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Traveling in the Springtime

Paonia ostii

We were gone for a week in mid-April and as might be expected you will miss some things at this time of year as part of price of traveling.  We bought the above Osti’s Peony from Wrightman’s Alpines as a very small plant in 2015 so this was first time we were to see it in bloom, and we almost missed it.  Similarly  a very dwarf yellow Rhododendron that we got just last year from McCue Gardens was already past its peak in flowering when we got back.

Rhododendron ‘Wren’

Another one we missed was the first of the Molly the witch peonies.  However, the second one still had a flower bud opening.  I keep planting them in the hopes that I will end up the yellow flowers the Mollys are famous for.

Paeonia mlokosewitschii

Similarly, but more unfortunate, the Dryas octopetala that had three buds had already finished blooming by the time we returned.  We had planted seeds of the Dryas last year after enjoying them when we went to the Dolomites.  Fortunately there were still a lot of flowers to enjoy upon our return.  Especially a few more Peonies.

Paeonia obovata var. ‘Willmottiae’

Paonia perigrina

Tree Peony Light Pink

Another of Arisaemas has popped up.

Arisaema sikokianum

It is particularly striking with the bright white spadix.

Various of the Euphorbias are lighting up the garden as well as several dwarf Iris flowers.

Euphorbia polychroma

Dwarf Iris orange

In a couple of spots we have lovely little blue Corydalis flowers.

Corydalis ‘Eric the Red’ (named for the leaves)

Back in alpine bed, the Kidney Vetch that I started from seed obtained from BotanyCa is growing very strongly.

Astragalus vulneria v. coccoina

Nearby is a lovely white Pasque Flower that my son grew from seed obtained from the AGS seed exchange in 2012.

Pulsatilla hallerii slavica

And one last flower is the first Clematis of the season.

Clematis ‘Niobe’

And let me close out this post with the note that if you focus on foliage you are never disappointed by missing the flowers.

Acer palmatum dissectum ‘Viridis’

Jewels of Spring

Hepatica americana pink

It’s that time of year when I wish each day would linger so that we can enjoy all the jewels of springtime that are popping up day by day.  I’m so busy outside that I’ve not kept up with recording all the flowers coming into bloom right now.  The spring ephemerals are always at the top of my enjoyment list.  Many of them are small, transitory, and wonderfully beautiful.  Hepaticas come to mind with their small hairy leaves and colorful stamens.

Hepatica japonica purple

Hepatica japonica red and white

But there are many competitors for my eye.  Here are a few that have come in the last few weeks.

Chionodoxa forbesii ‘Blue Giant’

Chionodoxa forbesii ‘Pink Giant’

Pulsatilla grandis

Primula allionii ‘Wharfefdale Ling’

Geum reptans

This is a new plant grown from seed obtained from the Scottish Rock Garden Club seed exchange last year.

Corydalis kusnetzovii x C.solida ‘Cherry Lady’

A new addition from Augis Bulbs last summer.

Corydalis solida ‘Beth Evans’

Erythronium dens-canis ‘Rose Queen’

Jeffersonia diphylla

Sanguinaria canadensis ‘Multiplex’

Arisaema ringens

Anemone blanda ‘Violet Star’

Spring Beauty ‘Clatonia virginica’

Fessia hohenackeri (note the stamens)

A favorite combo – Chionodoxa and Anemone blanda

Of course, even in springtime the greenhouse is contributing it’s part.

Ferraria ferrariola

Moraea sp. MM 03-04a blue

Tritonia ‘Bermuda Sands’

Scilla peruviana

A wonderful plant.  I have some outside as well and last year they managed to flower.

Paradisea lusitanica

This comes on a 3 1/2 foot stalk.  I’m going to try putting it outside this year.  It’s marginally hardy in our area and it would be wonderful if it succeeds.

And then lastly the greenhouse provided a lot of color to the house

Clivia in the Entryway

Strawberry Jewels & More

Strawberry jewels

Strawberry jewels

Last year we replanted strawberries after disease had taken hold in our old row.  I first put in 25 Jewel strawberries in a double row 18″ apart with pinebark mulch.  Those 25 were allowed to expand and expand they did.  I would say that the mesh of strawberries is about three foot wide and so dense as to exclude most weeds.

Double row of Jewel Strawberries

Double row of Jewel Strawberries

They have been extraordinarily productive.  We’ve been bringing in a very large bowel of strawberries every night and predominantly from this patch.  Later on last year, near the end of June I added another 50 plants (Allstar & Cavendish) and those have been contributing too, but not nearly so many as the jewel plants.  Somehow in my unreasonable fear that we would not have enough strawberries, I added another 25 strawberry plants this spring (Cabot).  I think we will need help picking next year.

3 nights of strawberry picking

3 nights of strawberry picking

Meanwhile on the flower front much has been happening.  I was really pleased to see the Martagon lily ‘Arabian Knight’ flowering for the first time.

Martagon Lily 'Arabian Knight'

Martagon Lily ‘Arabian Knight’

I love the way the Martagons have a completely different profile from the normal lily hybrids.  The foliage itself makes a statement.  We’ve also have the first flower on a small Chinese lily that I got from Far Reaches this year.

Lilium duchartrei

Lilium duchartrei

This is said to spread underground so that should be fun.  I wouldn’t mind a clump of these little guys.

I was more than pleased to see that a couple of my favorite Arisaemas (fargesii and candidissimum) have finally decided to emerge.  Take a note for future years that I should not expect or dig in these areas until June.

Arisaema fargesii

Arisaema fargesii

There are a number of little rain lilies popping out in the greenhouse right now.  They are all a bit tender for this area, but I may give them a shot at outside exposure when I have enough of them in hand.  For the moment I just take out to sit on the back porch.

Habranthus brachyandrus

Habranthus brachyandrus

Zephyranthes rosea

Zephyranthes rosea

Habranthus tubispathus var. texensis

Habranthus tubispathus var. texensis

Zephyranthes dichromantha

Zephyranthes dichromantha

You can see from the pictures that these little bulbs are multiplying in there pots, but it’s hard to compete with the oxalis which REALLY multiply in the pots.  I started separating out the oxalis from 2013 plantings this year as they went dormant and the original 1-3 bulbs have expanded a lot.

Oxalis flava 'Yellow'

Oxalis flava ‘Yellow’

Oxalis flava 'Yellow' yield

Oxalis flava ‘Yellow’ yield

They can be kept in a bag until August when they will be ready to go again for fall/winter blooming in the greenhouse.  As a reminder the Oxalis in the greenhouse are nothing like the little pests you find in the garden.

Oxalis flava - yellow

Oxalis flava – yellow

Thinking of the greenhouse, there is a South American bulb with gorgeous deep blue flowers that has been blooming steadily for the last two weeks.

Gelasine elongata

Gelasine elongata

I always enjoy seeing these new bulbs or seeds bloom for the first time.  I recently planted out several Anemone multifida ‘Rubra’ that I grew from the NARGS seed exchange in 2014.

Anemone multifida 'Rubra'

Anemone multifida ‘Rubra’

Similarly this little Dianthus that I planted in tufa was grown from the NARGS 2014 seed exchange.

Dianthus spiculifolius

Dianthus spiculifolius

Speaking of seed exchanges, now is the time to be gathering seed from the early flowering plants.  For many of them, like the Jeffersonia, you have to watching carefully to see that you get the seeds before the wind and the insects do…

Harvesting Jeffersonia dubia seeds

Harvesting Jeffersonia dubia seeds

Jeffersonia dubia seeds

Jeffersonia dubia seeds

Identifying the seeds for these large seeded plants is pretty straightforward but many plants are pretty tricky.  Helps you appreciated what goes on for a more wide-ranging seed collector like BotanyCA.

I had a perfectly wonderful time at the NARGS annual meeting, but that deserves a posting in itself.  I will say that I brought back a number of exotic plants including this little Conandron that I’ve put in the alpine bed.

Conandron ramondioides

Conandron ramondioides

The alpine bed continues to be very successful.  I’ve added another Lewisia since they seem to like it so much.

Lewisia longipetala ‘Little Peach’

Lewisia longipetala ‘Little Peach’

And the alpine aster has returned from last year.

Aster alpina

Aster alpina

Out in the main garden beds the astrantia is coming into bloom, along with the horned poppies.

Astrantia 'Moulin Rouge'

Astrantia ‘Moulin Rouge’

Yellow Horned Poppy (Glaucium flavum)

Yellow Horned Poppy (Glaucium flavum)

Orange Horned Poppy (Glaucium flavum var. aurantiacum)

Orange Horned Poppy (Glaucium flavum var. aurantiacum)

There is one little garden mystery.  Somehow a european spotted orchid has appeared on the opposite side of the yard from where it bloomed last year (and where it has no flower buds this year).  I have no memory of having planted one in this spot.  But nonetheless it seems to be happily blooming away.

Dactylorhiza fuchsii

Dactylorhiza fuchsii

Let me close with the first thing I check in the morning — the spuria iris.

Spuria Iris 'Cinnebar Red'

Spuria Iris ‘Cinnebar Red’

Spuria iris 'Stella Irene'

Spuria iris ‘Stella Irene’

 

Garden Blogger’s Bloom Day

Primrose vulgaris in the greenhouse

Primrose vulgaris in the greenhouse

It’s Garden Blogger’s Bloom Day and there could be few days that would seem to be less promising for flowers.  The temperature topped out at 19º today and is headed for 3º tonight.  There was no real full-throated flowering outside in Maryland today, at least not on our hillside.  I did manage a few spots of interest as I took a short, well-wrapped walk around the yard.  It’s not surprising that the Adonis is fully ready to flower if we ever get a break from this weather.

Adonis amurensis 'Fukujukai'

Adonis amurensis ‘Fukujukai’

Despite the picture we don’t have much more than a smattering of snow.  Mostly it’s just cold.  I guess the good part for the plants is that it hasn’t been the same cycle of warm then cold that we had last year.  Any plant with good sense is staying well curled up right now.  The first snowdrops were out a few weeks ago and they were knocked down by wind and the tiny bit of snow we had last night.

Snowdrops driven into the snow

Snowdrops driven into the snow

The other hint of spring that I saw outside was the first coloring up of the red witch hazel.

Hamamelis × intermedia 'Diane'

Hamamelis × intermedia ‘Diane’

Every little bit of color gets bonus points right now.

Most of the flowering that I have to offer is in the greenhouse.  The greenhouse got down to 31º last night with all the heating I normally use.  And that was on a 9º night.  So I’ve added another temporary heater to the 110v circuit in hopes that I can cope with the 3º in the forecast.  There are a lot of plants out there worth protecting.  We have enjoyed a lot of oxalis.  Some even go through a second flowering.

Oxalis compressa double form

Oxalis compressa double form

The oxalis are particularly interesting from side and back views as well.

Oxalis compressa double form backside

Oxalis compressa double form backside

Oxalis cathara backside

Oxalis cathara backside

Since December we’ve been enjoying a sequence of hoop Narcissus as well.

Narcissus 'Firelight Gold'

Narcissus ‘Firelight Gold’

Narcissus catabricus 'Silver Palace'

Narcissus catabricus ‘Silver Palace’

These frost-tender narcissus all come from Spain or North Africa and I don’t find they have the distinctive fragrance that I associate with Narcissus.  Nonetheless they are easy to grow from seed and make nice companions to the oxalis to brighten up a winter day.

One of the things that leads me out to the greenhouse every day is checking on the new seedlings from the seed exchange plantings.  I never fail to be amazed at the rapid development of the plants that come in those little tiny seeds.

Dracocephalum heterophyllum

Dracocephalum heterophyllum

Silene hookeri

Silene hookeri

Draba loiseleurii

Draba loiseleurii

These plants are all tickets to adventure.  Researching these plants often leads me to reading the history of the species or the journals of the expeditions the plant explorers still take in the search for new plants.  Google the names of the seedlings above and see what you discover…

There was another sign of spring in the greenhouse today.  I saw the first growth on the pomegranate.  After last year I am looking forward to harvesting our own pomegranates again.

Pomegranate leafing out in the greenhouse

Pomegranate leafing out in the greenhouse

 

 

 

Botanically Inclined

Lewisia pygmaea

Lewisia pygmaea

Great Blue Lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica)

Great Blue Lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica)

Erodium carvifolium

Erodium carvifolium

Formosa lily

Formosa lily

Gentiana paradoxa

Gentiana paradoxa

Calandrinia spectabilis

Calandrinia spectabilis

Besides being beautiful flowers, what do the above lewisia, lobelia, erodium, lily, gentian, and calandrinia have in common?  All were grown from seed distributed through the various plant societies.  Specifically I participate in seed exchanges that are conducted by The North American Rock Gardening Society, The Alpine Garden Society, The Scottish Rock Garden Club, the Pacific Bulb Society, and the Species Iris Group of North America.  Each of these organizations brings access to seeds that are otherwise very difficult to come by.  This year I’ve already received my NARGS distribution of 35 seed packets and many choice elements are going to get planted this week.  It includes Linum elegans, Bukiniczia cabulica, Eranthis pinnatifida, and many other items that you probably won’t find in the average seed catalog.  I’m still waiting for my packages from the Alpine Garden Society to see which items I succeeded in getting.  You get to choose from thousands of varieties of seeds but which ones you get depends upon when you sent in your request and whether you were a donor or not.  In the past I’ve gotten over half of my first choice varieties even though I am not a donor for the overseas societies.

Besides the wealth of interesting seeds from the seed exchanges there are also other interesting sources of unusual seeds.  We subscribed this past year to Chris Chadwell’s 29th expedition to the Himalayas in search of seeds.  Our distribution arrived this month with 50 different seed packets gathered in Nepal.

Chadwell packages

Chadwell packages

In order to bring in seeds from overseas you need to apply to the USDA for permit for a small lots of seed import permit.  And you need to be cognizant of which seeds are restricted.  I’ve found the USDA folks to be very helpful and cooperative.  I got a phone call on the day after New Year’s asking for clarification on the shipping address for my shipment from Chris Chadwell.

There are also some other wonderful sources of seeds gathered in the wild.  I think in particular of Allen Bradshaw at Alplains who specializes in seeds gathered in the western U.S.  Or Bjørnar Olsen from Norway who gathers seeds in China.  There are a number of famous collectors in the Czech Republic.  One I’ve used is Vojtech Holubec who has the most amazing pictures of his travels in asia.

More recently I was researching a Delphinium (Delphinium tatsienense to be precise) that is in my NARGS seeds for this year and I came across a very nice website in Canada (BotanyCa) that specializes in wild-collected seeds.  She has choice list of seeds for sale and a lot of information about propagation and plant lore.  Highly recommended.

The bottom line for all these ramblings is that now is the time for acquiring and planting all those unusual plants that you have been meaning to grow.

Greenhouse with many little seedlings needing separation

Greenhouse with many little seedlings needing separation

A Winter that calls for a Greenhouse

Babiana curviscapa

Babiana curviscapa

The weather has been crazy cold for us this year.  Extended low temperatures beyond recent memory.  The ice storms last week left a lot of people without power but we were fortunate in only being out of power for four hours.  Actually we were doubly fortunate in being out in California for ten days so we mostly read about the cold weather while we were in our shirtsleeves enjoying the sunshine.

Our place of refuge with this kind of winter has been the greenhouse.

Greenhouse in the snow

Greenhouse in the snow

From within the greenhouse we can generally count on 60 degrees or more on a sunny day no matter how could it is outside.

Greenhouse on the coldest days

Greenhouse on the coldest days

Part of what I’ve been doing in the greenhouse is planting all the seeds from the various seed exchanges I’m involved in (the Scottish Rock Garden Club, The Alpine Garden Society, the North American Rock Garden Society, The Species Iris Group of North America) and some unusual seeds from Alplains in Colorado and The Gothenburg Botanical Garden.  I’ve been iterating on the seed mix and the pots that I use, now pretty much tending to 3 1/2 inch pots that are extra deep with a mix of sand, miracle-gro potting mix, and turface.  I lay the seeds out on the surface and then cover them with medium sized gravel.

Planting from seed exchanges

Planting from seed exchanges

So far I’ve planted 97 separate species and cultivars with another 34 in hand for planting.  The first ones were put in on January 18th and the draba and dianthus are sprouting.  This is an enjoyable part of the season just to see what has popped up each day.

An interesting encounter in the greenhouse a couple of weeks ago came from looking closely at a pot of Herbertia (relatives of Tigridia and Cypella) which seemed to be going very dormant.  I was uncertain as to whether the Herbertia tigridioides that I planted last May was actually going dormant or just dying off.  When I lifted the pot I noticed a little bulb trying to escape the pot.

Herbertia tigridioides moving outside the pot

Herbertia tigridioides moving outside the pot

When I emptied out the pot I found that not only was the Herbertia not dying but it had grown quite vigorously over the summer.

Herbertia tigridioides

Herbertia tigridioides

Herbertia tigridioides

Herbertia tigridioides

Apparently these are bulbs that like to dig themselves in deep.  I’ve separated them into several deeper pots and we’ll see how they do with flowering this year.

We’re expecting another 10 inches or so of snow tonight so I may have to content myself with the greenhouse for a while longer.  We did get to visit Anza-Borrego while we were in California last week so I will leave with a tidbit from that trip and a promise of more to come.

Arizona Lupine

Arizona Lupine

 

 

 

 

 

It’s Fall, Time for a New Project…

2 red maples by the road

2 red maples by the road

It’s fall on Ball Rd and you can’t miss the Red Maples, both red leaved and yellow that are in full color on our hillside.  Just walking around reminds one that this is good time to stop and enjoy the ephemeral delights of autumn.

Big Tooth Aspen

Big Tooth Aspen

Fothergilla

Fothergilla

 

Red Oak in the front yard

Red Oak in the front yard

However, I was rudely reminded of some other aspects of fall when I went to check on my seedling trays which have spent the summer out of doors.  Several of the pots, including valuable hepatica and peony seedlings were completely dug up.  This was most likely by squirrels looking for a place to bury nuts but could have been mice as well.  In any case I was awakened from my autumnal reverie and reminded that I need to get busy on a long delayed project to provide a winter home for these seedlings.

At one time I had planned to build a cold frame next to the greenhouse but, as I thought about it, I realized that I don’t really need the protection from the cold.  For these little seedlings I’m looking for what the experts call cycling, i.e., changing the temperature from above to below freezing and back again.  For many seeds this is necessary to start the germination process.   A cold frame does give you that but the usual approach to a cold frame means that you are out there every day raising and lowering the lid to prevent heat build up and watering as necessary.  What seems like a simpler approach for my needs is a sand plunge bed with rodent protection.  The sand helps to moderate the temperature fluctuations for the young plants.  Think of a sandbox with a wire grill.

Accordingly I began digging last week.

Beginning a plunge bed

Beginning a plunge bed

You could do this with treated wood but I like the sense of permanence that stone brings so I decided to use the same stone that provided the foundation for my alpine bed.

Area dug out 2-3 inches

Area dug out 2-3 inches

My depth was limited by the extended foundation of the greenhouse wall so I ended up digging down just 2-3 inches to put the 7×11 inch blocks on end to form the wall.  I used landscape adhesive to tie the blocks to one another.  They won’t be facing a lot of pressure to move somewhere else so this should be adequate.

Laying out the block

Laying out the block

I made an effort to keep things level and so on, but this is not for show, it just has to function.  By yesterday I had completed the basic bed and poured in sand.

Plunge bed complete

Plunge bed complete

Actually I poured in way too much sand as it turns out.  After moving nearly a 1000 pounds of sand I’ve decided I could have done with half of that once the displacement of the pots comes into play.

Laying in the seedlings

Laying in the seedlings

So I’ve bagged up some of the sand that I put in and I’ll use that for phase two (a similar bed next to this one).  The next step was squirrel protection.

Adding in squirrel-mouse protection

Adding in squirrel-mouse protection

As it turns out there’s new pvc board that works pretty well for screen frame.  It’s lightweight, weather-proof, and doesn’t shade the plants.

Complete and ready to use

Complete and ready to use

So, as of today, the project is complete and ready to use.  I hope to see hepatica seedlings in the spring and I will tell them what a lot trouble I had to go to this fall…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hepatica Seeds

Hepatica japonica 'Shigyoku'

Hepatica japonica ‘Shigyoku’

This spring I invested in two small and ridiculously beautiful double flowered Japanese Hepaticas from Thimble Farms in Canada.

epatica japonica 'Wakakusa'

Hepatica japonica ‘Wakakusa’

They are the result of years of breeding in Japan.  But even the less specialized Hepaticas are delightful to look at for their short flowering season in the spring.

Hepatica nobilis v. pyrenaica

Hepatica nobilis v. pyrenaica

And they are also sufficient reason to look into propagating them from seed.  It turns out that Hepatica seed is best sown very soon after harvesting so that now is the time to be seeking it from whatever source you use.  Or, alternatively, harvest your own Hepatica seed and pot it up now.  I found some very good references online for harvesting Hepatica seed but I wasn’t quite sure what I was looking for.  I had never actually observed them to fall in the garden.  But this week I noticed the seed heads hanging over the neighboring pots were dropping little seeds on the gravel.  As I fished them out with my knife, I knocked some more seeds loose and pretty soon I had a handful.

Hepatica seeds falling off

Hepatica seeds falling off

Hepatica Seeds

Hepatica Seeds

For the outside plants I ordered some paper tea bags with drawstrings that I could put around the seed heads and thereby catch them if I wasn’t there when they came loose.

Tea bags for seed collection

Tea bags for seed collection

Tea bag on Hepatica seed head

Tea bag on Hepatica seed head

While I was going through this process around the yard with some other interesting plants like the Adonis, I noticed a little seedling in the pathway.

Tree Peony seedling

Tree Peony seedling

In the over thirty years that those Tree Peonies have been in place this is the first time I’ve seen a seedling.  Peonies are slow to develop from seed so this little guy is precious indeed.