One word…. Dichelostemma

I inherited my mother’s habit of randomly picking up and trying out just about any odd, looks-like-it-might-be-nice bulb that shows up in the garden center’s bins.  Together we’ve failed at freesia, ranunculus, ixia… but every now and then something gives a surprise, and lately it’s been Dichelostemma.

dichelostemma pink diamond

Dichelostemma ‘Pink Diamond’ out in the meadow garden

The first one which made its way into the garden was a selected form of the naturally occurring hybrid ‘Pink Diamond’.  I love the totally tubular pink flowers and the waxy thickness of the blooms and was surprised it actually grew since the bulbs came via a November closeout sale, and late planting into a cold, wet clayish soil is typically not a recipe for success for drought tolerant bulbs from the western reaches of North America.  But they came up fine the next spring and when the wiry flower stalks matured to bright pink clusters of bloom in June I was hooked.

dichelostemma pink diamond

Daisies and Dichelostemma in front of a worse for wear Queen of the Prairie.  The Queen still presides over the back forty, but between acidic rainfall and wayward groundhog nibbling her reign may soon be coming to an end.

‘Pink Diamond’ may or may not become a permanent resident in the meadow.  The first planting returned to bloom the second year but has not put up flowers in the third.  I blame rabbits for nibbling too much of the spring foliage, but we will see what happens next year, as this spring with all the new crocus flowers to chose from the rabbits didn’t quite get to the Dichelostemma foliage before moving on to freshly planted lettuce and broccoli in the vegetable garden.

The ‘other’ Dichelostemma (D. congestum) has been going strong though, putting up its beautiful lilac-purple flower clusters for three years now… in spite of also being nibbled.

dichelostemma congestum

Dichelostemma congestum has the common name of fork toothed Ookow.  When you get tired of introducing guests to your dichelostemma I’m sure switching to the common name will clear things up. 

I love how these plants look among the weeds and grass of the meadow.  I can imagine this isn’t entirely unlike their native habitat in the Western edges of the continent and from a gardeners point of view the yellowing foliage is completely disguised by the surrounding greenery.  Not to get distracted, but I wonder how alliums would work out back here since many of those also share the trick of letting their foliage go to pot just as the blooms reach their peak.

Dichelostemma ida-maia is my last of the D’s and I suppose ‘firecracker plant’ is a decent common name for this one…. although it’s no Ookow.

dichelostemma ida-maia

Dichelostemma ida-maia.  The shape and color of this flower has ‘hummingbird plant’ written all over it.

Besides adding more ‘Pink Diamond’ last fall, I also put in a few D. ida-maia… in spite of my thoughts that I wouldn’t like them.  I was completely wrong in my lack of enthusiasm.  The sad anemic version I saw a few years ago is nothing like the group I now have swaying in the dappled light amongst the grass.  I’m far too greedy a collector to commit large spaces to a single plant but I would have no problem adding another hundred or two (versus the 10 I started with) to this end of the meadow, which is entirely do-able since these small bulb are relatively cheap even when not on clearance.

dichelostemma ida-maia

I trimmed up the lower limbs of the aspen and love the Rocky Mountain glade effect it has given.  Add a Western NA native Dichelostemma ida-maia and we may be on to something here 😉

I’m not sure what the hardiness on these plants (both species and their hybrid daughter) is.  To be honest I didn’t think they would make it through their first careless planting (really careless… cold November fingers so one shovel swipe into the turf, dump bag contents into hole and stomp sod clod down again on top), but they did survive, and it was a winter where our lows reached -6F (-21C) with a solidly frozen soil for months.  So they’re at least that hardy, and I think the extreme summer dryness of the meadow also helps them return in spite of any issues with poorly drained, wet winter soils.

Dichelostemma.  Think about it.  I think they’re pretty cool.

Roadtrip to Long Island

Summer always seems to hit like a whirlwind around here, and during the season where the garden is changing and showing off more than ever the blog which is supposed to tell the story always enters a slump.  The gardener is busy outside of course, and posting about it falls to the wayside.   That’s bad though since going back through the pictures of seasons past is a favorite activity for the desolate dark days of winter and I need that sunny cheerful reminder to keep me going when icy cold locks up everything.  So let me apologize for the slowdown and also for the lack of visits to other blogs.  I still stop by of course and look, but more in a wallflower way taking it all in but not commenting… oh, and I’ll also apologize in advance if there are too many posts over the next few days.  I’m going to try and catch up and I hope I don’t seem like that other party person, the one who just goes on and on 🙂

avalon prairie stony brook

A prairie planting in Stony Brook NY

I grew up on Long Island and still return as much as I can to visit my parents and my brother’s family.  This last time while the kids were playing and others were visiting doctors and shopping, I snuck off alone for a visit to the Avalon Park and Preserve in Stony Brook, NY for a summertime peek at their fields of prairie plantings.  I was not disappointed.

field of heliopsis avalon stony brook

In mid July Heliopsis helianthoides  (false sunflower) dominates the former farm fields of Avalon.  Keep in mind this photo was taken from above since most topped out at around five feet!

This is North shore Long Island, gold coast, old money territory, and with a location approximately 40 miles out of Manhattan it’s retained much of its city escape feel.  Think Great Gatsby, and although most of the old mansions have either fallen to ruins or been leveled there are still plenty of old estates and gentleman’s farms.  Fences and gates usually separate the common people from these retreats but in this case several tracts were purchased and the gates were opened.

milkweed prairie avalon

Common milkweed dotted the prairie but I didn’t see a single nibbled leaf or monarch caterpillar.

Avalon is made up of three sections, Avalon Park is a manicured area with woodland plantings, walking trails, and art features, Avalon Preserve consists of hiking trails through woodland, old field hedgerows, and the prairie plantings, and East Farm Preserve is a Nature Conservancy property accessible through the Avalon sections.  The three parts combine to form a nice cross section of Long Island’s former wilder self.

paul simmons avalon stony brook

Paul Simmons memorial at Avalon Park and Preserve.

Although today the park is a peaceful oasis filled with children playing and friends strolling, the origins of the park are rooted in grief.  In 1996, 34 year old Paul Simmons was killed by automobile collision while cycling nearby.  To celebrate his life and love of the outdoors the park was created.  At the site of a former pre-park residential building a memorial for Paul has been built, with an adjacent meditation labyrinth.  On this visit art installations of colorful knit ‘tree sleeves’ and hanging patterns dotted the area.

avalon labyrinth stony brook

Meditation circle  

The park plantings, buildings, and care reflect a healthy park endowment and it’s not surprising considering that the father of Paul Simmons is one of the world’s wealthiest men.  James Simons is a math man who has translated his mathematical talents into the financial markets and stands somewhere in the 70-80 range of wealthiest people worldwide (around 30th for wealthiest Americans).  His story is a fascinating one, but his estimated 14 billion net worth surely hasn’t hindered park funding, and is always the subject of whispered stories in the three villages area of who works for his remarkably successful Renaissance Technologies and what their annual take home pay might be.

avalon park stony brook new york

A second residence on purchased park property has been transformed from a 1940’s ranch to a coastal New England style park office, ready for park foundation functions and always immaculately manicured. 

Coming down out of park brings you down to the Stony Brook mill pond.  This is the duck pond I loved visiting back in the day and is the power source for the Stony Brook grist mill (c.1751).  As recently as 1940 the mill was still carrying on the work of grinding local grains into flour and even today the wheels are put into motion on summer weekends for the sake of tourists. It’s an area rich in history from the sea captains who settled around the harbor, to the colonial farms which cover the rolling hills, to the Manhattan escapees who missed the train to the Hamptons and ended up here.

cormorant rookery stony brook

Cormorants nesting on a mill pond island.  These are relatively recent arrivals to the area,  only now recovering from their fish-robbing persecution from days gone by.

I love this area for its quiet waterfront peacefulness and many hidden treasures, but on this visit it was the flower filled fields which really made me smile.  On a still summer morning the low hum of thousands of native bumblebees visiting the flowers and the less-than-springtime-frantic chirping of songbirds really worked magic to calm the day.

Avalon prairie planting

Avalon prairie plantings.  Even with the heliopsis blooms dominating early summer, there were plenty of other native grasses and colorful perennials to carry on for the rest of the year. 

Good thing the day started out relaxed.  Summertime beach visits and afternoons spent barbequing can be so stressful 🙂

west meadow beach ny

Cousins exploring the salt marsh near West Meadow beach in Setauket, NY.

Now back to the garden.  We’ve been to Florida and back in the meantime and catching up in the garden has been an uphill battle against Japanese beetles and crabgrass…. but there’s been plenty of pool time too, so I really can’t complain!

Viva la summer 🙂

Hello Susan

My intention this spring was to keep the front yard a little more organized and really put my foot down against the reseeders which took over last summer….. but then the rest of the world happened and just like many good intentions my organization theme fell to the wayside.  This year rudbeckias took over.

gloriosa daisies rudbeckia

Rudbeckias, black eyed Susans, gloriosa daisies, whatever you want to call them these rudbeckia hirta hybrids really bring gold to the front border.  Fyi this is as far along the bed as the edging and mulching got this spring.  You can see my spade handle just where I left it about two months ago 🙂 

For as much as I like the softer yellows, and for as summery a tint golden yellow is, bright gold is probably one of my least favorite flower colors.  The golden takeover of the front garden really goes against any design theory I have for this bed and I suppose if I were of the more controlling type it would cause me a little mental turmoil but I think I’m ok with the brightness.  It helps bring a little sun to what’s so far been a pretty wet and ‘pearly’ summer.

rudbeckia hirta gloriosa daisy perennial bed

The front border with plenty of rudbeckias.  I was firm with seedlings of amaranth, standing cypress, and oxeye daisies but this year the black eyed Susans slipped by.

A casual passerby might think things look well under control and maybe even close to well tended, but just inside the bed turmoil reigns.  Here the inner section was supposed to be a restful patch of dark leaves canna…. which it’s not… because too many ‘good enough’ plants came up and the gardener just didn’t have the heart to pull them out.  It worked out for the best though, the variety of green centered and brown eyed rudbeckia which grew is a nice tradeoff (as long as you can continue to ignore the unplanted cannas sitting on the driveway).

mixed annual rudbeckia plantings

Mixed shades of selfsown rudbeckia seedlings. 

There used to be a greater variety of darker shades mixed in with the straight gold daisies but over the last few years I’ve tended to pull the browned eyed versions.  They seem more prone to mildew in my garden and rather than look at that I just pull them and send them to the compost before their seed ripens.

mixed perennial border

A more ‘refined’ view of the border.  Less is surely more with these bright colors but to be honest the patches where the rudbeckia grows and blooms thickest are the patches which make me smile 🙂

A week or two ago would have been a good time to seed out a few zinnias to fill in for when I get tired of the fading rudbeckias but all the rain seems to have drowned my seedling tray, so we’ll see what happens now.  Fortunately there are always volunteers willing to step up.  Here are a few sunflowers coming along (in a totally inappropriate spot) and I know a few verbena bonariensis seedlings could be found elsewhere.

sunflower seedlings

The future sunflower patch.  Goldfinches have already been stopping by but they’ve got a few more weeks to wait before this seed factory starts up.

The entire border hasn’t been given over to gold.  Here’s a now classic combination of Perovskia, Echinacea, and ‘Karl Foerster” feather reed grass made famous back in the ’90s by the Washington DC based design team of Oehme, Van Sweden.  They were one of the pioneers in publicizing the ‘New American’ prairie style planting style which moved American design away from lawns and English style gardens to a more relaxed look filled with lower maintenance swaths of color and forms which sway in the summer breeze.

Oehme, van Sweden inspired planting

My Oehme, van Sweden inspired planting of ‘Karl Foerster’ grass, coneflowers, and Russian sage.

Coneflowers also anchor the far end of the bed, and the golden rudbeckias haven’t quite conquered this far down the line.

morning light perennial border

This end of the border is were my enthusiasm for weeding and maintenance always wears a little thin.  As long as the lawn stays mowed and the edges get trimmed I think the weeds and lack of deadheading aren’t quite so noticeable.

The black eyes Susans which grow in this front border are nearly all the tetraploid version of America’s native Rudbeckia hirta, and for plant geeks such as myself the history of these plants is one of those cool wintertime stories which make gardening just that much more interesting.  A version of the story can be found by clicking here, but the short summertime summary involves Dr. Blakeslee of Massachusetts’s Smith College treating seed of the native rudbeckia with the genetics altering chemical colchicine and doubling their chromosome count.  Eventually David Burpee got a hold of the new race of flowers and set his company to work refining and selecting for more colors and forms, and in 1957 introduced the plants as we know them today.  The tetraploid version is bright and big and bold, but the normal diploid Rudbeckia hirta still has its fans for its daintier, summertime wildflower look.

rudbeckia hirta quilled petals

A straight Rudbeckia hirta which showed up in the back garden.  I like the spoon shaped petals on this one and hopefully can save a few seeds.

Rudbeckia hirta comes in two basic forms, the regular and the larger tetraploid version.  They’re both short lived perennials which may bloom the first year or may die after blooming, depending on their mood, but they’re both far from troublesome.  Don’t get this Susan mixed up with the truly perennial, clump forming Rudbeckia fulgida which is just starting to come into bloom now.  This one (usually grown as the ‘Goldsturm’ version, another Oehm,Van Sweden favorite as well as Karl Foerster introduction) is another indestructible rudbeckia but for me it’s just too much of a perennial commitment to gold 🙂

rudbeckia hirta light yellow

Another wild rudbeckia hirta which I’m keeping an eye on out back.  It’s a lighter yellow shade with a spidery inward curl to the petals (which often shows up in the darker ones as well).  I like it! 

So there you have it, the glory of gloriosa daisies in the garden of a gardener who doesn’t like gold.  Some will surely point out that I’m in gold loving denial, but daisies and gold are completely common and unrefined and I’m going to try and claim it was against my will and better taste that they took over this summer.  Either that or I just don’t care what good taste and garden trends dictate!

Enjoy summer 🙂

In a vase on Monday: Goldenrod

In celebration of Labor Day and a Monday away from work, I’m once again making a contribution to the ‘In a Vase on Monday’ movement.  It may not exactly be a world changing movement, but it’s fun and does motivate me to bring a few flowers into the house so look at how it’s changing lives!

arrangement with goldenrod and dahlias

Another pluck and plunk arrangement. I didn’t realize how unbalanced it was until after I looked at the photos!

This week’s arrangement was inspired by Kimberley at Cosmos and Cleome.  In a recent vase Kimberley had the good sense to add a few sprays of goldenrod in to fill things up, and it took that vase to make me realize I have a ton of the stuff growing all over the place and should do the same!

goldenrod and dahlia

The just barely blooming goldenrod has a nice soft color and fills in well. It’s like a redneck version of baby’s breath plucked from the roadside.

Besides the goldenrod, this vase has the pink tipped blossoms of dahlia ‘Tanjoh’, a purplish red dahlia (maybe ‘Plum Pretty’?), a few zinnias, a couple pink sprays of ‘kiss me over the garden gate’ (persicaria orientalis), and a few fig leaves which were in the way of my boxwood trimming.  I like it 🙂

dahlia 'Tanjoh' with goldenrod

The goldenrod makes up nearly half of the arrangement yet you really just notice the larger blooms. Such is the curse of a ‘filler’…

With all the goldenrod coming into bloom I may have to admit to myself that autumn is approaching.  On the road to college I was always disgusted by the mass of goldenrod yellow filling the fields along the highway, and it’s always been a mental marker for the end of summer and the return to work.  I guess that’s my bias against the plant, but because of its native status I tolerate it when a seedling shows up.

goldenrod for cutting

There are more than enough wayward areas around the garden for goldenrod to sneak in a rod or two.

Not to stray too far from my Monday vase, but I guess some goldenrod annoys me less than others.  One of the species is only just starting to color, and I think it’s my current favorite.

goldenrod and sumac

Goldenrod just coming into flower along with some staghorn sumac which the starlings and robins will enjoy this winter.

This floppy one is not a favorite.  Once it’s finished blooming I’ll run back here and mow things down to give the grass a chance.

wild goldenrod

Not a bad goldenrod, there’s just too much and I’d rather leave a little room for some of the asters which are yet to come.

Here’s my last goldenrod.  I don’t know any of the species but this one’s a smaller, leaner version.  I would almost say I like it.

wild goldenrod

Unknown goldenrod…. any ideas? This one’s about two feet tall and like the others doesn’t need a thing from me.

Thanks for staying with me for my little segue from cut flowers to roadside weeds.  They’re wildflowers of course, and if I can just get past my stereotyping I may be able to call them all cutflowers someday.

If you’d like to see other cutflowers more artfully arranged I’d encourage you to visit Cathy over at Rambling in the Garden.  You can check out what she and other bloggers around the world are doing for their own “In a Vase on Monday”.   Have a great week!

Off for a bit

We just got back from a nice little camping trip up into the “mountains” of Pennsylvania.  Rickett’s Glen State Park is just a short drive from our house, but it seems like a world away.

Lake Jean Pa

Lake Jean is near the summit of Red Rock Mountain (2,400ft) and the campground is lakeside.

The kids love to spend the day by the cool clear lake, but Rickett’s Glen is best known for its waterfalls and old growth trees.  Sadly though, after centuries of timeless growth many of the massive hemlocks are now dead and dying.  The newly arrived wooly algeid from Asia has literally sucked the life out of them and the glen is now filled with the gray remains of these crumbling giants.  Better hurry if you want to get anything close to the effect that used to be here even as short as ten years ago, the hemlocks are fading and things don’t look good for the giant ash trees either as the emerald ash borer comes our way.

ricketts glen hemlocks

They’re not as impressive as west coast evergreens, but the Rickett’s Glen hemlocks push 400+ years

One of our first jobs after setting up camp was to head out and collect breakfast…. sort of.  The former hayfields and apple orchards in the park are filled with wild highbush blueberries, and tis the season for blueberries!

-although I couldn’t help but think of the children’s book “Blueberries for Sal” and her surprise run in with a blueberry loving bear 🙂

monarda fistulosa

Monarda fistulosa growing in the former hayfields of Colonel Rickett.

But outside of hunting and gathering the bulk of the trip was spent sitting by the fire, playing at the lake, exploring the woods, and cruising the campground -as part of the children’s biker gang which my kids promptly joined.

playing in the creek

Any running water invites dam building, and here Opa was trying to give a few pointers.

The park ecosystem has a few problems, but for the most part it’s a nice snapshot of the woods which used to be.  There was still a late season bird chorus to wake us at dawn and the woodlands still contained the wild trillium, hepatica, and tiarella which the damp glen protects.  Japanese stilt grass was probably the only non-native invasive plant which was making inroads, a nice contrast to my own overrun neighborhood.

indian pipe

I haven’t seen the ghostly sprouts of indian pipes in a long time. I believe they’re the aboveground flowers of an underground parasitic plant, and not a type of mushroom which I used to think.

Spring is such a busy time but I always say I’m going to get here and see if I can catch a glimpse of the spring ephemerals blooming.  It would also be kind of nice to sneak off here sans children and squeeze in a hike of the treacherous falls trail and see the many waterfalls which fill the glen.  It’s been years since I made the hike, but I just don’t have the nerves to watch the kids teetering near every drop-off and slipping on every mud covered step.

walking tree

Our campsite was surrounded by Lord of the Ring Ent trees. They get their legs when the tree trunk or upended root ball they sprouted on rots away and the new tree’s roots are left behind exposed.

So we’ll stick to the easy trails.  It’s unambitious and tame but it suits us just fine!

walking in the woods

Walking the lower end of the falls trail. We never make it to the waterfalls but the easy walk through the forest is still beautiful.

Next year they’re draining the lake for dam repairs so Rickett’s Glen might be off the list.  We’ll have to venture further,  but I’m sure we’ll find something just as nice and I’m sure it will be just as much fun.  Viva la Summer!