Weird and Wonderful Flowers

Cape fuchsia blooms all summer.
Who doesn't like weird flowers? Not just unusual, but unexpected. They pop up at different times throughout the summer, the headliners of my summer.

I can never know if I'd have a long enough season or enough sun, for that matter, to get some of these plants to thrive or to flower.

Cape fuchsia surprised me when it came back to life this spring after wintering over in the ground. I hadn't mulched or protected it in any significant way. But I've had two sequential seasons of enjoyment of this nearly-tropical plant, which is like an upright fuchsia, but it's actually Phygelius capensis, and is from the Cape region of South Africa.

Hummingbirds like to visit its flowers, which dangle on upright stems rising above the compact plant. The flowers are coral-rose-colored and open from the bottom upwards. Give it partial sun and average water, and it will bloom all summer long. Who could ask for more?

A plant as cute as its name: Pinguicula.
My friend Carol gave me a whole bunch of orchids, which aren't blooming yet, but the one I've had the most fun with this summer has been the butter wort. It's a carnivorous plant, botanically known as Pinguicula, that uses a sticky substance on its leaves to lure, trap and eat insects.

I was really excited to see this little cutie flower. I did some research and learned there are dozens of species and several hybrids, so I don't really know what exactly this one is. But its flower has lasted for a couple of days and I'll let it go to seed and see what happens.

Polianthes 'Pink Sapphire'
Last year I purchased a few tuberoses (Polianthes tuberosa). These are the typically white and waxy spikes that exude a scent like a hyacinth with super powers. For me, the fragrance is pleasant outdoors or indoors during the daytime, but I have to move cut stems to another room during the night. One of the more exotic, because of its color, was the double-flowered 'Pink Sapphire'.

I planted the tuber (I only bought one) in a container along with a tropical rain lily, a fuzzy foxglove and a Brunfelsia that still hasn't bloomed, which is a story in itself.

The pink double tuberose finally bloomed last year in mid-August, and it wintered over in its pot in the garage. This year it sent up two stems, the first one on August 20 and then on September 20. I will keep feeding it and perhaps it will give me another flower on October 20.

Normally, I'd store the container again in the garage as I did last winter, but first I'll have to extract the Brunfelsia, which is an early spring bloomer.

I don't want to disturb the whole pot until at least mid-October in order to give all the plants every opportunity to grow good roots for next year.
Polianthes 'Pearl'

This spring I ordered five tubers of 'Pearl', a double white Polianthes. They came from Old House Gardens.

It wasn't my first tuberose rodeo, I have to say. I'd tried them before, only to have them rot in the pot. Scott Kunst, founder of Old House Gardens, told me the key was to get large tubers, "the size of a man's thumb." And that's what they sent.

The first one bloomed July 16; the second August 28, the third September 3, and number four on September 22. The fifth one still has a chance, as it's been really hot for late September.

I will keep growing Polianthes as long as I have a place to store them. We had a mild winter last year, but I have little nooks and crannies in the garage and the workroom behind the garage, areas that don't usually dip below about 40 degrees.

For colder spots, I'll make sure the soil in the pot is completely dry before placing the pot into newspaper or Styrofoam-lined cardboard boxes. I keep the boxes out of drafts caused by opening the garage door, and off the cold floor on shelves. It's worked for me so far and for many plants besides the tuberoses.

Fragrance Far From Home: Flowers from Africa

The first bloom of 'Lucky Star' came in July.
Don't you love surprises? I had a great surprise this month when Gladiolus 'Lucky Star' bloomed for the second time this season! It's good that I left the stem after cutting the first bloom that emerged from the stalk, because that's where the second flower stem came from.

I'd ordered three bulbs from Old House Gardens in Ann Arbor, MI, and learned that 'Lucky Star' is one of the rarest in their stable of heirloom bulbs. This particular Gladiolus was hybridized by Joan Wright of New Zealand and introduced in 1963.

This hybrid of the African Gladiolus murielae is fragrant in the evening. Also, I learned that if the bulb (more correctly a corm in the case of glads) is large enough, it will send up a second bloom. From now on, once I cut off the first bloom of a gladiolus, I'll continue watering and feeding it, just in case.

Tulbaghia, AKA sweet garlic about to open.
The fact that 'Lucky Star' produced a second spike of flowers also speaks highly of Old House Gardens, which might offer it again next year, depending on the harvest. I sure hope so. I'd like to buy more next spring.

Another bulb from Africa that I've grown since last year is Tulbaghia simmerli, or South African Mauve Onion. I purchased just one bulb from Glasshouse Works last spring, and it sent up one or two blooms throughout the summer.

I'd planted the bulb February 2016 in a small pot with very well-drained soil. In May, I repotted it into a 10-inch diameter clay pot, which I stored in the garage through the winter.

Tulbaghia sits in a saucer of water.
The first surprise was that it lived. The second surprise was how quickly it multiplied this year, and the final surprise came in August when I saw how much water it requires. This is because its pot is jam-packed with roots because the one bulb has increased to at least a dozen and they're thirsty little devils.

The flower of this species is said to be fragrant. The leaves are fragrant, too, but smell like garlic. Another of its common names, in fact, is Sweet Garlic.

According to the Pacific Bulb Society, Tulbaghia simmleri typically blooms in late summer through fall in the Northern Hemisphere.

As I had last year, I'll be sure to give this plant a warmish winter home where temperatures don't go below around 40 degrees F. I think I'll have better luck knocking the bulbs out of the pot and dividing them next spring. They apparently like it on the crowded side to promote bloom, and that's what they're getting until they go dormant when I bring them inside before the first frost.
This bouquet includes both the Tulbaghia and the Gladiolus 'Lucky Star'.

What's Stealing the Show in Your Garden?

Caryopteris 'Beyond Midnight' is just starting to open its fluffy,
blue flowers. It's a perennial I planted along with a red Pelargonium
and coleus 'Coleosaurus'.
Beauty is coming from all sources in the garden, from foliage color to texture, with just a smattering of flowers to give me something to look forward to and gauge the summer.

The biggest scene-stealers are the coleus, with both large and small varieties reaching their peak size by now.

I've been waiting all summer for Caryopteris 'Beyond Midnight' to start blooming. Turns out, it looks good with a deep red Pelargonium and a colorful coleus.
This coleus, 'Diane's Gold', has lots going for it, from its swirly leaf shape and evenly-jagged edges to its
variation on the green theme that includes one of my favorite foliage colors--chartreuse.

The Spanish lavender isn't blooming, nor is the scented-leaf Pelargonium. Their colors
are similar, though, as are their cultural preferences, which makes them perfect companions.

I love the variegated leaves of Nasturtium 'Orange Troika'

Even though each tuberose has bloomed by itself, it's always
exciting to see and smell this lovely Mexican bulb.

Tigridia Flower is Like Nothing Else

Somewhat like an Iris, a family to which it belongs, Tigridia, or shell flower, is in a class of its own.

The center of the flower is a cup of many colors, with three "handles," or petals, floppy yet firm, like a puppy's ears and about the same size.

Flower colors range from white to deep pink, pale to bright yellow and orange. I bought a mix in 2016 and potted them up with a Pelargonium, and when they emerged some time in August, I was immediately impressed with their weird beauty.

They have a somewhat messy demeanor, though, and when they finished blooming, I dragged the huge pot under the eaves to a north-facing spot right up next to the garage. The pot stayed there all winter.

Imagine my surprise when this decidedly non-hardy bulb sprouted this spring. I had other plans for the pot, so I dumped out all of the bulbs and tucked them into the VegTrug, where I'd planned to grow flowers for cutting, and into a smaller pot with some Eucomis.

I can only guess that it was our mild winter that saved these tender little bulbs. That, and the fact that they were kept dry and were in a pot with thick walls.

When they began to bloom in July, I saw that most of the flowers were a pale yellow. Some grew near another pot containing Cosmos atrosanguineus, or Cosmos 'Chocamocha', which has flowers that smell like chocolate. I like the way they looked together, and found that the Cosmos, once it get's going, is really feisty and insinuates itself into and over anything growing nearby. I decided that, if I were to mix Tigridia in a container with anything, it could be with 'Chocamocha', which would disguise the Tigridia's less-than-pretty demeanor between blooms.

When they first start to open, Tigridia flowers look like tulips. It all happens in a day, so you have to pay attention. That's the problem with Tigridia--each flower lasts only a day. After the flower is finished, it shrinks down into a soggy bud that's favored by Japanese beetles. It's not pretty.

The bottom line on Tigridia? For me, I'm happy to have made their acquaintance. But I don't think I'll be keeping them in my repertoire. If I had lots of space in the ground with full sun, I'd grow them along with Gladiolus. The bulbs are rather inexpensive. I purchased ten bulbs for under $10. Easy to Grow Bulbs has them in single-color packages, a good thing if you prefer one of the colors.

Tigridia in a vase only works if you are prepared to remove the flowers once they're finished blooming a day later.

Old-fashioned Gladiolus Belong in Modern Gardens

Around mid-May, I tucked Gladiolus corms into my VegTrug along with
with poppies, nasturtium, dill, and others.
The first plants I ordered from a print catalog were gladiolus. I fell in love with a variety called 'Priscilla', a ruffly-edged flower of pale pink and yellow ringed by a deep rose border. Introduced in the '70s, 'Priscilla' is a stalwart beauty that has proven to be more hardy than many others. It was the '90s when I threw caution to the wind and ordered a few dozen corms of 'Priscilla'.

Gladiolus 'Atom' is my favorite.
They did very well, but I hadn't learned the nuances of succession planting, or planting sequentially so that they wouldn't all bloom at once. Having around 45 straight-up stalks of blooms didn't turn out to look great in a garden setting. I remember thinking they looked like a floral fence. I wasn't that interested in cut flowers at the time, either.

I've shied away from glads because of their rigid, no-nonsense demeanor. But then I learned about Old House Gardens, a company that specializes in heirloom bulbs. Yes, I know. In a world where we all seem to be looking for the latest thing--whether it's tech gadgets or better-tasting fake sweeteners--sometimes it's good to put on the brakes and look back a few years.

I planted just a few corms this season. I'd recommend two varieties no matter what you think about glads.
Gladiolus 'Atom' cavorts gracefully with poppies.

The adorable 'Atom', which made its debut in 1946, is my favorite. I love that it tops out at just under three feet tall, and I'm charmed by its bright cherry-red petals edged in white. And compared to the rigidity of a typical Gladiolus, 'Atom' has a graceful spacing along the stems that makes it look less formal and more like it belongs in a garden.

I also order three corms of a variety called 'Lucky Star', a purportedly fragrant type that is a keeper even if I can't detect a scent. 'Lucky Star' was introduced in 1966, and is one of the few fragrant Glads on the market.

As a cut flower, 'Lucky Star' is more delicate than a lily, lasts just as long in a vase, and doesn't have the mess-making pollen that has to be dealt with. The blossoms' color goes with anything, and its vertical lines adds a little bit of "ups" to an arrangement.

Gladiolus 'Lucky Star' adds vertical beauty to an arrangement.

I will be marking 'Lucky Star' to remind me which corms to dig this fall, or as soon as the foliage turns brown. According to Old House Gardens, this variety is rare. They're crossing their fingers that the harvest numbers from the growers will be large enough to offer them for sale next spring.

I Spy Coral Flowers in the Garden

Looking around my garden, I notice one of my favorite colors, but in versions with enough shades and hues to make its own Pantone card. Whether you call it coral, peach or melon, it's created by mixing red with yellow. And the results range from relaxing to breathtaking.

Gladiolus 'Starface'
According to world color strategist, the Pantone Institute, the shades created for the fashion and marketing industries are called by a different name every year. Sometimes, though, a flower can have more than one color going on at the same time, or even gradually fade from a saturated hue to a soft pastel.

Like Pantone Peach Echo.  Or its companion, Fiesta. On the softer side, it could be Peach Quartz or Blooming Dahlia. No matter. We know it when we see it, and I'm seeing lots of peach flowers, coral flowers, and even melon colored flowers now in my garden. Last year, I fell in love with Gladiolus 'Starface', with its coral ringed yellow petals.

There is no ignoring it--as bright and bold as a tropical bird, this Gladiolus provides an eye-opening jolt to go with my morning coffee as I stroll through my garden. Sure, these spiky, old-fashioned flowers can be hard to fit into the landscape. They have to be staked, and they don't really last all that long.

But isn't ornamental gardening all about eye candy anyway? If you have a dog, you know the doggie drop and roll, when they suddenly flop onto the ground, their stretched out bodies writhing with joy, their legs straight up but relaxed, eyes rolled back, and mouths shaped into a grin around their lolling tongue.

Summer is a gardener's opportunity to roll in the leaf and petal combinations we've created through imagination, planning, and--let's face it--hard work.
Nasturtium 'Orange Troika'

Sometimes flowers end up orange, but before they open, take on a coral color. I started this Nasturtium 'Orange Troika' from seed, and I haven't decided whether I like its leaves or flowers more. Its color is described as tangerine, and so I'll add it to my list of coral-ish shades.

Early this spring, I received a group of roses to try called 'Sweetspot', one of which is 'Sweetspot Peach'. It starts out a clear peach with a cherry red center and then fades to blush with a light raspberry center. Very colorful and so far, not a spot of disease.

I planted three plants of Digitalis 'Dalmation Peach', one of which is surprisingly blooming. It's a pleasant surprise, because typically foxglove don't bloom when it gets really hot. It's really pretty in a soft and delicate-looking way.

Hopefully it will reseed for next season because I really like where it is in the garden, that spot I'm attempting to populate with pale-colored blooms and plants so that I have a bit of a glow before dark that I can see through the window from my favorite chair in the sunroom.

Saving the most thrilling for last, at last the Scadoxus is in bloom. I've had this plant four at least four years, and this is the third time it's had flowers. It likes it really crowded inside a clay pot.

If I worked for Pantone, I might call the color of the Scadoxus flower something like Hair on Fire or Radioactive Red.

What do you think? 

Want Variety? Plant Zinnias!

Zinnias 'Queen Lime
Red Heart' in a bouquet.
I can't imagine a garden without Zinnias. They're so easy to start from seed, either in April indoors or after the soil has warmed in late May. This year, I started two "batches," the first, called 'Queen Lime Red Heart' sown in early April, and the second, 'Raggedy Ann Mix' started in a container outdoors on May 25. The first group, 'Queen Lime Red Heart', began to bloom just six weeks after sowing. The Raggedy Ann mix is showing several flower buds, and looks like it also will bloom six weeks after seeds were planted.

Zinnia 'Queen Lime Red Heart' is a new one for me. I bought seed from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds based on their great photo and description. The photo shows the variability in color from bright yellow to dusty pink, all with a red center. I like variability in plants--at least in those that I can plant a dozen or so. 

That way, I can appreciate and compare the differences. If I only planted one, or even three, it wouldn't be as interesting. Although it was touch and go for awhile when I transplanted the seedlings to their ultimate homes in the ground, I ended up with exactly 12 plants divided into four different growing areas in the garden. Some have been blooming for a few weeks while others haven't opened their buds yet. 

I'm really enjoying the different types of flowers that are blooming from one small packet of seed. Some have more red than others on the petals; some are singles while most are doubles. One plant insists on putting out solid green flowers.  

Scabiosa-flowered, or crested Zinnias
didn't quite turn out as expected.
The Queen Lime Red Heart cultivar isn't the only Zinnia I've grown that offers variety. When I found a photo of a Scabiosa-flowered Zinnia a few years ago, I had to try it. It was an adorable little flower with a raised tuft of petals in the center of each bloom. The resulting flowers were cute, but didn't really look much like the photo that coaxed me into growing them. I learned later that only a percentage of blossoms from this type of mix turns out to be crested, and since I only ended up with about four plants, it was somewhat of a disappointment. I'll try them again next year, this time with the promising Candy Mix.

Nearly crested Zinnia.
Closer to crested Zinnia.

I guess the bottom line on Zinnias is that you have to commit to growing more than six plants per season. It took me awhile to learn this lesson, as I'm always so gung-ho to grow as many different plants as I can squeeze into my garden, that I've have to limit duplication. When it comes to growing Zinnias, especially the color mixtures, more is better. Which is why I'm growing another 20 plants of Raggedy Ann Mix. I can't wait to see how they turn out.

New Plants and Old Standards Keep Garden Interesting

After the peonies are deadheaded, the rest of the show-offs come out to play. It's not the same old tired types, although I certainly have consistent favorites - plants that earn their keep, give me the most bang for the buck and blind me with science. These include a couple of Clematis varieties, some perennial Salvia, a few shrubs and a handful of Hostas.

Clematis 'Happy Jack Purple' after three years. It was a
trial plant sent to me by Proven Winners.
The meaty part of the garden comes from the new guys--bulbs, annuals, perennials that I decide to try, sometimes in the dead of winter.

Some seed-grown plants, and all of the shrubs and vines take two years or more before displaying their charms. Clematis 'Happy Jack Purple' is a perky little sprite, playfully winding through the pergola's upright supports and around one of its posts.

And it all began early, starting before the summer containers came to life, yet still going strong to accompany the bush honeysuckle Diervilla 'Kodiak Black' and Hydrangea 'Invincibelle Spirit II'. Both shrubs, though hybrids, are North American natives.

The Diervilla 'Kodiak Black' and Hydrangea 'Invincibelle Spirit II' both were given to me as free trial plants in 2015.
The bush honeysuckle is not invasive, but fills a space nicely with healthy leaves all season long. Its bright yellow flower clusters at the tips of each branch aren't showy, and the leaf color is nowhere near black, which is what it was said to be. As for the Hydrangea, it seems to be standing up well so far, and its flower color will hopefully even out when it is finished opening. It looks like it will be a hardy landscape brightener in its spot alongside the driveway.

Last year's growth of three plants, including a
silvery foxglove.
Digitalis (foxglove) 'Silver Fox' makes a spectacular showing this year.
I'd given up last season on a pot that contained a foxglove I'd started from seed, a tuberose and a rain lily. The only one that bloomed was the rain lily. I stored the pot in the garage for the winter, away from the garage door but with no other protection.

And guess what? They survived! It was a pretty slow process. It was touch and go for quite awhile, but finally, both plants conspired to fill the pot.

The pot, which is around 14" in diameter, is so root bound, it requires daily watering. But I think it's the cramped quarters they seem to like. I hope the same goes for the tuberose, whose foliage is looking good so far.

I imagine that when the foxglove begins to falter from the heat, it will be a call to the tuberose and the rain lily to get their bloom on.

It Takes a Garden for a Full Arrangement.

It would be too late for my peonies, I thought when I volunteered to provide arrangements for my niece's wedding. But I knew I could order some from a grower in Michigan, which is what I did. I could buy flowers from other local growers to add color to the two dozen white peonies that will arrive two days before the wedding.

I also figure I could fill in with flowers from my own garden. But then the temperatures spiked and chaos ensued. Not chaos on the floral level--they all just do what they do in the heat, which is cycle through their bud-bloom-blast stage quickly--very quickly. When the deep pink lilies began to open, I figured they would make a great accompaniment to the peonies. But just a week after they started to bloom, they're pretty much finished.

 No problem, I thought. There are plenty of Astilbe. But even those have been uncooperative, with the early ones browning up already and the later varieties looking as if they won't be open enough to be popped into the vases for vertical accents.

In addition to the two dozen white peonies, I purchased two dozen pink spray roses, but filled in from my garden with my own peonies that I'd stored in my refrigerator, Itea, seed pods from Oriental poppies, Hydrangeas, foliage of Baptisia, Clematis, ferns, and a few pale pink Astilbe.

There are probably a few I can't remember, but all manner of white, pink, pale purple, silvery and green plant stems were used in two large, one medium and two small arrangements. The day before the wedding I spent four hours putting the arrangements together and enjoying the heck out of the process. The most difficult part was finding storage in a cool area of the house and then transporting them the next day. All turned out quite well, considering it was like creating a painting with just a few color choices.

Peony Bloom Time Makes For Great Anticipations

The first coral varieties arrived around May 18, 2017.
My peonies bloom in stages, extending a beautiful sequence that I hate to see come to an end. I've been picking bouquets like crazy--practicing up for creating a few arrangements for a niece's wedding reception. I plan to buy peonies from growers in the Midwest, specialists who know how to condition and store peonies for later.  
Final bouquet June 8, 2015
Peonies in my garden will be finished blooming by then. I know because I've been keeping track of their first and last bloom dates since 2012, a pretty good prediction as I've only added a few varieties since that year.

There are a few very early varieties I've removed for their lack of stem strength, so my current earliest varieties are 'Coral Sunset' and 'Pink Hawaiian Coral'.
The last peonies to bloom in my garden include a mystery peony that was here when I moved in, and 'Ursa Major', 'Pink Derby' and 'Elsa Sass' (which I no longer have).

I usually put the last peonies blooming in a vase and snap their photos. Sometimes there are small flowers from those I don't disbud, including White Cap, Madame Ducel and 'Chestine Gowdy'. From 2013 through this year, my earliest blooms have arrived in late May; the latest usually three weeks later.
Peony 'Roselette' bloomed around May 15, 2015. Her stems were too weak for my garden.
Elsa Sass June 20, 2013

The sequence could be and has been longer, especially when I grew 'Roselette' and 'Roselette's Child', both of which bloomed by mid-May, and 'Elsa Sass', which often began blooming in mid-June.
Bloom times varied by a week or more from 2013 through 2016. This year, it's too early to know the date of the last blooms, and 2012 was an anomaly, with first blooms coming in April. Variations also occurred with newly-planted peonies and those that had not received enough sun in their previous year.

I really liked the white double variety, 'Elsa Sass' for its late arrival, but her location wasn't the best. It was a somewhat low area in my garden and one late spring "flood" was the last straw. It seems like I give peonies the heave ho in a cavalier fashion, getting rid of them for no good reason. I'll own the failure of 'Elsa Sass', but it turns out late varieties aren't the best choice for a climate that often turns horribly tropical by the second week of June.

Peony 'White Cap' puts on quite a show, with a sequence that include center and surrounding flowers.
One of the most fragrant in my garden is the Japanese form 'White Cap'. This variety has several flower buds per stem, the first to open in the center with surrounding buds opening sequentially after the center flower fades. This serves to extend the bloom and maintain its charm if you remove the central bud after it's gone. Otherwise, it detracts from the show, which includes smaller flowers.

The dates I track and keep a record of are guidelines, but have been accurate each year within a week. It's like getting a glimpse of a gift to extend the sense of anticipation. And for me, it's one of the best things about gardening.