January Gardening Calendar


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On or near the beginning of each month I will present a gardening calendar.  I find that it saves time and worry if I have a ready-made plan for activities in the garden.  January is one of the least busy months of the year for gardeners, but we have a few things that need to be or can be done:

Plan your garden for the year.  Read seed and nursery catalogs and pick out what you would like to grow.  It is a good idea to plant greater numbers of the vegetables and fruits your family uses on a regular basis.  Minimize or eliminate the things you do not.  Figure out how much space you have and how much seed you need, then order.  If you are just beginning or reconfiguring your garden, January is a great time to undertake design projects.  January is also an excellent time to repair equipment, such as garden tools, plant supports and cold frames.

If you have a supply of fresh manure you can make a hotbed in which to grow early vegetables and flowers.  Though perhaps unpleasant to deal with, a hotbed provides a little microclimate that is much warmer and more humid than the out of doors.  Hotbeds will extend your growing and harvest seasons.  They are a real help in climates with short seasons and cool nights.  Squash, melons, peppers and eggplant enjoy the warm nights a hotbed will provide, thereby significantly increasing production.  In the nineteenth century most winter vegetables, such as cauliflower, were grown in hotbeds.

Carefully tend your cold frames in January, covering them with insulating materials on cold nights and admitting air during the day if it is not too cold.  Now is the time to clean debris and dead leaves out of winter lettuces and other greens in cold frames or cold greenhouses.

Early cabbage can be sown indoors, as well as parsley, cauliflower and eggplant.  Flowers to sow inside to transplant out later include: geraniums, impatiens, lobelia, petunias, pansies, snapdragons and violas.  Primroses, auriculas, delphinium and many other perennials can be sown now indoors.

Manure can be spread over vegetable beds and perennial borders.  Pruning can begin of fruit trees and raspberries.  If you live in a mild climate or have a large cold frame or cold greenhouse, you can harvest any of the following: leeks, spinach, kale, carrots, lettuce, corn salad, onions, parsnips and chard.  In a cold climate carrots and parsnips outside can be covered with straw to protect them, so you just have to push away the snow and straw to dig them.  In a cold (unheated) greenhouse greens can be grown and harvested all winter, especially if an inner layer of floating row cover is placed over the crops to protect them.  Stakes or hoops will prevent the fabric from touching the leaves of the plants.

Enjoy January!



Antique Chrysanthemums


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More than 150 species of Chrysanthemum exist in nature.  In this article we are concerned with Asian species brought to Europe and North America as garden plants.  In ancient China gardeners selected interesting plants from the wild and over centuries developed chrysanthemums into popular garden plants.  A yellow garden variety and a white were known in China by the fifth century B.C.  By 1,000 A.D., in the time of the refined Sung dynasty, thirty-five named varieties of mums existed.  By 1700, the number had jumped to 300.

The florist chrysanthemums we grow today in America (and all over the world) are descended from wild and garden plants introduced from China.  The first species to reach Europe was Chrysanthemum morifolium, ancestor of modern florist mums.  Plants arrived in Marseilles, France in the 1780s, then were brought to England by 1790.  The flowers of this species are purple.  After 1800 more garden varieties arrived in Europe and America from China.  The yellow-flowered C. indicum arrived in England in the early nineteenth century.  Enthusiasts soon crossed C. morifolium x C. indicum to create a wide range of colors and shapes.  (It is not known how many of the diverse forms that appeared in the early 1800s were new hybrids; some may have been garden varieties received directly from China.)  By 1834 fifty varieties in several colors and shapes were available in Europe and America.

Robert Fortune introduced another Chinese species, C. rubellum, the Chusan Daisy, in 1846.  The advantage of this species and several of its hybrids is that it endures colder temperatures than the other two species.  The plants tend to be shorter, also.  The picture above (from The Cottage Garden, by Roy Genders, Pelham Books, 1969) shows several blooms of C. rubellum.  Because of the button-like shape of the flower this kind of mum came to be known as the “Pompon chrysanthemum”.   The pompon class is still recognized today by the National Chrysanthemum Society.

I once grew a beautiful pompon mum named ‘Paul Boissier’, but lost it in a move.  It grows to about three feet or more and has beautiful, double orange and bronze flowers in the lovely circular shape of the pompon mums.  Few heirloom mums survive today, and only a very few are commercially available.  Shirley Hibberd, in his book The Amateur’s Flower Garden, published in 1871, listed 100 named cultivars of chrysanthemum.  None of them is available from a nursery today!  It is probable that if some of these old named plants do still exist, they would have to be re-identified.  I am always looking for old mums, especially pompons, but have not had much success.

Today the National Chrysanthemum Society recognizes thirteen distinct classes of mums, defined by their flower shapes.  Emphasis seems to be on contemporary varieties, not on heirloom mums, but membership does expose one to the great diversity of modern mums available.  Membership is only $20.00 per year for an individual.  Youth memberships (under 17), garden club affiliation (organization) memberships, and life memberships are also available.   The website for the society is mums.org.  Two benefits of membership are a cultural manual for new members and a quarterly journal.  Why not join and voice a desire to locate, preserve and propagate antique chrysanthemums?


Antique Florist Anemones


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The genus Anemone is a reasonably large one with 120+ species.  Here we will concentrate on three tuberous-rooted types that are native to the Mediterranean region: Anemone coronaria, A. pavonina, and A. hortensis.  These species cross readily.  Both wild and cultivated forms have large and beautiful flowers that last well when cut.  In the sixteenth century species and cultivated anemones were introduced to Western Europe through the development of trade with Constantinople (now known as Istanbul).  Turkish gardens at that time held many beautiful cultivated forms of anemones and these were valued almost as much as tulips.

The first picture above shows a page from Gerard’s The Herball of 1596At that time Anemone coronaria was called A. tenuifolia. (The modern A. tenuifolia is a species native to South Africa.)   Gerard had twelve forms of the species A. coronaria in addition to several other kinds of anemones.  The variation in the flowers of A. coronaria in its single to double forms can be seen in the woodcut.  The term anemone-flowered is derived from the shape of the flower on the lower right of the picture, which has longer outside petals with shorter petals in the center.

The second picture, also from Gerard’s The Herball, depicts Anemone latifolia, now called A. pavonina.  (I have not been able to find a picture of A. hortensis, which may be depicted in early herbals, but may have been listed under another name at that time.)  The botanical classification system devised by Carolus Linnaeus that we use today had not been created in 1596.  Since then botanists have renamed various plants over and over as they identify distinguishing characteristic of species.

The third picture is from The Garden of Pleasant Flowers, by John Parkinson, of 1629.  More garden forms of anemones were known by then and natural hybrids between the three species listed above increased the diversity of garden anemones.  Both Gerard and Parkinson grew named forms.  The popularity of these plants led to their development as florist plants, grown by specialist gardeners and displayed in pots at flower shows.  The word “florist’ has changed in usage; its meaning today refers to those who primarily sell cut flowers.  Anemones were at that time as well loved as tulips, polyanthus primroses and auricula primroses. The popularity of anemones peaked in the eighteenth century, when over 300 named varieties were known and sold.

Today, all of the old named anemones are gone.  Hybridization and selection in France in the 1800s created the ‘De Caen’ single-flowered type, descended primarily from A. pavonina.   ‘St. ‘Brigid’ double anemones were developed out of A. coronaria in Ireland in the 1880s.  Nowadays, these two strains represent the florist anemones in modern gardens.

The last two pictures above are examples of the modern strain of ‘St. Brigid’ anemones, from my own garden.  The tubers are hardy to USDA zone 7b when left in the ground over winter.  Gardeners in colder zones lift the bulbs and store them over winter, replanting them in spring.  The flowers and foliage do take some frost—the picture of foliage and buds above shows plants two weeks after heavy frosts down to 19 degrees F.  The plants need good drainage, sun, and not too much wet in summer.  In the Willamette valley we can grow them with little or no watering, yet they survive as perennial plants.  They do go dormant earlier in the season with this treatment.  Both ‘St. Brigid’ and ‘De Caen’ anemones bloom best (and all summer) with cool summer temperatures and regular watering.  The cut flowers are beautiful and colorful.  Several of the still life pastel paintings by Odilon Redon of France portray the exquisite beauty of these flowers.  Why not try growing some!

Some Historic Bearded Iris


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These are a few historic bearded iris I grow in my garden in Corvallis, Oregon. I have over 30 varieties of historic iris, but since I just moved my garden this year, only a few bloomed in their temporary pots.

The top picture is of Iris violacea grandiflora.  The variety was discovered in the wild by D. Barry in 1856 and when in bloom is about 36 inches tall.  The standards (the upper petals of the bloom) are a rich blue, the falls (the bottom petals) are violet blue.  The flowers are considered a self in iris classification terminology, meaning all petals are the same color or of one overall color.  It is almost a bitone, meaning the standards and falls are two tones of the same color.  The flowers are fragrant.

The second picture is Iris swertii a natural hybrid collected in 1612.  In iris classification terminology it is a plicata, meaning it has a pale base color with a darker margin.  The petals of this variety curl under in an interesting way.  It is a vigorous grower to 31 inches.

The third picture is of Mrs. ‘Horace Darwin’ hybridized by Sir Michael Foster and released in 1888.  The flower is a white self meaning it has standards and falls all one color.  It has some purple veining on the falls and grows to about 20 inches tall.  The fragrance of this flower is delightful.

The last picture shows ‘Bertha Gersdorff’ hybridized by Sass and released in 1942.  When originally released, there was no classification for the unusual flowers of this variety.  It  was termed a fancy or fancy plicata.  Since 1972, this color pattern has been termed a luminata.  A true luminata has falls with paler, rather than darker veining on the petals; the hafts, the top part of the falls, where the petals connect to the rest of the flower, are unmarked.  This variety makes an excellent show in the garden.

Iris make wonderful garden plants.  Several of them are winter hardy to USDA zone 1, most to zone 3, and they can be grown in mild climates as well.  I have grown them in various climates in the western U.S., even in the low desert.  Good drainage is important, as well as full sun and an airy situation without competition from neighboring plants.  Water regularly in spring until six weeks after blooming, then watering can be reduced.  This is an advantage in the dry summers in much of the western U.S.  The best time to divide and replant is in summer after the bloom period.  Bone meal is an excellent fertilizer, mixed into the soil when planting with a top dressing applied in fall.  Bearded iris are adaptable to different kinds of soil, but prefer a neutral to alkaline pH.  Lime can be mixed into soils that are too acidic.   For more information about historic iris, visit the website of the Historic Iris Preservation Society at historiciris.org




Finding Lost Roses


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A way to save old, rare roses from extinction is to look for them around the area in which you live.  Every region of the U.S. has roses, even Hawaii.  Of great value are old, found roses that are well adapted to local conditions.  They can be found in a number of places: in a neighbor’s yard, in a cemetery, around an abandoned homestead, etc.  Above are four examples of “found” roses.  When located and propagated each of these roses was given a collection name; a temporary or study name. This name will distinguish it from other roses until the plant is identified as to its original, true name, by experts.  When  describing these found plants in writing, the collection names are placed in double quotes.

The first picture is of a potted plant of “Charles Walker’s Lawrenciana” a rose found in the south by Mr. Walker.  The rose class Lawrenciana is an early classification for miniature roses brought from Asia during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.  Some hybridizing was done between varieties of these early miniature roses.  Nowadays it is very difficult to find any of them for sale in nurseries; few survive anywhere.  The San Jose Heritage Rose Garden collection holds a few of them and The Vintage Gardens collection in Sebastopol has several.  The Lawrencianas are everblooming in mild climates and are about as hardy as hybrid teas.

The second picture is of  “Thomasville Old Gold” a lovely true tea rose, found in Georgia years ago.  It has yet to be identified.  It grows to six feet in mild climates.  It blooms through the warm season and in winter in the desert.  Any rose classified as a true tea will grow well in USDA climate zones 7 to 11.

The third picture is of a rose I found in the garden of my new home in Corvallis Oregon.  It is shade tolerant and probably a member of the rambler class of roses.  (Ramblers are a class of climbing roses).  The great age of hybridizing ramblers was from about 1890 to 1930.  This plant blooms once a season and has beautiful fragrant flowers with disease resistant foliage.  I call it “Old Cottage Red Rambler”.

The fourth picture above is of “McClinton Tea”, a rose found in Texas by the folks at The Antique Rose Emporium nursery.  It is extremely fragrant, floriferous and a large plant to about seven feet.  It is a tea rose, so does best in USDA zones 7 to 11.  It has yet to be identified, but some rosarians think it may be either ‘Madame de Tartas’, or the true ‘Adam’.  In any case, this and all the roses above are worth growing and saving.

I urge you to collect, propagate and grow some of the unknown roses in your area.  It is important to save them, because so many old roses have been lost.  You might find a rare rose that has been thought to be extinct!  A good way to do this is to continually look for interesting roses.  When you do, ask the owner politely for cuttings.  Never uproot an entire plant.  Several rosarians collect cuttings with sharp shears, plastic bags and a cooler if the weather is hot.

The best way to take cuttings is cut them about 6 to 8 inches long (about the size of a pencil).  Cut from ripened wood.  A cutting made from the stem of a fading or finished bloom is excellent, or cuttings from dormant stems in late fall or winter.  Try to take 6 cuttings of each variety, marking the bag with a study name.  Once home, dip the ends of the cuttings in rooting gel or a paste made from powdered rooting compound and water.  Next place the cuttings up to half their length, removing lower leaves, in one of these various mediums: pure coarse, clean sand, or a mix of 1/2 peat and 1/2 perlite, or right into soil.  Then cover the cuttings with glass jars, or plastic bags over pots, or in a cold frame.  Do not place them in direct sun.  I have had the best luck out of doors in bright, but compete shade.  Cuttings can be easily struck by some of the new cloners or in a well-managed greenhouse.  See my last week’s blog post for links to the Heritage Rose Foundation and The Heritage Roses Group for additional information.  Another site with great information is helpmefind.com  Good luck!