Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The Flamingo Of The Garden

If you like gaudy, you'll love Dicentra 'Gold Heart'; bright (and I mean bright) greenish yellow foliage and shocking pink flowers... a combination you don't see too often in the garden. I have one of these planted next to a deep purple hellebore, a combination that you certainly can't ignore when walking by... very nice.
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Tuesday, April 29, 2008

A Different Anemone

The wood anemones are blooming everywhere in our garden right now, in drifts of soft pink, baby blue, and white. This little anemone stands out by its soft yellow flowers; it is a naturally occurring hybrid between a white wood anemone (Anemone nemerosa) and the bright yellow Anemone ranunculoides (the buttercup anemone). This hybrid is called either Anemone lipsiensis or Anemone x seemanii. It gets the yellow flowers from ranunculoides, and lower plant stature (four inches) from nemerosa; a nice combination.Posted by Picasa

Monday, April 28, 2008

Anemonella; Pretty In Pink

Anemonella thalictroides 'Cameo', a double pink form of our native rue anemone is just a real cutie pie. Walking the woods around here in spring, I'm always impressed by the variation seen in the tens of thousands of rue anemones; but I've certainly seen no double pinks.
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Sunday, April 27, 2008

Two Things To Consider...

Two things to consider when ordering plants in the spring... first, if you order a plant from a company that specializes in small alpines, if they describe the plant as "a tiny plant with small flowers", they probably are not just kidding about the flowers being small. Second, one should not purchase such a plant thinking it will make a big splash in the landscape on your annual open garden day.
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Friday, April 25, 2008

Brave Trilliums

It always amazes me how early in the spring the trilliums bloom. One sees nothing above ground for a month (I've finally learned not to mope about in late March, thinking they've all died or left town). Then in a matter of a few weeks, they burst out of the ground, grow to full size, and bloom, even while frost and stinging sleet are still in the forecast (we went from almost 80 degrees yesterday morning, to near-freezing last night).
This is a trillium that I purchased as Trillium erectum, but it's not even close... it is probably T. underwoodii. This particular plant is one of the very first trilliums to bloom for us, with dark, blood-red flowers. One of these days I mean to go about re-keying all of the trilliums in the garden; I know of no other plant that is so frequently mis-labeled. The problem with that is that I'm getting a lot of trilliums just popping up on their own, and some of them may be hybrids. There may be a lot of labels saying "Trillium/ ??".
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My Annual Glaucidium Lovefest

It's time for my annual homage to Glaucidium palmatum. It's funny how many extraordinary plants are slow growing (as is this one). There's a famous story (probably apocryphal) about someone in England who bought a house just because it had a large flower bed full of huge old cyclamens that had been growing there for a generation, with the tubers as big around as salad plates, and with thousands of flowers every year. I would think if there was a house for sale around here with a garden full of glaucidiums the size of washtubs, I would at least overlook the ugly wallpaper in the sitting room.
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Thursday, April 24, 2008

When You Get What You Wish For

So you think it would be great if a lot of neat, hard to grow plants like trilliums would multiply and spread all over your garden... and then one day they do. Have you considered what you'll do when the trilliums start mugging your yellow ladyslippers? Have you ever actually weeded out a trillium? I thought not. Getting what you wish for in the garden is not always what it's cracked up to be.
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Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Corydalis Whatchamacallit

Corydalis schanginii ssp. ainae is certainly a mouthful for a small plant; it hails from southern Russia to Kazakhstan, with gray-green finely cut foliage and tubular yellow flowers with a purple nose and a long, pinkish-white spur. Very, very interesting...
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Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The Better Flower

One is on thin garden ice anytime one touts a foreign flower over one of our beloved natives, but I'm here to say (again) that the Asian version of our native U.S. twinleaf (Jeffersonia dubia vs. Jeffersonia diphylla) is no contest: dubia wins hands down. As shown above, dubia rapidly passes from something looking like a pink pincushion, to myriads of white-backed flower buds, to a solid mass of exquisite light lilac flowers. A bonus is the very interesting seed pod that will take the place of the flowers, looking somewhat like little starfruits. Let's see, what else... carefree, hardy, slowly spreading, better every year... that about does it.
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Monday, April 21, 2008

Fritillaria ussuriensis

This somber but lovely fritillary, with its hanging bells of maroon-purple, is often the first fritillary to bloom for us in the spring. It hails from eastern Russia, down through China and Korea. Liking moisture and partial shade, it grows nicely and multiplies rapidly for us, planted in an azalea bed.
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Sunday, April 20, 2008

Sold On Solida

My humble nomination for the single most inexplicably under-planted and under-appreciated flower gem: Corydalis solida. At top is 'Purple Beauty', in the middle 'Dieter Schacht' and at bottom 'Blushing Girl'. If I were in charge of things, these little plants would be sold in small pots on every street-corner, and no garden would be without a full selection, in a rainbow of colors. Of course if I were in charge, there would also be a national holiday honoring the chocolate chip cookie.

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Saturday, April 19, 2008

Three Little Gingers

The earliest of the wild gingers are blooming, with flowers so odd they are worth laying down on your stomach in order to see them better. At top is Asarum takaoi from Japan; an evergreen ginger that surprises me by its hardiness. Its variegated leaves are quite beautiful, and many selected clones are available with especially striking foliage, often silvered. In the middle is Asarum maculatum, a mottled leaf deciduous ginger from Korea, and just to make our Oriental tour complete, at bottom is Asarum heterotropoides from China. All of these have been perfectly hardy for me in the open garden (with this past winter being one that could kill a thistle).
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Friday, April 18, 2008

Double Bloodroot...Don't Even Ask!

The double bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis f. multiplex) is a lovely thing; when first unfolding, it always makes me think of an elegant waterlily. The plants sold in general commerce all come from one plant found, according to an account in Linc and Laura Foster's classic book Cuttings From A Rock Garden , in the spring of 1917 in a woods in Dayton, Ohio. Mr. von Webern who had purchased the woods and found the double bloodroot, fortunately sent out a couple of the plants; the original colony apparently eventually died out, but he had sent one plant to the Montreal Botanical Garden, which in turn distributed it into commerce. A few other double flowered bloodroot plants have since been found; in the southeast and perhaps in New England, as well as a pink flowered single. I don't know if any of the other doubles found have had as many extra petals as Mr. von Webern's plant. The doubles are very expensive, because they don't set seed so must (slowly) be propagated vegetatively. However, the $75 price I see charged by a certain well-known nursery is ridiculous.
Various garden visitors here are bold enough to ask for "a piece" of some pretty scarce plants. More often than not, I'll get out a trowel; if ever I turn them down it's usually only when I know they'll kill the plant before the day is done. However, if somebody asked me to pot them up one or two of the double bloodroots, I'd laugh, and I'd laugh...

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Thursday, April 17, 2008

Oh, Make Up Your Mind!

I have come to the conclusion that my favorite primrose is whichever one is blooming that day...Oh fickle heart, Oh footloose devotion, Oh... whatever. Anyway, I think my really, truly favorite primrose is actually Primula vulgaris ssp. sibthorpii, which is a subtype of the common primrose of northern Europe.The ssp. sibthorpii hails from the Balkans; a harsher climate making for a hardier plant. It is the first primrose to bloom every spring in our garden, with bright pink flowers covered with bees, and lovely light green foliage. As easy and undemanding as it is, I've never fathomed why this plant is so seldom (if ever, in this country) offered for sale. I can't tell you to rush right out and buy it for your garden, as likely you'll be standing there on the curb with a five dollar bill in your hand and no place to go with it. Every year I whack another piece or two off of my original plant, and replant it in another spot; my goal is to eventually have an entire garden brimming with this one primrose... though I'll have to leave room for all the other primulas that I love... did I mention that I'm fickle?
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Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Corydalis Cutie

One of the new corydalis species in our garden is Corydalis kusnetzovii, from the western Caucasus. It's only four inches tall, with lipsticked little tubular flowers. It likes peaty soil and light shade. A cutie, for sure.
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Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Guess The Wildflower, Win A Prize

Look at these three pictures, and guess which emerging wildflower each might be...

One of my favorite garden activities in early spring is pulling back the dead leaves on the ground, to find plants just beginning to put up their foliage, and guessing what they might be. It is quite amazing how different (and sometimes how odd) these new little sprouts are. Sometimes they give a clue as to what they will become, and sometimes they are just complete head-scratchers. If you guessed correctly on any of the above, you win my complete admiration (no money, just approval). At top is blue cohosh, in the middle rue anemone, and at bottom I was a little naughty as this is the Asian version of our native twinleaf (Jeffersonia dubia instead of Jeffersonia diphylla).
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Monday, April 14, 2008

Lily Of The Golden Mountains

The Altai Range (altai meaning golden mountains in the local language) are in central Asia (southwestern Siberia), and lie at the junction of Russia, China, Mongolia and Kazakhstan. Surrounded by dry steppes, the mountains rise sharply into cool, snow-covered peaks with thousands of lakes and extensive forests of pine, larch, fir, aspen and birch. Every spring, just below the snowmelt line, a snow-white lily called Erythronium sibericum blooms. Pictured is the named clone 'Altai Snow'; pristine white with a heart of gold, it is only a few inches tall, with faintly spotted leaves.
This is the first erythronium to bloom for us every spring, being a true glacier lily. We probably are pushing its southern limits of growability here in 5a, but this frigid spring is certainly to its liking. At least one plant is happy with the weather.
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Sunday, April 13, 2008

Scilla Rhapsody

Let me rhapsodize about Scilla caucasica; a smashing little bulb that could not be more lovely. The Transcaucasus (the area between the Black Sea on the west and the Caspian Sea on the east) is a treasure-trove of native flower bulbs, and this little scilla is one of the most beautiful, being especially found in the mountainous areas of Armenia. It is closely related to the commonly grown Scilla siberica (which in our garden has spread so prolifically, that this time of year you can't turn around without stepping on one). However caucasica is larger and more elegant than siberica; a true garden aristocrat.
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Saturday, April 12, 2008

Crazy About Corydalis

Like most gardeners, my first introduction to the genus corydalis was the siren song of the beautiful electric blue Corydalis flexuosa, distributed by certain Pacific Northwest growers who shall remain nameless... distributed all over the country, where they died by the thousands in summer's heat. Of course, just to show that was no fluke, the growers came back with Heuchera 'Amber Fields', which died by the tens of thousands. I guess that's known as setting up good repeat nursery business.
I do actually still have one tiny, sickly little blue flexuosa plant which just hangs on by its fingernails; never really doing anything, but also somehow never completely dying. I also have one small plant of the slightly hardier Corydalis 'Blackberry Wine', which did rather well for a few years, then died back in a freak late spring freeze, and has never really recovered, but I was quite surprised to see a small clump of it return this spring... these finicky flexuosa types of corydalis seem to just hang on enough to make you feel guilty you ever planted them in the midwest in the first place.
Anyway, my next foray into this genus was as far to the opposite extreme of growability as you could get: Corydalis lutea, a rather attractive ferny-leaved, chrome yellow-flowered plant from the foothills of the southern Alps. Introducing this species to my garden was like dropping a match in a barrel of gasoline; seedlings everywhere you looked, uphill and downhill. I've slowly beaten this plant into some sort of truce, trying to more or less confine it to a couple of hosta beds (and the bark pathways around the beds, which Corydalis lutea dearly loves).
Well, to that point my experience with the genus corydalis was patchy at best... but my next acquisition was Corydalis ochroleuca, a much more refined plant with a very long bloom cycle, and a much more demure reseeder; a nice addition to the shady garden. I then began reading about some other promising types of corydalis becoming available, and took the plunge by adding about ten new species as well as an equal number of named clones of Corydalis solida. Many of these plants were just added last year, and much to my excitement are one by one coming up into their first spring in Iowa, and all I've got to say is WOW! I'll make the not-so-bold prediction that corydalis is the next big thing in shady garden perennials. These plants are flat out gorgeous in their foliage, and the flowers are just ravishingly interesting.
Pictured is Corydalis angustifolia 'Thalysh Dawn'; about six to eight inches tall, with lovely ferny foliage and dusty pale lavender flowers with blackberry purple noses. It will go summer dormant, is said to reseed modestly, and will tolerate a bit of sun and dryness, befitting a plant native from the Caucasus down into Iran. I am smitten.

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