Thursday, May 28, 2009
Just Puttying Around
When the puttyroot orchids bloom in the woods, I know it is time to watch for new fawns, and this year has not been a disappointment. A few days ago I was just walking along the garden pathway near the pond, glanced down, and there was the tiniest of new fawns curled up right by the path; I could have picked it up in the palm of my hand. Mom was nearby, lying in the woods. That path has been off limits so as not to frighten them, but I've had some peeks through the binoculars of the doe licking her fawn and nursing it. Now the fawn is walking better, so they've moved over to a hill above the pond where there are some nice breezes and a bit of green grass.
The new fawn has some lineage here, as I'm pretty sure its mother was a new fawn here herself two years ago; I'm not totally certain, as I've not put name badges or different colored caps on all the deer to tell them apart (though I've thought about it). However, the doe is a distinctive bright chestnut, and short in stature.
She was one of two fawns of a most wonderful mother, as we had a tiny, motherless fawn (that I called "Sweetheart") show up at that time and some of the older deer were trying to run it off. Though she already had two, slightly older fawns of her own, that doe took in Sweetheart, and she and the three fawns were a tight family.
So, I would say our new fawn is the offspring of Sweetheart's stepsister... you know, maybe I need to get out more.
Monday, May 25, 2009
Pinellias I Have Loved And Grown
Pinellias, somewhat horticulturally reclusive cousins to jack in the pulpits, are among my favorites in our garden. This is Pinellia 'Polly Spout'. It is a chance hybrid between P. tripartita Atropurprea (a fairly aggressive seeder) and P. pedatisecta (a truly awesome seeder). Fortunately, Polly Spout is sterile (a triploid, I assume). It does offset into a nice, fairly compact clump (most other pinellias run like bandits, popping up, it would seem by perverse choice, at ridiculous distances from the mother plant). Polly was discovered in the old We-Du nursery, and named after a famous spring that now forms a pond at the nursery, Polly's Spout (We-Du is now Meadowbrook Nursery).
Polly Spout shows a slightly purple spathe (hood), with a very tall, upright spadix (jack), and tall, lush tripartite foliage, looking like a dark green, waxy jack in the pulpit. It stays in bloom essentially all summer and always looks great. As I mentioned, it's sterile, but I still can't fathom why it's fairly expensive, because it is a strong, carefree plant that divides readily and steadily... I figure next year I can start potting some up as giveaways for garden visitors.
Sunday, May 24, 2009
Two Good Things
Every garden is a bit hit or miss; two things that have recently worked out well here are, at top, sinking a plastic tub in the ground to grow primula japonica in, and at bottom, a large oval raised, shaded flower bed with a pathway all around it.
Saturday, May 23, 2009
It's Your Call...
This is a plant you may want to go right out and obtain for your shade garden; or not... it's your call. It's Syneilesis aconitifolia, sometimes called "raggedy umbrella". It arises from the ground quite fuzzy white, then loses the fuzz to become colonies of what look for all the world like mayapples that have had a pair of scissors taken to them. Interesting white flower spikes arise vertically from the leaves in mid-summer. There is a second species, Syneilesis palmatum with less finely dissected leaves that is equally intriguing, and there is a named cultivar of palmatum with creamy yellow leaves, that I am patiently awaiting a cheaper price for.
My colony of aconitifolia has been steadily migrating up a hill; I'm not quite sure what it's looking for, but it will soon be running into the goldfish pond... we'll see where it decides to go then.
Friday, May 22, 2009
In Praise Of Hybrids
There is a widespread bias amongst experienced gardeners favoring plant species over hybrids. I confess to being an inconstant member of this club. However, when it comes to ladyslipper orchids, there is a powerful argument for growing hybrids; one can be certain that the plant wasn't pilfered from nature. There are a few (emphasis on few) nurseries that one can feel safe in purchasing cypripedium species from, knowing they were grown from seed, but more often, one just doesn't really know. "Nursery grown" may just mean the plant was dug up in the woods, stuck in a pot at the nursery for a few months, then sold.
Here is pictured Cypripedium 'Gisela', a hybrid between parviflorum and macranthos, and a lovely slipper it is... and easy to grow if it is given good drainage, loose soil, its roots are not planted deeply, and it receives afternoon shade and proper moisture... well, let's just say it is growable.
Monday, May 18, 2009
It has been an unusually cool and damp spring here in Iowa, which may be the cause of the rusty jacks. I had never heard of arisaema rust, but today I noticed a large clump of native, black hooded jack in the pulpits whose leaves were crumpling, and looking closer saw numerous brown spots on the underside of the leaves and on the spathes (pulpits); obviously rust. A quick internet search showed that arisaema rust is a severe problem, and the only recommendation was to completely remove the plant; it is extremely contagious. Unfortunately a garden tour showed that about a third of the native jacks were infected, as were two of the Asian jacks, stately ringens and exotic iyoanum. I pulled all of them (flinching when I pulled up iyoanum), bagged and disposed of them... over a hundred plants, with the tubers on some of them being almost as big as a tennis ball.
There doesn't seem to be any reliable treatment, but I am going to look into a couple of specific fungicides; Bayleton and Serenade, and keep my fingers crossed that the rest of the Asian jacks don't develop this... if so, there will be much gloom in the garden here.
Friday, May 15, 2009
Small Is Nice, Too
I'm usually an advocate for "big is better", but I must say I'm becoming a fan of the small-flowered ladyslipper orchids. Take, for example Cyp. 'Hank Small'; a hybrid between the Chinese species Cyp. henryi (Hank) and our native small (Small) flowered yellow ladyslipper, Cyp. parviflora v. parviflorum. It is just cute as a bug, and makes up for the smallness of its slippers by usually having a pair on each stalk.
Thursday, May 14, 2009
For the last couple of years, I've been giving garden visitors a pot of Arisaema sikokianum; these are all grown from seed from my mother plant, and I've probably given away a hundred plants so far, and they're now scattered over a pretty good chunk of the upper midwest. It's interesting to think about how the progeny from these gift plants will be passed on to other gardeners who will also pass it along.
Wednesday, May 13, 2009
There are certain plants that when they are shown to garden visitors, they never quite know what to say about it; I imagine parents with homely babies get somewhat the same reaction. Arisaema tashiroi is one of those plants in our garden. Three foot tall and stiff, with a green, straight floral structure on top, its leaves just start opening when it flowers, so it has an odd appearance, like a green stick with a decoration on top. Very interesting...
Tuesday, May 12, 2009
Winnowing The Primulas
Perhaps there is no other genus of plants that I have tried to grow here that I've managed to kill off quite as prolifically as primulas; it's like a roll call of the war dead, remembering the lovely alpine species that took one look at their new home here in Iowa, and decided the compost bin was probably more hospitable. This is rather depressing, considering that I didn't even try the dicier species. There are plants that don't care for our hot, muggy Iowa summers; there are plants that don't like our frigid, often dry winters... primulas hate them both. However, I am content; there are half a dozen species that do well here, and I've come to the realization that rather than continuing to try to grow other types, that I should just plant the heck out of those I know I can grow. It would have been nice, of course, if I had figured this all out by judicious and reasoned selection, rather than by planting one of everything and seeing what died; I could have saved a lot of money, which I could have invested in the stock market... well, I guess the financial outcome would have been the same, anyway.
Here is what thrives here: first, Primula sieboldii, a primrose wise enough to go dormant after blooming, so it misses our blazing summer and foul winters; through seed and division, large patches of this "beginner's primrose" are everywhere in our garden. Second, Primula kisoana, which is so tough that it seeds out into the bark chip pathways, where it gets walked on regularly. Third, certain members of the vulgaris-elatior-veris complex; especially those with a fair amount of inheritance from the vulgaris ssp. sibthorpii from the drier, hotter Balkans (I've just picked up a selection of a strain of garden primroses bred for the hot southern U.S., said to contain a lot of sibthorpii blood). Primula elatior does especially well here, and the Sunset strain, with its orange-red flowers, is quite striking. Finally, I must mention Primula japonica; I guess I can't say this is a carefree grower here, because I had to bury plastic tubs in the ground filled with loose compost in order to give them the moisture they crave, but with this innovation they are growing as big as cabbages.
I've not completely given up on growing a few other kinds, but they will need special little spots, and so I will be moving very slowly on this front.
Above, from top: elatior 'Sunset' strain, double yellow vulgaris 'Sunshine', japonica in the tub, deep indigo vulgaris 'Kingston Twilight', kisoana with its fuzzy leaves, and then puple and pink colonies of sieboldii.
Monday, May 11, 2009
If there is a better thing to see in a garden on a bright May afternoon than big clumps of yellow ladyslipper orchids, I don't know what it could be...
Sunday, May 10, 2009
Friday, May 08, 2009
Brightening Up A Dark Spot
Epimediums do a lot for our garden, but I usually think of them more as a filler or softener, rather than a plant to brighten a dark spot. Epimedium lishihchenii, which was discovered in China only 13 years ago, is an exception. First, this is a BIG epimedium; large leaved and tall. Then the whole plant, flowers and leaves, has an unusual brightness to it; due to a suffusion of bright greenish yellow. The leaves then have a rosy bronze tone on top of the chartreuse base. On top of all these distinctions, the plant is semi-evergreen here (And I'm sure would be totally evergreen where winters aren't as brutal as ours).
Tuesday, May 05, 2009
A highlight of our May garden is seeing the different fritillaries blooming. Here are pictured a few that are currently in flower: F. involucrata from the Alps, seen at top, is described in the reference book on fritillaries in my library as having "quiet charm". It is, in fact, the essence of subtlety. F. pontica, pictured next, is from S.E. Europe (the mountains of Albania to western Turkey), and it might be even a little more "subtle". It is quite a bit more spectacular when seen from below, peering up into the bell, but on an eight inch tall plant taking such a picture requires more effort than I was up to today. F. pallidiflora from central Asia does not require any acrobatics to see up into its pale yellow, squarish bells, for it is a large, stout plant with nice, grey-green foliage. The fourth fritillary pictured probably needs no introduction, as it is the crown imperial, with brick red flowers. My plants grown in a sunny bed are all of four foot tall. F. latakensis, native to Turkey, is a newcomer to our garden; it is quite tall, with petals that alternate in cool green and grayish purple. Finally we have to have a picture of F. meleagris, the snake's head fritillary; I'm pleased to report that it is spreading about our garden moderately, and is welcome wherever it shows up (though it's been popping up in some of the grassy paths, too).
Monday, May 04, 2009
Legacy Of An Old Passion
When I first started gardening here, our woods was much more open than it is today (sticking in about two hundred shrubs and trees may have played a part in the change). Daffodils were my first passion, and I purchased quite a few from Grant Mitsch Daffodils in Oregon, as pink cupped daffodils were my particular delight. As the garden has gotten shadier and shadier, I no longer buy any daffodils and the ones still here have had to squeeze into the few remaining sunny areas, and they've kind of faded into the background; but for a couple of weeks each spring, they are the queens of the garden... a legacy from a past passion.