Sunday, December 30, 2007

Leucojum... Snowflakes In Spring And Fall

Snowflakes (genus leucojum) have been called "the poor cousin snowdrops", and indeed they are closely related to galanthus, the snowdrops. I have two species of leucojum growing in the garden; or perhaps I should say had, as the little flower at the bottom used to be Leucojum autumnale, but it has been moved into the genus Acis, and is now Acis autumnalis; as if that isn't confusing enough, I purchased this little bulb labeled as Leucojum nicaeensis, a rare species of snowflake from a small area of coastal France that blooms in spring... my bulb insists on blooming in the fall, and is obviously the commoner Leucojum (excuse me... Acis) autumalis.
Only two species are left in the genus leucojum; the summer snowflake ( Leucojum aestivum, shown in the top two pictures) and the spring snowflake, Leucojum vernum; an additional bit of puzzlement is that they both actually bloom in the spring, though the aestivum does bloom a couple of weeks after vernum, the above pictures being from mid-April. Leucojum aestivum is easy to feel ambivalent about; it has a LOT of foliage for its small flowers (rather like lusty, thick daffodil foliage), and the foliage persists for a longer time, flopping all over everything else and smothering its neighbors, especially as it multiplies mightily... you'll soon have a whole bed of snowflakes. I plan to banish this bulb from my beds, moving them all to the open woods. There is a slightly larger flowered form of aestivum, Gravetye Giant, that would probably be worth spending a little more for.
I mean to someday try the spring snowflake, but one must have the proper spot for it to succeed, and I am lacking in that department; Leucojum vernum hails from central to eastern Europe, growing in moist, cool spots with running water. Apparently if the bulbs dry out in summer, they tend to die out. Leucojum aestivum, on the other hand grows more southerly, down through the Caucasus to Iran, and is much tougher and more tolerant of dryness... I've had bulbs pulled and thrown on the ground, root and bloom. There are two varieties of the spring snowflake, and if ever I try it, I'll want to obtain the form growing in eastern Europe that has yellow spots instead of green, at the petal tips. Leucojum aestivum is a much larger plant in all its parts (about 18 inches tall here), while vernum is perhaps 6-8 inches tall.
There are now eight species in Acis, that were formerly in Leucojum; in addition to autumnalis which I have, and nicaeensis, which I thought I had, there is Acis rosea, a frail, tiny pink flowered form that many have heard of, but few have grown successfully. Acis is characterized by having narrow, grassy foliage, spotless flowers, and solid flower stems. They are all rather small and challenging to grow, putting out their foliage in late summer to fall, and most also blooming in the fall; they come from, and are better suited to cultivation in, true Mediterranean climates. So far Acis autumnalis is doing fine here, but plants from other parts of the world that produce their foliage in fall and expect to persist through our winters are always considered guests in our garden rather than permanent residents. I could easily see the fine, hair-like foliage and tiny bulbs of Acis autumnalis turning to mush under the ice some foul winter; come to think of it, this is about as foul a winter as there could be, so we shall see how this delicate little bulb is doing when the piles and drifts of ice and snow finally melt in spring... will it jauntily greet the March sun, or will it melt with the rest of the snowflakes.
Posted by Picasa

Garden Re-Runs

Iowa is not like the snow belt of New England; we don't routinely get ten feet of snow each winter... but this winter here is certainly no slouch in the snow department. Christmas is just fading in the rear view mirror and it's already getting difficult to figure out where to pile the white stuff. The first snowdrops of the new gardening year often bloom in the first weeks of January, though it can be as late as the end of February; this year it will be hard to tell, as they'll be under two feet of snow. Maybe it's time to reflect back on springs past; skies full of billowy, white clouds; songbirds singing in every treetop; and garden pathways meandering up and down hill through clumps of bright mauve rhododendrons and spring flower foliage in every shade of green... it's time for garden re-runs! Until the snowdrops open their ghostly little bells, I'll show some scenes from a warmer, gentler world, where spring never ends... my computer's picture files.
Posted by Picasa

Friday, December 28, 2007

Family Portrait

Last summer I wrote about a tiny, motherless fawn (that we named 'Sweetheart') which showed up at our back door one day, and which was really too small to likely survive on her own, but fortunately was then taken in by a doe who already had two older fawns of her own. They've all survived and thrived; all the fawns have grown and lost their spots now... here are the two older, sibling deer in back, Mom, and in front, Sweetheart.
Posted by Picasa

Elizabeth Lawrence...

As the snow swirls outside my window, with another six inches or so predicted to fall today on top of more than a foot already present on the ground, it's a good day to look at another one of the new garden book additions to my library; in this case, the latest Elizabeth Lawrence book published just this year, Beautiful At All Seasons. In case there is a gardener alive who has not heard of Elizabeth Lawrence, she is perhaps our leading American garden writer, having published four books during her life, and another four having been added since then, the latter compiled from her long-time gardening column Through The Garden Gate in the Charlotte Observer (the books published during her life vary greatly in their reliance on her newspaper pieces). This book then, is the latest posthumous selection of her columns, being gathered and edited by Ann L. Armstrong (an accomplished garden writer herself) and Lindie Wilson, who twenty years ago bought Elizabeth Lawrence's house, and has since maintained the famous garden. One would think by now that the deep well of Ms. Lawrence's columns would be running dry, yet to my surprise this might be the best of the anthologies, even including In A Southern Garden, Lawrence's best-known and loved book, which was published during her lifetime (1904-1985). This present book is greatly enhanced by the inclusion of the editors' introductory comments and by some vintage photos of Elizabeth Lawrence, her house and her garden. As a very amateurish writer myself, it's difficult for me to define and articulate just why Lawrence's writing is so special (but while I don't understand what makes some garden writing good, I know good writing when I read it). There are no spectacular literary fireworks in her books, but just consider this quiet little passage (and remember, this is just a column she rapped off at her old desk looking out over her garden every week):
After lunch, Ginny (Mrs. McCarney) lent me warm boots and a cap, and she and I walked down to the little creek that is called Salt Run. It is nearly a mile from the house, all steeply downhill, with a pause halfway on a little wooden bridge across a ravine. Dr. McCarney calls the bridge a listening post, a place to hear the small voices of the wood. But we heard only silence deep and white.

Of the eight Elizabeth Lawrence books, I now have and have read all but Lob's Wood (which is almost unobtainable so may be one of her lesser books). My favorite by far is The Little Bulbs; partly because it is written more as a cohesive narrative, rather than being a collection of columns, and also partly because it is the most useful for my own northern garden (reading about jasmine growing in her Charlotte garden is of literary interest only, for me).
If you are a southern gardener, start with any of her books; if you are a northerner, start with The Little Bulbs... but by all means become acquainted with Elizabeth Lawrence if you like good garden writing.

Posted by Picasa

Thursday, December 27, 2007

The Critter's Garden...

Our woodland garden is, of necessity, fenced in (or should I say triple fenced) so that it avoids the fate of being a deer buffet. However, the rest of our woods is left for the critters; this is the upper part of one of the ravines, with a nice little seep at the bottom which empties into the pond below. These ravines are densely shady and cool in the summer, and protected from freezing winds in the winter, with running water almost year around. A lot of shyer birds of the deeper woods live here in the nesting season, like wood thrushes, vireos, and towhees, which serenade our garden on warm summer evenings.Considering the continuing loss of habitat in our rapidly growing county, the resident critters are pretty lucky to have such a nice spot to live, but we are luckier...
Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Carolina On My Mind...

When you fancy yourself a steward of nature on your little piece of the world, there are a lot of things to worry about; lately I've been in my near-annual worry-fest about where the Carolina wrens might be. We are at the far northwestern part of their range, and in severe winters they may not survive; this December so far has been brutal, and I'd not seen or heard anything of them since Thanksgiving. Well, this morning as I was out chopping ice off the back walkway, I heard the bright, cheerful -Cherry-Cherry-Cherry- of the Carolina wren, and later he was seen eating peanuts at the bird-feeder... no explanation about his absence was offered. There are times when I feel like my concerns and my ministrations for the critters around here should merit a little more thoughtfulness in return (a simple phone call when you're going to take off for a month might be nice). However, hearing the Carolina wren singing cheerfully from his perch in the tall cottonwood tree is probably reward enough (Carolina wren picture taken by Ken Thomas, reproduced from Wikipedia Common).
Posted by Picasa

Cat Games

Posted by Picasa

Sunday, December 23, 2007



Posted by Picasa


Somewhere the sun is shining, somewhere it is warm and people are laughing and walking hand in hand on white sand beaches... but, with another eight inches of snow on the ground, drifting from thirty mile an hour northwest winds with a windchill of seven below, it's not here.
Posted by Picasa

Friday, December 21, 2007

The Wandering Sun

At shortly after midnight early this morning the sun ended its long journey south, by reaching the Tropic of Capricorn, a latitude which passes almost through the middle of Australia. There are some interesting markers along the path of this line; the one on the left is just north of Alice Springs, Australia, and the one on the right is in Chile (pictures courtesy of Wikipedia Commons). This is, of course, the furthest south that the sun will track, and now it begins its slow voyage north, to bring light and warmth back to our frozen gardens; the strength of the sun's rays today are only 21% of what they will be on the first day of summer.
Walking in the garden this morning, everything is covered in crusty, uneven ice, with a huge blizzard just now winding up over our heads; there are predictions of freezing rain followed by 4-6 inches of snow, all blown by arctic winds of up to thirty miles an hour, plummeting temperatures to close to zero by tomorrow night.
So the sun today is wandering the blue oceans of the southern hemisphere, lost to us in banks of clouds and mist; many a cold and wind-swept day will pass before birdsong and melting snow signal the sun's triumphant return. Now a thick, cold fog is settling into our valley, the approaching storm presaged by a faint stirring of the black, bare treetops. I'm not sure whether to get out the seed catalogues or travel brochures today.

Why I'm Not A Book Reviewer...

I've just finished reading the first of my new garden books, and I said I'd post a little review about each one that I read. However, in this case, I'm not the right man for the job... or I should say, not the right person for the job, for it turns out that this is really a woman's book that is somewhat peripherally about gardening. I hate to say anything construed as being negative about this slim (244 pages) little book, for the author, Dorothy Sucher, is a wonderful writer... she is an accomplished author of mystery books, and brings a truly terrific writing style and voice to The Invisible Garden. It's just that: a) it's not all that much about gardening (through the first 2/3 of the book I was saying to myself that the garden in this book really WAS invisible), b) people keep dying or being estranged (about one ever 60 pages, which is a lot for a gardening book), c) the mood through much of the book is as sparing and restrained as the cold Vermont countryside she lives in.
I sort of think this book was originally intended to be more about gardening than it turned out; but it's like Liz when she leaves a voicemail for somebody... she sets out properly, then meanders off into a half dozen conversational byways and side-roads, and ends up leaving a five minute message that's more of an essay on life as it is today. Once after one of these soliloquies, she hung up the phone and said, "Oh God, did I just say all of that?" So, I think it's a woman thing, and this is a woman's book, that is partially about gardening. If you like terrific writing, and you're a woman, I sincerely (and seriously) highly recommend this book. It just wasn't for me... but as George Costanza would say on Seinfeld: "It's not you, it's me."
Posted by Picasa

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Now They've Gone Too Far...

I may seem pretty mild-mannered but we all have our limits, and let me tell you, this time the taxonomists have gone too far! I just learned on Ki's blog MucknMire that the taxonomists have moved our native sharp-lobed hepatica (Hepatica acutiloba) to the genus anemone. I went along with them when they lumped Hepatica americana, acutiloba, and japonica, all into Hepatica nobilis; I was very nice about it, and just changed all my labels. But now they've moved acutiloba, and are in the process of moving all of nobilis, into the anemones, with rumblings that they'll be back for the rest, so the genus hepatica will disappear. Well, I say, who asked them?? Why don't they go analyze some chick-peas or something, and leave the charming little hepaticas (who've never harmed anyone) alone? I'm NOT making up another set of labels.
Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Blue Haze... Scilla Siberica

In very early April each spring, when the hellebores are at their best and the bloodroots open their pristine, white flowers, some of the little hillocks in our garden develop a low hum and a bright blue haze, for they are covered with Scilla siberica, whose flowers in turn are covered with honeybees. This bulb was another traveler, coming into this garden from my previous garden inadvertently, probably riding in with a peony or a daylily. Rock hardy, for it's originally from... well, Siberia, Scilla siberica spreads everywhere in a matter of years. I don't think I'm being overly harsh by calling it invasive; it really needs to be kept out of spots where delicate little crocuses, primroses, and such are growing, for this little scilla will just quietly take over.
Had I been more prescient, I would have spent a dollar or so more and at the start bought the named cultivar Scilla siberica 'Spring Beauty'; it has bigger, bluer flowers, taller flower spikes, and as it's a triploid, it's sterile. 'Spring Beauty' still spreads by offsets but doesn't seed, so its spread is much more controlled. However, I guess that if my only complaint today is that our garden is being somewhat overgrown by drifts of little bulbs that are decked out with crystalline, Prussian blue flowers shortly after the snow melts each spring... well, I guess it will be a good day.
Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

New Blood

With Iowa completely encased in ice then covered by snow and no relief in sight, cabin fever is setting in already, and the first day of winter doesn't show up on our frozen doorstep until Saturday. This time of year, before the new garden catalogues start showing up, I always drag out stacks of books by the best garden writers. However, as the years have gone by, I can almost quote some of these well-worn books from memory... it's time for some new blood. Reading a new book of garden literature is rather like going on a blind date; I may fall in love, or I may dump the author after the first chapter and get a beer out of the fridge... even when buying classic books that have been loved by generations of gardeners, it's still a crap shoot.
Depending on the winter from here on out, I may read all of the new books or only a couple... any that I complete, I'll review here. I need to check and see if Liz left any of the bag of potato chips, and then I'm plopping down on the couch in front of the big windows that look out over the woods and the pond, so I can watch the deer while I start to read The Invisible Garden .
Posted by Picasa

Monday, December 17, 2007

Chionodoxa Forbesii... The Smallest Tagalong

Chionodoxa (Greek chiona=snow, doxa=glory) is called glory of the snow because it blooms early enough in its mountainous, rocky haunts in western Turkey down into Crete and Cyprus, that it often blooms through the snow. Here in topographically deprived Iowa it more often blooms through the dead brown leaves, so incites no raptures of glory, but makes pretty little drifts, with its tiny flowers of pastel blue showing up everywhere. This is another interloper actually; hiding in the rootballs of other plants that I brought here from my first garden. The white and pink forms came along for good measure, and they all spread around in mixed patches. My bulbs specifically are Chionodoxa forbesii; however the species was named Chionodoxa luciliae when I bought them, and the pink form (now called Chionodoxa 'Pink Giant') was called Chionodoxa gigantea then. You probably don't need to remember any of this, as there is talk of putting the half dozen species of chionodoxa into the genus scilla, the squills, which these little plants greatly resemble (and can interbreed with).
Chionodoxa forbesii would be considered invasive if it wasn't so darn small... and so cute. They usually bloom here about late March, with the crocuses, at the tail-end of the early snowdrops (Galanthus elwesii) and just as the blue Siberian squills are starting to open, when the sun is beginning to warm the soil and the chickadees are whistling their plaintive spring call from the wooded hills.
Posted by Picasa

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Puschkinia... The Little Trooper

I love Puschkinia scilloides var. libanotica dearly; far beyond its small stature and modest visual impact on the garden. Perhaps my affection stems from the fact that it, along with the Siberian blue squill were the first bulbs that naturalized and scattered about when I first began gardening (in Zone 4, in a cold river valley 75 miles north of my present garden). This bulb hails from the Caucasus south through Asia minor (to Lebanon), growing in rocky mountain meadows. Its finely tailored white flowers, dipped in blueing, with a sharp blue line down each petal, now pop up everywhere in my present garden in April, a couple of bulbs having piggybacked in with some other plant brought from my first garden. Puschkinia loves to find little cracks in rockwork, as in the second picture, where it can grow without competition, and dry out in the summer. Scilloides means it looks like a scilla (which it does, often being called the striped squill) and libanotica denotes that this particular variety hails from Lebanon. Of course to even things out, there then is a Scilla puschkinoides, indicating a scilla that looks like a puschkinia! I occasionally see an alba form of Puschkinia scilloides offered, but I can't imagine it's an improvement on the beautiful blue accents of the common flower.
I can tell you that this is an absolutely dynamite little flower grown with yellow crocuses of the same bloom time. I can also tell you that unless your garden is waterlogged clay, that once you have this little bulb in your garden you will always have it... and that's not a bad thing.
Posted by Picasa

Friday, December 14, 2007


There are (depending on whether you are a 'lumper' or a 'splitter') somewhere between 30 and 60 species of muscari; they are commonly called grape hyacinths, some being more grape-like than others. Muscaris armeniacum is the commercially most commonly available species, and is best called the grape hyacinth. I don't know at the moment how many species and varieties I grow, as the garden is currently entombed by ice, but here is a sampling from last spring: at top is M. Valerie Finnis, which is probably a variety of M. neglectum. It is renowned for its powdery, blue-gray color, and spreads easily. Below that is a plant that was purchased as Muscaris paradoxum, but has taxonomically now been nudged to another genus as Bellevalia pycnatha.Third is Muscaris Dark Eyes, probably a variety or seedling of M. pallens. Below are grape hyacinths with daffodils.
Muscari grow basically in the region around the Mediterranean up through the Caucasus, an area of the world that is the cradle of hardy flower bulbs. Some are confined to the southern portions of the Mediterranean area and are therefore tender, but most of the species, if available, would have a chance of growing here in Iowa, given some sun and sandy soil.
These are the days, when ice crunches under your feet as you trudge uphill to get the newspaper, that you start day-dreaming about spring, with drifts of early flowering bulbs buzzing with bees in the warm sunshine. Next spring I will have a few new varieties of muscari to look at, and hope to add more next fall. For pictures and descriptions of different species of muscari, it's hard to beat the muscaris website of Martin Phillipo, a grower and muscaris collector in the Netherlands: Muscaripages.
Posted by Picasa

Thursday, December 13, 2007

E. A. Bowles

The weather has gone from grim to grimmer, as a new layer of hoar frost is forming on the already ice-encased trees, with temperatures set to decline to January levels over the weekend. It's time to dig out the old garden classics from my library. This is not an entirely sedentary diversion, as retrieving the books always entails some minor gymnastics... "my" den seems to always be the favored repository for everything that Liz can't find a spot for elsewhere, to the point of partially burying the bookshelves that run all along one side of the room. The den now has a piano in it, several pieces of cast-off furniture, folding chairs, a vacuum sweeper, and assorted boxes of who-knows-what. I'm thinking of retreating to a corner in the garage attic, but I suspect all of this stuff would follow me, clunk-clunking up the stairs to stake out their new spot.
At any rate, after some effort, I've been able to lay my hands on E. A. Bowles' well-known book, My Garden In Spring . Mr. Bowles was one of the giants of early flower bulb gardening, his name still being attached to many little bulbs like Crocus chrysanthus 'E.A. Bowles'; to this day one of the finest yellow crocuses in the garden.
This particular book was written in 1914, when the Victorian age was transitioning to our modern era, and Bowles' writing is a fascinating amalgam of these two worlds: it is basically a very readable book, but it is strewn with occasional rambles of florid prose and with the obscure Greek and Roman mythological references that seemed to be such a mandatory fixture of 19th century English literature... it's rather as if you're walking along a pleasant, flat pathway that is strewn with large rocks that you keep tripping over.
Here is the opening to chapter Five:
For me, starting this chapter, there are great searchings of heart, compared with which those of the divisions of Reuben were as nothing. If but one of them possessed a flat object with diverse and recognisable sides to it they might toss up and decide whether to go and help smash up Sisera or stay and listen to the music of their baa-lambs...
Well, you know, I was just thinking that same thing as I started writing this piece. Yet, Mr. Bowles starts chapter Ten with this lovely and evocative prose:
What a blessed time it is for garden and gardener when the wind goes round to the south-west and warm April showers begin to fall. The real thing, of course, not the chilly, wind-driven sorts compounded of sleet, hail, or ice-cold rain that come from the north with slight variation to east, and seem arranged on purpose to destroy the Plum blossoms. They leave the air several degrees colder, and if followed by a clear sky after sunset are the forerunners of a killing frost... After a week or more of blizzards and squalls, and just when everybody has decided that it is the most curious and disagreeable season they can remember, round goes the wind, hands can be taken out of pockets, and yet no longer turn blue and numb, the dove-coloured flush on the trees of the woodland turns to a varied shimmer of tender greyish yellows and greens, even the oaks show raw sienna specklings, somebody hears the cuckoo, it rains for twenty minutes and the sun then hurries out and makes a rainbow on the retreating clouds, every plant glistens with sunlit raindrops, and the air smells all the sweeter and feels all the warmer for the shower.

All and all, in spite of the occasional Victorian mustiness, Mr. Bowles is a fine companion to walk a garden with; especially if that garden happens to be just to the north of London, on the bank of the New River, and that garden was first begun five hundred years ago. I just need to go back to the den and somehow find my copy of Graves' book, The Greek Myths , and brush up on the gods and goddesses of the back lawn.

Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The Chicken That Was Lost... Then Found

My Mother-in-law, a lady of copious charm and wit for whom the expression 'sharp as a tack' was invented, occasionally misplaces something, and when she can't find it she then worries that she might be slipping a bit. She was over here a few days ago in her perennial but futile quest to beat me playing Rummy-Kub, and launched into a story about how she had misplaced a stack of old check registers and had looked everywhere for them, to no avail... it upset her because she was worried it might be a sign of early memory loss. I was diplomatic but I pointed out that with all the stuff she has saved in boxes and drawers, that I probably wouldn't be able to find my own rear end in her house.
In order to make her feel better, I then told her how I once lost a chicken... then found it. A few years ago we had a beloved 16 year old cat who for no reason that we or the vet could ascertain, just totally stopped eating. One day I was cutting up one of those broasted whole chickens you get from the deli, when Toaster the cat came shambling out into the kitchen and started meowing. On a whim I tore her off a little piece of chicken, which she gobbled down and meowed for more. That was the one thing she'd eat, so each week I'd go to the store and buy a whole broasted chicken for her, tearing off a little for her each day. One day I went to get the chicken out of the refrigerator, and it wasn't there. I looked all through the refrigerator... nothing. I knew there wasn't much meat left on it, so thought I might have absent-mindedly thrown it away, so I went through all the trash... nothing. I went through the cupboards, the house, the refrigerator again, the freezer... nothing.
Well, this is the point at which you start wondering about alien encounters or broasted chicken burglars. I finally just bought another chicken. A few days later I went to heat up a piece of left-over pizza in the microwave (for breakfast, I seem to recall). There was the chicken, sitting in the microwave. I now remembered that our other two cats were snooping about in the kitchen, so I'd shut the chicken in the microwave until I had a chance to wash my hands to put it back in the refrigerator.
I've always been for the most part a glass-half-full kind of guy (whining about the weather being an exception... too hot, too dry, too cold). Therefore losing track of a chicken for three days didn't bother me. I was just grateful we hadn't gone on vacation for a week or so right then.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007


Today's ice storm began in the Gulf of Mexico, as a warm low pressure system; as it rode the jet stream rapidly to the northeast, it rose up over a huge pool of Arctic air that has encamped over most of the central part of the country. Oklahoma City was the first victim, receiving an inch of ice in little more than an hour, leaving the city battered and splintered. It was then Kansas City's turn, as the moisture streamed northward; then the storm moved into southeast Iowa, on it's way to Chicago. During the night the freezing raindrops began snapping against the skylight; looking out the large back windows, the deer were silently standing about like pale ghosts in the ice and mist, backlit by the incongruously cheerful Christmas lights strung along our split rail fence.
Today we are encased in ice; trying to look through the open woods, it's as if you are gazing at opaque ground glass, faintly lit from within; the static appearance is belied by the crashing of broken limbs, sounding like shattering glass as they hit the frozen ground. Evergreens are bent to the ground in icy supplication. The Oriental Bittersweet berries festooning the tree limbs are like drops of frozen blood on the black branches. This is no pristine and beautiful winter scene; it's ugly and it's deadly for our wildlife... and winter has not even begun.
Posted by Picasa

Monday, December 10, 2007

Musky Bananas?

Muscari macrocarpum is ... well, odd. Rather than the usual round purple flowers of most of the other muscari (hence, the common name grape hyacinths), this species has flowers which start out greyish-purple, changing to bright yellow, and looking more like a little bunch of bananas. My bulbs are specifically the cultivar 'Golden Fragrance', brought to the commercial market by the Dutch bulb growers a few years ago; at first rather pricey, it is now down to about a dollar a bulb. It is said by some to smell like ripe grapes in the sun; others say like ripe bananas... to me it has a faint sweet smell reminiscent of nothing in particular (I think my nose has no imagination or skill). The genus muscari is endemic the the area around the Mediterranean and up through Turkey into the Caucasus; the muscari page of the Pacific Bulb Society states that this particular species grows in the warmer, more southern range of the genus, in SW Turkey through the Aegean to Crete. Thus, it is rated as somewhat tender (some say zone 7), but three Iowa winters (5a) have not ruffled its feathers. It's also said to be frost sensitive, but I've not noted that, either. I may have unwittingly saved my plants from late spring frost damage by planting the bulbs in a spot that's a bit too shady, so the growth is retarded a little in the early spring. In nature, Muscari macrocarpum grows on rocky, sunny, rather dry cliffs. The downside to my bulb placement is that my plants are a little floppy and probably bloom a little less profusely than they might have in full sun. This next summer when the foliage dies down, I may dig up the bulbs (which are surprisingly large, being about the size of a tulip bulb) and move them to a spot on a sunny slope. I have read they have rather long roots, so I may try it with just one of my three bulbs... these are the same three bulbs I started out with, as this muscaris (in contrast with many of its brethren in the genus) is very slow to multiply, which is the reason it is somewhat more expensive than the various grape hyacinth types of muscari. The foliage of Golden Fragrance is greyish green and rather daffodil-like.
If you don't already grow this bulb, it is worth obtaining for its unique coloration... then you can tell me what you think it smells like.
Posted by Picasa

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Rolling The Dice

I admit to occasionally liking to roll the dice on a little plant of dubious hardiness, on the off chance it might survive in our inclement climate. I normally am fairly sensible about choosing what to try (I actually do a little research, so I'm a little more sophisticated than just throwing stuff at a wall to see what sticks). However, I'll admit that with this little bulb I've probably thrown the dice off the table and out the window. It's Cyrtanthus breviflorus, a small amaryllid that grows in the uplands of South Africa. Ten inches or so tall, with cute little yellow flowers and grass-like foliage. Garden writers in (to us) balmy England say it's probably not hardy there, and gardeners in this country rate it as zone 8 or so. I took a chance on it because Ellen Hornig of Seneca Hills Perennials in Oswego, New York says it has survived at least one winter outdoors there (but she gets ten feet of snow... we currently have two inches of crunchy ice). However, she also mentions a gardener in Kansas for whom this Cyrtanthus has proved hardy, and they certainly get very little snow (though he's probably zone 6, and for all I know is growing it next to a south-facing wall where the ground never freezes).
It might or might not return here; who knows. I am an eternal garden optimist... but I've not made a label for it yet.
Posted by Picasa

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?