Friday, December 28, 2007

More endangered natives from Plant Delights

These pics taken at Plant Delights show two endangered indigeonous species that they grow to perfection. Spegelia gentianoides is a lovely pink endangered wildflower that resembles a pink gentian when in bloom. The flowers are closed for the greater part of the day, but do open later on to form a flared tube with five points. I had trouble growing my first plant from Plant Delights, it developed black lesions on the leaves and stems. This time I fungicided the hell out of it, and it seemed to do better this time, but then died back during the fall. So I brought the pot indoors and am pleased to see that it is resprouting nicely right now. Hope I can keep it happy in 2008. Gaillardia aestivilis var winkleri is unusual for its soft pink color in an otherwise hot colored genus. This endangered Texas native spreads by means of underground stolons, and hopefully will get through the winter up here. I placed my plant right against the wall in my school garden, so its roots should be well protected against severe cold. The shoots have died back so I will have to wait until spring to see if it made it. PD also had a purple flowered selection that I will have to order or pick up on my next visit.


These pics were taken at the Strybing Aboretum in San Francisco last August. They show two rather different species of Bomarea, a horticulturally interesting but poorly known genus of vines related to Alstroemeria. They are spectacular plants from central and South America, and are rarely if ever grown here in the East. I've grown some from seed in the past, and have some others right now at school grown from both seed and purchased plants. They aren't the easiest things to manage indoors because they are vines, and I found out when growing them at NYBG years ago that they did not appreciate total drought during dormancy either. I hope next summer to have flowers on some of the ones I am growing now. I am keeping them in growth through the winter, and they appear to be fine so far. One I am particularly curious to see the flowers of was started from refrigerated seed given to me many years ago by a collector from Peru, so I have no idea what species it is. In fact, it seems as though the classification of this genus is a real mess, but one thing is for sure, any species you might come across will be a worthwhile addition to any plant collection.

Senecio inaequidens

Another of my wild collected introductions, Senecio inaequidens is a weedy plant in its native South Africa, but those same characteristics make it a reliable self sowing annual in New York. It starts producing yellow daisies under an inch in diameter in June from self sown seedlings, but really comes into its own in September as flowers multiply on the rapidly growing plants. The flowers resist light frosts so they add welcome color when most other flowers are down for the count, usually sometime in November in our climate.
During an exceptionally mild El Nino winter back in the 90's, plants did come back from the roots both in the Bronx and in my Tuckahoe garden, so it might be a hardy perennial in the lower reaches of Zone 7. Nonetheless it reseeds profusely, so it will always be back, but fortunately excess seedlings are easily pulled so that it is no problem to keep it under control.

Pelargonium sidoides

I realized after I posted about P. "Burgundy" that I should have included a photo of P. sidoides in the post. Here it is, blooming in my school garden. Note how dark the flowers are, much more so than "Burgundy" is. "Burgundy" also produces more elongated foliage bearing stems than does true P. sidoides.
I believe that P. sidoides has been used as a respiratory medicine in traditional African medicine (and in Europe), and I would expect P. reniforme to have similar pharmaceutical properties. Unfortunately this poses a danger to these plants in the wild, as they are gathered as "muti" by traditional healers in their homeland. They could be easily cultivated in areas with appropriate climates so as to relieve pressure on wild populations.

A Cotula from the South African Cape

This annual Cotula was collected by myself in the southwestern Cape during the early 90's and has shown itself to be an adaptable, if short lived, tiny garden flower. In nature it would germinate during the fall and grow and bloom in winter and early spring, but here it can self sow and germinate in spring as well as fall. Of course, fall germinating seedlings are dispatched by our severe winters. I had it self sowing for years at the NYBG in sandy soil in a spot near a greenhouse, as well as in pots in the greenhouse. I resurrected refrigerated seed this spring and started a few pots under lights, and set them outside when the weather was settled. They started flowering under lights indoors, with tiny white 3/8" discs (no petals) on stems that emerge from a delicate jumble of lacy, finely divided light green foliage. After being put out in the garden, they bloomed and seeded profusedly, finally expiring when it got too hot in July. Right now I am finding seedlings in pots indoors and I anticipate I will also find seeds germinating in the garden next spring. Any ideas as to which species it is would be welcome.

Erigeron divergens

I collected seed of this fleabane in the early 90's on the Apache Trail outside of Phoenix, AZ. Unlike many arid land species, this flower does not disappoint when grown in the more humid East by either dying from fungal problems or producing huge leaves and few flowers. It blooms quickly from seed and soon covers itself with flowers that go on and on till frost. For me it behaves as a resowing annual, and for many years plants persisted in outdoor containers on a small terrace at home. It is one of those plants that never seems to disappear, always popping up in unexpected places from self sown seed. This year I transplanted seedlings from the containers to a sunnier spot in the school garden and they went bonkers, producing loads of flowers and many minute seeds. It grows about a foot tall, with narrow linear greyish leaves and lots of slender flower covered branches.

Sinningia species in the classroom

Last spring I had two nice species of sinnigia in bloom in my classroom. The most stunning of the two is S. sp "Ibitioca", an unpublished species from Brazil, which I grew from seed. With its graceful, rich purple hanging flowers and plush neat foliage it is a real winner of a houseplant, far nicer in my opinion than the large commercial "gloxinia" hybrids. Although it grows in very sunny locations in the wild, it does not seem to demand unusual amounts of light to flower indoors, just bright light as for any of the other larger sinningia species. It does go dormant, and right now new shoots are emerging so it will be time to water it again and wait in anticipation of another spectacular display.
Sinningia aggregata normally has red/orange colored flowers,but a yellow form is well known among gesneriad growers. While not a spectacular species, it does bloom for a long time, and is easy to grow and bloom. It will seed readily if hand pollinated, but the stems are brittle when handled, so care must be taken not to break branches off when handling the plant. It also has a dormant period, but tends to send up new shoots rather quickly.

A Wonderful Rose Grows in West Virginia

While on vacation during early July in the land of my birth and early childhood, the lovely mountains of southern West Virgina, my wife and I chanced upon this amazing rose display just outside of Bramwell, WV. The plant had evidently spread, rooting wherever it touched the ground, making a large patch full of flowers spilling over the rocks near the road's edge. I dug up a small sucker and successfully reestablished it in a pot back home in NY. It survived last winter outside in my backyard, and has grown larger but not flowered yet. I need to find a place in the ground for it, but can't think of a location large enough to comfortably accomodate its potential spread.
I do not have any idea what cultivar this is, but it might be a cross with a wild species of rose. The single flowers appear to be too large for any of the local native species of Rosa, but it is not a common hybrid either. Any help with ID from rose experts would be greatly appreciated!

Global Climate Change in NY

Last January (Jan 7, to be specific) I took these pics in Eastchester, NY. It was a first in my life of observing plants--seeing calendula in full bloom in early January in southern NY! While we had reasonably hard frost in December of 2006, the latter part of the month and early to mid January were exceptionally warm, allowing the calendulas to bloom in this favored location among south facing rocks. Dandelions and candytuft nearby also were blooming as well. While this winter doesn't seem to be as mild, there does seem to be a trend towards less severe cold and greater survival of plants considered to be not hardy in our zone. Good news for zone pushing gardeners like myself, but bad news for the native flora and fauna, as they need more time to adapt to climate change than will likely be the case.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Pelargonium "Burgundy"

The pelargonium hybrid to the right/bottom (pic taken at Plant Delights) often is mistakenly called P. sidoides in horticulture, but in fact is a hybrid between P. reniforme and sidoides. I consider P. reniforme and sidoides similar enough to be grouped into a single, variable taxon encompassing a variety of plant and foliage forms and flower colors. When I was engaged in doctoral research at Cornell, I made several crosses between sidoides and reniforme, and the resulting hybrids were also fertile. Other people, such as Michael Vassar, have also made similar hybrids, although I do not know who made "Burgundy".

I am growing at least 4 different forms of P. reniforme, and have grown a couple of others in the past. These forms have stems arising from a tuberous root network, green to grey green small (one inch) to large (3 inches) foliage, and magenta or pink flowers. The most spectacular and distinct form I grow is a form collected and given to me by Fiona Powrie (shown on the left/top), formerly of the National Botanical Garden at Kirstenbosch in South Africa. It has huge thick tomentose leaves, very short stems, and well branched sprays of pink flowers. I observed numerous healthy plants of it growing on the "African Hill" at the botanic garden at UC Berkeley last August, to which I had brought it several years earlier. It also sets the least seed of all forms I have grown, and may merit separate species rank. Another form given to me by the late Joan deVilliers of Johannesburg, SA is the best grower, flowering well when set out in the garden during the summer. It is more typical of what is considered reniforme, having green foliage and magenta flowers. Another form from Logee's, and thus probably from England, has small tomentose leaves and pink flowers on a plant with elongated stems.

I also grow P. sidoides, including plants originally from wild collected seed from near Plutosvale in South Africa. Variation appears to be less than what I have seen in P. reniforme, as all forms I have grown have silverish foliage and very deep burgundy, nearly black, flowers, much darker than "Burgundy". Stems are very short, and flowers are fragrant at certain times of the day, a rare feature among pelargoniums. Robin Parer has seen P. sidoides in the wild, and told me that it did show much more variation in nature. I suspect that wherever P. reniforme and sidoides overlap in nature they would create hybrid swarms that might explain some of this variation, or, another interpretation could be that they are merely forms of the same taxon.
Any form of either species (or their hybrids) are easy growing plants which merit a place in a pot or in a sunny garden for the summer. Both species have survived mild winters outside with mulch for protection in the Bronx when I worked at the NYBG, but plants will do better if lifted and brought indoors for winter. Cuttings root easily and tuberous roots can be divided to produce more plants.

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.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Pelargoniums in California

During my trip to Cali, I had the privilege of visiting the greenhouse Robin Parer grows her pelargoniums in. The production greenhouse is located in an even more dicey neighborhood than Annie's Annuals, but not far from it. Robin is the proprieter of Geraniaceae, a nursery that specializes in Geranium, Pelargonium, and Erodiums. She does not sell the P. x hortorum hybrids, rather her focus is on the angel pelargoniums, scented leaf sorts, and true species. She also has a number of very unique species hybrids, including some that I created during my Ph.D. research at Cornell (Soweto Sunrise, Karoo Pride, etc) and others that originated in England (including the fascinating hybrid between tomentosum and 'Splendide'), and a series of very interesting hybrids, new to me, by J. Kapac, a hybridizer in southern California whom I do not personally know. The first pic (going clockwise) shows one of the Kapac hybrids. It shows influence from a section Pelargonium species and maybe P. trifidum. Next is the species P. acetosum, and a very fine clone thereof, with large flowers of a good color. This is a summer growing species in habitat, and it remains green throughout the year. The large white flower emerging from the soil belongs to P. carneum, a rather large flowered member of the tuberous rooted Hoarea section of Pelargonium. Section Hoarea species are great collector plants, being small and very diverse in foliage and flower. They are all winter growing, needing a dry dormancy during the summer. A cool greenhouse is best, but with good culture many can be grown indoors under lights (as I do) or perhaps in a cool and sunny house location. Finally there is the fascinating hybrid called P x caffrum, which involves the tuberous rooted section Polyactium species P. caffrum and presumably one of the scented leaf section Pelargonium hybrids, or perhaps a P. domesticum hybrid. This cross, I believe, was made in England. It gets its fimbriated petals and divided leaves from P. caffrum, and the flower color from the section Pelargonium parent.
There remains incredible potential to create many new classes of pelargonium hybrids as some of these illustrate. It seems that the larger commercial concerns are only interested in recreating the same old stuff they already sell, eg "new" zonal and ivy pelargoniums that look just like what they were selling before. One needs to look to interested individuals and smaller specialist nurseries like Geraniaceae in order to find these unusual varieties and to see really creative directions in hybridizing within the huge and diverse Pelargonium genus.
Years ago I used to visit Carol Roller when she lived in Vista, CA, where she had an amazing collection of pelargonium species and hybrids. I still remember an ivy pelargonium which crawled several meters up onto a loquat tree she had, cascading back down with loads of lavendar flowers. In that gentle climate, species like P. gibbosum grew into thick mounds of stems, foliage, and fragrant weird yellowish flowers several feet across, rather than the "chicken bone" appearance it has when confined to a small pot. Plants frequently seeded, and Carol had some nice hybrids emerge from such seeds, one I remember in particular was called Roller's Sigma, which had a lovely pink flower and attractive foliage. I also had the pleasure of visiting Michael Vassar when he lived in Van Nuys, he probably did more than anyone to introduce and distribute interesting species pelargoniums in the USA. He also had a wonderful collection of South African oxalis species. Unfortunately Michael has since passed on, way too early for such a kind, generous, and knowledgable individual. Many of his species and hybrids are being propagated by Geraniaceae, and one hopes that they thus will continue to be available to pelargonium collectors for many more years to come.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Annie's Annuals

On the first day of our California trip, my wife and I went to Annie's Annuals, in Richmond. Richmond is one of the few places left in the East Bay area that has land cheap enough for production nurseries to survive near San Francisco, probably because it has some parts that are rather rough neighborhoods. Once inside the fence surrounding Annie's, which blocks off views of the surrounding 'hood, you see a spaceous nursery full of interesting plants in 4 inch containers and wonderful container plantings featuring much of what they carry. There is also a small garden in one corner of the nursery, and other planted areas near the fence.

One of the many lovely planted containers is shown above, with production benches behind. A large clump of Agrostemma githago is the most prominant feature. The next pic shows Xeranthemum texanum, which was splendid with its brillant yellow flowers which seemed to glow in the California sunshine. I did not see plants of it for sale, but it would likely be easy to grow from seed.

Some of the plants at Annie's are in fact better grown from seed for most serious gardeners, among them would be California poppies, various other poppies, the Agrostemma, etc. These plants resent moving (although to be fair I am sure that four inch pots of them carefully planted would be okay) and are quick to flower and die (except california poppies which may persist), so better to grow from seed.

Most of the other plants were quite choice, I especially liked the following: a wide selection of native Californian plants, several new impatiens species unavailable elsewhere to my knowledge, a good and apparently growing selection of South African natives, including herbaceous, shrub, succulent, and bulbous species, and some pretty salvia species. I brought quite a few plants, and even more on my return visit during the last day of my vacation. Among the many treasures I got were Brugmansia sanguinea (both red and yellow forms), four impatiens species that I did not have, a double flowered nasturtium, Saliva corrugata (brilliant blue flower), Balbisia (a rare yellow flowered bushy plant from Chile), Melianthus villosus and M.comosus, Moraea huttonii (they do need to give it more water in summer, I suspect they think it is winter growing--it is not, and it grows in wet areas in nature), a couple of delosperma species, etc.

To prepare all of my finds for transport back home on the airplane, they were all barerooted with a hose, roots put in baggies and sealed with rubber bands. No doubt they don't like such rough treatment, but now all are replanted, with a fungicide treatment for traumatized roots, and I suspect most will survive. For any that might stuggle, propagation via cuttings may be another option to prevent loss.

One thing I have mixed feelings about is that Annie's is very expensive to order from via mailorder, at least from the East. Packing and shipping are extraordinarily high, but I could deal with this if the plants were priced the same way they are for locals--but that is not the case. With very few exceptions, all plants at the nursery are $3.25, 4.25, or 5.25. A quick check of their website will reveal much higher costs for the plants. So in essence they are double dipping with regard to mailorder customers.

Nonetheless, I did enjoy my visits, and would highly recommend that you go to Annie's if you are in the area. If you can get there in person, the plant selection and prices are both excellent, and the plantings are very colorful, interesting, and inspiring.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Tuberous begonias

Here are three tuberous begonias that I purchased from Half Moon Bay Nursery (a must visit place in you are in the San Francisco area) on my recent trip to California. Their plants appear to be seed grown, but oh my--what a difference from the "Non-Stop" seed grown series commonly available here in the East. Some of these had humongous flowers, literally dinnerplate sized! With help from my wife, I selected three of the best from among a large number of plants at the nursery. The picotee and yellow ones had huge flowers, the red one less huge but richly colored and the plant had more numerous branches and buds. Of course, coastal California has an ideal climate for tuberous begonias, which do not like the heat and humidity often experienced in the East (though this summer has, on average, seemed cooler than normal).
I had to take a pic of these beauties, before I had to slice them up into cuttings and roots w/stubs in order to pack and bring them home with a large number of other goodies, about which I will post later.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Snake plant finally blooms!

Finally the snake plant bud has burst into a huge ball of white flowers. The first flowers are already drooping in this daytime shot, they open during the early evening and begin to wilt the next day. Many more buds are ready to open successively over the next several nights. Since I left the plant in my classroom for the summer, I didn't get a picture of freshly opened flowers, nor did I get to sample the intoxicating fragrance released at night by them. Somewhere I do have pics of the fresh flowers from the year before, when I kept the plant outside for the summer (and could observe it in the evening and very early morning), but it will take some time to locate them. This is perhaps the most spectacular sansevieria species of them all, just wish I had a name on it.

The South African Beetle Daisy

Gorteria diffusa is a most interesting annual from the winter rainfall region of South Africa. I got my seeds from Silverhill Seeds, the premier source for South African native plant seeds. I've been to South Africa three times, and basically one could describe the whole country as a natural garden. The number of ornamental species is incredible, particularly in the areas near Cape Town.

The seeds of Gorteria are fused into the dried flower base, so one plants the entire structure. This is unusual for members of the Aster family, most of which shed seeds individually once they are ripe. Even more peculiar is the flower, a bright orange daisy, about an inch or inch and a half across, with one to three green "beetle" marks. The markings probably facilitate pollination by attracting monkey beetles to the flowers (perhaps they are thinking they found a mate) which then pollinate the flower. Like many South African daisies, the flowers open in sunshine and close in darkness.

I planted the seedlings I started indoors into sandy soil in a spot that gets several hours of sun, and they grew and flowered for longer than I thought they would (many of these desert type annuals have very short lifespans), from early June through July. The plants spread out to form a branching mat across the soil. The plants expired in early August, but not before yielding numerous seed heads. The one problem I noted was that the plants are susceptible to powdery mildew during rainy weather, but an application of fungicide quickly cured it.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Waiting for my snake plant to bloom!

Snake plant flowers, you ask, what's so special about that? Well, there are some Sansevieria species which have really spectacular flowers, and this baby is one of the best. I got this plant from a good friend and knowledgable plant grower, but am not sure of its name. It is a very large grower, every bit as big as S. 'Masons Congo', but with different leaves. It flowered last year, producing a huge ball of white flowers, highly fragrant at night in the manner of other sansevierias. I brought it to my classroom last fall, but it was too big to easily bring home for the summer, so when I went in recently to check on it, I was treated to the suprise you see--a huge bud, a promise of even better to come.

Garden Art at Plant Delights

Normally I am not a fan of garden art, but this masterpiece at Plant Delights definitely caught my attention! Personally, I would have had it poking out of a bush, but quite cute, nonetheless.

Two more plants I didn't buy! (yet)

My gardens are rather small, but if I had more room I'd surely add these two stunners to my garden. The second pic depicts a red leaved banana (Musa) at PD which was quite attractive in a tropical sort of way. The first pic shows Arundo donax "Peppermint Stick" growing in one of their extensive gardens. Most ornamental grasses do not "wow" me, but this one is different. Its size and clear white variegation created a strong, bright visual element in the garden.

Agaves in North Carolina!

Normally one expects to see large agaves in places like Arizona and California, but yes indeed folks, they can grow out East too. These superb specimens were growing in the gardens around the home of the owners of Plant Delights, right next to the nursery. I'm not sure of the id of the silver leaf one, but the one blooming appears to be A. americana or maybe a hybrid of it.
One thing that never ceased to amaze me is how deadly boring most landscaping in North Carolina is, there seem to be fewer flowers, and interesting foliage plants, at least in summer, than even here in NY. All the more puzzling, since obviously the climate down yonder allows one to grow many "exotic" things outside such as these large agaves, and other things, like sinningias, begonias, brugmansias, and crinums, which would be toast in our winters. I can only assume it must be the hot humid summers which make summer gardening less pleasant than further north, and the clay soil which requires more work to amend than our generally better (but often rocky) northeastern soils. Of course, a problem anywhere in the USA is that most people use a very limited palette of plant materials for their gardens, usually what Home Depot and their ilk supply. There are so many much more interesting plants out there, as my visit to Plant Delights amply showed.

Hardy Gladioli

Gladiolus is a large genus, with scores of species and many more hybrids. Most of the commonly grown hybrids need to be dug up and stored dry for the winter, but some of them are cold hardy. The best way to find such hardy glads is to observe gardens in places where winters are harsh, since many gardeners plant gladioli and then don't dig them up. The survivors will multiply and thrive in these gardens.
This glad is one I found in a garden in Bluefield, West Virginia, right across the street from my uncle and aunt's house. I could tell by the presence of many young plants, in overcrowded clumps, that they had been left outside for several winters. The owner confirmed this, and kindly allowed me to take a small clump of plants. Bluefield, also known as "nature's air conditioned city" is a small city at a high elevation in extreme southern WV, right off I-77, (there is also a smaller town by the same name right next to it in Va) with a relatively cool, pleasant summer climate and pretty rough winters for a southerly location. While warm spells are more frequent in winter than here in southern NY, cold spells are a lot more severe than here in coastal NY, with lows below zero F not uncommon. I have observed some plants in Bluefield that are also considered marginal here, but survive, such as Magnolia grandiflora and Crepe Myrtle. This year the Crepe Myrtle plant in my relative's yard was killed back to the ground by the cold this last winter, whereas those in my town in NY did not suffer such damage.
I have no idea which gladiolus cultivar this plant is, but hopefully it will like its new home in NY.

Baptisia arachnifera, an endangered beauty

This endangered species is native to a small area in Georgia. These pics are from my recent trip to Plant Delights, and they show what a stunning plant this is. It is utterly unlike any other member of its genus, save perhaps B. perfoliata (which has somewhat similar foliage, but minus the striking silver color). In fact, I can't think of any plant normally grown in gardens, except for a bushy eucalyptus (which wouldn't survive in NY anyway) which gives quite the same effect.
To get this plant, or any other endangered species grown by any nursery, you most often have to go and pick it up yourself, since they apparently can't be shipped across state lines. Another example of a stupid federal rule, as the nurseries like PD and Woodlanders that propagate such species are doing us a major favor by helping to raise awareness about these species as well as to ensure their continued survival via propagation and growing in gardens. Note that this is not a substitute for conservation of the species in its native habitat, but it is extra insurance against extinction should such efforts fail, as well as the best way of making the preservation of endangered species a more tangible issue to people that can thus see and grow such plants.
I brought a plant of the Baptisia last year, and kept it in a pot for too long, then put it in the garden during the fall. It survived the harsh winter and came up, but then mysteriously died back. I dug up the root, and noted that the crown had some sort of a rot, but most of the thick roots looked okay. So I soaked it in a systemic fungicide for a couple of days, and cut off the roots to make cuttings of them. I planted them up in a pot and hope they will form buds. Several references indicate that Baptisia will grow from root cuttings, but I doubt many people have a lot of experience with this species. Meanwhile my second plant, purchased this year, is already in the garden.