Sunday, February 15, 2009

Bloom Day, February 2009

I've been doing this for over a year now, and since gardening is cyclical, is stands to reason that there would be numerous repeat appearances in a blog post such as this. I'll try to avoid some of the more obvious suspects that are blooming right now, although they are incredibly welcome. Narcissus 'Peeping Tom' (a cyclamineus hybrid) and 'Rijnveld's Early Sensation' are fully open in clumps all over the yard, and I'll try to restrain myself from posting too many Helleborus x hybridus, although I counted nearly 100 plants in full bloom yesterday with lots more in bud. Above is Camellia 'Debutante', which, along with Magnolia soulangeana, stands as one of the very finest of the brown-flowering woody plants in our area! We had bathroom wallpaper festooned with very similar flowers in the early 70's, so there's something oddly attractive to me about these blooms, even after they've been trashed by a freeze.
Chaenomeles japonica, another remnant of my grandparents' garden, and badly in need of thinning and pruning.
Aucuba 'Gold Dust' has produced its first berries ever, which surprised me, since it's a female clone and there are no males that I know of in the neighborhood. Les has promised to hook my single girls up with "stud service" via a male known as 'Mr. Goldstrike' later on this spring.

Arisaema urashima started breaking dormancy in the garage, so had to be brought inside to flower way ahead of schedule. I hate taking pictures (and growing plants, too, for that matter) inside!

I think this is Crocus tomasianus, which is ubiquitous, but with good reason. I like the way it pushes up through this clump of Christmas fern every February.
After years of trying, I'm finally having some success with Cyclamen coum, but only in very large, well-drained containers. I've partnered them with tree peonies, to which excessive summer watering is also anathema. While hederifolium does fine in the ground, this one, with its very desireable flowering season, rots away with the least bit too much moisture here. It's encouraging that these tubers have begun to reseed themselves. This one is almost unphotographable, but it's the more common crimson color variant of C. coum.
Daphne odora is another great plant which makes one wish for a "scratch and sniff" computer screen, but responds to poor drainage by kicking the bucket (watering can?) immediately.
Speaking of scents, that of Euphorbia characias 'wulfenii' is an acquired taste - pretty similar to skunk in an enclosed area. It's another plant that requires better drainage than I can provide in the ground, so its huge clay pot gets hauled into the garage on nights when the temps go into the teens. I have to admit to sort of enjoying the smell, but then, according to scientific studies, there are those who become stimulated by the aroma of sweaty male baseball players, so who knows which olfactory receptors this Euphorbia is causing to fire off in my increasingly befuddled brain? Probably best not to go there.

If I could bring myself to shell out $145 for Snowdrops: a Monograph (not that I haven't seriously considered it...), I might be able to do a better job of sorting out my Galanthus species and varieties. This one came to me as elwesii, so I guess that'll have to do for now.

The snowdrops below are distinct from the others I grow in having shiny, green leaves. I've had them forever, and don't remember the source. Perhaps ikarae or plicata? Any ideas appreciated!
Just a couple of Hellebore pictures - these really are my favorite plants, hands down, and I did an extensive post on them last year about this time or a little later. This one is close to something I've been working on - a chartreuse base color with picotee edging. If it were a Cattleya hybrid, it would be classified as an "art shade."
I'm not as crazy about the doubles as some are, but this is a nice, pure pink, probably from Pine Knot stock originally.In recent years I've gotten more and more excited about H. niger and its hybrids. Container or raised bed culture seems to eliminate problems with drainage and humidity tolerance. The first below is "Winter Moonlight", a tissue culture of a form developed by the Tylers at Pine Knot Farms (which is where I'm hoping to be for a while in about two weeks.) Judith says it originated from a failed hybrid between H. niger and argutifolius, which normally produces H. x. nigercors, another very garden-worthy grex for this area - those are spent blooms from a clone of it in the background of this photo, as a matter of fact.

This is a plant I've had for about ten years, supposedly descending from the famous
'Potter's Wheel'. The size of the blossoms supports this connection, and the best thing is that it tends to rebloom in May, when the flowers are less likely to become spotted due to the interaction of cold temperatures and moisture.
The first bloom of a plant originating in New Zealand, I think, called 'Winter Magic'.

Here's a "color echo" for you - Paphiopedilum 'Mem. Larry Heuer' blooming in front of a Mahonia in full bloom. Okay - it's a cheat - I just couldn't get a decent photo of it in the kitchen window. It's a primary parvisepalum hybrid, combining emersonii and malipoense.
Not yet in bloom, but grown mainly for foliar effect anyway, is Trillium underwoodii. It amazes me how early these break dormancy every year, yet seem to revive completely after every hard freeze they endure. In the greenhouse are lots of begonias, orchids, and gesneriads in bloom right now, but that's probably not the point of this exercise. Not much to report right now, so I'm headed out to tackle some serious pruning chores; I've done one rose ("Graham Thomas"), one Hydrangea, and one Arbutus so far - only a few dozen more to go. It beats working on taxes, which is really what I should be doing right now. All I can say is that I sure am glad it's February; it's amazing how much a couple of hours of sunlight (even if it's chilly out yet) can do to ameliorate the symptoms of my seasonal affective disorder, aka "cabin fever"!

Sunday, February 1, 2009

"Only for Now"

Ok, so obviously you've got to break a few eggs to make an omelette. But, just for Phillip, here are before and after pics of the great terrarium adventure which I undertook yesterday. It had to happen, and it was a Saturday which was too cold for outside work and during which no housecleaning, shopping, or cooking (for ourselves or anyone else!) was necessary, so I took the plunge. I should have taken pictures of the entire process, but my hands were too dirty, and I was trying (unsuccessfully) to keep the kitchen somewhat clean, so I didn't add photography to the mix. Why the kitchen, you may ask (as did my partner)? It was too cold and dark in the garage, and our obnoxious kitchen lighting is so glaring that one could perform a tonsillectomy on the kitchen table, if necessary. I posted a pic of the seriously overgrown bottle garden before, but here it is again:
I used a tool called a wire puller, a flexible wire coil which opens its "arms" when pressure is applied on the handle, and a tool I made from a teaspoon, some electrical tape, and a bamboo stake (which had to be reinforced along its length by three heavy-guage wire insulation holders after breaking in the middle of the procedure). I started out very carefully, trying hard to lock the pincers of the wire puller around the crowns of each plant, reverse its polarity, shake off the soil, and pull it gently through the neck of the Florence flask. After about 10 minutes of cursing which would have made Tony Soprano blush, I gave up and started getting Medieval on the mass of vegetation. When everything was extracted, I ended up with the following:
9 pots of Begonia 'Buttercup' rhizomes in various stages of growth, but which I feel will produce beautiful plants in a few months. This is a hybrid involving B. prismatocarpa, an African species which requires lots of warmth and humidity to do well, but produces occasional bright yellow blooms. From the enormous pile of severed leaves I prepared about a dozen leaf cuttings as well (why? - there's no place to grow them here at all, and they're not hardy, which is the kiss of death at a plant sale around here...). These are under a humidity dome on a heat mat below a bank of fluorescent lights in the garage right now (how many prepositions can you use in a sentence?)
Along with the wreckage of the begonia, I extracted a jewel orchid (Ludisia or Haemaria, depending on the source of info, discolor) which broke into several viable pieces; several tubers of mini Sinningias; three nice Autumn ferns; and a very healthy Holly fern. Interestingly, I never planted the Sinningias or ferns in the terrarium - they were volunteers. Anyway, they'll all recover, I think, and the only damage was to the kitchen (cleaning that is next on my list of projects.) I took advantage of the mess to bring in and separate about 50 Bletilla seedlings (a cross I made of two B. striata varieties - the pure white one and the more uncommon blue cultivar, 'Murasaki Shikibu'), so that's another tedious indoor task to take off the list.
What to plant in the terrarium next? It's a tough call - whatever I use has to enjoy constant humidity, thrive in low light (the terrarium would overheat and cook the plants in a sunny spot), and maintain less than a 12" diameter and 8" height. I have some seedlings of Gesneria cuneifolia which might fill the bill, but they're miniscule, and it'll be some time before they put on much of a show. There's also the actual species form of Begonia prismatocarpa, which seems to remain smaller than its hybrid; who knows what it might do, though, given unlimited warmth and humidity? Pearcea hypocyrtiflora is another candidate, but it's a touchy critter and I'm still learning to grow it. For now, the bottle is in the garage drying out - I won't be able to get the old potting medium out until that happens.

Remember the dirt in the kitchen? I might have landed in hot water over that, except for a couple of very fortuitous accidents. Last week I finally managed to break my trusty elliptical trainer - 75-90 minutes of hard labor daily over a period of four years would cause any of us to crash, and it did so spectacularly at 4 AM last Monday morning, sending me tumbling sideways into the thirty gallon aquarium next to it. Somehow the tank survived to break my fall, although the angel fish, who've known me for years, still seem to view me with trepidation. Anyway, while the part for the elliptical is on order, I've been forced to rig up the contraption below in order to ride my ancient 10-speed in the living room for 2.5 hours every morning (it takes a lot longer to get the same cardio effect on the bike as one does on an elliptical, and skipping the workout is NOT an option) while working on the computer (I'm pedaling my butt off, literally, right now). I've discovered that I love rigging things up in order to make them work - now if I only looked like MacGyver!
As I was dismantling my terrarium, Ron decided to try out the bike, and did fine until he tried to dismount, at which point he managed to knock over the banana plant I had just potted up and moved in from the garage (you can see it directly behind the bike.) He felt so bad, and was so busy cleaning up his own mess, that nothing was ever said about the perlite and vermiculite on the kitchen table. We went with friends to see "Avenue Q" in Norfolk and had dinner out, so the kitchen was never a prioity.

Sometimes things just work out, and even though the show seemed superficial and silly at first, it did emphasize some deeper themes, with applications even in the gardening world. Like the period of time during which any planting, including a terrarium, looks really good, everything that happens is "only for now." Gardening, like life, is performance art. And that can be a good, or a bad, thing...
PS - this is Sinningia 'Orange Zinger', which looks good, but "only for now". It'll collapse into a well-deserved rest period after another few weeks.