Jim Shields' Garden Notes
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Blog Home : September 2007

- What's in Bloom

A couple days ago, my Crinum lineare which had bloomed while we were away on vacation, opened flowers on a new scape.

Crinum lineare (c) copyright 2007 by Shields Gardens Ltd.  All rights reserved.
Crinum lineare, rebloom.

This morning, the first-ever bloom on a Crinum campanulatum opened here. The flower seems superficially to look much like that of C. lineare, except that the stamens are golden-brown rather than the almost black of lineare.

The Lycoris that bloomed earlier, but very lightly, have sent up some more blooms thanks to the rains. Lycoris chinensis probably is putting on the best current show.

Lycoris chinensis (c) copyright 2007 by Shields Gardens Ltd.  All rights reserved.
Lycoris chinensis, delayed bloom.

I think we need another good rain to bring the Colchicum into full flower. Here is one bunch that are blooming nicely:

Colchicum cilicicum (c) copyright 2007 by Shields Gardens Ltd.  All rights reserved.
Colchicum cilicicum.

I'm looking forward to lots more colchicums in bloom here in the next few weeks!

We're finally getting a few cool nights, which should help the Haemanthus get started blooming. They'll come next, after the colchicums. These are all oporanthous bulbs -- starting their annual growth cycle by blooming in late summer (August and September, in the Northern Hemisphere).

Good gardening,


- Crinum

The Crinum campanulatum are almost bloomed out, and I notice another characteristic of this species. As the individual flower ages, it develop a strong red in the center of the flower.

Crinum campanulatum (c) copyright 2007 by Shields Gardens Ltd.  All rights reserved.
Crinum campanulatum.

The upper flower is the older, showing the red infusion in the center. The light colored flower, below, is freshly opened.

The flowers of C. lineare (above) do not develop the red shading as they age. So there are two easily noticed traits that separate these two species:

  1. The anthers of campanulatum are amber colored, those of lineare are black.
  2. The older flowers of campanulatum show a red infusion in the centers, those of lineare do not.

I've heard that Crinum campanulatum does not set seeds easily nor cross readily. Last week, I pollinated several of the flowers on C. lineare with fresh pollen from C. campanulatum while both were in bloom. We'll have to see if we get any hybrid seeds. C. lineare does not usually set self-pollinated seeds, nor set many seeds of any sort. I've pollinated lineare with bulbispermum in the past and gotten one or two seeds from the pollinated flowers, none from other flowers on the same scape. If I get any seeds on this scape of lineare, I'll assume they came from the campanulatum pollen.

More notes on Crinum can be found on my website at: http://www.shieldsgardens.com/amaryllids/Crinum.html

Good gardening,


- Flowers in the City II. Switzerland

We returned a couple weeks ago from two weeks in Switzerland. I'm still trying to work through all the digital photos I took there with our new, pocket-size Canon 850. We stayed in Interlaken for most of the time, but traveled out from there by train for day trips. Aside from just being on vacation, I was looking for examples of flowers used to decorate public places. Here are some of the things I found.

The first example I found was at the hotel near Zurich Airport where we spent our first and last nights in Switzerland, the Moewenpick Zurich Airport hotel. They had one colorful flower bed that particularly caught my eye.

Flower Beds (c) copyright 2007 by Shields Gardens Ltd.  All rights reserved.
Moewenpick Hotel at Zurich Airport

We went to Bern, the capitol of Switzerland, for an afternoon. Switzerland has been in the midst of refurbishing, renewing, remodelling, and rebuilding for as long as I have know the country. This time, the Federal Capitol building in Bern was swathed in scaffolding and plastic sheeting, so I'm not going to show you any pictures of that.

In the center of the city, there are some very old streets lined with arcades. In the center of the streets, there are some very old fountains, complete with flowers. This is a close up of the flowers at one fountain:

Bern Street fountain with Flowers (c) copyright 2007 by Shields Gardens Ltd.  All rights reserved.
Fountain in Street in Bern

There are lots of geraniums in Switzerland!

One day we took the train from Interlaken around the lake to the city of Thun (pronounced "toon"). Interlaken is at the east end of the (Thunersee (Lake of Thun) while the city of Thun is at the northwest corner of the lake.

From the train station, we walked the short distance into the Altstadt district ("Old City") and along the Aare River, which flows through Thun. There were abundant flowers in planter boxes hung on the bridge railings and on the fences along the banks of the river. The family had to pose for some pictures beside the river.

Flowers along the Aare River in Thun (c) copyright 2007 by Shields Gardens Ltd.  All rights reserved.
Boxes on the fence
     Flowers along the Aare River in Thun (c) copyright 2007 by Shields Gardens Ltd.  All rights reserved.
Flowers along the Aare River in Thun (c) copyright 2007 by Shields Gardens Ltd.  All rights reserved.

On just about our last day in Interlaken, we took a lake steamer from Interlaken to the town of Spiez at the west end of the Thunersee. You can see the old Spiez castle from clear across the lake. It sits on a bluff just above the lake shore.

Spiez Castle (c) copyright 2007 by Shields Gardens Ltd.  All rights reserved.

Swiss castles were modest sized forts built at strategic sites to guard towns and trading routes. Some of them were just fortified manor houses, and over the last couple of centuries some of the smaller ones have been remodeled into more liveable homes. The larger castles are mainly museums or restaurants now. The largest castle in Switzerland is probably Chillon, between Montreux and Villeneuve on the shore of Lake Geneva. We unfortunately didn't have time to visit Chillon this trip; but if you want to see a classic, traditional castle, visit Castle Chillon the next time you are in Switzerland.

Garden at Spiez Castle (c) copyroght 2007 by Shields Gardens Ltd.   All rights reserved.
Gardens at Schloss Spiez
     Flower bed at Spiez Castle (c) copyroght 2007 by Shields Gardens Ltd.   All rights reserved.
Flower bed in the Garden at Schloss Spiez

The grounds at Schloss Spiez are open to the public. There are fewer flower beds than I remeber seeing there ten years ago, but it is still a beautiful sight.

These are places that have a lot of tourists, and they are obviously landscaped to catch the eyes of tourists. I'm sure we will go back to visit the city of Thun again, because what we did see was very attractive. Yhe flowers play a significant role in that attractiveness.

Good gardening,


- Thoughts on Haemanthus

The first Haemanthus to bloom this season (end of summer) were H. albiflos, a very common evergreen with white paintbrush inflorescences, and H. barkerae. Not all of either species bloomed at the start; both have more flowers to come. The first scape of the season is starting to push out of one bulb of H. coccineus, as well.

The first albiflos and the barkerae bloomed during our spell of 90-degree heat, before there was any hint of cooler weather. Now that the days and nights are both getting a little cooler, I expect more of the coccineus to start showing scapes.

Haemanthus albiflos (c) copyright 2005 by Shields Gardens Ltd.  All rights reserved.
Haemanthus albiflos

In 2005, I was mainly concerned with getting some hybrids. Several years ago, I got hybrid seeds of Haemanthus [humilis hirsutus X coccineus], which have been quite vigorous so far. Last year, one of them even flowered -- the flowers were pale, slightly pinkish, and not impressive. This year, I hope to produce at least a few hybrid seeds from the cross [coccineus X montanus], using the bit of montanus pollen I stored in June or July, when montanus bloomed. Now I wish I had saved more of the montanus pollen. H. montanus and H. coccineus seem to be the two most cold-hardy species. I'd like to get a hybrid hardy in zone 7.

Haemanthus barkerae (c) copyright 2005 by Shields Gardens Ltd.  All rights reserved.
Haemanthus barkerae
Starting to open

There are differences between H. barkerae from the northern end of its range and those from the southern end. My seedlings that have bloomed so far all appear to be of the northern form, but one pot of the southern form has its first-ever scape showing at the neck of the bulb. It may not make it to actual flowering this year, but very probably will bloom next year. I hope to cross the northern barkerae X southern barkerae, to see how the F1 look. The northern form matures from seed in about 5 years in my greenhouse, while the southern form takes 9 or 10 years to flower from seed, again in my greenhouse.

Ten years from seed to flower is nothing for a Haemanthus. A bulb of the rare H. nortieri in the bulb house at Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden in Cape Town is nearing 20 years of age, without having bloomed yet. I received some seeds of H. nortieri a few years ago, but had bad luck trying to grow them. They all died during summer dormancy of about their third year. A larger bulb of H. nortieri has survived in my greenhouse for six years, so far. It can be very tough to get small seedling bulbs through their first few years of dormancies.

I've had very good luck growing coccineus, barkerae, humilis humilis, lanceifolius, and crispus from seed. I'm currently waiting to see if young seedlings of H. unifoliatus will make it through the summer dormancy here. I have had very great difficulty growing H. carneus and H. humilis hirsutus from seed.

A very unusual Haemanthus is H. namaquensis, from Namaqualand in western South Africa. I've had two batches of seeds of this species; and from the first only one bulb survives, while from the other batch two bulbs survive. They are all large enough to flower -- if they were H. coccinues, for example. They may require fire to induce flowering, but I won't try that for at least another year.

Haemanthus amarylloides and H. sanguineus have been great challenges to grow in my greenhouse. The seedlings don't die en masse, like the nortieri seedlings did; but they just dwindle away, every season a few more failing to emerge from summer dormancy. Those which survive do not seem to increase in size much over the years. I've no great hopes of ever raising these from seed to flowering.

Good gardening,


- Last Crinum of Summer

This morning, I saw what I think must be the last crinums to bloom this summer: a pot of Crinum erubescens (form from Peru), and a pot of Crinum x-digweedii 'Gonzalez'.

Crinum erubescens is a New World Crinum from South America, related to C. americanum. Although the usual locality for erubescens is Brazil, this plant originated in Peru.

Crinum erubescens (c) copyright 2007 by Shields Gardens Ltd.  All rights reserved.
Crinum erubescens

Crinum x-digweedii is a cross between a New World species, probably C. americanum, and a South African species, probably C. bulbispermum. This selection is named 'Gonzalez' and has wider petals and sepals than some forms of digweedii I've seen.

Crinum 'Gonzalez' (c) copyright 2007 by Shields Gardens Ltd.  All rights reserved.
Crinum x-digweedii 'Gonzalez'

In just a couple of weeks, we will start moving all the potted bulbs inside the various greenhouses and the storage shed. Doubtless many of them would prefer to go through winter in a cool greenhouse, but there is never enough greenhouse space for all the pots we accumulate. The deciduous bulbs have to make do with the dark but heated shed. I try to keep the shed at 50 - 55°F minimum.

Good gardening,


- Nerines in Bloom

Late summer is when the Nerine start to bloom. I've had desultory bloom on the nerines for the past month or so, but there is a little more bloom showing up now. Nerine is a genus native to South Africa and perhaps Namibia. These miniature to medium sized bulbs are members of the Amaryllis Family (the Amaryllidaceae).

A miniature nerine, only about 9 inches tall with a flower about 1½ inches wide, Nerine filamentosa. Its thread-like leaves are only about 6 inches long.

Nerine filamentosa (c) copyright 2007 by Shields Gardens Ltd.  All rights reserved.
Nerine filamentosa

Nerine filifolia is a larger plant, with scapes about 14 inches tall carrying 4 to 7 flowers about 1¾ inches across. It's leaves are about 9 inches long, and about 1/16th wide. Each bulb seems to produce up to 3 scapes, all together. All the flowers in an umbel open almost simultaneously.

Nerine filifolia (c) copyright 2007 by Shields Gardens Ltd.  All rights reserved.
Nerine filifolia

A third species blooming now is Nerine krigei. This is a little larger than filifolia. The scapes are about 12 to 15 inches tall, but the flowers are 2 inches across, with slightly wider (about ¼ inch) petals and sepals as well. There are up to 12 flowers in an umbel, and they tend to open sequentially. The leaves are about 10 to 14 inches long, about ¼ inch wide, and twisted along the long axis. The twist in the leaves is diagnostic for N. krigei and its hybrids.

Nerine krigei (c) Copyright 2007 by Shields Gardens Ltd.  All rights reserved.
Nerine krigei

Blooming now also is a hybrid, N. [krigei X filifolia]. The plants are intermediate between both parents, wth narrow leaves that have a twist in them. This cross is the only interspecific Nerine cross I've ever gotten to take. N. bowdenii won't cross with krigei, nor with laticoma.

Other species of Nerine that have bloomed or are starting include gracilis and rehmannii, both having very small flowers (less than ½ inch across). Other species of Nerine bloom later in the fall or winter here, including NN. bowdenii, sarniensis, and hybrids of sarniensis. I grow very few of the sarniensis hybrids, as they have a hard time getting through our hot, humid summers.

Good gardening,


- Colchicum

Colchicum are a largely autumn-blooming group native to Eurasia. The genus is traditionally lumped into the Lily Family (Liliaceae), but probably deserves its own family, Colchicaceae, based on DNA studies. The common name in English of "Autumn Crocus" is not appropriate. Crocus are in the Iris Family, and are much smaller in flower than the Colchicum shown here. Besides, there are true autumn-flowering species in the genus Crocus -- real "Autumn Crocus!"

The European and Central Asian species appear to be quite hardy here in central Indiana, USDA zone 5. The spring flowering and mediterranean species have not done well for me, not even in the greenhouse.

They can be grown from seed, but it is excruciatingly slow. Almost everyone who wants to grow them buys the bulbs as they are offered commercially, meaning a few traditional clones are about all you can find. The flowers of all the varieties I have here look pink to me, but other colors have been ascribed to many forms.

The first variety to flower here every summer is Colchicum byzantinum. These have been flowering here for a couple of weeks now.

Colchicum byzantinum (c) copyright 2007 by Shields Gardens Ltd.  All rights reserved.
Colchicum byzantinum

The flowers are produced, after a few years, in small clusters. The individual flowers are about 2 inches across at the top, and the tips of the petals reach about 5 or 6 inches above the ground. The flowers seem to be mainly a solid pink color, after opening nearly white.

Another species common in the trade is Colchicum cilicicum, usually with the cultivar name "Purpureum" appended. These are about 3 inches across when open, and reach a height of about 6 inches. They may form large clumps as the planting matures.

Colchicum cilicicum and Smokey (c) copyright 2007 by Shields Gardens Ltd.  All rights reserved.
Smokey the cat checking out Colchicum cilicicum.

The flowers are somewhat tesselated, and a darker pink shade than some of the other species. This is a form that I would recommend, since it is very nice and is reasonably readily available in the trade. The dormant bulbs should be ordered in late spring and planted in mid-summer.

There are numerous other forms in the trade, including cultivars like 'The Giant' and 'Waterlily'. I have both, and 'Waterlily' seems to be a bit tender here, while 'The Giant' does just fine for us. I grew the Western European species, Colchicum autumnale, but they were not in a good place -- too close to the edge of the lane -- and I eventually lost them all.

My favorite is probably Colchicum speciosum. I managed to find a batch of 60 seed-grown bulbs in Oregon some years ago. The flowers have a large white throat, with light to medium pink tesselation. They reach almost 4 inches across, and stand 8 inches tall to the petal tips. They slowly form clumps.

Colchicum speciosum (c) copyright 2007 by Shields gArdens Ltd.  All rights reserved.
Colchicum speciosum

The C. speciosum are naturalized in the lawn. We avoid mowing over them when the foliage is green in spring, and again when the flowers appear in later summer. If you are up tight about the appearance of your lawn, you might not want to do this.

The foliage is always as issue for some folks, because it is large and quite noticeable in spring and early summer. You may want to plant it in from of large plants or shrubs to lessen the visual impact of the plain green leaves. Once they start to yellow off, you can cut them down; this usually happens in early to mid-July, but this past summer was so dry that they were already gone by the third week in June.

We take the Colchicum foliage as part of nature's package of a very desireable late summer flower. We treat naturalized Narcissus in the lawn the same way. I think of it as a large patch of meadow in what would otherwise be a boring bit of lawn, until we mow it down in July.

The pop-up images are larger this time, 722 X 480 pixels, to see if the slightly bigger size bothers anyone. If your computer screen had trouble with the large images (from clicking on the small images above), please let me know [Respond or comment on this entry].

Good gardening,


- Chestnuts Ripening

Two of the Chinese Chestnut trees started ripening their nuts a week ago. Those trees have by now dropped almost all their nuts. It only takes a week for them to fall, once they start. Until about 100 years ago here in the American Midwest, the forests were mainly American Chestnut trees. Then the chestnut blight found its way to North America, and within a couple decades they were almost all gone.

The Chinese Chestnut trees seem to be quite resistant to the blight. I planted a half dozen of them over 25 years ago, and they have been producing nice crops of nuts every autumn for the last 8 or 10 years now.

While the American Chestnut trees were tall, majestic giants of the forest with single trunks, the Chinese Chestnut trees are bushy, having several trunks and reaching a height of only 15 to 25 feet.

The Chinese nuts have a pretty good "chestnut" flavor, but it depends very much on which tree the nuts come from. The three trees I got from Millers or Stark Brothers nurseries have large nuts with very good flavor; the squirrels love them. The trees from the National Arbor Day Foundation produce much smaller nuts with either no flavor or a somewhat bitter taste. Even the squirrels will not eat them.

We cure the fallen chestnuts at room temperature for a week to 10 days, partly to improve the flavor and partly so we can see which ones are going to be wormy. Before we started spraying the chestnuts trees in summer, most of the nuts were wormy. Now, usually only a few are wormy. You apparently have to spray past the chestnuts' flowering time in mid-June to stop the worms. The "worms" actually look to me like the larvae (maggots) of some sort of fly (Diptera).

After they have been culled and cured, we score the skin with a sharp small knife and freeze those we aren't going to eat right away. Chestnuts do not keep well in a refrigerator; they get moldy very quickly in the fridge. On the other hand, they keep for years frozen in zip-top plastic freezer bags.

You can fix chestnuts, whether imported Italian nuts or home-grown Chinese nuts, in a variety of ways. My favorite is freshly roasted. Regardless of how you cook them, you have to score the shiny brown skin before you heat them. Otherwise, the moisture in the nuts turns to high pressure steam and the nuts can explode! That is very messy, at best.

Besides freshly roasted chstnuts, you can boil them for later use in chestnut dressing or stuffing, or added to vegetables. While brussels sprouts are not usually my favorite vegetable, when cooked with chestnuts and well seasoned, they are actually delicious. Boiled chestnuts are also good added to red cabbage. This is an area well worth some exploration and experimentation.

As a dessert, boiled chestnuts are pureed and then served with whipped cream, meringues, or other sweets. You might try the puree with chocolate sauce and then whipped cream. In Europe, it is served as vermicelli after having been pressed out through some sort of sieve.

We also have some Carpathian ("English") Walnut trees, which sometimes produce a useful crop of nuts. They are very sensitive to late spring freezes, and we had such a freeze this past spring. So it looks as if our Carpathian Walnut trees are completely barren this year. By the way, the English apparently refer to these trees as Persian Walnuts. Our trees came from a nursery, perhaps Millers, and were grown from trees found in the Carpathian Mountains in Eastern Europe. They seem to be fairly hardy here in Indiana.

We have some regular native Black Walnut trees, and some of these are heavily loaded with nuts this year. I will leave most of those to the squirrels, if a diet of soft, easily eaten chestnuts has not spoiled them for tougher fare.

We have a pair of selected Shelbark Hickory trees, whose large nuts are just as tasty as pecans, but much hardier here in our cold winters. The shells are however very thick and hard, and you need a hammer or a special black walnut cracker to open them. The weather this past spring seems to have affected the hickories badly, as they have very few nuts this year. Hickory nuts are also susceptible to what look to be the same worms we find in unsprayed chestnuts.

Hazelnuts or filberts also grow here, and they can have nuts. You need at least two bushes for cross-pollination, and we have quite a few more. The hazelnut bushes we have seem to be very variable as to nut quality, and only one of the several bushes has both heavy crops and large, tasty nuts. Squirrels love these too, and will start harvesting them in August, long before they look ripe to human eyes. Some years, they get almost every single decent hazel nut. The squirrels of course ignore the nuts on the bushes that we don't care for.

We have tried hybrid American-Chinese chestnuts, but the small trees available did not survive even one summer in our field. We tried butternuts and heartnuts (both related to walnuts), but neither survived here. We tried a hardy pecan, and lost it the first winter. There have been a lot of interesting nut tress that we were not able to grow here, for one reason or another. Still, it's a great feeling when you start harvesting your own nut crops in autumn!

Good gardening,


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Last revised on: 28 September 2007
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