Sunday, November 30, 2008

Bright Faces In Winter

In the early winter sunshine, the waxy, shiny leaves of the epimediums are like bright little faces in the garden. Above is the foliage today of Epimedium perrulchicum 'Wisley'. Shown below are its chrome yellow flowers from last May... truly a full season plant.
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Saturday, November 29, 2008

Look Carefully

Sometimes enjoying our late fall garden just requires looking carefully; the heucheras actually make quite a show, in an understated way.
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Friday, November 28, 2008

Chocolate In The Garden

I'm rather a chocoholic, and that extends to fall foliage in the garden. This is Rhododendron 'Aglo', which has bright pink flowers in the spring, and this scrumptious foliage in the late fall.

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Thursday, November 27, 2008

Hapee Thanksgivin

Eet yur vegtubles four Thanksgivin! (Turkeys are such terrible spellers).
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Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Asarum Minor; It Happens Every Year...

With a few thousand varieties of plants in our garden, most of what appears in this blog is "fresh", but every year I seem to feel compelled to stick in at least one picture of Asarum minor. In latest fall/early winter, there is not another plant in the garden with such striking foliage; it's as if the leaves are bleeding ink. Even more amazing is that these leaves remain intact all winter, with the color getting inkier and inkier, until they are deep indigo and plum.
When I think about it, with its amazing, bizarre spring flowers and its evergreen, shiny and patterned leaves, and its amazing winter coloring, this is the single finest plant in our garden (and it's not even close).

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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Ring-Billed Gulls At Sunset

It happens every late fall; large flocks of ring-billed gulls stop over on the nearby lake, on their way to their winter digs on the Gulf. In the clear evenings, just after the sun has settled behind the west ridge, leaving our little valley in dusk, these gulls fly up the valley, then just as they reach our garden at the head of this valley, they wheel to the east and pick up speed and disappear behind the woods. As they are coming up the valley, they are rising and therefore flying rather slowly and are shadowy in the late evening sky. However, when they turn overhead, their snow white underside is turned to the sun, lights up with the orange, setting sun's rays, and the bird plunges to the darkening east as if on fire. This display goes on for an hour or more; I've never known whether the gulls are headed someplace specific, or whether they are just doing it for the joy of it. I'd say five hundred gulls pass over us; of course it could just be fifty gulls going around in a big circle over and over rather than my imagined enormous flock of five hundred; I'm pretty gullible...
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Monday, November 24, 2008

Galanthus reginae-olgae

The Galanthus reginae-olgae in our garden blooms merrily along, even after temperatures in the 'teens. I'm sorry to read that Hitch Lyman of Temple Nursery fame, who probably grows more different snowdrops than anybody in this country, and knows more about growing them, doesn't have success with this species outdoors in New England; apparently the foliage (which arises mostly after the flower) gets trashed under the snow by spring. I'm sure I'm more lucky (so far over four years) than skillful, but we'll enjoy it while we have it.
This picture shows the typical green inner petal blotch on this snowdrop; it looks a bit more like a "moon bridge" than like the upside-down heart seen on many snowies.
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Sunday, November 23, 2008

Rosy Cheeks In Fall

One of the finest traits of epimediums in late fall is when the foliage develops a deep, rosy tint. Epimedium ilicifolium has pale yellow flowers in spring. In late fall/early winter, its deeply toothed leaves develop a cherry red hue, with deep red backs and checkered red dorsal leaves. Very nice.
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Saturday, November 22, 2008

Epimedium Lishihchenii

Epimedium lishihchenii is amazingly evergreen here in the little icebowl we call Iowa. Its leaves are shiny and leathery, with strong, wiry stems. It was just discovered in 1996 in China, and has large, spidery yellow flowers in spring. However it's early winter we're concerned about here, when this plant's foliage (after ten above zero at night) looks like it just stepped off the boat from China... most remarkable. If January is terribly cold, this epimedium may lose most of its leaves before spring, but in milder winters it comes through to spring almost unscathed. At the least, it provides foliage interest (and hope) until after Christmas.

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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Azalea Pale Lilac In Spring

This is what Azalea 'Pride's Pale Lilac' looks like in early May. It actually is much brighter, and prettier than this picture shows.
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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Garden Sight Lines

Although our garden is on a slight hill overlooking a very pretty, 25 foot deep pond full of bass and bluegill, I have been sadly negligent in incorporating views of that pond into our garden experience. Trees and shrubs grow, vines curl up from the ground, and soon garden visitors say "what pond"?
I'm trying to make amends, and if the tangle of vines would let loose of the two smaller dead trees on the left, I will have restored a nice sight line from one path. I will admit having sight lines to the pond can be a mixed blessing; geese nest alongside the pond, and during that spring interval, every time they see somebody moving in the garden, they go into a major honkfest. It's rather like a convention of antique auto horn collectors.
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Monday, November 17, 2008

Help From Unexpected Quarters

We don't usually think of azaleas as being a big contributor to fall leaf color, but sometimes they are. This is azalea 'Pride's Pale Lilac'. I have no idea why this isn't a wildly popular garden shrub. It was hybridized many years ago by Joseph Gable, one of the pioneers of breeding rhododendrons and azaleas, whose goal was breeding hardy plants that would survive in Pennsylvania without coddling. Orlando Pride, another famous man in azalea and rhododendron breeding, bought hundreds of un-named azalea seedlings from Joseph Gable's nursery, and out of all the plants grown, this was by far the hardiest, and Pride named it 'Pale Lilac' (it's more often now called 'Pride's Pale Lilac'). It obviously has a lot of Azalea poukhanense in it.
I've grown it for perhaps 25 years, and it's only failed to bloom heavily in about three of those years; most years it is covered in large, funnel-shaped dusty lilac flowers (I was growing it north of here in a zone 4 garden for many years). The plant itself has taken -35 degrees with no damage. It rapidly forms a large 6 x 6 foot shrub, grows like a weed even in heavy clay soil, and forms offshoots like a strawberry; every year I dig up one or two new plants and move them elsewhere in the garden.
What do the big box stores sell instead... large-leaved (elepidote) rhododendrons and tender evergreen azaleas that all turn up their toes in their first Iowa winter. I guess that's how you get repeat business.
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Sunday, November 16, 2008

Epimediums In Fall

One fine, crisp November morning you wake up and realize you've pretty much got a foliage garden now; except for a handful of intrepid blooms, there is not a flower to be seen in the garden. If we're lucky, the early snowdrops may be back in a January thaw (or, if unlucky, they'll not be back until they dazedly emerge from March's snowbanks, like last year).
In the meantime, there is still lots of interesting foliage to look at and, in fact, the epimediums, while they may not hog the center of the stage, certainly edge on to it from the wings.
Many different species are quite hardy here; some are wisely deciduous, but a number are semi-evergreen, and in mild winters a few are truly evergreen. I'm not sure why epimediums aren't more popular; certainly the flowers are small, but there are lots of them. They require essentially no care, and grow about anywhere. I like to tuck them into little odd nooks and crannies all along the pathways; the foliage shines in spring and fall, the flowers are lovely in late spring, and they just kind of blend into (or perhaps I should say they form) the background during the summer, but their summer foliage always looks fresh and never wilts during summer's heat. Their lack of popularity may stem partly from not having an easily recognized, attractive common name (barrenwort doesn't do much for most folks). I've seen catalog writers try, without much success, to label them "angel wings" because of the shape of the flowers.
In the fall, the foliage of many epimediums seems to become shinier, and gets a moody undertone of pink or purple; this is Epimedium x youngianum 'Tamabotan', with its pinkish fall foliage and reddish petioles. It's a deciduous clumper, with lovely pale rose flowers in the spring.
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Friday, November 14, 2008

Looking Good In Fall

There aren't a ton of plants that still look perfect after temperatures in the mid-teens, but this is one of them. This is supposed to be the Solomon seal Polygonatum prattii from China, and I suppose it is, but its leaves are wider than the type; it is only four inches tall, with shiny, pleated leaves and pinkish flowers.
It looks this crisp and sharp all winter with a little snow cover; in spring it looks like it's stepping out of a snowbank with a tuxedo on. Very James Bondish.
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Thursday, November 13, 2008

Hello Hellebore... Goodbye?

Helleborus foetidus is new to our garden this year, and it's a very handsome plant, indeed... however, I wonder what it will look like next spring. I see hardiness zone ratings all over the place for it, all the way from z4 to z6 (one nurseryman claims it's hardy in all fifty states); I bought it, of course, choosing to believe the z4 folks (a wildly optimistic bunch). Our little z5a valley is somewhat sheltered, so I can sometimes grow things that are a little tender, but I did not know that H. foetidus puts out its flower buds in the fall, and expects to remain evergreen all winter, then bloom in very early spring... this doesn't look good. Burrell and Tyler in their terrific book Hellebores- A Comprehensive Guide (which I should have looked at, instead of relying on the catalog folks, before investing fourteen dollars in this plant), state: Helleborus foetidus is reported hardy to zone 5 and sometimes z4. Most American gardeners north of zone 6 enjoy little success however.
Well, it's been nice knowing you...
H. foetidus is native to western Europe, and blooms (for those lucky z6 folks) in earliest spring with small greenish flowers; apparently it's grown more for its foliage than its flowers, and there are some wonderful-looking selected forms, like Wester Flisk, which has dark, reddish-tinged foliage. Some of these plants look very exotic and otherworldly. Should my plant buck the odds and survive, I have a couple of spots in the garden that would love to have one of these oddities.
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Wednesday, November 12, 2008

And The Last Shall Be First...

Improbably, after a night down to 17 degrees, and a freezingly cold rain all day, the snowdrop Galanthus reginae-olgae is blooming nicely. This fall-blooming snowdrop just popped up in our garden one Thanksgiving, several years ago, growing in a newly planted patch of the common early spring bloomer, Galanthuus elwesii. Much to my surprise (and probably to the surprise of this little bulb of reginae-olgae), it has survived and gotten bigger and better each year. It blooms on almost a naked stem, then the leaves slowly emerge and survive the winter under the snow.
This little snowdrop and I go through the same cat and mouse game every year; I look and look for it to arise every November, finally give up on it and think it died, then walk by one cold, dark day, and there it is, nonchalantly blooming. It must completely send up its stalk from the bare ground and start blooming in about two days... I've always wanted to get a picture of it just coming out of the ground but I suspect you would need a fast camera lens to avoid a blurred picture.

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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Waxwing Swirl

We seem to be a major waystation every year for migrating cedar waxwings. This morning I walked out to the garden, and found myself surrounded by perhaps a hundred of these beautiful, masked birds, swirling in the bright sunshine in a restless melee, gorging on wild berries. It was exhilarating seeing them in such numbers, and realizing that they will not stop until they arrive in the forests of Central America... a yearly voyage this species has made for thousands of years. I am humbled that our little valley is a modest oasis for this great annual migration.
While the waxwings shown here all have the typical yellow tailfeathers, apparently some waxwings are showing up with orange tailfeathers, due to the pigment of the berries of the Tatarian honeysuckle (an introduced and invasive honeysuckle, which the waxwings are feeding on in these pictures). If the waxwings feed extensively on these red berries during the time their tail feathers are growing, the feathers may become orange instead of yellow.
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Monday, November 10, 2008

The Future Garden

Although the garden is rapidly slipping off the edge of fall, into the graveyard of early winter, there are already signs of next spring's resurrection; the early snowdrops (Galanthus elwesii) are showing their white tips. Some years we have snowdrops blooming as early as the New Year's week... or they can be buried by snow, and not really bloom until early March. It is a crap shoot, for sure.
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Sunday, November 09, 2008

The Moth...

A man walks into an orthopedist's office, walks up to the reception desk and says, "I think I'm a moth." The receptionist says, "Oh gosh, I don't think we can help you with that here, but there's a psychiatrist's office right down the hall." The fellow says, "Yah, I know... I was on my way down there, but your light was on."
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Saturday, November 08, 2008

Sunglasses Required

When the setting sun hits Acer japonicum Aconitifolium, it causes some serious brightness. I actually have three of these trees (tree sales are great; my restraint and common sense... not so great; each tree will eventually reach ten feet by ten feet). The largest of the three is now about five foot tall; then I have one about two foot tall, and the smallest just sits there at a foot tall (it was not helped by having a running deer step on it... the deer was running from me, as I was chasing it out of the garden).

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Friday, November 07, 2008


Acer palmatum 'Fireglow' is a small-leafed, rather slow-growing Japanese maple, that just lights up in the fall, with deep scarlet leaves.
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Thursday, November 06, 2008

Garden Ornament

This Japanese maple is right by the front entrance pathway in our garden. I lost the name tag when I moved it from our last garden... pretty, though. I lost a lot of name tags in that move, which involved a whole truck load of plants all dug up in a jumble, late in October, after dark (the new home owner said I could take what I wanted... no, I didn't tell him that the Japanese maples, rhododendrons, and magnolias by themselves that I took were probably worth a couple of thousand dollars... he trashed the place anyway, and resold it a couple of years later).
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