Friday, December 26, 2014

Smilax laurifolia

Of all of my accomplishments as a gardener, this is one of which I am most proud. And it took a lot of patience to get even this far: I collected the seed in either 1991 at Virginia Beach or in 1994 at Zuni, Virginia; Wayne and I used to take occasional birding trips to those areas back then. Smilax are very slow from seed: not only does the seed sometimes take years to germinate, but once germinated the resulting seedlings can be very slow growing. The plant in the photos above took years before it began to put on any size at all, but now it annually produces multiple ten to fifteen foot canes.

So far it has not ever shown winter damage, and it now blooms annually. In fact, it set seed last year  and the resulting seeds survived the winter. I collected some of these early this year, and one has already germinated and put up a sprout.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Iris cretensis

Here's a nice Christmas Day surprise from the garden: Iris cretensis. This is only the second time this species has bloomed here, but I don't expect it to be a problem plant at all. Like its larger relatives, it can take its time becoming established in the garden. Here it grows in a cold frame.  Numerous published reports suggest that it does not require that protection to survive, but the cold frame does protect the flowers.
It's bigger relative Iris unguicularis is also in bloom today - it has produced a cluster of four or five flowers. It's hard to believe such big colorful blooms come from the garden at this time of year - but that's what a well managed cold frame can do.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Schlumbergera Buckleyi Group

I'm pretty sure this is the plant I knew as a youngster as Christmas cactus. The hanging red flowers and the rounded edges of the leaf-like stems are characteristics I remember. Years later, when I began to collect and buy plants, this plant seemed to have disappeared from commerce: it was replaced by related types with pointed stem edges.

I'm pretty sure it was one of the plants which grew on Mrs  Koch's (she pronounced it "cook") front porch plant shelves. Have I mentioned Mrs. Koch in these posts yet? The Kochs lived two houses away on our street,  Eton Road. When I look at old garden magazines from the mid 1950s and see those "grow orchids on your windowsill" advertisements, I think of her. She had a tangle of epiphytic orchids around her kitchen window: I think she had more faith in their ability to thrive than I did. On her front porch were wooden shelves with a collection of house plants, a collection very much of the times: wax plant (Hoya carnosa), crown of thorns (Euphorbia milii), star fish flower (Stapelia), some begonias, spider plant (Chlorophytum), strawberry begonia (Saxifraga stolonifera), African violets and others, among them the Christmas cactus.

Last August Wayne and I were visiting one of his cousins who lives in the Virginia countryside. How country is country? Country enough to have bears and rattlesnakes wander through occasionally. His cousin had two huge Christmas cactus plants, and when I expressed admiration for them, she didn't miss a beat and invited me to take one home with me. The plant forms an oval about eighteen inches by about thirty six inches: huge in comparison to the ones I knew as a kid. Somewhere in one of my early twentieth century garden books there is a photo of a big Christmas cactus in a pot placed on a narrow round table in what seems to be a bay window.The cactus just about fills the space.

I've never forgotten that photo. Now I've got a cactus of handsome dimensions: should I start to wish for a bay window?

I took good care of it for the rest of the summer, and now I'm getting my reward: it's loaded with buds and blooms.

These plants ( there are many cultivated forms now) are hybrids of plants which grow wild in Brazil. The first hybrids were made in the mid-nineteenth century (the wikipedia entry cites 1852).  If this plant were the original clone (there is no way of knowing now) it could be called Schlumbergera × buckleyi ‘Buckley’, or in more modern horticultural  taxonomy, Schlumbergera Buckleyi Group. It was also known as Zygocactus,  a name which appeared in some of the garden books I read as a child.

This term "Group" deserves some explanation. It has no taxonomic status. There is no implication that the members of a Group are in fact related. The term Group is used by horticulturists when they are dealing with a group (lower case g, in the sense of aggregation) of plants which appear to be similar or identical but about which doubts with regard to their relationship exist.

Here's something interesting, especially given its provenance: some pieces which animals broke off the main plant were overlooked when the main plant was brought inside in anticipation of the first hard frost. Early the next morning, the temperature dropped below freezing for several hours. I noticed one of these detached pieces out on the deck and went out to take a look. It was frozen hard. It was brought in and allowed to defrost. And when it did thaw, it was fine. There was no sign of freeze damage and the buds later continued to develop normally. Note: after writing the above, I went back and read the rest of the wikipedia entry for Schlumbergera. It contains a description of the conditions under which these plants grow in the wild (the Atlantic coast of Brazil, near Rio), conditions which are characterized by occasional overnight drops below freezing in the nearby mountains!

The blooms shown above are among the first ones to open this season. There are plenty of buds left, some of them just beginning to poke out of the ends of the branches. So I'm pretty sure that this Christmas cactus will, in fact, be blooming at Christmas.

Update, December 26, 2014: the plant is still in bloom but past its best.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Cardiocrinum cordatum naturalized in a Maryland woodland

For more about this, see the September Quarterly Bulletin of the North American Lily Society. Two pictures were published there; the videos published here supplement those. There are several other short videos on hand; these might be published later. The bird heard in the background of one of the videos is a red tailed hawk, Buteo jamaicensis.

Cardiocrinum cordatum
and C. cathayanum (if indeed these two are distinct species) are alike in the unusual way their leaves are arrayed. They appear in late winter at ground level and resemble developing rosettes of skunk cabbage. As the plants develop more, the entire rosette of leaves is raised until it about a foot or more above ground. At this point, it looks like a hosta on a stick. At first glance the foliage appears to form a whorl, but if you look closely you can see that the points of insertion of the foliage are not planar - the seeming whorl is a false whorl. You can see this in this photo:


And here's what the seed pods look like:

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Mini Cyclamen

There was a time when Cyclamen persicum was the only cyclamen grown in this country, and it was grown for the house plant trade. The plants in question were selected in the "bigger is better" tradition, and somewhere along the line the delicious fragrance of the wild forms seems to have been replaced by a mild but  disagreeably pungent reek. House plant books from the early twentieth century generally mention these plants, often with the caveat that American homes are too hot for them to thrive. And some taunt us by mentioning plants in European homes which are kept from year to year, getting bigger as they go.

Much smaller, more compact forms of these cyclamen have been appearing regularly in the shops for years now. These small forms sometimes retain the sweet fragrance of the wild forms, and it's well worthwhile sniffing among them in the shop to get a good one.

Late last week I stopped by one of the big box stores for some hardware and spotted a full tray of some very compact cyclamen being sold as "mini cyclamen".  They were a very uniform group. After dipping in close I detected the great scent. The flower color and the leaves reminded me of Cyclamen cyprium, although the blooms were much more substantial. So two came home with me. I went back yesterday to buy one more, and all had been sold.

Modern marketing: when I got home I examined the plants and had a surprise: the pot they were actually rooted in was tiny, and it was supported by an ingenious little device with a long wick. Old books often contain warnings about the dangers of watering cyclamen from above, and anyone who has grown one has probably seen one flop when it did not get enough water.

There is a thread on the Pacific Bulb Society forum this week which discusses some of these little cyclamen. Those are from the Metis Pom Pom series: Are the ones shown above the same as the ones being discussed on-line?

These seem to have been grown in Canada, and are being sold for all of $3 each!

Update February 13, 2015: these are still in bloom! As of a few days ago they have been in one of the cold frames where they will spend the rest of the year.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Sedum spectabile 'Neon'

The intense, saturated color of this one really surprised me. Most of the big sedums have a dusty quality to their color, but this one really glows. Shortly before this picture was taken, the plant was much bigger and promised to be a major butterfly center. But a deer visited one night and ate most of the flower buds. So this is all I got this year. 

Thunbergia 'Sunny Orange Wonder'

Years ago I occasionally grew Thunbergia alata, the black-eyed Susan vine or clock vine. It's a reliable hot weather vine that slowly climbs to about four feet high.  It's reliable in the senses that it grows without trouble and eventually blooms freely, but it's too short to be used as most vines are.

Now fast forward a few decades. The modern black-eyed Susan vines have the potential to put on a real show. The one I grew this year, 'Sunny Orange Wonder', grew freely throughout the summer and bloomed now and then. But it wasn't until things began to cool off a bit that it started to bloom freely. No doubt it will be at its best just before the first good freeze. 

Helianthus salicifolius

You'll need some room for this one, but it's worth it. It's tall, broad and beautiful - it really lights up the October garden. It also self-seeds, but not invasively. I've long felt that the perennial sunflowers have a lot to offer gardens, but I don't see them in other gardens often. Wouldn't it be nice to have a big border given over to nothing but late season composites!  The nectar seekers would certainly appreciate it.

Elaeagnus pungens 'Fruitlandii'

This is the time of year when neighborhood fireplaces are apt to be burning now and then.The scent of wood smoke moves me deeply - as does the scent of burning leaves. And if one of the big autumn blooming shrubs is in full bloom the garden becomes a place of real enchantment. Favorites here for their scent are the autumn camellias,  Osmanthus × fortunei and this shrub, the Fruitland autumn olive. Both the autumn olive and the osmanthus have tiny flowers, but they are powerfully scented. In order to appreciate the scent of the camellias, you'll have to move in closely.

The flowers of the autumn olive are not conspicuous and are hidden by the foliage. In the image above, a branch has been turned over to show the blooms.

Sauromatum venosum

I grew this plant for years, digging the corns yearly, and not realizing that it would thrive in the garden as a hardy perennial. Once I let it go in the garden, I eventually had another surprise.It not only survives from year to year and blooms yearly, but it also sets fruit. The fruit clusters are up now: they remind me of pomegranates, but there is also a fungal quality in the way they pop up fully formed.  Something tells me that they probably don't taste like pomegranates.

The inflorescence of this plant is so unbearably malodorous that you might wonder why anyone would grow it. But the inflorescence is so striking when it is fresh: the raw beef and mustard colors of the interior of the spathe are surprisingly vivid and have a velvety quality. And the sprightly upward and outward arc of the spadix is very eye-catching, especially when they are seen in a group.But that odor....

Aconitum carmichaelii

I'm happy to say that this plant has been in the garden here for a long time; it's the only Aconitum which really seems to thrive here. Even the Maryland native Aconitum uncinatum does not do as well. Yes, I would be happier if it multiplied more freely, but at least it returns yearly and blooms. And what a color...

For more about this plant, see here:

Roses from my birthday week

It's a real pleasure to be able to pick roses from the late October garden: even if the colors and fragrances are not really better than they were earlier in the year, it certainly seems so.  The plants themselves bear only scattered bloom now, but with many plants to choose from a nice little bouquet can be put together. Above you see 'Mutabilis', 'Casino', 'Bayse's Purple', 'Awakening', 'New Dawn', 'Stanwell Perpetual', 'White Pet', 'Alba Meidiland',  'Moonlight' and 'Aviateur Bleriot' (or is it 'Ghislaine di Feligonde'?)
Mixed in among the roses are blooms or foliage of Phygelius 'Cherry Ripe', Artemisia absinthium, Salvia farinacea, Buddleja 'Buzz Magenta'.

Rosa 'Stanwell Perpetual'

With so many roses in cultivation, I'm intrigued by the way some roses have of maintaining a loyal following over the years - or in the case of this rose, over the centuries. It will have its bicentennial in 2038: if I'm still here, I'll be 95. This is not a rose for which superlatives are appropriate: its growth is low, its color is quiet and in spite of its name it's hardly perpetual. The flowers are a bit over three inches in diameter. But it does stand out for its fragrance: this sweet little rose caries one of the great rose fragrances, and it has a way of winning our hearts.  

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Hemerocallis in early September

Late blooming day lilies are nothing new: two of the three mentioned here have been in gardens for a half century, and the oldest of the trio was introduced almost seventy-five years ago. These late-blooming day lilies are an unexpected treat: they bring the freshness of early summer right to the edge of early autumn. One would think that that alone would make them valuable to gardeners, yet I rarely see any of them in local gardens. In the top image you see two old hybrids: 'Autumn Prince' on the left and  'Autumn King' on the right.  If you look very carefully you might be able to pick out a flower or two of 'Autumn Minaret', the tallest of the trio. 'Autumn Prince' was registered by Arlow Stout two years before I was born, so we have matured together.  He registered 'Autumn Minaret' and  'Autumn King' in the 1950s.

Hibiscus coccineus

According to its USDA Plants Profile, Hibiscus coccineus is native from Virginia south westerly to Texas and Arkansas. In the garden here it grows at the edge of a small pool; the crown of the plant is only a few inches above the water level. It grew here for years before blooming for the first time, but it blooms yearly now. The flowers are not as large as those of some of the hybrid hibiscus, but it hardly matters: a plant in bloom won't be overlooked!

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Narcissius romieuxii mesatlanticus

I've never been comfortable with the nomenclature of these little North African hoop petticoat daffodils or that of their Spanish congeners. The name I've used here is the "as received" name.

Nomenclature aside, these little ones have a huge appeal. I'm not yet sure how to grow them. There is one local grower who apparently grows this one outside - it must be in a very protected place. I'm not sure what to do with mine (mine being a collection of about two dozen of these hoop petticoat daffodils).  For now I'm placing them in a cold frame for the winter. 

Lilium longiflorum 'White Heaven'

Lilium longiflorum is the wild lily from which the Easter lily of commerce was developed. The commercial forms tend to be very compact in growth and relatively short. The wild forms can be much bigger.

When I first saw 'White Heaven' blooming in my own garden, I assumed that it was a hybrid of some sort. It's bigger than the usual Easter lilies, and it has the tetraploid look. So much work has been done with hybridizing Lilium longiflorum in the recent past that a hybrid origin for this robust plant seemed reasonable.

Earlier this year I checked the lily registry to see what the story was with 'White Heaven'. Evidently it was raised from two forms of Lilium longiflorum, so it's not a hybrid between Lilium longiflorum and another species but rather an intraspecific hybrid.

Here's something else I discovered (and should have known). For show purposes, these plants are to be treated as Division V lilies.In all of the shows I've attended in the past,  Lilium longiflorum has been placed among the species. 

Monday, October 6, 2014

Rosa 'Easlea's Golden Rambler'

This beautiful rose from the 1930s is noted not only for its lovely flowers but also for its distinct, bold and handsome foliage. It's not really a rambler rose as that category is currently defined, but it does produce long, supple canes.  When the time comes to whittle down the rose collection, this is one I'll try to keep. 

Iris 'Byzantine Ruby'

Although I don't remember the date, I do remember the first time I saw a photograph of this iris years ago. At the time I thought I would never actually see one, much less grow one. But grow one I did, and it seems to have settled down to life in my garden.

These arilate hybrid irises capture much of the beauty of their desert ancestors, but are much easier to keep under garden conditions. Their one nonnegotiable requirement is a dry summer. I keep them dry and well ventilated under some discarded sliding glass doors from the time the flowers fade until sometime in the early fall. So far, so good,...

Lilium canadense

I call these plants my red bell Lilium canadense. As you can see from the images, they are doing well. These are in their third year. It's at about this stage that the rats, rabbits, voles, woodchucks or deer find them and destroy them. But if they don't, next year's display should be really something to see.

The flowers of Lilium canadense are not large, but this species is often regarded as among the most graceful and beautiful in the genus. This year's plants bloomed too late for both the big Virginia show and our local show, but it would be nice to get a good stem to one of the shows one of these years.

Eremurus Spring Valley hybrids: fox-tail lilies

Eremurus or Fox-tail lilies are without a doubt attention getters. It's unusual to see them established in local gardens, but the reason is simple enough: they require very dry summer conditions. Other than that they are not difficult to grow.

Fifty years ago when I was in the army my mom sent me photos of the Eremurus elwesii I had planted just before leaving home for military service. The Polaroid prints are not too clear, but it's obvious that they were huge. My plants back then came from the John Scheepers company - in late summer they used to send out a brochure listing their Eremurus offerings. These brochures were addressed to Mr James A McKenney,  Esquire.

The plants shown in these images are the modern American-grown strain called Spring Valley hybrids. These are not as tall as the E. elwesii mentioned above, but they are tall enough: the tallest in the images topped six feet high. 

Anethum graveolens dill and larva of Papilio polyxenes

Most of us think of it as an herb and value it for its culinary qualities, but dill in the garden can be very decorative. Early this year I sowed a long row of dill, and when it came into bloom I reminded myself never to be without this plant. I let the plants set seed, and since most of it fell onto the ground, I probably never will be without it. I don't know how long the seed will live in the ground, but the hundreds of plants I raised this year from that early sowing taught me something intriguing. Those seeds I sowed had been purchased in 1994! Twenty year old seed germinates freely! For most of those twenty years the seeds had been in the refrigerator and dry.

In addition to its culinary uses and ornamental value, dill has another quality which makes it a good choice for the garden: it's a host plant for the parsley worm. The parsley worm is the larva of the black swallowtail butterfly, The butterfly is beautiful, but so too in a very different way is the parsley worm. In the picture you can see it protruding its orange osmeteria which give off an offensive (to us anyway) odor. (Please excuse the dirty weeder's thumb.) When I was a kid we called these "stink horns".

Hemerocallis minor

Hemerocallis minor has long been a favorite in this garden. It's usually the earliest of the day lilies to bloom, and its comparatively small stature makes it a nice companion for the earliest, shorter bearded irises. The flowers are sweetly scented, and the clear yellow flowers are carried on gently arching scapes. As a result, the flowers are often only six or eight inches above ground.
This is not a floriferous species: generally there are only four to six blooms per scape. Until it blooms, its fine foliage might suggest a coarse grass.   

Three roses: memories of a fleeting summer

The paucity of blog entries this year has an explanation, of sorts, but lack of material from the garden is not part of it. In fact, 2014 has been the most successful gardening year I can remember. My gardens produced wave after wave of flowers, and much of it was captured in photographs.

Here are three favorite roses, top to bottom:  'American Pillar', 'Leontine Gervais' and  'Veilchenblau' . These are vigorous climbers and will cover a lot of space if allowed. The bigger they get, the more flowers there are to cut.

The color of 'American Pillar' is a bit crude seen next to 'Veilchenblau' and 'Leontine Gervais', but the combination works better than I thought it would. There is nothing subtle about 'American Pillar' in the garden, yet it  produces a very cheery effect, one I don't want to be without.

'Leontine Gervais' produces flowers whose color varies a lot due, I suspect, to temperature. I've seen them almost white, white flushed pink or pale orange, yellow, yellow blended with orange. The colors harmonize beautifully; I know I'm not the only one who really loves this rose!

At first glance, you might think 'Veilchenblau' was selected for its color. Well, it was, but that's not all it has to offer. It's got a great fragrance, a fragrance free on the air. 

Oxalis hirta 'Gothenburg'

Thanks mostly to the generosity of several members of the Pacific Bulb Society, over the last few years I've accumulated a collection of about forty nominally different species of Oxalis. Most of them are species which grow wild in southern Africa. I've been collecting these ever since I realized that some will survive the winter here in a protected cold frame.

The Oxalis familiar to most of us in this part of the world are the little weedy ones which infest lawns. These have leaves which suggest those of clover. Many species of Oxalis have these clover-like leaves, but many others have leaves which depart dramatically from this basic trefoil plan.  Other than color, the flowers don't seem to vary much from species to species, but the variation in leaf form make these little plants very collectible.

The one shown here is the form of Oxalis hirta known as 'Gothenburg'.  It's notable for the very large bulb from which the stems grow - the bulb is almost as big as a walnut. It is shown here against a 1/8 inch grid. These are just starting to grow again after a long, dry summer dormancy. Other species are now in bud, and they will be shown as they bloom - as will the leaves as they develop. 

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Achimines pedunculata

This intensely brilliant little bit of color was grown from a tiny bit of rhizome received through the PBS seed and bulb exchange earlier this year. In an interesting coincidence, a plant of Sinningia bullata bloomed here this year, too. They share a similar  color pattern: I wonder if they share a pollinator in nature?  Achimines pedunculata seems to grow far north of  Sinningia bullata - their ranges do not overlap even remotely. I know I took a picture of the bloom of Sinningia bullata, but I can't find it.

Sinningia speciosa 'Carangola' or, the Carangola mystery

Back in 2010 I obtained a plant of Sinningia speciosa 'Carangola' from Plant Delights Nursery. That's the plant in the top image. Sinningia speciosa is the plant from which the house plant gloxinia was derived. The plant of 'Carangola' grew well and eventually flowered. It did not set seed - or did it? I bought the plant to test it for hardiness; it died during the winter in a protected cold frame.

Now fast forward four years. About six months ago I noticed a strange seedling in one of my pots. As it grew, I began to suspect that it was a gesneriad, in particular an Achimines. Because the rhizomatous bulbs of Achimines shed scales so easily, I though that was a likely source of the little plant - that it was not a seedling but rather had grown from a wayward scale. But it soon grew to the point where Achimines seemed unlikely. Flower buds eventually appeared, and by that time it was obvious that it was  Sinningia speciosa.  And it was a dead ringer for the plant of 'Carangola'. That's the plant in the lower image.

Years ago I had obtained seeds of a Sinningia speciosa cultivar from the PBS seed exchange. I wrote to the donor of those seeds for information about the parent: it was an 'Emperor Wilhelm' sort, one of the well known peloric houseplant gloxinias. So I ruled out those seeds (none of which germinated).

I re-use soil from pots of plants which have failed; but Sinningia speciosa plants do not produce vegetative propagules, certainly not propagules which remain dormant for years.

So my plant must have come from seed, and that suggests that the 2010 plant of 'Carangola' did set seed that I somehow missed. I have since learned that the seed pods of Sinningia speciosa are small and easily overlooked.

So is the mystery solved? Maybe, but in any case I have a handsome plant for my collection.

Osmanthus × fortunei

This is a hardy Osmanthus with bold holly-like foliage and very fragrant flowers at this time of year: it's blooming today. The flowers are not conspicuous, and in most years I become aware of them from the fragrance which carries so freely on the air. There are two of these in the garden; the larger one is about ten feet high and almost as wide.

The nothospecific taxon  Osmanthus × fortunei is used not for a clone or a species but rather for a group of hybrids.

I used to worry about these during bad winters, but they have endured without set back or significant damage the worst our local conditions have to offer.

Ipomoea 'Grandpa Ott'

The morning glories shown here came from a packet of seed purchased long ago under the name 'Grandpa Ott'. There are at least two other very similar types making the rounds: 'Star of Yelta' and 'Kniola's Black'. On-line you can see the lively discussion carried on by morning glory enthusiasts about which is which. Am I using the correct name for my plants?

Whatever they are at the varietal level, at the species level these are Ipomoea purpurea. In other words, these are the morning glories which will drop seeds and reappear year after year. The ones you see in the photo have been doing that for at least a decade here. Like dahlias, these morning glories get better and better through the summer; they are at their best just before the frosts finish them off for the year. 

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Rosa hemisphaerica The Sulfur Rose

It's been a good year for the sulfur rose, Rosa hemisphaerica: My small plant produced twenty-four flower buds, and almost to the last one they opened well. I had to give one or two buds a nudge in the way of a light pinch, but even those opened properly. What a treat to see this ancient plant flowering freely!

The unusual weather had something to do with it.There has been plenty of rain, yet the days have mostly been sunny, dry and breezy. When the weather does not cooperate, the buds ball badly.