May 6, 2012

The New England Primrose Show

Primula auricula
In most years, the first week of May marks the time when the ephemerals and wild flowers in New England reach their peak bloom. This year, with record breaking heat, and our unseasonably early spring, it was a miracle that any primroses at all are in bloom.  As we do every year, we host the New England Chapter of the American Primrose Society cocktail party and dinner on Friday night ( which is why I have not been posting all week). It's always a great time to see old friends, and this year we had a special guest speaker, Jim Almond from England joining us. Jim is a notable grower of alpines and primula in the United Kingdom, and his web site is very popular amongst enthusiasts. 

This top winner, is a double form that you may even  find at some garden centers - Primula ' Ballerina'. 

 Here are some of the highlight of this years show. Our unseasonable spring allowed us all to enter some species that are rarely seen in shows in 'normal' cooler seasons. The show was heavy on Polyanthus and Primula sieboldii, with very few early or alpine  primroses such as  P. marginata, or the always popular P. auricula. Still, benches were full of some very beautiful primula, which surprised even me, as it seemed that I have very few in bloom in my garden.

Primula are dug from the garden by exhibitors, placed in pots, groomed carefully by removing dead leaves and flowers that have passed, and then top-dressed with clean soil/ Judges then evaluate each plant carefully,  in each class selecting a winner for each category. A best in show winner is then selected from the blue ribbon winners from each class.

Primula sieboldii, Japan's most beloved primrose, made an impressive showing at this years New England Primula Society show. A great garden plant for woodland locations, this plant will spread and reseed nicely if you don't use bark mulch.

In England, primrose shows are seriously competitive events, with very strict rules regarding plants, their characteristics and form, but here in the US, many rules are relaxed. British growers also focus on the more challenging species and hybrids, like P. allionii and P. auricula ( we would too, if we could grow them well) , but in most areas of North America, the garden primula simply means the Polyanthus types, and sometimes the later blooming Asiatic species such as the fine, and rarely seen P. sieboldii from Japan.   There were many entries in the P. auricula classes, but this year most bloomed a month ago, and are far past their prime. 
Even though the weather has been unseasonable warm this year, many primula were able to be dug from the gardens and exhibited. Leading the pack? Primula xployanthus, which seem to last longer in the garden while in bloom, even as the weather warms up.

My entry ( thrown together Saturday morning after Friday nights party!) won a blue ribbon for a planted container collection.

Another entry of mine, a rarely seen species in our eastern shows - Primula forestii, a greenhouse primrose with tiny pink blossoms. These plants were originally shared with me by Rodney Barker, a fellow member.

A nice selection of Primula sieboldii with fringed blossoms.

This Primula sieboldi cross is a selection made by Elaine Malloy,a founding member of the New England Primula Society, and  a beloved member of our club who passed away two weeks ago - a special award for best plant in the show, was awarded this year in her honor.

Some members still had a few early primroses in the show, such as these Drumstick Primroses, Primula denticulata.

April 30, 2012

Going Once, Going Twice...Sold to number 26.

Mine, mine...all mine! Meh heh heh. My treasures- winnings from last  Saturdays rare plant auction sponsored by the New England chapter of the National Rock Garden Society.

This past weekend there were many rare plant auctions in New England, and I chose one to attend ( as I had to give a talk there too!) - the annual rare plant auction hosted by the New England chapter of NARGS - The North American Rock Garden Society. Held at the Assabet River National Wildlife Refuge, the event drew many for what ended up being an afternoon of fun and bidding on outstanding rare and unusual plant material. I left with a tray full of true treasures, many, not available anywhere else.  Plant societies are incredible sources for rare plants, and the New England chapter of NARGS happens to have a very impressive roster of members who often donate some truly incredible plants. 

Bulb expert Roy Herold and Plant Collector Ernist Flippo entertained the NARGS membership as auctioneers at the New England chapter of NARGS annual rare plant auction.
Our NARGS chapter has some notable members from the world of horticulture, some might be familiar to you if you order from such nurseries as Plant Delights Nursery where names like  Hosta breeder Roy Herold and collectors such as Epimedium guru Darrell Probst, and Allium expert Mark McDonough are commonly listed. Add in some excellent nurserymen (and women) such as Russell Stafford of Odyssey Bulbs and Ellen Hornig from now closed, irreplaceable Seneca Hill Nursery, and you can see how interesting the crowd and selection could be. Plants such as these, just can't be found at any one nursery, let alone at the price which they often sell for. I purchased a Cypripedium 'Gesela' for $20.00! ( $85 at most online sources).

A rarity from an explorers garden, Darell Probst offered up this rare Tupestra species, one which he has found to be hardy in his zone 5 garden. He wanted me to post to post it so that he can tease some of his collector friends who will surely doubt that it is indeed hardy in New England. Stay tuned on this one! 

Two strains of a miniature Trillium, Trillium pusillum var. Virginianum ( above) and Trillium pusillum var ozarkanum , below. Both should spread into a mat in our new woodland ephemeral garden at the end of the long border.

Darrell Probst gifted us with this very rare Epimedium, a species that he collected in China that is so new, that he believes that it is new to science, so it is un-named ( attr. to E. wushanense spp.).  It just has a collection number right now. We are more than delighted, and hope that it does well in the garden. The leaves are sharp as razors.

Part of our new ephemeral garden, at the far end of the garden ( see the trunk of one of the large spruce trees that we removed last year). When I was a kid, this area was completely covered with trillium, so I think the soil may  be perfect.

The 'California Annual' border  that runs along the foundation of the greenhouse is coming along. Even though it has been very cold. So cold, that sheets had to be thrown over the tender annuals for two nights now.

The last of the Sasa vietchii is being removed in the long border. Justin, our new gardener had his job cut out for him. I wonder if he was going to return for his second day, but he did. With a few band aids.

In the greenhouse, the last of the tuberous Tropaeolum brachyceras x tricolor  flowers on a very spindly vine growing in an old Japanese maple branch. 

April 28, 2012

Adventures with Seeds

I still have some Japanese Morning Glory seeds from a trip that I took to Japan for work a few years ago. I assume that they are still viable. In Japan, the Morning Glory is treasured as a potted plant, and clubs, societies and groups are dedicated to this plant, and the many Japanese cultivars particularly the mutated forms, some that even have shredded petals.  I have some books on growing these Asagao ( the Japanese word for these plants), so I may add these to my project list for this year, if they germinate.  The plants are traditionally grown in small pots, pinched to encourage flowers and dwarfed, like bonsai Morning Glories. 

Bells of Ireland or Moluccella laevis seeds can be extremely challenging to germniate,, but thanks to a readers tricks, I've been able to get this far. Now, the second harder part - growing them to blooming size.
Success at last! Thanks for a reader of this blog who shared their trick for getting their Bells of Ireland to germinate ( wet paper towels and seed, in a plastic zip lock stored in the refrigerator for three weeks, then sow in individual pots and carefully transplant), I have success - at least so far. Here is a shot of the young seedlings.

Arisaema sp. seedlings from the Himalaya will form one leaflet their first year - the rest of the plant is growing underground. Not all of my pots of this genus are showing the leaves, but I know that some species spend all of their entergy underground. I can't research which species I have yet as some are unidenditfied by the collector, and even could be a new species to science.
 The plant collector Chris Chadwell wrote me today, to ask how the seeds from his last collecting trip to  Tibet and Nepal were germinating, so I wanted to share this shot of some Jack In The Pulpits ( Arisaema species) from the Himalaya were doing.  I think I'm all set in the Himalayan Arisaema department for now.

A Romulea species removed from the sand bulb plunge bed, will spend a month on the back of the potting bench in full sun, where the roots and corms can slowly begin their drying process for their long, hot dry summer dormancy, but most importantly, for these seed pods, which have been produced in profusion. They will dry and split within a couple of weeks, and I don't want the seed dropping back into the sand bed. I place the pot on a white plate to catch any loose seed. The seed will be sown, and not watered until autumn.
 Sometime, I save my own seed, especially when the plant is rare, or hard to find, such as this South African bulb plant known as Romulea. Like many Cape bulbs, the plants set seed profusely, but the plants tend to get rather ugly ( or at least to non-plant people) before the seed pods dry. These pod are almost ripe, so I set the pots on dinner plates, so that the seed can drop onto the plate for easy harvest. Sometimes I am lazy, and sow the seed back into the same pot as the mature bulbs, which is OK with many South African bulbs like Romulea, as they seem to like tight quarters, but also, I share seed with rare plant societies and their respective seed exchanges.

 Speaking of rare seed, some South African geophytes in my collection produce very few seeds, like Clivia. These gems are ripe seeds from a variegated yellow-flowered Clivia ( worth about $1500 each on the black market - really). From Japan, we only have two of these plants that we received from Mr. Nakamura. Red berries produce orange clivia, yellow berries produce yellow clivia, and these are yellow-striped seeds......get the picture? There might be 2 or 3 seeds in each of these fruit, which take about 14 months to ripen on the plant, before they can be sown.

These unusual summer dormant geophyte is also from South Africa.  Melasphaerula raemosa can be a prolific seed producer.  I am ready to share with serious collectors. This is a plant that I will be sharing with plant societies this autumn in plant sales and rare plant auctions. It requires a cold greenhouse for culture in pots, as it is a winter grower. 

 Still planning for the moon border, these snapdragon seedlings have been transplanted into a dibbled grid, and old fashioned method for transplanting seedlings into a large flat. I remember my parents doing this when I was young, especially with zinnia, marigolds and snapdragons - those annuals that can handle being torn apart from their kin in a flat without much noticeable damage.  These white snaps may seem small, buy remember, it is still April. With a hard frost tonight, a lesson will be taught to those who have already purchased their tomato plants from the home center. I was shocked at the annuals and the large tomato plants that were available at Home Depot and Lowes last week - it is far too early to be planting any tender annual yet. Memorial day folks, and that is 6 weeks away!

 Amaranthus dislike any root disturbance, but I've found that an early start still helps plants survive, as seeds sown int he garden directly, can be lost easily. It's always an impressive show - those tiny, nearly microscopic seeds growing into monsters within a few weeks, but the tiny seedlings can get lost if sown in early June here in New England, as weeds will quickly grow around them. If started early, Amaranthus can survive transplanting if individual seedlings are slid from pots into prepared holes once the soil is above 60 deg. F. I find that the seedling transplant well when tiny. Care must be taken, for one cannot find Amaranthus at garden centers, for if you do, they will be already too large, and they will go into shock an die once transplanted, but if timed properly, a seedling can be stealthly transplanted as long as it is not too large by the end of May.

 Speaking of annuals that one cannot find at garden centers, Scabiosa must be mentioned. These seedlings are ready to be transplanted from their 4 inch pots into the garden where they will remain, blooming for most of the summer. These tap rooted annuals dislike any root disturbance, and since they will not bloom until mid July, they are rarely carried as 6 pack annuals for sale at retail, as growers know that a plant will no longer sell, if it is not in bloom, so only the annuals that are bred for early bloom are carried by nurseries. These, you will need to grow from seed yourself. The wiry stems and long lasting flowers ranging from near black to pink, are a favorite of mine.

My tomato seedlings were sown on April 14th, and with 24 varieties of heirloom and hybrids, we will have plenty of tomatoes come August. Planted side-by-side a hormone drenched, thick-stemmed home center plant purchased now, these seedlings will win. Try it for yourself and see.

Our New England Primrose Society show will be held next weekend at Tower Hill Botanic Garden near us in Boylston, MA. This pot of Primula forestii may still be in bloom, if the weather remains cold, but it is short lived, and may be gone by next weekend.
When I came home from work yesterday, I found this scene - Lydia, destroying the pansies, trying to get at a Chick-a-dee nesting box on our deck. She is like a spry rabbit, jumping up onto the window box with ease. Old Fergus was clearly directing her, hoping to share their meal of a Black Capped Chick-a-dee. ( Please pardon the mess!).