March 6, 2016

Guest Editing the Latest Issue of Pith + Vigor

Rochelle Greayer of Pith + Vigor quarterly and I are not only fellow bloggers, but we are friends, and we are neighbors. We both live in central Massachusetts. So, besides finding most any excuse to get together on a weeknight for Neapolitan Pizza, Middle Eastern food or BBQ, we chat about plants.

A few months ago, Rochelle asked me if I would be interested in helping a bit with her publishing project Pith + Vigor, a project which many of you probably already know, sits on our desks and side tables (if you don't pick one up at your local Anthropologie or Terrain, you can subscribe here on line). P+V is not only a different magazine about gardening, it speaks to a broad audience who appreciates that special mix of visual design, real horticulture and lifestyle. Something few other publications do without leaning towards landscape design, or ending up looking more like a big ad for lawn and garden more than garden.

I wanted a masculine hand to contrast with the past 5 issues which featured a floral theme. Tattoos were a plus, but as my full sleeve wasn't compete yet, I didn't want to use my fabulously masculine arm (just yet). So we recruited Joe's nephew Curtis to act as our hand model.  

Published on newsprint, P+V is not a glossy, fancy publication at all, so be prepared for that, but this is intentional, for as many of us know, we 'dispose' of our newspapers ad glossy periodicals even more so today, than every before. I don't mind the rougher appearance, nor the disposability one bit. I would imagine that as a gardener who gets ones knees dirty, that you wouldn't either.

Here is the story about how I designed the cover on one, snowy Sunday afternoon when we (I) realized that they needed a cover design in 24 hours!. So 'very Matt'.!

One idea I has, was to use a 'magic wand', and a cheap one at that, which I pieced together with candy magic wands and some princess items.  Clearly, Curtis needed so art direction on how to properly implement a magic wand. (this was more like a gorilla who grabbed a magic wand). Models can be so difficult.

After some 'Fairy God Mother' lessons, Cutis seems to 'get the hand of it', and we could progress before we lost the light. We tried a few backgrounds, shooting against the chicken coop, some barn boards but finally ending up in the greenhouse, where it was warmer. I still didn't know what I was going to shoot.

I unwrapped some paper bags from the grocery store, and kept the folds showing, simply laying them onto the potting bench. It felt rough and unfussy. After picking some very random selections of plant material from around the greenhouse, I asked Curt to hold them in one hand. I arranged the material in a chunk of Oasis floral foam, which you can't see. This shot of that tattoo felt too intense and, well, a bit too much.

I thought that I would be able to shoot on the potting bench, but it needed to be rebuilt, (which Curtis thought was why he was coming over to work on in the first place), but before we could start that, we needed this shot, as it was holding up the press. Layouts and backgrounds for shots are often decided on-the-spot for me. I know that I should have planned this all, sketching out the idea first, then comping up what it might look like, curating what plant material could be used, but that's just a luxury which will have to wait until I have more time. This would have to be a quick and dirty shot. We'll find what we can find laying around, and 'wing it'. Paper bag backgrounds, whatever flowers are in bloom on this February day, and it will just have to do.

I had Curt try two hands instead, but it started to feel, well, 'Too Bloggy " or "too Martha circa 2004", if you know what I mean. It could work, but it wasn't a direction that I wanted to go in. Besides, pink, red and yellow - authenticity's great, but really?

One hand felt much better, and I liked the symmetry. The plant material started to feel right as well, even though the hellebore was from outside, all of these flowers were blooming on this late February day. I did feel that it needed more, something creepy or something that represented the idea of curiosity, after all, the theme for this issue was 'Re-invention', and I wanted to communicate both "imperfect perfection' and 'authenticity'. Obviously staged, yet not trying to look like anything other than a 'photo taken on February 25th on my potting bench, using whatever we found around the house on that day".

Some things didn't work. I kept adding and adding, toys, a plastic dog and a cow, some candy, some insects from a frame of framed specimens which I cracked open, but it all became too busy. Editing ensued.

This was starting to come together. A nice, nineteenth century feel of 'curiosities' with botany and a contemporary twist with tattoos, a dudes hand and amazing horticulture.

Later that evening, I played around with the images, adding various graphics which might work. I started to like what was happening here....

...and this was starting to work, but the green transparent overlay was too green.

I wanted to add a more graphic layer in Photoshop, and merge it over the shot that would help communicate the idea and theme of re-invention, structure and form. I landed on this one.

The final design as it appears on the magazine.

Curtis was so thrilled, that we cooked him a roast Lamb dinner, and he 'signed' copies of the magazine cover for us. Chris Marsh, from whom we acquired our first breeding Irish Terrier from, was visiting to evaluate our recent litter, was the recipient of Curtis' first 'autographed' issue! We all laughed a lot admitting that being a world famous handmade probably wouldn't be in his future!

Get the latest issue of Pith + Vigor here, and, there are other articles in this issues ranging from a great story about how the Julia Child rose was named, to an interview with potter Angela Palmer, and this story about how to raise citrus fruit (by moi!). Hint - it comes with a recipe!

February 29, 2016

A Weekend at Americas Oldest Flower Show

An entrants camellias await being groomed and set out on the benches at America's oldest flower show, the 187th Camellia Show held by the Massachusetts Camellia Society held this past weekend at the Tower Hill Botanic Garden.

It's as if Downton Abbey meets the Philadelphia Flower Show, or as if a greenhouse from the nineteenth century suddenly came to life again in the middle of winter. This weekend, I participated in the Massachusetts Camellia Society's 187th annual show - which happens to hold the honor of the oldest continuous flower show in the United States. So special and rare today, at least in the North, camellias continue to capture the imagination of flower lovers, and maybe, just maybe, they are making a comeback, even if only a handful of people can raise them today.

Some very nice Semi Double camellias, waiting to be benched.

If you live in California or in the south, it may seem rather unimpressive, the idea of a camellia show, but in the north where camellias are not hardy, they are today, a very special thing, as few people can grow this somewhat tender Asian tree unless they have the luxury of a cold greenhouse. I would would go a step further and say that not only do very few people raise camellias anymore, but most people north of Washington D.C. have even seen a camellia, let alone touched one or smelled one (some can be very fragrant, although most have no scent.).

My tray of camellias, which I picked that morning, make their way into the exhibition hall at last Saturday's 187th annual Camellia Show hosted by the Massachusetts Camellia Society, held at the Tower Hill Botanic Garden in Boylston, MA.

In many way these are living antiques in the north, which is sad, since a hundred years ago they were as common at florist's greenhouses and in estate greenhouses as were carnations or chrysanthemums in the winter. Native to China, Korea and Japan, camellias do prefer cool to cold winter temperatures, but since they are late winter blooming and have glossy, evergreen foliage, they cannot survive hard freezes below the mid 20's without damage. In a cool or cold greenhouse they thrive in the cool, damp sunny environment, spending the summer out of doors when they do most of their growth, and then wintering over under glass - there is hardly a more perfect winter blooming tree.

In a home, they are practically impossible to grow, unless one owns an old house with an unheated bedroom, which preferably is drafty with bright sunshine. A few people can raised them on unheated porches which are glassed-in, or in conservatories, but generally, camellias are known as rather low maintenance, long lived greenhouse trees which prefer to be planted in the ground under glass, or in large tubs where they can remain for decades.

Exhibitors entering flowers take great care, from picking them in the morning early, to selecting only the most perfect, with no damage on the petals, no pollen stains, and good leaf arrangement. These here are from the Lyman Estate greenhouses in Waltham, MA, another old collection in the Boston area.

At this weekends show at Tower Hill Botanic Garden there were a few hundred blossoms on display. I think that guests never realized that there were only about six exhibitors, which gives you an idea of how endangered the New England camellia collections are. I was asked to be a judge again (I judged two years ago) and my good friend Glen Lord was also asked - we are both camellia growers, but not very serious collectors, at least yet. Camellia enthusiasts are a rare breed in the North today.

Most of my plants came from Nuccio's Nursery in California. When I travel to LA on business, I always try to make a side trip to this landmark Pasadena nursery. I have them pack plants up in crates which I bring back on the plane. I prefer to pick out the varieties I want (usually in early February) when they have them displayed on wooden tables. Camellia shows display flowers in small dishes or in bowls, in much the same way we home growers display camellias in our homes - in plates, or floating in a bowl. I've come to appreciate a February holiday such as St Valentines Day or Presidents day as represented by a bowl of camellias. Surely, any 19th century person would find such a display a very proper solution, and an appropriate one for an parlor or dining table in the era.

The Formal Rose or Formal Double form is perhaps my favorite, often the petals of these forms are so perfectly arranged in lovely fibonacci symmetry. I an imagine Mrs. Lincoln with one of these as a corsage, can't you? 

Some white anemone forms which never made it onto the display bench. This is how one exhibitor brought his flowers to the show. They are picked in morning early, and last out of water for a few hours before being groomed and set onto the benches.

Pale yellow forms are being introduced. This one is the color of heavy cream, but considered close to yellow. The variety is a Japanese one 'Ki-No-Senritsu'. 

Extra flowers are often not tossed into the trash, but arranged on a tray to fill some of the tables. These are some of mine, which I did not exhibit.

More Formal Doubles arranged and set on the bench awaiting judging. 

Flowers can be entered as singles or as a triple entry. This plate of 'Charles Sargent' each showed some very nice variegation, and nice arrangement of petals. 

This  tree won Best in Show in the potted plant category.

The flower on the right made it to the Best In Show table to be considered as Best in Show, while the anemone form flower on the left called 'Lipstick', which I entered, came in second in the anemone flowered class.

Can you guess who this man in in the middle with the beard? That's Roger Swain from the PBS show Victory Garden. He joined us at the judges luncheon, and entertained us with stories. He admitted to me that he's a huge blog fan, and I was very flattered! More excited than when I met J.J. Abrams!

Just before judging, the final touches are made. Extra flowers that never made it to the bench, are removed, and all labels are checked for accuracy.

By noon, the crowds arrived. The line to enter the botanic garden was long, and the parking lot was full. Not bad, for a camellia show!

I was shocked to have one of my flowers win Best in Show! I stepped out of judging at this point, it just didn't seem right. I was very honored.

There were many entries which I felt should have won, like this bicolored semi double Higo type.

Both Glen Lord and I fell for this ruffled one. It's named 'Mooching', and it's a Camellia reticulata, a different species from most of the doubles, which are bred from C. japonica.

I love the boss of stamens on this bright red Higo type. Most of the potted trees in the displays are part of the Tower Hill collection, which came from the collection which was once housed at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. Talk about an important collection with provenance.

February 23, 2016

More Camellias, Plant Propagation, and a Big Blog Honor

Pots of camellias blooming on the floor of the greenhouse - I just can't hold them back, so they will miss the Camellia Show at Tower Hill Botanic Garden this coming weekend ( but you shouldn't miss it - it's the oldest flower show in the US!), and I'll be one of the judges again this year.

There are times when I feel as if I am just repeating myself, so if this all feels a little redundant, please let me know, but gardening is a seasonal venture - a month-by-month, week-by-week process which may seem to barely change from year to year to the novice yet to the more observant , rarely does anything repeat itself in precisely the same way. So while last year, as we were in the middle of our coldest and most severe winter in recorded weather history, my camellias bloomed in mid-February (two weeks before the Massachusetts Camellia Society exhibition), this year, while in our record breaking mild winter, they are blooming - at the same time. Great. So much for repeating anything!

It's The Oldest Flower Show in the Nation, This Weekend.

I've been asked to be a judge again at this camellia show, which happens to be the oldest flower show in the United States, so perhaps it is best that I may only enter a few, tender blossoms from the latest blooming trees, but it does trump my visions of blowing away the competition (the handful of us poor, pathetic camellia growers in the North East who still bother to raise these old-fashioned plants from another era under glass). Maybe next year, they will all bloom a bit later. Until then, it's just another 'private' flower show for me, Joe and the dogs. So I will share a few photos here, as I suspect by next week, few will be left.

A plate of Camellias ready for - a private show, in the house. Sad, I know, but they only last a day or two.

Nominated again!  Growing with Plants is again, a Top 10 Garden Blog by Better Homes & Gardens - They've asked that we request our readers to now vote for the best. 

I am honored to announce that again, Growing with Plants has been nominated by the editors of Better Homes & Gardens as a Top 10 gardening blog. I think that it's kind-of amazing, but a very flattering fact, especially given that this is my 10th anniversary of posting. So now, for the shameless request for votes. Oh, I really don't care all that much for such things, but of course, it's always a nice thing to actually win, as well.  Hey, I made it this far!

So if you wish, go to the BHG website and vote four your favorite blog (there is one in each of their lifestyle categories, so you will have to click through and vote on others). Of course, I should mention that you can vote once a day ( incase, you have nothing better to do!  You can vote here. 

All of the nominees this year truly deserve to win (I mean really, Erin from Floret Farm? Margaret Roach?  Come on!).  Since most are my friends, we consider ourselves all winners. Maybe I should note that I am the only guy. I wonder what that means?

I'm honestly fine with just being nominated. Voting does result in a 'winner' however ( a prize),  aSo clearly, I will need to bribe you (wait, shamelessly?). Oh Hell, I am competitive, who am I fooling!  I may not have the funny cartoons that Margaret has to share, and I come not even close her excellent prose (but she was the editor of Martha Stewart Living, after all!).  And that gorgeous Erin form Floret Farm? How could I ever compete with her? OK, maybe I was the first lay claim to starting the sweet peas craze, she has acres!). 

Still, to temp you to take the time to vote (ha - every day between now an mid-March, mind you!), I feel that I shall need to bribe you. 

So here is a photo of Daphne's über-cute, 5 week old puppies.

A darling photo to bribe you to vote!


Back to gardening....

Is it spring? Or mid-February? It's shirtless time in the greenhouse!

February Under Glass Means Chrysanthemum Cuttings

I shan't write about the weather, I promise. But it's been a little crazy around here, with record breaking cold that shattered 100 year old record, and now spring-like warmth which while not record breaking, is still 70 degrees warmer than the previous weekend. In the greenhouse it feels very much like summer, and with nothing more than a t-shirt and jeans, I began rather summer-like chores under glass, which resulted in wet muddy jeans from the watering, and  even a bee sting from one of the honey bees that made its way in through the open vents in the ceiling. 

Here's an interesting observation - there were plenty of opportunities to observe examples of certain tasks which I have read about in those nineteenth century greenhouse and florist books. Take propagation, for example. I saved many of the exhibition and Japanese chrysanthemum 'stools' under the benches, as advised in most every Victorian gardening book, which all advised ..."will begin growth as the days grow longer, requiring one to strike cuttings beginning in February."

Time to crank up the propagation mats. This one contains both chrysanthemum cuttings, and some dahlia tubers, which I m forcing for cuttings - Cafe au Lait, on the right, if you look carefully, you can see the tubers peaking out.

On schedule, the once very dead looking chrysanthemum stools, which had indeed been spending the winter under the benches, began to send out new, healthy growth. I was so pleased to not only see these plants begin doing exactly what they were supposed to do, I was able to take over 150 cuttings, with plenty more to come.  If there is one thing that I am struck by in reading these 150  - 200 year old books, is that most of what I feel is unique or novel in our modern world, isn't really all that new at all. If anything, we have less choice with much of the plant material offered today for greenhouse culture, but I can say that what we can grow in the North under glass, has all been done before. We've just taken about a 120 year break.

Some mums went onto another heating mat, this one with covers, which means that they need to be positioned out of the full sun - only a bit of sunshine late in the day strikes this flat. With rooting hormone and bottom heat, all o these cuttings should root quickly. It's so nice to be thinking about summer already - even though there is still snow outside.

After striking my first round of chrysanthemum cuttings, I divided a few of the nicer varieties of dahlias which I laid out in vermiculite, sand and perlite soil, prepared over heating mats, to force some dahlia cuttings - a practice so common in the old days of greenhouse gardening, but one which I recently discovered is still practiced by dahlia enthusiasts who are eager to propagate some of their finer exhibition varieties. I felt that it was something worth trying, especially as I start to become more invested in exhibition dahlias (most of mine are just cut-flower varieties right now, but I need to practice).

Speaking of dahlias, our first meeting of the newly formed New England Dahlia Society will be held March 5th at our house at noon - if you are interested in joining, send me a private note, and I'll add you to the luncheon guest list. I've started ordering some exhibition varieties this weekend, a little late, I know, but I was able to study the Fab 50 list on the American Dahlia Society website, and finally found some of the varieties I was interested in from the many smaller nurseries listed on the ADS source pages, but I fear I will be running out of room, especially if I still want to raise some vegetables this year! The space war has begun.

The beauty of this modern  'Margaret Davis' camellia, is hard to beat.

I'm sure that I've shown many images of each of these camellias in the past, but what's wrong with sharing a few more. 

Rose form camellias are perfectly symmetrical. This one is 'Mrs. Tingley'

Oh Daphne. I know that you've been locked up indoors most of the winter with a litter of puppies, and that the soft, deep soil is irresistable to dig in, but really? All of my new French tulips? Naughty, naughty, terrier. Naughty.

Some other horticultural events happening in the greenhouse

The South African bulbs are starting to bloom, as they are in many greenhouses in the Northern Hemisphere (I just saw a photo of the same plants blooming in the greenhouses at the Denver Botanic Gardens). The show here usually starts with the ROmulea species, followed by the Babiana, backed up with the Lachenalia - one of my favorite genus - and a genus, I should mention which was terribly popular also in the Victorian era, but just try to find any today, aside from the few new hybrids marketed in the past few years under the brand name 'African Beauty' strain.

Lachenalia 'Rupert', one of the African Beauty Strain of Lachenalia, or Cape Hyacinth. Isn't the foliage beautiful? Look for these easy to grow (without pre-chilling) bulbs in your fall Dutch bulb catalogs. I always get a few each year, for winter color under glass. Can you tell that this is related to the common Dutch Hyacinth?

Wow. This massive specimen of a very large growing dendrobium (orchid) species is my plant of Dendrobium speciosum. It's nearly 6 feet in diameter, and this year, it has 14 flower spike forming. If it was in better condition, I might have bothered  to bring it in as a specimen plant to a Massachusetts Orchid Society meeting for judging, but it has some damaged leaves, and I know how those orchid folk are about perfection! So, I will just leave it in the greenhouse - maybe the dahlia society folks will enjoy it more? It should in be full bloom by the first week in March.

This larger shot should give you a better idea of the scale. It's a little blurry, but it does show the size. I first saw this species at the Tokyo World Orchid Show in 2008, where it was displayed in back of a pick up truck! I then had to find one (Santa Barbara Orchid Estate).

Do you remember back in September when I decided to raise some cold weather annuals for the greenhouse? Well, maybe it was too cold in the greenhouse, but most are still growing, but they are very small. With the lengthening day, I can see changes however, and some, such as this Godetia above are starting to grow larger leaves.

Nemesia seedling can be as challenging as snapdragons, pansies and petunia, if you have ever tried to grow them from seed -just not as easy as one might think, with yellowing leaves, and sometimes just weak, chlorotic growth. Yet, there is a trick, I'll be writing more about these tips later, but it all has to do with soil pH, electrical conductivity (yes), and nutrients - particularly, calcium and magnesium. A little pinching helps too. I plan on these seed raised nemesia to fill this pots by  Easter with loads of colorful blossoms.

Tropaeolum speciosum tricolor covers a little trellis with its thin vines, and tiny, yet colorful blossoms.

Tuberous tropeolum take over the greenhouse.

I know, I can't get enough of these rarer tropeolum, but they are not that difficult, if one can keep them cool (most will sulk and go dormant if daytime temps remain over 65 degrees). These Chilean and Argentinean treasures are lovely, and they are perfect for raising on those little trellises one finds in the gardening decor aisle at discount stores, which typically are useless for most anything else, practically speaking.

A larger view of this tropaeolum tricolor. I should note that the one Tropaeolum azureum which f suffered a decapitation during a greenhouse accident  involving a giant Bay Laurel tree back in December, seems to have survived. I had feared that I had killed it, as it's single stem had separated from its tuber. It seems to have re-rooted (or at least, it is still alive and appears to be growing). I will resist peeking at its roots until it goes dormant in the spring, but since the plant has continued to grow for two months now, I am hopeful that it has survived.

Freesia corms starting to emerge - maybe some fragrant freesias for the Easter Table?

Winter blooming primroses are a must in the cold pit or greenhouse. If only we could find the finest one, Primula sinensis, but it remains lost in culture. Until someone sends me seeds? I shall have to be happy with Primula obconica (but not this year) and Primula malacoides, which is what you are looking at here. It's a bet fragrant in the strong, late winter sunshine.