Sunday, September 2, 2018

Late August is always memorable thanks to Actea japonica (Cimicifuga japonica). I have had this stand under a massive Norway spruce for almost two decades and it never fails to please. Capturing it in a photograph, however, has always been a challenge. This year I used my cell phone and I like the results.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Hardy October Blooming Perennials

I searched all the pictures I have taken in October over the last six years and found far more blooming perennials than I could mention here. Many of them begin blooming in August or September but carry on well into October such as Japanese anemones. One of my favorites is Anemone x hybrida ‘Whirlwind’. There are also lots of different Asters and ornamental grasses that meet this descripton. For example, I particularly enjoy my ground hugging Aster ericoides ‘Snowflurry’ in combination with various upright stonecrops like Hylotelephium x ‘Autumn Joy’. Curiously, despite the name (Autumn Joy) the upright stonecrop is finished blooming by October, but remnants of the flowers still make a nice companion for my Aster

 Aster ericoides ‘Snow Flurry’ flowering with Hylotelephium x ‘Autumn Joy’ on October 14th.

But what about the flowers that could be called denizens of October? What are some flowers that, when everything is dying, suddenly you see this thing blooming amongst the ruin of season's end? There is one plant that especially comes to mind, Aster tataricus (Tatarian Aster). It is defined by its late blooming season. Since 1992 I have photographed it in bloom on seven occasions and as late as October 28th, but never have I photographed it earlier than October 4th.

 Aster tataricus as seen on October 13th.

Another hardy perennial whose flower show is almost exclusively confined to October is a species of monkshood called Aconitum carmichaelii. A great variety of that species that Kingwood and I both grow is called Barker’s Variety.   

 A species of monkshood, Aconitum carmichaelii, blooming at my house on October 11th.

I can’t include in this list a couple of the most glorious fall bloomers, a couple of non-hardy shrubby sages called Salvia leucantha (Mexican bush sage) and Salvia greggii (Texas sage), even though they are frost resistant and never stop flowering in the fall until they are frozen. Many gardeners find them so satisfactory they are willing to start fresh with new plants from the garden center every year. There is, however, another sage called yellow sage (Salvia koyamae) that has a similar late season flowering persistence, albeit subtle. It makes a nice groundcover even in heavy shade and has a pleasant display of yellow flowers well into October. 

 Salvia koyamae blooming at my home on October 7th.

Finally, in this summary, there is the fall crocus. This is not to be confused with the autumn crocus which also blooms in the fall. The autumn crocus, despite the common name, is in the genus Colchicum and is widely planted for its typically pink flowers that emerge in early September and often last until October. The fall crocus, on the other hand has smaller flowers of varying color more like the spring blooming crocus but that almost invariably bloom in October. For me, the allure is that they are usually a pleasant surprise. Just when I think everything in the garden is just about done just the flowers, no leaves, of the fall crocus emerge among the fall colors and fallen leaves. There are several species, but the two I am most familiar with are Crocus kotschyanus, which I grow, and Crocus orchroleucus which I enjoy at Kingwood. 

A species of fall crocus, Crocus ochroleucus, blooming October 26th at Kingwood Center Gardens

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Thriving Siberian Iris

It is time to get this blog going again! A lot has been happening in my garden, Kingwood's garden, and gardens I visit and follow; so let's go:

I revisited irises over the last week in anticipation of using them as a topic for my next Kingwood Center Plant Talk television show. My special infatuation with irises started about ten years ago during which I acquired a flood of various iris for work and home. The enthusiasm tempered after a few years, so now I am looking back at which irises survived and thrived over those ten years and which have diminished and/or died.
First introduced in the 1930's 'Tropic Night' offers the old fashioned if yet gratifying traits of being tall, narrow leaved, basic blue and most importantly from the standpoint of this essay, vigorous. 

While gratified by the ones that hung in there with me I am surprised at how many have dwindled away under common circumstances. This is especially true of Siberian irises. The exciting new color forms have been especially susceptible to 'failure to thrive". Under what I would call the normal bumping and bruising of garden competition many Siberian iris just don't compete. It is primarily the old, species-type blue flowered Siberians that thrive. Some of the successful competitors are tetraploids, such and 'Blue Pennant', 'Coronation Anthem', and 'Teal Velvet'. Others are old diploids with the typical tall stature, narrow leaves and dark blue flowers like 'Tropic Night' and 'Tealwood', but all five of the varieties mentioned are more or less the basic blue you would expect from a Siberian iris. The white colored 'King of Kings' and the yellow 'Welfenschatz' (forget the ubiquitous 'Butter and Eggs') do a pretty good job, but, alas, would almost never be seen at a garden center. Garden centers offer horrible choices in Siberian irses. There is the default Siberian iris  ('Caesar's Brother') which does very well and is that old typical blue diploid I spoke of above, but other than that it is a total roll of the dice whether you get a Siberian iris that will thrive in a dense garden.
'Coronation Anthem' Siberian Iris, a long term survivor
'Welfenschatz' is certainly the most obscure variety mentioned in this article, but it is the best yellow of several I have tried and it is still available on line. 
'King of Kings' has been with me for about a decade and it performs beautifully, if perhaps not as vigorously as something like 'Tropic Night'.  

Then there is the issue of the leaves standing upright or flopping after flowering. The floppers not only look bad but drown their neighboring plants. You will have to dig for information about this essential trait, and don't bother digging at the garden center; they don't know. As I recall all the varieties I mentioned above do not have a late season flop problem.

There is an easily accessed group of iris specialists who will not only have these otherwise obscure but superior varieties, but some will also tell you which ones will stand upright throughout the summer. If you want good Siberian iris other than 'Caesar's Brother', do your research and order by mail from a small scale iris specialist or just buy 'Caesar's Brother' and be done with it.

'So Van Gogh', a clever name, an unusual color combination, but where did it go? Two years, maybe three and it was gone. It failed to thrive.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Wary Exhilaration

It is exhilarating to plant a plant that was previously unknown to me and see that it not only survives but thrives and looks good doing so. I continue to be overwhelmed by the range of choices of plants offered up for rock gardens, most of which I am relatively unfamiliar. The problem is that most are unsuitable for my hot summer rock garden, but I don't know which ones. So when one of my most recent set of recruits does very well in my rock garden I celebrate. Most recently Hutchinsia alpina (Pritzelaga alpina) (Chamois Cress) has fit this success mold.

Hutchinsia alpina gratifying in its adaptability to my garden and a bit ominous in its vigor as it starts only its second year in the garden.

But now as its vigor is displaying itself this first spring after its first winter I wonder if this isn't going to be another of those great rock garden plants that eats the rock garden. I have several. They have the frustrating habit of overwhelming my more demure plant jewels before I realize it. Gypsophyla cerastioides (Alpine Baby's Breath), Dianthus deltoides  'Arctic Storm', Geranium 'Biokovo' (I should have known better; its all out of scale), Cymbalaria muralis (Kenelworth Ivy, I did know better; it arrived uninvited), Campanula poscharskyana  (Serbian Bellflower, I knew better but thought I could control it). These are representatives of the overly prolific rock garden plants that are consuming my gardens. Will Chamois Cress be another?

Dianthus deltoides 'Arctic Fire' is in danger of overwhelming its more demure neighbors such as in this case, Saponaria pumilio
A great performance for another context, this Geranium 'Biokovo' is all out of scale and too aggressive for this garden.
Kenilworth Ivy is one of those cute little plants that sneaks into your garden, you think its cute for a while and then it gets everywhere.

Gypsophila cerastioides (Alpine Baby's Breath) Too much of a good thing.

Campanula poscharskyana (Serbian Bellflower) is busily pushing out everything around it.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Perspectives on Ways to Garden

I think that gardeners who are paying attention are becoming less certain of what a “proper" garden (as an English friend used to say) actually is. I have been reading a fairly new book that Noel Kingsbury wrote with Piet Oudolf called Planting, A New Perspective. It is a provocative book on the topic of plantings that emulate, in many respects, natural plant communities except they are aesthetically designed and they utilize ornamental plants which do not necessarily share common ecosystems. I have experimented with this type of planting and remain mystified by how to sustain them. I also recently read a book called Bringing Nature Home by Rick Darke and Douglas Tallamy. Their brilliantly instructively illustrated book emphasizes gardening predominantly with native plants in stable associations. It was very convincing. I see similarities between the two in style but not in substance. Those two approaches remind me of the multiplicity of approaches to gardening and all the associated consequences beyond the desired appearance. 

In this image below of Kingwood Center in Mansfield Ohio the calendar is dictating the end date of a garden still in full bloom. It seems ridiculous at first blush, but if there is to be a spring display the summer crop must come out in time to plant the bulbs.

The next image of a seasonal planting in Connecticut is a classic, but today’s sustainable gardeners might say it’s a rich man’s conceit, a display of resources at his command. And they would be right, but does that make it a bad garden?

Below is a rose garden on June 23rd  at the Columbus (Ohio) Park of Roses. Here is an entire garden dedicated to plants that probably need more care and attention than any other plant a gardener is likely to choose, yet here it sits out of bloom and contributing almost nothing at a time when most gardens are in their glory. But who would dare disparage a rose garden?  
On the other side of the gardening pendulum we see in the image below what seems to be a beautiful informal, sort of wild looking planting at the Berlin Botanical Garden. Look closer. I took this picture largely because it includes, Equisetum (horsetail) which is about the most obdurate weed I know. It will be a permanent and aggressive fixture in that garden until everything is removed and all traces of the Equisetum are destroyed. I have had similar experiences repeatedly with Agropyron repens (quackgrass), which is probably easier to control than Equisetum. It is this sort of experience that mystified me about the Kingsbury/Oudolf approach. Removal of the horsetail would be about a draconian two year project with no guarantee of success.

Below is a lovely looking scene at my home of blooming Stylophorum diphyllum (celandine poppy). Unfortunately it represents the failure of an attempt to create a beautiful and stable community of native and floriferous garden plants. One species is taking over and driving all the other species out in the process. Nevertheless I see the Stylophorum diphyllum as a valuable tool in a Darke/Tallamy type gardening where it could be confined by bordering shrubs.

Then we come to this proud community of cultivated plants that seem to be stable, growing in a Berlin park. (The first six or seven feet of perennials up to the shrubs) If they are indeed a compatible community, it represents the work of a very knowledgeable gardener. But what has been achieved aesthetically compared to a more conventional garden? Was I evaluating this garden at the wrong time (July 9th) or is it kind of nondescript? 


My conclusion is that there is room for all of the above. There is no such thing as a “proper” garden. We work in a multitude of circumstances with many ambitions and goals. While I certainly have my preferences I applaud the achievement of all of the gardening goals represented in the pictures above and the skills required to achieve them.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014