Sunday, March 20, 2016

Trying My Hand at Propagation

It is not like I haven't made attempts before. This time, however, I feel more of an interest and urgency in learning how it is done. Part of the reason is that I want more of the plants I already grow, and because I grow mainly North American natives I find it difficult to locate a diverse assortment of plants. The nurseries started selling and promoting natives about eight or ten years ago and then within a couple of years they stopped. Not profitable enough?  Native plants often require multiple steps of cold or warm, moist, stratification. Some may take a year or two of looking after before they germinate. I was not up to that. The other reason is that I want to challenge myself more. I have a diploma in horticulture, not a degree. I know a lot. More than most people, but now I feel it is time for more education. So, propagation.

Back in the fall I started collecting some seeds from three plants I want to increase. They are pentemon hirsutus, delphinium exaltatum, and verbena hastata. Photos follow in this order. Photos are not mine.

Hairy Beardtongue

Tall Larkspur

Blue Vervain
 I must have a thing for Blue!
All three of these plants require cold moist stratification. If all goes well they should germinate in spring.
This is how I am trying to propagate them:

I am using clam shell salad containers. Cleaned and dried well. Add seed starting mix already dampened. Top with seeds. Set outside in January. Wait to see what happens.

I am a bit concerned about the seed soiless mix. It is wet. Has been all winter, even though I put holes in the lids and bottoms of the containers. In each case the seeds are small and sitting mainly on top of the soil so I am hoping that once the weather warms up and things dry up the wetness of the mix won't matter too much. Wait and see. This is actually the part of the learning experience I am looking forward to and dreading. Have I done things correctly? Could I or should I have done something differently? Does it matter?

I also collected seeds from my solomon seal plants. Starry solomon seal, false solomon seal and the common solomon seal. I watched these plants in the fall, checking on the colouring of their fat fruit. Polygonatum biflorum (common) fruit are blue, Maianthemum racemosum (false) fruit are a mottled green and brown colour with some red spots which turn red when ripe, and Maianthemum stellata (starry) fruit are initially green with purple stripes and ripen to solid reddish-purple. In all cases you plant the seeds directly in the ground when ripe. You can never have enough plants of this family!

And finally I also collected and planted when ripe the fruit of my elderberries, Sambucus pubens or American red elder.

So there is a lot to look forward to, although I might not see much happening with the solomon seals' or the elderberry for a year or two.  In another week or two I will be doing some indoor planting of seeds I bought of scabiosa - important - white scabiosa, and white vervain. I am also on a blitz of white plants. More on that later.

Friday, March 11, 2016

My Garden Holiday in England - Kew Gardens

I have been to Kew Gardens once before last year. Kew is located on the western side of London and can be reached easily by the tube/ subway/ metro/ train or however your city names your underground transportation system. There is a small palace on the grounds, Kew Palace, which is  a museum today, but the Palace also has a small but interesting herbal garden. Kew is not a small place. There are gardens, buildings, botanical glasshouses and space to roam around for days in its 121 hectares (300 acres).

This trip was the first time we found a couple of small lakes surrounded by trees and shrubs. The atmosphere in this area was quite peaceful. Naturally there were small families of ducks of which I did not recognize even one.

Hubby and I visited the perennial gardens that had some lovely grasses

and the small indoor Alpine garden

Probably one of the highlights for me was the Heritage Tree Collection. As you made your way around the gardens you would find placards naming the tree behind it, where it came from and other interesting facts about the tree or genus. Here are a few beauties, but unfortunately I did not record them all. Maybe you can guess.

Both trips were taken in September, something I would change the next time around if only to see different plants. It is still a great time of year for taking in the gardens of the UK.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

An Apple a Day

The planting last spring of my new crab apple tree led me to much reading about the different cultivars available and their abilities to resist the various fungal and insect problems they encounter. I became curious about the history of the apple tree itself and that is what I will pass on to you today in very short form.
The apple is found within the grouping Pome, which are fruits of the Rosaceae family, and include the apple, quince, medlar, and pear. Today there are thousands of cultivars worldwide which are derived from an original 24 species of Malus. Most of these apples are small and their flavour is usually bitter. The larger sweet apple we eat today originated in the Dzungarian Alps, a mountain range separating Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and China. It is Malus x domestica and originated in Almaty, Kazakstan. 

The apple moved west and was fully part of western horticulture by 1000 BCE. However, how the apple made its way west, and the timing of its travel is still unclear. Early Sumerian literature references the apple but it may be the indigenous Malus orientalis a small sour fruit. Archeological evidence of dried apples threaded on string dating back to 2200-2100 BCE found in Queen Pu-abi’s grave in Iraq may also be those of M. orientalis because apples when dried lose their bitterness.
With such a fabulous find it would have been hard to keep this sweet apple a secret for long.  At some point the apple found itself traveling the Silk Route where it is known to have passed through Persia from Asia and continued west. Persia was a crossroads where different cultures met and traded their wares. Seed would have been carried and traded by caravan along the trade routes. I would remiss if I did not say that birds and animals would also have carried seeds east and west. There is also a theory that horses from the caravans would have left seed behind in their droppings. Apple seed made its way to Greece and Rome. Like others before them they cultivated the apple and created thousands of different varieties. We know for certain from Greek and Roman sources that the art of grafting was widely practiced by the 5th century BCE. The Romans transported apples with them into their ever - enlarging empire. The apple and other fruit trees were so important to the Romans that they worshipped the Goddess Pomona, a goddess of fruiting trees and orchards. (see my post on Pomona here) These cultivated orchard apples were for eating, but the smaller wild apples found all over the world had their uses too. Cider is primarily what the small bitter apples were made into but also vinegar and jellies.

An interesting fact is that each seed in every apple is unique and does not create the same apple as the parent. Just like you and me. This allows the tree to adapt more easily to its environment and thus increase its ability to survive greatly. This variability in the apple seed genes has allowed us to select for apple trees that can grow in Siberia and northern China where winter temperatures fall to -40C and, in contrast, countries like Columbia and Indonesia where they can grow two crops in a year. So if most apples of ancient times were small and bitter how do we create large sweet ones? We clone them. The mechanism found by the Greeks was to graft the apple tree onto a different rootstock. This allowed us to retain the qualities we wanted such as size, colour, taste, and adaptability. Grafting apples has been the technology of choice for over 3800 years!

The oldest surviving apple variety from Roman times is still grown today in France. It is the Pomme d’ Api or the Lady Apple in English. The French were great inventors and came up with the idea of espaliers or trellises and figured how to grow larger fruit through pruning methods. They also discovered how to grow dwarf trees that produced full crops. They liked to eat their apples raw. In Normandy they grew apples for cider which was the most consumed beverage between the fourteenth century and the twentieth century. It was in the twentieth century that the government of France decided that grapes were the better crop to grow.

But then what about MY crab apple tree? It seems that the primary distinction between an apple and a crab apple is size. Two inches in fact. If the apple is two inches in diameter or less it is considered a crab apple. So all those small bitter ancient fruit from the malus genera I mentioned earlier are crab apples. In fact, it seems possible that all wild apples are derived from the crab apple. All except the larger and sweeter Malus x domestica from Almaty, Kazakstan which has become our eating apple, in its various hybrid forms, today.