Friday, September 29, 2006

Buttercup Baby

Now, yellow flowers... daffodils for sure, daylilies, mums, and roses, too... but toad lilies? If you grow Tricyrtis ohsumiensis, no problem. It's a very different species; from Japan, with very waxy, thick leaves, and its flowers are held up and open, compared to other toadies, so you're looking them right in the eye (well, at least if you're down on your hands and knees, as it only grows eight inches high). The plant is so small, that I tend to forget about it until one day in late September (like today), I'm walking along and there it is in bloom... a nice autumn treat. Posted by Picasa

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Worrying About Puttyroots

I worry about too many things: global warming, cowbirds destroying the eggs of our rare warblers, asteroids whizzing about our heads... now my wife has given me a handout that says I should worry about absorbing styrene into my body fat from polystyrene cups. In spite of seemingly a full menu of important concerns, I also find room to worry about the puttyroot orchids. Also known as the Adam and Eve orchid, and more properly as Aplectrum hyemale, this native terrestrial orchid is actually probably tougher than I give it credit for. It's just now putting up its leaves, as shown above, which are hibernal (hyemale refers to winter). They will stay green all winter, laying rather close to the ground if it gets nasty, and then slowly die back next summer, after which the orchid blooms on naked stalks. I will say, it is the turtle of the plant world; its leaf grows at a glacial pace (as befits a plant trying to put out a leaf in the dim, cold autumn). It multiplies even more slowly, taking years to form a good colony. So I worry about it: is it getting enough light... is the soil moist enough going into winter... will there be snow cover to protect the leaves? It's probably all that styrene plastic in my body fat that makes me worry about so many things.Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

If You Like Em' Big

Hosta Sum Of All has leaves a foot and a half long. Posted by Picasa

Hostas And Birch Tree

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Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Oh, Fiddle!

When I was a boy, I often heard it said that so and so, referring to some young man known for causing problems, was "born trouble". Well, if a plant could be described in the same terms, this is it for me. Mind you, I never asked for this grief; I swear I don't know where this plant even came from in the first place. I was just innocently walking along a path in the garden last September, when I suddenly noticed it blooming away in the back of a crowded flower bed. It was no mean feat having failed to notice it before, as at this point it was about three foot tall, looming over its neighboring plants in a most un-neighborly fashion, leaning on a poor fairy bells like a drunken sailor. I found a hand-lettered label (with what looks suspiciously like my writing on it), and on googling it, found that it appeared to be a Japanese woodland plant. I put a picture and short piece about it on this blog, and thought no more about it, as it really, to me, was not the most drop-dead gorgeous plant to ever come down the pike; its flower spikes sort of look like worn-out bottle brushes. Well, it's blooming again, and I stopped and looked at it anew, and this year I have to admit I'm more favorably impressed, from three standpoints: first of all, in a shady garden there is not exactly a slew of competition in the blooming department in September; second, the flowers are just covered with bumblebees; and third, the flowers have a very pleasing perfume... sort of like a light, grassy butterfly bush. I took the above picture, looked at my past posting to get the plant's name, Leucoseptrum stelliperum, and googled it in to get some more information on it... well, the only entry Google came up with, was this obscure blog called "An Iowa Garden". Either I had the only plant in the world, or more likely I'd mis-spelled it in my posting; in fact I found it's "Leucosceptrum"... how embarassing... foreverafter, when any poor soul mis-spells the genus trying to look it up, they'll get my blog. I guess I felt better, when I then found out I'd also mis-spelled the species name, which should be "stellipilum"... anybody who is that far off when they google it, deserves to get my blog. It didn't help my ego though, when I started looking at pictures and figured out that my plant doesn't appear to be Leucosceptrum stellipilum anyway (which has lavender flowers), but rather Leucosceptrum japonicum (the Japanese shrub mint, which has off-white flowers). Oh, fiddle!Posted by Picasa

Monday, September 25, 2006

Avoiding Flopdoodles

I dearly love all toad lilies, but our climate is not really a dream come true for them; broiling dry summers are certainly not their heart's desire. Because of this, I have to grow them in quite a bit of shade... some toad lilies are naturally a bit floppy; add dense shade and drought, and you've got yourself a regular flopdoodle. Fortunately, there are some toadies that manage to stay upright; especially some of the shorter hybrids... many of these have the naturally short species nana or flava in their background. Above is Lime Mound; 8 inches tall, with striking chartreuse foliage in the spring, fading to lime green by the time it flowers, and it flowers early enough to avoid the other fate of too many toad lilies before they get a chance to fully bloom here in the late fall: freezedoodle!Posted by Picasa

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Asarum... Uh Liked 'Em.

Wild gingers (asarums) are one of those little woodland plants that are so modest, that few gardeners are aware of the beauty and variety of gingers that can be grown in the shady garden; but to see them is to like them. This time of year they sort of pop out of hiding, and in the clear fall air their mottled, waxy foliage is seen to best effect. Pictured is Asarum naniflora, native to only a few counties in the high piedmont of the Carolinas, and on the threatened list in its native haunts. Many of the asarums, including naniflora and all of the other evergreen species native to the S.E., are now actually placed in a seperate genus, hexastylis (meaning six styles). They sure don't look any different than any other ginger to me, but in fact, hexastylis has "connate sepals, distinct styles, nonappendiculate anthers, and superior or partly inferior ovaries"... so I guess that settles that! Both hexastylis and asarum are in a small family, which also includes the viney Dutchman's pipe. I have my Asarum (Hexastylis) naniflora growing under a red cedar tree, where it seems quite happy, surrounded by some small epimediums, and an Asian species of ginger. Many (but not all) of the semi-hardy Asian gingers seem to grow fine in our garden for a few years, then just disappear... one day they are there, and the next time you look around, they're gone. I'm working on this mystery, but my previous theory of alien asarum abduction (AAA), has gone nowhere. In contrast, most of the native asarums are quite lusty and persistent. Now, if you'll excuse me, I must go check the surveillence camera on my Asian gingers. Posted by Picasa

Saturday, September 23, 2006

It's A Jungle Up There!

A couple of days ago, on September 20th when we had an unusually early frost, I stuck my head out the second story window right next to the computer early that morning, and snapped a couple of pictures of the frost on our roof, so I could post one in a long series of complaints about our weather. When I flashed the first picture up on the computer screen, I was chagrined to see a small, quite dead, mouse lying in the middle of the roof. Fortunately, I'd snapped a second picture at a different angle, that I could use for my posting, but that leaves the question of how a dead mouse came to rest in the middle of a fifteen foot high rooftop. You could theorize that he was crossing the roof and was beaned by a large hailstone, but we have been stormless for some time. An owl could have dropped him while flying overhead, but it would be a snap to have landed and retrieved the mouse. Let's see, what other nocturnal creature would deposit a dead mouse on a rooftop.... Posted by Picasa

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Friday, September 22, 2006

Little Dragons

Another interesting aroid seed pod seen in our garden now, is that of Pinellia tripartita, sometimes called "little green dragon". In bloom it is a Jack in the pulpit look-alike, with small, green "Jacks". On the seed pod, you can see the remnant of the long spadix, or tail that was atop the flower. I don't know why this little plant isn't more widely planted in shade gardens; it is absolutely carefree, stays in bloom for a much longer time than Jack in the pulpits, and spreads fairly quickly (though not rampantly)... plus it is 3 stars on the cute index. I have this particular plant sited on the side of a ravine just above a grey boulder, right by some wooden steps going down to a bridge, so you can look up and see the little flowers from below, which is a nice effect. Posted by Picasa

Thursday, September 21, 2006

EEEK ! A Mouse Plant!

One of the pleasant little walks to take in the fall garden is to meander about, looking for odd little seed pods, and one of the oddest is on the mouse plant, Arisarum proboscideum. This retiring little plant is, of course a member of the aroid family, which also contains arisaemas (jack in the pulpits) and arums; thus the genus for the mouse plant is arisarum. The leaves die back in August, and the seed pods look like so many little figs scattered on the ground... very cute. In a few weeks, when the weather turns sharper, I'm going to gather some of these seeds and tuck them in here and there in the garden, and see if any more mice appear. Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Oh, The Horror!

For you tender souls in warm climates, let me enlighten you: this is a picture of frost on our roof... on September 20th! Our normal first frost isn't until October 14th, but these aren't normal times; for some reason we've been visited by startlingly early frosts most years lately... where is this global warming when you need it? As I walked up the hill to get the paper, the sun was starting to light up a delphinium blue sky, and a flock of Canadian geese honked their way down the valley and glided onto the pond. Their seeming good cheer about the cold snap reminded me that this really is the most beautiful and enjoyable time of the year in Iowa... there will be bonfires in our firepit to gather around, cheering crowds and thumping marching bands at football games, and our woods will turn to fire with the changing of the leaves. It's a short party, but a good one. Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Autumn Leaves... Arum italicum.

In various nooks and crannies in our garden, colonies of Arum italicum are nonchalantly unfurling their shiny, tropical-appearing, exotically patterned leaves, even as temperatures close to freezing are forecast for tonight. These plants are not crazy; it's not their fault they find themselves plopped down in the middle of Iowa. Arum italicum is native to the deciduous forests of Europe, with their milder winters, and has hibernal leaves (leaves which arise in the fall, persist through the winter, then die back in the heat and dryness of summer). This also allows the plant to grow under the dense shade of deciduous trees, as the arum foliage arises as the trees drop their leaves. Most of our native woods ephemerals approach this problem by arising very early in the spring, but we do have a number of shade wildflowers that also utilize hibernal leaves (some of which which I'll show in the near future). However, our natives with hibernal leaves are usually much more modest, and ground-hugging, than the gaudy arums. Therefore, Arum italicum is better suited to milder winters than ours (in fact, along the Pacific coast it is too successful; eating up gardens for lunch before moving on to the neighbors' yards, and finally harassing the paperboy). Still, it does survive and persist here, and in warmer winters or with good snow cover, its leaves come through remarkably unscathed. It will send up its odd, hooded flowers in the spring, then its foliage starts to die back, while stalks of berries persist for a time.
Arums belong to the aroid family, which includes such familiar plants as our native Jack in the pulpits. According to the I.A.S. (International Aroid Society), there are a couple of other species of arum that might survive here, and I intend to try them; one has purple hoods (spathes) over the flower. There are also numbers of clones of Arum italicum selected for showier patterning of the leaves (of which the above plant is an example).Posted by Picasa

Monday, September 18, 2006

Greys and Blues

We've been subjected to days of sullenly grey weather for most of the last week; then yesterday morning a chilly rain, and rapidly moving low cloud cover presaged a cold turn in the weather. On these dreary days the sky-blue fall-blooming gentians, seen against wet rocks, can lift my heart and turn my mind back to late summer days backpacking over the high mountain passes in Wyoming. Gentiana paradoxa is one of the so-called willow gentians, with whorled, finely cut foliage... though it is more of a clear, medium blue; not the deep blue of the alpine gentians I saw against the lichen-covered rocks of 10,000 foot high Hurricane Pass, overlooked by the Grand Teton to the southeast, so close you felt you could touch it.
Last evening, the grey clouds rolled on to the east, pulled along by a rapidly moving low pressure area, and the sun went down, bathed in cold fire. Frost is a possibility tomorrow night, but I'm warmed by the memory of clear August days of long ago, in the alpine meadows of the mountains of my youth.Posted by Picasa

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Sunday, September 17, 2006

Black Toad

A new plant to our garden this year is the toad lily clone, Tricyrtis nana Karasuba. It is no more than six inches high, with spotted yellow flowers, and will be a clump former. There are several commercially available clones of the species T. nana, selected for dark foliage, with fanciful names like "Raven's Back", or in this case "Karasuba", which apparently means "crow feather". My plant's foliage is, indeed, almost true black in the spring; I believe it's the darkest foliage in the garden. It only slowly fades to very dark green by the time it blooms. Posted by Picasa

Friday, September 15, 2006

If They Eat Them, How Do They Get Them In The Little Jars?

Lifelong, I have been afflicted with Bambi Syndrome; I turn to marshmallow mush at the sight of kittens, bunnies, and other small, helpless creatures. My solicitousness for the wildling members of God's flock has not always been repaid in kind. Last week I forgot to shut one of the garden gates, and on walking around a bend in one of the garden paths, came face to face with a yearling deer placidly munching on my oakleaf hydrangea. I put my hands on my hips, and said "What DO you think you're doing?" The deer got all google-eyed and shuffled off down the trail, waving her white tail like a handkerchief. I had to open up all the gates and shoo her out, then go around counting my hostas. Yet, I enjoy saying good morning to the deer when I walk up to get the paper, and they are eating mulberries off the driveway. As I related a few days ago, some of the most persistent uninvited garden visitors are the moles, which love to churn up my primrose beds, popping the little plants out of the ground, like so many corks out of bottles. However, I also still have a soft spot for moles... perhaps it resonates back to my childhood, when I loved Wind In The Willows, with kindly Mole being unjustly evicted from his home by the weasels. Last year, I saw one of the neighborhood moles busily burrowing along one of the garden paths (heading, I think, to a newly planted primrose bed). I stomped down the tunnel on either side of him, and scooped him out of the ground with the shovel I was carrying. He was quite nonplussed, but I picked him up with my gloved hands, where he initially struggled, then burrowed down between my hands and trembled. I took him out to the big woods and set him down gently and watched. He sat there for a few seconds, then started furiously digging in the soft duff, and in an instant was gone. I was quite amazed; it was like St. Nick, placing his finger by his nose, and suddenly disappearing... poof! Well, that was so wonderous, and I felt so privileged having seen it, that I decided to adopt mole exclusion rather than extermination. I showed before, the trench I've been digging to lay down the mole barrier around the garden; below is how it looks with the plastic sheeting in place, before I've started filling it back in with dirt. I realize that my affection for moles is not shared by others. I do much of the grocery shopping since I retired (which explains why we have three different kinds of potato chips in the kitchen cupboard). Anyway, the other day I was looking in the Mexican food section for some canned green chiles for my football tailgating cheese dip, and saw a display of jars of chocolate mole. I guess if you put enough chocolate on it, you can eat just about anything.Posted by Picasa

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Thursday, September 14, 2006

Cyclamen mirabile is striking in the contrast of pink and green in its new leaves. Posted by Picasa

Autumn Leaves... Cyclamen

As autumn advances, the living thing that is our garden is close to its last chapter; the mums, and some oddments like colchicums are yet to bloom, but I now find myself looking more and more at foliage, so it's a good day to take a garden walk to look at the cyclamens. Their new foliage, seen against the browns and greys of the forest floor in fall, is always worth getting down on one's knees to ponder. There is a great deal of variation in the shape and pattern of their leaves, just hinted at in these few pictures. Above is cyclamen purpurascens. Posted by Picasa

Cyclamen coum, with a Christmas tree pattern in its center. Posted by Picasa

Cyclamen coum, with more silver on the leaf. Posted by Picasa

Cyclamen hederifolium can show a lot of variation in its leaves; here with a silvery wash. Posted by Picasa

Cyclamen hederifolium with a strong silver color. Posted by Picasa

Cyclamen hederifolium, with modest, rather bluntly rounded leaves.Posted by Picasa

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