Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Cephalotaxus harringtonia 'Fastigiata'

This is the upright form of the conifer Cephalotaxus harringtonia, sold as C. harringtonia ‘Fastigiata’. In its youth if forms a narrow upright column. The plant in the image was planted about fifty years ago, and like the person who planted it now grows sideways rather than upright. It’s now a relatively massive plant, and more than one visitor has mentioned that “that’s the biggest yew I’ve ever seen”. It’s not a yew, at least not in the sense of being a member of the genus Taxus: it’s a plum yew, a yew relative. Because this fastigiate form has its foliage in whorls, it does not really look like the typical wild forms of C. harringtonia. I know I’ve got a live one when a visitor, seriously contemplating this plant in an attempt to place it, avoids the obvious mistake of calling it a yew and instead asks “Is it some kind of Podocarpus?” That’s the kind of visitor I like!
Years ago the local mall had a group of the typical form planted at the major entrance to the mall. Once the plants settled in, they began to bloom and produce fruit. That was the end of it for them: the last time I saw them they were surrounded by sidewalks and streets spattered with the juicy, staining fruits.
Of course it’s not a rock garden plant, although you might be tempted to plant one to enjoy the distinctive foliage and growth form of the young plant. But it is the sort of plant some rock gardeners like: one which will catch the visitor’s eye and provoke conversation.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Rohdea japonica

This handsome plant was grown as a houseplant long before most of us realized that it had great potential as a garden plant. It certainly does not look as if it would be hardy; but hardy it is, and it seems to thrive in local gardens. The flowers are creamy white and are placed in a thick cluster which superficially suggests the bloom of some parasitic plant such as Orobanche or Conopholis. The evergreen foliage remains handsome throughout the winter and rarely shows cold damage here.
The colorful infructescence is about the size of a hen's egg, and the individual, bright red fruits are about a quarter of an inch in diameter.
The plant is easily if slowly raised from the large seeds.
Watch the spelling of the genus name: so many plants have names beginning with the letter combination rh- (the traditional transliteration of the Greek letter ρ – rho – into Latin) that the name of this plant is sometimes misspelled Rhodea, The pronunciation is tricky, too: the English eponym's name was Rohde  and was almost certainly pronounced the same way as "rode" (past tense of the verb to ride).  Thus, Rhode + a = rode-a. But one almost invariable hears rode-e-a.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Biscuit gets a big gold star

Wayne and I were in Bridgewater last weekend to visit with his mom and other family members. We took Biscuit with us and she behaved very well indeed. We stayed overnight in a pet-friendly motel, and the rest of the time we were in the nursing home. Biscuit was one of three dogs in our party, and they all behaved well.
Here's a funny Biscuit story. Biscuit is very good with children: she seems to enjoy it when children come up to pet her, and she usually rolls over onto her back to let them pet her tummy. Biscuit got plenty of tummy pats during this trip, but one I don't think I'll forget. Three young brothers, the oldest perhaps seven or eight, the next younger maybe five and the youngest maybe four gathered around Biscuit to pet her. The oldest took the lead, and the younger brothers stood back to watch. Biscuit rolled over for him almost immediately. The other two brothers then became very interested: the middle brother moved in closer and reached out, then suddenly pulled back his hand  - he did this several times until he got up the courage to actually touch Biscuit. His older brother was petting Biscuit's chest, so the middle brother began to pet her tummy. Meanwhile, the youngest brother was nervously getting closer and closer. Finally he reached out and began to pet Biscuit's back end. The oldest brother quickly called out "Not there, not there". I had a good laugh over this.
In the image above you see Biscuit at home waiting for her meal to defrost in the microwave oven. She will stand there and watch until the alarm goes off, then she will come and get me.   

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Primula vulgaris

One thing which sets this blog apart from most other gardening blogs is my determination to keep it confined to plants I have grown here in my gardens (the home garden and my community garden plots). Almost every image which appears on this blog is of a plant growing in this garden. Almost every image, but not all. There are views of the local woodlands and some other images obviously not taken here, but overall I take a certain pride in the fact that what you see here is almost entirely my own.

Today I'm swallowing my pride: I didn't grow these primulas. They came from one of the local grocery stores where they were sold for the give-away price of three for five dollars. These primulas at that price are great value for the money: with care, they can bloom for week after week, as long as they are kept cold, cold as in above freezing but below 55-60 degrees Fahrenheit.

Other than that, the only challenge in their culture is keeping them watered. That lush succulent foliage and those bright blooms require a lot of water. Once they go into the cold frames (maybe tomorrow if the temperature gets above freezing by early afternoon) their water requirement lessens, but since they are in pots they are still very vulnerable to drying out. The smart thing to do is to remove them from the pots and plant them into the soil of the cold frame - that done, they practically take care of themselves as long as they remain cool.

Update February 13, 2015: they are still blooming freely. These were purchased at the end of December, so they have so far given a month and a half of bloom. And most of them show no sign of slowing down. They have taken well to cold frame life.