Thursday, January 29, 2009

Doubly Itchy For Spring

I'm doubly anxious for spring to get here, because I really have two gardens that I want to be working on; our flower garden, and the nature preserve that I am volunteer manager of. My biggest project this year won't be in our garden, but rather in the forty acre preserve: a four acre area in the center of it has been cleared of brush and this year we will start converting it into a beautiful wildflower meadow, which I know will be filled with butterflies and songbirds. All of us gardeners carry about in the back of our minds the knowledge that our gardens will probably eventually disappear; as we move or die off, it's unlikely our gardens will long survive.
That's one of the reasons I so much enjoy working on the nature preserve; I can envision that hundreds of springs from now, the wildflowers will still bloom there, with butterflies fluttering across the meadow in the sunlight, as the songbirds sing in the treetops.
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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The 6th Of The 6th?

Well now, if I'm interpreting this right, I've been challenged to one of those me-me sort of things (by a jolly and quite attractive group of Scandanavian garden bloggers) to post the sixth picture from my sixth album, and to comment on it; by sixth I'm guessing is meant the sixth group of pictures from the end of the camera uploads to my computer (if this isn't what I was supposed to do, it's too late now)! Following instructions has never been my strong suit, which explains a lot that has happened to me in my life. I blame it all on a head injury; I was bucked off a horse when I was a boy and was unconscious for quite a while after. I maintain I was a sweet and incisive child prior to that... or maybe my memory is just another victim of the head trauma.
Anyway, this is the 6th of the 6th (or at least I hope that's what we're talking about). It's a simple picture, taken just as dusk was settling into our little valley, with only a trace of pale winter light coming over the ridge to the west. This picture actually was taken right from where I am sitting now, banging on the keyboard. The wood fence is strung with Christmas lights, which Liz never wants me to take down after Christmas; she calls them "party lights" then, though since they are in our back yard in an empty valley, I don't know who is partying, unless it's the deer and other critters that call this valley home. The odd circle right in front of the lights is a brick fire pit, where we have bonfires in the summer, shooting off occasional fireworks to further annoy the neighbors on the far ridge. You can't really tell it very well from the picture, but the bottom of the ravine is actually the upper reaches of a four acre pond that borders our garden. The pond is twenty foot deep, filled with bass and bluegills, and some thirty year old grass carp roughly the size of large logs. We have a small canoe that we can launch on the pond to check out the resident fish and waterbirds. Ducks, geese, egrets, loons, herons, kingfishers, and the occasional eagle are to be found on or around the pond. One of the downsides is when a pair of Canadian geese set up their nest on the edge of the pond right by the garden, and every time they see you they start honking and flapping their wings. I can't really concede the garden to them for the whole spring, so when this happens it's what I guess you
would call a wary and uneasy truce, at best.
Our nearest neighbors are at the top of the ridge seen beyond the pond; they have a house that looks rather like a modern art museum (all glass and raised on stilts). I've related before, that I was once talking to the elderly gal that lives there with her retired attorney husband. She was saying that it was so nice that they could look out their windows and see my woods and garden across the pond instead of looking at another monstrous house. I told her she ought to be careful looking over here, because it's a long ways from the garden back to our house, so I have been known to pee against the occasional tree out there. She said, "Well, I guess I need to buy a bigger pair of binoculars!" At the time, I took that as a compliment, then later when I thought about it, I wasn't so sure...

Now, I need to find six "volunteers" to do this same thing (and I know who just quickly logged off this post)!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

This Year's Unicorn

The unicorn is said to be a mythical beast, but its actually just been hanging around our back yard. To tell the truth, when the bucks shed an antler they look kind of silly, but they still prance around as if they have a full rack. I guess maybe they don't realize it; kind of like sticking one of those smart-aleck notes on somebody's back, and they can't figure out why everybody's laughing at them.

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Monday, January 26, 2009

Trillium Flexipes

Trillium flexipes, the white trillium, is a common, but quite striking trillium, found throughout the eastern half of the country, except for parts of the deep south. It is a vigorous clump-former with large green leaves that are broad and thick, and deeply impressed by prominent veins. Our plant was grown from seed, and I am guessing the seed came from a southern plant, because of the erectness of its white flowers (this species is also called "bent trillium", with northern strains especially, having flowers that reflex down, sometimes even hanging below the foliage. Nursery bred stock of this species of trillium also often shows evidence of cross breeding, often with Trillium erectum, so our plant may not be the pure species. Regardless, it's quite lovely, and seems determined to rapidly form a large clump. Second only to T. recurvatum, our native prairie trillium, T. flexipes is the most carefree, vigorous growing trillium in our garden.
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Sunday, January 25, 2009

Born Ugly

Disporums (fairy bells) are lovely, stately plants when fully opened, but they are born ugly. The leaves unfold in an awkward and crimped fashion, that to me always makes me think the plant got frozen after a cold spring night, yet they then open up fully, and the whole plant is then quite attractive. It is the ugly duckling of the plant world that does indeed, turn into a swan. This is Disporum uniflorum (syn. flavum, flavens), native to east Asia, just getting its act together last spring.

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Saturday, January 24, 2009

Cruel Breaks

This winter has been a cruel one here; and nowhere is it more apparent than with the deer. Two of them have shown up with broken femurs; I suspect from falling on the ice, though one or both could certainly be from getting hit by a car. The deer in the lower picture would seem to have a much better chance of survival, though both are somehow getting around. A big pail of corn and getting called "Sweetheart", brightened up their day considerably.

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Friday, January 23, 2009

Epimedium Explosion?

Epimediums are not particularly showy; and when they are small and newly planted in a crowded, heavily wooded garden they are... invisible. In the back of my mind though, I am uneasy about epimediums, for I have been adding the different species to our garden at a pretty good clip. There always seems to be another little spot where I can plop one in, out of their little four inch pots. So far, as often happens, they've just been kind of sitting there looking innocent and cute, but I'm a little nervous about that old saw about plants creeping, then leaping. If all these little cuties decide to begin seriously leaping, there are some flower beds where it could get ugly; there may be some chlorophyll spattered about as things shake out.
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Thursday, January 22, 2009

Smiling About Smilacinas

Smilacina japonica (well, actually now Maianthemum japonica) is a charming woodland plant native to China, Korea, and Japan, and is often called Japanese false solomon's seal. Two foot tall, with a starry white terminal flower panicle (followed by red berries), it rapidly has formed a nice clump here in a shady ravine. It is very similar to our native false solomon's seal, Smilacina racemosa, and starry false solomon's seal, Smilacina stellatum, (both of which are common in our woods).
In reading Dan Hinkley's magnificent book, The Explorer's Garden , he notes there are two other desirable sub-varieties of Smilacina japonica; one with gold berries (S. japonica var. luteocarpa), and a larger, five foot tall variety (var. robusta). I've not seen either of these varieties offered for sale. There are variegated-leaf forms also, which by their appearance in catalogs don't look worth their lofty prices.
Hinkley mentions at least a half dozen other species of smilacina which sound like they'd be hardy here, and which sound spectacular, including S. oleracea; eight foot tall, with terminal panicles of large, pink flowers, followed by orange fruit. The three smilacinas that we already have give me a great deal of pleasure, and I am on the watch for others; the western version of S. racemosa, our native false solomon's seal should be one I can pick up; it is larger and larger-flowered. I do see that Arrowhead Alpines has S. bicolor and S. henryi offered, but I've already sent my order in for this spring (and already have logged in again once, to add to the original order). Maybe next year...

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Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Trillium Simile... A Real Sweetie

Trillium simile, seen here last May in our garden, is the jeweled wakerobin, or also called sweet white wakerobin, due to the sweet smell of its flower. In nature, it is found only in the Appalachians in the four state area of the Carolinas, Tennessee, and Georgia. Its white flowers are large, with widely flaring petals. This is a big trillium in all its parts, with large, distinctly veined leaves, and is quite vigorous.
When trilliums are called shade plants, it's not just an idle observation; the variegated-leaf species (especially our midwest endemic prairie trillium, T. recurvatum) seem to tolerate a bit more light, but the solid green-leafed varieties are usually very sun-sensitive. Here in our south-facing valley, with our hot midwest sun, even an hour of full sun will send most green-leafed trilliums to their knees.
More than any other species, I've needed to site trilliums in perfect spots... yet, also more than any other genus, they're worth the bother.
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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Another Southern Trillium

Trillium underwoodii, the look-alike to Trillium decipiens, also grows very well in our garden (pictured above last April), despite being found in nature only in the tri-state area of Georgia, Alabama, and Florida. Because of its origin, it comes up astonishingly early here, when the ground is not even completely thawed; this would seem a recipe for disaster, but so far it has thrived. A distinguishing feature of this species is its short stature; the tips of the leaves almost touch the ground. The leaves are remarkably checkered with silver and different tones of green, and it stays attractive all through spring, with deep maroon flowers.
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Monday, January 19, 2009

The Deceiving Trillium

The Chattahoochee River arises from clear springs in the Blue Ridge Mountains in northeast Georgia. It gurgles down from the wooded mountains, running southwest across the hilly Piedmont, passing through northwest Atlanta, then over the fall line onto the coastal plain, turning almost straight south, forming the southern part of the boundary between Alabama and Georgia, then becoming the Apalachicola River, across the panhandle of Florida to the Gulf.
This storied river valley is the prime site where Trillium decipiens (the Chattahoochee wakerobin) grows; it is pictured above in our garden blooming last April. This is a very striking trillium species. It is closely related to, and closely resembles, another trillium species found in this same small area in Georgia, Alabama, and Florida; Trillium underwoodii. In fact, "decipiens" may refer to this close, and therefore deceptive, resemblance of decipiens to underwoodii. However, decipiens is taller than underwoodii, which gives it a certain stateliness. With its variegated leaves, and sharp, erect flowers, it is a gem in our garden.
Every spring, I worry about both of these southern trilliums, because they arise very early from the ground, and often therefore encounter snow. Indeed, it is said that both of these species (decipiens and underwoodii) usually dwindle away in northern gardens, because of cold damage, but I've had both of them for a number of years, and they just seem to get bigger; this may be luck or lucky placement; hopefully it's not misplaced optimism.

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Sunday, January 18, 2009

Deer Have Such Weak Stomachs...

Hey, what's that cat doing in there?

Oh man, look at the size of that hairball!!
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Saturday, January 17, 2009

Attack Cat

One of the ongoing themes of this blog has been our
attempt to have a harmonious relationship (a truce) with the resident wildlife (referred to in our agreement as "the critters"), and for the most part it has been successful. The only ones who haven't signed on are our two cats; I think P.J., our little white and calico has watched the movie Babe one two many times, as she loves to chase deer and wild turkeys, either one of which could flatten her. I guess I admire her ambition, if not her judgement.
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Friday, January 16, 2009

Winter's Hammer

At dawn today, it was minus 25 degrees here; the resident deer herd looked like they had been sprayed with white flocking. Going outside, the cold actually hurt; within a few minutes, you felt as if somebody had rapped you between the eyes with a small hammer. It warmed up this afternoon to 4 above, which may not sound too promising, but compared to yesterday's high of 8 below, it was positively balmy. It would help if I hadn't heard that it was in the 50's and raining in Alaska.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Identifying The Cobra

One of the little enduring garden mysteries here has been the identity of this cobra lily (Asian jack in the pulpit), and it finally "might" be solved; I think it is Arisaema ciliata. Admittedly, I will have to wait until next spring to be sure, when I can see if it has the little namesake cilia at the edges of the spathe (jack). This Asian jack is one of the best in the garden, with large, tropical leaves (which are very waxy), and it stays in bloom, I believe, the longest of any of our jacks.
One of the unusual characteristics of A. ciliata is its habit of being stoloniferous, and in fact this spring I noticed two new little plants growing next to this one; I thought these were probably seedlings, and just dug them up and moved them, not suspecting they might have been stolons and that I could have just chopped up a bunch of roots in moving them. Fortunately, as they say, angels protect the innocent and fools, and I come in there somewhere under that blanket of protection, so the mother plant and both the babes did fine, and I will hopefully have three of these plants this next spring. Also, the original plant produced a huge seedhead, which I broke up and planted in my seedling bed, so we'll see what happens there next spring also.

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Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Deer Welcome Wagon

"Hello, welcome to the neighborhood."

You know, I've always felt it's a good thing to live with nature, but sometimes around here it seems we are living IN nature, if you know what I mean. It's a strange feeling to be sitting in the living room, reading the morning paper, and realize somebody is looking over your shoulder. The deer around here like Dear Abby (they're not good spellers).
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Monday, January 12, 2009

Gardening In The Mind

As Iowa shivers into the coldest week of the winter, I can still garden in my mind, visiting faraway lands; misty mountain ranges in the vast and mysterious corners of the world.
The Carpathian Mountains, seen from space look rather like a giant snake, the head lying at the south border of Poland, the body stretching across Ukraine and Romania, the tail curling down into Serbia. One of the last and best areas of mountain wildness, home to brown bears, wolves and lynx, and the abode of Dracula, the Carpathians are host also to a myriad of beautiful flower bulbs, bulbs being a way of coping with dry, hot summers. It is said that a third of all the plant species in Europe are found in the Carpathians.
Crocuses, scillas, corydalis, and snowdrops all are found in these rugged mountains. The spring snowflake, Leucojum vernum carpathicum, with yellow spots on its petals instead of the common green, is one of the endemic gems.
I have always wanted to visit and hike these mountains of legend, and someday I will... and then the Altai Range, the Caucasus Mountains, the Pamirs and the Julian Alps.
(The images above are from Wikipedia Commons, for which I am grateful.)

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Sunday, January 11, 2009

Entombed In January

As January slouches towards February, I cannot help but feel put upon; all the predictions were for a mild winter, a well-deserved compensation for the brutality of last year. Yet so far this has been an unremittingly cold, dreary season... and it's going to get worse.
In many Januaries we have snowdrops blooming by now; this year I couldn't even tell you where they are, for all the ice and snow. Midwesterners have this reputation for being stoical and unfazed by the severity of such winters; reality is somewhat closer to the movie Fargo, where in the darkness and cold of winter, people quietly sink into madness, leaving only a few ripples behind.
So, as yet another snowstorm winds up outside my window, all I can say is... Aaaargh!

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Saturday, January 10, 2009

A Pink Winner

An absolute winner of a rhododendron that I am also looking to purchase next spring is Olga Mezzitt. We already have two in the garden, but I have the perfect spot for another; it's in my imagination so far, but I know it's also somewhere in the garden if I just put my mind (and my shovel) to it.
Olga is about four foot tall, loosely upright, evergreen with very bright pink flowers in spring, and perfectly hardy here. Bluebells growing around it make for a dynamite combination in April.
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Friday, January 09, 2009

Two Manitous?

I have a rhododendron 'Manitou' planted right at the entryway to our garden; it is a Nearing hybrid, said to be an improved 'Windbeam'. It has remained three foot tall, and is covered every spring, without fail, with lovely light pink flowers.
So far, so good; however I've always pronounced its name "MAN-i-too", like any reasonable midwesterner. Now I find it's supposed to be pronounced "man-EE-toe". That's one of the problems with living, basically, in the middle of a very large and mostly unoccupied cornfield; you never hear any horticultural terms or names actually pronounced, so you're kind of on your own. I suppose it doesn't make much difference, because nobody else around here knows how to pronounce plant names right, either. This State is a little handicapped in pronounciation in general... how else to explain pronouncing the small town of Whatcheer, Iowa as "Wacheer"?
However you choose to pronounce Manitou, it's quite pretty and reliable, and I'm in the market to purchase another one for a small spot in the back of the garden, so I'll have two Manitous (excuse me, "man-EE-toes").

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Thursday, January 08, 2009

Thug And Semi-Thug Corydalis

Cotydalis is a genus that I am very fond of, but its numbers include a couple of plants that I would only invite into your garden if you treasure that crowded look. Corydalis lutea at top, and Corydalis ochroleuca below, both are actually very attractive plants; the former with sulfur yellow flowers and very bright green foliage and the latter with cool off-white flowers and bluish-green foliage. The foliage in both plants stays very crisp and attractive here, through heat and dryness that send most corydalis plants scurrying underground.
However, this toughness reflects an equally tenacious desire to overtake large swaths of the garden. Lutea is just a berserk seeder; ochroleuca I thought was far more demure, but I'm now thinking it is just a more subtle invader; it is quite lovely and rather delicate looking and just sits there quietly for a year or two, but then you start noticing that there are some awfully big patches of it around in places they shouldn't be, and it is even showing up in flower beds some distance away, where you absolutely know you didn't plant it. It's one of those plants that seems too pretty to pull up, but it's either pull it or just turn over the keys to the garden.

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