Wednesday, October 18, 2006

What the Heck? Rhodo's in October! Rhododendron impeditum

In a departure from the recurrent theme of essential autumn flowers, today features a plant that shouldn't normally bloom in fall (and for me, it rarely blooms at all). Well, at least the wet cool June and cooler than usual summer has benefitted something...

Rhododendron impeditum is a wee gem of a subshrub from the mountains of western China near Tibet (apologies to those who find that a statement rife with politics, but my mind is kind of stuck with geography as taught in the 60's), on alpine meadows and open slopes at 9-16 thousand feet elevation. In the wild it can apparently reach a height of 3 feet, but in cultivation is more like 1 foot, which makes me feel a lot better about this plant of mine. It has been in this bed for 16 years now, and is still pretty miniscule; still, better than the others of the same batch which I sited in a few different locations-- they've all expired long since.

If one looks closely on the first photo, one can make out a few buds which never opened; winter kill of most of the buds is a problem here most years, but this year apparently there was some early bud set, and autumn conditions were right for a few to open out of season.

But, flowers or none, it has a nice foliage.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Another Seed Pod-- Glaucidium palmatum

Several moons ago I devoted a weblog entry to this near-relative of the Peonies-- near enough that some botanists include it in the same family. So I have decided to post a photo of its ripe seed pod and seeds (fortunately the squirrels or whatever had not found a couple of plants; the rest were striped clean). The view is from directly above. Not very similar to peonies now, is it?

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Some Essential flowers for fall - 5. Goldenrod

Common Goldenrod, Solidago canadensis, with it's arching flower spikes, seems to be everywhere in the countryside in late summer. So why put it in the gardens? Well, it is an important food source for a number of the small beneficial native insects that would otherwise have trouble finding a decent meal-- all part of the ecological balance to ultimately keep the plant-eaters at bay. (This photo is about a month old; by now these plants have gone to seed)

One needn't actually put it in the flowerbeds, but allowing a few to grow in a small wild area in a corner of the yard can be a useful approach.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Some Essential flowers for fall - 4. Japanese Anemones

With tall open panicles of large flowers in shades of pink to white, the tall autumn Anemones are great fall accent for an area with rich soil and partial shade, or even in full sun if given a bit of extra care as to moisture requirements.

As always, there are double forms, one of which is shown here. In late fall the woolly seedheads are of some interest.

The roots are somewhat rhizomatous, but I don't find them to spread particularly quickly. I have known the plants to fail to come up following a particularily wet or cold winter here, but after a one year rest they have always come back the year after disappearing, and usually in a larger patch.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Some Essential flowers for fall - 3. Patrinia scabiosifolia

An excellent bright yellow, great honey-like fragrance, and long-lasting in cut flower arrangements as well as in the garden. Sturdy upright stems from 3 to 5 ft tall. Patrinia scabiosifolia originates from Siberia and is an important flower for oriental cut-flower arranging.

At the beginning of its bloom period here, Patrinia is somewhat muted by Goldenrod which abounds in my wild areas and in beds that have fallen behind in maintenance, but the goldenrod fades to seed while the Patrinia is still in the vigour of early bloom.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Some Essential flowers for fall - 2. Lobelia cardinalis

Difficult to photograph as a single plant, Lobelia cardinalis is a cardinal red, showy flower borne in a tall spike. I have found that in my climate it does best in some shade, or at least sited so that the evergreen basal leaf cluster doesn't experience direct sunlight in early spring, at least until the ground is fully thawed. So this is not the easiest plant for the garden hereabouts, but it is so worth a bit of effort. My longest-lasting plants are in open woods, in a drier spot than I would have expected it to like, but right up against a small rock outcropping.

There are white forms, and it has been hybridized with other hardy perennial Lobelias to cover a range of colours between red and blue. A particularily frustrating hybrid for cold-weather gardens is the purple-leaf "cardinalis", which has the same bright red flowers as this species. A very showy hybrid, it is totally un-hardy colder than USDA zone 7 but usually some local garden center or another will bring some in each summer, seducing gardeners away from the green-leafed hardy species and creating another round of "can't grow that here" urban myth.

As with yesterday's Gentian, I have been having a pest of a time getting seedlings to survive for me the past several years. It's usually been an error of neglect in the watering department.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Some Essential flowers for fall - 1. Gentiana septemfida

Gentiana septemfida, the Crested or Summer Gentian is one of those ever so blue blues that grabs the attention of everyone close enough to catch a glimpse. Easy to grow (although I've been having trouble starting any for the last several years!) and fairly adaptable as to soil. Native to the Caucasus/ NE Turkey/ Asia Minor. The early foliage has a marvelous texture and grows in a hemispherical shape until the weight of the buds causes the stems to sprawl (a forgiveable habit, in view of the great colour.) This plant is one of what I consider the Four Essential Flowers of Fall.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

It's a hard life being a dog

Gershwin, that's him at the base of the tree, has been having a hard time getting his sleep time in (dogs have the same rules as naval aviators: entitled to 8 hours sleep per day, and "all night in" too). With the annual ripening of the beech nuts (and sugar maple seed too, for that matter) the upper stories become mildly infested with squirrels and blue jays out for a tasty (and easy) feast. Lots for all, but you'd never guess it from all the inter-species rivalry. If your basic squirrel spent as much time eating as chasing blue jays to other branches, they'd fall out of the trees from being so stuffed full.

Anyways, Gershwin has no interest in the blue jays (and for the info of baseball fans out there, neither do I), but watches the squirrels for hours (somehow without getting a stiff neck) to keep them off the ground. And the squirrels watch back, just in case he decides to go up a tree I guess (a squirrel can never be too sure). The white arrow up near the top of the pic points out the almost visible head of the little beastie staring down.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

And so finally I remember the camera again.

Ripe carpels and seeds of Paeonia mlokosewitschii, the Golden Peony. My other plant has shiny black viable seed, vice the bluish ones here, but is otherwise the same.

This species was the first to wow me with the bright, two-tone autumn seed show. I've since learned about the several other equally fall-showy species but mloko continues to impress-- just not quite so stand-outish. You'd think the literature would comment on this feature of the plants...

Monday, September 11, 2006

'Tis the season to make and fill holes

For general information, I am just now in the process of digging peonies from nursery beds for replanting, which activity will (I hope) be followed by planting seedlings into the holes left in the nursery beds, or into whole new nursery beds.

This is the time of year during which, in temperate northern hemisphere areas, peonies are best transplanted if the transplant will disturb the root mass (which pretty much covers most peonies except the small and immature, or those grown in large pots with a proper soil). The reason for this timing being preferred is that the plants start to grow new feeder roots with cooler ground temperatures and autumn rains. These feeder roots will continue to develop and feed the main root during the rest of autumn, much of winter, and through spring until the ground becomes too warm. Peonies transplanted in spring thus have a much shorter period during which to develop the feeder roots, which results in a poor start for the spring planted peonies.

Most of the rest of the Peony seeds, somewhat overdue...

All these photos were taken at the end of August... I almost got them posted last week but the Blogger site got hung up. And then more good weather descended and miles and miles passed under the tires of my road bike... Anyways, here they are at last. One species has yet to open its carpels: Paeonia lactiflora, the Chinese Peony, which is predominant in the ancestry of most of our, dare I say common?, "garden peonies".

Carpels of Paeonia mlokosewitschii, the Golden Peony, had taken on an interesting and showy red tone. (These have since opened, but not until about a week ago. Photo to follow)

Paeonia obovata, the third-last of my species to show its seed display.

Paeonia macrophylla, close kin of Paeonia steveniana (some might say identical or close enough to it) but a tiny bit later to ripen seed.

Paeonia officinalis (in this case, subspecies villosa). Not so exotic and showy, but on close inspection the inside surface of the carpels are satiny reddish in tint. None of the officinalis mob here have had the bright red aborted beads; rather theirs are tiny, shrivelled, and brown. Only the viable seed has any size to it.

An interesting development during an Argentine football (soccer) match I was watching on tv today: one of the Ball Boys got red-carded and ejected from the field (well, the margins of it anyways!). The kids had been taking their time in giving the ball to the visiting team when they had won a throw-in.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

A few more peony seed shows

These will all look rather similar, as the species here are all closely related within the "Paeonia mascula complex (or grouping)". Photos are all from 31 August, and the pods had mostly been open for 2 days to a week at that time.

(For more information about the species presented, you will find it in the June/July archives.)

Paeonia caucasica.

Paeonia ruprechtiana.

Paeonia mascula.

Paeonia kesrouanensis.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Several hundred kilometers later...

Okay, I'm back from a temporary leave of weblog-absence (or leave of my senses, maybe) during 2 weeks of fine weather during which Peony seeds were ripening while I spent my time shuffling the winter's finally-dry firewood into the basement and beating up all sorts of paved local roads on my bike, in search of "a few good hills".

In the Annapolis Valley the fragrance of Queen Anne's Lace has given way to those of various livestock manures. Clears the sinuses anyways.

A week ago, and 3 weeks later than the high-altitude form, the "normal" Paeonia steveniana carpels opened. This is one of them. No different, just not in such a rush to mature.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Another interesting set of Peony seeds

This is Paeonia tomentosa, which was the very earliest to bloom. So far only one set of carpels has opened. This set had three, the lower two opened four days before the upper one, which is just opening in the photo.

What is curious about this one is that fertile seeds are a fleshy semi-opaque purpley red (almost jellybean-ish) when the carpel first opens-- as in the uppermost one-- look closely and you can see that some of the seeds are fully oval and large while others (the aborted ones) are flatter and smaller, as in the lower 2 carpels. After a few days the jellybeans darken to black and take on a harder look. But there are still some segments of red on some of those seeds. This is the first species in which I've seen the fertile seeds change colour so dramatically after the carpels open.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

And again more Peony seeds

Two fairly similar-looking carpel and seed clusters. The red "berries" are seeds which aborted, or stopped developing partway through their growth; the black ones are the viable seed. Unfortuantely my camera doesn't do a good job with the red ones; they are really a bright red rather than the pinkish tone seen here.

Paeonia triternata seed and carpels.

Paeonia caucasica seed and carpels.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

A few more Peony seed carpels

Yes, I'm still here off and on between bike rides... One of the pleasures of the countryside at this time of year is the marvelous scent of massed flowers of the biennial Queen Anne's Lace (Wild Carrot) where it has populated ditches or abondoned fields.

Carpels and the shiny jet-black seed of Paeonia anomala var intermedia. The seed is weakly attached and can be knocked to the ground by a heavy rain; this is not the case with most species.

Carpels and seed of Paeonia veitchii. The seeds are distinctly blueish when fresh but will often change to black when dried for a few months.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Ripe seedpods already?- Paeonia steveniana

Somewhat earlier than expected, the carpels of a Paeonia steveniana plant opened today. The plant is specifically of the "high altitude form" which in flower and in foliage seemed identical with the rest of my plants, to me. But the seed seems to have ripened faster than on the rest of them, which may be a factor of the shorter growing season higher up.

The shiny black beads are viable seed, whereas the red ones are seeds which aborted development before becoming mature. They are actually more red than the photos show; very bright and showy, moreso on a gloomy day than in bright sunlight (due to competing glint off the shiny leafs).

I believe today was the first time in about 2 months when the Environment Canada data for Halifax didn't show any overnight hours with relative humidity at less than 100%!! Fortunately that fog doesn't make it up my "mountain".

Thursday, July 27, 2006

That Orchid again

A face-to-face view of the orchid flower written up yesterday. This was as close as the macro of my camera allowed me to get.


Spent today removing a few cc's of asphalt from my bike tires after riding into a repaving job (no way around without backtracking, which would have been too far to go (maybe)). I can't tell you how much fun it was riding uphill from St Croix for 6km (about 200m of ascent) with sticky tires trying to re-merge with the road!

During the ride it seemed to me that the stretches of road being resurfaced were not really the worst sections - and believe me, on a race bike you really notice where the pavement is rough, really rough, or not so rough. I am forever perplexed as to how paving priorities are set (at least, after the ballots are counted).

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

A Wild Orchid

I'm not exactly the sharpest knife in the drawer when it comes to seeing the unexpected popping up in the garden. I had seen an upright plant with greenish-yellow flowers in a raceme in one of the species peony beds, and dismissed it (without a close look) as just another seedling of Digitalis lutea, the Small Yellow foxglove (a nice enough plant, but I've got lots of it). Then, this weekend a nursery customer saw it and commented on the wild native orchid amongst the peonies. Good grief, it was indeed!

Further discussion about how the peony beds were mulched with hardwood bark, and how numbers of the native orchids appreciate that kind of a growing medium. Always nice when the hitch-hiking seeds in a load of organic material are desireable rather than weeds! This is also a benefit of not weeding until the weeds show their flowers (well, that's my excuse; it's actually more like: not weeding until banks stop making obscene profits).

Addendum: I went looking for an identity of it, and have settled on it probably being Epipactis helleborine (common name Helleborine). It is wild, but not native, in North America, having come from Eurasia, possibly brought along by early settlers for its herbal properties (possibly involved in a putative cure for gout). It is perhaps a relatively recent immigrant to Nova Scotia, having been first reported only in 1985, and is slowly spreading from the few sites where it has been observed to date.

Monday, July 24, 2006

And Yet Again More Peony Seedpods- Carpels

For an introductory discussion of these things, see my weblog entry of July 21. This is the last set until the "fall show".

Today, peonies of the Caucasus.

Carpels of Paeonia caucasica.

Carpels of Paeonia mlokosewitschii (the Golden Peony).

Carpels of Paeonia tomentosa.

Distinctive carpels of Paeonia steveniana. Much like those of obovata (of 2 days ago) but fatter and green rather than blue-green.

An observation: P steveniana is also called P wittmaniana subsp macrophylla and less commonly P wittmaniana subsp nudicarpa (appropriate to the obviously nude carpels!); and P tomentosa is also called P wittmaniana subsp tomentosa or just P wittmaniana. It's not obvious from the carpels that the two deserve to be part of the same species, but of course there is more to botanical classification than that (please don't ask me what though).

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Still More Peony Seedpods- Carpels

For an introductory discussion of these things, see my weblog entry of July 21.

Carpels of Peonia officinalis subsp villosa.

Open carpels of Paeonia mollis. I was rather suprised to see that the seeds of this species are apparently ripe, since the carpels have opened. However the seed doesn't quite have the look of fully developed seed so it is possible that they are all aborted seed, causing the carpels to open earlier than would usually be the case.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

More Peony Seedpods- Carpels

For an introductory discussion of these things, see my weblog entry of July 21.

Today's photos are of the Asian species I have.

Carpels of Paeonia anomala subsp intermedia

Carpels of Paeonia veitchii.

Carpels of Paeonia obovata. Very distinctive.

Carpels of Paeonia lactiflora (plants from wild-collected seed) These are smaller because they are less weeks from flowering.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Peony seedpods- carpels

The seedpods of Peonies are called carpels. They are generally large and obvious, and can add some summer interest to the foliage groups of peony clumps. Some become quite outstanding in the fall when the seed ripens and the carpels open. Of course, not all the flowers will develop a seed pod, as there is sometimes a failure to pollinate for reasons of weather etc. And not all flowers of a species will have the same number of carpels, so where you see two they may actually have from 1 to 4 or sometimes 5.

The next few postings will show photos of carpels of most of my species. I've separated them by the general characteristics of the plants. Some of them are very similar, some are quite distinctive. Photos were all taken on the same day.

Today's photos are of the Mascula-type grouping.

Carpels of Paeonia mascula.

Carpels of Paeonia tomentosa.

Carpels of Paeonia ruprechtiana.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

An Ornamental Clover - Trifolium rubens

Large showy flower heads in mid summer make this a valuable perennial in colder climates, as it is hardy to USDA zone 3. Common names for this plant are Red Feathers or Red Feather Ornamental Clover, an apt name. Hight 1-2 feet.

It's native to central Europe from northern Spain through to Romania and central Russia; it tends to grow in dry open woods and scrub, but in the garden is best in full sun.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Last Peony of the Year

At last today a bud has opened on my shyest seedling. Not quite fully open yet but enough to see that it is a white double.

There are some additional buds yet to open on several other plants, but essentially the Peony season is over here -- until the seed pods start opening. 14 May to 11 July plus a few days: a nice long peony season.

This weblog will continue to meander along for the rest of the summer but with a lesser update frequency than during the height of the peony season. But discerning readers will already have figured that out over the last few days!

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

That Elusive Holy Grail- Blue Poppies

The Himalayan Poppy, a common name encompassing Mecanopsis betonicifolia and Mecanopsis grandis and their hybrids and maybe a few other species... Depending on where you live on this great world, they may be easy for you to grow. In Nova Scotia they are one of those frustrating things that grows well in the odd place but not at all just across the property line.

For years I would diligently acquire seed of the above 2 species and try to start some. Most years the seed germinated and then expired through a bout of cold or hot weather, or sun or cloud, at just the wrong time. If all the stars were in proper alignment and everything was good with them my mind would wander and they would dry out the day before I brought the water to them... The few that made it to a spot in the ground in my great outdoors would be eaten by night critters.

Then, 2 years ago I was given a few small plants and some useful advise which has resulted in flowers last year and this! The trick was, a moist partly shaded location, but not wet; and I had just managed to create one by dumping dead pots of sand/compost mix in a mounded heap over a boggy part of the yard. And then the real advice: weak soluble fertilizer applied every week during the first summer, to encourage the poppies to grow offsets from the single crown of the initial plants. The idea (working so far) is that the oldest crowns will flower and probably die in any given summer and then the secondary crowns will survive into the following year-- and so on.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Rhododendron x fortunei "Cadis"

This is my latest Rhodo to begin to flower each year, and usually is not near as good a show as this year. It's a marginal plant in my zone and often has a lot of winter-killed buds, but I find it worth growing because the species R fortunei is a tree rather than a shrub, and because it is one of the few Rhodos with fragrant flowers which is at all hardy enough for my region. And what a great fragrance, too.

Photo from 26 June, when this plant was in peak bloom. It's still loaded with blossoms today.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Temperature affecting colour

The first photo is of a flower of Paeonia lactiflora which opened on a hot sunny day (well, we did have 4 sunny days in June!!). Second photo is a second flower of the same plant, but one which opened on a cooler cloudy day. (It's more pink, in case your monitor colour is off.)

For those wondering which cultivar this is, it's name is PSMT0629. That is, it is one of my unregistered seedlings. I think I'll keep it.