28 July 2014

Leisurely Blue

Balloon bud in the lower left
A friend offered a share of a balloon flower plant from her front garden. The balloon flower did not excite me much, but I needed filler material for the recently-created, clay-packed side yard garden along new platform steps to the back yard and deck.

Five years have passed, and the plant is finally beginning to spread a little. This year it sent up a short, second stalk. And, the flowers are more numerous, forming small clusters. The rude rudbeckia and brute baptisia have invaded the side yard garden, and are elbowing out the balloon flower and a few others that make this garden home.

Platycodon gradiflorus is a perennial, native to eastern Asia and Japan, and generally grows in climate zones 3-8 in the U.S. Flower buds resemble balloons, or paper lanterns if you are in Japan. It likes full sun and tolerates partial shade, where you will find mine. Cultivars are available in white and pink, and in dwarf sizes.

Several sources state that because of its root system, it does not take kindly to being moved. If it is transplanted, it takes a year or two to recover. This is probably why my plant begin its first few years in its new home with only a few blossoms no larger than a quarter.

It is most likely stepped on when doing spring gardening chores, since it leisurely emerges after winter and is located in a perfect spot for a foot to balance on. I would like to move it, but after learning about the transplanting issues, may try to improve it in situ. I like it, but I need several more to form a clump to give it some presence among its neighbors.

The blue flowers are over 2 inches inches across (5 cm) and plants can grow up to 3-feet in height (1m). This five-year old is (maybe) 24-inches (60 cm). My friend's plant tends to take a bow, but in my garden it stays upright, probably depending on the surround rudbeckia and iris to maintain its posture.

Other facts surprised me. It supposed to rebloom if deadheaded, so I need to give this a try. Taller plants should be staked, and cutting stems back in May could help keep the plant shorter and therefore upright. They make good cut flowers, but with only one lonely stalk here, cutting would eliminate the plant in the garden! They are not invasive -- did you hear that rudbeckia?

For The Record:
  • Average clay soil on a sloping site
  • Partial sun
  • Small amount of fertilizer
  • Very slow growth / spreading
  • No serious pests/disease

Garden Calendar:
  • Blooming: cosmos, mexican zinnia, zinnia, rudbeckia, bellacamda, cleome, rose campion, sunflower, coneflower, phlox
  • Harvested: 14 tomatoes, 15 peppers, 16 onions

18 July 2014

Daylilies And Shakespeare

Annuals in the shade
It's been about three years since I visited the Cutler Botanical Garden back in my hometown, Binghamton NY. My first visit saw a vegetable garden and a generous balance of perennials, annuals, and a few specimen trees. The second time, however, was different. Flood waters of the Chenango River had just receded, and any plants not washed away were encrusted with mud. It has recovered since then.

Most botanical gardens, I believe, have a specialty or focus that distinguishes them from others and gives them a unique personality. I found something on my recent visit to Cutler that I did not see in previous visits: daylilies and Shakespeare. The picture quality is courtesy of my iPad2's crappy camera and a harsh, direct sun kinda day.

My favorite millet / Get those herbs out of the shade!
The garden is small and set on 3.5 acres (1.5 hectare.) It consists of a few meandering trails through a mostly turf-covered area, with a vegetable garden, herb garden, perennial, and annual beds laid out around the paths. A rose garden with path leads to a central gazebo, framed throughout with lots of annuals. LOTS and lots of annuals. I prefer perennials, but luscious, unique annuals pique my interest, too.

The vegetable and herb gardens were typical. The herb garden, surprisingly, was mostly in light shade. In fact, annual beds planted with sun-lovers were also in shade. The herb garden was part of the 'Shakespeare Trail.' The trail has about two dozen plants, identified by sign, that are cited in the writer's works. The plant and associated passages were listed in a brochure.

Here did she fall a tear; here in this place,
I'll set a bank of rue, our herb of grace"

--King Richard

I was also very fond of the Daylilies collection. My estimate is that about 60 daylily varieties were on display in their own area. A few varieties were shouting out to me, reminding me that I still wanted a red daylily for my own patch. The blooms with the green throats were really enticing.

These unnamed beauties caught my camera lens.

And my favorite unknown ... if anyone has a clue ...

The next day required a trip to Apalachin to help pick out plants for family and browse the W & W Nursery. The entrance was graced by a few dead tree trunks carved into sculpture. I picked up Cherokee Star daylily. No green throats, (well, maybe a little) but quite vibrant on muscular stems. And, it was a discounted price due to the 'Daylily Days' sale.

On the way out of the gate, a wagon cart o' plants beckoned with "Find Me A Home - $3 each." Who could resist a cart full of orphans, and why didn't I see this on the way in? Probably because I was too excited with anticipation at entering the nursery.

Through the dried-out pots I found a hydrangea arborescens "Invincibelle Spirit" still clinging to life. I had just spied a large, fragrant, healthy $60 specimen blooming in the nursery. I scarfed up the orphan and giddily deposited $3 in the 'honor system' coffee jug on the wagon's edge. Today, the 1-foot tall (30 cm) hydrangea is beginning a new life and starting to bloom with tiny clusters, as if to say, "thank you for my new home."
My new Cherokee Star

05 July 2014

Fibonocci Coneflowers

Fibanocci patterns are found in the seeds of a sunflower head, and in the head of a coneflower. My sunflowers are not yet blooming, so come on and admire the coneflowers.

OK, it's time for your math class. Leonardo Pisano Fibonocci was an 11th century mathematician who brought the Arabic numbers we use today to the merchant world to replace the cumbersome Roman numerals. He also pondered (mathematically speaking) the successive reproductive growth of rabbit populations. (Only a mathematician...) He applied an old Indian Hindu numbering sequence to develop a formula calculating the count over time. The Hindu sequence is what we (our Western-centric society) now call the Fibonocci sequence. The sequence adds the previous two numbers in a series to arrive at the next one: 0,1,1,2,3,5,8,13,21,34...

But nature had already discovered this and was using it in all sorts of ways. The mathematical logarithmic spiral of a nautilus shell, the branching of certain trees, and the spiral seed arrangements of sunflowers and coneflowers all use this sequence or a formulation of it.

According to Innovation Factory, the image is a "Yellow Chamomile head showing the arrangement in 21 (blue) and 13 (aqua) spirals. Such arrangements involving consecutive Fibonacci numbers appear in a wide variety of plants. Plants produce their leaves and seeds from a growth tip that spirals around the plant or center of the seed head as it goes -- the most efficient way to pack seeds into the seed head... You get the closely packed Fibonacci spirals of seeds, with the number of clockwise and anticlockwise spirals at any point on the seed head a pair of successive Fibonacci numbers." Sure enough, my coneflower has 13 spirals in one direction, and 21 in the other.

Writing of coneflowers (Echinacea), I offer some observations on the three types in my garden: native Echinacea purpurea, Sundown of the Big Sky series, and Coconut Lime. The original echinacea purpurea are the most drough-tolerant, but the flower petals can droop, leaving a large prominent seed head. Bumblebees love them, and so do the goldfinches who perch on top and chow down. They are taller than the others with the largest flowers and largest seed cones -- making it easy for the finches to fly in for a snack.

The flowers can vary in their color intensity for no apparent reason -- some being a dark purple-pink, while others are light pink. They do have a distinct fragrance. Speaking of rabbits multiplying, they also easily seed themselves in my habitat.

Sundown, part of the Big Sky series, is what happens when breeders get involved. This coneflower puts out a riot of blooms early, then dies out before summer ends. The blooms start out with an beautiful orange color then fade in a few days into an dirty washed-out salmon. Deadheading does not seem to help the plant continue into the summer, as foliage turns a dark bronze like it has given up making chlorophyll. The plant goes ugly on me and slowly melts away until next year. The internet is full of stories of disappointments on this one.

Coconut Lime, another plant breeder introduction, looks different than the others. The blooms start out with petals and centers looking like the native, but the centers begin to increase into larger pompoms. The blooms last a long time, but bees never touch them. I suspect the thick pompoms prevent them from getting to the pollen, or the pollen is not to their liking. Height is much shorter than the other two coneflowers at about 16-inches (40 cm.)

For The Record:
  • Full sun
  • Small amount of fertilizer on the Sundown
  • Some early season pests eat bloom petals & leaves

Garden Calendar:
  • Blooming: coneflowers, liatris, rudbeckia, daisy, monarda,
     echinops, phlox, daylilies, bachelor button, zinnia, hydrangea
  • Harvested: 20 onions, green beans

26 June 2014

History of Annabelle Hydrangea

Almost everyone has seen or has grown the Annabelle hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens). So, I wanted to present something interesting for my featured plant - something most people do not know -- like "who was Annabelle?"

Obtained three years ago as a wee baby from the landscape architect friends, it was planted on the shady side of the back yard fence. I was filling in the areas along the fence. Having no plan or consideration, I take contributions of anything that grows. Normally my gardener's brain works backwards to most logical thinking: first get a plant, then find a place for it.

Our story begins in 1910 when Harriet Kirkpatrick was out horeseback riding along a wooded trail in the country outside Anna, Illinois. First, here's some interesting background on the family. Kirkpatrick Pottery was known for utilitarian and ceremonial presentation pottery (mostly ceramic pigs) throughout the 18th and 19th centuries. The family was wealthy so its could participate in activities like horseback riding. Pottery manufacturing was located where the clay and railroads were, and geologists reported that some of the finest clay was found in and around Anna, Illinois. Today the Kirkpatrick's Anna Pottery pieces have found their way to museums and collectors.

So wealthy Harriet was galloping through the woods, and noticed a wild hydrangea with large, more robust snowball-like blooms than the others. She summoned her sister-in-law Amy. "Have you ever seen a wild Hydrangea with snowball blooms?" So what would you do?

As we would have done, they scarfed it up and planted it in their garden. And also as we would have done, they proudly shared it with their neighbors and friends around town. 50 years later and growing 20 miles away (32 km) in an Urbana Illinois garden, it was brought to the attention of J.C. McDaniel, famous plantsman and professor of horticulture. Two years later after some nursery propagation and further investigation, it was introduced to the world. He first wanted to register the hydrangea as "Ballerina" (are ballerinas big and rotund?) but a name was selected to honor the belles of Anna who discovered it.

Its size and flower heads command attention and anchor one part of the back yard. Like dogwoods, the 'flowers' are actually flower bracts, which is probably why they last so long. I wrote this during the morning after an evening rain, and it reminded me of a known issue with Annabelle -- the tendency of the extra large heads to droop over, especially after collecting water.

Mother Nature did her own plant breeding to produce this hydrangea, easy to grow, large long lasting blooms, with few pests.

For The Record:
  • Heavy clay soil with gypsum
    & organic amendments
  • Mostly shade with morning sun
  • Small amount of fertilizer
  • No serious pests/disease

Garden Calendar:
  • Blooming: daisies, hydrangea,
    poppies, rudbeckia, echinacea,
    daylilies, bachelor buttons,
    hostas, cosmos
  • Harvested: green beans

31 May 2014

Cage Fightin' Strawberry

I bought strawberries at the grocery store. They were, well, strawberries. I picked my second pair of strawberries from the garden this week. They were phenomenal.

I scooped up the plant at our plant swap two years ago from a neighbor that was giving up on growing strawberries. "Too may critters and not enough rewards," was his answer. During the first year, the handful of berries produced went straight to bellies of squirrels, birds, and slugs, most while still an unripe white. The berries cropped up, off and on, throughout the year, although never as abundantly as in spring.

This year, the gloves gave off. I fashioned a small cage to keep the varmints out, and to date it is working. The top of a tomato cage is wrapped in bird netting, producing a netted top hat that is easily lifted to get inside. Squirrels can still reach into the berries if needed, but I believe they have not discovered the plant this year. If they show up in the ring, I will just build a bigger cage.

The berries were not large. For the taste test, I chomped into a mega-sized store-bought berry from California just before the home grown ones. The store-bought were fine. My home-grown berries taste 'noisy' -- screaming wild and strong. If only the berries were more plentiful and larger I would be singing, too. Even a small number of strawberries taste good with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

For The Record:
  • Decent well-drained soil on a slope
  • Full sun, leaf mulch
  • Light amount of nitrogen fertilizer
  • Yellowing of lower leaves, squirrels and birds eat fruit

Garden Calendar:
  • Blooming: salvia, echinacea, coreopsis
  • Harvested: strawberries, spinach

22 May 2014

Stars For A Dark Garden

I dropped off cardoon and cannas to a fellow gardener. He asked if I would want some colocasia in return since I provided him suggestions on storing them over winter. I was asked to point out anything else that might interest me.

I spied the white flower stalks in the semi-shady area and pointed. "Those? You want some of those? What are they?" I didn't know either, except that I had to have some. They had tall daffodil foliage, growing in some shade, were 3-4 feet tall (1m), and had presence. Most likely a spring blooming bulb I thought, and asked to get some after the foliage died down later.

Next week, I was told to come and get 'em -- before the foliage had died down. They were dug up and left on his front porch. I stopped in and planted them that day as best I could, and crossed my fingers that they would replenish themselves enough to bloom this year.

I found the name is Camassia (Camassia leichtlinii spp. leichtlinii), and informed him. Camassia was usually blue, but this subspecies is white. Camassia is a native spring bloomer from the Pacific northwest down to the western Rockies. The bulbs were an important food source for native Americans and were roasted or boiled. Lewis and Clark wrote about eating them ... and about the severe gas cramps the men got afterwards.

Camassia does best in sun or part shade, and is found in meadows or near ponds. They will grow in damp areas other bulbs will not. (And they bloom during the late spring 'dead zone' when not much else does.) They should make great cut flowers, and the white subspecies can reseed easily, producing lots of offspring according to the Pacific Bulb Society. 'Marshy areas' and 'growing well in some shade' sounds great to help fill in my plant graveyard.

My Camassia came up this spring with thin spindly leaves. Bud stalks arrived later and are blooming. Did the lousy shady area with wet heavy soil or the transplanting before the bulbs redeveloped last year cause the small blooms. Or, maybe it was both. Because some of the bulbs did not produce flowers this year, the suspicion is that low development from last year was the culprit.

"Camassia prefer to grow undisturbed," say instructions. After this year, they will be moved to an area that gets slightly more sun. I look forward to next spring when more delicate looking white stars brighten up the shady spot between the hydrangea and polygonatum.

For The Record:
  • Heavy clay soil with recent organic amendments
  • Mostly light amount of fertilizer
  • Somewhat damp low-lying area
  • No serious pests/disease

Garden Calendar:
  • Blooming: salvia, coreopsis, tradescantia, camassia, dutch iris
  • Harvested: 1 radish

15 May 2014

May 2014 Bloom Day

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day
What's blooming in the garden on the 15th of the month.

A few blooms, as that is all I have -- few blooms, unless someone wants to see green beans blooming.
First a gaggle of iris, and a matching gaggle of coreopsis. I just found the name (I think) of this purple one. See the previous post.

Iris germanica 'Fantasy land'
Coreopsis auriculata 'Nana'

Ready for their closeups, the geraniums really came on strong this year. They look great close up, but until this year, were too sparse and got lost in the garden. Dutch iris are just beginning.

Iris hollandica 'Discovery'
Geranium macrorrhizum 'Bevan's variety'

Staking the stalks on Invitation iris. I wish they could stand on their own two feet (or one.) Camassia is a first for me this year.

Iris germanica 'Invitation'
Camassia leichtlinii spp. leichtlinii

Rhododendrons also took off this year. I think they heard me talking about trimming them back, and responded. "Don't cut me back, bro. I promise to do better next year."

Rhododendron 'roseum elegans'

And a final composition with the Walmart iris ('Clarence') and the geranium on the side yard.

You can find other garden bloggers' May bloom days at the blog May Dreams Gardens.

11 May 2014

Garden Goddess Iris

The bearded iris (Iris germanica) are now the queens of the garden. This is the 'dead zone' time of year between perennials and spring bulbs when very little is going on. In May, the bearded iris shine above all else.

Iris comes from the Greek word for rainbow. In Greek mythology, the goddess Iris of the rainbow bore messages between the heavens and the earth. And iris are found in almost every color of the rainbow, but true red has eluded the growers. There are about 300 species of iris native to every continent in the temperate northern hemisphere, but are most prevalent in Europe and the Mediterranean. Because they are easy to cross and breed, there are about 40,000 introduced iris varieties.

The iris has six petals on its flower, although it appears to have three similar ones. It is a great example of a plant developed for pollinators, with a landing pad for flying insects. The entering insect hits the stigma first, depositing its pollen if any. Then, "backing out of the flower" it comes into contact with the plant's pollen, (after contacting the stigma) and can take it to the next flower. I don't think pollinators actually follow these rules someone thought up -- they just barge in and grab any pollen they can.

Iris have a place in human history. They have been around for centuries, and their symbols appear in ancient Egyptian tombs. The French Crusades brought them back to Europe from Syria, and they were adopted as the famous symbol of the French monarch, the Fleur-de-lis.

Frank Adams
The Orris root (bearded iris rhizomes) were used for perfumes starting with the Egyptians, who burned them to create scent offerings to the gods. Clothes were boiled with iris rhizomes to perfume undergarments to mask body odors from at least the 1400s. Bathing was considered unhealthy.

Two of my iris have partial shade during the day but are doing very well. "How-to" articles say they do best in full sun and well drained soil. Their maintenance list includes dividing about every three years, more than some of my other perennials, and most of my friends run away now when they see me coming with bags of rhizomes. (If you want any Fantasy Land, drop me a line.) They don't make a good cut flower with each bloom lasting a day or two, and some stink.

Fantasy Land
The Historic Iris Preservation Society aims to preserve old iris varieties, and has a huge collection of reference materials to identify and track down old varieties. Some varieties documented in old documents are thought to be lost, however, people believe they still exist in someone's garden somewhere and will be found.

The history of the American Iris Society is fascinating (to plant geeks and history buffs.) It was founded around 1920 because of confusion (and probably deceit) about varieties -- companies selling varieties after renaming them, developing varieties that someone else did, not documenting parentage.

Quaker Lady
In doing the research for this blog post, I believe the identities of the unnamed bearded iris in my yard are now found. Thank you HIPS for your online photo gallery. I swear all iris in the world are here in one gallery or another.

Frank Adams is the spitting image of the one I got at a neighborhood plant swap. It is the tallest, broadest (taking up the most space) and very prolific.

Quaker Lady, growing in the yard when the house was purchased, is certainly an older variety. It is short with smallish flowers and petals that slant outward.

Fantasy Land seems like a match to what I was calling Grape Nehi, although there are no sources on the internet where I can verify this one. It is most prolific and is found in several yards throughout the neighborhood.

Clarence was purchased at Walmart a few years ago - after seeing it in an iris catalog.

Invitation was a gift from the landscape architects who hate bicolor iris, and has stalks that always need to be staked.

Garden Calendar:
  • Blooming: azalea, rhododendron, ajuga, wood phlox, iris, allium, salvia