December 17, 2007

Forcing Lily of the Valley Pips

Lily of the Valley Pips arrive via post

I am fascinated with things that fall out of favor, culturally and horticulturally. The list of forgotten plant favorites is long, fragrant bouquets of Parma violets scented that scented the air of railroad cars at the turn of the century, bowls of Anemones that once were the traditional Christmas flower, long before the Pointsetia made its way into cultuvation in the 1920s. Camellias, Chrysanthemums, and perhaps most lost of all, bulb pans of forced Lilly of the Valley. Once commonplace, featured in ads in gardening magazines right through the 1960's, for whatever reason, the tradition of ordering single plants of Convallaria majalis, known as Pips in the trade, fell out of fashion in the last quarter of the twentieth century. As a child I rememebered seeing full page ad's in my uncles Horticulture magazines, and I often dreamed of someday finally having money so that I could order them to grow in the greenhouse that I, of course, would someday build and own. Well, the day is finally here, except finding a source for Pips was more difficult than I imagined. Thanks to White Flower Farm, pips are available, I suspect that they are the last retailer in the US to carry them, and although a bit expensive, I believe it will be worth it. Most likely these pips are from a source overseas, either in Germany or the Netherlands. The only source I found was a Dutch wholesaler, and I would bet that they supply White Flower Farm.

The pips arrive safely wrapped in newspaper, and the simple procedure of planting them in moist soil is as easy as potting up paperwhite bulbs. The pips are large, not even remotely similar to pips dug from your home garden. These are at least four times as large, and have already been vernalized (kept cold in a false winter for a period of 16 weeks). All that needs to be done is to plant, water and wait.

15 Pips we're potted into a 10 inch bulb pan, watered and places on a plunge bed in the winter sun. The cool temps and moist air of the cold greenhouse will ensure sturdy growth and be early January, will deliver the fragrant white bells that say "june wedding' during the darkest days of the year. I can't wait!

December 9, 2007

The Inevitable Greenhouse Freeze

A tree aloe with a frozen flower stem.

I knew it was coming. Everyone who owns a greenhouse in a cold weather area experiences this.
It was inevitable, but finally happened. I awoke Friday morning to outside temperatures at 16 degrees F, and as I fumbled in the dark kitchen for the coffee pot, I glanced, as I always do, with one eye open, through the porch window across towards the greenhouse just to see if the unthinkable happened. I usually see a puff of steam coming from the exhaust of the furnace near the roof, and even through the whole glass structure is frosted over, the corner near the furnace is always clear and melted near the peak. But not today. The entire house was silent and frosted over, and I knew what had happened.

My fear was that everything would turn to mush, and thousands of dollars worth of collections would be lost forever.

sometime over the night, the furnace konked out from a lack of fuel. I knew that the previous sunday, while putting up holiday lights, that the fuel tank said 20%, blah blah blah, the work week flew by, and everytime I call the gas company they yell at me anyway for calling them too early. That will never stop me again.

Joe flew out to see what the damage was, ( and to sneak a cigarette), he came running in saying that the temp inside the house was near 31, and that we might still have time to call the gas company. He warned me though no to go look since the oxalis collections we're frozen solid, as we're many things. I knew that the sun would be up in an hour and was too shocked and depressed to go out to see. I sat and drank coffee staring at the road looking for the gas truck.

Long story short, the sun enver came out, it started snowing, gas truck game, re-primed the pump, the head came on with a whoosh and steam clouds once again rose through the falling snow. I then stepped out to see the damage, which, surprisingly was minor. Plants are so tough sometimes. I knew that I read somewhere that if kept dry, that plants could handle below freezing temperatures, and clearly, this worked. Besides the fact that most of my plants are cool- growing anyway, I did loose most of the pelargoniums, a couple tropical vines, some succulent bonsai and most tragically, the huge flower stem emerging from a tree aloe which I brought back from California, due to bloom for the first time this winter. Surprisingly, the velthiemias, Boophanes, Fresia, Cyrtanthus and Oxalis which where not only transparent and frozen hard, but wilted as if dead to the world, all recocoverd as if nothing happened! The cyclamen, narcissus collections all survived and may have even enjoyed the excitement. That said, the back-up heaters are now ready to run with gas and electricity, and even though I was complaining last week that the greenhouse was a burdon, another dependant keeping me from moving to another job, career, or excuse du jour, I am thankful that it is still there, collections and all.

Temps out side the house we're 16 degrees F. This Agave paryii survives outside since it is well drained.

December 2, 2007

Decorating for the Holidays & First Snow

The greenhouse is getting special attention this year. Sixteen degrees outside - it does make one wonder why one spends more time and money on lights and design, and not in installing the bubblewrap insulation that should be going up inside the greenhouse. But, then again, the glass is too wet right now, and there is something just wrong with hot chocolate and bubblewrap.

I am discovering that instead of twinklelights, that simple spot lights are more effective in holiday lighting. The color is exactly the same as white twinkle lights, but the impact is greater. Last year we began with lighting the birches in the front of the house, and near the studio, and now, we are starting to install them everywhere.

It must be working, I am seeing some neighbors doing the same thing this year. Lighting trunks from below can make the most ordinary tree, spectacular, and some trees that are either muscular like Stewartia or Holiday icons, like birches, are particularly nice.