September 28, 2009

September Blooms Hint of a March Wedding

I find it fun to try to challenge myself to create unusual combinations of plant material, and still keep the expression, seasonal. Here, a tea cup with a carefully curated selection of flowers from my garden is inspired by a little get together we had at the house yesterday, while planning the design of my best friend daughters wedding. She is getting married in March, and since she works at Logee's Greenhouses in Connecticut, she wants a botanically diverse wedding, rustic, hints of vintage, yet totally designed.This will be a fun project over the winter, for I have only designed a couple of weddings in the past, one, a fancy high budget fete at the Blythewold Estate in Rhode Island, again, for another friend, where I crafted garlands of chestnut leaves, artichokes and citrus which payed homage to the frieze in the estate's main home, and faux topiary constructed from lemon leaves, chicken wire and dozens of gardenia's, and built centerpieces our of sheered domes of boxwood and truffle colored velvet ribbon. I become too obsessed about designed weddings, wanting each to be better than anyone could ever imagine, but they are exhausting projects, so I rarely plan to become involved with any.

For this one,to be held in Sturbridge Mass. in a barn setting , we are planning arrangements of unusual succulents which need to be started now in the greenhouse, mosses, topiary Citrus, hints of feathers with speckles, tall forced branches of shrubs lit from below, and charming vintage collections of pottery with arrangements like this. It's all about an unusual color palette. Chocolate, mustard, chartreuse, aubergine, buttermilk and truffle.

September 21, 2009

Autumnal Equinox - Ladyslippers and Rain Lilies

Paphiopedilum 'Magic Lantern'
(P. micranthum 'Big Al' x P. delenatii 'Ruby'
A slightly deformed flower ( one half is actually missing, but when shot at this angle, you cannot see it).Something must have happened to the flower bud while in spike. Still, this new cross was appealing to me last year, when I purchased the plant at the New England Orchid Society Show since I felt that this Paph looked at bit like our native pink Ladyslipper, Cypripedium acaulis. Ladyslipper orchids, you will find, generally fall into three genus ( Which, for those of yer intimidated by orchids, is the first name in the latin name which is capitalized, the species half, is always lower case. The cross, or the name that the breeder has given the cross, will be in parenthesis). The three genus commonly referred to as ladyslippers are Paphiopedilum ( Paph's for short, in case you search for them on eBay, these are usually topical or sub-tropipcal), Cypripedium, ( usually you can think of yellow or pink ladyslippers that are wildflowers in temperate climates, Cyp's are hardier slippers, such as those grown in the garden and woodland in North America) and then there are the last tropical forms, known as Phrag's or Phragmapedium, similar to Paphs, but usually with more flowers per stem, and some and very long petalstha twist and hang, downwards. eBay is a great source for Paph's and Phrag's, if you want to load your windowsill up for the winter.

Tropical Ladyslippers, like Paphiopedilum are highly collectable by orchid specialists, but I do wonder why they are not more commonly grown by ordinary folk, for these cool growers are as easy to grow as the more commonly available Moth Orchids, or Phalaenopsis one finds at home centers and florist shops. With around 20,000 species, Orchids are the largest Family in the plant kingdom, and still, we only can find less than 5 available at retail locations. If I was to recomend easy orchids, especially to those in North America ( New England, in my case) I would suggest Cymbidiums, Paphiopedillums ( the Lady Slippers) and Miltonia species and the many hybrids of all of these. I have yet to be able to bloom a Phalaenopsis from Home Depot, however. Besides, they bore me.

A Rain Lily, or Zepharanthes blooms in a pot on the deck.

I move pots around all of the time, and the Rain Lilys, or Zepharanthes always surprise me. These ridiculously easy-to-grow bulbs were purchased 7 years ago, and I just keep them in the same pot, with hardly any care, besides the rain. They cannot freeze, so I keep the pots dry in the greenhouse all winter, and in the summer, I just place the pots outdoors, where the grassy foliage emerges early in the year. Every fall, the flowers surprise me since they emerge on an unpredictable schedule, usually after rain, the experts say, but I find that temperature and day length may play a more important role, since it has rained here ALL summer, and no blooms. As the pots bloom, I move them into arranged displays along with whatever plants in containers happen to look good at the moment. Here is a sampling I threw together last evening, with little thought. I think I could have found better companions to assemble together if I wasn't barefoot, but the gravel is sharp, and I was too lazy to go find sneakers.

September 19, 2009

Bulbs I'm Ordering Today

Act fast for the new introductions or they will sell out, like this pink muscari. Everyone wants this new pink Muscari, or Grape Hyacinth this year. It is very, very pale pink, but, still pink. Not sure how well it will perform but I must have it. Muscari 'Pink Sunrise' is available at most retailers mail order, but it is now sold out at Van Engelen.

You all know that I love rare and unusual bulbs, but one doesn't need to spend lots of money, or search for rare bulbs at tiny micro nurseries. Many interesting bulbs can be purchased on-line, from the main-stream bulb retailers. I order both rare and more common bulbs, from all sources, for I really don't care where they come from, as long as they are of the highest quality. Bulbs are graded, just like produce at your local supermarket, so you generally will get what you pay for. So, those glossy bulb catalogs where one can buy 50 bulbs for 9.99, will most likely send you smaller, less prime bulbs than the catalog that sells the same cultivar for 21.00 for the same quantity. I have noticed that although is is difficult to make a bad choice with bulbs, since most are rather fool proof, that also, one gets what one pays for. Especially with Amaryllis, for over the past 4 years, I have paid nearly $30.00 for those bulbs from White Flower Farm, and each has produced 3 buds each, and the quality was exceptional. So, although many will groan at the price of their plant material, when it comes to bulbs, the premium sources obviously purchase the most premium bulbs at the Dutch bulb auctions, whereas a Spring Hill, will take the riff raff. Business is business., and there are always exceptions. Here are some of what bulbs I am ordering today. ( NOTE: Bulbs are less expensive if you buy a higher quantity, a great source is Scheepers, and their sister site, (not wholesale, but higher-quanitity site) Van Engelen. Here is my list, some of it anyway, and where I am buying them.

From VanEngelen Inc

I am ordering these:

Narcissus cantabricus
This species Narcissus is a favorite of mine, and although I need to grow these in small pots in the greenhouse ( not unlike Paperwhite Narcissus), this tiny, fragrant, hoop flowered jem from the Mediterranean is choice and rare, and difficult to find, in fact, this is the first time I have ever seen it at a main stream catalog. Normally, I can only find the seed at rare bulb auctions or at the only source for rare, miniature Narcissus, Nancy Wilson where she sells slightly more noteworthy selections, but at a significantly higher price. Here at Van Engelen, they are around a dollar a bulb. Sweet!

Narcissus 'Peeping Tom'
Look at the scale of these trumpets! I love Cyclamineus-type of Narcissus, meaning those named cultivars which are bred from the wild form of N. cyclamineus, a species form with distinctive, blown back petals like a a cyclamen, and a long, long, pencil this slender trumpet. I adore the wild form more than any other Narcissus, but it is exetremely difficult to find, let alone grow. But the hybrids are available at the larger Dutch Bulb growers, and they will be listed under CYCLAMINEUS ( you will see that all Narcissus are listed by GROUP, divisions organized by the Narcissus Societies which sections them by form, like Large Cupped, Triandrus, and Tazetta - most either refer to the original wild species, like N. triandrus, as the parent of the hybrid, or the form, such as in miniature, or species). Cyclamineus may be challenging, but the hybrids are not, and all are beautiful. This hybrid called 'Peeping Tom' actually looks nothing like the wild N. cyclamineus, but the the genetics pushed the genes into extreme edges, and expressed in a super-long trumpet, which is open at the end, and smaller petals. This is smaller Daffodil, but like all Daffs. order as many as you can afford, but don't feel bad about it, they are long lasting and return every year.

Narcissus 'Sinopel'

At 10 for $18.00, this is not innexpensive, but always fun to have a greenish daffodil. I know, if you've grown this, it's not as green as the photo shows here, but it is still a fav. These I am planting along the east side of the greenhouse, in the bulb bed which is mostly sand, but they perform perfectly fine in regular garden conditions.

Frittilaria meleagris 'alba'
There are no comon names for most Frit's but don't let that stop you, these are not difficult to grow, and F. meleagris is perhaps the most easy. This rarer form is all white, and I just love how it looks, even as a cut flower. The typical form, of this "checkered lily' or 'Snakes Head lily' if fine enough, but the pure white form will show up better. These are fabulous planted in drifts, under trees in partial shade, where the naturalize for me by self seeding. The white form may revert back if it self seeds, but I am not sure. I will order 100 bulbs, and save 25 for growing in pots, forcing them in the greenhouse.

Iris dardanus

Sure, there are easier Iris species to grow, but the section of Iris organized as Onco's are choice. Yes, difficult, bot not this one. I grow enough of the more challenging ones, which actually are not that tough if one provides the right conditions, but if you want something different that will impress, this is the only Regelio Cyclus variety rarely carried by the big growers. I am going to try it in pure sand, that's it. Pure sand in full sun, no need for winter protection. I just bought bags of play sand at Home Dept, and dumped a few into a hole, in the front garden, and that is where I am planting these. That's it, now, that's not hard, is it? These Iris I have seen at some friends' gardens, and believe me ... NO one grows it, and EVERYONE will ask you where you got it. At 5 for 9.95 US, it's priced perfectly.

The all while form of Frittilaria persica, F. persica 'alba' available this year at some specialty bulb catalogs as well as the larger dealers like John Scheepers. I am getting a dozen to plant in the rock garden, since the dark violet form, which is more commonly available, did so well last year. Pricey? yeah, but I'm worth it.

Eremurus robustus

I know! Eremurus in New England, but these did so well for me last year, that I want more. I planted them in pure gravel, simply dumped gravel chips in a hole in the front garden, and they have retuned now for 4 years, at nearly 5 feet tall, they stop traffic.

Just a few for now, I will try and share more later!