Abies balsamea 'Nana'

Abies balsamea 'Nana'

Monday, February 23, 2015

Pictures from home

Where has the week gone? It seems to have flown by, at least until I got sick and then it slowed to a foggy grind. My parents took advantage of the nice weather last weekend and got out in the yard. They were kind enough to take some pictures to remind me that spring does come eventually, although it's off to an early start in the Pacific Northwest. I'm sorry for the blurriness in some of the pictures. My mother does a pretty good job, usually, but she had to snap these shots fairly quickly so she could get back to work cleaning up the yard. Right, Mom?

This patch of Crocus tommassinianus makes me smile. There are lots of these, along with Crocus 'Twilight' and 'Prince Claus' in the bed within the circular driveway. The deer almost always munch on them to some degree. I didn't ask how the other crocus looked. It's enough that this one patch is untouched, for now. The big hybrids like 'Twilight' are especially susceptible to deer browse. Before I planted those, they hardly ever bothered the much smaller 'Prince Claus'. Luckily they don't seem to like tommies much either. Species and small hybrids, that's the way to go in a deer resistant garden! The crocus pairs especially well with the bright golden-green moss that has established itself in the bed. Someday I or my parents will have to remember to dig up the crocus and spread them out a bit. I did it with a few clumps that were pushing the new corms out of the soil, but not all of them.

I planted Galanthus in various spots a few years ago and have never been home at the right time to see them bloom. It's nice to see them doing so well. Galanthus are such an elegant flower and one of my favorite early spring bulbs. I like the slightly glaucous foliage, too. I haven't asked how these have fared against the deer, either but, since I think this is one of the larger patches, I think they may actually be leaving them alone...for the most part...at least for now. Knock on wood. Deer are creatures of habit but, like people, can suddenly decide to try something new.

My two Cyclamen coum from the spring plant sale at Winterthur are blooming. I forget which vendor I bought these from at the sale. I can see the first needs some slug bait around it. I should probably move it to a better spot. This location, a couple feet from the driveway in gravelly clay soil at the base of a Douglas fir, may be too challenging even for these lovers of dry shade. Or perhaps, like the Cyclamen hederifolium 5 or 6 feet away, it just needs a few years to really get established. It has only been a little over a year, after all. I hope it makes it. I picked this one because it has almost entirely silver leaves.

My second Cyclamen coum was selected because it has more green and I wanted the resulting seedlings between the two selections to have a range of green and silver patterns. I'm pretty sure the seedlings around the plant now are just from the seed pods it had when I planted it. This plant gets a bit more light and more water than the first plant, which you can tell by the salal, moss, and dandelion seedlings encroaching on it. I'm just imagining someday when these have sown all over the bed their in and make a delightful spring show of delicate pink flowers, though it's the leaves I really like.

A word to the wise gardener plagued by deer. Not all hellebores are deer resistant. Like so many other plants, they seem to have lost whatever made them deer resistant through human breeding efforts to make them lusher and less toxic. Where are the breeders making spiny, hard-to-chew, highly toxic plants for deer resistant landscapes? Oh, right. Most people don't want those traits, especially that last one. Unfortunately, it means that the deer delight in biting off most of the hellebore flowers, sometimes eating them, but more often scattering them about like demented flower girls set loose at a wedding. Since my parents' garden only had one hellebore until this past year, I'm hoping that the increased numbers will improve the likelihood of seeing their blooms without having to plant them inside cages like the one below. It's possible that some of the seedlings I planted will be less palatable and will be left alone or that the deer will eventually learn to recognize this relatively new plant as something gross without having to taste it. Deer do learn, though usually, like those flower girls, they prefer to learn bad habits.

 But there is hope. This hellebore isn't caged. It was hidden behind the Hakonechloa, and judging by the scattered stems the grass has been tidied up in preparation for spring. This could be enough to hide it from the deer, if only for a short while. I'm going to have to teach my mother to lift up the flowers and take pictures of the insides, too. Maybe if I direct her to some of the blogs I read she'll get the idea.

One of my parents' projects that day was uncovering the plants they had so diligently protected during those cold snaps this winter. Rhododendron rex made it through with only minimal damage. I'm more worried about it getting sufficient water in its current location. It's an odd spot where the soil is bone dry in summer just under the trees, but there's a seepage area just a few feet away, with a rather clear demarcation between the two. Hopefully my father can find the time to install the irrigation line he'd like to run out to the line of shrubs that includes this rhody.

I've heard a few stories this winter about Rhododendron 'Medusa' trying to bloom whenever there was a warm stretch. Supposedly it had quite a few blooms out right before I visited in January, but when I arrived I saw no evidence of blooms. I think my mother took issue with my doubt, so here is proof. With this kind of behavior, 'Medusa' may be more suited to southern Oregon and Northern California where cold snaps are less common. I'm going to be watching this plant closely over the years (or as close as I can) to evaluate its spring bloom show. If too many blooms try to open in winter only to be killed by frosts, the spring bloom may not be very impressive. That would be a shame, because I absolutely love the pendant, orange and red flowers.

I think this is Rhododendron 'Gartendirektor Glocker' but it could be 'Kimberly'. I had trouble remembering which was which before I moved away and didn't have enough time to fix them in my memory. This one, unsurprisingly, handled winter without a whimper. What really amazes me about this picture is the little green shoots you can see behind and to the left of the rhody, partially buried by the Douglas fir branches. That is Hemiboea subcapitata, a hardy gesneriad that forms a dense ground cover of thick, glossy leaves. I'm honestly astounded that it is coming up this early, and slightly surprised that it came up at all. Plant Delights rates this plant as hardy to USDA zone 6b, but in my experience they are somewhat generous in their hardiness ratings to begin with, and a PNW winter is very different from a North Carolina winter. I'm sure the mild winter and early spring are what allowed it to come up this early, and it is a blessing because this beautiful ground cover will have more time to become established and spread.

My two non-native mahonias are still showing off their winter color. I don't think these really needed to be protected this winter, but better safe than sorry given that they were planted late and were transplants from North Carolina. Again, big differences between a PNW winter and a North Carolina winter. Next winter I'll tell the folks they don't have to worry about these two plants, and then we'll really see what their full winter color is like.

First is an unknown seedling from a friend at Plant Delights. This one has lovely form and bright green summer foliage. With cooler temperatures the entire plant takes on reddish hues. I'm afraid it doesn't show up that well against the mulch we selected, though it's very nice in the right light. I believe I may see a seedling Vaccinium parvifolium (red huckleberry) just behind and to the right of it. Or it could be some little creeping weed. It's hard to tell in this picture. I'll hope for the huckleberry.

My second mahonia is a Mahonia 'Indianola Silver' seedling. It immediately attained the status of being one of my most treasured plants when I rescued it from the discards that were being trialed at Plant Delights. In summer the leaves are a gorgeous silvery sea green. In winter, lavender platinum coats the outer leaves, leaving the summer color exposed in the interior of the plant. It was in the discard pile because it looked terrible after a very sharp drop in temperature from well over freezing to around 8F in just one night, growing in full sun conditions with no overhead frost protection afforded by a tree canopy. In fact, I think it was 2 or 3 such harsh freezes. The poor thing was almost completely defoliated and had some tip dieback, but I wanted to see how it fared in the Pacific Northwest. After all, 'Indianola Silver' originated in Dan Hinkley's garden in Indianola, WA. A few months after moving it home to Washington, this plant sent out multiple new branches and now looks even better than it did before. Of course, the real test will come when next my parents' garden experiences a hard winter, which certainly wasn't this year. But I think my little mahonia will perform better in its new home, with some overhead protection from the Douglas firs and a much smaller risk of the kinds of extreme drops in temperature that did it in in North Carolina.

Rhododendron campanulatum ssp. aeruginosum is absolutely fine after winter, of which I had no doubt. Some of the things I found under protection when I went home in January really did surprise me. The effort would have been better spent on other plants that were more likely to be damaged. The blue color of last years new growth is long gone, but soon enough it will appear again with the new growth this spring.

Rhododendron roxieanum var. oreonastes, also looking good. I love the texture of this shrub. I can't wait to visit home again so I can try to detect the resinous scent that the foliage reportedly gives off.

Rhododendron faithiae, safe and sound inside its protective barrier. The leaves are big and leathery enough that I don't think the deer would bother it, but it's less than a foot tall yet and I've been wrong before. Best to give it a chance to grow up a bit before putting it to the test. Besides eating it, at this size they could simply step on it and do major damage. It wouldn't be the first time!

A happy surprise, at least one of my three Embothrium coccineum, or Chilean flame trees, appears to have survived the winter. At least it still has some green leaves. We'll know for sure if it starts growing this spring. I need to ask my parents if the other two are alive, as well. I planted them in three very different locations in the hopes that at least one would survive. Of course, with these trees, merely surviving the first winter may not mean much. If they don't like where they are, they may still sit there and do nothing or simply croak. If they are happy, they'll grow like gangbusters, though that may take another year. Crossing my fingers!

Podocarpus alpina 'Blue Gem' asks, "What winter?" It suffered more from the heat last summer. Right after I planted it, a heat wave hit and any new growth that touched the mulch crisped up. That super soft new growth that it had from being pampered in the nursery just couldn't take it. Hopefully that won't be a problem this summer. I'm also worried about the deer trampling this low-growing conifer. At least podocarps can resprout from old wood, unlike most conifers.

My mother is enamored with these Berberis x stenophylla 'Corallina Compacta'. I must admit she did a good job selecting these tiny, armored beasties. The deer leave them alone and they are tough and drought tolerant. I like their character and shape, the scattering of red among the evergreen foliage in winter, the deep red new growth, and the bright (and I do mean bright) orange flowers in spring.

I'm very happy that my two Prostanthera cuneata survived the winter unprotected. I got one from Xera Plants and one from Far Reaches last summer. As far as I know, neither was protected this winter and they are both totally untouched. Evergreen, wonderfully mint-scented, and bearing interesting and beautiful flowers in summer, these are one of my favorite shrubs. They seem quite heat and drought tolerant, too. Just ignore that baby dandelion by the rock, ok?

With winter barely having occurred and spring off to an early, warm start, Dracunculus vulgaris is rising early. Good thing my parents noticed and scattered some slug bait to protect the tender shoot. I'm sure they are eager to enjoy the...er...fragrant bloom. I really do need to dig that thing out and move it away from the house. What can I say? The mistakes of youth. Besides, when I planted it I didn't really have anywhere else to put it. Now I think it will do nicely in the high shade of the new rhododendron border we planted last summer. The bloom will last longer there than on the hot western side of the house. Good plan, right?

Ah, branch clean up. It's a never ending job when you live in the Pacific Northwest surrounded by conifers, in this case Douglas firs. I think I'll take that over frozen nose hairs and shoveling snow, thank you.

February is almost over and spring is fast approaching. Things are looking up, in more ways than one. I hope you are getting out in the garden preparing for spring or, for those of you still socked in my snow and cold, I hope you are happily leafing through seed and plant catalogs or visiting a local greenhouse or conservatory.

Friday, February 13, 2015

My favorite plant this week is...

Continuing my houseplant review, I'm highlighting the plant that inspired me to finally snap some pictures and write about them: Quesnelia marmorata. It's been quite a while since I joined Danger Garden in the favorite plant meme, so I'm extra happy to have found this surprise. I was going through the process of a thorough watering (even including some fertilizer for my starved plants) when I noticed that this bromeliad was leaning over yet again. It was a bit unstable from repotting it last summer and then the move, but I thought I had steadied it. Why did it keep leaning over? I removed the tillandsias ringing the base of the plant and discovered a pup pushing up out of the potting mix! I'm so glad I didn't damage it trying to force the main plant upright!

Isn't it an adorable little nub? I'm looking forward to watching it grow.
Quesnelia marmorata is commonly known as Grecian urn for its elegant, narrow vase shape. Its classification is of some interest. It really looks nothing like the other species in the genus, though floral characteristics clearly place it with other Quesnelia species. It has formerly been placed in both the genus Aechmea and Billbergia, sharing floral characteristics with both genera. It also superficially resembles Aechmea fasciata in leaf color and billbergias in the narrow, tubular plant form. Because it is so unique and readily identifiable, it was long identified by species first, rather than keying it out to the genus and then the species. Perhaps if someone had done that sooner they could have avoided some confusion.

The leaves are marbled grey and green. Strong light (not hot afternoon sun) adds purple shades to the mix. I fell in love with this bromeliad as a child looking through my father's houseplant books from the 60's and 70's. In this case, it was Alfred B. Graf's Exotic Houseplants Illustrated (a source of many long-term plant crushes). The black and white pictures really emphasized the patterned leaves and form of plants like Quesnelia marmorata. It was years before I braved the world of mail-order plants, and longer before I thought to look specifically for this bromeliad. A few years ago I found Seabreeze Nurseries, in Florida, and ordered a Quesnelia marmorata, Vriesea 'Splenriet', and Orthophytum gurkenii. The last suffered from cold during shipping when I moved from North Carolina and I decided to start over with a healthy one someday. The vriesea is healthy enough, but has been sunburned a few too many times and has looked better. The quesnelia just keeps looking gorgeous, though. It's lost a leaf or two, it's gained a couple leaves, but it always looks great. And now I'll have twice the beauty!

Quesnelia marmorata is native to Brazil, where it grows on trees. New growths are produced on 3 to 6 inch rhizomes, which can make it a bit of a challenge in containers, especially since new growths often grow at an angle from the parent plant, or (as is my case) push the parent plant at an angle. A well-grown, multi-growth specimen is a beautiful sight, though. Personally, I like that the growths are spaced a bit, as it makes a more open feeling and allows you to appreciate each individual "urn". Of course, it can still become a very full specimen, in which case I would divide it to regain the more open look and spread the wealth among friends. Wouldn't that be a wonderful problem to have? Too much Quesnelia marmorata?

Grecian urn is an easy plant to care for. Give it bright light to filtered sun, avoid hot afternoon sun. This bromeliad needs a potting medium that drains very quickly. I grow mine in a mix of coarse orchid bark and medium Perlite. In winter I water once a week and keep only a little water in the central cup formed by the leaves. In summer I water every 2 or 3 days and keep the cup about half-full with water. As with most bromeliads, fertilizer requirements are low. I give it a bit of balanced fertilizer maybe once a month. My medium is probably far more open than it really needs to be. A cactus mix would work well and would require less-frequent watering than what I've used, reducing maintenance in summer. General wisdom holds that it is better to grow these bromeliads "hard," meaning to tend towards under-watering and under-fertilizing rather than pampering them. Too much water and fertilizer can lead to floppy growth, which would ruin the graceful, upright form. I find this a little funny, because the cultivar 'Tim Plowman' is probably more popular than the species because of its curled leaves. I suppose there is a difference between curled and floppy, but I still prefer the graceful elegance of the regular species.

Winter hasn't loosened its grip here in Wisconsin. In fact, we're expecting nights below 0F in the next week. Discoveries like the new growth on my quesnelia make me think of spring though, and remind me that winter doesn't last forever.

Be sure to check in at Danger Garden at the end of the month for the favorite plant review. Happy gardening!
Sorry for the blurry picture. I would have uploaded a better one but it was dark by the time I noticed how blurry it was.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Houseplant review

When I first moved into my current apartment I placed many plants away from windows. I had almost always kept my plants close to light, be it natural or artificial, but my apartment seemed so bright that I decided to be take a slightly more "interior design" approach to my plant arrangements. For months it seemed to be working just fine. But, as the days grew shorter and the angle of the sun grew less, I started noticing definite signs of decline. I started moving plants gradually, eking out just a bit more room near a window or under my lights for another refuge from the darkness. Finally, a couple weeks ago, I took pity on the last of the down-trodden and moved all of my plants to brighter areas. It helps that I've discarded some of my plants over the course of the winter. My small amorphophallus collection were some of the first to go. Potting soil given given by a friend turned out to have a high level of mineral deposits (and who knows what else), that I'm sure contributed to their decline. Also cold, dry air, and finally the darkening days as autumn progressed. Now, since amorphophallus are deciduous, they may have simply been going dormant. However, the way they were declining looked less like natural dormancy and more like dying. There is a difference. And I've never been a fan of houseplants that go dormant. So either way, these freebies were not hard to cull from my collection.

Others followed, some because they declined to a point that it wasn't worth my time to baby them, more recently for another reason which I will share when the time comes. I'm still looking around with a critical eye, trying to reduce my collection, but it's reached the point where I'm down to things that have sentimental value or are potentially hard to replace (either because they are hard to locate or are slow growing and I don't want to start over again).

So here I will share some of the plants that are doing really well for me and some that are doing not so well. I may be looking for good homes for some of these plants in a couple months, so that I can claim propagation material at a later date.

Begonia 'Starry Night' is one of the first begonias that I've had success with, my previous experience being mostly comprised of rex begonias purchased from big box stores that always got mildewy and dwindled to nothing before spring came around to revive them, if death wasn't already inevitable from their treatment at the store. With all the beauty of a rex begonia and none of the fussiness, 'Starry Night' asks only for bright indirect light and water when the soil is dry. I've even found it wilting several times and I simply water and it comes back just fine. Granted, if I gave the poor, root-bound thing a bigger home it wouldn't wilt so suddenly. 'Starry Night' was down to only about a half dozen leaves when I moved it from my dark bedroom to a northeast facing window. Now it's bursting with new growth. The dark areas are a charcoal to very dark green color, while the silver areas are a true, glittering silver. Definitely a worthy houseplant.

Siderasis fuscata, commonly called brown spiderwort (or the kitty plant, by some acquaintances) has dark green leaves striped greenish silver, with bright fuchsia reverses. The entire leaf surface is covered in soft, red hairs. This is one tough plant. You can let it go dry to wilting before watering and it comes back just fine, though I don't recommend letting it wilt regularly. I water it about once every 1-2 weeks and it's in a very open, fast-draining mix in a clay pot. A heavier potting mix and plastic pot would make it even more low-maintenance. As a bonus, this beautiful foliage plant also bears triangular purple spiderwort flowers amid the leaves in random flushes. This is one of the few plants that didn't show any signs of decline in the dark bedroom, though it did stop growing at any visible rate after producing leaves that were lankier and less fuzzy than normal. I'm sure it's happier to get a decent amount of light now. I never want to be without one of these in my collection.

Chamaeranthemum venosum is a cute little member of the Acanthaceae with white veins across its very green leaves. The flowers aren't much to write home about, though the seed pods will launch the seeds for several feet and wake light sleepers just as they are drifting off to sleep. It went on a blooming kick this summer, then put out a bit of growth which I snipped off and rooted to make the plant fuller. This plant started declining in my bedroom. It took longer to show signs, and it was a very slow decline, but I did finally move it into more light with the others. The cuttings that I stuck at the end of summer just barely had the strength to survive. I'm hoping to start seeing growth on it again with the lengthening days. If not, I have lots of seedlings, which you'll see later.

I am slightly obsesses with mottled-leaf Phalaenopsis orchids. All but one of these are species, the one that isn't is a primary hybrid (the offspring of a cross between two species). I now have six of these beauties, and the one on the top right is going to bloom! Some orchid growers remove the flower spike on a seedling blooming for the first time, to force the plant to direct more energy towards growth. This may be the smarter thing to do, but I couldn't help myself. These plants have been in my big northeast window the entire time. Their only problem is low humidity in winter. I water them once a week by giving them a good drenching, then mist them once or twice during the week. The misting is not to raise humidity. I have a humidifier for that. It's more of a light watering to tide them over until the next heavy watering. I've got some leaves that are growing a bit cupped from the really dry periods this winter, both because of the heat blasting to keep the apartment warm and from some laziness on my part regarding watering. Still, these lovely orchids are beautiful in or out of bloom and really aren't that difficult as houseplants provided they have at least bright indirect light and humidity preferably no less than 50%.

Most of my vireya rhododendrons are on a light shelf enclosed with a shower curtain to raise humidity. Rhododendron mendumiae not only has spent the whole winter outside of the humid enclosure, it didn't even fuss in my dark bedroom. However, it also didn't grow at all, so it gets to live in the northeast window with most of my plants. I'm very impressed with this little rhododendron so far. I've only had it since last May. It's grown slowly so far, but it didn't lose any leaves or even show any damage like other plants did in the dark and dry. I can't wait to see the flowers, which can be up to four inches across, dwarfing the leaves and bearing a strong, sweet scent. Given its performance this winter, I have great expectations for this little vireya.

Rhododendron rushforthii has not handled winter as well. The dark room and dry air weakened it and several leaves have been turning brown which should have stayed green for much longer. With the humidifier running nearby and being placed in better light, I am hoping to see it reverse course and start putting out some new growth soon. It is such a beautiful light silvery blue color that I won't give up on it until I've run out of options and it's run out of leaves. You can see what the leaves are supposed to look like (and understand why I'm not willing to give up on it) in this post.

I'll stop there for now. I have a lot more to show, but am lacking in time at the moment. More stalwart, stellar, and not-so-super houseplants in my next post.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Plant Vendors Reach New Lows, A Rant

Some of you may know that I am a stickler when it comes to plant names. One of the hazards of being a "type A" plant geek and aspiring garden curator. More than that, I don't like people or practices that try to trick customers.

Recently I came across a pair of listings for lily bulbs on the website of a plant vendor who shall remain nameless. It's the kind of vendor you get five catalogs from, all under different names but with identical, or nearly identical offerings from the same supplier. You know the type, bearing a coupon for some percent or amount discounted if you spend so much money. I've become somewhat inured to the failings of these types of companies to list real cultivar names and their inappropriate use of trademarks and other marketing names. These listings, however, sunk to new lows.

Flinching from the pain of seeing a registered trademark in single quotes (a big no-no in plant names and misinformation besides), I saw two identical pictures, flipped horizontally and cropped slightly differently, of the same lily being sold under two different names. Clicking on "more details", I saw that the botanical name was listed as "Lilium oriental." At least they got the genus right, even if it isn't in italics. One had just the bogus binomial while the other continued to sport the criminal registered trademark "cultivar" name.

Continuing to read through the descriptions, I noticed that even those were practically identical. The only notable difference being that one of the lilies being sold was shorter than the other. This is a feat that can be achieved through the use of plant growth regulators, chemicals that are applied to many plants, usually to make them more compact and bushier. Given that the photos were literally mirror images of each other, I think it safe to assume these are the same plants. One has simply been treated so that it grows shorter. What really gets me about these kinds of shady dealings is that the unsuspecting customers have no idea that they may be buying the same thing twice. By the second year, the plant growth regulators will have worn off and there will be absolutely no difference between the two lilies. At least the shorter one is slightly cheaper than the full-sized version. If you wanted to save some money but wanted the taller version, you could just buy the cheaper short one and wait until the next growing season. Presto!

Out of curiosity, I asked my friend TESS (Trademark Electronic Search System), who works at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, if the name was even actually a registered trademark. Turns out this company is even lying about that. I wonder what kind of trouble this company could get into for using a registered trademark owned by another company?

Is it that hard for a company like this to do a little bit of research to make sure they are using plant names correctly? I wish it was only the blame of cheating money-makers, but uncaring consumers are just as much to blame. If you don't want to fall prey to these underhanded attempts to steal your money through false advertising, please educate yourselves and do some research. Understanding the difference between scientific names, cultivars, and marketing names (trademarked or otherwise) can help you save yourself from buying the same thing twice and will help you in your quests for those cool plants you're dying to track down, without becoming a victim to schemes like this one. Bad enough that these companies frequently use bogus names to try to sell the same thing they offered in previous years or in a different catalog. Trying to pass off the same plant, in the same year, on the same website, as two different varieties just because one is treated to grow shorter really is sinking to a new low!

I'd love to blow the whistle and warn my fellow gardeners about this company, but I'd rather avoid any potential legal situations. I hope this tale inspires some of you to become more informed so you can recognize rip-offs like this one.

And that's my rant. For returning with a tirade after several weeks of silence, please accept this gratuitous photo as an apology. I'm going to try to shake off my winter lethargy to find some interesting things to post about more frequently. Since everything outside is buried in snow, I might try to go back to my task of sorting through photos of past garden adventures. I'm so ready for spring.

Corylopsis 'Winterthur' (originally posted as C. glabrescens 'Winterthur', my bad) with Metasequoia glyptostroboides in the background, at Longwood Gardens.
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