Last fall I purchased and planted a single bulb of Fritillaria imperialis ‘Lutea Maxima’. It was planted in a container on our back patio. I was very surprised by how early it sprouted (if I recall correctly it already had flower buds when the crocuses were blooming). After learning that the Crown Imperial Fritillary is pollinated by birds in its native habitat I decided to give it a hand (or actually, a Q-tip) to see if I could get it to produce seed. A month or two after it finished flowering I ended up with a single seed pod. It was quite interesting watching as the whole plant turned brown and went dormant while the seed pod stayed quite alive and green.

Patiently I waited for the pod to fully ripen. It seemed like it took a long time. Eventually though, it did dry out and crack open (about 3 weeks after the photo above was taken).

And finally, here’s what the seed and the inside of the pod look like:

Hopefully successful germination will be the topic of a future post!

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Hymenocallis Timelapse

June 24, 2008

I’ve been meaning to experiment with the interval timer on my camera for quite a while. My first attempt was a failure because I forgot to put the cap on the viewfinder which allowed sunlight to enter and throw off the light meter. The other day I noticed that the second bud on our Peruvian Daffodil was about to open so I brought out the camera for a second try. This time I remembered the viewfinder cap and everything turned out much better. The shots were 30 seconds apart and I had it shoot 200 frames for a total of 100 minutes. The following video shows the whole thing about 720 times faster than it happened on our back porch.

Just when you think you’ve got everything figured out your garden (or in this case your 3 year old child) is right there to set you straight. In my winter sowing post I had mentioned that the Campanula medium seeds seemed to produce a plant that did not look like Canterbury Bells. Well, it turns out that the C. medium seeds shared a tray with the Apple Blossom Candytuft (Iberis umbellata) and when I made my map of which seeds were sown where I switched the two sides. I probably would never have figured this out if it hadn’t been for my son who saw the flowers and said ‘Hey dad, look at that Candytuft’ (his favorite flower so far this year has been the evergreen perennial Candytuft). I did a double-take and then realized within a few nanoseconds that he was totally right. So here it is in its full glory, Iberis umbellata ‘Apple Blossom’.

Winter Sown

June 11, 2008

This year I tried winter sowing for the first time. The process was almost completely care-free and produced wonderful results. Here’s what I did:

I sowed almost all of my seeds by mid January using aluminum casserole/lasagna trays from my local grocery store (the kind with the clear plastic snap-on lids). For drainage I cut several slits in the bottom each tray. I also made several holes in the lids to allow for airflow. After preparing the trays I filled them with potting mix up to about a half inch from the top (nothing special, I used the Miracle Grow brand). I then moistened the mix and spread the seeds on top. Each tray was finished up by spreading a little more mix on top. The depth of this last layer was dependent on the seeds; some seeds don’t like to be covered because they need light to germinate. I placed the trays out in the garden in an area where they would get plenty of rain and light without getting in the way. After that, they pretty much take care of themselves!

One of the trays had Echinacea purpurea seeds I collected the previous fall. Here is what they looked like about 2 months later (early March):

The amazing thing is that even though we continued to have hard freezes through both March and April none of seedlings were bothered at all!

Once the seedlings had one or two true leaves it was time to transplant them into larger containers so they could continue growing. I had a few 4” nursery pots lying around but nowhere near enough to accommodate all of the seedlings waiting in the casserole trays. I ended up buying a pack of 200 plastic party cups (16oz I think, about $20). Of course, party cups don’t come with drainage holes so I spent quite a bit of time poking holes in the bottoms. Here’s about half a trays worth of Echinacea transplanted into the cups:

I ended up filling all 200 cups with Echinacea seedlings from a single 13×9 tray! Of course, not all of them survived to be planted in the garden but in the end about half of them did, which is still a lot. I haven’t quite figured out why so many didn’t make it but my best guess is that the drainage holes in the cups were not large enough to keep the potting mix from clogging the holes thus preventing excess moisture from passing through. The Echinacea that I transplanted into nursery pots did much better.

Here’s one of the seedlings a few days ago (about 5 months after sowing the seeds):

Here are the other plants that I attempted to start, along with notes on the outcomes:

  • Alstroemeria (Dr. Salter hybrids): successful.
  • Aquilegia (various): successful.
  • Astilbe: a couple seeds germinated (I think) but they didn’t make it.
  • Campanula medium: most were killed because I left the tray out in the hot sun.
  • Coreopsis: successful, already blooming!
  • Echinacea purpurea: successful.
  • Hemerocallis (Day Lily): successful.
  • Iberis umbellata ‘Apple Blossom’: successful, already blooming!
  • Leucanthemum (Shasta Daisy): successful.
  • Liatris: no germination.
  • Linum perenne (Flax): successful.
  • Lupine (Russell hybrids): successful.
  • Molucella laevis (Bells of Ireland): successful.
  • Monarda lambada: successful.
  • Rudbeckia fulgida ‘Goldsturm’ (Black-eyed Susan): successful.
  • Rudbeckia hirta ‘Indian Summer’: successful.
  • Salvia azurea: successful but didn’t transplant well.
  • Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’: no germination.
  • Tricyrtis hirta ‘Myazaki’: no germination.
  • Veronica spicata: many damped off in tray, the rest died after transplant.

Overall, I’m very happy with the outcome. I will definitely do some more next year. Here’s how some of the graduates are doing:

Iberis umbellata

Coreopsis spp.

Molucella laevis

Monarda lambada

Rudbeckia hirta

Salvia azurea

In terms of budget gardening this method makes a lot of sense. Taking the Echinacea as an example, I spent $0 on seeds (gathered them from the garden), about $0.50 on the tray, about $0.10 worth of potting soil, and $12 on cups. Approximately 100 plants survived transplanting (about half died) so each plant ended up costing me about 13 cents. I don’t count the time spent because I like spending time in the garden. That’s a heck of a deal considering most perennial catalogs carry E. purpurea for $5-10 each.

Enormous Poppies

June 9, 2008

Every year I forget just how big the blooms are on our oriental poppies (Papaver orientale). Maybe it’s because the flowering period is rather short. Or maybe because they die back after flowering and I don’t notice them all summer when I spend the most time in the garden. In any case they are certainly worth having in the garden, even if their glory is short lived.

The same night that I emerged from deep slumber to find cutworms I also found large herds of earwigs grazing on many of my emerging perennials. Dahlias and Monarda were the primary victims. One of my Bee Balms (Monarda Didyma ‘Jacob Kline’) that I was particularly looking forward to was wiped out in a single night (fortunately, it is now showing signs of life). Here is a photo of two Dahlia shoots that probably won’t live to see another day:

When I used the work ‘herds’ to describe what I saw I was not exaggerating. On one leaf there were probably as many as 20 earwigs of all sizes (eating must be a family affair). I was able to hand pick most of them but I was still seeing occasional damage so I knew there were probably more.

Having small children at home, I really did not want to resort to chemicals. I tried the rolled newspaper trick but it didn’t seem to attract very many (a little research later reveals that I was supposed to dampen the newspaper). I researched other natural options but gave up when I discovered that Sluggo Plus helped control both earwigs and cutworms. This option was additionally attractive because it was organic and safe to use around our veggies. I still find earwigs around the garden but everything is happily growing now (even the Dahlia in the photo above sent up another shoot). Next year I’m going to try again with the simpler home remedies but I’m going to start much earlier.

Digitalis Devoured

June 4, 2008

This year about a third of my Foxgloves have shared the fate shown in the photo (yes, that ‘stick’ in the foreground is a Foxglove, or rather, what’s left of it). For a while I couldn’t figure out what was causing the damage. Whatever it was, it certainly wasn’t showing it’s face during the day. Finally, when I couldn’t take it any more, I dragged my self out of bed at 2am to see who was feasting on my Foxgloves (as well as my Dahlias and Bee Balms, but that’s a story for another post). Can you guess what it was? That’s right, cutworms.

When I went out that night I was astonished by just how many there were. I didn’t try to count them all but I probably picked off at least 40 of these large plump caterpillars. I won’t say what I did with them but they certainly won’t be bothering these plants any more.

Cutworms seem to be quite smart for caterpillars. A couple escaped because I was not prepared for the fact that they drop away from the leaf as soon as they sense your fingers coming to pick them off. It didn’t take me long to wisen up and pick them with my hand underneath just in case. In addition to my Foxgloves, the cutworms in my garden are very fond of some of the Bleeding Hearts that I have (particularly Dicentra formosa). Next year I will be ready!