Thursday, September 30, 2010

False Shamrock - Of Hoods and Bells and Fairy Green

There is a bank (I love it well)
Where climbs the sorrel of the wood,
Here breathes, how frail! a puce-veined bell,
There snowy droops its crumpled hood.
With knotted roots of tinctured strings
A tender tapestry it weaves,
Whilst folding back like soft green wings
The lappets of its cloven leaves.
It is a dainty sight, I ween,
Of hoods, and bells, and fairy green ;
But when the dews of evening fall,
They mutely bless the Lord of all,
And, closing, wait the daylight's call!
Hard by, o'ershadowed by the forest trees,
Like partial snowshowers, wood anemones
Outstretched in level masses of white shade
People with magic companies the glade,
As fairy-land borne flying on the breeze
Had lighted round gnarled oaks of centuries,
While Spring repairs her roofless palaces.

    - Rev. Charles Armstrong Fox (19th century English pastor, poet, theologian)

The magical charm of wood sorrel captures the imagination even now as it did for Charles Fox, the poet of Keswick.  (You have to get down on your knees, close and personal to appreciate things like that.)  In addition to poetry, he published a few books of Keswick theology, a controversial view among Protestants, which emphasized a higher level of Christian spirituality.  His books included Victories and Safeguards, Ankle Deep, and Conquered and Kept.  A very devout man and a leader in the early days of the Keswick Convention, Rev. Fox reveled in nature and blessed its Creator.  Certainly, nature's delights are plentiful, so he had a lot to be thankful for.

Fairies and magic are often associated with wood sorrel because of its resemblance to the Irish shamrock.  Potted oxalis plants are traditionally given around St. Patrick's Day.  But wood sorrel isn't called False Shamrock for nothing, for true shamrock is actually clover (Trifolium repens or T. dubium).  Nevertheless, don't let that little bit of knowledge spoil your fun.  White clover is nowhere near as appealing as oxalis in a decorative planter or in the garden.

Wood Sorrel (aka False Shamrock) belongs to the genus, Oxalis, and is a member of the Oxalidaceae family.  Oxalis consists of about 800 species which are native worldwide.  Some are annuals; others are perennials.  Indigenous people and little boys around the world have munched on sorrels for food and fun.  The leaves may be eaten alone or added to salads.  The plants contain oxalic acid, which gives them a sour but refreshing taste.

A childhood friend of mine, who I shall call 'Andy Hitt' to protect his identity, said that wood sorrel and sheep sorrel, both containing oxalates, tasted that way because his dog, Bud, had peed on them.  As it turns out, oxalates are eliminated by urine, so now that I think of it he might not have been kidding.

Though oxalic acid can be dangerous in large amounts, oxalicacidinfo.com assures that it's highly unlikely occasionally eating sorrels would have any toxic effect.  That's good to know.

One species of False Shamrock, O. acetosella, has been eaten to sustain life during famine. Edmund Spenser, by no means a friend of the Irish, wrote in his View of the State of Ireland during a Famine, "Out of every corner of the wods and glynnis they come creeping forth upon their hands, for their legs could not bear them; they looked like anatomies of death; they spoke like ghosts crying out of their graves; they did eat the dead carrions; and if they found a plot of watercresses or shamrocks, they flocked as to a feast..."

There are several important Oxalis species grown ornamentally:  O. adenophylla, O. brasiliensis, O. deppei (syn. O. tetraphylla), O. lasiandra, O. triangularis and O. versicolor.

Hardiness varies by species.  Where they are hardy, they are excellent for bulb gardens, perennial gardens and borders, and naturalizing.  Plant oxalis tubers 12 inches to 15 inches apart and 1 inch to 1-1/2 inches deep in full sun to partial shade in average, well-drained garden soil with pH ranging from 6.1 to 7.8.  Planting depth is measured to the bottom of the hole.  Oxalis can be grown in any climate in container gardens, and they may be grown indoors or out.

If planting in the garden, take a sample of your garden soil to your local Cooperative Extension Service office.  For a small fee, they will send it to a lab for analysis and return a report to you.  Your soil sample report will include recommendations for amending the soil.  If planting in containers, use a good grade of sphagnum-based potting soil.

Unless you are naturalizing them in the lawn, prepare the planting bed by cultivating at least 8" deep, removing all traces of weeds.  A good practice is to mix 5 tablespoons of 10-10-10 fertilizer and 2 cups of bone meal per ten square feet area of bulb garden.  Don't let synthetic fertilizer come into direct contact with plants.

When your False Shamrocks begin to sprout and bloom, you'll agree with Rev. Fox, "It is a dainty sight, I ween, of hoods, and bells, and fairy green."

Return to Oxalis at goGardenNow.com.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Star Of Bethlehem: Flower of the Virgin's Child

"Ah me!" the lonely stranger said,
"The hope which led my footsteps on,
And light from heaven around them shed,
O'er weary wave and waste, is gone!

..."And what am I, o'er such a land
The banner of the Cross to bear?
Dear Lord, uphold me with Thy hand,
Thy strength with human weakness share!"

He ceased; for at his very feet
In mild rebuke a floweret smiled;
How thrilled his sinking heart to greet
The Star-flower of the Virgin's child!

In poetic verse, John Greenleaf Whittier told the story of a Christian missionary wearied and discouraged in his efforts to carry the Gospel to Iran.  But upon seeing a flower known as Star Of Bethlehem at his feet, he was heartened to carry on his very difficult work.

Readers during the Victorian era were very romantic in their outlook, as their art attests.  That a flower might suggest the "star in the east" to a weary evangelist and encourage him seems far-fetched to cynical moderns.  We would be more inclined to accept its botanical name, Ornithogalum (pronounced or-ni-THOG-al-um), which means "bird milk". ("Bird milk", also known as "crop milk", is supposed to allude to the color of the flowers.) But we gardeners will tend to appreciate the symbolism of the Natal Star since we are hopeless romantics.

The genus, Ornithogalum, is a member of the Hyacinthaceae family and consists of about twenty species.  Flowers are white, except for O. dubium which produces orange and yellow ones.  Different species are native to southern Europe, north Africa and South Africa. Though generally hardy in USDA climate zones 8 to 11, they are effective in container gardens in cooler regions.  Where they may be grown outdoors over winter, they are excellent for bulb gardens, perennial gardens and borders, and naturalizing.  They are superb for cutting, lasting a couple of weeks or more in flower arrangements.

Ornithogalums require little attention.  Plant them in spring in full sun to partial shade and in average, well-drained garden soil. Recommended pH is from 6.1 to 7.8.

Fragrant flowers appear in late spring to mid-summer.  After blooming the leaves will eventually turn brown. Allow the leaves to turn brown before removing them.  Early removal of foliage prevents the bulbs from storing reserves for the following year.

Before planting, take a sample of your garden soil to your local Cooperative Extension Service office.  For a small fee, they will send it to a lab for analysis and return a report to you.  Your soil sample report will include recommendations for amending the soil.  Follow them.

Unless you are naturalizing them in the lawn, prepare the planting bed by cultivating at least 8" deep, removing all traces of weeds.  A good practice is to mix 5 tablespoons of 10-10-10 fertilizer and 2 cups of bone meal per ten square feet area of bulb garden.  Don't let synthetic fertilizer come into direct contact with plants.

Plant Ornithogalum bulbs about 3 inches deep and 6 inches apart in spring.  Depth is measured to the bottom of the hole.

By the way, the bulbs look like little onions.  One species, O. longibracteatum, is called Pregnant Onion or False Sea Onion.  But don't let the resemblance fool you.  Though some species are edible, others contain a heart-stopping steroid called cardenolide.  Don't eat any of them.

As gardeners, we know how flowers lift our spirits.  We don't mind the work because the rewards are so great.  Plant Star Of Bethlehem bulbs and you'll be heartened when they bloom.

Return to Ornithogalum at goGardenNow.com.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Nerine - The Legendary Guernsey Lily

Far in the East, and long to us unknown,
A lily bloom'd, of colours quaint and rare ;
Not like our lilies, white, and dimly fair,
But clad like Eastern monarch on his throne.
A ship there was by stress of tempest blown,
And wreck'd on beach, all sandy, flat, and bare;—
The storm-god bated of his rage to spare
The queenly flower, foredoom'd to be our own.
The Guernsey fisher, seeking what the sea
Had stolen to aid his hungry poverty,
Starts to behold the stranger from afar,
And wonders what the gorgeous thing might be,
That like an unsphered and dejected star
Gleam'd in forlorn and mateless majesty.

-Hartley Coleridge (1796-1849, son of Samuel Taylor Coleridge)

Thus did Coleridge tell the story of The Guernsey Lily in poetic verse.  To substantiate it, he included a quote from Beckman's Inventions, Vol. III.

The Guernsey Lily was also a plant of interest to The Rev. William Herbert (1778-1847), botanist, poet and Anglican clergyman.  Herbert was an expert in the Amaryllidaceae family, and he recognized the Guernsey lily as a member.  Furthermore, he was well aware that Francis Masson (1741-1805) had collected specimens during his botanical exploration of the Cape of South Africa (1772-1775) for Kew Gardens.

It's quite possible that Guernsey lilies were found in Japan.  Foreign trade was far more widespread and sophisticated prior to the 18th century than we give credit for.  Or Kaempher and Thunberg, whom Beckman referenced, might have mistaken Lycoris (also in the Amaryllidaceae family) for Guernsey lilies.

Nevertheless, the tale of the ill-fated ship and the introduction of the plant to the rocky shores of Guernsey apparently caught the fancy of Herbert.  Being a scholar and poet himself, he must have known lines such as these:

Often in autumn-time when the grapes are ripening, a Nereis climbs the rocks, and under cover of the shades of night brushes the sea-water from her eyes with a leafy vine-spray, and snatches sweet clusters from the hills. Often is the vintage sprinkled by the neighbouring foam; Satyri plunge into the waters, and Panes from the mountain are fain to grasp the Sea-Nymph as she flies naked through the waves.
-Statius, Silvae 2. 2

So, Herbert named the autumn-blooming genus Nerine (pronounced ne-REE-nee), the patronym of the watery nymphs known as Nereids, daughters of Nereus, who lived with him in a silvery cavern beneath the Aegean Sea.  In Greek mythology, Nereids were patrons of seafarers, often coming to their rescue from shipwrecks.  Shipwrecked or not, sailors were always glad to see women, even if they smelled like fish.

The genus consists of about thirty species.  Colors range from white to pink and red.  They are effective in container gardens, bulb gardens and borders.  Guernsey lilies are wonderful for cutting.  (Incidentally, the island is legendary for the Guernsey cut flower industry.)  They are also superb for naturalizing. 

Nerines need very little attention.  Plant them in spring.  After blooming in fall, the leaves persist throughout the winter, and turn yellow in late spring.  The bulbs are dormant during summer.  During blooming and while foliage is present, they require moist, well-drained soil.  Drier soil is good during dormancy.  In fact, nerine tolerate summer drought quite well.  As with all bulbs, allow the leaves to turn brown before removing them.  Early removal prevents the bulbs from storing reserves for the following year.

Plant hardiness differs according to species, but generally hardy from USDA climate zones 8 to 10, requiring full sun to partial shade and soil high in organic matter.  Recommended pH is from 6.1 to 7.8.

Before planting, take a sample of your garden soil to your local Cooperative Extension Service office.  For a nominal fee, they will send it to a lab for analysis and return a report to you.

Unless you are naturalizing them in the lawn, prepare the planting bed by cultivating at least 10" deep, removing all traces of weeds. Compacted soil should be cultivated to 12" deep.  Common soil amendments include sulfur for lowering pH, limestone for raising pH, sand for helping drainage, clay for slowing drainage, gypsum for breaking up caking clay and compost for enriching the soil.  Bone meal is especially good for bulbs.  Which you should use depends upon the recommendations of the lab analysis based upon your particular circumstance.

Your soil sample report will include fertilizer recommendations.  A good practice is to mix 5 tablespoons of 10-10-10 fertilizer and 2 cups of bone meal per ten square feet area of bulb garden.  Don't let synthetic fertilizer come into direct contact with plants.

Plant nerine bulbs about 8 inches deep and 8 inches apart in spring.  Depth is measured to the bottom of the hole.

After long winters, we yearn to be rescued by spring flowers.  But we often forget that when autumn-time comes we need those strange lilies that appear like stars in our gardens.  Consider planting Guernsey lilies this spring.

Return to Nerine at goGardenNow.com.

FAQ: Which mondo or other ground cover might work best?

I have two separate areas, one is 90% shade (30' x 30'), the other is 100% sun (200' x 125'); both slope, so drain well.  The soil is clay. Can you recommend which mondo (or other ground cover) might work best? At present I have "regular" lawn that needs mowing every two weeks. It seemed that dwarf mondo might be my best alternative, but the more I read up on it, it seems to work best in mostly shade, if so, again, could you recommend a "mondo" type grass that would work in full sun? I like that the dwarf mondo grows to only 3" or 4" tall.

You want to replace your lawn grass with a low-maintenance ground cover.  Dwarf mondo would work well in full sun or shade. My article, Mondo Possibilities For Your Landscape, explains more. For covering an area the size you described with dwarf mondo will require patience. Lirope spicata might be a better choice. It grows taller, about the height of regular mondo, but spreads more rapidly. You can learn more about it from my article, Liriope: A Favorite Ground Cover.


If liriope or mondo are planted in full sun, experience drought and you fail to water, the leaf tips may turn brown. Severe drought might make all the foliage roll up and/or turn brown. But I've laid bare root divisions of liriope and mondo out on hot concrete in full sun for several days, and they revived when planted and watered. However I wouldn't make abuse a regular practice.

The advantage of liriope and mondo over grass, however, is that both will grow well in shade while grass may not. Liriope spicata is cold-hardier than mondo.

Return to goGardenNow.com.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Lycoris - Speaking of Naked Ladies

Plants in the genus Lycoris (pronounced LY-kor-iss or ly-KOR-iss) are sometimes called Naked Ladies.  The name refers to the fact that the blooms appear in the fall not clothed in foliage.   There are, in fact, several plants that share that name.   So, as I mentioned in my blog article on Colchicum, to walk into your local garden center and ask for Naked Ladies may not only cause some confusion, but might get you in trouble.

Apparently for the same reason that Lycoris are called Naked Ladies, the genus is also named for a notorious Roman actress and mime.  Mime was very popular with the ruling classes of 1st century Rome, as were illicit affairs.  Some said she was a common prostitute, perhaps because she had once been a slave, or they were jealous.  Lycoris was her "art" name.  She was also known as Cytheris.  She must have been a delightful beauty, talented and discrete for her paramours included such notables as Publius Volumnius, Mark Antony and Cornelius Gallus.  It was Gallus, the poet, who immortalized her in verse, even after she dumped him.

It was not Gallus who wrote the sad lyrics,

Don't speak
I know just what you're saying
So please stop explaining
Don't tell me cause it hurts
Don't speak
I know what you're thinking
I don't need your reasons
Don't tell me cause it hurts

Volumnius, who appeared in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, was not given volumes to speak, either; just three lines.  It was Mark Antony who wanted everyone to lend him their ears while he did the talking.

The genus consists of a dozen or more species native from Iran to Japan and southeast Asia.  Plants are dormant during summer.  Flowering is during fall, and colors range from white to pink, red, yellow and orange.  Lycoris are effective in container gardens, bulb gardens and borders.  They are also superb for naturalizing.  Lycoris are very easy to care for.  In fact, they often pop up in lawns and around old farmsteads where they have received no attention for years.  As with all bulbs, allow the leaves to turn brown before removing them.  Early removal prevents the bulbs from storing reserves for the following year.

Plant hardiness differs according to species, but generally hardy from USDA climate zones 7 to 10, requiring full sun to partial shade and well-drained soil, preferably high in organic matter.  Recommended pH is from 6.1 to 7.5.

Before planting, take a sample of your garden soil to your local Cooperative Extension Service office.  For a nominal fee, they will send it to a lab for analysis and return a report to you.

Unless you are naturalizing them in the lawn, prepare the planting bed by cultivating at least 8" deep, removing all traces of weeds. Common soil amendments include sulfur for lowering pH, limestone for raising pH, sand for helping drainage, clay for slowing drainage, gypsum for breaking up caking clay and compost for enriching the soil.  Bone meal is especially good for bulbs.  Which you should use depends upon the recommendations of the lab analysis based upon your particular circumstance.

Your soil sample report will also include fertilizer recommendations.  A good all-around practice is to mix 5 tablespoons of 10-10-10 fertilizer and 2 cups of bone meal per ten square feet area of bulb garden.  Be careful that fertilizer does not come into direct contact with plant tissue.

Plant lycoris bulbs 5 to 6 inches deep and 6 to 12 inches apart in the fall.  Depth is measured to the bottom of the hole.  Unless snow or rainfall is inadequate, irrigation should not be necessary.  Slightly moist, well-drained soil is preferred, though summer drought during the dormant period is okay.

Lycoris radiata is the source of the toxic drug, lycorine, which has been used in Chinese medicine as an expectorant (makes one cough up mucus) and emetic (makes one vomit).  It's no wonder because the body doesn't want it in there.  So, it must be noted that all parts of the plant are toxic when ingested.

It's fascinating to grow a plant that brings to mind such colorful characters.  With a couple dozen lycoris bulbs hidden in your garden, history, legend and art will spring up and delight you every autumn.

Return to Lycoris at goGardenNow.com.

Friday, September 24, 2010

About Ixia

The genus, Ixia (pronounced IKS-ee-uh), includes about fifty species. Ixia is native to the western and southern parts of South Africa.  The genus was discovered and named during the late 1700s, though Linnaeus originally classified it as Gladiolus.  It's easy to understand why he did because the similarity is strong.  Among their most obvious shared characteristics are corms, sword-like foliage and flower arrangement on the stems.  Ixia and Gladiolus are members of the Iridaceae family (Iris).

But Ixia wasn't called Gladiolus for long.  Of course, names are given to plants for good reasons.  Sometimes names are bestowed to honor a notable person or to describe some characteristics of the plant, for example.  The name, Ixia, may have seemed all too obvious to Linneaus, but now after about 240 years no one actually knows why he named it so.  It is undoubtedly a latinized form derived from some Greek word.  Could it be from ixos, referring to its sticky sap that reminded Linnaeus of bird-lime?  Bird-lime is a viscous substance that is spread on tree branches to trap delicious birds.

South African botanist Gwendoline Joyce Lewis opined that the name was derived from the Greek word, ixia, which referred to a "chameleon plant" so called for its variable flower colors.  Her theory, apparently, was that Linnaeus thought of the changeable characteristics of chameleons, so he gave the name to this new African genus because of the variable colors between its species.  (To confirm this, I can't find the actual paper she wrote, though it is often referenced in articles on Ixia.)  As it turns out, some of the plants formerly considered to be ixias have since been classified into other genera, so now, the genus is not so variable any more.

But there is one commonly called "chameleon plant" because its flowers are long like chameleon's tongues, and its seeds are sticky like chameleon's tongues.  It is a mistletoe, Loranthus.  As a matter of fact, Italians used to make bird-lime of mistletoe berries, oil and turpentine.  So, then, Linnaeus may have been thinking of bird-lime, after all, and of the mistletoes that went into it.

Is that confusing, or what?  Either way, the name doesn't pretend to describe the beauty of this showy flower.

Why should all that etymology and plant taxonomy matter to us?  Well, because we're gardeners!

Ixia, also known as African Corn Lily, produces star-shaped flowers in a rainbow of various colors on 18" long wiry stems in mid-spring.  The species hybridize easily, so new forms may appear.  The strap-live leaves are quite handsome.  You can plant them in spring anywhere in the garden or in containers.  Cut flowers are long-lasting.  Fragrance is pleasant but discrete, sort of like the vegetable flowers in your garden.  Ixia is ideal for bee and butterfly gardens.

Ixia is cold hardy in USDA climate zones 9 and 10, but the corms are so inexpensive that gardeners in colder zones treat them as annuals. Plant ixia corms 3" to 6" apart and about 6" deep in full sun to partial shade in average, well-drained garden soil.  Ideal pH ranges from 6.1 to 7.8.  Use a high quality grade of potting soil if growing in containers.  Though somewhat drought tolerant during summer months, they benefit from moist soil during the growing season. Leafy mulch is ideal.

Before planting, take a sample of your garden soil to your local Cooperative Extension Service office.  For a nominal fee, they will send it to a lab for analysis and return a report to you.

Prepare the planting bed by cultivating at least 8" deep, removing all traces of weeds. Compacted soil should be cultivated to 12" deep.

Your soil sample report will include fertilizer recommendations based upon the results of the test.  A fine all-around practice for spring-flowering bulbs is to mix 5 tablespoons of 10-10-10 fertilizer and 2 cups of bone meal per ten square feet area of bulb garden.  Repeat the application when shoots appear, but be careful that fertilizer does not come into direct contact with plant tissue.

Planted liberally, Ixia will make a wonderful show in your spring garden.  The flowers are fine for cutting and arrangements, too.  You'll be glad you tried this beautiful South African native.

Return to Ixia at goGardenNow.com.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Lovin' The Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden


Garland Road in Dallas, Texas is a busy thoroughfare on the east side of the city. Driving southwest from Garland toward the city center, bustling traffic doesn't allow a driver to take his eyes off the road for long. Frankly, there doesn't seem to be any reason to look around. Much of the area looks worn. But a long brick wall conceals one of the loveliest spots in the city: The Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden.

In the early 1930s, Everette DeGolyer (1886-1956), a geologist who contributed significantly to the development of the oil industry, chaired a committee to find a site for an arboretum. Perhaps while he was engaged in this endeavor, he found a tract of land overlooking Dallas's White Rock Lake.

White Rock Lake was originally established as a water reservoir to serve the needs of Dallas following a severe drought around 1909. The dairy farm was flooded. The lake was completed by 1912 and immediately became popular as a recreation area. White Rock Lake Park was established in 1929. Wealthy citizens began to purchase property overlooking the scenic landscape. Everett and his wife, Nell Goodrich DeGolyer (1887-1972), purchased the property he found on the eastern shore, not for an arboretum but for a home site.

The DeGolyer home was built in 1939 in the Latin Colonial Revival style, but designed to look like it was a century older. It was a most impressive house with twenty-one thousand square feet and served by central air-conditioning and heating. They called it "Rancho Encinal" because of the many encinas (live oaks) on the grounds.

Over fifty years after DeGolyer's committee began its search, the arboretum became a reality, ironically, at "Rancho Encinal." After purchasing the estate from Southern Methodist University, the City of Dallas began work to create their long-awaited garden. A property neighboring the DeGolyer's home was bought. The Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Gardens opened to the public in 1984. The DeGolyer's home has been recently renovated to appear as it did in the 1940s, and is open for tours on weekends or during special events.

Some folks associate arboreta and botanical gardens with universities, boring sites set aside for research, visited occasionally by professors and students. But the Dallas Arboretum is not that. It's a delightful place for families, full of pleasure, art, music, glorious garden displays and the fun of learning. There is something always going on. This time of year, the Arboretum hosts The Great Pumpkin Festival. This year's festival began 18 September.

On the day we visited, hundreds of people were strolling along the paths, enjoying performances, enjoying the lawns, reading, photographing friends and family, and gazing across the vista at the Dallas skyline. It seemed that around every corner a wedding was beginning or in progress. Brides were posing everywhere in cowboy boots.  Some folks lingered quietly by water gardens colored by koi. Everywhere the laughter of children could be heard. I was impressed by the wonderful architectural features, sculptures, masses of mums and perennials, elegant walks, quiet pathways and fall landscapes. What a wonderful day it was.

Of course, research takes place, too. Plants of all sorts can be seen on display in trial gardens. Examples of xeriscaping taught visitors how to maintain a beautiful landscape with less waterXeriscaping is a concept which time has come.  But the sheer exhuberance of color and scenery demonstrates that learning can be fun and that gardening is delightful. No doubt, many who visited that day returned home inspired to start planning, planting and getting their hands dirty for the sake of beauty.

To experience this season's Great Pumpkin Festival, be sure to visit before mid-November. You can click on links above to enjoy photographs made during my visit. You'll be lovin' the Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden.

Return to goGardenNow.com.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Eucomis - Tropical Pineapple Lily

Of all the tropical bulbs I know, Pineapple Lily is one of the most amusing, resembling a tousle-headed cartoon character from outer space.  Long spikes up to 24" appear in late summer to early fall, bristling with hyacinth-like flowers and topped with a crown of leafy green.  Flower colors range from light green to purple.  The common name is inspired by the plant's resemblance to the tropical fruit.

Pineapple Lily belongs to the genus Eucomis (pronounced YOU-com-iss), which name is a combination of two Greek words meaning "beautiful hair of the head".  It is a member of the Hyacinthaceae family.  Eucomis comprises about a dozen species native to South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Swaziland, Malawi and Zimbabwe.  Their native habitat includes grassy savannas, forests, near rivers and swamps.  They are rarely found in arid regions.

Eucomis was introduced in 1878 by the famous James Veitch & Sons nursery near Exeter.  The Veitch nursery was one of the most important nurseries in the UK.  The family is immortalized in the names of many ornamental landscape plants.

Eucomis adds a bold, tropical appearance to the landscape.  It is very suitable for perennial borders and container gardens.  An African or tropical theme garden would be incomplete without lots of them. 

Pineapple lily is cold hardy in USDA climate zones 7b to 11. Gardeners in colder climates lift and store them over winter for planting the following spring.  Take a sample of your garden soil to your local Cooperative Extension Service office before planting.  For a nominal fee, they will send it to a lab for analysis and recommendations.

Eucomis prefers full sun and average, well-drained garden soil.  Prepare the planting bed by cultivating at least 8" deep, removing all traces of weeds.  A good all-around practice for bulbs and such is to mix 5 tablespoons of 10-10-10 fertilizer and 2 cups of bone meal per ten square feet area of bulb garden.  Repeat the application when growth appears, but be careful that fertilizer does not come into direct contact with plant tissue.

Plant the Eucomis bulbs about 4" deep.  Depth is measured to the bottom of the hole.  Space the bulbs 8" to 12" apart.

Eucomis requires very little maintenance.  It is perennial, so you can leave the plants undisturbed for years.  Water regularly, but don't over-water.  If planted in a windy area, the flower stalks may require staking.  After blooming, be sure to let the leaves yellow and die before cutting them.  Leaving them alone will allow the bulbs to build up food reserves for a glorious show the next year.

Though introduced over 130 years ago, Eucomis may be a new discovery to many gardeners, and perhaps to you.  If you've not tried this novel Pineapple Lily, you should include it in your garden this coming spring.

Return to Eucomis at goGardenNow.com.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Discover Hardy Gloxinia

Alexander von Humboldt (1769 - 1859), German traveler and explorer once complained, "People often say that I'm curious about too many things at once: botany, astronomy, comparative anatomy.  But can you really forbid a man from harbouring a desire to know and embrace everything that surrounds him?"

Humboldt had been trained in biology, geology, chemistry, physics and history.  With knowledge and wanderlust, he followed his passion and traveled to South America to explore the continent.  Following his five-year journey, he published over the next twenty years a thirty volume account of his exploration, and introduced the world to wonders of that continent.  Charles Darwin considered him "the greatest scientific traveler who ever lived."

Pierre Nicolas Le Chéron d'Incarville, following his passion, also introduced the world to exotic wonders.  Those, however, were of the Orient.  d'Incarville's first passion was to take Christianity to China.  As a Jesuit missionary, he was charged to convert the Qianlong Emperor.  The emperor was not interested, but they developed mutual respect based upon their common interest in plants.  While in China, d'Incarville wrote several works on China which were published in Europe, including a French-Chinese dictionary.  He also catalogued Chinese plants and sent back seeds unknown to Europe.

A genus of plants which he introduced to the West was given his name to honor his work:  Incarvillea (pronounced in-car-VIL-ee-uh).  The genus contains about 16 species, all native to central and eastern Asia.

Jean Marie Delavay (1834–1895) was another who was curious about many things at once.  A French missionary to China, he was also passionate about plants and exploration.  His missionary zeal worked both ways, for as he worked to introduce Chinese to Christ, he worked to introduce France to the plants of China.  He sent over 200,000 specimens to his homeland.  From them, over 1500 new species were discovered.

Several plants commemorate Father Delavay's work in their names.  One is Incarvillea delavayi (pronounced del-uh-VAY-ee), a species that honors two great plant explorers at once. 

I. delavayi, also known as hardy gloxinia, is a lovely selection for the garden.  With velvety, deciduous foliage, it grows to 24" tall and produces showy pink or white flowers.  The flowers appear in late spring to mid-summer.  They're fragrant, too, and great for cutting.  Plants self-sow readily from seed.  Many gardeners include hardy gloxinias in their butterfly gardens.  They are also suitable for container gardens, and can be grown indoors.

I. delavayi is cold hardy in USDA climate zones 6 to 10.  The site should be in full sun or partial shade.  Soil should be well-drained, with pH ranging from 6.1 to 7.8.  Incarvillea is drought-tolerant, so is often chosen for xeriscaping.  That said, however, Incarvillea flowers best when the soil is slightly moist.

As always, take a sample of your garden soil to your local Cooperative Extension Service office before planting.  They will send it to a lab for analysis and recommendations.  Expect to pay a nominal fee.  If you don't understand the report, ask the County Agent to interpret it for you.

Planting begins in spring.  Prepare the planting bed by cultivating at least 8" deep, removing all traces of weeds.  A good all-around practice is to mix 5 tablespoons of 10-10-10 fertilizer and 2 cups of bone meal per ten square feet area of garden.  Repeat the application when growth appears, but be careful that fertilizer does not come into direct contact with plant tissue.

Plant hardy gloxinia tubers about 3" to 5" deep.  Depth is measured to the bottom of the hole or trench.  If the tubers are separated, they may be planted horizontally.  Recommended plant spacing is 12" to 15" apart.  Water well, then let the soil become slightly dry before watering again.  The plants don't require much maintenance.

Unfortunately, hardy gloxinias are not planted widely enough.  When discovered, gardeners often try them out of curiosity.  But it is that desire to know and embrace that characterizes plant lovers.  So follow that desire to explore.  Try hardy gloxinias in your garden.

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Enjoy The Fragrance Of Summer Hyacinth

When warm breezes bear their fragrances, Summer Hyacinth should be among them.  Also known as Galtonia candicans, Summer Hyacinth brings the beauty of hyacinths to your late summer garden.  It's a member of the Hyacinthaceae family, perennial plants that grow from flower bulbs.  The blooms are much taller than Dutch Hyacinths.  Flowers are produced in late summer to early fall on stems up 48" to long.  After flowering, the leaves yellow and die.

The genus, Galtonia (pronounced gal-TOH-nee-ah), was named to honor the brilliant Sir Francis Galton (1855 - 1911).  Galton was a man of exceptional genius and a member of a family of Victorian notables, including Charles Darwin.  Not simply a dabbler, he was an accomplished explorer, anthropologist, inventor, meteorologist, geographer and statistician.  Galton also founded such disciplines as eugenics and psychometrics, and laid the foundation in the study of genetics.

G. candicans (pronounced KAN-dee-kans) is arguably the most popular of the few Galtonia species.  Candicans refers to the white color of the bell-shaped flowers.  It is native to South Africa.

Summer Hyacinth is cold hardy in USDA climate zones 6 to 8 if mulched during winter.  It is completely cold hardy in climate zones 9 to 10.  Gardeners in colder climates can grow Summer Hyacinth plants in containers or in the garden, dig them in fall, and store them over winter.  However, it must be noted that Summer Hyacinths really don't like to be disturbed.

Summer Hyacinths thrive in full sun and well-drained soil.  Best pH should range from 6.5 to 7.5.

As always, take a sample of your garden soil to your local Cooperative Extension Service office before planting.  They will send it to a lab for analysis and recommendations.  Expect to pay a nominal fee.  If you don't understand the report, ask the County Agent to interpret it for you.

Planting begins in spring.  Prepare the planting bed by cultivating at least 8" deep, removing all traces of weeds.  A good all-around practice for bulbs and such is to mix 5 tablespoons of 10-10-10 fertilizer and 2 cups of bone meal per ten square feet area of bulb garden.  Repeat the application when growth appears, but be careful that fertilizer does not come into direct contact with plant tissue.

Plant the bulbs about 6" deep.  Depth is measured to the bottom of the hole.  Recommended plant spacing is 8" to 12" apart.

The plants require very little maintenance.  Plant them and forget about them.  They are wonderful for bulb gardens, perennial gardens, container gardens.  Summer Hyacinths are superb as cut flowers.  They last a long time.  The white blooms are wonderful when contrasted with plants having darker colored foliage and flowers.  After blooming, be sure to let the leaves yellow and die before cutting them.  Leaving them alone will allow the bulbs to build up food reserves for a glorious show the next year.  Believe me, a generous planting of Summer Hyacinths will delight the eye and nose.

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Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Enchanting Hardy Cyclamen

I pluck the cyclamen
red by wine-red
and place the petals
stiff ivory and bright fire
against my flesh

Now I am powerless 
to draw back
for the sea is cyclamen-purple
cyclamen red, colour of the last grapes
colour of the purple of the flowers
cyclamen-coloured and dark.

 - H.D., from The God

Cyclamen (pronounced SIGH-kla-men) is a genus of 23 species of perennials mostly native to the Mediterranean region, and often naturalized elsewhere.  The name refers to the twisted flower stalks of some species.  Flower colors range from white to deep burgundy.  With their alluring, swept-back petals and charming foliage, cyclamen are captivating.  Perhaps that is why some are so popular as gift plants.

Daniel Foley, Editor of Horticulture and staff member of the Massachusetts Horticultural Society, wrote that Cyclamen europaeum "which was dedicated to Mary was also used as a charm against bad weather. From the angle of its blooms on their stems it was known in Germany as Our Lady's Little Ladles."  Others, Paghat for example, suggest that the genus has associations with witchcraft (that's possible) and that the oil of cyclamen applied externally has mysterious powers beneficial to women (that's doubtful).

In literature, cyclamen were considered to be so enchanting that children seeking them in the forests might never return.

The gentle cyclamen with dewy eye
Breathes o'er her lifeless babe
The parting sigh;
And bending low with pious hands
Inhumes her dear departed in the sands.
Sweet Nursling, withering in thy tender hour,
"Oh, sleep," She cries and rise a fairer flower!"

- Erasmus Darwin, The Botanic Garden

It's more complicated, but you can see the symbol of the BVM in Darwin's poem.  Keep in mind that, like very many ornamental plants, cyclamen are toxic if eaten.

Unfortunately, the most popular gift species, C. persicum, is not cold-hardy, so it comes as a surprise to many of today's gardeners that some cyclamen species may actually be grown outdoors.  But gardeners in ages past knew it for hardy cyclamen, flowering in autumn and winter, were often grown in cemeteries to provide seasonal color.

Cyclamen hederifolium, also known as C. neapolitanum, (seen in the photo above) may take cold weather best.  Hederifolium (pronounced hed-er-ih-FOH-lee-um) means "having leaves like Hedera (the ivy genus).  Common names include Hardy Cyclamen and Ivy-Leaved Cyclamen.  It is certainly the most widely cultivated among the hardy cyclamen.  It is a lovely little plant, native from southern France to western Turkey, that adds charm to the shady corner of your garden.  You'll enjoy the ivy-shaped, variegated foliage and fragrant, pink flowers from late summer to early fall.  Though very similar in appearance to the florist cyclamen, hardy cyclamen thrives outdoors in USDA zones 5 through 9, performing best in light shade.  It even produces seed and self-sows readily when conditions are to its liking.  Soil should be well-drained but slightly moist.  Take care not to over-water.  Recommended pH is 6.1 to 7.8.  Take a soil sample to your nearby Cooperative Extension Service office to determine the soil pH.

They can be grown from seeds, stem tubers or established plants.  Planting stem tubers combines reliability and economy.

Cyclamen tubers will be firm.  Roots grow from the sides and bottom.  The tops will be slightly rough with some little bumps from which new growths emerge.  Plant cyclamen tubers in the spring.  When planting, space the tubers about 10" to 12" apart and cover with 1" to 2" of soil.  Water well and gently, taking care not to wash the tubers out of the soil.  Allow the soil to become dry before watering again.

Hardy cyclamen are sure to delight you.  Whether they will ward off bad weather or bestow mysterious benefits is doubtful.  But I believe that if you plant some in your garden and become beguiled by their beauty, you will still return safely indoors.

Return to Cyclamen at goGardenNow.com.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Results Of Community Poll Ending 6 September, 2010

Our community poll ending 6 September, 2010 asked the question, "Why don't you shop at farmers markets more often?"

One third responded saying, "I don't know where to find one."  Another third responded saying, "Farmers markets aren't open when I want to shop."  The rest responded saying, "It's too far to drive", or "The selection is not as good as at the grocery store."

One possible answer received no responses:  "The products sold at farmers markets cost more."

Of course, all those answers are legitimate.  State-run farmers markets are relatively few and far between.  I know of five in Georgia:  Atlanta, Augusta, Columbus, Macon and Savannah.  Clearly, that is too far to drive for most folks, and even driving across town is inconvenient for shoppers in larger cities.

Fortunately, many citizens are recognizing the value of eating locally-grown produce.  In response to the demand, new organizations are popping up all over the country to sponsor weekend farmers markets in more locations.  Local Harvest and PickYourOwn.org web sites are great resources for finding them.

It's true that grocery stores offer greater selections, many items being from far-away places like Mexico, Chile, China, Thailand, Guatemala.  But if you're concerned about how your food has been grown and handled, you might prefer to buy directly from the farmer.

I do hope that local markets will eventually become more commonplace and convenient.  But for that to happen, they must be supported.  So I encourage you to find those farmers markets, pick-your-own farms, dairy, egg- and meat-producers, fishermen and shrimpers, and buy from them.  In response, more local operations will become economically sustainable, providing more locations with greater selections to shop.

FAQ: Why do my grapes fall off the vines?

I have Muscadine vines that have, after many years, covered my arbor.  It's about 12' x 18' x 8' high.  The soil is very poor,  yellow sandy soil.  I have 6 or 7 plants planted around the perimeter which now cover the top.  I give each each plant 4 or 5 cups of 10-10-10 fertilizer in February and I give them a lesser amount in June.  I have never pruned these vines, but I intend to this February.  I generally do not water them, except in very dry weather.  This arbor does not get full sun, probably one side gets morning sun and the other side gets afternoon sun.  My problem is, I get a good stand of fruit, but the fruit falls off when the grapes are very small.  I got like two very small grapes that actually ripened.  Also, I noticed some of the leaves were being eaten by something very small.  I never could see the culprit.  Not all over the arbor, just here and there.  Would you have any idea why my grapes fall off the vines and what should I do about these "bugs" eating the grape leaves?

I'm not sure exactly why the grapes are falling off, but if they fall off after your June fertilizer application, that could be the reason.  Ideally, your vines should receive full sun to produce higher yields, but they don't, so there's no sense in discussing that.  Muscadines are native to wooded areas anyway.  They don't naturally grow in open fields.  Excess nitrogen can cause fruit drop.  I believe this is the problem.  You probably don't need to fertilize them in June.  There may be another problem, perhaps a micro-nutrient deficiency.  Extremely dry soil conditions can also cause fruit drop, but I suspect that it's related to fertilizer application.

It sounds like the bugs (or whatever) that are eating some grape leaves are not causing a significant problem.  Some sort of beetle may be the culprit, but I wouldn't worry about it unless the problem becomes severe.

Your vines should be pruned annually, so it's good that you have that planned for this winter.

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