Monday, May 26, 2008

On Crinums

We just got back from my brother's wedding in Houston, which was lovely. There was much eating and inter-family socializing (involving some particularly admirable veal cutlets and surprisingly tender cabbage rolls--my new sister-in-law is Romanian), but we did find time for some horticultural/house-related pursuits. We went to Mercer Arboretum (where I interned some 12 years ago) to research our mystery crinums and also a very lovely apricot daylily that I brought home from MA these many years ago (and which Mom has no intention of ever relinquishing to me for love or money).

Didn't have any luck tracking down the daylily, but we did find a strong contender for our crinum. Sadly, it was unlabeled**. Happily, we at least know what our crinum isn't. It isn't 'Ellen Bosanquet' (too dark and plump), 'Alamo Village' (too pale and strappy petaled), or 'Eagle Rock' (not enough flowers per inflorescence). So that's a start. Here's the one that did match:

Note the narrow petals, pale pink color, and numerous flowers per inflorescence

And here's our bulb:

Many flowers, narrow petals, pale pink

We also found a really lovely white crinum, labeled (erroneously) as Crinum anoemum. I'm pretty sure it's actually C. jagus var. scillafolia. It has huge, fat, yellowy-white buds and thin, upright foliage. I very much want to find a source for this one and grow it in our shade garden.

Probable C. jagus var. scillifolia

The trip has also given me a healthy respect for my own penetration and sagacity in choosing 'Ellen Bosanquet' for propagation back at A&M. I had never seen it bloom till this summer--the ones I gave Mom & Dad never bloomed when I was around, and the ones I've grown in pots have been too sad and starved all this time to bloom. I've got three in the ground and two more in pots that I need to plants, so perhaps by next year I'll finally have some blossoms of my own. Because they really are stunning. The ones in Mom & Dad's yard are a deep, rich, pink, with rounded, bell-shaped flowers on tall scapes. Just lovely.

The trip has also reawakened in me other crinum ambitions, long deferred. I'd really like to grow a wide variety of crinums, but the one I want to start with is this:

Crinum delagoense/stuhlmannii from Jardin! l'Encyclopedie

How is that for extravagant gorgeousness? It's originally from Zimbabwe, but I did find a domestic source, fortunately: the good folks at Telos Rare Bulbs, who have a really terrific catalog of, well, rare bulbs. (Can't vouch for their service or quality yet, having only window-shopped thus far).

And speaking of nurseries... When you're looking for crinum suppliers, there aren't as many options as one would like. Other than Telos, there's Marcelle Shepard, east Texas bulb expert, breeder, and grower, who collaborates with Mercer Arboretum, Plant Delights Nurseries, Easy to Grow Bulbs, Kelly's Plant World, and the fledgling Southern Bulb Company. No doubt there are some I'm missing (come to think of it, Yuccado sells some crinums), but on the whole, nothing like the kind of availability for narcissus or tulips or amaryllis. Prices are commensurately high, unfortunately--crinums aren't terribly fast to propagate.

And so the desperate bulb fancier may be driven to TyTy Nurseries out of Georgia. I'll get on to more substantive reasons why you should avoid this company later, but for now, let's focus on Photoshop skills. Below are some things you should never, ever, ever do with Photoshop:

(1) Paste a subtropical bulb into an Alpine meadow

(2) Ask Thumbelina to strip down and pose topless by your brobdignagian crinum blossoms

(3) Depict improper use of crinums in an industrial setting (is it just me, or are the crinum's leaves outstretched in horror at its sudden abduction by an inexplicably sultry but apparently deranged factory worker?)

(4) Deface a house of worship

(5) Recreate the embarrassingly effusive annual patriot fervor of crinum lilies as they drink too much Pabst, eat hot dogs, and sing "Born in the USA" on the 4th of July.

(5) Cross a Magritte with a Windows 98 desktop (nothing says "nature" like PCs and surrealism!)

Nothing on their website would lead a person to believe that this is anything other than a sincere effort at enhancing the attractiveness and marketability of their product. There's not a trace of irony in the accompanying text. They seem to have decided that, since sexpots and beautiful landscapes (and flying businessmen) invariably boost the sales of plants, they should harness the power of Photoshop to create high-class images that bring together sexpots, landscapes, businessmen and crinums in an elegant and tasteful fashion.

But now you may be thinking, "Hey, these guys are kind of funny. Maybe I should buy from them to say thanks for giving me a guffaw."

Don't do it.

Last time I googled the company, I stumbled on to pages and pages and pages of complaints about their company on Dave's Garden. Garden Web has similar threads on the subject. The common themes are these: (1) material doesn't arrive or arrives late (2) material isn't the cultivar ordered (3) material is dead or dying (4) company refuses to reimburse customer, is rude, denies all allegations regarding the condition/identification of the plants. Any company is going to get some disgruntled customers, but this one has scores of them, and virtually no positive reviews. And their response to customer complaints is actually more damning than the complaints themselves, in my opinion. But the most sinister aspect is that they do business under host of aliases. Here's a list from the GW message board:

The Nursery at TyTy also does business as:
Blackberry Plant Nursery
African Amaryllis Bulb Nursery
Apple Tree Nursery
Bunch and Seedless Grape Vine Nursery
Pecan Tree Nursery
Tree Nursery
Aaron’s Farm
Aaron's Bulb Farm(part & parcel of TyTy) also does business as:
Aaron's Amaryllis & Canna Bulb Farm Nursery
Arron's Flower, Tree, and Shrub Nursery
Arron's Nursery with other listings
Aaron's Bamboo Nursery
Aaron's Daffodil Nursery
Aaron's Leucojum, Tuberose, and Eucomis Nursery
Aaron's Allium Nursery
Aaron's Clivia Nursery
Aaron's Agapanthus Nursery
Aaron's Elephant Ear Nursery
Aaron's Ariod Nursery
Aaron's Iris Nursery
Aaron's Ginger Lily Nursery
Aaron's Hymenocallis Nursery
Aaron's Crinum Lily Nursery
Aaron's Banana Tree Nursery
Aaron's Perennial Nursery
Arron's Fruit Nursery
Apple Tree Nursery
Blackberry Nursery
Blueberry Nursery
Fig Tree Nursery
Grape Vine Nursery
Pecan Tree Nursery
Peach Tree Nursery
Persimmon Tree Nursery
Plum Tree Nursery
Citrus Tree Nursery
Pear Tree Nursery

They used to be listed in Garden Watchdog. There were hundreds of negs and maybe a handful of positives. Ty Ty protested and made Dave remove them from Garden Watchdog.

It's really easy to identify a TyTy website, though--they use the same interface and the same bizarre marketing tactics. So if you see a man in a scuba suit sniffing a tulip or a lightning bolt striking a crinum, odds are you've stumbled onto a stealth TyTy site.

All of which is to say, I'll be expanding my crinum collection soon (but not with materials from those yahoos).

** Since posting, I've done some more digging, and I think I may have identified our mystery crinum: it looks like Crinum x powellii, the pink form. See, for example, this picture from the International Bulb Society.

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