Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Conservatory at Golden Gate - Orchids

The Conservatory at Golden Gate Park has an interesting and beautiful orchid collection.

1. Masdevallia Ignea
It includes some really rare ones, such as Dracula Vampira (out of bloom, sorry) and Masdevallia...

2. Unknown
3. Masdevallia Triangularis
...and some commonly grown ones, such as Phalaenopsis and Cymbidium.

4. Cattleya
5. Phalaenopsis
6. A Phalaenopsis with a Lady's Slipper

I am fascinated with orchids, but don't grow any because generally there is not enough humidity for them, and because the whole idea of plants growing in bark and subsisting on moisture from the air is just too alien for me.

7. Another Phalaenopsis?

8. Phalaenopsis
The orchid family is the second largest family of flowering plants and one in ten flowers on earth is an orchid.

9. Unknown
Orchids come in the some of the most unusual colors and shapes.

10. Unknown
11. Unknown
As I mentioned before, identification of the Conservatory's plants is a problem.

12. Unknown
  1. 13. Unknown
I have tried to guess at the names of a few, but others are a mystery.

14. Unknown
I have numbered the pictures, so if anyone wants to take a stab at identifying them, you are most welcome.

15. Unknown

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Conservatory at Golden Gate

We drove to San Francisco the other day to see paintings at the Legion of Honor. However, it unexpectedly stopped raining, and I persuaded my family to go to Golden Gate Park instead to look at their extensive plant collections.

A hibiscus inside the Conservatory
We parked right next to the rhododendron garden where the plants were just beginning to bloom.

After a stroll in the rhododendron garden, we went on to the Conservatory of Flowers. The Conservatory is a beautiful domed structure dating back to the 1870s when it was bought from a private estate and donated to Golden Gate Park.

It is the oldest glass and wood building in the US, recently opened after an 11-year, $25 million restoration project.

Aloes blooming at the foreground

The grounds around the Conservatory are very well landscaped, with a succulent collection to one side...

Aloes blooming orangey red and bluish spikes of agaves

... and large plantings of poppies and marigolds in front.

Here's looking at you!

For someone like me who grew up in a continental climate, the collection of tropical plants inside the Conservatory is truly jaw-dropping.

Unfortunately, plant identification was difficult. Often it was impossible to figure out which tag belongs to which plant, and sometimes tags were missing altogether. So if someone knows what the plant above is, let me know:).

The beautiful vine above is a clerodendrum. I know it because my mom grows it as a houseplant, and hers is probably one third the size of the Conservatory plant.... I can't believe how beautiful this one is, with perfect leaves and lots of flowers.

The plant above I am pretty sure is an anthurium. Anthuriums are a very diverse group of tropical epiphytes and terrestrial plants from Central and South America.

The Conservatory also houses an extensive collection of orchids, some of which are very rare, and some truly unusual plants (Dracula vampira anyone?). More to come.

P.S. I was told that the unidentified plant with spotted flowers might be gloxinia. If it is so, it is certainly the biggest specimen of it I have ever seen.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Signs of Hope

We have had weeks of relentless rain and wind. I haven't been in the garden in what seems a long time. I came out yesterday when the rain stopped for awhile to assess the damage done by the storms and tree removal people. There was quite a bit to be upset about: two roses, Zéphirine Drouhin and Félicité Parmentier almost completely destroyed, a big heavy log dropped on my William Shakespeare 2000, and a truck driven into my other William... And I was so looking forward to a glorious spring flush.

On the other hand, my three Dutch irises are blooming. I bought them all three stuffed into a smallish pot at our local Home Depot for all of $3 last year. They had roots coming out of every hole in the pot and were wilting because they hadn't been watered. Despite the abuse and the lack of care from a gardener (me) who doesn't grow any bulbs, they all came back and bloomed this year. I am surprised at their resilience.

My two spirea bushes, bedraggled by heavy rain and wind, still hang on to their blooms. I am grateful for their tough beauty, even though their canes, bent almost to the ground, ended up on the neighboring roses and broke quite a few buds.

Finally, the leaves are emerging on my beautiful coral bark Japanese maple (Sangu Kaku). This maple has pretty fall foliage and striking red branches in winter, but I like it best in early spring with fresh and soft unspoiled green growth against the red canes.

Well, this isn't much perhaps, but considering all my garden has been through recently, that's more than enough to keep me happy for now.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Mail-Order Roses

I have been asked a few times where I get my roses. There are several good sources (friends and reputable garden centers are two), but most of mine have come from mail-order nurseries which carry rare or unusual varieties not easily found anywhere else.

Rosette Delizy (Tea, Nabonnand, 1922), in my garden

Yesterday on my doorstep I found a long-expected package from Vintage Gardens, a mail-order rose nursery specializing in antique and rare roses.

 For me, and I am sure for many other rosarians, opening a package with new roses feels like Christmas morning. Here are my four plants snugly packed with lots of newspaper to ensure the stems do not break.

Most mail-order roses are own-root (not grafted onto a rootstock) and are in effect rooted cuttings of a mother plant that grows in the nursery's garden.

To reduce costs, roses are shipped in small containers called bands (bigger sized plants are usually available from most nurseries too). Although they can be put directly into the ground, bands are usually replanted into a 1-gallon container (and sometimes to a 5-gallon afterward) because a bigger and more mature plant has a better chance of surviving in the ground.

Comparative size of a band and a 1-gallon pot
The roses are actively growing, and the container is wrapped up tightly so the soil does not spill out in transit.

Even though initially band roses are tiny plants, they grow quickly.

Francis Dubreuil (Tea, Dubreuil, 1894), in my garden
 With the exception of some hybrid teas and floribundas bred in mid to late 1900s specifically for being budded onto a rootstock, most own-root varieties thrive and bloom as well as (or better than) their grafted counterparts.

Lorraine Lee, Climbing (H. Gigantea, Tea, Mackay, 1932), at the San Jose Heritage Garden
I now have close to a hundred roses that I received as bands. All of them have become big, healthy and vigorous plants. I don't order as much as I used to because my garden is full, but if space becomes available I will most likely mail-order my replacements. The choice of varieties is very large and watching baby roses grow into wonderful, generously blooming plants is a lot of fun.

Lyda Rose (Shrub, Lettunich, 1994), in my garden
Here are some nurseries from which I have ordered:

Vintage Gardens
Antique Rose Emporium
Burlington Rose Nursery
Chamblee's Rose Nursery
Rogue Valley Roses
Heirloom Roses

Finally, just one more thing that I feel is important: most garden roses are complex hybrids tracing their origins to several regions with widely different climates, such as subtropical China or continental France. Therefore, not all roses will thrive in all climates. Do your research!

Mme Berard (Tea-Noisette, Levet, 1870), in my garden
P.S. For curious rosarians, I should, perhaps, mention what I got. My order contains Pink Princess (my post on Pink Princess), Snowbird (my post on Snowbird), Etoile de Lyon and Taischa.

Monday, March 21, 2011

The Vagaries of Spring

Over the years, I have heard from a number of people, especially rose lovers, how they wished they could live in a benign gardening climate like California's where "everything seems to grow". I have to say that most of the time I agree, gardening in California is really rewarding. But not always. Nowhere is perfect, so I will leave the issues of earthquakes, alkaline soils,  and an ever-present threat of drought aside (is that not enough already?), and just talk about our winter and early spring storms. We have a couple a year, some worse than others. A few years ago, our neighbors lost most of the fence around their property - it fell down from wind damage. We lost some small trees in the same storm - they were not rooted well and were top heavy, so they ended up half a street away overnight.

But Saturday night was the worst we have seen yet. A severe storm passed over us at night, with almost 2" of rain and hurricane strength winds. We woke up in the morning to an awe-inspiring sight.

Half of our beautiful towering ash tree-- whose crown extended over our neighbors' property-- fell down, mostly into our neighbors' yard.

Fortunately, no one was injured, and most of the damage appears to be confined to the fence.  However, my beautiful, fragrant and thornless climbing bourbon rose, Zephirine Drouhin, full of buds and ready for a glorious spring flush, was directly in the line of fire and is completely crushed under a fallen section of the fence. It will probably come back, but certainly this year will be lost. My lovely alba, Felicité Parmentier, has only two unbroken canes left. Maybe I will see a couple of blooms this year, but then again, by the time the tree removal people are done, maybe not. Well, it could be worse. All's well that ends well, right?

Friday, March 18, 2011

Early Blooming Shrubs

Even though roses are by far the dominant shrub I grow, I appreciate other flowering shrubs. I especially like seeing a progression of blooms throughout the year. I have therefore planted a few shrubs which bloom well before the roses and add a lot of early spring interest to the garden. They break up what would otherwise be rather monotonous borders, and provide contrasting foliage and (most of them) an evergreen screen in winter - an important consideration for my suburban garden.

My evergreen azaleas are the first to start blooming at the end of February.

Even though they put on a good show in spring, azaleas are not really well suited to our climate, tending to suffer from chlorosis in our alkaline soil and losing leaves to our dry summer heat.

My five plants require acidifying soil amendments and a lot of water. After roses, they are probably the highest maintenance plants in my garden.

Every summer I wonder whether I should rip them out, and every spring I think perhaps I will keep them for awhile.

My next early-blooming shrub is a double bridal wreath spirea (spiraea cantoniensis Flore Pleno), another shrub I seem to either love or hate. It is stunning just before peak bloom when fluffy white pom-poms are interspersed with tiny dots of buds.

In full bloom, the bush seems to be dripping with snow, and the thin canes bend under the weight of the flower clusters.

The rest of the year, however, it is not pretty. It is lanky and spreading, and while at home in a big informal woodland garden, is hard to fit into my small yard. Cutting back results in lots of naked growth on the lower stems and is not good-looking either. Add to that aphid infestations and burned leaf tips, and by the end of summer it is really not an asset to the garden anymore. But it is easily my favorite garden plant when in bloom and I will not get rid of the two I grow.

The last plant on my list is Chinese Fringe Flower, loropetalum chinense. Most garden varieties have either pink or purple blooms with greenish to purple foliage and one looks much like another.

I also grow the species, which is my favorite because of the subtle contrast between white flowers and lime-green foliage.

I like the tiny buds which look like fists that gradually open up their narrow twisted petals, four to a flower.

This plant is handsome year-round, unaggressive, shapely, very tolerant of pruning and wonderful in bloom.

These three shrub varieties help make early spring beautiful in my garden, creating a wonderful show just after winter-blooming camellias are done and before the glorious spring flush of the roses. When I see them in bloom, I know spring has finally arrived.