Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Paperwhites and other blooms on Christmas Day

Ta da! Ladies and gentleman, I present the first paperwhite blooms in my garden in over 10 years. Ever, actually. This story could be a garden oops (goops). I forced the bulbs indoors one year over a decade ago, and then, following Elizabeth Lawrence's advice, I planted them out in the garden. They sat wimpy and bloomless in the lean soil by the driveway at the old house site for 5 years. When we moved the house I moved them into the big perennial bed hoping the richer medium would give them a boost.

The bulbs' numbers had trebled but they were small bulbs. The narcissus continued to look wimpy, not helped by the fact that every. single. year. I mistook the foliage for weeds and yanked the leaves off. In my defense, the weak foliage strongly resembles grass that grows in the garden in winter. I figured the fact they never bloomed was a combination of my gardening ineptitude and the fact that according to Scott Ogden many modern paperwhite bulbs will increase and increase and not size up. Last year I managed to refrain from weeding them and this year, viola! Flowers! I've never forced any more paperwhites because DH is a hater and they hadn't done anything in the garden before now. I actually like the fragrance, even with the mothball undertones. Hopefully this year's flowers were not a fluke and they will bloom again.

Elizabeth Lawrence wrote that in her Raleigh garden the first flower of winter was the paperwhite narcissus. In winter her presence as a garden muse is closest to me than at any other time of year. Her A Southern Garden was written about her garden in Raleigh, just 30 miles from where I live. Both she and Billy Hunt (who deeded the land to UNC where the NC Botanical Garden is now) were champions of flowers in the garden year round, and writes "ever since I first shared Billy Hunt's enthusiasm for winter bloom, I have been collecting January and December flowering plants for my garden. I still have that buttery list that I made as we talked and lunched, and I pictured myself as living henceforth in a sort of Hesperides of perpetual spring, perfrumed with sweet olive and gay with camellias ~ both Sasanqua and japonica ~ winter heath, winter heliotrope, and in particular the white cowslip, Saxifraga ciliata."

In the section on "Winter-Flowering Trees and Shrubs" she writes of wintersweet and the Asiatic witch hazels and states that "loveliest of all is the Japanese apricot, Prunus mume, so called because the delicately colored and delicately scented almond-like blossoms are prized by the Japanese for winter flower arrangements".

Our Japanese flowering apricot is about half open. Sometimes it flowers in December, sometimes in January, sometimes in February, sometimes in waves, and sometimes all at once, depending on the weather. The tree is covered in buds and flowers in varying shades of pink and the perfume is so sweet. Yesterday bees were buzzing all over it. The 25th of December felt more like the 1st of April, with temps in the mid 60's.

Winter honeysuckle (Lonicera fragrantissima) is also blooming. It's the other winter stalwart in our garden, often blooming from late December until April. I noticed the first flowers on Christmas. Fragrantissima is a good descriptor of this plant, as the flowers are hugely fragrant, up close and far away, sweet and sharp with a strong lemony tang.

The witch hazel has been blooming for at least 2 weeks. Ugly as sin covered as it is with rough brown leaves but also sweetly fragrant, kind of like Fruit Loops but with a little bit of a clean antiseptic edge.

Wintersweet (Chimonanthus praecox) and the native winter-flowering witch hazel (Hamamelis vernalis) are lacking from my winter garden repertoire. Yulan magnolia has been a great winter performer at the JC Raulston Arboretum but I'm not sure I want to add another tree.

I think violets bloom almost every month of the year here. I always loved blue violets and wanted them in my garden. Now they are practically a weed in the garden next to the house but I am happy they are there. They make a fine ground cover and the ground is paved with purple flowers in the spring. My grandfather used them the same way in his Indiana garden.

So those are our Christmas flowers. I hope you had a merry Christmas and best wishes for a happy new year!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Last of the fall color

Much of the fall color has gone. The swamp cyrillas are hanging on to about half of their leaves, now turned a festive Christmas-y red, and most of the roses are done. Fall is like a reverse spring where the focus narrows and narrows to a few spots of color: a very late-turning blueberry here, the glowing leaves of a rugosa there, the burnished burgundy of the oak-leaved hydrangeas.

Pictures of the roses from a week ago:


Carolina rose

A purple-flowering China/gallica

Prairie rose (Rosa setigera)

Resident mockingbirds LOVE the hips.

Another prairie rose, different species (Rosa arkansana)

I love the way the little garden beside the house looks, although I've found the appeal hard to capture in pictures. This one is also from a week ago. The rosy gold shrub to the left is a rugosa rubra, the straw-colored stalks are spent hardy ginger, and the gold to the right are from the shorter 'Foxi Pavement' and the extravagant 'Sir Thomas Lipton' (still covered on top with yellow/apricot leaves). The long stems leaning across the path belong to a swamp sunflower.

For contrast I wanted to put up a couple of pictures from late April, but couldn't find an exact match on a sunny day. Quite different though!

The oak leaved hydrangeas take the prize for keeping their leaves the longest. The 'Dayspring' east of the house has been colored for at least a month, a deep wine color with a scattering of crimson, and the 'Pee Wee's at the front of the house have turned now too. The hydrangeas at the front always turn later because they don't get much sun this time of year. One year they didn't turn at all, just froze before they get a chance to turn, but usually they do, very late. Just yesterday, for the first time on a cold overcast day, I noticed how brilliant the red leaves looked. They looked lacquered from the rain.

These pics are from today.

Truly a four season shrub!

The transformation of lowly weeds into things of beauty this time of year never fails to amaze me. I call them lowly weeds because for the first half of the year they bug me. They really look like weeds. Then starting at Halloween they transform into silver and gold creations.

Broomsedge in one of the floodway fields; the tall grass is sugarcane plumegrass, which I never consider a lowly weed.

I love the way the seedheads of goldenrod and dog fennel look in the fall and winter too.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Fall Drama

There's been some dramatic color this fall, as well as some drama with the horses. Prince has had a rough month. Nearly three weeks ago he injured two tendons in his front leg, and a week ago he re-injured them. I was very worried about him last Thursday. His leg was so painful he was having trouble walking on it. The vet came out that day, sans ultrasound machine, at which point I wanted to tear my hair out. However that acute phase soon resolved and an ultrasound on Friday showed that the leg was the same. Rather than further injuring the leg he must have undone any healing he had accomplished so far. He doesn't have a major tear but there are minute tears all along the midsection of both the superficial and deep digital flexor tendons. The (optimistic) prognosis is 6 months before a return to full work. 12+ months is not unheard of. He can be worked under saddle prior to that 6 month mark, but walking in straight lines only at first, with small amounts of trot added later on.

He is wearing a quilt wrap + vet wrap + Elastikon as a support bandage to help minimize the swelling in his leg.

Truth be told I don't like the way his feet look, so we will pull his shoes and go back to trimming the horses' feet ourselves. The toe is too long and the heel is too far forward and that is not helping his leg.

Sleeping Beauties

Even though I can't ride, Prince isn't in danger and the weather has been delightful overall. I wish that golden time between 3 and 4 in the afternoon could go on until 11 at night. The sun and the bare branches create wavering shadows on the grass and the light shining through the golden leaves of the rugosas makes them look like textured stained glass.

The blueberries have lost about half their leaves but when they were at
their peak a week or two ago they were something to marvel at. So ruby red!

The swamp cyrillas and rugosas, on the other hand, are at their peak. There are three cyrillas by the old house site. One has already turned bright red
while the other two are still a rainbow of colors. They, too, will eventually turn scarlet before the leaves finally drop. I love this very late-turning tree. When it flowers in July it looks like the sorrel trees that bloomed the month before.

Cyrilla with blueberry

I always forget about the rugosas' fall color until they turn.

What Rosa virginiana lacks in fragrance it makes up for in fall color. It's more dramatic than that of Rosa carolina.

'Miss Bessie' is nearly done now but what a show she has put on! ~ the belle of the ball for pollinators in late October through early December.

Top: Willowleaf aster 'Miss Bessie' and American beautyberry. Bottom: Japanese beautyberry

'Miss Bessie' forms a rangy shrub that is covered in lavender-purple blooms and every bee, butterfly, wasp, and pollinator that you can imagine are drawn to the flowers.

She may be tall (up to 5 feet) and a little bossy, but if you like purple and you like bees and butterflies this native aster is incomparable in the late fall garden. 'Miss Bessie' blooms a good month later than any of my other asters and isn't at all fussy about drainage. In fact I've seen her climb down into ditches that I planted her atop of and thrive there, when Georgia asters and big-flowered asters in better-drained locations melted away.

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