Articles for the Month of April 2010

Peonies – your time is now…

Tree Peony in bud

Herbaceous peonies are already sufficiently beautiful that it seems sinfully excessive to move to tree peonies where both the flowers and foliage are even more attractive.  But indeed, bountiful beauty is part of the pleasure of gardening and one should look at tree peonies as simply the logical progression after you have enjoyed the herbaceous types.  The flowers are large and incredibly exotic looking.  See the recent post by Melissa Clark at Garden Shoots for a more extensive description.  I have yet to acquire any tree peony with a more exotic name than “purple” or “white” but I suspect the time will come.

White Tree Peony (Paeonia suffruiticosa)

Tree Peony purple/red

Tree Peony light pink

One of the attributes of the tree peonies is that they are more shade tolerant (indeed almost happy) in shade that would be troubling for an herbaceous peony.  Too much shade will limit the flowers but the plant grows well in semi-shade.  They also flower much earlier than the herbaceous lot so that there is still very much a role for the peonies of the other persuasion.  In fact the old fashioned Festiva Maxima, a herbaceous type, still has a fragrance unmatched in the peony kingdom.  More recently we have been trying to get started with some of the species types and the Itoh intersectional hybrids, both of which have wonderful foliage (which is important since most of the time the plants are not flowering).  I look forward to sharing flowers from both next year.

Thinking Green

Green center of the Adonis amurensis 'Sandansaki'

The Gardening Gone Wild photo contest for April has the theme ‘Green World’ in which the judge, Rob Cardillo, has requested images where “the color green steps up and takes the spotlight for a change”.

As is often the case for these photo contests, one of the challenges is to sift through the various possibilities to come up with a single entry.  I was tempted by just the scene of our pin oak in the early morning light.

Pin Oak leaves emerging in the early morning light

Then there were the surprising seeds on the Chenmou Elm from the Easter visit to the National Arboretum.

Chenmou Elm seeds

The Euphorbias are interesting because they provide such a rich range of greenish colors, from reds to yellows.

Euphorbia polychroma 'Bonfire'

After all what does polychroma mean but ‘many colors’.

Another interesting green highlight is the Euphorbia hybrid ‘Blackbird’.

Euphorbia x 'Blackbird'

Similarly the epimediums offer a rich palette of greens, with some leaves showing splendid edge designs.

Epimedium grandiflorum 'Lilac Seedling' leaf

However in the end I selected for my entry a daffodil.  In this case it’s where the green is in place of yellow that makes all the difference.

Narcissus 'Arguros' with green and yellow cup

The green in the cup comes as a delightful surprise when you have been enjoying a host of more conventionally colored daffodils and it echos the green in the petals and the surrounding grasses to provide a very satisfying early morning encounter

Garden Blogger’s Bloom Day for April 2010

Daydream Tulip

Well, it is Garden Blogger’s Bloom Day and I hardly know where to start.  This is the time of the year when there are entirely too many flowers for a single post.  The tulips, daffodils, flowering trees, and many little spring ephemerals are dashing through their season right now.  The unfortunate hot weather that we had at the beginning of the month has pushed flowers to almost 2 weeks ahead of last year.  Knowing that there will be other flowers to follow, I’m just enjoying each day’s surprises.

In addition to the Daydream Tulip pictured above another very nice one at this season is Monte Carlo.

Tulip 'Monte Carlo'

We grow it in the full sun with Iris Bucharica.

Iris bucharica

And together they make a great combination.

Iris bucharica and Tulip 'Monte Carlo'

I was pleased to see that the Glaucidium palmatum that we planted last year has indeed flowered.

Glaucidium palmatum

It’s planted next to a host of Celandine Poppies.

Poppies galore

The poppies came from a gift of single plant.  They are now abundant in the gardens and woods.  They pull up easily so it’s hard to call them invasive…

Celandine Poppy (Stylophorum diphyllum)

As long as we’re doing yellow it’s hard not to take note of the Primula veris which just enlarges it’s clump every year.

Primula veris

And one more step down the yellow brick road is the Bonfire Euphorbia which is just starting up.

Euphorbia polychroma 'Bonfire'

Among the many little things that I have mentioned as delights in the garden was the Roadrunner Trillium which I found at Garden Vision in Massachusetts last year.  As it turns out this little gem is even nicer than I had imagined.  The flowers persist and have turned from white to a beautiful shade of pink.  What could be nicer…

Trillium pusillum 'Roadrunner' pink phase

Of course the real reason for the visit to Darrell Probst’s Garden Vision Nursery is to see and take home epimediums.  That’s what we did last year.  And here are a couple of the results…

Epimedium grandiflorum var. higoense 'Bandit'

Notice the chocolate banding of the leaves.  A beauty.

Epimedium grandiflorum 'Tama-no-gempei'

And even before we went the kids had gifted Beth with a special variety from the same source.

Epimedium x rubrum 'Sweetheart'

Note the wonderful banding on the heart-shaped leaves.

Epimedium 'Sweetheart' leaf

I could go on and on, but to close out this post I need to mention the first flowering of the lovely little Anemone nemerosa ‘Knightshayes Vestal’.

Anemone nemerosa 'Knightshayes Vestal'

It’s a double that kind of sneaks up on you as it opens.  Very nice indeed.

Chilean Blue Crocus and Other Garden Treasures

Chilean Blue Crocus (Tecophilaea cyanocrocus 'Leichtlinii')

Last winter, as the Brent & Becky sale catalog came around, I decided to take a plunge on one of their more expensive bulbs.  The Chilean Blue Crocus was listed at $25 apiece (and is not even in this year’s catalog).  But at half price I figured it was worth a try.  As you can see from the picture above the results were worth the effort.  The flowers are a beautiful sky blue (so far there are 4 flowers out of the one bulb).  These flowers have nearly vanished in the wild so it’s up to gardeners to keep them going.  They are supposed to be hardy in Zone 7 and they certainly withstood a crazy winter, but I guess the challenge will be to see how they fare over a full season in Maryland.  If you are interested in trying them, I see that they can be found at Telos Rare Bulbs, a Californian home for hard to find bulbs…

Another newcomer that popped up this week is the double-flowered bloodroot.  The normal bloodroot is delightful on its own, but the double-flowered version is another stage of garden beauty.

Double-flowered bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis 'Multiplex')

It is said that the flowers last longer than the normal species types.  And apparently, despite multiple names for the double-flowered version (Multiplex, flore-pleno, etc), they all stem from a single double-flowered plant that was found by chance.

Last year when I visited Garden Visions and brought away a host of new epimediums I also found a small trillium for sale.  This week that purchase has brought forth lovely white flowers atop dark colored leaves — a real charmer.

Trillium pusillum 'Roadrunner'

This is actually the first trillium that has deigned to bloom on our hill.  We have several other trilliums looking healthy this year but I don’t see any others with flowers.

Two years ago, in England, we saw the pretty yellow flowers of anemone lipsiensis (a cross between Anemone ranunculoides and Anemone nemerosa).  We tracked it down at Edelweiss Perennials, a small nursery in Oregon.  And the first flowers are now appearing.

Anemone lipsiensis appearing

Amongst the various little charmers one other flower weaves a particularly magic spell.  That is the Anomenella thalictroides or Rue Anemone.

Rue Anemone (Anemonella thalictroides)

Combining the white flower of the anemone with the wonderful foliage of the meadow rue, this little plant rewards every time you walk past.

There are many other things to mention ( the toothwort, the fritillaria, , but it’s a warm day, spring is sprinting past, and UPS just delivered another 6 primrose to the doorstep…

An Easter Visit to the U.S. National Arboretum

Magnolia x ‘Elizabeth’

Today we took the Easter holiday as an occasion for a long postponed visit to the U. S. National Arboretum.  This venerable institution inspired some of our formative thoughts about gardens during the many visits there while we were living in Alexandria.  It was nice to see that many others had the same idea and parking was at a premium as people tried to follow the self-guided cherry trail that the USNA folk had set up.  We mostly followed our own eclectic interests in moving around from area to area (there are 486 acres so having a car helps).  I think the highlight for us was the hybrid Magnolias.  In other years I’ve been put off of some of these Magnolias because of late spring frosts that leaves them looking shell-shocked.  But when they work, oh, my oh my.  Our favorite was Elizabeth, as pictured at the start of this post.  The tree is perhaps 30 feet tall and covered with creamy yellow flowers that open finally to a red center as the fruit begins to ripen.  The flowers are nicely fragrant to add the icing to the cake.

Magnolia x ‘Elizabeth’ is perhaps 30 feet tall

Magnolia x ‘Elizabeth’ open flower

Magnolia x ‘Elizabeth’ flower with fruit beginning to show

There are a good number of other hybrid Magnolias featured as well.

More hybrid Magnolias

We revisited some of our previous haunts at the USNA like Fern Valley.  But we also found new features that we hadn’t seen before.  Near the R Street entrance is the bonsai exhibit and just outside of it is a delightful little shade garden under towering cryptomerias.  And if you look to right and left of the entrance (and inside as well) are Japanese Maples.  Not fancy ones, just plain old beautiful Japanese Maples.  We have several of these magnificent trees as well.  And just like ours the ones at the USNA seed the ground like the propagation of the species was the responsibility of each and every plant.  There are seedlings everywhere.  Apparently great public gardens go down the same paths that we have trod ….  In the end we concluded that the trees are worth the myriad seedlings.

Entrance to the Bonsai Exhibit — note the Japanese Maples (Acer palmatum)

Lovely Shade garden under the Cryptomerias

Japanese Maple seedlings

One of the reasons for going to a great public garden like this is to be inspired or learn new things about the art and practice of gardening.   It is after all why we have Cryptomerias up here in Frederick (which is probably pushing the climate zone where they are happiest).  We saw several things that we’ve added to our want list.  There was a trillium that we have to get because it matches the name of one of us and because it’s pretty as well.

Trillium cuneatum (Little Sweet Betsy)

And an epimedium that has a cloud-like cluster of flowers above its leaves.  Very floriferous indeed.

Epimedium stellulatum

But one of the things which was most surprising out of the day was little elm from China that has some of the prettiest green flower seeds that you could imagine.  Imagine a tree with green flowers.  I’ve not seen these pictured anywhere but I found them quite striking.

Chenmou Elm (Ulmus chenmoui) seeds