Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Gardening Surprises

As currently gentle thunderstorms move through the area, with the promise of more thunder and lightning to come, I thought I'd post a quick piece that has been rattling around in my brain for a while now ... how and why this particular gladiolus came into bloom about a week ago ...

You see, we have this little bed in front that was the original bulb planting we did when we were still renting the house about seven years ago. It's due for a major overhaul this fall, where we intend to build up another boulder bed, dig up all the bulbs and re-plant them along with some new additions. Nothing particularly odd about that plan, and with any luck, we'll actually pull it off this year. In any case, this bed, home to snowdrops, fritillarias, crocus, daffodils and some prize tulips, has pretty much languished in the summer months the past couple of years, as we have devoted more time and attention to other areas in the front boulder plantings. I used to plant nasturtiums there every summer to fill in the area, but have slacked seriously on that as well, and aside from a volunteer hollyhock last year, there hasn't been much there the past two summers.

Well, that's only part of the story. Of the many different plants we've tried in this space in the intervening years, the one that has given us the most frustration and no reward is Crocosmia "Lucifer."
A wonderfully blazing red flower that blooms in the summer ... which we've never seen come to fruition in this bed. We planted one or two bulbs about five or six years ago, and each year we saw the foliage grow, look healthy and happy, only to never see any flowers from it. So basically, we just gave up on it ever doing anything ... until this year, when it arose once again, flourishing and offering great promise for once. Neither of us gave it much mind, given that we've not seen any flowers, but about a week and a half ago I noticed there was a bloom stalk coming up from the base of the plant. Hope was rekindled that we'd finally see Lucifer blaze gloriously at last. Then, as the bloom stalk developed more, we began to wonder ... though Crocosmia's foliage does vaguely resemble that of a gladiolus, we still thought we might finally be rewarded. Then, on about July 16 or so, we had proof. This was no Lucifer, in fact it wasn't even red! It was PINK!!! It was, in fact, a gladiolus. A most lovely one, to be sure, but a gladiolus.

Now, for those not familiar with Iowa winters, this represents a big deal. Gladiolus, as most of us know them, are not hardy here. And further, we have never planted gladiolus in this particular spot in our garden. We used to have some behind the house which we faithfully dug up for a couple of years before we found it to be too much bother and let them die off. But in the front garden, nuh uh, never been there. So... this is the mystery behind this lovely flower that arose to liven up an otherwise left to its own devices bed (overrun with violets!) that would not grace us with Lucifer, but did manage somehow to reward us with an astounding gladiolus.

It's a garden surprise, that's the best I can come up with at this point. One of those flukes of nature that reminds us that despite our best efforts to be masters of the floriferous terrain, we don't always have the last say. And a gentle reminder from nature that She has her own ways can be a most pleasant garden surprise. Oh, and we were delighted to see this surprise ... and I think we'll try Lucifer again sometime next year in a different spot.

And, as a final aside, I should say this was not the "surprise" I originally intended to post tonight, but I hope to do that tomorrow. I just didn't get the pictures taken tonight, given the stormy weather and some FM-inspired slackitude. I think this does pretty well though for providing some nice eye candy.

Note: the other day we came home from work and this was broken over, either by wind or by children, so we cut it off and brought it inside. The last bud opened today. We'll miss this trooper, and wonder if we'll see it again next year ... especially if our grand plan to re-plant the bed doesn't pan out ... so I'll have to keep you posted on that.

NOW ... off to bed to listen to gentle thunder in the distance ....

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

I'm being followed by a Moonflower, Moonflower....

This is going to be a late night, fly by post, so apologies in advance! (And super special apologies to Cat Stevens, aka, Yousef Islam.) Just a few shots of Datura meteloides, aka "Moonflower" or "Angel's Trumpet." One of the most tenacious annuals you might ever plant, with its spiny "thorn apple" seed pods which burst to disperse literally thousands of seeds in the fall if you're not careful about snipping the pods before they ripen, you will never rid your garden of them... which, for most of us who like them, is not such a bad thing.

These plants have a bad rep. Also known as "Jimson Weed," "Stink weed" and "Loco Weed," Daturas are known for poisoning animals (and silly humans) who dare ingest any part of the plants. But, as an annual specimen, they are spectacular! Their flowers open at night, attracting sphinx moths and other night feeders and their fragrance is lovely .... despite their lowly "stinky foliage." Nonetheless, they are vigorous, fast growing plants that can reach heights of about 5-6 feet if in an ideal location, and they bloom constantly for months on end... as long as you can try to keep up with the seed pods! Lest I damn them too much with faint praise, just let me conclude by saying that there are few annuals easier than daturas to grow (well, maybe zinnias, but that's a toss up!) and they never cease to amaze passersby ... so as long as nobody gets any ideas about ingesting them, or if you have pets that might munch on plants, they are well worth planting a few in a sunny spot to make your moonlit evenings in the garden a bit more dramatic....

Monday, July 24, 2006

Inner Bits

As promised, the fabled inner bits of Disco Belle, Kopper King and Deep River hibiscus... These are the really big ones... And just for fun, (1st photo) here's a non-perennial (at least here) Chinese Hibiscus for contrast ... the Brilliantissima variety I have potted on the patio....

Enjoy! More to come as time goes by....

Moscheutos Madness!

I know, it's been ages since I've updated this, and for those patient ones who have gently nudged me back, I offer both my apologies and my gratitude for the patience.

It has not been for lack of material, rather lack of time and honestly, motivation ... But this past week has been so floriferous around here, that I'm compelled to toss out just a few random late night thoughts on our gardening world and how it currently blooms and today's secret word is: MOSCHEUTOS! (Hibiscus moscheutos, that is!)

These fantastically tropical looking flowers, roughly the size of dinner plates, and who last but one brief day, are one of the easiest and most joyful of perennials you can plant. A member of the large Mallow family of plants, Hibiscus moscheutos is often referred to as "Rose Mallow," but for most of us, it's simply the perennial hibiscus, not to be confused with its Chinese cousins with whom you're probably more familiar and see often in garden centers. Not to denigrate them at all, (in fact I have a luscious version called "Brilliantissima" growing on our patio this summer), but quite simply, if you live in Iowa, they're not hardy as they are further south, say in the deep South (here ya go, FM!). One trait they all share, however, is that the flowers last but one day, then drop off and let more come on to carry on the show. And what a show! At this point in July, here in Des Moines, you can see hibiscus popping up all over ... as this once rather rare plant has become quite popular in the last 5 or 10 years. And with the size of the flowers, it's no wonder why ... not to mention the amazing varieties of coloration you can find from variety to variety.

Here's what really commends Hibiscus moscheutos to your sun garden ... aside from pampering them a bit when they are first planted (e.g. regular waterings until they are established), they ask little in return. They will thrive in poor soil, (even with a significant amount of clay in it), they laugh at drought, heat and humidity, and though it's wise to water them more when they are in their bloom phase, they will still perform in the hottest days of July. In fact, Deep River had 10 flowers open today, and the other two varieties pictured here had multiple blooms as well. Once they get going, they will bloom for well over a month, before settling into producing their seed pods Except for the Kopper King variety (a hybrid), you can collect seed from these plants and plant it the following spring, to increase your stock of hibiscus ... if planted early enough (or started indoors) they can even bloom the first year. A few I started from seeds a few years back have even sported into a new variety which I've actually seen for sale in seed and plant catalogues... when it blooms, I'll provide more details on it.

To grow Hibiscus moscheutos successfully doesn't require a lot of work. Let them do their thing, bloom, drop seeds and let them hibernate over winter. In the spring, cut the dead wood back to about 2" from the ground and just be patient. They are one of the last of the perennials to break dormancy here, and sometimes won't show themselves until mid-late May. Never fear, however ... if your Hibiscus did well the previous year and bloomed, it will in all likelihood be back to give a repeat performance! Of course, first time connoisseurs of Moscheutos always fret in the spring that they won't be back ... but then one warmish day, you'll see their sprouts bursting forth, and the cycle begins again.

The three pictured here (photos taken 7-22-23/06) are three of the six different varieties we have planted in our garden. A few notes on each follow ...

The first pictured is a Disco Belle variety, which is the most commonly found in most garden centers. They range generally from a pure white with red center, to ones more like this one, with its delicately pinkish tinged petals, a feature I really appreciate with this particular specimen. Lately it has been putting on about 8-10 blooms per day, and shows no signs of stopping anytime soon. Unlike its taller cousins (like Lord Baltimore, Kopper King and Deep River) it rarely tops more than perhaps 4 feet in height, and has a compact, bushy growing habit that makes it perfect for situations where height and space can be a consideration. Common as the Disco Belle varieties are, they are worthy additions to the perennial border, and will bloom happily for years, spreading slowly over time.

The second one pictured here is called Deep River, which is perhaps close to my all time favorite of the species. With its pure white petals, delicately tinged yellow center and fantastical inner bits, it conjures up images of elevated lily pads or as C remarked the other night, alien spaceship landing pads .... Deep River is one of the tallest of Hibiscus varieties, often reaching 7-8 feet in height, unless toppled by high winds or damaging weather. I usually have to stake this one each year to keep it upright, but it's a very small price to pay for what it delivers when it gets going!

And finally, I present to you the newly baptised Kopper King specimen who had adopted the name of my dear gardening friend Olivia ... who needs to add several of these to her Ottawa garden soon! With its delicate pinkish white petals and dramatic red veining, this is one of the most spectacular of all varieties, and is the result of a patented hybrid developed several years ago. Harder to find than most, it is well worth the price if you can get one, as it offers characteristics dramatically different from its cousins, namely its foliage that reminds one of maple leaves, with their shape and deep green and burgundy tones. Passersby often mistake it for a tree before it blooms, only to return to marvel at its rich hues during its heyday in July ... Its only true drawback (if there can be one) is that as a hybrid, it is sterile and produces no seed. And, last I knew, when these were planted (about 5 years ago) asexual reproduction was expressly prohibited due to its hybrid development (a note found on the stake accompanying it when I bought them). In any case, should you find one, it's worth snapping up and devoting a privileged space for it in the garden ...

Moscheutos Madness has just begun here ... and I will be posting other varieties as they come into bloom... Lord Baltimore in particular, which just started blooming yesterday ... it's a stately, tall (6-7 foot) variety with amazingly deep red flowers and yellow inner bits. There will also be my seed started Disco Belles, who though not as dramatic, do have their charms .... So stop by again, and be patient if I'm negligent about posting frequently, as there are still tons of weeds that need to be gotten in the garden, but I'm taking more pictures just about every day .... There's much more to come from our Victory Garden!

Thanks Family Man and Olivia ... you know why. So, hope you enjoy these as much as I do, and I'll probably next do a post on inner bits! I've got some good shots I'm just itching to put up here ... and soon!