Monday, December 4, 2017

A mile post

My bedtime reading last night was from Richardson Wright's 1933 Another Gardener's Bed-Book. In the opening chapter he notes that the sum of the pieces he had by then written in his two Bed-Books was 730. Each of his Bed-Books contains 365 pieces, one for each day of the year.
This blog is not written on a daily basis; lately I've been lucky to do a couple of entries per month. But here's what prompted me to make this blog entry: I've now made over 730 blog posts since I started back in 2007! And while it took a lot longer for me to reach this point, at least I'm still at it.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Colchicum tessellation

Tessellation in Colchicum 'Beaconsfield'

Colchicum 'Rosy Dawn' a massive but untessellated cultivar.
The two images here show the difference between tessellated and untessellated flowers in colchicums. In the image of 'Beaconsfield' you can easily see the checkerboard pattern of the color. The intensity and clarity of this pattern varies with the age of the blossom and the light conditions. In addition to 'Beaconsfield', other cultivars which show this pattern well are 'Disraeli' 'The Giant' and 'Glory of Heemstede'. In 'Glory of Heemstede' the pattern is somewhat smudged but the overall color is very good. In 'The Giant',  overall the color is pale and so the tessellation is not distinct unless the blossom is examined closely.

For contrast, the lower image shows 'Rosy Dawn', an untessellated variety. Note the lack of the checkerboard color pattern. Grow this cultivar for its massive blooms: the outer tepals are more than an inch wide in well grown examples. 

Friday, September 22, 2017

Colchicum : Six large-flowered hybrids

Six large-flowered hybrid colchicums
I suspect that only those with a high tolerance for nomenclatural instability will persist long in an enthusiasm for the wild forms of the genus Colchicum. This uncertainty extends to the garden hybrids, too. Above you see six of these hybrids, six very well worth having. Some of the names date back to the pre-WWI hybridizing work of the Zocher firm. Whatever they are, they are wonderful. The enthusiasm for these plants when they were introduced  and the  sometimes hyperbolic naming  might seem excessive to us, but keep in mind that a century ago, the only colchicums likely to be seen in European gardens were forms of the diminutive European wildflower Colchicum autumnale and the ancient Colchicum byzantinum, aka Colchicum autumnale major . In comparison to those pale little ones, these big, richly colored and sometimes tessellated  hybrids are glorious, wondrous giants indeed.
In the image above you see, left to right, 'Rosy Dawn', 'Glory of Heemstede;  'Beaconsfield', 'Jochem Hof', 'The Giant' and 'Disraeli'. 'Glory of Heemstede', 'Beaconsfield', 'The Giant' and 'Disraeli' are all characterized by conspicuous tessellation.  'Jochem Hof' is notable for its intense, dark coloration. 'Rosy Dawn' is remarkable for the width of the tepals: some are over an inch wide!  

Sunday, September 17, 2017

The interconnectedness of things: a bite of pizza takes me back to WWII intrigues

 PizzaCS's Margherita pizza

Jim's favorite part 

Last night Wayne and I went for pizza. There are several top-notch pizza places within a five or ten minute drive from here, and last night we tried PizzaCS  again. CS in this case stands for the Italian come sempre meaning “as always”, an allusion to their membership in the Associazione Pizzaiuoli Napoletani.  If there are such  people as pizza geeks, this is probably where they dine. There’s nothing fancy about this place, but you can get a pizza made with mozzarella di bufala and the crusts are wonderful. 

My choice was pizza Margherita, and as I munched it I absentmindedly made one of those connections that I should have made long ago. Have you ever wondered who the eponymous Margherita was? She was none other than Margherita Di Savoia, Queen of Italy at the end of the nineteenth century.

About forty years ago, with little more with me than a Eurail Pass, a camera, some cash and seemingly unlimited optimism and enthusiasm,  I spent six weeks  in England and western Europe.  While in England, the “vegetarian hostel” in which I stayed (it had an opium poppy growing in the cracks of the front steps – I’ve got a photo to keep the memory keen) had a beat-up old upright piano in the basement. Out of curiosity,  I opened the piano bench and there I struck gold: volume I of Parisotti’s 1885 Arie Antiche. My offer to purchase it was declined: "You can have it" was the proprietor/manager's response. Two pages from this are shown here, including the page dedicating the work to Margherita Di Savoia, Regina D’Italia. 

Dedication page

Title page of Parisotti's  1885 Arie Antiche

For more about Parisotti, check out this link:

For more about Queen Margherita,  check out this link:

This book might carry even more history:  written inside the cover is this: “June Forbes-Sempill, München 1939”. Is this the Hon.  June Mary Forbes-Sempill, daughter of William Francis Forbes-Sempill, 19th Lord Sempill? Was she one of the many  aristocratic young English women sent by pro-German families to Germany in the 1930s for finishing? If so, her death in 1941 at age 18, "killed by enemy action", was ironic (from Her father, Lord Sempill, was a notorious British spy employed by the Japanese. He was so well connected that he never faced charges for his traitorous activities. 

Hemerocallis in mid-September

Mid-September daylilies with companion plants
Here are some late blooming Hemerocallis combined with others plants also blooming now. The smaller yellow daylilies are 'Autumn Prince', the larger orange ones are 'Autumn King'. Mixed with them are some hardy ageratum, Tatarian aster, a lone bellflower, common bindweed, Salvia guaranitica and several sedums. 

Colchicums 2017

Colchicums with companion plants. 
Colchicums have been blooming for about two weeks now: some of the earliest ones are already over for this year. I gathered these early this morning and quickly put together this grouping. Now I'll be able to enjoy them throughout the year. 

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Sinningia trio

Sinningia trio
I've grown to like these tall, lanky Sinningia. So far, the best way to use them in the garden has eluded me. They remind me of salvias, penstemons and even Phygelius.
The three you see here, left to right, are 'Butter and Cream', Sinningia sellovii and 'Scarlett O'Hara'. There are others, and I'm beginning to think I want them all.
They have yet to be tested by a winter in the garden; I know from experience that when dry they survive easily in a cold frame, but in recent years it's been easier to keep them dry in zip lock plastic bags at room temperature. 

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Smilax laurifolia

Smilax laurifolia 
Smilax laurifolia

The light green growths you see in this image are this year’s new growth on Smilax laurifolia. It’s making lots of strong new growth this year, and as you can see in the image it’s having its way with the crepe myrtle. The area caught in this image is at about the 12'-15' level. Were you to look at the top of the crepe myrtle, you would see the topmost strands of the vine waving in the breeze. It has just about reached the size where I’ll be comfortable cutting it for house decoration.  

Huernia keniensis

Huernia keniensis

My track record as a champion house plant killer notwithstanding, this little plant has survived here for over a half century. Another plant of this species was among the first items I photographed with my then new Kodak Retina Reflex camera. Those slides were processed in January 1964. Other images in that box include several of Scrapper (the family dog), a mata-mata turtle, Vipera ammodytes, and two Christmas scenes. I'll try to scan those slides and add them to this post later. 

The Huernia blooms now and then, and every few years I break it up and repot the pieces.

Huernia look like cactuses, but they are asclepiads,  related to the milkweeds. As the specific epithet suggests, this species is from Kenya in Africa. 

Gloriosa modesta

Gloriosa modesta

Gloriosa modesta

Long known as Littonia modesta, this little charmer from southern Africa at first glance hardly resembles the other members of its genus. For comparison, look here to see its more flamboyant relative, the gloriosa lily:
Once included in the lily family, they are now in the Colchicaceae.
The flowers of this little orange one did not prove to be very enduring - they lasted only three days. The flowers of the big showy gloriosa lilies last much longer than that.
This is a new plant for me: it came from the bulb exchange of the Pacific Bulb Society; thanks, MSI!

Rosa 'Maréchal Niel'

Rosa  'Maréchal Niel'
Finally, I think I’ve got it right. Decades ago I grew this rose true to name. But that plant, after blooming and proving its identity, developed canker and was removed. Two successive acquisitions proved to be false – and although ordered eight years apart from the same supplier proved to be the same false plant. The one you see above arrived only a few weeks ago and has already produced a small flower. It’s the real thing.
Helen Van Pelt Wilson, in her book Climbing Roses (Barrows, 1955), mentions that the blooms of this rose are very lasting. We had a good demonstration of that this week: the flower has come through several days with temperatures over 90 degrees F. and still seems presentable. Nor has the color faded much. Update July 28, 2017: the flower was still in fairly good condition on July 25. On the 26th, the petals turned brown but did not fall  - they dried in place.  
I think it’s fair to say that this is one of the most famous roses of all time. Its name appears in the pedigree of many other famous roses, although given the likelihood that hybridizers of the past and present don’t always tell the whole truth in these matters, perhaps such claims need to be taken with a grain of salt. But of its fame there is no doubt.
In the literature it’s generally described as golden yellow. I doubt that anyone who actually saw the rose would call the color golden. It’s more the color of butter. In the famous painting by Childe Hassam, it’s as yellow as a sunflower. Take a look here:
I’ve read that in the nineteenth century so highly was it esteemed that greenhouses were built specifically to house this plant. It’s not really a garden plant in our climate. Mrs. Wilson says bluntly that it is not hardy at Philadelphia. And Mrs. Keays, in her Old Garden Roses,  did not find it in her searches of southern Maryland gardens. Here in the greater Washington D.C. area plants have been known to survive for a few years, only to break the gardener’s heart when we have one of those winters which gets the global warming deniers braying “I told you so”.

But if you’re my kind of rosarian, you’ll at least want to try it once. Somewhere I read of an early twentieth-century gardener in West Virginia who grew it by taking it down in the winter and erecting a cold frame around it for winter protection. A green house is out of the question for me, but a cold frame is not.

Rosa moschata "Graham Stewart Thomas"

Rosa moschata "Graham Stewart Thomas" 

Rosa moschata “Graham Stewart Thomas”: note the formatting of the name. This is not a formally named cultivar, thus the use of double quotes rather than single quotes. 
This, the least prepossessing rose in the garden, has the most impressive provenance of any rose I have ever grown. 
Canon Henry Nicholson Ellacombe (1822-1916) Rector of Bitton,  Gloucestershire, late nineteenth-century author of garden books and mentor of Edward Augustus Bowles,   grew this rose at his home Bitton in Gloucestershire. Bowles acquired a piece of it from Ellacombe and grew it at Myddelton House. Graham Stewart Thomas found the Myddelton House plant in its senescence and rescued a piece. The plant I have in my garden now over a century later is a piece of the plant Graham Stewart Thomas distributed, the plant grown by Bowles and Ellacombe before him.

They don’t come any better connected than that!

Here’s another Bowles connection: here you see a flower of this rose on a page from the Elizabethan, 1597,  edition of Gerard’s Herball. This volume was once owned by Bowles, as is shown by marginalia in his hand seen elsewhere in the book. 

Rosa moschata on woodcut in Gerard, The Herball, 1597
For more about Ellacombe, see here
For more about Thomas, see here
For more about this rose, see the Help Me Find entry here

Hibiscus syriacus 'Azurri Blue' and 'Blueberry Smoothie'

Hibiscus syriacus 'Azurri Blue'

Hibiscus syriacus 'Azurri Blue'

Hibiscus syriacus 'Azurri Blue'

Hibiscus syriacus 'Blueberry Smoothie'

Hibisicus syriacus, the rose of Sharon, was regarded as a weed tree where I grew up. Every flower seems to set seed, and every seed seems to germinate – if not immediately, sometime during the next century. Decades ago I planted one of the standard  cultivars, ‘Blue Bird’. This one sets seed prolifically, and I eventually ripped it and its teeming progeny out. Or I thought I did: I’m still pulling them.  Also, the flowers of these plants are ephemeral, and the accumulation of fallen flowers beneath the bushes can make a mess.  
In an earlier post (see here:  ) I mentioned that when the National Arboretum introduced its handsome seed-free cultivars, that group did not include a blue-flowered form. I’ve been waiting patiently for a seed-free blue to appear, and we now have a readily available one: ‘Azurri Blue’. These blue-flowered forms are best viewed in the early morning: midday bright sun brings out the pink tones. 
Evidently there is a lot going on among hybridizers with Hibiscus syriacus. It’s a group I’ve largely ignored for a long time, so when I began to Google the group, I discovered that a lot has happened. One which caught my eye is ‘Blueberry Smoothie’. The images on line flatter it a bit I think, a point of view confirmed when I saw the plants in a nursery. But those plants were pot grown, and I have a hunch that more water will bring better flowers.

My ‘Azurri Blue’ came from Proven Winners, and the little tags which came with it gave me something to think about. These tags give information in both English and Spanish. On one tag the Spanish language version of the name was given as “la rosa de Siria”; on another it was given as “la rosa de Sarón" . “Sarón”, a misprint for “Sharon”, right? No, it’s “Sarón” and I think I know why: it’s “Sarón” for the same reason that the late Shimon Peres was Shimon and not Simon Peres. The name Simon came into European languages from translations of Hebrew texts, and those earliest translations were from Hebrew into Koine Greek. Neither Greek nor Latin in their classical periods had a way of writing the “sh” sound, and it presumably did not exist in the spoken languages. So a Hebrew name such as Shimon was transliterated as Simon. And so the Hebrew Sharon, the name of a plain west of Jerusalem, became Saron in those western languages which got the word early on from Greek and Latin texts.  

Lilium 'Fusion'

Lilium 'Fusion'

Here’s something new and exciting for our gardens. Lilium ‘Fusion’ is said to be a hybrid of Lilium longiflorum and one of the lilies native to the west coast of North America, probably Lilium pardalinum.   During the first half of the twentieth century, as long as Carl Purdy and his native American collectors continued to supply wild collected bulbs, these western American lilies were evidently common in eastern American and British gardens. Competing with these wild-collected bulbs were the imposing Bellingham hybrids raised, and distributed, by the thousands by David Griffiths. Do any of these survive today?
The flowers of ‘Fusion’ are zygomorphic, something seen in some lilies of the martagon group and in some Cardiocrinum. The foliage is scattered on the stem, not whorled. Let’s hope it turns out to be a good garden plant in our area.

Cleome ‘Señorita Rosalita’

Cleome ‘Señorita Rosalita’, Lilium 'LeVern Friemann' (aka 'Miss Feya') Mema's crepe myrtle
Two or three years ago, while visiting his mother in Bridgewater, Virginia, Wayne and I saw a group of what seemed to be dwarf cleome in a local garden. A seed grown strain of dwarf cleome had just been introduced under the name ‘Sparkler’, and that might have been what those plants were. ‘Sparkler’ seed is expensive, and I’ve been waiting for the price to come down.

While plant shopping early this year I spotted plants from Proven Winners under the name ‘Señorita Rosalita’ and decided to give them a try. They were planted in big tubs in mid-May, and by now they have formed very handsome bushel basket sized masses of bloom. If they keep this up all summer, they’ll get my vote as one of the really important new annuals for our gardens. And they don’t  form seeds so there will not be a cleome invasion to deal with next year. 

Here's more information about the lily shown here: History of Lilium 'LeVern Friemann'

Euphorbia decaryi

Euphorbia decaryi

Euphorbia decaryi

This little plant comes from southeast Madagascar and is another long term survivor here. Decades ago I briefly belonged to the local cactus and succulent club. At one of their plant exchanges I selected this plant. It had been contributed by none other than Harry Dewey, one of my much admired predecessors as editor of the local rock garden bulletin.

Is this the first time it has bloomed here? I’m not sure, but if it bloomed in the past I did not notice. 

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Calathea roseopicta 'Medallion' and Kong coleus

Calathea roseopicta 'Medallion' and coleus Kong
I would like to take a lot of credit for this attractive combination, but the credit goes to the protean fecundity of that mother of invention, necessity. I had bought the Calathea on impulse and needed a place for it. It would look great in the house but almost surely die quickly. A shady place outside seemed like a good idea, but exactly which shady place? So I decided to put it out on the deck, and noticing the free space between the two coleus, popped it into that space. Then I took a second look and realized "Wow, that really works!"

The Calathea came unlabeled, but a quick search of Google images led me to the name used above.

Nomenclature note: most of the plants once known as Coleus , after banishment to Solenostemon in the late twentieth century, are now placed in Plectranthus. A half century ago Ernst Mayr provided a very plausible species concept. But no one has ever done the same for genera, and I gave up "believing" in genera decades ago.  I treat them as opinions, some well-founded, some not so much so.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Lilium 'Corsage' back from the brink!

Lilium 'Corsage' photographed June 17, 2017

Lilium 'Corsage' photographed June, 1979
I was growing lilies for nearly twenty years before I took an interest in what was going on in the greater lily world - the organizations, the hybridists, the commercial suppliers of hybrid lilies and so on. I became aware of hybrid lilies from two main sources: the catalog of Blackthorne Gardens and the catalog of the Peter de Jager company. The de Jager catalog back in the 1960s had pages of beautiful, full-color modern photographs of the de Graaff hybrids, among them photos of the one you see above, 'Corsage'.
One of the images you see above is a  scan done this morning of a Kodachrome slide made in 1979, the other is a digital photo taken this morning.
No lily from back in those days still survives in my garden. Few lilies from back in those days survive in commerce. When lily stocks became infected with virus back in those days, we assumed that was the end for them - forever. Then we learned about the possibilities of meristem culture, and that stocks could be cleaned up to some extent. But by then much seems to have been lost, and one after another, favorite lilies became commercially extinct. When I lost my home-grown stocks of 'Corsage', I never expected to see it again.
But it's back! I have not heard the background story yet, but there it was in the late winter catalogs of 2017. And now it's blooming again in my garden, nearly forty years after that Kodachrome slide was taken. 

Monday, March 13, 2017

Catch up time

Has it really been almost two months since the last blog post? And it's not because of a lack of noteworthy events. Yikes, time is flying. I'll try to get some catch up going today.
Spring began here on February 23; the criterion which determines this for me is the calling of the first peepers. Wayne heard them on that date down in the nearby KenGar wetlands.  But they have not been calling much since then, although there was a two day period when peepers, upland chorus frogs and wood frogs could all be heard together.
We'll probably be in the deep freeze for the rest of this week, so the next peeper choruses are at least a week off. 

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Iris cretensis : hard to believe that something this beautiful blooms now!

Iris cretensis

Winter has yet to take a deep bite out of the garden, but even so many plants which would ordinarily be pushing up against much stiffer weather are holding back this year. The first of the lawn snowdrops are up, and the clone selected here and called 'Christmas' is in full bloom - finally, because it was late for Christmas. The snowdrop I call 'Thanksgiving' was also late this year. Two different acquisitions of the one spot forms of Galanthus elwesii are now in full bloom. The first flowers of Jasminum nudiflorum opened today, and yesterday I saw flowers opening on Hamamelis 'Jelena' and Lonicera fragrantissima. Little Narcissus cantabricus has a tiny bloom mostly open and resting on the mulch surface. So things are happening. But we really have not had winter yet, so who's to say what's ahead?
When I checked the cold frames today there was a nice surprise waiting. That's Iris cretensis you see above. Its flowers are bigger than those of any reticulate iris, but they are smaller than those of Iris unguicularis. I had to wait for the generous flowering shown above: like Iris unguicularis, this one takes its time (as in a year or two)  to settle in and bloom freely. But it's worth the wait, isn't it? 

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Happy New Year from the garden

So little was in bloom in the garden this New Year's Day that I decided to build a New Year's Day display which emphasized foliage. Luckily I have plently to choose from in the foliage department.
But first the flowers: pink Camellia sasanqua is the brightest one in the garden today: these flowers are from a home-grown plant grown from seed planted in the mid 1970s.  The other blooms are the blue Algerian iris, Iris unguicularis, blooming this week for the first time this season (which is to say, late for this plant). There is a snowdrop, the Galanthus elwesii form I call 'Thanksgiving' because in most years it blooms on that day. This year it started a week or two after Thankgiving Day and has continued in good form until now. There are other snowdrops blooming now, too. There is a bud of Helleborus niger: they too are late this year.
Now for the foliage: see what you can pick out. Cephalotaxus harringtonia 'Fastigiata', Hedera helix, Rhapidophyllum hystrix, Smilax pumila, Smilax walteri, Smilax laurifolia, Smilax smallii, Laurus nobilis, Rohdea japonica, Euonymus fortunei, Dryopteris goldiana, Vaccinium myrsinites, Buxus sempervirens, Fatsia japonica, Asarum maximum, Ruscus aculeatus, Danaë racemosa, Arum italicum, and fruit of Nandina domestica.
The Smilax walteri and S. laurifolia were collected as seed in far southeastern Virginia during a birding trip Wayne and I took in the early 1990s.