Sunday, July 16, 2017

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, 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.
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’

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. 

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 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


video

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

video

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? 

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Rosa 'Little White Pet' and companions

fresh cuts from the CGPs
a late September bouquet


Rosa 'Little White Pet' (l) and R. 'Meidiland White' (r)

A quick walk through my CGPs this afternoon provided the flowers you see above. The silvery foliage is that of Artemisia absinthium, the asters are Aster tataricus and Aster laevis (aka Symphiotrichum laeve). The roses are 'Awakening', 'Meidiland White' and 'Little White Pet'.

'Awakening' is from the same protean seedling which gave us 'Dr W. Van Fleet' and 'New Dawn'. These three roses came from the same seedling, and thus form a clone (in the original sense).

'Little White Pet' also has an interesting history. Early in the nineteenth century, when noisette roses were being raised in numbers, a cross between a noisette rose and Rosa sempervirens  resulted in the climbing rose 'Félicité et Perpétue'. Later in the nineteenth century the dwarf form now known as 'Little White Pet' was discovered on a plant of  'Félicité et Perpétue'.  So,  'Félicité et Perpétue' and 'Little White Pet' also form a clone.

The rose 'Meidiland White' was raised almost exactly a century after 'Little White Pet' was discovered. 'Meidiland White' lacks scent, while 'Little White Pet' is well scented. 'Meidiland White'  blooms profusely throughout the growing season. 'Little White Pet' also blooms throughout the season, but not as profusely. The sweet scent guarantees it a place in this garden.



Monday, September 26, 2016

Geothlypis trichas Common yellowthroat:The urban ornithoscopist number 3

Geothlypis trichas Common Yellowthroat 

Geothlypis trichas Common Yellowthroat

Geothlypis trichas Common Yellowthroat

Geothlypis trichas Common Yellowthroat
This little charmer is not common in the way that crows, sparrows, starlings and the like are common. But if you spend time in suitable habitat, you stand a good chance of seeing them. And the striking colors of this bird make it one you are not likely to forget. The yellow really glows.  Add to that its call, one easily remembered.
Wayne took these images from inside his house. He evidently keeps his windows cleaner than some of us do.
In older books it was called the Maryland Yellow-throat, but in one form or another this species - in season - is found throughout the United States, Canada, the Caribbean and Central America.

Colchicum bivonae

Colchicum bivonae 

Colchicum bivonae 

These images show off well the rich color. shapely form and handsome tessellation of this species. All of the tessellated colchicums are favorites here. This is another plant acquired in 2006.

Colchicum 'Violet Queen'



Colchicum 'Violet Queen'

Colchicum 'Violet Queen'

Colchicum 'Violet Queen' in 2006

This is one of my favorites. I've got only one healthy plant right now, but it seems to be going in the right direction. It bloomed last year, and it's blooming again this year. I've had this particular accession since, I think, 2006. The name appears commonly in the lists, but the material being sent out now is frequently misnamed. So if you've got the real thing, hold on to it!
'Violet Queen' is well over one hundred years old. Be generous with the TLC!

Viola grypoceras v. exilis 'Sylettas' the cyclamen-leaf violet



Viola grypoceras v. exilis 'Sylettas'

Viola grypoceras v. exilis 'Sylettas'


Viola grypoceras v. exilis 'Sylettas'


It might be hard for some to believe, but this little charmer is in some gardens regarded as a little devil. It definitely lives in the fast lane. Individual plants are short-lived, and they seed about prolifically. The flowers are not much bigger than a lusty house fly, and their color is quiet.
But those leaves: I'll gladly forgive its bad habits if I can have those leaves!
We can't blame the violet for another annoyance associated with it: it's got name problems. The mouth-full which appears in the post title above is the currently accepted name among taxonomists. But nurseries are apt to sell it as "Viola koreana", a name not published formally. And the cultivar name is sometimes given as Syletta, Sylettas, Styletta and so on.
I say it's worth the bother.
One more interesting note: Viola grypoceras was named by Asa Gray, the nineteenth century Harvard botanist who was the first to call attention to the similarities of the flora of eastern North America and Eastern Asia, Japan in particular. 

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Tattered Sunshine comes for a visit

Tattered Sunshine 1894 Nelly Kennedy
The painting here, Tattered Sunshine, is a precious memento of my mother's grandmother, Nellie Kennedy. My sister and I share him, and for a while it's my turn. He will eventually go to my niece. Nellie signed the painting and dated it, but the date is difficult to read. It might be 1894.
We know very little about Nellie Kennedy. She married a Daniel Aloysius Gillin who was appointed to the rank Cadet of the United States Military Academy 1893. I've found on-line records of a Daniel Aloysius Gillin who worked in the Government Printing Office during the 1908-1912 period. They lived on A Street NE on the fringes of Capitol Hill. Nellie had time to paint, and her brother who lived with her ( my mom called him Unc and he was a favorite) played the guitar. A picture exists of Unc sitting on the front porch of the home (walk through that neighborhood and you'll see many like it) holding a guitar. There's a family story that Unc had a girlfriend he visited every Wednesday.
Did Daniel Aloysius graduate from West Point? So far, I have not been able to discover that. He might have died about 1920 because that seems to have been  about when Nellie and the daughters moved back to Philadelphia. It's all mostly guesswork on my part.
Update, February 3, 2017: evidently Daniel did graduate from West Point - we've found a telegram addressed to him in which he is requested to return tickets to an affair sponsored by his West Point class because the president needed the tickets. POTUS or president of his class - I'm not sure yet. 

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Welwitschia mirabilis

Welwitschia mirabilis 
In the image above you see this year's crop of Welwitschia mirabilis. These were sown on August 21:  as you can see, they don't waste any time getting started. Eight seeds were sown, six have germinated. Last year's crop was lost to an experiment: I had read that the frost resistance of Welwitschia was untested, so I left them outside during a light overnight freeze. They didn't like it! One was dead the next morning, and the others limped along during the rest of the winter, never recovering their former strength. One by one they died: the last one to die almost made it to the time of year when I would have put it out back into the sunshine.
I was going to try to get one established in a very protected cold frame which is nestled against the house wall. But now I'm having second thoughts. 

Gloriosa superba

Gloriosa superba

Gloriosa superba
Gloriosa superba


Superb indeed, and in several respects. The brilliant color combination, the exciting form, the ease of culture in our climate all make this a very likable plant. For years it was assigned to the lily family, but more recent treatments place it in the Colchicaceae with Colchicum and Androcymbium and its near relatives Littonia modesta and Sandersonia aurantiaca. 
In the wild, it has a wide distribution in Africa and Southeast Asia. As that suggests, this plant thrives in heat. The flowers are well adapted to heat: they last and last even through periods when the daytime temperatures regularly reach up into the 90s F. That's one of the things which make these plants such great choices for our summer climate.
The rhizomatous corms (like those seen in some Colchicum) fork at the growing point yearly. For commercial purposes the two forks are split apart and sold separately. Each can be the size of a large man's finger.
These plants will survive the winter outside in the ground if sited near a house wall. I have not tried them out in the open.