Sunday, December 21, 2008

The first blooms of Japanese Flowering Apricot

A nice surprise! The weather has been so warm the last few days that some of the Prunus mume buds opened up.

I grew 5 Japanese flowering apricots from seed; I have 2 and gave 3 to my MIL. This one is my favorite. The flowers are clear pink, with a wonderful fragrance, like spicy cotton candy. The other three have smaller flowers that are a dark rose pink, and the fifth is a very pale pink with large almost single flowers. The fragrance of all 5 are distinct from each other.

Monday, December 15, 2008

December Bloom Day

This is all I have blooming right now: some pansies that I picked up at
Lowe's. This one is hunkered down among the lavender and strawberry leaves.

Even so, the winter garden has a special beauty all its own -- the bare bones of the garden are in plain sight. Often we don't have "real" winters here in central NC, so we can have blooms all year with the right plants, and each of those flowers are to be treasured.

Purple muhly looks good for months after flowering.
The dried seedheads look like floss and glisten in the winter sunlight.

December is the one month that my garden doesn't often have any blooms, except for pansies. I am trying to remedy that -- I have a couple of Wintersweets that I grew from seed, and I would like to get Hamamelis vernalis (especially 'Christmas Cheer') and Hamamelis virginiana. Elizabeth Lawrence was a great pioneer of looking at the garden all year, and I love to look at her research and experiences with winter gardening.

I have set out Narcissus tazetta, in the hopes that they would bloom, but they never have -- they are one of the types that increases into a hundred small bulbs that won't size up to flower.

The Lonicera fragrantissima, now approaching the size of a small house, will sometimes bloom in December, although it often waits until January.

No other flowers right now, but we still do have fall color. Almost overnight, a number of plants that had some color early on are now brilliant spots in the landscape.

The leaves of rugosa 'Purple Pavement' are a lovely shade of red.

Rosa virginiana

Rosa rugosa alba

The swamp cyrillas starting turning yellow and orange weeks ago,
and are now finishing a vivid shade of red similar to blackgum.

Oakleaf Hydrangea "Dayspring' starts out very dark
and lightens over time, finishing a lacquered crimson.

Thanks to May Dream Gardens for hosting Bloom Days.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Blooming Friday Dec. 12th

These hips are more ghosts of flowers past, from the beautiful rugosa rose 'Hansa'.

I tried rugosas in my garden as an experiment, after receiving Rose rugosa alba seeds in a trade. I actually expected them to melt down, because when I thought of rugosas I thought of Maine and Alaska. However, the species do beautifully here. Not a speck of disease and they bloom all season. They've only been completely covered in blooms one spring, interestingly enough in a drought year -- it would seem too many calories equals less flowers. But they always bloom enough for me and I love them.

I first saw 'Hansa' at Witherspoon Nursery in Durham. Witherspoon sells a lot of roses I don't care for -- hybrid teas, grandifloras, and floribundas, roses that for the most part die like crazy here, or worse, hang about looking sickly and reproachful -- but their Hansa was drop-dead gorgeous. What is that purple rose?!?!?! I must have it!

'Hansa' isn't really purple, it's magenta, but it does look purple in low light, and the coloring and texture of the petals has a very rich and velvety effect. The fragrance is strong, a mix of damask and cloves.

Thanks to Katarina at roses and stuff for hosting Blooming Friday!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Blooming Friday Dec. 5th

These shiny red hips are a reminder of the ghosts of flowers past. This is Rosa carolina, a delightful rose native to North America. It's often found at the woodland edges, where it may only grow 12-18" and be a shy bloomer. In a garden situation Carolina rose is much more robust, growing to over 4 feet in height and suckering in all directions.

Carolina rose and hungry hoverfly

The fragrance is exquisite, a combination of traditional damask rose fragrance and lemon.

For more Blooming Fridays go to Katarina's roses and stuff.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

OT -- Christmas Baking

The last couple of years I have baked Christmas cookies for the employees in my husband's office. I love to bake. Cooking unfortunately, not so much. I need different/ better equipment: a gas range, to start with. That's my excuse anyway.

One of my favorite recipes is Buttermilk Brownies. It's really much more like cake than brownies, and one of my favorite chocolate recipes.

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup butter
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 cup water
2 eggs
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 1/2 vanilla

optional: 3/4+ coarsely chopped pecans or walnuts can be added either to the brownie batter or frosting

1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 15 x 10 x 1 or 13 x 9 x 2 baking dish. Combine flour, sugar, baking soda and salt; set aside.

2) In a medium saucepan combine water, cocoa powder, and butter. Bring just to boiling, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and add chocolate mixture to flour mixture with an electric mixer until combined. Add eggs, buttermilk and vanilla (batter will be thin) and pour into pan.

3) Bake for 25 minutes for 15 x 10 x 1", 35 minutes for 13 x 9 x 2" pan, or until toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Allow brownies to cool until just warm to the touch before pouring frosting over brownies. Warning: Work quickly when spreading the frosting because it starts setting almost immediately.

Chocolate-Buttermilk Frosting
In a medium saucepan combine 1/4 cup butter, 3 tablespoons cocoa powder and 3 tablespoons buttermilk. Bring mixture to a boil, then remove from heat. Beat in 2 1/4 cups powdered sugar and 1/2 tsp vanilla until smooth. You may need to add an additional tablespoon or 2 of buttermilk. Stir in nuts. Pour warm frosting over brownies.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Butterflies and 'Miss Bessie'

I keep 'Miss Bessie' off to the side in the garden, since she does wait
until so late in the year to bloom and has a bit of a wild look about her.

'Miss Bessie' with Rosa rugosa rubra, Muhlenbergia lindheimerii and red maples in the background.

Most of the butterflies are gone, but there's a few hardy souls left.

Common Buckeye

American ladies, skippers and variegated fritillaries too.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Fall Colors

We are not having a very colorful fall here in Johnston County, but
fall is a beautiful time of year whether there's a lot of color or not.

Musclewood is colorful this year, much needed as the red maples are not.
Carpinus carolinana seems to color best when young, for some reason, and is
a nice understory tree at woodland's edge. These trees are next to one of the horse pastures.

Musclewood's common name derives from its smooth gray trunks, which twist in such
a way that they really do produce the visual effect of muscles rippling under skin.

Wild Possamhaw (Ilex decidua) grows next to the pastures and along the creek that borders our farm. As the scientific name suggests these hollies lose their leaves in late fall, leaving a beautiful display a red berries. The leaves are still persisting but won't for long. The possamhaw berries have a striking shine to them, unlike American holly berries which tend to be duller.

Winged sumac and broomstraw -- they're just weeds, but they're actually rather striking together. I wouldn't plant Broomstraw in my garden but I do like the effect in a meadow. These plants are in a ditch next to the pasture that we only mow once or twice a year to keep the woody plants down. Our neighbor's pasture has a large stand of broomstraw that glows golden even after the sun has dipped below the horizon.

A view of the neighbor's pasture and trees, east of our house,
showing a three quarters moon in the middle of a fall afternoon.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Bees on Aster 'Miss Bessie'

This late in the year all of the pollinating insects descend on the few remaining flowering plants that are left. Honeybees, yellow jackets, bumblebees, carpenter bees, and the remaining butterflies all crowd together. The two plants currently in full bloom are aster "Miss Bessie" and groundsel trees, both of which we have in great number.

Aster 'Miss Bessie'

Bumblebee with skipper


Honeybee and hoverfly

Monday, November 17, 2008

The Garden in November

A view of the big perennial bed through the trellis, taken on Election Day.
The dahlia sprawling on the ground behind 'Cl. Old Blush' is 'Rothsay Reveller'.

'Miss Bessie' with 'Foxi Pavement' on left and Muhlenbergia filipes on the right.

A different view of the same part of the bed. The lavender flowers in the foreground belong to an aromatic aster. The brown stalks are the skeletons of Brazilian blue sage turned brown by frost, and the grass on the left is Lindheimer's Muhly.

The seedheads of Joe Pye Weed have a surprising sort of beauty. This is not a cultivar, but divisions of JPW that grow wild here. It comes in 2 colors, a light mauve and a darker mauve/ purple. In the background to the left are the roses 'Rosette Delizzy' and 'Foxi Pavement', and in the background aster 'Miss Bessie'.

Aster 'Miss Bessie' by hay shelter. 'Miss Bessie' can be a bit
gawky, but makes up for it by the lateness and color of the flowers.

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