Monday, June 30, 2008

Sky Blue Borage

I can't believe our Borage (Borago officinalis) is blooming already! This faithful, self-seeding herb just comes back better than ever for each successive year we've had it out at the front of the Boulder Bed, and we should really encourage it to take hold in a few other spots as well. It's not only unusual (and not seen in many gardens we know .. the only one we know of is our Sensei Master Gardener Frank, who lives up one block east), it's extremely pretty and even has culinary and medicinal applications. The flowers, in particular, are quite tasty in salads or just as a quick garden snack to cool oneself off on a hot summer day ... and oddly enough, they taste rather like cucumbers! Apparently in certain parts of Europe, people make soup from it along with potatoes (see the Wiki link above).

As for Borage cultivation, it's really an easy plant to get going in a sunny, well-drained area of the garden. Just get a pack of seeds (I've never seen plants for sale, and besides I think it's best direct sown where it is to be grown), plant them according to the instructions (about a 1/2 inch down) either in very early spring or in the fall after frost while the ground is still workable, but unlikely to promote germination. You might have to look a bit for seeds, but I know you can get them from Botanical Interests (where ours came from), and I'm sure Richter's Herbs would have them as well, that great Canadian company has just about anything herbal! They're easy to identify as seedlings because the first true leaves are every bit as hairy as the adult plant, and they don't look anything like the usual garden weeds. You might need to water a bit their first year, but they seem to handle heat and humidity just fine once established. And when you get flowers, make sure to leave quite a few to generate the seeds for next year's show ... at that point, just let them do their thing and they'll happily move around a bit in the garden every year, giving you nice little patches of blue wherever they decide to take up residence. I really can't think of a single even mildly negative thing to say about Borage ... it's a bit of a colonizer, but without ever becoming invasive. Bees and Butterflies love it and flock to it, thus ensuring successful pollination. If this post piques your interest or imagination, do give it a try in your garden ... it will reward you richly, I'm sure!

Photos by Fernymoss, taken on June 24, 2008.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Who's Been Sprinkling BBs in the Garden?

Ok, so these aren't really BBs, but they sure look like it to me! So here's another Mystery Plant garden baffler for the astute out there reading this blog. This time there are two mysteries to solve.

First, what do you think those little "BBs" are? Did someone put them there? Did they come in on the powerful winds we had last week? Were some fairies "bowling" in the Woodland Garden and leave their balls behind? Hmm, those leaf veins do kind of look like tiny lanes, come to think of it! If so, looks like there were a lot of gutter balls in that game.

Second mystery: Can anyone confidently (or otherwise) identify the plant to which this leaf belongs? Hint: it's a mid-to-late summer bloomer in the Woodland Garden, and no, it's not a Toad Lily ... It's actually something that has become a real favorite of ours since we've been growing it, and we put yet another one in this spring, just to keep its cousin company. If you don't have one of these, and have a shady garden, this is an absolute must have plant, not only for its gorgeous foliage, but for its luscious flowers as well.

Have fun with this one, and let me know what your guesses or informed opinions are in the comments...

Photo by Fernymoss, taken June 24, 2008. After this coming week, I sure hope I can get back out with the camera more often, but until then, it's still very work intensive for me ...

Saturday, June 28, 2008

An Inauspicious Anniversary

I was recently reminded by my "Bush Countdown" calendar of something that happened two years ago today ... the (in)famous rant on the "intertubes" by Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Lunatic, AK). By the way, at the time he was the Chairman of Senate Commerce Committee which has jurisdiction over internet "net neutrality." Fortunately, after the 2006 election, this wingnut was ousted as Chairman, but still remains as ranking member. He is currently under investigation (on multiple counts) for bribery and corruption charges (along with several other members of the Alaska delegation), is facing an unusually competitive (for AK) race for re-election. With any luck, the good people of Alaska will wake up and get this embarrassingly corrupt Senate member out of office, sparing us any further of his many insane antics.

Here's an excerpt of his rant on the Senate floor, June 28, 2006.
"I just the other day got, an Internet was sent by my staff at 10 o'clock in the morning on Friday and I just got it yesterday. ... The Internet is not something you just dump something on, it's not a truck. It's a series of tubes. And if you don't understand those tubes can be filled, and if they are filled when you put your message in, it gets in line and it's going to be delayed by anyone that puts into that tube enormous amounts of material, enormous amounts of material."
Absolutely insane, yet sadly hysterical. That's our Ted!
You can listen to the entire rant here on Youtube. And Here's Jon Stewart's hilarious take on it on The Daily Show on July 12, 2006.

I'm not quite sure how one might "celebrate" this anniversary, but I guess I'm contributing my part to the "tubes" with this post ... "Enjoy!"

Presenting Torenia for Monsieur Boran2

A while back, after I maligned the über-common garden impatiens (you know, the spindly pink things?), and after hearing from a few folks who found me rather unkind, I did what I always do to try and convert those Impatiens Bound folks who think it's the only annual that will bloom in part shade to shade, I commenced my Torenia sales pitch. I admit, we only discovered this plant about six years ago, but have been sold on it ever since! One year we even had some volunteers, but that hasn't happened since, alas. I figure to get them out there by seeds, we should just plant a huge patch of it and let it go. Ah, yet another herbaceous idea to try. Too many plants, too little time ...

Now ask yourself, is plain old garden variety Impatiens (except the New Guinea strains, of course)
really this pretty? Compare it to Torenia, with its rich array of colors (see above link for more examples), its attractive and abundant foliage, and its ability to thrive in part to full shade, even during intense heat and humidity, as long as it is kept in moist soil and not allowed to dry out (wilting wreaks havoc with them) . And the range of colors you can find in Torenia have something for just about everyone: from deep blues and purples, to rich bicolor reds and yellows, and yes, pink. What's not to love? They also can do quite well in pots (sometimes spilling over the edges if they're happy) as long as they're not in full sun and are watered very frequently (probably every day), so depending on your sun conditions, you could tuck these away for little splashes of color on the steps or patio, you name it. The ones pictured here are tucked amongst the ferns and Hellebores in the Woodland Garden, just behind the Dragon Arum and before the Trilliums and Toad Lilies.

Photos by Fernymoss, taken June 24, 2008

Oh, and I also maligned Dusty Miller and Hostas elsewhere too. But we did have a great petunia conversion this year, so I hope that balances things out. Otherwise, let the flogging begin ....

UPDATE: 1 July, 2008 ... We found the stake for this particular variety of Torenia and it's called 'Magenta Moon.' Definitely one to look for next year!

Friday, June 27, 2008

Mystery Flower and Bonus Pepa Pic!

Fernymoss decided to get all arty yesterday with the Mystery Plant now blooming in our dining room. Here's an example of one particular shot that I thought was quite striking. What do you folks out there think? And is it immediately obvious what this is? Hint: it's a flower not normally associated with blooming during the summer ...and, if you've ever grown one, I'm sure you know what it is!And here is Her Highness Queen Pepa (Approximately), disinterestingly supervising from her spot on the floor ... apparently she wasn't particularly impressed with what Fernymoss was doing. Of course ... it had nothing whatsoever to do with food , thus the blasé attitude, lol.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Pink Prairie Mallow

Better a day late, than never, eh? This is the flower Blogger was bloggering me about last night when I gave up after several frustrated tries to incorporate it into the Late June Mallow Mania post. Everything seems to be working normally again now, so here we go with Take Two...
I mentioned last night that "some mallows just find us," and this was the precisely the one to which I referred, our Pink Prairie Mallow (Sidalcea malviflora). The ancestors of this carefree beauty arrived in our garden during its second year, long before the Boulder Bed was planned. At that point we had worked up most of the level area at the top of the front yard slope, and that small area was the garden at that point (1999). As we were doing our spring bed cleaning, we discovered a small seedling that sure didn't look like a weed, and in fact, it had leaves suspiciously reminiscent of some kind of Mallow, so we just let it go.
And, as you can see, this is what the mystery seedling grew up into over the course of the summer, a graceful and floriferous lovely that usually tops out at about 30-36 inches, and usually maintains its nice, bushy habit until late summer and early fall when it begins to decline inevitably. Of course, by the time it bloomed, we had determined that it was a Mallow, but not one of the more familiar ones we already knew. So we got out the plant books and went searching, only to find that it's commonly just called 'Prairie Mallow' a wildflower reputedly native to some of the upper Midwest states, Iowa included.
In successive years, our once foundling Mallow returned faithfully with its friends, with a few more added to the party every year ... and now, some 9 years later, has officially earned 'Weed Status' in the front Boulder Bed. Prairie Mallow self-seeds with a vengeance, and if it has at least one good year in the garden, it will be back in greater numbers, and though it's not terribly invasive per se, it does tend to get a bit over-enthusiastic if not kept somewhat in check.

If you grow it and you end up with too many small ones in the Spring, it's totally possible to dig the youngsters up carefully and transfer them to another location or pot them up to give to other interested gardeners, which is what I did for several years until no one asked for them anymore! I guess I tapped out the neighborhood gardeners, and who knows how many others are out there in the area multiplying, hehe. I don't recommend trying to move larger plants such as these, because they develop a very fibrous tap root, that if damaged, most likely will lead to the plant's death. We have moved larger ones in the past, but they really suffer from the uprooting and have to be watered constantly and pampered to make a go of it. Younger plants (say, up to 2-3 inches) haven't developed as much of a root, and thus suffer much less from transplanting ... so if you've got 'em and you want to move 'em, the younger ones are the only ones worth attempting to move. As much as I hate to do it, I'm going to have dig up or pull at least 6-7 more good sized plants to clear some space for other plants to go in, and to provide more sun and visibility to my second year 'Lord Baltimore' Hibiscus moscheutos.

If you're a fan of deadheading (believe it or not, some people are into that!), it will accomplish two good things for you: it will promote another flush of blooms once the first wave has faded, AND it will cut down drastically on the number of seeds dispersed elsewhere in the garden, thus reducing the number of volunteers you may get the following spring. I usually just lop large portions of the plants off about mid-summer before the seeds are fully ripened, but I inevitably miss some pods, so we always have many coming up in the spring. So, if you choose the path of least resistance, be prepared for a sea of pink come late May and June and throughout the summer months where you have them planted.

I've long thought that this would be a superb plant for "ugly poorish areas," such as along garages, or in somewhat gravelly soils, in much the same sorts of conditions that Hollyhocks prefer (along alleys and driveways). As long they have plenty of sun and attentive watering while they're getting established, they'll soon require little care, if any and will, if given the space, fill it in quite nicely in a couple of years. This is where the path of least resistance (e.g. doing nothing) actually will pay you dividends. In fact, we did just that for a friend's mother who had an ugly mess by her garage ... we sent a few small plants over, with a lot of seeds and several years later she has a nice patch of Prairie Mallow in what was once an ugly spot where nothing but weeds would grow. Once established, these tough little plants ask for virtually nothing but sun ... they're impervious to dry conditions, heat and humidity which could spell the doom of other plants, so in that way, they're a really fine plant!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Dragonfly Bonus!

So ... just in case I don't find the time to write up a post tomorrow (still intense work week continues), here's a bonus 'bug' photo Fernymoss captured in the garden on Tuesday, June 24. He couldn't have asked for a better pose from this colorful little guy who was taking an afternoon siesta on one of the boulders in the front bed. Fernymoss said that the dragonfly apparently was as interested in him, as he was in getting a good shot of a welcome garden visitor. We don't see as many dragonflies as we would like, so it's an exciting moment when we can get up close and personal with one, as demonstrated by this photo. As I noted in a previous post, the Mallows currently blooming should be attracting tons of bees who just aren't there (at least yet). We did spot one lone (very small) bumblebee last weekend working on the Rue blooms, but that has been the exception of late. I also got a report from Ferny that we had a hummingbird visiting the now-blooming Bee Balm (pics soon!), but it got away so quickly he didn't have a chance to grab the camera.

In other garden news, we were really starting to see a real need for a rain (yes, I know, not that long ago we all wanted it to go away), and with the positively sultry day we had today (high of 87 with a dew point of 75!) and the dry weather of late, things were starting to really get dry around here. Well, it started thundering loudly around 7:00 p.m. though the skies were clear and sunny. Eventually that system (which was to our North) sank down our way and we had a nice round of thunderstorms move through from about 9:00 to 10:30, so the garden got a good watering tonight. (Fernymoss had given certain new areas a pre-emptive watering earlier.) That heat, then rain should really get some things (namely tomatoes, basil and corn) going great guns. I likely won't be able to make it out to do much in the garden until this weekend at the earliest, so at least I don't have to worry too much about the watering. I'm appreciative of this evening's fortunate weather timing, not something I usually brag about relative to Iowa summer weather!

Bloggered ... Again!

Ok, this confirms it ... Blogger is messing with me big time tonight. I just took at look at what it had done with the previous post, and now the comments are missing. I checked my settings and comments are enabled, but apparently not working at present. Sorry about that, and I hope it will just miraculously fix itself sometime during the night.

Enjoy the flowers anyway, and as always, I love hearing from readers, so when they reappear, let me know what you think. One other thing ... if you're not already doing this, you can view much larger versions of the photos by either clicking on the photo or (what I prefer, since I use Firefox) right click and open the photo link in a new tab. This way you won't miss any of the detail from the larger version. If you don't use Firefox yet, you should really consider making the move ... it's vastly superior to MSIE, stable, and very user friendly and customizable. Go to Mozilla to see more and download it if you haven't already!

Late June Mallow Mania

Fernymoss took a bunch more photos today while he was out weeding and presented me with a lovely batch of blooms I'll be posting as I can during this busy time at work. So, I thought it would be fun to stay in the Mallow mode after yesterday's blast from 'Sun Showers.' The Malvaceae is a huge family of plants, comprising over 200 genera and over 2,300 species (see Wiki link above for details). It even includes such agricultural crops as Okra and Cotton! (That was something I just learned tonight.) Regulars here already know about our passion for Mallows, and we have an ever-increasing number of species, to which we are always adding new ones when we find one we like (or one finds us, as is the case with the 'Prairie Mallow.') So here are a few for your delectation, some of which may be familiar or others you might consider adding to your garden ... all the species represented here are quite easy to grow from seed, and have a long, proliferous bloom season!
This first example is the lovely "French Hollyhock" or Zebrina Mallow (Malva sylvestris), one of our favorites. We planted a pack of seeds quite a few years ago and it has now made itself quite at home in the sunnier end of the front Boulder Bed (in fact, this year it achieved 'weed status') and some who are in the way are going to have to move to a bed behind the house or (gasp!) get pulled to make room for other plants. In normal times these blooms should be just covered in bees, but this year, well, our bees have disappeared. (See this previous post for details.)

Hollyhocks (Alcea biennis) are often cited by gardeners as one of their favorite old-fashioned flowers from childhood, and we're no exceptions ... when I didn't have a space to garden (the old apartment days) I always longed to have them in my garden. Well, we're just happy that this one survived to bloom this year! Last year we had several really large plants gearing up to bloom this year, but alas, they served as a tasty dinner for the rabbits in early winter, and aside from some very small seedlings coming up now, it's the only one we'll see bloom this year. I sure wish Pepa could have been around for the Great Mallow Massacre, because she would have at least given those wascally wabbits a run for their life, or even better, a quick escort to the Great Rabbit Reaper. Oh well, we can replace them, but it sure doesn't endear the rabbits to me any more than in the past (when one year they ate and entire bed of Larkspur!).

Enjoy, but please don't eat the Hollyhocks ...

Editorial note:

I had planned to include some photos and comments on our 'Prairie Mallows' (Sidalcea malviflora), but Blogger is acting up tonight and freezing up and losing photos and text, so if I can successfully publish this post, I'll consider myself lucky. I guess I've been "Bloggered" as I've seen other bloggers call it. No matter what, it's been a frustrating night in Bloggerlandia. I'm hoping things are back to normal next time, because we've got a lot more going on right now to show off!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Fernymoss Having Fun Shooting 'Sun Showers'

I've got a couple of pretty intense work weeks ahead of me, so my posting may be somewhat spotty, so bear with me if I don't keep up with my regular schedule. Come early July, things should have calmed down a bit and I'll be back in the usual swing ... In the meanwhile, Fernymoss is having even more fun with the S700 so he'll be doing a lot of the photography in the interim, though I hope to have the chance to shoot a few myself ... it all just depends on the work demands. Enough Whining. (Bring on the triple crème Brie!), here's some fun shots of our new tropical Hibiscus, 'Sun Showers,' who I introduced to you all last week ....
We had a quadruple blast today, but you can only see three of the blooms in this shot, but it's a good one, I think! (Fernymoss did great, as always!) Keep your eye on the leaf hopper in the first flower, because you'll see more of him in greater detail later ....
This shot really blows me away by the range of intense colors represented in just one flower ... It's difficult to describe (or photograph) the incredible range of color variations in each flower and you could spend hours peering up close and comparing different blooms. More and more, I'm glad we sprang for the (gulp) $40 price tag on this specimen, and believe me, we're going to pamper it!
Ok, Olivia, here you get not only IBs, but the shadow of IBs, how's that? Kind of a sort of meta-photography, eh? Again, note the leaf hopper on the upper right of the flower.
And finally, a crop of another shot where Fernymoss got up really close to get the leaf hopper in focus ... who knew they were so pretty up close! My first thought was to compare it to those 'Neon Tetras' I used to have in aquariums when I was a kid ... how about you?

So ... are you ready to go out to the garden centers looking for this hibiscus? Ok, I realize that not everyone is as hibiscus-obsessed as I am, but it truly is a spectacular plant that we're really excited to have in our collection now, even if it does have to winter indoors and suffer a bit in the process. But there's always Summer to watch them spring back and truly show their best assets!

Oh, by the way, have I mentioned how much I love all sorts of Hibiscus in the garden? I'm irreversibly hooked on them, and always have been, since I got my first double blooming red Chinese Hibiscus back in 1977....

Monday, June 23, 2008

Garden Update: We're Making Progress!

This weekend, Fernymoss and I finally had a weekend off together and we vowed to really dig in and get areas of the garden(s) cleaned up and planted with some of the plants we've already purchased who have (mostly) been patiently waiting to be planted..

Somehow, though, all that ended up requiring another trip (and shopping spree) at one of our favorite garden centers (at one of the local Hy-Vees of all places!). They're starting to mark down their stock drastically (like 50%!), so we picked up a lot of bargains and 'hadn't thought of' additions. The biggest bargain by far was the price of their peonies ... back in late May we had picked up 3 'Karl Rosenfeld' peonies for the sweet price of $9.99 each and those just got put in the ground in the past few days. The real eye-popper today was that they still had a great selection of peonies, now at the bargain basement price of $4.99! The plants were still in great shape, so how could we pass this by? So ... we bought 4 more! We got another Sarah Bernhardt, (pink) two Felix Crousse (red) and a Duchess de Nemours (white), all of which were planted within two hours of their arrival at Casa IVG. They are now well watered and settling into their new positions, just on the other side of the fence from their cousins who've already bloomed. So the total for this year is 7 new peonies, now happily planted! Yay!

And those weren't the only things that got in the ground (finally) this weekend. Alas, where we were planting wasn't merely a matter of just digging holes and plugging them in, no ... due to all the rainy days and nights when we couldn't get anything done, the weeds came in and engulfed many areas of the various gardens. So, to plant anything, we had to weed heavily first, so out came the usual weeds (lambsquarter, dandelions, wild lettuce, etc.) then the violets underwent a mass uprooting. Our philosophy is, they're taking up precious Woodland Garden space and so they need to give up the room to more worthy (I know, that's a mean thing to say, but still ...) plants waiting for their spots to grow.

Fernymoss was concentrating entirely on the far end of the Woodland Garden, not only getting in the peonies, but also planting our new Ligularia dentata ('Desdemona,' the red one), the two new Pulmonarias ('EB Anderson") and 3 Torenias we bought earlier. He's still going to move some of the more intrusive Ostrich Plume ferns in as well, but the emphasis this weekend was getting the potted newcomers in first. He also got the new 'Voodoo Lily' (Arum cornutum) bulb my sister gave us in, so it will be joining in with Mr. Stinky next year, (though it probably won't bloom its first year). So, things are looking much tamer (there's still work to be done) in the far end of the Woodland Garden now!

Yesterday, I focused partly on the Hibiscus and Butterfly Bush bed, which I had just cleaned out and planted a couple of weeks ago. It needed another good weeding, and I was disappointed to see that almost all of the seeds I had planted (granted, they were seeds from last year) hadn't come up at all. So I weeded, replanted Nasturtium and Four O'clock seeds, along with 3 new Flowering Kales who were patiently waiting to get plugged. I staked up the Blue River hibiscus (it always has to be staked, because it grows to about 7 ft every year!), did general weed patrol and then called it a day and watered it well, because it tends to be the driest of our individual beds (it's in the parking next to our neighbor's driveway). I watered it again tonight, so it's in good shape until the next watering.

I also worked pretty diligently in the veggie and herb bed I started behind the house a couple of weeks ago. I had mentioned in a previous post how overgrown it had gotten through neglect last year, so initially I had to "claw" my way through before any of the peppers and herbs could be planted. I spent an afternoon clearing it all out before planting our peppers, a bush 'Celebrity' tomato (which already has 2 small ones forming), some herb seeds and 3 new Thymes and 2 new Sages. Well, the peppers are doing fine (we have 3 jalapeños already) so far and growing ... I had planted a rough row of Zinnias behind them as well, and most of those came up, but where there were gaps this weekend, I filled them in with new seeds to complete the backdrop of this bed. I also stuck in some 'Alaska' Nasturtium seeds in a few bare spots as well, since those cucumber seeds I planted didn't do anything (they too were old). The Basil seeds I planted are doing fine (now that they're weeded!) and you can see their progress in the second shot posted. We did pick up a couple of larger plants today as well, but those are headed for the back veggie garden with the rest of the tomatoes, onions, the corn and pumpkins and other Zinnias.

As for today's purchases at half price, I also added a 'Bulgarian Carrot' pepper, which is reputed to produce 3.5 inch long, fluorescent orange and "fruity and pungent" peppers. On a previous visit, I had looked at them and negligently passed over them, then later regretted my decision. Today, however, they had one left and I snapped it up and then planted it in with the other peppers (in the first shot, it's the furthest to the left, back behind the Jalapeño. It joins its other cousins, the Yellow Bell, 'Cherry Bomb' and 'Cubanelle' peppers, and on the far right of the first photo you can see the more familiar 'California Wonder' bells, one of the more generic peppers I like to plant. In this shot (gardener evident in shadow ... these are not 'art' shots, they are documentary), you have probably noticed something 'oniony' looking ... well, we found LEEKS today and I couldn't resist ... Thanks to my time in France, I've really come to love them and have never seen plants for sale before, so I had to get 6 of them! And with the total coming to a whopping $1.50, I couldn't pass them by, since when you can find decent leeks in the store, those huge monstrosities they offer often cost more than that for one ... so now I can have my very own organic ones to harvest whenever I deem them ready to pull! And I've never grown Leeks before, so I'm especially excited to have some of my own to eat come later this summer ...

I also replanted the area where I had sown Italian Flat Leaf Parsley seed, because nothing but weeds came up in it, so I bought a fresh pack of seeds today and got those in as well as a few Nasturtium seeds in front of one of the new
recently planted Thymes. We also got a Purple Sage today which joined the herbal party, along with a 'Munstead' (the only one that seems hardy for us) Lavender we had previously purchased (back in late May) which are now settling in and well watered. You can't see those in these shots, but they're there and to the right is a still weedy area in which we plan to put Hollyhocks (there are already some seedlings), Zebrina Mallows and a few other plants, such as a Gaillardia, 'Blanket Flower,' because most of our others have seemed to disappear since last year. We also plan on seeding this area heavily with Moss Rose and putting a few of the sun loving plants from the front garden to complete this entire bed, which is only about 3 ft wide by 30 ft long (the length of the house) and ends at that back yard gate. Yes, it's a relatively small space to pack this much in, but the intent was to get the peppers in some less fertile soil (they just don't produce in the back garden where there is so much rich compost), as well as getting a kitchen herb garden (Basil, Parsley, Cilantro, Chives, Thyme and Sage) as depicted in these shots.

I hope this all turns out according to plan, and that we have plentiful peppers, leeks, tomatoes and herbs, all with a backdrop of colorful Zinnias to complete the effect. This area gets plenty of sun most of the afternoon and even late in the day, so we have great hopes for it this year! Last year we just ignored it and it turned into weeds, mint and trees, which have since been eliminated ... it's past time it become productive again, and that is the goal for this summer! I think we've got a good start on it, and I look forward to providing periodic updates over the summer, so stay tuned, as they say.

The back veggie garden is looking good too ... the tomatoes are growing nicely, the Zinnias are up, the onions are thriving, and the corn is up about 3 inches now and looking like corn. My only regret is that we've not found any of the 'Bush Cucumbers' we usually like to plant. Oh well, we still have asparagus roots to get in this year, so I guess we'll get by. Seeing asparagus will be more than an ample reward, even though it will still be a couple years' wait to start harvesting it!

Obviously, more to come on this subject ....

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Holy Blooming Hellebores!

Editorial note: I've been sitting on this unfinished post since June 5, and it's kept getting delayed by the competition. Well, since a very work intensive couple of weeks are heading my way, I thought I should finally show off this little beauty before I find another reason to delay it!

These shots of one of our Hellebores (blooming for the first time in three years!), though a bit delayed, were taken on or about 12 May, 2008. Yeah, I'm way behind on this post, but so much has been going on in the garden, it just kept getting lower and lower on my 'draft' list! Sorry about that ....

Anyway, we've been working for several years t
o get about 6 Hellebores established and blooming in our Woodland Garden ... and, as I think a lot of mid-western gardeners can probably attest, it's slow going. We're just happy to see them reappear each year and if they just grow, they grow. If they bloom, so much the better. Most of our examples that we have planted are of the Royal Heritage strain of Helleborus. Their colors range from pink to purple, and in the case of some of the newer ones, we're not sure, because they haven't bloomed yet.

Part of the reason these plants are so small is that they were just barely out of seedling stage and very small when we got them. I have to admit they were bargain sale plants, but I think the deal was 4 hellebores for $10, (which for larger plants would be a steal), so I didn't expect much. But hey, the primroses (featured earlier this spring) were a similar deal, and they have done admirably so far ... we're not worried about these, they'll just take longer to reach maturity, but the very fact they are blooming in their third year is definitely encouraging. And the older, larger ones we have haven't bloomed, but they're growing quickly and increasing in size, so if that means sacrificing a few blooms, I say let them do their thing on their time ...

An impatient gardener shouldn't certain plants, like hellebores, if an immediate gratification is the intent. That's what annuals are for ... plant some zinnias and Four O'clocks. Which reminds me, I need to get more of those planted this weekend, along with more nasturtiums and our other assorted annual plants (petunias, snapdragons, celosia, flowering kale).

And we still have one more peony to put in ..... mmmmm, peonies! The nearly immortal plant we love so much ... Summer's just begun and I'm thinking about next year already? Is that a hard-wired character trait in gardeners? I chuckle when I think that I'm already anticipating next year as this one is not completely planted (except for the veggies and herbs) yet ... but it will be soon! It's just that this little basement episode has been eating away at valuable (scarce) gardening time for us. We'll get there!

Friday, June 20, 2008

Our Bees Have Disappeared: An Elegy For Good Friends

Ever since the flooding of the basement and the following weeks we've been noticing a distinct absence of the bumblebees who make our garden their home. We thought it odd from the beginning but wondered if maybe, due to the rainy weather, they were just laying low for a while. Now, given the string of mostly sunny, dry days we've had in the last week, we've been watching for them to reappear. And they haven't. Though the main gardens aren't as floriferous as they will be later this month and into July, there's still quite a bit they usually work on ... Nope, not a trace. Well, we concluded tonight that our bumblebees have disappeared, and are probably dead at this point.

There's a story in this, and a theory as to why they disappeared, so bear with me.

Back in spring of 2000 when Fernymoss planted our first two hollies in the Woodland Garden, he planted the first, and kept hitting something rocky the deeper he dug, but fortunately he ended up planting it up higher. When he went to plant the second a short distance away, he again encountered a stubborn rocky area, but this time it was buzzing angrily! He quickly concluded there was a bee hive down there and started filling back in, then planted the holly anyway. Over the years, the hollies have thrived and grown, no matter what was down there.

We talked to a few people about what he could have encountered and a good number said that with a lot of the older houses in the neighborhood (ours is 107 yrs old this year), there used to be cisterns in the yard, and the location where he found the buzzing could well be a long buried cistern. That made sense to us, given some of the truly odd things we've dug up from the yard over the years (a phenomenon I've also heard is quite common from folks in the neighborhood). So, cistern or not, one thing was certain: there was a bumblebee hive down there.

That was good news to us! I've always admired bumblebees for their incredible work ethic, and their clumsy, but generally friendly demeanor to meddling humans who get in the way of their duties. And they're probably (just short of Sphinx Moths) my favorite insect to photograph (as regular readers here already know). We've really enjoyed having them around (though sometimes they can get inconvenient when we want to weed) all these years, and now we face either an extinction or a greatly reduced population in the garden. And that is a very sobering and sad thought. They were some of our best friends in the insect kingdom, and we're going to really miss them if what we think happened is truly the case.

Here's how we theorize what happened. If (as we suspected) they were living in an old cistern down there, given the events of the early morning hours of June 6 (when we had over 4 and a half inches of rain in 2 hours), which led to the storm drain overload and the flooding of our basement with a foot of water, they simply drowned. In their time of rest, no less. That's a truly heartbreaking thought, but unless they miraculously reappear soon, we'll have to just assume that their hive was wiped out that night, and with the subsequent substantial rains we got in the following days.

If so, it's a cruel irony that the very place they had safely inhabited for years may have well become their tomb. We're going to miss them, greatly. We've depended on them for nearly ten years as our garden buddies who take on a good number of the pollination duties around here, and without them, I wonder what the long term results will be. Our gardens are very bee, butterfly and other beneficial insects friendly, and a disruption in the delicate balance of the ecosystem we've helped to maintain concerns us seriously. Without one of the most stalwart and reliable insects, such as the bumblebee, we may experience some serious, unforeseen consequences.

Much has been made (and rightly so!) of the catastrophic losses of homes and businesses and general damage during the 'Flood of '08,' but I wonder if similar insect disappearance events are happening elsewhere around the state. Are we just beginning to witness the gradual (or sudden?) disappearance of native species as well? I don't mean to sound preachy, but humans weren't the only ones affected by the truly catastrophic weather patterns we've been experiencing recently. All kingdoms, flora and fauna as well as humans have been affected. And I think the other species deserve some recognition of their losses, if that is truly the situation in which we now find ourselves.

Editorial note: Nothing would make me happier than to have to 'retract' this post if/when the bees make a reappearance in the garden. But I observed an ominous detail today when I noticed that the Bee Balm has started to bloom, and it was more than curiously devoid of insect activity. That's not a good sign, as it is one of the favorites of the bumblebees (and hummingbirds). If the bees don't reappear by the time the Purple Coneflowers bloom (which will be happening soon), we'll know for sure. I really hope I'm pleasantly surprised and relieved to see that happen ....

Thursday, June 19, 2008

We Had 'Sun Showers' Today!

Our newest addition to the hibiscus family, Sun Showers, graced us with three gorgeous and huge (about 8" across) flowers for the first time today!

The past few years I've been tempted by (and succumbed to) some of the striking new Hibiscus hybrids being developed, most notably the ones from a company called Bahama Bay Hibiscus. This is one of their newest introductions this year, and we think it's a real stunner, with its bright blasts of colors ... Orange, red, shades of pink and interesting blotches of yellow. It's touted as a variety that will bloom constantly in summer given a sunny spot in the garden (or in this case in a pot on the patio), and has the potential to grow up to 8 feet tall in warmer climates. Since it's a tropical variety, we'll have to bring it in for the winter, which usually means that it will not bloom much (if at all) over the winter. We may, however, rig up some additional lighting for it, but even when hibiscus bloom indoors, they are rarely as large as the flowers one gets during the height of the summer months. But I have the feeling that we're really going to enjoy having 'Sun Showers' around this summer and it will impress more than a few people with its electric eye popping colors ...

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

A Different Kind of Green ...

Today's post represents a bit of a departure from the usual fare served up here at Urban Oasis: some sky and trees in the waning early evening light. Actually it's a big departure for me in terms of subjects because I don't think I've ever deliberately shot trees before ... I tried some clouds and sky shots with the old camera, but was never satisfied with what I got. But now, with the zoom and all the features the S700 offers, I've decided to start experimenting, and these are the preliminary results.

So, while having said beer mentioned in the previous post, I just laid back in my chair and started looking up and around the yard using the Landscape mode of the S700 (really, Fuji should start paying me a stipend for the plugs, lol). We have two old, pretty large trees in our backyard, one of
which is an aged Silver Maple (whose spawn we are constantly cursing as we try to eradicate them from the gardens) and the other is about a sixty foot high Blue Spruce. Both trees definitely have their disadvantages between the Maple's spring onslaught of what children often call "helicopters," (I prefer to call them damned invasive seed delivery devices) and the needles and cones dropped by the Spruce.

And the Maple is also home to some of the wretched Tree Rats that taunt the dogs and dig up things and bury walnuts in the yard, thus propagating an even more difficult tree that we have to extract every spring. Though on the other hand, an Owl has been known to hang out there on quiet nights letting us know it's there, and we definitely like that because it's comforting to have an Owl close by, and hope it develops an appetite for some of the Cursed Tree Rats ... and the Spruce does house a pair of cardinals (and some nasty blackbirds). Having two lovely Cardinals so close and visible really does temper my opinion of the Spruce, however, no matter how much we've tried various plants underneath it, everything but the most tenacious weeds has given up the ghost at this point. At least it's NOT a walnut, for as big as it is! That literally would be a poisonous situation, because as most gardeners know, black walnuts excrete a substance that deters all but the most tolerant of the usual perennials. (That's the case with our neighbor across the street who has four of them ... the source from whence the Ignoble Tree Rats bring the nuts over to our yard!)

In any case, these trees are here and will probably remain, unless one should happen to keel over and die. If/when that happens, what I really would love to see replace them is my favorite tree from childhood, the exotic and unusual Catalpa. Yeah, those are messy too when they flower, and one is often pelted by the falling "bean pods" in the fall, but they don't seem to spread like Maples and actually have dramatic blooms that are quite fragrant (if a bit messy when they fall). But that dream is just that right now ... but it would be my ideal candidate to replace the maple eventually. Of course, I'd probably be dead before it bloomed (unless it's a really big one planted) since they're not the fastest growers in the tree kingdom, but they're surely one of the most beautiful as far as I am concerned.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The Garden Supervisor at Work

It's been a while since Queen Pepa (approximately) has made an appearance here, and since she hid the blog keys until I promised to devote a post to her, I of course, acceded to her demands (as I always seem to do, lol). So here she is, acting as general garden supervisor and sentry earlier this evening.

Tonight was one of those late spring evenings we prize so highly, especially given the wet weather of late. After work, we both went out, I with my trusty S700 and a beer, fully intending to take some shots of the flowers, but I never quite got around to it after I relaxed
just a bit (after another über stressful day). So I decided to work with what I had around me, which just so happened to be Her Highness Herself, always a willing photographic subject.

Pepa is the quintessential terrier in her immense capacity to be a downright busybody, attentive to almost everything going on around (unless you happen to catch her snoozing, which happens a lot too). When we're working out back or within eyesight elsewhere, Pepa keeps a sharp supervisory eye on what we're doing, you can be sure of that, as I hope these shots demonstrate.

Just a quick note on shot number 3 ... you can obviously see some new peonies behind Ms. Pepa. These are the Karl Rosefeld peonies we bought a while back because they were such nice plants and at (what I consider) a bargain price of $9.95 each. Fernymoss had the day off and planted two of them, thinking that's all we had bought, until asked why he hadn't planted the third. He had overlooked it, not remembering that we had a third to go in ... but no worries, it will soon be joining its two companions you can see in the ground. We're rather excited about these new additions, because after reading up a bit on this cultivar, I think they're going to grow into splendid bloomers over the next few years. And, for a bit of perspective, they're just on the other side of the fence from the other peonies, and yes, downwind from Mr. Stinky.

For those of you who've asked about how the city has been faring given the flooding, rest assured that conditions are improving daily, and there are very slight chances of rain predicted well into early next week, so Mother Nature is finally giving us a reprieve. In Des Moines, the Birdland area is still under water and there are massive property losses there for the residents. It's going to take a long time to recover for them ... Iowa City and Cedar Rapids are improving as well, though that's a very relative term to use. CR residents are gradually getting back to their parts of the city, and what they're finding is just heartbreaking in its magnitude. If I had to characterize it, I'd say the situation is less dire daily, but that really minimizes the hit that city has taken, and Katrina comparisons of CR and Iowa City are heard rather frequently lately. I'm not sure that I necessarily concur with that characterization, but they have experienced conditions that can only be described as catastrophic proportions. I read yesterday that in Iowa City, the waters aren't expected to recede fully until later this summer ...! Again, recovery is going to be long, painful and difficult for them, as well as the thousands of other Iowans in many areas. I fear that some of the smaller, more rural towns will just disappear entirely, though I do hope that I am absolutely wrong in that prediction.

As always, if you're interested in updated coverage of the state, this link to the Des Moines Register, will sum it up for you, and it's regularly updated throughout the day.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Sedum Khamtschaticum ... Another Heirloom Sedum

This is one of our other sedums that I mentioned in last week's post on Iowa hardy sedums. I was finally able to identify this one thanks to a post on Davesgarden, after spending a fair amount of time Googling around the myriad species of sedums. It's a mouthful to say Sedum Khamtschaticum, but it does give a clue as to its origins in Russia, thus one of its common names, Russian Stonecrop. It seems like almost all the sedums I've researched recently get pegged with some variant of Stonecrop, though when I see that name I tend to think of the taller, erect varieties that bloom in the fall. Now, I'm obviously no expert on sedums (I spend a lot more time on Hibiscus and Delphiniums and such), but it seems kind of misleading to me to lump the mounding and creeping varieties in with the larger more vertical species. Sure, they're all members of the Crassulaceae, which points to innumerable species of succulents (such as the common houseplant called "Jade Tree"). But in most common gardener's parlance, the mention of Stonecrop tends to conjure up the fall blooming variety... so yeah, I'm one to quibble on plant nomenclature on occasion (don't get me going on the Delphinium ambigua versus D. elatum!) so I'll politely let it go at this point.

I took these shots on 11 June, when it was just starting to bloom, I noticed yesterday when I was out weeding (for 3 hours!) that it's now mostly open and looking quite cheery. Though I characterized it as 'heirloom,' it's not one of the original plants growing here when we moved in in fall 1998 ... this comes from my sister's backyard, where it grows in rampant abundance by her garage. She likes it and lets a lot of it stake out its space, but whenever it starts going further than she'd like, she just digs it up and brings it over to us, so in a way, it is an heirloom, just not from our garden. And I always happily oblige her, because this is my very favorite sedum we have planted. Unlike Sedum sarmentosum, it's a much more well behaved plant and is hardly as profligate as its relative. The best feature about S. khamtschaticum, at least for me, is that it has a very nice, clean mounding habit that will fill whatever space you give it, and even when it's not blooming, its attractive fleshy foliage will usually keep down whatever weeds that try to horn in on its territory. And, if you're a fan of rock gardens, this is, in my humble opinion, a must have ... as you can see from these photos, it's quite happy to grow at the base of the boulder bed (see second photo above) or in the various crevices that I've plugged it into around the front beds. Once planted, you can basically ignore it and it will happily go on its way in the worst of conditions (rain or drought) and reward you in June (at least here) with its clusters of cheery yellow flowers right on through to early July, when it goes all foliage. Truly, it's a real no maintenance plant once the planting is done, and like S. sarmentosum, it cleans itself up after frost by just quietly disappearing for the winter, only to return in Spring, vigorous as ever. If I could only have one sedum, this would be my choice, no question.

I'm trying an experiment this year in my Butterfly Bush/Hibiscus/Kniphofia bed that has been getting overrun by weeds in mid-summer ... My sister gave me a bunch last year that I never got planted, and the pots just sat on the patio all summer through the winter, then courageously came back in force this spring, so I decided to turn it loose in that bed to try to tame the increasingly rampant Coreopsis I have there. I know there are a lot of Coreopsis fans out there, but the variety I planted years ago has been really honking me off the last few years ... it's spreading, weed-like, and moving into areas where I don't want it. Yes, it has lovely bright yellow flowers, but the plants are so prone to just flopping around all over that I get weary trying to prop them up. I was ready to just yank them all out and say let's be done with it this year, until Fernymoss reminded me that I discovered our first Praying Mantis on it last year, which ended that discussion quickly. We were so thrilled to have Mantises in our yard that we want to give them as much encouragement to stick around as we can, because they're such beneficial and fascinating insects to have in the garden, so the Coreopsis has a stay of execution, for now. I'm just hoping that this sedum will spread sufficiently to fill in the front part of the bed (where I usually plant Nasturtiums) that it will keep the Coreopsis in line ... time will tell, and by the time the Hibiscus are blooming, we should have a better idea.

Flooding situation update: Fortunately, Des Moines has had a 3 day reprieve from rain, with plentiful sunshine since Friday, and the forecast for next week has nary a mention of serious threats of rain. Des Moines, in particular, has dodged the bullet for the most part, except for the Birdland Neighborhood in the NE part of the city, which has experienced serious devastation due to the failure of a levee late Friday into Saturday. This was a very old (50's era) levee that just couldn't hold any longer and residents in that area are truly in a world of hurt at present. There was some flooding downtown in various places Friday night, but not as bad as some were predicting. The Water Works is safe at this point, and there haven't been any interruptions in the water supply (which was our biggest worry). The Des Moines river has crested and is receding, so a week of drier days will do wonders to alleviate the anxiety that has been palpable over the past week.

Residents of Cedar Rapids and Iowa City (and numerous smaller towns) haven't been so lucky, however. The Cedar and Iowa rivers have yet to crest and much of both cities remains under water at this point. The University of Iowa in particular has been really hard hit, and a great deal of the campus (which adjoins the riverfront) is still under water as well. Coralville (right next to IC) with its dam, still remains in peril and will experience catastrophic losses of property, business as well as residential. It's going to be a long recovery for these folks, so send your best vibes, prayers or whatever their way, because they're going to need it!! I read tonight that Southeastern Iowa is now experiencing problems as water moves downstream, so include them as well ... I-80 east of Iowa City remains closed until further notice, so if anyone reading this who might be planning on heading that way (e.g. to Chicago and points east) should take that into account. Yes, we've had 3 days of dry weather here, but it's not over yet, and the recovery has yet to begin ... wish us luck!

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Lording of the Flies...

Flies are not among the usual insects we like to photograph. But when you've got something blooming five feet tall and smelling of rotten meat, you just have to make an exception and let the flies indulge themselves, if only to chronicle the bloom cycle of the Dragon Arum. Whatever they get out of helping aid pollination is all theirs, as far as I'm concerned ...

Today the flies were still around, but much less numerous than yesterday, and the stench has lessened considerably and now you have to leave the sidewalk and get up close to really notice it much. What was wafting through the breeze last night was enough to prove a point!

Something I've neglected to tell you in previous posts is that the Dragon Arum has a very short bloom period of only 3-4 days before decrepitude sets in. It's actually kind of comical to watch this flower wane (don't worry, I'll keep posting a few more), as it withers away.

Such a huge expenditure of time and effort on the plant's part for such a limited bloom is one of those plant mysteries that probably hooked me on gardening (well that and my dad). And it is a lot of fun to be one of (or the only?) few who has one of these blooming in their garden.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Flood Evacuations Underway in Parts of Des Moines

Hi folks ...
A good number of people have called, emailed and left comments here expressing kind concern. We'd like to thank all of you for your warmth and compassion.

We personally are fine, and aren't likely to be evacuated unless something truly catastrophic happens in our part of the city. The map to the right is a cropped image I put together to show where we are relative to the voluntary evacuation zones around the city (shaded in light blue). These areas make up the '500 Year Flood Plain' at highest risk for flooding, from either the DM or Raccoon rivers. Fortunately, we are on much higher ground north of the zone on this map detail Where you see that poorly scrawled 'X' is the Urban Oasis corner. For a larger map click here (if you're interested, there's also a PDF of an entire city map in great detail).

So tonight and through the weekend, Des Moines will be watching anxiously and waiting to see how this may proceed in the next few days. Earlier today I saw a report that the DM river had crested earlier than thought, which was what prompted the downtown evacuations. For more, The Register continues frequently to post updated information. They have some very good photo galleries of various parts of the city and across the state.

Tonight, however, I am much more concerned for the northeastern part of the state, in particular Cedar Rapids and Iowa City, because it wouldn't be an exaggeration to say the situation there is fast approaching the dire threshold. Iowa City, already experiencing major flooding, remains at very high risk for even worse damage. It still sounds pretty precarious with regard to the Iowa river and that dam in Coralville. For a perspective on conditions in that part of the state, IAboy gives his thoughts at An Iowa Garden. And Cedar Rapids is basically a sunken city at this point ... from what I've read, almost all of the downtown there is under several feet of water, and 25,000 residents (almost a quarter of the population, I think) have already been displaced by the raging Cedar river.

The other night I wrote that the flooding was a statewide disaster. I think I need to revise that to read a region wide catastrophe, as more and more upper midwestern states are experiencing real problems ... Wisconsin (near and dear to my heart) ... Minnesota, parts of Southern Illinois, with Missouri most likely to follow soon .... I sure wish I could teleport some of our (midwestern) excess water to fellow bloggers who have told me they wish they could have some. Me too, because we could share a lot with other states currently undergoing record drought conditions. We could water FARfetched's garden and lawn, and while we're at it, why not help irrigate Annie in Austin's garden, since she's said it's very dry down her way.

I better go get working on that teleporter ... I have a feeling it may take some time.

LATE UPDATE: The Des Moines Register is now reporting that the Army Corps of Engineers and city officials are "confident the Des Moines levees will hold." There remain several areas of the city causing concern, and the voluntary evacuation is in effect through Sunday.

Mr. Stinky's Big Day!

Well, the event we've been eagerly anticipating for weeks finally happened today! Mr. Stinky finally decided to flash the neighborhood by exposing his shiny jet black spadix, all the while emitting his own peculiar, rather revolting, aroma.

This evening, when Fernymoss took these shots, there were literally clouds of flies, all competing to get as close
to and on (or even in) the odoriferous spathe. They're attracted, of course, by the foul stench Mr. Stinky shares so generously with everyone ... it's an odor I've seen described as smells like a sewer, roadkill or dead animals, but to me smells more of rotten meat. I don't know what it smells like to flies (not actually having asked one) but it must be just magical for them, given the swarms flying around the bloom.

Dracunculus vulgaris belongs to the same family as the larger arums, such as the notorious "Corpse Plant" or Titan Arum, which you may have seen in various places devoted to bizarre plants. The link above will take you to the UW-Madison's (yay, I went to grad school there.) amazing specimen.

Anyway, Mr. Stinky can't rival the famed Titan Arum in size by any means, but with our specimen having grown to about five feet this year (with a 25 inch bloom), we're just thrilled we can actually grow such an unusual plant in our zone! I think I mentioned in a previous post that my sister found some ridiculously cheap Voodoo Lily bulbs and generously shared one with us ... we have yet to get it into the ground (we've been afraid it might rot with the weather lately), but if it dries out just a bit this weekend, I think we'll put it in, because if we don't soon, I fear it may begin its growth cycle prematurely. We're not sure if we'll get leaves during the summer, but I'm pretty sure it won't bloom this year ... if we're lucky, it will join its cousin late next spring in perfuming (I use that term very loosely here) the Woodland garden. One more observation about our Dracunculus ... we were surprised (oh, so pleasantly) when it came up strongly this year ... followed in relatively short order, five more offshoots! If you look closely at the first shot (click to enlarge for all of these!) you can probably distinguish them around the base of Mr. Stinky. I'm sure they'll just put up leaves this year, but who knows about next year!?

The first shot gives a contextual impression for how it's situated, and how it totally dominates the scene ... if you look closely, you'll also see the following plants: Ligularia dentata 'Desdemona,' one of our five Hellebores, the hollies of course, the now waning Bleeding Hearts, some of the Ostrich Plume ferns, and a Sea Holly preparing to bloom. And, of course, the multitude of wood violets we still have to thin out to make room for more plants such as our new Pulmonarias and another Ligularia dentata we got this spring.

The second shot gives a closer view of the entire flower (somehow sans flies), displaying the incredible textures and rich colors of the spathe ... and if you're fascinated by bloom textures like we are, this offers a multitude of interesting views during various phases of its bloom period. You can also probably (easily) spot some more neighbors ... a Leatherwood fern, a couple of Maidenhairs and the remnants of this year's peonies.

Finally, the third shot is a study of the base of the bloom, showing the swollen ahem, ovary of the plant ... should it be successfully pollinated, we might just get one of its strange seed pods later in the summer, though last year we didn't. Time will tell ... I especially like the great up close and personal view of part of the spathe ... look closer ... you can see a small fly lurking as well.

A couple of weeks ago I finally acknowledged a great irony relating to Dracunculus: the stinkiest of all our plants generally blooms during the same time our most pleasantly fragrant flowers (peonies) are blooming. Honestly, we never intended that ... but I think it's pretty cool nonetheless!

So ... Mr. Stinky has now started to strut his stuff on the main stage for a few days, commanding anyone short of blind's attention ... at Casa IVG, this still constitutes a momentous day in the garden!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

The Countdown Continues

Tonight's update will be somewhat abbreviated, due to the current weather situation I detailed in the previous post ....

Well, Mr. Stinky held out on us today and hasn't opened yet. I'm really wondering if it's due to the practically daily rainstorms and general lack of sun (though we did get a few hours out of the clouds late this afternoon). Just as well, since more heavy rain is coming through tonight, and we'd hate to see his spectacular bloom ruined just yet. Maybe tomorrow, once the rain passes ....

As you can see in these two shots I got after work tonight, he's looking more engorged by the day and won't be able to hold back much longer ... I think he just needs a day with a lot of sun to expose himself fully. In the first, take a look at how the base of the plant bulges more with each passing day ... And in the second, take a moment to focus on the sensual folds and textures of the flower as it prepares for its appearance in the garden spotlight ... Soon ...

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Iowa is Weather Weary ...

Here we are again, staring down yet another severe weather line heading our way ... And today I read and heard that in terms of severity, the flood of 2008 may be worse than what happened in 1993. Lest I may have led anyone to think it's confined just to Des Moines, I'd like to emphasize that this is a truly devastating Statewide event.

Just tonight, 4 Boys were killed by a tornado at a Boy Scout camp in western Iowa, with quite a few other injured. Cedar Falls and Waterloo are hanging on hoping that sandbagging will prevent serious flooding in the cities ... Cedar Rapids has areas under water, and perhaps of most concern in the NE part of the state is the dam in Iowa City, which last I heard was teetering at the very edge of going over. And there are numerous smaller towns in the same situation ... Governor Chet Culver declared 53 of our 99 counties as disaster areas, while also noting that no county has not had some kind of damage from the rains and flooding.

One of our more immediate concerns closer to home revolves around whether the Water Works will flood as it did in 1993, thus cutting off the city's water supply. And in downtown Des Moines, they've been sandbagging for several days, but flooding of some degree seems almost imminent. The Des Moines Register has been doing excellent non-stop coverage tonight, and if you're interested in learning more click on through for much more than the little snippets I've provided here.

At least the longer term forecast is finally for drier days and nights, and everybody in Iowa (I dare to pronounce) is ready to start drying out and taking care of the damage ... everyday people, farmers, gardeners, emergency services, volunteers ... I think it's already starting to wear us down a bit. But we Iowans are known for our capacity to pitch in and bounce back. I wasn't here in 1993, but it seems that everyone seems to know what needs to be done, and flood protection measures have since been made around the city (particularly in the Water Works area).

Wish us luck ...

Dragon Arum Apparent ...

Well folks, the Dragon Arum is so close to revealing its sinister wonders that we can almost smell it already! And the flies are dispatching aerial squadrons at this moment to our Woodland Garden ... When I looked early this morning it was definitely showing signs of unfurling imminently, and once I was done with work and went out to look again, we both could tell there had been movement at the base of the bloom over the course of the day. Our prediction is that (like last year) it will open overnight and already be shocking the neighborhood in the early morning hours....

If you are a regular reader here, you already know that Fernymoss and I have a strong penchant for the flashy, odd and downright bizarre plants, and our Dragon Arum is currently the reigning king of the garden. When we first saw this (and other Arums) in a catalogue, we knew that we just had to have at least one ... our only fear was that it wouldn't be hardy to our zone (officially 5a, but tending strongly to 6 these days).

Though listed at Van Bourgondien as zone 6 and higher, we decided that we could at least come close to providing that, with some protection from the house and a fall mulching. So we planted it in fall 2005 and hoped for the best ... in Spring 2006 we got a good sized spike and lots of foliage, but no bloom yet. Late last May, just as the peonies were in full bloom (as they are again this year), IT finally emerged! Though it only lasted 3 or 4 days, it sure attracted slow drives by our house, and the pedestrians who use our Woodland walkway often stopped to stare in wonder. Yes, it's that dramatic. As far as we know, we're the only ones with one of these bizarre beauties in the neighborhood, though in a city as large as Des Moines, I wouldn't be surprised to learn that some other connoisseur of the bizarre has planted one of these arums. But then, maybe for once, we're ahead of the curve! With regard to cultivation, Dracunculus vulgaris seems to prefer a mostly sunny, part shade exposure, which is exactly what it gets in our Woodland beds ... Eastern morning sun, part shade during the afternoon, followed by late afternoon Western sun ... and it seems perfectly happy with such a situation. Given that this year, six more spikes came up this spring, I think we can safely say that it's quite happy in its current position, and we have no intentions of changing that! We had thought earlier that we might get more than one bloom this year, but at this point we think the new ones will merely be putting up leaves this year. So be it, if that is the way it goes, but we're betting we'll have more next year! But in any case, we're eagerly awaiting seeing it in the morning, and since I'll be working, (and Fernymoss works late today), so I should have updated photos to post tomorrow night, so come back and take a look!

Notes on these shots: The first displays the telltale 'red stripe' that serves as a prelude to the full bloom. The second shows just how long the entire bloom is ... some 25 inches! And the third gives a perspective of how big the entire plant is .. we're estimating it to be about 5 feet tall at this point! Supposedly they can go as far as 6 feet, so who knows what next year will be like? Photos by Fernymoss, taken on 10 June, 2008, with our new best friend, the Fuji S700!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Fragrant Peony Bouquets ...

Late this afternoon, Fernymoss took a few shots of the peony bouquets now gracing and fragrancing our dining room ... these particular flowers escaped being beaten into messy submission by our recent heavy rains because we cut most of the open blooms Saturday night before another round of heavy rain roared through. The ones still left on the bushes, however, didn't fare so well ... but there are still quite a few unopened buds on the plants, so I'm hoping we'll get a second wave (even if sparse) of blooms yet this week.

Currently, we only have two varieties of peonies blooming, and we're really not exactly sure what cultivars we have. The red ones I bought about eight years ago as three very small plants at Osco for $5 each and the only information provided was "French Peony -- Double Red." They weren't exactly stellar plants at the time, but as Peony growers know, it's extremely rare to get blooms the first year anyway, so patience and a more long-term view are essential.

I have tentatively identified the pink variety as (Paeonia lactifolia 'Sarah Bernhardt'), though with the myriad of Peony cultivars out there, it could be just about anything. We just refer to them as "Elaine's Peonies," in gratitude to the friend who originally gave them to us back in 1999. Whatever they are, they bloom in promiscuous abandon every year, with the bushes literally covered in fragrant blossoms. Of course they smell wonderful and are just downright gorgeous (well, aren't most peonies?) and don't mind being photo subjects! Unfortunately, they're usually the first to 'go to ground' after a heavy rain, so we try to cut as many before that comes ... well that is, if we have advance warning! After last week's multiple rounds of severe storms, we weren't taking any chances ... they're that precious to us!

Back in May we bought three new bushes to add to the Peony family here, Paeonia lactifolia 'Karl Rosenfeld,' which we found at a garden center on sale for $9.95, which if you've ever purchased Peonies, you'll recognize as a great value. These new members are very sturdy, healthy, and poised to take off ... in fact it was the healthiness of the plants that made us snap up three while we were there. We're also in the market for a Tree Peony and are on the lookout locally for a potential specimen, but we did some preliminary research at Van Bourgondien, and selected one of the varieties they offer, Rimpoh. Unless we happen upon something even lovelier here locally, we'll probably be ordering this cultivar this summer. I know it might be a bit of a wait to see it bloom, but as with all Peonies, it's worth the time invested to be regaled by their wonderful blooms in late Spring!

With any luck, a few will still be around when the Dragon Arum opens in another couple of days! If it's not open tomorrow, we'll get another shot of the now 2 ft + unopened bloom stalk, which is plumping up daily and already showing the telltale deep red stripe along the edges, its prelude to opening up and liberating the peculiar stench it emits that attracts flies by the droves! If you recall having seen its first bloom last year, you'll understand why this is such an eagerly anticipated garden event here at Casa IVG. And with any luck (e.g. NO rain) tomorrow, we're going to be planting the 'Voodoo Lily' (Sauromatum venosum) that my sister so generously shared with us. Of course we don't expect it to bloom this year, but given the Dragon Arum's affinity for where it's planted, this one won't be too far away from it. Something to look forward to next year ... along with the Karl Rosenfeld Peonies also slated to go in this week!

UGH ... I saw this coming on the radar, but didn't want to believe it ... we're getting another round of thunderstorms, but at least it looks like they'll be brief this time around ... still, we'd like to dry out just a bit here ... please?