Sunday, April 26, 2009

Gardening: Erythronium revolutum

Many gardeners I know, both past and present, abhor pink in the garden. I don't get it, myself, but as a garden is always a personal expression of its maker(s), I say "To each his or her own." Rarely as thrilling as a clear blue (say, Mecanopsis betonicifolia, or Chionodoxa forbesii), pink nonetheless enthralls our eye (our being me and my sweetie, who decided together what grows in our borders), harmonizing especially well with the soft greens of early spring and livening up dark corners. Later in the year, we love the vibrations set up from the juxtaposition of pink and orange (I sense shuddering among our gardening friends), a color combination exalted by the late Christopher Lloyd, whose advice on color always seems right to me.

Fifteen years ago, I stood in Mr. Lloyd's garden at Great Dixter, practically hypnotized by a brash combination of orange alstroemeria and pinkish-lavender Verbena bonariensis. Brazenly planted at the front of a large perennial border, too, not tucked into "cooling" neutrals like silver or purple, but up close, where it could shock the hordes of garden tourists who were nearby muttering about "bad taste." The one thing I have learned from Mr. Lloyd, whose books every gardener would find useful, is to not be afraid of color, and to seek out the best examples of particular colors. For example, he, like my sweetie, was not a fan of muddy pinks, nor pinks with any trace of brown. I'm a bit more forgiving, having rarely encountered a flower that I did not find fascinating.

The little treasure pictured with this post is Erythronium revolutum, a species Dog-Tooth Lily, so called because the bulbs look like large, elongated canines. We started with one little plant, purchased at the original Heronswood in 2006. It's first year, it produced a couple of beautifully mottled leaves, but no flowers. It didn't decide to bloom until 2008, by which time it had doubled into two plants. This spring, we have six plants, four of which bloomed. Interestingly, the flowers of each new clump differ slightly from the mother plant, with one duo's blooms being darker pink and the petals more recurved. The newest plant is blooming slightly paler than the mother, but with pronounced brownish patches at the base of the petals.

We grow the more vigorous erythonium hybrids like 'Pagoda' and 'Kondo,' both of which now form large clumps of vigorous foliage and dozens of pale yellow flowers, and they are spectacular, but there's something very special about these little pink beauties. We can't wait to see how many come up next year.

Monday, April 13, 2009

April Showers Bring…

Well, actually, they bring April flowers, with a promise of more to come. It's amazing to see how things shoot out of the ground in the days following a nice rainfall. Of course, longer days and slowly warming air and soil contribute a lot. After our colder-than-usual winter, we are waiting somewhat anxiously for some marginally tender things to emerge, but are, on the whole, pretty patient.

These beauties belong to Mertensia virginica, the Virginia Bluebell, whose buds start out purple and pink before opening to a lovely clear blue. This one is still in its nursery pot waiting being planted at the feet of a white flowering currant. We are hoping that the combination of the drooping clusters of white flowers on the currant, which is now about seven feet tall and perhaps a little wider, and the blue of the bluebell will be a winning combination. Now, all we have to do is weed around the currant and plant these. It's on the rapidly growing list of chores that await us.

Here is a "Pacific Coast Hybrid" trillium, with its large, mottled leaves and luscious red flowers, some of which smell like bubble gum. We have some white versions elsewhere in the garden. These were hybridized and grown by Charles Price and Glenn Withey, renowned Northwest planstmen and garden designers, who are currently curators at Dunn Garden, a lovely old estate garden in Seattle. They are currently undertaking renovations of the huge border at the Bellevue Botanical Garden.

Abies pinsapo 'Glauca' (Blue Spanish Fir) is starting to display its amazingly raspberry-like cones, always a welcome sight in the spring. This fir has extremely stiff, somewhat prickly needles, except for new growth, which is soft and supple. This is definitely not a conifer you want to grab hold of! Fortunately for us, the deer leave it completely alone. A slow grower, we have it in a half-barrel with a cinnamon fern and, soon, a Clematis texensis 'Duchess of Albany,' which we will train up a trellis onto the back porch railing.

Finally, here is a double flower on a seedling of Helleborus x hybridus. Hybrid hellebores are interesting in that they often (but not always) produce seedlings, most of which may not resemble the parent plant when in bloom. Two of ours produce a healthy crop of seedlings, so we pot them up, keeping some for ourselves and giving the rest to friends. This double one is the offspring of a single-flowered dark red parent, so you just never know what you might get! It was grown by Peter Ray of Black Dog Plants on Vashon Island, a great source of cool and desirable plants. We usually see him at the Vashon Island Farmers Market, especially in the spring.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Fun in the Garden, Pt. 2

Isn't this a beauty? This luscious flower is Helleborus x hybridus 'Ballard Strain,' which puts up a veritable fountain of blooms each spring. I always cut all of the old foliage off my hybrid hellebores when the flower stalks start to emerge—the old leaves are often lying on the ground, not looking their best after the winter, anyway. New foliage always emerges after they have been in flower for awhile, fresh and upright.

We have many seedlings around the feet of our hellebores, which I usually pot up and grow on until they are larger (or give away to friends). Because they do not come true from seed, you never know what magical color or bloom type you will get with a seedling, which adds to the fun. Hellebores provide large masses of flowers at a time when not much else is blooming at that scale, and the deer completely ignore them.

Another glorious day here along Puget Sound. As we were driving to the transfer station, we passed a property that had quite a lovely patch of Chionodoxa forbesii, whose common name is Glory-of-the-Snow. It is a small bulb with strappy leaves from which a flower spike bearing up to 10 intense blue star-like flowers with white centers (there are also white and pink cultivars) emerges. Now, just yesterday, we had spotted a bunch of these potted up at one of the island nurseries, but seeing them in the wild, so to speak, sealed the deal. After the transfer station, we headed straight for the nursery and bought nine pots of them, most containing four separate plants. They are now planted in and around the feet of Euphorbia griffithii 'Fireglow,' a Melianthus major,  a red peony, and the red dahlias we planted yesterday. A relative of scilla, these will spread around a bit, which we don't mind as the color is so beautiful. By mid-June, they disappear, just in time for the other things planted near them to be taking off.

While we were at the nursery, we also bought nine pots of Muscari latifolium, a charming grape hyacinth that has only one or two broad leaves and flowers that are a rich, dark blue with white lips. They also sport little top-knots of flowers that are a lovely pale blue, creating a two-toned effect. We have some of these in another location, and they are increasing from seed. We planted the new ones among a bunch of Anemone ranunculoides, with its ferny foliage and bright yellow flowers, around the base of our snakebark maple (Acer davidii). The anemones will spread by underground rhizomes, so we are hoping for a spring carpet of yellow punctuated with the cheery spikes of the blue grape hyacinths.

Finally, here is a photo of the amazing emerging foliage of Rheum palmatum v. tanguticum, an ornamental rhubarb. Each of the alien-like red "eyes" will unfurl into a whorl of enormous leaves, each of which emerges dark red and folded up like origami. These will later grow to nearly three feet across, truly an impressive sight. Rheums like deep, rich soil in partial shade, with plenty of mulch at their feet to keep their roots cool in the summer. Ours is now three years old and has a lot of eyes—it's going to be a monster!

Fun in the Garden

We're having a lovely weekend here in the Puget Sound region, and that seems to draw folks outdoors like nothing else. Why, it's even supposed to get above 60° today! For us (meaning  my sweetie and me), it means digging in the dirt. It's a busy time in the garden, as we clean up damage from our harsher-than-usual winter, plant new things, and weed, weed, weed.

Yesterday, I dug up the Dahlia 'Bishop of Llandaff' which we planted several years ago, because its location near the Acer davidii meant that it was now in too much shade. We don't usually bother digging up dahlias for the winter, finding that if they have good drainage they usually survive our winters in the ground just fine. However, as this particular dahlia has been declining somewhat, we decided to move it to somewhere it will get more sun. I was pleased to find that the single tuber we planted three years ago had grown into a round mass of fat tubers larger than my head. Yes, there were a few rotting ones in there too, so I carefully broke the mass apart and removed any bits that were turning to science-fiction movie style goo, ending up with seven healthy chunks, some with multiple tubers, which I then planted at the back edge of our sunniest border. We are looking forward to quite a show of this beautiful dahlia mid-summer.

In another section of the same sunny border, I planted 12 Lilium 'First Crown,' an Asiatic-oriental hybrid lily that we hope will harmonize well will the Lilium 'Red Hot' we have elsewhere in the garden. Although often warned that the deer will like our lilies even more than we do, we have not had a problem with them, and two neighbors have likewise been spared. You never know with deer, however, and what they turned their noses up at last year might tempt them this time around, so we have taken to spraying the emerging lilies with deer repellent, and continue to occasionally spray them until the buds open.

I also planted five Cardiocrinum cordata v. glehnii, whose newly emerging foliage is super-shiny green with red veins. A close relative of the more imposing Cardiocrinum giganteum (which we also grow), this lily family member from Japan forms a basal whorl of shiny leaves the first several years. When it has reached sufficient size to bloom, the entire whorl gets raised off the ground by a stout stem, and a flower spike appears, eventually bearing multiple long trumpets of creamy white infused with green. Like it's larger cousin, C. cordata has a wonderful scent. They prefer shade or part-shade conditions and somewhat acidic soils, so they should do well for us. C. giganteum dies after blooming (it can take up to 7 years from seed to bloom), but almost always leaves behind a handful of "pups," smaller bulbs that form around the main one, so once you get them established, you generally have them as long as you want them (and who wouldn't want these towering beauties?). Cardiocrinum cordata, on the other hand, take fewer years to reach bloom size, may survive blooming, and will still produce new bulbs. Yay!

While working in the garden, we also enjoyed the beautiful emerging foliage of Spirea japonica 'Magic Carpet." This is (for us) a relatively small spirea that is really at it's most lovely right now, when its leaves emerge in lovely bronzy, chartreuse, red, and pink tones. Later it will sport frothy pink blooms. After it blooms, we usually prune it lightly to control its size and shape, and check for any branches that have layered (rooted themselves where they touch the ground). It brings a lovely mass of rich color to the spring garden.

We have developed somewhat of a passion for trilliums, including T. grandiflora, (photo above) with its graceful habit and pure white flowers that last a very long time. These are slowly increasing over the years, and each new plant is greeted with exclamations of delight. There is no sign of the T. luteum yet this year, though, and that has us gnashing our teeth. They may still emerge, though. Elsewhere we have white- and red-flowered hybrids of T. sessilifololium, with their large, mottled leaves, that are increasing at a satisfying rate. One bonus of the red-flowered form is that some of their flowers (the paler ones, actually) smell like bubble-gum!