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May 8, 2012

My Desert, Under Glass

I keep adding to my collection of blossoming cacti species, even when not it bloom, the thorns can be very decorative.
Cacti and desert plants can be pretty as thorny potted plants, but getting them to bloom can sometimes be challenging for people. Contrary to popular belief, cacti are very cold tolerant, and many will not form flower buds unless they freeze a little bit. The desert environment can be very cold in the winter where the finest blooming cacti come from - not Arizona or New Mexico, but in South America, in the high alpine deserts of Chile, Bolivia and Argentina. The Rebutia and Lovibia cacti from the high Andes offer some of the finest flowers in the cacti world, and I try to keep a collection growing on my high, dry shelves in the greenhouse, where the plants can spend the winter getting full sun through the single pane glass, and sometimes a light frost as the night time temperatures drop to near 32 degrees.



 Not always the easiest to get to bloom, cacti require a cold, dry winter, and then as spring grows near, a shift between day temperatures and night temperatures. In April, I move my collection to a sand bed in the greenhouse, where Cyclamen are kept until they start to enter their dormancy. Switching these collections allows me to have more than one display, on a bed that would normally just remain empty for half of the year. 

Alyogyne huegelii var. alba, a drought tolerant sunloving native hibiscus ( Malvaceae) realative from the deserts of South and Western Australia. It grows well in a sand-filled container, in the desert collection. It seems to never stop blooming, having flowers in during the short days of January. It will spend the summer outdoors, once any threat of frost is over.


After a flood of water, the cacti begin to break their dormancy, quickly forming flower buds, although many will bloom in late May and June.




Other desert plants are included in my collection, This thorny tomato relative is Solanum pyracanthum.

Rebutia growing in a bonsai pot. It will soon be time for the dreaded repotting.

Even though I have only a weak interest in cacti and desert plants, I think I am starting to get more and more additions to the collection.  Here you can see some Euphorbia, Adenium and small desert shrubs.



May 7, 2012

Training a Tree Wisteria


A tree wisteria is simply a wisteria vine, trained to grow as a tree - essentially, it is simply a wisteria standard or a wisteria topiary, if you will. It takes many years, and careful and dedicated attention with hand pruners to achieve a mature specimen, but with grafted stock becoming more available ( to endure that flowering material is used rather then seedlings) a beautiful wisteria can be trained to grow into a small, weeping tree form in about ten years. I have seen some very impressive specimens in large, terra rosa pots, but these must be stored in frost-free conditions.


Wisteria can easily become a rampant weed, with runners creeping lightning fast across or just under the soil surface, or running up a tree quickly engulfing it, but there is no other plant quite like it, and a tree-form wisteria may be the best way to control a plant such as this vine. I suggest investing in a pre-trained graft, which can be costly ( $100 - $200) but it will guarantee both a selection that has the highest quality blooming stock, and a root stock that is less aggressive.

Wisteria can be very fragrant, the scent reminds me of orange blossoms. It can drift across the garden on warm, spring days.

Pruning aggressively is key, but always with a thoughtful eye. eventually, these tiny branches on this three year old specimen will mature into thick, trunk-like branches, making what was once a lowly vine, a stunning tree-like specimen. Pruning can occur throughout the year, but to endure blooms, it is best to prune heavily just after flowering.

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.