Thursday’s Feature: Colchicums!

As one considers the winding down of summer and the general decay of the growing season… as I suppose one should on this first day of autumn… there do seem to be a few positive notes which make the changing of the seasons more bearable.  While other things die or flee in response to cooler temperatures and weakened sunshine, a few plants spring to life, and if you count yourself among the optimists you could almost consider this to be the start of a new growing season with flushes of new foliage for the cooler weather, healthy root growth and spring buds forming below ground, and the first of the autumn flowers.  “Good for you” I say since I am not a lover of fall and its frosty death, but even I will admit colchicums make it easier to cope, and the fresh blooms at this time of year make it all seem a little less final.

With those cheery thoughts in mind I’m again joining Kimberley at Cosmos and Cleome for her Thursday Feature, and the flowers of the autumn crocus or naked ladies (Colchicums) are what stand out in my garden this week.

colchicum nancy lindsay

A reliable Colchicum with smaller flowers and colored flower stems, Colchicum ‘Nancy Lindsay’ would be on the short list of favorites.

As a good blogger I should take this opportunity to discuss the various details of researched growing conditions and also cover the finer points of colchicum cultivation but as you may have already guessed from previous posts I bore easily and tend to laziness, so to be honest I’d recommend getting that book learnin’ elsewhere.  I’m more of a stick it in the ground and see if it grows kind of guy, so if you don’t mind, click on >this link< and you’ll find a few of Kathy’s posts over at Cold Climate Gardening which should do very nicely to fill the void I leave.  She’s like a crazy cat lady of colchicums, and in addition to growing, showing, sharing, and speaking on colchicums, she also does an excellent job of putting that information online.  She’s also a wonderful person, so I hope she finds neither ‘crazy’ nor ‘cat lady’ offensive since I would hate to offend her good nature.

colchicum innocence

Colchicum run a range of pink shades from dark to light, but the odd white form really lights up an autumn bed.  Here’s Colchicum ‘Innocence’.  Decent sized blooms, slight pink tint when you look for it, and a good grower.

Better sources of information aside, I guess I should mention some of the barest essentials of Colchicums.  They bloom bare, without foliage, hence the common name of naked ladies.  Their bloom shape resembles that of crocus, hence the name autumn crocus -although they share no family relation whatsoever.  Of course being unrelated to crocus is not the worst thing since wildlife love the crocus around here yet completely avoid the poisonous parts of colchicums.

In the early spring, colchicums quickly grow leafy, hosta-like foliage but then yellow and disappear once the weather heats up.  Decent, well drained soil, sun or part shade (the more sun in spring the better), and hope for the best.

colchicum foliage

Spring species tulips and the springtime foliage of colchicums growing in the lawn.

With their fall blooms, colchicum are a bit of an oddity when compared to the regular spring and summer flowers of most bulb catalogs.  Maybe this is why they seem expensive when compared to the mass produced spring bulbs, but don’t let it fool you.  They might require some special handling and storing, but overall  it’s an easy group to grow.  If I have one bit of advice which may be helpful it’s to plant shallowly in heavy soils.  The flowers seem to struggle when sprouting up out of hard-packed soil, and if they can’t make it up chances are the spring foliage won’t make it either, and your special new bulb will die.  Cover loosely I say, and if the bulbs (actually corms btw) are already flowering, do not cover the flowers with dirt and expect them to rise up out of the soil.  The flowers, and foliage as well, seem to take advantage of the old, dried floral tubes and follow these paths up out of the soil.  When newly planted, the tunnels from last year no longer exist, so to get around this plant shallowly and cover with some mulch once flowering is finished and you should be in good shape.

colchicum lilac wonder

Colchicum ‘Lilac Wonder’ planted in grass.  If planting in lawns, be prepared to hold back on mowing until the foliage has yellowed off.  I like a field of gone-to-seed grass swaying in the breeze in June.  You may not.

Over the last two years I’ve been adding colchicums to the meadow garden, and so far have been pleased enough to want to add more this fall.  I’m hoping they do well enough amongst the root completion of the grass and so far so good on that.  Another plus is I prefer the flowers when set off by the green grass, even though in most years this area usually has more of a brown grass look to it.

colchicum lilac wonder

More Colchicum ‘Lilac Wonder’ planted in the meadow garden. This is my favorite colchicum right now, it really does well here.

colchicum in meadow grass

A more sparse planting of an unknown colchicum.  This one will sulk if the spring is too short or dry, or isn’t exactly to its liking.  I’d blame the lawn, but the same lack of blooming happens in my flower beds as well.

I’m going to wrap it up here since although I can stare at and talk colchicums for hours in the garden, I am way past the limits of my attention span here at the computer.  But before ending I have to show Colchicum x aggripinum and the remarkable pattern of its blooms.  Many colchicums show tessellation in their flowers and of the ones I grow this one shows it best.

colchicum x aggripinum

The smaller, shorter foliage and flowers of colchicum x aggripinum still show up very well in the garden.  This clump liked being divided last summer, but didn’t like the late freeze and short spring we had, so I hope it fills in better next year.

colchicum x aggripinum

Tessellation on a flower of colchicum x aggripinum.  I love this patterning.

If you’ve made it this far I might as well apologize while I still have your attention.  There are still a few weeks left in the colchicum season and it’s very likely you’ll see more of them at some point or another as I try to work my way through this otherwise miserable new season.  In the meantime though, please consider giving Kimberley a visit to see what she and others are posting about this Thursday.  Perhaps they have a higher opinion of autumn.

Thursday’s Feature: Bessera elegans

I really need to apologize for yet again neglecting comments and neglecting blog visits and for neglecting most of the fun interactions which make blogging so rewarding.  I think on Tuesday I went on about how lazy I’ve been lately, but now I’m afraid it’s becoming borderline rude, so for that I apologize.  That said I’m not really worried about offending anyone, I think most who read this have their own busy lives which heat up and cool down, but I figured I’d throw it out there just in case.  I really do appreciate the interactions.

But it is already late on Thursday and since it’s a day when I like to join up with Kimberley of Cosmos and Cleome for her Thursday’s Feature it looks like another night of post first, blogworld later.  Who could blame me for just wanting to sit here for a few minutes before bed and write about Bessera elegans anyway?

Bessera elegans

The dainty yet boldly colored flowers of Bessera elegans.  a bulbous goodie from Southwestern Mexico.

Before I get you too excited, this plant has long, sloppy, narrow leaves which flop all over the ground.  The non-hardy, bulblike corms seem to rot easily during winter storage.  It doesn’t like cold weather.  I’ve seen it referred to as “fussy”.  All of these are good enough reasons to plant a marigold instead but then the flowers come and you’re hooked.  The color is saturated bright and they hang in clusters at the top of long wiry stems.  For as spineless as the foliage is the flower stems never seem to need support, and they hoist the flowers up to dance in any breeze which happens to come through on a hot and muggy summer day.  I’ve heard them described as like a red snowdrop, but I don’t see it.  To me maybe parachute, umbrella, maybe a little fairy…. I don’t know, it’s a cool form with the long stamens and pistils sticking out of the inner skirt, and before I start sounding too wacky I’ll leave it to you to find a better description 🙂

Bessera elegans

I didn’t notice the spider lying in wait, but I do notice the odd greenish pollen every time I do a closeup examination of these elegant little flowers.

My bulbs originally came through Brent and Becky’s and the fact I’ve been able to get blooms from it each of the last three years says a lot for its toughness.  I’ve always grown them in pots in a well draining potting soil and they seem to appreciate regular water and full sun and just take off during the growing season.  The flowers last for a relatively long time and there are several flowers on each stalk.  I would almost say they’re easy then, but when winter rolls around the trouble starts.  Without revealing how close I’ve come to killing them each winter (last year I was truly amazed those last remaining spots of corm even grew let alone bloomed), I’m just going to say my best success has been keeping them bone dry and on the warm side when in storage… but I’m open to advice on this.

I really have no business adding any more plants which need pampering over winter but such is curiosity.  The red version is cheap enough (10 for $6 last time I looked) that one can just plant and abandon them once winter arrives, but there are other colors and of course other colors mean collecting opportunity.  I’ve seen mention of crimson, pink, lavender, and a dark purple, each with varying flower sizes and markings, and of course I want to try all of them.  Telos Rare Bulbs has the “outstanding” purple form for sale but at $15 a piece I’m reminded of how poorly my current plants survive the winter and it’s taking all my strength of reason to resist.  It even says “few available” and that does absolutely nothing to calm me down.

I will wrap it up here.  I need to get some rest before someone clicks and orders something they shouldn’t, but in the meantime please consider a visit to Kimberley’s blog and see what others have featured this Thursday.  I was fortunate enough to have her pay a visit to my own garden last weekend, and had she not needed to rush off early I’m sure I would have gone on and on about this plant.  As it is I’m sorry she missed it 🙂

Thursday’s Feature: The Three Cousins

The story of the three sisters of native American agriculture (corn-squash-beans) is a story which goes hand in hand with almost any elementary school lesson on the Pilgrims or Thanksgiving.  Northeastern tribes of Native Americans commonly grew the three crops together in the same mound, and as the corn grew up and the stalks provided support for the twining beans, the squash filled in along the ground and together the three crops coexisted peacefully, each filling their own niche.

This spring I rebuilt the rebar arbor which marks the entrance to the vegetable garden and this summer three vines are working their way up and over the arch.  They don’t coexist quite as peacefully as the three sisters and they’re far less useful in the kitchen, but I like them well enough anyway and even if they never make an appearance on the back of a Sacagawea coin I guess we can say they’re close enough to be called cousins at least.  The three cousins are Cypress vine, Love in a Puff, and Red Noodle bean, and all I can think of is how great common names can be 🙂

rebar arbor

After struggling for four years with an arbor that fell over each spring, I finally put in the effort to set the base in concrete.  The jury is still out on whether it will survive this spring thaw or not any better, but since the jury is still also going back and forth between rustic and ugly, survival may not matter either way.  

There are many a more floriferous trio for a trellis, but for some reason I love the mixes of foliage, flowers, and fruit of these three cousins.  The bright scarlet flowers of the cypress vine (Ipomoea quamoclit) sparkle alongside its soft ferny foliage and contrast nicely with the puffy green globes of love in a puff (Cardiospermum halicacabum)  and the dark red pods of the red noodle beans (Vigna unguiculata… aka asparagus bean… aka yardlong beans).

red noodle bean flower

The pale lavender flowers of the red noodle bean only open in the morning but they look just right mixed in with the ferny cypress vine foliage.

I wish I could take credit for this combo, but in all honesty I saw it a few years ago on Nan Ondra’s blog.  As it is with these things a single picture got stuck in my head and then over the next several years the radar stayed tuned in to find seed for the three components.

cypress vine, red noodle bean

The red “noodles” of the asparagus bean stretch anywhere from a foot and a half to nearly two feet.  The arbor is starting to look pretty cool with all these red beans dangling down.

Right now I think it’s the noodle beans stealing the show and I wish I had a few better photos, but the ones from this afternoon just didn’t make the cut and then the daylight called it quits on me.

red noodle bean

I think the beans are cool, but the hummingbirds much prefer the cypress vine flowers.

As I think further on it each of the three cousins also provides something more than just looking pretty.  The beans are edible (and some say have an excellent taste if picked small), the hummingbirds love the cypress vine, and the kids love picking and popping the puffs.  It is a useful trio and it’s likely they’ll show up here for many a year to come… if only because (with the exception of the beans) I haven’t planted a thing on this trellis for three years and there are still more than enough seedlings each spring to fill the ranks.

So there they are, the three cousins as my feature for Kimberley’s Thursday Feature meme, and although they are technically three entries it’s nearly impossible to separate them so I think I’m good to go.  If you think you’re good to go might I suggest a visit to Kimberley’s blog?  She encourages us to look around each week and find something which grabs our attention in the garden and it’s always interesting whether you’re just visiting or joining right in.

Thursday’s Feature: Cardinal Flower

It must be the week for scarlet since I see that Kimberley, our host for the Thursday Feature, has also featured something equally bright this week from her garden.  Her choice is bee balm (Monarda), but the cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis) also gives a bright punch of red to the late summer garden.

cardinal flower

My own slightly undernourished cardinal flower. 

Cardinal flower is a native North American wildflower and its color and flower shape are tailored to attracting hummingbirds.  Red is a color for bringing in these small winged pollinators, and one can see how its bee pollinated cousin, great lobelia (L. siphilicata),  would have shorter blooms and a more bee-friendly blue coloring.  Both are easy in the garden and thrive in a moist, fertile soil in either a sunny or part shade location.  If your garden is well suited to these beauties, the blue version has even been known to border on weedy with its self-seeding ways, but to be honest I can’t imagine them being any trouble at all to just remove.  Keep in mind though that the summers in my garden can usually fry and dry even some of the hardiest members of the plant kingdom so I might not be the best judge on if a moisture loving plant is weedy!

chanticleer red seat

Color coordinated seating alongside a nice patch of cardinal flower at Chanticleer.

The straight species of L cardinalis is an excellent flower even straight out of the forest, but over the years hybrids and selections have broadened the range of cardinal flower available to gardeners.  Darker foliage is always a popular look, as well as pink and purple hybrids with the great lobelia.  They’re all equally easy to grow when given the moisture they need but in my experience the hybrids are no where near as hardy as the straight species(zone 7 versus zone 3).  Still I showed no hesitation when I saw this maroon leaved plant for sale this spring.  Even as a likely annual it’s worth the money I spent on it… although honestly I expected the flowers to be denser.

cardinal flower

A dark foliaged Lobelia cardinalis in bloom on the deck.  I’m not totally sure I’ve ever seen the hummers on this one, and I wonder if some nectar production was opted out of when they selected for dark leaves.

I’d love to have a bunch of these scattered throughout the garden but there are only a few spots where I can keep an eye on them often enough to keep them from drying out completely.  That’s just me though, if you have a reliably damp spot or even poorly drained spot which kills off many other plants, I would jump on the chance to try out a few cardinal flowers.  They may even self-seed and you can imagine the show if that happens.

Give them a try and also give Kimberley a visit to see what other late bloomers are featured this week.  It’s the downside of the summer, and a fresh and new bloomer at this time of year is always welcome.

 

Thursday’s Feature: Standing Cypress

It’s Thursday and that means joining up with Kimberley of Cosmos and Cleome to take a closer look at something which caught your eye in the garden this week.  Hopefully you’re ready for color because his week the bright red of standing cypress (Ipomopsis rubra) is our subject.

Ipomopsis Rubra

Ipomopsis rubra close up.  Love the speckles and the intense scarlet color.  Bright red is what you need this time of year to stand up to the strong summer sun.

Standing cypress is a showy wildflower native to southeastern North America and just one of many garden-worthy Ipomopsis which can be found across the Americas (at least they look garden worthy, this is the only one I’ve ever grown).  These members of the phlox family are tough, drought resistant, and easy to grow and I’m surprised they’re not seen more often.  This is one plant which didn’t even blink when the rain stopped and its neighbors curled up into a drought induced fetal position.

Ipomopsis Rubra

Ipomopsis Rubra has a habit which I would call “lax”.  At anywhere from two to five feet tall they don’t typically flop, but they lean and stretch and carry so many blooms and seed pods that understandably it can get heavy for a little plant.

It took me years to finally find seed but admittedly I wasn’t out there every week trying to run down new sources.  I received my seed via the Mid Atlantic Hardy Plant Society seed exchange but now I’ve been seeing them more frequently sold in wildflower mixes or for hummingbird plantings.  The mix I planted was supposed to show a blend of red to oranges to yellows, but the speckled scarlet color is the only one I’ve seen come up.

Ipomopsis Rubra

The tubular flower shape and bright red color of these blooms has ‘hummingbird flower’ written all over it, and sure enough I often see hummers flying by for a meal.

It’s my suspicion that the natural variation across this species makes for different growing habits based on where one gets their seed from.  My plants which have been selfseeding around for several years now seem to be strictly annuals but from what I found they also grow as biennials and short lived perennials in areas across the United States as far up as zone 4.  Since mine have never overwintered I’m thinking it’s an annual form I’m growing.

Other confusing comments on this plant include it having a taproot (mine don’t) and it needing sandy or gravelly, well drained soil (mine tolerate heavier soil) in order to do well.  I suspect some of this is from people who’s knowledge is based less on experience and more on internet searches, but since I’m not a botanist either I’ll let you decide.

Ipomopsis Rubra

The ferny basal rosettes of standing cypress will pop up in any barren, neglected area which grows weeds well.  They do not compete against more perennial plantings, but in disturbed soil they can make a quick show before other opportunists jump in.

The hummingbirds and I will enjoy the blooms of this wildflower for several weeks now and when things slow down I’ll just trim off the upper end of the stalk and the smaller side shoots should carry on for a few more weeks.

Standing cypress.  Consider it.  If your garden can handle a shot of red I think you’ll enjoy it, and I also think you’ll enjoy giving Cosmos and Cleome a visit to see what Kimberley and others bloggers are featuring this week.  Enjoy!

Thursday’s Feature: Cyclamen purpurascens

It’s time to get back into the saddle.  I’ve enjoyed telling the woeful tales of drought and loss in my garden and appreciated the kind words, but it’s time to stop the shameless pandering for sympathy and suck it up.  I’m sure most gardeners will agree that there’s nothing better for a poor attitude than a new plant, so I ordered a couple iris, planned a trip to the nursery, and I think I’m good 🙂

So first things first I’m joining Kimberley at Cosmos and Cleome for her Thursday’s Feature and highlighting one of the little treasures which don’t seem to care much about a few sunny days and a bit of heat.  This week’s plant is that hardiest of hardy cyclamen, Cylamen purpurascens.

IMG_2101

Blooming this week in the dry shade beneath the weeping cherry is Cyclamen purpurascens. I like the slight streaking and chunky flowers of this one.

Besides being a hardy plant ((the cyclamen society’s website lists this plant as tolerant of temperatures down to -4F… and my own plants have easily endured -9F without significant snow cover) this plant also has the distinction of retaining foliage year round.  Even now during he worst of summer the beautifully marked and mottled foliage lights up the gloomiest of dry shade locations.

hardy cyclamen purpurascens foliage

Cyclamen purpurascens has the typically beautiful foliage shared by many of the cyclamen family, and the range of patterns is always amazing.

It also has the distinction of blooming now.  The flowers won’t blow you away until they come by the hundreds (which I’m hoping for someday), but for now the little splashes of color are a welcome relief for summer weary shade gardens.

cyclamen purpurascens

A more typical Cyclamen purpurascens flower with pink color and open, twisted petals. 

For more expert information and growing requirements I’d recommend the cyclamen society’s website, but from my own experience I find this cyclamen to be a little fussier and much slower growing than the others and also a plant which actually seems to welcome a good freeze in the winter.  Seedlings which I protected indoors really sulked until I threw them outside for the coldest months.

Mine were raised from seed, but honestly this is one cyclamen I’d have no problem buying as a plant.  Germination takes a year, it’s another year before they do any serious growing, another two or so years for a bloom if you’re not the most attentive grower, and then even the seeds take over a year to ripen before you can try for the next batch.  We’re not getting any younger, so save yourself a few years and buy a couple plants from John Lonsdale at Edgewood gardens.  For a plant which you probably won’t find anywhere else $12 a pop seems like a bargain to me and I’m a relatively cheap guy.

When you’re done with that give Kimberley a visit and see what else is on the radar this Thursday (or practically Friday as I look at the clock).  There’s always something interesting to be had and I know you won’t regret it!

Thursday’s Feature: The Wooly Thistle

Each Thursday I like to join Kimberley at Cosmos and Cleome and single out a plant which has tickled my fancy that week.  For the most part my choices have been on the respectable side but this week I’ve gone back to the dark side and chosen the wooly thistle (Cirsium eriophorum), a plant which if anything should be kept far, far away from your fancy since direct contact will definitely NOT tickle.

Cirsium eriophorum, wooly thistle

Cirsium eriophorum, the wooly thistle, with its first bloom opening in late June.

Despite its cute common name, the wooly thistle is probably cursed by many a gardener and farmer throughout its native Europe.  I don’t think many a gardener here or there would go through the trouble of finding seeds through a seed exchange, sowing them and nursing the plant for three years, and then briefly enjoy it’s heavily armed flowers for a few weeks until it set seeds and died… but I think it’s absolutely fascinating!

Cirsium eriophorum, wooly thistle

A baby picture only a father could love.  Wooliness studded with purple tips and all so nicely geometrical!

Who knows if I’ll replant the seeds once mama thistle is gone, she is a bit of a hostile presence after all, but she’s very welcoming to the bees and ants which swarm the flowers.  She’s also very popular with a group of weevils which have poked their noses into the wool and I’m sure laid eggs while nibbling the flower buds.  Weevil grubs eating thistle seeds is probably not the worst thing to have and even with them there will likely still be more than enough seeds produced.

Cirsium eriophorum, wooly thistle

The spines are just as vicious as they look 🙂

I will completely understand a less than enthusiastic review to this week’s choice.  Please feel free to just smile politely and then later shake your head, I’ll understand.

Cirsium eriophorum, wooly thistle

Cirsium eriophorum today with its fat wooly flower heads.

Please also feel free to visit Kimberly and enjoy what she’s selected for this week.  I hear it’s a delightfully pure Shasta daisy, and I’m sure it’s far better suited for vases and placing behind the ear than this thing!