Saturday, January 12, 2019

the hellebores are late

'Jacob' usually starts blooming right at Thanksgiving, but this year, the stems were only just starting to emerge at that time. The first flowers opened at Christmas. Since then, he has been buried in snow. Over the last few days, the snow melted and he emerged. I think he is getting smaller with time, probably because he is getting less light as the redbud trees overhead are getting larger.

His brother 'Joseph Lemper' is just starting to open. Joe is usually a little later than 'Jacob'.

Of the two 'Nell Lewis' that I have, one is just starting to emerge, the other has one flower that opened at Thanksgiving, and has now faded to green, but it has more flowers opening.

Helleborus niger prolifically self-sows in my courtyard, but the seedlings take a long time to get to blooming size. This one is the first, after 3 years, to come into bloom. I don't know if this is normal flowers for it, or if it was damaged by being buried in snow for 2 weeks. It's also wedged between the flagstones, so there isn't much room for it to grow. To top it off, it is growing in a high traffic area. Still, it was a pleasant surprise to see it after the snow melted.

Saturday, November 24, 2018

fall garden clean-up: Big Sagebrush (Artemesia tridentata)

Big Sagebrush (Artemesia tridentata) is a common plant in the arid and semi-arid west. It is a plant that gives that distinctive and wonderful aroma to the area. Although it grows in many areas, I first experienced it here in New Mexico, and so it is a fragrance that I associated with what is now home. It it a plant used to make smudge sticks for clearing bad energy from a place. It has attractive silvery leaves.

Here you can see why it is called “tridentata." Each leaf ends with three lobes. Isn't it cute?

In the garden, its rugged appearance is best used in an informal area or as a counterpoint to more formal looking plants.  It can be used in neglected, sunny dry areas. I have it in a minimal maintenance area against some rather stiffly upright dark green mountain mahoganies, where its silver leaves stand out. I love it for its toughness and fragrance.

Without maintenance, the plant can easily survive, but the appearance is rather ragged. The faded flower stems will turn brown and obscure the silver leaves. It’s not that the plant needs maintenance to survive, but in a garden, it looks best when groomed. Here it is used as a hellstrip plant, and is maintained by shearing once a year.  Not so attractive and you probably wonder why anyone would want to grow it.

Yes, for best garden appearance, Big Sagebrush does need some maintenance. As I’m doing the last of my fall cleanup, I realize that this is a great time to do it. The weather is sunny and warm, and it is a pleasant way to spend time in the garden, surrounded by the sweet fragrance made even stronger by the pruning. My garden plants, since they were pruned back last year, still have the seed heads, but have not yet turned brown. The stems are still green, but the pollination season is over. There is still a lot of pollen among the leaves and stems, so if you are allergic, wear a dust mask while pruning/grooming these plants.

Here is one of my plants before grooming.

It is my opinion that pruning is best done to enhance a plant’s natural habit, not to change it or make it look like some other plant, or into some artificial form. This case is no exception. The best way to understand how to prune or groom a plant is to observe how it grows, and then do your work based on the growth habit.

In the case of Artemisia tridentata, the plant grows in the spring and summer, with a number of new growths at the ends of the branches. Although during the growth period the stems are all vegetative, almost all of them grow rapidly to as much as 12 inches and turn into flowering stems. After the inconspicuous flowers fade, the seeds form and those stems die back to the main stem. The growth at the very end  of the branch grows slowly, perhaps an inch or two, and stays vegetative.

Knowing this is the key to how to groom these plants. The type of grooming I’m going to describe is labor intensive and is best used if you have only a few plants or those that are in prominent places. The way to do it is to remove the flowering stems without removing the growth points which are buried among the faded flowering stems, using your hand pruners. You want to remove these stems as close to the main stem as possible, avoiding long stubs. One way of doing this by pruning them from the bottom toward the tip, keeping an eye on the growing tip to avoid pruning it out. Another way is to hold the pruners upside-down, so that you hook the bottom of the pruner around the base of the flowering stem, slide it down to where it meets the main stem, and then cut. With practice, you can do this very quickly.

Or like this:

If you do prune out the growing point, it’s not a big deal since there are many more growth points, both visible and dormant, below it that can develop. You may even prune it out intentionally in order to have a bushier plant. The plant will take longer to grow larger if that’s what you want. I like to leave the terminal growth point in order to have a leafier end product right after grooming, and to have a more rugged plant appearance rather than a gumdrop with shoots growing out of it.



You can also take the opportunity to remove the dead branches which may be deep within the plant.



It may seem like you are removing so much that there isn’t much left, but surprisingly there is still an leafy plant left.

After all the faded flowering stems are removed, you can prune the bush to shape.

See? Much better.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Crocus speciosus

The only thing that keeps me from spiraling down into depression as the garden of summer fades into fall and the dormancy of winter are the cheerful flowers of late fall. One of the latest in my garden, and one of my absolute favorites, is Crocus speciosus who have opened their magical sunlight gathering goblets of glowing lavender in the last week. They spring from the bare ground like a surprise every year. They will last a couple of weeks opening a sequence of flowers before they too will fade, and the garden enters the quiet period of winter.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

vicenza blue, ellagance purple

I'm not sure if this lavender is 'Vicenza Blue' or 'Ellagance Purple' since I bought both as packets of seeds from Swallowtail Seeds a few years ago, and planted them at the same time. I thought that I'd be able to keep them separate, but that wasn't realistic. I grew out about 30 plants and have about 15 plants at maturity now. Whether 'Vincenza Blue' or 'Ellagance Purple' these new lavenders are fantastic. I'm impressed that they are flowering like this, in October, as nicely as they did in June, and this is at least their third week in bloom.  Flowers are this deep purple on most plants, although a couple plants are much lighter, like 'Munstead.' I haven't seen other lavenders around the neighborhood blooming at all. Fragrance is as lovely as any lavender, sweet and not camphorous.  Two of the plants developed the root rot that killed the whole batch of lavenders that I previously had ('Buena Vista', 'Twickle Purple'), so there is some susceptibility, but certainly not as much as they might. A couple of plants looked pretty shabby after the winter and were removed. Most of the plants turn a brownish grey in the winter and look rather unimpressive, a couple even lose most of their leaves, but the plant on the left here has a nice silvery green look all winter. All in all, I'm terribly happy with these. Other purple flowers in the background are from left to right: Penstemon 'Margarita BOP', Salvia trannsylvanica 'Blue Cloud', more Lavandula (VB or EP) and Perovskia atriplicifolia.

Friday, July 20, 2018

acantholimon halophylum

Acantholimon halophylum was attractive from the get-go. They formed a very neat clump of prickly leaves, like a dianthus but much more uniform, almost perfect half spheres of olive green. Planted a few years ago, the first year was just foliage, the next year there were a few flowers. I admit that they were a little disappointing compared the the showy pink flowers of Acantholimon hohenackeri that I had at my old house. I couldn't find those again, but Agua Fria Nursery had these instead. A. halophylum may not have showy flowers, but the little umbrellas of white that are the bracts left after the bloom has faded, are much more impressive. In my garden, the bracts form a bright spot of white that glow in the sunlight. Visitors to my garden always comment when they see them, not only about how unusual they are, but how eye catching. That bright white has been there since early June, and will last through the winter, a much more impressive length of show than any flowers. The bracts close when it rains, then open again when they dry out, in a charming manner. The plants are amazingly drought tolerant, even though they are planted in almost pure sand, and other drought tolerant plants suffer in this location. Don't be dismayed by the diminutive little tuft of prickly foliage if you ever are lucky enough to see this at a nursery. Just buy it. On the other hand, leave them for me. I wish I had about 10 more. 

Monday, May 28, 2018

first flush is over

The first flush of roses is the biggest. Throughout May, the roses have been putting out their first flushes. I've been too busy with the wedding to take a lot of photos, but I certainly have been appreciating them.

Abraham Darby

Abraham Darby

Alnwick Castle

Bishop's Castle
 Bishop's Castle has been the star of the garden, with multitudes of fragrant flowers.

Bishop's Castle

Bishop's Castle







Munstead Wood

Munstead Wood

Princesse Charlene de Monaco


Sharifa Asma

It is rather sad when the dead-heading has to be done and the first flush is over.

14 dozen roses and a couple of rings

It's been a month since my last posting. The garden has been bursting forth, but there hasn't been much time to photograph or post while in preparation for the wedding. Yep, after 18 years of being together, we decided to do it. 14 dozen roses went into the table centerpieces, not to mention all the other flowers. I don't want to post too many photos. This is a GARDEN blog after all. The wedding was at Quarai, and the reception was at our house.

The flower arranging party.

Surrounded by flowers. 

Head Table

Guest tables

My sister making the garlands for the front entrance.

One of the finished garlands

Another sister making the cake

The finished cake

The ceremony

The roses cooperated by being in full bloom

yep, even Abe.
The professional photos won't be out for a couple of weeks, and no, I didn't try to root any of the florist roses.