Monday, November 19, 2007

Seemannia nematanthodes "Evita"

This stunning red flowered gesneriad came from Plant Delights as Gloxinia nematanthodes "Evita". They got it from Argentina, and it is apparently hardy for them in Raliegh, NC. I grow it as a pot plant, and dry it off for winter. It resprouts when watered again in spring, and during its second summer it really took off, producing scores of the brightest red flowers imaginable. When I lifted the pot to bring in from the cold, numerous runners were found wandering over the surface and rooting into the nearby ground. It is still flowering and setting seed in my classroom as I write this.
I propagated some small plants of it, and one was left outside under a brugmansia against the wall of the school garden. It had a few flowers in late summer/fall and I am leaving it out in the hopes its underground rhizomes will survive the winter in this protected location.
Seemannia nematanthodes does well in part sun, good soil, and with decent watering during its growing season. The flowers get started in mid to late summer and keep going as long as the plant is still growing, until it needs to go dormant sometime in late fall or early winter. Each flower is a bright jewel like ornament, and it is free flowering. Considering its bold beauty and ease of growth with its potential for very rapid multiplication--via spreading rhizomes (both on the surface, where they may be as fine as threads, and underground where they are sometimes thicker) and cuttings, it should be a lot more popular in American gardens and containers in the future.

Sinningia sp "gertiana"

This most odd sinningia species, tentatively given the name gertiana until it is validly published, is an intriguing plant. Found in Parana state in Brazil, it has been introduced into the USA via gesneriad enthusiasts. I got my plant at a local meeting of the American Gloxinia and Gesneriad Society, now simply the American Gesneriad Society. From that little scraggly rooted cutting I now have a large plant in a hanging basket and innumerable offspring, many of which were produced and given away during a plant propagation workshop I held in my school during our "seminar day" last spring. It is the simplest of plants to grow and propagate, and has no true dormant season since it lacks the tuber most other sinningias have. It will, however, lose a lot of leaves if it is run on the dry side during winter. Foliage grows lushly during summer when the plant gets copious water and fertilizer. Cuttings root easily when simply stuck into perlite or potting soil. The flowering of this plant is the challenge--it seems to set a few flower buds as the nights get cooler outside, and a few flowers appear during October and, indoors, in November from previously set buds. I imagine it might be more floriferous in a cool greenhouse, but it obviously needs either short days and/or cool temps to set flower buds. I've heard that it needs to get large to flower, but that is not true as I have a small plant in a styrofoam cup with a single open flower right now in my school. Even though it is miserly with its blooms, each one is a work of art, with delicate fine purple etchings on a white background. Plus who can resist an easy to grow rarity that it so new to science that it doesn't even have a formal name yet.

Rostrincula dependens and dog fennel

I love this unusual shrub, supposedly hardy only to zone 7b, but which has thrived for three years in my garden here in NY. It is a relatively new introduction from China, and I have never seen one growing in our area except for my plant. I think my plant came from Heronswood, when it was still a real nursery. Plant Delights also carries it. It is a dieback shrub, resprouting from the base after winter and making rapid growth up to 5 feet or so by the time it blooms in October. Sometimes buds a few inches above ground level on the previous years branches will also break and grow in spring. The foliage is neat and attractive. The flowers are not individually very showy, but the graceful drooping spikes create a unique and lovely effect. I especially liked the combo I created of Rostrincula and the humble dog fennel (Eupatorium capillare) with its finely divided foliage as a perfect foil for the pendant purplish inflorescences. It can be propagated from cuttings taken in summer.
The dog fennel is a southern native, easily rooted from cuttings gathered in summer. My plants came from cuttings I collected in the Charlotte NC area and brought back home. It is a common field weed in the south, but flowers too late here most seasons to set ripe seed so it is not able to establish itself in nature north of Virginia, despite being quite cold hardy. One probably also needs more than one clone to set viable seed, as is often the case in its family, the Asteraceae. It can get huge, as the pics attest, but I would not be without its billowing masses of lacy foliage in the summer and fall garden.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

A Confederate Rose Blooms in NY

The Confederate Rose, Hibiscus mutabilis, is a plant one might expect to come across in the Deep South (though its actually native to milder regions of China and Japan). Indeed, I've never seen one up here in NY before. So naturally I had to pick up one when I was at a sale at Plant Delights last year. It is the more unusual single flowered form, although I am also growing the double flowered form in a pot. Last year I planted the single flowered form near my house, but it failed to flower, perhaps because of the glare of a nearby streetlight. This plant needs short days/long nights to set flower buds, so exposure to artificial light at night can disrupt this process.
So I propagated the plant (easy to do-just take cuttings before frost and set them in water or in pots of perlite in baggies under fluorescent lights) and potted the biggest one in regular soiless mix after they rooted. I put it into the school garden and it grew rapidly. Many buds set during our very warm October. They grew ever so slowly, and finally opened just a few days before the first frost, during the first week of November. The first flower had just enough time to age from white to pink, before I cut the plant back and made numerous cuttings. Frost took care of the remaining foliage, since Confederate Rose is highly sensitive to frost. The flowers did not hold up well in water, nor did the leaves. Both tend to dry up rather fast, but the stems are already showing signs of rooting as little white nubs appear at the base of the cuttings that are in water. Had I been able to get it to flower as early in one of my home gardens, it would likely still be alright, as we have had only one light frost which was not as severe as the one at school, approximately 15 miles to the north. I-287 seems to be a dividing line in Westchester county between a much milder climate with later fall frosts and an earlier date for last spring frost to the south and a colder climate with a shorter growing season further north. This is probably due to southern Westchester's location near large bodies of water and New York City. Global climate change also appears to be lengthening our growing season as well.
Last year the Confederate Rose did not survive the winter, but I will see if it survives in its more protected location near a wall this year in the school garden. I wish someone would check out the native populations in Asia to see if forms could be found that were not so daylength sensitive--it would be wonderful to have this plant bloom in summer. The same has been done for cosmos, which used to be a fall blooming annual only, and now comes in forms that bloom all summer. The foliage of the Confederate Rose is very neat and much better looking than most other species of hibiscus, forming a perfect foil for the pretty blossoms.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

A school garden

I had a lot of fun this year at my school setting up a small garden in a not so promising spot. It is between a sidewalk that some of us use to enter one of the buildings (the one I teach in) and a wall with an overhang above. The overhang causes a dripline halfway through the length of the plot during heavy rains which makes growing anything there difficult. So as I dug the plot I left rocks and gravel in a narrow band following the dripline so I could use it as a path for walking when working in the garden, and keep plants away from it. All kinds of interesting things turned up while digging, along with endless rocks, things one might expect near a school like pens and rulers, but also numerous nails and rusty, unidentifiable items as well. Though dug and planted during mid to late June as things were winding down, the speedy progress that the seeds and plants made was quite remarkable. I imagine the abundant sunshine and complete lack of tree roots helped, along with some fertilizer. I put in over 100 taxa, and let them duke it out, with some "editing" along the way as needed. The weeds never had a chance!
A row of portulaca in the front bloomed all summer, and provided a nice learning experience when I had students sit on the sidewalk on a lovely day in September and learn how to gather the seed to take home for their own gardens. It is suprising how few students really understand the connection between flowers and seeds, maybe because it has not been experienced but rather only learned from books for most of them. Nicotiana sylvestris was incredible in how fast it took off, blooming all summer and fall with its dangling fragrant white trumpets in clusters that look like starbursts. It produced gobs of seed, so much that in addition to what I collected, I was able to seed the nearby woodland edge with plenty of it, just to see what might happen next year. Behind the Nicotiana flowers in one of the pics a native yellow Bidens is blooming. This spectacular yellow daisy is sometimes found along roadsides, but not commonly in our area. It is an annual which blooms late, usually September, and reseeds prolifically in gardens, but excess seedlings are easily removed.
The camera was having a hard time indeed catching the true colors of the improbable pairing of the blue Impatiens namabacharwensis from Tibet and the odd grey/blue/green flowers of Pelargonium quinquelobatum from NE Africa. A couple of coleus and a large flowered dwarf marigold, "Red Sun" from Chilterns Seeds in the UK added much color to the garden. "Red Sun" was advertised as having really huge flowers, up to 5 inches I think I read. Well, not even close, but pretty large for a dwarf tagetes, and heavy enough to sometimes bend over if hit by heavy rain. They did bloom nonstop until a frost this past week. I set out a number of Brugmansia seedlings and plants in the back of the garden, only a couple of the plants bloomed but the seedlings made good growth. I dug them up and put them in the classroom, despite defoliating and barerooting them, one of them rebounded quickly and is about to open four huge blossoms over this weekend!
I purposely included many plants that the local deer would find toxic or distasteful, and in fact none bothered my garden all summer, though they are all around the school. The most noxious smelling plant in the garden was a species of Hemizyga I got from Silverhill Seeds, the species escapes me at the moment, but it is the most vile smelling thing in the mint family that I have ever come across. Pretty light pink salvia like flowers in October adorn it, and the foliage isn't bad looking, but yeech!
A double flowered helianthus I got from a mailorder sale from Bluestone perennials took off and bloomed all summer long. It does not set seed, and I have no idea which species (or hybrid) it is, in fact I wonder if it is really a helianthus, could it be a rudbeckia? Whatever it is, it is a real "doer" even in the less desirable conditions I have for one of them at home.
I've been able to harvest many seeds from the garden and take cuttings of tender perennials to have plenty of material for the garden next year. Many of the annuals will resow anyway, and there are several hardy perennial species planted which should make the garden quite prolific again next year.