November 30, 2008

Duality - Bulbs with Interesting Pairs of Leaves

Dormant for one year, this lone, single leaf on a Resnova megaphylla shows how stunning even a single leaf can be. Native ot a specific area of South Africa which has a wealth of these relatives of Ledebouria, these species range from cold climatically severe grasslands in the interior summer rainfall areas of the country to narrow endemics only known from one mountain top.

Some species like this are rare and vulnerable to habitat degradation and destruction. This applies particularly to several dwarf species such as this one, known from only a handful of localities on the Mpumalanga escarpment. this tiny bulb finally emerged after a two year domancy with the hope that next year, this tiny rare bulb may actually bloom. Even if it doesn't, the leaf -"although it be tiny, it be cute". The leaves are awesome.

Other plants with oddly paired leaves are many of the Lachenalias, which only produce two leaves, and the Massonia, here, a Massonia echinata shows it pair of fleash, ground-hugging leaves, and it's seasonal shaving brush tuft of flowers. The Massonia are quite fascinating, some have pustules on the leaf surface, like tiny blisters, and other species have fuzzy hairs covering the leaves. They are all small, tender South African bulbs which each produce only a pair of leaves, and with similar flowers during the winter months of December and January.

This rare Brunsvigia bosmaniae, another South African is slowly every so slooooowly growing, in its giant pot of fast draining soild. Dormant for most of the summer, I hope that it blooms in my lifetime! I carefully spends each winter on this sand bed, carefully watered and fertilized, tempting me with the possibility of bloom. IT will probably freeze before it ever blooms, the greenhouse ran out of gas last night, and thanks to a rather unfriendly gas company I use, I had to wait until today to get the tank refilled. We are having problems with our heater, since the greenhouse is kept rather cool, condensation creates an unfavorable combustion atmosphere ( my guess, anyway) so the heater explodes when the gas runs out, and then is refilled. Or on chilly damp days, tomorrow I will spend time on the phone trying to find out what the problem really is. Until then, my not-so-friendly Arrow Gas Company in Rochdale Massachusetts fined me $150.00 for running out of gas, even though they installed a self reading gas meter which does not work, and which I could not read because the locked a cap over it. Nice.

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November 29, 2008

A Walk in the November Woods and Berry Bowls

Partridge Berries (Mitchella repens) in the woods near our house. Once collected for use as a winter Holiday decoration in small, glass bowls called Berry Bowls.
Walks in the woods late in the autumn are a favorite, nostalgic memory for me. The cold air, the smell of the dead leaves, the sounds of the Nuthatches and Chickadee's high in the trees, the taste of the Wintergreen and Teaberries - all remind me of my childhood, and even my dad, of his childhood ( he is still alive at nearly 95, and went walking in today too). The dogs were itchy to get out, so off we went to Purgatory Chasm, a few miles from our home, where old growth forests still grow, and a canyon-like chasm, provides dramatic granite scenery.

As a kid. we would spend many summer days picking mushrooms here, with my mom, or nut in the early fall, and around Thanksgiving, an annual trip to cut a Christmas tree from the wild, a very Charlie Brown-like White Pine ( white pine needles when heated by Christmas lights, still brings me back!). Sad looking trees, but when you are 5, you think they are the best.

Later, I would pick a selection of plants, which many New Englanders would pick, to make what are known as 'Berry Bowls', a colonial craft not unlike terreriums, where certain woodland plants would be gathered from the woods, and arranges in soil and moss, in a jar, or brandy snifter, cover with a sheet of glass, and decorated with a red ribbon. Perhaps not truly a colonial craft, I would imagine that it was more likely a craft which started in the late 19th Century, and then peaked in the first half of the 20th Century. In the 1950's and 1960's, they could be mail ordered from New England Nursery's via ad's in HORTICULTURE magazine or GOURMET. Florists would carry them selectively until the 1980's from those who still gathered greens from the woods and sold them wholesale, but today, the craft is understandably discouraged upon for obvious reasons. THe endangered habitat of many of our local plants is at risk, and even casual collecting is not encouraged, even if it is your own property.

Still, I have an idea, which I am working on, that used commercially available plants, some tropical, that might achieve the same effect - a 'greener' more responsible berry bowl, perhaps?

Galutheria procumbens, or wintergreen ( or as my father called it, Teaberry or Checkerberry). Traditional New England woodland berry which tastes like the old Teaberry gum, or better yet -Peptobismol.

The Rock Polypody (Polypodium virginianum) An evergreen fern which grows on granite rock in many New England woods.

A view of the woodland in central Massachusetts, this old growth forest of Tsuga canadensis is being lost to the wooly aldegid, some 200 year old trees are now missing from this shot.

Another candidate once collected for 'Berry Bowls". the common Pipsissawa ( Chimaphilia maculata), also known as the Striped Windergreen, or Striped Prince's Pine. I suppose, many of the native New England woodland plants which are evergreen, had common names such as 'wintergreen' or 'Prince's Pine' ( or even, Princess Pine).

The mosses are outstanding in the oak forests this time of year, just before snowfall. The brilliant green stands out amongst the oak and chestnut leaves. One can see how colonial women would be tempted to pick these plants for glass jars and jugs to bring into the home during the winter, the red and green colors are so brilliant in the fall light.

Margaret and Fergus keep an eye out for wild turkey's and perhaps a squirrel.

More moss

The central Massachusetts forest is generally a mixture of oak, maple, beech and ash, with evergreens such as our native White Pine, Pinus strobus, and Canadian Hemlock, Tsuga canadensis. These are the same forests the pilgrims traveled through, and this particular site in Northbridge, MA was a camp for Nipmuck Indians. The caves and tools are still found here. As children, my father would take us here hiking the day after Thanksgiving, and we would gather burlap feed bags full of Holiday Greens such as Lycopodium or Prince's Pine, which we would wrap with twine and wire to make garlands and wreaths for the house. He used to go to the same woods with his brothers, during the 1920's, so I still like to go for a hike the weekend after Thanksgiving, to not collect plants, but to look at them, instead. Usually, this is the week that we would get out first snowfall, but the first flurries of the season are expected tonight, instead.

November 25, 2008

What Plant Societies Need to Do to Survive

My prototype for a modernized, yet very classic looking Journal design for the North American Rock Garden Society.

A website design, for a modern plant society which offers more than just meeting dates.

After a lively discussion online two weeks ago on the Alpine-L user group, an online group dedicated to discussions and chat about alpine plants, woodland plants and bulbs, among other things; a recent thread emerged that raised the fact that many, if not all specialist plant groups are experiencing a drop in membership. There surely are many reasons for this, ranging from a busier world, to other options either on-line or lifestyle changes. Regardless, I had suggested that one way some plant groups could increase membership is to revise what they offer. The Scottish Rock Garden Society is a great example, their website offers blogs, posts, membership and photos. So I decided to go out on a dangerous limb, and design what a potential site could look like for the North American version of the Scottish group. Many of you know that my day job involves designing intellectual property, managing mega brands and inventing new portals for these brands. I am not a web designer, but I am a graphic designer, so note that these comps are created in Adobe Illustrator and Adobe Photoshop - they would undoubtedly be expensive websites to construct, but I wanted to make a few points.

First, becoming more modern does not mean that you would need to stop printing a journal, we all love paper. Second, manhy of us are on-line already, and we exercise our plant passions in different ways - I have a blog on blogger, I post images on Flicker, I use YouTube daily, and I know that there are other NARGS members on Flicker and Youtube - I link to them. So I am already chatting, and linking to others on line. I am not alone.

Think about it. You take digital photos, you may even take videos on your travels, or of your garden. You already are on-line, or you would not be reading this. I web site, and a society, are very similar - they are social places, so how terrific would it be if the ultimate plant society site evolved, someone will do it someday - but the question is who will lead?

There are many issues here to overcome, there are issues about heritage, about if perhaps should a group of plant societies join together ) Primrose, Androsace, Saxifrage, Bulb Groups, Rock Garden Society, etc) to become one mega-site. But whatever happens, I only hope that someone takes a step soon. As members, we all want to enjoy our membership. A publication on paper is fine, and in digital worlds, this can happen is different ways, a downloadable PDF file, or an iPhone sized mini newsletter - technology is becoming more integrated every day, and experts are saying that in four years, we will al be fully converted - which is expected to change how advertising to political campaigning works - the Obama campaign is already looking at four years from now, and how they will focus on cell phone advertising with videos. One of the greatest issues is WHO will manage these sites, who will design and maintain them, much needs to be considered, and I realize that it is not easy. There are non profit groups who have restructured and who have incredible web sites and more - take the National Geographic Society, now known as NatGeo. Advertising subsidizes the website, with links to travel, hiking, outdoor outfitters, and camera companies. Modern groups license their name, offer product such as backpacks, logo merchandise if it is designed nicely, but these are all attainable goals. The world is changing fast.

Whatever all of our plant societies do, I only hope that they remain open to change, to technology, and realize that these too are changing fast. But wouldn't it be nice to have a site where you could download a document in excel where you can organize your collections, where you can post photos of your gardens, or videos of your successes. OF course, these sort of site would require significant restructuring, an editor may need to be subsidized, or an initial cost for design and architecture may need to be spent up front ( another reason for sites to join in some idea of a Global Plant Society home page), where costs could be shared), whatever happens, modern plant groups have a long road ahead if they want to survive - they need to offer more, be more informed and offer more value.