hydrangea blues

My small world has been vibrating with blue lately…the blue of the hydrangea.   In the little town of Swarthmore, the sky-colored puffs are so prolific they must be predicting the end of the world with their abundance of blossom.  We’re surely going out in style!

Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Penny Mac’ – flowers on both old and new growth

A stroll through the Hydrangea Collection at the Scott Arboretum will leave you reeling in disbelief at nature’s ability to create shades so cerulean.  Actually, their color can vary depending on the soil’s acidity…alkaline soil (pH>7) produces pink flowers, while acidic soil (pH<7) produces blue flowers.  We must be having quite an acidic year.

H. macrophylla ‘Nigra’ has lovely dark stems

H. macrophylla, one of the most common species of Hydrangea, can have two different forms of flowers – either hortensia, the mophead, ball-shaped form; or lace-cap which is flat topped.

‘Claudia’ has a lace-cap form.

H. serrata – Another lace-cap form: the smaller darker flowers in the center are fertile, while the outer more showy flowers (actually sepals) are infertile.  The bees know the difference.

Most hydrangeas like dappled shade and well drained loamy soil.  Hydrangea macrophylla blooms from late June through August, and prefers part shade and moist soil.    It flowers on the previous season’s growth and should be pruned immediately after flowers have faded in late summer or early fall.  (Unlike H. arborescens and H. paniculata – prune those in late winter or early spring, they flower on the current year’s growth.)  Here’s more on pruning, from Fine Gardening.

Larry enjoys a moment of relaxation

‘Glowing Embers’ also called ‘Alpengluhen’

These blooms are as big as my niece June’s head!

Finally, hydrangeas make wonderful cut flowers.  They can last for weeks if their stems are re-cut and the water is changed frequently.  For my birthday, I created this simple arrangement using Hugh and Juliet’s blue macrophylla hydrangea (thanks guys!) and some of the Ammi majus from my garden.

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back to the garden

Remember the patch of earth my Pops and I dug back in February?

Pops and Larry dig out garden on 2/27/12

Well, I planted some euphorbia, and then sowed seeds, which sprouted up in no time. Sweet peas, dill, bachelor’s buttons, poppy, Ammi majus…

Then I added some plants from Mostardi’s:  foxglove, armeria, thyme, lavender, fennel, rosemary, delphinium, Russian sage, nepeta, lamb’s ear, eryngium…

Garden on 5/4/12

Red stemmed dogwood ‘fencing’

5/5/12 – Fertilized with Dr. Earth’s organic stuff

Since then, I’ve been watching my garden closely, watching things grow.  Thinning, weeding, a little watering if needed.  Then I went away for less than a week during a heat spell, and when I came back the garden seemed to be overflowing with plants!

5/31/12

Foxglove after a rain – 5/22/12

Bees love it

First Sweet Pea Blossom – 72 days after sowing seed (5/31/12)

the Overseer of Sweet Peas, placed by Pops

Delphinium 5/31

I did some editing today, and as if it’s not crammed full enough, I also sowed a few sunflower and Bells of Ireland seeds!  I can’t wait to see the poppies, bachelor’s buttons, and Ammi majus bloom – soon, I think.  I can’t believe how good it makes me feel to tend a few plants in a 4′ x 13′ bed.  Now, where to put that clematis vine…

a walk around the big house

So much is blooming and growing outside right now, plus I got a new camera, so…you can imagine I want to capture as much as possible.  But I also want to be learning.  What am I learning by taking pictures?  I guess I’m learning how to look at the world through a lens.  My perspective/perception is in flux.  I’ve appreciated nature for a long time, but trying to capture its many colors, textures and patterns is much more complicated than it looks.  It’s a magical process, taking a picture.  You think you see one thing, and then you look through the lens and it’s very different in there; it forces you to frame up one part of the world for a moment in time.

little white bells of solomon’s seal, did i ever notice the red stems before?

Do you know how Solomon’s seal got it’s name?  Don’t quote me on this, but apparently King Solomon had a special seal that looked like a pentagram or hexagram; and it’s thought that when the plant’s stem is broken away from the root, the circular star left behind resembles that very seal.  I’ll have to look for the cicatrice next time I dig some up.  It’s botanical name is Polygonatum biflorum, and was included in a Plant of the Week segment I produced for Martha way back when.  And while I’m not a big bible reader, I love this quote from Song of Solomon: “Set me as a seal upon thine heart, as a seal upon thine arm: for love is strong as death; jealousy is cruel as the grave: the coals thereof are coals of fire, which hath a most vehement flame.”

Other plants are named for more obvious reasons…

Bleeding Heart, or Dicentra spectabilis

Bluebell, or Hyacinthoides

Snowball viburnum

Snowball viburnum makes a great cut flower.  If you get them while they’re still chartreuse they’re extra delicious.  Cut them and let them soak in water for a few hours before you use them in a design.

Then there is this one lone Black Parrot tulip, leaning dark and frilly in a sunny spot behind the birch.

It didn’t want to be discovered, or even photographed.  But I celebrate what could be the last year of its blooming with this picture.  After all this garden photography, I feel dizzy. Who knew what treasures I would find inside the camera, with the rest of the world slowed down to the click of a button.  I focus.  I breathe.  And there – there it is – I appreciate the miraculousness of it all.

spring arrangement with shrubs

I clipped a few things from my parent’s yard and took them up to Boston with me for the week as a reminder of the lushness of spring in Pennsylvania. This is what I ended up doing with them, keeping clusters of azalea, lilac, and snowball viburnum grouped together.   These pics were taken before I got my new camera, unfortunately.  More delicious plant and flower photos to come as the week progresses.

I’m pretty sure the viburnum in question is Viburnum opulus Roseum, also called European Snowball Viburnum or European cranberry bush, which flowers in spring and early summer, starting out chartreuse and turning white.  All of these shrubs have been here for many decades, and I’m glad I’m finally able to appreciate them (when I was 17 I don’t think I really noticed…silly girl.)

I didn’t do anything fancy with the stems (like pound them or slit them vertically,) I just cut them with sharp pruners on a slant – and because there was a lot of woody material, they stayed in place pretty well.

These didn’t last as long as I would have hoped – only 4 days or so.  The lilacs crisped up first.  I should have let them condition in a cool dark place with hot water for an hour, then added cool water and let them sit for 4-5 hours (like my teacher Jane taught us during Day 3 of Basic Floral Design!)  Instead, I cut them, put them right in a bucket of cold water, and drove 5+ hours with them, letting the lilac scent permeate my brain deliciously.   Upon returning to Swarthmore, where these shrubs live, I see I will be given another chance to work with these dazzling spring blooms – but I’ve missed out on the chartreuse phase of the Viburnum – it’s already turned white!

oriental paper bush in bloom

Back in January, I came across the magnificient Paper Bush in bud on the grounds of the Scott Arboretum, blogged here. Back then it was hung with delicious metallic furry fairy-attracting buds.

Edgworthia chyrsantha Jan 25th - buds

I took a walk the other day and was hit by the scent first – a clean sweet just utterly delicious smell that transported me to a magical kingdom where everyone has good intentions.  Then I saw the blooms – BOOM – they are huge and almost Seussian!

Edgworthia chrysantha 'Tony's Clone' or 'Snow Cream' Mar 19

This member of the Daphne family is high on my list of must-have shrubs!

the little garden that could

Back in February, my parents said they’d let me turn a patch of earth at their house into a garden of my own(ish).  Turns out they weren’t kidding after all, and made good on the promise.  At the end of February, I did some soil excavation to test the tilth and drainage of the area.

holding the ball of soil, then seeing how easily it breaks apart - it stayed in the ball so it's pretty much clay (feb 21st)

i dug a foot-deep hole and poured water in twice to see how it would drain - good news, it drained right away both times! (feb 21st)

Satisfied enough to try this garden experiment, I roped off two 4′ x 13′ beds in a mostly full sun spot by the garage with all the best intentions.

Larry the dog sniffs out the projected garden site (feb 26th)

My dad and I started the sod removal/soil amendment at the end of February, deciding just to see what the work was like between the two of us for one bed.  One bed at a time.  I have a bad back, and he’s 72.  (That’s never stopped us from doing stupid things, though.)

My dad, the ex-Marine, is going along with this folly and helping me remove sod (feb 27th)

a nice crisp edge is how we like it (feb 27th)

dad the incredible hulk does the bulk of the work, we have to remove quite a bit of crap soil to make way for the good stuff (feb 27th)

While I’m not looking, Dad (and Larry) double-dig much of the bed, despite my wishes to wait to do that until we had the soil amendment materials. There is no stopping him!  He is a machine!  We get into a heated discussion that’s not really about the garden at all, but more about my current life situation (I call it a ‘pickle’) and the fact that I can’t do this all myself because of my back.  He lets me yell at him for a while until I realize I am not treating my only laborer with the kindness he deserves.  Many apologies and a few tears later…we both agree that gardening brings out the best in me!

double digging and lots of sniffing (feb 27th)

Ok, now we got the goods: Bumper Crop, the new and improved organic soil builder we purchased from Mostardi’s Nursery.  It contains Sphagnum Peat Moss, Peat Humus, Worm Castings, Kelp Meal, Dolomitic Lime, Composted cow manure, Lobster and Crab Shells (wait, I’m getting hungry) Aged Bark, dehydrated Poultry manure, and both endo and ectomycorrhizae.  This soil needs all the help it can get!

subarus rock for garden jobs! (feb 28th)

i can't thrash like i used to. adding bumper crop soil amendment (feb 28th)

Capt Mac works in the luscious good stuff with the garden weasel and later i help a little with a pitchfork (feb 28th)

We let the bed sit, and carefully watch as rains come, sun shines, and bunnies hop.  All looks good.   I go back to Boston to see my husband.  I come back. Then the temps warm up. I decide that in my current situation (living a few different places) it might be best not to have two garden beds to maintain, so it will be one for now.  I also decide to get the ball rolling and add some more of the black stuff since we aren’t using it for the other bed.  And do some fine raking to break up some remaining clumps.  There is a voice in my head saying, “Be careful Ann, this is one of the ways you threw your back out once.”  Again, it doesn’t stop me (but now I do my back stretches almost every day to counter the gardening etc.)

raking out clumps, added another bumper crop bag (mar 19th)

i read in my Flower Farmer book it's good to soak sweet peas for 24 hours before planting. they got all swelled up and look ready to burst here. (mar 20th)

And then it’s TIME TO SOW!  Here’s everything I planted today…Sweet Peas (Grandiflora mixture,) Hungarian Blue Poppy (Papaver somniferum,) Blue Boy Bachelor’s Button (Centaurea cyanus), White Lace Bishop’s Flower (Ammi majus) and Grandma Einck’s Dill.

first round of sowing (mar 20th)

Julie and I also bought some more stuff at Mostardi’s – I found some Euphorbia x martinii ‘Ascot Rainbow’ which I really dig for the foliage, although it is blooming now.  It will get 2-3′ tall and spread a bit.

Euphorbia x martinii 'Ascot Rainbow' (mar 20th)

garden diagram gone haywire, at least i can read it (mar 20th)

after first round of sowing/planting (mar 20th)

The red-stemmed dogwood will hopefully support the sweet peas, and also looks neat while there’s nothing happening.  Heck, maybe it will actually root! (Doubtful.) The plan is to see what germinates and perhaps add a few other things like sunflowers, zinnias or stuff I see in nurseries I like.  (Not doing the cukes this year because I think my huzz and I should do that project together.)  All watered and ready to grow…so think good thoughts for the little garden that could.  And happy first day of Spring!

some little spring things

how about this hellebore?

Tra la la, skipping through Swarthmore with my doggie…well, not exactly skipping, more like being pulled by my doggie through Swarthmore…we come across all sorts of botanical treasures. It is usually Larry who finds them first, his nose sending him on a zig zag mission that wraps me up in his leash. Here! They! Are!

Winter Aconite on Elm Ave near Swarthmore Ave

I don’t remember these little yellow guys, and suddenly they’re everywhere I look. They look buttercup-y to me. Online searching sends me right to the Scott Arboretum’s blog, where Eranthis hyemalis, or Winter Aconite, is well described: “The sunny persona of Eranthis hyemalis can’t help but make one believe that spring is just around the corner. The tuberous ephemeral is a member of the buttercup family and is best planted in mass and left undisturbed. Over time plants will seed to create even bolder, brighter displays.”

pleasing but poisonous

A little deeper digging reveals that these late winter/early spring-blooming beauties have a dark side. Turns out Larry was smelling Cerberus’ spit – which you can imagine is quite toxic – when he discovered the deceptively dainty yellow blooms on Elm Ave. According to Greek legend, when Hercules dragged Cerberus (you know the three-headed canine who guards the gates to the Underworld) to the Upper World, his reaction to the sunny side of things was to froth madly at the mouth. And wherever this crazy beast’s saliva touched the earth, up sprouted winter aconite. Thanks, Cerberus, it’s a nice touch. Winter aconite is in fact poisonous – all parts especially the tuber. So, you might not want to plant this if you’ve got dogs (Larry did NOT ingest any of this) or kids who dig in the garden.

Onward, ho, my brindled hound

What else have you found for me today? Okay we’ve been looking at snowdrops, or Galanthus nivalis, for almost a month now. But some fact-finding revealed a great story (or at least I think it’s great) about this early spring bulb. There’s a sort of snowdrop-mania going on in the UK and last year one bulb of the ‘Green Tear’ cultivar fetched £365, making it the world’s most expensive snowdrop (and perhaps bulb?) Well, yesterday, this record was shattered, when Galanthus woronowii ‘Elizabeth Harrison’ was auctioned on Ebay for £725, purchased by the seed company Thompson and Morgan, who say in their press release that “the stunning snowdrop Galanthus woronowii ‘Elizabeth Harrison’ was named after the owner of the garden where it first appeared as a seedling in Scotland a few years ago and it has not been identified growing anywhere else.” It is really striking, with a golden yellow ovary and yellow petal markings. I wonder how long it will take them to produce more, and how much longer it will take to be discovered growing in Swarthmore!

Galanthus woronowii

oriental paper bush – aka the shrub to attract fairies in winter

Image

Like I said, I’m totally spoiled living essentially on the grounds of Scott Arboretum.  Every corner you turn, there’s a plant you know nothing about (true for me, anyway) but thank heavens, they’re labeled. Today I was literally blown away by this shrub that looked as if it were hung with silvery-sage ornaments in the shape of flowery bells.

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I can’t even describe how deliciously the slightly metallic flower buds seemed to glow from within. Oh and they’ve got a downy fuzz on them as well.  I looked around expecting to see fairies doing a little dance with their rabbit friends.  Seriously.  Then I came home and did some research, and guess what, it’s a member of the Daphne family so when it blooms expect there to be a heavenly scent!  I will check back on this plant to document the buds unfurling and ensuing foliage. Apparently they’ve finally officially named it ‘Snow Cream,’ according to Tony Avent at Plant Delights Nursery in Raleigh, NC where they have sold it “without a cultivar name for the last decade.” Aw, I kind of liked it being called ‘Tony’s Clone.’  Did some further reading at Kew and found that the common name, Paper Bush, refers to the fact that its’ bark is used for making paper, including ornamental Japanese wallpaper, calligraphy paper, and at one time, Japanese bank notes of the highest quality.  Neat.