Articles for the Month of February 2011

Ok, It’s Time to Sing the Praises of Adonis

Adonis Amurensis 'Fukujukai'

Today the temperatures reached nearly 60 degrees and the Adonis celebrated by opening it’s flower.  I was very pleased to see that this one, just planted last year, has decided to stick around.  I know that they are somewhat touchy to establish so I’m especially glad to see this flower, one of the earliest in the Springtime.  It’s companion, in another garden bed, has put up a bud as well so we may have a two Adonis yard in very short order.

Not only did the Adonis flower but I heard a Bluebird singing high in one of the cherry trees.  Surely spring has arrived here in our almost zone 7 Maryland garden.  The Winter Aconite also continue to do their thing.

Winter Aconite (Eranthis hyemalis)

And I notice every year that they are branching out to other parts of the yard.

The species crocus in the lawn are springing up in many places — did I really  plant them in such odd spots around the yard?

Crocus species

And I saw a bee working away in the crocus, so she must be very glad to see some flowers showing up in the garden.

crocus with bee

The Special Atmosphere of a Place

This month’s Picture This challenge from Gardening Gone Wild is to illustrate the Genius Loci — The Special Atmosphere of a Place.  The judge, Andrea Jones, asks that we share our special place in a photograph that illustrates why it’s special.

We’ve been fortunate to see many of the great garden scenes that she illustrates with her pictures.  And while I have pictures from our tours in the U.S. and abroad, I thought it would be more appropriate to stick closer to home.  When we moved here the pasture that we inherited had no trees at all.  There was a small patch of woods that were entirely Scotch Pines that have long since died off.  All the landscape that we have was created slowly over 36 years and so there are a lot of aspects of our hill on Ball Rd that our special to me.  But I notice in reviewing our photos that one area stands out in recent years.  Behind the garage is a hillside that drops off into pasture in front of a line of tall White Pines that were planted during our first spring here.

Daffodils on Hillside

This is where we see the Daffodils in the springtime.  It’s also where the wildflowers are planted for the summertime.

Hillside Wildflowers

It’s where we have put two bright red adirondack chairs as a place to have a glass of wine as the day winds down.  Often there is a sunset to be seen from this hillside.

Red Chairs at Sunset

The pasture provides extended interest with the various grasses that grow up over the season interlaced with wildflowers.

Orchard Grass

But this special place also creates it’s own atmosphere come wintertime.  The Red Chairs against the snow with the White Pines in the background presents a holiday atmosphere that shows that gardens are not limited to the time of flowers.

The photo that seemed to me to best capture this special place came after a snowstorm just as the light was fading from the day and this is my submission for the February Gardening Gone Wild Challenge.

Late Afternoon Light

Back from the Tropics

Cattleya skinneri, the National Flower of Costa Rica

We are just returned from a week in Costa Rica where we sought warmth and refuge from the winter cold.  We went through multiple climate zones in Costa Rica and sought out as many of the country’s birds, flowers and other wildlife as we could in such a short time.  All told our guide counted 117 birds species in our various explorations.

Slaty-tailed Trogon

But more about Costa Rica in subsequent posts.

Meanwhile, back in Maryland, the weather gods reacted by providing a serious warm spell while we were gone.  When I looked around this morning it was still cold and dreary but almost all the snow had melted and things were starting to grow.  The Winter Aconite were among the first to show color, which is usually the case.

Winter Aconite (Eranthis hyemalis) popping out

The first two Crocus have popped up in the lawn.  I don’t know the variety but it’s like a white and purple species type.

First Crocus of Spring

This is appropriate to see because my first son was born 35 years ago today (Happy Birthday Jonathan!) and I remember seeing the first crocus on that day 35 years ago.

The snowdrops have been having a field day.  They are multiplying in the woodsy little area that I put them in.

Snowdrops multiplying

However, now that I see them fully open, it’s clear from the petal markings that they are the Giant Snowdrop type rather than the nivalis as I have them labeled.

Giant Snowdrop (Galanthus elwesii)

Or maybe the rest will be nivalis — we’ll have wait and see.  We can’t lose in either case.

The plants that went from barely visible to fully out were the Witch Hazels.  Once they start to unfold the petals it happens really fast.

Chinese Witch Hazel (Hamamelis mollis) at full bloom

Witch Hazel (Hamamelis x intermedia) 'Diane'

Even with all this growth starting the fickle weather people have given us snow again this evening.  It’s calling for 8 inches and I’m voting for much less.  We are right on the edge of the snowstorm and it could go either way…

A Visit to the U.S. Botanic Garden

Orchid at the USBG

I spent last weekend in the tropics, or at least as close as the tropics come in Washington DC.  I took a two day photography workshop at the U.S. Botanical Garden with Joshua Taylor on creative flower photography.

Photo workshop at the USBG

A really nice aspect of the course was that we had free access to the USBG for two hours each morning before the public arrived.  This meant that we could set up tripods and take our time in locations that would otherwise be too obstructed as visitors are passing through.

The Orchid Room is particularly hard to get to when the public is visiting

There was some classroom instruction but the bulk of the time was spent in exercising our cameras.  I did notice after the fact that I was so intent on the photographs that I didn’t spend much time noting the details on what I was photographing.  As a result in the pictures that follow you will see little of specific varietal descriptions 🙂

Japanese Quince with blue backdrop

The Amaryllis benefited from focus stacking to increase depth of field

Cyclamen - mother and child

The Old Man Cactus looks like a family to me as well

Striking orchid with purple veins

Orchid detail

Using flash to supplement the natural light

The backlit orchids were both challenging and rewarding to photograph

The U.S. Botanic Garden is open on weekends from 10-5 and is situated right in front of the U.S. Capitol.  Despite this prime location there is ample parking on Saturday and Sunday directly in front of the USBG in the places marked for permit parking only.  Apparently the latter applies only during the week and the implied threat is enough to make for easy parking (during the winter weekends anyway).  They have a new (to me anyway) outside garden which I will have to explore on another occasion.

Wanna Get Away?

Aoife's Bench in the Snow

Last weeks snow was one of the heaviest I’ve ever seen.  All the tree branches were dragging on the ground creating eerie sights the next morning.  We lost a few branches, but it could have been a lot worse.  Many people were without power for 2 to 3 days and, while we had a brief interruption that forced us to watch a movie on the iPad, the power folks pretty much kept the juice flowing for our road.   As it happened, I was on my way to California, and, with only a slight delay, I spent the weekend in the Riverside area.

It was nice to walk around without my heavy coat and while I can’t quite say I was basking in the sun it was at least an opportunity to see flowers growing outside again.  The camellias that my dad planted at the side of the house are a reliable a long term performer every year.

Camellias at the side of the house

There are two varieties, both japonicas with names long ago lost to history, and they are almost intermingled.  One a pure single fuschia red and the other, nearly identical in color is fully double.

Camellia #1

Camellia #2

These plants were part of my inspiration in planting Camellias here in Maryland.  Suffice it to say, if you can plant Camellias you should.  And if your climate zone says you shouldn’t plant them, you should probably give it a try anyway.

In the back garden I noticed that calendulas have self-seeded and are springing up like wildflowers.

Calendulas self-seeding

It’s not quite the California springtime, but getting really close.  I saw a few poppies by the roadside.

In Riverside the classic plant is the Washington Navel Orange.  The parent tree for the whole navel orange industry is still growing on Magnolia Avenue in a place of honor.  Prior to the explosion of suburbs around Riverside the surrounding countryside was all citrus groves.  At one time you could not drive on the backroads without encountering orange or lemon trees dropping their fruit on the roadways.  Consistent with all this history and because they grow pretty easily in the area, I planted a dwarf Washington Navel in my mother’s back yard and it now fruits pretty regularly.

Washington Navel

I also have one of these in the basement in Maryland waiting for a greenhouse to show what it can do…

Around in the front yard is a lovely large Rosemary that is flowering at this time of year.

Rosemary in SoCal Winter

Although we can get them to survive outside in Maryland we haven’t managed flowering yet.

When I returned this week the snow was hanging in there with more sleet and ice in the offing.  Despite this I saw several Robins downtown who apparently know something about the weather that the forecasters haven’t foreseen.  Or maybe not…