Thursday, April 23, 2009

Rooting Around in the Spring Garden

Glaucidium palmatum

Iris x robusta 'Dark Aura'

I am covetous of the way many gardeners can simply bend at the waist and work at soil level in the garden. My mother could do that, and I recall her bending over in her long Guatemalan skirt searching the garden for newly emerging sprouts. She seemed to get great pleasure in personally greeting each returning guest. In our zeal for flowers we often overlook the fascinating world of emerging plants. I have included two that I photographed this spring. The first (Glaucidium palmatum), with the absurd common name of Japanese wood poppy, is subtle. At this stage this is almost a "belly plant." The second (a hybrid iris called Iris x robusta 'Dark Aura') won't let you ignore its intense color as it presents itself in the spring.
For the best views of the images click on them to enlarge to full size.

Friday, April 17, 2009

High End Nurseries That Keep Me Coming Back

Jeffersonia dubia

Have you seen those high-end specialty plant nurseries that must believe their arcane stock is so unique they can price their stuff at prices about two or three times higher than what others would charge for less rarefied plants? I admit, I have fallen under the spell of a few of those nurseries, and their apparent high prices are actually much higher when I look back and see the substantial attrition rate of what I bought. But yet, I go back, and Jeffersonia dubia is a perfect example of why. It's the Asian counterpart of our native Jeffersonia diphylla (Twinleaf) except that it has vividly colored flowers. When I spotted the plant pictured above this spring I was awe struck. I bought three of these Jeffersonia dubia seven years ago. Only two plants are still with me and one of those two is only barely alive. The third is thriving as the photographs suggest. That reminds me of another reason these high-end specialty nurseries are even more expensive than they seem. It is usually a good idea to buy at least three of each selection in order to increase your chances of finding that "sweet spot" where it will thrive. Why, for example is one of my Jeffersonia thriving while the other two, planted in what seemed to be comparably suitable environs are dead or dying? At least now if someone tells me they tried Jeffersonia dubia without success I can smugly say, "It's doing great for me."

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

It's Alive!, It's Alive!, It's Alive!

A lifestyle garden is all about simple pleasures, especially the many tiny simple pleasures of a day to day life. One of those simple pleasures is the discovery in the spring that the questionable plant you put in last year actually made it through the winter. The tiny sprouts pictured above represent one such pleasure. It is the sprout of a groundcover raspberry (sold as: Rubus arcticus subsp.x stellarcticus) I bought last year from a mail order nursery that did not evoke much confidence in me. But the nursery had this curious plant that was said to have been developed in Sweden and would grow as a groundcover in a wide variety of conditions while producing a crop of raspberries. Its description was irresistible to me, and I couldn't find anyone else offering it (which also made me suspicious), so I took a chance. The plants arrived in horrible condition. I fussed over them until they became established, but a few never did. Throughout the summer the survivors grew modestly. I continued to wonder if they were going to amount to anything or were they just part of yet another exaggerated marketing claim. Seeing them emerge this spring has given me some assurance that at least they are viable plants. Now we will have to see if they produce those promised raspberries.

Thursday, April 2, 2009


Narcissus 'Ghost Dance' from Mitch Novelty Daffodils

Narcissus 'Icelandic Pink' from Mitch Novelty Daffodils

I was recently putting together an illustrated lecture called "Low Budget Perennials & Annuals for the Home Landscape", and I was reminded of the virtue of methodically building up stock in a plant that does well, such as by frequently dividing it, allowing it to spread on its own, or propagating it by seed. It is a practice that is not only a cost saving measure, but an important technique in developing a satisfying garden. While there are plenty of people who have the means and the drive to install a virtually finished garden, I think the gardeners who love the process of gardening are more patient than that. The garden evolves over time as the gardener reacts to successes and failures while patiently accumulating stock for bold initiatives that would be too costly (or rash) to acquire by other means.

Pictured above are a couple of scanned slides of daffodils I bought from Mitsch Nursery, a specialty daffodil grower and breeder. For some reason I am fascinated with the rarer (and more expensive) daffodils which I buy in small quantities, line out in a little daffodil nursery, and divide in a few years when I have enough to make an impression. I also find out how well the plants are going to do before I make a commitment to use them in the garden.