Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Sedum spectabile 'Neon'



The intense, saturated color of this one really surprised me. Most of the big sedums have a dusty quality to their color, but this one really glows. Shortly before this picture was taken, the plant was much bigger and promised to be a major butterfly center. But a deer visited one night and ate most of the flower buds. So this is all I got this year. 

Thunbergia 'Sunny Orange Wonder'



Years ago I occasionally grew Thunbergia alata, the black-eyed Susan vine or clock vine. It's a reliable hot weather vine that slowly climbs to about four feet high.  It's reliable in the senses that it grows without trouble and eventually blooms freely, but it's too short to be used as most vines are.

Now fast forward a few decades. The modern black-eyed Susan vines have the potential to put on a real show. The one I grew this year, 'Sunny Orange Wonder', grew freely throughout the summer and bloomed now and then. But it wasn't until things began to cool off a bit that it started to bloom freely. No doubt it will be at its best just before the first good freeze. 

Helianthus salicifolius


You'll need some room for this one, but it's worth it. It's tall, broad and beautiful - it really lights up the October garden. It also self-seeds, but not invasively. I've long felt that the perennial sunflowers have a lot to offer gardens, but I don't see them in other gardens often. Wouldn't it be nice to have a big border given over to nothing but late season composites!  The nectar seekers would certainly appreciate it.

Elaeagnus pungens 'Fruitlandii'



This is the time of year when neighborhood fireplaces are apt to be burning now and then.The scent of wood smoke moves me deeply - as does the scent of burning leaves. And if one of the big autumn blooming shrubs is in full bloom the garden becomes a place of real enchantment. Favorites here for their scent are the autumn camellias,  Osmanthus × fortunei and this shrub, the Fruitland autumn olive. Both the autumn olive and the osmanthus have tiny flowers, but they are powerfully scented. In order to appreciate the scent of the camellias, you'll have to move in closely.

The flowers of the autumn olive are not conspicuous and are hidden by the foliage. In the image above, a branch has been turned over to show the blooms.

Sauromatum venosum



I grew this plant for years, digging the corns yearly, and not realizing that it would thrive in the garden as a hardy perennial. Once I let it go in the garden, I eventually had another surprise.It not only survives from year to year and blooms yearly, but it also sets fruit. The fruit clusters are up now: they remind me of pomegranates, but there is also a fungal quality in the way they pop up fully formed.  Something tells me that they probably don't taste like pomegranates.

The inflorescence of this plant is so unbearably malodorous that you might wonder why anyone would grow it. But the inflorescence is so striking when it is fresh: the raw beef and mustard colors of the interior of the spathe are surprisingly vivid and have a velvety quality. And the sprightly upward and outward arc of the spadix is very eye-catching, especially when they are seen in a group.But that odor....

Aconitum carmichaelii



I'm happy to say that this plant has been in the garden here for a long time; it's the only Aconitum which really seems to thrive here. Even the Maryland native Aconitum uncinatum does not do as well. Yes, I would be happier if it multiplied more freely, but at least it returns yearly and blooms. And what a color...

For more about this plant, see here:

http://mcwort.blogspot.com/2009/10/aconitum-carmichaelii.html

Roses from my birthday week


It's a real pleasure to be able to pick roses from the late October garden: even if the colors and fragrances are not really better than they were earlier in the year, it certainly seems so.  The plants themselves bear only scattered bloom now, but with many plants to choose from a nice little bouquet can be put together. Above you see 'Mutabilis', 'Casino', 'Bayse's Purple', 'Awakening', 'New Dawn', 'Stanwell Perpetual', 'White Pet', 'Alba Meidiland',  'Moonlight' and 'Aviateur Bleriot' (or is it 'Ghislaine di Feligonde'?)
Mixed in among the roses are blooms or foliage of Phygelius 'Cherry Ripe', Artemisia absinthium, Salvia farinacea, Buddleja 'Buzz Magenta'.

Rosa 'Stanwell Perpetual'



With so many roses in cultivation, I'm intrigued by the way some roses have of maintaining a loyal following over the years - or in the case of this rose, over the centuries. It will have its bicentennial in 2038: if I'm still here, I'll be 95. This is not a rose for which superlatives are appropriate: its growth is low, its color is quiet and in spite of its name it's hardly perpetual. The flowers are a bit over three inches in diameter. But it does stand out for its fragrance: this sweet little rose caries one of the great rose fragrances, and it has a way of winning our hearts.  

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Hemerocallis in early September



Late blooming day lilies are nothing new: two of the three mentioned here have been in gardens for a half century, and the oldest of the trio was introduced almost seventy-five years ago. These late-blooming day lilies are an unexpected treat: they bring the freshness of early summer right to the edge of early autumn. One would think that that alone would make them valuable to gardeners, yet I rarely see any of them in local gardens. In the top image you see two old hybrids: 'Autumn Prince' on the left and  'Autumn King' on the right.  If you look very carefully you might be able to pick out a flower or two of 'Autumn Minaret', the tallest of the trio. 'Autumn Prince was registered by Arlow Stout two years before I was born, so we have matured together.  He registered 'Autumn Minaret' and  'Autumn King' in the 1950s.


Hibiscus coccineus



According to its USDA Plants Profile, Hibiscus coccineus is native from Virginia south westerly to Texas and Arkansas. In the garden here it grows at the edge of a small pool; the crown of the plant is only a few inches above the water level. It grew here for years before blooming for the first time, but it blooms yearly now. The flowers are not as large as those of some of the hybrid hibiscus, but it hardly matters: a plant in bloom won't be overlooked!

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Narcissius romieuxii mesatlanticus



I've never been comfortable with the nomenclature of these little North African hoop petticoat daffodils or that of their Spanish congeners. The name I've used here is the "as received" name.

Nomenclature aside, these little ones have a huge appeal. I'm not yet sure how to grow them. There is one local grower who apparently grows this one outside - it must be in a very protected place. I'm not sure what to do with mine (mine being a collection of about two dozen of these hoop petticoat daffodils).  For now I'm placing them in a cold frame for the winter. 

Lilium longiflorum 'White Heaven'



Lilium longiflorum is the wild lily from which the Easter lily of commerce was developed. The commercial forms tend to be very compact in growth and relatively short. The wild forms can be much bigger.

When I first saw 'White Heaven' blooming in my own garden, I assumed that it was a hybrid of some sort. It's bigger than the usual Easter lilies, and it has the tetraploid look. So much work has been done with hybridizing Lilium longiflorum in the recent past that a hybrid origin for this robust plant seemed reasonable.

Earlier this year I checked the lily registry to see what the story was with 'White Heaven'. Evidently it was raised from two forms of Lilium longiflorum, so it's not a hybrid between Lilium longiflorum and another species but rather an intraspecific hybrid.

Here's something else I discovered (and should have known). For show purposes, these plants are to be treated as Division V lilies.In all of the shows I've attended in the past,  Lilium longiflorum has been placed among the species. 

Monday, October 6, 2014

Rosa 'Easlea's Golden Rambler'



This beautiful rose from the 1930s is noted not only for its lovely flowers but also for its distinct, bold and handsome foliage. It's not really a rambler rose as that category is currently defined, but it does produce long, supple canes.  When the time comes to whittle down the rose collection, this is one I'll try to keep. 

Iris 'Byzantine Ruby'


Although I don't remember the date, I do remember the first time I saw a photograph of this iris years ago. At the time I thought I would never actually see one, much less grow one. But grow one I did, and it seems to have settled down to life in my garden.

These arilate hybrid irises capture much of the beauty of their desert ancestors, but are much easier to keep under garden conditions. Their one nonnegotiable requirement is a dry summer. I keep them dry and well ventilated under some discarded sliding glass doors from the time the flowers fade until sometime in the early fall. So far, so good,...

Lilium canadense



I call these plants my red bell Lilium canadense. As you can see from the images, they are doing well. These are in their third year. It's at about this stage that the rats, rabbits, voles, woodchucks or deer find them and destroy them. But if they don't, next year's display should be really something to see.

The flowers of Lilium canadense are not large, but this species is often regarded as among the most graceful and beautiful in the genus. This year's plants bloomed too late for both the big Virginia show and our local show, but it would be nice to get a good stem to one of the shows one of these years.


Eremurus Spring Valley hybrids: fox-tail lilies








Eremurus or Fox-tail lilies are without a doubt attention getters. It's unusual to see them established in local gardens, but the reason is simple enough: they require very dry summer conditions. Other than that they are not difficult to grow.

Fifty years ago when I was in the army my mom sent me photos of the Eremurus elwesii I had planted just before leaving home for military service. The Polaroid prints are not too clear, but it's obvious that they were huge. My plants back then came from the John Scheepers company - in late summer they used to send out a brochure listing their Eremurus offerings. These brochures were addressed to Mr James A McKenney,  Esquire.

The plants shown in these images are the modern American-grown strain called Spring Valley hybrids. These are not as tall as the E. elwesii mentioned above, but they are tall enough: the tallest in the images topped six feet high. 

Anethum graveolens dill and larva of Papilio polyxenes




Most of us think of it as an herb and value it for its culinary qualities, but dill in the garden can be very decorative. Early this year I sowed a long row of dill, and when it came into bloom I reminded myself never to be without this plant. I let the plants set seed, and since most of it fell onto the ground, I probably never will be without it. I don't know how long the seed will live in the ground, but the hundreds of plants I raised this year from that early sowing taught me something intriguing. Those seeds I sowed had been purchased in 1994! Twenty year old seed germinates freely! For most of those twenty years the seeds had been in the refrigerator and dry.

In addition to its culinary uses and ornamental value, dill has another quality which makes it a good choice for the garden: it's a host plant for the parsley worm. The parsley worm is the larva of the black swallowtail butterfly, The butterfly is beautiful, but so too in a very different way is the parsley worm. In the picture you can see it protruding its orange osmeteria which give off an offensive (to us anyway) odor. (Please excuse the dirty weeder's thumb.) When I was a kid we called these "stink horns".

Hemerocallis minor



Hemerocallis minor has long been a favorite in this garden. It's usually the earliest of the day lilies to bloom, and its comparatively small stature makes it a nice companion for the earliest, shorter bearded irises. The flowers are sweetly scented, and the clear yellow flowers are carried on gently arching scapes. As a result, the flowers are often only six or eight inches above ground.
This is not a floriferous species: generally there are only four to six blooms per scape. Until it blooms, its fine foliage might suggest a coarse grass.   

Three roses: memories of a fleeting summer






The paucity of blog entries this year has an explanation, of sorts, but lack of material from the garden is not part of it. In fact, 2014 has been the most successful gardening year I can remember. My gardens produced wave after wave of flowers, and much of it was captured in photographs.

Here are three favorite roses, top to bottom:  'American Pillar', 'Leontine Gervais' and  'Veilchenblau' . These are vigorous climbers and will cover a lot of space if allowed. The bigger they get, the more flowers there are to cut.

The color of 'American Pillar' is a bit crude seen next to 'Veilchenblau' and 'Leontine Gervais', but the combination works better than I thought it would. There is nothing subtle about 'American Pillar' in the garden, yet it  produces a very cheery effect, one I don't want to be without.

'Leontine Gervais' produces flowers whose color varies a lot due, I suspect, to temperature. I've seen them almost white, white flushed pink or pale orange, yellow, yellow blended with orange. The colors harmonize beautifully; I know I'm not the only one who really loves this rose!

At first glance, you might think 'Veilchenblau' was selected for its color. Well, it was, but that's not all it has to offer. It's got a great fragrance, a fragrance free on the air. 

Oxalis hirta 'Gothenburg'




Thanks mostly to the generosity of several members of the Pacific Bulb Society, over the last few years I've accumulated a collection of about forty nominally different species of Oxalis. Most of them are species which grow wild in southern Africa. I've been collecting these ever since I realized that some will survive the winter here in a protected cold frame.

The Oxalis familiar to most of us in this part of the world are the little weedy ones which infest lawns. These have leaves which suggest those of clover. Many species of Oxalis have these clover-like leaves, but many others have leaves which depart dramatically from this basic trefoil plan.  Other than color, the flowers don't seem to vary much from species to species, but the variation in leaf form make these little plants very collectible.

The one shown here is the form of Oxalis hirta known as 'Gothenburg'.  It's notable for the very large bulb from which the stems grow - the bulb is almost as big as a walnut. It is shown here against a 1/8 inch grid. These are just starting to grow again after a long, dry summer dormancy. Other species are now in bud, and they will be shown as they bloom - as will the leaves as they develop. 

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Achimines pedunculata






This intensely brilliant little bit of color was grown from a tiny bit of rhizome received through the PBS seed and bulb exchange earlier this year. In an interesting coincidence, a plant of Sinningia bullata bloomed here this year, too. They share a similar  color pattern: I wonder if they share a pollinator in nature?  Achimines pedunculata seems to grow far north of  Sinningia bullata - their ranges do not overlap even remotely. I know I took a picture of the bloom of Sinningia bullata, but I can't find it.

Sinningia speciosa 'Carangola' or, the Carangola mystery




Back in 2010 I obtained a plant of Sinningia speciosa 'Carangola' from Plant Delights Nursery. That's the plant in the top image. Sinningia speciosa is the plant from which the house plant gloxinia was derived. The plant of 'Carangola' grew well and eventually flowered. It did not set seed - or did it? I bought the plant to test it for hardiness; it died during the winter in a protected cold frame.

Now fast forward four years. About six months ago I noticed a strange seedling in one of my pots. As it grew, I began to suspect that it was a gesneriad, in particular an Achimines. Because the rhizomatous bulbs of Achimines shed scales so easily, I though that was a likely source of the little plant - that it was not a seedling but rather had grown from a wayward scale. But it soon grew to the point where Achimines seemed unlikely. Flower buds eventually appeared, and by that time it was obvious that it was  Sinningia speciosa.  And it was a dead ringer for the plant of 'Carangola'. That's the plant in the lower image.

Years ago I had obtained seeds of a Sinningia speciosa cultivar from the PBS seed exchange. I wrote to the donor of those seeds for information about the parent: it was an 'Emperor Wilhelm' sort, one of the well known peloric houseplant gloxinias. So I ruled out those seeds (none of which germinated).

I re-use soil from pots of plants which have failed; but Sinningia speciosa plants do not produce vegetative propagules, certainly not propagules which remain dormant for years.

So my plant must have come from seed, and that suggests that the 2010 plant of 'Carangola' did set seed that I somehow missed. I have since learned that the seed pods of Sinningia speciosa are small and easily overlooked.

So is the mystery solved? Maybe, but in any case I have a handsome plant for my collection.

Osmanthus × fortunei



This is a hardy Osmanthus with bold holly-like foliage and very fragrant flowers at this time of year: it's blooming today. The flowers are not conspicuous, and in most years I become aware of them from the fragrance which carries so freely on the air. There are two of these in the garden; the larger one is about ten feet high and almost as wide.

The nothospecific taxon  Osmanthus × fortunei is used not for a clone or a species but rather for a group of hybrids.

I used to worry about these during bad winters, but they have endured without set back or significant damage.the worst our local conditions have to offer.

Ipomoea 'Grandpa Ott'





The morning glories shown here came from a packet of seed purchased long ago under the name 'Grandpa Ott'. There are at least two other very similar types making the rounds: 'Star of Yelta' and 'Kniola's Black'. On-line you can see the lively discussion carried on by morning glory enthusiasts about which is which. Am I using the correct name for my plants?

Whatever they are at the varietal level, at the species level these are Ipomoea purpurea. In other words, these are the morning glories which will drop seeds and reappear year after year. The ones you see in the photo have been doing that for at least a decade here. Like dahlias, these morning glories get better and better through the summer; they are at their best just before the frosts finish them off for the year. 

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Rosa hemisphaerica The Sulfur Rose







It's been a good year for the sulfur rose, Rosa hemisphaerica: My small plant produced twenty-four flower buds, and almost to the last one they opened well. I had to give one or two buds a nudge in the way of a light pinch, but even those opened properly. What a treat to see this ancient plant flowering freely!

The unusual weather had something to do with it.There has been plenty of rain, yet the days have mostly been sunny, dry and breezy. When the weather does not cooperate, the buds ball badly.


Monday, May 26, 2014

Rosa 'White Bath': Sergeant Cuff's rose














Sergeant Cuff is a character from The Moonstone of Wilkie Collins. And just as The Moonstone is the prototype of a whole class of mystery stories, Cuff is the prototype of Sherlock Holmes,  Hercule Poirot and all the others between and since: the sort who come with the recommendation that “when it comes to unravelling a mystery, there isn't the equal in England” as Collins put it. After Cuff is introduced in the story and we are given several dozen pages to see what he is like, a totally unexpected side of his until then seemingly strict and all-business character is revealed: Cuff is in the garden having a talk with Mr. Begbie, the gardener of Julia, Lady Verinder; as Cuff and Begbie share a bottle of Scotch whisky they argue over this:  “whether the white moss rose did, or did not, require to be budded on the dog rose to make it grow well.” 

The gardener said yes, Cuff said no.

The rose which was the topic of that discussion is shown above: this is the true white moss rose. And Cuff must have been right: my plant is not budded on dog rose but rather is on its own roots. The Moonstone was published in 1868, a time when moss roses were enjoying a huge vogue in Victorian England. By then hybridizers had started several different breeding lines of moss roses, and the true old white moss was not the only white moss making the rounds. But surely someone of Sergeant Cuff’s level of discernment would have held out for the original!

It’s difficult to write with certainty about the history of the white moss rose: it seems to have existed in the late eighteenth century; on the other hand, it may have occurred spontaneously several times back then. How can that be? It’s because the pink moss rose, of which the white (or the several whites as the case may be) is itself a sport of the pink rose known back then and to some even now as “Rosa centifolia” or "the cabbage rose". All of these presumably derive from a single seed which germinated hundreds of years ago. The plant from that seed spontaneously mutated many times over the years to produce forms with pink and/or white un-mossed flowers and ultimately pink and/or white mossed flowers.  

 At the beginning of the nineteenth century, three white mosses were making the rounds: 'Shailer’s White', 'White Bath' and 'Clifton Moss'. One point of view is that these were all the same plant. Another point of view is that at least two of them, 'Shailer’s White' and 'White Bath', are distinct. To this day, it happens that white-flowered moss roses revert to pink occasionally.

Uncertainty about its history is only part of the story; in addition to ‘White Bath’ there are other white-flowered moss roses, and more than one author in the past has tripped up on the identity of the plant they were growing. And the plants in commerce have been confused for decades.

Perhaps I should add that I think my plant is the real thing, but who knows what the rosarians of the future will think.

Whatever it is, it has the qualities for which rose lovers have praised the white moss for centuries: the intense and characteristic fragrance of the flowers and the extensive growth of the sepals with their soft, resinous moss with its own distinctive fragrance.  


When the season for once-blooming roses arrives, it’s time to disconnect the phone and the television and turn off the computer and radio. People in today’s thoroughly wired world find it hard to understand why someone would willingly withdraw from social contact during the blooming season of certain plants: but gather your rose buds while ye may, indeed: this treasure among the roses is with us for a week or two only each year, and even a stay in the refrigerator can prolong that just  so much. 

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Tree peony time



It's tree peony time again, and this year it comes with weather which is not too friendly to this favorite flower. On several of the days when the flowers were opening the temperature came close to 90 degrees F. Under those conditions, the flowers can be literally ephemeral. This quick passing of the blooms has caused more than one commentator to question the role of tree peonies in our gardens. I'll bet there are a lot of gardens where one grows tucked away in some corner to be appreciated in its hours of glory and then forgotten for another year.

There is a way to enjoy them for a week or two: I now cut the blooms as soon as they are fully developed and then store them in the refrigerator. The earliest of the Japanese tree peonies open about a week or even more before the yellow-flowered sorts do; it's rare to see them in bloom together in the garden. But stored blooms last well, and while they last they can be removed for an hour or two now and then for table decoration - and then returned to the refrigerator.

Several years ago I staged a big group of my refrigerated tree peony flowers: the effect was really sumptuous.  The plants did so well this year that it seemed an opportunity not to be missed to stage them again. That's what you see in the image above. You should have seen the refrigerator - it was stuffed.

The grouping seen above was put together hastily (lest the blooms fall apart) about an hour ago. I won't be surprised if those flowers are on the floor tomorrow morning. 

Monday, February 24, 2014

Snowdrops jostling in the breeze














Finally,  things are starting to happen in the garden! Today we had winter aconites, tommies and several sorts of snowdrops. The snowdrops were so pretty as they moved in response to light breezes. If you look carefully, you will briefly see a fly visiting the blooms.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Spit on your smallage


One more yard

The Pacific Bulb Society had a discussion this week about the meaning of the word "yard". Because that list serve draws its contributors from all over the world, and because the meaning of English words sometimes varies from country to country, we frequently find ourselves reliving the old quip about the United States and other English-speaking countries being countries separated by the same language. 
That on-line discussion covered several usages of the word "yard". But until I brought it up today, the discussion had  omitted one yard which intrigues me, one which has long filled me with a sense of queasiness or downright revulsion. John Parkinson, in his account of celery (which he knew as sweet parsley or sweet smallage) in his  Paradisus of 1629, mentions that the first place he saw it was in a Venetian ambassador’s garden near Bishop’s Gate Street in London. So far, so good – but Parkinson also states that the celery grew in the spittle yard of that establishment. If you’ve ever grown celery, you know that it needs lots of water; was the celery planted in the spittle yard to take advantage of the abundant, moist sputum expectorated by loitering Jacobean dandies?

I first read that passage decades ago, and to this day I can’t look at celery without remembering it – and then washing my celery very carefully.   

Public expectoration – spitting –   is not nearly as common now as it once was.  Those who spit in public now are apt to get the “keep your dirty germs to yourself” look.

And it isn’t just spitting which is now generally eschewed. A few summers ago I was walking Biscuit down near the local park. We were heading home, and as we approached the traffic intersection there, I noticed a group of four young men approaching. Something about them gave me the impression that they did not belong, that they were somehow out of place. It may have been their clothing. As I got closer, I could hear them and realized that they were speaking French. As I passed them, one of the group broke away, walked over to a nearby bush and began to relieve himself. How very French.  Had my French been better, I would have told him that the park down the street had a Porta Potty. I don’t even know the French word for Porta Potty. The bush was a big viburnum, and since then I’ve thought of it as the pissoir bush. Up until then I had been ambivalent about the odor of the flowers of that plant; now it resides firmly in the “smelly” category.

What’s the sociological significance of this: as public urination has now become relatively infrequent among  American men, breast feeding in public has become more frequent among some American women?       

The discussion of yards on the PBS list serve hardly exhausted the possibilities. This sort of preoccupation with classifying things always reminds me of early nineteenth century taxonomist Constantine Samuel Rafinesque-Schmaltz. Here are some highlights of his life, drawn mostly from the Wikipedia account. He was born in a suburb of Constantinople to a French father and German mother.  He died in, of all places,  Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA!  He never attended a university and was largely self-taught, yet at one point he was on the faculty of Transylvania University in Kentucky. The Wikipedia account claims that he taught himself “perfect Greek and Latin”, yet the etymology of some of the names of genera he established defy  explanation. Unlike modern taxonomists who generally have a well-defined and narrow field of study, Rafinesque classified everything in sight: plants, animals, fungi, minerals and so on. The author of an article in American Heritage magazine years ago  gave his classification for the various grades of thunder.

Where is he now that we need him: did he have a classification of yards? If he did, it’s now sadly lost.

In addition to the Wikipedia entry, here is a link with more information about him:


Some of the pronunciations given in the footnotes to this article are in the best
Rrafinesquian tradition and  strike me as bizarre.


Update: after posting a small part of this to the Pacific Bulb Society list serve, I got a quick response from Paige Woodward of Pacific Rim Nurseries. She pointed out that the word spittle yard is probably an alternate spelling for spital yard, as in hospital yard. And she provided this link:



Now to chill a bit and listen to some music composed by Vivaldi for the occupants of the Ospedale della Pietà.


.


Sunday, January 5, 2014

The crocophile and the cook's fork



 At about this time last year I was still enjoying the surprisingly wide array of blooms which could be gathered in the garden. In retrospect, the image I posted of blooms gathered on Christmas 2012 seems almost like a boast now. And the New Year’s Day lists were long and interesting that season. What a contrast the last few months have been. Abnormally low temperatures and seemingly relentless wind made late autumn and early winter downright unpleasant for the gardener. The weather people are predicting low temperatures on Tuesday which, if they happen,  will be the lowest we have experienced in twenty years.
Now on to another topic. One hundred years ago this year E. A. Bowles published his My Garden in Spring. I dug out my copy tonight to check on something about which I had a vague memory. I remember Bowles mentioning his favorite implement for a certain sort of weeding: a cook’s fork. I found the passage in the crocus chapter, and there Bowles confesses to raiding the household cutlery drawers for various ad hoc substitutes for the trowel or whatever he could not find.  No doubt Bowles and I are not the only gardeners who have discovered that the kitchen supplies implements with a totally unexpected and facile utility in the garden.
I probably read the cook’s fork passage for the first time thirty or so years ago. In that passage Bowles recommends the local Army Navy store as a likely source for the forks. Long ago I worked in such a store, but I don’t recall seeing anything which answered to a cook’s fork. On the other hand, two examples of this class of fork have been in our kitchen cutlery drawers for over a half century. That’s what you see in the image above. In the 1950s one of my father’s younger brothers was an Army cook stationed in what was then West Germany. Before leaving Germany, he either sent back or brought with him sets of Rosenthal china for his sisters and sisters-in-law. The Rosenthal china is still in the family, and I’m pretty sure it has been used only once in its over-half century residence here. The arrival of the china was greeted with some excitement and celebration by mom; the arrival of the cook’s forks, presumably at about the same time, was probably ignored.
Until the Internet and Google came along, tracing the identity and background of something so mundane as a fork would have involved tracking down a collector or similar expert. I would not have known where to begin back then. But yesterday, while absentmindedly examining one of the two forks, I noticed this on the back of the handle: there was a rectangular box with the letters OXYDEX, then a square box with a four-leaf clover design, then another rectangular box with the letters ROSTFREI (this is the German word for stainless). You can see this in the lower of the images above. I Googled OXYDEX ROSTFREI and effortlessly entered a very busy world of information about German stainless cutlery. There was more there than I had the patience to deal with then, so I’ll be back again later to see what I can dig up.

I was perhaps not yet in my teens when we acquired these two forks. Dare I expect them to adapt to a new life in the garden?