Saturday, February 28, 2009

Cyclamens... A Modest Improvement

Hardy cyclamens (well, at least three species of them: purpurascens, coum, and hederifolium) do fairly well in our garden. However, depending on the conditions (snow cover, cold, wind), the leaves often come through the winter looking a little ratty, which somewhat detracts from their value to the garden. This last fall, I decided to cover all of them with a light covering of dry pine needles, and while we had good snow cover, I still think the pine needles were very protective, in that upon uncovering the cyclamens, they looked almost untouched by winter, in spite of reaching fifteen below in January.
While tolerant of most soils as long as they have good drainage, cyclamens do prefer alkaline soil, so I will want to remove the pine needles each year.

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Friday, February 27, 2009

It Could Always Be Worse...

I've been pretty whiny about our long winter this year, but it could always be worse; here's what it looked like a year ago.
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Thursday, February 26, 2009

Four Questions About Mexico

Liz says I think too much, and perhaps she's right... but I do have a few questions from our stay in Mexico:
First, who teaches all the maids in Mexico how to do those towel animals?
Second, do iguanas taste bad? If not I'd think they all would have been eaten.
Third, why didn't all the Mayans build their cities on cliffs overlooking the ocean like Tulum, instead of in the middle of the buggy jungle; didn't they know how to swim?
Finally, is there any woman on earth who wears more clothes in a tropical climate than Liz?
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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Sun To Snow... To Snowdrops

Well, home at last from Playa del Carmen, Mexico. Apparently it was warm and nice here in Iowa the whole time we were gone, then winter returned right before we came back, so it was zero with four inches of new snow when we piled off the airplane wearing light jackets.
The deer seemed unhappy to see us back, probably thinking we brought the return of winter with us. They have a point; last year we had to dig our car out of a snowbank when we got back from Mexico.
However, by today the sun was out, the snow was melting, the deer were placated and the snowdrops are starting to open, though the ground is still frozen solid. Somehow amongst all the ice and dead leaves, the bees are right on the spot when this first small handful of flowers starts to bloom; rather like shoppers waiting for BestBuy to open for its post-Christmas sale. The bees were so eager for spring, that they were trying to force their way into snowdrops that hadn't yet opened. I know how they feel...

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Friday, February 06, 2009

A Slight Interruption...


(There is nothing wrong with your computer; there will be a temporary interruption in posting on this blog.)

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The Littlest Snowflake

A small snowflake correction to my posting of February 2nd (though on a technicality I can say I wasn't really wrong): I stated that the only snowflake (leucojum) that I have previously had growing in my garden is the summer snowflake, Leucojum aestivum (of course, we hope also now to have newly planted Leucojum vernum appearing in a few weeks)... in fact, I also have had the autumn snowflake (autumnale) shown above blooming in the fall.
However, as I stated above, I may have been right on a technicality not to include the autumn snowflake in my previous post, as it is no longer a leucojum; it and six of its cohorts have been moved into a different genus, and this bulb is now Acis autumnale. These plants were split off from leucojum on the basis that they (Acis) have narrow leaves, hollow stems, and unmarked flowers. So, the autumn snowflake is no longer a leucojum; is it still a snowflake... I don't know. I may also be right in having excluded this plant from my post, as I wouldn't bet I still have it growing (we'll see, if the snow ever melts). It should not survive here; it has surprised so far, but I am pretty sure it will eventually catch a cold or something, and leave me with fond memories and a tiny empty spot in the garden. I wouldn't normally have even tried this bulb in the first place in the open garden in Iowa, as it is native to Spain, Portugal, Sardinia, and Sicily, and it puts out its foliage in the fall, which expects to persist over winter; all of which would suggest an outcome here in Iowa that is contained in a three letter word: D-E-D! The only reason I have this bulb is that I thought I was buying Acis nicaeense, a rarity which blooms in the spring, and thus seemed to offer a tiny ray of hope that, if kept dry, it might survive here. Nicaeense has flowers a little more open (bell-like), and looks from pictures like it has slightly coarser, gray-green foliage. My bulb on the other hand blooms in September, with very narrow, grass green foliage, and tiny little funnel shaped flowers, coarsely fringed and with a reddish-purple staining at the base, typical of the commoner autumnale. Even if I had the true nicaeense, it's dubious it would persist here either, as that species is endemic to only a tiny area of southeast France and northwest Italy, right along the Mediterranean; about as far removed in climate from midwest corn country as you could imagine.
So, in conclusion I'm not always very accurate on this blog, but I am a demon correcter!

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Thursday, February 05, 2009

Out Of The Deep Freeze?

We're finally to get above freezing today, and the overall trend looks a bit milder from here on out... can spring be far behind?
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Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Delta Airlines... And Other Sore Subjects

If there is an industry that treats its customers worse than the airlines, I don't know what it would be... so, when I deal with an airline, my expectations are pretty low. Therefore, for me to be furious at my recent experience with Delta Airlines takes some doing.
I'll not bore anyone with the grim details. Let's just say that if I found myself in Hell, and Delta Airlines was the only way out, I'd be signing up for the underworld volleyball league, hoping to get the Devil on my team.

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Monday, February 02, 2009

Antsy Gardener

This is the time of year when I get "bulb antsy"; though snow is still weighing heavily on the garden, I get increasingly anxious to see the first bulb shoots breaking through the cold ground, as the sun's increasing warmth finally starts creating some bare spots here and there. I especially get anxious to see the new bulbs I just planted last fall; since some of these are new species, or even new genera in our garden, there is always some question as to whether they even will appear in the spring.
One of the bulbs I'll be looking for is Leucojum vernum, the spring snowflake. Now, leucojums I have in plenty already, but they are bulbs of the summer snowflake, Leucojum aestivum, shown above last year. Aestivum has been rather too successful here, aggressively spreading in the beds where it's planted, and seeding about with abandon. It has a lot of foliage for its flower size; foliage which flops all over everything, smothering out any other plant unfortunate enough to be in the vicinity.
Leocujum vernum, which I just planted last fall, is a much smaller (six inches tall), more refined plant, with a reputation for being somewhat difficult to grow (in contradistinction to Leocojum aestivum, which is large, rather coarse in foliage, and would probably survive a napalm attack).
The subject of the cultural requirements for success with Leucojum vernum is a little mysterious to me. Some claim that it must be planted in moist spots which never dry out, yet I read in one article that it is more tolerant of dry conditions than is aestivum, and that aestivum is the species which won't tolerate being dry. Well, in our garden aestivum tolerates full-blown drought without missing a beat, so I have no idea where to plant vernum; I've hedged my bet by planting two bulbs in a wet spot, and two in a well-drained spot.
It is always a little worrisome when one plants a bulb that hardly anybody else seems to grow; it may well be that other gardeners just have a blind spot about a very garden-worthy bulb, but there are other, more likely reasons why you never see the spring snowflake growing in other gardens... spring will bring an answer.

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Sunday, February 01, 2009

Snowdrop Musings

I've been thinking about snowdrops; it beats wondering about whether the snow on the roof will ever melt. Specifically, I've been thinking about the relative growability of the only two species commonly available here: elwesii and nivalis. In reading about snowdrops, one immediately comes away with the idea that nivalis is much more growable, and rapidly forms large clumps; elwesii is said to be less growable, and in general is a relative slugabout in the garden. Well, the opposite is true in my little corner of the horticultural world; elwesii grows rapidly and lustily, multiplying and seeding all over the place, while nivalis slowly forms cute little clumps that one could handily cover with a wadded Kleenex, and I never see seedlings.
The problem is that snowdrop knowledge comes from cool, misty Great Britain where Galanthus nivalis is native; elwesii is native to sunny, dry southern Europe down through the Caucasus, and undoubtedly spends most of its time shivering when grown in a Brit garden. The reason I have been thinking about this is there just recently was some discussion in the snowdrop forum of the Scottish Rock Garden Club about Galanthus nivalis; the statement was made that their impression was that in the States, nivalis was the best grower on the east coast, while elwesii grew best in the western part of the country. They also said that there are some clones of nivalis that are better/easier growers/multipliers than the ordinary species, and interestingly they mentioned Galanthus Scharlockii as being a very good grower. This is a cultivar of nivalis that was discovered in Germany in the 19th century, later named after its discoverer by the famous bulbsman E.A. Bowles, who grew Scharlockii in his garden. I added Scharlockii to my snowie collection a couple of years ago, and it is a very vigorous grower here, too; from a single bulb it has already formed a nice little patch, so I also heartily recommend this strain of nivalis, if you can find it; a bonus is that Scharlockii has a lovely, faint brushing of green on each outer petal.
One additional nivalis/elwesii observation from my garden is that the former makes tight clumps that if not divided every few years, start pushing some of the bulbs out of the ground, while elwesii forms looser patches (though it also will sometimes push bulbs out of the ground, and would benefit from occasional splitting (notice I said "would" benefit rather than "does" benefit; maybe this spring I'll finally get around to it).
The pictures from last spring, above from top: typical open patch of elwesii; individual elwesii flower; Scharlockii; tight little nivalis clump.

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