April Bouquets from the Garden

Tree peony 'Princess Chiffon' with Syringa 'Beauty of Moscow' (white)
and Syringa 'Bloomerang'.
Bouquets are plentiful this month, an anomoly considering this wealth of bloom typically happens in May. But I'm not complaining. The cool spring weather has kept the Lilacs from frying, allowing them to last much longer than usual. Even the tree peonies are taking their time opening, and then lingering for a great long-lived show.

Peony 'Red Charm' with soapwort and Polygonatum
The first herbaceous peony opened around April 26--much earlier than usual. 'Red Charm' isn't a new variety, but it certainly is one of the reddest. This true crimson beauty is a hybrid bomb form introduced in 1944 by Lyman Glasscock of Elmwood, IL.

Azalea 'Golden Lights' truly lights up the garden when in bloom. The only downside is that it doesn't play well with others because of its orangey-peachy color. I love it with Centaurea and this similarly-hued Geum. I can't decide whether to move the azalea or the baby pink 'Princess Chiffon' tree peony next to it.

Garden Organizer for the Disorganized

 Life is tough on the disorganized. I woke up early this morning feeling an urgent need to get a handle on when I planted each of nearly 50 peonies in my garden. Since I started to garden more than 20 years ago, I've kept a journal. It started with a pen and paper and included my observations on what was going on in my garden. I started taking pictures and having them developed (remember those days?) and pasting a few of them within the pages of the journal. I even wrote an article about the process that appeared in a 1992 issue of American Horticulturist the name of the magazine published by American Horticultural Society at that time. It was called "Constructing and Keeping a Garden Journal."

The journals evolved into word-processed pages punched on the side and inserted into a three-ring binder. The results weren't pretty but gave me something to leaf through during the winter. I found some pre-punched pocket pages at an office supply store and put them in the binder for my receipts.

My first garden feature appeared in
American Horticulturist magazine, published
by the American Horticultural Society.
Around 12 years ago I began to keep track of plant purchases in Word documents, even adding where I'd purchased each one and including a little thumbnail statement on the plant. Sometimes I inserted a lo-res photo.

Now I keep receipts from mail order nurseries in a virtual folder in my Outlook e-mail program and slip paper receipts into a manila folder, sometimes remembering to write the name of the plant on the back, sometimes not.

Which brings me to today's phenological dilemma. The whole purpose in my sudden need to make a database stems from the apparently unprecedented earliness of blooms. Has this ever happened before? When do my peonies usually bloom when they're at least three years in the ground? Five years? Ten?

Stay tuned for the ultimate, modern garden database. That is, if I don't get called away on another project...

Hybrid Tree Peony Makes Anniversary Memories

'Calypso' (photo by Klehm's Song Sparrow)
We were met by the strains of Calypso when we arrived home today - our 25th Wedding Anniversary. Peony 'Calypso' was developed by my favorite tree peony breeder from the past - Nassos Daphnis. I ordered this beauty from Klehm's Song Sparrow Farm, and it arrived in great condition with two woody stems and even a flower bud!

Carsten Burkhardt's amazing Web Project Paeonia offers the following details from American Peony Society Bulletin #296 about 'Calypso': The F2 hybrid was introduced Aug. 24, 1995. First year bloomed 1974. Single hybrid, yellow with red outlines. F 2 seed from Coronal F 1. Color like Coronal, form open and petals much stronger and much heavier. The red on the ridges of each petal is very unusual and breath-taking. Good substance, 10-20 amount of bloom, stamens, pollen, no seeds, fragrant, reliable, one bud per stem. Good stem strength, grows 4-5 feet and blooms the last of May. Vigorous and dark green foliage.

Klehm's has several of the Daphnis hybrids, tree peonies with the most amazing colors, it's obvious this man was an artist. Actually Daphnis was an artist before he started hybridizing peonies. He also spent time working for a relative who was a florist when he arrived in New York from Greece.

I'd like to collect all 48 of Daphnis' hybrids; so far I have two, including 'Ariadne', planted just two years ago and growing back strongly this year after one of its main stems was snapped by the wind. For some reason the only photo I have of its bloom is of a bud that promises to open to a melenge of soft yet vibrant colors for which Daphnis is known.
'Ariadne' in bud
'Ariadne' (Klehm's Song Sparrow)

As for 'Calypso', we'll plant it this weekend after amending the soil in an area where it will be protected from damaging winds and visible from our sunroom window. It isn't likely it will bloom on our April anniversary very often if at all, but it will be easy for me to remember 2012 as the year that all bets were off and plants were sent into an early-blooming free-for-all.

Container Gardening Book Will See Serious Use This Spring

There are few gardening books I can honestly say I just can't put down. Most are meant to be savored a bit at a time--taken in when opportunity or necessity arises. Cookbooks are the same, unless they have great illustrations and quick, tantalizing recipes. Container Gardening for All Seasons is the perfect combination of browsable, illustrated cookbook and garden book that offers great advice in a painless, unintimidating manner. Author Barbara Wise has created a recipe book for container gardeners and those who might have given up on containers for one reason or another.

Wise has thought of everything--from considering a planter's backdrop to its proximity to water. Containers can dry out very quickly, she reminds us all. I loved her Ten Commandments of Container Gardening, beginning with, "Thou Shalt Begin With Soil," to "...A plant without fertilizer is weak. A plant without water is dead." No matter how long a gardener's been at it, there are always little caveats that tend to be overlooked.

The Commandment I seem to continually overlook is Wise's Seventh: "Thou shalt make sure to know the mature size plants will grow during a growing season." But no matter where we fall short in container creation, Wise has provided some really thoughtful advice, not to mention recipes for success.

The book is arranged by season with each containing several recipes for shade, partial sun and full sun. Wise follows up her recipes (each has a great photo and placement diagram) with ideas for holiday containers and resources.

I was excited to see the great use of tropical plants and plants we don't often think to use in container plantings. My favorites? Although it's really hard to narrow it down to just a few, I'll be trying the Mandevilla 'Sun Parasol Crimson' she uses in a combination on pages 102-3, the variegated ginger in the "Subtle Exuberance" container on page 138-39, and the simple yet charming pot of Cyperus 'Baby Tut', Impatiens and Lysimachia aurea.

Container Gardening for All Seasons is going to see some serious use this spring. I'll be carrying with me on all of my combo-pot plant pilgrimages for sure.

Tree Peony, Viburnum, Azalea Bloom a Month Early

Azalea 'Golden Lights'
The early bloom continues, with plants that blossom normally in mid- to late May in flower now. Azalea 'Golden Lights', a deciduous azalea that's part of the Northern Lights series, is just starting its sequence. I've always felt the term "golden" in its name should have been changed to "creamiscle" or "mango," because of its orangey-coral hues. It's gorgeous but not a good neighbor to my tree peony 'Princess Chiffon', which happens to be blooming just a few feet away from the Azalea.

If I had it to do over (and one great thing about gardening is that I can), I would plant the peony with Syringa 'Beauty of Moscow', a lilac with pinkish buds that open to white semi-double flowers. Since they're nowhere near one another, I put them together in a vase to get an idea of how they'd look together in the landscape.
Tree peony 'Princess Chiffon' in a vase with Lilac
'Beauty of Moscow'
Putting the peony and azalea in the same blog makes me cringe. The first issue that comes to mind is that they both are serious divas--demanding undivided attention and thereby causing a serious ocular distraction.

Both the Azalea and the peony bloomed last year around May 21, so we're still heading into summer around a month ahead of schedule.
Viburnum plicatum f. tomentosum 'Marieseii'
A spring-blooming shrub that's also reached its splendor early is doublefile viburnum, or Viburnum plicatum f. tomentosum 'Marieseii'. Despite its tounge-twisting name, the color goes with everything, and even after the blossoms fade, just looking at the crisp, pleated leaves can make you feel about 10 degrees cooler.

Hydrangea Blossoms Blasted by Frost

Gardeners are careful by nature. It’s a good thing, because I had been thinking, but not uttering, the prediction that it would be a wonderful Hydrangea year. But anyone who’s tried to grow Hydrangea macrophylla in a cold climate knows that it’s not the winter temperatures that toll the flowers’ death knell, but the late spring frosts. And when those spring frosts follow on the tail of unseasonably warm temperatures lasting an unusually long time, we can pretty much forget about those bodacious Hydrangea blooms.

You can officially kiss this flower opportunity good-bye.
Go ahead and prune this branch back if it's a rebloomer like
'Endless Summer'.
So instead of dazzling you with great flower photos, I’ll be posting cautionary shots of what happens when plumped up buds get zapped by frost. I’ll also tell what I’ve learned from my attempts at covering my plants before night- and frost-fall. 
Outside leaves of Hydrangea 'Endless Summer'
blackened by frost where the
sheets touched the stem.

Hope springs eternal - but don't hold your breath.
This 'Endless Summer' bud is only partially nipped.

Although I had bed sheets for most of my tender hydrangeas, I didn’t provide a structure beneath the fabric to keep it away from the tips of the flowering stems. Mistake. All the uppermost branches were black and droopy by morning. The good news is that the lower branches that weren’t touched by the sheets were saved.
Hydrangea serrata 'Blue Billow' flower
killed by frost.

And the Hydrangea serrata ‘Blue Billow’ I’ve been bragging about never failing to bloom? At least one third of the flower buds are goners.

This Hydrangea serrata bud
still has potential.
The bad news (besides the loss of most Hydrangea blossoms) is that we will probably get more frosty nights before we can sit back and relax. But gardeners always have some good news to counteract the bad news. You know those stems that suffered the brunt of the frost because the bed sheets were resting on top of them? Those very same stems (trimmed slightly to get rid of the black stuff) will provide support for the next time I have to put sheets on the Hydrangeas, keeping the lower branch tips safe from Jack Frost.

VegTrug Seedlings Plugging Along

We've been having some cool nights (duh! It's early April!) and the seedlings in the VegTrug haven't missed a beat. Yes, they're all pretty frost tolerant--lettuce, poppies, alyssum, beets and stock--but the Mignonette and Salvia are still alive and unharmed after a couple of nights with temps in the 30s.  I've been keeping the screen cover zipped up throughout the days and nights. During the warm and windy days, it helps keep the soil from drying out, yet allows light in to keep them happy.
Plant growth has slowed down a bit, and I'm working on removing lots of overcrowded seedlings. I started a lettuce mix called Wine Country Mesclun from Renee's Seeds on March 16, and it's just now starting to look like lettuce. Instructions on the packet say it takes approximately 40 days to harvest, so I'll have a salad of these greens by the end of the month. I planted Poppy 'Angel's Choir', also from Renee's, and every day I remove little extras. Poppy seeds are notoriously hard to sprinkle without overcrowding. 

Maybe I got a little carried away, but I rationalized that the VegTrug would make a great seed starting vessel for flowers until I could plant the beans, basil and other heat-lovers.
So, into the trug went Sweet Alyssum 'Paletta Mix' and Mignonette 'Machet' from Select Seeds.

The beets are forming chubby little roots as we speak (at least I imagine they are without peeking). The variety I planted March 16 is called Flat of Egypt from Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company.

Golden Orange and Peachy Blooms

This tulip has a lot going on. With sunset shades and a rose-like scent, it's certainly a keeper. 'Prinses Irene' was introduced in 1949 and is available at Old House Gardens.
Geum 'Mango Lassi' is a double-flowered avens named after a drink popular in the Punjab region of India. Discovered as a sport of Geum ‘Georgenberg’ by Grace Dinsdale of Blooming Nursery in Cornelius, OR, this beauty blooms with early bearded Iris, only for a much longer time.
Acer palmatum 'Orange Dream' features outstanding color in spring, with chartreuse leaves edged in pale raspberry. It was introduced in the 1980s by a nursery in Milan, Italy. My plant has been chomped down by deer to just a stick two years in a row. Last fall, I surrounded it in deer netting and it came through and is beginning to look like a six year-old plant. It is offered by Eastfork Nursery.
Dicentra 'Gold Heart' has been around since 1997 after it was discovered by Nori Pope of Hadspen House Gardens in England. I love it for its sunshine-colored foliage, which seems to light up a dark corner like sculptural spotlights. I like it combined with dark-leaved Astilbe and Hellebores with a deep green backdrop provided by a thick, unpruned yew hedge.

American Peony Society Convention 2010

Peony fields at Klehm's Song Sparrow, Janesville, WI
I was in peony heaven. Peony breeders, sellers and hobbyists had gathered for three days of immersion into all things peonies in Janesville, Wisconsin for the American Peony Society Convention.   For the breeders, the event offered a chance to show off their best creations, compare notes and admit to the humbling effects of nature on their growing fields. For peony growers, it was an opportunity to check out new acquisitions for their stable of offerings. For hobbyists like me (Or as I like to call myself: a peony groupie), it was a weekend condensed into fields and rooms full of color and fragrance.
      Even in the cold drizzle, the fields of Klehm’s Song Sparrow Farms were colorful beacons in the midst of farmland. Three busloads of attendees slogged through the damp and hunkered down beneath umbrellas to take in a closer look at the thousands of plants over dozens of acres of herbaceous peonies. It was a great way to see how they all performed out in the middle of nowhere, without stakes or protection from the wind and rain.
      Inside the Rotary Botanical Gardens’ visitor center, row upon row of tables were obscured by vases of peonies. From the deepest mahogany tree peony to the most elegant herbaceous hybrids and unnamed seedlings, each invited viewers to get a closer look.
Rotary Botanical Gardens Peony display
While the newest intersectionals made an appearance along with recent introductions of herbaceous varieties, I was inspired by the fact that peonies developed more than 50 years ago held their own in the competition for honors. Peony ‘Frances Mains’, introduced in 1955, won the coveted Court of Honor award.
      Harvey Buchite, APS President and owner of Hidden Springs Flower Farm offered a bevy of fragrant peonies. His recommendations formed a who’s who of old-fashioned peonies, including ‘Duchesse de Nemours’, ‘Festiva Maxima’, ‘Madame Calot’, all introduced about 100 years ago.
      I performed my own scent detection work in the display area and found ‘Cheddar Surprise’ from breeder Roy Klehm to have a wonderful peony fragrance.
      I came away from the convention with a kaleidoscope of color etched into my memory. But I also learned a lot of little-known facts about peonies. According to Buchite, the diameter of a peony flower can increase by 25 percent when cut and brought indoors in a vase. This is because the flower isn’t subjected to the added stress of wind. When cut and brought indoors, the flower can finally relax and expand to its maximum size.
Peony 'Ursa Minor'
Peony 'Frances Mains'
      The sheer number of registered peonies was driven home for me when I picked up a publication entitled Peonies 1997-2007, which listed every peony ever registered with the APS. Suffice it to say, there are hundreds to thousands, most of which I’d love to plant in my way-too-small garden. 

The APS Annual Convention 2012 will take place in Omaha, Nebraska May 31 to June 3