Tuesday, April 21, 2020

A Nice April Morning in a Time of Crisis

Its been a long while since I last posted, and now we are in the midst of a once in a century pandemic, which is something I hoped I would never have to experience in my lifetime.  Yet we have no control over what fate may bring, and it was going to happen sooner or later.  It could even be worse,  but it is still pretty bad. And that has not been helped by our spectacularly inept president who utterly failed to comprehend and prepare for this, but sadly I am not surprised in the least. It has been largely left to the state governors and other local leaders to make the big decisions, so following cues from other nations dealing with the virus, most states are in various modes of shut down at this time.  My school closed sometime after mid March and we try our best to keep our students working through on line education. In my and many other educator's view, it isn't a good substitute for in class instruction but it will have to do for now.  Many folks in other professions are also working online and another very large group has simply been laid off or, like my wife, taken unpaid leave.  All this is to maximize social distancing which is the only way to slow the viral spread until an effective medication(s) and ultimately, a vaccine, is available.
I understand from the news, and what I hear from other plant minded folks, that many nurseries and seed sellers are doing very well this year.  This of course applies to ones that are still open and especially for mail order nurseries. The big box stores are also doing a brisk business with folks stuck at home wanting to garden and/or do home improvement projects.  The one thing that has been good about this generally horrible pandemic situation is that I have, like many others, been able to spend more time in the gardens when the weather is good.   The weeds and the squirrels aren't so happy about that of course but I feel it is a godsend to have my gardens to keep me busy when I am not working online. 
I do miss the camaraderie of the various plant clubs and plant sales that normally happen during this time of the year.  This is the time I would look forward to connecting again with other gardeners and to take trips to find wildflowers and visit nurseries as well as relatives and friends.  This year all that must wait.  My wife and daughter and myself remain in our house except for very occasional forays to get food or other essentials and those forays feel more like commando raid missions these days.  The n95 masks are donned (we prepared ahead of most because we knew this storm was coming) along with googles and latex gloves, and I walk with a spray bottle filled with rubbing alcohol for doors and other potential fomites that we may encounter.  So its a major relief to be home in the gardens instead, where we are having an uncommonly beautiful and somewhat early spring after a very mild winter.
Today I took some photos with my iphone of plants in the gardens before a cold front complete with the usual thunderstorms moved in.  I figured I should put them on my too long dormant blog rather than up on facebook as a blog is an easier record to search through to find things than facebook is.  I might have included a photo or two from the last two days as well.

Corydalis nobilis apparently is a a self sowing pest in some lucky gardens but not here.  In fact I wish it would self sow as it is pretty awesome and blooms for a decent amount of time. 

 Lathryus vernus, the pink and white form. This is a very long lived plant that gets better with age. However this pink one has long lagged behind the purple one I got at the same time.  Seedlings appear around the area where both plants are located but they all bloom purple so far. 

Finally got this not commonly grown Japanese native to come up a second year and bloom. Pteridophyllum racemosum is a small plant that looks like a tiny fern until the delicate white flowers appear. I got three more plants from a Japanese nursery last year that I planted a few weeks ago after they came out of storage in the refigerator.  They are nearby under chicken wire to discourage the rampaging tree rats and their smaller chipmunk cousins who would dig too often in the area where my most delicate woodlanders are. The chicken wire works but is annoying and somewhat unsightly, but squirrels and chipmunk digging can uproot or otherwise disturb small plants to the point of death. 

The two photos above are of a western native plant, Vancouveria hexandra.  It is much like its cousins in the genus epimedium and I wouldnt be surprised if the two genera were combined one day.

Tulipa clusiana comes in both white and yellow forms. They are graceful and look awesome in bud with their red tepal exteriors. Over time they form clumps so long as they are protected from deer and other vermin.
Got this cool PCI, Pacific Coast Iris by mailorder from Sequim Rare plants this spring.  PCIs arent often seen in the eastern states as they have a reputation of being not hardy or finicky outside of the west coast where their ancestors are native. Well I suppose they are finicky compared to bearded iris but really the only major difference is that the PCIs are more sensitive to transplanting. They don't have the thick rhizomes of bearded iris which can survive for months out of the ground.  In our climate PCIs are best moved in spring before the weather gets hot.  I have a purple one I grew from seed and a gold brown one friends in town gave me that they have grown for years.  But the PCIs come in many amazing colors and so I decided to take a chance and get some more.   They may or may not prove to be hardy enough but I did place them in a location with good sun and soil amended with coarse sand and grit.   This particular cv is called Clarification. 

I literally have created a primrose path behind the waterlily pool in the back gardens.  The primroses were grown from seed and have gotten bigger and better every year. I added an inexpensive blue one from a big box store and just added many more double flowered ones I got via mail order which I hope will take and do as well as the big single flowered ones have.  

Tulipa vvedenskyi one of the nicest species tulips. The undulating leaves are barely below the rather large screaming red flowers.   I don't think I could ever have too many of these. 

Primula sieboldii has a cult like following in its native Japan where thousands of varieties have been named.  Some are barely different from others but some are quite distinct. I would have to dig around to find the tag for the name on this double flowered one but havent had the inclination to do so.  One of the members of the BNARGS chapter that I belong to is greatly enamored with this species and has built up a big collection of named sorts.  They multiply of course so each spring he brings in carefully washed and bagged roots with names to the first chapter meeting and sells them for a very nominal amount to encourage others to grow them.  Not all make it but I am getting better at establishing the tiny crowns and over time they will expand and multiply.  Being in plant clubs is a valuable experience as there are often folks who grow things that one might never have thought much about.  While I might have tried one or two varieties of this primrose I surely would not have hunted for many more than that.  However, thanks to that club member's generosity, I have around a dozen or so different ones growing in my gardens now.  In my experience the small washed crowns take at least one year to flower if not more but once they settle in they will slowly expand outwards forming a long lived circular clump.  

This year the pink isnt quite as obvious in Taraxacum pseudoroseum, one of several in the genus that I grow.  If the common T officinale werent so weedy it would be treasured but it gets removed with my hori knife the minute I find it.  T. pseudoroseum comes from Russia and is quite cold hardy but while it sets plenty of seed it is not nearly as pesky as its common yellow flowered cousin. 

Phlox divaricata is a not uncommon woodland plant in the eastern states but it is also an excellent garden plant.  The shades of blue can vary and there are also white forms. 

This oddball Japanese species came from a friends garden where it self sowed into wood chip paths in a woodland sort of garden.  It is Chloranthus japonicus and it is quite showy in flower with its little brush like flowers en masse.  Its another one of those plants that gets better with age as it grows bigger.  The foliage isnt bad looking either. 

Perhaps too gaudy for some gardeners, these double "peony flowered" tulips provide a nice bold splash of color.
Tulipa linarifolia is a small bright red tulip that can be had for a very reasonable price from the bulb sellers online. I really like it as it reminds me of some of the bright red South African romuleas that are unlikely to survive outdoors in our climate.
Tulip "Casa Grande" has attractive spotted leaves and proportionally large red flowers. I planted them in a few spots, mostly in one of my daylily beds. 

What I think is Daphne rosemarifolia from Maoxian in Sichuan China is in bud.  Of course plants in nature don't come with labels but when I first saw this growing on a mountain one August I knew it would make a cool garden plant. It yellow flowers (unusual in that they have five rather than four petals) lack the scent and wow factor of many of the pink rock garden daphne sorts but it does bloom throughout the growing season,remains compact, and will self sow a bit. It may be at its limit of hardiness here in Z6/7 as sometimes a branch or two will die back and I lost one plant that was transplanted not long before winter came.  

Tulipa chrysantha in its equally beautiful soft yellow form.

This Tulipa linarifolia poses among a bunch of self sowing pansies that have been spreading in my gardens. The pansies mostly derive from a winter flowering mix from Chilterns and may have incorporated some viola genes into them as well.  Here they may be in bud in winter but the flowers will be few and frost bitten but they get going early and come in wonderful colors and patterns.  They bloom right up to hot weather in midsummer, set copious seeds and new ones come up in fall.   The flowers are smaller than the pansies folks buy in the nurseries each spring but those pansies rarely last more than a few weeks and never seem to self sow in this area. 
Winter pansies working their way through one garden. 

A double form of Ranunculus ficaria, now Ficaria verna.  The special forms of this species are getting hard to find as they are banned by some states since the wild form is quite invasive in wet areas.  This double one does not seed and is hardly invasive, making a still tight clump after several years. 

Yellow and red double tulips.   Occasionally I find a tulip out of place and when that happens it is because squirrels and chipmunks sometimes bury bulbs in new places and forget to eat them.

A pink Ipheon. These do especially well after mild winters. 

More Tulipa vvedenskyi with a lily shoot emerging in front of them

Anemone coronaria cvs are almost never grown here in NY even though the shrivelled tubers are readily available, even at Costco.  This one has survived a couple of winters near a wall and is quite stunning.  I planted a lot more of those cheap Costco ones early last spring and only a few survived the winter of the ones that came up last spring.  I did the same again this year with an overnight soaking beforehand to plump up the tubers and many more are growing right now.  They will flower later than this one but if any survive next winter they will probably flower earlier like this tough one has. 

The darwin tulips are often called perennial tulips, and indeed they can be quite permanent if happy and protected from vermin. They are the classic tulip most people think of.
Paeonia caucasica was the name I got these seeds as several years ago.  They bloom early and will self sow if the seeds are not gathered first.  Peony seeds are big but easy to grow, if one remembers that they take a long time to germinate. One can plant the seeds when they are ready and not see a leaf for two years as the seedling forms a root the first year and the first leaf emerges the second year. Occasionally a seed will manage to do both by its first spring.  But once they do so they are permanent residents of the garden. 

Tulipa saxatilis comes from Crete but is a good plant in the garden.  Soft lilac pink flowers have attractive yellow centers.
Those winter growing pansies look nice with some Anemone blanda.
This shiny wide open T linifolia flowr reveals a black center inside.

For me bluets (Houstonia caerulea) grow best in large pots or containers.  They can do well in a garden but are easily outcompeted by larger plants and do poorly when the digging rodents disturb their delicate roots.  When they flower few things rival their beauty.  In the wild they are not uncommon in sandy areas along roadsides or in grassy areas.

Primula veris, the English cowslip, is an easy perennial here in NY. Not hard to grow from seed, it is usually yellow but there are now other color forms such as the orange one shown.
Some tough tenax mesh keeps the digging rodents out of these planters.  They were ruthlessly attacked over the last couple of years but some of the many different seeds I planted in them managed to grow and now they thrive until I find places in the garden for them.  Looks like there are a number of blue dwarf Aquilegia flabellata in there along with some Pusatulla and some dodecatheon as well.
Ipheon uniflora in its common blue form.  Time favors this species too.
This unknown red Darwin tulip came with the house and there is a long bed of them along the front walk.  When we brought the house we thought there presence meant no deer were in the neighborhood but sadly we were mistaken. They are in front so they dont benefit from the fence I put around the back but Liquid Fence sprayed at regular intervals keeps them safe from the hooved rats. With that protection they are very perennial here. 

Phlox subulata is a native species that has given rise to many cultivars and selections.   I got most of mine as small plants on sale from Santa Rosa Gardens and they have grown fast since then.  They make good groundcovers in sunny areas and are especially good in sandy soil or on slopes.  Rather non descript most of the year, this is the season they come into their magnificent glory.  I have moved pieces of them around and that usually results in a mat of several colors as it is easy to mix them up but all is good in any case. 

Narcissus are pretty much indestructible here. I know there is a fly whose larva can kill the bulbs but it seems to ignore mine so far.   They have grown better with the years into larger clumps that will no doubt need to be divided and replanted for best results. Some are named varieties I got and others came in mixes, mostly from Brent and Beckys, Color Blends, and Scheepers during their fall sales.
Yeah I know the line of marching hyacinths is a bit strange but in one's own garden one is king.  So I can do whatever I like and change it up later on if I wish.  Passerbys often complement the front gardens and it appears I do have "regulars" who make it a point to drive or walk by to see the ever changing flower displays in our front gardens.
I don't keep track of the narcissus variety names but this nice clump is one of the tazetta hybrid types. Could be Avalanche or Geranium, not quite sure but they do smell amazing.
One of the tinier mini narcissus hybrids
Ipheon Alberto Castillo is the best white one out there.  They look nice against the lacy foliage of Tanecetum huronense, a rare plant I grew from seeds from Gardens North which was a great source of some unusual seeds. 
Euphorbia griffithii is a spectacular plant even before it blooms. Another plant I never see around here yet it is hardy and immune to mammalian vermin and insects.
Another happy narcissus presumably of the tazetta hybrid group.
Alyssoides utriculata is getting crowded out where it started in the back gardens by nearby kniphofias but I scattered some seeds out front and these took.   The bright yellow flowers give way to rounded seed pods that set plenty of seed.  Its another plant I would never have grown had I not gotten a packet of left over NARGS seed exchange seeds at my local Hudson Valley chapter a few years ago.  I belong to the national society as well as two chapters, Hudson Valley and the Berkshire chapter. Going to meetings of the latter is quite a bit of a drive but very much worth it.  I hope we can resume those meetings again some day soon.,

Opuntia compressa is native but I grew these from left over NARGS seeds.   They have done well on a sand mound I made out front and set copious red fruits which I have to figure out a way of removing so I dont get a million seedlings.  I grow several hardy opuntias and recently added even more.  This one is the easiest and it is spectacular when in bloom,  The pads shrivel for winter and start to plump up as spring warms up.


Tiger Lily said...

Thanks, what an awesome display! The PCI especially blew me away!

Rick Plate

Panayoti Kelaidis said...

Wonderful as always: keep these coming!

Lithops4eva said...

Hey Ernie!

Love the blog. I too am a south African plant enthusiast! I thought I was the only one... HaHa. Recently I have been blessed with some of the most unique plants that I have ever come across. I searched far and wide and ended up at Lowes. This plant is called a "lithop" and resembles 2 juicy beans. These plants are native to South Africa and are just TOO CUTE! I also got a "split rock plant" otherwise known as Pleiospilos nelii. I was wondering if you had an experience and would like to share stories about our plants together. You seem like such the expert.

Don't leaf me hanging!