Thursday, October 27, 2011

Peacock Flower - Lovely By Any Name

Call it Peacock Flower, Abyssinian Gladiolus, Fragrant Gladiolus, Sword Lily, Acidanthera bicolor, Acidanthera murielae or Gladiolus callianthus. Why it's called Peacock Flower is easy to guess, as is the appellation, "fragrant." "Abyssinian" because it is considered to be native to Ethiopia (some say to Madagascar). It's called Sword Lily because the leaves are sword-like, long and tapering to a point. The name Gladiolus means "little sword." It's called bicolor because the flower is either red, pink or purple on white. Callianthus means "beautiful flower." It was given the name murielae in honor of Muriel Wilson, daughter of famous plantsman and explorer Ernest H. "Chinese" Wilson (1876-1930). Acidanthera refers to the sharp anthers in the center of the flower. Whether one prefers the name Gladiolus or Acidanthera depends on whether one views it as a species of Gladiolus or a genus of its own.

By any name, it is a lovely flower that is easy to grow. It possesses a distinctive tropical elegance. Peacock Flower looks like other gladioli in most respects. The plant grows to 3 feet tall. Long flower spikes produce butterfly-like blossoms along the length. The height, bold foliage and showy flowers add interest to bulb gardens and perennial borders.

Peacock Flower is hardy from USDA climate zones 7 through 11. Blooms, suitable for cutting and flower arrangements, may appear from mid-summer to fall.

Choose a site in full sun with average, consistently moist but well-drained garden soil. Preferred pH may range from 6.1 to 7.5. Take a soil sample to your nearby Cooperative Extension Service for analysis. Follow the recommendations.

Cultivate the soil to a depth of twelve inches and amend it according to soil test recommendations. Remove weeds and debris during cultivation. It is usually a good idea to incorporate superphosphate into the soil before planting at the rate of two pounds per 50 feet of row. If superphosphate is not available, an application of 5-10-5 fertilizer at the same rate is recommended. Plant Peacock Flowers four to six inches deep and six inches apart in spring when the weather and soil has warmed. Do not allow synthetic fertilizer to contact the corms. Cover with soil and water well. An application of mulch can suppress weeds and help to retain moisture. All gladioli benefit from generous feeding. A second application of 5-10-5 fertilizer may be applied as a side dressing at the rate of two pounds per 50 feet of row when the emerging bloom spike can be felt at the base of the foliage. Again, the fertilizer should not come into contact with the plants. Avoid high nitrogen fertilizers. Too much fertilization can encourage bulb diseases.

When cutting for flower arrangements, choose stems with no more than three flowers in bloom. For best results, cut the stems in the early morning or late evening when temperatures are cooler. Leave a few leaves on each plant so the corms will remain strong. Most growers allow four leaves to remain on the corm. Use a sharp knife or clippers making a clean cut. Plunge the lower ends of the stems immediately in a bucket of cool water.

Peacock Flowers are not hardy in colder climates than USDA zone 7. The corms can be dug in fall and saved for planting the next spring. For more information about that, read my article, FAQ: When should I cut my gladioli? .

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FAQ: When should I cut my gladiolas?

Q. When should I cut my gladiolas?

A. Flowering stalks of gladioli (gladioluses, gladiolus or glads) may be cut when they are blooming. The flowers at the bottom of the stalk bloom first, and continue upward. It's best to cut gladioli when two or three of the lower flowers have fully opened. The best time of day to cut gladiolus stems is in the morning. You'll need sharp, clean clippers and a vessel of cool water. Place the stems in the water immediately after cutting to prevent the flowers from wilting. If you leave some flowering gladiolus stalks in your garden, cut them back as soon as the last flower fades.

Gladiolus leaves should remain on the plant until late summer as fall approaches. This will allow the plant to store food reserves in the corm, and to produce new corms. Eventually, the leaves will begin to look yellow and worn. Then you can prune the gladiolus leaves to ground-level. Remove the cut leaves to your compost bin.

If you live in a warm climate zone, you may leave the corms in the ground during winter. If you live in a cool climate zone, carefully dig the gladiolus corms before frost. If you have particular varieties, sort and label them. While sorting the corms, check them for firmness. Discard gladiolus corms that are soft. You'll notice that the corms are covered with a papery tissue. Do not remove it. Brush off any remaining soil. Store the gladiolus corms over winter in a cool, dark place where the temperature is about 40 degrees F.

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Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Indian Holly Fern - Beauty In Simplicity

Poking around one of my favorite streams in a wood, I saw a rather common fern for what seemed like the first time. Sure, I had noticed it before, but this time was different for I stopped long enough for a closer look and to be delighted by what I saw. Early plant explorers surely knew such pleasures. I imagine them hardly disembarked before stopping to study new finds and collect samples.

Karl Ludwig von Blume (1796-1862) was one of them. A German-Dutch botanist, he spent much of his life in southern Asia, especially in what is modern Indonesia. At the time, most of the archipelago was a Dutch colony. What a botanical treasure-trove he found.

Blume named a genus of ferns, Arachniodes (pronounced a-rak-nee-OH-dees), meaning "spider-like." The name was suggested, of course, by the growth habit of the plant. There are over 100 Asian species within the genus, and about 140 New World species.

A. simplicior (pronounced sim-PLIK-ee-or) is arguably the most beautiful. Common names include East Indian Holly Fern, Indian Holly Fern, Simplicior Fern and Shield Fern. Simplicior means "simpler", and it is in comparison with many of the other species which appear quite intricate. Its beauty is in its simplicity. Glossy evergreen fronds and pinnules are long and arching with light green variegation extending their lengths. It grows 12 inches to 24 inches high and may spread to 30 inches.

Indian Holly fern performs well in USDA climate zones 7 to 10 in partial shade. It prefers consistently moist soil, but not wet. Space large container-grown Indian Holly ferns 24 inches to 30 inches apart. Smaller ones can be planted closer together. Recommended pH is 6.5 to 7.5.

Such planting sites as those I mentioned shouldn't require cultivation. However, it's always wise to take a soil sample to your nearest Cooperative Extension Service office for analysis. You'll pay a nominal fee, and receive results within a couple of weeks. Follow instructions. I have found that ferns usually benefit from a top-dressing of compost and occasional feeding with diluted fish emulsion.

Shade gardens, fern collections, woodlands, moist stream banks and Asian gardens are perfect for the Indian Holly fern. Because it is relatively small, compact and evergreen, it also makes a fine house plant. It is deer-resistant. Indian Holly fern would make any plant explorer or garden visitor stop in his tracks for a closer look.

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FAQ: Should I prune my Knockout roses this time of year?

Q. Should I prune my Knockout roses this time of year? They have grown too big.

A. I understand that you are concerned about the appearance of your Knockout roses, but I advise you to wait. Pruning stimulates new growth. New growth is easily damaged by freezing temperatures.

Now it's late October, so cold weather will be arriving soon, if it has not already, in most parts of the country. If you live in a mild climate such as south Florida, you may prune Knockout roses now without much risk of damage. However, if you live in a colder climate, you should wait until spring when danger of freezing is past.

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Thursday, October 20, 2011

Inspiring Fiddlehead Ferns

Gentle fiddleheads
sprout like no characters
in earthly paradise

-Bosha Kawabata

The Fiddlehead fern is known botanically as Matteuccia struthiopteris (pronounced mat-TEW-kee-ah struth-ee-OH-ter-us), so named to honor Carlo Matteucci, a 19th century Italian physicist. Struthiopteris refers to the fronds which reminded some taxonomist of ostrich (genus Struthio) feathers. Other common names include Ostrich fern, for obvious reasons, and Shuttlecock fern. "Shuttlecock" because the array of spore-bearing fertile fronds that are produced in early spring resemble that thing you whack in a game of badminton.

Other botanical names applied occasionally to this fern have included Matteuccia pennsylvanica, Pteris nodulosa, Struthiopteris filicastrum, Struthiopteris pensylvanica, and Osmunda struthiopteris. Just so you know; it's not that important.

The name, Fiddlehead, could just as well be given to most any fern for their young fronds resemble the scroll or crosier of a violin as they emerge in spring. But I think the name is probably applied to Matteuccia because of its popularity as a spring delicacy, and the fiddlehead is what foragers look for.

Novice foragers should beware. Eating the wrong fiddlehead can make one ill. Matteuccia has a brown, papery covering at the base of the shoots. Other ferns may have fuzzy shoots or shiny green ones. Matteuccia can also be identified by a distinct groove on the front of mature fronds, the absence of spores on the back, a crown-like structure at the base of the fronds, and underground rhizomes growing outward from the crown. If that sounds like too much trouble, look for harvested fiddleheads in the northeastern U.S. at some farmers markets in the spring.

Matteuccia is a graceful garden fern from the moment the fiddleheads begin to emerge, inspiring poets and artists with its elegance. It grows to 6 feet tall, but more often to 4 feet. It spreads to 5 feet to 8 feet. The foliage is deciduous.

Native Matteuccia can be found growing in sandy soils near riverbanks and streams from southern Alaska to northern Virginia, but can be found in gardens from USDA climate zones 2 through 10. That's a very wide range, indeed.

Choose a site for yours in partial to full shade. Soil should be consistently moist, but well-drained and acidic (pH 5.6 to 6.0). Sandy loam is recommended. To determine if your soil needs amendment, take a sample to your nearby Cooperative Extension Service for analysis. Follow the instructions you receive.

If the soil needs no added sand, cultivation should not be necessary. Remove all traces of weeds before planting. Space container grown plants 24 inches to 36 inches apart. Bare root plants may be planted closer. Dig planting holes into the soil a little less deep than the depth of the growing container.  Water the plants in the pots, then drain.  Place the ferns into the holes and back-fill, watering as you go. Press soil around the root balls. Do not cover entirely the root balls with soil. The tops should be slightly exposed. Add a top-dressing of mulch around the plants, not on top of them, about 1 inch deep.

Matteuccia is perfect for moist, shady woodland gardens, native plant collections and wet areas near streams or ponds. Suitable companions include astilbes and hostas. Early spring wildflowers like Phacelia, Trillium, Claytonia, Sanguinaria, and Erythronium can be planted beneath them. You'll be inspired.

Fiddlehead fern!
Malachite blossom-
unfurl your sweet
head and wave
delicate jade fingers;
you darling jewel of
veridian tang.
My tongue sweats
at the very first
hint of your rising

--Andromeda Jazmon, from Esperanto: Ode to Green

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Monday, October 17, 2011

FAQ: About bare root plants.

Q. I've never done bare-root before.  Is survival rate lower than with potted material? How soon after shipping do they need to be planted? Care before planting if they need to wait awhile (weeks) before planting?

A. Survival rate can be lower than potted material, but that depends upon the care they receive. Survival rate also depends upon the plant. Some tolerate lots of abuse while others do not. Liriope and Ophiopogon, daylilies, irises tolerate lots of abuse.

None should be allowed to dry out entirely, be exposed to wind, sun or freezing temperatures before planting.

Ideally, bare root plants should be planted within a day of receipt. The plants are bundled, wrapped in moist packing material. We ship early in the week so that plants will arrive by the weekend.

If they can't be planted immediately, open the shipping container, set the bundles upright in the container, moisten bundles if necessary, keep in the shade. If plants can not be planted for several days, set the bundles in a nursery pot of potting soil and soak them in. Keep in shade. Check moisture daily.

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Monday, October 10, 2011

The Lasdon Park and Arboretum

" Envy always dogs merit at the heels, there may be those who will whisper..."
-Sir Walter Scott, Old Mortality

As I visit private gardens, and those that once were, envy often rears it's head. Gardens of the wealthy are most desirable. Never mind that I don't have the means to establish and maintain such Edens, I want very much to own them, anyway. So I'm reminded that el pecado mortal is not exclusively a transgression of the wealthy, and that contentment is a rare jewel. My recent visit to Lasdon Park and Arboretum was another opportunity to learn the lesson. Follow me to see what grows behind that garden wall.

The property was formerly known as Cobbling Rock Farm, owned by Dr. Antonie Phineas Voislawsky (1872-1939). Dr. Voislawsky, a graduate of Dartmouth Medical College, was a well-respected rhinologist and otolaryngologist from New York City. He had practiced and consulted at various hospitals in and around New York City.

Situated off Route 35 in Somers, New York, Lasdon is bounded on the south and east by New York City watershed property and the Amawalk River. When the house burned in the early 1930s, Dr. Voislawsky rebuilt it as a three-story Colonial Revival style mansion, resembling George Washington’s Mount Vernon. After Dr. Voislawsky died in 1939, William S. and Mildred Lasdon purchased the estate for a country retreat.

William Stanley Lasdon's (b.1896 in Brooklyn, d.1984 in Manhattan) distinguished career included co-establishing and serving as treasurer of the Pyridium Corporation, officer and director of Nepera Chemical Company founded by Dr. Leo Hendrik Baekeland, a partner of Harriman Chemical Company, vice chairman and chairman of the executive committee of the Warner-Lambert Company, board member of Albert Einstein College of Medicine, a member of the Cornell University Medical College Board of Overseers, and a member of the Business Advisory Committee for Nixon-Agnew. In addition, he was president of the Lasdon Foundation, which he and members of his family set up in 1946 to support medical research and cultural institutions. Lasdon, along with Margaret Van Rensselaer Voislawsky (the widow of Dr. Voislawsky) and others, was also a charter member of the Somers Historical Society (1956).

The Lasdon estate provided jobs for a full-time staff to maintain the house and grounds. Mr. Lasdon had a strong interest in horticulture, so he imported many plant specimens to his estate as he traveled the world.

After Mr. Lasdon died, there was some interest in developing the property for commercial purposes. However, Westchester County purchased the land in 1986 for $4.2 million to preserve open space. It now adjoins the county's Muscoot Farm Park and the Mildred D. Lasdon Bird and Nature Sanctuary.

The Lasdon Park and Arboretum consists of over 200 acres with thematic sections joined by walking trails.

The William and Mildred Lasdon Memorial Garden, is located next to a parking area, so might be the one you'd visit first. The one-acre garden was made possible by a donation by their daughter, Mrs. Nanette Laitman. Within it are an entrance court and fragrance garden, the Formal Garden with fountain and busts of the Lasdons, and the Synoptic Garden. The Synoptic Garden features a collection of shrubs from A to Z, literally, beginning with Abelia x grandiflora 'Compacta' and ending with Zenobia pulverulenta.

The small Rain Garden appears to be a new addition. Rain gardens are becoming very popular as the importance of water conservation gains more attention. The rain garden at Lasdon serves a functional as well as educational purpose.

I visited in late July, so missed the Lilac Walk and Azalea Garden in bloom. For the same reason, I was unable to enjoy the magnificence of the Magnolia Collection and the Flowering Tree Grove. (I did see the Fragrant Epaulette, Pterostyrax hispida, in display.) This is true of any single garden visit; the seasons and their beauties are ever changing. You must visit often. I do intend to visit Lasdon during the appropriate seasons if I have opportunities.

The Magnolia Collection is home to a variety of species, including rare yellow-flowered ones. Some of the specimens were developed at the Brooklyn Botanical Garden in the 1950s.

The Conifer Collection includes species large and small. A special area is devoted to dwarf conifers. Among them I believe I spotted several varieties of Pinus parviflora, and P. thunbergiana 'Thunderhead'. It was difficult to be sure exactly for many of them were unlabeled.

The Street Tree Grove lines a drive, appropriately enough. Lindens, maples and oaks dominated the collection. Though the species were on trial for the New York State climate, any city planner and arborist would do well to visit the grove.

The Famous and Historic Tree Trail is a bit off the beaten path, though it's an easy walk to reach it. It features species that commemorate historic events and notable people from American history. The trees were propagated from seeds of parent trees that were witnesses to these characters and times. Small signs along a path tell their stories. The seeds were provided by the American Forestry Association.

The Chinese Friendship Pavilion and Cultural Garden symbolize the friendship between citizens of Westchester County and its Sister City, Jingzhou, in the People's Republic of China. The pavilion, the focal point of the garden, was given by that city, where it was constructed, disassembled, and shipped to the United States. It was reconstructed in the Cultural Garden by Chinese craftsmen with the assistance of park staff. The pavilion is surrounded by native Chinese species and overlooks a picturesque pond where we found deer meditating despite a gaggle of geese.

The Lasdon House was only recently opened to the public. Guided tours are available. The house provides offices for various horticulturally oriented civic groups, a library, and offers meeting spaces for workshops and classes. The pool house has been converted into a gift shop.

When I visited, concert-goers were arriving for an evening of music during the Midsummer Night Music Series. I wanted to stay for it, but couldn't. Other pleasant events are scheduled throughout the year.

I was unable to explore the Mildred D. Lasdon Bird and Nature Sanctuary. It's a 22-acre preserve which was donated to the county in 1976 by William Lasdon and named for his wife. Trails provide bird-watchers opportunities to view many species in various habitats.

The Westchester Veterans Memorial and Museum is also on site, but was closed the day I visited. It's only open on weekends.

Horticultural research is ongoing at Lasdon Park and Arboretum. A number of surviving native American chestnuts were discovered growing there, so a cooperative effort has been in progress since 1992 to develop blight-resistant chestnuts. Similarly, Lasdon is home to a large number of dogwood trees from around the world where they are studied to develop resistance to various diseases of Cornus species.

The park is open from 8 am to 4 pm daily. Fees are not charged for general visits.

Researching the lives of William S. and Mildred D. Lasdon was about as interesting as exploring their country estate. Perhaps it has to do with a common fascination of wealth, the people who attain it, and by what means. Lasdon had a lot of it. Wanting a piece of it is prevalent. Suspecting the motives and means of those who have it is pervasive. Though he had some argument with the IRS, and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation had issues with his Estate, it seems he was a man of merit and earned his estate fairly. He certainly dispensed with a lot of it philanthropically.

As I strolled through the Lasdon Park and Arboretum, I caught myself thinking, "Why can't I have something like this? Why them and not me?" Though too natural, it's odd how envy stirs in the hearts of men and women, even when walking through a garden.

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Saturday, October 8, 2011

FAQ: What garden tasks should I do in October?

Among the most frequently asked questions, "When is the best time to...", is near the top of the list. Here are a few gardening tasks for October organized by region.

Northeast States: Frost is possible. Plant and transplant broadleaf and evergreen trees and shrubs, perennials and ground covers. Divide perennials and transplant. Dig tender bulbs to protect over winter. Plant spring-flowering bulbs. Pot up spring bulbs for forcing. Prune shrubs that bloomed in late summer. Take hardwood cuttings to root over winter. Fertilize trees and shrubs after they become dormant. Continue to irrigate shrubs and trees until ground freezes. Continue garden cleanup. Compost debris. Feed house plants.

Mid-Atlantic States: Frost is possible. Plant and transplant evergreen and broadleaf shrubs and trees, perennials and ground covers. Divide perennials and transplant. Plant spring-flowering bulbs. Sow winter annuals, vegetables. Plant winter vegetable sets. Pot up spring bulbs for forcing. Prune shrubs that bloomed in late summer. Feed house plants. Take hardwood cuttings to root over winter. Fertilize trees and shrubs when they become dormant. Continue fall cleanup. Compost debris. Continue to irrigate shrubs and trees until ground freezes.

Mid-South States: Early frost is possible. Plant and transplant shrubs and trees, perennials and ground covers. Divide perennials and transplant. Plant container grown mums. Plant spring-flowering bulbs. Set out cool season vegetables. Prune shrubs that bloomed in late summer.Take hardwood cuttings for propagation. Continue fall cleanup.  Compost debris. Continue to irrigate shrubs and trees.  Feed house plants. Continue rose care. Continue lawn care. Watch for signs of brown patch in lawn and apply fungicide if necessary.

Lower South and Gulf States: Plant winter-blooming annuals. Plant or transplant trees, shrubs, ground covers, roses, spring and summer blooming perennials, spring blooming bulbs. Lightly prune trees and shrubs, but do not prune spring-blooming trees and shrubs. Remove or prune trees and branches damaged by storms. Take hardwood cuttings for propagation. Continue lawn maintenance. Root prune trees and shrubs that you might wish to move next spring. Order bulbs for fall planting, if you haven't already. Continue to irrigate shrubs and trees. Continue rose care. Continue lawn care or begin lawn renovation. Watch for signs of brown patch in lawn and apply fungicide if necessary. Feed house plants.

Plains and Rocky Mountain States: Early frost is possible. Plant and transplant trees and shrubs, perennials, ground covers. Sow cool-season vegetable seeds for fall crop. Divide perennials. Prune trees and shrubs that bloomed in summer. Continue garden cleanup. Add debris to compost pile. Continue lawn maintenance. Plant spring-flowering bulbs. Dig and store tender bulbs. Take hardwood cuttings for propagation. Remove dead wood in trees and shrubs. Feed house plants.

Pacific Southwest and Desert States: Early frost is possible. Plant and transplant trees and shrubs, perennials and ground covers. Continue fall planting, sow cool-season annuals and vegetables. Divide perennials and deadhead perennials. Prune trees and shrubs that bloomed in summer. Clean up garden and add debris to compost pile. Continue lawn maintenance. Plant spring-flowering bulbs. Dig and store tender bulbs. Fertilize trees and shrubs when dormant. Apply pre-emergent herbicide to lawns. Renovate lawn, if necessary. Feed house plants.

Pacific Northwest States: Frost is possible. Plant and transplant broadleaf and evergreen trees and shrubs, perennials and ground covers. Divide perennials and transplant.  Plant spring-flowering bulbs. Pot up spring-flowering bulbs for forcing. Sow cold-hardy greens. Prune shrubs and trees that bloomed in late summer. Take hardwood cuttings for propagation. Remove dead wood in trees and shrubs. Continue fall cleanup. Compost debris. Fertilize trees and shrubs when dormant. Feed house plants.

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FAQ: Is it too late to plant vegetables in my garden?

Photo by João Jesus from Pexels

Q. Is it too late to plant vegetables in my garden?

A. If you live in a cold climate, it is probably too late unless you plant your vegetables in a cold frame. A cold frame is like a miniature greenhouse which provides winter protection. If you live in a warm climate (USDA climate zones 8 and warmer), there are many vegetables that can survive the mild winter temperatures. They include arugula, loose-leaf lettuce, beets, bok choy, broccoli, brussels sprouts, carrots, carrots, cauliflower, cilantro, kale, lettuce, mustard greens, onions, parsley, radishes, spinach, sugar snap peas, swiss chard, turnips. That's not a complete list.

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