Thursday, October 25, 2012

Hamamelis virginiana

Because this plant has been in this garden for decades, one might think I knew to expect its flowering every year. But that's not the case. I was in the garden this afternoon checking out another plant when the slightly pungent scent of the witch hazel flowers caught my attention. Then I looked around and saw it - and noticed that it was blooming freely. This yellow-flowered witch hazel is the plant on which our plant of Hamamelis 'Feuerzauber' is grafted. How the sprouts escaped my attention long enough to form a substantial flowering mass is a mystery to me. But now they are so handsome and so profuse that cutting them out is out of the question.

We are entering the time of year when what flowers there are are apt to be right down at ground level. But we still have the Osmanthus, Elaeagnus, autumn camellias and witch hazel to keep us looking up.

When I wrote about this plant before, I expressed doubts about its identity. I feel more certain now. Take a look here: 

× Mangave 'Macho Mocha'

From a distance this one looks like one of those prickly desert plants you don't want to bump into. It looks a lot like its relatives in the genus Agave. In fact, the entire plant is pliable and rather rubber-like: even the little points at the tips of the leaves are soft. I've had this plant for three years. It spent the first winter in a cold frame. It spent last winter up against the house wall with a tarp over it at night and on severely cold days. Last winter was hardly a winter at all: some dahlias and potatoes survived even in exposed places.

The plant has grown so much that it will not easily fit into the cold frames. I frankly doubt that it will survive the winter in a pot above ground no matter how well protected. So I'm not sure what to do with it.

I had hoped that it would bloom this year. The inflorescence of this plant is a real production: imagine a purple asparagus about the size of a broom stick. Maybe we'll get to see that next year.

About the name:  ×Mangave is a nothogenus set up to name hybrids between plants nominally assigned to the genera Manfreda and Agave. Manfreda, Agave and Polianthes are so closely related that some species form hybrids readily. I'm of the point of view that if plants are capable of crossing and forming viable progeny, then it makes no sense at all to place them in separate genera - in fact, if the progeny are not only viable but are capable of producing viable offspring themselves, then that suggests that appearances notwithstanding the plants in question are all of one species. To me it makes better sense to consider most so-called intergeneric hybrids not hybrids at all but simply evidence of one morphologically variable species.  So I'm using the name × Mangave only reluctantly.  

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Thamnophis sirtalis : An unexpected visitor

A bit after 10 P.M. last night I took Biscuit out for some fresh air. On returning, as I was coming up the front steps, a familiar but unexpected color pattern caught my eye: there was a young garter snake resting in the topmost branches of the winter jasmine.  The only light came from the porch light, and in retrospect I wonder how in the world I even noticed this. The snake seemed unperturbed by my presence.

It was still there this morning when I checked at about 6:30 A.M. When I checked again at about 8:30 A.M. it was there, but it had changed position and was beginning to move. The temperature then was 55 degrees F., and it was beginning to rain. I watched it slowly slip down into the jasmine bush and disappear.

High temperatures today are expected to be near 80 degrees F., so it's still snake season.

The image above was taken last night with a flash.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Three easy autumn blooming crocuses

Here are three crocuses blooming here today; shown here are, top to bottom, Crocus kotschyanus "my acuminate form", Crocus longiflorus and Crocus goulimyi. Each of these is well adapted to local conditions. Crocus kotschyanus is perhaps the most widely sold autumn crocus - and almost always the least expensive. However, many of the forms in commerce are not worth having because they either do not bloom freely, or, if they do bloom, they produce malformed flowers.
The form of Crocus kotschyanus shown here I'm calling "my acuminate form" because the forms of Crocus kotschyanus usually grown do not have prominently acuminate tepals (acuminate here refers to the points at the tips of the tepals). The history of this plant is discussed briefly here:

The second image shows Crocus longiflorus, a species worth growing for its fragrance.

The third image shows Crocus goulimyi. This species did not become widespread in cultivation until relatively recently, perhaps within the last thirty years, and when stocks began to be available there were complaints that it lacked cold hardiness. It's from southwestern Greece. As things turned out, at least in this garden it's probably the autumn -blooming crocus best adapted to our conditions.

These autumn blooming crocuses are a fleeting presence in the garden, and heavy rain can quickly destroy the flowers. But a patch of them blooming in a sunny spot in the late garden, especially the very fragrant ones, is an invitation to lie down, stretch out on the ground and enjoy the pleasure they have to offer.  

Rosa 'Variegata di Bologna'

I first saw this rose in the garden of Philadelphia rose enthusiast Richard Thomson in 1967, and it's been a favorite ever since. The plant forms a big, upright shrub from the branches of which the full, globular flowers  loll gracefully. Roses striped in this way are among the oldest garden roses, and of all the ones I have seen, 'Variegata di Bologna' seems to have the sharpest, clearest variegation. Yes, it's sweetly fragrant, too. Most of the flowers come early in the rose season, although a few appear later in the year.

Of the two photos here, the upper is a legacy image scanned from a Kodachrome slide taken during that 1967 visit. The other is from 2010, taken in the home garden.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Rosa 'Tuscany Superb'

This is Rosa 'Tuscany Superb' or as it is sometimes called 'Superb Tuscany'. 'Tuscany' itself is an even older rose, and to paraphrase the way one commentator put it, 'Tuscany Superb' is everything 'Tuscany' is but better. Graham Thomas does not give a date of introduction for 'Tuscany Superb', but it had been noticed by the middle of  nineteenth century. Rix and Phillips say "raised by Thomas Rivers in England shortly before 1837." Its fragrance is as deep and intense as its color. By the time this rose was recognized, the floral style which it represents was already falling out of style. But it is an amazing example of that style: in particular, notice how the individual petals are so distinct and seemingly so substantial:  it's easy to see why 'Tuscany' itself was called the velvet rose.

No, it's not blooming now. The photo was taken back in mid-May; it certainly deserves a post of its own - I'm not sure how I overlooked this one at the time. 

'Sheffield Yellow' chrysanthemum

This is a relatively new plant for me; it's now in its second year. The similar mum called 'Sheffield' has been in the garden for years, and it is one of my favorite plants for the late garden. Also on hand: 'Cambodian Queen', this one is pink, but a cold pink, not the warm, almost salmon color of 'Sheffield'. You can see a weather worn bloom of 'Cambodian Queen' in the upper right hand corner of this image.

These mums are so prolific and do so well as garden plants that they more than earn their keep. I wish the same could be said for the potted mums so widely sold at this time of year. Most of these do not survive the first winter in the garden; occasionally one will establish itself, and I'm trying to work up the nerve to beg one such from a neighbor. 

Scenes from my morning walk

Biscuit and I took the long walk this morning. We crossed the creek and walked over to the ball field. Here are some scenes from along the way. The timing was just right to catch the maples in full color in the morning sunlight - wonderful! The walk around the ball field can be surprisingly relaxing: big open spaces such as that help to decompress. The slight slope with the path looked especially picturesque in the low morning sun. The view of the creek was taken from the automobile bridge: it was the reflection of the blue sky which first caught my eye. All of this is just a two or three minute walk from our front door. 

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Aster 'Ezo Murasaki' and Tinantia pringlei : a pretty combination

Here the garden is putting on another of those last minute flings which the gardener wishes were there much earlier. I didn't plan this combination, it just happened. The aster here is a late blooming one; the Tinantia has been blooming for weeks but gets better as frost approaches. Some Crocus speciosus or Crocus goulimyi would be nice additions, or even some saffron crocuses. Maybe next year...

Acer saccharum the sugar maple

How's that for getting the autumn leaf spectacle off to a good start?

This sugar maple grows in a nearby park. It's not one of the local, native sugar maples, but rather a planted cultivar selected for good leaf color.

Update, October 28, 2012: this tree has already dropped its leaves, and the leaves lie in a colorless mass on the ground. Sic transit...

Asclepias physocarpa

Garden visitors often pass by some of the most beautiful plants without so much as a little comment, but when they get to this one they almost always stop and ask at least "what is that?" What it is is a milkweed from southern Africa. But it's rarely the plant they are asking about: it's those swollen hairy pods which decorate the plant at this time of year which catch the eye.

Old names for the plant listed by Wikipedia are balloon plant, balloon cotton-bush and swan plant. I've never heard it called any of those names, but the name I know is the one Wikipedia, perhaps prudishly, omits: who was the wit who coined the hilariously appropriate name "family jewels plant" for this one?

Ok, quit staring and let's move on...

Three late blooming sages

A wide array of late blooming sub-tropical sages is now available by mail order or even at local garden centers. These bring gorgeous colors and striking form into the late garden, but like dahlias they are at their best just before the first killing freezes. The ones I've tried seem to be more frost tolerant than dahlias, and some of them will survive the winter outside if well protected. A cutting planted in May should form a three or four foot bush by October.

When they bloom seems to be influenced by the amount of sun they get. In full sun they seem to bloom a bit earlier. But the basic influence for bloom seems to be day length, and most of the cultivars I've tried are precariously late. A century ago the common cosmos of gardens, Cosmos bipinnatus, existed in gardens only as very late forms which bloomed just before the first good freezes finished them off. The cosmos forms grown now seem insensitive to day length and bloom all summer. Is some forward looking Salvia breeder working on day length neutral Salvia? Will we ever have Mexican sage blooming in the June garden?

The ones in the images here are (at the top)  the Mexican sage Salvia leucantha and two forms of the pineapple sage, Salvia elegans (long grown as Salvia rutilans). The one with yellowish foliage is 'Golden Delicious' and the other one is 'Tangerine'. All of these are widely available and  can be thought of as the "beginner" sages for those starting in on these very handsome plants. Because they are so readily available, it's tempting to let them freeze in the garden when the time comes, but they can be started from cuttings or the entire clump can be cut back, dug, and heeled in against the house wall or in some other protected place where there is a good chance it will survive. Or the plants can be potted up, cut back severely, and grown on in the house during the winter. Such overwintered plants produce much bigger garden plants the following year. 

Friday, October 19, 2012

Bessera elegans

Elegant indeed, this striking Mexican plant makes a nice addition to the summer garden. It's not cold hardy here and must be dug for the winter. It will be great when I have enough of these for cutting. Each flower is about the diameter of a quarter. Note the blue pollen. 

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Rosa “St Leonard”

Another box of roses arrived yesterday. The one you see above came out of the box in bloom, and a fresh flower was open this morning. This is a rose which has almost certainly grown in Maryland for at least a century, and  might just date to pre-Civil War times.

Mrs. Keays' Old Roses, published in 1935, has been a frequent companion in recent years. For me, the most intriguing  aspect of her book is her frequent discussions of what we now call “found” roses: those nameless roses which survive in old cemeteries or on old home sites, or have been passed along from person to person for who knows how long.  Notice the double quotes around the name "St Leonard". Standard practice is to use single quotes for accepted cultivar names. But this name, “St Leonard”, is not the original name of this rose. The original name has been lost, thus the double quotes for “St Leonard”. Roses in commerce come and go, and these comings and goings have little to do with the quality of the rose. When a rose survives among gardeners for decades, even centuries, that’s almost certainly a clear indication that that rose has something special to offer. And that something special more often than not is fragrance.

The rose called “St Leonard” is a good example of this. It’s nothing like modern garden roses: the flowers are small, seemingly shapeless and white with a touch of pink. The plant itself is a gaunt bush with the potential to occupy more space than most small modern gardens have to offer. But it does re-bloom throughout the season, and it carries one of the great rose fragrances.  

It has so far successfully kept its identity a secret: this same rose has evidently been found here and there around the country, and that suggests that it is not a spontaneous seedling but rather a once recognized cultivar deliberately spread by gardeners. See the note by Fred Boutin at the bottom of the page here:

The name used above, “St Leonard”, refers to the community in Calvert County, Maryland where Mrs. Keays first saw it about eighty years ago.  Its name was already lost back then, and who knows how long this rose had grown in that community. Where does it fall in the big rose picture? It’s what we would expect an early nineteenth century noisette to look like, and the assumption is that it is a forgotten noisette. The noisettes are hard to define because no sooner did they arise than they were hybridized out of recognition. Imagine what you would get by crossing the musk rose (or, since few people have any idea of what the old musk rose was like, substitute multiflora rose, which is very similar)  with a china or tea rose, and you’ll have an idea of what the early noisettes were.  From the beginning they were a variable lot.

Mrs. Keays' notes are valuable for another reason: roses which have persisted in gardens for decades are obviously well adapted to the conditions in those gardens. With noisettes, there is always the question of winter hardiness. Because the rose “St Leonard” seems to have survived for a long time at St Leonard, that raises hope that it will be a good garden plant here. Lusby and St Leonard are about 75 miles southeast of here, and St Leonard is close to the water.  I note that the elevation at St Leonard and Lusby is given as 105’; the elevation here is 285’ (both from Wikipedia). That difference in elevation might make a significant difference in its performance here. We’ll see.