Thursday, June 29, 2006

Daylily Caper

Once in a while I just have to shrug my shoulders; a plant in the garden will be very clearly labelled, but I'll get curious and look it up, and I can't find that hybrid listed anywhere... mislabelled (by me or the nursery), an unregistered hybrid... I don't know. In this case I started to wonder about this very unusual pink daylily, which is labelled 'Jodie Caper', but that name is not listed in the daylily registry. It's a lovely thing; to me it superficially looks more like an Orienpet lily than a daylily, and is about 7 inches across. Jodie must have been a looker! At least the daylilies pictured below are known hybrids, in order: 'Good Old Boy', 'Daring Dilemma', and 'Frank Smith'.Posted by Picasa

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Wednesday, June 28, 2006

To Name a Daylily

Daylilies are gorgeous creatures; the orchid of midwest gardens. If I had a few acres of sunny yard, as opposed to my shady, wooded garden, I'd grow mostly daylilies. I do have a few spots that are perhaps half sunny, and these spots are chock full of these flowers right now, in a rainbow of colors. The above hem is 'Forever Red', and well-named it is; this picture was taken late in the afternoon, after the flower had been open for 24 hours, and it still was of hard, thick substance, as fresh as when it opened. On the other hand, the daylily below is named 'Wayside Tricolor Jewel'. It's pretty enough, but where are the three colors? I tried enhancing the picture with my computer, and still couldn't come up with three colors... guess I'll never get a job making up flower catalogues.Posted by Picasa

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Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Pruning Wuss

I admit it: I'm a softy... When Liz tells me there's a large bug in the house, I don't grab a rolled up newspaper; I instead grab a tissue and capture the critter and take it outside... even wasps and spiders. I used to do the same thing when my office nurse, Eileen, pointed out spiders in our medical office. Of course we were on the fifth floor, so I'd take the spider down in the elevator to put it outside. There I'd be with a wad of tissue paper held gently in my hands, on the elevator, and some older lady would look at it quizically, and I'd smile and say "spider". Well, they often bustled off on the third floor! I'm not much better in the garden; it pains me to whack living plants back to stubs. Over the years I've gotten better, but for some reason I still just hate pruning magnolias. Perhaps it's because they are such ancient plants; among the oldest flowering plants, with fossilized magnolias dating back 100 million years. Or, perhaps it's the richly resinous smell magnolias give off when you cut in to them... or maybe it's just because they are such elegant, slow growing plants. At least the brush pile makes a nice place for spiders.Posted by Picasa

Monday, June 26, 2006

The Siren Call Of Japanese Iris

I have decided this year to basically (more or less) call a moratorium on adding new plants to my garden until I have time to do some major garden restructuring; many of my beds are WAY too crowded and overgrown already. I'm to the point where I'm discovering new plants I've never heard of, but they're in my own garden. Of course Liz has heard me declare before that I'm just not going to buy any new plants, so I'll forgive her for rolling her eyes when I said it this time, but this time I really mean it! That's why I'm kind of avoiding one part of the garden... the corner where Iris ensata 'Frilled Elegance' is blooming profusely. It's not planted in an ideal spot, as it likes rich, wet soil, and mine is planted on a well-drained slope, so the flowers are smaller than they could be... but what flowers they are! I do have nice ravines with spring fed seeps in them, which would be perfect for these irises, but that would mean extending my garden fence, and I want to leave the ravines for all the wildlife. There is one lesser ravine inside my fenced garden, site of the planned and often discussed, but never constructed, babbling brook. I COULD clear the brush from the bottom of this area and start planting Japanese iris... Posted by Picasa

Who Moved The Hosta Bed?

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Sunday, June 25, 2006


I've been finally, gradually, redoing my garden link list a few at a time. One of the links is to Lynne's garden blog, which I just added at the end. I pop in there from time to time, and I have to tell you, I always flinched a little, because the "Impatient" in the blog's title is spelled "Impaitient" and I just couldn't stand it anymore, and sent Lynne an e-mail about it... then I realized, her blog is actually titled "Impaitient Gardner". Doh! (I spelled it correctly in my list, so nobody will send ME a dumb e-mail.)

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Midwest Horticulture (And Other Scary Stories)

Ditch lilies and arborvitae: the backbone of midwest gardens

Iowans and other upper midwesterners are blessed to be sitting on some of the best topsoil in the world, and we grow great corn and soybeans. That farming skill and interest doesn't however always transfer easily to flower gardening. Our climate is part of the reason; long cold winters that seem bent on killing everything to ground level, and hot, humid summers, buzzing with mosquitoes. Still, it's odd that there isn't more interest here in horticulture. Although my Mother was a gardener, I doubt I'd have followed suit if I'd not moved to the San Fransisco Bay area for post-graduate medical training. I lived right next to Golden Gate Park, and its botanical garden, where I saw rhododendrons as big as a garage, and rare plants from all over the world, and I started growing orchids on my deck, which thrived in the cool, foggy weather. Flowers and keen flower gardeners were everywhere, so that horticulture there was a very social hobby. Moving back to Iowa has been a challenge; no rhododendrons as big as a garage... any evergreen rhododendron here, above the snow line is living on borrowed time. Also, one would sooner find here a flying saucer in your yard than, say, a primrose society. I live in a major university town, yet there is not even a proper flower club; it meets the third Wednesday of every month at noon in the senior center, if that tells you anything. Still, I was determined to look on the bright side, and to look for subtle floral displays as I drove about. For example, I was pleased to note that the little red brick house I passed by every day, had sprouted some lovely green window boxes, filled with cheery red geraniums; a sight that pleased me each time I went by... until it snowed for the first time that November, and the geraniums were still there, their bright red plastic blooms sticking up through the snow. Sigh!
Over the years, things have gotten better; I've slowly met more and more passionate gardeners, and seen some quite remarkable gardens. Besides, if I'd stayed in San Francisco, I'd never have learned how to turn old truck tires inside out, spray paint them in an assortment of neon colors, and place them strategically about the yard as flower planters. I've even started thinking the elegant Japanese tea garden in Golden Gate Park might look nicer with a few bright tire planters scattered about... I'm home!Posted by Picasa

Thursday, June 22, 2006


Posted by Picasa Last year at this time, we were deep into the worst drought here since the dust bowl years; we were trapped under a huge, persistent dome of hot, dry air centered over northern Illinois, so that storms would continually churn east on I-80, then just stop as they hit this dome, and dissipate. Fortunately, this year, while still below normal in rainfall, we have lately been getting some hefty storms; of course along with this we have had eight tornadoes just in our county. There aren't very many things I like better though, than thunderstorms on warm summer nights in Iowa... going to bed when it's still and quiet, with lightning bugs rising from the grass, to flash through the silky, moist air... then in the middle of the night feeling a slight breeze suddenly start wafting in the window; a breeze which then picks up, and starts to rustle the leaves fitfully, with little gusts. The distant thunder is more felt than heard at first, but soon becomes a constant, low growling. By the time lightning begins to flicker, the wind is coming in like waves, with a slight coolness and you can smell the rain like newly-mowed hay. The storm suddenly gains speed, and crashes into our little valley, bending the tall black cherry trees this way and that, and the rain comes down in torrents, while the lightning and thunder become constant. I faintly hear the cat door thump downstairs, and we are soon joined in bed by our little black and white cat, wet as a mop. The next morning brings a bright blue sky, and cooler air from the north, with over an inch in the rain gauge. After last year, when the trees began losing their leaves in mid-summer so they fluttered down every day, like sad, yellow moths, I will never take rain for granted again.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

The Next Big Thing?

Posted by Picasa A year ago I breathlessly said that Hydrangea Endless Summer (pictured below) was perhaps the single biggest advance in northern horticulture, since us snow folk could now have glorious blue mopheads, just like the southerners (about this same time I developed a taste for Dr. Pepper and Moon Pies, and considered putting a gun rack in the back window of my truck... of course I'd have to buy a gun, then). At any rate, what a difference a year makes; now there are three newer mopheads that are probably superior to Endless Summer... Early Sensation Pink (pictured above), Red, and Double Pink. Endless Summer tends to be kind of lanky and floppy if it gets much shade, but wilts like crazy in the hot sun; not the most attractive thing to see in a midwest garden, with your beautiful blue mophead looking like it's just been poisoned. Also, while advertised as a summer-long rebloomer, here in the upper midwest, its repeat blooms usually appear in the fall just about the time the temperature drops to 28 degrees. The new hybrids are billed as slightly smaller, with stronger stems and thicker leaves, so there is less wilting and flopping, and the individual florets are larger, with also larger flower heads. My picture of Early Sensation doesn't do it justice, as the plant is only a foot tall, out of the pot. It is also said that the new hybrids rebloom much quicker, and I suspect this is true, as the newer growth on my plant is already taking off to the point where it somewhat obscures the older flower heads... hopefully this is not a problem in larger, established plants. I've been told that Early Sensation Red is indeed sensational, and that's the one I'm waiting for. On a similar topic, a lot of garden blogs have been scolding Burpee, because they purchased, then closed, Heronswood Nursery. A few years ago I bought a small hydrangea serrata from Heronswood that Dan found growing at a very high altitude, offering hope of increased hardiness (actually, as I recall, Dan had just climbed 9,000 feet on a switchback trail, to the fog-shrouded Goolang Mountain pass, and found himself wandering through a forest of rare Poobah trees, when he slipped on the wet rocks, crashing into a ravine, where his eyes picked out a patch of bright pink in the gloom, and it was this hydrangea). At any rate, this little hydrangea blooms reliably here in Iowa, with delicate little heads of pink flowers (it is just opening in this picture at the bottom). I suspect Burpee will do nothing with this genetic material. Sigh.

Posted by Picasa Hydrangea Endless Summer

Posted by Picasa Hydrangea serrata from Heronswood Nursery.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Crossing The Desert

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This would seem to be the peak of early summer; clear, warm days with a long evening twilight that slowly slides into night as thousands of lightning bugs take to the air and the barred owl clears his throat and prepares to serenade the valley with his shivery call. Yet, it's perhaps the most distinctly flowerless time of the growing season in our garden... a hangover from May's glorious explosion of bloom. The azaleas, peonies, iris, flowering crabs, and rhododenrons are gone, and the roses have mostly shattered, carpeting the ground with their petals, yet the flowers of high summer have not yet opened... there is foliage aplenty, with the hostas at their best, but it is still a floral desert to be crossed. Fortunately the LA lilies, with their sherbet colors are all blooming, and now the trumpet lilies are just starting to spread their sweet perfume through the woods, and the first of hundreds of daylilies are opening. The desert has been crossed. Posted by Picasa

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Sunday, June 18, 2006

Lamb And The Lion

Our two cats have an unusual (to me) relationship with the resident deer; more often than not even our small kitten-cat P.J., as laid-back a little black and white cat as there ever was, will run the deer out of the yard... whether it's a matter of territory or fun, I've not a clue, but it's quite amazing to see a herd of five deer running pell mell down the hill with a cat the size of a loaf of bread in pursuit. However, we have a new deer, that I have yet to name, who seems to be a particularly friendly sort. She's usually found eating mulberries off the driveway, but today we found her and Sadie, our older cat, lying down together in the sun. I don't think a day goes by that I don't see something around here that surprises me. Posted by Picasa

Friday, June 16, 2006

Smilax And Pussy Cats

As related recently, I'm currently engaged in my annual weed pulling marathon (which this rainy year might better be called "garden re-discovery"). I always snort when I read some gardener prattling about how they love weeding... one afternoon in my garden would sober them up! I've been meaning for some time to take the plunge and get an IPod to help relieve the boredom while plugging away out there (I also want to get one because I can see the handwriting on the technological wall; the last time I was in Best Buy, the c.d. department had shrunk by half... I'm determined not to have the plump teenagers behind the counter laugh at me again, as they did a few years ago when I asked them where the VCR tapes were). As things stand currently, during the endless hours of weeding, I have far too much time to think, and nothing very bright to think about. That would explain my revery today, when I was weeding with bare hands, and grabbed ahold of a smilax (greenbriar) vine. While I was standing there with my hand in my armpit until the pain stopped, I started wondering if cats really are killed by curiosity... I mean, how else do you explain why we aren't knee-deep in cats? Now, I say this as a cat-lover... after all, our older cat Sadie is still a valued member of the family, even though when she's being ignored she likes to sidle up to you while you're at the kitchen counter, and gently sink her claws in your lower leg to get your attention. Even our friend Hanne, who is every cat's friend (she's always sending out urgent e-mails telling of some tabby cat with one ear, who's currently living in a bush, but might become socialized if adopted by the right family, who are up on their tetanus shots)... even Hanne could only say about Sadie, "Well, she's a pill." At any rate, I realized that wayward curiosity is not confined to cats, for I was reading some gal's posting on a message board today about cracking open a mud dauber's nest and looking at all the spiders inside (the person in question was obviously from the South, as she called them "dobbers"). This actually wouldn't be as risky as it sounds, as the spiders are paralyzed, and the mud daubers don't defend their nest, but I doubt she knew that... but then, she also probably didn't know that black widows are the preferred spider for the blue mud dauber to seal in their nest. However, I don't have any room to feel superior about this; earlier while I was weeding, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a large insect disappear down a round hole in the ground. I was poised to dig it up with my trowel to see what it was, when a yellow jacket buzzed out.Posted by Picasa

Thursday, June 15, 2006

The Sublime And Yikes!

I truly admire gardens and their gardeners who display a disciplined and logical palette of flower and foliage colors throughout. My garden, on the other hand could at best be called chromatically idiosyncratic; the product of too many formative years where my career left me too often driving home in the dark, where more often than not I would trip over yet another U.P.S. delivery of plants on the front stoop. I wish I had a nickel for every time a visiting gardener has looked at one of my flower beds and said, "Oh how interesting." I have learned over the years that is a phrase with many subtle meanings. If I could give you today a little peek at my garden: above the lush, refined, old rose Charles de Mills, and below, the nearby Weigela Brianne, with chartreuse leaves and bright pink flowers... interesting? Posted by Picasa

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Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Rainy Day

We were very happy, indeed, to have rain showers roll over us much of the day, considering that last year at this time we were trapped in what proved to be a year-long drought of such severity that weeds died in the woods. The recurring showers did keep me from my planned weeding extravaganza, and left me feeling so guilty that I'd done nothing but shillyshally all day, that I actually dug into the mysterious underworld of this blog, and re-established, in the side-post, some of the interesting garden links that had disappeared when I changed templates. I want to add another half-dozen new blogs to the list, but it will have to wait for another rainy day.


I was out in the garden, peacefully trimming some of the flowering shrubs before the next round of rainshowers moved in from the northwest, when I decided to lop back a long row of blood red cardinal shrubs that were hanging over a bed of daylilies and tall Oriental lilies. The lilies were leaning so far to the sun, they looked like they needed a lamp post to hang onto. As I started to trim, grey catbirds exploded out of the hedge, flying at me from every direction, trying to hit me in the head. P.J. the cat, who was watching me, ran for the house, and I heard the distant thump of the cat door as she shot inside. Well, it takes more than a flurry of angry catbirds to scare me (sorry about the low quality of the picture... I don't have a good telephoto lens). It's probably just as well that the sky opened up at that point and rain poured down, sending me inside too, where P.J. was sitting on the couch, watching an old movie with Liz. The catbirds were still in an uproar, and the cardinal that I accidentally flushed the other day from her nest, when we were smelling the honeysuckle, was joining in the scolding. It was quite interesting to see the catbirds in action though, as they would loudly meow at you from a low limb, and if you walked toward them, they would keep leading you off into the brush, away from the nest. So, be kind if you tour our garden this summer and see the lilies leaning, and the daylilies smothered... don't be catty about it. Posted by Picasa

Monday, June 12, 2006

Astilbe 'Peach Blossom'

Although our garden is in a woodland, and therefore filled with shade-loving plants, astilbes were not among the residents. I remedied that by planting half a dozen or so varieties last spring, and I'm glad I did... this is Astilbe 'Peach Blossom', as soft a pink as you could hope to find anywhere, and its upright flowers look nice with all the hostas and such. Posted by Picasa

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