Friday, April 6, 2012

The Awakening

Narcissus Rijnveld's Early Sensation end of January

Narcissus Rijnveld's Early Sensation a month later

Nierembergia repens

Pelargonium leucophyllum

Melianthus villosus
Dierama, Scilla peruviana, and Euryops tysonii et al

Gerbera jamesonii

Kniphofia northiae

Berkheya multijuga

Aristea angolensis

Diascia fetcaniensis "African Queen"

Geranium cf wakkerstroomianum

Harpochloa falx
Helichrysum sp
Pelargonium luridum

Melianthus villosus

Diascia rigescens
Fuschia magellenica

Tulbaghia violacea "Silver Lace"

Poaceae sp from Nottingham Road, Natal

Berkheya radula

Helichrysum splendidum

Every spriong there is a great awakening, but what makes this year even more exciting than usual is that we had an exceptionally mild winter.  So the flowering season began early, in January, with things like Narcissus Rijnveld's Early Sensation which opened just at the end of the month in a protected spot in my school garden, and a purple crocus species that I had in my home garden.  Helleborus hybrids were also up early, and many things didn't die back completely or survived that might otherwise not have.  Nierembergia repens is pretty reliable for me thus far, but this year its back lusher than ever as it slowly spreads to make a nice green mat to frame the large white cup like flowers that will appear later on.  It was a good winter for the Berkheyas as well, five species survived in my school garden, B. multijuga (which never died back and looked quite nice with its prickly symmetrical winter rosettes), B. cirsiifolia, B. macrocephala, B. purpurea, and B. radula.  I can't wait for them to flower and to see if they might hybridize.  Helichrysum splendidum did very well, some plants died back more than others, but all are regrowing strongly now and the several seed grown plants I have are now large enough to become substantial grey leaved feature plants in my school slope garden, and I hope this will be the year that they produce their flat topped inflorescences consisting of masses of tiny bright yellow strawflowers. A second species whose name I don't recall, stayed in good form all winter, it is one of the dwarf alpine ones that I grew from seed from Silverhill.  When it flowers I should be able to figure out which one it is.  I did lose my plants of H. trilineatum last summer during a hot rainy summer spell, I will have to try it again as it did live for a few years.  This experience also reminds me why its a good habit to propagate things frequently that are rare and difficult to source again. Two South African grasses are also doing well, one a species I have not been able to identify that I collected years ago in Natal; it produces fountains of long narrow leaves up to a meter long, topped later in the year by open airy inflorescences.  Harperchloa falx, the African caterpillar grass was originally introduced to this country by Panayoti Kelaidis, and my stock is derived from this introduction.  The plants in my school garden survived two winters and are now big enough to flower, which they should do in late spring if I recall correctly how they behaved when I first grew them years ago.  I've had a Gerbera jamesonii come up for a few years by the wall at school, now I have many more mature potted plants that I can set out alongside it so I can get seed production, as Gerbera is not self fertile.  This is the wild form, a more graceful thing than the ones found in stores everywhere. It cannot be counted on to be winter hardy in our area through normal winters without protection of some sort.  Even of the hybrid forms, at least one of three has survived the past winter at home thus far, where the only protection they got was having large soil filled pots set on their crowns during the worst of the winter cold (it got down to 12 F one night at home, and 9 F in my school garden). A surprise was getting Aristea angolensis through the winter, one plant against the wall survived but so did a plant by the sidewalk.  Aristeas are lovely blue flowered things, sort of like Sisyrinchium on steroids. I got this one from Martin Kunhardt in Merrivale, South Africa as seed many years ago, it is easy to grow in pots and reseeds freely, but is not normally winter hardy here.  Pelargonium luridum has survived yet another year against the wall, and it can be expected to flower in abundance as in years past by June.  I am starting some seeds b/c it also appears to be self infertile, so if I want to get seed production in NY, I need other clones to grow alongside it.  Pelargonium leucophyllum also is regrowing in the slope garden, it is a high alpine species that I got a plant of when I last visited South Africa in 1993.  It was given to me by Charles Craib, a most intelligent man who knew so much about South African plants, I was deeply saddened to learn of his sudden passing just a couple of  weeks ago.  This species which I treasure is but one of several things that I got from him over the years that live on. It grows on the crowns of the mountains in the Eastern Cape, and is one of the most frost hardy pelargonium species.  One year I had a plant survive at NYBG in a sandbed, it flowered profusely and set many seeds, but expired later due to summer heat and humidity.  Its possible the two plants emerging at school will bloom this year, hopefully not to expire as they are perennial in pots.  Pelargonium minimum, a tiny creeping species did maintain foliage until January or so, but appears to have expired during the freeze-thaw cycles of later winter.  Yet it can be counted on to regenerate from self sown seeds, as is also the case with some forms of Pelargonium alchemilloides.  I haven't seen any emergent shoots from Pelargonium sidoides yet, but I expect them to have survived since one survived last winter, and I would not be surprised to see P. reniforme plants as well, since I did not dig up all of the garden plants of the various forms of it that I have to bring indoors for winter last fall.  My own hybrid of ionidiflorum x odoratissumum is also represented outside by a single plant, and I am watching it carefully for signs of life as well.  It is an interesting plant with oak shaped foliage and white flowers, Michael Vassar also created hybrids between these two species as well.  Geranium wakkerstroomianum also came from Charles as seed, it did very well this year nestled alongside a yellow Phygelius that has been in the school garden for several years.  I have added many new phygelius cultivars to the garden, the ones I added last year all survived but did not grow a lot for the most part during our dark and dreary summer of last year.  I added more a few days ago, and hopefully the sunnier than usual weather we have been experiencing for the last few months will continue. Its been a banner year for kniphofias as well, the K northiae plants stayed green all winter and will likely flower this spring, as one did last year.  They resemble odd green octopuses (octopi?) splayed against the ground.  Many other species also made it and I am planting more species and hybrid seedlings on the slope this spring.  In my dreams I imagine a South African meadow of kniphofias, berkheyas, agapanthus, diascias, gladioli, helichrysums, and other exotic treasures knit together with my long Natal grass and the much smaller Harpochloa falx.  I would say that I am not too far off from realizing that vision in part of my school slope garden.   For the time being it does include many non South African species, but I am slowly editing it over time.  Fuschia magellenica, a Chilean species, has thrived against the wall for many years and is resprouting with vigor, as is the nearby Melianthus villosus.  Though the melianthus did not produce its dark nectar dripping flowers last year (it did the year before) it grew huge and the numerous shoots coming from the base indicate that it will do so again this year.  Oddly a smaller seed grown plant or two in my slope garden remained evergreen all winter, its possible they may be M. comosus or another species, I will have to verify ID when they are bigger.  This is not a particularly protected spot either.  Maybe it is a hardier clone of villosus, or it just got lucky for some reason. There are many more special plants sprouting in my home and school gardens, and if our sunny weather continues (we actually need a bit of rain at this point, but I still hate when we get long cloudy/rainy spells) more will join them shortly.  In fact many things are ahead this season, some by a month, I just saw a purple bearded iris in bloom in my neighborhood, that is way early indeed.  All along the eastern seaboard and in the midwest other gardeners are reporting similar early flowering and bud break.  It will be a very interesting year.