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

02 May 2014

The Deadbud And Friends

The winter damage to the garden is now coming into focus. The Chinese Redbud (Cercis chinensis) is now a 'red dud.' This is the most difficult loss. About fifteen years ago, I received a handful of Chinese Redbud seeds from the National Arboretum, as did other volunteers there. One the arboretum's heads went on a plant gathering expedition to China and came back with some material.

Pineapple Sage
Three of the seeds germinated. One was ripped up the following year, being mistaken for a weed. Another was probably run over by a mower. The third survivor, however, did not grow much over the years.

Three years ago, I made a real effort to improve its soil and encourage its growth and development. It responded, growing new branches and reaching about 7 feet tall (2m) last year. Every spring I looked forward to seeing it bloom, and every year I was disappointed. Just one more year of growth I thought.

I was excited this year again, but the buds on it swelled and then dried up. The branches and twigs are now dry and easily snap. Fifteen years of coddling, a tree planted from seed, and now it's all gone before blooming. I am hoping for some resurrection at its base if the roots are good, but so far there is nothing.

Winter Damage Update
Totally unexpected, the pineapple sage is coming back to life. New shoots are appearing from the dead sticks; who can mistake that chartreuse color?

Rosemary has some tiny seedlings arrayed around the dead trunk. They are too small to identify as weed or foe, but will be watched as they mature in hopes that rosemary will rise again.

A surprise death is the cardoon. It grew throughout the winter as usual, but a spring thaw followed by a severe refreeze did it in. The stems turned to mush as a rot set in. There are some seedlings appearing near the old plants that again are unfamiliar. They could be weeds or could be cardoon seedings, which reportedly are somewhat invasive. Invasive would be nice this year.

California poppy seedling
Finally, the California poppies (Eschscholzia californica) are popping. Freely seeding themselves, maybe they will bloom by fall. The original plants have disintegrated this past winter.

For The Record:
  • Blooming: Azaleas, allium, wood phlox, salvia