Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Where the Dragons Roam in June....

Ok, this weather is getting rather worrisome with all the rain and cool temperatures during the week and too brief warm respites on weekends ... normally I'm not one to whine (too much!) about rain, but this pattern we've settled into for the past several weeks has me a bit on edge. Long time readers will remember that just a year ago now we had a hitherto unprecedented flood in our basement (on June 12, precisely) and then several weeks of serious flooding in Des Moines, and me being the pathological worrywort I am, I hope we're not in store for any repeats of last year's events....

But on to more exciting things ... it's that time of year again to really and truly believe in Dragons! Well, Dragon Arums at least!

2009 is shaping up to be a banner year for what is arguably the weirdest flower we have at Casa IVG, our prize Dracunculus vulgaris that we have affectionately nicknamed "Mr. Stinky." Every June right about the time the Peonies are at, or just past their peak, he struts proudly to the floral foreground with a grand blast of his distinctive aroma of rotten flesh, brandishing his unmistakably phallic red hooded jet black bloom. Needless to say, he always attracts a lot of attention from innocent passersby, who probably don't know quite what to make of the demented gardeners who have such a decadent monstrosity growing in the middle of their shade garden right out there in plain sight!

Here are a few current views (as of June 7) that start out mundanely enough ... some remaining peonies (we cut most this year and brought them inside to save them from the rains), a pretty little stand of pink Camassia and a maidenhair fern... but if you look closely you can see the mysterious buds forming on that rather non-descript bushy plant near the center....

So let's go in a bit closer to investigate what's going on here ... can you see them? Those spiky, whip-tailed things with a hint of a red stripe? Yes, those are the blooms forming on the plants and this year are going to be a minimum of four blooms for the first time ever! When we we first planted this enormous bulb back in fall of 2005, we weren't even sure it would be reliably hardy to our garden, but by now I think we can confidently proclaim that it is hardy to Zone 5 bordering on 6! Since it first started blooming in 2007 it has only produced one flower per year, but the last couple of years it has been sending up offshoots from the original plant that have leafed out but haven't bloomed. Last year we counted 5 offshoots and when it emerged this spring, we were surprised to see eight! Each offshoot produces a stalk which will leaf out over the summer, but not all of them are likely to bloom for at least a year or so, but given its record so far, even more could be on the way for the next few years.

We have no idea if all four of these will bloom at the same time or on a staggered schedule, so you'll just have to follow along on our journey, but rest assured, there will be plenty of photos while they last! For all the drama and stench involved with blooming, Dragon Arum blooms are relatively short lived and go into a rather interesting period of decline on their way out! You'll see it all chronicled here over the next week or so ... we think these are less than a week from blooming at this point, so I just hope we get some sunnier days to show them off when they finally pop open their stench laden flowers for all the world to see....

Finally, just for fun, here's a newcomer to the garden this year for those curious plant IDers out there ... it's just begun blooming and I'll feature it sometime soon here, but for now, what do you erstwhile gardeners out there think this is? Some previously unseen hellebore? Maybe a Fritillaria? The flowers could resemble either of those guesses, but both would be wrong. If you grow this, you'll know immediately, but I have no idea how popular a plant this really is, but we're thrilled to have it join our garden this year, and may even plant more come fall! Weigh in with your guesses in the comments and I'll reveal its identitity soon!

Hanna sends gallons of puppy kisses to all her admirers out there who left such kind comments yesterday on her #500 post. She loves the attention and is always working on new ways to work the cute angle and will be back soon!

Mystery Flower UPDATE:
We have a spot on winner! Sylvana, The Obsessive Gardener, my compatriot from Wisconsin, was the first to correctly identify this flower as an allium, which we know as Nectaroscordum siculum (aka Allium siciculum) or 'Sicilian Honey Garlic.' It's a really pretty allium that blooms in early June, and though ours didn't quite reach its expected height of 36" this year, it's putting on a nice show, which I hope to feature more of in the next few days.... It's another of Van Bourgondien's "Best Buys from the Bulb Lady," so if you like it, it won't hurt your wallet too much to add some to your garden this fall! Just click on the link above for more information!

Monday, June 08, 2009

Hanna Holds Down the Fort

Hanna has this, the 500th post at Urban Oasis all to herself ... what's the occasion you might ask? Well, simply because she has so quickly become a truly indispensable member of our little pack here, due in no small part to her ability to bring a smile and laughter to even the seemingly darkest of days. And I've had a good run of those days the past week or so and Hanna has been right there for me the whole time holding down the fort, so to speak.

Most of last week it was cool, rainy, rainy and very dreary, and adding to which, I came down with another intestinal bug that kept me sidelined most of the week (now fortunately departed!) and feeling downright lousy. Along with my generally "down and bleak" mood, I just wasn't much fun to be around, thus my absence here around these parts....

But exciting things are happening in the garden, and starting tomorrow, I'm vowing to get on top of them and get cracking around here again! Even though the forecast is for another cool and cloudy week, at least the near daily rains we had last week are not currently in the picture, so there will be lots to catch up on ... and we'll maybe even be seeing the appearance of Mr. Stinky in all his glory within the next week, so stay tuned....

So let's focus on these photos of Warrior Princess Hanna on guard out on the front porch on Sunday morning when we had a brief period of sun before the storm clouds moved in. I really like this shot of her in shadow, surveying the situation just outside the porch in the Woodland Garden.

There's something very interesting going on out there ... is it a bunny? A squinny? Only Hanna knows, but no matter what, she's on the case!

Let's take a closer look ... If I could only just jump through this screen, I'm sure I could get to the bottom of this!

You wanted something? I'm kinda busy here, but I'm happy to help out if you need one of my puppy services! That's our little Princess ... always ready to spring into a new situation at a moment's notice....

Oh, and one last thing I should note about Hanna's Sunday afternoon ... she went with us to the grocery store and garden center, and on the way back we stopped at Sonic for a little snack (e.g. late lunch) and I ordered a dish of vanilla ice cream, which I of course had to share with Hanna. As far as we know, this was her first taste of this delicious treat and she absolutely loved it! Every last drop. This was her little reward for being such a good trooper on a humid afternoon, and though it's not something she'll get very often (we hardly ever have ice cream around the house), we do plan on getting her some Frosty Paws cups the next time we go to the store since they are a more dog friendly concoction (though she had no adverse reactions to the dairy in the soft serve). But given this first little taste of ice cream, she was clearly in doggie heaven and wanting more! Do we have a typical kid or what?

Monday, June 01, 2009

Purple Prose and a Pooped Puppy

Continuing with the theme I started with yesterday's post, let's take a look at the blues fading into the realm of purple....

This beauty is Aquilegia alpina, or the 'Alpine Blue' Columbine, perhaps the most successful Columbine we've been able to grow over the years ... after failing miserably with some of the fancier 'Barlow' varieties in the past, we discovered this simpler, more natural variety several years ago and planted several, which continue to thrive at the edge of the Woodland Garden. Last year we collected a lot of seed from these but have neglected to get it in the ground, so sometime this year, we plan on spreading it freely around the area in the hope of encouraging more of them to colonize even further....

This is one of the many globe alliums we have around various areas of the garden, and this particular one is at the edge of the Woodland Garden in amongst the dearly departed Daffodils and near one of our three holly bushes. My gardening friend Marnie over at Lilacs and Roses just recently had a fantastic post up about her Alliums blooming alongside her white Irises, a most attractive combination, so check it out!

Not only are they lovely and unexpected surprises (shape wise) who emerge in late Spring, they are also quite a beneficial plant to have in your garden.
All of the Alliums, including even the humble culinary chives (who also have lovely blooms) gradually leach sulfur into the soil over time, which is a great thing, especially if you have plants nearby that are susceptible to the dreaded powdery mildew (such as Monarda or Zinnias) because sulfur acts as a natural fungicide and will help protect your plants from infection. They come in a wide variety of sizes and colors (I still lust after the quite expensive 'Gladiator' Giant Globe) to fit almost any sunny garden position ... and last fall we planted a bunch of Nectaroscordum aka: Sicilian Honey Garlic, which we just discovered this weekend are now on the verge of blooming very soon. You'll be seeing them here when they decide to strut their stuff....

Thanks in great part to the cool and rainy weather of late, the Pansies we planted earlier this spring are still going strong out front, so I thought I'd include a couple of shots of some of the more striking specimens. Just feast on the depth of colors exhibited by this particular bloom ... it's got the entire range of colors I love in flowers, from the fiery yellows and oranges to the darkest of purples approaching black. I don't recall what this particular variety is named, but I'm sure glad we picked it out (actually I think it was Fernymoss' pick)! For some reason, this particular shot makes me think of a dramatically colored butterfly, perhaps a black swallowtail?

This was definitely my pick, with the real fire going on in the flower and I just love this one ... One thing I've always appreciated in Pansies and Violas are the incredible ranges of colors one can find in a single bloom, and if for no other reason, that makes them worthy annuals to plant in the Spring garden. Of course they tend to disappear when the hotter months arrive, but until then, they sure provide brilliant splashes of color to the emerging perennial border!

Shortly after I started this post, I thought it sounded awful quiet downstairs, so I went down to see what Fernymoss and Hanna were up to (though I already knew), and they were both fast asleep in their respective lounging spots. Lately, Hanna has been spending more time on Pepa's old bed that we have behind the recliners against the wall ... though she shied away from this cushy bed for a long time, she has finally seemed to consider it one of her spaces (I suspect she was given permission from a higher Doggie Power), so I'm glad to see her enjoy it, along with the blanket we gave her to nest in there.

She had quite the day on Sunday, from supervising the weeding and planting we were doing, to doing porch sentry duty (scouting out squinnies, rabbits and neighborhood kitties) and going on her late afternoon walkie with Fernymoss. She clearly had a good day and when I was watching some HGTV earlier, she had a couple of quite dramatic dreams behind me as she was curled up on this comfy bed. We think she's happy here in her new home ... what's not to love? She gets constant attention, has lots of cushy lounging spots and gets to supervise the garden and shake the weeds to death! And pretty soon, if she has her way, she's going to teach those nasty bunnies a lesson for nibbling in our garden ... she's clearly a natural born rodent hunter ... we just hope she can scare them away without having to make an actual kill, which she appears ready to do if given the chance. But if it comes to that, I guess we'll have to endure the bunny screams (which I'd rather avoid, having heard Pepa produce that from them in the past).

Finally, some exciting news I hope to chronicle soon via photos ... we were looking at the Dragon Arum today and discovered that among four of the eight new offshoots, there are four buds coming on! And on the original stalk this year's bud has yet to appear ... so in all probabability we're going to have at least five blooms this year from Mr. Stinky! There may be more, but we're really excited at the prospect of this, our most bizarre plant, producing multiple blooms for the first time this year. Not bad for a bulb we planted in fall 2005, eh? Obviously this is not a plant for everyone, but we're proud to be the only people we know who have such a bizarre bloom arriving every June. Not bad for an original investment of about $8.00 for the bulb, which is clearly very happy where we put it in the Woodland Garden, not far from the Peonies who help to temper its floriferous stench!