Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Peepers at KenGar: take a listen!

It's about 7 P.M. February 29, 2012. I've just come back from the local wetland site of the peeper ponds. It's raining and the temperature is about50 ⁰ F (about 10⁰ C): good conditions for the annual emergence of the peepers. I listened carefully and I think I heard two widely separated peeps. That's justification enough for me to make this posting. Tomorrow the temperature is predicted to be about ten degrees F higher, and sometime during the day the big choruses should start.

What are peepers? They're small (almond-sized) frogs.  For well over a century peepers were known as Hyla crucifer; in fact, the vernacular name hylas is still used. But in modern arrangements they are called Pseudacris crucifer. I attended an Episcopalian funeral recently and was intrigued to see that there is a participant in the ceremony called the crucifer. The word literally means cross bearer. The frog merits the name because of the big X on its back.
Here's a link to a recording I made last April at the same ponds. The sound of the peepers is accompanied by images of tommies, Crocus tommasinianus.

Some familiar crocuses

Here is a selection of some of the readily available crocuses sold as "snow crocuses", "chrysanthus hybrid crocuses" or "species crocuses".

In the top row, left to right, Crocus ancyrensis 'Golden Bunch',  'Goldilocks', maybe 'Fuscotinctus', 'Gipsy Girl', and Crocus olivieri balansae 'Zwanenburg'

In the lower level, left to right, 'Snowbunting', 'Romance', 'Art Schenk', 'Blue Pearl', 'Lady Killer' and 'Spring Beauty'

The name Zwanenburg which appears in some of these names was the name of the homestead where the van Tubergen family started their famous bulb company in the second half of the nineteenth century.  

The plant in the middle of the top row was received as 'Zwanenburg Bronze', but that's not what it is. Any ideas? I've called it 'Fuscotinctus' but that's a guess.  

'Spring Beauty' is sold as Crocus biflorus isauricus 'Spring Beauty' but it appears to be Crocus minimus. 

Note: some of the blossoms shown above are much bigger than others. This is largely but not entirely due to the age of the flower. Some were picked as soon as they emerged above ground, some had been above ground for days and were fully developed. However, the one shown as Crocus olivieri balansae 'Zwanenburg' remains relatively small.


I don't have an image or a sound recording for this, but one of the big excitements of the season is taking place daily now: when I walk Biscuit in the morning we see and hear formations of geese heading north. This is a moving, even thrilling, thing to experience.  I used the pronoun "we" deliberately in that first sentence: Biscuit will look up into the sky and watch as the geese pass. The group we saw this morning easily numbered over one hundred geese.

I've always assumed that these birds respond to the changing day length rather than to temperature: is that true?

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Some familiar netted iris

Above you see a series of netted (reticulate) irises which gives an idea of what is readily available among these plants. Throughout my life I watched some of these go from expensive rarities to improbably inexpensive staples of the bulb trade. In common with so many other bulbs raised in their millions by the highly skilled commercial growers,  these irises do not get the respect they deserve from most gardeners. They are so dependably available year after year and so inexpensive that few gardeners evidently think them worth the bother to take seriously. And as the indifferent gardener soon discovers, simply planting the bulbs in the garden and then walking away is the short cut to eventual disappointment. Most do not persist without some help.
Yet there is one which does persist: the old form of Iris reticulata which was the only readily available form when I was a boy. And how long does it persist? There are plants here which were planted in, I think, 1963. But that one is the exception.

They thrive in an easily penetrated, high mineral soil of high pH; summer drought is essential. Pot culture with annual re-potting and summer storage of the pots under cover of some sort of rain cover sometimes works well. One summer I dug some after the foliage had ripened and stored them (with their numerous offset bulbs clustered around the big ones) for the summer in improvised paper envelops made of newspaper; these were stored in the basement. When I examined them in the autumn, I was amazed that even the smallest bulbs were still plump and ready to go.

In the early twentieth century all the variants which appeared were generally regarded as forms of Iris reticulata. Several of these very old cultivars are still in commerce (or the names are!): 'Krelagei', 'J.S. Dijt' and E.A. Bowles’ ‘Cantab’. Later introductions show the plain influence of Iris histrioides and we can safely call these hybrids. These include such handsome forms as  ‘Joyce’ and ‘Harmony’. With others such as ‘Spring Time’ and ‘Pixie’ it’s hard to say. In any case they are all well worth having.

In the photo above you see left to right, in the top row, Iris danfordiae, Iris winogradowii, 'Katharine Hodgkin', 'Cantab' and 'Harmony'.  In the bottom row are 'J.S. Dijt', 'Joyce', 'Pauline', 'Spring Time', 'Pixie' and 'Lady Beatrix Stanley'. I hope I've got the names right!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Lady Beatrix Stanley and Edward Augustus Bowles stop by for a visit.

Lady Beatrix Stanley and Mr. Edward Augustus Bowles visited today. They left their floral calling cards: an iris and a snowdrop from each. The irises are 'Lady Beatrix Stanley' (the larger, darker  blue on the right  in the image) and ‘Cantab’, raised by Mr. Bowles in the early twentieth century. Bowles called this iris his "turquoise treasure" in My Garden in Spring, where it is obvious that he is proud of his accomplishment.  He fills a page and then some with asseverations and supplications to the deities governing pride before daring to even give the name, 'Cantab', of this beauty. The snowdrops are ‘Lady Beatrix Stanley’ (the one with the thick rosette of multiplied inners) and ‘Augustus’, named for Edward Augustus.

In the other image you see them in 1935, in the throes of judging a daffodil show. This image comes from The Daffodil and Tulip Year Book 1955 published by the Royal Horticultural Society. If you are the copyright owner of this image and you object to its usage here, notify me and I will remove it.

To fill out the arrangement, there are a pansy, a Cyclamen persicum leaf and blooms of Helleborus foetidus and garden hellebores.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Winter blues got you down? This might help.

This one is for those of you who are experiencing a really bad winter. Click on the link below to see a brief YouTube video I put together last April. It's a little slide show of spring flowers accompanied by a sound track of our local birds singing in the rain. The image above is one of the images from the slide show - that's the ancient daffodil cultivar 'Maximus'. It's been known for over four hundred years.For me, it's the sound track of the birds which does it.

Here's the link:

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Netted irises

The irises shown here, blooming today in the open, are typical examples of the netted irises or, as they are more commonly called, reticulate irises.The name comes from the appearance of the fibers which cover the bulb: the fibers form a net-like pattern: the word reticulata in Latin means (among other things) netted.The name reticulate irises has successfully spawned confusion with the name of the species Iris reticulata, once the best known member of the group. But most of the garden irises called reticulate irises are in fact hybrids, not simply forms of Iris reticulata itself. To counteract that confusion, I'm using the older term netted iris.

The irises of this group are sometimes placed in a genus of their own, Iridodictyum, from the classical Greek word τó δκτυον for fishing net. This word Iridodictyum probably looks rather forbidding to those of you without a backgrouind in the ways of botanical nomenclature; but it's simply a restatement in romanized Greek of what the combination Iris reticulata says in Latin. Note that while Iris is feminine, Iridodictyum is neuter, so if you use Iridodictyum, you'll have to change some of the species names to agree with a neuter genus. Thus, Iris reticulata would become Iridodictyum reticulatum. In German they are called (among other names) die Netziris, from the German word das Netz for net.

They are easily grown with one caveat which one ignores at great risk: in our climate most of them require a very dry summer to persist from year to year. I'm experiencing an illustration of this now in my own garden: for years I covered the iris beds with a glass door during the dormant period of the irises. During those years the plants increased in numbers and size. Last summer I did not cover the beds. This year there are many disappointing gaps in the plantings. Mice, rabbits and deer do not seem to bother these plants, but hot, moist soil can be deadly when they are dormant.

Shown above is the hybrid 'Pixie'.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Tommy time

Tommies are in full bloom this week. These are Crocus tommasinianus, in many respects the best crocus for our gardens.

Buying tommies can be tricky because the widely marketed forms such as 'Ruby Giant' are not really true tommies. They are probably hybrids with Crocus vernus. But even if that is not the case, the forms such as 'Ruby Giant' do not behave in the garden the way true tommies do. True tommies seed around and form thick clumps of bloom; if you have the time to spend with them when they are in bloom, you'll notice that every plant is just a bit different from its neighbors.

When they are naturalized in lawns in their hundreds they produce a charming (but fleeting) effect on warm winter days. Look for the ripening seed capsules in late April; collect and then scatter the seeds to get colonies going in other parts of the garden.

If a gardening friend offers you some crocus corms with the comment "I don't know the name of this one - it's the little purple one that you see in old lawns in February", accept them with thanks! That was the source of one clump here in the garden.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Iris lazica

This is Iris lazica, a winter blooming species very close to Iris unguicularis (which  also blooms at this time of year).  Winter bloom is more likely if the plants have the protection of a cold frame (which this one does), although Iris lazica is evidently hardy enough to thrive in the open garden. But don't expect mid-winter flowers from plants in the open during a typically cold winter.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Magnolia stellata joins the fray

As if not to be left behind, Magnolia stellata has started to bloom. Or at least one blossom has opened.

An Internet friend reported hearing frogs in Indiana today; I stopped by the local peeper ponds but did not hear anything except red-winged  blackbirds.

The thermometer on the shady side of the house showed a bit over 70 degrees F this afternoon.