Friday, October 26, 2007

Birthday plants

I celebrated my birthday this week. Over the years I've added a number of plants to the garden which bloom on my birthday: these are my birthday plants. Two are near the top of my list of favorite plants of any season: Crocus speciosus and fall-blooming Camellia sasanqua. In recent years another improbable one has emerged: Brugmansia 'Charles Grimaldi'.

Crocus speciosus is virtually a wild flower here. It seeds itself around a bit, comes up here and there, and I'm never sure where I'll see it each year. Although this plant gives the impression of being as nearly permanent as any crocus in our climate, it's not. For years I watched plants reappear and bloom in the same places in the garden. This gave me the impression that it was capable of surviving over the long term under our conditions. Encouraged by this, years ago I planted them by the thousand in the lawns. For the first several years these plantings were spectacular. But over the years they have thinned out to the point that the viewer would never guess how many there once were. A big part of the problem is that when densely planted, the pickings are easy for the squirrels and probably voles, too. I've seen the squirrels dig them from the lawn. I've never actually seen a vole eat anything (in fact, I've actually seen voles only a few times).

The camellias here have a history which makes me proud: I raised most of them from seed. Nearly forty years ago I visited a local public garden with an extensive camellia planting in October. The plants were full of seed, seed being enthusiastically collected by squirrels, chipmunks and rats. I asked permission, got it, and filled my pockets with fresh seed of Camellia sasanqua, C. oleifera and C. japonica cultivars. Back home, I built an impromptu cold frame, sowed the seed, and then mostly forgot about it. The years passed, they accumulated into decades, and eventually the camellias began to bloom. Most are Camellia sasanqua, a few are clearly C. oleifera, and three or four are C. japonica.

The Camellia japonica have few-petaled flowers of a sort of pink-red. When a snowstorm catches them in bloom, the effect is very poetic. The C. oleifera seem to be typical examples of that species: white fragrant flowers on plants with foliage distinct in small ways from that of typical C. sasanqua.

The Camellia sasanqua are one of my birthday plants. The flowers, in various pinks and white, have only a few petals and an unusual and very agreeable scent. I esteem them more for this scent than anything else. When the bushes are in full bloom, they enliven their corner of the garden; but it's the scent I crave.

In recent years I've added another plant to my birthday list. This is the improbable one. Who would have thought that Brugmansia 'Charles Grimaldi' would have survived outside 24/7/365 for nearly a decade in this garden? But it has, and each year it goes up to seven or eight feet high and then, with each full moon of late summer and fall, produces its prodigiously fragrant flowers. These start out pale yellow orange and mature a rich pumpkin orange if the weather is cool. It's in bloom today in the cool rain.

The rain: finally it's raining. I won't complain if it goes on for another week. But the overcast sky means no pictures for now: I'll post photos of the Crocus, Camellia and Brugmansia later. I hope 'Charles Grimaldi' waits.

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