Thursday, March 29, 2012

Viola dissecta

What a sweet, both literally and figuratively, little violet. The small fragrant flowers come on long stems and have a perky quality which I find very appealing. Their prominent spurs remind me of little delphinium flowers. The finely dissected foliage is just beginning to emerge, but the plant is already in full bloom. Bluets would make a nice partner for this one.

The sprout season

Here's a view of one of my community garden plots taken a few days ago. The two rows of densely planted sprouts in the center of the image are rows of ornamental onions, tulips, irises and ornithogalums. On the left, the stakes mark the locations of various lilies. On the near  right is a bit of as yet unclaimed ground (maybe the peas will go there today - they are sprouting on a zip lock bag on the kitchen table) and farther down some other early risers including garlics, daffodils and some grape hyacinths.

Things are really happening quickly this year.

Helonias bullata

This is Helonias bullata, sometimes called swamp pink. It's native to Maryland, and it takes well to local conditions. It's been here in the garden for many years in one of the bog trays. It does not bloom unless I feed it occasionally. 

In some circles this is regarded as a bit of a trophy plant, but I've got to say that the first time I saw one in bloom in my garden it reminded me of some sort of bistort or clover.

Friday, March 16, 2012


That's the periwinkle Vinca minor in the image above. There are some houses on the other side of the creek with steep front yards, and some of them are planted to periwinkle. As I was driving by the other day the mass of blue color caught my eye. I came back the next day to get some photos.

Here and there I've seen periwinkle used as a companion plant for daffodils - it's an appealing combination, especially with white-flowered daffodils.  

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

More crocuses

The temperature reached 80 degrees F this afternoon - and it's been very dry. The remaining crocuses will probably go in the rain. With that in mind I went up to my crocus plots and took some more pictures. The main purpose of these photographs is to help me keep straight what I've got - and to give me a good idea of the colors after the flowers are gone.

In the top row, left to right, are Crocus etruscus 'Zwanenburg' two samples, Crocus minimus  (the false C. biflorus isauricus 'Spring Beauty'), Crocus 'Prins Claus', Crocus 'Lady Killer' and Crocus 'Blue Pearl'.

In the lower row, left to right, are Crocus 'Ard Schenk', Crocus sieberi 'Tricolor', Crocus 'Advance', Crocus 'Cream Beauty', Crocus 'Romance' and Crocus olivieri balansae 'Zwanenburg' two samples.

When the flowers of 'Prins Claus' are fully developed they have the outline of a broad, shallow, rounded goblet. 'Lady Killer' has somewhat pointed tepals which are not so broad and the fully developed flower is not so bowl like. Both are well worth having.

Also especially well worth having is 'Blue Pearl': this is an exceptionally lovely crocus in the hand but is wasted in the garden, where it becomes just another nondescript little white crocus.

All of these little crocuses belong in pots where they can be closely examined under congenial, comfortable conditions.

Litttle blue things

The first wave of color to wash over the garden each year - the wave of snowdrops, little bulb irises, crocuses and a few precocious shrubs and trees - is now receding: in its place comes the wave of the little blue things. You see a selection of these above. Included are some run-down garden hyacinths (what they lose in girth they gain in charm), two glories-of-the-snow (the larger one is 'Blue Giant' and the smaller one is Chionodoxa sardensis), the Siberian squill (Scilla sibirica), the Greek anemone (Anemone blanda) and two lawn weeds, Glecoma hederacea and the lawn veronica, Veronica persica.  Seeing these flowers together reminds us that not all of them are as blue as we think they are.

With the exception of the Greek anemone, all of these are good stayers. Get a start going, and you are likely to see their sweet faces yearly. The Greek anemone is not difficult and will sometimes self-sow around the garden; but each wet hot summer seems to take a few, so the time will come when you will have to buy in a few more. On the other hand, if you can arrange to keep it dry during the summer it should last and reappear yearly.  If your Siberian squills disappear over time, try giving them the dry summer treatment, too.

Glecoma hederacea, gill-over-the-ground, is a serious weed here. But one look at a plant in full bloom gives a hint of why it has been brought into so many gardens.

During the next week or two the little lawn veronica will make some of the loveliest pictures in local lawns. If while walking around you see a shimmering flat haze of blue about a yard or two in diameter in sunny lawns, it's probably this veronica. Few deliberately cultivated plants create such a charming effect. Its success in lawns is largely attributable to its growth cycle: it's a winter annual, most active when the lawn grasses themselves are largely dormant. Mowing keeps the otherwise easily overwhelmed plants out in the sun.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Claytonia virginica

Claytonia virginica, familiarly called spring beauty, is such a common plant here that whole hillsides where it grows are covered with its flowers during its brief blooming period. A few weeks later the shiny black seeds ripen and then the plants are gone above ground for the rest of the year. Below ground a miniature potato-like structure keeps things going until next year.

Claytonia belongs to the same botanical family as Portulaca, Montia, Lewisia, Talinum and Phemeranthus and with all of these it shares a sort of waxy, turgid succulence. The leaves have the same curiously  rubbery, floppy quality felt in the native "aloe", Agave virginica (Manfreda virginica), although they are much smaller.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Sarcococca humilis, sweet box

I had something to do at the back of the garden yesterday, and as I rushed from the house I was stopped in my tracks by an intense fragrance which I did not expect. It turned out to be the fragrance of the sweet box, Sarcococca humilis. It's blooming better this year than ever before. That's it in the upper image above.

Since Sarcocca (sweet box)  and Buxus (boxwood) are closely related, seeing the sweet box in bloom reminded me to check the boxwood plants also. Sure enough, Buxus sempervirens 'Vardar Valley' is in full, sweetly fragrant bloom. When the topic of scent comes up in a discussion of boxwood, most people seem to know only about the cat scent of the foliage of Buxus sempervirens. Because the dwarf box 'Suffruticosa' is the most frequently encountered box in this area, and that form evidently never blooms, many people do not realize that not only can boxwood bloom but also that the flowers can be sweetly and agreeably scented.  But maybe not all forms of common box are agreeably scented. Buxus sempervirens 'Graham Blandy' is also in bloom, and the scent to me is more peculiar than pleasant.

Note: after writing the above about two weeks ago, I noticed something odd looking on one of the 'Suffruticosa' boxwood here: it was in bloom! So dwarf box does bloom after all.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Welwitschia death watch

The week before last I took a look at the Welwitschia and got a nasty shock: it seemed to be dead. I've had this plant for fifteen years, but even so it occasionally surprises me. The leaves looked dry as cardboard and had lost most of their color. At the base of each leaf there was a hairline of seemingly sickly, pea soup green. That was the only green evident on the plant.

What in the world happened? In retrospect, I think I simply forgot to water it. I gave it a good soaking and changed the arrangement of the lights. I made sure it stayed moist and under intense light. After about a week of this therapy, I started to put it outside in the sunlight any time the air temperature was over 40 degrees F.

Now, between frequent knocks on wood, I'm pretty sure it is on its way back. The line of green seems to have widened just a bit. Let's hope the mirabilis part of the name proves true.

In the image above you'll have to look hard to see any sign of life.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Tulipa praecox : legacy slide

The topic of Tulipa praecox came up today on the PBS forum. Here's a scanned slide from May of 1974. It's not the best image, but it does show one of the salient features of this plant: the difference in size and shape of the inner and outer tepals.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Iris susiana: legacy slide

I bought a slide scanner yesterday, and above you can see the first slide I scanned. As I go through my slide collection and scan them, I’ll be adding some images to this blog – in particular plants no longer in commerce. They will be identified as "legacy slides".
Here’s the first one: that’s Iris susiana in the image above. It was photographed in May of 1971, and it was about then that it disappeared from the lists of my source. It has always been a mysterious plant to me; evidently it’s not known in the wild, and the plants in cultivation which went around under this name varied a bit. It was grown in European gardens four hundred years ago, and over the centuries its intricate color pattern of fine, very dark blue veining on an oyster shell white background has challenged many famous artists.

I still remember the first time it bloomed here: as I came around the corner of the house and saw it, it immediately brought to mind  this  description of the flower:  like a ball of crumpled newsprint. Was it E.A.Bowles who said that?   I also thought I was among the elect: I’ll bet not many of you have seen this plant, much less grown and flowered it.
It’s hard to believe that this plant does not survive somewhere in a garden somewhere around the Mediterranean. I’m hoping hard that it does.  

Thursday, March 1, 2012

A lamb in the countryside

As  expected, March came in as a lamb: daytime temperatures today were well over seventy degrees F.  I went down to the ponds early this morning, but in spite of the gentle rain we had last night things were quiet then; but when I went back later in the day the peepers were in full chorus.

More rain is predicted for the next few days, and we need it. Seed of larkspurs and corn poppies sown back in December are now germinating freely, especially the poppies. Seed of corn cockle sown last fall germinated almost immediately, and the resulting plants now have several true leaves. Those are corn cockle, Agrostemma githago, seedlings in the upper image. The lower image shows corn poppies, Papaver rhoeas: did every seed germinate? I'll have plenty of thinning to do later.