Friday, January 29, 2010

On the anniversary of ‘77

Some of you may be familiar with the Blizzard of ’77; it buried Buffalo and most of Western New York under drifts 30’ and better of snow. The interesting fact about this storm is that only about a foot of snow actually fell. The blowing and drifting are what wreaked all the havoc. This event is what has largely branded Buffalo as a snow capitol, about thirty-three years ago.

Whatever. The way I celebrate such anniversaries is to visit our Botanical Gardens and grow flowers indoors. Here are a few hyacinths: some Prince of Love (pink) and some Crystal Palace (blue).

I have other flowers growing indoors now, but these are my favorites. I keep them in my office at work, and wherever I can at home.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Speculating on cyclamen

At first I thought it would be easy to discuss cyclamen success. After all, I’ve kept one alive and flowering for 10 years. But I’ve also killed one or two, and when I looked up advice on this plant (from books and university horticulture sites, not “about” or Suite 101) I found some disturbing conflicts.

So I’ll just describe what I do, and then we’ll get into the other advice. My cyclamen is kept in a sunny window, indoors, at all times. It gets watered when it is obviously dry, and it’s been repotted a couple times, but into small pots. The soil seems rock hard; the thing is clearly pot-bound, but it seems to like it that way. The flowers start coming in November and keep it up through February. (That’s a performance I would only expect from the most stalwart of summer annuals.) I never fertilize it. I don’t know why; I guess I just can’t be bothered. Dead leaves and spent blooms are pulled off on an ad hoc basis. Sometimes we’ll take it into the sink to water it, because it’s better—and this is true with all houseplants, pretty much—to thoroughly soak it and then let it dry. It should also never sit in water.

So. Those are my “trade secrets.” Let’s consider what the experts say. One of my houseplant books (an old Time-Life volume by James Crockett) speaks of keeping day temps to 65˚ or under. I can actually meet that requirement in my chilly dining room, but I’m thinking many indoor gardeners could not. Crockett also advises regular fertilization, and a potting mix light on the soil and heavy on sand and peat moss.

The University of Minnesota agrees that cyclamens won’t be happy in houses heated to above 70˚, and it also recommends a dormancy period after blooming, sometime in late spring. The plant should not be watered and placed out of direct sunlight (perhaps outside) until fall. I don’t like dormancy advice. Dormancy is tricky. I feel there’s a thin line between “putting a plant to sleep” and killing it, and though I reluctantly accept this strategy for hippeastrum, I thoroughly reject it for cyclamen. It's not something that is universally recommended for them, either.

There are a few other good sites and books, but few have much new to say. My feeling is that most people love their cyclamen—and probably most of their houseplants— to death. They worry too much. I say don't worry, accept the strange behavior of your houseplants, try to keep them happy as best you can, and don't give up.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Excitement in the indoor garden

Normally, at this time of year, I would be posting about houseplants and tazettas, and I am. But rarely would I expect to have hyacinths starting to bloom indoors. Yet, that is exactly what’s happening.

These (top and above, left) are the Prince of Love hyacinths from Brent & Becky’s. (I always include vendors because different vendors often have different names for the various cultivars.) I have never had hyacinths blooming before February before, but these are producing big pale pink buds and the stalks are coming from everywhere on the bulbs (which are huge), including the bottom. I noticed how unusual these bulbs were when I received them and was concerned to see all the bottom sprouting, but as long as they bloom elsewhere, it’s fine with me.

Just as all tazettas are not created equal (people just think paperwhites, but there are so many types, including double, orange, and yellow), hyacinths have a lot of variety. Some bloom earlier than others, some have shorter stems, some are doubles, some have loose, single flowers. And that is what makes them fun, and why I always prefer named cultivars over a generic bag of whatever.

Golden Rain
The tazettas I have in bloom now are Erlicheer, Avalanche, and Golden Rain. Erlicheer is a gorgeous white double, Golden Rain is a yellow double, and Avalanche is a really strong-blooming single. None of them have the strong fragrance associated with paperwhites; Erlicheer and Avalanche smell more like traditional daffodils.

Elsewhere, the zygocactus are over for the season, but I have lots of action coming from my cyclamen and African violets. I am also hoping for some blooms from the dendrobium orchids in February. I have a feeling that a lot of the flowers will be indoors on this GBBD; winter did not spare our friends in the south, and I’ll be interested to read about how their gardens are looking.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Baby, it’s cold outside—everywhere!

This picture of the rapids in winter is from last year; it's pretty much the same now.

But I feel sorriest for those in the south who are experiencing single digit temps with no snow cover to protect plants that are normally hardy for higher zones. And, unlike me, they’re not used to this. I can only imagine their horror. Cheer up, guys, your cold and snow will be all gone in a couple weeks! Mine, on the other hand, will be here for at least 3 more months.

I am used to it though, and I have several strategies for getting through the frigid times. One involves a lot of indoor bulb growing, and I’ve already talked about that (and will again).

The other involves planning a week in a warm place if at all possible. The only thing that bothers me about that is that the landscaping at the average tropical resort is generally kind of boring. I’d love to see real native flora in its natural setting; one of these days I’ll have to go on some excursion that would allow that.

My third strategy for getting through the winter is shared by almost all other gardeners: I read plant catalogs and put in some orders. I have plants coming already from Brent & Becky’s and Select Seeds and now it’s Plant Delights Nursery’s turn. Both SS and PDN are offering an really interesting dicentra: a climbing yellow variety. I am considering ordering one from each and seeing which does best. PDN calls their “Athens Yellow,” and SS calls theirs “Golden Tears.” Apparently it was bred by Allan Armitage (and it is listed on his site).

Interesting. Anyway, my all-summer-blooming dicentra has kind of wishy-washy pink flowers, so I’m very interested in a yellow variety. PDN also had a yellow hardy gladiolus and a beautiful yellow hellebore. This may be the year of the cool yellow plants in the GWI garden.

I did not mention probably the most important strategy I have this year for getting through the winter—planning this years's garden bloggers' meet-up in Buffalo. I hope I will see you there.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

On such a winter’s day

As far as I can tell, it is brutal outside, though I’ve barely glanced out the window today. January is traditionally a time to look inward: to make resolutions, to clean out cupboards that have been ignored for months, and—for me—to focus on the indoor plant environment.

Early Pearl and Golden Rain tazettas are making their appearance (top), with Erlicheer soon to follow. Unlike their common brethren that come under the paperwhite category, you would need to get very close to these to even notice their scent, which is mild and sweet. The trade-off is that they do not flower as profusely as the others, but that’s fine with me. I still have 2 bags of various fancy tazettas to force yet.

Above you can see a stalwart of the GWI houseplant family: a pink cyclamen which will flower easily through April. These are just the first few blooms of the season. I believe it has done so well for the last ten years because I’ve kept it pretty pot-bound. When I visited Logee’s over the holidays, their second cardinal rule of houseplant success (as related to me by a staffer) was NO OVERPOTTING. I now have 4 two-inch plants from Logee's: a jasmine “Ann Clements,” a species gardenia (“Hardy”), a Ponderosa citrus, and an Osmanthus fragrans (sweet olive). They’ll stay two-inchers, though I may move them into some clay pots.

On the hyacinth front, I find that my purchase of the “Prince of Love” types (not shown here) may have been a mistake. They’re very strange, in spite of their huge size, which at first seemed a good sign. Two of the ones in vases did nothing and have been replaced by tazettas. The ones that are growing are growing from the top and bottom and aren’t as well rooting, unless they’re in dirt. Like most plants, hyacinths do prefer dirt, so I always do pots as well as vases (above).

The fun of forcing is in just such anomalies as this through—how sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. That’s what keeps it interesting—a nice diversion on such a cold and snowy day.