Thursday, May 31, 2007

The Shadowy Runway

Two close up views of the thanatogenous runway for unsuspecting pollinators. I'd hope that you'll agree that the suggestive potential (huh, there's a suggestion here?) of this flower seems virtually unlimited. We can't wait to do more macro exploring of the plant in the following days, since this bloom should be around for at least a couple of weeks .... we'll keep tracking his progress!

Photos courtesy of Fernymoss, taken May 30, 2007

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Mystery Plant Exposes Himself!

It happened one night ... sometime last night, to be precise ... but it happened! The long wait (since planting in fall 2005) is now over and the obscenely spectacular Dragon Arum (Dracunculus vulgaris) finally burst into bloom. Imagine going into your dining room early one morning before work and opening the blinds facing on your woodland garden to see this pointing back at you!

Such a bloom is definitely something you don't see every day! And neither is this plant, which is of course what prompted us, connoisseurs of the florally bizarre, to seek out a bulb and try it out in our garden. When we first saw a photo for this arum in a catalogue we were positively enthralled and intrigued by its in your face blatant sexuality and were thrilled to see that it was actually hardy to our zone! And now that we've successfully brought one into bloom, we are going to be ordering several more to plant this fall ... alternately known as Voodoo Lily or Dragon Lily, no matter what you choose to call it, it's one attention catching plant when it blooms!

All flowers, of course, have their intimate sexual sides to them, but it's something most of us rarely pay attention to unless you're as eager as we are to cultivate the odd and unusual (or you're an inner bits fan and flower de-pantser like Olivia). To call this specimen an exhibitionist would be a bit of an understatement. There's no mistaking what's going on with this bloom, and the more you examine it, the more it thrusts its eerie sexuality right in your face, where, I must add, it emits quite a stench. This plant manages simultaneously to embody both eros and thanatos all in one big display held high on a sturdy trunk that is now about 3 1/2 feet tall. Its clearly phallic spadix and lurid colour easily evoke eros, but the thanatos side is a bit more subtle ... that is, until you get up close and you're immediately assailed by the fragrance of what can only be compared to something dead, or at least rotten meat. And with the wonderful logic of so many flowers who have adapted themselves to schemes both ingenious and bizarre, there is a reason for its odoriferous nature. It's pollinated by carrion flies who flock to the flower, attracted by the promise of death and decay, only to be lured into pollinating this very clever flower. If you look closely at the first photo, you'll see several lurking around, eagerly exploring this exotic garden destination.

Fortunately Fernymoss had the day off today, so he was busy (in between rain showers) outside capturing as many angles and details of the flower as he could get. I'll be posting some more views and close ups over the next few days to illustrate just how intriguing this flower can be. I do have to say that from its first emergence as an oddly patterned spike (see previous posts labeled Mystery Plant for details) to its current state, every aspect of this plant has an attractive feature to recommend it to those courageous iconoclasts who would find a space for it in their gardens! I'll be featuring this again periodically to chronicle its progression through its annual cycle, since apparently when it is done blooming it will then put on an equally odd and suggestive seed pod that we hope will provide us with some viable seeds come fall. More to come ....but if you're interested in seeing more photos of Dracunculus vulgaris, go to this entry from

Photos courtesy of Fernymoss, taken May 30, 2007.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Lavender Ladies' Tête à Tête

Unbeknownst to these innocent lavender lovelies, there's a very strange garden member lurking in the background ... quietly preparing his dramatic entrance upon the edge of the Woodland Garden. Could it be our old friend Salad Fingers? No, probably not, (but I couldn't help sneaking that link in one more time) .... It's just our current Mystery Plant getting ready to steal all the attention, which it has already begun to do in the past week or so .... we're guessing it should only be a week or so more before it totally blows away the competition for stares ... and likely wrinkled, offended noses as well.

Though these two Alliums have finished blooming now and are
currently putting on their seed pods, they were quite fetching back on May 13, 2007 when this shot was taken. These are just a couple of (pardon the phrase) garden variety Alliums we planted a couple of years ago when my sister got a deal on them and handed a few off to us to plant. But we'd been wanting to get some alliums going, so it was a fortuitous gift .... and they are very useful plants to have in the garden, especially if any of your plants are susceptible to fungal intections (for example, in wet years, Bee Balm can develop such fungal problems). Apparently, according to sources we've read, over time allium bulbs (which are of the same genus as onions in case you didn't know that particular tidbit) will grow larger and release sulfur into the soil, which is an excellent treatment for and prevention of such infections. They're also somewhat critter repellant and deer and rabbits seem to leave them alone. Besides the attraction of having members of the onion family blooming so reliably and prettily year after year does have its charm when well placed throughout the garden ... tall, single stalks finishing off with a ball composed of hundreds of tiny blooms lavender to purple star shaped flowers, the whole of which forms a nice round globe.

The effect they bring to the garden can, upon occasion, be quite dramatic ... and I'm pretty pleased with how this quick, spontaneous shot turned out, by capturing the rays of the late afternoon sun on a mid-spring day ... That there's a lurker in the background could hardly have been a concern to these two tranquil lavender ladies engaging in their late afternoon colloquy ... and now that they have faded and are completing their cycle by putting on seeds, they certainly are doing a graceful exit from the stage and ceding the interest to their nefarious neighbor ...

3451 ... and Counting ....

An entry from Sunday in The Carpetbagger Report, got me to thinking tonight, after I made that last post, about the symbolism of poppies, especially with regard to the Memorial Day (or Canadian Remembrance Day) holiday. When I was in grade school, I remember that each spring, not long before school let out, we were asked to make small contributions to buy little crepe paper wired stem poppies made by disabled veterans in Veterans' Hospitals across the country. Being the fan of crepe paper that I've always been, I was eager to scrape together my change to buy a few of these to wear as a patriotic symbol of my respect for soldiers past ... and as I got older, we were taught to read Lt. Colonel John McCrae's (a most memorable Canadian) famous elegiacal World War I poem, In Flanders Field. Though it may seem a bit hackneyed and schmaltzy to contemporary sensibilities, it still packs a truly nostalgic and powerful punch as a tribute to those killed in warfare. That's where the symbolism of the little crepe paper poppies came from.

Think about it ... it took the lyrical musings of a Canadian soldier who witnessed war first hand and watched his comrades die violently in battle to immortalize this most brutal (previous) war to US Americans. Where were the poems written by US Americans? To my knowledge, they don't exist, and if anyone can point me to some commemorating such deaths, please correct me in the comments.

Of course, all this got me to thinking about our soldiers now fighting and dying on a daily basis in Iraq. How these young lives are being cut short, crippled and otherwise permanently altered by the conflict in which we currently find ourselves engaged ... all for a handful of metaphorical magic beans bargained for by the dubiously appointed Child Emperor Megalomaniac in Chief currently occupying the seat of power in this, the U S and A. It truly saddens me, not just for the lives lost and the lives no longer to be lived "normally," but for what our country has become. Peddlers of aggression, mass death and lies, a
xenophobic population of paranoid citizens who have been trained, since 2001, to fear those who might be of a different faith and skin colour. Catapulting this propaganda to perpetuate the war has sickened me, and especially when that fabled "28% base" continues to promulgate those well-worn lies.

More than Lt. Colonel McCrae's poem, these contemporary circumstances really sadden me ... Every time I see yet another update on the death toll, and yes, Mr. Bush, it IS a death toll --not a tax you have conveniently renamed and have defamed-- not just another of "The Fallen," I think sadly of those young lives snuffed out in their prime, never to reach their full potential. Yes, not all of our soldiers are as worthy as others to be held in such high esteem, but no matter who they are, they have been sent into battle (and for whatever underlying personal reasons they may have had) for the most spurious of reasons. All the proponents of the neo-con PNAC project have had their way, and we now see just what poisonous fruits their pipe dreams have begotten us.

I clearly have been, and remain, a vehement opponent of this trumped up war. But as I was inculcated as a child to admire and respect unquestioningly past soldiers lost in wars, I do recognize the work they do (and yes, it IS work, no matter how we choose to define it), is undertaken at the command of a government that they serve without question. That's where this nation has gone so egregiously wrong. Those who respect our soldiers, yet question the mission they have been given, are characterized as "traitors" and "white flag wavers," and no matter how much John McCain may protest otherwise, they have been sent on a lethal fool's errand. For no other reason if at all, they have been most grievously abused and misled. Like much of our nation, they thought they were answering a call to preserve our freedom and ended up in a confusing conflict that the powers currently in charge would prefer to continue indefinitely ... to serve selfish ends, to enrich those who hold themselves at a comfortable and safe distance from it all, much preferring to let others do battle for their own self-serving, venal interests.

This unjust and illegal war must end. Sooner, rather than later, if we are to preserve a generation of young men and women. The scars of those who return will haunt us if we do not acknowledge the colossal mistake that has been made by a gang of ideologues and thugs who have steamrolled the US public for the past five years. And for those who have perished in the folly that is this war so far, I can only offer condolences to their families ... I can't say thankful that they have served this particular purpose, but I can offer them my gratitude for having bravely fought for a cause they undoubtedly thought was just ... even if they were sorely misled by their leaders.

I support the troops --if for no other reason-- because they have been misled. Not all are pure, that is sure, but at some deeper level, they did believe that what they were doing was right. It's a lot easier to forgive some missteps from those who are commanded, than those who would put them in such a dangerous situation under what have now been proven to be fictional circumstances.

This poppy is for you. Hold it near and remember where we have been. Let us vow to end this war and prevent such future escapades, for the benefit of not only this fine nation of people, but for the world at large.

To conclude with Lt. Colonel McCrae's words ....

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow In Flanders fields.

It's time folks ... ITMFA, indeed! It's only the just thing to do ...

Memorial Day Peonies

I'm sure that just about everyone is familiar with Peonies ... those rather short blooming, nearly immortal perennials that have been fragrant, colourful favorites of gardeners for untold generations. Early in my childhood, I quickly came to love peonies and have wanted them in my garden ever since. So when I was offered some roots from a work friend back about eight years ago, there was no hesitation as what to answer to that question!

Though there are a multitude of varieties of peonies --and about as many colour variations-- they derive from the single genus of Paeonia, and all appear to share that one common thread linking them all: their necessary symbiotic relationship with ants. That was the first thing I learned about them as a child, when discovering that every spring they would be just covered in ants, busily working away at the waxy outer layers protecting the flowers, only to help them burst forth right about Memorial Day each May. I learned a very valuable lesson in respect for our insect friends at that early age, and it's one that I continue in my adulthood. Insects can be friends or enemies of your garden ... you just need to learn about who your friends are and make whatever allowances are necessary to let them peform their instinctive duties so certain plants can complete their cycles. And anyone who knows us is well aware, we hold bees (especially our colony of bumblebees) in the highest regard in our garden and everyone lives in peaceful harmony amongst the flowers.

I've always loved this late spring time profusion of peonies, with their heady fragrance that bears no resemblance to other flowers I know. And since they so often end up falling down (due to heavy flowers succumbing to their own weight during spring rains this time of year), there should really be no guilt in taking advantage of cutting them for inside display and luscious enjoyment. And since we had some pretty steady rains on Saturday, that's just what we did yesterday ... and now the entire downstairs of the house is heavily perfumed with their delectable scent. It's a special time of the year that doesn't last long, so it's worth pausing to really take in their beauty, both visual and olfactory, if only to remind oneself how fleeting they truly are, and how the wait for them is oh so worth it!

As I alluded in my previous post a week ago, they're as close to an immortal plant as the herbaceous ones come, and they have an extremely long history of cultivation, thanks to the Chinese and Japanese, who have come up with some amazing cultivars over the centuries. One we hope to add to the garden in the coming years is the Japanese Tree Peony, which is a true tree form which generally grows to about five or six feet tall when mature and blooms in an astounding arrary of colours, yet still assuming the familiar peony form, just on a sturdier basis.

I'm no expert on them, that's for sure, but we do seem to have made them feel welcome in the garden and they reward us commensurately each year. I think lots of gardeners remember exactly where theirs first came from ... usually a fellow gardener, friend or family member who has decided to divide theirs and share the roots with others, who can then establish them to continue the cycle at some future point. Ours have been here since about 1999 and are progressing nicely into mature bushes at this point in time. Though we have no plans in the near future to divide them, we hope to have to do that sometime ... and given that peonies aren't the cheapest of perennials to plant, those who come from other gardeners are most welcome gifts for those who appreciate them! And they are truly a gift that keeps giving, often well beyond the lifetime of those who have grown them ....

I don't know anyone who truly dislikes peonies, though the more allergy prone may have a certain aversion to them (which would be a crying shame!) and if I were to encounter that rare peony hater, I would immediately be wary of that person ... because anyone who could disdain these magnificent once yearly blooms must (by my thinking, at least) have something wrong with them!

These photos were taken on May 25 and 26, 2007. And there are more opening daily, their bloom period is never going to be long enough to satisfy us ... so we're savoring them as long as they last for us!

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Lush Woodland View

Continuing with our recent highlights of the Woodland Garden, I thought I'd put this wider shot up just to illustrate how lush and filled in it has become in the past two weeks. There's an amazing amount of growing going on here, and a discerning eye should be able to pick out at least six kinds of plants all sharing this same space. And that's not even counting the ivy which serves as a groundcover as well as climbing up the side of the house.

Though we're expanding and filling in more of the overall Woodland Garden, we don't plan on adding anything more to this particular area (which was the beginning of the whole space) because we're really happy with how everything has come together and formed a distinct garden area. We will be adding more to the right of this area (in the part where the Mystery Plant is), including a few new toad lilies, a Jack in the Pulpit, some Irish and Scottish moss and a few other shade lovers. We've already got several Hellebores planted over there and got a new one to include for this year's addition. We've got a lot of planting to happen soon around here, so we're going to be really busy getting the last of the clean up done, areas weeded, seeds planted and new plants installed.

Oh, and our lawnmower died on us, so time to go get a new one this weekend! So many garden tasks, so little time ....

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Painted Lady of the Afternoon

Fernymoss was out working a bit and taking pics in the Woodland Garden on Friday and happened to catch this little beauty taking a break on one of the rocks in the front boulder bed. Though I can't remember the proper name for this species, the common name is Painted Lady, and we see quite a few of them around over the course of the spring and summer. They have fantastic markings on them, especially if you can catch them with their wings spred. Unfortunately this one took off before he could get such a shot, but this one is remarkable for the depth of focus and incredible detail you can see, right up the stripes on the antennae. Make sure you click the larger version. (Right click, open in new tab ... for Firefox users ... and if you haven't made the switch to Firefox yet, get yourself to and get started! Nothing has so positively changed my internet browsing as moving over to Firefox, and it's a relief to finally be rid of MSIE! That was an uncompensated testimonial there, by the way!)

It's great to have the butterflies becoming more numerous of late, and I hope that's a good augur of things to come this summer in our garden. As more and more plants come into bloom, we should be able to bring more examples to Urban Oasis ... so keep stopping by. Summer has yet to arrive and Spring still has some surprises in store for the garden!

Mystery Plant Update, May 26, 2007

Things are definitely starting to happen out there with this guy ... after more rain off and on today, and the rains from the other night, our mystery subject is really starting to get serious about blooming. As you can see in the first photo, the maroony-reddish stripe is enlarging and taking on more colour ... my theory is that this will be roughly the colour of the interior base of the petals.

The insects seem to be getting more interested as well, considering we saw both flies and a wasp circling around late today. I thought I caught a wee waft of something rather foul smelling, but Fernymoss can't detect it ... just an olfactory expression of impatience perhaps? In any case, here's the update for today ... I'll keep these coming as long as something significant happens until it's open even more.

Lots more is going on in the Woodland Garden right now, and there will be much more appearing here in the next few days (including luscious peonies!) so stop by again soon ....

Camassia -- Indian Hyacinth

aCamassia, also known as Quamash or "Indian Hyacinth," is a relatively recent addition to the woodland garden. We discovered this lovely native wildflower a few years ago in a bulb catalogue and just had to try some to see how they'd do in our garden.

This particular one was part of a mix we got from a bulb supplier, which explains the pink flowering variety.
We planted these in fall 2005 and despite the April freeze, they have managed to return and have just come into bloom in the past few days. We also got some of the more common Quamash species in the mix, which has a deep blue-violet flower, but is virtually identical in other respects. But they have yet to show themselves and may not this year. It all remains to be seen, but if the blue ones do bloom, they'll definitely make an appearance here.

Camassia are reputed to be good naturalizers, so we're hoping to see them increase more in the next few years, and we'd be delighted to see them assume near weed status amongst the daffodils and tulips where they are planted. They generally bloom mid to late May (a bit late this year, for obvious reasons) and don't last long ... generally a week or less, and then they are gone for the season, even though their airy grass like leaves do stick around for a bit when they are done blooming.

One of my projects this year is to create an ornamental grass bed with several kinds of grasses and wildflowers, and I hope to get some more of the Quamash blue ones this fall to work in amongst the grasses in a small mass planting. After having dispersed these first ones around the woodland garden, we kind of regret that we didn't just do a couple of mass plantings, because the plant is so slight it looks rather lonely coming up all by itself. Personally I think they'd look just smashing in with fountain grasses, Indian Blanket Flowers (Gaillardia) and blue fescues, adding to what I hope will emulate a prairie planting of native plants. (Ok, so blue fescue isn't native here, but it ought to be!) This planting is only in the planning stages now, but I've been checking out potential plants to include when we've gone plant shopping and should have it finalized soon!

Photos courtesy of Fernymoss

Friday, May 25, 2007

Mystery Plant Update, May 25, 2007

Well folks, it's been a few days since I've provided an update on this plant, and after a good soaking rain the other night, the bud has definitely grown more, plumped up and given sure signs that it is preparing its spectacular show! Fernymoss had the day off today and wanted to try getting some shots in different light than we usually get (morning versus late afternoon) and he did a dandy job of capturing some more interesting details ... the most exciting of which is that flies are now coming around to explore. Now, most people would probably not want flies flocking to their flowers, but for this particular one, they are apparently an essential companion to assure pollination. Though we can't detect any odors coming from it yet, the flies seem to know what they're after and appear to be eager to do their part once the bloom finally opens.

this point, the bud is now over a foot long and has become more "lewd" looking every day (thanks to Olivia for that adjective!). The "stripe" along the edge of the bud is taking on more colour each day, hinting at what it will be revealing in the coming days .... Stay tuned here for more, and when it unfurls fully, you'll be in for a fascinating view of a flower not commonly seen in city gardens ... nor smelled, if all of our resources are correct. It's already causing passersby to stop and wonder what it is ... and we can't wait to hear the What's that smell?! comments it will most likely elicit when it is in full bloom ...!

Photos courtesy of Fernymoss

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Mystery Plant Update, May 22

This is going to have to be a quick one tonight, with just the most recent down and dirty shots of our friend starting to unfurl its bloom ... this is definitely a bit of change since the last picture I posted, though we're still wondering just how long the process is going to take before it's fully opened.

Notes on the photos:
The first one is a close up detail of the edge of the bud, where you can see the outer layer just starting to peel back ever so slightly ... From looking at photos of the fully open bloom on other sites, I've realized that this will be part of the base when all is said and done. So, unless it starts speeding up soon, this may still take a while.

The second shot is a detail of the base of the flower being hidden by the outer layers ... I've noticed a slight bit of swelling of this part the past couple of days, which makes sense, as this will eventually become the seed pod when it has progressed through more of the bloom cycle.

I really like the degree of texture in this one ... not only can you see the mottled "trunk" of the plant, but you can clearly make out the pale "stripes" at the base of the bud. Without knowing what this plant is, I would really be baffled as to what it could be. But even knowing what's still to come, I have to admit that this is the item in the garden this year that we're anticipating most eagerly, and we're scrutinizing each step of the way!

And finally we have a full view of the entire plant to add some contextual perspective to all these shots ... if you've been following the previous posts, I'm sure you'll notice that the bud itself has begun to lose its totally vertical position and is dropping down slightly, which again makes sense when you know what you're looking for, so again, we're sure it will be coming soon, but how soon is anyone's guess! So, stop by again ... I'll update more frequently as we notice significant changes taking place. We're supposed to be in for a rainy spell the next few days, so I'm wondering if the rain will help to speed things along a bit ... we'll see soon enough!

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Woodland Beauties III -- More Fernscapes

Planting a Woodland Garden was one of our first intentions when we started reclaiming the soil from the grass on our property.

We started tentatively, before we bought the house, but since then we have been working consistently on enlarging the area on the north --which coincidentally faces Woodland Avenue-- adding a few more plants each year. Though we didn't follow any defined plan (such as this one), but rather, let our inclinations run wild to reproduce a slice of woodland landscape with what native (and non) plants would fit the growing conditions we have at our disposition.

Ferns, of course, were a necessity, along with the various specimens of Dicentra (Bleeding Heart), Solomon's Seal (Polygonatum), Coral Bells (Heuchera sp.), Ragwort (Ligularia sp.), and of course Maidenhair Ferns, which have figured prominently here of late.

This is also the area where we have three Hollies (Ilex sp.) planted nearby, and though they were slow to get started, they have now reached a good size, despite one of them having lost an entire branch during one of the late winter ice storms we had in late February and early March. Those were the original plantings we started with, and since our expansion of the area in 2004, we've added a lot more plants, such as Hellebores, several Tricyrtis (Toad lily), more ferns and most recently, Trillium (planted in 2006). The whole area is bordered on the sidewalk with Daffodils, Tulips, Indian Hyacinth, Alliums and Alpine Blue Columbines. It's also the home of the currently featured Mystery Plant, which is on its way to blooming soon, but just taking its time since I posted a picture of it last week.

We've already purchased several new specimens to add to this area this year, though we haven't gotten them into the ground just yet, but they will be within the next week or so ... we got a new species of Ligularia, commonly referred to as "The Rocket," another Toad Lily, Lungwort, and if we're very lucky (the supplier has ordered five more of them for us), several more Trillium, a species I have yet to post here, but will be doing so in the near future. I expect there will be a few more ferns to call this area home this year, as well as some other new additions. We're already so taken with "The Rocket" that we want to get another one to work into the general area ....

A few notes on the photos ... the top shot is of course Maidenhair Ferns and primarily Bleeding Hearts in the area behind the two female Hollies.

The second is pretty much more of the same,
though if you look carefully to the right, you'll see the red-leafed Ligularia in the background.

And finally, the third shot has a lot going on in it ... Maidenhairs, Ligularia, Polygonatum, Heuchera, and of course, just a bit of one of the female hollies. The center area (original planting) is, at this point, pretty much filled in and maturing nicely. What remains is to fill in the adjoining areas ... a work in progress, but one progressing quite nicely we think!

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Scilla Hispanica

Scilla Hispanica seems to be one of those plants who has a somewhat confused nomenclature, through no fault of its own. Even the common name varies depending on who you read ... it's sometimes called Wood Hyacinth (what it was called when I bought ours), Spanish Bluebells and sometimes it's even confused with English Bluebells (to which it appears related, but it's not the same species).

The main source of confusion appears to be whether it belongs to the Hyacinthoides or Scilla
genus, though I think of it as more aligned with the Scilla (of which there are quite a few species) even though its flowers are a far cry from one of our other favorites, the very early blooming Siberian Squill. In any case, Scilla hispanica is a great addition to bulb plantings ... it blooms long after the Siberian squill has left the scene, usually coming into bloom after the tulips have finished as well. It's bigger than other Squills, usually reaching about 8-10 inches once the flowers appear. Ours was quite proliferous until this past week, when they pretty much wound down for the year, but at least it wasn't up yet when the big deep freeze happened so it wasn't as damaged as it could have been, though I don't think the flowers were quite as numerous this year as they were last. It's easy to see why they're often referred to as Bluebells due to their nodding bell-shaped flowers, but to my mind the real bluebells are the Virginia Bluebells, perhaps my favorite flower of childhood.

In any case, no matter what you call them, they're an easy, beautiful bulb to grow in your garden ... once the initial digging and planting is done, there's not much else you have to do but be patient for their time to arrive in the garden, which they do faithfully year after year.

This photo was taken last week (courtesy of Fernymoss) and was about the last of the clumps (we have 100 planted in various spots around the garden) to bloom this year. You can see our ever growing bed of Lysimachia (yellow variety with burgundy leaves) in the background.

Prepping the Big Peony Unveiling

A lot of people really complain about having ants in their gardens ... and they really shouldn't, because as anyone who's ever had Peonies knows, you'll never see a bloom if you banish the ants from the vicinity. And since the species of ant that flocks to Peonies (what I call carpenter ants) isn't the kind to invade your house and raid your food, I see no reason to discourage them from doing what comes naturally to them ... nibbling away at the protective layers of the bud above the Peony flowers, thus allowing them to burst forth into bloom and perfume the environs with their unique and delightful fragrance.

Traditionally in our area, people expect Peonies to really come into full bloom around Memorial Day weekend, and it looks as if ours will be right on schedule this year, despite the April cold spell. I've already seen a few open in the neighborhood and it's just a matter of days before ours start their annual performance.

Though I'm not the most knowledgeable person with regard to Peonies, I do know that they figure prominently in Chinese symbolism and flower culture (see the Wikipedia link above), and that in the realm of the perennials, they are the closest flower to anything that one could consider an immortal. I can remember seeing some stands of Peonies (when I was younger) who were growing in odd spots in vacant lots, until I realized that a house had once stood there. The house may have since disappeared, but the Peonies prevailed over time ... and I like the thought of a flower much more tenacious than the works of humans. It gives me hope that even if human kind's plans don't last in the long run, there are beautiful plants who are willing to stake their claim on a space and continue to flourish, long after human traces have disappeared. I see no better reason than that alone to justify dedicating ample space to these magnificent flowers!

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Captivating Columbines

In case you may have wondered what last night's Purple Enigma post was all about, by now it should be quite obvious where that one came from!

These are more examples of the Columbine (Aquilegia sp.) we have blooming right now. The first shot is, of course, the Alpine Blue (
Urban Oasis: Alpine Blue Columbine) that I posted last week ... it's really been putting out the blooms since then, and has even started to form its seed pods (visible in the upper right of the photo). We've got several varieties growing in different areas of the front garden and the woodland area, and even with their early appearance and subsequent die back during this year's unexpected cold spell, they've recovered admirably and are blooming profusely now (though the Alpines were the first to do so) and should be for a few more weeks.

Columbines are one of our favorites, but haven't always considered us their favorites ... we've had varied degrees of success with them over the years, and have finally decided that though they are considered perennial, they are really just a short-lived one and we can't count on them to return consistently in certain parts of the garden. From some research I've done on them, our hunch appears to be correct, and that the trick to always having Columbine return is to let the seeds fall near the parent plant, where they can become established plants that will return, even if the original one happens to die off after a few years. I also think that when we originally tried Columbine, we pampered them too much, planted them in too rich a soil where they didn't really want to thrive. Since then, we've been planting them in less fertile areas and have had much more success. I've just about concluded that they're one of those plants who just doesn't want the best soil, and actually prefers growing in less than optimal soil than other plants. No matter what, we've had much greater success with them the past few years, so we're just going to continue to let them stake out their territory where they are doing well.

The three shots shown here are from May 17, 2007 and illustrate three of the different varieties we have planted ... the first is, of course Aquilegia alpina, the second is a purple variety (species unknown) I got and planted last year, along with the third, the fiery crimson red of Aquilegia canadensis, which is one of my very favorite colours of Columbine.

You can also find them in other colours ranging from yellow (the closest to the wild version) to bi-color hybrids, to white, pink and other combinations. There's a whole sub-species of Columbine commonly referred to as the "Barlow" Columbine, which is a double blooming hybrid. We're not really fans of those because they just don't reflect the complex, yet elegant architecture of the single blooming species, and they're much less hardy than the basic Aquilegia species. The first Columbines we tried years ago were the "Black Barlow" (basically a very deep purple double bloom) and they were a major disappointment. They bloomed sporadically the first year, returned feebly the second, then disappeared completely from the garden. Since then, when we see "Barlows" in the garden centers, we just pass them by without thinking and aim for more reliable species such as the Alpine Blue and the Canadensis ... Oh Canada, it figures you'd have given us one of the best, most reliable species of Columbine!

Since our basic gardening philosophy could be described as Savage Cottage Style, we tend to avoid double-blooming hybrids of basic flowers and prefer to stay as purist as possible to the original species (though we do select snobbily among available colours!). What we've found (as I've alluded to previously) is that the closer you try to stay to the original species, the better results you can get and you end up with fewer plants either reverting to a less desirable form, or just plain fading away (e.g. fancy tulips and daffodils). In any case, every garden worth its salt should have some representative examples of Columbine somewhere ... so they can grace their stand with mid-to-late spring punches of colour, no matter which one you might choose to select!

Mystery Plant Update, May 19

Here's the Mystery Plant update for the day, and I'm going to have to report not much change since yesterday, except that it appears that the bud is apparently just starting to unfold oh so slightly. Nothing dramatic is evident yet, but maybe tomorrow there will be more definitive signs that the show is on the way ... SO, in lieu of taking yet another shot of basically the same view as yesterday, I decided to put up one of the purple Columbine currently blooming in the front boulder bed. This shot was taken using the flash, so it does manage to give a better sense of detail, yet compromises (just a bit) the depth of purple evident in this bloom (see the following post for more representative examples of this plant).

In any case, the bloom watch continues for the Mystery Plant and when things really start to take off, you'll see it first here (where else would you see it, if you don't have this in your own garden?). Yes, we're impatient to see it bloom, but it's going to have to take its time to achieve its aim, so we'll just have to give it the time to prepare itself for the eventual display ....

Purple Enigma

Here's another mystery shot for tonight, but for most gardeners, this should be a pretty easy one. It's actually a detail of a bud in a photo I took that I wasn't really very happy with, so I just cropped the part that I thought turned out well and liked the result very much. This is actually a pretty common flower that you'll find it in a lot of gardens around here. I'll be posting more of this variety soon, but I thought I'd post at least a "teaser" of things to come.

Tell me what images come to mind when you look at this up close ... to me it looks like some kind of sea creature reaching out with its tentacles to grab something ... while for Fernymoss it resembles four exotic birds grouped together having a very purple tête à tête. I'm sure it conjures up other things for other people, so if you feel like saying what it evokes for you, leave your thoughts in the comments!

Friday, May 18, 2007

Mystery Plant Update, May 18

As promised in my last post, here's an update on our Mystery Plant for today. I took these photos after work this afternoon, and honestly, I can't really see that anything dramatic happened overnight. I thought I'd just try to get a good close up of the actual bud, to give you a better idea of what it looks like now in order to contrast it with what it develops into later. There's no real color developing in it yet, but I expect that it will change soon as it gets ready to unfurl into bloom. I'm not quite sure exactly what to expect at this point, but we'll find out!

Though these shots may not reveal anything startling yet, you can get a pretty good view of some of the woodland garden in the background, where you can see the holly bushes, some ferns, Coral Bells and other plants ... those little splashes of blue are the Alpine Blue Columbines who are still happily blooming away. You can also see a lot of daffodil foliage still hanging in there after their frustrated attempt to bloom this year. I'm going to leave it for now so it can help recharge them for next year's show, which I hope will happen ... unlike this year's fiasco. There's also a fair amount of weeding and clean up that still needs to be done in this area, and I hope that soon, with another update, things will be looking a bit less savage than it does right now ....

Something's Coming ...!

Here it is ... at long last ... the anxiously awaited appearance of the bud on the previously posted Mystery Plant! I'm going to hold off on identifying it until it opens completely, but for those of you who may have been following the development of this plant, I've dropped more than a few hints that should help if you just can't wait to find out.

Something's coming soon, as you can see arising in the center of the leaves at the top of the central stalk. It's going to be one of the oddest flowers you'll see here, and we've been waiting patiently for over a year now to see it finally appear ...

It's a bulb we planted in the fall of 2005, and though it did come up and put out a good number of leaves last spring, we were disappointed to see it didn't bloom its first year. But this year, it came roaring back (it was fortunate enough to wait until after the cold spell to emerge) and has been growing phenomenally fast since late April.

And now the moment of anticipation is upon us ... we know it's going to bloom and it's a waiting game from here on out, but given this bud hadn't even emerged two days ago and now it's here and huge, we don't think it's going to take much longer! So, I plan on trying to post a daily update from here on out, so I can chronicle its dramatic entrance on the stage here in the garden. I hope you'll follow its progress with us from now until then ...

I know the title of this post is a bit obscure, and if you click the link above, you'll find the Wikipedia entry on its origin. If you'd like to listen to a clip of the song that inspired the title, just click on the following link, which is the title of the song ... Devotion?

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Heritage Yellow Iris

Well, the Iris have finally started to bloom here at Casa IVG and they're a welcome sight to behold, even if they're a bit late this year. These yellow iris were here when we first moved in, and we consider it one of the garden's best heritage flowers ... one of the few plants we actually decided to keep when we got serious about transforming the garden into our Urban Oasis. Granted, there wasn't a lot to begin with and most of what was there we either gave away or just plain got rid of ... things like tasteless invasive oregano (the Italian variety no one should plant), Lambs Ear and dead nettle ... stuff we just didn't like that had taken over a lot of what little space was available for planting. We kept the Meadow Sage (Salvia nemerosa) and the small clump of Red Bee Balm (Monarda) and the Iris and we still have them to this day.

These yellow iris are actually native to Iowa, and we've seen them growing happily and profusely in countryside ditches, along with an occasional purple one mixed in with them. As Irises go, these are nothing really fancy, but we really appreciate their presence in the garden ... the stand has had its ups and downs over the years and we've had to divide them a few times to get them to grow more vigorously and the past two years they seem to be more on the up side, which is just fine by us!

Primula Polyanthus: Spring Jewels

Again, I'm a bit late in posting these, especially as they're taking a break from blooming right now, but better late than never I hope!

I deadheaded them last weekend, and since the plants still look very perky and willing to bloom, I hope to be able to catch a second blush of flowers sometime soon. When that happens, you'll hear about it here ...

These are probably familiar to most of you, given they've become almost ubiquitous potted flowers who appear in early January in floral departments. Often they take up residence briefly in office spaces, only to languish slowly as they bloom, then perish with the typical neglect most office plants are doomed to endure. Let's face it, Primula polyanthus, or the common Primrose, just really aren't cut out to be long-term indoor flowers. Most years I try to buy a couple and keep them alive in the house until it's safe to plant them outdoors, but that particular experiment has only yielded limited success in the garden. We've had some who came back for a couple of years and then vanished. The varieties commonly sold appear unable to tolerate our hot summers and quickly disappear when the real heat sets in.
There are, however, truly hardy varieties to be had for our gardening zone, and last year I finally invested in buying some of them. I'm happy to report that despite the bone chilling spell in April (during which these had already emerged and were beginning to bud out), they have persevered and put on a dandy showing for their first year in their new homes. They did suffer quite a bit for a week or two, then greened right back up and proceeded to pick up where they had left off in their bloom cycle. I've been really grateful they made it, and I look forward to more years of early spring color to come from this grouping.

Primroses generally want a nice loamy soil, kept evenly moist, and appreciate a partly shaded exposure to do well, and if it's an area prone to drying out in the hotter months of the summer, it's wise to give them regular waterings while the foliage is still growing. I put these in relatively late last year (late May) but was careful to make sure they never dried out too much and they stayed green well after frost. If they're happy (as these appear to be!) they'll be up pretty early in the spring, along with the crocuses and galanthus and will start blooming in late March or early April. They do best during the cooler parts of the spring, but depending on where they are growing, they can sometimes bloom well into late May or even June.

Primroses are most probably prized for their colorful early flowers, though I particularly love them for the almost rose-like fragrance some varieties offer ... most notably the yellow cultivars. But whether or not they are pleasing to the nose, they are always --no matter the variation-- likely to please the eye, especially when not much else is blooming in the flower garden. Depending on the year and the weather, bloom time may last more than a month, and in less gentle years they may only appear briefly to grace their spot with a welcome burst of color. They make great companions to other early spring cool season flowers such as pansies and violas, who complement their hue of colors magnificently. But even as a grouping --or even better, a mass planting if you can afford it!-- can bring a lot of beauty to wherever they are well established. They ask only for some diligent care during drier times so that they don't get too dessicated and die back prematurely. As I learn their ways more intimately I'll pass along what I've found ... since I'm still a bit of a novice at growing them ... for me, the fact they return and reward me with their blooms is reason enough to keep at it ....

These pictures were taken on or about April 29, 2007, and appear to promise more to come now that the initial phase of blooming has ended. When I can get some better photos, they'll be likely to make a return appearance here. But even if they don't, I'm more than happy that they have made a spectacular showing this spring, given all the challenges they have faced weather wise!

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Oh, Hellebores!

Hellebores (Helleborus) are a genus I knew nothing about until several years ago. Back when I was an avid Martha Stewart Living viewer, I saw Martha singing their praises on a gardening episode, and I thought, wow, these look really cool and we should try some in our woodland garden.

We planted our first hellebore (one of the Royal Heritage series) in the fall of 2005, and last year we got a good price on some mail order specimens and planted four more, one of which is the one featured in these photos. And, on a brief plant shopping expedition last Sunday (during which we got some really cool new stuff you'll be seeing soon) we found another nice specimen at the reasonable price of $8.99. If that sounds pricey to you, let me just add that finding good specimens can be an expensive proposition, especially if you venture beyond the mixes and go for specific species ... I've seen some priced at over $20 each for some of the more exotic ones, so any time we see a nice one under $10, we tend to snap it up.

Hellebores are, once established, really tough plants and often can remain green all through the winter. They're often called "Lenten Rose" because apparently (though not here yet) they will bloom in late February -- early March even if winter still has its grip on the garden. Given that we still don't get a lot of blooms from them, it does seem that they take their time to get settled into their shady spots and get ready to put on a real show. So it was a pleasant surprise a week or so ago when I was out looking at things in the garden when I discovered this unobtrusive bloom almost hiding near the holly where it's planted. I'm not sure about the color of this one and what to really call it ... most hellebores have rather odd shades of pinks, lavenders, purples and dusky reds, and given what little I know about the "Royal Heritage" mixes, we're not sure what we'll get, though I'm really hoping for some purple myself. Time will tell, and many times with mixes of plants, the anticipation of finding out its true color is half of the fun growing them. In our experience so far, they are pretty easy to grow ... they like a mostly shady spot where a bit of sun is tolerated, and appreciate the loamy, moist and well-drained area where we have them planted. In any case, they make a really woodsy addition to the shade garden and also boast deer and critter repellent properties.

I ran into a reference the other night (see above link) with the myth and folklore of Hellebores, in which I learned that they have been reputed to have magical properties ... among which a certain witches' application of using them to summon demons! We don't plan on any of that around here, but it's often fun to research certain plants to see what people in the past have thought about them ... you can learn some really surprising things that way!

The first photo shows the bloom in its usual nodding position (which tends to remind me of antique lampshades) ... the second (courtesy of Fernymoss) is a fortuitous from below P&S shot that actually turned out quite well. We knew Olivia would be demanding inner bits so we tried to head her off at the bloom, so to speak. We were both delighted that one turned out so well! Tell me what you think ...

Fritillaria michailovskyi

I'm a bit late getting this post up, as these little ones have already done their thing and moved on for the season ... if you're a regular reader you'll recall I was lamenting the non-appearance of our larger Crown Imperial Frtilliarias back in April. But our dwindling, if faithful, colony of Fritillaria michailovskyi (for some scant growing information go here) did manage to put on a nice little show this year.

These examples have been where they are for at least six or so years, and haven't naturalized to the extent we would have liked, but they're going to be moved over the course of the summer into a newly constructed bulb bed, where we hope they will be happier.

These fritillarias are pretty cold hardy, and people seem to plant them a lot in rock garden type spaces, though we prefer to just let them have their spot toward the front of the bed, where though not the splashiest of flowers, they do attract attention!

More diminutive than their larger cousins the Crown Imperials, these fritillarias originally native to Turkey and Iran definitely deserve their place in the serious bulb collector's garden where they make a perfect complement to the Snowdrops (Galanthus) who usually precede them by a couple of weeks. Again this year was an exception and they appeared later, but we were just happy to see them return! If you're interested in a good source for these, and other fritillarias, the following link will take you to a good supplier who has a lot of great species (at reasonable prices too).

Monday, May 14, 2007

Woodland Beauties II -- The Fernscape

We're on a real fern kick around here lately, what with all the greenery shooting out of the ground in the woodland garden. So I thought I'd post a follow up on some of the ones I posted previously in their more emergent forms.

The most predominant species you see in this particular shot is the common woodland Maidenhair Fern (Adiantum pedatum) which is one of our favorites, due to its delicate architecture and unique growing habit. The fronds spread out fan-like, supported by a network of incredibly thin, yet sturdy stems, lifting it about a foot up from the garden floor. As long as they remain well watered throughout the hotter months, they just keep on going right up to frost, when they die back completely and disappear until the following spring. We've had these particular specimens in this location for about four or five years now, and they've really managed to spread out quite a bit in the intervening time. They're a great choice to mix in with other shade lovers, and ours share the space with Bleeding hearts, Ligularia, Holly, Ivy, Leatherwood ferns and a few stray Lupines. Like most ferns, they don't want a lot of direct sun during the course of the day, and do quite well where they are receiving morning and a bit of late afternoon sun. Of course, this part of the woodland garden stays pretty cool and moist most of the time (we do have to water in July and August though), which is pretty much all Maidenhairs require.
For even more information on maidenhair ferns, here's the Wikipedia Entry.

Our second shot is of a Leatherwood fern -- previously seen as an emergent in my previous post. It has since unfurled even more than this photo reveals, but I really liked how the fiddles look all cork-screwy in this shot.

These are tough little guys, especially when they get all splayed out in their ferny glory, and definitely have earned their common name. With their tough fronds and woody stems, it's no wonder they're a stock item in many pricier floral arrangements. But as I said previously, there is no way they ever get cut from our garden ... that's just plain fern heresy! Leatherwoods can take more sun than most of the more delicate members of the family and in milder winters, they have even remained semi-evergreen. Once the ground really freezes though, they drop flat on the ground where they lie all winter until the center of the crown comes back to life in early spring. If you look at the base of the plant, you can still see the stems from last year ... we really don't bother to cut them back and they do just fine. Besides we like to allow them to gradually decompose back into where they came from, and the ground they do keep covered manages to fend off weeds ... always those nagging pests we can't keep up with in the garden!

Family Man commented the other day that he didn't normally think of ferns as particularly pretty plants (which of course shocked me, fern addict that I am), so I hope if I keep working on him a bit, I'll have won him over to the ferny side of the garden ....

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Mystery Plant II

I posted an earlier photo of this plant a while back, inviting guesses as to what it is, but didn't really have any takers on it. So let's give it another whirl and see if it provokes some more interest this time around!

A few more hints ... it's of Mediterranean origin, has a common name that sounds pretty ferocious and is from a genus of bulbs known not only for their odd flowers, but even stranger scents. This specimen is already twice as big as it got all last season and we're pretty sure it's going to reward us with blooms this year ... and of course, you'll get the picture and the whole descriptive write up then.

If you'd like to see one of its more distant and dramatic cousins, check out this link! This entry is from my dear old grad school alma mater, the UW-Madison, where they have a magnificent specimen!

More to come ....

Saturday, May 12, 2007


There are times when you just need to lose yourself in one of nature's wonders, and just shut out the rest of the world from your inner thoughts ... with the greater aim of trying to recapture that sense of awe at the complexity of one of our simpler plant denizens. Ferns ... simple in origin, yet complex in their architecture, allow me to do just that. I took this shot on a whim the other day and was pleased with how it turned out ... and the more I look at it, the more I find aspects at which I must marvel.

So, given the complex stew of thoughts currently bubbling in my mind, I decided to post this shot of some Maidenhair Ferns growing together in the Woodland Garden. There are more to come, with commentary, but for now, I'll just leave you with this luscious one as a teaser.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Bleeding Hearts

A favorite species in generations of gardens from probably the Victorians onward, the apparently delicate Bleeding Heart (Dicentra spectabilis) is an absolute must-have for any serious perennial gardener! And as much as I hate to keep repeating it, this is another flower that suffered greatly during the recent deep freeze period ... in fact we weren't sure that they'd even recover, after going from thriving 1-1/2 foot plants to a mass of what looked like limp spaghetti, they have finally re-emerged, a bit smaller, more stunted, but still determined to bloom. Believe me, when we saw them coming back, there was significant rejoicing around Casa IVG! These specimens were among the very first perennials we planted back in spring 1999, and have a bit of a reputation in the neighborhood for their ability to reach nearly gigantic heights... most years they top out at about 3-1/2 - 4 feet tall! I doubt they'll get that big this year, but just seeing them survive a very harsh period is testament alone to the tenacity of this old-fashioned favorite.

Ours are planted among maidenhair and leatherwood ferns toward the back of our Woodland garden, where they create a lush backdrop for the other shade perennials planted nearer the sidewalk. If you look closely at other photos of this part of the garden, you'll likely see Dicentra lurking among the other flora.

Cultivation is really pretty simple ... just give them a mostly shady position (early morning light is ideal) in moist, well-drained loamy soil, and once established they are practically indestructible. (April 2007 was proof of that!) Ours have created such a thick crown of growth over the past eight years that if we even tried to divide them, we'd probably end up ruining a shovel or destroying their territory. So we leave well enough alone, and if we have a few too many volunteers (which does happen, thanks to self-seeding!) we just move them or give them as a gift to another gardener who will appreciate them. As my sister has learned the hard way, the worst thing you can do to Dicentra is to plant it in a too sunny spot (e.g. full southern exposure) where it is subject to heat and lack of moisture ... though it will take a year or two to kill them that way, they will not bloom long each spring and will disappear at the first hint of June heat. Give them the cool shade they crave, and the foliage and even a few sporadic blooms will last well into the summer. Once they start turning yellow and dying back, you can safely cut them back and let them rest until the following spring, where they will come back to reward you with masses of blooms once again.