Articles

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 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

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

A Moment in the Sun

Yesterday we had a brief spate of intermittent sun.  Enough time to grab a few shots of the developing garden and to throw a little more mulch on the developing weeds.  

Tree Peony (Paeonia suffruticosa) of unknown vintage

Tree Peony (Paeonia suffruticosa) of unknown vintage

We have several large Tree Peonies that were added over the years.  All are unknown varieties that were picked off the nursery tables and grown to full flowering size.  They make a spectacular impression both in the garden and as cut flowers.  More recently we’ve added intersectional hybrids (more on those to come…)

The first Clematis are beginning to appear as well.  Last year we planted Clematis montana at the back of the rose garden and it showing rapid growth.  We’ll have to decide whether to allow it to grow into the neighboring double flowered cherry tree which is what is seems intent upon doing.

Clematis montana vine

Clematis montana vine

 

Clematis montana flower detail

Clematis montana flower detail

As I mentioned in my last post this should be the high point for the azaleas which are blooming all over the yard, but they are looking a bit bedraggled by the constant rain.  Azaleas should be a given in the DC area.  They just grow and grow with little in the way of negatives.  The lace bug does leave tracks in the veins of the leaves some years but mostly they are spectacular in flower and then look like boxwoods when they are not in flower.

Azaleas weighed down by rain

Azaleas weighed down by rain

They still managed to have a color impact on the yard when seen from a distance.

Azaleas in the front yard

Azaleas in the front yard

And then of course there are still more of the Allium which we have increasingly found to be a spectacular addition to spring flowering

Allium hollandicum 'Purple Sensation'

Allium hollandicum 'Purple Sensation'

and which lend themselves to detail photography.

Allium hollandicum 'Purple Sensation' side-view

Allium hollandicum 'Purple Sensation' side-view

Happy Easter Everyone!

 

Rhododendron x P.J.M.

Rhododendron x P.J.M.

Easter is the time of flowering for so many plant groups and for us the hybrid Rhododendron P.J.M. leads the way.  It is very hardy with small dark green leaves that never look bad.  They don’t suffer from the Lace Bug that hits the Azaleas and over 30 years our plant has never had a bad year.  This is a hybrid of the Korean Rhododendron (R. Mucronulatum) with our native Carolina Rhododendron (R. carolinianum).  It’s interesting to read the story of the discovery of this series of hybrids at Weston Nurseries in 1945 as relayed by Peter J. Mezitt’s son Edmund.  In just about every way the P.J.M. exceeds its parents.  

P.J.M. hybrid becomes a sizable shrub after 30 years.

P.J.M. hybrid Rhododendron

Planting, Planting, Planting…

 

Star Magnolia (Magnolia stellata)

Star Magnolia (Magnolia stellata)

We’ve had a series of four warm days and cold nights, bringing the Magnolia into bloom and then burning the flower tips at night.  But it’s supposed to rain tonight and tomorrow which put me into pressure mode to get a lot of planting done this week.  The Seneca Hills order arrived last weekend so I planted out 3 Molly the Witch seedlings (Paeonia mlokosewitschii), 3 Primula sieboldii, and 3 Lathyrus Vernus (thanks to a recommendation from A Way to Garden.  Based on the size we will be a long time in arriving at a Molly the Witch flower…

Molly the Witch (Paeonia mlokosewitschii)

Molly the Witch (Paeonia mlokosewitschii)

I also planted out the two Ninebark shrubs that go by the new Garage bed that covers up the Woodchuck holes and the unsightly blackberries and wild roses.

Ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius) 'Center Glow'

Ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius) 'Center Glow'

 

Ninebark by the garage

Ninebark by the garage

And today I planted an Moorpark Apricot, three Cherries (Blackgold, Lapins, and Montmorency), a Champion White Peach, and a Royal Filbert to fill-in and rebuild some of the orchard.  I also added a grapevine (Golden Muscat) and a Brown Turkey Fig because Henry Mitchell once again in my evening readings said everyone should have a fig and vine.  I then tilled two 50′ rows in the garden and planted peas, lettuce, and spinach, leaving some space for succesion planting.  And then as one last  task before the rain I moved two more Wood Poppies to the forest, along with more Monarda and also a clump of Spiderwort.  Tonight I’m tired…

In between I’ve been enjoying some of the fruits of prior years of labor.  The daffodils are starting to come in number.

Daffodils by the back deck

Daffodils by the back deck

But I have to say that I am becoming very fond of a couple of clumps of small daffodils (Little Gem) that appear in the woods about this time of year.  They are very delightful to encounter on a walk through the woods.

Daffodil 'February Gold'

Daffodil 'Little Gem'

 

February Gold along the path in the woods

Little Gem Daffodils along the path in the woods

And as one last item to share here is one of the Hellebores that was planted last year, a seedling of Betty Rancor.

Helleborus 'Betty Rancor Seedling'

Helleborus 'Betty Rancor Seedling'

The Boyce Thompson Arboretum

Our last day in Arizona we made a pilgrimage to the Boyce Thompson Arboretum about an hour east of Phoenix.  As you might expect for this region of the country their emphasis is on desert plants of the world.  

Boyce Thompson Arboretum

Boyce Thompson Arboretum

Not only did we get to visit this outstanding arboretum for the first time but we arrived in the midst of their annual plant sale.  So the first thing we did was sort through a marvelous assortment of nursery plants — and came away with a Pomegranate ‘Wonderful’ and a Silver Spurge (Euphorbia rigida).

Plant sale at the BTA

Plant sale at the BTA

We encountered a number of plants that we were not familiar with.  Right at the beginning was the Mescal Bean Tree.   Think of a better behaved Wisteria with an equally delightful fragrance.  

Mescal Bean (Sophora secundiflora)

Mescal Bean (Sophora secundiflora)

 

We were also lucky in that a volunteer (Cass Blodgett) from the Arizona Native Plants Society was leading a tour of the gardens with an emphasis on wildflowers.  The nominal one hour tour lasted about two and a half hours and was loaded with fascinating insights into these plants and their various adaptions to the harsh climate — Thanks Cass!   As we were walking through the gardens you could see this one large telephone pole sized tree that turns out to be the Boojum (the name is taken from Lewis Caroll’s ‘Hunting of the Snark’).

Boojum (Idrea columnaris)

Boojum (Idrea columnaris)

This was a marvelous specimen with flowering parts at the top.  It grows an average of only 4 inches per year.

 

Boojum flowering parts

Boojum flowering parts

One of the characteristic plants at the BTA is the Fiddleneck (Amsinckia intermedia).  A close-up illustrates the name given to this relative of the Forget-me-not.  It fills the stony fields.

Fiddleneck (Amsinckia intermedia)

Fiddleneck (Amsinckia intermedia)

Also very common were the Blue Dicks (Dichelostemma puchellum), a member of the Lily or Allium family, depending upon your classifying authority.  They, are, regardless of classification and despite the unfortunate name, a charming little bulb with purple flowers.

Blue Dick (Dichelostemma pulchellum)

Blue Dick (Dichelostemma pulchellum)

Penstemon are to be found abundantly in the park (it is a state park as well as an arboretum), but the most striking were the Firecracker Penstemon (Penstemon eatonii) that project right out of rocky cliffs with their brilliant red colored flowers.

Firecracker Penstemon (Penstemon eatonii)

Firecracker Penstemon (Penstemon eatonii)

Of course there were plenty of cactus such as this Red-spined Barrel Cactus (Ferocactus gracilis)

Red-spined Barrel Cactus (Ferocactus gracilis)

Red-spined Barrel Cactus (Ferocactus gracilis)

And it was hard to ignore the Yuccas

 

Spanish Dagger

Spanish Dagger

 

Spanish Dagger (Yucca traculeana)

Spanish Dagger (Yucca traculeana)

But the plant that really captured our interest was the Hopbush (Dodoneae viscosa).  This plant, which ranges from small bush to small tree, has the look of Hellebores grown up into shrubs.  We liked them — a lot!  There is a nice write-up on the Hopbush by Arthur Jacobson.

Hopbush

Hopbush

 

Hopbush (Dodoneae viscosa)

Hopbush (Dodoneae viscosa)

Of course I would be totally remiss if I did not mention the Hummingbirds.  They have a lot of birds in the arboretum but everyone gets captivated by the Hummingbirds at the feeders and on the flowers with the butterflies.

 

Anna's Hummingbird

Anna's Hummingbird

So in the end let me make a strong recommedation to anyone who has the opportunity to stop in at the BTA.  They have a very dedicated group of volunteers that helps them overcome the limitations of a state park system’s budget in these difficult economic times.  And the springtime wildflowers are not to be missed.  Here is a video link to the wildflowers in April of 2005.  We had a wonderful time…

An introductory trail at the Boyce Thompson Arboretum

An introductory trail at the Boyce Thompson Arboretum

Caution: New Garden Under Construction

The area behind and to the side of our garage has been a perennial sore spot.  At times it has been the place we put the trash, old construction materials, or unused mulch bags.  Over time it has accumulated some pernicious weeds (Virginia Creeper, Multiflora Roses, Blackberries, Poison Ivy).  At one point we put down landscaping fabric and put mulch on top of it.  Eventually the weeds came back but even before that our scheme was foiled by Woodchucks which insisted that the area under the garage is their claimed territory.  And when they dug their holes the earth came out on top of the mulch and landscaping material and provided a nursery ground for the weeds.   

The Before Picture — Back of the Garage

The Before Picture — Back of the Garage

Nevertheless, as our horticultural pursuits press outward from the yard per se, we aim to give this spot a try again.  Yesterday and today I knocked down the standing weeds with my Mattock and then brought in 8 or 9 scoops of topsoil with the front-end loader from the large reserve we have in the pasture.  I didn’t take out the landscaping fabric which is already covered with years of mulch and deposited earth.  It’s broken in many places but would be a real pain to remove as well.  This is an awkward spot to rototill in any case and to plant shrubs we just need to dig a hole where the plants will go.  I raked the soil into place and left it to settle in.

New Shrub Garden

New Shrub Garden

 

Nice Top Soil

Nice Top Soil

This garden is going to be facing two special challenges (beyond all the normal gardening vicissitudes).  First the Groundhog is still there under the garage and he’s already dug his entrance again after I filled it in.  I’ve trapped and trapped that family so that they now have a whole extended clan down by the Monocacy River.  I’m not sure what else to do.  And the weeds haven’t gone away.  They are all just under the surface waiting for more of this really pleasant weather to pop up.  So the plan is to mulch the hell out of this bank.  Our local landfill sells double ground mulch for $8.50 a ton.  I picked up two tons (1 ton = 1 pickup load) today and I’ll get more next week.  

 

Delivery the Mulch with my Pickup

Delivering the Mulch with my Pickup

So the idea is that somehow we will find some low maintenance, highly attractive shrubs that will dominate over the weeds and yet not be invasive themselves.  This is not an easy challenge.  The location gets a fair amount of sun but is sort of a sun/shade exposure thanks in part to the neighboring White Pine.  So far we’re thinking maybe Hydrangea, Potentilla, Clethra, or Viburnum, mixed in with some substantial grasses.  We already have a number of Holly, Nandina, and Pieris in the yard so probably not those even though the Holly would fit our needs very well.  Any other ideas?