Sunday, May 23, 2010

Late Spring Blooms

It's the same old story every year in east central Illinois -- late spring one day, hot and humid high summer the next! It hit ninety yesterday, after several weeks of cool nights, rains, and late spring blooms. Here's the last of the garden's spring bounty before the next season's flowers take the stage.

As with many of the flowering trees and shrubs this year, the rhododendrons were especially beautiful and covered with blossoms. The hardiest one we have here is this nice big Rhododendron roseum elegans. The rose red one is Rhododendron nova zembla.

Close-ups reveal what amazing flowers rhodondendrons have, with their delicate dotting on the inside of the upper petal and the airy stamens.

The Chinese dogwoods (Cornus kousa) bloom considerably later than the better-know Cornus florida trees. Mine were covered with more blooms than ever before.

Another shrub that totally outdid itself this time is the beauty bush (Kolwitzia amabilis).

The weigelas were full-flowering this year too. This one is a hybrid called "Wine and Roses."

The tree peonies finished quite a while back now, but the "regular" peonies, also called "herbaceous" peonies (Paeonia lactiflora) are now having their show. Here are some of the Japanese-flowered types, single flowers with contrasting centers.

Next to the red single is a fully double white one that is very fragrant.

The double pink also has a wonderful scent. Peonies make great cut flowers for the house (unless you have six cats who remove them and tip over the vase of water repeatedly), but be sure to remove the ants first. Ants help pollinate peonies, so they are always in great supply.

Remember too that herbaceous peonies should not be planted deep. They should be planted in the fall and then they take some time to establish, so don't move them around if you don't have to. Unlike the tree peonies, these babies want to have their foliage cut to the ground each year so the new shoots can get some spring sunshine.

Here's a gorgeous red one, a hybrid named Eliza Lundy, acquired long ago from plantsman Steve Varner. Steve passed away some years back, but he was well-known for his named hybrids of Siberian and German irises and daylilies.

Speaking of Siberian iris, they bloom with the herbaceous peonies and are at their peak here (or were before the heat arrived ... my photos and blog posts are always a bit behind). They are charming, easy perennials with upright sword-like foliage. The "falls" (lower part of the flower) have beautiful markings.

They mostly come in shades of purplish blue or light blue, but there are a few white and some wine-red hybrids as well.

Although the tall bearded German irises are better known, the Siberians are becoming popular. Unlike their German cousins who want to planted shallowly in gritty soil in full sun, the Siberians take more traditional planting and can tolerate a bit more shade and standard loose humusy garden soil.

In more shade among the ferns, the meadow rue (Thalictrum) are blooming now. There are meadow rues that are dwarf and ones that are giant. These white ones are about three feet tall.

Another plant with white flowers that's blooming now is the Star of Bethlehem (Ornithogalum umbellatum), which spreads readily and can become a problem in some situations.

Here's a newcomer that was just planted this year in my scree bed, a dwarf broom (Genista lydia), covered with bright bright blossoms.

It's time too for the columbine (Aquilegia), which come in a wide range of sizes and colors. I've heard that they are "promiscuous" and interpollinate all over the garden, resulting in new colors cropping up each year in unexpected places (like the gravel path between raised beds or the front walkway).

Although the annual Dianthus, sometimes called "pinks" in the containers are just getting started, these tiny alpine perennial ones are in full bloom. The brilliant flowers have a sweet, clove-like fragrance.

I like garlic and onion in all forms ... in soups, stews, and in the garden! These relatives of chives are a lot bigger! Giant onions (Allium giganteum) grow from bulbs planted in the fall. This bunch has been around a long time now.

In this close-up, you can see how the big round allium head is made up of many delicate star-shaped florets.

Even though there are some summer perennials yet to come, this is the time for annuals to be the stars of the show. In my garden, they are mainly in containers around the yard and in hanging baskets, like this lovely purple Calibrachoa, sometimes called "million bells."

If they're the dwarf kind, snapdragons can make a nice basket too.
These pots will look a lot fuller in just a few weeks. Annuals grow fast in the summer!
I like a mix of colors in each pot, but I repeat the same annuals in the pot directly across the frontwalk for the sake of symmetry.
Hope you enjoyed this batch of garden photos. Stay cool and have a good summer!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Joy of History in Three Media

     Some people are really good at reading about historical events (treaties, battles, coronations, etc.) and filling in all the context with their imaginations. They have a sense of what the landscape of the time looked like, the buildings, the way people dressed and what they ate, how they moved around from place to place, and what the structure of the society was like. Context is a little like the painted scenery in a piece of theater or opera: it allows the viewer to enter the world of another time and space and to feel it as real.
     Unfortunately, I've never had that magical ability. As a result, when I was much younger I thought that history books were dry and boring. Fortunately, as an adult, I've come to love learning about other historical times, places, people, ideas, and events. Lately, I find that a combination of three media are especially helpful for re-creating context to enhance my understanding and appreciation of history: film, literature, and Internet information.
     Here's a case in point. You may know from prior posts that we don't have a television. I know it's odd, but we just have so many other things we're more interested in and we hate commercials. I won't go into a tirade; don't worry. We do, however, rent DVDs and use an old computer monitor and DVD player to view them. We recently got from our online source a set of discs from a BBC series called "The Tudors" -- lavishly costumed, expertly acted episodes set in the tumultuous reign of Henry VIII of England. Of course, there is always artistic license in terms of the accuracy of historical information in depictions aimed at entertainment. But historians themselves disagree on many fine points as well, and taking in a broad sweep of a critical period is always a good start to trigger further curiosity about details. The series was terrifically engaging, in my opinion, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
   Where it led was to the Internet and numerous articles, on Wikipedia and various academic websites, about Henry, the Boleyns, Wolsey, Cromwell, More, and others. This is how I got a sense of the infrastructure -- dates, background about religion, war, plagues, societal tensions of the time, and so on. I interspersed these online readings with the viewing of the three seasons of BBC episodes, and I found this process to be an excellent mix of fun and suspense with explanation and insight.
     The third medium in the final mix was one near and dear to my heart: literature. I was browsing the shelves of new books at my local public library when I ran across Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel. She's a British writer, and this book won the famous Booker Prize this past year. It's a big book and I'm still working on it. It focuses (at least in the first third) on the life of Thomas Cromwell, the clever lawyer with humble beginnings who became Chancellor to King Henry (after Cardinal Wolsey and Sir Thomas More). Having the story that I recognized in broad outline from the BBC shows, with the details from the online history articles in my head, here was just what I needed: a novelistic plot. moving at a rapid and suspenseful pace, depicting the characters' inner as well as outer lives. Now, in my mind's eye, I could see Cromwell talking to Wolsey (via the images of actors John Frain and Sam Neill), knowing something of the factual background and outcome of such a hypothetical conversation, while reading their words via Mantel's adept dialogue.
     This sort of combination may be a winning way to learn about a number of other historical periods and useful as well for exploring contemporary events, cultural differences, and other subjects of interest, so I recommend it to you, dear readers. Let me know your thoughts on this topic!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Early Summer Blooms

I know I've been inundating you readers with garden posts lately, but who can blame me? Now is the time. The rains are coming, the spring flowering trees are leafed out in brilliant green, and we are stepping over the cusp of spring into early summer. Soon it will be hot and muggy and the garden will be completely taken over by fasting growing weeds of all sorts!
So while the air is fresh and the nights are still cool, let's especially enjoy the ferns! They are lush this year, as you can see in the case of these ostrich ferns.
And it's time for the tree peonies, a week or two ahead of the lactiflora peonies (what most folks call "regular" peonies). The bloom was exceptionally heavy on some of these last year and the rains were heavy at the same time, so there was a lot of weight on branches and as a result a lot of breakage.
Because of that breakage, the flower count was way down this year. But the blooms that are there are certainly lovely.
Some of these tree peonies are quite old now, too, and were moved from a prior garden. Maybe they are tired this spring like I am! Last year this purple one had about fifty blooms, but only about one-fifth as many this time.
Not all tree peony flowers are fragrant, but those on my two white bushes are very sweet-smelling indeed.
I love the variations in color from light pink, to pink, to rose, to deep rose pink.
They are very photogenic flowers and show off nicely in a close-up.
Here's a newer younger bush. The flowers are a delicate blend of pink and lavender with yellow centers.
Another young shrub, this glorious bi-color has two flowers for the first time.
If you want to grow tree peonies, here are a couple of tips. In the Midwest they appreciate a little bit of shade compared to their herbaceous cousins. Also, you can prune off dead wood after flowering, but don't cut back the foliage in the fall the way you do with the regular peonies. And they are grafted, so plant a bit deeper than you would ever dare with their cousins. They take longer to establish too, but I think they are well worth it!
Another garden beauty that hails from Asia is the Japanese maple. We put these two in about fifteen years ago and they are starting to get some nice size. Later in the summer, the leaves will turn green and then brilliant red in the fall.
I do love red things in the garden and so does the only hummingbird in these parts -- the ruby-throated hummingbird. Every year, I see them (when I'm lucky) taking nectar from the slender throats of these flowers on the dropmore scarlet honeysuckle.
Why include plants with tiny flowers and no bright colors? Because they can be fabulous, like this "Jack Frost" brunnera with its frosted veined leaves and forget-me-nots blooms. So elegant in the shade!
Charm comes in small packages sometimes, as with this dwarf deutzia shrub, only a few inches tall (Deutzia gracilis Nikko).
Some plants are not only lovely but interesting for their eccentricities, such as this interrupted fern -- the frond is "interrupted" part of the way up by the spore-making parts of the plant.
The hellebores are long-lived reliable spring-blooming shade plants. Here's one still going strong next to a Japanese painted fern that is just getting started.
The raised beds on the east get a bit more sun, so there's usually some color there. Right now the deep purple dwarf iris are finishing up and being overtaken by this easy-to-grow (too easy?) stoloniferous phlox (Phlox stolonifera Sherwood's Purple) that spreads by underground root-like "stolons."
This iberis, also called "candytuft" is short but delightful and quite easy to grow in well-drained soil.
Now that the full size lilacs are finishing up, it's time for the dwarf "Miss Kim" to take center stage. These are not tiny (over my head if not pruned) but they don't reach the heights of standard Syringa. They are wonderfully fragrant and fill the garden, especially on a damp cool night!
Two shrubs of Miss Kim frame the sides of the east garden gate. You can see that I haven't started planting the annuals in the containers yet. Maybe this coming week, depending on weather and arthritis!
Here's another phlox (Phlox divaricata), quite a bit taller than the stoloniferous kind, that is related to the woodland phlox called "wild sweet william." These take more shade and are sweet-smelling.
As you can see, the tall lilacs aren't all totally finished. Besides flowers, garden need quiet comfy places, like this two-seater glider, to sit and enjoy the surroundings and favorite people, like my husband David.
Although I don't go in much for gnomes or flamingoes (but each to his or her own taste, I always say), I do enjoy some garden statuary among the blooms. This piece is of special value to me because it came from my grandmother's garden. Behind the statue is a goatsbeard (Aruncus dioicus), which will have tall fairy-like white plumes later on.
Here's a view of the east side raised beds taken from the two-seater glider. As you can see, there is a lot of maintenance work to be done~
The big rhododendrons in the north yard are starting to open (next posting maybe), but meanwhile the hardy azaleas are stealing the show.
A close-up shows the delicacy and the interesting shape of the azalea flowers.
Here's a flower you don't see every day, the Japanese Jack-in-the-Pulpit (Arisaema sikkokianum). Like the familar Illinois woodland flower, it has a high tail, but on this one it is a striking black with stripes in contrast to the pure white center.
Even though it won't bloom until mid- to late summer, this Patriot hosta is a stunning showoff right now in the shady northwest bed.
We have three bird baths in our garden: west, south, and north yards. This one, a charming Celtic fairy, was made by a local artisan and was a birthday gift one year from me to my husband.
I like to mark the spot where I've planted a clematis vine with a bit of groundcover ajuga. It shades the roots a bit, which they like, and it's a charming little flower of its own as well.
Some people think the lily of the valley is weedy, but it's all a matter of opinion (and geography) as to what's a weed and what's not. Besides, I love the charming white bells and their heady scent!
Well, that's about it for now. Of course, something new will bloom soon and I won't be able to resist taking another photo. I want to bring out the houseplants, but the plant table is still full of annuals waiting to be planted in the containers! Happy gardening!