May 30, 2011

The Joys of Being Single

My last post was on the joys of married life, in honor of our recent wedding anniversary.  To balance things out, I am posting now about being single.  It is a far superior state of being.

If you are a peony.

I only grow one: 'Blaze'.  Even its name is simple --- one saturated syllable.
Jim took this photo.  I can't get one of the intense hue of this peony

I do not care for the big blowsy floppy peonies that are frilly and too full.  I like peonies that are single, that open wide and cup-like, and stand up proudly.

Techinically 'Blaze' is a double or Japanese peony, with several overlapping petals.  It is not strictly the single style with its simple rows of petals and guard petals.  But it is not the bomb ball that flops and is a mess.  It opens cupped, and then flat, like the true singles, to show off the golden treasure inside.

Mine is virtually impossible to photograph.  The scarlet petals have some kind of sheen to them that reflects even the lowest light.
Jim's photo, late in the day

I love the color, and I like the simple blooms with their yellow centers.

Missouri Botanical Garden had a sumptuous row of peonies in bloom when we were there in mid May.  They lined a walk in the Japanese garden in lovely shades of pink and white.  Like their wild iris garden, MoBot had jumbled all the peonies together in a mass of colors and forms.

In all the impressionistic swirl of their peony border, it was the singles that stood out for me.  They are just so simple and so pretty.

My red peony 'Blaze' lives up to its name: it blooms in a fiery show for only a week in late May.  It pairs with 'May Night' salvia, and the deep purple and blazing red are a great combination that gives my emerging spring garden a pop even from afar.

Give me a single peony any day.  Or a double, really.  Pastel and demure, or fiery and bold, it is the color and the elegance of the flower that gets attention.  You don't need extra petals and exploding bomb effects.

May 28, 2011

But Why Is The Rum Gone?

This is a garden blog, and you should expect to be reading a post on plants, garden design and landscape ideas.

That's as may be.

Last weekend Jim and I celebrated our wedding anniversary and I will not be posting about plants.  I will be posting about pirates.

In honor of our great occasion we went to see the latest Disney film Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides.  It's the fourth one and, truth be told, there be nothing new here, poppet.

After nearly a decade, the Jack Sparrow role is no longer wildly original, the swashbuckling no longer swashes, the jokes are self-referential (with three previous films there is a lot to refer back to), the special effects aren't so innovative any more.  The Keith Richards thing is old.  It's all been done, endlessly.

And we loved every minute of it.  Johnny Depp just has to show up, kohl eyed and in costume.

A whole new character was introduced --- a clergyman whose sole purpose in the movie was to stage an argument about moral clemency so that Jack Sparrow (there should be a 'captain' in there) could voice the line "I support the missionary's position".  It went on like that.

We shared a huge tub of buttered popcorn, we watched swords flash, mermaids swim, and Penelope Cruz threaten to fall out of her pirate's bustier.

Coco nuciferas.
This is a garden blog, you know
As we watched, I thought how appropriate this movie was for our anniversary.

Our marriage, not so unlike the leaky ships and tired roles on screen, endures. We have sequels yet to come.  Our jokes are stale, we know each others' predictable lines, we stage battles.  We sail on.

And I have loved every minute of it with my pirate.

And so . . . . .
   Drink up, me hearties, yo ho.

May 25, 2011

Shasta Showstopper

I spent a week in mid May amidst the beautiful, mature, elegant plantings of the Missouri Botanical Garden, and I came home expecting to be deflated.  How could my immature, sparse, developing garden ever compete with what I had seen?  How could my plantings ever grow to look like the inspiring gardens at the botanical garden?

We pulled into the driveway, completely pooped after our trip, and this is what I saw:

It's my doublefile viburnum (V. plicatum tomentosum 'Shasta') and it rivals anything I saw at the country's premiere botanical garden.  It is still young.  I planted it in 2008, moved it in 2009, and it did not bloom at all after the move.  But now, in 2011 it has apparently forgiven me for the prior uprooting. 

The horizontal branching makes it look like a tiered wedding cake.

This is what the lacecap flowers look like:

It is planted in the back garden, with the young red maple and a random assortment of perennials, shrubs and groundcovers.  It clearly is the anchor and the star of this garden.  It will get much, much bigger, but there is room, and its horizontal spread is a welcome form beneath the maple which will also get much, much bigger and a lot taller.

In the fall, it turns a deep mahogany color.

It is such a stunner.  It redeemed my flagging faith in my own garden after seeing a professional, mature, well established and highly tended public garden.

I may not have the wonders of a 79 acre botanical garden managed by a staff of 500 (that's more than 6 workers per acre and that is how MoBot staffs its garden; I could do a lot with that kind of manpower).

I may not have centuries old specimens and deep shady installations with benches and bridges and stone sculptures.

But I have a doublefile viburnum 'Shasta' that blooms in the end of May and makes me stop in my tracks.

I could charge admission.

May 23, 2011

Missouri Moments

A week in St. Louis flew by.  Fleeting impressions of our moments in Missouri:

Meeting our good friends and traveling companions, and staying at an old Victorian B&B next to Lafayette Park: comfortable, warm, welcoming.

A Cardinals game at Busch Stadium, won in the bottom of the ninth on a spectacular bases loaded hit: exciting, jump up and down thrilling.

The arch: did you know you can take a claustrophobic sealed tram car up to the top and scan the mighty mighty Mississippi from 630 feet in the air at the top of the arch?  Did you know it sways in the wind??

The expedition: Lewis and Clark and their party of explorers departed on May 14, 1804 from the very spot we stood on at the confluence of the Missouri and the Mississippi rivers, right there, right where we stood: awesome, historic, impressive.

The garden: that's what we really came to see.  That's what you garden bloggers want to know about.  That's where I spent three full days of our Missouri getaway, and enjoyed every moment: beautifully laid out, well tended, rich with plants and garden delights.

I'll post more about the Missouri Botanical Garden in the future, but for now, in keeping with my desperate attempt to capture all the Missouri moments that are racing around in my memory and in my photo editor, here are some random impressions of MoBot:

Flashes of color from the wild Dale Chihuly glass sculptures were echoed in the crazy exuberance of irises of every kind and color, planted in impressionistic masses.

For all the color and splash, there were many quiet groves and places to hide.  My favorite was the sassafras woods, a natural grove growing where Henry Shaw built his home in 1866 with its Victorian turret, and established the garden, naming the area Tower Grove.  Shaw is buried here in a stone mausoleum hidden in the sassafras trees.  I want to be buried in a sassafras grove.

There were other quiet spaces too -- an English woodland garden, a grand sublime Japanese garden, a tiny enclosed Chinese garden, a bird garden with viburnums everywhere, flowering and getting ready to set berries.  Even a moss garden, entirely given over to soft, shady, fuzzy groundcovering moss. 

I want to tell you more, especially about the educational aspects, the home gardening exhibits, the way the garden flowed and the ease of getting around its 79 acres.  And specific plants that called to me and posed for pictures and strutted their stuff.  That's coming.

For now, I have laundry to do, I still need to unpack, and my photos are disordered.  I'll leave you with this, from the beautiful garden space dedicated to George Washington Carver:

May 14, 2011

A Little Break

Blogger took a vacation from blogging and went down for several days, and my latest post did too, although it's been re-posted again but without the comments. 

Google says they are working on restoring the deleted posts along with the missing comments ---  so it may appear twice.

But no matter.

I too am taking a vacation from blogging and will be down for a few days. I will be back toward the end of May.

I am not, however, taking a vacation from gardening.  Our destination is Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis. 

Oh yeah. 

I'll be back soon.

May 13, 2011

Siren Red

When I make my lists of plants to order each spring, there are always way too many red flowers and I always have to edit them out.  It happens every year.  I can not help myself.  And show me those red geraniums (pelargoniums) at Home Depot, and they're in my cart.  I put them in pots all over the patio.  I do.  Shoot me.

Some red in the garden, yes.  An accent --- of course.  A pop here and there.  But red is such a primary color, so alarming, that it should be used as an accent, not as the backbone of your entire planting scheme.  I'm not talking about maroon or ruby or a rich wine color.  Primary red should be used in moderation, but I can't seem to do it.
I only grow one peony and it is Paeonia 'Blaze'

Potted petunias.  Red ones.  I won't show you the potted pelargoniums

If a plant is red and called 'Lucifer' it will be in my garden, like these Crocosmias

If it evokes cardinals, as in Lobelia cardinalis, it's in my garden


I only grow one dahlia and it's a dwarf red one

And when I planted a groundcover carpet rose, it was . . .  red

Salvia 'Lady in Red', still vivid late in the season even as the foliage wanes

When I planted nasturtiums, they were the tropical red 'Empress of India', not the typical orange and yellow ones.  When I planted dianthus, I put in a deep scarlet one.  It goes on and on.
'Empress of India' nasturtiums

Each year, as I pore over the catalogs and think about what I want to add, a list of red plants materializes.  Another dianthus this year, this one called 'Heart Attack', gotta have that.  I want a clematis, and of course I'm drawn to red 'Gravetye Beauty' or scarlet 'Rebecca'.  I need annuals: Gomphrena 'Strawberry Fields', and a coleus called 'Redhead' .... no, hold on, now I'm into my overindulgence of red foliage.

But wait, there's more ... red stems too!  Not just foliage and flowers. (Cornus sericea 'Isanti')

Red.  Passion, Romance, Satan.  Drop dead evening gowns.

I don't yet have a hot red evening frock.  I probably do have too much red in my garden.  I must go back to the catalogs, back to the garden centers, and find some nice white daisies, or maybe some pink echinaceas, and a good strong yellow, a rudbeckia perhaps.  But the reds . . . . how those sirens call to me.

Check out Garden Walk Garden Talk's  article on red here in Niagara Falls Garden Magazine.  Or visit Three Dogs in a Garden to see her Color Essay on Red.

Both of these will excite your passions and you'll be seeing red (in a good way!  A good way!) in your dreams. 

May 7, 2011

Native Tree, Revisited

When I posted my tribulations about trying to find a native pagoda dogwood (Cornus alternifolia) to plant in a new border, I got many interesting comments, including frustration from others about trying to find native plants anywhere.

It really is discouraging for the gardener who wants to practice what Doug Tallamy proposes, or for anyone wanting even a few natives to attract indigenous wildlife and bugs.

Commenters offered sources where I could find a pagoda dogwood.

But I really waffled about planting one.

Because the simple fact is that I don't have a native environment.  There is nothing about a wide open sodded half acre lawn that resembles the woodland succession of trees and shrubs where native understory trees are happiest.  The pagoda dogwood I wanted is lovely, but apparently struggles out of its natural habitat, and I don't have its natural habitat.  I don't have anything close to its natural setting, and no one around here does.

Not many suburban yards look like this any more
Here in the northeast "native" is dense uninterrupted woodland and brush with isolated open clearings.  Not yards.

Nurseries don't want to carry problem plants that don't grow well for their customers, and some natives just don't do as well as the imports and cultivated hybrids that are bred for garden performance.

It's not that native plants are inferior or fussy or poor plants.  It's that we don't have a native environment to plant them in.

We treat our gardens as beds for isolated specimens so we can enjoy each flower, each bush, each conifer, vine and perennial for its own lovely merits.  But in nature's world things grow jumbled together, in a complex system, and even the leaf litter on the forest floor is a critical part of the whole system.  We carefully rake any leaves off the lawns that surround our man-made gardens.
Pagoda dogwood where it wants to be
Right plant, right place, sigh.  We rarely have the right place any more in our suburban yards and urban environments for the natives that used to be here.

We need to recreate it, and Tallamy tells us even one or two native plants in a yard can make a difference.  And I'm not giving up entirely!  But I am also aware that most nurseries are not going to carry plants that are the wrong plant for the wrong place, and many native plants are wrong for densely populated areas, no matter how much we want to "plant for the wildlife" or "recreate a natural setting".   

It may be a chicken and egg thing: until our human habitation is at least partially restored to dense woodland, scrub, succession plants and forest, we aren't gong to have the right place for some natives; but unless we plant the natives we won't ever get an approximation of our natural environment back!

Pagoda dogwood where I planted it

 So how did my attempt at planting a native tree work out?  I did find a lovely large specimen at Broken Arrow Nursery in Hamden, CT.  It's the straight species, not the somewhat fussier variegated or golden variety.

I bought, it, I planted it where it will get a little afternoon shade, and I'll try very hard to keep this native tree happy in my non-native man-made artificial garden.

May 4, 2011


Way back in time, about three years ago, I planted barrenwort to cover the ground under a dogwood tree.  Barrenwort is supposed to like dry shade, so it makes a great massing plant under trees.

I set out a dozen Epimedium perralchicum 'Frohnleiten' plants.  Frohnleiten means fairywings in German, referring to the delicate wands of flowers.

How utterly delightful.  I was captivated by the name, the promise of fairy flowers, the advertised red tinged leaves, and the rarity of a plant that can thrive under trees.

I planted.  I waited.  Nothing.

They did not perish, but they did nothing for three years.  They never bloomed, the leaves were tiny and unimpressive and they simply did not go anywhere.  No massing, no ground covering spread.  In winter they disappeared underground entirely, and in spring they barely emerged, timid and tired looking.  Hmmpph, I said, fugheddaboutit.  And I did.  I forgot all about them.  What a disappointment.  Pffft.

This spring as I walked past the dogwood, I was stopped in my tracks.  What was this?

The epimediums (epimedia?) had not only exploded in bloom, but had massed and were starting to spread out around the trunk of the dogwood.  And there were real fairywings of bright yellow flowers wafting around above the fantastic foliage.

The foliage!  The rusty red edged leaves are stunning.  They look as if fairies stenciled them in curly heart shaped patterns.  Where was this plant for three years?

It turns out epimediums are very slow to establish, but once they do, they really bulk up.

Two years ago I put some more in around the trunk of a large maple.  This time I planted Epimedium alpinum 'Rubrum', a common variety that has pink and white flowers and light green leaves with red overtones.  Like my fairywings, this variety is also disappointing right now, just two seasons after planting.  It's still in the fuhgeddaboutit stage.

But unlike 'Frohnleiten' the 'Rubrum' barrenwort is actually blooming already; sparse and thin looking, but blooming.

This time I won't forget about them.  I know I must wait another year or two or three.  The 'Rubrum' plants will mass and fill in under the maple tree, all in their own good time.

I had given up on this perennial.  I really had --- I thought it was a big nothing and couldn't understand why people even planted them, except the options for dry shade are so limited.  But give this plant four seasons at least.  It will make you take notice. 

(I'm delighted with the rust red leaves and sulphur yellow flowers of Frohnleiten . . . . BUT . . . they are sitting beneath a pink flowering dogwood.  When the pink blooms come out in a week, will they look horrid with the maroon and yellow thing going on below?  Will the shoes clash with the outfit?)