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This year the Philadelphia International Flower Show produced by The Pennsylvania Horticultural Society (PHS), America’s first horticultural institution, will showcase plants from around the world in the 2010 show “Passport to the World.” A special exhibit called the “Explorer’s Garden” will greet guests, and will capture the spirit and adventure of early plant exploration. For the “Explorer’s Garden,” Longwood is forcing its signature Victoria ‘Longwood Hybrid’ water-platters. Longwood developed Victoria ‘Longwood Hybrid’ in 1961 by crossing Victoria cruziana and Victoria amazonica from seeds collected from plant exploration trips to South America. Over the years Longwood has embarked on more than 50 exploration trips to every continent except Antarctica.

This is the first time that Longwood Gardens will be growing plants for the Flower Show, and the Victoria platters are a favorite of Longwood’s guests! We are excited to share this amazing plant with the Flower Show’s 250,000 visitors. If you have visited Longwood during the summer months, you know that these plants are one of the biggest attractions in our water garden display.

'Longwood Hybrid' Water-platter

'Longwood Hybrid' Water-platter

Once the excitement of being invited to participate in this year’s flower show subsided, the real fun began. We sowed the seeds for the plants in late November to give us as much growing time as possible before the opening of the show at the end of February.

Victoria seed

Victoria seed

Within two weeks the seed germinated and the race was on! When we began, we were hoping to have 3-foot wide leaves for the show. We added lights to supplement the short days of winter, and heated the water to 80 degrees Fahrenheit using submersible aquarium heaters combined with small pumps to help circulate the water. Unsure exactly how the seedling would respond, we started with 18-20 hours of supplemental light. Within 10 days the tiny seedlings had grown to nearly 12 inches in diameter.

We quickly realized that is was not only possible to have 3-foot leaves for the show, but is was likely that these impressive plants would reach 4-feet+ in diameter. We had to make plans for a temporary tank to be built in our Production Greenhouse. What a luxury to have a staff of craftsman on the property that could help us along the way! Once the tank was built we added a liner, supplemental lights and heat. The new tank measured 10 feet x 10 feet, giving us room to grow two plants.

"Sedan" carrier used to transport Victoria

"Sedan" carrier used to transport Victoria

Since the leaves were growing so quickly, we turned our attention to the next challenge at hand: how to move plants with 4-foot leaves into their new tank. We had to stabilize the leaves so that the thorns on the underside did not damage themselves or other leaves. Once again our carpenters came to rescue. After several discussions we decided on a structure what could best be described as “sedan chair,” similar to a chair that would be used to carry nobility. How fitting since the plant is named in honor of Queen Victoria! The leaves were sandwiched in a bed of wet sphagnum to help keep the plant hydrated, and finally wrapped in a layer of plastic before being sealed for the move.

Sandwiching Victoria leaves between layers of sphagnum moss

Sandwiching Victoria leaves between layers of sphagnum moss

Once the plants reached their new location, we removed the sphagnum from the leaves and lifted the pot from its “bed.” Each leaf was supported by a gardener, who carefully watched that the thorns and petioles didn’t inflict injury. Now in their new home, the Victoria Water-platters are growing happily and waiting for their chance at stardom at this year’s Philly Flower show.

Carefully moving Victoria to tank in Production Greenhouse facility

Carefully moving Victoria to tank in Production Greenhouse facility

Guests to the “Explorer’s Garden” will also see New Guinea impatiens, now a staple in home gardens around the country, but first brought back to the US after a Longwood-sponsored trip to New Guinea in 1970. Other notable plants include the Meconopsis or blue-poppy.  This startling blue beauty requires the cool climate of the Himalayas, Scotland or Alaska to flower, but Longwood growers have successfully forced Meconopsis for display in the Conservatory each March since 2002. Longwood is also contributing Echium candicans ‘Select Blue’, a perennial with a bright blue spike and Echium wildpretii that can produce flower spikes up to five feet tall.  Finally, Longwood is also growing a selection of large specimen poinsettias, paying homage to the popular holiday flower that was on display at the very first Philadelphia Flower Show.

See you at the show!

The King of Our Conservatory

When guests first walk into our Conservatory, they are overwhelmed by the huge variety of plants that are growing under glass. You can see plants that grow in all different regions of the world, from the tropics to the Mediterranean and even the desert. Amid all of these beautiful and unusual plants, there is one that stands out among all others: Encephalartos woodii, our King of the Conservatory!

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The Encephalartos woodii, commonly referred to as Wood’s Cycad, is special to us because this plant is extinct in nature. In 1895, one specimen was found growing in its native habitat of South Africa by an explorer named J. Medley Wood. When Wood realized how rare the plant was, he returned to the site to collect two main stems of the cycad and a few pups (smaller plants that grow off the base of the mother plant). They were taken to Durban Botanical Garden to preserve this rare species. All subsequent attempts to preserve the Encephalartos were unsuccessful, and by the early 1900’s, Encephalartos woodii was believed to be extinct in nature and surviving only in gardens and private collections.

The original at Durban Botanic Garden, South Africa

The gardeners of Durban Botanic Garden had the huge responsibility of keeping the main stems and pups of the original Encephalartos alive and viable since these were the only plants left in the world (imagine having that responsibility!). As more pups formed off of the original plants, they were removed and rooted to keep the genetic line alive. In the 1960’s, one of Longwood’s former directors, Dr. Russell Seibert, went on a plant exploration voyage to South Africa and convinced the gardeners of Durban to send one of the Encephalartos pups to Longwood Gardens. In 1969, Longwood was ecstatic to receive a rooted Encephalartos pup. It was taken to our Research Department where the gardeners carefully nurtured the plant until it was ready to be displayed in the Conservatory.

Original location of Longwood's plant in 1973

Currently you can find our beautiful Encephalartos woodii vigorously growing in the East Conservatory. In early winter our specimen is especially eye-catching because it has orange cones protruding from the center of the plant. These cones are the plant’s method of reproduction. Each cone is made of scales called sporophylls that release pollen. There’s one problem with this method of reproduction however, as a female plant is needed to receive the pollen and produce seeds. All cycads, including Encephalartos woodii, are dioecious, which means that each plant is either male or female. Since only one Encephalartos plant was found in nature and it was male, there is no way to sexually propagate this cycad. All Encephalartos plants that now exist around the world are also male, and the only way to propagate them is by rooting the pups. These pups, which are genetic clones of the original plant, are removed from the base of the cycad and rooted. Even so, our Encephalartos has saved up all of its energy over an entire year to create cones for pollination.

Every day when I come to work and walk by our Encephalartos woodii, I think how lucky I am to be given the responsibility of taking care of such an incredible plant. He has quite a history, and it’s one that should be shared with all!

Calling all Clivia Lovers!

Yellow clivia on display at Longwood Gardens

Yellow Clivia on display at Longwood Gardens

Hello Clivia lovers, and those who may only have some curiosity about Clivia! We have some exciting opportunities for you! Do you want to learn more about Clivia and its care? Maybe you would like to meet other people who like you, are fascinated by this exotic plant. On March 13 and 14, 2010, Longwood Gardens is hosting a Clivia Show and Lectures.

This will be a great opportunity for anyone who is interested in Clivia to meet fellow enthusiasts, show off their plants, and learn a little more about this blooming treasure. Anyone can enter plants into the show. Lectures will begin at 2:00 pm on Saturday, March 13 in the Visitor Center. Lectures include “Growing Clivia on the East Coast” and “Clivia Research at Longwood Gardens.”

Clivia enthusiasts are invited to attend a “pay-your-own” group lunch on Saturday at noon, where you can meet fellow enthusiasts and exchange information in a reserved area of Longwood’s Terrace Restaurant. Participants can also wander the Conservatory, which will be adorned with thousands of orchids for our Orchid Extravaganza display.

This year’s Clivia Show is a precursor to a larger event that will occur next year. In 2011, the North American Clivia Society symposium and show is moving from Southern California’s Huntington Garden and Library to Longwood Gardens. Mark March 19 and 20, 2011 on your calendars, and make plans to attend this joint venture between NACS and Longwood. National and international speakers on a broad range of Clivia topics are being contacted to participate. We hope to also present a 3D slide shows of Clivia and orchids. Look out Hollywood! You have some competition from the plant world.

In the near future, Longwood plans to release the first clivia introduction from a 30-year breeding program. Dr. Robert Armstrong began breeding work on Cliviaat Longwood back in 1976. At that time, orange was a common color, and yellow-flowered Clivia miniata were very rare. The yellow-flowered plants existing at that time, though exciting in flower color, were not superior in flower size or form. The breeding program’s focus was to produce plants with superior yellow flowers. The first yellow Clivia came to Longwood from Gordon McNeil in South Africa. This plant was crossed with a plant that had very large orange flowers acquired from Richard Ryan in Delaware. In the following years, other yellows were incorporated into the breeding program, including a yellow plant from Glasshouse works and the yellow Clivia that was to be named ‘Sir John Thouron’ after its donor.

Three unique plants emerged from crosses done in the 1990’s. One of these is a yellow that resulted from crosses with the plant from Glasshouse works. This flower opens cream with a green throat with overlapping wide tepals and evenly spaced florets. The flowers are slightly fragrant. A second yellow, which resulted from crosses with Sir John Thouron, produces a round umbel composed of very large florets that is held nicely above the foliage. It resembles a ball on a stick. The third plant has flowers that open dark orange that fade to brick red. This plant also produces purple berries. Its red color is very exciting in the Clivia color pallet.

The breeding program continues today with other objectives. Some of the resulting plants from the program exhibited keeling petals. Keeling refers to a pointy raised area in the middle of a petal. Keel is also used in boating terms referring to the pointy boat bottom. With this new development, we set a goal of breeding to accentuate the keeling. We hope that eventually the keel will separate and became another row of petals. This would result in multipetal, or double yellow flowers. While we work towards this goal, the keeling flowers in both orange and yellow are beautiful in their own right and have potential as keeling cultivars.

My head starts swimming when the plants bloom in February and March. The greenhouse is a riot of colors and flower forms. If you can’t make the Clivia Show, don’t fret. You can plan to attend a behind-the-scenes tour of Longwood’s Research Department to see the Clivia in their glory. Tours meet under the clock by the Fern Floor in the Main Conservatory. Tours will be held on February 16 and 24 at 1:00 pm, and March 3 at 11:00 am.

Christmas is a time for bringing families together under one roof, and that’s just what we’ve done here at Longwood Gardens… with plant families, that is!  I invite you to get to know the familiar poinsettia a little better while appreciating their cousins as well.

Poinsettias belong to the Euphorbiaceae family, which consists of almost 2,000 species commonly called “spurge.” This is the sixth largest genus of flowering plants, with many varieties coming from tropical and subtropical regions of the world. The family is named after Euphorbius, who was a first century Greek physician. He used the milky sap (latex) for medicinal purposes. The flowers on euphorbias, specifically poinsettias, are very interesting. They consist of a single female flower surrounded by numerous male flowers. The showy red portion is made up of bracts (modified leaves).

Euphorbia pulcherrima is a native of Mexico, and in the wild the plant can reach heights of 15′! The plant was named after the US ambassador of Mexico, Joel Poinsett, in 1825. He brought plants back to his home state of South Carolina, and also shared cuttings with botanists like Philadelphia’s John Bartram. The first recorded commercial production of poinsettias in America (as cut-flowers) was in 1909 in the Los Angeles basin. The Paul Ecke poinsettia ranch is most well-known for their culture and development of poinsettias, which are the #1 floral crop in the world. By 1923, poinsettia cultivars were developed and recognized in places as far as Jersey City, NJ and St. Louis, MO. America quickly adopted this brightly colored plant as our Christmas staple, but that love of the poinsettia didn’t reach Europe until the 1960′s.

Exciting and unique varieties with curly bracts that we call ‘Winter Rose’ were recognized as early as 1950, though their popularity has only increased in recent years. The extra large baskets of poinsettias on display over the lawns in the historic Orangery are made up of the cultivar ‘Annette Hegg Red’, which was developed and released by Paul Ecke in 1964. Many new breeders of poinsettias are emerging all over the world and they bring even more diversity to this ever-popular Christmas crop at Longwood Gardens.

Euphorbia fulgens is commonly called scarlet plume. I always encourage people to use common names as entertainment only, because when you look at the plants in the display, you will probably wonder, where is the “scarlet” or the “plume”? The traditional form of this plant has orange flowers (perhaps that’s where “scarlet” arose) and the arching branches on a mature specimen could very well look like a plume. In our Christmas display we show a white-flowered form as well as a cream form. In the past we’ve grown a yellow flowered form and one with purple foliage! You might see this plant as a cut flower in the florist industry, which is where it’s often appreciated with a vase life of 7-10 days.
Euphorbia leucocephala is another popular plant in Longwood’s Christmas display. I first saw this plant growing in Mexico while on vacation. I was amazed to see this shrub, standing almost 10′ tall, and COVERED with tiny white blossoms! I came back to the States and found the name so we could order a few plants as a trial. The first group bloomed profusely in late 2001 and we’ve had the plant on display each Christmas since then!

Euphorbia hypericifolia is one of the most popular spurges available for summer containers in your local garden center. This plant traces its roots back to 2005 when it was introduced by Proven Winners as ‘Diamond Frost’.

Euphorbia tirucalli ‘Sticks on Fire’ is sometimes called pencil cactus. It’s not a cactus at all, but I think it is one of the most exciting little plants we have in the Conservatory. I fell in love with this plant at the Philadelphia flower show in 2004. I happened to be shopping at the Home Depot and found a tiny little plant in a 2″ pot that was severely under-watered and half broken. I purchased this little treasure for less than $1 and brought it to Longwood. We nurtured it for two years before it was big enough to go into the Silver Garden. It has been admired by our visitors ever since!
Euphorbia horrida ‘Snowflake’ is a cute name, but it looks like a beast! Almost every person that encounters this plant thinks it is a cactus, but upon closer inspection you’ll see the tiny little flowers that occur on the spines, and that look like every other member of the family. A mistaken scratch against the plant will reveal the tell-tale milky sap that is characteristic for this family. Beware of any contact with the sap on your skin as it can cause irritation.

I hope you’ve enjoyed getting to know some of the Poinsettia “family” and you’ll join us now through January 10, 2010 for the Christmas display at Longwood Gardens. It’s sure to please every member of your family!

Camellias are evergreen shrubs with dark green lustrous leaves that can grow to a height of 20 feet.  They bloom in either the late fall or early spring and can add beautiful color to the garden when most other plants have yet to begin or have finished flowering. Camellias are native to Asia and most are hardy to zone 7 or 8 and occasionally to 6b, the zone in which Longwood Gardens is located.

Since Camellias hold their leaves year round, the leaves are continually transpiring and losing water.  During the cold winter months when the ground becomes frozen, roots cannot absorb water from the soil.  Therefore, desiccation is the primary cause of winter damage and death of Camellias in our area (excluding deer).  Considering this, the location of camellias in the landscape will have a profound effect on winter survival.  Protection from the winter sun and winds is critical.  This can be accomplishes by planting Camellias on the north side of a building or house.  An established tree line or large evergreen conifer can also be used as a moderate form of winter protection.  The northern side of a structure will have the most shade during the winter months.

'Longwood Centennial'

'Longwood Centennial'

Other than planting location, genetics play a significant role in the winter hardiness of Camellias.  Longwood Gardens established hardiness trials and a breeding program in the early 1960’s to evaluate and develop camellias that can tolerate colder winters.  These efforts have lead to the release of two of the hardiest Camellias ‘Longwood Centennial’ and ‘Longwood Valentine’.  As Camellia breeding and hardiness evaluation continue at Longwood Gardens, the selection of commercially available hardy camellias will increase.  To learn more about the actual breeding process please watch our featured Camellia breeding video above.

'Longwood Valentine'

'Longwood Valentine'

In less than one week, Longwood’s tireless staff removes the entire chrysanthemum display in a complete make-over of the Gardens. We have three days each year (the three days before Thanksgiving) to transform the Gardens into a Longwood Gardens Christmas. Our 2009 theme of pollination has carried over into our Christmas preparations, with many of the popular trees, wreaths and decorations featuring flowers, fruits and insects. 

I can’t wait to see the 28-foot tree in the East Conservatory covered with hundreds of animatronic blue butterflies complementing the blue and silver themed display in that garden. Familiar favorites like paperwhite narcissus and artemisia will be displayed alongside blue flowered Salvia glechomifolia and Plectranthus thyrsoideus.  These plants are natives of Mexico and Central Africa, respectively, and will be in full bloom throughout the winter season!

On the Exhibition Hall floor you will be amazed at the floral “carpet” that our gardeners and designers have been working on busily. Hundreds of poinsettias, begonias and ivy create a tapestry of color almost 85- feet long! Our inspiration for this masterpiece is the floral carpet created each year in Brussels, Belgium. Theirs is a short-lived palette of begonia flowers–while ours will last the duration of the display, from November  26-January 10.  The reflective pool of water on the floor surrounding the carpet will lead your eye to the decorated floral tree on the Exhibition Hall stage.  At Longwood, not only do we hang ornaments on our trees, we also install living plants on an elaborate framework complete with irrigation! 

Kids of all ages should be on the lookout for the garden railway running outside the Lower Reception Suite overlooking the Main Fountain Garden.  There will be a forest of 28 multicolored Christmas trees lit with energy-saving LED lights. The trains will dart in and out of this “forest” creating a festive atmosphere.  This year Longwood Gardens in projecting that 97% of our 500,000 outdoor displays of Christmas lights will be LED.  What an amazing green initiative were accomplishing! 

As you enter the Reception Suite from the outdoor train display you might see these wreaths that feature the fruits of pollination.  In between maintaining the gardens,  many of Longwood’s talented staff are floral artists creating dazzling displays out of traditional and unusual material.  These pieces are constructed of salal leaves and mood moss.  It takes about  three hours per wreath, with a total of four people working on them at one stage or another!  Thank goodness for all of Longwood’s dedicated volunteers!

Speaking of volunteers, not everyone has to be experienced in horticulture or floral design to participate in the creation of a Longwood Gardens Christmas.  The watercolor you see here was created by one of our volunteers!  The image is the Mediterranean Garden, which will be transformed into an outdoor California  patio garden this Christmas.  Flowering Aloe, poinsettia and cyclamen are all popular outdoor plants during the mild winters of California.  This display will make you long to be outside on a cool California evening, with a glass of wine in hand. Look closely at the French doors, which will offer a peek  “inside the home” to a Christmas tree! The planning process for displays such as this span an entire year, if not more! We go through countless discussions and revisions before the final product reaches the Gardens. We’re currently refining the plans for 2010… our year of Fragrance… even though we haven’t finished installing 2009 yet!

This is just a quick glimpse of some of the things we are up to in preparation for a Longwood Gardens Christmas.  We hope to see you at one of our ice skating performances, or in the Ballroom to sing alongside the Longwood Organ during our dazzling Christmas display, which begins Thanksgiving Day. Happy Holidays!

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Miniature pumpkin garlands at the Peirce-du Pont House

Behind the large autumn cornucopia at the Peirce-du Pont House are three miniature pumpkin garlands decorating the porch.  We made these garlands to look like a single strand of pumpkins, but if you look closely, you may notice that each pumpkin has been separately (and carefully!) hung on a wire circling the post.  These miniature pumpkin garlands are pretty easy to recreate for a unique autumn decoration at home.

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Upon closer inspection, one discovers that each pumpkin is hung individually on the post

The materials we used for each garland are:
Approximately 100 pumpkins called Jack-Be-Little pumpkins for approximately 35 feet of garland (although you won’t need as many if you don’t want to spiral the garland as tightly as we did)
4 spools of 12 gauge orange aluminum floral wire at 39 feet per spool
1 spool of jute twine
Decorative accents to finish the bottom of each post (optional)

Step by step instructions:
1. Cut pieces of orange floral wire to be about 14 inches long.
2. Take a pumpkin and encircle the stem with the floral wire, using the center of the wire.

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Wire circles the stem of a mini pumpkin

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The twisted wire on the bottom of each pumpkin is turned into a hook for hanging

3.  Use this wire to follow the grooves in the pumpkin down both sides and twist the wire where the ends meet at the bottom, slightly off center.
4. Create a hook with the twisted wire.
5. Repeat until you have wired all the pumpkins you are going to use.
6. Take one entire spool of floral wire and carefully stretch it out into one long piece.
7. Wrap the wire in jute twine for a more natural look.  (This step is optional- we did this to tone down the bright orange color of the wire that was going to be in the background of the garland so that it didn’t distract from the pumpkins.)
8. Take the twine-wrapped wire and wrap it around your post tightly from top to bottom.  Anchor the wire to the pillar by wrapping it around a nail or any other type of support you may have.  (We did not put nails in the porch posts, but instead wrapped the wire around each post and supported it with the horizontal slats at the top of the posts.)
9. Starting from the top, hook the miniature pumpkins onto the wired post until you reach the bottom. A pair of needle-nose pliers works well to gently pry the wire from the post so that you can slide the hook onto it.

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Sorghum stalks and larger pumpkins finish off the bottom of each post

10.  Finish the garland by adding decorative accents to the bottom of the post if you desire.  We used sorghum stalks with larger orange pumpkins around the base, but other options could include corn stalks, straw bales, other types of larger pumpkins/gourds, or chrysanthemums.

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