Monday, May 25, 2009

Dichelostemma week

There is mention in Col. Grey’s Hardy Bulbs of a plant known to him as Brevoortia venusta. Grey notes that Carl Purdy (a once famous early twentieth century west coast collector and seller of native plants) suggested that this plant might be a hybrid of Brevoortia ida-maia (to use the name Grey used) and Brodiaea congesta (again using Grey’s names). Over the decades I remembered this name and the speculation about its parentage. All of these plants are currently placed in the genus Dichelostemma.

When Dichelostemma ‘Pink Diamond’ came on the market I made the connection: ‘Pink Diamond’ is evidently Brodiaea venusta. I don’t know if it is derived from wild collected material or if it is the result of a deliberate hybridization to test the hypothesis of the origin of what Grey called Brevoortia venusta.

Above you see ‘Pink Diamond’ at the top followed by the parent about which everyone seems to be in agreement: Dichelostemma ida-maia. Dichelostemma ida-maia (said to have been named for either, or both, the Ides of May when it was found in bloom or for one Ida May, daughter of the collector’s guide) in the past was sometimes called the Californian Floral Firecracker. The Dutch commercial stocks seem to be very vigorous and about thirty inches tall – good for cutting.
There is controversy about the other parent. The bottom image shows the one I vote for: Dichelostemma volubile. One of the oddest plants, the scape of the inflorescence twines around other objects like dodder or a morning glory. I’ve heard that ‘Pink Diamond’ has inherited some of this tendency, and that reinforces the hypothesis that D. volubile is the other parent of D. venustum.

These name changes illustrate some of the pitfalls awaiting the unwary. Brevoortia is feminine, so the name is written Brevoortia venusta. Dichelostemma, although it deceptively ends in an a, is neuter, so in that combination the name becomes Dichelostemma venustum.

I’ve heard that these plants sometimes survive our summers, but to be safe they should get a long dry period.

Sneak attack!

I spent the morning, an overcast morning which already had a hint of the heat predicted to come later today, out on the deck reading the paper and eating a bowl of corn flakes with strawberries and banana. When I got up at 6:30 A.M., it seemed cool. But after being outside for about a half hour, it was easy to sense the slowly rising temperature.

The south side of the house is covered with what are probably thousands of fragrant rose flowers. Nearby, Japanese honeysuckle and Goldflame honeysuckle are in full bloom. Peonies bloom here and there in the garden. I ate my cereal in a cloud of gentle floral fragrances, enjoying the cheery chirping of “our” sparrows.

I relaxed and opened my olfactory sensibilities to allow me to enjoy this to the fullest.

There I was, unsuspecting and vulnerable; and then it happened. At first I wasn’t sure – there was just a hint of something wrong. This is a holiday and there is no trash pick up today. But it wasn’t the garbage can at the other end of the deck that had interrupted my reverie. This was something initially more subtle but eventually unmistakable. The odor seemed to wrap around me, as if determined to disgust me.

I know that odor. It accompanies one of the uniquely repugnant floral displays of the year. It’s a combination of warm rat feces and rotten meat which quickly evokes revulsion in me and just as quickly attracts a swarm of expectant flies. A quick trip to the garden and a brief search in some likely places turned up the culprit: the voodoo lilies are blooming. These are not lilies in the botanical sense; they are aroids, jack-in-the-pulpit relatives. And what we call the bloom is not a flower: it's an entire inflorescence. The actual flowers are tiny things deep down within the sheathing spathe.

When I was a youngster they were often sold from crates in dime stores – just the thing to give a curious boy to get him interested in science, gardening or grossing-out the rest of the family. Back then we thought they were tropical; now we know that they make themselves at home in our gardens very well. The inflorescence is followed by very tropical (and very aroid) foliage.

In books this plant is variously called Sauromatum venosum, S. guttatum and also Typhonium combined with either of the two species names.

It sets seed here; the seed clusters are about the size and color of a ripe pomegranate.

The stench comes from the spadix: remove it and what's left can be enjoyed close-up. You're left with what might pass for a very oddly shaped and colored calla lily.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Dahlia 'Goldalia'

I bought these at one of the big box stores when I was last in western Virginia a few weeks ago. The label – annoyingly – states only Dahlia Goldalia. And the same label is used for each of the several color combinations I saw. A bit of Googling turned up these likely names: 'Godalia Scarlet' and 'Godalia Rose'.

Wayne and his mom had been shopping in the store in question; when they got back his mom mentioned that she had seen a flower for sale there which she did not recognize. That was all the incentive I needed to get Wayne to hop in the car with me, go back to the shop and check things out. We drove by them (they were on the parking lot) and even from inside the car I could see that they were dahlias.
It was not until I got out and examined them closely that I saw what nice dahlias there are. Dahlias with this flower form are known as collarette dahlias, and they are an old group. I brought home the two you see above. It will be interesting to see how they take the hot weather ahead.

Paeonia 'Hot Chocolate'

There is another intriguing peony blooming in the garden today: 'Hot Chocolate'. When the bud began to open two days ago, the color was the darkest color I have ever seen in a herbaceous peony. Now that the flower is fully open, the color is more obviously red. But the bud had the sort of very dark shadows which one sees in the darkest red tulips - a really wonderfully rich color.

'Hot Chocolate' just happens to grow beside 'Garden Treasure': they make a good combination to my eyes.

Paeonia 'Garden Treasure'

There is major excitement in the peony patch this week: for the first time one of the so-called Itoh intersectional hybrid peonies is about to bloom here. The cultivar in question is Don Hollingsworth’s ‘Garden Treasure’.

Yesterday the bud had progressed to the point where a bit of the yellow color showed. I could not help wondering what it must have been like for Hollingsworth those many years ago when he stood before the first plant of this cultivar as it was about to bloom for the first time and saw that first hint of yellow. Imagine the excitement he must have felt! That’s easy for me to do, because I felt a real rush when my own plant began to show its colors.

Several good yellow-flowered garden peonies are now within reach of those of us for whom the old expression “if you have to ask how much, you probably can’t afford it” has relevance. The week before last I saw nice gallon pots of several of these intersectional hybrids for $40 each. That’s hardly inexpensive, but compared to what they brought in the recent past, it’s within reach of just about anyone.

With respect to this yellow color, peonies are now where roses were a century ago. Although there were pale yellow hybrid garden roses throughout the nineteenth century (just as, if you count Paeonia mlokosewitschii, there were pale yellow peonies), it was not until the so-called Pernetiana roses appeared about a century ago that bright yellow roses began to become common in gardens. To this day, yellow roses have a certain cachet among rosarians, a certain apartness which roses of other colors do not share.

And there is another parallel: just as the longest-known yellow-flowered garden rose, Rosa hemisphaerica, played no part in the development of yellow-flowered garden roses, so Paeonia mlokosewitschii played no part in the development of these yellow-flowered intersectional peonies. These yellow-flowered intersectional peonies get their yellow color from one of the early French hybrids of the woody Paeonia lutea. I’ve read that the tree peony hybrid used by Itoh was the cultivar 'Alice Harding'. If that’s true, it’s a nice touch: Harding did much to promote peony culture during the early twentieth century. So much, in fact, that there is a herbaceous hybrid named 'Alice Harding' and a woody tree peony hybrid named 'Alice Harding'.

To some people, flowers are just flowers; to me, they are history books.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Moraea polyanthos

This handsome South African is blooming here today for the first time. The individual flowers are said to be fugaceous; this one opened in the late afternoon (at about 4 P.M.), and I expect it to close later this evening. The frail-looking plant seems to have several flower buds on each of two scapes.

I'm still unsure about the culture of this plant. It's been in growth since last fall, yet it's coming into bloom only now. Will it have a dormant period? In the wild it grows in areas with abundant rainfall which is likely to occur throughout the year. I don't expect it to be winter hardy here, so it will spend the winter in the protected cold frame.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The remains of a giant

The huge black oak which dominated the back half of the garden was taken down this week. The tree seemed healthy, but recently it dropped an enormous, live limb. It also had a slight tilt - in fact it leaned directly towards the house. I agonized over the decision, but the thought of several tons of wood dropping onto our house during a storm helped me to make the decision.

I have not been able to find any sign of decay in the trunk.

It's surprising how little damage the tree crew did: parts of the area under the tree were trashed, but other than that the garden escaped major damage.

We're keeping the wood and the chippings. I'll be working (struggling) to store the wood at the periphery of the garden during the next few months. There is enough oak firewood there to last us the rest of our lives. And here's an idea: maybe I'll start a shiitake farm!

I'll try to make a ring count soon and report it in a future entry.

Malephora crocea; I originally and incorrectly identified this as Delosperma 'Red Mountain'

Be sure to read the comments on this one. I originally and incorrectly called this Delosperma 'Red Mountain'.

Here's another bit of brilliant color.  I purchased it last weekend at a small nursery in western Virginia. It was in a tray of Delosperma nubigenum, the only one of its kind.

A bit of Googling suggests that it might be the new cultivar 'Red Mountain'. Whatever it is, I'm glad to have it. The color and its intensity are hard to describe: the copper-red of the upper petal surface is wonderful to see. Turn the petal over and you'll see that it's purple-red. If this one settles in to be a good garden plant I'll be very happy.

Scarlet tanager

Wayne came by yesterday with a sad gift: he found this gorgeous bit of color dead on his patio. It had evidently hit a window on one of the upper floors of his condo building. This is the scarlet tanager, a bird we see once or twice a year here. You would think that a bird which is both common and so brilliantly colored would be easily spotted. But once the trees leaf out, this shy bird becomes very hard to find.

As I examined the dead bird I was amazed at the intensity of the red color: the red feathers look as if they had been crafted of red reflective metal.