}

November 13, 2011

Tiny Autumnal Treasures

THIS TINY FALL-BLOOMING NARCISSUS SEROTINUS WHICH GROWS IN THE WILD FROM ISRAEL TO ITALY, IS NO LARGER THAN A THUMB.
THE FRAGRANT NARCISSUS SEROTINUS. I THINK IT IS TIME THAT I ADD MORE BULBS TO THIS CONTAINER - IN THE WILD, THIS SPECIES GROWS IN DRIFTS.

CYCLAMEN GRAECUM SSP. ANATOLICUM,
IT'S ALL ABOUT SCALE, IT HAS ONE OF THE TEENSIEST FLOWERS IN THE CYCLAMEN WORLD.

OXALIS POLYPHYLLA  VAR. HEPTAPHYLLA.

SUCH A PRETTY BULBOUS OXALIS DESERVES A BETTER NAME. ONE OF SOUTH AFRICA'S NICEST SPECIES, THIS SPECIES HAS BOTH INTERESTING FOLIAGE, AS WELL AS A NICE FLORAL DISPLAY FOR AUTUMN CONTAINERS UNDER GLASS.
Mid-November marks the beginning of the peak season in my greenhouse for many bulbs. The South African species are all starting to bloom, and it can be difficult trying to keep up with the number of species that bloom each week. Many are long-lived in collections, so I feel like I am repeating myself every year, but each pot seems to bloom at a different rate.

Narcissus are very variable, but on a scale - they either become better each year, dividing and becoming more floriferous, or, they simply fade away. The tiniest fall-blooming Narcissus, N. serotinus, native to the middle east and much of the Mediterranean, does not divide, not does it set seed, most likely because I have a single bulb. I think it is time to add more bulbs to this container, for in the wild, this is a species which likes company. ( I order mine from Paul Christian Rare Bulbs).

On the other hand, my pot of green Narcissus viridiflorus which began with a couple of bulbs, now has nearly a dozen bulbs, my reward, I think, because I repot the collection every year, and carefully fertilize them every other week with a weak solution of tomato fertilizer.

I am trying to reduce or even eliminate my collection of bulbous Oxalis, only because I am bored with them, and would like some new genus to collect for a while, but it there was one to keep, it would be Oxalis polyphylla var. heptaphylla, if only for its foliage which is interesting enough - forming an alpine-like bun consisting of thin leaflets that look almost like pine needles.

My Arab Spring - The Saffron Crocus Arrives

THE SAFFRON CROCUS, CROCUS SATIVUS, BLOOMING IN A RAISED ROCK BED IN FULL SUN, UNDER A BLANKET OF PSEUDO-LARIX NEEDLES.
The most commonly known autumn-blooming crocus, is Crocus sativus, the Saffron Crocus. Still, one of the world's most costly spices, each corm produces one to three blossoms, and each blossom rewards one with a measly three or four stigmas, the dried precious stigmas are fragrant, and rich in the naturally chemical safranal and picrocrocin, the pigment that lends the brilliant yellow color to rice dishes and oils. I never pick my stigmas, since it would take roughly 150 flowers to get a gram ( about a teaspoon full). With that knowledge, the corms are more costly than the stigmas are, so I let them be. Not hardy for me, I must grow my C. sativus in pots which I keep in the bulb beds in the greenhouse. This year, I had a few extra corms, so I saved a few to plant in the alpine beds.
CROCUS SATIVUS 
It may be difficult for one  to imagine that C. sativus is still an important crop in parts of Iran, Greece, Morocco and Spain, but Iran ( or Iraq, depending on what Google search you use) rules the Saffron market. Two sites say that nearly the same thing, but with different sources. Wikipedia sites that 94% of the world's total production of Saffron. Iran alone, while Answers.com reports that 96% of the worlds crop comes from Iraq. One site claims that Iran exported 57 tons of saffron last year. The truth is that Kashmir hails as the home of Saffron, for it is where Crocus cartwrightianus descends from, (a  parent species of C. sativus which is a species not found in the wild). This little fact informs us why each nation near these lines of dispute can claim saffron as their own.  Be it Pakistan, India, China, Iraq, Iran, these ever-constant borders of conflict are invisible to one, tiny little crocus, so essential to each of these cultures' cuisine and medicine. 

I can't even imagine how may crocus flowers it could take to make one hundred pound ( 70,000 - to 125,000 says one site, but that does sounds a little high, doesn't it?). Still, common sense lends on to be impressed with the  immense quantity it takes to make one ton. Add in the fact the Saffron threads must be hand picked and dried, and one can see why the cost is so incredibly high. 







November 6, 2011

Guernsey Lily or Nerine? Autumn's Floral Treat


THE RARE GUERSEY LILY BLOOMS UNDER GLASS IN AUTUMN. THESE CHOICE AND HARD TO FIND RELATIVES OF THE AMARYLLIS GROWS IN MUCH THE SAME WAY, WITH HALF THE BULB OUT OF THE SOIL, AND HALF BURIED. THEY SLEEP FOR HALF THE YEAR, ONCE THE FOLIAGE DIES IN SPRING.
I almost gave my Nerine collection away this year ( I almost gave it aways last year too!). Why? Well, these precious bulbs which many people find challenging to grow and bloom, seem to do well for me, and not that that is any reason for me to donate or sell them, but frankly, they take up alot of room, and room is precious when one has limited space. Once they bloom, I move the, up to a higher bench and pretty much forget about them for the rest of their growing season, so it is surprising that they do so well given that I really don't fuss over them.

THIS YEAR, I HAVE THE UN-HEARD OF LUCK OF GETTING 2, 3 AND SOMETIMES 4 FLOWERING STEMS PER POT. NERINE SARNIENSIS  ' BLANCHE FLEUR'
 I know that I write about Nerine sarniensis each and every autumn, but here I go again, just in case you missed any of my other posts about this Amaryllis relative. Nerine sarniensis have a legend that Hollywood will surely someday make a movie about.

There exists this urban legend about the notorious Guernsey Lil y- how on a stormy night in the mid 1800's, a ship became lost in a terrible storm. It was sailing back to England from a collecting trip to the Cape of South Africa. After the ship sunk, the only survivors were a few crates of Nerine sarniensis bulbs which washed up on the shores of the Isle of Guernsey, where the 'Lily', so named, became naturalized.
'AMSHCEL', A SMOKY PURPLE COLOR THAT SEEMS TO CHANGE TINTS THROUGHOUT THE DAY.
The legend only gets better. In the early 20th Century, the species was collected and bred into it's current glory by Lionel de Rothchild ( clearly, wine was not enough). His  breeding program was then continued when the collection was split and was taken forward by one Sir Peter Smithers, then the Secretary General of the European Union in Strasbourg, ( where I received many of my bulbs from while in Switzerland 10 years ago). The late Sir Peter Smithers was a fascinating man in his own right, and at one time, rumored to be involved in the creation/inspiration for the character of James Bond ( later denied), but still,  good story!  He was very good friends with Ian Fleming, and although Mr. Fleming' biographers never found any proof of Peter Smithers being an influence, the New York Times still refereed to him as a 'spy with a green thumb'.

The Rothchild's  name has returned to the small work of Nerine sarniensis, and the collection now referred to as Exbury/Vivo Nerines are available for shipment worldwide every late summer and early autumn ( there are few places where one can fine a Nerine sarniensis, especially in the US).  Check out their site, and tell Nicholas de Rothchild ( Nick) that I sent you.
'KEN SCOTT', A STRIPED BI-COLOR FORM
There are a number of species of Nerine, but the Nerine sarniensis and those sometimes crossed with Nerine bowdenii are the ones that captivate growers and collectors alike. The florist Nerine is different that N. sarniensis, commercially grown in large numbers in Holland, it is smaller and  less colorful than the larger N. sarniensis. There are a few important collections that continue to pass hands today, the first two are in England ( the Rothchild Estate, that was able to continue much of the breeding efforts of Sir Peter Smithers and the Exbury Hybrids from the early part of the Twentieth Century), and a grower on the Isle of white called Silverbank Nerines, but I am not sure if they are still in business.

NERINE SARNIENSIS  'BERLIOZ'
A SELECTION OF THIS YEARS' DISPLAY OF NERINE SARNIENSIS  BLOOMING IN THE BRIGHT, NOVEMBER SUNSHINE IN MY GREENHOUSE.