Here are two plants that have almost nothing in common, except that they both flower in late November.
Crocus cartwrightianus var. albus
Crocus cartwrightianus is a small autumn-flowering bulb that is native to mainland Greece and the Cyclades. It is a fertile diploid species and is thought to be the wild ancestor of the sterile triploid Crocus sativus, the cultivated saffron crocus. The typical color form is purple, but I love the contrast of the bright orange stigma with the sepals and petals of this white-flowered variety. C. cartwrightianus grows fairly well in this climate, but the flowers are often damaged by slugs when we have a warm, humid autumn.
While C. cartwrightianus is flowering outside, Paphiopedilum fairrieanum is flowering inside my greenhouse. P. fairrieanum is native to the foothills of the Himalayas in northeast India and Bhutan, where it experiences a summer-monsoon climate. To mimic these natural conditions in cultivation, it should be kept warm and watered well in summer and then given a cooler, drier rest in winter, when temperatures can drop as low as 45-50 F (7-10 C). In my greenhouse, the thermostat is set to 60 F, and the plant probably doesn’t experience temperatures below 55 F (13 C).
With its small, slightly nodding flowers and delicately down-swept petals, P. fairrieanum has an elfin or fairy-like quality that has intrigued orchid growers since its discovery in the mid-1800s. You might think that the species name alludes in some way to the plant’s appearance, but in fact, the species was named after a Mr. Fairrie who flowered the plant that John Lindley used for his species description in 1857.
I almost stepped on this pair of copperheads when I went to feed the chickens on Thursday morning. Luckily, they were so focused on each other, they didn’t even flinch when I did a sort of skip-hop over their heads.
Based on their patterns, these are not the same two that my wife found last week. Apparently, our garden is serving as some sort of copperhead love hotel.
Like any object that a person keeps for a long time, plants can accumulate individual, sentimental value well beyond the value that they would have to any other person. These two orchids, currently blooming in my greenhouse, remind me of orchid growers who were a significant influence on me when I was a novice.
Bulbophyllum rothschildianum ‘Red Chimney’ FCC/AOS
‘Red Chimney’ is a magnificent clone of a particularly attractive species. It originally received an Award of Merit (AM) from the American Orchid Society in 1976, and was subsequently upgraded to a First Class Certificate (FCC) in 1991. I obtained my division of ‘Red Chimney’ in 1998 from the late Jo Levy, a well known orchid grower and Bulbophyllum expert from Memphis, Tennessee. I never met her IRL, as they say, but we exchanged emails and traded plants back and forth. She always sent me many more plants than I sent her. Most of those plants have faded away, victims of pests, change in climate when I moved from Michigan to North Carolina, or neglect during those years when young children kept me busy, but my ‘Red Chimney’ is still going strong. I am happy to have been able to pass on more divisions of Jo’s plant to other orchid growers.
B. rothschildianum has an interesting history. As documented by Bill Thoms in his book Bulbophyllums: The Incomplete Guide from A to WHY?, it originally surfaced in 1892 in a box of “nearly dead orchid plants” shipped to England from the vicinity of Darjeeling. After that initial collection, it remained in cultivation but was lost in nature for almost a century before being rediscovered in 1991 in Nagaland. Based on the date that it was awarded, ‘Red Chimney’ is presumably descended from the original Victorian collection. Currently, the online Flora of China lists the species as being present in Yunnan, so perhaps it has (or had) a wider range in the southeastern foothills of the Himalayas.
Bulbophyllums are usually pollinated by flies, and the flowers’ scents include carrion, feces, urine, fungus, and in one eye-watering case, rotten salmon (any old-school molecular biologist who remembers using tetramethylethylenediamine to make polyacrylamide sequencing gels knows exactly what Bulbophyllum cupreum smells like). In comparison, growers of B. rothschildianum get off easy. The flowers smell like mushrooms, but the scent is faint and you don’t need to worry about driving away guests if you display the plant in your living room.
Cymbidium ensifolium ‘Iron Bone’
Cymbidium ensifolium has a long history of cultivation China and Japan where it is grown as much for its foliage as its flowers. The clone ‘Iron Bone’ is an alba form that lacks the narrow red stripes on sepals and petals and reddish spots on the labellum of wild-type clones. The flowers are understated, even for a species that will never be called spectacular, but my plant is special because it came from the collection of Jack Webster, who died in 2008. When I first moved to North Carolina, Jack was a fixture of the NC orchid world. He was a member of multiple local societies in central and eastern NC, many-time president and more-or-less permanent board member of the Triangle Orchid Society, tireless organizer of shows and exhibits, and expert on almost every aspect of orchid growing. No one has been able to replace him.
If I were growing this plant according to traditional Japanese aesthetics, I would have it in a tall, narrow ceramic pot carefully chosen to complement its elegant sword-like leaves. Alas, I am an uncouth Anglo-Saxon, so it is currently languishing in a black plastic nursery pot. Maybe I’ll move it into more attractive housing, as befits its cultural and personal history, this spring.
My wife thought she had found one very long copperhead when she went out to water her kale seedlings, but it turned out to be an amorous pair. According to Reptiles of North Carolina by Palmer and Braswell (University of North Carolina Press), copperheads have been found mating in April and September, so this seems quite late in the year.
For the past two years, Youngest Offspring has been arguing in favor of backyard chickens, and her long campaign has finally been successful. My garden project this summer was building a coop and run next to my greenhouse, and on September 24, three pullets from a local farm moved in.
1. The coop
Since we have never kept chickens before, it took us a long time to decide exactly what to do about a coop. We considered various prefabricated coops but eventually decided to build our own. I purchased plans for the Basic Coop from TheGardenCoop.com but modified them to make the coop slightly taller and 3′ x 4′ instead of 3′ x 3′. This made the materials somewhat more expensive, but should allow us to keep up to five birds.
2. The run
The run is about 10’ x 20’, half covered with transparent corrugated polycarbonate and half open to the elements. I built a rough perch from the trunk of a young black tupelo tree (Nyssa sylvatica) and threw in some rotten logs for scratching and grub hunting purposes.
We decided not to allow the chickens free range in the garden, because of the danger from predators. The birds are basically Youngest Offspring’s pets, so we want to protect them as well as we can. Raccoons are probably the biggest threat, but other predators in our area include foxes, coyotes, dogs, cats, skunks, opossums, hawks, and owls. There’s an outside chance of weasels or bobcats, or perhaps a mink following the creek up from the Eno River. Rat snakes probably aren’t a threat to adult chickens, so I’m not worried about excluding them—we’ll just remove any egg raiders we find.
At night, the chickens are confined to the coop, which will hopefully exclude nocturnal predators. For maximum ventilation without sacrificing security, the coop has a ceiling of heavy galvanized hardware cloth topped with corrugated polycarbonate. The large cleanout door and small door connecting to the coop are both secured with swivel hasps. I use carabiners to “lock” the hasps at night, because they’re easier to remove than padlocks but hopefully will be too difficult for dexterous little raccoon paws
The sides of the run are welded wire fence, and the part that doesn’t have a roof is covered with chicken wire to keep out hawks. Around the perimeter, we placed a horizontal apron of the same fencing material. When hidden beneath mulch it will hopefully slow down any dogs or other diurnal predators that try to dig under the fence.
So, fingers crossed. I hope we haven’t set up a buffet with free chicken dinners.
4-6. The girls
Hähnchen is supposed to be an Ameraucana, but the farm said it is possible she is an “Easter Egger” (Ameraucana hybrid). Pollo is a cuckoo Marans. Kylling is a Red Star. In November they will be joined by a barred Plymouth Rock and an Easter Egger. Youngest Offspring has reserved the names Frango and Kuritsa.
The Propagator is the host of Six on Saturday. Head over there to see his Six for this week and find links to the blogs of other participants.