Saturday, February 7, 2009

Cissus quadrangularis and Haworthia faciata...they have survived 35 years in my parent's house

Both of these plants come from desert areas; they've evolved to survive under tough conditions. I deserted (sic) them at my Mom and Dad's house 3 decades ago and they seem like they're pretty happy. Both of my parents are great with plants so they haven't been suffering but many of us have kept indoor plants we didn't actually choose for over 30 years?!

I turned 18 years old in May of 1970 so I was more or less an adult for the entire decade. It was an interesting period. Walt Disney had taught us to revere Nature and mistrust authority. Personally I went more down the Nature road; I was suspicious then and to this day retain a certain cynicism regarding those in charge. As time has passed I have realized though, that most people are at least partly motivated by a desire to do the right thing. By and large the problems of the world aren't caused by evil persons doing evil deeds; they result from an imbalance between good intentions, circumstances, and self-interest. While maintaining intellectual sympathy with the revolution, I spent my time backpacking, studying nature, and gardening. I was true to Walt in my own way.

Plants were, for me, what postage stamps had been for generations before me: a portal through which I could transport myself to exotic locations around the world. I could grow in my room the same plants the lived in the Amazonian rain forest, the deserts of North Africa, the otherworldly cloud forests of South America. Plants from everywhere: from Madagascar, from mountain passes in the Pyrenees, from the slopes of volcanoes in Hawaii. At the same time I could, with a clean conscience, yield to that ubiquitous human flaw, covetousness. Acquiring, collecting, plants must be a good thing. Lust, greed, envy, pride....surely those deadly sins didn't gain a toehold in me through my plants!!?? I hope. Anyway, I built a nice collection of succulents; some are with me still, others have been given away or died, and a few still survive in the plant window of my Mother and father's house. I have, from time to time, been tempted to take cuttings or divisions and grow them in Adelphi but something always seems to stop me. Some day I will do it but not today.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Bulbine natalensis

Of course it's in the Asphodelaceac; look at it! It looks like King's Spear, Asphodeline lutea. As the specific epithet implies, this one is from Natal, or in modern geographic terms, KwaZulu-Natal Province in South Africa. Like many Southern Hemisphere plants, it flowers during our winter. We run three different temperature houses in the winter at the USNA: a cool house that stays just above freezing; a warm house that hovers around 80F; and this house that is in between. There is always action in the warm house, not so much here since the chrysanthemums for the Bonsai exhibit were culled and cut back, but spring is coming and it comes more quickly to a heated greenhouse.

I can remember my first Bulbine. I bought it from Karen Rexrode when she owned and operated Windy Hill Plant Farm in Aldie, Virgina. I know many of us in the Washington area frequented Windy Hill; I can look around my garden and see plants that came from there. or I can look at my windowsill and see the Bulbine. Of course Karen is still around doing many things including photography, but I miss her Nursery.

At the Arboretum the provenance, or authenticated history, of a plant is of critical importance; a plant with no provenance is essentially useless. If it's incredibly wonderful and heretofore unknown we like it anyway. Otherwise we prefer to have plants of unknown provenance grown in Public Gardens without scientific missions. Well.....most of us don't have such strict requirements for our personal gardens, but we do like to know the history of our plants and often they have a sentimental provenance Looking out my front window I see a bi-color Azalea that George Waters gave me, a propagation from a seedling selection he made. I see an Agave from Ed Aldrich and two large Ericas grown from 2"pots that I bought from Rock Spray Nursery many years ago at their only appearance at the Philadelphia Flower Show. I know in the back garden I have plants from my grandmother, and the Stapelia gigantea hanging on a post in the picture window was given to me by Hildreth from Bittersweet Hill Nurseries. I suppose in some sense the history of our plants is as important to us as the provenance of the Collections at the Arboretum.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Fraxinus insularis from China, Jasminum et alia ex Azerbaijan, and Cocculus carolinia+ from the Fern Valley trip to Alabama: the seeds are germinating

National Arboretum staff went in all directions collecting seed, last year. germination is happening and the plants are growing. Stefan Lura, plant records botanist, went to Azerbaijan and brought back an interesting and varied collection many of which have already germinated. The pictures above show a flat of his seedling pots, small transplants, and a random selection of labels from his material. The labels are intriguing; I certainly know Jasminum fruticans, but the rest....? And Ziziphora biebersteiniana, Chamaenerion stevenii, there are dozens more! Stefan showed me a Marrubium, horehound, that smells like sheep. The Campanulas from the cliff face are germinating. It's exciting.

Chris Carley went to China and last month, a group of us spent some considerable time cleaning and assayng Fraxinus seed from the NACPEC (North American China Plant Exploration Consortium) collection trip. Protocols for germination suggested several months of warm stratification, followed by cold and, if necessary, repeating the cycle. Well Fraxinus insularis, over the past week and still in warm stratification, has largely germinated. Very cool. There is, of course, a lot of interest in Ashes (Fraxinus) because of the looming presence of Emerald Ash Borer.

The Native Plant staff went on two significant trips last year; we targeted Shortia galacifolia in South and North Carolina early summer. Hundreds of Shortia seeds have germinated and the plants are growing. We got a few other things on that trip but it was a bit early for most plants. Last week I saw what I think is a seedling of Wood Betony, Pedicularis. This is a beautiful plant and, interestingly, a semi-parasite. Good term.....Useful. We are just now beginning to get germination in some of the seeds from the fall trip to Tennessee and Alabama: Celtis tenuifolia, Cocculus carolinus, Cornus florida (from beautiful clean trees), Aesculus pavia, and many more. It will be exciting to see this wealth of material develop.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Rosa sericea ssp. omeiensis forma pteracantha...quite a name, what?

Nice spines! This Chines rose lives at the intersection of the China Valley path and the road. It is certainly an interesting addition to the winter garden.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Adonis amurensis: excellent plant with a cool name

Damn I love plants that flower in the middle of the winter. It is February 3, we have had one of the colder winters in recent memory, and yet here it is! This particular plant, one in a colony, lives in the middle of the Asian Collections. I don't even know if I've seen it since 1992. There are many more now than there were then. To find it, from the Asian Collections parking lot, take the left-hand trail, stay right, and at the end make the very hard right hand turn that sends you back towards the road. Look to your left very shortly after you turn and the colony will be about 10' below the trail. For a closer look, turn around on the trail and walk away from the road watching the right edge of the trail. A smaller less formal path heads into the collection. Follow it and you will come within a few feet of the Adonis.

Today was a good day for me; not only did I come upon the Adonis amurensis in bloom, I was offered, and accepted, the position of Horticulturist in the Asian Collections. This position has never before existed before in this collection, so its definition will become clearer to me as time goes by, but it is exciting. While there will be a bit more non-garden work, I will still be physically in the collection most of the time.

I began avidly (both in the covetous and the eager sense of the word) reading seed catalogs when I was about 14; I can visualize Pheasant's Eye Adonis in, as I remember, Park's Seeds; they carried it for years, but not anymore. I don't remember for certain but suspect this was Adonis annua. Its petals do have a basal spot and the black anthers give the entire flower the appearance of an eye...not really. But they do seem a more plausible source for the name than a flower with yellow petals and yellow centers. The name pheasant's eye seems to have been somewhat arbitrarily adopted for all members of the genus (a not-unprecedented occurrence). It's the earliest flowering perennial that I know of and a sure sign that spring is sluggishly stirring beneath the frosty veneer of winter.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Hamamelis x intermedia 'Jelena'......Groundhog day brings good Witchhazel weather

This is the cultivar Jelena, a hybrid produced from crossing the Japanese and the Chinese Witchhazels. There are a number of cultivars originating from this cross. Hamamelis sinensis tends to be more fragrant while Hamamelis japonica is, possibly, more deciduous but doesn't smell so nice. They hybrids are wonderful and this is one of the best. I have always liked it and 'Diane' for their fall color and wonderful blooms. Clicking on the closeup will show the straplike ribbons that are its petals. They roll up into tight coils at night or when temperatures are too cold; today was not too cold and the plants were spectacular.

These pictures were taken at the Arboretum at the base of the Witchhazel Collection that runs from the top of Hickey Hill down to Conifer Road. While cold weather will likely keep the flowers coiled for the next three days, temperatures over the weekend are expected to rise to the high 50s F so it will be perfect Witchhazel weather. Some of the Flowering Apricots, Prunus mume with their delicious fragrances ought to be in bloom by then. Chimonanthus praecox, Winterhazel is yet another wonderfully fragrant winter flowering shrub and we have them all around the Arboretum.

I am watching Groundhog Day as I write this post. It is one of my favorite movies and I watch it every year on Feb 1st or 2nd. To my mind it poses serious and challenging questions about the nature of knowledge, reality, and the way we ought to live our lives. Maybe I just like it.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Brookside Gardens Conservatory: honestly, it has never looked better and I have been here since the beginning!

Both parking lots were filled today at Brookside Gardens. Clearly it was the place to be. I have not kept up with personnel changes in the conservatory, but this past year has been spectacular, and the display in place now is the best I have ever seen here, and I've been around for all 40 years!