Tangled Branches: Cultivated
happenings in and around my zone 6b gardens in northern Virginia and in central Virginia
Wednesday, February 28, 2007
The Little Bulbs
I believe that I haven't written a book report since grade school, and I'm not sure I remember how to do it. Carol is graciously letting me get away with writing a review of a completely different book than the one everybody else read for the February Garden Bloggers' Book Club. Thank you, Carol. I chose The Little Bulbs by Elizabeth Lawrence, partly because it was an unread book from my collection and partly because spring is coming and all those little bulbs are going to be blooming any day now.
The subtitle - a Tale of Two Gardens - might lead you to believe that you were picking up a book comparing and contrasting the bulbs grown in different gardens, but the great majority of the book is given over to description of plants generally grown from bulbs (or corms, tubers, etc.) and which are short or possess small flowers or just look more delicate than, say, a Darwin Tulip. It would be interesting to count the number of species described. The author grew most of them in her own garden at one time or another. That's a remarkable accomplishment, but to bring these plants to life on the printed page without photos or illustrations is even more remarkable. Think for a moment about writing a garden blog without the aid of pictures. Hard to imagine? But Miss Lawrence had a wonderful command of her subject and of the English language. Some of the terms she used were unfamiliar to me, particularly the use of color names. Anybody know what Hay's Maroon looks like? How about Indian Lake? (Wasn't that a song by the Cowsills?) She was apparently using color names as set forth in a book by Robert Ridgway - Color Standards and Nomenclature, and she must have had the book in front of her when she was writing up the Ixias. And of course, much of the taxonomy has changed since the book was written in 1957.
All this descriptive prose could get tedious, but Miss Lawrence manages to keep it readable by frequent references to her correspondence with a special garden friend, Mr. Krippendorf, and many other bulb-growing gardeners and merchants as well. One wonders how she found time to garden and keep up with her letter writing and filing. She further rounds out the text by quoting other authors, and detailing her specific experiences with certain bulbs. That said, I have to mention that I liked this book better while I was under the influence of caffeine - or in other words, I couldn't read it in bed at night without dropping off to sleep. It's just not a page-turner.
The book is a pleasant time capsule, but is there any information the modern gardener can put to use? Miss Lawrence's enthusiasm for certain plants is clear, and I'm now thinking of trying some plants I hadn't considered before, especially the fall crocuses and colchicums. Some of the bulbs are still readily available under the same names used in the book. She obtained many of her bulbs from specialist growers and many from friends and correspondents, so they weren't necessarily common in the trade then either.
I'll probably keep this book on my shelf to reread certain sections from time to time, but I doubt I would sit down and read it cover to cover again. I decided to buy The Little Bulbs after I read Gardening for Love: The Market Bulletins, which I thoroughly enjoyed and would reread in its entirety. I'm looking forward to picking up a copy of the book everybody else read - long ago I read Onward and Upward in the Garden, and still have it on my bookshelf.
A couple of pertinent web pages for those who'd like to know more about Elizabeth Lawrence:
- The House and Garden of Elizabeth Lawrence
- Amaryllids in a Southern Garden. This is a reprint of an article Elizabeth Lawrence wrote for Herbertia, the journal of the International Bulb Society.
P.S. I lied about what time I posted this. I'm ashamed to be late yet again.
This past weekend we were still chopping away at the greenbriar and fallen branches down at the country house, but I think the woods are about to sprout. I'm hoping for lots of spring ephemerals. Not having any idea what spring will bring there, my theme for this gardening year is Discovery.
Some things I already know.
- The wooded part of the property is very wet. After 20+ years of trying to find plants that will grow in dry woodland, I can now reverse course and buy plants that grow in swamps.
- If I want to become an expert on mosses and lichens, this is the place to do it. Many, if not most, of the trees are covered with mosses and lichens at their bases. I found a web page illustrating some common mosses of the southeast US - I think I have most of these. They're really quite beautiful close up (1,2,3). Some of these photos remind me of aquariums by Takashi Amano.
- I apparently have 2 species of Lycopodium. I thought they were all the same, but looking over some pictures I took in the fall, the one I photographed then is different than what I photographed on Monday. I think the fall photograph is Lycopodium digitatum, and the recent photograph is Lycopodium obscurum.
Yet to be discovered is the extent to which critters are going to interfere with my garden plans. I think I saw a groundhog on the other side of the stream - the side closer to the planned vegetable garden. I didn't get a good look at it, but it was brown, low to the ground, and didn't move like a squirrel. And while working on that part of the woods, we discovered a number of largish (burrow-sized) holes in the ground.
For the present, I don't plan to garden in the woods, but just at the woodland edges. I want to add some evergreens to screen out the wintertime view of the neighbor's house. I want some flowers attractive to butterflies and hummingbirds. And it would be really nice if these plants would grow about 3 feet a year. I don't want to waste a fortune on plants that won't grow in wet conditions, or will be eaten by deer, rabbits, etc. Trying to stay within these guidelines, I ordered some reasonably priced things from Woodlanders and planted them last weekend. The list so far is:
- Illicium floridanum. Broad-leaf evergreen that grows in shade. Maybe the aromatic foliage is a deer deterrent.
anifoliaalnifolia. Tolerates wet soil. Has flowers for hummingbirds and butterflies.
- Cephalanthus occidentalis. Ditto. And is said to be deer resistant.
- Itea virginica. Tolerates wet soil. Good fall color. Said to be deer resistant.
- Magnolia virginiana. Tolerates wet soil. Not quite evergreen, according to the Woodlanders website. This one might be a mistake - I've just recently read that it's a favorite deer food.
- Asimina triloba aka Paw Paw. Tolerates moist soil. Produces fruit you cannot buy at the grocery store. Host plant for caterpillars of Zebra Swallowtail.
- Zenobia pulverulenta. This one needs better drainage than the others, but I added it after reading about it in a BBG article about fragrant plants.
All these survived 2 nights without being eaten. Keeping my fingers crossed...
Update 13 Mar 07: Just fixed a typo. Grrr. Should have noticed before now. That's Clethra alnifolia, not anifolia
Wednesday, February 21, 2007
It began yesterday and accelerated today. The big melt. Our street saw its first snowplow of the season today - we're more into natural snow removal here.
But under the snow, there are flowers. I'm just a bit proud of this photo of crocus, even though I didn't do anything but point and shoot. And I forgot one when I was listing plants for Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day - the Mediterranean White heath that I walk past every day has been blooming every day since I planted it in December. That must be why I forgot about it.
Love Song to a Plant
Are you ready for a good springtime song for gardeners? Really, I'm not kidding. I'm sure it's meant as a metaphor, but literal-minded simpleton that I am, all I can hear is a love song to a plant. Go to Sarah Harmer's home page, scroll down to where you see "click any title to play track" on the right hand side, and click "Oleander".
Sunday, February 18, 2007
Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day
Another great idea from Carol, and I'm late as usual, but here's my list of what was in bloom on the 15th of February.
- Florist's azalea. I've had this plant for 15 years. Several of those 15 years it spent outdoors in the ground, until I read that florist's azaleas are not hardy in DC. Well, it didn't die, but it didn't really grow either. So for the last several years, it's been captive in a pot - summering outdoors and wintering in the basement/dining room/cold frame.
- Crocus ancyrensis 'Golden Bunch'. I assume this was flowering under the slush. It was pushing up new flowers just before.
- Hellebore 'Pine Knot Strain'. These have been blooming non-stop since January, although they looked awfully sad when the cold weather set in at the end of January.
- Buds: narcissus - definitely; rosemary - were there but may have frozen.
Labels: in bloom
Thursday, February 15, 2007
Do you know what plant made these seeds? I don't, but this morning I find they're scattered all over the surface of the now solidly frozen slush/snow/whatever. I confess that I haven't tried very hard to identify them - just thought I'd toss out the question. Maybe they're instantly recognizable by somebody reading this? Or I could just plant some and see what comes up. They're about 1/2 to 3/4 inch long, by the way.
The Great Backyard Bird Count starts tomorrow. I always get a charge out of watching the map fill in, but I'm easily entertained. :-)
Wednesday, February 14, 2007
Hearts and Flowers
Happy Valentine's Day! I brought you flowers. This is a genuine unretouched photo of the azalea plant I was recently complaining about. I guess I'll keep it a while longer. Behind the azalea, through the dining room window, you can see our latest reminder of winter. Our
snow storm sleet storm ice storm precipitation event left everything looking like a freezer in need of defrosting. No transparent ice glaze; no sparkly snow; just this white crusty mess. I think we got every type of frozen precipitation there is, except hail. This is the best photo I could manage of the crud. eeeYEWwww! But while trying to find something pretty to take a picture of, I stepped on a daffodil bud. Just a few more weeks to go.
Tuesday, February 13, 2007
About this time of year I start to crave green/resinous/herbal fragrances. In the drawing-in season of autumn, I like the warm spicy scents of pumpkin pie, cinnamon rolls and molasses cookies, but now I'm ready for a wake-up call. Especially today, when all the outdoors looks like a black and white photograph, I want to be surrounded by rosemary, lavender, mint, citrus, juniper... Does this sound like the old original 1970s Clairol Herbal Essence shampoo to you? The remembrance of that scent has been driving me crazy all day. If they brought it back, I'd buy a lifetime supply.
Parallel to this, and thinking about spring plant shopping, I've been reading that strongly aromatic plants may be an effective deer deterrence strategy. I thought I had come up with this idea on my own, but now I've read it in at least two different places (1,2). This is good news, because I happen to admire most herbs anyway and would be very happy to have an excuse to plant more.
Cruising the Internet for new ideas, I found a page on the Brooklyn Botanic Garden's web site about fragrant plants - it mentions one of my favorites (Corsican Mint), and gave me some ideas for new things to try (Costmary, Patchouli). I didn't know Patchouli could be grown as an annual. Reminds me of 1970s incense (there's the 70s again).
Anne Raver visited the New York Botanical Garden last fall and her article about it described an Agastache (Black Adder) with a very minty fragrance:
The blossoms were pleasant enough, but the crystal-clear menthol that filled my nose and throat was astounding.
I was suddenly wide awake. I noticed the shape of clouds, the fuzziness of my sweater. I made a note: must have this plant.
It’s legal. It’s also drought-tolerant and deer-resistant.
Now, if only I could find a recipe for that Clairol Herbal Essence fragrance. I seem to remember the commercials saying something about balsam and melissa?
P.S. You'd be surprised at how many people recall the scents of the 70s. I hadn't thought about some of these in a long time.
Thursday, February 08, 2007
We woke up yesterday to a sparkly coating of snow. The fluffy kind that looks pretty and then fades away by afternoon. So, of course, the schools were closed. I was going to heap some more sarcasm on, but CapitalWeather.com did such a good job that I couldn't possibly improve on it.
I posted a few pictures of some snow-frosted plants, including my favorite - Calamintha. It looks so lacy and delicate in the snow, but you have to wait around for just the right kind of snow. A little bit stickier snow might have been better, but if the predictions come true, the next storm is going to flatten them.
Tuesday, February 06, 2007
Always on my nightstand, for the last 20 years or so, has been The Gardener's Bed-Book by Richardson Wright. It's written in the form of a diary - one entry for each day of the year - with a longer piece each month. Every year I resolve to read it properly, each entry on its day. Every year I fail. Last night while I was getting caught up with February, the suggested activity for February 2nd seemd worth doing. He writes:
If, on one of these days, when Spring seems very far behind, you are seized with a desire for living color, go forth into the garden and make you a bouquet of twigs. ... Bring these home and set them in a bowl under a light: you have color variation, differences in texture and formation on a day when all Nature seems drab.
He offers suggestions - Kerria, Willow, Red-Twig Dogwood - but I have none of these. Looking out the window at the garden I see lots of gray and brown twigs. I cut some and brought them inside. Still gray and brown. I have some very tiny Japanese maples with colorful twigs, but I couldn't bring myself to cut them just yet. I know where to find some twigs with better color, but they're on public property. Nobody would miss just a few, but a little voice in my head says "What if everybody did that?!?".
So I try to appreciate the form and texture, and am reminded of a passage in a book I read over the weekend. Celestine Sibley had tried her hand at Japanese flower arranging and her daughter came into the room:
"It's not very flowery looking, is it?", she asked.
"I should say not, " I said. "Line and texture and feeling are there. Not flowers. Do you sense the somber mood...?"
"Of that stick?" she asked. "Yes, ma'am."
Friday, February 02, 2007
Hmmm, what if it's neither sunny nor overcast on Groundhog Day? Does that mean we're getting only 3 more weeks of winter? And I wonder if the Groundhog Indicator is only valid in the early morning?
This is the sky about the time of sunrise this morning. Then we had a beautiful diffuse golden glow. Then we had sleet (honestly!). Then the sun came out. Now it's overcast. The birds sang through it all. I first noticed a cardinal singing in the morning about 10 days ago, and other birds are joining in now - more every day.
Whether the Groundhog is right or wrong, I still like the idea of beginning the seasons on Cross Quarter Days. This year, the actual astronomical cross-quarter day known as Imbolc, Candlemas, Groundhog Day, Risshun, and probably others, coincides with that great American traditional end-of-winter celebration known as the Super Bowl.
Go Bears! (Some of them are even nice guys.)