Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Rosa ‘Clotilde Soupert’ climbing form

This is a climbing form of a once famous Polyantha rose. The Polyantha roses are one rose group about which I know very little: they have never had much interest for me. That lack of interest has an easy explanation: in the neighborhood where I grew up in Silver Spring, Maryland there were several gardens with plants of the Polyantha rose ‘Margot Koster’. The flowers of this rose have a daring color, a sort of shrimp pink. Attractive as they are when fresh, they fade unpleasantly. An old bloom is to my eyes ugly, blotched with unharmonious colors and frankly dirty looking. On top of that, the plants were small and runty looking. This caused me to write off the Polyantha roses.

Now fast forward about fifty years. I was in another garden and overheard some rose enthusiasts talking about the rose ‘Marie Pavie’: in fact, several of the plants were right there for me to see for myself why this rose pleased them so much. I was surprised to hear that it belonged to the Polyantha class. Maybe it was time for me to take another look at the Polyanthas. In fact, a plant of ‘Marie Pavie’ was soon added to the rose plantings.

In my rose reading I had frequently encountered the name ‘Clotilde Soupert’, and the name was almost always accompanied by words of praise. That made enough of a favorable impression to keep the name in my memory. The time came when I needed an extra rose to fill out a rose order, and I hit on the climbing form of ‘Clotilde Soupert’. When the plant bloomed for the first time this year, I had one of those “where have you been all my life” experiences: it’s that good.

This rose does not do brash, spectacular, flashy, exciting, blast of color, torrents of bloom or related extremes. It’s just the opposite: a very quiet rose, sweetly fragrant, one which when it opens has a very pleasing radial symmetry and globular form. I’m so glad to have netted this one in time. 

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Hosta'Lakeside Looking Glass'

Here's the inflorescence of a hosta I picked out for its very distinctive foliage: Hosta 'Lakeside Looking Glass'. After a few months of growth, it produced another surprise, a very distinctive inflorescence. I'm not a hosta person, and I don't travel in hosta circles - in fact, I grit my teeth every time I hear the genus Hosta pronounced as it usually is: the man's name was Host, not Hast. But I can't resist the plants, in particular those with a distinctive inflorescence. Hosta 'Krossa Regal' made no impression on me until I discovered that its inflorescence can go up to five feet high. That immediately put it on the want list. The same is true of the forms of Hosta rectifolia: the tall inflorescence really intrigues me.

'Lakeside Looking Glass' is not tall, but the very compressed inflorescence is very cool looking to me. The effect is fleeting - the individual flowers are literally ephemeral under our condition (and as mentioned in an earlier post, that's why hostas were once called daylilies). The hosta crowd is focused on leaves: a Google images search turns up pages of images of leaves and few of flowers. I wonder how many other hostas there are with a notable inflorescence.  

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Phygelius ‘Cherry Ripe’.

Phygelius are not well known in our local gardens, but they are nothing new. In retrospect I realize that there was a lot of horticulture going on in the neighborhood where I grew up in Silver Spring. One of the families we were friendly with on the block where I grew up had an intriguing small garden.  I saw a number of plants there for the first time. Among them was a Cape fuchsia, a Phygelius. Who would have thought that they were being sold here in the greater Washington, D.C. area a half century ago? You’ll have to look long and hard to find established plants now, and it’s doubtful if any of those introduced so long ago persist.

I’m giving ‘Cherry Ripe’ a trial this year up at the community garden plots. So far its performance has been puzzling. The plant seemed to be growing all along, and at the tips of the stems I could make out what seemed to be developing flower buds. But these did not mature into actual blooms until about two weeks ago. The plant is blooming freely now: but will it wait until August every year to start blooming? A bit of Googling turned up comments which suggest that it should be indifferent to day length and has the potential to bloom all year if temperatures allow.

Plants in bloom look a bit like the tall Sinningia blooming now such as S. ‘Scarlet O’Hara’ , ‘Towering Inferno’ and S. sellovii: the flowers dangle in the same way.

Googling turns up winter hardiness ratings of USDA zone 6 for ‘Cherry Ripe’: I’m doubtful, although zone 6 might be possible in a very winter dry climate. The plant here will probably spend its first winter in a cold frame. 

Tigridia pavonia and Ageratum

One of my community garden plots has a bed about twelve feet long and two feet wide given over to ageratum and tigridias. It's only a partial success because the tigridias (about 50 were planted) are putting in a lukewarm performance. Bloom has been scattered and meager. The bulbs planted came as a mixture, but so far the flowers have been only yellow or red - no whites, pinks or other colors.

I'll be trying this combination again because when it works - when the tigridias and the ageratums are blooming freely together - it's very striking.

The ageratums used this time are of two taller sorts, 'Leilani Blue' and 'Blue Horizon'. These are standard cut-flower versions of the plant most people know only in its dwarf edging forms. The flowers are sweetly scented, and the scent carries well on the air. It reminds me of the aroma of the candy known as Jordan almonds.

Ageratum is typically pronounced aj-a-RAY-tum, although it's properly a-GER-a-tum. 

Rosa 'E. Veyrat Hermanos'

This is a late nineteenth century tea rose (not a hybrid tea rose but a tea rose). It was raised late in the tea rose tradition and seems hardier than some tea roses. It has yet to face a severe winter here. It's a climbing rose - I'm not aware that a bush form ever existed. As can be seen in the images above, the color goes through several phases. In typical tea fashion, the flowers nod and are sweetly fragrant. 

Friday, August 17, 2012

Buckeye party on African blue basil

The little butterfly called buckeye, Junonia coenia,  is suddenly very abundant in my community garden plot. As you can see, it's a very photogenic species. It's also not shy: they are easily approached and photographed. There are three big, bushel basket sized plants of the African blue basil in this garden and that's where the buckeyes are. One plant had about a dozen on it this morning.

Although I've had African blue basil in my garden now and then during the last twenty or so years, until this year I didn't know the story behind it. This basil is grown from cuttings (or through some micropropagation technique): you won't find seed offered. According to the Wikipedia entry for the plant, it occurred as a hybrid for  Peter Borchard of Companion Plants in Athens, Ohio in 1983. A three or four inch plant will be a yard wide by mid-summer.

African blue basil has a distinct fragrance, very different from those of typical culinary basils, so it's not usually substituted for them. It has a strong camphor odor, and that's not an odor most of us associate with food.  Years ago a coworker from India prepared a sweet delicacy for me to sample. Many conversations had convinced her that I knew many of the spices used in traditional Indian cooking. So this delicacy was actually a test:  would I be able to identify the spices used? As a matter of fact, I did. Although she did not realize it then, and I never told her the full story, I did identify all the spices. But at the time I hesitated on naming one: I detected a distinct camphor scent, but since the only use for camphor I knew at the time was its use in moth balls, I did not want to insult her by telling her the food tasted like moth balls! So I played dumb and let her confirm that it was indeed camphor.

Camphor or not, African blue makes a great sorbet!

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

A great combination

A great combination, yes, but you probably won't get that impression from the image above.

The plants you see above are Iris dichotoma, the vesper iris, and Talinum paniculatum, called Jewels of Opar and sometimes pink baby's breath.

I've known about Jewels of Opar for all of my adult gardening life: each year for decades there was a tiny photo of the plant in the Park Seed catalog. From the picture it was hard to get any idea at all of what the plant was like. I didn't see a growing plant until sometime in the 1980s, and then it was love at first sight. It's such a distinctive looking plant, a plant which stands out in a crowd. They've been in the garden off and on since. But three years ago there were none, and last year I picked up three little potted seedlings at the end of a plant exchange (no one else wanted them). I never planted them in the garden, and as freezing weather approached I decided to see if they would survive the winter in a cold frame. Two of the three did. Their reward is a spot in the community garden this year, where they have luxuriated into bushel basket sized clumps. They are in full bloom now and the masses of flowering stems form a dome about a yard across. The plants I had grown in the past as annuals never reached this size for me.

It was purely an accident that the vesper irises ended up beside them.  And it was purely an accident that I discovered what a splendidly serendipitous placement this is: both the irises and the talinums open their flowers in the afternoon so that by the end of the day both are in full bloom together. The photo above does not do them justice: you have to see them together in the garden. There are so many agreeably harmonious and complimentary things going on between these two that I'm having trouble resisting the urge to sneak up to the community garden to take another look.

The vesper iris is easy from seed; the Jewels of Opar is too easy - it can get a bit weedy (if you end up with too many, you can eat them).

Monday, August 6, 2012

Baby ringneck snake season is underway

The week before last Wayne called me to let me know that he had found several baby ringneck snakes at his place. Meanwhile, I've noticed several recent hits on the previous ringneck snake post on this blog. You can view that post here: http://mcwort.blogspot.com/2008/08/northern-ring-neck-snake.html

The adults can sometimes be found by lifting flat stones, logs or boards. They are harmless to humans, but be aware that they will discharge a foul smelling fluid if you try to handle them roughly.

If the young enter ground-level rooms they can become entrapped in thick spider webs and carpeting. A search along floor boards or around ground-level doors will sometimes turn up trapped young. 

Friday, August 3, 2012


Eighteen Kniphofia are on trial this year in the home garden and  up in the community garden plots. I’ve always liked these plants for their form and color – and for the novelty of growing plants of south African origin in the garden. Many of them do seem to be reliable as garden plants in our climate. And the deer don’t seem to like them. 

In the old Bailey Cyclopedia of American Horticulture there is this: “This genus includes the Red-hot Poker Plant…which is unique in its appearance and one of the most striking plants in common cultivation. No one who has ever seen its pyramidal spike of blazing red fls. borne in autumn is likely to forget when and where he 'discovered' this plant.“  Count me among those who have not forgotten. In the Silver Spring, Maryland neighborhood where I grew up few of the lots had fences. As children we ran freely from lot to lot in play. I have not forgotten the day I turned a corner of a neighbor’s house and there in front of me in full bloom was one of these amazing plants. I don’t remember how long I stood there enjoying that delightful mixture of astonishment and curiosity which occurs when I see a new, exciting plant. But I’ve never forgotten it.

These plants are nothing new in our gardens: nursery lists of a century ago describe plants which from the written descriptions could pass for some of the cultivars now sold. In the image below you can see the list of cultivars offered by Bertrand H. Farr in his 1917-1918 catalog:

Here's an image from Daniel Foley’s Garden Flowers in Color, Macmillan Company, 1943. By now most copies have probably been de-accessioned or otherwise trashed: what a pity!  Copies of this are still available and typically inexpensive: get one! Read the text thoroughly,  and you will come away with a sense of what an ideal eastern American garden from a half century ago must have been like. Many of the old favorites are here and given loving treatment. The flowers illustrated in this image differ little from the cultivars now making the rounds. Here's the poker picture:

Two Kniphofia from my garden are shown here. At the top of the post is the startling K. thompsonii. The first time I saw this one I was momentarily baffled: was it a huge Lachenalia? A strange Aloë? It took a moment to realize that it was a very distinctive Kniphofia – now one of my favorites.

And here is 'Echo Rojo':

If you own rights to the Foley image or the Farr image and object to their usage here, let me know and I will remove them. 

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Lycoris, flagship of the oporanthous bulb fleet in my garden

Reports are coming in about the flowering of Lycoris throughout the greater Washington, D.C. area. I think of Lycoris as the flagship of the oporanthous bulb fleet in our local gardens: they are the most glamorous of these late summer blooming bulbs. They are also fleeting in terms of their garden effect, so plant them generously and in variety to extend their garden presence.

The one shown above came as either Lycoris longituba or L. chinensis but with the caveat that some of the Lycoris longituba were yellowish. To me it suggests what I would expect from a hybrid between Lycoris longituba and Lycoris chinensis. It's roughly the same size as Lycoris squamigera. Lots of these have turned up in gardens lately, and I suspect that we are growing a hybrid swarm rather than plants which can be attributed to a particular species with certainty.  

Oxalis depressa

Oxalis is not an important genus in local gardens, but it does provide several handsome foliage plants which, during their brief flowering period, can be very eye catching. Most of the really interesting and beautiful ones probably are not hardy here - although they are easily managed as pot plants. There are many avid Oxalis collectors; do some Googling to see what's out there.

The plant shown above is one of those borderline hardy sorts. It persists in a cold frame, but I have my doubts about its performance when planted into the garden. This species used to be known as Oxalis inops, the name under which I grew it decades ago. 

Rosa 'Bouquet d'Or'

This is 'Bouquet d'Or', another of the so-called tea-Noisette roses. It made its debut in 1872, late for this group, and it is said to be a seedling of 'Gloire de Dijon'. The yellow color of this flower is derived from the tea side of the family and is not the yellow seen in modern garden roses (which is largely derived from 'Persian Yellow').

To see this rose at its best, see it early in the day before the sun and heat fade the yellow to white. Or, cut the flowers early and store them in the refrigerator. These old yellow tea-Noisettes have a delicacy unknown in modern roses. 

Sinningia in the garden

The best known member of the genus Sinningia is probably Sinningia speciosa, the gloxinia of florists and light table enthusiasts. It’s such a lush, tender looking plant that it’s no surprise that generations of cold climate gesneriad enthusiasts have coddled the plants indoors. It’s hard to believe, but these plants might have potential for use as warm-season garden plants. I planted some this year at the community garden plots; they are right out in the sun, and although they are looking lush, they are growing and now flowering. I don’t expect these to be hardy.

On the other hand, there are several other Sinningia in that same planting which might prove to be hardy – or at least hardier than we’ve expected until recently. These are Sinningia tubiflora, S. sellovii, and hybrids such as ‘Butter and Cream’, ‘Scarlett O’Hara’, ‘Towering Inferno’ and others.  This much I know from experience with them so far: they take full sun without apparent problems, they grow much more vigorously (and bloom freely) grown in the ground rather than in pot,s and some, maybe all,  increase freely from potato-like underground storage structures.

In the garden, the flowers of Sinningia longituba and ‘Butter and Cream’  from a distance look a bit like those of some sort of flowering tobacco. And Sinningia tubiflora  is fragrant. Up close, the foliage is nothing like that of Nicotiana; and I’ll bet that most garden visitors will identify them as sages or penstemons. After all, we’re not used to seeing gesneriads in the garden. The individual flowers and the way they are carried also suggest those of Phygelius.

In the images above you can see Sinningia ‘Butter and Cream’ (with S. tubiflora off to the left) and S. ‘Towering Inferno’ just getting started. 

My plants came from Plant Delights Nursery in 2010; for the remainder of the 2010 season and throughout the 2011 season they remained in the pots in which they were received. They spent the winters dry in one of the cold frames. When I broke them out of the pots earlier this year I was surprised at the yield of “potatoes” in some of the pots. Soon there will be plenty of these with which to experiment.

If these prove to be hardy garden plants, they will make a nice addition to our herbaceous plantings. And if it turns out that they can’t take our winters, they are still well worth the small effort to dig them annually and store them dry during the winter.  If you don’t already have a good cold frame, get busy!