Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Feeling the love for fusion

The May/June American Gardener tells me that the Fusion series of impatiens resulted from crosses between walleriana (from Zanzibar) with auricoma (from Madagascar). It seems kind of a paradox that a plant that so many gardeners think of with either indifference or contempt has such exotic origins. I don’t expect to ever see either Zanzibar or Madagascar; they may as well be Antarctica for the chance that I may ever visit. I think of them as places where spices and rare woods may be found, or as places where Captain Aubrey and the HMS Surprise may have stopped during their many far-flung voyages.

I do wonder what impatiens growing in the wild might look like; probably much better than the stiff clumps surrounded by obligatory red mulch that we see in front of corporate headquarters or medical offices. The fact is that impatiens is a useful plant. And that’s exactly the word—I use them for shady spots where I really must have some kind of floral display. But recently, there has been some exciting breeding programs for impatiens, and the Fusions certainly are one of the best results of those programs. I happened upon these—the yellow type—last year at my favorite local garden center, and this year I bought both the yellow and a deep salmon shade. In spite of my griping about patented plants on Garden Rant, I was glad to be able to buy these. (They were developed by Ball.)

Last year, this plant attained bush-like proportions, with delicate, orchid-like flowers and generous, multi-branched stems. Many people asked me what they were. I look forward to seeing what they’ll do this year, a year when I’ll be treating them with a bit more respect.

I had to use a flash for these images, so the yellow does not quite come out as it should.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Doublefile in the spotlight

Things at GWI these days are mostly green: a lot of promise, but not much color. My Single Lates are still hanging on in front (I almost feel like telling them, oh drop your petals already). Other than that, the viburnum tomentosum above is my showiest plant at the moment. It’s about six feet tall, which seems high, but Botanica lists it as getting at least that big if left unpruned. (Pruning? What’s that?)

It nicely embraces this sculpture and provides a needed screen for this little corner, which shows a bit of my neighbor’s unlovely back door area, also blocking the unattractive chain link that divides our properties here. This is quite a shady area too, so I feel lucky to have been successful with the shrub. It’s not the native variety, sadly, though some of the natives I’ve seen around here are worried by really bad insect problems. I gave Michele my viburnum book, or I’d regale with you with minutia on this variety. Suffice it to say that it’s my very favorite shrub, before the hydrangeas, and well before the under-performing rhododendrons in front. If I replaced them, I would consider viburnums; I’m not a great believer in winter interest these days. The only thinking about this one is that I don’t see many berries on it.

I even have a name for it, which it shares with the sculpture and its creator: Burke.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Thursday, May 22, 2008

The thin end of the wedge

For many reasons, I have never fully embraced spring-blooming perennials. I love bulbs, but brunnera, myosotis, dicentra spectabilis, primula, pulsatilla, bergenia, and other plants that display in cold spring weather have eluded my obsession. Selfishly, I prefer plants that I can enjoy while it is enjoyable for me to be outdoors. I’ve often thought many of the early spring plants have been foisted upon us by British gardeners, who have a nicer, if dampish, spring climate.

Oddly enough, however, among the first plants I ever bought as a beginning gardener were hellebores. It was their oddness that drew me to them. Wayside Gardens, a company that I have never ordered another plant from since that time, advertised them on the back of their catalogs as unique, multi-colored Lenten roses. It must have been the “rose” part that attracted me; I was obsessed with roses in those days.

Year later, those two plants from Wayside are huge, thriving clumps. They must like where they are; another plant from the same order, the super-aggressive silver lace vine, died within a week. For about seven years, those hellebores were the only spring-blooming perennials I had, apart from spring bulbs (and many of my spring bulbs are treated as annuals, as I’ve often mentioned).

Until now. I picked up another couple hellebores recently, fancier ones, and I also have two dicentra formosa (one pink and one white) that start very early in the spring and don’t stop until frost. I think these may go by “eximia” now, but I’m not sure. And then came the lamium. Some of those start in early May, as does my favorite groundcover sweet woodruff (used to be gallium, now asperula).

But I really think my commitment to spring perennials was cemented when I picked up this pulmonaria (above and top). I think it’s the Majeste. I love the foliage and if it remains attractive throughout the summer, I will definitely plant more. Here you see it surrounded by falling cherry blossom; the pink-to-blue blooms are wonderful. (Those changeable flowers again.)

But I can definitely see some brunnera and bergenia in my future.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

It’s the small things you appreciate when you’re a shade/partial shade gardener

On the way back from a wedding yesterday, we stopped by the botanical garden’s annual plant sale. You can pre-order annuals and perennials, but there are always a lot of leftovers from those batches of plants as well as many other plants that can’t be pre-ordered. This year I was very pleasantly surprised by a new torenia that did not appear on the preorder list. I’d never seen or heard of it before, but it is gorgeous. Torenia is one of my favorite shade annuals; you can’t use it in deep shade, but it flowers all season and fills in quite nicely. So far they’ve all been blue and purple. Until now! Had any of you seen this cultivar? The color mix is yellow and maroon; it’s called Yellow Moon and the tag credits Danziger Flower Farm. (I've also posted on Garden Rant about it today.)

So there I am in my heels, stockings, and black dress, all excited about the torenia and trying not to get dirty. (This is one of those weddings where there’s a gap before the reception.) I also got a couple burgundy-leaved canna (not ID’d but I’m pretty sure what they are), some lovely variegated ivies, perhaps to mix with the torenia, and, yes, I’m sorry fellow gardeners, an entire flat of white impatiens. Don’t hate me. Very little else will work in the soon-to-be deeply shaded front yard. I also got some fabulous coleus. All the coleus is fabulous these days, don’t you think? The newly available varieties just keep coming. These are like stained glass. Of course, they’re all in the house, along with 50 other recently-purchased plants; it will be 39 tonight.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Blooming under the drop cloths

Roofers in the fall, painters in the spring. Ah, the good life. Actually, I am very excited about getting our flaking, shabby house scraped and painted. They’re also going to paint all the wooden steps and—hell, I don’t know anyone else who has these so I don’t know what to call them—the garden enclosures? Essex green. The painted red brick is being repainted red, and the black trim repainted black.

However, the plants, as usual, are getting the worst of it. The viburnum (top) has been lassoed and pulled away from the wall. The lilies are all kind of bent over from being covered by a tarp. Containers are where they shouldn’t be. Oh well, should be over in a few days.

So. Blooming. I still have the single late tulips, the acuminatas (previously posted upon), the clusianas (ditto), the batalini "Bronze Charm (shown here)," and, just coming up, the bakari “Lilac Wonder.” I still have the hellebores. The viburnum, in spite of its travail, is coming into bloom, as is the sweet woodruff. Geranium macrorrhyzum (below) is making its appearance, and I have tons of lamium in bloom. The GWI garden is not a late spring or even early summer garden; I lack iris, peonies, and many of the other favorites of the early season. But I will have some columbine and some early roses. Just not yet.

Monday, May 12, 2008


Here we have t. acuminata, my very favorite of the species tulips. Sure I love the bright, striped clusianas, especially, these, shown in a group with some batalini “Bronze Charm” thrown in.

But if you’ve picked up anything from this blog, you should have gathered that I yearn for variety, for the unusual and unique—like giant elephant ear and $50 oriental lily hybrids. I don’t yet have any of the plants that are really more ugly than anything, like the “Hair” allium or some of the rudbeckia and echinacea that are all black center and little else.

The acuminata though. What I really like about it is its combination of real strength with apparent fragility. The slender petals endure far longer than many other species, including the tarda, the turkistanica, and most of the clusianas—though these "Cynthia" (above) have been out for a while. Acuminata dates back to the seventeenth century in depictions, but it is only shown in cultivation and has not been seen in the wild, as far as I know. Perhaps there was some kind of cross-breeding centuries ago.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Plant Delights? Not delighted.

Bad enough that I could only afford to buy 4 plants, even with a gift certificate. They were plants I chose carefully, after winnowing out a whole bunch of other offerings. One of them, boehmeria (above), I saw at the on-site Juniper Level gardens, when I visited PD last summer. It’s a lush foliage plant I was very very excited about. Was. Because apparently the plants aren’t developed enough. Fair enough, and they did call ahead of time to warn me about that one.

But this morning, when a suspiciously small package arrived, it was clear something else was missing. The colacasia gigantea was not included. (I posted on this a while back.) An attached note says that they’ve run out and will send it later in June. I ordered this in early 08, but because we have one of the latest planting season, I can see where they could run out before they get to my zone. Wah! Dammit.

I understand how this happens, but with such eagerly awaited plants, it is very disappointing. I did receive 2 very healthy cultivars: the colacasia Nancy’s revenge and the clematis alpina, which has bright yellow foliage and blue, bell-shaped flowers—there was already a bud on it.

Oh well. The angst of mail-order gardening.

Monday, May 05, 2008

How this blog got its name

Robin (Bumblebee) asked this and I was going to just email her the answer, but what the heck, she’s not the only one who's asked. So here it is.

No, I do not drink and garden at the same time, unless the beverage is coffee, diet soda, or water. However, we (me, my husband, friends, relatives, neighbors, co-workers, and often people who are just about complete strangers) often gather in the garden during the warm months to drink and eat. I often have meetings with writers in the garden, and I’ve held late afternoon board/committee meetings with various volunteer groups in the garden. Generally speaking, most of us are drinking wine, cocktails or beer during these times. The garden, for us, really is an outdoor room, though we’ve never thought of it that way, didn’t buy anything where that phrase was mentioned, and we didn’t read any magazine articles on how to create such a place.

After we moved in, as soon as I could, I set up a table and chairs, and the garden kind of took place, always revolving around us, in it. So there I am one evening sitting with my two friends Cheryl and Nancy (shown above in a oldish, faded Polaroid, all I could find). We’re drinking wine and having some kind of snack, probably. I see something in a nearby bed (now the pond), something that should be deadheaded, or pulled out, or shifted in some way. I get up and head purposefully toward the plant in question and—I think—Nancy called out “GWI! GWI!”

That was some years before I started this blog and the phrase seemed like a natural title. Over the years, the garden has provided a wonderful setting for all kinds of socializing, for boys as well as girls—hubby (center) and friend Scott below:

I love the garden for its own sake, but if I couldn’t hang out in it with my friends, I’d be much less interested. I suppose, too, in the same sense that M.F.K. Fisher felt that food and drink and love were intertwined, I feel that the garden and its flowers have a lot to do with why I love my life and hence want to see my friends and loved ones in the garden.

Long answer to an easy question!

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Weird hosta stuff

It could be that my refusal to divide any of my now at least fifteen-year-old hostas is finally coming home to roost. The hosta shoots are emerging, as always, but they seem to be fighting their way through a very tough looking above-ground root system that almost looks like discarded snail shells or something equally grotesque.

These are wonderful hostas, as far as they go. They have huge, glossy green leaves and tall, dark purple flowers. They created quite a stir last summer during Garden Walk, especially when I held up traffic to dig one out for a visitor. This is my only way of sharing them because I have no idea what type they are, except that they’re quite common around here.

(The flash fired, so they look much lighter than they are.)
The problem with them is that they decline earlier in the season than other hostas. So I’m not really interested in dividing them to spread them through the garden. If it’s necessary for their health, I might. Or maybe I’ll just pull them all up and give them away. Or maybe I won’t do anything.

A dividing task would be perfect for a hoe, I guess, if I had one. I don’t. I have the minimum of garden tools. I’m just not that interested in tools, so I buy only what I absolutely need. However, I have been admiring all the vintage equipment I’ve been seeing on the blogs this weekend.