A Week of Blue


Winter saved its gray for the last of February. This week is full of snow and or rain, followed by, snow and rain. Then, we can expect another helping of- can you guess- snow.. and or rain. We might even get some fog thrown in between. But, it is good for pots of seed outside: the Litchfield Hills snow cover. Welcome.

While working in the greenhouse this past weekend, I noticed a visual change in the coloring. The lachenalias and narcissus still rule, with a golden yellow, but the blues are building with bravado. Tropaeolum azureum, which is having a splendid season, is starting to open. This South American climber picks its way up a trellis and cascades thickly. There were some losses this year in the greenhouse when an automatic vent failed to close, but this nasturtium was not among them. It picks up the color from a fading Tecophilea cyanocrocus violacea (another SA native) and blows it banner wide. Blue is good.

Continuing with my study of the Primulaceae, we move on to more photos of seed. These are what seem to be allied genera (to me). I was interested to see the cortusa seed looks much like the androsace. The scale here is one square equals 5 mm.
Cortusa matthioli pekinensis
Although cyclamen have been recently kicked out of the Primulaceae family, it is hard for me to cut it loose. I still sow the seed in the same manner with all my selections from that family- soak overnight and plant dark and in this case, with a good thick cover of grit, since the seeds are large. Two species are hardy here, though Cyclamen coum not always, and must be sited in avery protected microclimate. I believe its our wet-snow, no-cover-with-ice cycle spring that it dislikes. I know that it seeds easily within an hour of here, in the lowlands nearer the shore. It is probably a zone or two warmer down there and gets just rain when we get ice. The exquisite leaf forms make any successes worth the effort for a special spring.
Cyclamen coum
Cyclamen hederifolium does the same for fall. And it is much more amenable to whatever the weather wishes to throw our way. There is a colony started in the company of spring ephemerals in the shade of a maple on our south side. In Autumn when the spring flowers have disappeared, up pops the hot pink cyclamen. It is a bit of a chore to keep the falling leaves from burying the blooms. But late in every fall I apply a good helping of shredded leaves.
Cyclamen hederifolium

Dodecatheons are still welcomed in the primrose family. But given the look of their seed, I would not be surprised to see them vacated next. I had trouble getting them acclimated here until I placed them in the grit bed. Now they are very happy. Dodecatheon meadia is native to the East Coast.


My first encounter with this gem of a genus came just after I joined the North American Rock Garden Society. I volunteered to help bring some plants and set up tables at the annual meeting the Connecticut Chapter sponsored in Hartford. For those of you unfamiliar with these events, amazing specialty plants are raised for sale to a very discerning and knowledgeable group of gardeners. I was tasked with carrying in some of these rare plants and helping unfold tables. Up to that point my interest in these events with lectures, dark rooms with slides, and esoteric study, was minimal so I thought annual meetings were not for me. But when I saw the ballroom filled with plants, something clicked. My mouth must have salivated. An avuncular man who received the plants from me noticed. We started talking, one thing led to another, and I left with one of his personal plant donations in hand. Amazing.

The plant was furry silver rosettes with hot rose tiny flowers in clusters waving above a tag labeled: Androsace sarmentosa 'Chumbyi'. The man, I later met, was H. Lincoln Foster, the apostle of American rock gardening. This Himalayan native plant is still thriving in my garden after all these years, in spite of poor conditions, moves, and lack of attention. Currently situated on a raised limestone bed, the mat spreads by stolons, but is not a thug. Propagation is easy, turns out. Just pot up one of the multitude of rooted stolons as it creeps outward. It is not only for raised beds - try spilling it out of a retaining wall.

As long as it has some moisture at it roots and good drainage at its crown, it gives a wonderful performance. This could be said generally for the whole genus. Yes, there are the meadow dwellers at one end of the spectrum and the full-sun scree dwellers at the other. Most work well in troughs or raised beds where they form buns or mats. And they have sweet little flowers. Even the so called 'weeds' of the genus have a place in my garden. The hardy annual A. septentrionalis grows in waste areas- in sandy paths, without any attention on my part. Most of the year its little toothed rosette is inconspicuous. Then come the fireworks. Who could do without it as you walk the path?

One of the easiest plants for the garden is a hybrid developed by Linc Foster. Androsace 'Millstream' is a cross between carnea and pyrenaica and named for Foster's famous garden in Falls Village. While the garden has proved ephemeral the plant is still carried in the trade (Mt Tahoma, Writghtman, Olivers, Sunny Borders just to name a few). Be sure to include it in a trough or raised bed.

New to me from the sales tables, and another good plant for troughs, is Androsace mairei. It took a little while to get going. In fact I thought it was gone and placed a phlox in its place. To my surprise it came on like gangbusters. The phlox is a little crowded (and I will try to move it this spring), but still managed the odd flower. Like all its kin, it performs with a smile.

To know and to grow-
Growing from seed is sometimes just a matter of patience with this genus. I prepare small plastic pots with my usual seed mix -Metro or Jiffy Mix cut with grit on top of a one inch layer of expanded clay shale. The seeds are usually sown on top of a thin layer of chicken grit as they are, for the most part, very tiny and fall quickly into the cracks. Larger ones get another sprinkle of grit on top. After an overnight soak of the pot in the sink, then it's outside with a quick prayer for snow. If germination is sparse, I leave the pot for a second year. Otherwise, I will prick out seedlings as they appear and pot them on.

Seeds this year look full of potential. The following photos represent several of the major groupings for the genus. I noticed so many similarities between them

Section Chamaejasme
 Subsection Villosae
  Series chamaejasmoideae
    Androsace tapete: gravelly slope

 Subsection  Mucronifoliae
   Androsace mairei: mountain slope

 Subsection Strigillosae
    Androsace spinulifera - dry grassland

 Subsection Aretia
   Andorsace helvetica - cliffs and crests - gritty compost:

Androsace pubescens - calcareous shale

Lachenalia aloides var quadricolor

NARGS Seed order came last week (expression of unbridled glee)! Do you have your order submitted yet? If not, you have d a y s... Remember, it must be received in Minnesota by February 10, 2010. While this year's list has wonderful wild collections, some from China and Georgia, there are many excellent and rare choices yet to be selected from the general list. And if you participate in the main exchange, you are eligible for the !SECOND ROUND! For a seed-aholic, things don't get any better. You may choose from thousands of leftovers that are unavailable elsewhere or so costly as to prohibit experimentation. And isn't growing from seed all about trying new things?

In the greenhouse, Lachenalia aloides var quadricolor has been putting on a nice display. While it is an excellent rock garden plant, it needs more the frost free southern California climate than Connecticut can offer. This immigrant from Cape Province, South Africa, usually dwells near the ocean on rocky granite outcrops. But it is quite amenable to a cool greenhouse here, where it gets a gritty-sandy mix, with a dash of leaf mold. The bloom at this time of year is quite special: orange, red, green, and maroon. Hot stuff! The name quadricolor refers to this spectrum and aloides refers to its aloe like flower. While it is not on this year's NARGS Seedlist, others of its tribe are there for the growing. Don't miss out.