Thursday, July 31, 2008

The Mystery Solver

Being absent-minded isn't all bad; it means almost every day you have a new mystery to solve. Take this plant that just popped up seemingly out of nowhere in my garden... very shiny, waxy leaf; purple stem; green with red blotching... no plant label, and of course no recollection of planting anything there. Hmmm.
Fortunately I only briefly entertain thoughts that "people" are playing tricks on me by planting stuff in my garden (well, I still say I never planted the Johnson's Blue geranium).
In the present case, the second time I walked by it I remembered I had a very tiny tuber of one of the new Thai caladiums and then recalled this is where I stuck it. The tuber was so small, and it was so late in the growing season, that I didn't have much hope it would even come up, so I didn't make a label, and promptly forgot about it. It's not in a very good spot, as it's right next to a hepatica. I possibly should dig it up and move it... if I could just find my garden trowel.
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Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Creatures Of The Night

The sultry, still nights of mid-summer in Iowa bring out a parade of nocturnal hobgoblins; snakes, toads, owls, bats, night hawks, whippoorwills, (and little tree frogs). Exotic moths the size of my palm flutter against the windows, June bugs buzz and bump expectantly on the screens, and the lightning bugs float serenely over it all. The nights are growing subtly longer, and increasingly the nights are where the real action is. In the hazy morning, footprints of raccoons and possums are seen to crisscross the muddy spots in the yard; tell-tale signs of the previous night's gathering, like so many leftover cups and napkins from an all-night party.
We sleep serenely through it all, as it is a party we humans are not really invited to, and can barely comprehend. I just know that if I think about it, even though our house sits on land that might seem empty to some, it actually is rather crowded here.
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Monday, July 28, 2008

A Sliver Of Paradise

The newest preserve of the Johnson County Heritage Trust is a small pocket prairie remnant next to an old railroad right of way... one of the few scraps of our disappearing natural heritage here in Iowa.

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Saturday, July 26, 2008

Before And After: A Meadow Is Born...

I have occasionally alluded to working at a nature preserve. Currently I'm clearing out a meadow, removing invasive brush, preparing to seed the four acre area to create a wildflower meadow (technically an open mesic oak savanna). Already the area (seen before above and currently below) is attracting a wealth of songbirds; indigo buntings, yellowthroat warblers, song and field sparrows, goldfinches, and others. It should be nice.

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Friday, July 25, 2008

What Might Have Been...

I am the poster boy for the Hydrangea Endless Summer hyperbole club: I embarrassingly said when it first came out that it might be the single biggest advance in cold climate horticulture... Sigh. Try Googling "Endless Summer won't bloom"; there are 152,000 results. It has been quite satisfactory from zones 6 on south, but the whole point of its introduction was to provide northern gardeners with a hardy blooming Hydrangea macrophylla. Bailey Nurseries now says in northern zones you should winter mulch it, and fertilize it in the spring. Well, wasn't that the issue with cheap old Nikko Blue; that it would only bloom if you mulched it well in the winter? I do know that Endless Summer also needs extensive sun to bloom, which means extensive water to keep it from flopping about every afternoon; in other words, to get Endless Summer to reliably bloom in Zones 4 and 5, it must be coddled like Nikko Blue.
I have in my garden a Hydrangea serrata species (seen below) from the old Heronswood Nursery; tagged only with a code number, it supposedly was discovered growing in a very high area, so was thought likely more cold tolerant. Well, indeed it blooms well every year, in heavy shade with no winter protection. The flower clusters are quite modest, this being an unimproved serrata species, but it makes you wonder what could have been done with it in the hybridizer's hands. The old Heronswood is gone now, of course, and who knows about their full plant collection.
The "Walmartization" of horticulture is a sad development.

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Thursday, July 24, 2008

Make Mine A Double

Maybe I'm changing my mind about double flowered daylilies; this is Gemini Jack, a Trimmer hybrid which is pinkish lavender with a purple eye. Dan and Jane Trimmer's website catalog is filled with startlingly flamboyant newer daylily hybrids, many extravagantly eyed and ruffled. A few of their older introductions are in general commerce at gentle prices; I assume being tissue cultured. Gemini Jack is one of these.

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Wednesday, July 23, 2008

I Love Daylilies

Oh, I love daylilies, yes I do... I love daylilies, yes I do... I love daylilies... (well you get the idea).
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Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Imperfect Perennial

Deinanthe caerulea, a Chinese woodland plant, has really interesting blue flowers, but also has its imperfections; the leaves are somewhat rough and coarse, the flowers are slightly small for the leaf size, and the flowers droop, so are not easily viewed. But then, nobody's perfect.
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Monday, July 21, 2008

What I Learned Today...

When you're clearing brush from a meadow in a nature preserve, and a yellowjacket from a nearby nest jumps you, just brush them off and briskly retreat; don't swat them on your clothing and expect to go about your business as if nothing had happened. The smell of smashed yellowjacket on your shirt is like waving a red flag in front of every other yellowjacket in the place. Trust me, I
(Picture above of an equally disgruntled honeybee)

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Sunday, July 20, 2008

Daylily Explosion

What sound do daylilies make when they explode in bloom in July... maybe WOW? Here's daylily 'Total Look', with 68 buds on the plant yet to open.
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Saturday, July 19, 2008

Sophisticated Landscaping

How to garden landscape: receive gift of unlabeled cannas; squeeze one in right next to unlabeled daylily because there's no other spot to plant it; have canna come up with lovely burgundy striped leaves right next to the daylily, which is now blooming with large pink flowers; modestly receive compliments on your exquisite landscaping taste.
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Friday, July 18, 2008

It's Just Frisky...

Red beebalm invasive? Nah, it's just frisky.
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Thursday, July 17, 2008

The Solving Of Small Garden Mysteries...

About this time last year I published this picture of an odd and dwarfish, leafless seedhead which had popped up in one of my flower beds, and wondered what it might be. Sometimes I think my brain is fossilizing into separate, tight little compartments, because I already "knew" (or should have known) what it was... it's Allium tricoccum, commonly called wild leeks or ramps. It seeded into my flower bed from the surrounding woods. The leaves die back before it blooms in early summer, and then it forms this distinctive, small seedhead on a naked stalk. It's actually fairly common in wooded areas around us, but it's such a modest, retiring little plant that an informal survey by me showed that 0% of people know it grows here (well, nine out of nine people I asked... perhaps not too scientific)
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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Mr. Obscure

If I want to point out a plant that nobody else has, nobody's heard of, yet is relatively cheap, easy, and everblooming, I need go no further than Pinellia peltata. Its odd little lemony-lime jack in the pulpit-like flowers smell like ripe bananas and look like they are made out of wax. Just call me Mr. Obscure.
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Tuesday, July 15, 2008

My Snake Rant

I should stay off of other people's blogs... especially blogs of people who kill snakes. I say this having just unloaded on another gal who for no fathomable reason other than ignorance, recently killed a pair of snakes (not venomous) in her garden, then breathlessly blogged about it... even more unfathomable to me is why someone who would kill two harmless, and legally protected creatures, would then publish a picture of one of the cornered snakes on their blog. Here are some simple facts for snake killers: the handful of venomous snakes in the temperate U.S. are all pit vipers. Pit vipers all have largish, triangular heads, heat-sensing pits behind the nostrils, and vertically oval pupils... it is very easy to see from a safe distance; you don't need to kill every one of God's creatures that ventures onto your property, because you think they are going to invade your house, bite you while you're sleeping and make off with the silverware.
The scenario is all too common; people move out into the country because they "love living with nature". They first buy a riding lawnmower to buzz over their three acre lawn (that was a virgin woods before they plowed it under). A wagon is added to the mower to haul around the fertilizer, weed killer, and insecticides that are sprayed on the lawn and everywhere else. One of those large yard lights is added, which turns on every dusk, creating perpetual daylight for a quarter mile around. They then buy two large dogs which bark all night and run off most of the wildlife. Whatever critters remain are called "varmints" and if they wander into the yard they're immediately killed. Finally, some flowers are planted, and a garden blog is set up to show off this little Eden plopped down in the majestic countryside. In addition to flower pictures, the blog will show the occasional snake (right before it's dispatched), and once in a while a songbird flopping about on the lawn, disoriented and losing its feathers from chronic chemical poisoning.
In my opinion a goodly percentage of country dwelling people should have stayed in town... preferably inside, watching television.
(Picture above, taken last year, is of a beautiful prairie kingsnake on our front stoop, looking for toads.)

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Monday, July 14, 2008

Let There Be Light (In Daylilies)

Daylilies Edge Of Darkness, Cobalt Dawn, and Out Of Darkness
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Sunday, July 13, 2008

And When I Die..

When I die and go to Heaven (I realize a bit of a stretch in my case), I hope that Heaven is filled with ravishingly fragrant orienpet lilies like Triumphator, seen above. If towards the end of my life, things seem as dicey as they probably are at present, I'll go with that old Irish toast; "When our life has ended, may we both be in Heaven for three days before the devil finds out we died."
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Saturday, July 12, 2008

The Snake Emerges

Arisaema galeatum is an Asian jack in the pulpit that I'm rather thrilled to have growing in the garden; it is rated zone 7 by most; also it is native to the Himalayas and jack in the pulpits from these mountains tend to rot in the ground in climates like ours...yet galeatum has done well here for several years with no protection. The inflorescence arises from a short stalk near the base of the main plant stalk, and rapidly enlarges into a "helmet" striped with green and white. As they say, this plant is large in all of its parts, and needs to be moist in growth; a hot wind and dry soil will suck the life out of it in a few hours. I imagine it would prefer a cool mountain valley over Iowa in July, yet here it still is. Maybe it thinks it's a cornstalk.

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Friday, July 11, 2008

Solitary Indian

Spigelia marilandica, the Indian pink or firecracker plant, is a very interesting wildflower from the S.E. part of this country. I moved it from our last garden in a big rush (well, actually in a Nissan pickup); at any rate at that time I just had to stick it in where there was a spot, which turned out to be in a patch of common phlox on a dry hillside. Now I know it is supposed to prefer a moist, humusy, shady area...
however, twice over the years I've tried to move a piece of this plant to such an area and both times the transplant died. Meanwhile, the original plant continues to slug it out with the phlox for a piece of hard, dry clay. I've read that Indian pink is pretty easy to grow from seed, but apparently the flowers go to seed and scatter very quickly; I guess you go into the house for a Snickers bar, and when you come back out, all the seeds are gone. It is therefore recommended that you make a little bag out of an old nylon stocking, and tie it about the seed pod. I may have to go rummage about in Liz's underwear drawer.

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