Sunday, September 30, 2007
Saturday, September 29, 2007
Incidentally, that natural pairing of goldenrod and aster is easily reproduced in the garden. The goldenrod 'Fireworks' makes a particularly good companion.
Other New England aster cultivars have been introduced to the garden, too, and these have crossed with the original plant to produce seedlings in an array of silvery pink, rich pink, dull purple-blue and saturated wine red. The cultivar 'Alma Potschke' provides a color unique among the New England aster cultivars, a vibrant, intense pink-red unlike any other color I know in the genus.
This species is characterized by rough, sometimes clammy, scented foliage. Plants are typically four or five feet high, sometimes more. They begin to bloom in August, although the early flowers are not numerous or conspicuous. They are still blooming in October. Left to grow without attention, they form thick clumps of rigid stems. The counsel of perfection is to divide them annually, spacing each plant about eighteen inches from its neighbor. Don't ask me if I've ever done this.
Other asters growing in the garden include Aster cordifolius (aka Symphyotrichum cordifolium), Aster divaricatus (aka Eurybia divaricata), Aster umbellatus (Doellingeria umbellata) and Aster amellus (aka Aster amellus). The names in parentheses here are old names newly revived to express more clearly the interrelationships of these plants.
Aster cordifolius seeds itself around freely and forms low mounds of smoky blue gray in October.
Aster amellus is one of the European asters, asters which have a variable track record as garden plants in this part of the country. On trial now is the cultivar 'Doktor Otto Petschek'.
One other aster once grew abundantly in this garden but was eventually expelled: the frost aster. This is the small-flowered, weedy aster often seen blooming from cracks in streets or sidewalks, or in rough dry waste places. It's not unusual to see plants blooming even in December, and so it would seem to have value as a late blooming garden plant. But once brought into the garden, it quickly sheds its former poverty and waxes lush and overbearing. When growing well, a single plant can form a four or five foot hemisphere of bloom; and at that late season these plants can be a boon to bees and other nectar foragers. In the border they produce a mist-like lightness of bloom which is very beautiful. After such prolific bloom, the borders will be full of volunteer seedlings the next year and for years thereafter. And the parent plants are rhizomatous, too, and get around freely. Eventually it dawned on me: it's high maintenance and too much of a good thing. Now I enjoy these in the local fields.
Monday, September 17, 2007
Where is it coming from? It's coming from the surviving kudzu which grows high up into the trees which grow on a formerly abandoned lot now converted into parkland. Years ago, the kudzu sprawled over the area covering acres of space. When the area was cleaned up and opened as a park, there was an outcry to get rid of the kudzu. Much of the kudzu was removed, then the embankments over which it previously sprawled began to erode as many cubic yards of earth washed out during storms. Once the kudzu was gone, the mile-a-minute vines moved in and successfully occupied virtually every square foot formerly covered in kudzu. How's that for out of the frying pan and into the fire?
Few people are probably old enough to remember when kudzu was grown as an ornamental. One sometimes still sees it shading country porches. Since it's fully capable of completely covering any house, one wonders how much time is spent keeping it under control.
I'm tempted to host a gathering for some of my gardening friends at which I'll serve foods made with some of the less usual products of plants we grow. What will I be able to make with kudzu flour? If I decide to keep to a Japanese theme, there will also be something made with konjac, maybe something made with gobo.
Sunday, September 9, 2007
The plants in the image were grown from seed; I simply scattered the seed on the ground, stepped back, and two years later the plants were large enough to bloom. Now that I've grown this plant for several years, I'm beginning to suspect that it has some potential which has largely been ignored. Isolated plants definitely fall into the "curiosity" category: they are not at all showy. But in a large group, this plant has potential. Now that I think about it, it would make a good border for an extensive planting of Begonia grandis. Another nice association is that with Iris dichotoma, although the iris is apt to reach its peak before the Barnardia starts. The earlier colchicums bloom at about the same time and mix nicely.
The Barnardia puts up foliage in the autumn, but this foliage does not persist through the winter.
Although the individual flowers of the Barnardia might remind some of those of Liriope or Ophiopogon, the seed capsules and seeds will not.
Friday, September 7, 2007
This species flowered here for the first time about seven years ago. That corm had come from an English source (although doubtless Dutch grown); it was small when received, and it took a year or two of TLC to bring it up to blooming size. The year after it bloomed it rotted during the summer. That plant had a much smaller flower than the one shown above but was otherwise similar.
I got a second chance last year with a corm imported from Janis Ruksans. This one too was small and did not bloom but it did grow well. During the summer I was careful to keep it dry. When checked for the penultimate time in mid August, it seemed fine. When checked again a week ago, I was crushed: the corm had shrivelled badly, leaving only a small bit of living tissue. That living scrap is now in the refrigerator in a zip-lock bag. It seems to be recuperating.
The flower shown above came as a corm in mid-August from JMcG, my source of choice for intriguing bulbs. This one has a flower about three inches in diameter - more if it's flattened out - and is everything I've been hoping for from this species. It is indeed "the glorie of all these kindes."
Firmly lodged in the "all the rest" category are the bottle gentians. We would probably appreciate these much more if some of their overweeningly beautiful relatives did not exist. But the bottle gentians are like those people who exist in the shadow of a deservedly celebrated sibling: the best they can hope for is a bit of reflected glow.
I would not want to be without the bottle gentians. For one thing, they have taken care of themselves in my bog trays for years. The earliest ones are blooming now; there are others which do not bloom until late October or early November. The soft blue, curiously shaped flowers are always a pleasure in the late garden. I've never noticed a fragrance, but the local bumble bees seem to be obsessed with the flowers.
Most gentians have an elegance of bearing and form which is characteristic of the group. The bottle gentians share this: long before the flowers show color, the developing buds are very interesting. Years ago, I had a pot surfaced with one of the local mosses. In the pot grew some bottle gentians and the little Japanese orchid called egret flower (Pecteilis/Habenaria/Platanthera). The orchid and the bottle gentians didn't bloom together, but for months that little pot was the source of keen interest and pleasure.
What induces flowering in this plant? A few weeks ago, while I was visiting in western Virginia, I saw this plant blooming freely in local gardens. I'm pretty sure the plants at home were not even showing flower buds at that time. The area in question is south of here. You would think that the farther south you went, the later the plants would bloom, not the earlier.
And how can the scent of the flowers be described? It's a complex scent, one of those scents which elicits different descriptions from different people. To some it smells like vanilla, to others almond, to others like both of those but with a bit of lemon added; a neighbor recently mentioned that one she once had smelled like ginger.
If you are as old as I am, for decades you knew this plant as Clematis paniculata. If you get the same catalogs I do, perhaps you remember the same confusion when you read about hybrids of Clematis paniculata which, as you read the description, sure didn't sound like the plant out in the garden. That Clematis paniculata is a New Zealand species. The plant in the garden has had many names over the years, but is now generally called C. maximowicziana.
In nearby northern Virginia, on the drive down to Alexandria, one passes areas where what seem to be acres are blanketed with a white-flowered, late-summer blooming clematis; is it this species or is it C. virginiana?
On the other hand, there is plenty to do inside in setting up databases for printing labels later, web site stuff, blogging stuff and things like that.
To me it has always seemed so odd that so many people look forward so much to summer. You can have it as far as I'm concerned. I'll never understand why anyone would take their vacation during July or August unless they are leaving this area and heading for somewhere with conditions fit for human activity. Instead, a lot of people in this area leave the metropolitan areas and head over to the ocean beaches where the conditions are even worse. Who in their right mind wants to walk on scorching sand in their bare feet during the summer? Who in their right mind would leave the areas regularly sprayed for insects and explore the marshes, the marshes which are so poetically beautiful in November but which in July and August reek of dead fish and rotting algae. Years ago I went on a bird watching trip to one of the Atlantic barrier islands. The night was still. We slept in tents. In the morning, I opened the zipper of the tent fly just enough to get my hand out and grab the outer zipper. Within seconds, the back of my hand was black with ravenous mosquitoes. What great choices: stay in the stifling tent all day to avoid the mosquitoes, slather yourself with toxic mosquito repellents, suffocate under protective clothing. The one sensible choice -decamp to the nearest McDonald's - was nixed because we hadn't seen the birds we had driven for four hours to see. I didn't mention those four hour drives to get to the beaches, did I: why does any sane person endure that?
Add to those miseries those elicited by the introduction of the Asian tiger mosquito and the upsurge in deer ticks: summer is for masochists, or at least for people in deep, very deep, denial about what's really happening around them. And what's so great about the summer flora? All those coarse, weedy, daisy things and grasses and impatiens and petunias rolled off the bolt by the square yard and vines which might inspire a new version of Laocoön statuary: I can see it now, a struggling Laocoön and his sons wreathed in bindweed and dodder, their skin lacerated by festoons of mile-a-minute plant. I would just put a trowel in the hand of one of them and re-title the statue The Gardeners Of Summer.
And then there is the dilemma of air conditioning. Generally speaking, I hate it. During that fortunately brief period when the temperature is well into the 90s F late into the evening, I sometimes give in and run the air conditioner. But is a summer being forced to stay in an air conditioned building different than so many other kinds of imprisonment? How are we supposed to hear the cicadas and katydids through tightly closed windows and over the incessant hum, rumble and whirring of the condenser and fans? Where is the sense of relief which comes with the evening and its sometimes cooler temperatures? Lightning bugs are not the same viewed through the house windows.
Summer also stinks, literally. When the neighbors have a crab feast and decide to dump the aggressively odoriferous evidence over the back fence,the entire neighborhood wakes up to vibrant reek which only a raccoon could love. Forget to cover the garbage? Want to wake up fast on a summer morning?Lift the lid of the formerly uncovered garbage can and try to suppress the retching as you count the zillions of lively maggots ravening the garbage.
And need I mention that after an hour or two of trying to slug it out on a hot summer day, I’m not about to be confused with a Sweet William myself? I’ll bet I’m not the only one who makes a bee line for the shower as soon as the lawn mower is put away.
I mentioned deep denial above; summer is the season when even the most optimistic among us in this area abjures the word "alpine". Yes, it's a thing much to be desired. Just the thing to include in your vacation plans. But for those of us who stay put, summer invites us to wake up and smell the coffee, the roses, or more likely a gag-inducing whiff of the now-well-scattered remains of the small mammal which inauspiciously took shelter in that lawn mower.
Ever heard of aestivation? I recommend it highly.
Sunday, September 2, 2007
I don't know who Darlow is or was, but I can partially explain the enigma. There has long been controversy among rosarians about the identity of the so-called musk rose. At the end of the nineteenth century, there still existed a rose which had been grown in British gardens for a long time, perhaps centuries, and was known as musk rose. Under British conditions, this rose began to bloom late in the season, sometimes not until August. One of the puzzles of modern horticulture is whether this plant still exists. There is a plant making the rounds which seems to fit the old descriptions; evidently it is not reliably hardy here in the greater Washington, D.C. area. This is one of the parents of the Noisette roses.
My guess is that 'Darlow's Enigma' was a candidate at one time for consideration as the true musk rose. Do any of you know the whole story?
Several years ago, an internet friend, Joe, was in the area and came by to see the garden. As we took the tour, I was pointing out things here and there; as we passed under the pergola, Joe offhandedly said "Oh, I see you have 'Darlow's Enigma'!" I was dumbfounded. First of all, as roses go, 'Darlow's Enigma' is rather nondescript. I would be reluctant to identify it in another garden. For another, I doubt that many people grow it. How in the world did he even know about it? It turns out that in an earlier incarnation he had managed an antique rose collection.
The chrome-yellow flowers in this image are one of the "yellow" forms of Campsis radicans. Catalogs often illustrate a bright lemon yellow campsis, and if such a thing exists, I would very much like to have it. The color of this chrome-yellow form is a disappointment to me.
Impressive as the intense flower color is, it disappears when the plants are viewed from any distance. And it takes a lot of flowers in this color to make much of a splash. But there is a real sense of satisfaction to be had in viewing such a vibrant blue in the garden.
It has taken a while for me to become comfortable with the idea that this is a reliably hardy perennial in our climate. But local gardeners have been growing this plant for at least twenty years that I know of. If we go back to having severe winters, perhaps we'll lose them; but for now, I'm using this plant freely in some of the borders.
The one shown in the image above is the one called 'Black and Blue'. I also grow the form with a green calyx and the same intense cobalt corolla color. The pale blue of 'Argentine Skies' is a lovely color, too, but it does not move me the way the cobalt-colored forms do.