December 21, 2006

USDA Zone Changes

Just in case you have friends who don't believe that global warming is happening, please note this landmark event--- The National Arbor Day Foundation has just released the revised USDA grow zone maps of North America, and as many of us have noted, we indeed have become warmer by at least one zone. Horrors!

I am now USDA Zone 6!, and not 5. hmmmm,

I see good and bad in this news only from the perspective of 'what I can grow now' but, of course, fundamentally, this is tragic news and a confirmation of why so many things are happening - I haven't seen an Evening Grosbeak since the early 1980's, since now they don't migrate this far from Canada any more, so the sunflowerseed tabletop feeders that once would be covered with these gold and black, parrot-like birds from my childhood memories, and that.....just memories. BUt my heating bill for the greenhouse is remarkable low this year, and some hardy camellia are growing in my formally zone 5 Massachusetts garden, as well as Nerine. Maybe Burpee will start offering the formally "too tender to grow" species from Heronswood now, since that was one of the reasons why they felt that the landmark nursery fails to deliver a profit to them. Now that we are all zone 6 or higher, let's bring back the 1" think bible of a catalog! (more on that later!)

But come on.......USDA zone changes? Wow....I suppose this will come as good new to some, but to most gardeners, this is frightening news. Especially to alpine plants growers and thsoe who grow Primula and other cold loving plants. I surely can see the joy in keeping more tender bulbs, over in the garden now, and have been noticing myself that I was having success with wintering over zone 6 and 7 plants. But overall, this indication of global warming scares me to know end...

NOTE: Thanks to viewer Doug Green, who kindly responded with additional (and more accurate information) the USDA is NOT currently changing the zone status, the information which I provided come only from the Arbor Day Foundation, and not the USDA, Doug notes: "I think you'll find that the official USDA zone map has not changed. What has changed is the arbor day organization zone rating. These are two unconnected projects. The USDA map is in the working stage to change from a 15 to a 30 year data map but is not yet done according to Tony Avent who sits on the committee and reported same on the alpine-l listserv. Just to clarify things a bit. Doug "

Thanks Doug...I gues that'a what I get for rushing and not doing my homework!

December 8, 2006

Move over Paperwhites... Welcome to the other winter narcissus

Narcissus viridiflora, the rare green flowered Narcissis

Not all Narcissus are yellow or while, just as not all narcissus are spring blooming. This precious Narcissus had been on our wishlist for quite some time, and this is the first year that I have recieved a couple blossoms. The fragrance is strong, but not as intense as the Paperwhite, which I happen to love, the scent of this N. viridiflorus is more clove-like, but on a sunny day underglass, which is where one must grow this gem, it is quite noticible. It was how I discovered it to be in bloom, since the blossom blends in with all of the other green growing around it, I could have easily missed it. Again, dry in summer, moist and fast draining in the winter, cool greenhouse, under glass.

In North Africa in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco to Turkey, to the mountains in Spain and Portugal, Narcissus start blooming in the Autumn. In these areas, the rains begin in early autumn, which triggers growth, along with the colder temperatures. These areas are also where one find Narcissus papyraceus, the species we know as Paperwhite narcissus. Paperwhites are more technically classified as Tazetta-type to those who collect and grow Narcussus, bot most of the fall blooming species belong to a lesser known group known as the hoop daffodils. narcissus bulbocodium is perhaps the most common of the hoop narcissus, which all tend to grow quite short, no taller than four or five inches in height, and bloom in early spring. Thier most notable feature is thier enlarged corona, the trumpet part of the blossom, and the petals are much smaller, if hadly visible at all.

Narcissus cantabricus

Now, as hoop narcissi go, the species forms are as taxonomically mumbled as one can imagine, but the blooming cycle helps me identify this one, since it is the first of the Hoop narcissi that are tender, and winter blooming, to bloom. Usually around November to Christmas. The scent is so sweet, like honey, without any of the muskyness one sometimes finds with paperwhites. I know, these bulbs speces are not for everyone, since first they are challenging to grow unless one can provide the perfect condidtions, like a cold greenhouse, frost free with bright sun and not too woar, during the day. But they sure are worth it when one can dedicate thirty or so species to a corner where they can basically be forgotten through the summer, except for repotting, and then watered throughout the cold winter. I love them all, and this year have added many new species to the collection of Narcissus that grow during the winter. Stay tuned for more shots as they progress.

December 3, 2006

Now for the rare stuff...

Cyrtanthus species (most likely C. elatus X)

This unknown species, or most likely a cross between two species of Cyrtanthus blooms regularly for me in early December. Purchased at an IBS (International Bulb Society) bulb auction at the Huntington Botanical Garden in Pasadena, CA, in 2000, this bulb has grown to fill two pots, and for a species notorious for being difficult to bloom, for some reason, I have had good luck with both pots.One pot has soil which is mostly granite chips, perlite and sand, and the other pot is 14 inches wide, with simply peat-based Pro-mix, a professional mix containing perlite and peat. Both soil mixes have been augmented with gravel, but I wanted to test the differences of a smaller 6 inch plastic pot and a massive clay pot. Both have grown to fill thier pots, and bloom about three weeks apart.

Lapierousa montana
This tiny lapierousa was started by seed in 2002, after the advice of some friends during an online chat on the Pacific Bulb Society (PBS). I had complained that the cost of South African bulbs as well as the availability of finding any species in the U.S, let alone in the world seemed prohibitive for most collectors. I was encouraged to purchase seed from one of two seed suppliers in South Africa, Penrock Seeds and Silverhill Seeds. I gathered my books and journals, and cross-referenced what species and genus I wished to try, and placed an order. They all grew so easily, and are now begining to bloom. I find it fascinating to have fifteen to twenty of one genus blooming, so that one can see the differences between them, let alone the fact that hardley anyone grows the lesser known species, nor even the more 'common (?) species of many of these genus.

Brunsfigia bosmaniae

Perhaps my rarest bulb, after acquiring it last year, and allowing it to 'bake' in a large dry pot in the back of the glasshouse, this precious Brunsfigia bosmanniae surprised me this weekend with a spurt of new growth, just on time after it's first watering a month ago. Of course, I don't expect it to bloom, but naturally, I will dream of it. This species is so difficult to bloom in captivity that my hopes are not that high, but you never know. This plant will take ten or more years to mature before I can expect any chance of it's spectacular and rare blossom, which will appear in our Northern Hemisphere's late spring, after the bulb starts to loose it's foliage, and go dormant.

Haemanthus albiflos

Well, not rare, but certainly more unusual and less common to most people, but this is one South African plant that you could grow as a houseplant, (avalable at Logees Greenhouses online, if not, I know that have it). This Haemanthus also blooms exactly this week in December every year. The shaving-brush blossom is unique with it's boss of thick white stamens, which is more beautiful in a photo than in real life, since it tends to get lost in the greenhouse. However, the foliage is superb, and as this plant is dividing nicely, I can expect a nice full pot by spring, when I will most likely divide it before allowing it to go ratty and dry for the summer.