December 3, 2012

Fifty Shades of ....... Green

Yes, I admit it.  I had this
stashed under my bed when
I was a teenager.
Like almost every self-respecting male adolescent of my generation, I kept several copies of Playboy magazine tucked between the mattress and box spring in my bedroom.  Those well-thumbed magazines had the beneficial effect of ensuring that my bedroom was always neat and clean, so that prying adults would never stumble upon them.  My friends and I would spend hours, ummm…, reading the articles.

I mention this ancient memory because, last week, I chanced upon my wife and her friend and fellow gardener, Susan Hammond, sitting side by side at our kitchen table; so intently poring over the pages of a magazine-sized periodical that they did not hear me come in.  As they turned pages, they would say ‘Wow’ in unison and make breathless sotto voce comments about the photos on the page.

I do not normally interrupt such interludes.  My wife is entitled to her private interests and her friendships.  But after one particular joint ‘gasp’, I felt I needed to investigate.  And, unlike that one time when my mother unexpectedly came into my bedroom while I was admiring ‘The Girls of Ole Miss’, Betty and Susan did not quickly kick the publication under the kitchen table and pretend to be thumbing through a stack of 45 rpm records.

The object of my wife's affection:
Episcia 'Pink Brocade'
No, instead, they brazenly smoothed down the page so that I could see an Episcia hybrid, better known as Flame Violet ‘Pink Brocade’, a container plant with a draping leaves that mix pinks, whites, silvers and green; all interspersed with brilliant red blooms.

Welcome to what my wife’s friend jokingly calls, ‘plant pornography’.  To which Betty adds, “While everyone else is reading ‘Fifty Shades of Gray’, gardeners prefer ‘Fifty Shades of Green’.”  Each year at this time, catalogs arrive (sans brown paper wrapper) bearing photos of new and exotic plants, heavy with flowers and mixing color palettes that are the antithesis of the relentless browns in the ‘real world’ of a late autumn New England.

Logee's catalog, with the
Holiday 'Calathea' on the cover.
These catalogs come from many sources, but two that get a lot of attention in New England come from Logee’s and White Flower Farm.  Both are based in Connecticut and both are masters of both marketing and plant selection.  The cover of the Logee’s catalog features a Calathea which they have dubbed the ‘Holiday Peacock Plant’.  We have a couple of Calatheas around out house.  But ours don’t have raspberry-red flowers those promise continuous bloom once the plant reaches eighteen inches in height.  Nor does the foliage on our Calatheas have a white feathered pattern around its leaves; but this one does.

White Flower Farms is
a master of marketing.
In the White Flower Farm Holiday Catalog, Betty skips the bulbs and heads straight for the hard stuff: things like Cape Primrose ‘Blue Mars’.  Forget everything you know about primula vulgaris.  What White Flower Farm is offering may be called a ‘primrose’ but it’s a Streptocarpus, an African Violet relative that produces a profusion of voluptuous, purplish-blue flowers.

We pull Euphorbia out of our garden all summer long.  It’s a nuisance plant.  But White Flower Farm has a new hybrid called Euphorbia ‘Salmon’ that has luscious salmon-colored flowers (brachts, actually) that rise over long succulent leaves.  It even ships in a white metal cachepot.  Garden thugs never looked so good.

The Fragrant Jewel Orchid
But the winner, at least to me, is a Sarcoglottis sceptroides; the Fragrant Jewel Orchid. Even if it never bloomed, Sarcoglottis would be a winner because of its beautiful, silver-striped, spotted leaves.  But according to Logee’s, in winter and early spring, the Jewel Orchid puts up tall (up to twenty inch) flower spikes, each of which is adorned with up to twenty blooms.  And the blooms have both a spicy fragrance and turn green to gold as they age. 

Plant pornography?  Yeah.  But unlike the Girls of Ole Miss, you can bring these beauties home to stare at all winter.  And Mom not only won’t mind, she’ll be pleased.

1 comment:

  1. The catalogues get us through winter Neal. But after writing for White Flower Farm for four years, I am a bit tired of puffed up plant prose!