February 26, 2014


This past weekend I made a journey down to Logee's Greenhouses in Danielson, CT. Not much of a journey as Logee's is only about 6 exits down on the highway from my house, but none the less, it's always an adventure, especially when hunting for interesting begonias, as Logee's has a long history with both begonia breeding, and with the American Begonia Society.  I am starting to think about summer containers, and although I will be writing a future post specifically about my ideas for interesting container specimen plants, I wanted to share with you some of these begonias, and then few other treasures which I found this weekend at Logees, (and in my own greenhouse).

Begonias, especially the rhizomatous type such as this B. 'Shooting Star', have fancy leaf patterns, with endless combinations of color, but when assembled together in a collection of like forms, somehow, appear more botanically interesting. Add some nice Guy Wolff pots, and... 'Boom - Epic Wow'.

I never tire of the begonia clan, especially those know as Rhizomatous Begonias, classing old fashioned house plants from Victorian days, they also make impressive summer container plants for shady spots outdoors, and this is the perfect time to start assembling a collection, as the few nurseries who carry them will have the largest selection. Lovers of warmth, bright shade and a good, peaty potting mix, these tropical woodland plants also crave humidity, as long as there are gentle breezes to dry their delicate leaves off after a summer rainstorm, but many also make excellent and well behaved house plants.

A collection of begonias provides color and interest for a shady side of the house, an entrance or on a deck, where I keep much of my collection, on some custom made steps that I had a local handyman make.

A north windowsill or office desk will suit them fine, but you may want to take a tip from the Begonia Society folk, and grow some in a terrarium or a large, glass bowl, where they truly shine. I prefer to keep collections through the winter in an unheated room, but then allow them to truly show off in some of my summer displays out of doors, where I try to assemble as many forms as possible in tiered displays on our shady deck, and on the back porch.

I tried to focus on begonias, while at Logee's but it was difficult to resist some of the other plants, especially the newer introductions. I still left with only two boxes of plants. I will shop for other summer container plants later, such as salvia.

It may seem as if it is too early to start buying plants for containers, as there is still plenty of snow on the ground, but since I have a greenhouse, I might as well make some use of it, right? Besides, as we all know, one must grab while the opportunity exists, for like the perfect pair of shoes, or a cool shirt in the perfect size and fit, the perfect plant can too simply not be there when one returns to buy it a few weeks from now. At least I have convinced myself about this fact. Shut up.


Even if you do not have a greenhouse, if you have a bright garage, a glassed-in porch, a sunroom or a cool, unheated bedroom - you should be taking advantage of this bit of time, tuck in a few brugmansia or oleander, which will surely sulk until the weather warms, but in a large pot, they will readily focus on root formation, building a strong foundation, making their transition from stump to sturdy growth in May, when you will move their large pots out into the garden.


 At Logee's I also discovered some new plants, as you will see, but also many rhizotomas begonias, of which I can never seem to have enough of. These, in particular must be purchased when one sees them, for with 200 or so varieties, and only 5 or 6 of each available at one time, I rarely see many of these for sale at the same time. I've been going to Logees for - dare I say, 35 years or more, and I still find new begonias and tropicals to add to my collections. These small, 2.5 inch pots will quickly fill a 6, 8 or 10 inch clay pot by mid summer, and with a few dozen varieties displayed all together, will make an interesting display.

Many of these types of begonias actually bloom in late winter, or spring. An added bonus for those of use who keep such collections for a few years. This tall blossom belongs to B. 'Madame Queen'.

This standard Genista canariensis captured my attention, not because it is so awesome, but because I let mine freeze this fall ( I was lazy, and left it plunged in the garden). It was about the same size as this. Now, I wish I brought it back into the greenhouse. Still, sometimes it good to take a couple of years off from a plant.

In the main house at Logee's. a typical conservatory display of orange Streptosolen jamesonii, or Marmalade Plant, blue Coleus thyrisoides and Chenile Plant, transport visitors back into the 19th century.  Sorry, poor iPhone photo.


I thought that I would share a few of my Clivia crosses. Right now, I am just numbering them.

I was calling this favorite, 'Muggle Drops'. after our late Irish Terrier, Margaret. It's both green and orange, and a favorite of mine.

I love this dark salmon color, and these long, tubular shaped blossoms. Any name ideas?

It seems that the snow will never end here in the Eastern US. With bitter cold temperature expected to dip near 0º F this week, my little side trip to Miami tomorrow is starting to excite me. More about that, soon.
If you are interested in buying some of these begonias via mail order, I highly recommend these sources:

Logee's Greenhouses
Kartuz Greenhouses
The Violet Barn
Lauray of Salisbury

Oh, and I almost forgot.... I'll be speaking at the annual Sakonnet Garden Symposium in Rhode Island this July 26th. The theme this year is The Art of Vegetable Gardening. Please plan on joining me along with Aaron Bertelsen of Great Dixter, and Margaret Roach whom we all know and love from her well written blog awaytogarden.com. I plan to present a  new presentation on bespoke veggies, forcing, heirloom and hard-to-grow veg.


February 23, 2014


As the sun becomes warmer under glass, both spring forced bulbs and early blooming cool-loving orchids make a nice display in the greenhouse. Note the Dendrobium kingianum on the right, a cold-loving Australian orchid.

Of all the orchids in the genus Dendrobium, D. speciosum may just be the largest. This plant, in a 24" basket, now weighs nearly 60 lbs, and although hardly perfect, with some leaf burn, it is impressive with many, long spikes of flowers. It's so big, that it's difficult for me to photograph it.
As many of us in Eastern North America discovered, this weekend in last February was our fist taste of spring, that is if you can call 48º F spring. With temperatures rising above freezing, I decided to repot some orchids - a long overdue chore - is it OK to admit to you all that I only decided to do this because while looking for more bags of bird seed on the back porch,  I found a big bag of orchid repotting supplies that I had completely forgotten about? - with tshirt weather under glass, brilliant sunshine and  only the sound of winter birds outside the glass, I could use some orchid-repotting therapy right now - especially after 4 snow storms in one week.

I don't have the perfect greenhouse for raising many orchids, we keep a few in the house during the coldest months of December and January, with many occupying windowsills and plant windows, where they sit on gravel trays which provide some moisture, but most of these orchids are ordinary super-market purchases ( still beautiful, but not botanically interesting to folks like us). So although we keep these phalaeonopsis and paphiopedilum, the lady slipper orchids, warm and safe, as they like the same temperatures we do, and throughout the winter, they provide us with at least some hope that warmer weather will eventually return. We can't grow all of the orchids, but I do keep a few selected rarer species - the real treasures, out in the greenhouse, where I am limited to those species that can handle the colder temperatures, of which, there are plenty.

Cymbidium orchids have been bred into thousands selections, which thousands of named crosses now available. Most are cool to cold loving plants, and will thrive in a cool greenhouse in the north, or outdoors on terraces and in containers in areas that do not freeze, such as Northern California. This selection was bred in Massachusetts, and it is called 'Bay State'. I leave plants outdoors until a hard frost hits, and I bring it in just before it freezes, which stimulates it to form spikes. There are cymbidums to please most every taste, and varieties that will bloom in most every month.

You may think that all orchids need tropical rainforest conditions, but that's just not true, as there are many which prefer cool or cold winter temperatures, and even some which can handle very light frosts.Orchid collectors divide  the great orchid family (one of the largest plant families in the world) into three broad groups, based on cultural conditions - cool growing, intermediate and warm. Cool growing orchids (those which perform best with some periods of either near freezing or night time temperatures around 40º are best for us, while we find some success with intermediate orchids, which often can handle temperatures around 50º at night. Warmer orchids are not growable, as they mostly demand hot and steamy conditions, and cannot tolerate  temperature swings often preferring constant temperatures above 70ºF.

This Dendrobium aggregatum, a miniature creeping dendrobium likes to grow on a slab of tree fern bark. I purchased this young plant in a pot, but I am repotting it to grow as a 'slab' orchid. I first remove the old growing bark, wash the roots carefully, wrap them in long fiber sphagnum moss which was soaked in warm water, and then wired the entire plant to a square block of tree fern bark. I a few years, it will completely cover this slab, when it blooms in the spring.

Once wired and pinned, I wire the tree Fern bark to a wooden slab, which will allow me to hang the plant in the greenhouse during the winter, and outdoors, under trees in the shade in the summer, where the plant can enjoy summer downpours and thunderstorms. When it blooms, it could look like this:

Even in a cold to cool greenhouse in New England, there are many orchids that thrive in this atmosphere. Many are in the Dendrobium clan, but note, not all dendrobiums like cool temperatures, as the genus is large, and has species that live across the temperature spectrum. With orchids, it's generally elevation that dictates what conditions they prefer. If you think of Borneo for instance, you may imagine steamy, tropical jungles, but there are mountainous areas that reach near to the snow line, and there are orchids at most every level. Mostly, I grow Australian dendrobiums, or those from higher elevations in Asia.

A young Dendrobium aggregatum freshly wired to a slab, and soaked for an hour, enjoys some mid-winter sunshine in the greenhouse where the snow is nearly 3 feet deep just pass the glass wall.

A Brassio Cattleya cross, is growing out of its container. It's clearly time for repotting before it sends out new growth which will bloom next autumn. One must be careful in removing a plant like this from a pot, as you will need to be careful not to damage the newer, white roots, which adhere themselves to most any container.

This plant I potted in a clay orchid pot, which I will hang from the rafters with clips. It is centered in the pot, and sits at the same level as it sat before. Epiphytic ( growing on tree branches) this orchid like most, needs perfect drainage.

This is a cross between a Neofinetia falcata orchid, and a Vanda. Both species are related, so this is not an odd cross. It should produce flowers larger than the traditions Japanese Neofinetia's which one sees in so many Japanese plant collections, but with the size and perhaps color of the vanda clan. This is a genus that liked to grow in an airy mix, and although I could grow it in a pot, I have decided to pot this up in a wooden slat basket.

I place the Neofinetia Vanda cross in the bed of Sphagnum, and then use a good quality orchid bark mix to fill in around the roots. A bit more sphagnum, and I am done.

Once repotted, this neofinetia Vanda cross is well watered.

I am using a traditional Japanese container for one of my Neofinetia orchids, preferring to pot it in the traditional Shogunbutsu method, where the plant is placed on a mound of sphagnum. In Japan, many orchids are grown in this way, and most are native Japanese orchids, which were so popular during the Edo period, and said to be raised by the Shogun. Check these amazing images out of an orchid show in Japan. I try to grow them like this, but not nearly as nice.

While repotting my Neofinetia falcata, I need to do some housekeeping, as I had been slacking. Old fans which had died, needed to be removed, as well as dead roots, and dead flower stems, This is a genus that like to form clumps, and it makes a better specimen plant if allowed to grow large, but to get them to any size, one must keep the plants clean. I could have divided the plant also, but decided not to.

Now repotted with a nice, clean mound of sphagnum, is still looks nothing like the specimens one sees in Japan, where this orchid had a strong, passionate following. Here is what it will look like when it blooms for me, in August.

Dendrobium speciosum, another view, as the sun begins to set.

I keep trying to get a good photo of this big Dendrobium speciosum. Here is what it looked like when I saw it in Tokyo at the Orchid World Grand Prix a few years ago. HERE

One last thing, if you've bothered to read this far.....The folks at Better Homes & Gardens have nominated this blog as a top Garden Blog ( there are currently five) and they are asking my readers to please vote for which gardening blog they feel is the best from this list of 5. A bit of a popularity poll, I guess. Please vote for any of us, by clicking this link - and note that it will ask you to share your vote on Facebook, but you don't need to, your vote was already automatically counted. Thanks!


February 18, 2014


Last Saturday while speaking at the monthly meeting of the Connecticut chapter of the North American Rock Garden Society held at the Comstock,Ferre & Co. complex in Old Wethersfield, CT, included a bonus shopping spree in the Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds retail store, who now owns are stewards of the oldest seed company in America.
One of the things I love most about living in New England is the history. I can drive by family farms with histories dating back to the late 1500's, stop by Longfellow's home on my way to a Rock Garden Society meeting, see camellias growing in a nineteenth century greenhouse, sit on the shore of Walden Pond for lunch. What's most incredible, is that today, I pulled open an oak drawer with corn seed in it, the very same drawer that maybe my grandfather pulled open in that spring of 1914 as he shopped for vegetable seed for his field crops, and even more amazing, it could very well be the exact same drawer and scale used by a farmer from 1825, as yes - this is the same seed store, the same creaky chestnut floor, the same wood stove, the same cash register even. I do love New England for experiences like this, but, a couple of years ago, this was almost lost forever.

Once empty rows in in old Comstock, Ferre & Co. seed store in Old Weathersfield, CT, are once again full of seed for both the vegetable garden and the flower bed. All, non GMO and many interesting varieties found no where else.

Today, although I miss the old ox blood stained buildings of the old Comstock, Ferre & CO from my memories of seed shopping here in the 1960's and 70's with my mom and dad, this American landmark has been not only saved, it has been truly rescued, and thanks to the generosity and support of a true visionary - Jere Gettle of Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, this gem from the past is now shared with the public not unlike the heirloom treasures so carefully preserved, within. The Gettle's care, not only about supporting non GMO seed saving, but they care about even more important things. Heritage, family and what many of us so easily forget, the DNA of our human experience.  The Gettles have kept their promise to operate this landmark in Old Weathersfield as if it existed in the 1800's. 

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