Thursday, September 29, 2011

Fall colors in Northern Vermont

Fall colors in Vermont are nearing their peak. While I won’t be there this year to witness this incredible sight in person, I’m posting some photos I took in 2009. I visited a good friend who lives in the Northeast Kingdom; his house is less than two miles from the Canadian border. While locals said it was only a “good” year for fall foliage, I thought it was spectacular.

It’s impossible to forecast when the colors might peak—and it varies from location to location—but my timing was actually quite good. While some places were at peak, others were still a little early, as evidenced by a preponderance of green leaves.

I had a great time selecting the photos for this post, and I hope you will enjoy your armchair tour of northeastern and central Vermont—with a side trip to New Hampshire and Québec.

Canadian border, Holland, VT
Farm in Holland, VT
Leaves on Holland Pond
Lake Willoughby
Lake Willoughby
Near Lake Willoughby
Near Lake Willoughby
Near Lake Willoughby
Corn field
091009_cornfield sunflowers
Corn field and dried up sunflowers
Forest road in Northeastern Vermont
Forest road in Northeastern Vermont
Lyndonville, VT
Lyndonville, VT
Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge
Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge
Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge
Vermont Route 105
Vermont Route 105
Cemetery, Pittsburg, NH
Northern New Hampshire
They’ve got crazy roads in Québec!
Québec Route 210
Near East Orange, VT
Waits River, VT
Vermont State Route 232
Peacham, VT
Peacham, VT
Forest near East Orange, VT
Forest near East Orange, VT
Sugar shack, Holland, VT, formerly used to make maple syrup
The same location less than a month after my visit (photo by Mark Violette)

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Recent plant purchases

After going crazy with bamboo in 2009 and 2010, this year I’ve switched to smaller scale plants and have begun to collect cacti and other succulents. They’re much easier to manage and display than bamboos that quickly grow to 20 ft. or more.

The one downside about collecting small succulents is the fact that every nursery and garden center around here sells them. Talk about temptation! Usually they’re in a prominent place, and it’s all too easy to pick up one or two even if you swore you wouldn’t. And it’s easy to justify the purchase because they’re cheap and small.

The online gardening forums are full of stories of people who’ve gotten addicted to collecting succulents and now own 100, 200, 300 specimens or even more. While I’m still far from that point, I must curb myself otherwise I’ll join their ranks. Is there an A.A. for plant addicts?

Anyway, here are my most recent purchases.

Our local ACE store is to blame for the first set. They had a great sale on 3” succulents from Lone Pine Gardens last week and I couldn’t resist getting a few.

Discocactus araneispinus, a small cactus from Southern Brazil with long, curly spines. Considered the easiest member of the Discocactus genus, it’s still not an easy cactus to grow. It wants to be kept at temperatures above 50°F and can rot easily if overwatered. Of course I didn’t know any of these things when I bought it, but I like a challenge, so we’ll see if I can keep it alive.
Mammillaria huitzilopochtli. I admit, I bought it as much for its beautiful spines as for its name, Huitzilopochtli being the Aztec god of war who required human sacrifice. I wonder if this tiny ball of spines will want my blood?
Parodia buiningii, a relatively uncommon cactus native to Southern Brazil and Uruguay. Beautiful yellow flowers similar to my Parodia magnifica that bloomed this summer. It tolerates light frost, which is good, but has a reputation for losing its roots in the winter, which increases the risk of rot when you begin to water it again in the spring after its winter rest. I guess the solution is to water very sparingly for a while to give it a chance to grow new roots. So much to learn!

The next three cacti came from Walmart. I only go there twice or three times a year, and their succulents are often overwatered and showing signs of rot. However, this time I found some nice specimens.

110924_Rebutia albipilosa_01
Rebutia albipilosa. The label says its flowers are white, but the photos I find online
(here, for example) show orange flowers.
Left: Chamaelobivia ‘Rose Quartz,’ apparently a cross between an echinopsis and a lobivia and commonly called “peanut cactus.” This one is supposed to have pink flowers.
Right: Euphorbia mammillaria ‘Variegata.’ Its common name is “Indian corn cob.” In spite of its shape, this is not a cactus but a South African succulent which, like all euphorbias, secretes a caustic white sap when injured.

The third group of plants came from last Saturday’s plant sale at the UC Davis Arboretum. The Arboretum is celebrating its 75th anniversary, and this plant sale was the best stocked ever. All the plants I ended up buying actually came from the UC Davis Botanical Conservatory, which is part of the College of Biological Sciences. This is the same place where the corpse flower (Amorphophallus titanum) bloomed this summer.

Echinocactus texensis. Its common name couldn’t be more descriptive: horse crippler. This Texas native is hardy to zone 7 and can tolerate moist and humid conditions.
Aloe KG-14. This is one of the famous aloes created by Kelly Griffin, arguably the biggest superstar in the world of aloe hybridization. Some of his hybrids are crosses of three, four or maybe even more aloe species across several generations.
This plant drew a lot of attention at the plant sale—no surprise considering its unique watermelon-red leaf margin and its turquoise coloration.
I’ve seen small 4-5” specimens selling for $15 online. Mine is 12” across, and it was less than that at the plant sale.

The last plant I got at the UC Davis Arboretum plant sale is quite a rarity. It’s a bottle tree called Dencrosicyos socotrana, only found on the island of Socotra off the coast of Yemen. It’s common name is “cucumber tree,” alluding to the fact that botanically it’s a member of the Cucurbitaceae (or cucumber) family. In its native habitat, this succulent can grow to 18 ft.

My Dencrosicyos socotrana is 24” tall, and its caudex (swollen base) has a diameter of 3” at ground level.
The leaves do look a lot like cucumber or zucchini leaves.
Close up of the branches and trunks.
Dendrosicyos socotrana in its native habitat on Socotra Island
Image source:

UC Davis played a pioneering role in propagating this rare succulent, discovering ways to get the plant to bloom and produce seeds and then successfully germinating the seeds. Apparently, this had been hard to do before. Here’s some background info for those who are interested.

I find myself fascinated not only by this cucumber tree, but by “fat plants” in general, as the group of succulents that form swollen bases are called. As I learn more, I will write a separate post.

In the meantime, I’ll make sure my small cucumber tree stays alive. I was advised that it has to be kept above 55°F (although other sources say it can take temperatures close to freezing), requires bright light 8-14 hours a day, and must not be overwatered—or underwatered. It sure sounds like this winter I’ll have a house guest living in my office!

Monday, September 26, 2011

Farfugium in the rain

As far as spectacular foliage goes, farfugiums are hard to beat. Most people have never heard of farfugiums before, but when they see one, they usually go “wow.”  Fellow bloggers Mark and Gaz at Alternative Eden recently featured an exhaustive survey of farfugiums in their collection, and I’ve blogged about our own farfugiums before (1 2).

In recent years farfugiums have become more available in local nurseries, and the UC Davis Arboretum has several in their downtown Arboretum Terrace. On Sunday morning we were showing out-of-town friends around and got caught in the first rain of the season. As brief as it was, the rain really brought out the textures of the giant farfugiums (Farfugium japonicum ‘Giganteum’) at the Demonstration Garden, especially in contrast to the delicate venus hair fern (Adantium capillus-veneris) growing underneath them. I was very glad I had a camera along to capture this small vignette of plant magic.

Farfugium japonicum ‘Giganteum’  at UC Davis Arboretum Terrace Garden

In our hot-summer climate it’s almost impossible to grow tropical-looking plants with very large leaves, but Farfugium japonicum ‘Giganteum’ does very well if protected from the afternoon sun.

At the other end of the temperature spectrum, Farfugium japonicum ‘Giganteum’ is quite hardy. While its foliage dies back at about 20°F, its rootstock can survive temperatures as low as 0°F. That makes this Japanese woodland dweller a great choice for gardens in zone 7 and above.