Friday, November 20, 2015

Five oaks

This is the time of year when trees become particularly important to me. And of all trees, oaks are my favorites. Here are stories about five oaks.

Years ago, I gave my friend Hilda some evergreen oaks. She lives down on the water of the north side of the Northern Neck of Virginia. The climate there is milder than here, as witnessed by the many Daphne odora growing well for her. Some of them are the size of a two-seater sofa.
Among the oaks I gave her was the holm oak (aka holly oak), Quercus ilex, a species which grows wild in southern and coastal western Europe and north Africa. It's a well-known garden tree in England. I've tried it here in the home garden, but it does not thrive. What I really mean is that it does not survive. Wayne and I visited Hilda the other day, and she took me around to see the holm oak. It has grown into a promising eight to ten-foot youngster which shows no sign of winter damage. Here's a bit of the foliage:
Quercus ilex

While out shopping a few weeks ago, I stopped by one of the general merchandise stores in the area to look for gloves. Lined up outside on the sidewalk were some still-unsold nursery plants. From a distance, I could not make out what they were, but I saw red foliage. When I got closer, I realized the red foliage was oak foliage. There were several of these: four- to five-foot youngsters of Quercus shumardii in full, brilliant leaf color. One came home with me. Here it is:
Quercus shumardii

Last year, on one of our frequent trips to western Virginia to visit Wayne's family, we stopped by Timberville to see the old family home where his father grew up. Earlier that day we had been talking to one of his cousins who mentioned that she bought an oak which she took up to the old home and planted. The family called the home The Oaks, so an oak seemed appropriate. For me, the story got very interesting when she mentioned that the oak was an evergreen Asian oak. She couldn't remember the name. That did it: Wayne and I immediately added a side-trip to Timberville to see this oak. As it turned out, it was Quercus acutissima. But here's the best part of this story: his cousin had bought this oak at Lowes (of all places!) for all of $10. Here's a view of its foliage:
Quercus acutissima

I've long wanted an evergreen oak here in the home garden, and I finally have one which seems to be thriving here. It's Quercus turbinella, and it's one of those evergreen oaks which at first looks like a holly or an osmanthus. This one too has a story. I got it from the late Jo Banfield, who was a charter member of the local rock garden chapter. And she got her start with this species with a handful of acorns distributed by Panayoti Kelaidis when he was visiting on one of his lecture tours. Here's a look at it now:
Quercus turbinella

And our mossy-cup oaks,  Quercus macrocarpa,  in the home garden had acorns this year. This oak is probably better known as bur/burr oak. There were only a few acorns, and I managed to get six before the squirrels and deer got to them. They were immediately packed in a moist medium and are now sprouting. Only recently have I become aware of the size differences in the acorns of this species: those in parts of the south (Texas of course) are very big compared to those seen in the north.  Years ago, during one of the first years the home-garden trees had acorns, a neighbor took one look at the size of them and asked me to let him collect them. He had land in West Virginia where he hunted, and he wanted those big acorns to grow trees to feed "his" deer. They are big; I think these qualify as Texas-sized. Take a look here:
Quercus macrocarpa 
 Two Quercus marilandica and one Q. myrsinifolia were recently received from Woodlanders - I'll show those in the future.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Smilax pumila

Smilax pumila
This low growing species is not reliably garden hardy here and is grown in a cold frame. It's in bloom today, and with luck there will eventually be red fruits. It reminds me a bit of some of the Asarum or even of trailing arbutus, Epigaea repens. This species was first tried here in 2006; those plants went on to bloom and set seed, but the seed did not survive the winter, and the plants themselves eventually perished. That's why the current acquisition is being grown in a cold frame. It's the sort of plant about which most people will say "more curious than beautiful", "collector's plant" or "botanical interest only" - in other words, just my kind of plant. I've never met a Smilax I didn't like. 

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Symphyotrichum oblongifolium aka Aster oblongifolius

Symphyotrichum oblongifolium 

Years ago a friend called my attention to a long narrow planting of this aster around the corner from her home. Her neighbor had it planted all along the sidewalk, and it had formed a low mass which, when in bloom, was very handsome. At that time, I had plants of two of the best-known cultivars of this species, 'October Skies' and 'Raydon's Favorite', growing in my garden. But both of those were relatively taller than the plants along that sidewalk.
Eventually, self-sown seedlings began to appear in the garden. These were not so tall as the named cultivars. I like the one in the image above: a month ago you would not have expected it to have formed such a broad mass of bloom. I'll be spreading this one around the garden soon. And it makes a great companion for the Sternbergia lutea, doesn't it? (Look carefully, there is one peeking out in the upper left hand corner of the image). 

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Colchicum 'Glory of Heemstede'

Colchicum 'Glory of Heemstede'

Colchicums can be frustratingly difficult to identify, and that's as true of the wild forms as it is of the garden forms. Among the garden forms, some stand out for certain characteristics or combinations of characteristics. Things to look for are the width of the tepals, the presence or absence of tessellation, the size of the flower, the shape of the flower, the blooming season, the presence or absence of a white throat, the presence or absence of color on the outside of the tube (the structure which looks like the stem of the flower but is not). Some are fragrant (in the good sense), some have an odor (i.e. something not particularly pleasant).

And they vary in the intensity of their color. The one shown here, now over a century old, is 'Glory of Heemstede', and it has the most intense color of any of the colchicums I know. 

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Colchicums, an Esther Bartning homage

Esther Bartning's plate from Gartensch√∂nheit, October 1938

The ones in the top row, left to right, are identified as 'The Giant', 'Lilac Wonder', speciosum 'Album' and cilicicum
The ones in the second row are identified as 'Violet Queen', 'Waterlily' and 'General Grant'.
The ones in the third row are identified as 'Agrippinum', autumnale 'Alboplenum' and speciosum.
The ones in the fourth row are identified as Crocus speciosus albus (but see comments below) and 'Danton'.

An approximation done with flowers from today's garden

The ones in the first row are 'The Giant', 'Lilac Wonder', a substitute for speciosum 'Album', and cilicicum.
The ones in the second row (my row slants more than Bartning's) are 'Violet Queen', 'Waterlily' and a substitute for 'General Grant', Leonid Bondarenko's 'World Champion Cup'.
The ones in the third row are 'Agrippinum', autumnale 'Alboplenum' and speciosum.
The ones in the fourth row are autumale 'Album' and a substitute for 'Danton', the otherwise  handsome 'Disraeli' looking a bit tired after a week or so in the refrigerator.

Colchicum speciosum 'Album' has not bloomed here yet - the buds are visible, but they are not moving. If I can keep the rest of the blooms in good condition until it blooms, I might re-do the image later.

If 'Danton' still exists, I'm not aware of a source. In the text which accompanied the Gartensch√∂nheit  plate, Karl Foerster  describes 'Danton' as "the most magnificent of the deep violet colored giants".

'General Grant' is another hybrid I have never grown or seen offered.

In Bartning's plate the small white flowers in the lower left hand corner are identified as Crocus speciosus albus  - the name is now formatted as  Crocus speciosus  'Albus'. At first glance, they do look like that plant. But count the stamens: crocuses have only three, the plants depicted show more than that. I've substituted Colchicum autumnale 'Album'; perhaps that was the original intention.

For more about Esther Bartning, see here:

Try a right click to get the prompt to translate.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Ipomoea lindheimeri

Ipomoea lindheimeri

Here's a morning glory from Texas which is probably hardy enough to survive local winter conditions with a bit of help; I'll try it first in a cold frame. It's sometimes grown more for its thickened roots (it's caudiciform) than for its flowers. But the flowers are nothing to dismiss without due consideration. For one thing, they are relatively big: three inches across. Young plants which have only produced two feet of vine will produce full-sized, proportionally large flowers. And the flowers are fragrant.
Several other North American species of Ipomoea are worth growing for this combination of caudex and large flowers: I. macrorhiza, I. pandurata and I. leptophylla, for instance.
While in the Army I spent a full year in central Texas; during that time most of my free time was spent in the field studying the local flora and fauna. It was during this time that I became very familiar indeed with the name Lindheimer. The Wikipedia entry for Ferdinand Jacob Lindheimer states that one genus and over twenty species are named for him; the Lady Bird Johnson Center claims that 48 species and subspecies are named for him. 

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Haliaeetus leucocephalus The suburban ornithoscopist, no. 1: bald eagle


The suburban ornithoscopist No. 1: video: Wayne Crist, text: Jim McKenney

Under the title given above I’ll be posting some of the interesting, brief natural history videos Wayne has made. Most of these will be videos of birds. These posts will be numbered and marked “video: W. Crist;  text: J. McKenney”.

Video No. 1 was made on July 5, 2014 while we were visiting friends on the Northern Neck of Virginia. We were standing at the edge of a field, absentmindedly looking around. One of our party looked up and saw an osprey circling high in the sky. As we watched the osprey, a bald eagle flew into our field of vision at a much lower altitude. No sooner had the eagle appeared than a big buteo attacked the eagle and chased it off. You won’t see the buteo in the video – you’ll just have to take our word for it that it was there. You’ll see the osprey circling high in the sky, and you won’t mistake the bald eagle. 

Lycoris: prima donna of the oporanthous garden

Bobbie Lively-Diebold talks about her lycorises. 

The feast continues: this is the third post I’ve done this month relating to lycorises in our gardens. If the first one was a sort of hors d’oeuvre, and the second one a soup course, then this one, with over thirty images, must be the main course and dessert both. That I was able to be there and photograph these is mostly due to pure luck and serendipitous timing.  Some of the images could be better – they were shot at about 7:30 P.M as we moved quickly through the garden. Names might follow later as the planting charts are consulted, and as they become available I’ll update this post.
Our queen of the lycoris measures her domain in tens of acres and has been collecting them for tens of years. Where most of us get a sprout or two here and there in the garden, her plants sprout in thick clumps, like handfuls of bird seed dropped on damp ground. This week the turgid, buxom, sapid (but don’t eat them) scapes are pushing up like elegant asparagus throughout her garden. They  cluster tightly together like patricians surrounded by the unwashed, as if they feared being touched and contaminated by the coarseness around them.
Bobbie and I have been friends for decades, but she moved to a new place about two hours away, and I don’t get out to her place often. Years ago I had seen her lycorises late in their season, and it was a memorable experience.  What I saw yesterday was amazing. 

Lycoris chinensis 

More getting started.

A promise of things to come...

Another clump just beginning

This next group of four are either Lycoris sprengeri or hybrids with that species in their background.

Lycoris longituba 

Sorry about the names, but these images will give you an idea of the wonderful effect these plants can produce in the garden.  

Monday, August 10, 2015

Lycoris in the hands of our lycoris king

Jim Dronenburg with some of his lycorises; photo Anne Mazaitis

Lycorises: the ones with broad, unruffled  tepals and pale yellow color might be hybrids of L. longituba and L. chinensis; photo Anne Mazaitis  

Lycorises: the big white one is Lycoris longituba, the one in the middle with the blue streak is L. sprengeri; photo Anne Mazaitis

Last weekend our local chapter, the Potomac Valley Chapter, of the North American Rock Garden Society held a meeting to give members a chance to show slides. I was out of town for a family reunion, but the images here will show what I missed. Thanks to Anne Mazaitis for having the presence of mind to get some pictures.  Chapter president Jim Dronenburg arrived with a stunning show and tell: in the first image above, that's Jim with a selection of the lycorises blooming in his garden now. If you look carefully, you can see Lycoris longituba (big white), L. sanguinea (orange, small), L. chinensis (yellow), L. sprengeri (pink with a conspicuous blue flash), L. × squamigera, maybe a longituba-chinensis hybrid (light yellow with broad, un-ruffled tepals). Have I named them all?
Jim has been collecting lycorises for years and has written about lycorises for Washington Gardener Magazine. 
We have two members who have been collecting lycorises avidly for years. Jim is the king of our chapter lycoris growers. I'll try to have something about the queen later this week.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Lycoris chinensis

Lycoris chinensis

Lycoris chinensis 
Lycoris chinensis 

Lycoris chinensis 

The first cold-hardy, yellow –flowered Lycoris seem to have arrived here in the US back in the 1930s. That plant (or those plants, I’m not sure if they were clonal or not) was never widely distributed. I’ve heard that it eventually grew in the local garden of Bethesda lawyer Frederick Lee, chairman of the Advisory Council of the U.S. National Arboretum back then, although by the time I learned that, the garden had passed into new hands.

Throughout most of the twentieth century, a hardy, yellow-flowered Lycoris was one of the grails of  East Coast bulb collectors. We knew they existed but we didn't know how to acquire them.
When China began to open up again about twenty-five years ago, yellow-flowered Lycoris began to trickle in again  - and, they proved to be hardy. My plants came from Jim Waddick in 2008, and some of them answer to Lycoris chinensis. Some are L. longituba, and some are intermediate in their characteristics.
After this post was originally published, I've come back to add more images: the flower color has intensified each day and is now a strong chrome yellow. When I first noticed the inflorescence, I was not sure what color the flowers would have. The early buds were white at first, then a very vague flush of pale yellow appeared. You can see in the images above what finally happened.

Throughout the twentieth century there was (and still is) a plant in commerce which is a very bright yellow flowered Lycoris; but it is not hardy. This is Lycoris aurea, and you can read more about it here: