Articles for the Month of May 2009

Drops of Water

As it turns out the rains have returned for the last week.  Altogether now we have had 50% more rain than a normal May

Rainfall in May

Rainfall in May

Since the flowers were getting beaten down by all this rain (which I’m not complaining about mind you — I’m quite happy not to be watering the garden) I decided to focus on the water drops.  I hadn’t previously had the patience to get out my old tripod for long exposures but it does turn out that with the Macro lens you can get some really nice images that invoke the sense of mirrors within mirrors.

Water drops on Mexican Feather Grass (Nassella tenuissima)

Water drops on Mexican Feather Grass (Nassella tenuissima)

I should mention that I’m enjoying all the little things about the Mexican Feather Grass.  I originally added it to my ‘must have’ list from pictures that I saw from Nancy Ogen on Gardens Gone Wild.  We’ve planted two plants in the rock garden, but I’m also growing some additional plants from seed.

Another water drop explosion comes from Allium which catches the drops in so many ways.

Allium Purple Sensation with water drops

Allium Purple Sensation with water drops

 

Last year I bought three Itoh or Intersectional Hybrid Peonies at our local Nursery for a bargain price.  They established well and last week we got the first flower from ‘Singing in the Rain’

Peony 'Singing in the Rain'

Peony 'Singing in the Rain'

The Itoh Hybrids are a combination of some of the best qualities of the Tree Peonies and the more common herbaceous types.  The foliage is lovely and the flowers don’t droop as much as the herbaceous forms.  I have noticed that the leaves are showing what seems to be powdery mildew.  This surprised me as we generally only see this with phlox.  I’m looking forward to the very popular yellow cultivar ‘Bartzella’ flowering next year.  

I’ve been having fun looking at some of the small wildflowers that are appearing all around us.

Eastern Blue-eyed Grass (Sisyrinchium atlanticum)

Narrowleaf Blue-eyed Grass (Sisyrinchium angustifolium)

We have planted Blue-eyed grass for the last few years without paying attention to what cultivar or species we put in.  Each year they haven’t returned even though they were nominally hardy.  Now I notice that the pasture has lots of Blue-eyed Grass which grows without my help at all.  Although the flowers aren’t the brilliant blue that we have been planting they are still quite nice.

Blue-eyed Grass

Blue-eyed Grass

 

Another small flower that shows up in the pasture is some kind of small Geranium I think, though it doesn’t quite match with any description I’ve found yet.

Small Geranium

Small Geranium

 

One cute little wildflower that showed up in the wildflower seedings from last year (Wildseed Farms) is Toadflax

Toadflaz (Linaria marrocana)

Toadflax (Linaria marrocana)

 

Ideally I would find a new flower every time I take a walk about the property, but there is also a great deal of satisfaction in looking more closely at flowers that are so familiar they almost get passed by.  Red Clover is one of those that is worth paying attention to.  It’s the State Flower for Vermont and can be found in pastures around the country, fixes nitrogen like other clovers, and it is oh so pretty.

Red Clover (Trifolium pratense)

Red Clover (Trifolium pratense)

The Goddess of the Rainbow

 

Bearded Iris

Bearded Iris

In Greek mythology Iris was the goddess of the rainbow and the bearded Iris is a wonderful personification of that tradition.  It is always wondrous to see the range of colors and color combinations that are possible.  We have some scattered about the yard in various garden spots but also in a row that is dedicated to Iris so that we could feel free to harvest the flowers and bring them into the house.

Iris row

Iris row

Because they are grown next to the pasture grass we do have to weed them once a year.  Takes about an hour for the two of us and for that we get this several week period when there are Iris in every room with their fragrance permeating the house.

Iris in the vase over the fireplace

Iris in the vase over the fireplace

And one of my favorites is the dark blue arrangement that Beth puts on the dining room table.

Iris on display

Iris on display

And in a side note, it’s interesting to see that what started last year as our new rose garden centered on four David Austin roses has become a catmint garden.  They have just taken the spotlight and run with it…

Catmint garden

Catmint garden

Tree Peony Resplendent

When we returned from Boston there was a lot of growth around the yard from 5 days of sun and a little rain.  The Catmint has taken over the Rose garden and the the vegetables we planted before leaving have gotten off to a strong start.  All the seeds in the vegetable garden are off and running, including the corn.  It certainly goes faster when it is this warm.  We picked the first strawberries from the old bed and a passel of asparagus, both of which went for dinner yesterday.  And the Iris — OhmyGawd — they are blooming like mad and their fragrance is cast about the whole house.  But the flower that captured my eye was a a yellow-orange Tree Peony that is tinged with red.  This is the first time this particular plant has flowered after four seasons in the ground.  It’s in a particularly unsuitable spot with not enough light, but flower it did and I am more than grateful.  

Yellow-orange Tree Peony

Yellow-orange Tree Peony

Garden Vision Epimediums

When I was in Boston last week I had the opportunity to visit Garden Vision with Jon and Tuna.  Garden Vision Epimediums is the product of Darrell Probst’s breeding efforts.  It’s a small nursery in Hubbardston, Massachussetts that specializes in rare and unusual Epimediums.  They have an open house two weekends in the Spring and we were fortunate to be able to visit during one of them.  There was a wide variety of small epimediums set out for sale, but to really appreciate them you needed to walk back to the nursery to see what the parent plants look like.  

Son Jonathan overlooking nursery beds at Garden Vision Epimediums

Son Jonathan overlooking nursery beds at Garden Vision Epimediums

 

Darrell Probst has made several trips to China, Japan and Korea collecting Epimedium specimens, some of which were new to science.  Through his breeding he has created some marvelous color combinations and leaf patterns that continue to extend the desirability of these hardy little ground covers.  We brought back some choice specimens but some of the nicest were planted in the area mapped out for future evaluation.  Here are a few of the examples that we saw.

Epimedium grandiflorum 'Saxton's Purple'

Epimedium grandiflorum 'Saxton's Purple'

 

Epimedium grandiflorum 'Circe'

Epimedium grandiflorum 'Circe'

 

Epimedium grandiflorum 'Tama No Gempei'

Epimedium grandiflorum 'Tama No Gempei'

 

Epimedium x 'Domino' a 2004 Cobblewood Introduction

Epimedium x 'Domino' a 2004 Cobblewood Introduction

This last one, Domino, was particularly remarkable for the profusion of flowers.  From a distance the Domino plants stood out with a crown of flowers.  

Epimediums are a bit like ferns in that they provide a lovely green understory to the forest environment, but they are also a lot more hardy than their delicate leaves would imply.  Many of them open up with red marked leaves that only gradually go to green as the season evolves.  And they seem to colonize without being invasive.  Highly recommended…

Garden Bloggers Bloom Day for May

Time to take stock on mid-May flowering around Ball Rd.  We’ve been having great weather for the plants — rain every couple days and temps in the 70’s.  Front and center for us is the arrival of the first of the Bearded Iris.

First Bearded Iris of the season (variety not known)

First Bearded Iris of the season (variety not known)

We have a long row of Iris and this is the first of four to come in so far.  The fragrance of the Iris is designed to make you forget about Daffodils.

Many other flowers are coming in for this Garden Bloggers Bloom Day.  Roses, Clematis, Azaleas, Euphorbias, Peonies, Gallardias, and Alliums.  But I wanted to call particular attention to a couple of the flowering trees that fill our woods.  The premier tree right now is the Black Locust.

Black Locust (Robinia pseudoacacia)

Black Locust (Robinia pseudoacacia)

 

The Black Locust flowers stand out against the sky

The Black Locust flowers stand out against the sky

Think of the Black Locust as Wisteria that you don’t have to take care of and that doesn’t run wild all over your yard.  The flowers and leaves clearly show the relationship to the Pea Family and the fragrance is very nice.  There are insect issues later in the year with the locust leaf miner that gives the leaves a burned look and the locust borer that eventually does in the trees, but right now they are glorious.  The flowers also lead to to wonderfully famous honey.

At the same time the woods are also full of Black Cherry.  

Black Cherry (Prunus serotina) also looks great against the sky when in flower

Black Cherry (Prunus serotina) also looks great against the sky when in flower

The tree itself has many uses.  The fruit is edible for birds and humans.  The wood is premier for furniture working.  And the bark is also known for herbal remedies.

One of the unusual flowering plants this week is Enkianthus.

Redvein Enkianthus (Enkianthus campanulatus)

Redvein Enkianthus (Enkianthus campanulatus)

The Redvein Enkianthus is a new one for us, but I have seen its dramatic fall color and it has a reputation of being an exceptionally sturdy plant once established.  Like Pieris, a close relative, it should be a good fit to our area.  The flowers remind me of Pieris, Manzanita, and Blueberries and other Heath Family members.

Another more unusual plant flowering right now is the Meadow Rue ‘Thudercloud’

Meadow rue (Thalictrum aquilegiifolium) 'Thundercloud'

Meadow rue (Thalictrum aquilegiifolium) 'Thundercloud'

These are acting as lovely permanent companions to our Camellias.  As the name implies it has the foliage of columbine to go with these floating purple flowers.

Finally a few of the other flowers and then a look at the fully colored Goldfinches.  May is a good month indeed.

Clematis by the front door

Clematis by the front door

 

First Rose — Rosa 'Knockout Red'

First Rose — Rosa 'Knockout Red'

 

Rhododendron 'Roseum pink'

Rhododendron 'Roseum pink'

The Goldfinches are in full color

The Goldfinches are in full color

And then lastly the amber waves of grain

Waves of grain in the pasture

Waves of grain in the pasture

Just In Time Planting

As of yesterday we were getting a bit impatient with the progress on the vegetable garden.  The steady rains have been great for the perennial gardens but I still hadn’t gotten many of the vegetables planted.  And several days of sunshine had helped but when I tried tilling on Saturday it was still too wet.  When we woke up the weather had changed and was showing another rainstorm in the offing.  I went out first thing to the garden and gave the ground another once over with the tiller.  This time the soil was right — just crumbling in the hand as I squeezed it.  So I ran the tiller plow down the rows and then tilled once more for most of it.  I also removed one of the local inhabitants to protect him from the tiller.

Eastern Box Turtle

Eastern Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina)

 

Then I broke out the seeds and plants.  The snap peas had failed miserably compared to the standard snow peas, so I replanted them in part of the space and then added pole beans as well.  The sunflowers went in for general flower picking and to participate in the Great Sunflower Project.  For the main flower picking row I put in zinnias, marigolds, cosmos, cleomes, stocks, and a host of wildflower seeds from Wildseeds.  May the best flower win!

Then I put in 3 kinds of squash, pumpkins, and 2 kinds of cucumbers.  Finally I got to the seedling plants that had been hardened off on the porch.  There were 18 tomatoes (mostly Jetstar and Supersonic with Primetime, Juliet, and Grape thrown in), 16 peppers (Declamation, Boynton, Big Bertha, Yellow Pimento, Red Pimento, and Carmen), and 9 Eggplants (Hansel, Gretel, Fairytale, Little Fingers, and Classic).  Curiously, although the eggplants have been sitting on the back deck for nearly 2 weeks, no sooner did I put them in the garden than they were immediately attacked by flea beetles.  The latter have become a major pest for eggplant.  They devastate the leaves which look like they have been hit by a shotgun.  I thought it was amazing that the limit their range to the garden and not to the yard.  We may try growing some in pots.  As I did the final planting (the corn will have to wait for another day) the raindrops started in by about 1pm.

The newly planted vegetable garden as seen today

The newly planted vegetable garden as seen today

And by 4pm we had a drenching rain.  I was really glad that the timing worked out to get such a fine start for the seeds.

Go Little Scilla Go

Those were son Jonathan’s words as I posted on January 10th regarding my experiment with the Scilla peruviana this year.  Despite reading (for instance on the Van Engelen site) that this plant was not frost hardy, I liked it enough that I wanted to give it go in Maryland.  My original concern was that the plant poked it’s head well above ground in December so that I thought this one is so anxious to flower that it’s never going to make it.  Well the plants survived the winter just fine but as of April my concern was that they weren’t going to flower.  According to the Pacific Bulb Society they are notorious for skipping the flowering part of their growth cycle.  However it seems that I just had to be patient for all the little Scillas to finish blooming.  I guess these guys just don’t want to share the stage.

Scilla peruviana in bloom

Scilla peruviana in bloom

They are not only much, much larger than other Scilla but they put up multiple flowering stocks per plant, 4-5 apiece.  Most of the spring bulbs are finished at this point.  Just a few straggling daffodils and now these glorious Scilla peruvianas.  

Scilla peruviana

Scilla peruviana

This extensive plant and multiple flowering stalks is the result of one $4 bulb from Brent and Becky’s.  Based on our experience you can try this plant down to 10 degrees and expect it to not only winter over, but thrive.

The most recent flower to arrive on the scene today is a Japanese Roof Iris that had been overshadowed by an American Holly and surrounding shrubs for most its life.  Thanks to the loss of the Holly that the falling apple tree knocked over (talk about your chain of events) the little patch of Roof Iris is getting sun they never imagined before.  And flowering nicely as a consequence.

Japanese iris (variety long since forgotten)

Japanese Roof Iris (Iris tectorum)

In a testimony to keeping your senses alive to that which surrounds you, I was walking in the woods this past week after talking to friends about trees that are flowering along with the dogwoods in the local woods.  I had identified them as Black Haw (Viburnum prunifolium) by reference to the web.  I expressed the wish at the time that we too should have some of these pretty shrubs.  And so I’m walking along, staring at my feet for unexpected wild flowers and I noticed some white flower petals.  And I looked up to see not one, but three Black Haws on our property.  Now, mind you, I have been walking these woods for 33 years and have never noticed what were obviously very old Viburnum prunifolium.  So the lesson, dear reader, is that you need to be continually open to the surprises that nature has for you.   And that no matter how much you think you know what you are about to see, each moment has its own gifts to offer should you choose to accept them.  

Black Haw (Viburnum prunifolium) in flower

Black Haw (Viburnum prunifolium) in flower

Not two days later I was walking at dusk along the pasture perimeter and a strong fragrance (almost like honeysuckle) just stopped me in my tracks.  I traced it to a small tree and then realized that I had discovered once again the Russian Olives that are randomly placed in some of the tree-lined borders.  They have an intensity of flowering that makes you understand how they can be invasive but also a fragrance that makes you want to ignore the fact that they may be illegal aliens.

Russian Olive (Elaeagnus angustifolia) branch

Russian Olive (Elaeagnus angustifolia) branch

Russian Olive shrub-like tree

Russian Olive shrub-like tree

Happy Mother’s Day

 

A Mother's Day daisy from the pasture

A Mother's Day daisy from the pasture

I have to begin this post by wishing my mother (and all the other mother’s out there) a special day that is some kind of recompense for the years of hard work that go with the job.  Nothing fully captures the special relationship involved in motherhood quite like the Billy Collins poem ‘The Lanyard” 

In a little over a week we will have my mother joining us here in Maryland to share our bounty of flowers.  As of the moment that includes the Gibraltar Exbury Azalea which always invokes startled appreciated, no matter how many times you might have seen that vivid orange.

Azalea exbuy hybrid 'Gibraltar'

Azalea exbuy hybrid 'Gibraltar'

Another special deciduous azalea that stands out right now is Visco Sepala.  Unfortunately, pretty as it is, it can only be fully appreciated if you get a whiff of it’s fragrance.  It would be sinful to walk by and not sample its charms several times a day.

Azalea 'Visco Sepala'

Azalea 'Visco Sepala'

The Euphorbia polychroma are flowering up a storm right now.

Euphorbia polychroma

Euphorbia polychroma

And that includes the Bonvire cultivar as well.

Euphorbia polychroma 'Bonfire'

Euphorbia polychroma 'Bonfire'

The sun has finally returned for us and I’m sure that before long we will be hoping for rain.  However I did till the garden yesterday to turn under the cover crop and it’s still too wet to put in the tomatos.  The vegetable seedlings are in good shape, having been removed from their basement imprisonment but I need to get them into the ground before we disappear to Boston next weekend…

Basement seedlings are all ready to go into the garden

Basement seedlings are all ready to go into the garden

This is also the time of year when we become Maryland’s center for buttercups.  They are exploding into bloom all around the yard and pasture.

Buttercups bloom abundantly in the pasture

Buttercups bloom abundantly in the pasture

Buttercup (Ranunculus bulbosus)

Buttercup (Ranunculus bulbosus)

Also in the pasture are some of the prettiest grains you could imagine.  I need to spend some serious time with my books on grasses and see if I can become more informed about which plants are making up these lovely displays.

Waving grasses in the pasture

Waving grasses in the pasture