Monday, November 3, 2008

Summer Memories

While I'm in a blogging mood, I thought this pic from the slope garden at school would interest readers who like me abhor formal garden design. Here a riot of color with diverse species unfolds before the camera, keeping the eye moving as more interesting flowers appear on closer inspection. The sharp eyed among the readers will note the long curved fading flowers of Mirabilis longiflora in the foreground. Its a cool plant I picked up at Annies Annuals last year, and kept going in a pot all winter. It really took off in the garden, making showers of long white funnel shaped flowers. Unfortunately they open at night and begin to wilt soon after sunrise, so you need to catch it early to see it. It is also wonderfully fragrant, as I found when I brought a branch home and put it in water. The calyxes are sticky, and the plant grows large and sprawls, so it is not for a small garden, but it is distinctly interesting for those that can accomodate it. Also visible are some very undwarf "dwarf" marigolds, close to the wild species, I image. They came into flower fairly late, and really were at their best in Sept. Some pelargoniums, including my own creations, among them a Nieuwe Pad (spelling corrected from an earlier post) in the foreground fill in the center, while nicotiana alata and salvia farinacea can be seen in the back. Also visible are a couple of small purple flowers of Ipomoea carica, which grew so rampantly I had to remove it later on. It also has showy bright orange seeds, but needs too much space to grow, shooting out horizontal stems in addition to the vertical ones so as to conquer the earth as fast as possible. I have read that it is a menace in Florida, and now I understand why! A friend gave me some seed he collected in Texas, which turned out to be annual Gaillardia, which is barely visible in the foreground. Another vigorous plant that required roging after most of the flowers had faded and seed was set, but unlike the ipomoea it was much appreciated by butterflies, bees, and other pollinators.

White Hibiscus

I got the seeds for the white form of Hibiscus coccineus, normally a red flowered plant, from a fellow member of Dave's Garden who sells lots of seeds from her location in Texas. They sprouted well, and two of the plants flowered their first season, one here in the school slope garden in Chappaqua, another in my home garden. Too bad the frost soon took down the plant in the picture, but I am hopeful it will come back in spring, as H. coccineus is at least marginally hardy here. It really is a stunning flower, and quite showy in its presentation. It is also a good foliage plant which imparts grace and a lacy texture to the garden.

Growing Potatoes, sort of

Impatiens flanaganae is another one of those "rare" plants on ebay, but it is easy to grow, less easy to flower well. I may have been the person to introduce it into the USA when I brought a cutting back from South Africa to the New York Botanic Garden in the early 90's. There are some other plants I also brought back that I now see in occasional commerce, though it is always possible others also brought them in. Among those that come immediately to mind are Plectranthus hillardiae, another Plectranthus species with much larger succulent and aromatic leaves later introduced by ISI at Huntington from material I brought to California and Brilliantaisia nitens (possibly misidentified as to species), a huge growing purple flowered Acanthaceae I got from a wildflower nursery in SA that said they got it from Zimbabwe.
Impatiens flanaganae is an endangered species in its native habitat near Port St Johns in South Africa, but is grown by at least some nurseries in SA, for that is where my material came from. It produces tons of red potato like tubers by which it survives the winter after it dies back. They can be left dry in the pot until they sprout in late winter or spring, or if taken out of soil they are best kept in ziplocks in the fridge or they will dessicate. It will flower in mid to late summer here in NY, but often suffers from broad mites which damage the flowers and curl the foliage, plus it will drop seed pods and buds if a really hot spell comes along. This year was its best so far, lots of flowers and even a handful of seeds were obtained. Lime sulfer eliminates the mites, but can be used only when it is really cool or the foliage will fall off. I used it on my two plants of I. tinctoria in September when the mites were too abundant, its close cousin which I was thrilled to obtain from a specialist grower after two failed earlier attempts to grow it from cuttings. I got rid of the mites, after the lime sulfer caused some leaf drop, and now the tinctoria plants are in their winter home in my classroom, growing well with good new foliage. It doesn't appear that I. tinctoria has an obligate dormancy so far, but I. flanaganae does, and is fast asleep already in two large pots in a cold hallway.

Rare Impatiens Gone Wild

Impatiens namchabarwensis is one of those plants one still sees advertised as "rare" on ebay, and indeed it has a restricted natural range in Tibet, one that is threatened as I mentioned in a previous post. Yet it is easy to grow, and reseeded very nicely in my front yard, where it put on quite a show before a light frost knocked the tops off last week. Its a lovely plant and quite distinct in the blueness of its flowers for an impatiens.

An Easy Terrestrial Orchid

Summering outside on a table under a tree along with the previously mentioned Begonia bogneri, among others, is this beautiful Habenaria rhodocheila. I am pleased that it has multiplied from the previous year, and it was quite colorful--though a close inspection will reveal a small snail or slug got a few nips out of some of the flower petals. I have pink and orange forms, but it does come in other colors--I'd love to get the red and yellow forms I have seen pictured elsewhere. Growing this is simple--forget about "orchid mixes"--plant in potting mix with perlite, and don't forget that it does demand a dry rest during winter. It will let you know when its ready, the leaves will die back around Sept or October, so let it dry out and keep a watch on it for sprouts as spring approaches. By late spring it should be in active growth, with flowering occuring in July or August. Since it is a small plant, it is not hard to find room for it, even for those of us who ran out of unoccupied space a long time ago!

An Amazing Begonia

There are those plants that one reads about and covets, but which never seems to be available from anywhere. Begonia bogneri is a remarkable plant from Madagascar, home to some pretty incredible plants as it is to better known incredible animals. Its grassy leaves, attractive flowers, and small size make it an ideal houseplant for avid plant collectors. I had an opportunity some years ago to get a single leaf to propagate from a friend at the NYBG, where they later sadly lost their plant when someone accidentally filled the glass bowl it was growing in with water one weekend so it drowned!
From a tiny, skinny leaf I have propagated several plants, and banked some seed in my refrigerator I set on the plants once they matured. If one is so lucky as to obtain a plant as rare as this one is, propagate it right away--its your best defense against losing it. Propagation is easy--cut leaves into sections a centimeter or so long, place on sphagnum moss (whole, not milled, live is even better but not necessary) in a pot in a zip lock bag under flourescent lights. They will root and grow small plantlets. I find the plants do better when transplanted into potting mix with some perlite once they are big enough--maybe it is because of the lack of nutrients in sphagnum. Sometimes older plants will appear to go dormant or partially so, losing leaves till all that is left is a greenish "bump"--the crown of the plant. It will regrow when ready, do not dry the plant out nor start to overwater it should this happen.
Begonia bogneri does best in a terrarium during the winter, but is fine outdoors in deep shade for the summer. As for any plant in terrariums, rainwater or distilled water is best, since repeated use of tap water will ultimately lead to salt buildup in the soil mix. It does not like getting overheated in an enclosed terrarium, as might be apt to happen during summer.
Once one figures out its needs, it is not at all hard to grow, so I am somewhat suprised that it seems to be utterly unavailable in commerce, at least as far as I am aware of.

African daisies

In this photo from summer (school slope garden), some transplanted self sown plants of Ursinia nana, a summer growing ursinia I collected in Pretoria years ago, intermingle with a colorful gazania. The gazanias did well until other stuff overgrew some of them, plus I found out that rabbits will nibble on their flowers. Growing stuff not liked by animals, such as salvia greggii hybrids nearby tends to discourage the varmints. Hot red pepper powder liberally scattered on the plants is even more effective. Gazanias don't like excessive rain, but do like sun and cooler weather. The ursinia is not at all picky, merely requiring a sunny spot to flower well. I find it odd that of the ursinias one can find to grow in the USA, most all are species, or derivitives thereof, from the winter rainfall regions of the Cape of South Africa, so they tend to fizzle out when it gets hot. Ursinia nana, on the other hand, will flower nonstop from early summer until after the first frosts. The seedheads of Ursinia are quite ornamental themselves, consisting of a ball of little white umbrella-like seeds.