Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Delightful Distractions

It started with a few leaves around a cluster of crocuses, the rain had finally stopped and I want to encourage those crocuses to bloom so I pulled away the matted leaves. Then I saw the tiny blue Chionodoxa blooms, which always make me think of smiles, and I needed to free them from the last vestiges of winter’s grasp. This included the husks of old Iris leaves, which I cut back to discover the tiny new green Iris siberica growth, tinged with red; and the Narcissus dotted throughout. Needless to say, I had to keep going.

Denied the sheer joy of “fingers in the earth” for the past four, cold, winter months, I felt ravenous as I tore through the garden debris and on to each new emerging promise of a beautiful spring. On and on I went, stopping only to grab a new lawn and leaf bag, or another garden tool – knowing full well I should be in my office getting work done – but feeling giddy from the joy of all these new treasures growing. A clump of new Narcissus I planted last fall can’t wait to see the blooms! Trusty Geranium sanguineum, Potentilla fruiticosa and Nepeta “Walker’s Low” already unfurling their leaves. An old stand of Campanula persicifolia putting up new leaves, like Phlox subulata, Iris germanica and Iberis sempervirens the low foliage stays green(ish) all winter! Which is key for breaking up those swaths of winter dirt when your perennials are dormant.

Alas, all good stories must come to an end. And my tale ended with a phone call, finally dragging me into my office, a bit stiff from lack of practice, but truly invigorated from my little foray. I guess I am lucky that dirty nails and knees give me ‘street cred.’ in this business.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Maintaining winter sanity with indoor bulbs

After 2 weeks of increasingly warm temps, I had lulled myself into believing that spring was on its way. Of course, Mother Nature slapped me back to reality as I awoke to peals of laughter and “Snow Day!” echoing through the house.

As if to make a small peace offering, my Freesia did begin to bloom and the fragrance has excellent restorative powers. I have always loved forcing bulbs indoors, having grown up in New England I have found the need to creatively garden indoors during the long winter months. Bulbs are an excellent way to surprise yourself, bring a little extra something to your normal repertoire of houseplants. There are the usual casts of characters, most often grown for the Christmas season: Amaryllis (the choice of colors and shapes is staggering), Paperwhites (the easiest of the Narcissus for indoor blooms), Hyacinths and so on. And for the most part, if you tire of them, toss them when they are done. But this year is the first time I tried Freesia and I have not been disappointed.

For anyone who has bought Freesia for cut flowers, the fragrance is sweet but not overpowering like Narcissus “Ziva”. The foliage is nothing to write home about, and it takes 3 months to bring newly planted bulbs to bloom (similar to Amaryllis), but my patience has rewarded me with 2 dozen stalks of Freesia blooms in varying states of bud swell/bloom. And I will therefore survive a few more weeks of winter. The trick to forcing Freesia is to be sure your newly planted bulbs get LOTS of sun and not too much heat. I would think grow lights would be perfect, but I put mine in a south facing window, and watered them nearly every day. The cultivar I selected is Freesia “Volante” which is a double form, and although it was purported to be white I think the blooms are more ivory or cream. I planted up 3 pots, with 8 or so bulbs in each (Freesia bulbs are small reminding me of Allium caeruleum) and they are leggy, I keep turning the pot to lean against the window. I have never been fond of staking, but it could be laziness.

Veltheimia bracteata is a tried and true indoor bulb, which I treat as a houseplant. Unlike most bulbs the leaves remain viable year round, and it is quite long lived which means annual blooms without the challenging extra step “winterizing”. And they are excellent glossy green leaves, similar to Amaryllis but with a softer wave to them. In fact, when I first received this bulb (about 15 years ago), I thought it was an unusual Amaryllis and treated it very similarly. Planting with the top third of the bulb above the soil, growing in medium light (East facing window), and put it outside in the summer, keeping it in dappled to low light, and initially I did “Winterize” it like Amaryllis but later found it unnecessary. It seems to like infrequent repotting, there are now 4 bulbs in 1 pot and the blooms have become more reliable when crowded (like Clivia). My fertilizer regimen is sporadic, but I have top-dressed the soil. This beauty has a funky bloom, which starts in February (when very little is happening!) and lasts 4 to 6 weeks. Is anyone else growing this sleeper? If so, I’d love to hear stories of success, or challenges. I would definitely recommend giving it a try, the only common name I have heard used is “South African Cape Hyacinth” which is too much of a mouthful and could be very misleading as it is not like a Hyacinth!

…now where did I put that Snow shovel?