Tuesday, April 22

Earth Day Odds 'N Ends

I did have to go into the office today to work on a specific project... but since today was a "day off" for me, I hurried home after sending off a few graphics files so that I could play in the yard. As I opened the car door, I decided that I should share my first glimpse of the front yard with you. It's a little spring-bare right now, but I hope that my 'Thai Silk Firebush' California poppies will sprout soon and fill in some of these blank spaces:

Coco wasn't waiting for me there when I got home, of course, but when I went in to fetch the camera and the Felcos (to clean up the Japanese maple) I brought her out front with me as well. When Coco is in the front yard, the lions watch over her and she's free to roam in a dog-proofed area.

Coco soon settled down for a nap on the sidewalk, and eventually asked to go inside in search of comfier napping spots. That's when the neighbor's cat, who is uber-friendly and responds well to "Hey Kitty," came to hang with me for a bit. Doesn't he have pretty blue eyes? (Kylee, Jodi, or any other cat enthusiasts... any idea what breed he might be?)

This is catmint, not catnip, but he still seems to be rather enthralled by it. After taking this picture, I went through and cleaned up the old stems for him so he didn't have to work so hard to enjoy his treat.

The rolling is not part of the catmint show, however--he regularly begs to have his soft white belly scratched. Silly kitty!

Animal encounters aside, I celebrated Earth Day today by planting a few things, like a replacement 'Green Lustre' Japanese holly in the front garden (yay for shrub guarantees) and a couple of new plants. The local nursery had just gotten in its first shipment of alpine plants, and I couldn't resist a 'Little Plum' lewisia, plus this cute little carex named 'Beetlemania':

... and the sedum spathifolium, 'Cape Blanco,' that I have been wanting for a while but could never seem to find locally until today:

Notice the marked tulip foliage next to the white sedum? A lot more of my little greigii tulips have started blooming this week, including the very short and very aptly named 'Red Torch,' seen here:

And 'Cape Cod,' which is a red edged with warm yellow on the bulb package but looks more like a straight, warm orange in real life:

I didn't just take pictures all day, though, I swear. I worked, too. In fact, I filled up a whole lawn bag while cleaning up the front garden. As I picked up twigs from the basswood tree in my treelawn, I noticed that my 'Efanthia' euphorbia are all showing some new acid-green tip foliage:

And I cleaned up my poor foxgloves. Their leaves get mushy under the snow, but my soil is well-drained enough that they rebound at this time of the year. I cut the old leaves off and mulch them with compost and Sweet Peet, and they recover and flower just fine. Here's what they look like pre-haircut:

I also cleaned up the Japanese maple. Every year, the winter skeleton reveals areas that need a little cleanup... and of course, some twigs die back so I cut them off neatly as well.

I thought the emerging leaves looked very pretty against the 'Purple Dragon' lamium and the 'White Emporer' tulips. I was kind of surprised to see these tulips back again, both here and behind the 'Cape Cod' tulips as you can see above. Based on the fact that there are multiple stems coming up out of each little grouping I think (hope) that they are actually trying to naturalize:

While finishing my cleanup as the sun set, I found a real treat. I have been trying very hard to remember where I had tucked the clearance trout lilies that I'd planted back in December. I've been looking for signs of them anywhere and everywhere for the last month. Well, today, I discovered one single, solitary trout lily--with buds!--underneath the doublefile viburnum!

Isn't it cute? A good reminder, on Earth Day, of the surprises and pleasures we receive from our gardens.

Tuesday, April 15

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day: April 2008

As Carol, founder and matriarch of Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day, noted in her post for this month, spring seems to be running a bit late. At this time last year, I showed pictures of 'Chocolate Chip' ajuga in bud, and added a last-minute picture of a flowering frittilary. This year, I don't see buds on either... yet.

But really, I'm not all that far off from last year. My beautiful 'Ivory Prince' hellebores are blooming, along with their 'Pine Knot Strain' cousins. And there is one early tulip in bloom. Outside of the aforementioned frit, a tulip and some hellebores were exactly what I had blooming in April 2007.

The petite beauty above is 'Shakespeare,' which Netherlands Bulb Company listed as t. greigii on the tag but which I see ID'd as t. kaufmanniana, native to Turkestan, elsewhere on the web.

I was initially a little dismayed at the pastel-but-bright orange color of 'Shakespeare,' since all of my other species tulips are supposed to bloom in various shades of red. But that quickly dissipated when I noted how well it echoed the color of my 'Peach Flambe' heuchera, and even the reddish tones in my beloved bergenia. Since nothing else is showing much color right now in the front yard, that works for me.

In the backyard, I now have TWO winter aconites and a handful of snowdrops blooming. Lots of other foliage is showing now, too, including 'Geranium' and 'Orangery' daffodils, and the uber-cheerful tulipa tarda.

Plants in bud include 3 different cherry trees, more species tulips, and blueberry bushes. In addition to those flower buds, I have leaf buds on many other plants (including my tree peony) and it doesn't appear at this point that I've lost anything of consequence to a rough winter after a drought-ridden summer. Which is enough to make any northern gardener happy in the spring!

Friday, April 11

My Prince Has Come

As you might have guessed, I don't really think of myself as an overly traditional kind of girl. I'm not as avant garde as I thought I would become when I was younger, I'll admit, but I was rather righteously horrified when I got to college and discovered that more than one of my floormates were simply in college to find a man. "You can't be serious," I remember telling one girl, after I picked my jaw up off the floor, "because... really, Caroline, it's the 90's!"

I've never been the type to sit around waiting for my prince, so to speak, so the title of this post is kind of tongue-in-cheek. But I'm honestly very excited about my 'Ivory Prince' hellebores.

Graham Rice, the author (and blogger, at The Transatlantic Plantsman,) recently mentioned 'Ivory Prince' in a hellebore review for the UK's Daily Telegraph. And everything he said was true.

This is one tough beauty. Its blue-green leaves are evergreen (without all of the messy dieback you get from many hellebores) and the form is compact. Mine are in dry, nutrient-deficient soil and suffered through drought all summer--and they're planted where they get midday sun, to boot.

How do they reward me for my abuse and neglect? Apparently with dozens of pink buds that open up into gorgeous, creamy flowers in the spring. Amazing.

Elsewhere in my garden, some of the foliage from tulipa unknownii (tulips that I don't remember planting) are mingling nicely with a few of the established garden denizens. Here you see one clump of mystery tulip adding both color and texture in front of the 'Amber Waves' heuchera... and golden oregano, badly in need of a spring cleanup, skirting another clump.

You know it's been a long winter when you find yourself considering growing tulips purely for their foliage! But seriously, some of these compositions are so interesting in the spring garden that I really may not mind if these end up being hybrid tulips that I didn't pull last year, even if they fail to give me any flowers.

Last, but not least, no post of pics from my front yard in the spring could be complete without a few gratuitous shots of my bergenia! The ugly clump that I showed in a previous post was so horrible that I had to post a good bergenia shot to erase that from your memories.

You can see that it's greening up a bit in this week's warmer temperatures... it won't be too long before the red fades completely to a satisfyingly shiny, medium green. And then I'll stop posting pictures of it, I promise!

Well, I'll stop for a little while, anyway. At least a couple of weeks. :)

Monday, April 7

A Drop of Sunshine

This morning, I grudgingly listened to my still-weak body and called in sick to work. Then I flipped over and went back to sleep for a while. Wake up achey, find a more comfortable position, fall asleep for a while, repeat.

Finally, I was out of Gatorade--and out of comfortable positions to sleep in the bed. So I decided to see if the couch might be a better bet, and headed downstairs. I let the dog out into a beautiful spring afternoon... and decided that I needed to open some of the windows, to help air out any flu bugs that were still hanging out here.

As I made my window rounds, I stopped at the big picture window to check on the dog and see if my little snowdrops had gotten any taller, like Ki's had. I was surprised to see something buttery yellow glinting at me, so I grabbed the camera and headed out to investigate. This is what I found:

My first winter aconite! YAY!

Also much anticipated is the first blooming of this lovely 'Pine Knot Strain' hellebore. The white and pink versions have bloomed before, but I don't remember seeing flowers in this deep shade of burgundy:

Even the flower stalks on this one are a deep wine color--lovely! And another began to flower in a fresh, bright green that I'd not seen in my hellebores before, either.

Wasn't I just asking for some happy surprises this spring? :)

Saturday, April 5

Weekend of Weakness

This is my first full weekend off after a long winter and long busy season at my job. I had such grand plans for Saturday: Get up early, clean the house in the morning while the sun warmed the earth after Friday's rain, and then get outside to do some more garden cleanup and enjoy the afternoon sunshine.

I barely remember turning my alarm off, and when I finally forced one eye open I was horrified to see that it was 10:55am. After taking the dog for a very short walk, and putting dinner in the crock pot, I was forced to rest. A few naps and a phone call to my parents later, I figured out that I must have the flu.

No Spring Fling in Austin for me, but no gardening on Saturday either, in spite of it being a beautiful day. So I indulged in a little retail therapy, garden-style, to make myself feel better.

My friend Meagan is not quite a gardener (yet) but she'll be very happy to see the plants that I bought online yesterday. The spikey flowerheads and thistle-like foliage of echinops ritro* is going in "the mailman's walkway," and you might remember that Meagan very enthusiastically suggested a system of trip wires and booby traps when I first mentioned my mailman woes.

I suppose that the blue globe thistles are the gardener's softhearted alternative, but really I just like them. They are blue, kind of primitive-looking, drought-tolerant and tall so they'll fit the scheme and give some much-needed height to the front garden.

Meagan originally hails from the gardening mecca of the PNW (Eugene, Oregon) and has extolled the beauty of St. John's wort to me over the past few years. I refuse to buy the *ahem* overly enthusiastic groundcover version, and I missed out on buying the bushy 'Albury Purple' for cheap when the first garden center I worked at went out of business. But I have long planned to include 'Albury' in my front garden, and a golden-leaf variety, 'Golden Tusan,' hopped into my online shopping cart as well, in a moment of weakness. (Darn flu! lol.)

I'm not sure where I'll use 'Tusan' yet, maybe as a bright splash in a container. I'll have to spend some more time on Nan Ondra's blog, Hayefield House, for additional ideas. If you haven't yet checked out her 3-part 'Golden Shrubs' posts, or the 'Golden Foliage' perennials post, you're missing out on some beautiful ideas.

Today, I woke up without a fever (I think) but I continued my regimen: Drink 1 Gatorade, refill Gatorade bottle with water 3 times, repeat. Around noontime I felt good enough to go out in the backyard and poke around a bit. I raked out the small driveway bed, which took all of 30 minutes, and then had to come inside to take an hourlong nap.

Late in the afternoon, I went out front and cleaned up the front corner bed and then cut back the rest of the grasses in the front garden. There's still a lot of cleanup to do, and mulching, but I feel better that the bright colors of the bergenia, heuchera (including 'Peach Flambe,' which is also shown above in its near-psychadelic, PNW-worthy close-up) are now unobstructed by old yarrow foliage and such.

Speaking of bergenia, I promised Layanee, Cultivated and a few others that I would show my "bad" bergenia. So here it is, in all its glory!

This is the plain old bergenia cordifolia, and it has much rattier foliage in the spring and no fall color--hence it being banished to the backyard. I should probably shovel prune it, but in the summer it adds a nice thick-leaf texture underneath the cherry tree, and it doesn't mind being dry. And it's far back enough in the yard that I don't have to see it every day!

Because I hate to end a post with an ugly picture like that bergenia, I'll also show one of today's surprises. The chipmunks must not have gotten every single one of the crocus bulbs last spring after all, because one is peaking through this dark-leaf heuchera. (Behind it you see the foliage of more tulips that I don't remember planting. Argh.)

Hopefully this spring will bring more of the welcome surprises, like this little crocus, and less of the unwelcome ones, like travel plans gone awry and flu bugs coming to visit...

*Photo of echinops ritro courtesy of van swearingen, on Flickr

Wednesday, April 2

Spring Observances & An Allium Question

Still no sign of the coveted winter aconites... but my 'Flore Pleno' snowdrops finally decided to make an appearance this week! Here's the first one, a bit shorter than I had expected but still a welcome sight amid beech leaves and browned ajuga foliage:

The snowdrops are just outside my big picture window, and when I looked up from the camera I noticed a bright coral color near the crown of thorns plant next to the window. When I went inside to investigate, I found a flower! This is not part of the bud cluster I showed last time... but based on the way those buds have changed I think this is only the first of many flowers I'll be enjoying on my euphorbia milii:

Walking into the front yard, I noticed a bunch of tulip foliage sprouting... even in areas where I don't remember planting any tulips. After going back through my bulb planting photographs--er, records--I have discovered that I don't have a clue what I planted here.
So much for my record keeping skills, eh? Even the photographic kind is apparently beyond my capabilities.
I know that I have professed my love of foliage before, and my admiration for plants that do double-duty, so to speak, but either being edible and ornamental or by having great flowers and foliage. My feelings here extend to tulips as well... check out the interesting spots on this t. greigii. It reminds me of lizards, or maybe crocodiles, which is very fitting for the tough reputation these species tulips have:

Also with a tough reputation, but looking pretty frazzled, is euphorbia 'Efanthia,' a relatively new cultivar. Her branch tips look pretty vibrant, but the rest of her looks a little winter-weary and dry. She's listed as hardy to zone 7 in some places, and colder in others, so I knew I was taking a chance with her... we'll see whether she snaps out of it with the coming warm spell.

Similarly ratty, and in need of some cleanup, are my bergenias. (I just found out I've been pronouncing these wrong, via a nice post on emerging spring reds. You should say ber-jean-ia, but I was using a hard "g" in my head. Thanks for straightening me out, Layanee!)

This little clump above glows with reds, greens and golds during the morning, and then the clump next to the doublefile viburnum picks up the show in the evening. If you look closer, though, you can see a few spots on the leaf in the lower right, and some crispy edges at the top. All of those will be taken off in a few weeks when the plant greens up... I just can't bring myself to do it now, because I don't want to forego their show!

Heading back to the steps, I checked out a few plants that were basking in the morning shade. More tulips that I don't remember planting, of course... and then the fat pink flower buds on my 'Ivory Prince' hellebores.
Good thing it's spring, when all colors are welcome, or some stylish gardener might order me an intervention for planting these pastel-flowering hellebores alongside red species tulips--and other taller, showy tulips, too. The almost black 'Queen of Night' and the Orange-with-streaks 'Princes Irene' (which might be my alltime favorite showy tulip) reside nearby with the acid-yellow leaves of golden oregano at their feet. It will be an... interesting... sight if all of these decide to bloom together!

Last year, I fell hard for the new orangey cultivars of coral bells? Which ones, you ask? Well... YES. lol. I'm pretty sure that the one above is 'Amber Waves,' which definitely held up the best of the three. 'Peach Flambe' isn't looking too bad, either, but is definitely on the small side. 'Marmalade,' which you see below, is borderline scrawny but then it gets the most sun of them all and is in relatively unimproved soil.

The little green sprouts above the heuchera are the emerging foliage of allium schubertii. I have planned to allow the golden oregano to creep across the bed toward 'Marmalade,' and thought that the funky purple alliums would be an interesting addition peaking through the oregano foliage.
Which leads to my allium question: Has anyone grown these before, and if so... is it really possible that the flowerheads might end up being up to 12 inches wide?! I am suspicious of any and all claims for "huge blooms," especially on bulb packages, so I planted them about 6-8 inches apart to make sure that I can get a good show from them. However, if the stats on Davesgarden are true, these flowerheads can easily be 10-12 inches across... and I might have to move a few of them to new homes, if that's the case! Any advice would be appreciated...