}

December 27, 2013

How to grow Artichokes in the North

If you've never considered growing artichokes in your northern garden, why not try some this year? Just remember that they need lots of room ( 9 square feet for each plant) and plan on a long row, if you want to have enough for a meal or two.


As the year comes to an end, and the seed catalogs begin to arrive in stacks, the summer vegetable garden can seem months away ( oh, right - it IS months away!), but there are some plants which need to be started in early January, which may help you overcome your winter blues. Sure, the Winter Solstice just occurred a week ago, but nature doesn't rest, and some plants need time to grow - pansies ( viola species and hybrids), geraniums ( the hybrid pelargoniums we all know as 'florist geraniums' need to be sown under lights by the New Year if one wants flowers in spring), and artichokes. Yes, artichokes. They can be grown here in the north, but prepare yourself, it will take some work, and now is the time to begin. Here is how I grew my globe artichokes last summer from seeds that I sowed the first week of January.

Artichokes have deep roots, so I use Root Trainers, a folding device not unlike a book, which allows one to raise tap-rooted plants and deep-rooted plants like Sweet Peas and artichokes and transplant them with little root disturbance.

Order seed for artichokes at Christmastime. Look for varieties that will perform well in your climate. Here in New England, we are limited to fast-cropping varieties. I prefer seeds from Johnny's Selected Seeds, as the seeds are grown in the north, and they carry artichoke 'Imperial Star', a special variety that will bear bud within one year grown from seed. essential for northern gardens, as artichokes are perennial elsewhere, one must cheat a bit in the north. With 'Imperial Star' one can harvest large globe artichokes in late June from a January sowing, even in Maine.
Seeds are soaked in warm water for 12 hours, and then sown in the cells. Bottom heat at 70º ensures proper germination, but once the seedlings are germinated, I grow them at 60º under lights. Care must be taken not to expose them to cooler temperatures until March, when the seedlings are exposed to temperatures below 40º F for two weeks, which acts as an artificial winter ( vernalization). It sounds hard, but I just set the pots outdoors, taking care not to let frost hit them.

By April, the seedlings are ready for 6 inch pots.

After all risk of frost is past ( May 21 in our area), seedlings are planted out into the garden and fertilized well. Heavy feeders, I started  with a high nitrogen fertilizer for three weeks, and then turned to one with low Nitrogen and high phosphorus for the balance of the growing season. At no time were plants stressed with draught or nutrition.

Some plants were saved for the parterre, as the foliage is ornamental and completed the very Provencial-look I was going for with rosemary, lavender and lemons in front of the greenhouse.




By the Fourth of July, I was surprised to find buds as large as those in high-end markets from my own garden just outside of Boston. I could have waited for a second crop, but I pulled the plants to make room for a late crop of squash. There is nothing like fresh artichokes, which are less stringy, snappy-crisp and sweet.


Side buds will also form, and can be used as 'baby artichokes'. but I rarely bother with these. The stems on home-grown artichokes are tender too, so plan on picking longer stems to steam. Just peel, to remove the strings, and steam.

Full Size artichokes from a New England garden from artichokes plants grown as an annual.

December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas to All!

We had 25 guests last night for our traditional Lithuanian Christmas Eve dinner. Somehow, we were able to fit everyone at the same table, ( secret-it took two tables).

My kitchen plant window, a little weak on white cyclamen and to be honest, I ran out of energy so I had to stick with some orchids, begonias and a few measly paperwhites that I found at Walmart - (it's official - Walmart paperwhites are indeed the measliest in the paperwhite kingdom). That fabulous wreath that looks as if it was made from Aloe leaves? Target, thank you very much! And it's made from dried seed pods. Clearly I wasn't very clever this year.



At least I could splurge on camellias! In the greenhouse, as large tree of Camellia 'Charlotte de Rothschild' that I planted into the ground of the greenhouse, provided a couple of dozen of its large, single white blossoms for our Christmas table.

This year we served  boneless Prime Rib of beef (we had two of these boneless racks, which  I had the butcher prepare, trim and tie, since I knew I would be busy with other things). Along with simple, Mashed Potatoes ( yet not so light with  cream and butter), winter vegetables and plenty of deserts, no one left any lighter than when they arrived.

My poor, pathetic cutting of the Christmas Cactus known as 'Aspen', a highly sought after fringed form, bloomed with three flowers this year. I call it 'pathetic' because I almost lost it this spring, when it rotted away to almost nothing in a damp corner of the greenhouse, yet I should call it my miracle plant, as it re-rooted in a new pot, and I re-discovered it last week in another cold corner (see a pattern here?), but this time with a few buds.
 


I had lots of guests bring desert,  as I wanted to focus on the meal ( and Joe, on cocktails), but I wanted to share this one with you - a Japanese sponge cake with strawberries and cream by my good friend and cake designer, Jessica Rosenkranz. Nothing like taking on a difficult task! She admits that it was her first time trying Japanese sponge, but I think it came out pretty sweet. And it tasted good, too, filled with berries and cream.

Joe topping off glasses, ensuring constant joy.

My older brother Bruce, in the center, and my nice Lyndsey and her Husband Davis on the right ( they just celebrated their first wedding anniversary two weeks ago).

December 20, 2013

Vintage Christmas Flowers


There was a time, long before those brilliant red silk poinsettia at Michaels ( complete with faux gold foil on the pot), and dwarf Kalanchoes, paperwhite Narcissus or white Snowflake Hydrangea's when the only source for Holiday plants was the local florist, most likely one with a snow covered, glasshouse attached, or, if you were wealthy, from ones own greenhouse,where winter-blooming shrubs and plants cultivated by ones gardening staff could be brought into the conservatory or plant windows for temporary display for Christmas. 


I have to admit that I have a weakness for 18th and 19th Century conservatory plants and growing techniques, perhaps because I am blessed with a heated glasshouse in New England, but more so, because of the rich horticultural heritage which exists from this time period. A time when plant explorers from England (and even a few from the US) travelled by ship to far off lands such as China, Japan and South Africa in search of new species to grow in these relatively new structures called 'stoves', glasshouses or greenhouses which suddenly offered the ability to grow tender plants and produce like grapes, nectarines and pineapple for the winter estate table.

Lily of the Valley pips, forced here from roots that I dug in the garden this past fall, and forced in a window, will provide a fragrant display more reminiscent of Christmas 1885, when Lily of the Valley pips were shipped to New York City by the thousands to decorate store windows and Holiday tables. 


Here in the Boston area, many glass and wood greenhouses still exist, but not as many as when I was a child in the 1960's, and even fewer than when my father was a child, in the 1910's. He remembers local greenhouses here in central Massachusetts where camellias were available throughout the winter for a corsage for a Holiday party or a freshly picked bunch of fragrant violets, once so traditional as a Christmas flower, long before the poinsettia's of the 20th Century made their debut.

Those of you who read my posts often, know that I love old-time plants My obsession with Victorian plants and their cultural techniques keep my plant collections unique, with most additions coming from old estate greenhouses or from long searches on-line, as I try to find lost cultivars of Clivia, Acacia species, rare bulbs and many other plants which were once so common in any cold northern greenhouse in London or the North Eastern US. Once in my greenhouse, these plants often perform with surprising regularity, as if they know a secret. Blooming at precise moments of time often dictated more by the moon and Earth's seasonal cycles, than by chemicals or artificial daylenth with lights. So although my Christmas cactus or Cyclamen may appear to bloom at different weeks each year, at least they all bloom at the same time. 

White Hellebores, once known as Christmas Roses were the traditional Christmas flower in much of Europe before commercial crops and warm, dry furnace-heated air in modern homes made them impossible to keep alive.

White Christmas Hellebores  or Rosa di Natale are features on this Christmas card from Italy dating from 1880.

Camellia's were once standard florist plants in areas where they could not be grown outdoors. In the North Eastern US, they were not only common throughout the winter holiday season, but essential as a corsage for Christmas Eve mass or  for a Christmas table display.

In my greenhouse, which is kept relatively cold with a nighttime temperature of 40º F., here the classic vintage shrubs and plants like camellias, Daphne odorata, Buddleia asiatica, Osmanthus fragrans, Lily of the Valley, winter bulbs and Correa all bloom during these shortest days of the year. and each becomes a living bit of history for me, whenever I enter the greenhouse in the December and January, as if one could smell a scene in a painting or an old photograph. I can imagine a country gentleman from 1805 appreciating exactly the same scent, perhaps even from the same plant, and many of these ancient greenhouse conservatory plants came from cuttings collected from old estate greenhouses here in the Boston area. 


Camellias and Hellebores were common illustrations on turn of the century Christmas cards, where they appeared along with other common early winter plants such as cyclamen, scented violets and Lily of the Valley.  Single white or red Anemone's and Ranunculus were also common cut flowers available from local greenhouses during the Christmas season. Along with twigs of broad-leaved evergreens like holly, boxwood, and needled conifers such as spruce, pine and fir, and a truly authentic Chistmas arrangement could be assembled. In the days of Lincoln and Downton Abbey, such plants and flowers had to be grown locally. Pinecones, acorns, nuts and seeds, woodland plants such as mosses, ferns, berries and branches, along with ornamental grasses, feathers and dried flowers, fruits such as oranges, pineapple, lemons, limes and apples rounded out the Christmas displays of the period.

One may not associate florist Carnations with the Holiday season, but here in the Boston area,  and throughout the eastern US, the Carnation was traditionally available long before air travel opened up a global market.  Once a major commercial greenhouse crop in the 1800's. and 1900's here in New England, growers raised millions of flowers which were shipped by rail across the entire Eastern Seaboard market.  Along with greens from the greenhouse and garden, here all picked from my garden and from the greenhouse. Glossy Camellia foliage along with a variegated Osmanthus, which looks a lot like holly, boxwood, cedar, magnolia bud and foliage and some white Nandina domestica  berries.

A relatively new camellia to the scene, 'Yuletide', was bred at the California nursery Nuccio's, using some traditional single Japanese sassanqua camellias in an effort to bring earlier or mid-season blooming to the camellia grower. Today, it is a standard Holiday feature, not only because of its name, but because it is always in bloom for Christmas, making an annual appearance in small vases throughout the house, and on the Holiday table and food trays on Christmas Eve.

After two blizzards this week, it's always welcome to see winter camellia's in bloom, as my collection grows larger with each year, the pots and tubs grow heavier, but so does the bud count which means more camellia's to pick for events.


I've lost the name of this single species Camellia, but planted in the ground in the greenhouse, it has grown quickly, so high in 9 years that I had to cut it in half last week, so that the fans could circulate air more efficiently. In the past, I have used this camellia in temporary Holiday wreaths, a luxurious abundance of flowers seems to happen every few years.


Just to prove that not all is perfect in my life - many plants never made it back into the greenhouse this autumn, such as these standard topiary abutilons on the deck. It was just all too much for me, and I admit that the large bay laurel standard topiaries just made it  into the protection of the greenhouse two weeks ago!


On a side note: Check out my new project - writing a column for the mens lifestyle site Stylenochaser.

December 17, 2013

SIMPLE JOYS ON A SNOWY DAY



We all can become stressed during the Holiday season, trying to be perfect ( my big problem), driving everyone else crazy with to-do lists, things the bake before it is "too late", even trying to rather simple tasks such as getting t packages out to the post office can seem overwhelming - but sometimes, letting things go a bit, taking the time to appreciate the moments, can make a crazy time of year, much more bearable. I mean, who cares if there is a half of a Hubbard Squash frozen on the back porch - I mean, who knew that the temperature was going to drop to January sub-zero levels over-night? Sure, it was -5º this morning, and sure, I am having some nasty greenhouse heating issues, but we have so much to be thankful for - like the first flocks of goldfinches on our thistle feeders, bright violet calicarpa berries at the same time as red holly berries, even soft, white fluffy snow guaranteeing  a white Christmas here in New England. So…a few images from a walk in the garden on this snowy, December day. Just appreciating the little things, and who cares if I never got to make those wreathes. Maybe next year.

Click below for more:

December 6, 2013

Holiday Gifts for Gardeners - Beatrix Potter Style


Beatrix Potter themed Holiday gifts!

Traditional Beech Wood Garden Riddle (Sieve) made by Hill & Sons in the UK, a product they have been manufacturing by hand since 1946. These classic riddles are classics, and if you can get one into your collection you would be in good company ( with Prince Charles, Alan Titchmarsh and Kew Gardens). They are difficult to find outside of the UK, but one can find them on the UK Amazon site.  My advice? Find a friend in the UK, have two shipped to them - they keep one, and then ship the other one to you.
Garden sieves are more likely to be found in only the most serious gardener's potting sheds, as few others know what to do with them. I find them useful for sifting compost, and when repotting bulbs in the greenhouse, but aside from those more practical uses, a nice wooden one would make a terrific harvesting basket in which to dry garlic or onions, or to trug around produce back from the vegetable garden. Of course, if you have a rabbit or sparrow problem….

More ideas below, plus, even more here on HGTV Gardens, who so kindly featured my blog on their Garden Blogger Gift Guide post! How cool is that!







Guy Wolff pots come the closest to those seen in most every Beatrix Potter garden illustration.
One can never have too many of these treasures.
GUY WOLFF POTTERY
 Let's face it - we can never have enough pots made by the talented potter GUY WOLFF!. Of course, there is his son, BEN WOLFF, equally talented, and a handful of other potters making similar pots. I can't help myself each year, and try to buy the biggest GUY WOLFF pot that I can, for they are not only important American made artwork, they are highly collectable and cherished by any and all gardeners. One can buy original hand made pots by Guy via his website, or one can purchase less expensive ones made by casts, or by other potters in his guild worldwide.

Click below for more:

November 30, 2013

SENSIBLE SEED SAVING

Black Heirloom Corn, or Green Aztec corn might be worth saving for planting next year, but I needed to make sure that the seed was bone dry - 2 hours in a 110 degree oven did the trick. I only save a couple of vegetables from seed, opting to focus my seed saving on other plants in the garden which cannot be found elsewhere.

As the Holiday season sweeps in, and we are bombarded with Black Friday and "Week of Black Friday' deals for everything ranging from automobiles to underwear, so too come the seed catalogs. Like most everything else, they too seem to arrive earlier and earlier each year. My personal rule? I try to save them until the week after Christmas, resisting any temptation to peek at what All America Winners made the cover, or what amazing 'new' heirloom tomato is suddenly the 'it' tomato of the year. Aside from Pelargoniums, geraniums and a few seeds which much be sown before the New Year, I too stay away from any seed sites until the last week of December. I've noticed  an abundance of blog posts and Google+ groups talking about seed saving, and like many gardening tasks, there are as many false truths being passed around, far too many to comment on here. Instead of stepping upon my soapbox, I am just going to share with you what I bother to save, when it comes to seed in my garden, and, a few secret sources for seed really worth seeking out, and bothering to save.

Click below for more:

November 23, 2013

Some Farm-to-Table Thanksgiving Prep

Our heritage-breed turkeys this year can breath a sigh of relief, as they have been officially pardoned ( by me).


Don't worry, I am not going to show any photos of slaughtered turkeys as I did last year, in fact, I don't think that we'll even be killing any turkeys this year due to time, and well, the fact that the entire turkey-slaughter process ended up being a significant weekend-long event last year. I think I am OK with a nice store bought turkey this year. It won't taste like that years delicious turkey feast, but I can use this time to prepare something different - say, like fresh ground corn meal from our own heirloom green Aztec corn.  This post will focus on more of the gardens harvest - particularly, that task of making home made cornbread for stuffing, and continuing to prep the pie squashes for pies later in the week. And, of course, some puppy shots plus a surprise addition to the poultry house, at the end of the post.



I have never raised dry field corn before this summer, but I think it will become an annual crop. Even though we don't have a large garden anymore, a few hundred square feet dedicated to field corn will provide enough corn for at least ten pans of corn bread - and believe me, if you have never tasted freshly ground corn meal made from a nice, flavorful, richly scented heirloom corn variety - you are missing one of the true gifts from a garden.
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November 17, 2013

AMARYLLIS CONFIDENTIAL




It seems everywhere we look today, there are amaryllis. On those hip lifestyle blogs "white Amaryllis for Christmas", on Pinterest ( you know, "how to grow an amaryllis in a jar"), every single retail store has them merchandised in handy kits on endcaps, even your local hardware store carries these easy-to-grow and showy giants. "They're just McMansion housewife flowers" one of my younger, and most cynical  graphic designers called them, this past weekend.  Ugh. Probably because they can look as tasteless as a tacky Holiday sweater to some who cannot associate memories or nostalgia with them, but the amaryllis has much more to offer than mere holly berry red and snowman white seasonal metaphors worthy of a Restoration Hardware catalog cover.

The genus is broad and the newest hybrids, exotic spider flowered 'cybister' types, dwarf miniatures and curious rare species can be so incredibly interesting, that getting bored is hardly an option. For me, who comes from a time when there was only 5 forms available, todays wide selection can only mean that the amaryllis is becoming more and more interesting each and every year. After all, amaryllis really deliver on all fronts, except perhaps fragrance. It really all comes down to finding the best varieties, and growing them in the best manner. So I will share my amaryllis secrets ( and even a few personal gripes) with you.
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November 11, 2013

EASTERN EUROPE REINVENTS A CLASSIC

Once as common as ferns in a Victorian Fernery, the Florist Gloxinia and Cape Primrose, (Streptocarpus)
they fell out of fashion in the late 20th C. But thanks to Russian, Ukrainian and Polish hybridizers,
new and incredibly complex selections are arriving on our shores. 

 Remember this two years from now. I was the first to tell you that the Gloxinia is back. It's big, awesome and nothing at all like the old Gloxinia of 1960. But really? Gloxinias from the land of Kielbasa, Pierogi and Vodka? Oh yeah baby.....Read on. This is big news for us plant geeks.

As our weather here in the northeast begins to turn truly wintry, with our first snow on radar arriving tomorrow morning, I can't help by think about old fashioned house plants, and for some reason I associate african violets and their relatives the Streptocarpus with winter indoor gardening. African Violets, Streptocarpus and perhaps Gloxinia, if I could find nice and interesting forms. Typically I would have grown Gloxinia as a summer crop, as my parents would - creating displays on our front porch plant stands that would last for a couple of months, but recently, these plants have disappeared in the trade. Only sometimes showing up as houseplants near the Holidays.

November 9, 2013

ENJOYING AUTUMNAL NARCISSUS


We may rarely associate of narcissus blooming in autumn, but in some parts of the world, they are a common site. Narcissus serotinus in just one of the autumnal species native to the Mediterranean area, it's a tiny, fragrant generally single blooming species which collectors treasure, often in the smallest of pots, where they seem to grow best.


One of these years, I am going to take the time to visit the narcissus growing parts of the Mediterranean, but not in the spring, when most narcissus, or what we might call daffodils, bloom, but instead, in the autumn, when some of the rarer, small species bloom.  I know, narcissus in the fall? Well, when you start thinking about it, there are some narcissus that bloom for us in the late autumn, such as the Tazetta type, what you might know as the Paperwhite narcissus. I keep two autumnal species in my collection, but in many ways, this tiny jewel is my favorite. It's blossom is barely the size of a dime.


Those who call the Mediterranean home, or who are natives to the area know the treasure that I am sharing with you today. You may know it as the wild bulb that lines the village roads in November by the thousands, the annual gem known as Narcissus de Tarda in Portugal, or Narciso de otoño in Spain or Nacissus autunnale if you are from southern Spain, but to those of us who collect rare or unusual bulbs, we know it as Narcissus serotinus - typically the first narcissus to bloom in our collections, if not one of the smallest.

November 3, 2013

DIAGNOSIS: ORCHID FEVER

Orchids at an orchid show


This weekend Joe and I attended the Massachusetts Orchid Society's annual orchid show, held at Tower Hill Botanic Garden in Boylston, MA. Sponsored by the Massachusetts Orchid Society, it's a popular show ( as orchid shows tend to be), and it is show that we have attended many times, even thought it falls just as we are trying to pack our own greenhouse for the winter ( or fixing glass which broke during a windstorm this week!), or when we are busiest with fall garden clean up like raking leaves. That said, there is ALWAYS time to go look at orchids, and to buy new ones. I mean, mini-complex Paph's - Where have you been all of my life? 

Even though it may seem that orchids are everywhere now, the real serious orchid grower remains a rare commodity, yet I warn you novices with your ice-cube orchids - before long, you will yern for something more, and you will move onto a dyed blue orchid - and then you might try just one cattleya, and before long, you are in rehab. Don't 'Do' Orchids.  They are addictive and hard to get off of. Don't say that I didn't warn you.

It has been said that the 'orchid collector' may be the most obsessed ( i.e. crazy, as in "they will kill someone for a rare orchid - read any book on orchid collecting and see!) of all enthusiasts, perhaps only to be outdone by dog-show people ( or is it the other way around?) Either way, we are doomed. I've been trying to stay away from anything orchid related for some time now, I ignore invitations to join local chapters of the AOS ( the American Orchid Society), if I accidentally click on a link to the AOS website, or to one of the hundreds of orchid grower sites that I have bookmarked for that day when I win Megabucks ( like Santa Barbara Orchid Estate), then I just as quickly hit the back space arrow. No orchids, not for me. Not yet. Must focus, must focus, must focus and resist.




Orchid Show Display
Many autumnal orchids are featured in group displays, such as this one, where growers assemble plants from their
collections which are in peak perfection, often featuring more of their most unusual species such as this
Pleurathalis species which displays it's tiny blossoms within its leaf. Not all orchids are showy, many are odd, and may seem very-un-orchid like at all, yet most orchids are not what you think.


I admit that I grow many, MANY plants, but orchids? As some of you know. I do grow a few orchids, mostly hardier forms dendrobiums, some of the cool growing Asian Cymbidiums and the Japanese forms of Neofinetia - those tiny, fragrant summer blooming orchids. I do show great restraint with orchids, often getting board with fancier forms, and I show signs of being tempted with all but the rarest forms of many species, yet luckily, I cannot legally obtain them nor afford them (yet).

And so it goes with orchids. The height of plant geekdom. Luckily, I cannot afford the warm, humid, water-filtered, air-misted closud forest stove which many of the finest species demand, so I am left with the odd balls. Those species that can handle the cooler, and more seasonal shifting temperatures of my greenhouse, - oh yeah, and those that can handle some negligence. I am not about to buyt a $700 water filter which most collectors have. ( true). That said, I am still a plant collector....and therefore, I lust.



October 27, 2013

Greenhouse Treasures and Collection Management

Eucomis vandermerwei, a small, low growing,  alpine species of Pineapple Lily looks spooky just in time for Halloween, but it needs the protection of a greenhouse this time of year, as frost forms on the pumpkins.   I didn't grow this one, it was a gift from a rare plant auction, which followed a talk I gave  at the
Adirondack chapter of the North American Rock Garden Society last month. I just upgraded it from a plastic pot, to a Guy Wolff pot.  Added some gravel, and nature provided the dramatic lighting.

 Now that I have sold my other house on the property ( closing next week!!!), I am almost done painting the interior, and hauling junk to the dumpster. I can't WAIT until this nightmare is all over. Even though I will be losing a quarter of my property, I will finally have what I cherish most - more time. And with no more speaking engagements, nor travel plans ( last week I was in Los Angeles) - I can now begin to center myself, and focus. >breathe<.... Ahhhh. Back to my more typical, abnormal/normal pace.

We had our first frost this week, our first killing frost, which marks a significant gardening moment for me - a time when gardening moves under glass, into the greenhouse, and I couldn't be happier. You see, I really prefer gardening in the 'off season', that is, gardening 'under glass'. A greenhouse allows one like me to focus, which means that I enjoy the process more.  It's like down-grading to a 30 foot by 30 foot garden. Ahhhh. Little pots of treasures, a 15 foot hose, two watering cans and some mice. Oh, those mice. Hey, all I can say is that right now, the greenhouse smells more like peanut butter and aged chedder cheese than it does like Osmanthus fragrant - just sayin'. Dinner is served.

This is the week when I can evaluate each plant. Decide if it is worth dragging back into the greenhouse, or if it should be brought to the dumpster. Anyone with a greenhouse knows how valuable space is, and last year, this fact struck me - most of my collection has been with me for nearly a decade now, and although some plants are indeed true treasures, others are simply just baggage. The last think I want is a maintenance collection - watering, fertilizing and repotting the same old Acacia trees and Gardenias year after year - yawn.

So pink slips have been handed out, and out go more Clivia and agapanthus, and in will come more interesting plants, that is, if I can find something that I have not collected or grown yet!



I haven't shared many photos of my Nerine sarniensis this year, but don't feel bad, I missed most
of them blooming too, as I have been traveling. At least I was able to still see this choice selection, which
I added to the collection two years ago. Nerine sarniensis  'Exbury Renoir'.

This sand plunge bed ( one of five I keep in the greenhouse), is currently featuring Gasteria and a few Haworthia. Ordinary, I know, but for some reason, I like these easy plants as a collection. As you can see, I've added a few other South African treasures. I like grouping 'like' plants together ( which means few South American plants hanging out with the African plants - OK, eagle eye Mangave - maybe I allowed two interlopers, and you call me a plant geek.).  
 My sand beds are raised, aluminum beds with sharp sand which I keep damp. Clay pots can then pull water, through osmosis which provides a more natural source of water for many winter rainfall plants, such as those found growing in the western Cape of South Africa, or Chile. Each year I try to mix things up, changing the displays in these beds to please my crazy mind ( come on, now one else sees them!). So I can curate them any way I want. I've been thinking about dedicating one to winter vegetables, perhaps salad greens or micro greens - a kitchen garden maybe. Another bed I may plant Carnations in, as that is a crop which I have not grown yet.

One thing both Joe and I have agreed on, is that we are bored with much of what is in the greenhouse right now. Clivias and Agapanthus may be sacraficed in order to make room for new collections. I've been thinking about adding to the camellia collection, and to the orchid collection ( cymbidiums and other cool growing orchids), and maybe more of those cool, high elevation rhododendrons from Borneo - the Viryeas. Every plant collector frequently shakes things up a bit, and I think this is the year I try some new things. Otherwise, I risk just becoming a caretaker, and not a discovery agent.

I was delighted and surprised to have found my pot of Strumaria unguiculata. A bit of mouthful, I know, but quite rare
and unusual, if you are a SouthAfrican bulb collector. You would need a greenhouse for this one. I've had the bulb for four years, and it has slowly progressed, producing a lone, single leaf each winter, before going dormant in spring. This year, it finally sent up a flower spike. I grow it in pure, sharp sand, and allow it to go dry for the entire summer. I love fussy bulbs like this - well, 'fussy' is a loose term - I almost missed this blooming, as it was still in my dry corner. How fussy is that? I ignored it for 7 months, and then found it blooming. Brilliant.

PUPPY CAM    - Freshness Guaranteed
The puppies eyes are just opening, so they are still a bit cloudy or blueish. My plan was to fit all 5 in a Devil Dog box, as they all have a tiny white spot ( where they filled them with creme?), but alas, they have grown too quickly, and only one can fit into the box at a time. They are still in their 'ugly' phase ( come on!), but it's true - I will prove it in a couple of weeks when I post photos then. These will look like gorilla puppies in comparison. OK, they are still a tiny bit cute.


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