Saturday, February 26, 2011

Stephanotis florabunda: another impulse purchase

It's a beauty, covered with flowers. Really fragrant flowers. The Asclepidaceae is a kickass family with dozens, hundreds?, of my favorite plants. Plus, Stephanotis is from Madagascar, the source of hundreds more of my favorites. Does this make me sound fickle?

This used to be a rare plant in the marketplace. The cut stems last well and it's always been popular as a florist product but usually only for weddings and almost always special order. This small pot (~5" pot) came from a box store and didn't cost an arm and a leg. I looks like two stems were grown to 3 feet or so and when they budded up, were wound around a one foot diameter ring. When it's done flowering I'll unwind it and pot it up. It'll go outside for the summer and next fall it'll become one more plant that needs a sunny space by the south windows!

I've grown it a time or two before and always given it up because of mealybugs (the downside to the Asclepidaceae!). The house, and the plant, are clean now so we'll see how it goes.

Actually the Asclepidaceae doesn't exist in current (Angiosperm Phylogeny Group) taxonomy anymore so it's in the Asclepiadoidea (a sub-family) in the Apocynaceae. That's one realignment that makes intuitive sense to me so I won't complain. There are tons of great plants in the Apocynaceae, oops, Apocynoideae, too. And mealybugs like them too.

In the spring a gardener's thoughts turn to seeds

I met a precocious and charming three year old gardener today. I was at her home to discuss garden design with her mother. The two had worked together last summer in their vegetable garden and I think she's ready to move on to design. When I got out my pad and began to sketch, she ran away and returned with crayons and paper. She's not going to lose touch with the actual garden though; when we left she was picking up branches for cash.

We, the mother and I, talked a bit about children and gardening. My sons have grown up, become landscapers, along the way developing excellent gardening skills. Still, when Susan described her daughters love of flowers and their plans to add a row of sunflowers to the vegetable garden this year, I remembered our family ventures into sunflowers. I guess all children love them; they're so darned big. And they grow so quickly. Seeds in paper cups quickly become scraggly weak seedlings that, planted out in the garden, closely watched and overly tended, turn rapidly into strong vertical plants taller even than parents, and crowned with that ridiculously huge flowering head. And it all comes from one little seed that cardinals like to eat.

A few weeks ago Amanda planted up thirty-odd seed flats of a variety of Rhododendron species; the seeds came from Kevin Conrad via Carole Bordelon. Pat, Amanda, Carole, and I have been checking the flats for germination; so far there hasn't been much, a few dauricum and fewer mucronulatum. Still we're holding out hope.

The whole process of starting seeds is....well, it's fantastical. In the abstract it's one of those things that's so incomprehensible that we rarely examine it closely. Like childbirth. But that's not even what I'm talking about. It's the whole process, the mechanics: the cleaning, or shopping, the preparation of the seed flats, the sowing, the watering, and then the watching.

If the watched pot doesn't boil, the watched seed doesn't germinate. Except they do......eventually. You can monitor a group of seed flats day after day after week after week and suddenly, a day or two before it happens, you just know a particular flat is about to germinate. I like to think it's a mystical awareness, some connection beyond the sensory, some energy associated with the miracle of the birth of a new organism communicating with us, but I am uncertain about that. Sometimes it's just experience. Some seeds germinate predictably in two days, or a week, or two weeks Sometimes it's the subtle swellings of the soil above the moisture absorbing seeds, invisible to the self-aware part of our consciousness, but duly noted by the more perceptive fraction of our psyche and communicated to us in the odd manner that our deeper selves utilize to get information to the surface. But maybe sometimes it is mystical.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Salia splendens van houttei. I love this flower!

Just one more Salvia photo. This week.

Prunus mume 'Nishiki Ume'...last year I posted this plant on Jan 25

That makes it a month late.....So we had an unrelenting winter, but maybe not a long one. Michael and I were talking the other day and both us are getting a feeling this is going to be an early spring. It's just that there aren't any early risers! In other words, there wasn't a lot of action in late-winter but things could start to roll any time now.

I ought to have suspected from this sky that something was amiss

Another funny weather day at the Arboretum. Rain on the way to work increased in intensity around 6:30, then slowed again. I must have missed something in the forecast because mid-morning the rain went away, the sun came out, and it warmed up. I saw an opportunity to get a bit of cleanup done for the weekend; we ought to have visitors this weekend because things are beginning to happen. I grabbed a leaf blower and cleaned out a few beds near the road before lunch. After lunch I headed out to do the paths but things changed quickly and dramatically. One minute it was a balmy 60+ day with no wind and few clouds; Then the sky darkened and black clouds rolled in. Within minutes the sky cover coalesced, the wind picked up, and serious rain fell. I was totally soaked by the time I got back to my vehicle. I headed in, driving past Beechspring Pond, with all those geese. I think I took all these pictures withing 5 minutes. The first two I snapped while I was blowing the GCA circle, and the other two are out the window on the way back in.

But wait; it continues. By the time I got back in (<10 minutes) the sun was out, which did me no good because the wind was too strong to work in the garden. I was in half an hour or so when the wind began to attack one of our polyhouses. Gusts right around 60mph. It's been some winter.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Hamamelis x intemedia 'Ruby Glow' and Hamamelis mollis brevipetala

The Witch hazels are at their absolute peak now and though today was dreary, I like them better in this subdued light than harsh late-winter sun. If you come in to see them this weekend, I'm thinking there will be Prunus mume beginning to flower; the collections adjoin so if you see one, you can see the other easily

Asian shed in the mist

It was a bit dreary all day and actually was raining by 400 when I took this picture. It's more impressive if you know that a year ago the ground was covered with English Ivy that also ran up at least half of the trees, and there was a healthy understory of Asian viburnums and bush honeysuckle. Now we either have a potential location for a horror film, or a tasa tabula for new plantings.

You have to get ot work early these days to see the sun rise

I got an early start and traffic was light. Three weeks from now daylight savings time will take effect and we'll all have another chance to see the sun rise After spending two days cleaning up from last weekend's high winds, the forecast calls for gusts up to 60mph tomorrow. If we do get the inch or so of rain that's forecast it'll be a wonderful opportunity for evergreens to blow over. We'll see.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Sarcococca orientalis: flowering with the other sarcococcas

Stefan got this from Cistus Nursery; it's been in the ground about two years. The flowers have a bit of color to them, unlike the other species I know. I didn't pick up a strong fragrance today, but it was cool and the flowers are mostly not open. We have, in the Asian Collections, a lot of S. hookeriana and, like this orientalis, it is just on the verge of flowering. I have a large S. confusa in the garden here in Adelphi that's been flowering for about a week. I like the look of orientalis; it looks like it'll be a bit shrubbier than confusa whose weak stems grow vertically until their own weight pulls them down. The leaves on our plant are gracefully saliciform, narrowly lanceolate and nicely colored. It's an attractive plant visually.

Nathan in Magnolia and cutting Thibetan barberry

We cleaned up after the winds of the past week I love the sawdust of Berberis thibeticus. Wind heaved the rootball. It was too close to the path anyway and Amanda has already rooted cuttings. Now we're just going to move this cut back plant to a place farther down in China Valley where we don't want people to walk.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Brassolaelia 'Richard Mueller' things are warming up in greenhouse 7 and the orchids are beginning to flower

We brought a Brassolaelia home from Hawaii, actually it was shipped home. It's still happy and flowering well 7 years later.

If we're to be held prisoner by winter a bit longer, we want to be restrained by beautiful bars

Something happened between the grate, the sleet, the temperature, and the rain last night that produced these oddly spiraled, actually they're zigzags masquerading as spirals, icicles. All the fans on the east side of the new greenhouse were attractively adorned. GrayC alerted me to them at lunch so I zipped out and, much to my relief, they hadn't melted.

Longer sunnier days bring on the flowers in the cool house: Camellia lutchuensis

It was advertised as being fragrant and it is, a piquant floral fragrance not like anything I'm familiar with. The flower is simple but the perfume is complex. I've been waiting for it to bloom since we picked it up last May from Dr. Ackerman, and it was worth the wait. This is another one I'll propagate in small quantities before we try it out in a sheltered location.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Glaucium grandiflorum rosette, Eranthis hyemalis, Euphorbia characias, and Hedera colchica 'dentata variegata' in late winter

Or is it early spring? As of today, we have 11 hours of sun, well, except for the uniform overcast. Tomorrow we'll add 2 minutes and 24 seconds, the next day 2 minutes and 25, then 26, 26, 27...; life is good. Still, it's supposed to sleet/snow/rain tonight and tomorrow followed by a quite cold night. Still, temperatures in the 60's and 70's last week thawed the ground and the geophytes of spring, following the groundhog's example, are nosing out, and, finding things to their liking, are continuing upward. Not that they really had the groundhog's option of returning to their burrows. Once they're out they're out. Evolution has given them the ability to absorb some pretty frightening weather and flower unscathed, much worse than we'll be getting this week!

I guess I'm easy; I love roses, hydrangeas, lilacs, lilies, all the classically beautiful and showy garden flowers in fact, but on a dreary day teetering somewhere between winter and spring, it's good to be able to walk through the wasteland that is the garden and be delighted by small things. The rosette on Glaucium grandiflorum, from Annie's Annuals and Perennials, has stood bravely all winter, beginning to grow a bit this past week. It is an orange/red flowered species, otherwise similar to the more common G. flavum. I see they now list an unidentified species from Iran with ridiculously crimson flowers. I suppose I'll have to have than one too; they describe it as an annual which must mean it's even shorter lived than the others! I imagine it makes plenty of seed though.

I suppose the Eranthis is hyemalis; there are a handful of species and while I received this with a name, who knows? I love the intrepid little devils, but they make me wonder about the definition of "weed". The common field buttercup, Ranunculus acris, seem to me to be a much more beautiful plant but it's universally considered a weed. Both are...aggressive; maybe we like hyemalis because it goes toe to toe with winter.

I let Euphorbia characias ssp. wulfenii have free run of the garden. It does seed about but it's such a distinctive plant, so easily seen, that unwanted seedlings are readily removed. For us it's totally evergreen. The worst winter has done to it in 20 odd years is to break a stem here and there. Through the years I've grown a variety of other shrubby euphorbias but none have lasted more than a few years. In the bed by the street though, one seems to have left it's mark in the form of red stems on what are otherwise perfectly typical E. c. wulfenii.

Considering how much time I've spent in my life removing Hedera from my own gardens, or professionally (Amanda and I removed some Ivy last week from the Asian Collections), my fondness for this plant seems odd. It's such a beautiful variegation though. The vine wanders around under the front stairs edging into a small bed beside the walk so that a sprig or two appear at eye level as you walk down the steps under the side deck. I keep it small by cutting it back every couple years, though, honestly, it's shown no signs of attempting to escape.