Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Hemerocallis 'Autumn King'

This daylily was hybridized by Arlo Stout and released about sixty years ago. It's a hybrid of a daylily he knew as Hemerocallis altissima (it was Stout who named Hemerocallis altissima). Some modern taxonomists make it a form of Hemerocallis citrina. I've collected several of the daylilies derived from H. altissima, and most of them are night blooming sorts. 'Autumn King' on the other hand is diurnal. The flowers are nicely scented, so it's tempting to cut them for the house. I'll resist that temptation until I have plenty of plants from which to cut.

My taste in daylilies is completely backwards: I very much like plain yellow-flowered, well scented daylilies, especially if they are tall. The squat ones with flower scapes which lean  - in any color -  do not appeal to me at all. 

Some dahlias

Although I've grown a few dahlias off and on over the years, I've never become a dahlia enthusiast. A big part of the reason is that our climate really isn't right for them. On the one hand, they are extremely frost tender; on the other hand they do not thrive under hot, humid conditions. Once you've seen them in cool summer areas where the plants are lush, the flowers are not malformed and the colors glow, it's hard to be satisfied by the results we get here. It's no accident that the local dahlia shows are not at mid-summer but rather precariously close to the time of the first night frosts.

Generally speaking, the farther the form of a dahlia flower departs from the ancestral form, the more likely it is to have problems in our climate. When I look at the catalogs, I'm drawn to the anemone-flowered sorts. The ones I've tried produce mostly malformed flowers. 'Boogie Woogie', shown above at the top of the series of images, is an anemone-flowered sort.

The next one is 'Esther', a collarette sort. So far this year, most of the flowers this one has produced have been missing one petal.

Next is 'Sandra': I have no complaints here.

The last one is 'Gallery Art Deco': so far, the flowers of this one have been hidden down in the foliage.

I planted twelve sorts this year, so look for eight more in the weeks ahead. 

Crocosmia 'Prometheus'

The handsome old montbretia variety 'Prometheus' had to be omitted when the recently posted group photograph of montbretias was made. Although it was in bloom, all of the available flowers were distorted (by the heat?).

In order to give a good view of the flower face on, one was plucked and re-positioned on the inflorescence in such a way that it faced upward. In its natural position, the flower would have to be lifted to see the interior blotches.  

Canna 'Musifolia'

If you like your cannas big, you'll love this one. The huge leaves really do look like leaves of one of the smaller bananas: the botanical name musifolia is derived from the Latin for banana and leaf. An image of the inflorescence is included: it's a bit of an afterthought hidden on top of that mound of foliage.

The clump shown is now about six feet high: under ideal conditions it can add several feet more. 

Rudbeckia triloba 'Prairie Glow'

Until this plant began to bloom last week, I thought I knew what rudbeckias were all about. Mention coneflowers and the name brings up mental images of coarse, colorful, sometimes unpleasantly hispid plants with a proven track record for amenity plantings and contemporary grass gardens. Most likely absent from those mental images are qualities such as refinement, grace and delicacy.

I bought 'Prairie Glow' because I liked the picture on the potted plant I selected, and the written description suggested that it would provide plenty of color. And I figured that it would attract goldfinches. All of this, I assumed, in the typical cone flower  package.

Now that the plant has been blooming freely I realize that this is a real find.The flowers are, so far, small (a bit more than an inch in diameter) and are carried on very thin stems. The whole plant has a determined uprightness about it, yet the stems are thin and graceful. The flowers are the real surprise: the blooms have a lacquered quality and the color contrast in the petals is heightened as if the two colors had been painted on.

This one is definitely a keeper! Some Googling suggests that although sold as a perennial, it will probably prove to be a short-lived one. But it can be grown from seed, and probably easily.

Glads, time for a closer look...

Five corms each of twelve different modern gladiolus hybrids were planted at the community garden plots earlier this year, and they are now beginning to bloom. I'll stick my neck out and say that these plants, although they have a huge potential for garden decoration,  are little used to that end in local gardens. Their rigidly upright growth habit is in pleasant contrast to the general mounding effect produced by so many plants. And the colors they provide are really remarkable. That they are so readily available, so inexpensive and so easy to grow only make their comparative scarcity in our garden that much more mysterious.

Yes, in some years there are significant problems with thrips. And the blooming period of any one plant is not long. And what the commercial florists do with them may give some potential growers reason to be careful not to produce similar effects in the garden. Their long association with funerals probably does not help their reputation.

If you haven't grown glads for a while, do as I did and buy a "collection" of a dozen or so named cultivars. If you are not both surprised and pleased when they bloom, maybe it's time for you to consider golf instead of gardening.

It's mostly the colors I can't get over: they are so varied, so bright and so effective in the garden. This year I took another look at garden glads and began to see them in a different way. All of my gardening life glads have meant spikes of color in the garden. This year I began to take a careful look at the individual flowers. One result is the image seen above. Now I'm on the lookout for other ways of using individual glad flowers. And I wonder how long individual flowers will keep in the refrigerator. This whole experience is a bit like that of meeting up with an old friend after years of separation and discovering that, in contrast to memories of a solid if rather plain person, the old friend is a lot more colorful and interesting than you ever suspected.

That's certainly true of modern glads!

The cultivars shown in the image above are 'Green Star', 'Fun Time' (red and yellow), 'Rhapsody in Blue' (pink-red with white blotch), 'Twilight' (violet with red streaks on some tepals), 'Vista' (violet with white blotch with red blotch - it reminds me of a Miltonia orchid), 'Romance' (pink) and  'King's Gold' (yellow).

Thursday, July 26, 2012

A free lunch

Although there are those who insist that no such thing exists, I had a free lunch the other day.

There was a small compost bin in my community garden plot last year. At the end of the growing season last year I gathered up debris from my garden and stuffed the bin. I had invited my neighbors in an adjacent plot to do the same. Later I tilled it all into the soil.

Evidently the “all” included some pieces of potato, because a potato plant appeared in one of the tree peony beds early this year. I dug the potato plant up last week,  and you see the harvest in the image above.  Three potatoes make a comically small harvest, but they went on to make a fine lunch! 

Wednesday, July 25, 2012


While visiting mom at the rehab center last night I watched part of a television program which featured several local restaurants notable for their breakfast fare. At one restaurant a happy diner was being handed a clutch of freshly made beignets. That did it for me: I would make beignets for breakfast the next day.

It's been years since I last made them, so I went online to check some beignet recipes. I googled "beignet" and got page after page relating to something called the "New Orleans Beignet". This "New Orleans Beignet" is nothing more than a square donut made with sweetened bread dough, fried and then dusted with powdered sugar. To me, that's a donut, not a beignet.

The beignet I'm familiar with is made with  pâte à choux, not with a yeast dough. It only takes about ten minutes to whip up a batch of pâte à choux, and if the hot oil for cooking is ready, an additional few minutes to cook up a batch. I flavored the batter with aniseed and orange zest, a combination of flavors I've grown to like very much. The batter was not sweetened. The six beignets which emerged were given a dusting of powdered sugar and then disappeared quickly. The rest of the batter went into the refrigerator for another use.

What that other use was became apparent at lunch time. I had some canned salmon left over from the day before, so I mixed it into the unsweetened beignet batter. Some chopped onion, parsley and celery leaf  were added. In no time at all I had a plate of savory beignets on the lunch table. Those are what you see in the image above. 

Wednesday, July 18, 2012


Here’s a combination for lovers of scintillating color: montbretias,  marigolds and strawflowers.

The name montbretia was in use throughout the late nineteenth and much of the twentieth century for those Crocosmia hybrids which had down- or outfacing-flowers. The earliest hybrid in this group had funnel-shaped, drooping blooms; later hybrids had larger, flatter blooms variously arrayed on the scapes. Interest in these large-flowered hybrids reached a peak before the First World War, and in those days the great cultivars were ‘His Majesty’, ‘Prometheus’, ‘Star of the East’ and others.

Here are some good links to the early history of these hybrids:

Evidently few of these plants ever became established in eastern North American gardens; and as they disappeared one by one from the lists, they disappeared from our gardens.  For a long time only such varieties as ‘Lady Wilson’, 'James Coey' and ‘George Davison’ (often misspelled ‘George Davidson’) were readily available.

A copy of the John Scheepers catalog from spring of 1928 kept their memory alive for me.  There, several pages were devoted to a nice listing of the then best hybrids. A gracefully written introduction introduces the reader to these lovely plants, and goes on to suggest that they are suitable for decorating the “piazza”.
What in the world, in that context, is a piazza? The uses of the word familiar to me, such as Piazza San Marco, suggested a scale not usually associated with domestic architecture. As it turns out, in some parts of the country the word has come to mean veranda or porch.

Now dozens of the old montbretia varieties are available from English sources, and some are appearing on lists here in the US. Some of my plants came from Far Reaches Farm.

In one of the images above you see montbretias combined with marigolds and strawflowers.  The strawflowers are from the 'Bright Bikinis' strain.  The fresh flowers, when refrigerated, close up; when they warm up, they open again. The marigolds are various “French” marigolds of seed strains such as ‘Disco Orange’, ‘Durango Mix’, ‘Janie Spry’, ‘Hero Orange’ and ‘Little Hero Flame’.

The montbretias shown are, left to right, ‘Lady Hamilton, 'His Majesty' and  ‘Castle Ward Late’.  These date from the late nineteenth century (‘Castle Ward Late’, said to have been raised by Max Leichtlin before 1895 according to the catalog of my source, Far Reaches Farm) and from the early twentieth century ( Lady Hamilton, raised by Davison in the period 1895-1912 and  'His Majesty', raised by Jack Fitt at Earlham Hall in the period 1916-1924).  See the Norwich In Bloom site cited above for more information.  

Several pages from the John Scheepers catalog for Spring 1928 are included. If you own the copyright to these and object to their usage here, please notify me and I will remove them.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Struwwelpeter lily

This is the (or one of the) double flowered form of tiger lily. The first time I saw this many years ago I was immediately reminded of Der Struwwelpeter.

The ones I grew in the past rarely opened well, but the ones I have now open into cleanly demarcated tepals.

I've chosen this one to be  symbolic of this year's lily season which was, in a word, a mess. 

Incarvillea delavayi

This is Incarvillea delavayi, sometimes called the hardy gloxinia. It's not closely related to the florists gloxinia, Sinningia speciosa, and what it is related to will probably come as a surprise to most gardeners. It's a member of the botanical family Bignoniaceae, which makes it a relative of two native vines,  trumpet creeper and cross vine.

Although an old plant in commerce, and a very ornamental one in bloom, it's not common in our gardens. Its hardiness was long suspected, but in fact it is very cold tolerant. It is, however, intolerant of summer wet,  and that circumstance set the stage for a misunderstanding of its hardiness. What the gardener observes is that the plant dies down in late summer and as often as not does not reappear the following year.  The conclusion is that it died during the winter. In fact, it probably died during one of our wet, hot summers.  Kept dry from late summer on, it should winter without problems.

When I was a teenager the root stocks of this plant appeared annually in big wooden crates in variety stores. Several connected storage roots, each about the size of a big carrot, made up each plant. These quickly grew into yard wide clumps of foliage topped by two-foot stems of the pink trumpet blooms. The single root from which the plants in the image  was grown was no bigger than one of my fingers: a sign of the times and current shipping costs no doubt.

Those blooms have a neat trick: the stigma of this plant has two flaps - if you touch the stigma (as an insect depositing pollen might) the two flaps slowly close over the stigmatic surface, thus protecting any pollen which might have been deposited. Take the kids over to watch this little performance.

Glitter and be gay...

There is a short border in my community garden plots given over to plants with intense orange flowers: montbretias, marigolds and strawflowers. Here are some of the strawflowers. These are the old garden plant Helichrysum bracteatum, a plant originally from Australia. They take well to our climate and are easily grown.

The first time I grew these plants decades ago I was surprised to find that the fresh flowers are just as crispy as the dried ones. In the old days they were sometimes compared to artificial flowers made from snips of colored tin. When I run my fingers over the tips of the colorful bracts, it reminds me of the feel of Velcro.

"Glitter and be gay" came to mind when I was examining these plants recently. It's the title of a song (a sort of endurance feat for coloratura soprano)  from Leonard Bernstein's Candide. Long ago I was lucky enough to hear Barbara Cook sing this in a live performance -  she was the first to sing it when Candide was premiered back in 1956. She went on to become the fountain of youth of the lyric stage: a half century later her occasional performances are still well received.

The  wikipedia entry on Barbara Cook includes this quote from one Walter Kerr "Barbara Cook, right off a blue and white Dutch plate, is delicious all the time..."  I got a chuckle from that because somewhere around the house we have a little pamphlet published long ago by a once famous brand of Pennsylvania Dutch style noodles. After several pages of recipes, there is a picture of a very young Barbara Cook and a quote endorsing the product.


It's been a full month since the last post, and this at one of the busiest times of the garden year. What happened? In mid-June, mom fell and broke her leg just beneath the hip joint. She had "hemi hip arthroplasty" surgery the next day, and my sister and I have been hovering over her since. The night before last I slept ovrnight in my own bed for the first time since June 15 - I had been  sleeping in her hospital/rehab center room since the accident. She's making good progress, but it will be weeks before she is home again, and who knows how long before our home schedule and routine get back to normal.
I mowed the lawn yesterday, but otherwise the home garden looks like a bindweed and  poke weed farm. The community garden plots are in better shape, although there too the weeds are getting the upper hand in some places.