Monday, April 29, 2013

Mixed tulips

My caretaker responsibilities limit the time I get for gardening to the point where, if I'm lucky, I see my garden once or twice a week. As often as not lately "see" is the operative word, because I sometimes make a quick walk through on the way home from a grocery shopping trip. Time actually working in the garden is even more precious.

Tulips were in full bloom last week, so I cut a few of each of the seventy-five or so varieties growing at my little garden up on the hill (my community garden plots) and brought them home for a photography session. Once their pictures were taken, they were left out on the deck to provide a bit of color. The weather is cool and sometimes rainy, so they are lasting well.  

Friday, April 26, 2013


I had an early morning appointment which fell through, and so I found myself at home with the full day before me. What a beautiful morning: just about everything was right – the light, the temperature, the birds singing. Breakfast turned out to be some thick slabs of almost stale, good quality bread slathered with olive oil, chopped garlic and then put under the broiler. I found myself reading Elizabeth David’s Mediterranean Food. The household copy is now over forty years old, pretty badly beaten up, the pages have almost reached the point where they will crumble if bent, the spine is broken, and pages fall out now and then. It’s obviously a very well loved book. I reread for the umpteenth time her description of pissaladière , a sort of pizza from the south of France with an onion topping without cheese. That, I decided, would make a fine dinner for tonight. So I got busy on the dough and the onions, and by 3 P.M. I was assembling it. In addition to the onions, there were canned tomato chunks previously sautéed in olive oil, slivered oil-cured black olives and rolled anchovies with capers.
You can see the result above, both before baking and after. The “before” picture was taken in the sunlight, so it’s a lot brighter. What you can’t see is the look of sublime contentment on my face right now.  It’s amazing how good, how deeply satisfying, such simple, inexpensive food can be.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Pleione 'Tongario'

Why has it taken so long for Pleione to catch on with the gardening public? They are relatively inexpensive as orchids go, they are easy to grow, and at least some have been in commerce in this country for decades. And even the plainest ones are lovely.

I went through my Pleione stage decades ago: before CITES I imported about a dozen hybrids from an English grower. It was a real eye-opener when they bloomed: until then I knew only the familiar Pleione bulbocodioides, but these then newer hybrids had flowers with really brilliant combinations of color. Some were white with bright red spots, some had a strong flush of yellow.

The main problem with these plants is that they are not garden plants in our climate. That means that you have to bring them in in the autumn and get them back out in late winter or early spring. They bloom early, before the frosts are over, so there is also that to deal with. Also, the flowers are better if they can develop under cool conditions - and typical house temperatures are not cool. You'll do well with them as long as they are the apple of your eye; but don't expect them to gracefully accept a place in line for your affection and attention with everything else.

The corms can be wintered in the refrigerator in a plastic bag; I'm using a cold frame with good results.

The one shown above, 'Tongario', is an old hybrid which appeared on several American lists this year. It is probably too late to order them for bloom this year, but you never know.

The word Pleione is a four syllable word; since the o is short (it's the Greek omicron) the stress falls back on the i for those who use the text-book Latin pronunciations.

Potato chips

Now that I'm housebound taking care of mom, when I run out of things I have to improvise. The other day I had a real hunger for potato chips, but there were none in the house. So I got out the mandoline and made my own. The half life of a batch of freshly made chips is about ten minutes!

Paeonia 'Roselette's Child'


Hybridizer Arthur Percy  Saunders did more than anyone else to broaden the genetic base of garden peonies. He systematically produced hybrids which included as many as four different species in their background. This one, ‘Roselette’s Child’, has three species in its background: Paeonia mlokosewitschii, Paeonia tenuifolia and Paeonia lactiflora. It is said to have been raised from a self pollinated blossom of the hybrid ‘Roselette’.

The nomenclature of the wild peonies continues to shift; the plant he (and many of us) knew as Paeonia mlokosewitschii is often now made a form of Paeonia daurica. To generations of peony growers it was long famed as the only herbaceous peony with truly yellow flowers. A huge effort on the part of peony hybridizers went into producing yellow-flowered garden peonies. Few of the hybrids are truly yellow: the yellow pigments seem particularly sensitive to heat, and generally prove evanescent under warm conditions. But when the weather is just right,  some of these hybrids produce flowers which are unmistakably yellow.

This year, that’s what ‘Roselette’s Child’ did. This peony has been in the garden for six years, but never before has it produced a flower as distinctly yellow as the one shown above. This peony blooms very early in the peony season, and its buds are sometimes destroyed by freezing. This year several of the buds did die, and the ones remaining gave the impression of being about to produce green flowers. But as the bud expanded, the green became flushed with yellow little by little. It’s been unseasonably cool this week – night time lows have been down in the lower 40s F.  Is that what allows the yellow color to develop? Or is it a case of the low temperatures suppressing the development of the pink which sometimes appears in blooms of this peony? Whatever the cause, I never know what to expect from year to year with this plant. But I would not complain if it looked like this every year!

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Double-flowered hyacinths

Double -flowered hyacinths, those where the normal six perianth segments are multiplied, are probably as old in western gardens as the typical single sorts. Parkinson, nearly four hundred years ago, menitons several double-flowered sorts in cultivation in his time. The ones we grow now are sports (somatic mutations) of forms with normal flowers. Since most garden hyacinths have that well-fed-to-the-bursting-point look, you might think that these double flowered sorts are beyond the pale. In fact, from a few feet away it's hard to see that the flowers are doubled, and they make a fine effect in the garden.
Five sorts currently grow in the garden, and there are a few others still in commerce which I have not grown yet. 
In the images above you see 'Crystal Palace' (dark blue)  and 'Chestnut Flower'. The chestnut flower in question is not the flower of the chestnut (Castanea) but rather the flower of the hybrid horse chestnuts such as Aesculus × carnea.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Corydalis solida 'G.P. Baker'

When we think of bulbs for the garden, the plants we have in mind are almost all monocots. In that respect, this plant shown above is an anomaly: it's a dicot. There are a few other dicots familiar in the bulb trade, cyclamen and  oxalis for instance, but they are a small minority. And strictly speaking, corydalis and cyclamen do not grow from true bulbs (but some oxalis do).

Corydalis ( ko-RĬ-da-lis) is related to bleeding heart, dutchman's britches, squirrel corn and, more remotely, to poppies. They are, at best, a fleeting presence in the garden: the blooming period is short, and the plant soon after disappears under ground for the rest of the year.

The genus Corydalis offers the grower a wide range of challanges: some of them are weed easy, some are best enjoyed in books. The one shown above is one of the easy ones.  

Eranthis cilicica

This is the other yellow-flowered winter aconite which is sometimes, rarely, seen in local gardens. It blooms much later than the usual winter aconite, Eranthis hyemalis, and in my experience is much trickier to grow. I'm getting the impression that it needs dry summer conditions. It's also a smaller plant overall.

By the time it finally blooms there is a lot else going on in the garden, so it's tempting to nominate this one for the collector's garden. I'll take a few, thank you.