Thursday, December 31, 2015

Storeria dekayi Northern brown snake: not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse - but this snake was!

This northern brown snake was up and about in Wayne's garden on Christmas Day. His garden is home to a stable population of ringneck snakes, but he sees the northern brown snake less frequently. He released the snake after the video was made.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Schlumbergera Christmas cactus blooming right on schedule

I was given this Christmas cactus in 2014. It bloomed well last year, and as you can see it's blooming well this year, too. This little video was made on December 30, 2015. The winter jasmine, Jasminum nudiflorum, in the background is in full bloom.
Schlumbergera × Buckleyi Group

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Winter jasmine and Santa Claus

It got cold last night, as cold as it’s gotten so far this season. I got up at about 4:15 and checked the thermometer: ours read 31̊° F. When I talked to Wayne later this morning, he told me his read 24° F. The readings here are generally higher than down there (he’s downstream from here,  at a lower level and south of here,  so it’s down in at least three senses). We had been getting such disparate readings for months, so we decided to use a third thermometer to check out our readings. It turns out that the differences are real and our thermometers are accurate.
It was brisk when I walked Biscuit this morning, but the sun was out and warm; at about 11 A.M. I let her out again, and this time I sat outside to keep an eye on her. The winter jasmine has over a hundred flowers open near the front door, so I moved my chair so that I could enjoy this view. Every time I go out or come in through the front door I pass this plant, and it’s had flowers for me for the last month. It is sheltered by the house wall and the huge fastigiate (but now with a much expanded waistline) Cephalotaxus, so the house entrance is in a little protected nook and its own microclimate. As I sat there, the sun quickly warmed my jacket, and I comfortably settled down into this cozy little niche.
Soon I heard the sirens at the end of our street, and I remembered that this must be the day that Santa Clause comes through the neighborhood on a fire truck – he is accompanied by helpers who distribute candy canes. This has probably happened every year since we moved here – over a half century ago! Mom loved Christmas, and she probably never missed Santa’s annual visit and the candy cane distribution.  So I decided to wait and greet Santa and get a candy cane.
I can remember from long ago seeing groups of people, family groups, lining the street awaiting Santa’s arrival. Today I was the only one out there on our block. At the far end of the street I saw what might have been two other people waiting at the curbside; otherwise the street was deserted. As Santa went by on his fire truck I got some pictures and a candy cane. I got the pictures because I could not help but wonder how much longer this tradition will continue.

I brought the candy cane in and put it beside mom’s picture. I could still hear the sirens off in the distance, and then nearby I heard the voices of excited children. I peeked out the door and saw my neighbor with her two children at the curbside. She was peering down the street, evidently trying to decide which way Santa was going. I went out and let them know that Santa had already passed. At that, her daughter piped up and said that she wanted a candy cane. So at that I went in and got “mom’s” candy cane and gave it to them. That’s something mom would have done!   

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

A mid-December bouquet

Mid-December gleanings 
I made a quick tour of the garden yesterday afternoon to look for things in bloom. I was not disappointed; the things collected were quickly arranged on the platter seen above. Then I took it to a meeting of our rock garden club that evening. By the time I got around to photographing it, things had shifted around a bit. If you are patient, you can make out Helleborus niger, Helleborus foetidus, Jasminum nudiflorum, Camellia sasanqua, Iris unguicularis and I. cretensis and a leaf of Arum italicum. The Camellia sasanqua is one home-grown from seed (the seed was planted on October 16, 1973!).

Bignonia capreolata

Bignonia capreolata 

As a boy I knew this plant as Bignonia capreolata. Then, for much of the last half of the twentieth century, it was Anisostichus capreolatus. It's apparently now back to Bignonia.
In October, 1980, when I drove down to Clemmons North Carolina to meet Wayne's parents, I climbed up into a tree to collect seeds of this plant. Plants raised from those seeds now cover the facade of the house.
While working in the garden today I noticed something interesting. Some of the usually evergreen foliage of this plant is coloring up, and the colors are very close to the color of the blossoms.
Half of December has passed, and we have yet to have prolonged freezes. One result of this is that many woody plants are ripening their foliage much later than usual - and in the process are showing unusual leaf colors. Some seedling oaks which in the past were never notable for autumn color have been very attractive this year. 

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Camellia japonica 'Morris Mercury'

Camellia japonica 'Morris Mercury' 

This is a new arrival here, from Camellia Forest earlier this year. It has the potential to be an important part of the garden in the long run. For one thing, it will probably prove to be cold hardy here. It was named at the Morris Arboretum in Philadelphia: if it can take the winters there, it should have no trouble here. For another, it's got red flowers. Red-flowered camellias blooming in the snow are one of my favorite camellia effects. For another, it's a fall-blooming cultivar of Korean stock Camellia japonica. There are red-flowered Camellia sasanqua - 'Yuletide' is the one usually seen locally; 'Yuletide' has good flower color, but it seems to lack hardiness. I've never seen a big one locally. 'Morris Mercury' has bright red flowers which are larger than those of 'Yuletide', and if it proves to be hardier than 'Yuletide' it should eventually make a large shrub. A large, hardy, evergreen shrub with red flowers in late November and December: what's not to like?
I hope if I'm writing about this one five years from now all of my expectations have been fulfilled!
The flower in the image was taken today - I expect later blooms to have better form; it's from a plant still in the pot in which it was shipped.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Tulipa doerfleri

Tulipa doerfleri

Doerfler's tulip is a Cretan endemic, and so far as I am aware it has not appeared in the trade. Mine came from a friend (thanks, Alice!) It's a handsome addition to the expanding list of small wild tulips suitable for our gardens. All these plants need is sun and moisture during the growing season and a reasonably dry summer. 

Wayne and Jim get married!

Wayne on the left, Jim on the right 
It took long enough: we met thirty-eight years ago, but it took the law nearly that long to catch up with our intentions. Earlier this year we took care of a lot of legal stuff - our wills, domestic partnership stuff and so on. From the beginning we wanted the wedding to be small; as it turned out, it was very small indeed. We opted for a self-officiated wedding (look it up - it's the opposite of Bridezilla's wedding). We went down to the wedding licence office in the District of Columbia on Monday, November 16, and after about twenty minutes with the clerk we had our wedding licence. We didn't expect that to happen so fast. The wedding had to take place in Washington, D.C. so we quickly considered several possibilities. Wayne suggested we go to the place we met: 1724 20th Street NW. Those of you who know the history of the local gay community and other activist groups should recognize that address: many organizations had temporary quarters there "back in the day".
So, here we are thirty-eight years later, a married couple: it's like getting an honorary degree!

Wayne photos Jim making strudel

Friday, November 20, 2015

Five oaks

This is the time of year when trees become particularly important to me. And of all trees, oaks are my favorites. Here are stories about five oaks.

Years ago, I gave my friend Hilda some evergreen oaks. She lives down on the water of the north side of the Northern Neck of Virginia. The climate there is milder than here, as witnessed by the many Daphne odora growing well for her. Some of them are the size of a two-seater sofa.
Among the oaks I gave her was the holm oak (aka holly oak), Quercus ilex, a species which grows wild in southern and coastal western Europe and north Africa. It's a well-known garden tree in England. I've tried it here in the home garden, but it does not thrive. What I really mean is that it does not survive. Wayne and I visited Hilda the other day, and she took me around to see the holm oak. It has grown into a promising eight to ten-foot youngster which shows no sign of winter damage. Here's a bit of the foliage:
Quercus ilex

While out shopping a few weeks ago, I stopped by one of the general merchandise stores in the area to look for gloves. Lined up outside on the sidewalk were some still-unsold nursery plants. From a distance, I could not make out what they were, but I saw red foliage. When I got closer, I realized the red foliage was oak foliage. There were several of these: four- to five-foot youngsters of Quercus shumardii in full, brilliant leaf color. One came home with me. Here it is:
Quercus shumardii

Last year, on one of our frequent trips to western Virginia to visit Wayne's family, we stopped by Timberville to see the old family home where his father grew up. Earlier that day we had been talking to one of his cousins who mentioned that she bought an oak which she took up to the old home and planted. The family called the home The Oaks, so an oak seemed appropriate. For me, the story got very interesting when she mentioned that the oak was an evergreen Asian oak. She couldn't remember the name. That did it: Wayne and I immediately added a side-trip to Timberville to see this oak. As it turned out, it was Quercus acutissima. But here's the best part of this story: his cousin had bought this oak at Lowes (of all places!) for all of $10. Here's a view of its foliage:
Quercus acutissima

I've long wanted an evergreen oak here in the home garden, and I finally have one which seems to be thriving here. It's Quercus turbinella, and it's one of those evergreen oaks which at first looks like a holly or an osmanthus. This one too has a story. I got it from the late Jo Banfield, who was a charter member of the local rock garden chapter. And she got her start with this species with a handful of acorns distributed by Panayoti Kelaidis when he was visiting on one of his lecture tours. Here's a look at it now:
Quercus turbinella

And our mossy-cup oaks,  Quercus macrocarpa,  in the home garden had acorns this year. This oak is probably better known as bur/burr oak. There were only a few acorns, and I managed to get six before the squirrels and deer got to them. They were immediately packed in a moist medium and are now sprouting. Only recently have I become aware of the size differences in the acorns of this species: those in parts of the south (Texas of course) are very big compared to those seen in the north.  Years ago, during one of the first years the home-garden trees had acorns, a neighbor took one look at the size of them and asked me to let him collect them. He had land in West Virginia where he hunted, and he wanted those big acorns to grow trees to feed "his" deer. They are big; I think these qualify as Texas-sized. Take a look here:
Quercus macrocarpa 
 Two Quercus marilandica and one Q. myrsinifolia were recently received from Woodlanders - I'll show those in the future.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Smilax pumila

Smilax pumila
This low growing species is not reliably garden hardy here and is grown in a cold frame. It's in bloom today, and with luck there will eventually be red fruits. It reminds me a bit of some of the Asarum or even of trailing arbutus, Epigaea repens. This species was first tried here in 2006; those plants went on to bloom and set seed, but the seed did not survive the winter, and the plants themselves eventually perished. That's why the current acquisition is being grown in a cold frame. It's the sort of plant about which most people will say "more curious than beautiful", "collector's plant" or "botanical interest only" - in other words, just my kind of plant. I've never met a Smilax I didn't like. 

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Symphyotrichum oblongifolium aka Aster oblongifolius

Symphyotrichum oblongifolium 

Years ago a friend called my attention to a long narrow planting of this aster around the corner from her home. Her neighbor had it planted all along the sidewalk, and it had formed a low mass which, when in bloom, was very handsome. At that time, I had plants of two of the best-known cultivars of this species, 'October Skies' and 'Raydon's Favorite', growing in my garden. But both of those were relatively taller than the plants along that sidewalk.
Eventually, self-sown seedlings began to appear in the garden. These were not so tall as the named cultivars. I like the one in the image above: a month ago you would not have expected it to have formed such a broad mass of bloom. I'll be spreading this one around the garden soon. And it makes a great companion for the Sternbergia lutea, doesn't it? (Look carefully, there is one peeking out in the upper left hand corner of the image). 

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Colchicum 'Glory of Heemstede'

Colchicum 'Glory of Heemstede'

Colchicums can be frustratingly difficult to identify, and that's as true of the wild forms as it is of the garden forms. Among the garden forms, some stand out for certain characteristics or combinations of characteristics. Things to look for are the width of the tepals, the presence or absence of tessellation, the size of the flower, the shape of the flower, the blooming season, the presence or absence of a white throat, the presence or absence of color on the outside of the tube (the structure which looks like the stem of the flower but is not). Some are fragrant (in the good sense), some have an odor (i.e. something not particularly pleasant).

And they vary in the intensity of their color. The one shown here, now over a century old, is 'Glory of Heemstede', and it has the most intense color of any of the colchicums I know. 

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Colchicums, an Esther Bartning homage

Esther Bartning's plate from Gartensch√∂nheit, October 1938

The ones in the top row, left to right, are identified as 'The Giant', 'Lilac Wonder', speciosum 'Album' and cilicicum
The ones in the second row are identified as 'Violet Queen', 'Waterlily' and 'General Grant'.
The ones in the third row are identified as 'Agrippinum', autumnale 'Alboplenum' and speciosum.
The ones in the fourth row are identified as Crocus speciosus albus (but see comments below) and 'Danton'.

An approximation done with flowers from today's garden

The ones in the first row are 'The Giant', 'Lilac Wonder', a substitute for speciosum 'Album', and cilicicum.
The ones in the second row (my row slants more than Bartning's) are 'Violet Queen', 'Waterlily' and a substitute for 'General Grant', Leonid Bondarenko's 'World Champion Cup'.
The ones in the third row are 'Agrippinum', autumnale 'Alboplenum' and speciosum.
The ones in the fourth row are autumale 'Album' and a substitute for 'Danton', the otherwise  handsome 'Disraeli' looking a bit tired after a week or so in the refrigerator.

Colchicum speciosum 'Album' has not bloomed here yet - the buds are visible, but they are not moving. If I can keep the rest of the blooms in good condition until it blooms, I might re-do the image later.

If 'Danton' still exists, I'm not aware of a source. In the text which accompanied the Gartensch√∂nheit  plate, Karl Foerster  describes 'Danton' as "the most magnificent of the deep violet colored giants".

'General Grant' is another hybrid I have never grown or seen offered.

In Bartning's plate the small white flowers in the lower left hand corner are identified as Crocus speciosus albus  - the name is now formatted as  Crocus speciosus  'Albus'. At first glance, they do look like that plant. But count the stamens: crocuses have only three, the plants depicted show more than that. I've substituted Colchicum autumnale 'Album'; perhaps that was the original intention.

For more about Esther Bartning, see here:

Try a right click to get the prompt to translate.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Ipomoea lindheimeri

Ipomoea lindheimeri

Here's a morning glory from Texas which is probably hardy enough to survive local winter conditions with a bit of help; I'll try it first in a cold frame. It's sometimes grown more for its thickened roots (it's caudiciform) than for its flowers. But the flowers are nothing to dismiss without due consideration. For one thing, they are relatively big: three inches across. Young plants which have only produced two feet of vine will produce full-sized, proportionally large flowers. And the flowers are fragrant.
Several other North American species of Ipomoea are worth growing for this combination of caudex and large flowers: I. macrorhiza, I. pandurata and I. leptophylla, for instance.
While in the Army I spent a full year in central Texas; during that time most of my free time was spent in the field studying the local flora and fauna. It was during this time that I became very familiar indeed with the name Lindheimer. The Wikipedia entry for Ferdinand Jacob Lindheimer states that one genus and over twenty species are named for him; the Lady Bird Johnson Center claims that 48 species and subspecies are named for him. 

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Haliaeetus leucocephalus The suburban ornithoscopist, no. 1: bald eagle

The suburban ornithoscopist No. 1: video: Wayne Crist, text: Jim McKenney

Under the title given above I’ll be posting some of the interesting, brief natural history videos Wayne has made. Most of these will be videos of birds. These posts will be numbered and marked “video: W. Crist;  text: J. McKenney”.

Video No. 1 was made on July 5, 2014 while we were visiting friends on the Northern Neck of Virginia. We were standing at the edge of a field, absentmindedly looking around. One of our party looked up and saw an osprey circling high in the sky. As we watched the osprey, a bald eagle flew into our field of vision at a much lower altitude. No sooner had the eagle appeared than a big buteo attacked the eagle and chased it off. You won’t see the buteo in the video – you’ll just have to take our word for it that it was there. You’ll see the osprey circling high in the sky, and you won’t mistake the bald eagle. 

Lycoris: prima donna of the oporanthous garden

Bobbie Lively-Diebold talks about her lycorises. 

The feast continues: this is the third post I’ve done this month relating to lycorises in our gardens. If the first one was a sort of hors d’oeuvre, and the second one a soup course, then this one, with over thirty images, must be the main course and dessert both. That I was able to be there and photograph these is mostly due to pure luck and serendipitous timing.  Some of the images could be better – they were shot at about 7:30 P.M as we moved quickly through the garden. Names might follow later as the planting charts are consulted, and as they become available I’ll update this post.
Our queen of the lycoris measures her domain in tens of acres and has been collecting them for tens of years. Where most of us get a sprout or two here and there in the garden, her plants sprout in thick clumps, like handfuls of bird seed dropped on damp ground. This week the turgid, buxom, sapid (but don’t eat them) scapes are pushing up like elegant asparagus throughout her garden. They  cluster tightly together like patricians surrounded by the unwashed, as if they feared being touched and contaminated by the coarseness around them.
Bobbie and I have been friends for decades, but she moved to a new place about two hours away, and I don’t get out to her place often. Years ago I had seen her lycorises late in their season, and it was a memorable experience.  What I saw yesterday was amazing. 

Lycoris chinensis 

More getting started.

A promise of things to come...

Another clump just beginning

This next group of four are either Lycoris sprengeri or hybrids with that species in their background.

Lycoris longituba 

Sorry about the names, but these images will give you an idea of the wonderful effect these plants can produce in the garden.