Planned Surprises

Saturday I suddenly found myself on the road to Ithaca NY.  It’s about a two hour drive from here and of course I have better things to do locally but wanted to see a few friends, and you know… there was a plant sale.  Just a small thing done among members of the Adirondack chapter of the North American Rock Garden Society, but they have some pretty cool plants and for just two or three dollars a piece all the plants (donated out of member gardens) find a new home that morning.  Of course I was more than happy to help out, and a couple alliums, ferns and a violet are now here in Pa with me and even better, all the extra daffodils I dug this summer are GONE… or at least most of them.  Stupid me thinks I should replant some of the smallest ones to give them a chance to grow out so they won’t be too small to give away?  Don’t ask.  My accounting brilliance is matched only by my business sense.

cornell botanic garden

Cornell Botanic Gardens.  It was nice to stop into a garden which I’m guessing has a couple feet of topsoil, annual mulches of compost, and just the right amount of watering to grow sickeningly well.  Here’s Hydrangea cumulonimbus mocking the approaching storm clouds. 

The plant sale was followed by a luncheon and I just want to say that in between garden talk there was an invite to a garden which I really wanted to see, but I actually opted out of going.  Weird, right?  I think it was a combo of poor sleep, impending bad weather, and an overall end-of-summer-I’m-sick-of-drought-my-garden-is-a-disaster malaise.  In hindsight I wish I’d gone, but at that moment I just wasn’t up to being social any longer so passed.  That was an actual unplanned surprise, since on the way up I had a conscious thought of the possibility of being invited somewhere, and how excellent that would be.  I hope I’m not actually getting old(er)!

carex muskingumensis little midge

I found this sedge to be far cooler than you would imagine a sedge could be.  Carex muskingumensis ‘Little Midge’ I believe, even though the label said ‘Little Midget’ which would also be fitting. Quite the geometry on this little guy.

Apparently I was still young enough to add one side trip to the trip by pulling into the parking lot of the Cornell Botanical Gardens.  I did want to see how their tropical plantings were coming along, but then surprised myself by liking the shade plantings even more.

Mukdenia rossii Crimson Fans

Mukdenia rossii ‘Crimson Fans’.  Seeing this was a first for me, and I always thought the red color was an autumnal, perfect storm, enhanced for catalogs, color effect, but here it is in late August doing its bright crimson thing as if it’s no big deal.  Very nice!

And then it was back home.  I pulled in at a suitably responsible and mature arrival time of 6pm, just in time to enjoy the evening light on the Lycoris.  If you want to talk about surprises the fact any of these are blooming would be the premier surprise since they did not look all that happy this spring, and baked-clay dry summers are not supposed to encourage good bloom with these temperamental divas.

lycoris x squamigera

The most common surprise lily, or Nekkid lady (Lycoris x squamigera), is blooming more than it’s ever bloomed before.  I heard they like derelict, neglected properties so perhaps the random construction debris and bits of trash I’ve thrown here are the secret to a good show.  

There’s actually a second magic lily surprising me this year.  I thought I was successfully killing off most of my plantings, but suddenly there’s an almost clump of Lycoris x incarnata flower stalks poking up between the squash leaves.  If only I knew what went right with this spot I’d repeat it with the other bulbs growing just inches away but worlds apart in flowering-power… as in they’re not flowering at all…  Perhaps they’ll also surprise me but I doubt it.  Someone might have already poked around and found several have lost their roots to some kind of rot, and even though they’re sometimes called magic lilies, I think a miracle is closer to what we need.

lycoris x incarnata

Lycoris x incarnata, aka the peppermint spider lily, is a hybrid of two other Lycoris species.  There are other forms, but this striped version is one of the more common garden forms.  I think it’s quite awesome this year.

These two Lycoris and a few others are the cold-hardy members of a bigger family of bulbs which do well in the warmer Southern states and aren’t all that uncommon down there.  Sadly they’re not hardy enough for this garden, but of course since I’m doing so well with the other ones, I also thought I’d try a few of the more tender types such as L. radiata, the red hurricane lily.  With a bar already set so low by their cousins, it’s not hard to imagine that just the fact they’re still alive counts as a fabulous success.

terrace garden

Other not-cold-hardy things filling space on the sand terrace.  With a timed drip irrigation system this at least is one part of the garden not miserable for rain.

I’ll take whatever fabulous successes I can get.  Today it rained, and although the 0.06″ is not the 0.50″ forecast, it should green up the crabgrass a bit and at least give me a day off from watering… assuming I still even water.  This weekend I almost moved from ‘trying to get a few things through’ to ‘maybe save a few perennials and shrubs so they come back next year’.  That’s basically giving up for the year, and with school ramping up again, and construction crawling along, and with money evaporating faster than the rain, it’s never sounded better… until you consider the alternatives.  Being stuck in front of the tv from now until snowdrop season or taking up a trowel and helping tile, or sitting through an entire football game?  I think even a bad day of looking at weeds and wilted plants has its bright spots and I think I can do it for a few more days.  Lycoris season is always full of surprises, and even if the surprise is in how disappointing they can be, the colchicums will be here soon and I can always count on them.

Have a great week, and may your garden get all the rain it needs 😉

17 comments on “Planned Surprises

  1. Paddy Tobin says:

    Lycoris are very attractive. They don’t grow here in Ireland which is a pity. They provided a good welcome home after an enjoyable day out

    • bittster says:

      They’re something to look forward to when things get a little dull, but they do finish up rather quickly if you don’t have clumps and clumps to browse through.
      I suspect you might be able to grow something else to ease the regret of not being able to grow these!

  2. Eliza Waters says:

    You’ve diagnosed it, Frank: ‘end-of-summer-I’m-sick-of-drought-my-garden-is-a-disaster malaise’… it is painful to look upon what is supposed to be our joy. I try to train my sights on what IS looking passable, but everything is looking stunted from lack of rain. Like you, I’ve picked a few things to spot water so I don’t lose them, but it is grim out there. The ‘deluge’ they predicted yesterday gave us only 1/2″ of rain, and I know I should be grateful, but it is not enough! It is hard not to complain!
    Fall looks like it is coming early this year, the trees are coloring and losing leaves, so I guess we’ll be put out of our misery soon enough. Sigh.
    To end on a positive note, the soaker hose placed in my cutting garden is a blessing and the zinnias, coneflower and verbena are a-buzz with various pollinators, which comforts me and eases the malaise a bit.
    Good luck with the launch of the academic year. Perhaps it is good to focus on something other than the rain gauge? 😉

    • bittster says:

      Yes, having something new to focus on might not be the worst thing. The start of the new year is always so optimistic so it’s not too bad, but once the novelty wears off it begins to get monotonous. Not unlike this summer!
      Yes, I think you have it worse than we do and it will take a few days of gentle soaking to bring things back from the deficit. We actually had a few spells of gentle soaking the last two days but I think the total is still only about a half inch, and didn’t even come close to penetrating the tree cover. Actually on my morning walk I noticed it didn’t even penetrate the basil, and the basil isn’t exactly lush. Oh well. I hate to think I’m actually looking forward to fall, that’s so not me!
      I saw someone else who had a beautiful planting of zinnias. It was such a colorful sight in the middle of all the wilting and of course it made me regret not taking better care of the ones I have. They’re only the short zahara or profusion type but the ones in better soil are looking nice at least, even if the others are not.
      I could almost hope for a tropical storm system to come up the coast, but that always seems to bring cooler air down and for as much as I complain I still can’t get excited about fall 😉

      • Eliza Waters says:

        Yeah, I’ve found myself (almost) hoping for a tropical depression to dump a few inches. But I realize I must be careful what I wish for! I don’t want what Dallas (etc.) has.
        I love summer too much to wish it away. Summer clothing and barefoot all the way. 🙂

  3. Deborah Banks says:

    It was great to see you on Saturday. I felt I had no business buying plants when the garden beds were cracking open from dryness. But Saturday we got almost 3/4″ of rain, and this morning woke up to another 2″ coming down! Happy days are here again! Still trying to decide what to do with that gorgeous canna I snagged at the sale. 🙂

    • bittster says:

      Heh heh, if I only bought plants when there was a good spot ready and willing to take them I wouldn’t have most of what I do. Things work out, right? Usually? Eventually? Actually If I don’t get things in the ground within a week I’m not allowed to buy anything else. It’s been a good motivator lol
      You brought home a canna, I brought home a bromeliad… it looked so nice, and seemed so lonely I couldn’t resist. Just what I needed… one more thing to bring in!
      Good talking to you, I’m glad you were there since we didn’t talk much last time. One of these days I hope to get up there to visit yours and maybe Steve’s gardens!

  4. One should never miss a plant society sale. Though I did skip the local daylily group as I just don’t have that much sun anymore. A stop at Cornell is always worth it. Have never been there but I trust their reputation from afar. I have a cousin in Ithaca but no family closer than Erie. I keep thinking I will get to Cornell but it is not looking good. I think our gardens are the only things keeping us sane but it is hard when the garden is part of the problem due to weather. We are dry here but nothing compared to you. I just had a beautiful Korean maple diagnosed with Verticillium wilt this morning. Trying to think positive rather than worry about the other Korean maples nearby. Gardening is such a mood boost — except when it’s not. Hoping for rain for you and me.

    • Forgot to say that I had Carex muskingumensis full size and it was a terrible thug. Spread and was hard to pull out. So it is on my list of Carexes not to plant.

      • bittster says:

        Oh no, another sedge-thug. I have ‘Blue Bunny’ or something like that, and I’m sure that’s another one you said is a thug… and I did notice a few seedlings this spring. It always starts so innocently. I think I can resist the full-size one, although I’d be willing to take a gamble on the Little Midge just to have a small patch of that kaleidoscope in green.
        I think I’m only touching the tip of the iceberg at Cornell. The botanical garden which I visited is fairly small but there’s a whole arboretum which I haven’t yet explored. There are also all those greenhouses. I bet there’s got to be something interesting tucked away somewhere!
        Sorry about the maple. It’s so annoying and sad to see a healthy plant brought down by some disease like wilt. You would think something as large as a tree would stand half a chance, but then all of a sudden the whole thing is lost.
        We had a little rain today. Not enough, but it was a gentle rain, and I suspect will wake up the lawn again even though there’s nothing else promising in the next ten day forecast. The crabgrass will be fine though.

  5. Kerry says:

    I was mildly shocked to return from a week in Colorado to find my plants hadn’t completely shriveled up and died. Ok, a few things did. The neighbors told me we had a bit of rain here and there (sorry to brag!), but I’m afraid it’s only dragging out the sad slog to the end of summer when I have to decide which plants to overwinter and which to say goodbye to. May I ask, do you ever overwinter your cannas and caladiums as houseplants, or do you dig up the rhizomes and save those? I never have had luck with that method, but I’ve brought in some of my favorite potted cannas and had varying degrees of luck. I’d love your thoughts on that. (And maybe also a nudge to start a “winter garden” in my basement!) Hoping for rain to come your way!

    • bittster says:

      Well that’s a surprise, right? I remember one summer coming back to a garden that was completely brown and dried up. So much nicer to see a few things made out well, even if it’s a little insulting to see them do just as well or better when you’re not there! My plants like playing that trick on me 😉
      haha, you absolutely need a winter garden in your basement! I was actually looking around today and wondering if it was too early to start thinking about what will come inside and if I should start a few cuttings yet (for the geraniums mostly).
      I’ve never taken full-sized cannas or caladiums in as houseplants, but smaller ones have made it for a little while until they usually bit the dust. I never had a warm enough spot, so they’d want to go dormant but end up rotting because I kept them too wet. I’m not sure how warm caladiums would need to be to keep growing all winter, but I suspect it’s much warmer than we keep the house! Cannas would probably be easier.
      I’m surprised you haven’t had any luck overwintering dug bulbs. I find the caladiums need to be completely dry and warmer is better, the cannas like it cool and don’t mind some dampness.

  6. Lisa Rest says:

    I am so not a gardener, even when I like to think I have any idea at all what I’m doing working in my yard, but I find your descriptions of dedication and persistence in pursuit of the art of your garden and gardening in general inspiring. Even if it seems like no matter what, plants win.

    • bittster says:

      Well I do think I’ve taken gardening in a whole different direction, but I’d still say we’re both gardeners! Just watching the garden grow, and editing out what you want and what you don’t and either getting your hands in there or keeping your hands off is all gardening 😉
      I sometimes look at old pictures and think it looked a bunch nicer before I ‘improved’ it!

  7. Cathy says:

    The Lycoris are new to me – very pretty. Drip irrigation is something I am considering for the veg patch next year, but the flowers will continue to have to fend for themselves I’m afraid. It clearly pays off though as you have some beautiful flowers and plants there!

  8. I have three plants of the same Mukdenia (Crimson Fans, a/k/a Karasuba) and they are all still 100% green. I am amazed that the ones “upstate” are coloring up already. I was muttering at mine just the other day because I bought them for the color and thus far they have done zilch. They are also the three survivors from the original five that I planted last year.

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