Abies balsamea 'Nana'

Abies balsamea 'Nana'

Friday, July 31, 2015

July Favorites Wrap-up

The last Friday of the month has come and it's time to review my favorite plants for July. Loree of Danger Garden hosts the Favorite Plant in the Garden meme at this time every month, where you can see a few of her favorites and those of other gardeners in the comments.

I only did a couple of official "Favorites" posts this month, but quite a few plants caught my attention. The butterflies demanded I write a post for Echinacea purpurea. Not wanting to offend them, I acceded to their wishes. I was afraid of what might happen if I didn't. No one ever suspects the butterfly. Last week, I shared the tiny solar flare that is a blooming Rebutia arachnacantha. The flames are extinguished now, the cactus returned to little purplish domes. I also paid homage to some of my favorite weeds -sorry, "volunteers", still getting used to that. Thinking about it, pretty much everything in my posts for GBBD and Foliage Follow-Up were also favorites.

This week I'm revisiting a favorite from February. Normally I would try to avoid naming a plant my favorite again so soon, but this is a special occasion.

Back in February, I shared the emergence of a pup on my Quesnelia marmorata. It's grown almost 4 inches since then...

...but wait, that's not the most exciting part. Bromeliads usually produce pups around bloom time,sometimes before, sometimes after, depending on the species. In Quesnelia marmorata, the pups evidently precede the blooms. I had been checking occasionally because I knew it had to be coming at some point, but it still caught me by surprise, appearing suddenly with no hint of what had been developing deep in the narrow vase of leaves. I first noticed the bloom spike when it was still 4 or 5 inches from the top of the vase, but couldn't get a decent picture of it in the depths. I didn't have to wait long, though, to get the photo below as the bloom spike rocketed up into the open.

A couple days later, I could see the first flower buds.

And then the buds emerged from the hot pink bracts, some of which folded down gracefully while others arched up.

Then things seemed to halt. I could see the flower buds, but they weren't opening. I was beginning to think those soft lavender cones were the flowers.

Then the petals started to expand, with glacial speed.

The flowers don't open very wide, remaining narrow and tubular with a slight flare at the tips.

Just wide enough to give access to the pollen and nectar inside. They also don't last long, only a day. You can see the old flowers in the background, shriveled and turned from blue to a sort of red violet.

In the span of about two weeks, the inflorescence emerged, bloomed, and now looks like this.

The lavender cones from which the petals emerged have turned hard and a sort of ochre color, rather fascinating in their own right.

As entertaining as it was to watch this high-speed blooming, the real reason I grow this bromeliad is the elegant, narrow, upright vase of leaves marbled in green, grey, and purple.

It's not just my favorite this week, but one of those plants that is a constant favorite. My one complaint is that it only produced a single pup, this time...

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Now where did you come from? An ode to weeds...I mean volunteers

I've mentioned several times this spring and summer that I've adopted a new outlook towards many plants I had previously considered weeds, both to reduce the work of keeping my widely scattered garden weeded and to take advantage of free plants. It's produced some interesting results.

Certain native volunteers have always been welcome. These include Viola sempervirens, Iris tenax, Trientalis latifolia, Campanula scouleri, and Prosartes hookeri. Others, like wild strawberries, have generally been confined to only a few garden locations. Still others, until now, have always been removed from garden beds, such as Prunella vulgaris. Things that I've planted generally fall into the "always welcome" or "always removed"category, depending on how much they spread. Growing up seeing things like English ivy and Scotch broom taking over forests and clearings, respectively, made me leery of any non-native that produced more than a handful of seedlings per year, thus making the "confined" category almost nonexistent when it comes to exotic plants. The only one I can think of is Crocosmia 'Lucifer' which reseeds a bit if the flowering stems are not removed before the seed matures. I love the plant, and think the old flowering stems are attractive, but it's hard enough to control without seeding around. First let's look at some of the "always welcome" volunteers.

Though Asarum caudatum is native, I generally think of it more as a cultivated plant in my garden because I've never seen it in the woods at my house or in the state park nearby and had to introduce it myself. I know it grows in the general area, though, because it grew in the woods at our old house. The original planting has formed a solid carpet under the Japanese maple in the driveway island. After the first few years, I started finding seedlings in the rest of the bed, usually hidden under or on the north side of larger plants. Since this is one of my favorite natives, I was thrilled to find volunteers beyond my original planting, but was uninspired as to how to utilize them aside from planting them in the shady areas with the rhododendrons. My new attitude towards volunteers caused me to re-examine the possibilities in the pending redesign of the driveway island. Asarum caudatum is mostly evergreen, something I've been wanting more of in this bed. Why not take a cue from the volunteer seedlings? By planting asarum under deciduous plants like the variegated purple moor grass, 'Lucifer' crocosmia, the semi-evergreen bearded iris, or on the north side of other tall plants, the asarum would be protected from the most intense summer sun while providing some evergreen weed control. Wild ginger is surprisingly drought tolerant for something I usually see on moist, shady slopes along trails, so as long as it's shaded it should be perfectly compatible with the other drought-tolerant plants that will fill the bed.

Another native, evergreen groundcover that I was thrilled with was Satureja douglasii. This patch next to the patio is the only time yerba buena, its common name, has volunteered into a cultivated area of the garden, despite being abundant in several drier sections of the woods nearby. It did get a touch crispy this year with the dry, hot spring and summer we've had so far. I meant to water it before it got to that point, but other plants took higher priority. It's only a few brown leaves.

Juncus effusus is another infrequent volunteer, because my garden is mostly dry. This specimen volunteered along the edge of the dry creek bed, evidently getting enough water during winter to last through the summer drought.

I got Mimulus cardinalis when I still worked at Castle Rock Nursery in high school. It appeared in two pots of pink phlox. I didn't care for the phlox at all, but loved the orange flowers of the scarlet monkey flower. I planted it in the paperbark maple bed, which was filled primarily with rich "soil" from a landscape supplier with a bit of native soil mixed in. In this rich, loose soil, scarlet monkey flower is a monster, growing almost four feet tall and covering almost the entire bed, but a gorgeous one and much loved by hummingbirds. Since I left for college and then the east coast, the bed remained mostly empty and the monkey flower was a welcome filler that at least helped keep one or two weeds down. In the last couple years, it has started showing up in the driveway and along the dry creek bed, as well, but much smaller in the tougher, drier soils in those locations. Despite having removed it from the first bed to plant it elsewhere while I cleaned it out and laid down newspaper to smother the Canadian thistles that had taken over, the monkey flowers have returned from seed this summer, loosing little speed. I'm glad, because I almost lost the others last summer. This year I'm being a bit more attentive to watering to keep the remains of those patches going, but I'm glad I have those backup seedlings in the paperbark maple bed to transplant this fall.

I did not expect Allium christophii to spread by seed, but last summer I noticed there were a few small plants of this bulb that were too far from the originals to have spread by offsets. Not many, but welcome. I'll take as many of these volleyball-size spheres of stars as I can get.

Stipa gigantea also reseeds in the driveway island. My original plants were terribly root-bound and unhealthy, but managed to bloom before they died. I dug up most of the resulting seedlings and potted them up, intending to plant them somewhere else. I moved away and the plants grew root-bound and died of neglect. Luckily, a couple more seedlings popped up in the driveway island, where they've lived and bloomed for a couple years now. I'm hoping to get more seedlings but, just in case, I've collected some seed, too. I've also collected seed from Alyssum spinosum, which produces one or two seedlings each year. I sowed the seeds in containers of soil, kept them moist, and saw germination in two days! What a great plant. Doesn't volunteer enough by itself to be a nuisance, but so easy to make more when you want to. It doesn't look like that many in the photo below, but there are over 40 seedlings in this one pot, with more coming up, and a second pot with similar numbers.

Now we'll look at some plants that I've been altering my view towards, moving them out of the "always remove" category. The first one is Carex comans. Originally planted in the small dry creek beds in the driveway island, the initial plantings disappeared after a couple years, but not before producing copious amounts of seedlings. I'm talking a veritable lawn of sedge. For several years thereafter, I tried to eradicate the seedlings, viewing them as a short-lived, unsuccessful garden plant at best and a virulent weed at worst. I have a hard time accepting short-lived plants, thinking garden plants should be practically permanent (silly, I know). Then I went away, and a few of the remaining seedlings matured into attractive, flowing mounds of silvery sea-green foliage in fortuitous locations. I decided then that perhaps it wouldn't be so bad if I left a few here and there. This year, looking at a fresh carpet of seedlings in one area of the bed, I decided to take it further and actually transplant those seedlings and use them in the landscape, rather than weeding out the majority and simply allowing ones in certain locations to grow.

As I was looking at those seedlings, I noticed some variation, which I've mentioned before. First, there are seedlings with relatively wide leaves and others with narrow, almost hairlike leaves. The other variation is color. I started noticing a few olive and bronze seedlings. One of them, below, has an olive base color, but it's so silver that "olive" just doesn't cover it. Over the last few weeks, it's become even more metallic, but distinctly darker than the sea-green silver typical of the majority of the seedlings. Too silver to simply be called "olive", darker than the normal silver, I finally arrived at calling it my "pewter" seedling. Can you think of a better description? Seriously, I'm open to suggestions.

Another color variation cropped up, too. This is the largest of the seedlings that are distinctly bronze. Like the pewter seedling above, the color has changed over the last few weeks. It started out closer to olive, too, but has taken on more coppery highlights along with a silver sheen towards the tips of the leaves. All this is very exciting and I can't wait for fall to arrive so I can separate these neat little mutants out and plant them elsewhere without having to worry about heatwaves frying them. I want to isolate them from the normal silver-green ones to maintain their distinct color.

Another plant I added to the garden in high school and regretted almost immediately was Eryngium venustum. I loved the glossy, evergreen foliage rosettes, veined in white. The second year, the three original plants sent up tall, branching inflorescences of increasingly spiny leaves, culminating in blue-tinged thimbles of tiny flowers set in the center of spidery six-pointed stars. They did wind up looking a bit dingy as some sort of caterpillar decided to chew the tough leaves along the flower stems. The following spring, it's virulent nature revealed itself when, as with the carex, a carpet of seedlings was produced, threatening to overwhelm the other, more delicate plants in the bed. Let me tell you something, plants with taproots are hard to remove from hard clay soil. These baby eryngiums were worse than dandelions, even if they were pretty. Since the flower stems had been chewed up by larvae and I didn't want the small native penstemons, sedums, and other plants smothered by eryngiums, I forged ahead to rid myself of them. After almost two years of digging, waiting, and digging again, I thought they were gone. Then I come home this year to find I missed one.

My memory a little vague, I decided to let it bloom so I could re-evaluate it under my new, more tolerant perspective. If I decided I wanted to keep it after all, I could collect seed and scatter it elsewhere. I have a lot of garden. I'm sure there's somewhere it can grow where it won't bully smaller plants. Besides, who can say no to those leaves and blooms?

Salvia forskaohlei is another plant that caused me to ask, "What have I done?" Collected from a garden I worked in one summer in high school, this salvia is drought, shade, and clay tolerant, all things I have an abundance of. On top of that, they are deer resistant, which at the time was my biggest obstacle. The three-foot tall, branching stems of blue-violet flowers with speckled white lips, held above foot-long, bright green leaves, were beautiful in the bright shade of that garden. I didn't see a large number of seedlings, either, so I thought it would be safe. Boy, was I wrong. Not only does it reseed in my garden, I think it also spreads by very thin rhizomes. Still, it's tough as nails, growing and blooming even in the dry shade under Douglas firs in rock-hard clay soil. The bloom stalks are only about a foot tall under these conditions. The display could be improved if I watered a bit more. I love the color of the blooms and the big leaves help keep weeds down, so even though it frightens me a little, I'm going to keep it in a few tough areas where even the natives have trouble growing.

I don't even know what this next one is. It's one of those anonymous plants that comes up every year that I simply label as a weed. It's almost exclusive to the driveway, the island bed in the middle of the driveway, and the nearby bed along the west side of the house. It likes hot, dry conditions. Never having allowed it to get very large, this year I decided to let them grow. The driveway island has so many bare patches from the plants I dug out this spring, I don't mind something coming in to fill those spaces. I actually find it quite attractive, with furry silver leaves on even furrier white stems and insignificant flowers almost hidden in more white fur. The largest one, shown below, is a low mound less than a foot across and perhaps four inches tall at most. Since I'm planning on putting a lot more silver plants in this bed, I don't really have problem with this "weed" coming up in the future. Why fight this weed when it looks good and there are others that are less attractive and more aggressive?

 Now for the really surprising volunteers, the ones that seem to have come out of nowhere and defy explanation. I've already mentioned the Zeltnera muehlenbergii that had appeared once before years ago, only to be weeded out and not appear again until this year. I'm currently waiting for the seed to ripen so I can spread it around different locations and hopefully it can continue somewhere other than the driveway island. I still have no idea where the seed came from or how it got here.

This final weed -oops, volunteer- is even more mind-boggling. It started out as a few ferny, almost carrot-like leaves. I had a vague suspicion and an open curiosity, so I let it grow. It has done so quickly and now my suspicions have been confirmed.

I can think of two possibilities as to how Nigella damascena, or love-in-a-mist, came to my garden. The lime thyme that until recently covered large swaths of the driveway island originally came from a garden where this annual grew. It was also common along the front of the nursery I worked at in high school. Perhaps some long-buried seed was exposed when I tore out all the sickly or dead thyme this spring and finally germinated. The other possibility is that I grabbed a couple seedpods during a visit to the nursery, or even some other garden, last year and sowed the seeds then. While the latter is more likely, I have absolutely no memory of it and am therefore left to wonder. 

I started this post over a week ago, intending to post it then. Various other posts delayed this one, so now I have a picture of the first open flower to share. It's a bit darker than this photo shows, but still a rather pale blue. I was hoping for a darker blue, but this is nice, too.

This fall I'm planning to scatter a few California poppy seeds here and there. I don't know why I haven't before. I was probably hung up on the fact that they can reseed prolifically and are short-lived, but with my new perspective I'm going to enjoy their cheery orange flowers and the natural look they produce as they self-sow. Volunteers tend to appear in places where the conditions are right for them and don't experience transplant shock, so they often grow better than the same thing planted by a gardener elsewhere. They also tend to look like they belong, choosing serendipitous locations both environmentally and aesthetically. At least, that's what I've seen in pictures where a few self-sowers are used. It depends on the plant and the style of garden. I love Mediterranean or xeric gardens with a few volunteer grasses, like Stipa barbata or Carex testacea, and flowers, like California poppies, filling in some of the spaces between plants like cistus, manzanitas, Salvia officinallis, heaths, and perennials like Eryngium agavifolium or bearded irises with structural leaves. I don't like cottage-style gardens full of self-sown, floppy perennials tangled in an almost indistinguishable mass with other floppy perennials. But then, that's my personal taste.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Wednesday Vignette

The series of vignettes for this Wednesday plays on the idea I used last week, but instead of taking multiple images of progressively wider shots, I took one photo, zoomed in, and cropped multiple views from it. This is something I do more often than the series I shared last week. The brilliantly backlit Mimulus cardinalis gave me plenty to play with. Wednesday Vignette is hosted by Anna of Flutter & Hum to share inspiring scenes. What inspired you this week?

Friday, July 24, 2015

Cactus on Fire

I promised I would share pictures of my Rebutia arachnacantha when it bloomed. It tried to open on Wednesday, but the overcast prevented it from opening fully. But it did open enough for me to appreciate the color. The person who gave me this cactus described it as a fiery orange, and the bloom does not disappoint.

How does such a little plant produce such a big flower? It's both ridiculous and beautiful.

Thursday brought sunny skies, and tongues of flame unfurled into full, blazing glory. Slightly more orange than the picture below looks (at least on my screen) it really is the color of yellow-orange flames. The flower is so big it's almost like a huge parasol that's meant to shade the cactus below.

This is what it looks like with just one bloom, after suffering in a dark apartment in Wisconsin all winter. Imagine what it will look like next year after spending this winter in the new greenhouse, where it will get the cool winter rest it needs to really produce a good show of flowers.

If kept dry in the winter, this little cactus is actually hardy to at least 15F, perhaps a bit lower. I think I'll stick with the greenhouse, though, for safety. It originates in the high Andes of South America. Rebutias, and the related genus Lobivia, frequently have large flowers like this one and well-grown specimens produce so many blooms you can't even see the cactus below. They also produce offsets, which you can see at the base of mine, that eventually produce mound-shaped colonies. Each little barrel is less than two inches across, so you can get a lot of little cacti in a colony less than a foot wide, and all covering themselves in huge blooms. I think I'll go ahead and dub this little bonfire my favorite plant in the garden this week, too.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

The (Long Overdue) Greenhouse Post

It's been a while since I announced the beginning of work on the new greenhouse in this post. What can I say? Good things take time and life comes up with other demands on our time. We completed the greenhouse itself, but then sort of lost steam and didn't connect the electricity for the fan and vents. That was finally completed, though the sink and water connection still aren't finished. At least with the fan and vents functioning, and the shade cloth thrown over the roof, I could move a large number of houseplants out so we could paint one of the bedrooms. Now that the greenhouse actually has plants in it, I thought it was finally time to share it with you. The greenhouse is an 8' x 10' Sunglo purchased as a kit from Costco.

Skipping over the initial groundbreaking, setting the timber foundation, lining it and filling it with gravel, below you can see the framework starting to go up.

More framework.

The greenhouse walls are made up of two layers of acrylic, a corrugated inner layer and a smooth outer layer. I thought the protective blue coverings on the smooth panels were interesting. The static made them fun to pull off, too.

Lower panels going in.

Here you can see the sides of the door frame and three walls with both smooth and corrugated panels inserted. The third wall only has the smooth panels at this point, showing the difference adding the corrugated panels makes.

The walls are completed and the lower vent is inserted.

I took a day off one weekend to attend the open garden at Rare Plant Research. Meanwhile, my father and brother built the roof and attached the door.

Someone thought it would make an interesting statement to leave the blue protective layers on the door.

I disagreed. Annoyingly, the blue layer went under the door frame along the edges. I had to take a knife and carefully cut the blue plastic along the frame without scratching the glass.

The next weekend, I set up the benches, and that was the last anyone did with the greenhouse for several weeks.
Jump forward to last weekend and the electricity has been connected so the thermostat, fan, and vents can function to help regulate the temperature. The shade cloth also helps keep it slightly cooler and protects the plants that are now in it from the brightest rays of the sun.

My mother got the drop on me and was actually the first one to put plants in the greenhouse. The trays of soil in the photo below hold lettuce and parsley seeds.

Also among the first plants in the greenhouse are these two peppers I started from seed. They got a very late start (obviously) and I don't expect to get anything out of them. I expected the greenhouse to be ready weeks before it was, in which case there might have been a chance of getting one or two peppers off of them. At this point it's just an experiment to see how fast they will grow in the greenhouse. Next spring I'll be able to start seeds early and have big plants to put in the vegetable garden. For the curious, the plant on the left is 'Alma Paprika' and the one on the right is 'Jimmy Nardello'. Last summer I grew the same two types, planted earlier in the garden but still a bit late, and both produced ample crops of peppers that didn't quite have time to ripen. The early start afforded by the greenhouse should take care of that next time around.

The cedar benches now hold just a few houseplants (maybe 2-3 dozen) as well as a few plants I've propagated for fun, like four Begonia 'Little Brother Montgomery' that will hopefully go to good homes this fall.

Taller plants and those that I was more worried about exposing to even the reduced light through the shade cloth went under the other bench. Still lots of room. I am a bit dissatisfied with the benches, though. Attractive and spacious as they are, I wish I could customize them a bit. What if I had some taller plants that wouldn't fit on or under the shelves? I do have lots of little plants and with my tendency to propagate plants, horizontal space will soon be limited. I've been thinking a set of smaller shelves half the depth of the benches, either simply set on top of the benches or possibly mounted to the wall above the benches, would be useful for smaller plants, seeds, and cuttings.

Still to be done in the greenhouse: connecting the sink to the water line, attaching the hose, etc. The kit came with a small automatic drip irrigation system. I may set that up at some point but the plants that are currently in the greenhouse are so varied that hand-watering is the only way to go. Most of these plants will be coming back inside before summer is over, but others might just stay to enjoy the heat and light so they can grow faster than they would inside. In winter the plan is to keep it above freezing, but not really warm, so anything truly tropical will have to come inside. Most of my vireya rhododendrons, agapetes, and a few other things will enjoy a cool, humid greenhouse this winter over a warm, dry house, though. Now it's time to start looking through seed catalogs for next year!
Thanks so much for taking the time to leave a comment! I love hearing what readers think and answering questions. I also welcome suggestions for improvement!