuries who carry them like Nancy Wilson in the U.S and Paul Christian in the UK.

Uncleaned bulbs after a 'baking' in the summer greenhouse

Now, I should be more clear. Of course there are many other bulb nurseries, like Brent and Becky's bulbs, and others, many of which carry a selection of true miniature narcissus. The named varieties that you will find in most of the more respected catalogs are all the same. A few like the variety Xit and Clare, are harder to find as are the species N. rupicula and N. waterii, but a couple catalogs still carry them from time to time. Don't let this discourage you, al narcissus are great, and all of the miniatures are super and precious in the garden.

Remember, I'm a plant geek, and to those of you who are also plant geeks, we tend to look deeper. Way down to, say, what woudl the rarest narcissis be? What would be considered the most unusual. Many of you may be like me, and atend local meetings and specialty plant clubs during hte winter, all which have little contests where members bring treasures from thier greenhouses to compete against each other. Some of us grow a few pots to enter in the larger flower shows like the New England Flower Show or the Philadelphia Flower Show. So we look for the real unusual, it't what gives us goose bumps, to see a precious unusual species that is often not seen. Plain yellow daff's are stil nice. we are just numb when we view them.

Cleaned Narcissus obesus bulbs all ready for potting up in August

What I am particularly interested in, are very particular types of narcissus, that require special conditions, not difficultu really, but ones that must be grown in an alpine house throughout our cold, New England winter. Requiring bright sunlight, and cool temperatures along with bouyant air and fresh water. Granted, collecting these particular species is this is a subculture, if you will, of either Narcissiphiles or Alpinists, or maybe even both combined. Let me put it this way, it's not going to get me a date! These bulbs really can only be grown by those who either live in a more medeteranean climate like California, or who have an alpine house in the north. Since they require similar conditions as many of the South African bulbs that I grow, they are a perfect fit.

The best results come from crowded pots, the bulbs seem to like touching each other.

August 23, 2006

A walk in the garden - August

The intensely fragrant Cestrum nocturnum shares it's scent only at night
Since I am so busy working on my book on design trends, which is due to the publisher this week, and with my job, I will just briefly walk through the garden and report some noteworthy events of the week since it is now 1:00 AM and I just got back from work. I will be lucky to get time to even water the greenhouse tomorrow morning before my hour commute back in to work, ugh.

It's nearing the end of August, and even though the nights are cooler, we are still getting warm sunny days with temps in the 80's. This Cestrum nocturnum is a new plant for me, and one which I will always grow,since I am a nut for fragrance. This plant really delilvers is punch only at night. Last week, I had fogotten that it was in a pot and plunged into the ground in front of the greenhouse. In the dark, we could smell it and couldn't figure out where the sent as coming from. Now on the deck, on this glorious morning, it had scented the warm, humid evening air after last night thundershowers all night. The entire house smelled of Jasmine, (It's common name is night Jessamine).

Rebutia 'Red Riding Hood'
The cactus collection is still sending out an occaisional bloom. Most of the Rebutias bloom for us in June, this August beauty is brilliant fuscia, althought its cultivar name is Red Riding Hood.

Scabiosa for cut flowers
This spring I was inspired by Wayne Winterrowds excellent book, Annuals and Tender Plants for North American Gardens (Random House),a must have. So I attempted to grow many of the more unusal or lesser grown annuals, the type that wither need to be sown in situ or are not carried by retailers at all. One of the 'lost' old world annuals is Scabiosa, a great cut flower which has had stems last over a week in my office. It's wiry stems twist and turn gracefully and are attractive, this, a selection of a color mix which I lost the name of is attractive with its blend of burgundy, mauve and white.

Boöphane disticha
One of the rarer plants in the collection, this Boöphane disticha, (pronounced Boo-off-ah-knee),a challenging to grow bulb from South Africa which is highly posionous, even it's dried leaves on the dormant bulb when touched cause numbness in my fingers so I must work with rubber gloves even to repot it when dormant. I have it positioned up high outside,, so that the dogs can't get it. Tribesmen in Africa make poison for darts from this bulb. I was advised after 'investing' in it, that I would be lucky to get it to grow. So far, so good. I was able to awaken it out of dormancy, a task in itself. No, if only I can coax it to bloom. It is planted in an extremely fast draining mix of sharp sand, perlite and rock, and in a large container of about 10 gallons. The plant is notorious for not liking to be repoted, and it is long lived.

A view of some of the caudiciform plants in the collection

Summer is the active tiem for these caudiciform plants. Here is an early morning view of some of the best. Kept bone dry in the winter, these plants all have water-storage parts above the soil. During the summer, they can take a surprising amount of water.