Wednesday, November 20, 2013

South African Flowers in the Fall Garden

Gorteria diffusa

Leonotis dysophylla

Ursinia nana

Nemesia sp Verlatenkloof

Arctotis fastuosa

Diascia hybrid

Berkheya hybrid

Senecio sp

Ceratotheca triloba white fl form

Berkheya cirsiifolia

Fall is a strange time of the year, some plants are fading away while others burst into bloom as the cool air invigorates them.  This fall was especially dry and sunny, and frankly odd for us but much preferred to our more typical rainy and gloomy Octobers.  September is usually the last decent month, but we had a nice October and November has not been particularly bad either, though frost has finally struck and put an end to tender plants, such as the Ceratotheca triloba shown above.  Still there are many plants that tolerate some frost, especially South African plants from habitats where frost might occur during their growing season.  Thus Ursinia nana, Senecio sp (both of which I collected seed of myself back in 1993), Arctotis fastuosa, and Nemesia sp Verlatenkloof (a sp collected by Panayoti Kelaidis and now, in my self sowing strain with some N caerulea genes mixed in) continue to look great even after a couple of frosts in the upper 20s F.  The Gorteria diffusa survived all summer and took off as fall approached, it did well after the first frost but is now looking tattered after another round of frosts. A Berkheya hybrid with pale yellow flowers appears to be one between B radula and perhaps B purpurea, its leaves are more prickly than pure radula but the flowers are closer to radula than any other species I grow.  B. cirsiifolia in the school garden looks great even out of flower with its attractive foliage, in mild winters it may remain evergreen but most often it dies back to some degree before regrowing again.  The Leonotis dysophylla flowered just before the first frosts, so I cut the flowers and brought them in along with some tall marigolds, they looked quite nice on our table when we had some folks over for dinner soon afterwards.  The diascia hybrid is, admittedly, just one of those things from the local Home Depot (or as Panayoti refers to it, Home Despot), it has survived a few frosts but I doubt it will be as tough as some of the species are, notably Diascia fetcainensis, which seems to be the hardiest of them all, at least among the ones I have tried.  I transplanted a piece of it from my school garden to my home garden and it is taking, so I anticipate it will make it through the winter just as it has done at school for the last three years.  I've also planted out lots of young Crinum bulbispermum and Nerine bowdenii in the backyard gardens and quite a few Kniphofia in what was part of the front lawn, so I hope for a mild winter and plan for an exciting new growing season next year.
There are many more things to try in the garden next spring from my well stocked refrigerator full of seeds, and quite often new seeds worth trying become available from South African vendors such as Silverhill Seeds and Lifestyle Seeds.  Its fun growing things that no one even knows about, let alone think is possible, in my garden.  Novelty is one of the fun things about gardening, and one thing is for sure, as my home gardens continue to develop, they most definitely will not be like anything else in the neighborhood!

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Korean Mums

I like flowers that show considerable variation, not boring sameness

This new seedling is my favorite one so far

Korean mums are in full bloom at my school garden, they have done superbly despite the October drought and no supplemental watering.  Over the years they have self seeded and new colors appear among the seedlings.  They were apparently bred in Connecticut back in the 1930s from a particularly hardy mum species, but because of their tall and sometimes floppy growth one doesn't see them around much these days.  NYBG grows some, and used to have a huge garden full of them back in the day when I worked there, and they are also still grown, I think, in Central Park on the east side near 5th Avenue in a garden there.  I was given seeds by a fellow NYBG staff member some years ago, and I grew a few out for my school garden years later (I keep the seeds in the refrigerator, a practice that greatly extends seed viability).  They cavort well with the other tallish plants in their allotted area at the top of the slope (though some seedlings have appeared lower down) and sometimes flop over the sidewalk back there, but other teachers have complemented them on their colors and a light fragrance they seem to exude on nice days.  The sleeping bumblebee in the last pic is a typical sight at this time of year, as the weather grows colder and frost threatens. We have been spared any but the lightest touch of frost thus far but that wont last much longer.  The bumblebees tend to sleep on flowers overnight rather than returning to their nest. 
These mums are not for small gardens, but unlike the color blobs that pass as "mums" sold in every grocery or box store this time of year, they are graceful plants with an endless variety of colors  in single to semidouble flowers.  They fit well into a cottage garden design and are bone hardy.   Deer will occasionally eat some of the flower buds, but for some reason this year the hooved rats did not bother them at all.  

Monday, September 2, 2013


Phygelius consists of two species, capensis and aequalis, both of which are found in summer rainfall areas of Natal and the eastern Cape.  They have been crossed to create a variety of hybrids, all of which are pretty much cold hardy in the NYC area.  In mild winters they may not fully die back, in rougher winters they do die back then resprout.  They can sucker in some cases, and flower for a long period of time.   I have planted several cvs in the school garden, some are big, others still small in their second year, it seems the size of the plant I started with does affect how fast they grew (they came from different sources).  They can be propagated by cuttings and are a favorite of hummingbirds.  
I also want to announce a new forum, created by Jonathan Mejia and myself (well Jonathan is really the technical wiz behind the forum's workings, I'm less computer literate having not grown up with them) for South African plant aficionados who want to grow them in temperate zones (Z7 and lower).  Check it out at

Thursday, July 11, 2013

A Summer Growing Moraea

This little floriferous gem turns out to be M. elliottii, at least according to the label I found in the pot the other day (I thought it was M. thompsonii, another summer growing purple species).  Whatever it is, it is easy to grow from seed, and simple to deal with in winter, just store the whole pot with corms dry and cool.  The flowers are little works of art, and although each lasts about a day or so, more come over a period of several weeks.  I have not tested it for winter hardiness, though it has set ample seed so I have some incentive to try it in the garden in the future.  Most Moraeas come from the winter rainfall areas of the old Cape Province of South Africa.  There the genus is at its most diverse and one can only wish the stunning "peacock" moreas like M. aristata would be summer growers and thus more amenable to cultivation in areas other than winter rainfall mild climate ones.  If I were younger, I might dream of bioengineering some of the wonderful Cape bulbs to grow on a summer active winter dormant schedule, it probably is just a matter of finding the gene(s) responsible and swapping them out with genes from summer growing equivalents.  Or just add in some genes for cold hardiness and a delayed growth response (as in most crocuses and daffodils) and you would have a plethora of new "spring" bulbs for the garden.  In the meantime (aka back on planet Earth), there are several summer growers in this genus worth trying, and some are hardy in places like the UK, especially some of the yellow flowered larger ones like huttonii and its kin.   More experimentation is needed in the USA to determine which ones are reliably cold hardy and what other factors can lead to winter loss (for one I tried in my school garden, I suspect voles may have done it in more than winter cold). 

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Rosa xanthina

What a pretty thing this is when its in full bloom.  I grew them from seed, and they have become attractive small shrubs with an open habit in my school garden.  The yellow flowers are quite showy in midspring, and numerous hips are forming as I write this.  Sadly it only blooms once a year, but it also doesn't take over the garden later on like R. multiflora would if it could, as it is a major pest along our roadsides.  It does have lots of small thorns on the stems, which probably help deter deer from bothering it, at least in my experience so far they do ignore it.  It also blooms well before blackspot and other rose diseases get going in our humid weather, and I haven't even noticed if gets blackspot to be truthful.  In any case, it is a reliable early bloomer which does well without the fussing modern roses often seem to need in our climate.  Sometimes simpler is better.

Amsonia "Georgia Pancake"

This year it made a seedpod that is in the top center of the pic, could be a selfing or a cross with one of two other species in the garden.  Cant wait to grow the seeds out either way.

This is one really cool plant, I got it from Plant Delights by specifically asking for it when I didn't see it for sale during one of their open houses.  It is the only prostrate growing Amsonia, and it can make quite a large carpet of fine foliage as I saw in the nursery display gardens.  Its one of those plants a plant geek has to have, and I'm pleased that it has been hardy for about three winters up here in NY.  Critters ignore it, and it does have modest but attractive flowers in spring, not quite as showy as some of its upright cousins, but pretty enough.  It can be rooted from cuttings, and is a slow grower so its not one of those plants you will ever see in the big box stores (horrors!).  But after a couple of years it becomes a lovely soft carpet of foliage.  I planted it in a special raised bed in the school garden where it gets good drainage and good sunshine. 
It is probably a new species, and is found as far as I know in one place in Georgia, so it won't be long before it ends up on the Endangered Species list, which makes shipping it across state lines problematic.  Some folks say it is just a prostrate form of A. ciliata, in which case it won't end up on the "List" but either way the cat is out of the bag and I think it will be well established in several gardens before it even gets an official scientific name, so its future is safe in horticulture at least.

Albuca shawii, the hardy Albuca

foliage intermingled with Helichrysum splendidum

Albuca is a pretty large genus in South Africa, and it extends up into the Arabian peninsula.  Some modern classifications merge it into Ornithogalum, an even more widespread genus, and they also include Galtonia as well.  Nonetheless Albuca is fairly distinct in its flower morphology, though perhaps DNA will be the final arbitrator of what genus or genera these plants belong to.  Some grow in summer rainfall regions, and Albuca shawii is one of these.  I have had it for many years in my garden, it needs a spot with minimal competition.  The yellow green flowers are  attractive and distinct from anything that grows in the northern hemisphere, so here is another Gondwanan touch for your garden.  The bulbs are flattened and surprisingly not deep in the ground, so they certainly must be exposed to freezing temperatures in our New York winters.  I've not seen it self sow, but it does produce seeds, even more so if helped by hand pollination.  Seeds are readily started in pots in spring or late winter, then I plant them out the second year, when they may bloom or they will wait another year before flowering.  I've moved plants from the old house to the new after they leafed out and they still bloomed anyway, the ones that are pictured are growing in the school garden near the garden edge. 
There are other hardy albucas, A. humilis  is one that I need to get growing in the garden, and Galtonia candicans is also a very hardy bulb, sort of like  a giant summer snowdrop on a spike.  Propagation is the same as for Albuca shawii.

Daylily Seedlings

This one is my favorite, from purchased seed

Probably one of my own with No Where to Hide in its ancestry

I really like the bicolor effect, though this particular flower didn't open well

Almost pure white

A spider type

In the heat sometimes the flowers get damaged, or maybe its thrips, which is unfortunate b/c this one has a nice frilled edge and good color

I think this is the kind they call a bagel type flower, it is really pretty

Another favorite, nice deep color
This one has warm colors with a nice pattern

Daylilies are easy to grow, especially in the North where so far we need not contend with that plague called rust that can crop up down south.  I made some crosses among my daylilies at the old house, and got some seeds from a couple of folks selling seeds, and grew them out and planted them in the school garden.  There is the danger of deer, and sometimes they get nipped, but it seems all the lavender, buddleia and other things that deer hate that surround or are among the daylilies do offer a degree of protection (though if I remember I will spray them with repellent soon, just in case).  There are many, too many, actually, cultivars of daylilies, some of which are really nice plants, others just have a name for no particular reason.  But nice plants can be grown from seed, and even the dogs are not what I would call hideous.  Dull is about the worst you can get.  And who doesn't like a mystery, the growing of a seed, waiting about three years for flowers, and then finding you might have a winner like the first one pictured. 
In my new house there are wild daylilies (Hemerocallis fulva) that the previous owners planted, and I really don't need them as they are aggressive spreaders and the garden space could accommodate choicer plants that are deer resistant.  However I am transferring some of the daylilies from the old house to this one, but they are going into protected (fenced) locations to keep deer away.  I already moved Fooled Me and Lullaby Baby, two great old daylilies, and the special tiny one called Pennysworth, and they are blooming in the flower/vegetable garden.  The rest I will move after bloom in most cases, probably to a new bed that will open up when some bushes are and a large (and dangerous) spruce are removed from that area later this month.  
Daylily seeds are easy to harvest, and can be purchased online as well.  For more hardcore folks than myself, there is also the "Lily Auction" for both plants and seed.  They should be refrigerated until planting, as they lose viability if stored dry and warm for very long.  They germinate readily, sometimes coolness helps, so I have started them in ziplocks with moist paper towels that are refrigerated for a few weeks till I see some sign of germination or I pull them out after a time and they germinate.  Growing on is simplicity itself, and it is quite easy to run out of room, hence all the seedlings went to the school garden, not my old home garden that was already crowded. 


Monday, May 13, 2013

The Golden Gladiolus

Gladiolus aureus is a very special plant, known from a single locality on the Cape Peninsula, where it is highly endangered by encroaching alien vegetation.  It is in limited cultivation outside of South Africa, but I got seeds years ago from Kirstenbosch when they sent free seed to members of the Botanical Society of South Africa.  I kept these seeds refrigerated for many years, and was able to get three healthy plants from the packet.  One bloomed this year, and I traded pollen with someone in California who had one clone only (and he reported it is self sterile).  I was unable to set seed with the pollen I got, though I hope he was more successful.  In any case, it is likely that the other two plants will flower next year, then I should be able to set plenty of seed.  It is a diminutive plant, not even a foot high, but the flowers are eye catching and charming.  I grow it in a cold garage under lights but it can get some winter sun for part of the day as well.  I noticed that my winter growing plants did very well in the cold garage this year in our new home, better than they did in warmer conditions in the apartment atop my parents house where we were before.  However I also found out one bad thing, Uncarinas (a genus of mostly large growing caudiciform plants from Madagascar) do not store well cold and dry, they don't mind the dry so much for winter (I've kept them in my classroom in past years, often dormant) but they hated the cold and I lost several to rot and they will be hard or impossible to replace.  Ditto for adeniums, cold=death, but at least they are common enough. Yet summer growing bulbs stored very well, and the winter growers which like cool temperatures anyway thrived. 
Update 2016: All three did indeed flower the year after this was written, and I got quite a bit of seed, enough that one of the plants exhausted itself.  Seed was sent to growers in California, Argentina, South Africa (where I found out it was not in cultivation, surprisingly, at least among bulb enthusiasts) and Australia (note to self: I need to contact those folks to see how they are doing, but I do know that Rachel has been successful with them so Silverhill Seeds actually has offered some seed recently on their list).  I also have three pots of healthy seedlings which should produce their first flowers this year, more next year. As far as I know, the plants that remain in habitat are still in grave danger from invasive acacias and encroaching "informal settlement".

Saturday, February 9, 2013





My maternal grandmother's grave


Grace and I on East River Mountain, Bluefield West Virginia

Seasons. We all go through seasons, be we human or plant.  There is a beginning, there is the freshness of youth, the richness of middle age, and the memories that older age brings to us, then their is the passing to prepare for another new season.  My mom passed away unexpectedly on Sunday morning January 27 of this year.  She fell at home, and I got to the hospital in time to see her still alive but not conscious and in "very critical", as the doctor said, condition.  She was taken from the emergency room for a cat scan of the head, but her heart gave out once more and she could not be revived.  Incidentally nothing was wrong in her head, probably was a heart attack.
She told me the night before that she didnt feel well, she thought she had a bad cold, though she had no temperature.  I suggested that if she felt really bad, she should call emergency, but she thought it was not that important and in any case I would be down the next afternoon to visit anyway. 
 My mom was a strong person that was the matriarch of the family, my dad depended on her in so many ways.  She was fair, but could be feisty, but we all knew that she loved us and that she would have wanted to go fast as she did not like hospitals nor doctors.  While we knew her health wasn't great, especially due to her shortness of breath which we presumed was brought on by a lifetime of smoking, a habit she could not quit though she tried, she did beat early stage breast cancer last year and till the end was always up and about, going shopping, making dinner for dad, etc. Her death was a shock to us all, and came at a particularly bad time for me as I was already grappling with an anxiety disorder recurrence after several other stressful events in the last few months.
I can't say I got my love for flowers from my mom, it was her grandmother that really inspired me in my early youth.  Mom was not much for gardening, she liked simple things like hostas and azaleas, and certain other  flowers she considered pretty.  When I lived in the same house as my parents I got much flak from my mom over "tall" plants, she particularly didn't like lilies (reminded her of funerals), a tall Helianthus giganteus hybrid I grew from seed, and also when we moved she made me dig up all of the Zingiber mioga and take it to the new house.  She thought it looked like corn and hated when a stalk or two would hang over the sidewalk.  She did not appreciate botanically interesting/plant geek type of stuff but she did like colorful flowers.  She liked peonies and tulips, and liked when I would cut some for her table.  She also liked roses, especially a pink Mary rose I planted for her in the backyard. 
I wish she was less reluctant to travel far in her later years, many times I invited her to come to Bluefield with Grace and I on our summer drive down south, but she was afraid of bridges, fast moving traffic, and always worried about dad. She did have a nice weekend just before she passed, when one of my three sisters brought down some good food.  All four of us spoke with her often, and Grace and I also visited frequently since we got the new house (and invited them to come live with us if they ever wanted to). I wish we had a chance to say goodbye, but Grace and I will get to fulfill her last wish, which is to take her ashes back to Bluefield and intern them next to her mother's plot in the cemetery in nearby Bluewell.  Unlike many New York cemeteries, it is not particularly crowded, quite beautiful and the hillside she will be in faces east to catch the rising sun. 
Like the photos on my blog, the past lives on in our memories.  I trust my mom is in a better place where sickness and worries are not found, and she still lives on here in our memories and in ourselves, for we would not be who we are without her having been such an important part of our lives.  RIP mom, we miss you.