March 4, 2012

Forcing Bulbs and Spring Flower Shows

Not a public flower show, but  - kind of my private one. This was my sand plunge bed from last spring, with a few pots of 'greenhouse junk' reassembled for this photo.  Sadly, this is the reason why taking a trip to Boston on a Saturday to see the displays at the New England Flower Show just isn't as exciting as it once was. It's funny how ones perspective evolves with what one experiences in life. It just raises the bar for us, and I think that unfortunately, many are just happy with the less-challenging displays one sees at these spring plant flower shows.

This weekend marks the opening of many spring flower shows around the country. For me, one who has attended and even participated in spring flower shows for longer than I dare say, they have become rather sad - nothing more than lawn and garden shows, with truckloads of wood mulch, unrealistic plantings with few forced trees and lawns, and even fewer forced shrubs beyond the easy ones.  Sure, they are more about the retail area,so if buying anit-fog eyeglass wax, nylon garden flags and preserved bunches of eucalyptus is your thing, go for it. I miss the tall forced elms and oaks, forced lilacs and large tubs of flowering acacia trees.  I want to be inspired, educated, and want to see more than pre-fab gazebos, stone work  and wood mulch.

 But, that said, there are some well-produced shows still happening, ( Philadelphia, and others such as the Smith College Bulb Show), so if other shows are not terribly exciting for those of us who are more horticulturally, I can't can deny the hopeful and therapeutic effects of hyacinth scent and moist air at least! Those magnificent forced bulb displays and forced acacia trees of days gone by, so I just have to do them for myself, and so? I do.

One can force daffodils and tulips, but don't forget the lesser bulbs, many of them can be forced too. These Fritillaria were planted last year from some marked-down bulbs that never made it into the ground before the snow fell. I was lucky that the internal flower buds were not damaged by poor storage conditions. In the greenhouse, they bloom now, but they will be planted outdoors in April where they can grow on until summer, when they will go dormant. Next year, they should settle in and bloom in their new location as if nothing happened.

Lachenalia aloides ssp. quadricolor blooms alongside it's other relative, the fragrant Hyacinth.  This species is tender, and must be grown in pots indoors on cold windowsills or in the cold greenhouse where bulbs purchased in autumn, will grow and bloom with little care beyond watering much like paperwhite narcissus. Rarely seen today, these are also known as Cape Hyacinths, as they are native to the cape of South Africa. Grown in conservatories for nearly 200 years, they are only grown by serious collectors today, which is a shame.

Rarer narcissus, like these species ( Narcissus triandrus ssp. triandrus) are a little more challenging in some gardens, but they are worth the extra effort for their tiny nodding primrose-yellow bells in early spring. These are cultivated in pots which never freeze, but which experience near freezing temperatures in the greenhouse, where I keep them in a sand bed near the stone foundation. In the garden, they can survive our out winter if planted in a protected, well-drained location, but providing them a dry summer once the bulbs go dormant in July is the greatest challenge, so I keep these natives of Spain, in clay pots - making them more portable, and able to be placed on the hot, dry shelves in the greenhouse during the hot summer months.

Calochortus uniflorus

A native North American bulb from the Monterrey, California area. You may have heard of Mariposa Lily? Here is one of the many Mariposa (known botanically as Calochortus), and it blooms in a pot of sand, in the protected environment of the greenhouse here in Massachusetts where such species would die with out wet summers, and muddy springs. This particular species is Calochortus uniflorus, a lovely species with a delicate, tissue-thin blossom with a color that is difficult to define, somewhere between dove grey and pale violet with hints of sky blue.

March 3, 2012

Dishing Up Some Left-Over Succulents

Left, clockwise: The golden tinted Sedum nussbaumeerianum, The pickle-like leaves of Senecio rubrotinctum, in two color forms, and a teal-colored unknown below. All are cuttings that will root quickly in sand.

Every greenhouse has a tray of left-over succulents laying around - most often, a tray of rooted cuts that may have ended up on an upper bench, and forgotten, such as the tray below, or a pot or two of mixed succulents from the previous summer, which ended up in a corner somewhere.  Sturdy, even when abused, succulents can easily be rescued. Just look at this clay pan, above, which is composed of cuttings from the nasty tray below. A tray that I almost threw away into the bin.

If you are new to gardening, it might be important to note that there is no plant named "succulent", the term is a broader descriptive tern for plant that have succulent leaves, that can hold water, withstand dry and hot temperatures. There are many types of plants that can be called succulents, both tender, and hardy, but when gardeners refer to succulents, generally speaking, they are talking about the Echeveria hybrids and species, the Sedum species and selections, and a whole host of names far too scientific for most people - Graptoveria, Graptopetalim petandrum ssp. superbum, Aeonium sedifolium, and more. Check out the Highland Succulents site for more info, and if you want to order some cuttings or plants - they have a terrific selection, and they will start shipping as soon as the weather warms up.

A tray of over-grown succulent cuttings. A quick trim with some snips, will turn this over-grown mess into a neat pan of mixed cuttings.

A mixture of sharp sand and potting mix is combined in a terra cotta pan. Cutting will require no rooting hormone, but are simply cut and placed in the damp sand.

Cuttings can be placed close to each other, since this container will be purely ornamental, placed on the steps of the deck for the summer once the weather warms up.

The finished pad has four types of succulents in it, planted shoulder to shoulder. In time, they will need repotting or  have cuttings taken again, since most of these types look messy once their stems become long. Individual leaves can be rooted too, but once you have any of these species, you will have them for a long time, as the brittle leaves often break off and root everywhere in neighboring pots.

March 1, 2012

A Seasonal Snowfall Welcomes March

Lydia, our Irish Terrier leaps around the garden enjoying the new snowfall as a Hamamellis x intermedia blooms, heavy with wet, spring snow. This shrub was  already weakened from being covered with a thick,heavy snow from our unseasonable October blizzard, which dumped 30 inches on the garden while many plants were still in full-leaf. Many trees and shrubs are still damaged from the October storm, and have yet to recover their form after a summers worth of new growth.

It's been snowing for 24 hours here in Worcester, Massachusetts, which, in normal years would be no big deal, but because our winter here in the north east having been so mild, national media has swept in, and we awoke to Good Morning America broadcasting from our town common, with astonished reporters yakking about our incredible our 6 inches of snow on March 1st has been. Of course, last year we had nearly 80 inches of snow by this time, and the media had run out of any interest for our plight. Still, the snow is welcome, if only for a day or two, after all - this is the first significantly measurable snow since October, when we had 30 inches the week before Halloween. Winter this year, has indeed, come in like a lion, and out like one too - but the in-between has been very lamby.

A Polemonium species blooms in the warmth of the planted, alpine stone wall, where it self-seeded. On Sunday, it bloomed welcoming honey bees to a special treat in February. It's always interesting how one, tiny speck of blueish violet stands out from the entire garden, when it is February and when everything else is grey.

This year obviously has been about as 'un-seasonable' as it gets, with off-season record breaking blizzards, and garden plants blooming in January and February, but I do remember years past, when I've had hellebores in bloom in January, and witch hazels in bloom even earlier than this year, but these events come along every ten or twenty years it seems.