Saturday, September 27

Grassy Plants in the Garden

A very long time ago, The County Clerk mentioned in a comment that he wondered what exactly it was about grasses that made me so enthusiastic about them. I believe that I promised him a post entirely about that very subject... and I'm sure that I will eventually get around to that someday!

But right now, looking through all of the photos I've taken of the garden in the past couple of weeks and searching for a common thread to use as a post topic, it really strikes me how much movement is added to plant vignettes by grasses and grasslike plants. For example, look at this garden picture that does not include any grasses:

It's still a nice combination of foliage shape and color, I think, with the sprays of the artemisia spilling over and mingling into the pots of begonia, ficus and plectranthus that I just never moved off of that area of the driveway. But it still looks like a rather static combination to me in photograph form--even though I know how much waving the artemisia does when buffeted by our Westerly winds!

In contrast, check out all of the implied movement you see in this photograph:

The 'Purple Emperor' sedum arching over the variegated oregano does help to imply some movement... but the background is really where the action is. The chives there look like they're having a little dance party while the rest of the garden is napping! And yet, there was no breeze at all while this photo was taken.

Chives are not really grasses, of course, but they look/act like shorter grasses in the garden. I like the way that their leaves are "thick" enough to hold their own against things like sedums and sages... but then again, I like certain other grasses for the way that their fine texture provides an airy, light-catching foil for sturdy foliage instead. To illustrate what I mean, see how nicely the chives stand up to the rough, silver leaves of 'Newe Ya'ar' culinary sage in this photo:

And then look at how two other grassy plants, Mexican feather grass and leatherleaf sedge, give a completely different effect when paired with the chunky leaves of golden culinary sage and sea kale:

I like both the soothing solidity of the first combination, and the exciting contrasts of the second.

I also really enjoy pairing grasses with underplantings of thick, succulent leaves, like you see here with the brown carex and the portulaca in my chimney tile planters. The succulent leaves ground the grasses, and the grasses in turn make the thick, fleshy leaves lighten up a bit and not take themselves so seriously:

I've always been a "feet firmly planted on the ground, head in the clouds" kind of girl... so these kinds of pairings really work for me! Elsewhere in the garden, I have used hens and chicks, sedum album, sedum spurium, and various delosperma to underplant my grasses. Occasionally, though, the grass can also be part of the "thick" side of the textural contrast:

The grass in the photo above is carex platyphylla, and all summer long it was separated from the Buckler fern and 'Jack Frost' brunnera by a river of golden creeping Jenny. I recently ripped out a bunch of the Jenny to give the broadleaf sedge a little more breathing room, so you'll have to imagine her grown back in (or wait for more pictures in the spring) but it's not hard to see that the carex gives this combination some good texture.

The carex also echoes the silvery color of the brunnera leaves. One other nice thing about grasses is that they come in so many different colors. In this picture, you see more of the chimney tile planter, with the brown carex flagillifera inside and red Japanese bloodgrass at its base:

Behind this tile planter is a nice clump of 'Rotstrahlbusch' switchgrass, which is blooming and echoing the red tones of the bloodgrass. It turns a nice yellow color before it bleaches out in the winter. To the right of the planter is a clump of 'The Blues' little bluestem, which will turn a nice russet color before it fades to a peachy-pink for winter.

That these grasses and grasslike plants are so beautiful in both life and death... that they provide an almost constant feeling of change and dynamism, both during their natural growth cycle and by implying movement even when they aren't actually providing it... and that many of them are so easy to take care of... really makes them indispensable in my garden. I think that my garden would be a much more boring place without them!

Sunday, September 14

Garden Bloggers Bloom Day - September 2008

September is a chameleon. Sometimes it feels like the continuation of summer, and other years there is a decidedly autumnal feeling in the air throughout the month.

My front yard garden is a mix of late summer and early fall right now, with the fresh blue flowers of caryopteris and 'Black & Blue' salvia providing a counterpoint to the browned seedheads of oakleaf hydrangea, and the leaf colors of carex buchanii and various heuchera:

Tawny flower spikes of 'Hameln' pennisetum are just beginning:

None of my miscanthus look like they will be flowering any time soon, but the 'Sioux Blue' sorghum grass appears to be throwing up a few flower stalks. 'Rotstrahlbusch' switchgrass has been blooming for weeks now. 'Aureola' is not yet, but 'All Gold' hakonechloa is sporting some frothy inflourescence action:

I like that different cultivars of the same plant bloom later; it seems to extend the show. My unknown Japanese anemone cultivars are still resolutely staying in bud, but my first 'Party Dress' flower is starting to unfurl:

Behind it, you see 'Northern Halo' hosta and golden oregano. I usually cut back the golden oregano throughout the spring and summer when it gets too tall and flowers... so I never noticed the pretty cascading flower form before. It's nothing as showy as some of the ornamental types, but I enjoy it:

Also cascading, in a way, is the native honeysuckle vine, lonicera sempervirens. It does not have fragrance like many of the invasive Japanese honeysuckles, but the bloom time is outstanding. (And it's not invasive!) It has been in bloom off and on throughout most of the summer--and check out these beautiful warm trumpets of color against the glaucous foliage:

More fun foliage effects can be found in the backyard, where the 'Ichiban' eggplants continue to bloom, even as the plants are heavy with fruits that dangle over and into my lazy Little Bluestem grasses:

The allium senescens var. glaucum, whose common names are German garlic or curly onion, is almost done blooming. I need to do some mulching around this area, maybe with some rock to better show off the fun, twisty foliage:

Another allium, garlic chives, are still blooming in the backyard as well. This is my one garlic chive plant in a row of regular chives, so I'm thinking about relocating it to another space in order to remember which plant is which:

Nearby, the hardy blue plumbago continues to bloom. I'm hoping that this week's cooler temps will provide a tinge of red to the leaves finally--I love it when the blue flowers contrast with the red foliage:

The linaria aerugimea was cut back hard a month or so ago, and is rewarding me with lots of miniature, snapdragon-like flowers:

My 'Matrona' sedums are beginning to darken from their soft pink flowering color, and the "October daphne" (sedum sieboldii) is almost spent, too:

The sedum cauticola is still in bud, however. Here is 'Lidakense,' spilling out from a pocket I made in a retaining wall and sprawling all over the s. album below:

And here is the regular species, creating an illusion of water (I hope) below one of the industrial shelves that make up a pathway in my backyard:

Also cool in blue tones is my chocolate eupatorium, ready to burst into flower with a backdrop of blue sorghum grass:

Those are the main highlights from this Garden Bloggers Bloom Day. You'll find the rest of the list below, and please make sure to visit May Dreams Gardens for links to what's in bloom around the world on this September 15th!

Shrubs, trees, vines and grasses: Caryopteris 'Petit Blue' and one other, 'All Gold' hakonechloa, 'The Blues' little bluestem, 'Hameln' pennisetum, 'Rotstrahlbusch' panicum virgatum, lonicera sempervirens. (In bud: 'Sioux Blue' sorghastrum nutens. Other showy color: pyracantha berries, 'Dortmund' rose hips, spent flowerheads of oakleaf hydrangea)

Perennials: 'Walker's Low' catmint, 'Party Dress' Japanese anemone, golden oregano, 'Othello' ligularia, mom's passalong lamium, echinops ritro, 'Matrona' sedum, linaria, 'Summerwine' achillea, alpine strawberries, artemisia, ice plant, 'Caradonna' salvia. (In bud: unknown cultivar of Japanese anemone, chocolate snakeroot, sedum cauticola and s. cauticola 'Lidakense')

Annuals, houseplants and vegetables: 'Ichiban' eggplant, 'Hopi Red Dye' amaranth, various snapdragons, 'Yubi Red' portulaca, self-sown 'Banana' portulaca, crown of thorns, abutilon megapotanicum, purple setcresea.

Saturday, September 13

At "Home" in Madagascar

It's been a month or two since I started to volunteer at the Cleveland Botanical Garden, and I'm already starting to feel a little more settled in. Some of the employees I see each week now have some recognition in their eyes when they say hello to me, and I can get through most of the "volunteer task list" for the weekend without having to ask for instructions.

Last weekend, while playing around with the digital SLR from work, I brought it to the Botanical Garden to capture a few shots. I thought I'd start by sharing the ones from the Spiny Desert of Madagascar glasshouse, which is where I spend most of my volunteering time. It's a wild, somewhat Seussian place, as you can see from the shot of the replica Baobab tree that is the centerpiece of the exhibit:

There are 5 actual living Baobabs within the exhibit as well--one of which is estimated at more than 80 years old! I do a lot of watering in the Madagascar glasshouse, interestingly enough, but it's not really the run-of-the-mill stuff I do at my home garden. For example, check out this little oasis stream that runs through part of the biome:

It doesn't look too exciting, really, until you realize that I have to go back into that stream area to water some plants. Here I leaned in a little closer to get a peek, so you could get a better feel for the the stone-hopping and stream-straddling I get to do in this little area, to get back to the white bird of paradise, screw palms, and other tropicals:

It's actually kind of fun--I feel like an intrepid explorer when I duck into the stream area, I admit it. The water isn't all that deep, so the worst case scenario, if I should happen to "fall in," would be wet feet or maybe a twisted ankle. Other areas that I work in should be so friendly! Among the perils are many spiny plants like this one, unfocused in the foreground:

It is sometimes a little hard to remember that you can't really grab that "tree trunk" near you without coming away with a palmful of painful thorns. See that ledge in the center of the picture, by the way? I use that as a stepping area to pull myself up onto "the upper cliff" to do some watering and access the hookup there.

It IS as steep as it looks--I have to dangle one foot down off of the top of the "cliff" to find the step when I dismount, which is kind of amusing. Luckily, a sturdy, bolted-in vent grate at the edge of the upper cliff offers a good grip for your hands while you're climbing up or down. Here's a shot of the top of the ledge, where I can sometimes be found standing with a watering hose in hand:

There are lots more spiny plants up on the cliff, and many different kinds of euphorbias, too. I always remember to be careful around the pencil trees in particular, because their branches can break off and exude a milky sap that can hurt your eyes and irritate your skin. Here's an example of a pencil tree, this one with a silver dollar plant cascading through it:

Also on the cliff ledge are a couple of smaller versions of this yellow-flowering uncarina:

While I think that these are pretty flowers, and that the plant has a wonderful form and texture, the leaves can emit this gooey stuff when you break them that I really hate. If you've ever touched a slug and then found yourself with that slime all over your fingers that you just can't get off... well, that's what it feels like when you tangle with an uncarina. Ick!

Equally pretty but much less messy is this Bismarck palm, bismarckia nobilis:

I love the reddish "hairs" that you see on the main trunk above... but my favorite thing is being back by the base of the one in this photo, watering, and looking up to see the fans of palm leaves silhouetted against the greenhouse ceiling and sky. (No photo of the leaves at that angle, sorry, it's in a restricted area.)

Speaking of restricted areas, I haven't yet mustered the courage to ask whether I could take a picture of the working glasshouse to post on my blog. So here's a shot of it as seen through the doorway from the public area:

Just to the left of this little window is a sign that basically tells the public to keep out. But I have seen many people peek inside this window, so I don't feel too badly about taking and posting this particular photo.

Just to the right of that door is the place I least enjoy watering. It's called the Upper Pandanus--because of the plants that are grown there--and you need an extension ladder to get to the top. To give you an idea of scale, the bottom of the roof on the left is a little bit over my head, so the top of the roof is probably 7-1/2' or 8' tall:

I don't fear ladders enough to beg off of watering the Upper Pandanus, but I don't particularly like them. The roof, by the way, is for the new chameleon cage that was just put out on display. There are three chameleons in this cage apparatus, two males and one female. Here's the female--she tends to be up near the cage lights every time I see her:

And here is one of the males, her potential mate:

Light, temperature and mood determine a chameleon's color--the do not change color in response to the colors around them. For example, males change color when they see a female with whom they are interested, to let her know. If her color does not change, then it probably means she's not opposed to mating... but if she's already pregnant, for example, or just not interested, she may turn another color to let him know he should back off. (Wouldn't it change the entire dating game if people could learn such tricks?!)

Even though I've been working in the glasshouse for over a month now, I really have been enjoying learning about all of these new things about the spiny desert of Madagascar. I feel very fortunate to spend some of my time helping to maintain this area of the glasshouse... from plants to animals, it really is a fascinating place, unlike any other on this earth.

Friday, September 5

Observations and A Question

We have this great Nikon digital SLR camera at work, and even though I'm not the best photographer I'm often required to go snap pictures for inclusion on our website, brochures, etc. (Since I'm responsible for said website and brochures, I suppose this makes sense.) Every time I use the SLR, though, I hear this little voice in the back of my head. It says, "Wow, this is an amazing camera. Too bad YOU don't know how to use it to its full potential!"

So I decided to bring the camera (yeah, and the book) home with me this weekend for some practice. My plan to take it to Edgewater Park today and practice action shots with the boats, runners and kite-fliers was stopped by some much-needed rain... but I have been able to practice zooming and focusing in the garden.

Since I don't have any photo resizing/retouching software on my home computer right now, you can click on the above picture of lotus vine and silver plectranthus to get a good view of the amazing textural detail the SLR picks up. It seems to me that the pictures I've taken in the shade have a blue cast to them, though... I'll have to check out the book and figure out how to "fix" that. You can see what I mean by looking at the cool tones in the shaded area of this 'Newe Ya'ar' salvia and chives combination at the lower left of this photo:

Pictures taken of subjects in the sunshine seem more true color, though. In this photo, you see the Russian sage, eggplant, amaranth, and the contents of the tile planter (which I LOVE this year) pretty much as my eye does:

I'm really enjoying playing with the focus feature. I can focus right, left, or middle in any shot (or, if I turn the camera vertically, I can focus top/middle/bottom) and that makes for some nice effects. Here the camera is focused on the little bluestem blades just below the cluster of orange pyracantha berries:

And here it's focused on the huge, smooth 'Sum and Substance' (I think) hosta leaves. This nicely blurs the bleached seedheads of atriplex hortensis and the blue flowers of hardy plumbago in the background:

The above pictures were all taken yesterday, most during some stolen moments of sunshine. Today's pictures were taken while dodging raindrops, and they seem to have the same cool/blue cast that the shady pictures do. Here you see 'River Nile' begonia mingling with artemisia. In "real life" the begonia leaves have more warm tones, and pick up the yellow of the artemisia flowers:

More playing with the focus... here honing in on the rain-dusted leaves of the supertough 'Ivory Prince' hellebore, with golden oregano in the background:

With my personal, low-tech digital camera, taking a photo of this carex buchanii and the underplanted hens-and-chicks results in a blurred mess... but this camera can focus in on the sempervivums the way my eyes do, to give a better photographical representation of why I love these planted together:

While the color may be a little cooler, the camera does give an accurate visual representation of the front garden... in terms of showing that I need to add some structure in a few places! Here's the proof:

It wasn't until the beginning of August that I finally tracked down some 'Black & Blue' salvia guaranitica. (Well, I did see some earlier, but wasn't going to pay $18/gal for it!) It picks up the blue of the caryopteris and 'Walker's Low' catmint that are blooming in other quadrants of the front yard, too. I think that next year I may have to mail-order some of these plants, to make sure that I have multiples. Mine just started blooming, and I love the way it looks with the oakleaf hydrangea and 'Hameln' pennisetum:

And now, on to the question: About the time I picked up the B&B salvia, I also bought two pots of 'Sapphire Blue' eryngium on the clearance table of a local garden center. The parts of the plant aboveground felt very crispy, soon turned brown, and then dropped off completely.

However, something about the pots--or maybe my own stubbornness--made me think that if I kept taking care of the rootball, they might come back. I now have little sprouts in each pot, which appear to be coming off of roots that are barely covered by soil and don't look like any of the usual weeds I've seen in nursery pots or in my own garden. Check them out:

Anyone growing eryngium who can confirm that the above are baby sea holly leaves? If you suspect otherwise, I don't want to hear from you... just kidding! If you know these to be leaves of something else that I don't want to plant in my garden, I actually would appreciate knowing that, too.

Hope everyone has a good gardening weekend... and that those of us who really need the rain continue to get some over the next few days!