January 7, 2015


I think this is pretty cool. If have been dreaming of raising tall, long-stemmed exhibition-quality English Sweet Peas, you are going to love this - I've been asked by Tower Hill Botanic Garden in Boylston, MA to give a talk and presentation on how I grow sweet peas - but here's what make this opportunity great -  Instead of just presenting a pretty Powerpoint presentation, I proposed to Tower Hill a slightly different concept -

If you've tried sweet peas before, and they didn't look like this by June, you will really enjoy this class.

what if class attendees not only could sit through a rather gorgeous presentation outlining step-by-step how to grow exhibition sweet peas, but how great would it be if the class attendees actually could plant real imported English Seed into imported sweet pea growing tubes, and leave with pots of the finest exhibition quality seed in the proper tubes ( so that they can form long roots), and also leave with 7 foot bamboo canes basically everything you will need aside from water?

There is nothing like armloads of fragrant sweet peas. Did you know that they were once America's favorite cut flower?

Announcing the best sweet pea workshop, ever. If you live in Southern New England or the Boston Area, I promise that you will love this class.

CLICK HERE TO REGISTER NOW, it risks selling out

+++++++SORRY, THE CLASS IS NOW SOLD OUT+++++++++++

Saturday, January 31st

10:00 a.m.

Tower Hill Members $50
Non-Members, $65

What you get:
• 12 imported Spencer Sweet Pea Seeds
• 12 imported sweet pea pots ( plastic bags, really, but designed for growing exhibition sweet peas, and not available in this country.
• 12 bamboo canes - 7 feet tall ( these are hard to find, as well)
• Soil
• printed directions, which will outline all of the steps, which I will go through in my Powerpoint presentation - this includes pinching, cordon  training, staking, nutrition, culture and lots of relevant facts, tricks and tips to ensure that you achieve success.

Exactly what you will need to be able to grow the amazing, fragrant sweet peas that you have seen in some of my posts like this .

My seeds come from Owls' Acre Sweet Peas, Lincolnshire, UK - these are the sort of seed which produce long, cut flower stems, and large, fragrant blossoms rarely seen here in the States. Really very choice, and superior.

I look forward to meeting lots of you at this sure-to-be-fun, event for late January - and why late January? Well, it's actually the best time to start sweet pea seed since you will need to pinch them back. before planting outdoors in late March.

January 4, 2015


I keep thinking about my visit to the University of Connecticut greenhouses last week, and while revisiting my photos, I am even more inspired to track down some plants which I have yet to grow, or want to just add to my collection. Many of the plants that I saw at Uconn were too tropical for me to try, but a few of the Chilean and South African plants might do well in my greenhouse. Here are a few which I am looking at tracking down:

1. Dermatobotrys saundersii

I've seen this strange epiphytic shrub a few times now in collections, and I think that it is something that I will try. A South African native in the snapdragon family, it might do well for me as I keep many South African plants which seem to like the same conditions as this plant does ( nips of frost). The blossoms are pollinated by sunbirds in Africa, which seems to include about half of the plant species in my collection as well - maybe I should look into getting a few sunbirds? (Don't tell Joe, or he will comply!). I found the plant available online at Kartuz Greenhouses, so it will make it onto my next order in the spring.

2. Streptocarpus wendlandii

These large, single-leaved South African species of Streptocarpus have been on my wish list for some time now. Occasionally I see seeds for them available, and I have even seen them for sale on EBay, but I have resisted. After seeing some of the specimens 

3. Ecbolium viride ( Ice Green Crossandra)

OK, how did I ever miss this one as I think I have grown most every teal colored flower that there was - Ixia viridiflora, Lachenalia viridiflora, Strongylodon macrobotrys and Puya berteroniana , but I digress - the problem with most of these odd pale green or teal colored flowers is that they photograph terribly, and most people color correct them in Photoshop which makes what already seems like an un-natural color appear, well…..alien. And so, that is my excuse for not buying this gem - which ( you can't tell in this horrible image) is ever so slightly more teal-ish than Ixia viridflora, but not nearly as teal-ish as Lachenalia viridiflora. Must get, and hey, look - it's also available at Kartuz Greenhouses. Score.

4. Coelogyne speciosa

Most Coelogyne species do well for me, but I do not have this one. Generally cool growing orchids, or moderate at least in their needs, they seem to thrive in my greenhouse. I am not certain if this one will, but it may inspire me to add to my collection. I do prefer orchids which are more interesting, and those that grow well in baskets make good greenhouse specimens, and use space which is currently not in use.

5. Athanasia pinnata

What looks rather like a pillar of Spanish Moss with a name that, well, might be one of the best Latin names to say out loud ever since Streptocarpus,  is this South African native from the Eastern Cape that I really want to try growing. OK, I must admit to you - that I have tried it twice now, but failed. Once due to the dogs yanking it out of the pot, and the second time because I tried to bring one home in a suit case from Annie's Annuals ( who sometimes has it in stock- they will again, because Annie is awesome).. Look for it, as I will again - this time, raising it in a pot as a summer pot plant and a winter greenhouse gem.

6. Tilandsia usneoides 'fine form'

Since I mentioned it, why not this micro-teensy Spanish Moss  since I have all of the other forms including a giant one, this one is spectacularly wiry and delicate - gotta get. Don't know where.

I suppose I could have 'borrowed' some, but I was chicken. I may have to beg Dr. Matt Opel for some at one of the Cactus and Succulent Society meetings.

7. Alluaudia species ( any one will do, most likely A. procera but A. humbertii will do, too)

Always a softie for spiny plants, it's time that I amp it up and start trying to grow some Alluaudia's. Native to Madagascar, these deciduous thorny dudes are fast growing and have this remarkable foliage which Glen Lord explained to me have a curious habit of either growing vertical when the sunlight is strong, such as here, or horizontal if the light quality is poor, such as on a a window sill. At least, that is how I understood it.

8.  Pachypodium horomboense

Speaking of thorny things,  (and Madagascar for that matter) - I might as well add this thorny beast to the collection. Now - I've tried Pachypodiums before, with some luck if I wintered them over in the cold, dry studio and not in the wet and cold greenhouse, but this one might be worth the bother. A rarer species of Pachypodium of which I can only find seeds for ( and which I won't attempt from seed), I think that I can attempt this once I find it somehere for sale. Pachypodiums are one of those caudex plants - caudiciform succulents which drive collectors of such things crazy - and if you don't believe me, just Google the word Caudiciform and see what these collectors are all about.

I have yet to fully be bitten by the Caudex bug, again, saving that for my retirement years or for another life). Really. Look, when I run out of things to collect, I may consider Caudex plants as a collection, only after I have exhausted orchids or gesneriads. That said, I have about a dozen already, so it's not as if I am that innocent. These things do tend to creep up on you like extra pounds during the Holidays.

9. Oxalis gigantea 

I know, right? This is and Oxalis. I couldn't believe it either, until I saw the foliage ( see below). Of course, as a rather exuberant Oxalis collector ( God knows why, but then again, mostly the tuberous forms), this one intrigues me. It's not pretty, not even a little bit, but it is a curiosity, which by itself is merit enough. Now, I need to find it. Seems like Annie's Annuals sometimes has it, but if anyone has a connection, please let me know - I always have good things to trade.

Oxalis gigantea

10.  Blue Fern - Microsorum thailandicum

This is the second time that I have seen this blue iridescence leaved fern in a collection. More like, motor oil glistening or that rainbow-on-a-slice-of-deli-ham effect, but it does appear blue. It is thought that this effect enables the plant to be selective in its absorption of light. Native to Taiwan and Vietnam, my greenhouse may be too cool for this fern, but it is cool.

The greenhouses at the University of Connecticut

Cochliostema odoratissimum, from Ecuador is another stemless epiphytic plant that has a floral display rivaling most orchids, but I fear this plant demands hot house conditions. I just had to share the image with your though, anything to warm these cold, January days.

January 3, 2015


Preserved, salted lemons, or  L'Hamb Marakad ( or 'Sleeping Lemons') so popular now in many upscale restaurants and on cooking shows is easy - and if you keep a lemon tree on your window sill, you might be thinking about what you could do with all of those lemons which are now ripening around the New Year. Here is a recipe for Preserved Moroccan Lemons that is easy, and uses up many of those extra lemons. Of course, you can just buy a bag at the market right now while they are in season as well, as make it with those.

I made these with our friend Kelly Marsh, a rather talented pastry chef and a fellow Irish Terrier breeder (she helped breed our current grand champion 'Weasley' who is headed off to Westminster Kennel Club next month), Kelly spent New Year's Eve with us, and in an effort to distract us from any pesky hangover's and flower parades, we decided to make pickled lemons.  Our Meyer Lemon trees in the greenhouse are so heavy with fruit, that they are falling over in their pots. 

Preserved or pickled lemons are a preserved fruit, commonly used in many ethnic cuisines. They popular in Cambodia, and in the Middle East, most commonly associated with Morocco. There are many recipes, some with spices others, using just salt. This is a simple and basic recipe. They can be used after one month of fermenting in all sorts of dished ranging from cous cous to tagines. I could buy a jar at our local Turkish market, or I could just make some - it's very simple ( just lemons, and salt). Here is how we did it:


L'Hamb Marakad, الحامض مرقد  or Preserved Salted Lemons

Here is what you will need:

- a 1 quart glass jar with a tight fitting lid
- 12 Meyer Lemons, or a sweet lemon variety like 'Ciron beldi'. (12 or more when tightly packed)
- 1/2 cup of sea salt or Kosher salt

1. Add a tablespoon of salt to the bottom of the jar before packing lemons.

2. Cut lemons into quarters, but only deep enough so that the quarters remain connected at the stem end.

2. Rub salt into the quartered lemons, and rub salt all over them ( don't worry, you will wash off the salt before you cook or eat them).

3. Add lemons to the jar one by one, squeezing in as many as you can, tightly.

4. Layer with salt, as you go, and try to get as many lemons as you can into the jar. I even add some lemon halves to fill in the spaces.

5. Top off the jar with another tablespoon of sea salt, seal and cover with a tight lid.

The preserved lemons will be ready in 1 months time,  as the juices mingle with the salt, and they begin to ferment. If you can find them, the smaller 'petit doqq' lemons found in Morocco are most favored, but any sweet lemon will do with 'Meyer' being the easiest to find. I tried to pick the smallest lemons from our trees so that I could fit as many into the jar - a bit of a luxury on a snowy day in New England in January, but one which requires very little effort at all, as the lemons bloom and set fruit during the summer by themselves, and then are just brought into the greenhouse in the autumn, where they ripen and are ready to pick in January. Remember, they can also be grown in the winter on a cool, sunny windowsill if you have one.