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JEARRARD'S HERBAL


8th October 2017

Crocus speciosus
I had started to think that summer had fled and that winter was waiting in the wings ready to pounce with its claws of ice. Perhaps it will yet, but not this week. This week the evenings have been dark and the nights chilly but there have been days fit for dahlias. For a while I needed a sun-hat in the garden and I didn't need wellingtons. A week or two of sunny spells would be nice, I'm not greedy. Long enough to let things wind up the year with dignity. The surprise of the week has been Crocus speciosus. I planted this pot three years ago and had more or less given up on them. They don't last long in this climate, the summers are too cold and the winters too wet. For a while I thought I might succeed under cover but I haven't got the management right, or they are still too cold. Whatever the reason they decline and I wasn't expecting flowers this year. I was going to throw the remains onto the compost to take their chances (disappear without further fuss) when this happened. I have three flowers developing on long stems. They look a bit ragged and it's only the thrill of Crocus in autumn that makes me persevere. Colchicum (outside) and autumn Galanthus (under cover) have made a much better show.
I have a plan to do away with them and manage the autumn flowers in a much more space-efficient way. It covers everything except the moment of thrill when the unexpected lilac Crocus open, the slow-motion burst of a balloon, flying folds and sagging bravado. Pop goes the plan.


8th October 2017

Haemanthus deformis
There is a fascination in bulbs that is difficult to explain. On any saturday afternoon I can go out almost anywhere and see parents with their children, chatting to them, smiling, attending to their needs as their glazed tic-tocking eyes endure the last hours away. Soon they will be asleep.
Bulbs are like that. They are charming and demanding and attention seeking without a moments pause, but suddenly they fall asleep. Nothing to do but revel in warm memories.
South African bulbs are the worst, at any season there will be something seeking attention. It's like having shifts of children, always one set on duty. It is difficult to explain the fascination but they are popular. The bulbs are quite nice as well.
Haemanthus deformis is especially perplexing. The swollen leaf bases form an almost-bulb, and it is evergreen so there is no respite. It's just constant green leaved charm from the moment the last seed falls until the new bud pushes up. If it was red it would be intolerable.


8th October 2017

Stenoglottis longifolia
There are a few plants that seem to be overlooked in cultivation. Stenoglottis is the easiest thing to grow in a pot. The fleshy roots make it tolerant of dessication and it is in leaf almost continuously throughout the year, the new shoots and flowers appearing just as the previous seasons growth starts to die away. Still, general growers shun it for being an orchid, orchid growers shun it for being terrestrial, and terrestrial orchid growers shun it because it isn't an Ophrys.
It comes from a small area of Natal and is uncommon in the wild and often associated with rocky outcrops though it isn't fussy in cultivation. I keep it with the Clivia where conditions are a little too dry for it but it flowers reliably and is increasing. It was one of the first orchids I succeeded with as a child. I had a Cymbidium with such an irregular growth cycle that it perplexed me. Decades later I can say that they need a long warm growing season to complete growth. Without that they suspend development in autumn and start again the following spring, rarely flowering. Stenoglottis taught me that not all orchids are weird and that they can be straighforward.
Without that simple lesson I might have given up and become an accountant.



8th October 2017

Nerine pudica
The gereral enthsiasm for plants comes in great waves and crashes. Nerine are currently on the up and it is an exciting time. Botanists have delivered a clearer understanding of the genus and hybridists have been pushing the boundaries. N. sarniensis has been developed into a spectacular range of colours but now breeders have started to look at other species and hybrids. N. bowdenii has been produced in a range of shades and is being developed as a cut flower. There are many hybrids that extend the season and the colour range.
N. pudica is interesting because it has simple funnel-shaped flowers and broad colourful tepals, attributes that make picking, bunching and boxing much simpler for the commercial producer. I sowed some hybrids of N. pudica and N. sarniensis several years ago and the first of them are in bloom with bright colours and tidy flowers. Hybrids with N. bowdenii have the potential for increased hardiness as well.
When I got this plant it was labelled as "N. pudica hybrid" but I can see no evidence of hybrid genes in it. I have three other plants of the species and I wouldn't be able to tell them apart without the labels. A rare winter growing species from a small area of mountains in the Western Cape, it may become unexpectedly significant in the cut-flower trade.
As I write the low cloud has turned yellow which often means rain is about to fall. Next week looks interesting.