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 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!

Thursday’s Feature: Allium flavum ssp. tauricum

This week’s feature is a mouthful, one unlikely to be spoken while browsing the plant racks at Home Depot or even on the tables of your better nurseries.  It’s not particularly showy or amazing, but all the same it’s showy and amazing and I’m glad to have it here in the garden.

allium flavum ssp tauricum

Allium flavum ssp tauricum, a range of pastel flower colors as well as a range of foliage colors, from straight green to blue-gray.

This small, summer blooming allium is one of those onions which may surprise gardeners who typically think of flowering onions as mostly purple, and mostly late spring bloomers, but here it is in all its early summer, pastel tones.  Mine came via the North American Rock Garden Society seed exchange (another mouthful) and were labeled “ex McDonough”.  For those of you not in the onion know,  Mark McDonough is the onion man, essentially a global authority on all things allium and if you’re interested he hosts a website called PlantBuzz to which I heartily recommend a visit.  If you can’t find anything interesting on his site I’m going to guess you stopped reading my post after the first few sentences, but if you’re still with me give it a click… if only to look at wonder upon the different forms of even something as simple as chives!

allium flavum ssp tauricum

Another view, same clump…. Allium flavum ssp tauricum ex McDonough.  I feel like my onions have quite the pedigree 🙂

Regular plain old Allium flavum (yellow onion) doesn’t have the range of pale, pink, and rusty tones which the subspecies tauricum shows, but I think they’re both equally easy to grow.  Mine were planted in February of 2013, the pot went outdoors and the seeds came up that spring.  The first flowers showed the year after and other than digging and spreading the clump out a bit two years ago they’ve been plugging along in a full sun spot ever since with no help from me.

allium flavum ssp tauricum

Last year’s seedlings blooming for the first time… less diverse, but still nice!

For as easy to grow as they are you would think they could be a pest, but I have yet to see a single seedling come up on its own.  They just politely do their thing and all I do is clean up a few dead leaves and flower stems once flowering is finished… they are an evergreen onion, so there’s some foliage all year even after things die down a bit in August.

Keep your eyes open for A. flavum ssp tauricum and grab it if you have the chance.  Also if you have the chance, give Cosmos and Cleome a visit to see what Kimberly and other bloggers are featuring this Thursday.  Each week she encourages us to focus on a single plant and it’s fun seeing which favorites show up on other gardener’s blogs  You’re more than welcome to join, and if you do leave a link on Kimberley’s blog so we can come find you!

June’s GBFD and Thursday’s feature: Arundo Donax

I feel like I’m cheating with this double post, but between Christina’s Garden Bloggers Foliage Day and Kimberley’s Thursday Feature I didn’t have the strength to choose just one… and ran out of time to do both.  So here’s the best I can muster, a feature plant which highlights foliage!

arundo donax variegata

A patch of Arundo donax ‘variegata’ in the street border.  The bold white variegated foliage accents the corner and contrasts the different foliage colors and forms of its neighbors.

Arundo Donax is not a plant for the meek or overly sensible.  It’s a large vigorous grass which overwhelms its neighbors and requires a backhoe or moving van for the owner who tires of it.  It’s listed as invasive in a few more Southerly regions but here on the Northern edge of its hardiness range it just comes across as enthusiastic.  There is a plain green form, but the ‘variegata’ is just straight cooler with it’s crisply bright color and its almost-as-vigorous growth.  13 feet tall (4 meters) is not unusual here in zone 5/6 NE Pennsylvania.

Arundo (giant reed grass) appreciates plenty of moisture but can also handle a considerable amount of drought.  It does NOT enjoy a late freeze.  Half of my patch surprised me by actually dying back this spring when a late freeze came just as the roots were emerging from winter dormancy.  Heat is what this grass prefers but just keep in mind that in the ‘Variegata’ form the bright white will fade to yellow and green when the thermometer goes above 90F, and if that bothers you chose the slightly less vigorous ‘Peppermint Stick’  which keeps the white all summer.

arundo donax variegata in perennial border

Arundo donax ‘variegata’ later in the season (August).  A relatively cool summer kept the variegation from fading completely.

You’re either going to love this grass or hate it and I won’t judge you regardless.  Arundo is not a plant for everyone just as Great Danes are not a dog for all households, but it does make a statement and I’ll leave it to you to decide whether that statement is a bold splash of color front and center or if it’s a rude, overwhelming haystack.  In either case I think you’ll agree it’s both foliage and a feature and if you’d like to explore other (possibly more tasteful) uses of foliage please visit Christina at Creating My Own Garden of the Hesperides on the 22nd of each month and if you’d like to see what plant features best this week visit Kimberley at Cosmos and Cleome each Thursday.  If you have the time you may want to consider joining in, there’s always room for one more and it’s always fun!

Thursday’s Feature: Digitalis x mertonensis

I’ve said it before that I’m not much of a joiner and I’m far too disorganized to keep up with most weekly or monthly memes, but I’m going to give this one a try.  Kimberley over at Cosmos and Cleome has brought back the “Thursday feature” and it’s a chance to highlight any one particular plant which caught your fancy in the past week.  This week among all the wonders of June a foxglove has caught my eye and it’s just a little bit different than your average foxglove.

digitalis mertonensis

Fuzzy leaves, a strawberry color, and a 3-4 foot bloom height are trademarks of Merton’s foxglove and/or the strawberry foxglove (Digitalis mertonensis).

The strawberry foxglove (Digitalis x mertonensis) is a hybrid formed by the joining of your regular tall, purple (biennial) Digitalis purpurea and your shorter, mellow yellow (perennial) Digitalis grandiflora.  The offspring was a tetraploid child with perennial-ish tendencies, larger flowers, and a rose color that holds just a little bit of yellow (you can always count on me for these vague made up color descriptions!)  They come true from seed, and although most sources recommend moist, fertile, well-drained, soil in part shade, mine suffer along just fine in a dry sunny spot which also grows sunflowers well enough.

I noticed a few seedlings earlier in the year and should really round them up for a more suitable home.  This foxglove is one which seems to do well enough in my garden (unlike the common foxglove, D. purpurea which rots away in our winters) and deserves more respect than I give it.  Maybe this summer I’ll finally start up some of those other Digitalis seeds which are sitting in the seedbox, and we could have a family reunion with all the foxglove cousins and kin.  I think I’d like that.

As I’m sure you know foxgloves (Digitalis) are extremely poisonous and their heart slowing toxin was the inspiration for the digitalin drug group.  I’m not the one to go on about medicinal uses, but if your concerns lie in the area of its toxicity please put that one to rest.  Apparently some brave soul has found it to be extremely bitter, and a side effect of ingestion is vomiting which conveniently removes the poisons.  Give this one a try I say, and also give Kimberley’s site a visit to see what other gardeners are finding interesting this week.  Enjoy!