Six on Saturday #13: Montrose Garden

Montrose Garden is a beautiful private garden, the life’s work of Nancy Goodwin, in Hillsborough North Carolina (see also this old New York Times story).  Once or twice a year, Nancy opens the garden and has a plant sale.  The open house was today, so the kids and I were there just after the gate opened at 10:00.

Our first stop was, of course, the sales area.  The children helped to pick out plants, and we came away with Calanthe discolor, Kniphophia ‘Lola’, Orostachys erubescens, Orostachys japonica, and a couple of white-flowered Cyclamen hederifolium. Then, we went to see the gardens.

Last year at the open house, the flowerbeds were filled with colchicum flowers.  We didn’t see many today, and I wonder if the lack of rain over the past six weeks has delayed their flowering.  The soil seemed very hard and dry in the flowerbeds, but there was still plenty of color from drought tolerant plants.

1. In the Metasequoia Garden

Metasequoia garden

During the 1980s, Nancy Goodwin ran a mail-order nursery out of Montrose.  The Montrose Nursery was known for its garden propagated hardy cyclamens at a time when many nurseries were still selling wild-collected tubers, and Nancy has planted huge drifts of Cyclamen hederifolium and other species on the wooded slopes leading down to the Eno River.  Sadly, the woods were closed today, but there were still plenty of cyclamens to be seen elsewhere in the garden.  Here, they are flowering with Sterbergia lutea (autumn daffodil) under two large Metasequoia glyptostroboides (dawn redwoods).

2. Looking towards the lath house

IMG_2368

On the right, Eldest Offspring is trying to photograph a monarch butterfly.

3.  Monarch butterfly on red Dahlia (photo by Eldest Offspring)

monarch

4.  Incarvillea arguta (Himalayan gloxinia)

Incarvillea

5.  Cuphea llavea (Bat-faced cuphea)

cuphea

I suspect this one is moved into the greenhouse in cold weather.  I don’t think it would survive our winter in the ground.

6. Magnolia macrophylla (big leaf magnolia)

Magnolia

With its perfectly domed shape, this is one of the best M. macrophylla I have ever seen

While I go outside and try to decide where this morning’s purchases should be planted (and whether I’ll need a pickaxe to get through the desiccated clay), why don’t you visit some other garden blogs participating in “Six on Saturday.”  Check out The Propagator for his six and for links to other blogs.

(Hoping for rain this week)

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Better late than never

Brugmansia-white
Brugmansia ‘Betty Marshall’

In 2015, I bought a Brugmansia ‘Charles Grimaldi’ in a 3″ pot.  Brugmansias are only marginally hardy in zone 7, so I planted it on the sheltered east side of the house.  Unfortunately, the soil there is very lean and dry, so although the plant survived the winter, it only grew about a foot tall and shed all its leaves by mid-summer.

This spring, I dug it up and moved it to a a flower bed with richer soil that catches much of the rain that runs off the lawn.  Once its roots were established, it responded by sprouting up to about 5′ tall.  I have been expecting flowers since midsummer, and the plant has finally decided to oblige.

Surprise!  It isn’t Brugmansia ‘Charles Grimaldi’ after all. The flowers are white, not yellow, so this must be Brugmansia ‘Betty Marshall’, which is also sold by the same nursery.  I’m surprised, because the nursery in question is usually pretty good about correctly labeling their plants.  Possibly a customer pulled a tag and then put it back in the wrong pot.

The average date of first frost around here is October 23*, so hopefully I’ll have a couple more weeks of flowers.  There are certainly plenty of buds.  The stems will surely freeze back to the ground this winter, but if I mulch the roots well, I’m cautiously optimistic that the plant will grow faster next year and start blooming earlier.

*That’s the historic average for 1951-1980.  My impression is that during the past decade, we have usually been frost-free until after Hallowe’en.

Six on Saturday #12: Nepenthes

While watering plants in my greenhouse today, I noticed that my Nepenthes burbidgeae x platychila has produced its first upper pitcher.  I snapped a picture and then decided I’d stick to a single theme for today’s Six on Saturday.  This isn’t the best time of year for Nepenthes, but I was able to find five more pitchers in reasonable shape.

For those who are unfamiliar with the genus, Nepenthes are carnivorous plants, large scrambling vines native to a broad region extending from Madagascar to Australia.  The greatest diversity of species is in southeast Asia: the Philippines, Indonesia, and Malaysia.  Nepenthes leaves are modified into ornate pitcher traps that capture and digest insects (and occasionally small vertebrates).  This prey provides nitrogen that is lacking in the nutrient-poor soil in which Nepenthes grow.

With the exception of a few finicky, species, most Nepenthes are reasonably easy to grow in well-drained, acidic potting mixes that are low in nitrogen.  Most growers use combinations of long-fiber sphagnum moss, peat, perlite, and fir bark.  I also include stalite in my mix, because most of the perlite available in local garden centers is contaminated with slow-release fertilizer (WHY do manufacturers insist on adding fertilizer to a product whose main selling point is that it adds aeration without affecting other soil parameters???!!!???).

To pitcher well, Nepenthes need high humidity, so they are usually grown in greenhouses or large terrariums.  However, I successfully grew Nepenthes graciliflora and Nepenthes x Ventrata on a windowsill in my student apartment twenty years ago.  Temperature requirements vary depending on the altitude at which the plants originate.  Most of my plants originate from moderate altitudes and look best in spring, when the greenhouse is around 86-88 F (30 C) during the day and 60 F (15.5 C) at night.  Lowlanders suffer in winter unless I hang them high in the greenhouse, and highlanders tend to die after a couple of summers.

In the greenhouse, the plants catch their own prey, primarily cockroaches, wasps, and ants, that I supplement with crushed snails.  I learned from sad experience that slugs can glide right out of the pitchers and settle down in the pot.  I never fertilize the roots, although some growers swear by cold coffee.

Anyway, here are six Nepenthes.  For more of Six on Saturday, see the Propagator’s blog.

1.  Nepenthes burbidgeae x platychila (upper pitcher)

playchila x burbidgeae

This is a primary hybrid of two species renowned for their colorful peristomes (the slippery collar around the mouth of the pitcher).  Most Nepenthes produce two types of pitchers.  Squat lower pitchers sit on or near the ground and often have wings that crawling insects can climb.  Upper pitchers, as seen here, are usually more funnel shaped and hang high in the branches to catch flying insects.

One of the odd quirks of Nepenthes is that male and female flowers appear on different plants, and at least in cultivation, males outnumber females.  Consequently, it is difficult to propagate species by seed, and many artificially propagated plants are hybrids.  Species are usually propagated by tissue culture, and some species are represented in cultivation by only a handful of clones.

2. Nepenthes maxima, Gunung Lumut, Sulawesi (lower pitcher)

maxima-large form

N. maxima is a very variable species.  I have one clone that produces pitchers about the length of my index finger, but this one has lower pitchers almost a foot long.

3. Nepenthes maxima x aristolochioides (lower pitcher)

aristolochiioides x maxima

One parent of this plant is the large N. maxima clone shown above.  The other parent is a dwarf highland species that requires cool temperatures.  The hybrid seems much more tolerant and has done well in my greenhouse for several years.

Here is an upper pitcher that I photographed last spring:

aristolochioides x maxima-upper

I have since pruned the vine, so it will be a year or so before I see more uppers.

4.  Nepenthes graciliflora

graciliflora

N. graciliflora is a very vigorous and easy to grow species from the Philippines.  This was one of the first Nepenthes that I grew, and it has traveled with me for about twenty years.  Every few years, it starts to get woody and overgrown, so I root a couple of fresh cuttings from the tip of the vine and establish a new plant.

5.  Nepenthes rafflesiana (lower pitcher)

rafflesiana

A large lowland species from Borneo, Sumatra, and penisular Malaysia.  As seen here, the squat lowers have wide wings.  Where the peristome rises to the lid, it has sharp teeth.  To keep my N. rafflesiana warm in winter, I hang it up near the roof, at the end closest to the heater.

6. Nepenthes ampullaria (red form)

ampullaria

N. ampullaria grows in the same habitat as N. rafflesiana, with which it produces the natural hybrid N. x hookeriana.  This species has squat little pitchers with small lids and wide open mouths.  Analysis of the “necromass” in N. ampullaria pitchers has shown that it is primarily plant debris, so this species may be vegetarian or “detritivorous” instead of carnivorous (see: Bohn and Federle (2004), Insect aquaplaning: Nepenthes pitcher plants capture prey with the peristome, a fully wettable water-lubricated anisotropic surface.  Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 101: 14138-14143).

N. ampullaria rarely produces upper pitchers in cultivation, but in addition to the usual lower pitchers, it also produces rosettes of ground pitchers which appear directly from the soil surrounding the base of the vines.  My young plant has just started growing its first rosette, but the ground pitchers aren’t full size yet.

Win some, lose some

amaryllid-1
A hybrid amaryllid, perhaps Hippeastrum x Sprekelia

When I became interested in growing bulbs, particularly tropical amaryllids, I soon learned that some species were either priced far beyond my budget or were simply unavailable from commercial vendors.  I had been growing orchids for about two decades, so it took me a little while to cotton on to the fact that most bulbs can be grown easily from seed.  Unlike orchid seeds, which require lab equipment and good sterile technique for flasking, bulb seeds only require appropriate potting soil and a modicum of patience.  Specialist nurseries sometimes offer seed of rare species at affordable prices, and bulb enthusiasts are generous with seeds from their plants, particularly through hobbyist exchanges like that run by the Pacific Bulb Society.

I have found that exchange seed is usually labeled accurately, but occasionally I get a surprise when the plants finally flower.  That’s not to say that the donor deliberately mislabeled the seed.  Most hobbyists aren’t taxonomists and may be growing mislabeled plants without realizing it.  Many amaryllids enthusiastically hybridize, and bees or other insects could cross-pollinate plants in a mixed collection.  And of course, accidental mix-ups could occur either in the donor’s greenhouse or in the seed exchange inventory.

Which brings us to the plant above (and below).

amaryllid-2
hybrid amaryllid, side view

In July 2014, I obtained seed ostensibly from Hippeastrum stylosum, a species from northern Brazil and Guyana that is not available from bulb vendors.  Judging by photos on the web (Google), the inflorescence of H. stylosum carries multiple salmon-colored flowers with distinctively elongated stamens and pistil that protrude well beyond the petals.

A couple of weeks ago, I was excited to see an inflorescence forming on one of the seedlings.  The flower has finally opened, and as you can see, it isn’t H. stylosum.  It’s clearly a hybrid involving a Hippeastrum of some kind, but its precise parentage is unclear.  Judging by its narrow, curled petals, strong red color, narrow foliage, and the fact that it produced a single flower, I wonder if it is xHippeastrelia, a hybrid between Hippeastrum and the Mexican amaryllid Sprekelia formossisima

IMG_7936
Sprekelia formossisima, the Jacobean lily

I have several other seedlings, but as they all have identical foliage, I don’t hold out much hope that they’ll prove to be H. stylosum.

Oh, well. You win some, you lose some.  Anyone have the true Hippeastrum stylosum?

Want to trade?

Six on Saturday #11 (in haste)

It is a fairly typical day for September in North Carolina:  Bright sun, 85 F (29.5 C), no significant rain last week, and no rain forecast for the next week.  The intensity of the sun made it difficult to get decent photos and doesn’t encourage hard work in the garden or in the greenhouse.

Nevertheless, here are six pictures from the garden today.  See the Propagator’s blog for his six and for links to other blogs who are participating in Six on Saturday.

1. Sternbergia lutea (autumn daffodil)

Sternbergia

I could have sworn that this little amaryllid was from South America, but when I looked it up just now, I learned that it is actually Eurasian, with a range extending from the western Mediterranean to Tajikistan.  Usually I get a nice little clump, but this year the bulbs have been sprouting and flowering one or two at a time. Perhaps in this dry weather they haven’t had the usual environmental signals that induce mass blooming.

2.  Lycoris radiata (hurricane lily, red spider lily)

Lycoris_radiata-leaves

Now that they have finished flowering, the L. radiata bulbs are starting to sprout leaves.

3. Hibiscus coccineus (red swamp mallow)

Hibiscus

It looks as though something drilled right through this flower when the petals were still folded together in a bud.  Native to the southeastern U.S., H. coccineus does very well in piedmont gardens and flowers for much of the summer.  In winter, the dried stems and seed capsules add interest to an otherwise barren flowerbed.  Despite its name, it grows well in regular garden soil, and its fat taproot helps it survive drought.

The palmate leaves of this species somewhat resemble a particular herb that is still illicit in North Carolina.  In the spring, before my plants start producing their dinner plate-sized flowers, I often think of this news story from 2004.

4. Conoclinium coelestinum (blue mistflower)

concoclinium

The color balance of this photo seems to be off , but I’m not sure if it is my phone camera or monitor that’s to blame.  If you see a magenta flower, imagine that it is more a bluish lavender.  This species is native to the eastern U.S., from the Great Lakes to southern Texas, and although the flowers are beautiful at this time of year, I rather regret introducing it into the garden.  It spreads very aggressively, and the fluffy seeds drift all over the place.

5. Basella alba ‘Rubra’ (red malabar spinach)

malabar2

malabar3

Every spring, I start a pot of malabar spinach from seed collected the previous autumn.  The leaves really are quite tasty in soups or stews, but since we don’t cook a lot of stews in the summer, it primarily serves as an ornamental.  The seeds also survive the winter in the soil, and I’m starting to see more plants sprouting in flower beds where birds have dropped seeds or I have inadvertently raked them along with fallen leaves.  They look interesting and don’t seem to do any harm, so I just leave them alone.

6.  Cattleya labiata var rubra ‘Schuler’

Cattleya_labiata

In the greenhouse, the most famous of the unifoliate cattleyas is blooming.  C. labiata was the first of the large flowered cattleyas to be discovered, and it was one of the species responsible for the Victorian orchid craze.  It was first imported into the U.K. in 1818 and caused a sensation, but its origin wasn’t correctly reported.  Plant collectors scoured South America, discovering many other spectacular orchids in the process, but the Brazilian habitat of L. labiata wasn’t rediscovered until 1889.

Unfortunately, my greenhouse tends to be too bright and dry at this time of year, and the flowers don’t last long.  You can see that the dorsal and lateral sepals of some of these flowers have dried out prematurely.  I tend to do better with the unifoliate cattleyas that bloom in late winter.