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Poppies Unbound

My first poppy of spring, P. setigerum, self-sown Dwarf Breadseed Poppy or Poppy of Troy.
Nothing unfurls like a poppy. Sure, roses and peonies have more petals, so the process is more complicated and, therefore, some might say more thrilling.
Irises may possibly surpass poppies for dramatic unfurling, but poppies have the amazing seed capsule architecture that follows. And that long, sinuous stem.

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The Spanish poppy, P. rupifragum, has more petals to manage and won’t be fully open until tomorrow.

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Just two glimpses out of almost a hundred species distributed all over the world.
I wonder if poppies hold a special attraction for women. An ancient attraction, going back to 5,000 B.C.
The Minoans, who exalted all things feminine and fertile, paid tribute to a Poppy Goddess.
Now, there’s a spring hat for you.

(photo from A Chaotic Orbit of Planet Gaia)
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Cue the Ice Cream Man

The twilight opening of the door to the enchanted photographic realm of “magic hour” is announced by the canned tunes of the ice cream man plying his cold confections 365 days a year. If I’m home when that tinny music floats down our street, around 5:00 o’clock this time of year, I make a mad dash for the camera and head outdoors.

Rusellia equisetiformis spilling off the back porch
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Geranium pyrenaicum ‘Bill Wallis’
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Erysimum linifolium ‘Variegatum’
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Queen Anne’s Lace
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more tulips budding
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There’s no time to grab an ice cream and photos, it’s strictly either/or, before the door has swung shut on another fleeting magic hour.
If only the truck sounded like this Ice Cream Man. But then I’m sure I’d chuck taking photos and head straight for the ice cream truck.

Pelargonium tomentosum ‘Chocolate Mint’

Temps dropped into the high 30′s last night, not enough to damage tender pelargoniums, but cold enough to need a blanket for the couch (Hitchcock’s Foreign Correspondent in the queue. If only Jimmy Stewart or Cary Grant had the lead instead of Joel McCrae, the movie would be first rate rather than just interesting. George Sanders, as ever, is amazingly smooth in a supporting part.)

But that central dark blotch deepened by the cold is probably as chocolatey as the leaves will get before the blotch begins to gradually melt away as spring temperatures increase.

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This pelargonium has the ground under the fringe tree all to itself, in total a square of about 6×6 outlined by minty undulations in a sea of bricks.

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An entire square of peppermint-scented geranium except for the fleece vine against the fence and that exclamation point of a leaf, probably a byzantine gladiolus.

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I seem to have had bulbs with the pale, washy-colored flowers fobbed off on me, not the desired strong magenta, a common problem when mail-ordering this glad, and this inferior strain now spreads everywhere. If I remembered the nursery that sent them, I’d publicly shame them. Here’s a photo of the real deal from the gymnosperm website. (I’d like 6×6 of just these glads with maybe some asphodel and Stipa gigantea thrown in.)

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Last year I intended to rip out the pelargonium and instead spread gravel in the 6×6 square because, by late summer, this sprawling subshrub is not at its plush-leafed best. But by fall, I was so busy sweeping up the fallen leaves and inky blue fruit of the fringe tree, I never got around to it. In other words, gravel is a poor option here. And then there’s this incredibly lusty resurgence of the pelargonium every spring.

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So the pelargonium continues as a place keeper, tolerating fairly abysmal conditions of shade and dry soil, until a better idea surfaces. I’ve long since abandoned my usual inclination to grow a little of everything here, bulbs, hellebores, because by summer that approach was an awful mess of dying bulb leaves. The pelargonium looks tolerable at least up to July. And even gravel wouldn’t have a longer run, once all the bits and detritus start raining down. I really hate to be lukewarm about plants, having to view them coldly as problem solvers, preferring the madly-in-love relationship, but there are these spots where compromises must be made, in my garden mostly the ground under trees. And for me, the undisputed virtues of trees nullify any gardening qualms about what should grow under them. While I putter around at ground level, studying minutiae (and sweeping!), the momentous lives of trees unfold high overhead, absorbed in all their very important tree business, supremely indifferent to whether gravel or pelargoniums surround their trunks.

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Weird Plants

It lives!

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Emergence of the aroid Pinellia tripartita, or ‘Dragon Tails.’ New shoots emerge almost a crime-tape yellow, maturing to a lurid yellow-green.
The aroids seem to have weird covered, having in common, whether small or gigantic, jack-in-the-pulpit flowers. Amorphophallus, etc.

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I was given this plant by the owner of a small nursery who didn’t know its name and didn’t particularly care for it. At all. Something about these plants either attracts or repels, no in between. It was gifted to the nursery from a customer, who described it as “interesting,” then passed on by the nursery owner to me. Weird is usually not my forte. At least I don’t consciously strive to turn my garden into a horticultural Old Curiousity Shop, though I’m willing to admit it may occasionally appear as such. (Every so often I’m startled that a plant I truly love is deemed ugly, for example, by friend or family.)

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But although this pinellia is indeed odd at first glance, it’s also subtly beautiful, and is a strong green presence into fall. A unique, extremely exotic presence. The flowers are insignificant, unless you can find the variety ‘Atropurpurea,’ with maroon spathes. It has proven to be a tough plant in zone 10, but not invasive as some pinellias are known to be. Grown in deep shade at the base of the creeping fig-covered wall, where it gets little supplemental summer irrigation. A lush, interesting character. The trifoliate, heavily cut leaves have a half-an-angelica quality and similar body to them. Definitely one of the eccentrics in the garden, this woodlander from Japan.

Edited to add photo taken 3/12/11:

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Blue Intentions

In small gardens, a few feet of ground mean everything. This is not whining, merely observation. (Gardens, unfortunately, never respond to whining, but only to cold, clear-eyed observation.) I had some blue intentions for spring for the main garden border in back, which were necessarily whittled down to a couple 4-inch pots of the alkanet Anchusa capensis ‘Blue Angel,’ brought home a week ago, a tough plant for this sunny bit of garden that will tolerate dryish conditions. This alkanet will grow to about a foot. I grew one of the larger alkanets a couple summers ago, Anchusa azurea, hoping to get it to reseed. Nothing so far. I love typing that word, alkanet. Thank goodness I have no more children to name, or they could be saddled with the nickname “Alkie.” Great name for a pet, though. Borage is a friendly word too. These anchusas are members of the Boraginaceae.

Like echiums and brunnera, anchusa also goes by the common name bugloss, glossa Greek for “tongue,” as in tongue-shaped leaves, which can’t possibly apply to the heart-shaped leaves of brunnera, but all three do have blue flowers in common. (Bugloss would not be such a good name, for child or pet.)

Here’s the little charmer, Anchusa capensis, unbranched and still a little dumpy.

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Finding a spot for these two alkanets amongst the kniphofias and grasses for summer and amongst the shrubs I love for winter was a squeeze.
But seeing their energizing effect on the spring greens and bright golds of the garden brought about the bitter realization that a couple more splashes of blue would be far superior to this piddly compromise of just two.

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And since there was not a bit of ground left to plant, a bitter compromise it remained until today, when a large clay pot of this Lobelia valida I’ve had for over a year was discovered to be budding up amongst a group of pots and in strong growth after a recent rains. (Such a group of potted plants in reserve is sometimes affectionately referred to as the “pot ghetto.”) I bought my lobelia locally, but Annie’s Annuals sometimes carries it.

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All winter the lobelia looked most unpromising, leaves yellowing, which is why unfamiliar plants now spend some time in the pot ghetto first, to suss out strengths and weaknesses, an invaluable strategy for small gardens. No more taking a chance on losing a whole season by including plants with no intention of joining in the summer festivities or that become exhausted by the briefest of appearances. Gardeners must be skeptics. Catalogues can deceive (sometimes unintentionally).

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So this potted lobelia from South Africa, bursting with newfound vigor, was transported to a position on the brick patio, directly in front of the variegated yucca, to make a threesome of blue, just to the right and in front of the little alkanets growing behind in the garden. This kind of synergy between pots on the patio and the garden behind is constantly exploited, a great ploy for the small garden. The lobelia may be inclined to bloom for only a few weeks, in which case it gets whisked back to the pot ghetto. Seeded into the bricks spilling around the pot and nearly hiding it is some Haloragis erecta that’s often sold as ‘Wellington Bronze,’ a compelling reason on its own to add some blue nearby.

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The eye now satisfyingly ricochets from one, two, three pools of blue, the third one deep in the garden bed.
(Taking a brief moment to recite the gardener’s prayer, most effective when chanted while flinging handfuls of bone meal: Please grow and thrive.)
That three-or-five rule for flowering plants can seem so tyrannical in a small garden, but three does speak to intention. One is definitely the loneliest number.
No reason it has to be three or five of the same plant, though. Sometimes the same color is enough.
Apart from such considerations, I should have noticed sooner that the yucca and this tallish South African lobelia were clearly intended for each other this spring.

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The Occasional Daily Photo

MB Maher’s 4X5 portrait of musician Frank Fairfield (banjo, fiddle, guitar), who has another album coming out this year.

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(Debuting a fluid, non-binding category of miscellaneous images.)

Polygonum aubertii ‘Aureum’

The Silver Lace Vine. Or, as this one is called, the Golden Silver Lace Vine.
The new growth in spring bears colors more often seen with Japanese maples.

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Shrimp-pink stems, lemony-tart leaves. Tangy. (Guess I’m still hung over from Sunday brunch.)
Also goes by Fallopia baldschuanica.

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For a few years this polygonum has grown into a Chinese fringe tree, Chionanthus retusus, all puffy clouds of fluttery white flowers in spring.
The vine was to add its foamy trusses of tiny white flowers for late summer and fall, or such was the plan, but by summer I’ve completely forgotten the vine exists, so completely and stealthily has it infiltrated the tree’s canopy. Vine and blooms are high aloft and out of sight by fall. My neighbor on the other side of the fence, the east side, has the best seat for the show. I see nothing, unable to get a decent vantage point in this tiny garden. Occasionally, in late summer, I’m startled by the sight of it as I drive home from the east. Would you look at those flowers pouring out of that tree! Oh, right, that would be my fringe tree and fleece vine.

So this year I’m inquiring if the vine wouldn’t perhaps mind growing tangled on a trellis at eye level and not beat feet into the upper reaches of the fringe tree.
I’m asking very politely. You don’t want to make a knotweed angry.

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I’m joking, of course. Despite their fearsome reputations, there do exist well-mannered knotweeds. This golden-leaved, sterile form is surprisingly tolerant of the dryish summer conditions under the fringe tree. Morning sun is best so the leaves won’t burn, deciduous, cut back to about 4 feet or so in December or January here in zone 10. The ropey, corkscrew stems have been recruited for holiday wreaths or, as in here, twisted around succulents baskets. Just too cool to discard.

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This vine may be sneaky, delicately wending its way into the recesses of the fringe tree, but rampant it is not. Still, now in its third or fourth year, this scheme to confine it to a 6-foot trellis may be a bit naive. And what self-respecting vine would prefer a dinky garden trellis to embracing its destiny on the limbs of a sturdy tree?

(Edited to add: This vine was consolation for banishing the golden hops vine, Humulus lupulus ‘Aureus,’ capable of unimaginable feats of garden thuggery.)

Tulip Porn

Tulip ‘Brown Sugar’

It would push me over the edge to have to write catalogue descriptions for tulips.
A groundwork of deep apricot etched in grenadine feathering reaching just shy of the margins, emanating from a central upward brush stroke of cerise pink.
Try doing that eight hours a day.

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The Tree Collard

Just another brassica, right?

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Let’s read the label, shall we?

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(Plant label: “Tree Collards. Evergreen. 8-10′ tall. Old American heirloom. Very nutritious, high in protein. Excellent steamed or boiled. Full-part sun, water regularly.”)

No, that was not a typo. That’s 8 to 10 feet, with anecdotal reports of 20-year-old plants reaching heights of 20 feet! (And I’ll take mine braised, thank you very much.)

Brassica oleracea var. acephala, the mighty Tree Collard, a perennial. I ask you, who knew?
I’m envisioning an edible cussonia, although the tree collard may possibly fall short of a cussonia’s good looks. And will need to be staked.

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Image of Cussonia paniculata from Tower Hill Botanic Garden

And if you’re savvy enough to be asking yourself, “What’s the difference between Tree Collards and Walking Stick Kale?” Michael DiBenedetto elucidated this distinction in a 5/2/09 Gardenweb post. The whole thread can be found here.

Continue reading The Tree Collard

Agave ‘Cornelius’

When I got home last night, Luc Besson’s The Fifth Element was streaming from Netflix. (Sidebar: TV is amazingly complicated these days.)

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First thing this morning, I was of course snapping photos of the Agave ‘Cornelius.’
Or “Corneeleyoos,” as Mila Jovovich croons the name throughout the movie, swaddled in ribbons of cloth designed by Jean-Paul Gaultier.

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I once got into a heated discussion with a video rental clerk (another blip in the continuum of extinct employment categories) over the merits of the movie, now a fond memory every time I read heated “discussions,” really one-off opinions, in the online Netflix movie reviews. The clerk thought it the best thing since Citizen Kane, and I thought it was gorgeous fun, and so we parted ways with our original opinions intact.

This agave is, no debate, flat-out gorgeous. And that’s despite its other moniker of the Quasimoto Agave. Reputed to be a cultivar of Agave americana, now in tissue propagation and more generally available. Mine was bought by a friend at a sale from the Ruth Bancroft Garden. There’s some slight damage from my garden snails to lower leaves, as can be seen lower right, but it’s pushing out pristine new leaves.

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The little poppy, P. setigerum, has sown itself in the crevices around the porch, just showing buds, nestling up against the agave’s pot.
The back porch has been one of the sunniest spots all winter, and little Corneeleyoos has done wonderfully here.

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