Saturday, March 31, 2012

Somewhere Over the Rainbow

Iris come in all variety of colors and so it is fitting that this loveliest of flowers is named after a Greek goddess who in lore is the personification of a rainbow. 'Jesse's Song' was the first iris to open this year. Readers of this blog know how much I love this iris; it's gorgeous, it's vigorous, even has a little sweet fragrance, a goddess in flower form.

Lately the words from 'Over the Rainbow' has been running through my mind. As in somewhere over the rainbow, I will have a lower maintenance garden. In case you think I'm a lazy slob who just leaves weeds, most of the Lamium (along with great handfuls of chickweed) are coming out as it yellows and the bees lose interest. My plan is and has been to have more Baptisias and woody plants in the lower gardens, but the wheels turn slowly. Rooted cuttings of Black Highbush Blueberry are waiting in the wings to go into the ground this fall (one of them even has a few bell-shaped flowers this year) and I took more cuttings earlier this month. A year and half turnaround but well worth the wait. I'd like to try some of the cultured Highbush and Rabbiteye Blueberries too, but I am very enamoured of this wild plant with its tiny sweet fruit and spectacular fall color. I was happy to see that the new Virginia Sweetspires survived last year's brutally hot dry summer. They were rooted from Sweetspires that grow wild here and whose fall color is like that of 'Saturnalia': brilliant colors shadowed by a very dark moody purple. I plan to take Winterberry and Buttonbush cuttings too. I want a limbed up Buttonbush like the one at the NC Botanical Garden.

I confess that my favorite version of 'Over the Rainbow' is from the movie The Wizard of Oz, but I love Eva Cassidy's version too. Her voice stands out from the rest by virtue of its sheer beauty and range.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Spring Delights

Spring is a time that heralds the reappearance of stars and old friends, a reappearance that may have been been anticipated for months or even all year. Some may only take the stage for a few days or a week but they are memorable nonetheless.

The flowers of Serviceberry are often fleeting. An unusually warm day will cause the fleecy white blooms to blow quickly. However the new silvery green leaves are perhaps even more beautiful. There are four Serviceberry in and near the gardens, and one between the pastures. There used to be one behind the old house in its original site, pushed over when the house was cleared, but lasted long enough for one final hurrah: in full bloom it looked just like the lacy train of a bride's dress.

The wild Crabapple is in full bloom. Not only is it gorgeous in full bloom, the flowers are long-lasting for a crabapple and commands admiration for about 2 weeks from start to finish.

The walk down to the creek is especially nice this time of year.

There is Lyreleaf Sage and Atamasco Lilies blooming in odd places, and the grass and new leaves are enchanting shades of spring green.

The Wood Ducks have returned to the newly filled slough (G. saw 6 the other day), and when I walked down to the creek yesterday to get cuttings from the crabapple and Possamhaw (Ilex decidua) I saw two Bobwhite Quail and a male Prothonotary Warbler. He was singing as he foraged. I couldn't get a good picture since I didn't have the right lens but take my word for it when I say he is beautiful. Glowing gold with slate blue-gray wing feathers.

And I discovered another crabapple! A big one, growing close to the creek. I don't know how we didn't see it before.

G. needs to do some chainsawing around it and a third one that's growing next to the path but it should be a relatively simple task. We need more firewood anyway.

The color of the Sycamore bark has changed from ghostly grey and white to caramel and cream.

Compare to March:

In the garden there is something new blooming every day. The pink and white Piedmont azaleas are finishing up and now the Pinxterbloom azaleas are open.

The Florida azalea to the left could use some company. It's one of the four that used to be in front of the house in its original locale and the one that fared the best. One was lost and another two are very much smaller but alive and growing to the east of the house. I have a 'Choice Cream' azalea (an atlanticum x austrinum hybrid) that I want to put next to it this fall. It has lovely fragrant light butter yellow flowers.

The bright orange sherbet flowers of the Florida Azalea could use some help playing better with the pink azaleas even if they're not that close together.

There are more flowers open on 'Old Blush' every day.

The Amsonias are blooming, both in the garden and in the floodway fields.

Next to the house the Coast Azaleas, Woodland Phlox, Virginia Bluebells and 'Homestead' Verbena are blooming.

When growing columbine from seed you never know what you're going to get, but I've never met one I didn't like.

Virginia Bluebells are such a soft heavenly shade of blue. We used to see huge clumps of these in the river bottoms when we lived for three years in western Pennsylvania. They were gorgeous. I have only one clump in the garden this year but this flower is so lovely that a little or a lot doesn't really matter.

This Common Lilac was supposed to be white (it was free, obtained in a trade), but to be truthful I'm happy that it's lavender. Even happier and surprised that it's actually thriving, tucked as it is in a damp spot beside a rugosa. Common Lilacs are notorious for not doing well here. I love that lilac fragrance.

I hope your spring is likewise full of good surprises!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Wildflower Wednesday

Even as new life is busting out all over, heralding the start of a new growing season, it's time to think about seeds. My crisper drawer is overflowing with seeds again (many collected from the garden) and I have plans and lots of spaces to fill. I have the voles to thank for a good number of these spaces; even with Prissy on the prowl, the voles are probably responsible for many of the losses over the winter and erasing some of the headway that was made the year before. Prissy has been earning her keep as of late though; she catches at least one or two a day. Tommy, on the other hand, prefers a more decorative role.

Last year I collected several pods worth of seeds from Baptisia 'Prairie Twilite Blues'. Not with any particular plan in mind, but I saw seeds and felt the need to collect them. PTB is a strange brew of colors: the flowers start off a chocolate/violet blend with yellow edging (you can see it on the bottom and far right of the below picture) and mellow to a warm smoky lavender.

pictures are from May 2011

I put a couple of seedlings out into the garden this year and a few seedlings came up at the base of the parent plant too. If they make it I wonder how they will turn out.

This year if I start more Baptisia seedlings, I'm going to keep them in pots for at least one year or eighteen months. I start so many plants from seed that from time to time I'm swept with this irrational urge to clear the front porch and plant a bunch of them out, but Baptisia are slower growing than a lot of other perennials. As ironclad as they are as mature plants, they stay tiny for a long time when young.

There are also a couple of other hybrids I'd love to add to my garden: Baptisia x 'Midnight', and Baptisia x bicolor 'Starlite'. I'm not sure exactly what 'Midnight' is like since the pictures on the internet look even stanger than those of 'Prairie Twilite Blues', but it sounds intriguing and 'Starlite' just looks really lovely, a soft romantic violet-lavender-shading-to-white blend of colors.

In addition to seeds from the garden, March is the month that we receive the Southeastern native plant seed list from the NC Botanical Garden. This year I'm opting to try:

Sandy Woods Chaffhead

Grass-Leaf Barbara's Buttons (Marshallia graminifolia)

Piedmont Barbara's Buttons (Marshallia obovata)

Two-Leaf Bishop's Cap (Mitella diphylla). See more pictures here.

Savannah Meadow-Beauty (Rhexia alifanus)

Rose Pink (Sabatia angularis)

Alleghany Mountain Golden-Banner (Thermopsis mollis)

Sourwood Sourwoods already grow wild here, but I didn't collect any seeds last year and now I have new plans that include a trio of Sourwoods.

Soon I will post pictures of the wildflowers growing around here, but I'm too tired tonight from working outside! Join Gail at clay and limstone for more wonderful Wildflower Wednesdays.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Runaway Spring

Spring has taken the bit and run with it. Along the road to the grocery store the lavender flowers of wisteria are dripping from the pine trees and even the dogwoods are opening up, a good 2 weeks earlier than usual. All around the Red Maples are in bloom and the trees are beginning to leaf out, soft clouds of rose red, apricot, palest olive green, russet, gold, and bright spring green, making the landscape look like a watercolor painting half finished.

March is a month of contrasts in the garden. Fresh new growth in contrast with and at some times made even more lovely by the old stems of last year, especially early in the morning and late in the afternoon. Although I'm trying to clear them away as fast as I can! ;) The garden underwent such a huge change five years ago when the house was moved that I'm still playing catch-up. The big perennial bed is no longer the only open sunny place other than the pastures, and I have been redrawing it and drawing other new beds with broad strokes, adding more woody plants and trying to make them lower maintenance. The only beds being painted with a fine brush are the new ones east of the house.

Although you wouldn't know it to look at it right now! lol

The bed besides the front sidewalk had to be completely redone last year, as the voles ate everything. Part of the new planting is 'Thalia', a very old Narcissus triandrus hybrid, just coming into bloom in this picture.

The flowers start out a pale green/ cream color and turn pure
white. G. can smell paperwhites but I just smell vanilla.

I have been clearing the last of the old stems and pulling weeds in the beds below the house. So many weeds. So much chickweed. Chickweed doesn't get nearly as much bee activity as henbit and Lamium and it's smothering.

I bet you'd never get how much effort went into creating this naturalistic scene. lol A lot actually! To the right of the tree there used to be a stand of Devil's Walking Stick that looked nice until it became completely enrobed with Japanese honeysuckle. There was a lot of poison ivy, greenbriar, and baby Chinese privet too. I love this Red Maple. It casts lots of seeds into my garden and it seems like all of them germinate but I love it anyway. It has lovely apricot-colored flowers in the spring.

The tree looks golden in the last rays of the sun.

Spring: exuburant and messy. Whenever I take a picture I see more stuff that needs to be picked up, pieces that I missed when carrying armloads of old stems from the garden. But the verbena is blooming! And the Mazus in the pathway! Originally it was under the rose but likes the pathway better.

When the wind picks up the amount of pollen that billows from the loblolly pines is amazing. One of the local radio stations always plays a homemade version of "Yellow Haze" when the pollen comes out. The amount of pollen has been calmed considerably by recent rains though.

This jessamine grows wild beside one of the paddocks. It's a much softer cooler butter yellow than the usual golden yellow. I used to think it was swamp jessamine that festoons so many of the trees here, since it often grows in wet places. But it must be Carolina jessamine because it is fragrant, more fragrant this year than in other years. I can't recall being able to catch the baby powder scent from far away before. I'm going to try to grow it from cuttings in case something happens to any of the climbing roses.

I love seeing these early spring beauties, like seeing old friends again that you haven't seen for a year.

Eastern Redbud and Carpenter Bee

Atamasco Lily


Crocus tommasinianus

Woodland phlox

Friday, March 16, 2012

Blooming Friday ~ Signs of Spring

The very warm temps we've had this week (85 degrees on Wednesday), has tipped the season fulcrum all of the way and spring is full on upon us. The Redbuds are opening up and everything is turning those wonderful various shades of spring green.

Nothing says spring like daffodils and crocus.

Crocus tommasinianus 'Barr's Purple'

This charming daffodil is a sweetly scented Campernelle.

There are what sounds like hundreds of bees buzzing in the garden, and many species of butterflies fluttering about: Falcate Orangetips, Azures, Sulfurs, Skippers, even a Tiger and a Black Swallowtail yesterday.

Happy Friday, and join Katerina at roses and stuff for more Blooming Fridays and signs of spring from all over the world.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Winter Walk-off 2012

For Winter Walk-off 2012, hosted by Les at A Tidewater Gardener, I am going to take you along on a walk I take almost every day with two horses in hand. The pony is recovering from a condition that requires that she be hand-walked, and rather than leaving Prince to scream and run I take him along too.

The pasture looks brown at this time because the fescue (endophyte-free) has not yet peaked
above the level of the brown stuff, but there is grass in there for them. I don't know what the
grass outside the pasture is but it's the most extraordinary green in late winter/early spring.

Sunday afternoon DH walked the horses while I manned the camera.

We head past the pastures, following the track that leads down to the creek. On either side of this road are rough mown fields with saplings and blackberry patches, one of which is home to a wild crabapple tree that is a glorious beauty in April. There's also a pond that's only a third full because we've had a dry year and many wildflowers. Sunday evening we saw a Barred Owl take off from one of these fields and then fly from tree to tree. I'm glad to see them back after they were ousted by a pair of Great Horned Owls over the winter.

At the end of the pine tree tunnel there is a choice of going right or left. Either way you go you will end up in the same place, but the left is a more direct route to the creek. Straight ahead and to the left is a slough where we often spot wood ducks and turtles, and there are swamp tupelos and Hibiscus moscheutos in pink and white. The slough has just recently filled in with water again, which is highly unusual for this time of year. The only time I have seen it dry before is a couple of years during summer drought.

The right hand option goes through sapling forest that is filled with light even in late afternoon.

Whoever owned the land before us sold the timber and in some places there are mounds created by logging.

With the red maples flowering overhead and the leaves just beginning to bud, the young river birches are what catches the eye at this time.

The woods are filled with deer paths. Like a lot of people we see deer almost every day. One day when I was walking the horses next to the creek I looked up to see two does in the trees, motionless, not 10 feet away. I'm not sure if the horses saw them or had seen them long before I did. Horses are very astute at detecting motion, even at a distance.

Here the path runs parallel to the creek, lined with a mix of Northern river oats, possamhaw (Ilex decidua), and hawthorns.

Mature American Hollies

and ghostly white Sycamores stand
sentinel at the creek's edge.

The walk from the house and around the loop and back takes about a half an hour. I walk the horses 1-2 times a day depending on the weather. In the evenings we take the horses back up the road past the pastures to the paddock behind the house. The green hill beyond is the neighbor's pasture. The fact that that pasture is spring green already and not sere brown is a testament to how mild our winter has been. I am grateful that the winter has been dry too, as it's made walking the horses a lot easier and more interesting. There are still some mud pits though, and some chainsaw work to be done before it's a good idea to ride the horse or pony under the branches that lean over the paths.

Thanks for joining me for this year's Winter Walk-off.

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