Tuesday, January 8, 2019

The conversation of the crows: the crow clock



A magazine to which I am subscribed ran an article on the times when different species of birds in central Europe begin singing each morning. I’ve never seen data like that for our local birds. For  years I’ve been recording now and then the early morning bird choruses, so I’ve got some raw material of my own which might be useful in working out something like that for my backyard birds. Even with recordings it won’t be easy because in addition to the their widely recognized songs, birds produce other less readily recognized sounds.
Right now I’m focused on the calls of one particular species of bird, the local crow. The local crows have had roosts nearby for at least a half century. Human construction development has caused them to move several times, but they seem to have remained in the same general area. The enormous crow flocks we had before West Nile disease nearly eliminated the local crows, jays and starlings are a thing of the past. There was a time when hundreds, maybe thousands, of crows gathered late every day in the woods in back of the house before they flew off en masse to their roost. And once the crows were gone, the patient, knowledgeable bird watcher can wait for the next act: with the crows gone, any accipiters lurking in the woods launch themselves off to their roost.  
Although the local crow population is currently small, they are still noisy. And that noise is what interests me now. About a month ago I began to notice that the crows were arriving in our neighborhood at about 7:30 A.M. As time passed, they arrived a bit earlier. Right now, they are arriving just a bit past 7 A.M. I’ve written “arriving” but actually what I’m noticing is the time I hear them for the first time. For all I know they have been sitting out there in the trees earlier than that.  What’s certain is that those first morning crow noises are getting earlier and earlier. Sunrise now is not until 7:27 A.M., so they obviously are not waiting for the sun to rise. And after a brief arrival chat, they quiet down and I don't hear them. 
By the way, when I hear these early morning crows, I'm still deeply snuggled down into my cocoon in bed. I guess they know the truth in the old adage “the early bird catches the worm”! Maybe, but  I don't want to be the  early outdoor bird watcher who catches pneumonia!  


Sunday, January 6, 2019

The Chinese ginger jar and a house of my dreams







If you read this post before today, January 8, 2019, you read an earlier, somewhat truncated version. After reading that version, Wayne suggested a number of additions and other changes. Those have been woven in below.

Most of us accumulate a lot of stuff during our lifetimes; but I'll bet that few of us leave behind any sort of documentation to help others give significance (other than monetary) to those things. Here's the story behind the Chinese ginger jar in the image above. I doubt that it's worth anything on the market, so its significance is not one of dollars and cents; but it's a tangible reminder of a neat day trip Wayne and I experienced one August day a few years ago.

During the 20s and 30s of the last century magazines sometimes contained advertisements placed by lumber companies selling house kits. One example caught my eye long ago, and when I later purchased a Dover book on 20s house designs (see the image above), I found that very house described. Judge of my surprise (has anyone else used this phrase since pre-WWII times?) when a Google search turned up a surviving example about two hours away in western Virginia. It was in a small town just east of I-81, one we pass every time we visit Wayne's mom.

We had attended a family reunion held earlier in the day in the Luray, Virginia area. When we left the reunion, we headed west, with the massive Massanutten Range spread out before us. And we could see a storm roiling and churning the valley sky on the other side of the range. When we eventually got onto Route 11 beyond Massanutten, we saw plenty of evidence of what that storm must have been like for people living there.  Evidently it was yard sale day in that part of the valley. Here and there along Route 11  we began to see the havoc caused by that powerful wind storm: items for the prospective yard sales were scattered over lawns and adjacent fields. By then it was late in the day and getting dark,  and people were scurrying about picking up the pieces.

 That storm did us a favor: I didn't have contact information about the current owners, so we just took a chance and drove by. The goal was simply to get a close look at the house, maybe even knock on the door and have a chat with the people living there now. As we approached the house, we could see activity in the driveway. We lucked out: the occupants were home and were out on the driveway picking up the pieces of their part of the yard sale. So we went up and introduced ourselves, told them why we were interested in the house, and then discovered that they evidently knew little about the history of the house.

They had no idea that nearly a century ago magazine readers would have seen that very model pictured in several publications. Those magazine photos even had a name for the house: "The House Beautiful".   When we showed them the photo of "their" house in the Dover book, it created a stir. It should have: the editors of that Dover book chose an image of that model for the front cover of their book. The book itself is a reprint of a house kit catalog originally published in 1923. Something gave me the impression that the current occupants did not own the house - maybe they were renters? And they were not prepared to have visitors inside the house. We did learn that the house had originally been built for a doctor, and he made certain changes to the basic design. These included changes to the interior floor plans and the election of an exterior other than stucco. When we saw it, the exterior had been painted with a disagreeably glossy white paint which produced a plastic-like effect on the faux block siding.

I really like stucco, and I've seen houses on the east side of the National Zoo, houses probably built a century or so ago, with stucco in good shape. I'm still hoping that a future Google search will turn up another existing example of my dream house, one in better condition and in particular one with a stucco exterior.

In the meantime, I have that Chinese ginger jar, selected from the detritus on my dream house's driveway,  to remind me to continue the search.  

Thursday, January 3, 2019

A Pholcid spider's response to disturbance


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-oI-laqdgCE&feature=youtu.be

Because so many of them are found in houses, spiders of the family Pholcidae are among the most frequently encountered spiders.
Although I’ve known this spider all of my adult life (it’s common in bathrooms and is widely called the cellar spider), thanks to Wikipedia I recently learned something fascinating and entertaining about it. These spiders have a messy web with no apparent pattern. Usually you’ll see them waiting near the center of the disorganized mass of web. But watch the video above to see what happens when they are disturbed. This one is in the home bathroom. 

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Mid-winter florist flowers and a few others




When I was a kid I was intrigued by the popularity of certain flowering house plants which in northern Europe seemed to be hugely popular but which always seemed to die quickly for me.  The Persian cyclamen is a good example: when I first tried them long ago they lasted about a week before they collapsed. The begonias of the hiemalis hybrid group are another. Back in those days I had trouble keeping these going for long, too. 

Now that I'm on a retirement income and looking for ways to economize, and now that I realize that heating an entire house twenty-four hours per day for one person is a huge waste of resources, I keep the house much cooler than most of you are probably used to. 
It took a while to get used to this, and my resolve was boosted by reading in Gilbert White's late eighteenth- century The Natural History of Selbourne of the mornings when the water kept under his bed sometimes froze on really cold nights. 

There have been some rewards to my seeming austerity. I've discovered that those Persian cyclamen from the florist thrive under these chilly conditions. So long as I keep them watered they continue to bloom for months. I've been careful to select the ones with good fragrance: the typical huge Persian cyclamens of the florists are either not scented or ill scented. The smaller sorts, closer to the wild Cyclamen persicum, sometimes have a great scent - like the fragrance of the beautician's cold cream. 

A hiemalis begonia on trial this year (the lowest of the three images above)  just gets better and better (i.e. more floriferous)  week after week. It shows no sign of slowing down.  

Right now my favorite florist flower of the season is the stock, Matthiola incana (these are probably hybrids of several Matthiola species). That's what you see in the two upper images above. The individual flowers are an inch and a half across and remind me of the blooms of Prunus mume. They are very pretty, and five stems make a handsome display. The ones in the image were purchased a week ago and still look fresh. But I've neglected to mention their best quality: the blooms have a wonderful clove scent, a scent free on the air and capable of filling the air in a still room. I've never seen these in a local garden, nor have I ever heard anyone speak of them as garden plants. Old books suggest that they are typical burn-out annuals which do not tolerate high temperatures. In the parts of England and Europe where cold summers (by eastern American standards) are the rule, they have been garden essentials for centuries. I've seen early twentieth-century German seed lists which catalog a prodigious number of varieties, few of which probably survive. 

Here's something interesting for those of you who like words: you probably know the botanical name Leucojum used for a group of early blooming amaryllis family plants. That name is derived from the old Greek words for "white" and "violet". The modern German word for stocks is Levkoje (say lef-ko-yer, where the italicized  r is not fully pronounced). It looks a lot like Leucojum, doesn't it? As it turns out, the German word is also based on the old Greek words for "white" and "violet".  I'm not sure when this word became standard in modern German; a quick look in the mid-sixteenth century herbal of Fuchs does not seem to use this word.  

The only stock I've grown in the garden is the related night-scented stock, Matthiola longipetala (long known as M. bicornis).  This is one of those annuals which one sows by scattering the seed in late winter or earliest spring. The resulting plants are nothing to look at, but when they begin to  bloom on late spring or early summer evenings,  they can stop garden visitors in their tracks - that's how powerful the delightful scent is. This used to be a garden essential, but I get the impression that few gardeners now even seem to know about it. 

There are other intensely fragrant crucifers which have similar fragrances. The dame's violet, Hesperis matronalis, is one of them. Once a garden favorite, it's apt to be given weed status now, but that amazing fragrance earns it a place somewhere in many gardens. 

Years ago, I tried to puzzle out the Russian name for a lily ( an obscure early twentieth- century hybrid raised by Russia's Luther Burbank, Ivan Vladimirovich Michurin, Иван Владимирович Мичурин). The lily name was Romanized as "Fialkovaya" .  The "Fialko-" part of the name is the Russian word for violet,  фиалка.  A bad translation of the name is "orchid lily" as if the lily were named for the color orchid. But the lily was really named for its scent, and while it might have been named for violet in the sense of sweet violet or Parma violet,  I have a hunch it was named for the scent of Hesperis, a scent often likened to that of sweet violet. 

One modern Russian name for Hesperis matronalis is ночна́я фиа́лка (night violet), but a good Google search turns up other translations with a vaguely suggestive sense ( such as "mattress party violet" !). 


Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Grumpy celebrates Halloween




I really didn't do this, but I was so tempted.
Back in July, I was diagnosed with diabetes 2. I was tempted to put this little  horror show by the front door to greet all the little sugar bees.  

A vanishing ecosystem





Pinewoods have a distinctive flora, and when I was a kid I lived near a block of remnant pine growth. There I got to know some of the distinctive plants which grew there. When we moved to the present home in 1961, I found myself surrounded by a new flora. Sadly, many of the plants once common here are now rare or gone - I blame the deer and the  wildflower vandals.
But some of the disappearances are due to a different cause, the natural ageing out of a once dominant flora. Within easy walking distance of the house there is a patch of remnant pine growth. I've been visiting this spot for over a half century, if only for the memories it recalls. Only a few of the pines themselves survive, and under them a few of the plants characteristic of pine woods. Here you see two of them: the partridge berry, Mitchella repens and one of the pipsissewas, Chimaphila maculata. The partridge berry seems to be taking the changes in stride; the pipsissewa not so much so. That's not surprising: for success, the partridge berry mostly needs lack of competition from taller plants. The pipsissewa on the other hand evidently lives in association with soil fungi which themselves form relationships with the pines. When the soil fungi go, so too will the pipsissewas.
By then, I'll probably be gone, too. 

Watch where you step!



It was probably fifty years ago when I first read Konrad Lorenz's King Solomon's Ring. The image above provoked a memory of one of the stories in the book. It seems that the Lorenz residence included many of the animals curious zoologists tend to accumulate, including graylag geese. The geese had the run of the ground floor of the house, and their deposits littered the floor. Lorenz's grandfather, whose vision was failing, had frequent, unsanitary  encounters with these.
So when I first saw what you see in the image above, it was easy to imagine that a flock of thousands of well-fed geese had recently roosted on those ball fields.
But geese are not to blame. An aerator had recently worked the fields, and the results when wet will be just as messy as what geese leave. 

Homecoming


When I stepped out onto the front porch the other day, I saw this draped over the front steps. It's a black rat snake, our largest local snake. But it's probably not just any black rat snake. It's probably "our" black rat snake. And if it is, it has been seen here over and over  since it was a hatchling.  It and"our" garter snakes can be seen in the bushes along the front of the house in April and in October. They bask in the bushes, and I'm pretty sure they hibernate at the house foundation. I've long regarded the presence of snakes as proof of a well managed garden. 

Monday, July 23, 2018

Terrapene carolina the box turtle



You'll probably have no idea how happy this makes me. It's been years, many years, since I've seen a live box turtle in this neighborhood. I'm glad to also say that it's been years since I've seen a dead one on local roads. If you had asked me recently about box turtles, I would have said that they probably no longer survive here. So I'm very happy today.
This one looks like a female to me. I hope she thinks this is a good place to lay her eggs.
A couple of hours after I took this picture I went back to take another look, but she had already moved on.
This made my day!  

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Passerina cyanea the indigo bunting and the urban ornithoscopist

While absentmindedly staring out the bedroom window the other day, this bit of gorgeous blue caught my eye. It was only about eight feet away, out on the deck eating grass seeds. I walked to the other end of the house to get a better view, and just then I heard the front door opening: Wayne was coming in.  I grabbed him by the arm and motioned for him to keep quiet as I whispered "indigo bunting" and dragged him to a window with a good view. I gave him the camera and he took the video you see here.

Anna waving goodbye



Friday, January 12, 2018

Vermeer and Van Leeuwenhoek: best buds pranking and pulling a fast one?

Yesterday Wayne and I went down to the National Gallery to see the exhibit VERMEER AND THE MASTERS OF GENRE PAINTING. It was time well and enjoyably spent. Dogs of a brown and white spaniel sort appear in several of the pictures, and we heard someone joking that the several painters all used the same dog, borrowing it one after another. This morning's Washington Post had an article on two breeds of dog now newly recognized by the American Kennel Club: one is the nederlandse kooikerhondje, a brown and white spaniel which looks just like the dogs in the mid-seventeenth century paintings. I was about to write a letter to the Post pointing out that the dogs in the Post picture looked a lot like the dogs in the paintings. When I pointed this out to my friend Jane, she responded that the Post did mention (in the later edition she read) that the dogs sometimes appeared in old paintings: in other words, as she put it, someone beat me to it.
There were also parrots in some of the paintings. The first one I spotted, from a distance, looked like an African Gray Parrot to me. But on closer inspection, it appeared to be green. Is this a case of an originally gray pigment ageing to green?
Earlier today I was looking at pictures of poppies in an on-line seed catalog. That reminded me that there is a Vermeer at the National Gallery which was not included in the exhibit: his Girl with the Red Hat. I did a post about this in 2016; take a look here:
http://mcwort.blogspot.com/2016/06/poppy-in-search-of-girl.html

As I looked at that face this morning, I had a bit of startling insight - or was it delusion? To me that face was familiar. And it was something I saw in the exhibit yesterday which seemed to bring several things together. The exhibit included the famous paintings The Astronomer and The Geographer. There is a tradition that A. Van Leeuwenhoek was the model for the men portrayed in these paintings. Not a lot seems to be known about the connection between Van Leeuwenhoek and Vermeer, but this much is known: the records of their births appear on the same page of the registry in the Delft church where these were recorded. And Van Leeuwenhoek was the executor of Vermeer's will.
Girl with the Red Hat is a bit of a puzzle. The subject of the painting is wearing an outlandish get up: there is no reason to believe that the citizens of Delft went around dressed that way. That pretty much rules out its genesis as a portrait. Nor is it a typical genre piece. The painting seems not to emphasize the quality of the garments so much as it obviously gives the artist the opportunity to display some exquisite brush work. And what is that hat made of? But what really catches the eye is that beautifully rendered face. No female face in the exhibit comes close to this one: it's so natural, so warm and alive, so real. And when I look at that face I see the same face looking out from the painting of The Geographer, the face,  it seems to me,  of a young, comely Van Leeuwenhoek.
Were Vermeer and Van Leeuwenhoek best buds? Are they pranking here and trying to pull off a fast one on us?
You've got until January 21 to get down to the museum and see all three paintings for yourself. The Astronomer and the The Geographer are in the big exhibit,  Girl with the Red Hat is in Gallery 50A. And is this the first time all three have been under the same roof at the same time since they left Vermeer's studio?

Monday, December 4, 2017

A mile post

My bedtime reading last night was from Richardson Wright's 1933 Another Gardener's Bed-Book. In the opening chapter he notes that the sum of the pieces he had by then written in his two Bed-Books was 730. Each of his Bed-Books contains 365 pieces, one for each day of the year.
This blog is not written on a daily basis; lately I've been lucky to do a couple of entries per month. But here's what prompted me to make this blog entry: I've now made over 730 blog posts since I started back in 2007! And while it took a lot longer for me to reach this point, at least I'm still at it.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Colchicum tessellation

Tessellation in Colchicum 'Beaconsfield'


Colchicum 'Rosy Dawn' a massive but untessellated cultivar.
The two images here show the difference between tessellated and untessellated flowers in colchicums. In the image of 'Beaconsfield' you can easily see the checkerboard pattern of the color. The intensity and clarity of this pattern varies with the age of the blossom and the light conditions. In addition to 'Beaconsfield', other cultivars which show this pattern well are 'Disraeli' 'The Giant' and 'Glory of Heemstede'. In 'Glory of Heemstede' the pattern is somewhat smudged but the overall color is very good. In 'The Giant',  overall the color is pale and so the tessellation is not distinct unless the blossom is examined closely.

For contrast, the lower image shows 'Rosy Dawn', an untessellated variety. Note the lack of the checkerboard color pattern. Grow this cultivar for its massive blooms: the outer tepals are more than an inch wide in well grown examples. 

Friday, September 22, 2017

Colchicum : Six large-flowered hybrids

Six large-flowered hybrid colchicums
I suspect that only those with a high tolerance for nomenclatural instability will persist long in an enthusiasm for the wild forms of the genus Colchicum. This uncertainty extends to the garden hybrids, too. Above you see six of these hybrids, six very well worth having. Some of the names date back to the pre-WWI hybridizing work of the Zocher firm. Whatever they are, they are wonderful. The enthusiasm for these plants when they were introduced  and the  sometimes hyperbolic naming  might seem excessive to us, but keep in mind that a century ago, the only colchicums likely to be seen in European gardens were forms of the diminutive European wildflower Colchicum autumnale and the ancient Colchicum byzantinum, aka Colchicum autumnale major . In comparison to those pale little ones, these big, richly colored and sometimes tessellated  hybrids are glorious, wondrous giants indeed.
In the image above you see, left to right, 'Rosy Dawn', 'Glory of Heemstede;  'Beaconsfield', 'Jochem Hof', 'The Giant' and 'Disraeli'. 'Glory of Heemstede', 'Beaconsfield', 'The Giant' and 'Disraeli' are all characterized by conspicuous tessellation.  'Jochem Hof' is notable for its intense, dark coloration. 'Rosy Dawn' is remarkable for the width of the tepals: some are over an inch wide!  

Sunday, September 17, 2017

The interconnectedness of things: a bite of pizza takes me back to WWII intrigues

 PizzaCS's Margherita pizza

Jim's favorite part 


Last night Wayne and I went for pizza. There are several top-notch pizza places within a five or ten minute drive from here, and last night we tried PizzaCS  again. CS in this case stands for the Italian come sempre meaning “as always”, an allusion to their membership in the Associazione Pizzaiuoli Napoletani.  If there are such  people as pizza geeks, this is probably where they dine. There’s nothing fancy about this place, but you can get a pizza made with mozzarella di bufala and the crusts are wonderful. 

My choice was pizza Margherita, and as I munched it I absentmindedly made one of those connections that I should have made long ago. Have you ever wondered who the eponymous Margherita was? She was none other than Margherita Di Savoia, Queen of Italy at the end of the nineteenth century.

About forty years ago, with little more with me than a Eurail Pass, a camera, some cash and seemingly unlimited optimism and enthusiasm,  I spent six weeks  in England and western Europe.  While in England, the “vegetarian hostel” in which I stayed (it had an opium poppy growing in the cracks of the front steps – I’ve got a photo to keep the memory keen) had a beat-up old upright piano in the basement. Out of curiosity,  I opened the piano bench and there I struck gold: volume I of Parisotti’s 1885 Arie Antiche. My offer to purchase it was declined: "You can have it" was the proprietor/manager's response. Two pages from this are shown here, including the page dedicating the work to Margherita Di Savoia, Regina D’Italia. 

Dedication page



Title page of Parisotti's  1885 Arie Antiche

For more about Parisotti, check out this link:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alessandro_Parisotti

For more about Queen Margherita,  check out this link:



This book might carry even more history:  written inside the cover is this: “June Forbes-Sempill, München 1939”. Is this the Hon.  June Mary Forbes-Sempill, daughter of William Francis Forbes-Sempill, 19th Lord Sempill? Was she one of the many  aristocratic young English women sent by pro-German families to Germany in the 1930s for finishing? If so, her death in 1941 at age 18, "killed by enemy action", was ironic (from thepeerage.com). Her father, Lord Sempill, was a notorious British spy employed by the Japanese. He was so well connected that he never faced charges for his traitorous activities. 


Hemerocallis in mid-September


Mid-September daylilies with companion plants
Here are some late blooming Hemerocallis combined with others plants also blooming now. The smaller yellow daylilies are 'Autumn Prince', the larger orange ones are 'Autumn King'. Mixed with them are some hardy ageratum, Tatarian aster, a lone bellflower, common bindweed, Salvia guaranitica and several sedums. 

Colchicums 2017

Colchicums with companion plants. 
Colchicums have been blooming for about two weeks now: some of the earliest ones are already over for this year. I gathered these early this morning and quickly put together this grouping. Now I'll be able to enjoy them throughout the year. 

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Sinningia trio

Sinningia trio
I've grown to like these tall, lanky Sinningia. So far, the best way to use them in the garden has eluded me. They remind me of salvias, penstemons and even Phygelius.
The three you see here, left to right, are 'Butter and Cream', Sinningia sellovii and 'Scarlett O'Hara'. There are others, and I'm beginning to think I want them all.
They have yet to be tested by a winter in the garden; I know from experience that when dry they survive easily in a cold frame, but in recent years it's been easier to keep them dry in zip lock plastic bags at room temperature. 

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Smilax laurifolia

Smilax laurifolia 
Smilax laurifolia


The light green growths you see in this image are this year’s new growth on Smilax laurifolia. It’s making lots of strong new growth this year, and as you can see in the image it’s having its way with the crepe myrtle. The area caught in this image is at about the 12'-15' level. Were you to look at the top of the crepe myrtle, you would see the topmost strands of the vine waving in the breeze. It has just about reached the size where I’ll be comfortable cutting it for house decoration.  

Huernia keniensis


Huernia keniensis


My track record as a champion house plant killer notwithstanding, this little plant has survived here for over a half century. Another plant of this species was among the first items I photographed with my then new Kodak Retina Reflex camera. Those slides were processed in January 1964. Other images in that box include several of Scrapper (the family dog), a mata-mata turtle, Vipera ammodytes, and two Christmas scenes. I'll try to scan those slides and add them to this post later. 

The Huernia blooms now and then, and every few years I break it up and repot the pieces.

Huernia look like cactuses, but they are asclepiads,  related to the milkweeds. As the specific epithet suggests, this species is from Kenya in Africa. 

Gloriosa modesta

Gloriosa modesta

Gloriosa modesta


Long known as Littonia modesta, this little charmer from southern Africa at first glance hardly resembles the other members of its genus. For comparison, look here to see its more flamboyant relative, the gloriosa lily: http://mcwort.blogspot.com/2016/09/gloriosa-superba.html
Once included in the lily family, they are now in the Colchicaceae.
The flowers of this little orange one did not prove to be very enduring - they lasted only three days. The flowers of the big showy gloriosa lilies last much longer than that.
This is a new plant for me: it came from the bulb exchange of the Pacific Bulb Society; thanks, MSI!

Rosa 'Maréchal Niel'

Rosa  'Maréchal Niel'
Finally, I think I’ve got it right. Decades ago I grew this rose true to name. But that plant, after blooming and proving its identity, developed canker and was removed. Two successive acquisitions proved to be false – and although ordered eight years apart from the same supplier proved to be the same false plant. The one you see above arrived only a few weeks ago and has already produced a small flower. It’s the real thing.
Helen Van Pelt Wilson, in her book Climbing Roses (Barrows, 1955), mentions that the blooms of this rose are very lasting. We had a good demonstration of that this week: the flower has come through several days with temperatures over 90 degrees F. and still seems presentable. Nor has the color faded much. Update July 28, 2017: the flower was still in fairly good condition on July 25. On the 26th, the petals turned brown but did not fall  - they dried in place.  
I think it’s fair to say that this is one of the most famous roses of all time. Its name appears in the pedigree of many other famous roses, although given the likelihood that hybridizers of the past and present don’t always tell the whole truth in these matters, perhaps such claims need to be taken with a grain of salt. But of its fame there is no doubt.
In the literature it’s generally described as golden yellow. I doubt that anyone who actually saw the rose would call the color golden. It’s more the color of butter. In the famous painting by Childe Hassam, it’s as yellow as a sunflower. Take a look here:
I’ve read that in the nineteenth century so highly was it esteemed that greenhouses were built specifically to house this plant. It’s not really a garden plant in our climate. Mrs. Wilson says bluntly that it is not hardy at Philadelphia. And Mrs. Keays, in her Old Garden Roses,  did not find it in her searches of southern Maryland gardens. Here in the greater Washington D.C. area plants have been known to survive for a few years, only to break the gardener’s heart when we have one of those winters which gets the global warming deniers braying “I told you so”.

But if you’re my kind of rosarian, you’ll at least want to try it once. Somewhere I read of an early twentieth-century gardener in West Virginia who grew it by taking it down in the winter and erecting a cold frame around it for winter protection. A green house is out of the question for me, but a cold frame is not.

Rosa moschata "Graham Stewart Thomas"

Rosa moschata "Graham Stewart Thomas" 

Rosa moschata “Graham Stewart Thomas”: note the formatting of the name. This is not a formally named cultivar, thus the use of double quotes rather than single quotes. 
This, the least prepossessing rose in the garden, has the most impressive provenance of any rose I have ever grown. 
Canon Henry Nicholson Ellacombe (1822-1916) Rector of Bitton,  Gloucestershire, late nineteenth-century author of garden books and mentor of Edward Augustus Bowles,   grew this rose at his home Bitton in Gloucestershire. Bowles acquired a piece of it from Ellacombe and grew it at Myddelton House. Graham Stewart Thomas found the Myddelton House plant in its senescence and rescued a piece. The plant I have in my garden now over a century later is a piece of the plant Graham Stewart Thomas distributed, the plant grown by Bowles and Ellacombe before him.

They don’t come any better connected than that!

Here’s another Bowles connection: here you see a flower of this rose on a page from the Elizabethan, 1597,  edition of Gerard’s Herball. This volume was once owned by Bowles, as is shown by marginalia in his hand seen elsewhere in the book. 

Rosa moschata on woodcut in Gerard, The Herball, 1597
For more about Ellacombe, see here https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_Nicholson_Ellacombe
For more about Thomas, see here https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Graham_Stuart_Thomas
For more about this rose, see the Help Me Find entry here http://www.helpmefind.com/rose/l.php?l=2.16943

Hibiscus syriacus 'Azurri Blue' and 'Blueberry Smoothie'

Hibiscus syriacus 'Azurri Blue'

Hibiscus syriacus 'Azurri Blue'

Hibiscus syriacus 'Azurri Blue'

Hibiscus syriacus 'Blueberry Smoothie'

Hibisicus syriacus, the rose of Sharon, was regarded as a weed tree where I grew up. Every flower seems to set seed, and every seed seems to germinate – if not immediately, sometime during the next century. Decades ago I planted one of the standard  cultivars, ‘Blue Bird’. This one sets seed prolifically, and I eventually ripped it and its teeming progeny out. Or I thought I did: I’m still pulling them.  Also, the flowers of these plants are ephemeral, and the accumulation of fallen flowers beneath the bushes can make a mess.  
In an earlier post (see here: http://mcwort.blogspot.com/2009/08/hibiscus-syriacus-blue-satin.html  ) I mentioned that when the National Arboretum introduced its handsome seed-free cultivars, that group did not include a blue-flowered form. I’ve been waiting patiently for a seed-free blue to appear, and we now have a readily available one: ‘Azurri Blue’. These blue-flowered forms are best viewed in the early morning: midday bright sun brings out the pink tones. 
Evidently there is a lot going on among hybridizers with Hibiscus syriacus. It’s a group I’ve largely ignored for a long time, so when I began to Google the group, I discovered that a lot has happened. One which caught my eye is ‘Blueberry Smoothie’. The images on line flatter it a bit I think, a point of view confirmed when I saw the plants in a nursery. But those plants were pot grown, and I have a hunch that more water will bring better flowers.

My ‘Azurri Blue’ came from Proven Winners, and the little tags which came with it gave me something to think about. These tags give information in both English and Spanish. On one tag the Spanish language version of the name was given as “la rosa de Siria”; on another it was given as “la rosa de Sarón" . “Sarón”, a misprint for “Sharon”, right? No, it’s “Sarón” and I think I know why: it’s “Sarón” for the same reason that the late Shimon Peres was Shimon and not Simon Peres. The name Simon came into European languages from translations of Hebrew texts, and those earliest translations were from Hebrew into Koine Greek. Neither Greek nor Latin in their classical periods had a way of writing the “sh” sound, and it presumably did not exist in the spoken languages. So a Hebrew name such as Shimon was transliterated as Simon. And so the Hebrew Sharon, the name of a plain west of Jerusalem, became Saron in those western languages which got the word early on from Greek and Latin texts.  

Lilium 'Fusion'

Lilium 'Fusion'

Here’s something new and exciting for our gardens. Lilium ‘Fusion’ is said to be a hybrid of Lilium longiflorum and one of the lilies native to the west coast of North America, probably Lilium pardalinum.   During the first half of the twentieth century, as long as Carl Purdy and his native American collectors continued to supply wild collected bulbs, these western American lilies were evidently common in eastern American and British gardens. Competing with these wild-collected bulbs were the imposing Bellingham hybrids raised, and distributed, by the thousands by David Griffiths. Do any of these survive today?
The flowers of ‘Fusion’ are zygomorphic, something seen in some lilies of the martagon group and in some Cardiocrinum. The foliage is scattered on the stem, not whorled. Let’s hope it turns out to be a good garden plant in our area.


Cleome ‘Señorita Rosalita’

Cleome ‘Señorita Rosalita’, Lilium 'LeVern Friemann' (aka 'Miss Feya') Mema's crepe myrtle
Two or three years ago, while visiting his mother in Bridgewater, Virginia, Wayne and I saw a group of what seemed to be dwarf cleome in a local garden. A seed grown strain of dwarf cleome had just been introduced under the name ‘Sparkler’, and that might have been what those plants were. ‘Sparkler’ seed is expensive, and I’ve been waiting for the price to come down.

While plant shopping early this year I spotted plants from Proven Winners under the name ‘Señorita Rosalita’ and decided to give them a try. They were planted in big tubs in mid-May, and by now they have formed very handsome bushel basket sized masses of bloom. If they keep this up all summer, they’ll get my vote as one of the really important new annuals for our gardens. And they don’t  form seeds so there will not be a cleome invasion to deal with next year. 

Here's more information about the lily shown here: History of Lilium 'LeVern Friemann'

Euphorbia decaryi

Euphorbia decaryi

Euphorbia decaryi

This little plant comes from southeast Madagascar and is another long term survivor here. Decades ago I briefly belonged to the local cactus and succulent club. At one of their plant exchanges I selected this plant. It had been contributed by none other than Harry Dewey, one of my much admired predecessors as editor of the local rock garden bulletin.

Is this the first time it has bloomed here? I’m not sure, but if it bloomed in the past I did not notice. 

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Calathea roseopicta 'Medallion' and Kong coleus

Calathea roseopicta 'Medallion' and coleus Kong
I would like to take a lot of credit for this attractive combination, but the credit goes to the protean fecundity of that mother of invention, necessity. I had bought the Calathea on impulse and needed a place for it. It would look great in the house but almost surely die quickly. A shady place outside seemed like a good idea, but exactly which shady place? So I decided to put it out on the deck, and noticing the free space between the two coleus, popped it into that space. Then I took a second look and realized "Wow, that really works!"

The Calathea came unlabeled, but a quick search of Google images led me to the name used above.

Nomenclature note: most of the plants once known as Coleus , after banishment to Solenostemon in the late twentieth century, are now placed in Plectranthus. A half century ago Ernst Mayr provided a very plausible species concept. But no one has ever done the same for genera, and I gave up "believing" in genera decades ago.  I treat them as opinions, some well-founded, some not so much so.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Lilium 'Corsage' back from the brink!

Lilium 'Corsage' photographed June 17, 2017

Lilium 'Corsage' photographed June, 1979
I was growing lilies for nearly twenty years before I took an interest in what was going on in the greater lily world - the organizations, the hybridists, the commercial suppliers of hybrid lilies and so on. I became aware of hybrid lilies from two main sources: the catalog of Blackthorne Gardens and the catalog of the Peter de Jager company. The de Jager catalog back in the 1960s had pages of beautiful, full-color modern photographs of the de Graaff hybrids, among them photos of the one you see above, 'Corsage'.
One of the images you see above is a  scan done this morning of a Kodachrome slide made in 1979, the other is a digital photo taken this morning.
No lily from back in those days still survives in my garden. Few lilies from back in those days survive in commerce. When lily stocks became infected with virus back in those days, we assumed that was the end for them - forever. Then we learned about the possibilities of meristem culture, and that stocks could be cleaned up to some extent. But by then much seems to have been lost, and one after another, favorite lilies became commercially extinct. When I lost my home-grown stocks of 'Corsage', I never expected to see it again.
But it's back! I have not heard the background story yet, but there it was in the late winter catalogs of 2017. And now it's blooming again in my garden, nearly forty years after that Kodachrome slide was taken. 

Monday, March 13, 2017

Catch up time

Has it really been almost two months since the last blog post? And it's not because of a lack of noteworthy events. Yikes, time is flying. I'll try to get some catch up going today.
Spring began here on February 23; the criterion which determines this for me is the calling of the first peepers. Wayne heard them on that date down in the nearby KenGar wetlands.  But they have not been calling much since then, although there was a two day period when peepers, upland chorus frogs and wood frogs could all be heard together.
We'll probably be in the deep freeze for the rest of this week, so the next peeper choruses are at least a week off. 

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Iris cretensis : hard to believe that something this beautiful blooms now!

Iris cretensis

Winter has yet to take a deep bite out of the garden, but even so many plants which would ordinarily be pushing up against much stiffer weather are holding back this year. The first of the lawn snowdrops are up, and the clone selected here and called 'Christmas' is in full bloom - finally, because it was late for Christmas. The snowdrop I call 'Thanksgiving' was also late this year. Two different acquisitions of the one spot forms of Galanthus elwesii are now in full bloom. The first flowers of Jasminum nudiflorum opened today, and yesterday I saw flowers opening on Hamamelis 'Jelena' and Lonicera fragrantissima. Little Narcissus cantabricus has a tiny bloom mostly open and resting on the mulch surface. So things are happening. But we really have not had winter yet, so who's to say what's ahead?
When I checked the cold frames today there was a nice surprise waiting. That's Iris cretensis you see above. Its flowers are bigger than those of any reticulate iris, but they are smaller than those of Iris unguicularis. I had to wait for the generous flowering shown above: like Iris unguicularis, this one takes its time (as in a year or two)  to settle in and bloom freely. But it's worth the wait, isn't it? 

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Happy New Year from the garden


So little was in bloom in the garden this New Year's Day that I decided to build a New Year's Day display which emphasized foliage. Luckily I have plently to choose from in the foliage department.
But first the flowers: pink Camellia sasanqua is the brightest one in the garden today: these flowers are from a home-grown plant grown from seed planted in the mid 1970s.  The other blooms are the blue Algerian iris, Iris unguicularis, blooming this week for the first time this season (which is to say, late for this plant). There is a snowdrop, the Galanthus elwesii form I call 'Thanksgiving' because in most years it blooms on that day. This year it started a week or two after Thankgiving Day and has continued in good form until now. There are other snowdrops blooming now, too. There is a bud of Helleborus niger: they too are late this year.
Now for the foliage: see what you can pick out. Cephalotaxus harringtonia 'Fastigiata', Hedera helix, Rhapidophyllum hystrix, Smilax pumila, Smilax walteri, Smilax laurifolia, Smilax smallii, Laurus nobilis, Rohdea japonica, Euonymus fortunei, Dryopteris goldiana, Vaccinium myrsinites, Buxus sempervirens, Fatsia japonica, Asarum maximum, Ruscus aculeatus, Danaë racemosa, Arum italicum, and fruit of Nandina domestica.
The Smilax walteri and S. laurifolia were collected as seed in far southeastern Virginia during a birding trip Wayne and I took in the early 1990s.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Drimia (aka Urginea) maritima

Drimia maritima with Biscuit 

Drimia maritima
I would rather be posting an image of this plant in bloom, but I have a hunch it will never bloom here. Or at least it will not bloom here until I can provide it with more space and more light. I naively thought it might be possible to grow it in a cold frame. Now that I've seen just how big it is, it's obvious that it will not fit into any cold frame I have here. So it's being grown as a house plant (some might want to add "when it should be grown as a greenhouse plant").

As it turns out, it's a very handsome foliage plant - at least it is in the early stages of its vegetative growth.

That's Biscuit, our twelve pound ShihTzu, reluctantly providing scale in one of the images. 

Friday, October 7, 2016

Dryocopus pileatus the pileated woodpecker the Urban Ornithoscopist



A sighting of these striking birds, the largest woodpeckers likely to be seen in North America, should make the day for most casual birders. I've been fortunate to live in pileated habitat for over a half century, and I see these birds frequently (and hear them!). And it's still always a thrill. 
Wayne photographed this pair in the Waverly-Schuylkill Park only two blocks down the hill from our house. 




Thursday, October 6, 2016

Megacyllene robiniae the locust borer



Megacyllene robiniae the locust borer
Megacyllene robiniae the locust borer
Megacyllene robiniae the locust borer
Megacyllene robiniae the locust borer

Megacyllene robiniae the locust borer

Megacyllene robiniae the locust borer

Megacyllene robiniae the locust borer

Megacyllene robiniae the locust borer


When the Urban Ornithoscopist is not out spotting birds, he’s got his eyes open for anything else of interest. The Urban Ornithoscopist wears several caps well: here Wayne is in Urban Entomoscopist mode.
The beautiful beetles seen here are locust borers, a type of long horn beetle. It’s amazing, isn’t it, how well the color of the beetle matches the color of the goldenrod. Many of the photographs of this species on the internet show it, as it is shown here, on goldenrod. The goldenrod seen here is the garden cultivar Solidago rugosa 'Fireworks'.


In the nineteenth century the locust borer (now M. robiniae) and the hickory borer (M. caryae) were, not surprisingly, confused: they look alike.  But the adults of some populations emerged in the spring and laid eggs on hickories. Other populations emerged in the fall and laid eggs on black locust.   Rather than being one species with two seasonal broods, they are distinct species. At that time they were both placed in the genus Cyllene (or earlier Clytus).The name currently used, Megacyllene, is derived from the classical Greek words for “big Cyllene”. 

In one of the images above there are five different insects: can you spot them all?