30 May 2010

Phluffy White Phlox

The tall phlox is blooming for the first time. The flowers seem disproportionate to the plant size; like large white balls balanced atop a thin pole - way too big. Altogether, they are reminiscent of fluffy white clouds.

The phlox was purchased in the fall along with about a half dozen other perennials that were 40% off at the locally-owned nursery's end of year clearance. A tall plant was needed near the entrance to the side yard garden leading to the back yard and deck. A white color phlox and a 3-feet tall (90 cm) plant would be a great choice, providing a color that can be seen by guests as they walk along the side yard path to the deck at night, and enticing them with the fragrance. A supposedly tall red phlox 'Tenor' was planted about three years ago in the front garden, but it turned out to be a shocking fuchsia color, and shockingly short - growing only about 12-inches tall (30 cm) and hiding among the tall nicotiana foliage.

This spring, after researching my Carolina Phlox (Phlox maculate) 'Miss Lingard', I conclude that it is planted in just the right environment. It prefers soil that retains moisture but drains well, being at home in clay. It likes to be kept moist. It is attractive to butterflies and 'hummingbird moths' and offers possibilities of extended bloom times. The name comes from the Greek work for 'flame,' referring to many of its intense colors. A cautionary note pops up about mildew resistance.

Powdery mildew is a theme that runs through all literature on phlox, but some varieties are more resistant than others. So far my Miss Lingard is pest free. The three year old phuchsia phlox in the phront yard never gets mildew, although 'Tenor' was listed as a 'poorly resistat' variety in a North Carolina study.

Happy returns have made this purchase worthwhile. Several stalks shot up this spring and are now blooming, well ahead of summer bloom time. Miss Lingard held her own against a windy summer thunderstorm. And yes, the fragrance is there. Imagine the plant once it really starts to grow and fill in.

For The Record:
  • Clay soil with gypsum & organic amendments
  • Full sun
  • Small amount of fertilizer
  • Average water
  • No pests

Garden Calendar:
  • Blooming: salvia, hydrangea, kniphofia, phlox, coreopsis, nicotiana, astilbe
  • Planted: sunflowers

18 May 2010

Of Spiders and Worts

It seems that there are suddenly a lot of garden blog posts about spiderworts these days. My addition to this collection was actually planned last week when photographs were taken. My Tradescantia virginiana were planted after last year's spring plant swap. A few blossoms were seen in the spring, and a few in the fall. They sat idle for much of the summer, although their vertical foliage was appealing.

Fast forward to this spring, when after the plants did some growin' over the winter, they emerged happy. About two dozen stems 18-inches high (50 cm) with lots of blossoms appeared. But what about the spiders, and what about the worts?

First, I am happy to report that spiderworts are native to this area, and mine appear to be close to the true native (many hybridized varieties exist). They are related to daylilies, iris, and grasses. The flowers appear from clusters of dozens of buds, opening for a day as daylilies do. They complete their show around mid-day until new ones emerge the following morning.

If a leaf tip is broken, the resulting silk thread is supposed to resemble a spider web. One midwest United States nickname for the plant is a 'cow-slobber.' When viewed from above, the plant is supposed to resemble a spider with tip leaves as long legs, and the three-petal flower the insect's body. The botanical name comes from John Tradescent, a gardener for King Charles I. He brought back seeds to England from Virginia in the 1600's, and their popularity increased. And 'wort' is the Saxon word for 'plant'.

For The Record:
  • Well drained soil, somewhat clay
  • Full sun
  • No fertilizer
  • No pests or disease

Garden Calendar:
  • Blooming: spiderworts, coreopsis, rose, tall phlox

13 May 2010

Orchids of Hillwood Estate

As part of my resolve to visit local attractions this summer, a Sunday trip to Hillwood in Washington DC lead to both the mansion tour and the garden tour. The property was a home of the late Marjorie Merriweather Post, heiress to the Post Cereal and eventually General Foods. The philanthropist left her estate as a museum for her art collections.

Her collections include French decorative arts of the last two centuries (porcelain, ceramics, tapestries, furnishings, paintings) and almost everything Russian. Her collection of aristocratic Russian art and artifacts is probably the finest outside Russia.

Being a garden blog, we must discuss the garden part of the trip. The garden tour wound through outdoor "rooms" designed in a variety of styles and design. There was a formal French parterre garden, rose garden, lawn (for parties) with a peek of the Washington Monument in the background, a putting green (she was a golfer), Japanese garden, and Friendship Walk garden. This later was a surprise gift that her close friends built for her in recognition of her lifetime of of giving. If only my friends. . .

I found the French parterre too formal and stuffy for my taste, with its limited greenery trimmed into unnatural geometric shapes. The fountain and stream water features were pleasant though. My favorite was the Japanese garden. It had a shady grotto feel to it - built into a hillside with winding paths, a waterfall and stream, lots of overstuffed hostas (and tourists), and statuary.

Also found on the grounds were a Russian dacha (country house), a pet cemetery for her cherished ones, an Adirondack lodge similar to her retreat in New York's mountains, and a cutting garden and greenhouse. The cutting garden supplies all the arrangements inside the house, except in winter. If only my garden. . .

The Hillwood greenhouse is stuffed with orchids (a favorite of the owner), and nurtures over 2500 plants. These photos represent some of the more intriguing ones found blooming in the greenhouse on my visit. I possess little knowledge of orchids (except how to kill them), and certainly do not know their names.

All told, the trip was a good inspiration for the work ahead in my yard. I could also make use of a greenhouse for 2500 plants.

Garden Calendar:
  • Blooming: spiderwort, coreopsis, geranium, rose

06 May 2010

The Garden of Doom

With the fourth annual Spring Plant Swap behind us, it may be a good time for an evaluation of the swapees that followed me home in past years. First, we must remember the departed that never made it after finding my yard a garden of doom:
  • The First Nandina - This was planted after a fall plant swap. It went into dormancy and stayed that way. A second Nandina obtained a year later is alive and well.
  • Shasta Daisy - This was also planted after a fall plant swap. It grew well into the spring, began budding, then, well, began pushing up daisies.
  • Rudbeckia - seeds were planted after a fall plant swap and grew nothing but dirt in the spring
  • Coneflower - again with the seeds. After planting in the fall AND spring, they at least provided some organic matter to the soil.
  • Lily - an unknown peach Asian lily was planted after two separate swaps. They hit a home run, thriving and multiplying in their home yard, but struck out in my yard. A third lily was obtained last fall (the donor cannot give them away fast enough) and is now growing this spring!
It's not all doom and gloom. Of course, there are success stories. Money for nothing and your plants for free:
  • Mahogany Iris - these did not come with a name, and after an exhaustive search of the internet, are still nameless. Growing well.
  • Dwarf Coreopsis - ('Nana') this was picked up last spring with two blossoms. Today, there are dozens - very happy in its location.
  • St. John's Wort - ('Brigadoon') picked up last spring. This lights up a shady spot with chartreuse green, but to date hasn't grown much.
  • Dwarf Hosta - again, no name is associated with these 3-year old donations.
  • Purple Iris - (no name again) a handful of small rhizomes from last fall produced one flower stalk this spring. However, I was expecting a Japanese iris from the gardener's description last year.
  • Spiderwort - these took off upon planting last spring. Today they are a blooming, healthy, happy bunch.
  • New England Asters - I donate some purple ones every year, but picked up some magenta. You can't kill 'em if you tried.
  • Gooseneck Loostrife - [22.6.2008] after two years, this ground cover is covering a lot of ground, requiring spring cleaning.
Garden Calendar:
  • Blooming: dutch iris, bearded iris, rose,
    spiderwort, coreopsis, salvia