Monday, June 25, 2007


Yippie Skippie... it's time to play; no weeding or digging or work for a week! Now if I can just figure out how to coordinate my front and rear ends I'm on my way!
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Sunday, June 24, 2007

Salad Days

These are the salad days of the gardening year; the lazy, blowsy days when all the weeding, digging, and other hard work has been done, and all that needs to be decided is whether to have a glass of lemonade or a bottle of cold beer in my hand when we wander about the pathways admiring the lushness of high summer. Flocks of newly fledged songbirds twitter in the treetops, the bullfrogs on the pond honk laconically in the warm afternoons, and the barred owls stir from their slumber in the long dusk, to hoot up and down the valley into the night. I have no more projects, no more plans, no thought of anything other than to enjoy the moment. Life is sweet.
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Saturday, June 23, 2007

Tough Subjects

A reader notes that Solomon's seals are tough subjects to photograph, and that's a fact... especially in weather like we've had this year, where everything is soggy mud. It's not very conducive to flopping down on the ground and pointing your camera up in the air. The top plant came to me without a label, but I think it's Polygonatum multiflorum, and at bottom is P. odoratum 'variegatum'.
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Friday, June 22, 2007


Gullywasher... that's what we had last night; lightning and thunder and heavy rain for hour after hour. I forgot and left my wheelbarrow out, and this was the result... and it's just starting to storm again, with a flash flood warning for our county, and a tornado south of us. Rats... after I took this picture, I forgot to empty out the wheelbarrow.
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Thursday, June 21, 2007

A Needed Reminder

This morning I was off to the nature preserve to pull garlic mustard. It had rained briefly earlier, so everything was wet and muddy as I worked my way back through a large, deep ravine. While I've been making good progress in removing the invasive mustard from Big Grove, I recently explored some adjacent woods and found it full of this thuggish weed going to seed, the woodland's owner apparently not caring that he will soon have a solid monoculture... this will, of course, prove to be a constant source of reseeding to our preserve as deer track through.
I was therefore in a darkened mood as I moved deeper into the ravine, pulling garlic mustard as I went, wondering if the hundreds of hours I've put in will in the end be a lost cause; my mood was mirrored by the day, a day of low grey clouds and surly mugginess that made me sweat in my heavy protective clothing. However, just as I reached the bottom of the ravine, the sun broke through the clouds directly overhead, spilling sunshine down into the woods where I stood. At that moment a wood thrush began singing in the top of a red oak tree, serenading me with his sweet, languorous song. The sky opened up to a pure, deep blue and a half dozen meadow fritillaries began a slow, swirling dance about an old, moss covered stump in the now bright sunlight illuminating the cool, ferny seep below me.
Being a steward of nature is not work; it is a privilege... sometimes I just need to be reminded.
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Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Growing Up

You buy these cute little Japanese maples in one gallon pots and plant them in your garden... then one day you find they are the size of a garage and you wish you had a larger garden. Sigh... they grow up SO fast.
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Tuesday, June 19, 2007

The Garden In The Gloaming

I envy the British; they have such great words to describe so many things in nature... now I know we supposedly share the same language, but they've kept a lot of good words to themselves, like "gloaming", which really just means the time of day we call twilight, but gloaming is so much more romantic and mysterious. It captures the mood of that quiet time after the sun sinks behind our west ridge; when the birds in the high black cherry trees cast forth their last sweet songs, and the pond below us falls into the shadows.
In the fading light, eight foot tall azalea July Jewel lights up as if it was covered by glowing coals, its sweet and spicy scent ravishing in the coolness at the end of a long summer day. It is the gloaming.
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Monday, June 18, 2007

Elegance in The Garden... Polygonatum Falcatum

Polygonatum falcatum oozes class and refinement without even trying, with its elegant architectural leaves and its lovely, understated flowers. The genus Polygonatum (po-lig-oh-NAY-tum), the Solomon's seals, is comprised of about fifty species. Falcatum is sometimes called dwarf Solomon's seal; it is certainly smaller and more delicate than our native American P. biflorum, but still it can reach two feet or so... not quite my definition of dwarf. Myself, I'd reserve the term dwarf for another species, P. humile, which only reaches about six inches... this latter, smaller Solomon's seal, in contradistinction to its modest stature, has its sights set on taking over my shady garden... introduce it to your garden with your eyes wide open (I find it amusing that the Heronswood catalogue offers humile and describes it as "rare"... they haven't toured my garden). Polygonatum falcatum is also called Japanese Solomon's seal, and that seems a more fitting name, as it is very common in that country. A number of clones are commercially available with variegated foliage, but as is often seen with plant varieties coming from Japan, the prices are in the "gulp" range... something to do with the yen/dollar exchange rate, I guess.
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Sunday, June 17, 2007

Aroids, Part XV... Arisama Heterophyllum

In our garden, Arisama heterophyllum has to be the ultimate Jack in the Pulpit; four feet tall and massive in appearance, it hails from China and is often called the dancing crane; an appropriate name, as it looks like a giant bird holding its wings out as it struts. I've found this plant needs plenty of water when its growing, as it just leaps out of the ground, raising this huge plant in two weeks.
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Saturday, June 16, 2007


Living in the woods is an (almost) unmitigated delight... there are a few minor glitches. Liz has invited a bunch of people from work over this afternoon, so I decided I'd just make sure leaves hadn't blown into our front door entryway. This four inch across fishing spider was splayed across the front door, snoozing. It was gently deposited in a nearby flower bed. We probably would have wondered why nobody showed up for the party.
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Thursday, June 14, 2007

In Our Back Ravine...

I admit it, I'm a big softy.
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Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Dracocephalum... Little Blue Dragon

I'll have to admit, over the years I've picked up a lot of little botanical odds and ends that I'm not completely sure I know the identity of and often I don't quite know what to do with them (though calling my garden Fibber Mcgee's closet, as one garden visitor did, I feel is a little bit of an exaggeration... if the reader is young, you'll probably have no idea why somebody would compare my garden to a closet in the first place). Anyway, this is one of my oddments... it carries a fading label that identifies it as "Dracocephalum arguense". It obviously should be spelled argunense, but I'm not sure that would be any closer to the truth, as the foliage of that species is rather leathery and needle-like, from what I can gather, whereas my plant has rather delicate light green leaves.
It certainly is a dracocephalum, an interesting little genus of so-called "dragonheads" from Europe and Asia. My plant is about eight inches tall and forms a loose clump; it's that awkward size that's too big for a rock garden plant, but too small and delicate to hold up in a border.
I'm a sucker for lavender blue flowers, so it's in no danger of being ousted, but it has to make do with a little spot of sun in front of an azalea... not much respect for a dragon.
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Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Aroids, Part XIV... Arisaema Urashima

This is a Chinese Jack in the pulpit that has a nicely sinister appearance; darkish green leaves that open like a big hand, and deep chocolate floral structures with a foot long whip arising from the spadix (Jack). I have mine growing in a slightly dry raised bed in light shade, and it seems pleased enough that it's multiplying. I'm looking forward to seeing this dark beauty in a large patch.
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Sunday, June 10, 2007

Aroids, Part XIII... Arisaema Galeatum

Galea means "helmet" in Latin, and the spathe on Arisaema galeatum certainly reminds one of a thick, tight helmet covering the spadix (Jack). The impressive part of this plant, though, is the ganormous (yah, I just made up that word) leaf stalk and leaf with three leaflets; the stalk is over three feet tall, and the total leaf a good two feet across, with very thick substance. This baby needs some elbow room.
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Saturday, June 09, 2007

Aroids, Part XIII

Yes, this is a real plant; no, it shouldn't be growing outside in Iowa. This is the voodoo lily Sauromatum venosum (now called Typhonium venosum, also going under Sauromatum guttatum and Arum comutum... this thing has more names than a dog has fleas). I've related before on this blog how it came to be plunked down in an Iowa garden; it is a subtropical and tropical plant, native mainly to the Himalayan area, but also apparently resides in Africa... it is supposedly hardy to zone 7 (we're 5a). Some good gardening friends grow these in pots, and gave me a tuber a few years ago. I decided to pop it in the garden for the summer, then dig it up in the fall (it is then repotted in the spring, blooms on a naked stalk, then puts out its leaves). Unfortunately in the fall, I not only forgot to dig it up, I forgot even where I planted it (you'd have to tour my garden to fully understand this). I felt quite badly that I had lost my friends' gift, but did what I felt was right; I vowed never to mention it to them, and hope they forgot to ever ask me how it was doing.
One fine spring day the next year, I was walking along the main entry path in the garden, musing about how beautiful the garden looked, when a smell assailed my nose that can only be described as akin to some creature that didn't smell too good to start with, that had now died in the bushes. On looking down, this "thing" (I wasn't sure I could call it a flower) was sitting there, looking like a kitchen utensil from Mars; it was the voodoo lily, blooming in odiferous splendor. It has a spathe that is pale lemon yellow, heavily spotted purple, and a long, stiff spadix that looks like it's made out of plastic. It later put up a tall (almost 3 ft.) stalk that is very heavily spotted, with large leaflets at the top, like a hand with the fingers spread. It has continued to bloom every year since, unaware that it doesn't belong here. I of course could have picked a better spot to plant it that wasn't right by the main path, but that's all water over the dam. I didn't plan on it blooming there in the first place, and then always figured if I moved it, it would suddenly realize it shouldn't survive the winter here.
This fall, though, I think I'll dig it up and find it a spot that's a little more out of the way... or at least downwind.
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Friday, June 08, 2007

Garden Adventure

Gardening is supposed to be a relaxing, low key pastime... then there was yesterday. Strong storms had been predicted for yesterday afternoon; in fact the weather forecasters sounded almost frightened for us. The temperature was to rise 40 degrees, then fall the same amount in about 24 hours; an 80 degree turnaround. Also, as they say, the cap was gone, and aloft wind shear factors were off the scale over eastern Iowa. I knew it was coming, and indeed, the day began ominously with gusting, hot, humid winds from the southwest. Like the grasshopper, that morning I went blithely off to the nature preserve to shilly-shally around, rather than buzzing out to the garden to batten down the hatches. The weather radar was completely clear so I had lots of time... and time was what I needed, for I have about a hundred tall lilies that needed to be staked if we were to have, as predicted, sixty mile an hour winds. Also, our life-size gargoyle, named Uboughtwhat, needed to be tied down, lest his spread wings cause him to take flight, so that we would have to change his name to Uhadwhat.
I got back from the woods at noon, had a nice leisurely lunch, then ambled out to the garden. By this time the wind was coming in gusts, and the sky had turned grey, but all seemed well; a thin line of storms had formed halfway across the state to our west, but that was over a hundred miles away. Staking a hundred lilies (as well as a few other plants) may not sound like much of a job, but it all takes time to do properly, for a poorly staked lily is worse than an unstaked lily. I was barely half done when I went back in and checked the weather radar. The line of storms was now only 50 miles or so away, and we were under a tornado watch... the storms were moving sixty miles an hour. I ran back out to the garden, and began staking like crazy. All the while a robin sat on a branch overhead maniacally singing; it was if he was singing Chirrup Chirrup Faster Faster. The clouds overhead began to thicken, then boil, and thunder was rumbling to the west. By now I was sweating in spite of the strong wind... then the tornado sirens began to sound. Strangely, they only sounded for a minute, then went silent; this was almost more worrisome than if they had continued wailing, for I had no idea what was happening. However it soon became obvious that the initial part of the storm was passing just to our west; scud clouds streaked towards this part of the storm, along with all the moisture and energy in the air, and the storm over us just fell apart... it was like letting the air out of a balloon.
So, panting and sweaty, I got everything staked and tied down, only to have the massive storm fizzle and just give us a gentle sprinkle.
This morning is clear and cool; I guess I could go take some of the Bungee cords and rope off of Uboughtwhat.
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Thursday, June 07, 2007

Aroids, Part XII

Arisaema angustatum v. peninsulae hails from east Asia: Manchuria, Korea, and Japan. Its flowers are rather modest, somewhat resembling a small version of the green form of our native A. triphyllum. The leaves are quite nice though, being two in number, each leaf with digitate leaflets, and its seed heads have large red "berries"... last fall I had a nice seed head that I was going to split up and plant, but I set it on a bench in the garden and it disappeared. If a bird carried it off, perhaps a neighbor gardener is going to be puzzling over a very odd plant popping up in their flower bed. Angustatum must be one of the hardier Asian Jacks, and seems very easy, though I've read that it is a moisture lover. My plant is just stuck in an azalea bed and seems happy enough.
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Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Aroids, Part XI

For those who like the jungle look in their garden, there is Arisaema fargesii from China. It's tripartite leaves (with three leaflets) are... well, they're huge! The flowers are on separate stalks at the base, being deeply cowled and dramatically striped. My plant is developing nicely into a clump, so it seems reasonably easy to please.
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Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Aroids, Part X

A white Jack in the pulpit? Yes, and it's actually fairly easy to grow... it's Arisaema candidissimum, a small statured Jack with a high degree of refinement. The white spathe is faintly tinted with lilac pink. It is said to be fragrant, but my nose doesn't pick up anything; it's about the only thing this little gem lacks.
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Monday, June 04, 2007

Aroids, Part IX

The flower of Arisaema flavum is just peeking through its unfolding leaves... you can see why it's sometimes called the owl Jack in the pulpit. The only yellow Jack, it has, if accounts are accurate, a very odd natural distribution: primarily native to the Himalayan area of India, Nepal, and China, it is claimed in internet descriptions that it extends down to Yemen and Africa?? It is a cool climate lover, and I find this southerly extension of its range odd if not dubious.
Well, it is an odd plant, that's for sure. It doesn't show above ground here until about the second week of May... in spite of the fact that I am well aware of its tendency to be last out of bed (a title it shares with Arisaema candidissimum), invariably every spring I think this little Jack must have finally been winter killed, only to see it finally poke its nose above ground. It then just sits there for two weeks, then in a matter of days, shoots upwards, unfolds its foliage and opens its little flower.
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Saturday, June 02, 2007

Aroids, Part VIII

If Pinellia cordata isn't the epitome of cute, then I don't know what cute is... a tiny, creepy-crawly plant from China with silver-veined, purple-backed leaves, and little Jack in the pulpit-like flowers that smell of ripe pineapple. The flowers are yellowish green, with a very long spadix (tail). This plant spreads ever-so-slowly, but does also form small leaf bulbils (you can see one starting to form at the base of the nearest leaf).
I'm trying to get P. cordata spread about under some of the large Asian Jack in the pulpits, but it's slow going; this is not a plant that's exactly going to take over the garden, and it does not like to be cooked by the sun. Although admittedly there is a lot to see in our garden, I don't think we've ever had a garden visitor spy this tiny aroid on their own, but they all fuss over it when it's pointed out.
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Friday, June 01, 2007

Childhood Songs, The Fate Of Wild Orchids, And Other Life Mysteries

When my brother was a boy, for a year or so he went about constantly (it seemed) singing the ditty "Cement mixer... putty, putty". Where that came from, and why a completely non-musical boy who never before (or since) has sung a tune would inflict this on the world, as far as I knew then was not known to man or beast. It was as big a mystery to me as the circus peanuts; these were sickingly sweet, sponge rubber-like candy in the shape of giant peanuts, that my Mother used to buy at the five and dime. The mystery wasn't so much why my Mother would buy them in the first place, but rather why the candy peanuts were colored yellow and flavored like bananas.

Well, both of these childhood mysteries have been partially solved in recent years. The Wall Street Journal actually had an extensive investigative article on the issue of why circus peanut candies are yellow and banana flavored. They traced the origin of the candy back to its inventor, and interviews showed that he came up with the color and flavor, but the reasoning behind his choices is obscure... he apparently just thought it sounded right. Also, the wonder of the internet has now revealed to me that the mindless little ditty my brother inflicted on us was in fact a line from a real song:

CEMENT MIXER, PUTTY PUTTY(Slim Gaillard / Ricks)Recorded by : Liberace; Jimmie Lunceford; Hal McIntyre; Alvino Rey.Cement mixer, putty puttyCement mixer, putty puttyCement mixer, putty puttyCement mixer, putty puttyCement mixer, putty puttyA puddle o’ vooty, a puddle o’ gooty,A puddle o’ scooby, a puddle o’ veet concrete.First you get some gravel, pour it on the voutTo mix a mess o’ mortarYou add cement and waterSee the mellow roonyCome out slurp slurp slurp.

However, researching this has just substituted one mystery for another... you will note that Liberace apparently recorded this song?? I cannot picture that; further investigation may be needed.

Well, this all may seem to be far afield from flowers, but here's the connection: this time of year is when the putty root orchids bloom, and whenever I think of them, that cursed song that my brother imprinted into my brain, re-surfaces to haunt me. I've been thinking a lot about the putty root orchids, because I'm worried about them. They only occasionally bloom, having to spend years building up enough energy to raise up a huge, waxy flower stalk up to two feet tall covered with brownish flowers. My concern is that in the open woods, almost every one of these flower spikes is promptly bitten off by the deer... perhaps one stalk in a hundred, hidden by brush or other foliage, survives to seed. So, what is to become of the putty roots? It's another mystery, but I'm not optomistic.

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