Abies balsamea 'Nana'

Abies balsamea 'Nana'

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Rhododendron 'Periwinkle' update

I'm currently in the process of packing and preparing for my move home to Washington State at the end of the week, but I noticed my Rhododendron 'Periwinkle' blooming its little head off. This plant has been in several posts already, with only 3 or 4 blooms. What can I say? It's hard to ignore these fiery orange flowers. But in the last couple days it's really started to put on a show. So I wanted to share it with you before it gets packed up and likely drops its flowers during the 6 day journey across the country. Hopefully this little rhody (and all its friends) make the trip without too much stress. Please, Mother Nature, can I get a few days without freaky late-winter/early-spring weather? March 28th to April 4th would be great, thanks.


'Periwinkle' is a hybrid of the tropical section Vireya. In most of the United States, except Hawaii and parts of California and Florida, these plants need to be kept indoors in winter. Many vireyas, as they are commonly called, grow as epiphytes or on steep banks in nature, and require excellent drainage in cultivation. I am currently using a mix of Perlite and coconut husk chips, and while 'Periwinkle' seems perfectly fine with whatever I give it, I've noticed some slight chlorosis on a couple of my other vireyas, so I plan to repot them into a mix with lower ph after I move.


As beautiful as it is, I think I would have gotten more blooms if I hadn't pinched it back about a year ago. I was trying to make it branch to become fuller, but the timing was off. It was starting to form flower buds, rather than going into a growth period, so I just nipped it in the (flower) bud and didn't really trigger much branching. Because I interrupted the bloom and growth cycle, it didn't form as many flower buds for this blooming as I think it could have. Once it finishes blooming this time, I plan to cut it back a bit to help improve its shape. It's rather bare on one side (which doesn't show because of the camera angle) and needs some training for better balance, form, and fullness.


This is the first of my 9 vireyas to bloom, and this is its second time blooming. This group of plants is perhaps my biggest obsession currently (second to hardy Rhododendrons) and I plan to make a trip to the vireya specialty nursery, Bovees Nursery in Portland, OR as soon as I can after the move.

Not that I've been posting frequently, anyway, but don't expect much for the next couple weeks. This week is packing, next week is driving across the country, neither of which are conducive to blogging (though the drive could provide some posts once I reach my destination. After I get settled back in Washington, I hope to write and post more frequently than I have been.

See you on the other side...of the country, that is.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day - March, 2014

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day is hosted by May Dreams Gardens. Be sure to follow the link to check out what's blooming in other (actual) gardens around the world! I do hope Carol doesn't mind my contaminating her meme with indoor plants. 

Pickings have gotten a bit slim as I have sent about half of my indoor plants home to my parents ahead of my move at the end of the month. The rest should be OK for the 7 days it will take the truck to drive across the country. Hopefully there aren't anymore freak outbursts of winter weather along the way!

Porphyrocoma pohliana, also known as Brazilian fireworks, rose pine, and a host of other names, may also be known under the scientific name Justicia scheidweileri. The taxonomists are apparently still duking it out over this one. It's a beautiful little foliage plant, perfect for planting around the base of leggy plants. As an added bonus, it forms these fantastic little pagoda-shaped red bracts that will shoot out tubular purple flowers. It also reseeds a little, so you can buy one and let it sow around to fill out the pot. It is tropical, so use it as a summer annual or as a houseplant. 


Next is my Ludisia discolor, the most common of the "jewel orchids." This has been blooming for over a month now. See my February GBBD. The oldest flowers are just starting to look a bit faded. After blooming, I plan to cut it back hard to let the new shoots forming at the base take over and make it look less sprawling.


Rhododendron 'Periwinkle', a tropical vireya hybrid, continues to put out a few blooms at a time. Some of these flowers are the same as the ones in my February post! They are such bright flowers, I can't believe I waited so long to try vireyas!



Finally, Aglaia odorata, or Chinese perfume plant, has tiny yellow flowers only 2 or 3 millimeters in diameter, but even this one tiny inflorescence emits a lovely perfume akin to citrus flowers (a little lighter and less cloying, but just as powerful). This is supposed to be one of those fool-proof, tough plants, but my small starter grew very slowly for me at first. It's just gotten established and started growing well in the last month or so. Hopefully the move doesn't upset it too much and it will continue to grow and produce more flowers! I really want this to become a nice, full specimen with enough flowers that I don't have to stick my nose right on top of the one cluster of tiny blooms (though it's still worth it). As with all my blooming plants this month, this is a houseplant, though it's happy to summer outdoors as long as you watch out for spider mites.


I can't wait to get back home so I can share pictures of my actual garden! (Though it might take a while to whip it back into some semblance of respectability.)

Until next time...

Growing ferns from spores, aka: fern geek-out

One of my biggest concerns in moving across the country back to Washington state is safely transporting my germinated fern spores. Possibly my most prized possession at the moment is a container of tiny Cyathea dregei gametophytes. Cyathea dregei is a tree fern native to South Africa that is reputedly hardy to 7 degrees Fahrenheit (probably very optimistic, but there are several plants growing at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Edinburgh). However, being the plant-crazed lunatic that I am, I tracked down a source (Silverhill Seeds) of spore for this very slow-growing tree fern and I am going to attempt to grow as many as I can so that I can someday test them in the Pacific Northwest and hopefully share them with as many people as I can. For more information on this tree fern, see Ian Barclay's old angelfire website, here. This has inspired me to talk a little about ferns and their propagation.

This next part may be more than you want to know. Feel free to skip it. There's no quiz, so I'll never know.

Plants have a life-cycle known as "alternation of generations" consisting of sporophytes and gametophytes. The sporophyte is the diploid (2 sets of chromosomes) stage that most of us think of as a plant, since in vascular plants this has become the larger, dominant stage. (In mosses and liverworts the reverse is true, the gametophyte is the dominant, photosynthetic stage and the sporophyte is entirely reliant on the gametophyte for support.) The sporophyte produces gametophytes through meiosis (halving of the chromosomes) so that the resulting gametophytes are haploid (1 set of chromosomes), which will then combine to create another sporophyte with 2 sets of chromosomes. In flowering plants and cone-bearing plants, the gametophytes have been reduced to pollen and ovaries, which combine to produce seeds. Inside the seeds are embryonic sporophytes which will grow into the plants we are familiar with.

Back to ferns. In ferns (and their relatives) the sporophyte is the familiar, ferny plant that we all know and love. These plants produce spores, which germinate into gametophytes. The gametophyte is a structure known as the prothallus, a separate, often heart-shaped organism that is fully self-supporting and photosynthetic (unlike in flowering and cone-bearing plants). The prothallus produces sperm and/or eggs, which then produce a sporophyte. The sporophyte grows out of the prothallus, which dies once the sporophyte is large enough to support itself.

Had enough technical gibberish? Let's get on to some practical matters.

Unfortunately this is a retroactive post, so no pictures of the process of  sowing the spores. To germinate my fern spores, I used an empty, clear plastic salad container. A sterile, humid environment is key to success.


First, I thoroughly washed my salad container and wiped it down with rubbing alcohol for good measure (technically the first step was eating the salad to obtain the empty container, but I suppose that could be considered optional). I put my soil (for these particular spores I used Fafard seed-starting mix) into a spare nursery pot with drainage holes in the bottom. Then I poured boiling water over the soil until it drained from the bottom. This is a precautionary step to sterilize the soil and help prevent mold or other unwanted organisms from destroying the fern spores. After the soil had cooled, I put a 2-inch layer (probably more than I need) of the sterilized mix into my empty, cleaned salad container. Then I made an attempt to sprinkle the spore evenly over the soil surface.
Oh, look, green stuff on my soil! Not exactly evenly distributed, though I figured out the label on the container lid was contributing to that. I removed it and the center seems to be greening up a bit. 


Finally, I misted the the spores lightly with distilled water (tap water contains algae and other organisms that may compete with or harm your spores), put the lid on the container and placed it under my growing lights (oh, and waited, mustn't forget the waiting). The spores were sown on December 29, 2013. I noticed germination about the third week of February, 2014. At this stage, you can't really tell if you have fern gametophytes or algae, as the thin green tinge over the soil surface could be the beginnings of either one. As they grew, however, I began to make out the characteristic heart-shaped prothallus of fern gametophytes (Rather upright with taller stalks than other spores I've germinated, maybe because they're tree ferns? Just kidding.) In the past week or so I've been able to clearly make out the shape of the gametophytes, but they are still only a few millimeters tall and wide.



These little guys will take some time to look like anything, much less like ferns (and even longer to look like TREE ferns, if they make it that far), but it's so fascinating to watch them develop. Maybe they'll have trunks by the time I'm 40.

To start your own ferns from spores, you can collect fern fronds with mature sori (the spore-bearing structures, usually on the underside of the fronds). Do your research first. Learn what type of fern it is and how to identify mature sori so that your spores are ready to be collected. You can place your collected fronds in an envelope or on a sheet of paper with the sori-side down and allow it to dry. Once it is dry, discard the frond. The spores will have fallen into the envelope or onto the piece of paper and are now ready to be sown.

I wouldn't recommend this as a passtime for the impatient, but if you don't mind waiting it is a cheap and fun way to grow your own ferns and you can get some really unusual and rare types that may not be readily available as full-grown plants.

Have you ever started ferns from spores? Do you have a favored method or materials?

Friday, March 14, 2014

Camellias, my favorite plant in (someone else's) garden...this week.

Today after work I stuck around for a little while to snap a few shots of my favorite camellias currently in bloom. They've been chomping at the bit for spring to arrive (as have we all) and many have lost a few flowers to the wintry cold snaps that have hit the southeast between periods of spring warmth. But the wonderful thing about camellias is that there are more buds waiting in the wings for the weather to change back to spring. The three cultivars in this post are my favorites blooming this week. I should apologize in advance for the quantity of pictures, but I just couldn't decide!

The first is Camellia japonica 'Black Magic'. This sultry beauty has dark, blood red flowers with a fringe of white hairs on the edge of the petals for extra definition. The petals are thick, glossy, and survive frosts down to at least 22 degrees Fahrenheit even when fully open (which is about 4 or 5 inches across). Hardy to zone 7, according to Camellia Forest Nursery, this camellia has a very upright habit in youth. The leaves are bright green and glossy with big teeth, providing good contrast to the flowers and an interesting texture. None of these images have been altered except a little cropping. I try to adjust the shutter speed and F-stop to provide the most accurate representation of the color in real life.

Gratuitous artsy shot

Yes, the petals really start out this dark! And the white fuzz on the edges give them a wonderful definition

As the petals expand, they gradually lighten to a deep red tinged with black. 


But these black flowers have a touch of gold in their hearts. 


 This next one is really unusual and beautiful. Camellia japonica 'Kujaku Tsubaki'. This fascinating cultivar is also sometimes known as the peacock camellia. Hardy to zone 7, this semi-weeping shrub grows to 12' x 8' bearing 3-4" long red flowers streaked and flecked with white, so that no two are alike. They do not open fully, rather having a hose-in-hose appearance. The long, narrow leaves add to the graceful effect. Open flowers are not as hardy as 'Black Magic', suffering some damage, but buds are produced copiously providing a good show regardless.

The beautiful specimen growing at Juniper Level Botanic Gardens






The white pattern on this flower actually looks like a peacock or maybe a phoenix  to me. See the long tail with the wings on either side? I should have peeled back the petals and bracts at the base of the flower to see if there was a head!


 Possibly my favorite of the three plants in this post is Camellia X 'Crimson Candles'. According to Camellia Forest Nursery, which introduced this cultivar, this is an F2 hybrid betwen Camellia reticulata and Camellia fraterna. It is hardy down to USDA zone 7 and grows to 12' tall by 8' wide. A few leaves were damaged by a cold spell of 8 or 9 degrees Fahrenheit in December or January (so bad that I already can't remember) but the buds were fine and the open flowers survived a dip near 20 degrees. The flowers do start out almost red, and lend themselves to the name 'Crimson Candles', but the fully open flowers are a dark pink. Just a warning, I will say over and over again that I don't like pink flowers, but that this or that is an exception. 'Crimson Candles' is one of those exceptions.

This specimen growing at Juniper Level Botanic Gardens has an exceptionally graceful form growing in the dense shade (in summer) of a black walnut. In sun this is a much fuller plant, but I prefer it this way.
It has a beautiful, layered appearance, rather than the impenetrable green blob typically seen (usually Camellia japonica and often because it's been sheared, also known as torture). 


I love the elegant simplicity of these flowers, as opposed to the dramatic opulence or flouncy ruffles of many camellias. Even the dark green leaves are elegant and neat.

I started with a good shot so I'm trying to end with one, too!
 My favorite plant in the garden this week is hosted by Danger Garden. Pop on over to see what she and other bloggers are excited about this week.

Until next time...

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Sending off the latest shipment

This is a delayed update on my shipping plants home ahead of my departure from North Carolina. It was a big box, and would have cost over $100 to ship by air, so I went with ground shipping and it's tying knots in my stomach. I could have just stuck them in the moving pod and they would have reached Washington in less time. But, they were already packed up, so...

At least I'll have pictures to remember them by if any don't make it.

They got together for one group picture. During the actual packing process, the Guzmania musaica, Fascicularia bicolor, and the three cacti all came down with a case of claustrophobia and decided to catch the next box. They're still waiting on the platform.

From left to right, before the scaredy cats jumped ship(ment). Back row: Guzmania musaica, Burbidgea scheizocheila
Middle row: Fascicularia bicolor, Quesnelia marmorata (get off of him, you little tillandia! You're going in the pod with the other plants!), Rhipsalidopsis gaertneri
Front row: Billbergia nutans, Orthophytum gurkenii, Schlumbergera truncata

Left to right. Back row: Vriesea 'Splenriet', Eucharis amazonica 'Christine'
Middle row: Schlumbergera x bridgesii (stayed with me), Calathea lanceolata
Front row: Chamaeranthemum venosum, Siderasis fuscata

My Blechnum gibbum didn't make the journey with this latest shipment. I just wanted to include this gratuitous shot of it with 3 new fronds! Twice the size of the sad old fronds it put out when I thought it was dying. And there's more on the way! I am thinking of shipping this one, too, though. 

And that concludes this edition of "My plants are running away from me." Tune in for the next installment (whenever that will be). 

Rex begonias: My favorite plant...this week


 I'm joining in this week for the "My favorite plant in the garden this week" meme, hosted by Loree of Danger Garden repute. Since I've seen a couple others cheat a bit with multiple favorites, I decided to forgo the agony of choosing just one plant and go with a group of plants: rex begonias. In the past I've attempted to rescue rex begonias from the big box stores when they show up for the holidays, but the cold and wet sales area, followed by the dark house they were brought to, quickly led to mildew and a slow declining death that I hated to watch. Also I am an overattentive parent and probably overwatered the already weakened plants. If I watered them, they dropped leaves, if I didn't water them, they dropped leaves! I couldn't win!

Several years passed and I starting getting that itch for these amazing foliage plants again. I remember they started showing up in gardening magazines as great plants for putting out in the garden during the summer and potting up to bring inside for winter. I still kept away. Then I found this company in Texas called Steve's Leaves. This is one of my favorite sources for indoor foliage plants, and they let some flowers sneak in as well. Reasonable prices for very good-sized plants, custom propagation for things that aren't currently available, and fantastic shipping and customer service. No, I haven't received any compensation from them for gushing over their fine qualities. I just think they are great!

Wait, what was I supposed to be talking about?....

Oh, that's right! My favorite plants this week are rex begonias. I have two rex hybrids from the breeding program at Steve's Leaves. These are vigorous crosses made with classic rex cultivars and other rhizomatous begonias. I've been amazed at how well they have survived the dry winter in a drafty house in North Carolina. Their next challenge, after moving 3,000 miles and enjoying summer in the PNW, will be to survive the dark winters of Washington State.

My two rexes: 'Old Blue' is on the left and 'Starry Nights' is on the right. Oops, sorry for the rhyme. 
'Starry Nights' is a tightly clumping plant that holds it's charcoal and silver leaves upright. Very neat and tidy, perfect for obsessive compulsive gardeners (of which I know none). 

It did slow down a bit earlier in winter with smaller, less intensely-colored leaves, but never had the ugly, half-dead look that some get.

With days lengthening, it is responding quickly with deeper-colored, full-sized leaves 4-6 inches long



When I bought them, I thought for sure that 'Starry Nights', with it's flashy leaves and tidy growth habit, would be my favorite, but 'Old Blue' more than holds its own, sometimes pulling ahead in their competition for my affections. 'Old Blue' has a more sprawling habit, which you can see with the rhizome creeping over the edge of the pot in the center of the picture below. It also has larger leaves, at least up to 7", probably longer in summer with better humidity. The sprawling habit annoyed me a bit at first, but it has come to charm me instead, and the myriad, subtle variations in color make this a fantastic begonia. No two leaves are alike. Steve's Leaves might have named it 'Snowflake' instead.
I love this picture because it captures most of the many shades of 'Old Blue'. Depending on the light and temperature during the development of a leaf, the silver band may take up most of the leaf, be solid or more jagged, or be almost absent. Each leaf has a slightly different overlaying shimmer from emerald (bottom center) through shades of blue, to amethyst (top right)

This leaf has a purple sheen, which is stronger in real life. Even with digital cameras as good as they are now, some things just don't capture well. 

The more typical charcoal-green and silver leaves with a blue cast, but see how different the silver band is?

A very wide and solid band with the typical colors.

Some leaves barely have any silver on them, but that's ok. That big one on the right has the best blue sheen of all of them (which you can't really see because it's a bad picture and you'll just have to take my dubious word for it). 
The best part about these rexes, besides the fact that they are gorgeous, is that they are vigorous and low maintenance. Basically wait until the soil is bone dry, water them, and leave them alone until they dry out again. This happens once or twice a week for me (less often in PNW winters), but they are in a pretty bright room and are probably feeling a little cramped in their 3" pots. Another great feature, which has been a deal breaker for me with other begonias, is that their leaves don't curl under in low humidity. 'Old Blue' does a little, but not enough to make it unattractive, unlike my Begonia soli-mutata which ended up looking like a very rumpled, ugly Persian rug before I gave it away. My boss took it home. I guess he likes that kind of thing.

So there they are, ladybugs and gentlegerms. I've found at least two rex begonias that will grow for me. I've been perusing the online catalog at Steve's Leaves and noticed a few new temptations. If I can find a square inch of space, I may have to make another order.

Until next time...

Sunday, March 2, 2014

A visit to the J.C. Raulston Arboretum

On Saturday, I decided to get out of the house for a little while and visit the J. C. Raulston Arboretum in Raleigh, NC. I've been there a few times now, but not for several months. This past winter has been harder than most, and it was interesting to see what made it through the nasty weather and what was damaged by the cold.

Camellia japonica 'Professor Sargent'. When educators pull rank, the result can be a bit bloody.

A beautiful planting of daffodils under Cornus mas, backed by blue sky. So very Spring!
The spiny foliage of Osmanthus 'Jim Porter' was untouched by Winter's trials. I have a growing interest in this genus and will be adding this one, along with many others, to my future garden.
Why does no one talk about the attractive white lenticels on the bark of Stachyurus praecox?

The stiff, hanging racemes still have a ways to go before the flowers open.

I've been reading about Hakea microcarpa lately, but after seeing one in person I realized how little justice descriptions really do it! The leaves are indeed like needles, sharp ones! This is a feature I intend to utilize to full effect against the deer at my parents' house. It also has a lovely texture and contrast between the green leaves and cinnamon-colored stems. Too bad I missed seeing the vanilla-scented, white flowers.

Pittosporum tobira 'Tall 'N Tough', another plant I had read about recently, was surprisingly beautiful. I wasn't sure I would like a plain green Japanese pittosporum after seeing some of the fantastic variegated forms, but this was a very high-quality, glossy, deep blue-green. 

This specimen of 'Tall 'N Tough' was at least 8 feet tall. I love the form and the shape of the leaves. The bluish shine of the leaves stopped me in my tracks, though it may have looked more impressive because so much of the Raleigh area still has it's winter look. Dead and brown isn't my favorite color scheme. I can't wait to return to The Evergreen State!

This clump of Aspidistra elatior 'Asahi' was the only one I saw without burnt tips. On all others the white tips had turned brown from the cold. I credit this ones appearance to the overhead protection of the dense mahonia and other evergreens growing overhead. Also a testament to the ability of Aspidistras to grow in super-dense shade!

Araucaria angustifolia has a lighter, bluer coloration and a slightly softer appearance than the more familiar monkey puzzle tree, Araucaria araucana

The genus name of this fascinating plant may send shudders down the spines of gardeners in the south, but Smilax nana is a tiny and architecturally fascinating plant. It is roughly 6 inches tall and appears to spread rather slowly, forming a clump rather than a rampant, skin-shredding patch of brambles.

Isn't that pattern amazing? Actually, if you cross your eyes it looks kind of like a bit of crumpled chicken wire, so I guess it would be pretty easy to have one of these in your own garden. 

Rhodoleia 'Takeshitasei' has thicker, darker green leaves than Rhodoleia henryi. A quick internet search brought up 7 results. It must be a very new cultivar or hybrid. I'll be keeping an eye out for this one, though it may be a few years.

This bamboo dragon looks a little disoriented after being moved from the big lawn to it's new home in the Asian garden. Let's hope it doesn't accidentally light someone on fire!

Pittosporum tobira 'Kansai Sunburst' took a little damage from the two 7-9 F episodes this winter, but overall doesn't look too bad. A specimen growing in shade at Juniper Level Botanic Gardens has an almost imperceptible amount of browning. This seems to be one of the toughest variegated Japanese pittosporums available.

Even though I remembered it after reading the label, I thought at first that this was a crepe myrtle. However, this fantastic, silver-white bark belongs to Cornus wilsoniana

In fall the bark has more of the darker grey coloration before it exfoliates to display this wintry white.

The final find of this foray was a fabulously full, floriferous, and fragrant (sorry for all the F-words) cultivar of Daphne odora called 'Zuiko Nishiki'. This is by far the densest specimen of Daphne odora that I have ever seen. It is growing in a slightly shaded area of the scree garden (more shade in the summer), perhaps to provide better drainage during the summer rains. 

The scent was a little sharper, more lemony, than other winter daphnes I have smelled. I hope my parents are ok with these in their garden, because they're going to get at least one! Luckily this one seems to have hit the market already, unlike that Rhodoleia. 
I confess to having several hundred pictures of the J.C. Raulston Arboretum and Juniper Level Botanic Gardens locked away on my hard drive waiting to be posted to some form of social media. I took so many pictures that editing and renaming them all became a monumental task and they just haven't made it to my Facebook albums or Pinterest account yet. I should probably have an account on something like Shutterfly or Photobucket, but I haven't gotten around to it yet. Now that I have a blog, I plan to share some of the highlights of both gardens...one of these days.
Thanks so much for taking the time to leave a comment! I love hearing what readers think and answering questions. I also welcome suggestions for improvement!