Saturday, July 29, 2017

Summer Means Sunny Flowers

Rudbeckia hirta in the late June raingarden.

My raingarden has been overtaken by Rudbeckia. I have a hard time objecting. How can you not love a billow of black-eyed susans spilling willy nilly and covered in bees? The first to bloom is Rudbeckia hirta in June, but now the Rudbeckia tomentosa and R. fulgida are coming into the fore. I have armloads of sunny flowers for cutting.

Rudbeckia tomentosa is just opening now.  

Rudbeckias are Midwestern favorites for their long bloom season and easy personalities. They love the sun and aren't terribly picky about soil, but perhaps not too wet. I am charmed by their chocolate chip centers that look almost edible. I like cutting them for my desk when the flowers are newly opened. The tiny disk flowers open in sequence like a miniature golden tiara. Lots of pollen, but fascinating to watch the succession. Eventually, they will become seeds and the birds with snarf them down along with the coneflowers. In the meantime, I'm soaking in the warmth from about a hundred little miniature suns.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Experiments in Propagation, aka Operation Save a Rose

Stanwell Perpetual rose - delicious fragrance, tough as nails!

Roses - I love them, but they have to be tough buggers to survive in my yard. They don't get coddled or protected from Chicago winters and they'd better rebloom. This year, I have been seduced by a couple of David Austin English roses. I couldn't resist their fragrance and old garden rose blossoms. We shall see if they make it.

My favorite roses in the yard are the Stanwell Perpetuals. These are old garden roses dating back to 1838 where it was propagated in England. You can read up on a bit of history here. With about three sets of thorns, the bunnies don't eat them. I usually float the flowers in a bud vase, as they are very short stemmed. They are exceptionally fragrant, repeat bloomers and they are handling some shade. Well, they are struggling in too much shade, really, which is why I'm attempting my first rose propagation project. Stanwells are near impossible to find on the market in the U.S. and I got mine via mail order about 15 years ago.

Let's see if I can pull off propagation...

Evidently, rose propagation is relatively straightforward. I'm doing softwood cuttings, which means they are the branchlets that have bloomed already this year. Dipped in rooting hormone, kept in moist potting soil, and topped with a handy plastic bottle to keep humidity and heat high. Fingers crossed that in a few weeks, I have at least one viable start!

Four little Stanwells sitting in the south window. Grow, grow, grow!

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Emerging Garden: What's Coming Up Now?

Spring is HERE!

So my snowdrops have been blooming since January and the bulb iris is already done. However, now is the time when plants are beginning to emerge from the soil as temperatures warm and days lengthen. I have a friend who bought a new house in the fall. She is trying to figure out all the new things popping up in the yard. I thought I'd do a permabulation of the estate and take pictures of what's popping it's head up. Call it Name That Plant - Spring Version. Just ignore the creeping Charlie.

How you can tell: Daffodils are monocots, so they have long slender leaves with parallel veins. Look for rounded tips, but for me, what really indicates that they are daffodils is the twist in the foliage. It looks kind of like a group of eels.

Katharine Hodgkin iris
How you can tell: This dwarf iris is in the reticulate group, which means you plant them as bulbs and they'll go dormant in June. These tiny little gems come up in March and bloom for maybe a week. They are fleeting, but so so lovely. After they flower, they will send up grey-green spikes of narrow foliage that should be allowed to wither naturally.

Allium and tulips
How you can tell: The grey green foliage is allium, the kind that send up a purple ball of flowers later in spring. It is narrower than its neighboring tulips and the foliage is held in a stalk at the base. The tulips are beefy mid-green leaves in a big cluster with a little ripple in the edges at this stage.

How you can tell: Well, partly it's because I know where they are and I leave the stalks up for winter interest. However, they do leaf out early in flat clusters of  lightly toothed rounded leaves. 

Bearded iris
How you can tell: The fans of iris are very flat. See how they are organized in one layer? Another monocot, they are usually a grey-green or have a greyish cast to them. Not to be confused with...

How you can tell: Daylilies, although organized in fans, tend to be bunchier, not as flat as iris. They also tend to be a light green with maybe a greyish cast. They are fleshier, too. Mine were none too pleased with our late snow, and are showing some frost damage in the form of seared foliage.
Monarda or bee balm
How you can tell: Most monardas emerge with a purple tinge to their slight fuzzy corrugated arrowhead leaves. The round leaves in the photo are creeping Charlie. Monarda is also minty fragrant when crushed.
How you can tell: They look like brains. Also, they are showing their characteristic red stems. Rhubarb is super cool as it emerges (brains!), so it's something worth checking on if you don't have it front and center.
How you can tell: This minor bulb is just beginning to flower in my garden. They are only about three inches high, have a touch of purple in the stems, and nodding flowers. As the flowers age, they open up more.

How you can tell: This is a groundcover type of sedum. The leaves are succulent and on wiry stems. They are also a little seared by the snow. Groundcover sedums are up now and hug the ground. Many have a touch of red in the leaves.

Geranium or cranesbill
How you can tell: This is a grouncover type of geranium. Its newly emerging leaves are red as the chlorophyll hasn't kicked in yet. They are palmate in shape and spicy fragrant when crushed. 

Jacob's ladder
How you can tell: See how the leaves are organized like a feather? Jacob's ladder (Polemonium reptans) are pinnately compound and cute as pie. They will be a clean green when mature, but for now have a bit of purple.

Prairie smoke
How you can tell: Another pinnately compound perennial, prairie smoke (Geum triflorum) is semi-evergreen and a nice polite native. They are also fuzzy and organize themselves in clumps. Soon their signature flowers will pop up. 

Shooting star
How you can tell: Shooting star (Dodecatheon meadia) has lettuce-green leaves in small rolls. Part of this is that I know where I put it and I keep an eye on it. The bunnies will occasionally snack. I'm hoping to get some nice big clumps going, but for now I'm just happy it's back.

I hope this is helpful as you stroll the yard and start the spring clean up. Are you ready?

Friday, February 17, 2017

Snowdrop Season

My snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis) have been up since January. And climate change is a myth? I think not. We've had an extraordinarily temperate winter in 2016-2017. Temperatures are due to hit around 60 this weekend. Yikes! We've had very little cumulative snow, so I fear that soils are pretty dry right now. We'll see what happens to evergreens as things progress.

Snowdrops. These little magical flowers give me such pleasure. They are stubborn little things for a plant that seems so delicate. The patch pictured seeded itself from the original grouping and every year is a little bit bigger. The original planting had died out to only one plant. I'm happy to report that this year, it has pulled itself together and is up to three little bunches. This is why I let them go to seed. They are among the plants dispersed by ants.

Guess what? Ants are pretty important for seed dispersal for some plants. Snowdrops, wild ginger, and violets among others produce seed with a special appendage called an elaiosome that is rich in fats, sugars, and other goodies that are particularly attractive to ants. Propagators will often call it 'ant candy'. Ants will carry off the seed, consume their treat and the plant is neatly dispersed away from its parent. Cool, eh? This is why I don't get fussed over anthills or ants in the yard. Go, little pollinators, go!

It is fascinating to me to see where these ant candy plants pop up in the yard. My wild ginger is spreading slowly by rhizomes, but it has also appeared in places 20 feet from a patch in full sun. Will it survive? We shall see. I am awash in violets in the lawn and the beds. The back 40 (feet, not acres) resembles an alpine meadow in spring. I love them. As a child, I'd pick violets for tiny bouquets for my dolls.

What plants suddenly appear in your gardens?

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Janustory Wrap Up 2017

Well, we've come to the end of the long road that has been this short story. I've really enjoyed the challenge and it has been a good reminder to create art every day. To carve out time for creativity is so important and give me balance. I will attempt to keep this blog up weekly, but as you can tell from past history, life does tend to get in the way. So does gardening, but that is a good thing. I decided to include the whole journey below. Enjoy!

  1. Falling.
  2. Sliding down.
  3. Pillow catches me.
  4. Weird room all yellow.
  5. What is this sticky stuff?
  6. I catch a glimpse of sky.
  7. The walls are too slick to climb.
  8. The sticky liquid is sweet and quite delicious.
  9. My prison trembles and shakes – what is happening now?
  10. Bumblebees are terrifyingly gigantic from a tiny brown ant’s perspective.
  11. The miniaturization process worked, but I am trapped and very afraid.
  12. Although I have sufficient sustenance, I have been separated from the team.
  13. The sticky yellow petal walls of my prison are closing in on me.
  14. I have been startled awake by the inquiring probe of a long bee tongue.
  15. The petal slit, I can now escape, if only I could find a way down.
  16. After crafting a braided rope from the calyx fibers, I’ve freed myself from my narrow prison.
  17. How am I ever going to find the other members of the team with my radio broken?
  18. As I inch down the stem’s thick buoyant hairs, a deluge of water nearly knocks me into space.
  19. I cling aching and helpless as a summer shower tries to drown me, each heavy raindrop a merciless waterfall.
  20. At last I have reached the leaf litter below and I pause to take in this strange huge new landscape.
  21. Each crooked stem, green leaf, and grain of gritty soil has become an entirely new country and I am a foreigner.
  22. I wonder where my other intrepid team members landed after our laboratory shrinking and if they are entirely lost or also exploring.
  23. I have achieved an open patch and looking up to a brilliant sky swept with clouds, suddenly feel that all is not lost.
  24. A warm breeze ruffles my hair as the sun begins to set and I’m going to need to build a shelter for the night.
  25. The last golden orange rays of the summer sunset are fading beneath a clear sky studded with stars while my new fire burns and crackles.
  26. Luckily, I have managed to snare a dinner meal of some kind of white grub, if only I can find the intestinal fortitude to swallow it.
  27. Until this daring misadventure, I have never realized just how loud the song of crickets can be when you have been shrunk down to their size.
  28. Under the rosy blush of a new dawn, I am slowly awoken by the distant call of different song birds and wonder if now I am considered prey.
  29. Stretching each and every muscle so I can be ready for immediate flight into the foliage, I sip fresh drops of dew from the stem of my yellow flower.
  30. Suddenly I feel an electric tingling all over my body, and as I rise to my feet, my world swirls into a myriad of colors before dissolving into dazzling confetti.
  31. I step from the remains of a broken terracotta container brushing bits of plants and soil from my clothes and find my four colleagues hale and hearty, if a bit rattled.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Janustory Day 30

Janustory Day 30: Suddenly I feel an electric tingling all over my body, and as I rise to my feet, my world swirls into a myriad of colors before dissolving into dazzling confetti.

#janustory #wordcount30

There was SUN today! Countless numbers of us took a long moment to soak in some vitamin D and remember what color blue the sky looks like. In celebration, here's a witchhazel in bloom. I think they look like brilliant yellow fireworks

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Janustory Day 28 and 29

Janustory Day 28: Under the rosy blush of a new dawn, I am slowly awoken by the distant call of different song birds and wonder if now I am considered prey.

Janustory Day 29: Stretching each and every muscle so I can be ready for immediate flight into the foliage, I sip fresh drops of dew from the stem of my yellow flower.

#janustory #wordcount29

This little writing exercise is drawing to a close as February is upon our doorstep. I've enjoyed the challenge! Now, the hard part is a wordy sentence that flows and isn't too run-on. I am reminded of the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest where the goal is to create bad opening sentences to imaginary novels in keeping with the style of the Victorian author. Go check it out. They tend to be hilarious. In the meantime, since we STILL have not seen the sun, here's a prickly pear flower to bring light to our grey January.

Prickly pear (Opuntia humifusa) flowers are stunning - and native!