The Bee's Knees

Bee's knees 2This morning, the birds are singing, the grass is greening and the scilla are in full, blue bloom. Scilla siberica, to be exact. This little flowering bulb reaches about 3" in height in my garden and it naturalizes beautifully. I have heard the word 'invasive' in reference to scilla but I prefer 'naturalize'. It does spread. That can be a positive. What makes one plant invasive and another a desired naturalizer? Well, this one has beautiful flowers of bright blue and they attract honeybees. Blue pollen It might crowd out grass but in my 'Freedom Lawn' that is just desirable. I do think its best use is as a naturalized ground cover. There is nothing as blue as the electric, black light blue of the scilla flower en masse. It blooms about the time of the daffodils and what could be better than that complement of yellow to enrich the tone of the blue or vice versa? Blithewold scilla and daffodilsScilla is planted in the fall. Plan now to order some if you want your own carpet of blue. This is not a native bulb but then few are native to the USA. It is very hardy and it grows in Zones 4-8. The bulb contains a toxic substance so the deer do not eat it. That is a win around here. The bees however do love it. This plant is the first to bloom on which I see the honeybees. And, the honeybees have blue knees. The Bee's KneesBlue knees on the honeybees is a sight to see. They work the flowers as bees do and they end up with a nice cap of blue on their pollen baskets. I have long noticed the blue pollen but it was Kris Green, Interpretive Horticulurist and blog writer at Blithewold, who told me to look for the blue bee's knees. Persistence paid off. Yesterday was warm and windy and the bees were busy...well one bee was busy. Pollen on beeI spent quite a while trying to get a shot of this busy bee. They move quickly from flower to flower wasting no time at all. I guess that is the definition of 'busy'. On my part, watching the bee was time well spent. I think there might be a children's story in that title, The Bee's Knees, what do you think? 


The Week in Review

CrocusThe snow has left the gardens but there are still a couple of mounds in the drive from the winter snowplowing. No matter since now the garden work can begin. The crocus are up and taking turns debuting their outfits. Last snowdropsThe snowdrops have almost finished blooming which means that in spite of all the raking to be done, they need to be moved around right after the flowers fade. I have found that this is an easy transition time for them and they spread quite readily when given a helping hand. I just lift the larger clumps and carefully pull apart the bulbs. It is then an easy matter to pop them into the empty garden spots. Someday there will be rivers and pools of snowdrops. It is coming. Winter aconite2The winter aconites are doing a bit of yoga with this salute to the sun. Theirs is the first bright yellow to appear, usually well before the daffodils which are just beginning to show color here  I do see a bit of the tete a tete flowers pushing through one of the fallen,  yet to be cut back, grasses. One expects bulbs in the spring but the first of the herbaceous perennials to bloom are the hellebores. This hellebore is a lovely rose veined variety, Helleborus orientalis 'Apricot Blush'Hellebore2I do have some of the dark flowered hellebores but I find that they are lost among the richness of the soil so it will be these lighter ones which I will plant from now on. In the middle of the week I discovered that I am not the only one who loves the Iris 'Katherine Hodgkin'. Katherine H.
Her cool, blue beauty attracted another admirer. In the dark of night either the deer or the rabbits decided to eat the blooms. The deer spray is sitting right there on the step. Live and learn. At least I got a couple of days of joy from them. Another task which has been checked off the spring list is that of starting the tomato seeds.
 I know it seems late since so many of you are in the warmth already but here it will take six weeks to get them to just the right size so they suffer no root stifling. I have planted them early in the past and have found that to do so results in the extra step of potting them on to a larger sized container. April 15th is the target date for planting the seeds here. I was one day off. The seedlings will be planted in the garden at the end of May. Tomatoes love warm soil so there is no use planting them any earlier. One other task which lightens the load for this gardener is the annual burning of the grasses. Grass burning 1I can only really burn these by the fishpond as they are well away from other plantings. Usually this is done around St. Patrick's Day but this year I could not even get near them and they were lying under the snow. You can see how flat they are. These are Miscanthus s. 'Gracillimus' and Miscanthus sinenesis var. purpurascens. They are in excess of six feet tall by the time the fall plumes appear.Grass Burning 2I did get out the hose and the rake just in case there were any escaping embers but from start to finish, the grasses burn hot in under a minute. The ash sweetens the soil and the area is transformed. Grass burning 3The fish didn't seem to mind at all. It was a pretty good week. I hope yours was filled with spring blooms and enjoyable garden tasks.

The Forgotten Spring

Snow-EranthusOn Monday, March 30, 2015, it is snowing yet again and this March morning has all the steel gray warmth of an early January day. I did miss most of the snow of this remarkable winter but upon returning to New England in mid-March I have been privileged to witness the effects of the many snow storms of 2015. Deep snowThere is still a foot of snow on the ground in many places and the driveway has five foot piles of snow from the plow. The temperatures are quite chilly with the current temp of around 32F. There will be no raking in March. There will most probably be no garden cleanup until well into April. The days are getting much longer though and the sun is quite warm despite the cool air temperatures. The evidence that spring has arrived is here but it is slim evidence. Much of the garden is still covered but those southerly exposures are clear. Snow-recedingThe snow is receding ever so slowly leaving in its wake, sticks, mud, packed leaves and even a flower or two. Why didn't I plant five hundred crocus in this area in the back? Nature gives us the best cues if we care to look for them. I do have some Eranthis hyemalis aka winter aconite, blooming in the back and it really only takes a glimpse of this bright yellow to lighten one's spirit. I am marking the calendar right now to order some bulbs for fall planting. Next spring when the snow recedes, a bright carpet of gold will take its place. Snow-single aconiteGold and maybe some orange. I feel better already.    

October Glow

Japanese red mapleThere are few things glowing in the garden in late October. The Japanese maples are the last of the trees to share their radiant colors and they are just in time for Halloween. This small red maple is planted along the drive under the canopy of a white pine grove. Its name has long been forgotten. Red and yellow mapleThe name of this yellow Acer palmatum "Omurayama' is one I happen to remember for some unknown reason. These maples sit in relative anonymity during the summer months although they both have remarkable textural interest for those who pay attention to such things. In the fall, they complement one another as you can see. Bulb PlantingBehind the fishpond bench shiny tulip bulbs have been planted for spring entertainment. This is a parrot tulip called 'Rococo'. It is described as 'cardinal red with purple and green feathering'. Very appropriate for a parrot tulip. Glow mossJust in front of the bench, between the flat field stones of the patio, there is a quiet cover of moss which is as inviting as a Persian carpet. It is a bit too chilly to walk barefoot on that moss now that cool weather has descended but sitting on the bench, contemplating the scene, is quite meditative. Maiden grassThe grasses by the pond are shining in the lower angle of sunlight creating a sharp vertical element next to the velvet carpet. A short distance away, the purple beautyberry stands out among the shrubs in the back border. Purple BeautyberryThis one is Callicarpa japonica. There are several species and cultivars available and this shrub can now be found in many gardens. That purple, well, it is quite royal I think. The berries of this shrub do not persist throughout the winter but they do add needed drama at the end of the season. Here in Rhode Island the days are getting shorter and the angle of the sun is much lower in the sky. The chipmunks are very busy running to and fro to their stone wall which frames the garden. There are just a few acorns this year and they are busy claiming them for their stash. There are still chores to be done but I feel like hibernating already.  The next big drama could very well be the first snowfall. I hope there is something in between purple berries and white snow. The garden always makes me wait and see for myself. 

The Bewitching 'Katharine Hodgkins'

Katherine Hodgkin irisIt is that time of year again. Katharine has come to visit. She wears a wedgewood blue frock adorned with darker blue gemstones and panels of clear yellow. Her frock darkens ever so slightly in color as the days pass. This cool spring has allowed her a very long visit. And, she has brought relatives.KH bestThe original clump seems fuller this year which may  mean that she is happy with this site in humus rich shade. This iris is a bit stockier than others of her clan having sturdy parentage. A gentleman and part time plant breeder, EB Anderson, crossed Iris histrioides with Iris danfordiae but insects must have intervened as DNA testing shows the other parent is Iris winogradowii. Iris histrioides is native to Turkey and is blue. KH with crocusIris winogradowii is native to Central Asia where it grows in alpine meadows. It is yellow and tends to be stoloniferous which may be the reason this clump above has increased in size. But who, you might ask, is Katharine Hodgkins? She must have been quite a beauty. She was the wife of Mr. Anderson's friend, Mr. Hodgkins but I can find little information on her. DSC_0105This plant was hybridized in the 60's. It has none of the 60's psychedelic coloration. It is refined and luminous although I do find that it 'disappears' in the garden and is best planted next to a well traveled path. This is its second spring here in my garden and I find her quite bewitching.  I recommend her to every gardener as she is lovely and a somewhat unusal addition to the garden of little bulbs.

Bloom Day - March 15, 2013

Clump of snowdropsThe blooms have finally begun. The snowdrops have been tightly wrapped until temperatures hit the 50's on Wednesday. I always get muddy knees trying to get a good photograph of the little bulbs and their flowers. TommiesThe tommies have popped up. These were planted the fall before last so it is their second showing. The newer plantings have not shown their tops yet but they are in a bit less sunny position than these. They are showing color but are not yet open. DSC_0008The winter aconites have started with bright yellow blooms as well. I see daffodil foliage popping up but it will be a while before they bloom. DSC_0015Spring is a few days away and the temperature today was in the low 30's which keeps everything in suspended animation but that will change. It has to as spring is in motion. I can't wait to see what is blooming in your garden. Thanks to Carol of May Dreams for hosting yet another Bloom Day.

Buried Buttercups

Winter AconiteWell, they are not really buttercups but the winter aconite, Eranthis hyemalis, is a member of the same family as the buttercup, Ranunculaceae. The one above is currently being buried by yet another layer of snow. Snow which will not last long given the prediction of fifty degree weather for the coming weekend. I hope this is the last snow of the season but, if not, the thought of the cheery yellow aconites and the clear white snowdrops snuggled under this newest downy blanket waiting much more patiently for a warm day than this gardener will keep me hopeful. SnowdropsSpring's march is often slow this month, more like a toddle or a shuffle but soon there will be no holding her back. Spring is an action word, after all.

March 1, 2013

DSC_0004The first day of March cannot go unnoticed here. Goodbye February and as for winter, now you really have your marching orders. Every year is different and this March begins with snow covering most of the garden. Last year there were crocus in bloom in February and snowdrops in full bloom around the first of March. DSC_0002The winter aconites were also starting their sunny show. Snowdrop closeupOnly one small patch of snowdrops is even visible right now but there are warmer days ahead. This post is here to encourage the blooms. With a bit of warmth it takes just a short time for color to show. Let the games begin.

The Trouble with Dibbles

Tools at Heligan
No, these are not mine. Pretty though.
I love garden tools. I really do and I have many. Trowels, rakes, hoes, lawn edgers, shovels, spades and the list goes on. Every gardener needs a good cache of tools. Some of the better made tools are really works of art.
45 Waterhouse Lane, England
Nope, not mine either.
I don't have many of those, just basic tools. The prettiest tools, in my mind, are those that are weathered and worn with a patina from use. Therein lies a big problem. They get lost in the garden.
Oh, yes, these are mine.
From the compost heap to one garden then another and another and finally back to the shed where they sit in the wheelbarrow unless I actually hang them. The large tools do hang but the hand tools are in a bucket and it was only upon returning to the bucket to plant the rest of the little bulbs that I noticed my dibble was missing. A dibble does make short work of planting the little bulbs. It plunges somewhat easily into the soil and the bulb gets popped in. I then top it off with compost. The big bulbs are different. They often require a pickax given the amount of rocks here in this garden. Pickaxes are much harder to lose since they have heft and size. It was about two weeks ago that I noticed the dibble was missing. There are many more small bulbs to plant. Small bulbs are very gratifying but there needs to be an abundance of them to make an impact. One hundred don't go very far. I did plant some with the red handled trowel but it took more time and energy than that required by the dibble. I had to find that dibble or buy a new one. I retraced steps several times and after many days it came to me...look in the garden by the fish pond where you planted the muscari. It was a bit covered with leaves when I finally found it. I brushed them off for the picture. It is still a bit hard to see.
Dibble in the garden
It blends.
The dibble weathered a week or so outside plus the rain of the recent hurricane.  I am a pragmatic person. The organic look of this tool almost led to its demise. It certainly slowed down the bulb planting here.
A bit of neon solves the problem.
I have solved that problem with a can of neon spray paint. The artistic wall of garden tools will have to wait. There is life left in this tool and there are bulbs to be planted. Sacrifices must be made. I need sunglasses to use my tools now. Have you ever lost one of your favorite garden tools? 

Pineapple Lily - Eucomis

DSC_0007The pineapple lily is a South African native which adds a thrill to any container planting. There are several different species of pineapple lily and over fifteen different cultivars. All have strap like leaves and a flower stalk which emerges from the center of the foliage. This is topped with a pineapple shaped flower composed of many small waxy florets. They are easy to grow and will grow in full sun or light shade although flowering is better in full sun. If I lived further south I would consider bedding them out for interesting texture in the borders. They are a bit pricey though and I hope to overwinter this one in the dormant state in a cool basement. We shall see what happens. DSC_0008I planted 'Sparkling Burgundy' in my containers near the house this spring. This cultivar has dark foliage and the flowers are creamy with bits of pink and yellow stamens. I have not detected any repulsive odor although, since it is pollinated by flies, it is said to have a bit of a stench. DSC_0005I am enjoying the tropical, exotic look it brings to these containers. Eucomis 1In addition to the burgundy pineapple lilies in my container, a friend gave me a bulb which she had potted up from last year and overwintered in her basement. EucomisThis lily has green foliage, a smaller flower head and interesting markings on the stem. It looks quite nice on its own in the small clay pot on the patio and is also a reminder of friendship. Thank you Lois. If you are looking for Eucomis bulbs, there are several on line sources.  Mine was purchased as a potted bulb already showing promise.  Now, a promise fulfilled. Have you grown this plant and, if so, what are your thoughts on Eucomis?