Monday, June 29, 2015

Phlox 'Bright Eyes'

Phlox 'Bright Eyes' 
A century ago, summer blooming phlox were widely regarded as the most important perennials for the summer garden. Those who still grow them in quantity probably feel that way about them even now. Pre-WWI books and trade lists enumerate dozens of varieties; compare that to the half-dozen or so widely marketed today.
Pholx paniculata, the major parent of the tall garden phlox, grows wild here in the neighborhood; I've seen both magenta- and white-flowered forms in the woods down by the creek. Save your garden space for the improved, cultivated forms and hybrids.
Years ago I visited an old garden which, to judge by what was left when I saw it, must have been something to see in its prime. The thing which really caught my eye and my imagination was a big border (12' x ?, but long) which had become overgrown by tall phlox. They were not in bloom when I saw them (that's where my imagination helped) but their sheer numbers made it obvious that they would put on a great show. A great show, but a relatively quiet show: for the most part, phlox colors are soft colors, old-fashioned colors. The colors are mostly harmonious and lend themselves to mass plantings. And, most of them are softly fragrant.
They cross freely among themselves, and as a result old plantings typically have self-sown magenta  interlopers. Attempting to eliminate these by pulling them out does not work: any roots left in the ground will soon send up sprouts. This is as true of the interlopers as it is of the choice varieties, and an old trick for propagating these choice ones  is to cut out the center of the clump and then wait for the ring of sprouts to appear at the edge of the cut.
Old books sometimes claim that tall garden phlox bloom from early summer into fall; that might be true in the cold north, but here the main, large stems have a bloom period of about two weeks, the same bloom period seen in most summer blooming perennials. There are two good reasons to remove the spent blooms: to prevent seed formation and to encourage the plants to bloom again later in the summer. 

Monday, June 22, 2015

Habranthus martinezii

Habranthus martinezii 


According to the Pacific Bulb Society wiki, this species is confined to Argentina. The flower seems disproportionately large for the diameter of the scape, and that quality gives the blooming plant a very graceful appearance. This is the first time it has bloomed here.
Unfortunately for us, most of the rain lilies are not reliably hardy in this area. They are easily managed in pots, but that is a bit of a nuisance.  

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Papaver rhoeas "white blotch"

Papaver rhoeas "white blotch"


The self-sown corn poppies in the cgp show interesting variations now. In particular, this year there are many where the usual black blotch is replaced by a bright white one. I think I'll mark these to save the seeds. 

The rose surge

Rosa 'Leontine Gervais'


The next few days will be the peak of the rose season here. Yes, there will be roses on and off throughout the summer and into the autumn. But there will be nothing to approach what happens this week: my two little gardens will have literally thousands of individual rose flowers blooming. Most of these are on climbing roses, roses which bloom only once a year and bear comparatively small flowers. Small flowers, many of which are potently fragrant. Lonicera japonica is also blooming this week, and the commingled fragrances of rose and honeysuckle make this the supreme moment of the year for fragrance. It's time to politely say "no" to everyone suggesting that you go somewhere today.This moment lasts for a few hours, sometimes a few days, maybe a full week. The full effect is dependent on atmospheric conditions: slowly rising temperatures and moist or at least humid air enhance the effect, as does light rain the night before. On the rare occasions when I have garden visitors at this time, I wait for the moment when, as we are walking around the garden, they say "I can smell the roses". As indeed anyone with a sense of smell will: all of those little flowers in their billowing multitude are pouring out one of the great fragrances of the year.

Here are some of the roses blooming now.

On the pergola, 'The Garland', 'Bobbie James' and 'Albéric Barbier'  are foaming over:

Rosa 'The Garland', 'Bobbie James' and 'Albéric Barbier' on the pergola.


Up at the community garden plots (CGPs) some of the roses are putting on a spectacular display. 

Rosa 'Ghislaine de Feligonde'



A merry tangle at one corner of the cgp: left to right 'Basye's Purple', 'Apothecary's Rose', 'Glen Dale' and 'Chevy Chase' (that's 'Eddie's Crimson' in the back).

Rosa 'Eddie's Crimson' 

Rosa 'Silver Moon' 

Thanks to the deer fence, I get roses and not stubs. 

  Here are some of the roses massed along one side of the plot. The main ones seen here are, left to right, 'Meidiland White', 'New Dawn', 'Veilchenblau' and 'Ghislaine de Feligonde'.
roses along one side of the cgp

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Some tall bearded irises

Tall bearded irises 'Golden Panther' on the left  and 'Cherry Blossom' on the right with  Allium 'Firmament' 

A view of the tall bearded irises at poppy time. 
Another view from the opposite direction

Iris 'Golden Panther' again 


I finally took the plunge. And the water is deeper than I anticipated. Although I've explored the genus Iris pretty thoroughly as a gardener, and I've enjoyed tall bearded irises all of my gardening life, I've always sensed that the world of the tall bearded iris was a world of its own, one so potentially rewarding and absorbing that it should be approached with caution. The standard of enchanting, riveting beauty is so generally high among these plants that once one’s connoisseurship begins to fan the embers of acquisition fever,  one is likely to be sucked into a world from which there is little hope of return. Didn’t Henry Mitchell write somewhere that he alone once grew hundreds of cultivars?  
In 2012 I ordered a collection of about three dozen cultivars. That was a difficult period for me, and those did not get planted until well into the fall. Most of them did not survive the winter. It’s quite believable to me that my gardening guardian angel arranged for this failure. He was watching out for me.
But I reordered in 2013, and most of those plants survived and grew well. The only plague the gardening guardian angel could arrange this time was an infestation of voles: they took some of the new plants. Some of the survivors bloomed in 2014, but it was not until this year that I finally realized what I had gotten myself into. For the last two weeks, every time I visit my community garden plots (that’s where the irises are) I fall into a state of spellbound enchantment as I move among the blooming irises; and what I see is not the only delight - their varied fragrances can be a huge source of enjoyment.  I forget what else I might have had in mind in visiting the garden; I neglect other projects. I take too many pictures. I keep asking them, “where have you been all my life?”
Keep in mind that the varieties I grow are nothing special: they are good, very good,  modern hybrids, some of them among the best iris of their debut year, but far from the newest and most expensive sorts. The average cost for mine was about $4 each. It’s hard for me to believe that more expensive sorts could possibly give more satisfaction.  Of course, there is that seemingly inescapable and disagreeable side to human nature, that infirmity which causes familiarity to breed contempt, and I might find myself numbered among the iridomanes of the future.

But for now I’m happy.


Here are some of the ones I’m enjoying this week.

This first one is well named; here are three views, two showing the opening buds.

Iris 'Drama Queen' 

Iris 'Drama Queen' 


Iris 'Drama Queen'

The intense color of this one amazes me: again, the developing buds are as fascinating as the open bloom.

Iris 'Rustler' 
Iris 'Rustler' 

Iris 'Color Strokes'

As the following two show, tall bearded  irises do black and close approaches to black very well. The falls on the first one are to my eyes as black as can be - it's as if some trick of the camera is taking place. 
Iris 'Black is Back' 

Iris 'Diabolique'
 The richness of color of this next one is better seen in the garden:
Iris 'Medici Prince' 
 This next one introduces us to the one color failing of tall bearded irises: none is what most people would see as a true red. To supply that lack, I plant corn poppies among my irises: see the second photo at the top of this page.
Iris 'Red Masterpiece'

Iris 'Social Graces' here with Allium (Nectaroscordum) siculum  
Iris 'Social Graces' in early morning light 

Iris 'New Leaf' 

Yellow peonies

Paeonia 'High Noon'
The yellow peony collection gets better year by year. There was a nice surprise in this department this year: a peony bought in 2009 as a tiny thing out of tissue culture and labeled 'First Arrival' bloomed for the first time this year. But it isn't 'First Arrival' : it's 'Bartzella'. Now there are two plants of 'Bartzella' in the collection, although the other one has yet to bloom and perhaps it, too, will have a surprise for me.

Here's the current line up, which includes herbaceous peonies, Itoh hybrids (partially woody) and tree peony hybrids.

This first one is the newly revealed 'Bartzella', an intersectional hybrid, sometimes confusingly called an Itoh hybrid, although it was raised by Roger Anderson , not by Itoh.

Paeonia 'Bartzella' 

The identity of this next one is not yet resolved: it came labeled Kinshi ( which should be 'Chromatella' but so far the flower does not resemble 'Chromatella').
Paeonia incertae sedis 

Here's 'Yellow Crown', maybe my favorite of these. This one is a hybrid raised by Itoh. The flower shown is about to fall apart.

Paeonia 'Yellow Crown'

The flower color of this next one, 'Roselette's Child', seems to depend a lot on temperature. It can be white, white with a peachy glow, or, rarely, the yellow you see here.

Paeonia 'Roselette's Child'

This next one is grand old 'Souvenir de Maxime Cornu'; this was probably the first lutea hybrid peony ever raised, and is now over a century old.
Paeonia 'Souvenir de Maxime Cornu' 

And here, again,  is  A. P. Saunders' 'High Noon', still, a half-century after it was raised, the only one of Saunders' hybrids to be widely available.

Paeonia 'High Noon'

And finally, a later addition: after I published this post, I realized that I had not included Paeonia 'Garden Treasure', Don Hollingworth's entry among the intersectional (Itoh) peonies. This has grown here since 2007, and was the first of the intersectional yellows to bloom here. Take a look:

Paeonia 'Garden Treasure' 
Paeonia 'Garden Treasure' 

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Acer ginnala the lilac scented maple





For the last two weeks or so, when I walk Biscuit in the morning and pass a next door neighbor's house, I've been noticing the scent of lilac. By now, the few Syringa vulgaris lilacs in the neighborhood are over for the year. The nearest tree lilacs are a few blocks away, too far for the scent to carry. 
Where in the world was the lilac scent coming from? 
As I passed under it I could see that the neighbor's small maple tree was in full bloom. But who ever heard of a fragrant maple? I knew this maple to be Acer ginnala, the Amur maple. I've been walking under this one for years and never before noticed the lilac scent. Perhaps this is the first year it has bloomed. I checked the books. Sure enough, some of them mention that it is fragrant (Bean in fact says very fragrant).  But none mentions that it is lilac scented. Who would not want a lilac scented maple? 


Aril bred iris time



I'm lucky enough to have known and grown arilate irises since I was in my twenties. But it has only been recently that I have confidence about growing them in the the garden, and so far that confidence extends only to the "easy" ones. Here are some of these easily managed hybrids. These were obtained in 2013 through the annual rhizome sale of the Aril Society International. I ordered eleven and they sent me fifteen. Only three of these bloomed in 2014, but this year the count is up to twelve.
What are aril bred irises? They are hybrids whose ancestry on the one hand includes members of the regelia and oncocylcus groups, and on the other tall bearded irirses. As a result, these hybrids show a range of variation from those with obvious oncocyclus ancestry to those which could easily pass as tall bearded irises.

Back in the 1930s, when William Mohr began to hybridize irises of this sort, there were three main characteristics of the oncocyclus species which were carried over into the best of the hybrids. One is the high-domed standards seen in the oncos;  another is the intricate veining seen in those species. And a third is the large black signal patch on the falls. What was not carried over from the onco parents was difficulty of culture. Some aril bred hybrids are touchy about summer moisture, but few are as much so as their onco ancestors.

That's the aril bred iris hybrid  'Grand Vizier' in the image above. It shows all three of the distinguishing characteristics of hybrids with onco ancestry: the high domed standards, the intricate veining and the black signal patch. Here's another view from a different angle:



Here is 'Byzantine Ruby', again with all three characteristics, but with the emphasis shifted to the big signal patch. The hybrid 'Big Black Bumblebee' is an earlier hybrid with this same characteristic.

Here is 'Desert Plum', with the veining somewhat muted:

Here is 'Bold Sentry' where the characteristics of the aril ancestry and tall bearded iris ancestry are well blended:

Here is 'Satan's Mistress' which could easily pass for a tall bearded iris:



And here is 'Doug Goodnight', another one well on the way to being a tall bearded iris:



Tree peony flowers: how to extend their life from days to weeks



In some respects, it's hard to believe that the last post was on March 26 of this year. Where did April go? Where, in fact, did spring go? We're still in the first half of May, and we have already had daytime temperatures in the 90s F. We shivered through most of April, and when the garden woke up, there was such a surge of growth that there was no keeping up with it. This has been the kind of year which makes me wonder if my gardening hobby has gotten so big that it's out of hand, if maybe it's time to begin cutting back. For instance, during the first two weeks of May I cut about 120 tree peony buds; they're in the refrigerator now. The ones I did not cut lasted about two days and are now heaps of petals shriveling on the ground. Past experience suggests that the ones in the refrigerator will last about two weeks. But there are so many other things stealing my attention: when will I have time to enjoy the tree peonies?
If you want to try to save your own tree peony buds in the refrigerator, these will show you how I do it. The system of double bagging the buds and blooms makes it simple to handle these otherwise very fragile blossoms.

The image below shows a single bud/bloom in a sandwich bag: poke a hole in a corner of the bag, insert the stem of the bloom through the hole, and carefully draw the bag up over the bud/bloom..

Below you see four buds packed into a gallon sized bag. After you have placed several in a gallon sized bag, add water to the gallon sized bag and be sure the stems poking out of the sandwich bags are in the water.


Here's a group of about thirty buds about to be moved to the refrigerator:

These bags of four make nice gifts to flower loving friends. Few people have ever had tree peony flowers, and even people who know them are often amazed at how magnificently these stored bloom expand when brought out into the light and warmth of a room. 

In the image at the top of this post is a tree peony obtained without a label. I don't like the imprecision of poor labels, so I hesitated to show this image. From the earliest days of imported tree peony plants, two of the most commonly cultivated "varieties" are  "tree peony without a label" and "tree peony which does not match its label".  But a rose by any other name...