Friday, May 18, 2012

Community garden plot update: poppies!

Agrostemma githago has been blooming freely for about a week, and the other day it was joined by poppies, poppies in numbers. These are corn poppies, Papaver rhoeas.They are gorgeous, exciting and so easy to grow. Like them? Make a note to yourself to buy the seeds in September and to sow them once you have cleared a space for them in the autumn garden.
Don't make the mistake of waiting for spring to sow the seeds. By then the plants should be several months old, not just starting out.
It took three things to make this display happen. Two were of the nature of inspiration from gardeners of the past. If you love poppies be sure to read, and read again and again,  Celia Thaxter's An Island Garden.(1894, Houghton Mifflin, available in an excellent paperback reissue of 1988).
Another old book provided another: J. Horace McFarland's My Growing Garden (1915, Macmillan). Color plate xviii shows an eighty foot border planted to mixed Shirley poppies with the caption "An ounce of Shirley poppy seed... sowed along an eighty-foot border... in mid-June came days of poppy glory." Here's a scan of that plate:

The planting in the images from my community plot is of two parallel forty foot borders: so my eighty foot poppy border has two mirror image sides.
And then there is the third thing: a source of quality, inexpensive poppy seed. Such a thing does exist: check out Wildseed Farms in Fredericksburg, Texas. McFarland's ounce will set you back all of $4.60 the last time I checked. Try to think of some other purchase of that amount which gives even remotely so much delight.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Flowers of the corn fields

Back in the mid 1970s a series of compact, information filled and very well illustrated little books came out of the Netherlands to be published in this country by Collier. They were authored by Rob Herwig. I have the ones treating bulbs, house plants and varied garden plants. The one treating varied garden plants was illustrated by Herwig and Wolfram Stehling. You can easily see the seeds of the so-called New American Garden in these books, and it's hard to avoid the point of view that the New American Garden was in fact America's belated adoption of pre-World War II north European gardening sensibilities.

When they were new, I pored over these little books and their illustrations, and even now, decades later, I still occasionally consult them.

The image above was inspired by a comment in Herwig's 128 Garden Plants You Can Grow. Writing about corn poppies and bachelor's buttons, he wrote "It is very effective to grow some wheat or barley with these flowers, reminding one of old-fashioned wheat fields." I've been waiting decades to make this image!

The plants shown are corn poppies, Papaver rhoeas; corn cockle, Agrostemma githago, and what might be wheat. The corn poppies and corn cockle are from my community garden plots; the grass is that sold as "cat grass", grass intended for consumption by domestic cats. Keep in mind that the word "corn" in these names does not refer to what we call corn here in America, but rather refers to grains in general.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Mixed gleanings from the May garden

There is so much happening in the garden now that it's hard to keep up with it. There is so much to do, and it's hard to take the time to appreciate things properly. Here are some recent glimpses from the garden:

First, Silene virginica, the fire pink. This plant grows wild in eastern North America, and one might expect to find it in every garden. But it's not a common garden plant at all, although it's readily available in the trade.

Here's another plant which, if easy availability and low price were considerations, one would also expect to find in many gardens. This is Ixiolirion tataricum (aka I. pallasii, I. montanum among many others). In this case its scarcity in local gardens probably has an explanation in the plant's requirement for dry summer conditions. Other than that, it appears to be easy to grow.

Here's Zephyranthes atamasco, said to be native to Maryland. I've never noticed a fragrance with this plant.

Here you can see the elongating scapes of culinary leeks. When they bloom they are as handsome as the ornamental onions. The related elephant garlic (which is a form of Allium ampeloprasum, the same species from which the culinary leek is derived) is even more ornamental as it approaches bloom: the spathe which sheathes the umbel of flowers suggests the onion domes of Russian churches.

The past winter was so mild that plants of cilantro (coriander) survived and are now blooming.

Here are some of the roses blooming now. First, 'Chevy Chase', a rose raised here in the greater Washington, D.C. area about seventy-five years ago. This is a very vigorous climbing rose with excellent, disease free foliage. The flowers are not fragrant, and the plant does not repeat, but other than that it is about as good as a rose gets. Few local gardeners seem to know about it; when I talk roses with a new acquaintance and they indicate that they know about 'Chevy Chase', I know I've found a new rose friend.

This is 'White Cockade', a climbing rose introduced about forty years ago; it's noted for very disease resistant foliage.

And here is 'Alida Lovett', one of the famous Van Fleet roses from the beginning of the Twentieth Century.

Here's a once famous mid-nineteenth century rose 'Rêve d’Or', one of the Noisette or tea-Noisette roses. This rose is a good example of what passed for yellow among rose enthusiasts of the time.  The best of the roses of this group combine beautifully blended soft colors with sweet fragrance.

This next one is 'Silver Moon', another Van Fleet rose, and one said to be a hybrid of Rosa laevigata. Rosa laevigata, sometimes called the Cherokee rose, is naturalized in the far southern states; it's noted for its huge white flowers. It's not hardy in the north, and it's not surprising that hybridists made an early effort to produce a rose such as 'Silver Moon' which is,  in effect, a hardy Cherokee rose.

Here's one last one for today: 'Eddie's Crimson', a hybrid of Rosa moyesii.

There is more on the way!

Sometimes it feels so good to be wrong...

While driving home the other day a bit of color on the road caught my eye. As the car passed, something attached to that bit of color flapped. My first thought was that one of the newly returned  warblers had been a victim of automobile traffic.  I thought I saw pale yellow, maybe a spot of orange, some blue-gray. My imagination quickly converted that quick glance into a Parula warbler.

At the first chance I had I pulled the car over and walked back to examine the casualty. I'm happy to say that it was not a Parula warbler. It was not even a bird. Here's what it was:

This is the flower of the tulip tree, Liriodendron tulipifera.  The genus name Liriodendron is formed from the classical Greek words for lily and tree; the name of the species, tulipifera, is New Latin and means "tulip bearing".  Many people are surprised when they learn that it is a member of the magnolia family. And those flowers do look like tulips - there is a horticultural class of tulips sometimes called Viridiflora tulips, some of which have green flowers.

In popular parlance there is another "tulip tree" in our gardens: the early flowering magnolias are often so called.

All of my adult life I've been curious about the source of a scent which fills our local woods early in the growing season. I think that scent might be from the Liriodendron tulip trees. This scent is apparent long before the flowers open, so it must be coming from the new vegetative growth if in fact it is coming from the tulip trees. For me, this scent defines the scent "woodsy". 

Smilax walteri

After a very long wait, Smilax walteri has finally bloomed here. I collected the seed of this plant about twenty years ago in southeastern Virginia during the same trip on which seed of Smilax laurifolia was collected. Smilax walteri is one member of this genus which is worth having for its showy fruit: it's sometimes called the coral berry cat brier. It was my original intention to make this post later in the year when the fruit was in color. When I saw the developing flower buds earlier this year the excitement began to mount. Finally the little rust colored buds began to open. Something about them reminded me of the flowers of the little orchid Aplyctrum hyemale. Once the flowers were open, I picked one with the intention of cross-pollinating other open blooms. That's when the big disappointment came: the flower I had plucked had only stamens. A quick check confirmed that all of the flowers had only stamens. There won't be any coral berries this year.
There was supposed to be an image of the flower with this posting, but if I took one I can't find it now. I remember taking a picture, or rather thinking I was taking a picture, but it must have been one of those times I ran out without a memory card in the camera.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Community garden update

Growth at the community garden plots has surged since the last post on this topic. The 40' parallel rows of corn cockle, corm poppy and larkspurs are finally starting to bloom. The lilies are budded and some seem on the verge of bloom. Hard neck garlics are putting up their scapes: I'm growing these as much for their scapes as for their potential use in the kitchen. There has been a scattering of rose bloom, too. The ornamental onions and Dutch irises are still blooming freely.