Articles for the Month of May 2010

Garden Blogger’s Bloom Day with Blue Poppies

Himalayan Blue Poppy in bud

This month’s Garden Blogger’s Bloom Day finds me in Boston enjoying our vicarious northern garden.  Specifically my eldest has planted a Himalayan Blue Poppy which came into full flower this weekend.  The blue is spectacular and scarcely to be believed.  This is a flower which is difficult if not impossible to grow in mid-Maryland but I will nevertheless give it a try after seeing it in person for the first time.

Himalayan Blue Poppy (Meconopsis betonicifolia) from the side

Himalayan Blue Poppy (Meconopsis betonicifolia) opening

Himalayan Blue Poppy (Meconopsis betonicifolia)

This is a flower that insists on cool damp locations and the particular specimen that is flowering up here is growing by a small stream.  I think all that I could offer in Maryland would be daily watering…

I was also struck by a lovely Clematis that opened up yesterday — Clematis ‘Niobe’, a lovely velvet red that seems to be vigorously growing on the kids’ fence up here.  Methinks a similar flower would look equally nice in our garden in Maryland.

Clematis 'Niobe'

Back home we have the usual flowers for this time of year growing in abundance — Iris, Roses, Alliums, Clematis, and Peonies.  The Baptisia are getting quite large and having a real impact in the garden.  I noticed before we left that the wild Dame’s Rocket are making a real statement along the roadsides and in our wildflower patch.

Dame's Rocket (Hesperis matronalis) and Blue Flax

But there is no flower that claims the space on May the 15th as much as the Buttercups.  They are everywhere…

Buttercups in abundance

Grasses Galore

Grasses in the Pasture

We had an epiphany the other afternoon staring out at the grasses waving in the pasture.  We went to some trouble this spring to plant a variety of special grasses next to the garage in a sloping area that leads down the hill.  You have to mentally remove the garbage cans in the background to visualize what this area will eventually look like.  But the idea is really to have a set of medium to tall grasses in an area where they can spread a bit and wave in the wind.

Grasses newly planted next to garage

The grasses include Feather Reed Grass (Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’), Black Flowering Fountain Grass (Pennisetum alopecuroides “Moudry’), Miscanthus sinensis ‘Morning Light’, Prairie Dropseed ‘Sporobolus heterolepis’, Pink Fountain Grass (Pennisetum orientale ‘Karley Rose’), Pink Muhly Grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris), and Northern Sea Oats (Chasmanthium latifolium).

In addition to the bed by the garage, we also began an entirely new garden bed on the hillside in a full sun location.  This one was dug using my normal approach of digging postholes with the tractor, adding compost to taste, and then tilling to one’s heart’s desire.

Almost a full load of compost added to the new bed

Hillside garden bed tilled to perfection (more or less)

Tilling on a slope is not an easy task…

The first plants have been placed in the new bed

This new bed is intended to have robust sun lovers that will survive a certain amount of benign neglect as they are rather far from the house.  Specifically this means Rudbeckias, Heliopsis, Baptesia, Potentilla and other strong growers.  But we also included yet another grass — a Switch Grass (Panicum virgatum ‘Heavy Metal’).

It was when looking at this little Switch Grass (all of our new grasses are somewhat little at this stage) with the backdrop of the pasture, when it occurred to us that all these new grasses are going to have to compete with the wild and lovely display that we get from the pasture.  All of these grasses have come along on their own from some previous farmer.  I don’t even know what they are.  I think the bulk might be Orchard Grass.  But there are other colorful varieties that make a lovely display as the seed heads ripen.

Pasture grasses

We’ll check back in the Fall and see how these newer grasses measure up to the volunteers in our pasture.

Seneca Blues

Blue Flax (Linum lewisii) in the early morning

One of the delightful treats in the early morning on my photographic rounds looking for the birds of the season is seeing the Flax that persist from planting wildflowers in previous years.  These are a lovely shade of blue that is present only in the mornings and then the flowers close by mid-afternoon.  The plants are quite rugged and compete well with the grasses.

The shade of blue in the flax flowers matches that of the bluebirds that I saw this week on the garden fence.  It was the first really good look at the bluebirds that I have gotten this year.

Female Bluebird

And right next to the bluebirds were the first of the Bearded Iris coming into bloom in the long row that we have planted just for picking.

Bearded Iris starting to bloom

Twenty feet away is a little patch of columbine that came from seeds via the American Horticultural Society seed exchange last year.

Columbine 'AHS seed exchange'

I think these will be a favorite for years to come.

Another patch of blue is the Jacob’s Ladder that is just now appearing in the Camellia garden.

Jacob's Ladder (Polemonium caeruleum)

Well, in addition to the beauty of these flowers and birds, I had another reason for focusing on blue this evening.  I received an email from Seneca Hills indicating that they were going to be leaving the retail business.  This was just two days after my receiving another delightful order of rare delights (a white flowering Glaucidium palmatum and a Hylomecon japonica).  It made me sad to see this transition even though I know that small businesses, like gardens, depend upon an intensity of effort that is usually transitory in nature.  Ellen Hornig, the owner, ran an excellent nursery with great plant stock and fine service.  I for one will be reminded of Ellen Hornig and Seneca Hills every time I look at one of those primulas or peonies that they have contributed to our garden.  I wish her all the best.

Clearwing Moth and Other Novelties

Hummingbird Clearwing Moth (Hemaris thysbe)

It’s a good sign that the season is advancing when I see the first of the Clearwing Moths hovering about the garden.  They look like miniature hummingbirds with tiny sunglasses and are among the prettiest moths that you will ever see.  A couple of Allium in the rock garden were the main attraction.  This one hung around long enough that I could definitely see the long feeding tube in use sipping nectar from the flowers.

Clearwing moth

Clearwing detail

I had a major surprise this last week in wandering our woods.  As I was checking out the daffodils that I had planted last Fall at the bottom of our hill I encountered a three-leaved plant which (once I concluded wasn’t poison ivy) looked like it might be a Trillium.

Three leaves among the daffodils

I sent a picture to my eldest in Boston and he suggested that it looked a lot more like his Arisaemas.  And indeed, as I walked further down toward my neighbor’s stream it was clear that it was a Jack-in-the-pulpit without it’s most salient feature.  At the time I walked about the area hoping that even more plants had found their way across the boundary.  But alas, I saw none.  I have so far resisted taking such beauties either from my neighbor or the public land along the creek near the railroad tracks.

Just two days later though I was planting some Bellwort in the woods and looked up from my planting to see a Trillium — oops no, an Arisaema.  You would think I would recognize it by now.

Baby Arisaema

This one was more than 50 feet onto our property so that’s a very positive sign that we will get more in our woods.  So I took a more determined look and behold, let the real Jack stand up

Jack-in-the-Pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum)

So I now count 4 Jack-in-the-Pulpit in our woods — whoopee!

One of the new arrivals in the Camellia garden this week was a little Iris that we picked up at the Garden Vision visit last year (since we went there for the epimediums who know that some of the other little plants would be such hits).  This is a little crested iris with fantastic coloring.

Iris cristata 'Dick Redfield'

It is hard to have too many of the crested Iris since they seem to multiply and fill their allotted space so charmingly.  I need to try them out in the woods next by taking some of the clumps that are growing so well.

Another delightful little iris blooming right now is the Iris gracilipes.  This one came from my visit to the open house at Asiatica last year.

Iris gracilipes

Again I went for other things but came back with this little Iris as a bonus.