Thursday, December 31, 2009

What is it? Its Lapeirousia schimperii.

This is supposed to be Gladiolus candidus, grown from seeds from Silverhill, and the plant does look like a small gladiolus, but the description I have in books does not seem to match the flowers. The flowers are perfectly regular, a rarity in the genus, and the seeds are large and round without the flattened wing typical of gladiolus seeds. If it is a gladiolus, it must be a very primitive basal species. It is a charming plant, easily grown from the rather pointy small corms, which seem to double each year. The long tubed white flowers are obviously adapted for moth pollination in their native habitat. I doubt it has cold tolerance, so I dig the corms up and overwinter them inside. From the appearance of the seeds I suspect it could be a summer rainfall species of Lapeirousia--and there is always the possibility I got the labels on the seedpots mixed up. UPDATE:  I have gotten a good identification on this plant, it is Lapeirousia schimperii, a summer growing rather tall member of a genus which is usually winter growing and much smaller in size. Makes sense as it has corms that resemble other lapeirousias, and as of 2013 it has continued to increase well by corms and set seeds (with some hand pollination).  

Gladiolus "Atom"

Gladiolus "Atom" is one of the smaller Glad cultivars, with a distinctive bright red flower with a white picotee edge. I got my original corms from Ellen Hornig when I visited her some years ago, and got some more from Home Depot (not generally one of my favorite plant sources) which I put here in the school garden. I love the bright color, they seem to scream for attention! They have survived a couple of winters in the ground and this past summer just looked splendid. They set some seed which I sent in to the NARGS seed exchange, and I flowered some crosses I've made with Atom for the first time this year, and found out that the white petal edge can be passed down to hybrid offspring. Like most glads, staking is needed since stems can flop when we get heavy rains, as was the case throughout this past summer.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Candy Lilies

I decided to post about these after seeing a thread today on the Pacific Bulb Society about how these plants are becoming harder to find in recent years and how some people have/had difficulty getting them to bloom. Candy lilies, also known as Pardancanda norrisii, are the result of hybridization between the blackberry lily I. domestica (formerly Belamcamda chinensis), and Iris dichrotoma. Both were formerly put into genera other than Iris, so now they should just be called Iris x norrisii. I grew these plants from seed from Parks, a company that has some good seed items, but over time has declined in terms of variety and quality of products offered, especially their non seed items, which are often not as reliable as their seeds usually are (see
Now I have to admit, the flowers I got are not as exciting as the colors shown on Park's website, but I assume they are picking the best out of a huge field of plants to photograph. What I did get was variety, lots of it, mostly in shades of yellow-oranges, and pinks. Patterns of various sorts also appear, stripes and spots, bicolored flowers, and plain solid colors as well. I did not get much in the strong purple range, though such shades do exist and I'd like to get a good one some day. I was pleased overall, they flower in July when other irises are long finished, they are pretty, low maintenance, and you get lots of flowers from each plant. I found these easy to grow from seed, a few bloomed their first year, and most have survived for three years thus far. They seed prolifically (and the seed pods are pretty, like huge blackberries), and I've allowed a few seedlings to come up in the school garden where the parents are located, just to see if I might get some better selections. I am not exactly sure why some folks have had trouble blooming them, they seem quite happy in rather poor soil in good sun without tree root competition. I imagine they would be susceptible to iris borers, but (knock on wood) they don't seem to have found my school garden yet. They can flop, so stakes can be helpful to keep the inflorescences from leaning on neighboring plants.
One of the pics above shows candy lilies alongside a lovely white form of Lobelia cardinalis. I got the original plant from Goodwin Creek gardens, I think, and have saved seed to start new plants periodically to keep the strain going. Its quite lovely in its own right, and I keep the plants at school, and the normal red flowered ones at home, so as to maintain its genetic purity. I sent some seed to the NARGS exchange this year. As apparently might be the case with candy lilies, its long term survival relies to a great extent on capable gardeners growing, propagating, and sharing it around.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Cornell Plantations

Since I mentioned the Cornell Plantations in my last post, I thought I'd upload a couple of more pics of some containerized plant groupings they had when we were visiting. Quite showy, and quite interesting combinations indeed!

Monster Leaves!

My wife and I posed with this massive potted plant at the Cornell Plantations this past summer during a weekend trip to Ithaca NY to visit Cornell, a place where I spent 10 years in total getting all three of my degrees. I think this beast is Farfugium japonicum "Giganteum', a clone that has impressive glossy, heavily textured huge foliage. The Plantations has always been a nice garden, but I must say that it has improved considerably over the years, and is definitely a must visit for horticulturally minded visitors who are passing anywhere near Cornell during the summer (you really don't want to be anywhere near Ithaca in winter, unless you are a ski afficianado).

African Pedaliaceae

I think plant enthusiasts tend to be drawn to particular kinds of plants over time, as their obsession deepens and they gain experience growing a wider array of plants. I've always liked plants in the Pedaliaceae, they usually have very nice flowers and unusually interesting seed pods, typically winged and/or with spines or hooks, sometimes quite savage spines or hooks. The orange flower is Pterodiscus aurantiacus, a small caudiform which grows in summer and needs to be dry in winter, when the leaves are shed. I've seen its cousin P. speciosus in habitat in Gaborone, Botswana. It has much larger purplish flowers and the caudex is buried in the ground, with only annual stems emerging during the rainy season. Pterodiscus are easy to grow, they like warmth and good light during their summer growing season, and dry conditions during their winter dormancy. Occasionally plants may fall victim to rots, but they set seed fairly easily, which can thus serve as a backup in case a plant is lost.
Dicerocaryum eriocarpum is a low growing creeping plant from the summer rainfall areas of South Africa and nearby nations. It makes flat seedpods with a couple of sharp spines projecting out, the better to embed itself within some hapless animals foot (or human shoe) to ensure that its seeds are dispersed far and wide. It is a nightmare to extract the individual seeds from the pods without crushing them, but if done successfully it is not hard to germinate and grow. Alternatively the entire pod can be sown and when it breaks down the seeds will eventually sprout. Like Pterodiscus it relishes warm sunny weather, but I find it hard to keep happy in winter--lthus far letting it go completely dormant results in a dead plant, so it appears best to bring it inside, keep it under lights or in a sunny spot, and water just enough to keep it alive. Pest control may also be necessary, white flies and spider mites are fond of it when it is indoors. The flowers are borne all summer, and it appears that more than one clone is needed to set seed, though I have not grown it long enough to definitively verify this. If the pods or plant is wet, it exudes a strange muciligenous substance, which probably aids in trapping/suffocating insect pests and making it less palatable to larger herbivores.

A good year for Impatiens flanaganae

The summer of 2009 was unusually cool and rainy, which suited I. flanaganae just fine. This easy to grow cousin of the more touchy I. tinctoria grows and multiplies its huge red potato like tubers quite well during even normal summers, but it flowers best when temps are on the cool side. Hot days also seem to affect pollen development, something I've noted on other impatien species as well, so prolonged moderately cool weather allows the pollen to develop properly and a few seeds can set with hand pollination. Hot spells, however, can also cause young seed pods to abort. The large pots I grow these in filled up with tubers by the end of the growing season (October here), and one made of weaker plastic actually broke from the tubers splitting the side of it. I took out those tubers, cleaned and divided them, and sent them off to the Pacific Bulb Society (PBS), an organization of cool plant fanatics like myself, where they have presumably made their way to good homes by now.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Gladiolus papilio

G. papilio grows in the summer rainfall regions of South Africa, often in marshy places. The two plants pictured came from Seneca Hills Nursery, though the red purple one may be a hybrid, according to Ellen Hornig. It apparently came up in the same batch of seed the more typical greenish yellow form came from, and some (lucky) customers like myself got it when we ordererd G. papilio bulbs from her. It is a gorgeous thing, perhaps the result of hybridizing with G. ecklonii, a species with densely spotted flowers. I've dug the corms and stored them inside for the winter until I have enough increase to leave some outside. They should be hardy, since I also have been growing another collection of G. papilio made in the old Transvaal province for several years outside without issue. It is similar to the greenish yellow form pictured, but with a less prominant dark blotch. G. papilio multiplies freely via corms produced at the ends of runners, (similar to G. dalenii, a much larger species), though it needs good sun to flower well.

An odd pair

Well, maybe not so odd in that they are both South African, one being Crocosmia aurea, the other the Pelargonium x hortorum cultivar "Mr Wren". The crocosmia is from the forests of eastern South Africa, though I believe it does range further up into east Africa along the mountain ranges that start with the Drakensberg and border the Great Rift northwards. Its nodding orange flowers are a stunning sight, and the black seeds are displayed from three sided bright orange seedpods that split when ripe. It grows from corms that spread via runners terminating in more corms, and seems quite hardy in this area, though it is also easily maintained in a large pot if kept dry and cool in winter. Seed is easy to start and plants flower in their second year.
Pelargonium X hortorum has a complex history, but basically traces its orgin to two species from South Africa, P. inquinans and P. zonale. "Mr Wren" is a sport from an unknown cultivar which apparently is a chimera, that is it contains two different cell types, one of which makes the white edge on the petals, the other is the red part. This means the plant can be propagated from cuttings to retain the picotee flower pattern, but it cannot be used to breed new picotee patterns, since only one of the cell lines (the red one, most likely) will be represented in the progeny sired by it. This past summer was not a great one for zonal pelargonium flowering, as it was too often cloudy and rainy.


"Ouhout" means "old wood" in Afrikaans, and indeed Leucosidea sericea can get quite old looking in the cold and windy places where it is found in the mountains of South Africa. What I find interesting about ouhout is its cold tolerance, for there are very few woody South African plants that can live through our winters. Ouhout is tough, at home I've grown it in a garden for at least 4 years, and the plants in the photo at school are only a couple of years old, having gone through last winter quite well (though they do have a good spot by the wall). The foliage is rather nice, kind of potentilla-like, but the flowers are not particularly fetching from the pictures I have seen, so far no flowers on my young plants. Branches are flexible and can be bent to the ground and mulch/debris piled on them to reduce cold damage, but frankly its easier to leave them alone, if its really cold they will die back but new ones quickly grow from near the ground.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Late Bloomer

Senecio achillaefolius is perhaps the latest blooming outdoor plant I grow. It comes from the Drakensberg in South Africa, and is a fairly rambuctious grower. It grows about a foot or so high and roots along the ground as it spreads outwards. I coddled it by a brick wall its first couple of years but now its present in a few patches in the school slope garden, where some of the patches have weathered the unwelcome attention of non-staff "landscapers" in late August who tore out a few plants they thought were weeds (they now know not to touch/worry about my gardens, they are well taken care of by yours truly, even during summer vacation!), the sewer problem in Sept that necessitated a large hose being drug up from a truck through the middle of the slope garden to drain the sewer that lies beneath two metal plates above the garden (who knew, it certainly was news to me what nasty underworld lurked under those gates to hell) and the sudden construction of a sidewalk to replace the dirt path that was located in the same area as the sewer in November. Lucky this senecio is one tough plant!
As December begins, it begins its yearly show of bright yellow daisies, which are very frost resistant. They will provide color until the temps get below 20F or so, though I imagine this species would put on a much more spectacular flower show in areas with warmer winters like the Carolinas. Here is is a plant of interest for its late flowering, but not one for a small garden as it does like room and is unlikely to get much blooming in before winter finally overtakes it. Now, if someone could find a clone that starts flowering in summer, that would be something special!


This melianthus made it thru last winter with the protection of the brick wall behind it and some dead plant rubbish on top of its roots. It resprouted and grew back with a vengence, picking up speed in late summer and fall. I got it from Annie's Annuals in California on my visit there a couple of years ago, but I lost the label--could it be M. villosus? I doubt it will ever flower in Chappaqua, since the stems are likely to be killed back each winter, but it does make a fine foliage plant.

Candy Cane Lobelia

This brightly colored tall plant did very well in my school garden this year. It was a lot happier than in the pot that I kept it since I got it from Plant Delights a few years ago. I took some offsets inside for the winter in case the mother plant does not make it through a New York winter. It comes from Mexico, and may either be a new species of Lobelia, though it looks rather close to L. laxiflora to me, though the foliage is much wider and the plant taller. It set some seed despite all the rain and clouds this past summer, and has underground spreading rhizomes, like L. laxiflora.

Nemesia sp Verlatenkloof

This wonderful annual, or rather semihardy perennial, is from a collection made near Verlatenkloof in South Africa by Panayoti Kelaidis. This area is near one of the coldest areas of the old Cape Province. The original plants I grew were pale flowered, whitish sometimes tending towards light pink, but when I planted some blue flowered similar nemesias I brought one summer at a nursery on the wine route near Seneca Lake in upstate NY, they hybridized with the orginal collection's descendents. Like the original, the hybrids reliably resow every year, providing color from summer till very hard frost. They tend to look their best in fall as neighboring plants fade out, and the flowers are quite frost resistant, a feature not uncommon in high altitude South African plants. This year they are doing fine as I write this, in early December! They do best along a street curb, where competition from taller plants is reduced, and produce copious seed to ensure a new generation the following year. In an exceptionally mild winter some plants can resprout from their base, but here they do best as a resowing annual. Unlike N. strumosa, this nemesia is heat resistant and long blooming, though the flowers are considerably smaller. The pinks and lavenders tend to deepen as temperatures drop, creating a very nice palette of colors in my garden.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Phlox pilosa

Phlox pilosa is native to the midwestern and central-southern states of the US, and is rarely seen in gardens. I got seed from Prairie Moon Nursery, a very fine source of seeds and bare roots of native plants. The seed germinates best after exposure to cold. I set a few plants in the "wall" school garden, where they bloomed in their second year and again this year. Phlox pilosa produces masses of fragrant blooms which are much loved by bees and butterflies. It forms dense clumps and grows a couple of feet tall or less. Unlike more common garden phlox, it does not get leaf mildew, at least not thus far. Its only fault is that it tends to flop when it blooms from the weight of the flowers, so it is best to tie it up or place it among other plants that might help support it.

Some Deer Proof Perennials

One of the scourges of gardens throughout the eastern US are the deer. I've heard and read so many horror stories about them, but my home garden is in a densely populated area so they are not a problem there. But things are different where my school is, deer freely roam around the school at night, and I find their footprints in my slope garden, and occasionally other signs of their presence, like a double flowered helianthis stripped of foliage, or missing branches on my Anisodontea julii plants that I had in the slope garden last year. They seem not to bother the garden near the wall, perhaps it feeks to enclosed for them to feel safe, but they do check out the slope garden. I have found that they never touch certain plants, especially ones known to be toxic or herb type plants that emit odors from their foliage. They don't like most salvias, nor marigolds, and only took one chomp of a young Shirley poppy before they decided that wasn't so good either. I started several perennials from seed last year from a "Zone 6 mix" that was offered a couple of years ago by Gardens North (an amazing resource for seeds). I love surprises, and indeed I couldn't figure out what some of the plants were until they bloomed. Some did bloom the first year, most notably some salvias and an agastache, both of which the deer refused to touch. A large leaved plant also was untouched, but only when the shaggy yellow daisies appeared this year did I realize it was Telekia speciosa. Telekia is definitely a space hog, but the foliage is attractive and the flowers quite nice. Surpisingly I could not identify Sweet Rocket (Hesperis matronalis) before it bloomed this spring, even though it grows in the woods around here. It is an invasive species, but one of the better ones, I suppose, since it has lovely fragrant flowers and is not as aggressive as its ugly cousin garlic mustard. I did cut it back after blooming to prevent it from further seeding in my garden so as to enjoy it in strictly limited quantity in the future. A pink silene also came out of the mix, I think it is Silene dioica. It started blooming in May and is still blooming right now. Some bearded Iris cultivars were also planted among the perennials, and they were not bothered either, but I admit to putting down some homemade repellent (hot pepper, milk, eggs, garlic powder with my own added special touch of a bit of lime sulfur to worsen the already repulsive odor) when their buds got close to opening. Iris are toxic, but I have read accounts of deer "testing" the flower buds. Achillea (yarrow) is avoided, and is so easy to grow from plants or seeds. The pink forms are especially pretty in a cottage style garden.
The local deer also have plenty of other things to eat around Chappaqua, so that may also be a factor in preventing really serious damage to my garden. Still I think it is prudent to plant things that make them feel unwelcome so as not to encourage them in any way. The real answer to the deer problem lies in reducing their numbers, since we killed off their natural predator (wolf) and created much more of the "edge" habitats that they prefer. Its not just gardens that they terrorize, but also increasingly threatened native wildflowers, particularly cypripediums and trilliums, among many others. And don't get me started on Lyme disease, that's a whole 'nother discussion!

Simple Pleasures

Shirley poppies are hardly considered a classic example of the kind of plant grown by sophisticated horticulturalists, but they really are quite exquisite. Maybe they are just too easy to grow--find a sunny spot (in this case my school slope garden), sprinkle the seed on bare ground in March (while the temps are still cool) or early April, keep weeded, and stand back. Truth is I don't often see them in gardens around here, probably because like all poppies they hate transplanting and thus won't be found in nurseries selling annuals in packs (funny how "packs" have shrunk from 6 plants to four or even two lately) for the lazy gardener who has no idea of how to grow plants from seed. They also don't bloom all summer, they relish cool weather (something we've had an unusual amount of for May and June, along with the most clouds and rain in my living memory) and quickly fade as July's heat takes hold. They form tons of seed, then dry up and die (if the spider mites don't do them in first) but they are back the following spring from self sown seeds. Some seeds may even sprout during the fall and overwinter as tiny plants--these tend to form the most vigorous plants as they have a head start. Still, seeds of the various strains are easy and inexpensive to obtain, and so long as they have some bare ground and sun, they can be counted on to return year after year. I've tagged some of the more unusual flower colors and forms, so I can save seed from them, for I understand that after years of self sowing the red forms take over. Actually the reds are quite splendid and bold, but the softer shades and picotees (the white picotee is the identifying mark of the "real" Shirley poppy as opposed to other forms/strains of Papaver rhoeas) are also quite stunning in a different way.

Monday, May 4, 2009

A European Thug

Even the strips of woodland left in this area are not totally safe havens for the local flora--some invasive species are becoming a major threat to the native residents of these small sanctuaries. Now I have to state up front, I am not one of the "natives only" purist type of gardeners, far from it, I myself have introduced a number of new species from southern Africa in particular to the US. I also enjoy the presence of some non native plants as nice bonuses in our local ecosystems, such as snowdrops (Galanthus) which bloom before any of our native woodland ephemerals and thus do not engage in serious competition with them. Scilla is a bit more aggressive, but will never overwhelm the natives, and besides none of them have flowers of such a piercing blue. But some introductions have taken excess advantage of their welcome, and really need to be checked, for they do threaten the native flora. Although I love the brilliant yellow flowers of the Lesser Celadine, Ranunculus ficaria, and even grow some much better behaved variants with double flowers in my garden, this species has run amok locally. I see its numbers increase dramatically every spring, and it easily overwhelms the competition. Even the much better known invasive, Garlic Mustard, cannot hold its ground when it is up against the ranunculus. It comes in a small flowered diploid form and a larger, presumably tetraploid, form, as can be seen in the closeup pic. R. ficaria prefers soils that are waterlogged in spring, but it can advance into drier areas, it merely spreads slightly slower in such areas. It reproduces by means of seed and tuberous little fingerlike roots which eminate from the crown of the plant. One of those tubers can make a whole new plant, and sometimes aerial tubers are produced in leaf axils as well. The entire plant mercifully disappears rather suddenly by June, but they are back in early spring (actually leaves begin to show by late winter) with numerous progeny to join them. While no threat to taller plants, R. ficaria is a devastating competitor with native forest ephemerals which also die back by early summer, for they cannot get enough light to make enough food to prepare for their summer dormancy. In the pics above, R. ficaria can be seen encroaching on a colony of Dutchman's breeches which will surely be overwhelmed next year. It also can be seen coming close to the tougher native Viola papilionacea (in two color forms, purple and white with purple center), the latter itself a bit of a native thug, especially when introduced to gardens, but never producing solid monocultures as does R. ficaria.
Speaking of gardens, R. ficaria has hitched a ride into my gardens and lawns. I've been fairly good at eradicating it from the garden, but much less successful with the lawns, it seems to do particularly well in lawns where nothing can outgrow it. In the garden it has to compete with numerous taller plants in addition to escaping my notice, both of which keep it in check. When pulling it out it is important to get every root "finger" because they detach easily from each other and are back the next year with a vengence. I really hope they bring over a pathogen or insect that eats this European menace. Actually I once ate some myself as a kid, when I mistakenly thought it was Marsh Marigold (a much larger native plant) and cooked the leaves as mentioned in one of Euell Gibbon's books on edible native plants. Fortunately I cooked the leaves, which apparently deactivates a toxin in the foliage which would not be good to consume in a raw state. From what I remember, they actually tasted pretty decent.