Friday, February 18, 2011

The Best Bloom I Almost Missed

On the fabulous Annie's Annuals website, you will find page after page of the most unbelievable plants, even to those who live in Northern California, where their garden center is located. For those of us in the midwest, and specifically in zone 5, many of their offerings are otherworldly. But that's precisely why we like them. Never mind that many of them aren't particularly suited for our climate. That's never stopped too many gardeners.

It certainly didn't stop me.

I'd seen their Ferraria and was instantly smitten. Called "Spider Iris," their intricate blooms are so unusual, so detailed, so everything I love in a flower, and I wanted them. I e-mailed and tweeted back and forth with employee Elayne, since I knew virtually nothing about them. I just knew I wanted some.

She talked with their horticulturist, Claire, and we had a lengthy phone conversation about the Ferraria. I wanted the F. crispa. They didn't have any. But they did have F. ferrariola, if I wanted to try those. Of course I did!

Claire was very concerned that these wouldn't work for me. They like it very dry while dormant, which is during the summer. No problem. But what about when fall and winter came, and they needed warmer weather for growth and blooming? I'd grown warm weather bulbs successfully before, in the house.

Claire and Elayne, bless their hearts, tried to discourage me, because they didn't want me to be disappointed, but I assured them that I knew I was taking a risk. If they didn't grow, I'd been warned. And what fun is gardening if you don't take a risk now and then?

The bulbs were sent and there was a bonus bulb lying loose in the shipment, sent unintentionally. I contacted Elayne to see if she might know what it was. She relayed that Claire said it could be any kind of Ferraria or even something entirely different. I potted that one up, too, in a small pot. (These corms are really small.)

I put them in some well-draining potting medium that I'd gotten from an earlier order of tropical hibiscus (that I managed to kill). Then I put them in the basement for the summer - their dormant period. I checked on them rarely, and actually forgot about them. Then sometime in October, I was down there and noticed a little spear of green coming up out of the smallest pot - the unknown corm.

November 14, 2010

I brought it upstairs, watered it, and put it in a sunny south window. It grew rather quickly, putting up four or five very long blades, each about three feet tall. They were so narrow and flimsy, they didn't stand on their own, so I staked them. When the conservatory was finished, I moved it out there, giving it a western exposure. It continued to stay green, and I watered sparingly - only when the soil was completely dry and pulling away from the edges.

I didn't really have much hope of seeing a bloom. The foliage wasn't the strongest or the healthiest I'd ever seen, but I didn't really know what it was supposed to look like either.

This afternoon, as I was doing some pruning and watering, I noticed the mystery bulb was leaning towards the window frame, rather hidden from my view, because it was right next to the door. I went to straighten it up and tighten the Velcro tape to give it more support and what I saw nearly sent me into a state of horticultural hysteria.

Now that not the coolest thing you've ever seen? Weirdly, uniquely, ravishingly gorgeous.

It's fragrant, too, although I'm not sure I like it. It has a hint of the same fragrance as the paper whites people force in the winter - Narcissus tazetta - though not as strong. My husband doesn't like the fragrance of those at all, and has forbidden me to grow them in our house ever again. Daughter Kara likes the smell. They remind her of magic markers. I can take them or leave them.

Now, what remains is to identify just which Ferraria this is. F. crispa perhaps after all, since the description of the fragrance fits, and their appearance can be variable. I've messaged Elayne to enlist her help, and I'm sure she'll get Claire right on it. I've also asked some horticultural experts and they're working on the case, too.

It doesn't really matter all that much, although I do like to know just what I have, especially when it's as special as this. It appears there will be a few more blooms on this flower stalk, too. It's about 18 inches tall and definitely needs support. The bloom is about two inches across.

Now THIS is what I'm talking about - taking risks. Sometimes you win, and when you do, victory is oh so sweet.

EDIT: Claire and Elayne have just confirmed that it is indeed Ferraria crispa. This just gets better all the time. :-)


Anonymous said...

Hi ya! I've not finished your post yet (will!) but thank you for the link/post to Annies - I just ordered a free catalog! Will help me get started on my spring planning............

Lisa Akari

anniesannuals said...

YAHOO!!! What a thrill!! I think we can say definitively that your mystery freebie is Ferraria crispa. How it made it's way into the pot with the ferrariolas remains a mystery though - perhaps you have some sort of bulb magnetism? You get a super gold star for zone denial - and triumph!!

FARMcurious said...

Beautiful - what a fabulous surprise!

FARMcurious said...

Beautiful - what a fabulous surprise!

Steve Asbell said...

I was so excited to see this bloom that I looked it up right away... it should be hardy here in zone 9a! Now I have to find one too!

b said...

that is gorgeous! talk about a victory!

fer said...

It is a very beautiful plant! I am sure it will keep doing well in your garden

Anonymous said...

I came her via a link from Annie's Annuals Facebook page and wanted to say how much I enjoyed your entry. I was on the edge of my seat, gripped by your story and weather or not your corm would bloom! Thank you!

Santa Rosa, CA

Carol Michel said...

What a great bloom to enjoy in February in the midwest.

Layanee said...

It is gorgeous. Exotic and unique also. What fun to have that surprise waiting for you. The best things in life tend to be unexpected surprises such as this one. I did just receive Annie's catalog. I was wondering what to order.

scottweberpdx said...

Haha...congrats...that's a great story...with an even better ending!

Chiot's Run said...

OH, I'm always happy to find a new place to get plants from, thanks for the link. I've heard of Annie's, but have never made my way over there. I'll head over now, probably much to the detriment the pile of work I have to do tonight!

That is quite a lovely plant, very interesting and the bloom is so interesting and beautiful! I love interesting plants, especially trying to cultivate them indoors during our LONG northern Ohio winter - sure makes them bearable. I'm currently starting cactus from seeds.

Cheers, happy gardening, hope you're staying warm and dug out of all the snow!

Kathleen said...

Wow! I would go into horticultural hysteria too. What an intriguing bloom. So glad it worked out for you ~ a risk certainly worthwhile.

ps I was going to respond to your comment on my GBBC post but I see you already figured out I live in Colorado. Thanks for the link.

pss I've been seeing red-winged blackbirds at my feeders since the end of January (way ahead of when I usually see them which is the end of Feb, first of March) It makes me wonder what is up?

Unknown said...

Wowowowowowow! Horticultural hysteria, indeed...what an exquisite, glorious, delightful plant, Kylee. Bravo. So very delighted for you.

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