Monday, June 30, 2008

Exploding Whale... EEEEW!

Here's something I'll bet you've never seen before: a whale explosion. Apparently this whale washed up on shore, and was being trucked to a marine research station to examine it, when the heat caused it to swell up and explode. I don't know what amazes me more: these pictures of an exploded whale, or the fact that there is a website devoted entirely to trucking accidents that I lifted them from.
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Sunday, June 29, 2008

The Carefree Garden

A few years ago I planted an area right on the edge of a ravine by our house with a wildflower mix. It's quite interesting the changes its gone through over the years in terms of what grows there, and the stages it goes through each year; it goes from prairie phlox blooming in the spring, to sweet williams blooming now, then to pink coneflowers in the fall... or at least it would go to coneflowers if the deer didn't keep eating them off. Our screen porch looks right over this area, so it's been a nice (and now quite carefree) addition.
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Saturday, June 28, 2008

Bonus Points For Aging

There seems to be some sort of subtle bonus system for aging in gardeners; as I've gone along, I don't think I'm any smarter, and I certainly don't work harder in the garden, yet many plants that I used to kill regularly, now grow here with abandon. Maybe they've gotten the word that in this garden they sink or swim on their own, so they might as well snap to it. Heucheras used to fade out on a rather regular basis for me; one day I'd just suddenly realize that they were gone (again). Now, I just stick them in any old place, and they take off like cabbages. I suppose the new heucheras saw the old garden labels in my junk pile, from their dead predecessors. fear is a good fertilizer.
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Friday, June 27, 2008

Turning Over A New Leaf

Pinellia cordata 'Yamazaki' is really a pretty astonishing plant to see growing in the garden here in Iowa; it looks so much like some type of tropical houseplant, with its large (five inches long), thick, waxy leaves that are heavily patterned and deep maroon on the underside. It's sweet-smelling floral structures are a bonus; it is an aroid, cousin to the jack in the pulpits, with a similar inflorescence that arises from the ground on separate stalks amongst the leaves. There aren't too many plants that are six inches tall that can absolutely stop people in their tracks, but this is one of them.

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Thursday, June 26, 2008

The Impatient Gardener

Patience is not my strong suit. I realize the lack of this virtue is not a good thing in a gardener, as it leads one to look for instant effect by jamming too many plants in a small space. Take this hosta bed; I felt I was being pretty restrained when I only put 23 hostas in a space the size of a closet. I moved two plants out of this bed this spring, but three of four of the others are already disappearing from sight, so I need to move some more. Now, the next issue is figuring out just where I can find an empty spot to move them to.

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Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Accidental Landscaper

I am not a landscaper; you'll find no grand vistas in our garden, no manicured shrubs, no white gardens. What you'll find is a jumble of plants of all kinds from all over the world, jammed in together in a jolly, exuberant, overgrown botanical melange. At the entryway to our garden however, is a large clump of phlox divaricata (woodland phlox), around the base of a three foot tall statue of pan, and the phlox contrasts with a bright yellow euonymous planted right behind. Very nice, and people often comment on my tasteful landscaping in this bed; the trouble is, the phlox was actually growing wild there when I started gardening, and I just left it. I had planned on having the euonymous grow into that whole spot, but whenever deer sneak into the garden, they head right for that bush and chew it off. After getting chewed to the ground half a dozen times, the euonymous has gotten smarter, and stays short, hiding behind the phlox.

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Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Now Whose Dog Died?

I rather pride myself on having a fragrant garden; starting in early spring with Viburnum carlesii, on through hyacinths, lilacs, azaleas, roses, trumpet lilies and orienpets; climaxing in late summer with dozens of Oriental lilies with their musky, heavy perfume which hangs in the thick August air like a sweet cloud.
Then there's this week; the dragon arum just finally decided to follow through with its smell of impending death, and started folding up its tent. Now today I'm walking down the main path and think a large animal has decided to crawl into the garden to expire. Instead I find the voodoo lily, Sauromatum venosum is in bloom. Note to new gardeners: if you decide to plant one of these oddities DON'T plant it right next to your main garden path!

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Monday, June 23, 2008

The Lushness Of June

In Iowa it may snow in March; April can be windy and rainy. Even May can turn from blue skies to cold and clouds for days on end. But June... June is warm, sunny days and cool nights; it's a riot of flowers and singing birds and long, still evenings. It is a month of utter, and beautiful lushness.
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Sunday, June 22, 2008

Strange Bouquet

It happens every year; Liz decides she wants a bouquet of cut flowers for some occasion, so she hands me a vase and asks me to go cut some flowers in the garden. A snap in a one acre garden, right?
Well, let's see... how would a three foot tall dragon arum that smells like rotten meat look in that vase. Well, then how about if I throw in a two inch tall Primula juliae with flowers the size of a piece of confetti, and maybe the plant pictured above; Paris polyphylla, with flowers that look like earrings for a Martian?
Maybe I need to plant
some zinnias.
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Saturday, June 21, 2008

Turtle Time

There is the calendar year, and then there is the natural year... we march to both drums. Early summer here is turtle time, when the painted turtles make the long, slow climb up the hill to lay their eggs in our back yard. They are eagerly watched for (and worried about, when they are late to show). This year, with our cold, wet spring they had been complete no-shows until today, when a rather small one was found digging her nest. I always wonder for how many years turtles have been struggling up the hill to lay their eggs here, and how many little turtles have caught their first view of the world from this spot. I know I'm happy it's turtle time again.

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What's In A Name?

Once in a while the Linnaean name for a particular species is somewhat of a head scratcher... take Arisaema robustum, a jack in the pulpit from Japan. It's a cool little thing, with a deeply embossed, thick, five part leaf, and the spathe/spadix arises from the base on a short stalk with the spathe (pulpit) being green and white striped.
When I bought this jack I thought from its name (robustum) that it was going to be a hunk. However, compared with the giant, four foot tall and three foot across Asian jacks like speciosum and heterophyllum that I have growing nearby, robustum is rather... small. Also, while several of these other jacks have multiplied nicely, robustum just kind of sits there; no bigger and no smaller. In fact I'm going to move it this fall, because another Japanese jack (sikokianum) is starting to push robustum out of the way. Maybe it needs some steroids?

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Friday, June 20, 2008

Mowing The Bird Feeder...

As everybody knows, Iowa has been suffering through a truly apocalyptic weather year, with floods, tornadoes, and other assorted calamities that altogether make one feel like we are living under a big bullseye. How wet has it been? One of my little jobs around here is mowing the birdfeeder.
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Thursday, June 19, 2008

Arisaema Costatum

This jack in the pulpit is native to the lower, wooded slopes of the Himalayas in Tibet and Nepal, so I'm pleased it does well in our garden, for most of the Himalayan jacks are not fond of our summers, tending in July to shrivel up and flop over like a balloon with the air let out of it. I do have this planted in a nice cool (for us), and somewhat moist ravine. I guess I should be doubly pleased that it is hardy here, as it is rated zone 7 for winter hardiness, and the last time I checked we were zone 5. The plant itself is a stately three foot tall; the single large leaf has three leaflets which are thick and deeply ribbed, for that nice tropical banana look. The floral structure is deep maroon red with white stripes, and the coolest part is the long thread hanging down from the jack; the thread reaches all the way to the ground.

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Wednesday, June 18, 2008

I Think I'll Keep It

I obtained this Asian jack in the pulpit labeled as Arisaema intermedium, which it isn't; I've never figured out just what species it is (it just might be a form of consanguineum). However, it is already four foot tall, with waxy, thick, tropical-appearing leaves, a long thread hanging down from the spathe (pulpit) almost to the ground, a nicely "snakeskinned" stem, and it has three new little offset plants around the base... whatever it is, I think I'll keep it.
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Tuesday, June 17, 2008

I Smelled This Flower So You Don't Have To!

As a public service, I have sniffed this newly opened Dracunculus vulgaris (dragon arum) so you don't need to. Now, as a guy, I am genetically somewhat immune to gross stuff; I remember hearing about a survey taken amongst young boys, asking them what they most remembered about the ancient Egyptians, from studying them in school. To a lad, they said the one thing they remembered was that when the Egyptians were mummifying the dead, they sucked the brains out through the nose with a straw (I suspect this answer was usually followed by a loud "EEEEW!"). However, I must admit, even though I am as a male not repelled by squirmy or foul things, to me the smell of this flower is just... well, awful. After checking it out in the back ravine where it is blooming, I feared the odor was permanently imprinted in my nose, then realized I was just still smelling it clear across the garden , two city blocks away, uphill and upwind. Let's say your Uncle Ralphy was a bit daft; he'd drive around and collect roadkill, which he'd take home with him. After a while he got really difficult, and stopped paying his utility bill because he thought the electricity in the wiring was affecting his brain, so the utility company shut off everything. After a few months of him sitting in the dark with no bath, you had to commit him to a nursing home, and a few months after that he died. Well, when you finally had time you went over to his house to clear things out, and opened up the warm freezer, which turned out to be where he was storing all his roadkill. I believe this plant smells a little worse than that (note the American carrion beetles munching on the spathe).
No thanks are necessary...
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Monday, June 16, 2008

A Different Mayapple

Podophyllum pleianthum, the Chinese mayapple, has wonderfully shiny leaves a foot across and a pendulous cluster of maroon red flowers with a (cough, cough) interesting fragrance. If more than one clone of this plant is present in the garden, it produces viable seed; a number of babies are popping up around this plant. The seed pods being hidden under the large leaves, I always seem to forget to gather the seed to plant in my nursery bed; I must write myself a note to remember this year.
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Sunday, June 15, 2008

Spotted Jack In The Garden

Arisaema iyoanum ssp. nakaianum is from Shikoku Province in Japan, a large island off the southeast coast of mainland Japan. This is a particularly unique and unusual Asian jack in the pulpit because the spadix (jack) is somewhat club-like, and prominently spotted... The Spotted Jack.

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Saturday, June 14, 2008

The Forsaken

It has gone on and on; storms and floods and destruction. Today, in the midst of the worst flooding in the history of Iowa, with the sandbag dikes failing by the hour, and bridges being destroyed one by one, the dreaded sound of the tornado sirens sent weary sandbaggers looking for cover, as hail and torrential rain lashed the flooded city... and another storm is coming.
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