Jim Shields' Garden Notes
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Blog Home : January 2009

- Depths of Winter

Things are very quiet here in January. Things are slow. Thanks to snow that started falling around 5 AM this morning, what is usually a ten minute drive down to my favorite breakfast place, Cafe Patechou, took 20 minutes driving down at 7:15 AM. An hour later, the drive back home took 30 minutes; but the breakfast was, as always, excellent. The slow drive did give me an opportunity to think about what I might comment on in the blog. And the fine breakfast put me in a mellow mood before I started writing.


A lot of people, both Republicans as well as Democrats, seem to expect Mr. O'Bama to work miracles! If I don't stop and think for a minute, I find myself expecting the same thing. It isn't going to happen that easily. We don't have 25% unemployment, as we did when I was born in the Great Depression. The only reason we don't have that much right now is that the politicians and economists may have learned a bit since then; Keynes once again reigns supreme. Unfortunately, the denizens of Wall Street obviously have not learned.


We just got the December gas bills for heating the greenhouses. They are up 50% from our highest December gas bills in the last 3 years, and it is only partly due to increasing prices for natural gas. Cold weather arrived with November this year, and has not let up except for the occasional 2- or 3-day blip of unseasonably warm weather. We are heading into two or three days of lows at 0°F to -10°F -- colder than we have had in the last 5 years if not longer. Simultaneously, they are having record high temperatures in Northern California.

How can Global Warming make our winter colder? It's pretty simple if you understand a little physical chemistry or physics. The atmosphere plus the oceans constitute a big heat engine. Think of the gasoline engine in your car, but driven by the heat of the sun rather than by burning gasoline. The more "fuel" (i.e., heat energy) you put into the engine, the more work it can do. Making record heat in one part of the world and near-record cold in another part takes a lot of work. The engine is driving us farther from equilibrium, the nice average of summer and winter, highs and lows, that we all generally prefer, because we are heating the engine up. Global warming.


My geriatric old dog, Homer, likes this cold weather. He seems to think he is part polar bear! He goes out day or night to lay on the ground for a half hour at a time. Homer is over 15 years old now, and he gets pain pills, thyroid pills, and more, twice a day. Somehow, he just keeps on going. He couldn't walk up the steps from the yard to the deck last year, so we had a handyman build a ramp for him. He uses that now to return from his outings in the yard.

Homer is not alone in reaching a very old age for a large dog (Homer weighs about 55 lb. or about 25 kg.) Thanks to rapidly improving verterinary medical care for domestic animals, many large old dogs like Homer are living far longer than they used to. I suspect that much of this progress in animal health care is fall-out from the dynamic growth of human medicine over the last half centry or so. Thank the N.I.H. for geriatric pets!


We will have the annual meeting of the Midwest Clivia Club here at our home and greenhouse on Saturday, March 29th, at roughly noon to 4 PM. Hopefully, we will have a lot of clivias in bloom at that time. In any case, we will have a buffet lunch at around noon for those who RSVP to us by about March 15th.

Right now, there are only a couple clivias in bloom, mainly the Belgian hybrids. Because we have had very little sunshine so far this autumn and winter, they are not the advertised dark red-orange, but are a bit paler. There is also one Clivia gardenii in bloom and one interspecific hybrid of uncertain ancestry. In these two cases also, the light colors of the present flowers may not indicate what they would look like grown under the bright sunshine of Southern California or South Africa.

Also in bloom are a couple pots of Yellow Cyrtanthus. These are a vigorous, robust strain or clone of Cyrtanthus maakenii cooperi. I'm not sure whether they have a proper cultivar name or not. They at least bloom reliably every year and at a time when very little else is blooming.

My large pot of Narcissus papyraceus has put up one stem of small white flowers. They bloom at a time of year when any flower is greatly appreciated. Other Narcissus species in the greenhouse are not blooming so far this winter.

Among the little else in bloom are the Lachenalia. The L. rubidum and L. viridiflora are past now, and others such as L. bulbifer are starting. You need a very cool place with lots of bright light to grow these well, and our light is almost strong enough for them. They are in the cool greenhouse, where temperatures run down to about 40°F on cold nights. This house is mostly full of Haemanthus in full leaf and growth this time of winter. The Haemanthus finished blooming in October, and the next won't bloom until H. montanus flowers in this coming June.

We need to focus our thoughts on the coming of Spring. Here in the Northern Hemisphere, the days have been getting longer for the last 3 weeks, and in a few more weeks the coldest part of winter will be safely behind us. Think good thoughts about Spring flowers to come.

Good gardening,


- Snow Outside, Flowers Inside

We had 8 inches (20 cm) of snow fall from Tuesday afternoon through Wednesday morning. There was little wind, so there was relatively little drifting (except across our driveway in front of the garage door.) I dug out a path to one of the nearby greenhouses, but I'll leave access to the big greenhouse out back until our commercial snowplow guy gets to us.

Westfield in the Snow (c) copyright 2009 by Shields Gardens Ltd.  All rights reserved.
Looking out over the deck toward the big greenhouse.

There is a strain or probably a clone of yellow Cyrtanthus in commerce now. It looks like a more vigorous version of Cyrtanthus maakenii cooperi, but I don't really know what it is. I like it, it blooms at a good time of year, and seems to bloom much more prolifically than any of the Cyrtanthus species do.

Yellow Curtanthus (c) copyright 2009 by Shields Gardens Ltd.  All rights reserved.
Yellow Cyrtanthus.

Lachenalia bulbifera is a big, robust, vigorous species, but it gets lanky and tends to flop over. The flowers look like a red hot poker (Kniphofia) but they are not even in the same family.

Lachenalia bulbifera (c) copyright 2009 by Shields Gardens Ltd.  All rights reserved.
Lachenalia bulbifera, with the scape leaning toward the sun.

Haemanthus pauculifolius is an evergreen species from the Drakensberg. It is also one of the smallest Haemanthus I have seen. It is a close relative of H. albiflos and H. deformis, but its inflorescence is a much narrower version of the White Paintbrush.

Haemanthus pauculifolius (c) copyright 2009 by Shields Gardens Ltd.  All rights reserved.
Haemanthus pauculifolius.

You can get an idea of the scale in the picture above from the pot the pauculifolius is growing in -- it is 5½ inches (12.5 cm) square. The new foliage of H. pauculifolius tends to be replacing the old growth at the same time it flowers, so there are always a few dying leaves in sight unless you groom the plant drastically.

I have an interesting Massonia (family Hyacinthaceae, from South Africa) in bloom just now.

Massonia echinata (c) copyright 2009 by Shields Gardens Ltd.  All rights reserved.
Massonia echinata (?)
Giant form from Theronsberg Pass.

The foliage is quite smooth, and I would have innocently called it M. depressa because of that feature alone. The leaves are large, perhaps 10-14 cm wide by 12-16 cm long. However, now that it is in bloom, I see that the flowers are very remarkable. They are filled to overflowing with nectar, and each flower is clasped in a large green bract.

Massonia echinata closeup (c) copyright 2009 by Shields Gardens Ltd.  All rights reserved.
Massonia echinate (?) Flowers Close Up.

This plant is blooming two months later than the other bulbs of Massonia depressa/echinata did. So what is this one really? Is it echinata, or deperessa, or something new? I'd sure like to know!

There are a few other things in bloom or recently in bloom as well. Nerine undulata just finished flowering. Tulbaghia simmerli is in bloom. Lachenalia reflexa's yellow upright tubular flowers are starting to develop their color. Many more Lachenalia have buds showing. Several Clivia are showing new scapes down in the heart of the leaves as well.

Spring should come eventually. Finally, here is geriatric old Homer, using his custom-built ramp to come back up to the door.

Homer in the Snow (c) copyright 2009 by Shields Gardens Ltd.  All rights reserved.
Homer coming up his ramp.

Good gardening,


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