Friday, April 27, 2012

The French House

Begonia 'Escargot', part of the greenhouse 20 collection

Yesterday was a warm day. From 100 feet away a strong odor rocked me, and I knew it was from various plants in bloom. Yes, from greenhouse #20, the "fun house," also known as the "French house." Not everything in GH20 is odiferous, but it's where we keep many blooming plants, an eclectic hodge-podge that doesn't seem to belong anywhere else. It is also our warmest house, and from January through summer it is visited by hummingbirds and butterflies, as well as the neighbor's cat. And me too, nearly every day of the year. I sometimes refer to it as the "no profit" house because it's heavily filled with one-of's, new plants, or those that are not very winter-hardy.

Not everything in GH20 needs the warmth; sometimes it was the only space available. But anyway, it is filled with some of the most cool plants on earth. An ex-employee (who never did know the definition of loyalty to his company) skipped GH20 when touring with a customer, because it "didn't have anything." What he meant was that it didn't have any Japanese maples or conifers, his idea of product Buchholz Nursery--or any nursery--should begin and end with. His narrow brain couldn't process the exotic diversity, and most of the plants he couldn't pronounce anyway. Most visitors to the nursery love it in GH20, however, and the employees too; but no one should linger in there for long, as the powerful perfume is rather intoxicating.

I walked through GH20 and made a list of what it currently holds. Some plants are in regular production and some will never be.


Rhododendron edgeworthii

Rhododendron 'Coastal Spice'

Let's first identify the biggest stinker: Rhododendron 'Coastal Spice'. Sterculia--the Roman god (or goddess) of "smell"--would be proud of the late Jim Gerdeman's hybrid, with one parent being Rhododendron edgeworthii, and the other unknown to me. We also have the straight species, Rhododendron edgeworthii, in GH20, which blooms about a week after 'Coastal Spice'. Some visitors love the odor of both, while some wince at the heady aroma. Back to Sterculia, the name is derived from the Latin "stercus," meaning an offensive smell, and also refers to a manure pile.

Edgeworthia chrysantha
Edgeworthia chrysantha 'Akebono'

Another stink emanates from Edgeworthia chrysantha, the "paper plant." Both the Rhododendron and the paper plant were named for M.P. Edgeworth, a bureaucrat working for the Bengal Civil Service. I have seen Edgeworthia chrysantha in the Himalayan foothills, and of course I smelled it before I saw it. We grow a wonderful orange-red form called 'Akebono', and I find the odor to be pleasant.

Daphne bholua


Making paper with Daphne bholua

Daphne bholua is another "paper plant," also a shrub from the Himalaya. It is semi-deciduous in our greenhouse, with cream-white flowers appearing in January. The flowers are small and not very showy, but they are abundant and pleasantly pungent. I also encountered this Daphne in the Himalaya; and on one trek fifteen years ago the path was crowded with porters, mostly barefoot Nepalese, both men and women, who were hauling huge bundles on their a lower elevation processing site. From there the bushes were smashed, boiled, stirred and laid out to dry in the hot sun. All "special" paper, i.e. for marriage certificates, wills, governmental decrees etc., were best put on Daphne bholua's paper. Later, in the capital, I purchased some sheets as a souvenir, and perhaps they now sit in the back corner of a basement closet, but I haven't seen them in years. A short trunk remains after harvest, and fortunately new shoots will emerge.

Daphne x burkwoodii 'Brigg's Moonlight'

Equally smelly is Daphne x burkwoodii 'Brigg's Moonlight', and visually it is a treat. Tiny, narrow leaves are ivory-white with narrow green margins. It will form a dense shrub and is stunning in full sun to light shade. Tiny flowers are cream-white but they are somewhat lost in the foliage.

Daphne cneorum 'Ruby Glow'

Daphne cneorum 'Alba'

A cute rock-garden gem, Daphne cneorum 'Ruby Glow', the "Garland Flower," displays flowers on low buns with a color as in the name. Some find it difficult to grow, while other, lesser gardeners succeed with ease. We also grow the cultivar 'Exima', which is more prostrate with larger flowers, and also 'Alba' with white flowers.

Azara microphylla 'Variegata'

Azara microphylla is a small evergreen tree or shrub. We used to grow the straight species with tiny green leaves and light-yellow flowers in spring with a vanilla scent. The one-and-only stock tree was sold to a high bidder, and now we only grow the variegated form, boringly named 'Variegata'. There are other species of Azara, but microphylla is the most winter hardy. Hillier's Manual of Trees and Shrubs claims 'Variegata' to be "slow-growing." Ha, Hillier! Go see for yourself in GH20, where we prune our pots twice a year, as a four-year-old can shoot out three feet of new growth.

Kniphofia rooperi

Kniphofia rooperi

Another GH20 delight is Kniphofia rooperi, which produces large heads of orange-red flowers. For us it blooms in April, heavily, and again in autumn, but more sparse. However, at Hillier's Arboretum in England's southern climate, it blooms profusely in the fall (outdoors), and I doubt any blossoms appear in spring. Well, that's what GH20 will do for you: the south African species must be mixed up, since it is willing to bloom twice a season for me. The lurid poker orbs are very exciting, and one can endure the rather unornamental grass spikes to five feet tall.

Gladiolus dalenii 'Bolivian Peach'

I'll conclude today's web log with Gladiolus dalenii 'Bolivian Peach'. In spite of the cultivar name, which implies a South American origin, the species is indeed from South Africa, and in spite of is hardy to USDA zone 6. Flower color blends light-yellow with peachy-orange, and can vary if grown indoors versus grown outside in full sun. It was found growing on a roadside near the town of Bolivia, North Carolina by Plant Delights Nursery. What an excellent find! Maybe the best thing to come out of Bolivia, NC ever, population 148 in 2000.

Oxalis inops

...but wait: one more plant. A gardening friend originally gave me 'Bolivian Peach' in a container. But before the peach-flowers of the gladiolus appear, another "weed" blooms in the same pot, Oxalis inops, also from South Africa. And what a treat it is. In fact, I'm tempted to grow the two plants together on purpose, two wonderfully different plants for the price of one.

Uh oh, I'm getting dizzy; time to get out of GH20 and away from the darting hummingbirds. Next week we'll continue in the same house, for we've just begun.

More from GH20 next week...

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