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Tangled Branches: Cultivated

happenings in and around my zone 6b gardens in northern Virginia and in central Virginia

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Primrose Peerless, Twin Sisters, Cemetery Ladies?

Narcissus x medioluteus
All I really wanted to know was the name of this daffodil. In the spring of 2007, I was surprised and happy to find wild daffodils blooming at Tangled Branches South, but presumed their identity was lost to time. Later that year, while browsing Brent and Becky's bulb catalog, I came across Narcissus x medioluteus. Hmm...could that be it? So I ordered some to plant and compare. What with one thing and another, they didn't get planted until early 2008 and didn't bloom that year. This year, they opened up about a week ago and then the heat wave finished them early, and yes, they look much the same as my wild daffodils.
Narcissus x medioluteus
Most of the references I've found on the internet state that Narcissus x medioluteus is a naturally occurring hybrid between Narcissus tazetta and Narcissus poeticus. My wild daffodils are the top photo and the ones from Brent and Becky are above this sentence. To my eyes, the wild flowers have a more elongated petal and a slightly larger cup and look more like N. poeticus, while the purchased bulbs look more like N. tazetta (aka Paperwhites) with their smaller and rounder petals. I wonder if some plants of this natural hybrid look more like one parent than the other? Did the cross-breeding occur more than once? Still, I'm prepared to call them all Narcissus x medioluteus. But that's such a mouthful, and I've learned they go by other names. In England, they've been known as Primrose Peerless for hundreds of years. Here in the US South they seem to be most often known as Twin Sisters, but also as Cemetery Ladies because they were often planted there and are still blooming in many.

This last bit of information I learned from Sara Van Beck in A Token of Remembrance—Daffodils in Cemeteries, published in Magnolia, the journal of the Southern Garden History Society. And that set me off on a long internet journey which prevented me from writing this up because I was so distracted by the many interesting items I found. So before this topic is totally past its post-by date, I'm going to cut this post short and just leave you with a few links.

More from Sara Van Beck about antique daffodils in the South: Daffodils in Early Southern Gardens

Botanical illustration from one of my favorite web sites in which to lose all track of time: Narcissus biflorus in Les Liliacées by Redouté. I'm not sure when this particular volume was published. Let's call it early 1800s.

Herbarium specimen from England. This and the illustration above look more like the bulbs I bought from Brent & Becky, and less like the wild ones growing here. The petals are more rounded and regular and the cup is smaller.

Lastly, it's too late to see the daffodils this year, but the Lynchburg Old City Cemetery has been lately replanted with antique varieties of plants. Sounds like a good road trip for next spring.

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posted by Entangled at 9:39 PM
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Friday, April 24, 2009


...or the difference between Karel Capek and me.

Karel Capek:
One says that in spring Nature turns green: it is not quite true, for it also becomes red with pink and crimson buds. There are buds deep scarlet and rosy with cold; others are brown and sticky like resin; others are whitish like the felt on the belly of a rabbit; they are also violet, or blond, or dark like old leather. Out of some pointed lace protrudes; others are like fingers or tongues, and others again like warts. Some swell like flesh, overgrown with down, and plump like puppies; others are laced into tough and lean prong; others open with puffed and fragile little plumes. I tell you, buds are as strange and varied as leaves and flowers. There will be no end to your discoveries.

Oh look, the tulip tree leaves are folded perfectly in half when they emerge.
Tulip tree (Liriodendron tulipifera)

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posted by Entangled at 8:01 AM
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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Things Arvensis

...or cultivated...

This should be right up my alley, no? Arvensis as a botanical epithet is variously defined, but I like this definition arven-: referring to cultivation (arvensis). You often see arvensis as the species name of garden weeds, and I've gone on about one of my favorites, Viola arvensis, in previous posts (1,2). Now, meet her neighbor Veronica.

Veronica arvensis is a tiny little plant with very tiny flowers of clear intense blue. But they're so small, you could easily overlook them.
Veronica arvensis
The Encyclopedia of Life says that Veronica arvensis is native to southern Europe and southwest Asia, but naturalized over most of the world. A good plant for Earth Day. You can regard it as a symbol of the destructive activities of humans in distributing invasive species across the globe. Or you can regard it as a symbol for the resilience and adaptability of life.

Viola arvensis and Veronica arvensis
...Viola and Veronica chatting in the garden...

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posted by Entangled at 8:39 AM
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Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Subtle Things

Or maybe this post should be titled On Closer Inspection.
Moss reproductive structures
Most of the time moss makes a nice green carpet in the woods, but lately it's sprouted hair. Well, not really hair, but that's how it looks. And when the light shines through it, it glows.
Moss reproductive structures
These are spore-bearing structures, and if you'd like to know more the Ohio Moss and Lichen Association has a nicely illustrated page explaining how mosses make more mosses.

At the edge of the woods we have clumps of bluets (Houstonia sp.). They're small flowers on small plants, sort of a pale indistinct blue in color. Up close, the tiny flowers have a tiny yellow star in the center, which I think is charming.
Bluets (Houstonia sp.)

Throughout the woods are various species of wild blueberries (Vaccinium spp.). This one grows quite tall, and is one of the first plants to flower in the woods. Again, these flowers are small and not especially showy, but apparently very attractive to insects. If you click through to the picture in Picasaweb and zoom in, you can see tiny holes in the flowers.
Vaccinium sp.

And lastly, dandelions are so common that I think not many people ever look closely at one. The feathery achenes are arranged in beautiful symmetry...
Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)
...and shimmer in the sunlight
Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)

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posted by Entangled at 6:12 PM
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Sunday, April 19, 2009

Things You Can't Ignore

I had great fun with the camera yesterday. So much is happening now in the garden, woods and fields. When I sat down to edit and post the photos I was at a loss as to how to organize and present them. I decided to invent categories to contain seemingly unrelated things. Let's start with things you can't ignore.

Big birds, for example.

If Pileated Woodpeckers weren't obvious enough just by their size...'s hard to miss the bright red crest.

And when they vocalize, you really cannot ignore them. We see them fairly often in the woods at Tangled Branches South, but they're quite wary of people and it's not easy to get close enough for a good photo.

Nature doesn't often provide it in large portions, but sprinkles red here and there when she wants you to pay attention. What could she mean by this?

Well OK, I planted these, so the setting isn't completely natural, but this tulip isn't a hybrid. Tulipa linifolia is so brilliant and satiny that it almost looks artificial. The flowers are quite large when they're open all the way - 2 inches in diameter at least.

I think of elegance when I think of ballerinas. Although Tulip 'Ballerina' does have an elegant form...

...the color is the first thing you notice.

Next post: Subtle Things

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posted by Entangled at 10:46 AM
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Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day

...It isn't raining rain, you know
It's raining violets...

...And where you see clouds upon the hills
You soon will see crowds of daffodils...

Welcome to the April Showers edition of Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day here at Tangled Branches North. I took advantage of a break in the rain yesterday to snap a few pictures.

Epimediums are looking especially nice right now, leavening the daffodils with their frothy look. Daffodils are very good this year. The earliest ones have faded, but coming on now are the tazetta and jonquilla hybrids with their beautiful scents. I cut some for a bouquet and the whole kitchen smells of jonquills (and Moroccan chicken soup).

The list of blooms for Tangled Branches North beginning with the photos above, top to bottom:
Old reliable non-spreading violet
Narcissus 'Geranium'
Dicentra spectabile
Mertensia virginica
Epimedium 'Neosulphureum' (presumed, lost label)
Narcissus (another lost label)

and the rest:
Narcissus: 'Salome', 'Yellow Cheerfulness', 'Kedron', and others
Muscari 'Valerie Finnis'
Muscari armeniacum
Anemone nemorosa 'Vestal'
Anemone apennina var. alba
Epimediums: E. pubigerum, and E. 'Milky Way (these are guesses due to lost labels)
Epimedium 'Purple Prince'
Viburnum x burkwoodii
Vinca minor
Euphorbia amygdaloides var. robbiae
Veronica 'Georgia Blue'
Lunaria annua (variegated leaf)
Scilla siberica (fading)
Puschkinia sp. (fading)
Chionodoxa sp.
Cercis canadensis
Acer palmatum 'Glowing Embers'

I think that's it; may have missed a few while dodging raindrops. Blooms are running a bit behind last year's schedule. Previous April Bloom Day posts are below.

2006 pictures (pre-dates Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day, but here for comparison)
2005 pictures
2004 pictures
my first blog post, 23 April 2003

I imagine there are many, many flowers to be seen as spring unfolds across the Northern Hemisphere. Check out May Dreams Gardens to see what else is in bloom today.


posted by Entangled at 8:32 AM
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Sunday, April 12, 2009

Spring... in full swing.


Migrating birds. Colorful birds.

Rabbits. %&#$!!!

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posted by Entangled at 6:54 AM
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Friday, April 10, 2009

The Eviction of Phoebe: 2009 Edition

Our story begins in 2007 when Eastern Phoebes chose our porch light as the perfect place to raise a family. Luckily there were no eggs when we found the nest; the spouse cleaned it off the porch light and we left the porch ceiling fan running, thinking they wouldn't like the constant motion. For whatever reason, they didn't return that year.

Last spring, we turned the porch ceiling fan on before the Phoebes started nesting and they stayed away.

However. A couple of weekends ago, they started to build on the porch light again. Again, the spouse cleaned it off. Again, we turned the ceiling fan on. But this time they came back. I cleared the nest away. They came back. I cleared the nest away. They came back. I cleared the nest away. Clearly the ceiling fan ploy was no longer working. What to do? I had some plastic netting that we used as deer protection on the tomato plants, so I cut a piece of it and wrapped it around the porch light.

You can see a bit of moss stuck in the netting. It looks like they came back with some building materials and were surprised by the barrier.

But they really really like our porch. Opposite the porch light, is a post with a tiny (about 1 inch) ledge on top.

I don't see how this can work, but apparently they do.

I've now cleaned this off 3 or 4 times in the last two days. This afternoon I put a radio on the porch and left it turned on while I was out in the garden. It looked like the mud was drying and they hadn't been back, but then shortly after 7 PM (during the Latino programming on WTJU) they were working on the nest again.

One way I could keep them from coming back is to stand by the side of the porch with a camera waiting for a good shot. They refused to come by when I was outside and ready with the camera, but they didn't object to me watching them through the window just as long as I was inside. That's why the picture above is a bit fuzzy - it was taken through the window and window screen.

So....tomorrow you can find me on the front porch trying to rig up another barrier to their current building site.


posted by Entangled at 8:58 PM
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Thursday, April 09, 2009

The Seed and I

The whole seedy affair started a long time ago. I think I was in high school when I first noticed seed catalogs. I began to read...and read and read and read. With a few short breaks here and there, I've been reading them ever since.

Over the years, I've started seeds in all sorts of containers, as well as direct-sowing outdoors, but for now I've settled on just a couple of methods.

For plants I want in quantity, I sow in 3" square plastic pots.

This year I'm trying coir and sand as growing media, although in the past I've just used whatever potting soil is available at local big box stores. Coir seems to be all the rage lately. It's a byproduct of coconut processing (the shredded husk) and is a reputedly sustainable alternative to peat moss. I bought two different brands of coir at a couple pet stores; it's sold in blocks as reptile bedding. Soak the block in about a quart of water for 30 minutes and you end up with this.

I dumped it from the soaking bucket into one of these nifty perforated bowls from the Korean supermarket. These bowls are very handy in the garden. Then I filled the pots with the soaked coir, scattered seed on top, and depending on the size of the seed, either topped it with more coir or a layer of sand or both. For very tiny seeds, such as these Mimulus, I sprinkled the seed on the coir and added a token amount of sand on top - mostly as a quick way to gauge whether I need to water. When the sand starts to dry out, then water.

This is far too many Mimulus seedlings, by the way. A hazard of planting tiny seeds.

When seedlings develop true leaves, and/or look crowded in the pot, I'll transplant them to cell packs.

I use these Bio-Dome trays from Park Seed for seeds where I only want one or two plants of each type. Tomatoes and peppers for example - I grow lots of different varieties, but maybe only one plant of each.

I'm not necessarily endorsing Park Seed here; you can get this same type of thing elsewhere and more cheaply, but I initially bought from them. It consists of a sturdy plastic tray with a clear plastic vented dome. The seeds are sown in peat sponges placed into a styrofoam block. This year, my order to Park for the refill sponges was backordered with no notification of when I might expect delivery. So, what you see above is the styrofoam insert packed with soaked coir fiber instead of peat sponges.

I plant one, two, or three seeds in each hole, depending on how old the seed is and whether I expect good germination from it. When it's time to transplant, each sponge pops out easily without disturbing surrounding plants. I hope the coir works as well, and if it does, I may not buy the sponges again. I sprinkled sand on top of the seeds just as with the pots, but because it turned out to be so messy I may not do that again. Also, the sand I used is a bit too coarse - I should have either looked for a finer grade or sieved it myself.

One little thing I've learned over the years is to use thick durable plastic labels and write on them with a soft pencil. The writing won't smear or fade, and when you're finished with it, scrub the writing off with scouring powder or a "magic eraser" sponge and reuse it indefinitely.

With both the coir and the peat sponges, you need to water with some sort of soluble fertilizer once the seeds have germinated. I'm using the bad old inorganic blue stuff, but you could use fish emulsion or whatever. I've used fish emulsion in the past, but I'm saving it for the outdoor plants this year.

Since we acquired Tangled Branches South a couple years ago, I have a lot more garden space to play with and I've increased my seed orders accordingly. In yet another attempt to keep good records, this year I'm trying a spreadsheet in Google Docs. You can browse it in the tiny window below, or view it in its own window here.

OK, I've showed you mine. What seeds are you starting?


posted by Entangled at 7:41 AM
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Monday, April 06, 2009

Rudi Rudi Rudi

This is Rudi. The largest one there is the first full-sized radish this year. The other ones - they're either impatience or thinnings. I say thinnings.

Rudi came to me as a free packet of seed last year and it's the first round red radish I've grown in a long time. I've been choosing the carrot-shaped ones over the round ones, and I probably wouldn't have chosen this on my own. I like it though. The camera exaggerates a little, but the color really is very red. And the flavor is nicely radishy with just a little kick to it. The Royal Horticultural Society likes it too.

I spent the weekend pulling weeds again and doing general garden cleanup and, oh yes, sowing more seeds. I took the photos for my seed-sowing post, but haven't done the writing yet.


posted by Entangled at 10:00 AM
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