Life After Peonies: Tah Rah Rah Bloom-A-Day Continues

While not “officially” over (at least a dozen plants still have more than one flower left), the extreme heat and lack of rain over the Memorial Day weekend certainly speeded the peony blooms up. The life of a peony flower has two main spoilers—heavy rain and sustained heat. Of course, during the most recent heat wave, we could have certainly used some rain. Instead, the heat served to push the peonies through their stages more quickly, leaving no plump bud unopened. If a heavy downpour had come in the midst of this heat, all of the opened buds would have been gracing the ground instead of standing perky and bright. So, as is the case with most things in life, timing is key. And so we’ll move on to the next flowers that have patiently waited for the divas to slip past their prime.

Waiting patiently in the wings on the north side of the house is Cornus kousa, a dogwood that can put up with more abuse than our native Cornus florida, which is prone to disease. According to an Ohio State University publication, this Japanese species is disease resistant and tolerant of alkaline soils.
Eremurus stenophyllus, or foxtail lily, is very easy to grow but can become overcrowded quickly in soil that is too fertile. At least that's what I've surmised from my experience with these tall stunners. The plants in the photo have just begun to show a bit of color and will reach their peak in a week or so depending on the weather. This grouping began with just two plants and it's tripled in three years. I'd planted a white variety in the same raised bed as some peonies, and they declined each year until they finally had no blooms at all.  I'd wanted them to flower with the peonies, but they've consistently bloomed after the peonies. No problem, though. These babies are taller than most anything else in the garden, so I'm thinking of planting a backdrop of clematis on the fence. 
The showy Clematis is 'Carnaby'; the white flowers belong
toClematis recta 'Purpurea'.
Speaking of Clematis, 'Carnaby' is slowing down but Clematis recta 'Purpurea' is giving it a fresh look and fragrance. This variety of Clematis can be trained to grow upward on a trellis or allowed to just hang out on the ground. One advantage to encouraging Clematis recta 'Purpurea' to grow upward is that it will bloom closer to your nose. It's one of the few species with a strong enough fragrance to notice.

Unusual and Fragrant Peonies

'Al's Choice' intersectional

'Pink Derby'
'Al's Choice', an intersectional, is not as floriferous as it was last year, possibly because it needs to be divided after six years. This is an issue that I've heard about these hybrid herbaceous-tree peony crosses.

'Pink Derby' took awhile to reach blooming size, but it's a winner--fragrant, too!

'The Fawn'
Although it has no fragrance, 'Rozella' is one of the more unusual peonies in my garden, its petal size huge and lightly edged in lighter pink.

Fragrance-free but extremely charming is 'The Fawn', a light pink spotted with darker pink.

'Pink Parasol Surprise' has both fragrance and unusual form. Its tuft of pale pink petals comes right out from the gold center.

Colorful Combinations for Mid-May

A pair of perennials by Blooms of Bressingham have been playing well together for several years in a sunny bed with excellent drainage. Dianthus 'Heart's Desire' is nearly overshadowed by Penstemon 'Prairie Twilight', but each, with their bi-colored natures, enhance one another easily.

Another Blooms of Bressingham winner in my garden is Helianthemum 'Hartswood Ruby', which debunks the idea that reds don't get along. The addition of Alstromeria 'Inca Ice', a Walter's Garden introduction, helps diffuse any temper flares between the Helianthemum and the bright red Dianthus 'Fire Star'.
A casual combination using Nepeta, Siberian iris and Stachys 'Pink Cotton Candy' works well with ornamental grasses and daylilies, which will freshen up the look as the summer wears on.

Salvia 'Madeline' with Baptisia 'Purple Smoke'
I don't know about you, but I can't seem to have too much blue in the garden. Like true red, it's an elusive color to find, with most flowers described as blue are really closer to purple. A new hardy Salvia called 'Madeline' came through the winter with flying colors, its true-blue calyxes seeming to float in mid air next to Baptisia 'Purple Smoke'.

Grow Veggies Year-Round

What could be more attention-grabbing than the term “gardener” used with “year-round?” (Caliifornians excepted) Although I appreciate the months when it’s too cold, wet or snow to garden. The cold, grey months we temperate gardeners have provides us with a break—a time to sit back and plan for the next season. When everything’s put to bed in the garden, we can sharpen our keyboarding skills and page-turning abilities in order to plan for when the frigid months are over. Unless of course we love fresh veggies.
Nikki Jabbour’s The Year-Round Vegetable Gardener tells us how to keep the produce fresh and our weeding muscles honed. Put simply, the book breaks down the weather barriers for cold climate gardeners. 

Jabbour’s instructions are detailed enough for any gardener’s level of expertise. Imagine cutting fresh salad greens in December. And if green leafy vegetables aren’t your thing, you’ll be sure to find your favorite in Jabbour’s list of plants to grow throughout the year, including varieties she’s grown in her Nova Scotia garden. She makes it sound so easy, I’ve purchased more seeds to sow in September.
I am lucky enough to have a companion for the book—the VegTrug. With this marvel of simple engineering and the plastic greenhouse cover, I’ll be enjoying fresh beets, leeks, and even Brussels sprouts much later than I’d ever dreamed of.

You can learn more at Jabbour's blog: The Year-Round Vegetable Gardener.

Peonies: Going Fast in the Heat!!

The girls enjoying the breezy screen porch.
Not that I should have found it surprising, but it's hotter here in northwest Indiana than it was in South Carolina! On our way to Edisto Island, I was concerned that it would be too hot to enjoy. It barely reached 80 degrees during the day and it was humid, but there was a constant and delicious breeze. In fact, our Cairn terrier, Abby so enjoyed the weather that we had to lure her inside with cookies.

Peony 'Tom Cat' in the foreground, 'Coral Sunset'
at left and 'White Cap' at right.

You may remember my lament about leaving my garden in mid-May when the peonies were just beginning to open. We came home yesterday evening, just in the nick of time to see nearly all 40-some peonies opened up. I cut a bouquet just before dark so I could enjoy the flowers indoors.
This morning I got outside as early as I could to start snapping photos. While there are around 10 plants that are still in a tight bud stage, some, like 'Tom Cat' are nearly past their prime. 
'Rare Flower of Frosty Dew'

The Chinese peony 'Rare Flower of Frosty Dew' bloomed for the first time and it's fragrant! It took this variety three years to bloom, but I'm happy to say its perfume adds a great deal to the heady mix that pervades my garden when the peonies are at their peak.

Peony 'Judith Eileen'
Another first-time bloomer is Don Hollingsworth's 'Judith Eileen', a fragrant bomb form with great substance and texture.

My last tree peony to bloom is 'Ariadne', an absolute stunner introduced by Nassos Daphnis. All of his tree peonies have such wonderful, ethereal coloration. I now have two of his introductions, including 'Calypso'.

Tree peony 'Ariadne'

North Carolina Arboretum Worth a Visit

At entrance to the North Carolina Arboretum Education Center
What a treat it was to visit the North Carolina Arboretum! In mid-May the Rhododendrons were finished (At least they were this year.), but still there was much to see at this colorful Asheville location.

I loved the use of water, cement and pots at the entrance to the Education Center. Lots of intriguing combinations, all fastidiously labeled.

It's tough to beat a backdrop like the Smokey Mountains provide. We enjoyed spotting vistas like this one at every turn.
A Bonsai dwarf forsythia
Although small, the arboretum's Bonsai collection was healthy and arranged beautifully in its own section.
No Carolina arboretum--North or South-- would be complete without a dozen or so Magnolias. Here's (sweet bay) Magnolia virginiana 'Jim Wilson'. 
Calycanthus floridus
Two more stunning standouts were Sarracenia leucophylla 'Tamok', a carnivorous pitcher plant that was in bloom while we were there. Another plant that rewarded our visit with a floral display was Calycanthus floridus. This particular plant had the sweet scent of vanilla crossed with peach.

What Blooms in mid-May?

Peony 'Joker' in tight bud stage
If I could, I’d have kissed them all goodbye before leaving. Mid-May isn’t the best time to go away on vacation. Blooms I’ve spent months anticipating are stepping up their pace. It’s the time of year when you can inspect your garden morning, noon and evening and see three stages of growth. Foxgloves are about to open, not to mention the peonies, or most of them anyway. ‘Joker’ is being stubborn and refusing to reach the “soft marshmallow” stage where I could cut some stems and refrigerate them for later.
Peony 'White Cap' might be finished by the time I get home. It's become one of my favorite fragrant peonies.

Peony 'White Cap'
In my defense, I didn’t know when I planned this vacation that we would have such an early spring. Everything is two to three weeks ahead of schedule—buds on the hydrangeas fattening up each day and lilies stretching toward their full height at a rapid pace.
Peony 'Coral Sunset' is one of the earliest to bloom and fades like no other peony in my garden. Beginning as a coral-colored bloom and opening nearly pink, it gradually changes to soft coral and then nearly pale yellow.

Peony 'Coral Sunset' (day 3 and 4)
 A little-used bulb with an interesting name blooms along with my peonies. Ixiolirion tataricum is an inexpensive bulb that is hardy and gorgeous. What's not to like?

It is available through High Country Gardens.

Thanks to Carol of May Dreams Gardens Blog for calling out for posts on the 15th of each month.

Ixiolirion tataricum

Coral-colored Flowers Look Great with Blue and Red

Peony 'Coral Sunset' (left) and 'Pink Hawaiian Coral'
Coral and all of its iterations from peach to salmon intrigue the heck out of me. But I've found that when it comes to combining them with other plants, it can come out looking like a fashion faux pas.

Pink steals the originality of the corals, and corals tend to ruin the innocence of the baby pink shades. They just don't play well together.

Peony 'Salmon Glory'
Peony 'Red Charm'
I planted two of the coral shades of peonies next to each other several years ago. Peony 'Pink Hawaiian Coral' has more pink in it, while 'Coral Sunset' has a drop more yellow. But if I'd included a baby pink peony in the mix, it would make me crazy until I could finally move it.

If I'd planted Peony 'Salmon Glory' near the corals, I'm not sure if I could live with it. It seems to have been imbued with the faintest hint of orange, but not enough so that you wouldn't call it pink on first glance.

So what goes with the coral brigade? True red mixes with everything, and the peony 'Red Charm' is one of the truest of red peonies. Another in the true red range is Helianthemum 'Hartswood Ruby', which I have planted at the feet of the coralish peonies. This Blooms of Bressingham introduction has happily cavorted in my raised bed for the past four years. All it requires is sun and a serious shearing after the first flush of blooms for it to keep returning.

Geranium 'Rozanne' with
Salvia 'May Night'
Allium 'His Excelency'
I love blue with coral, or more accurately, purple. When the early coral peonies are in bloom, so is Centaurea 'Amethyst Dream'. By the time Peony 'Salmon Glory' opens, the Salvias are blooming. 'May Night' is the first, opening around the same time as Geranium 'Rozanne', another blue-purple flower. Of course, I can no longer live without the large flowering onions, which bloom along with the mid-season peonies.

Centaurea 'Amethyst Dream'
I'd like to include two disclaimers:

1. I've always felt that pursuits like gardening should have few rules when it comes to aesthetics. After all, taste is a judgement call. So if you prefer to mix pink and coral, the color police aren't going to beat down your door. In some cases, it actually works.

2. When it comes to subtleties of colors and shades, photographs can be misleading. I'm no good at taking landscape shots that show how well certain plants go together so I take individual plant portraits. It's up to the imagination and a leap of faith to picture them as neighbors in your garden.

You Can Grow That: Oyama Magnolia

Fat, promising bud on March 31.
It’s exotic-looking but nowhere near as large as southern Magnolia, but Magnolia sieboldii certainly is something we don’t often see in the Midwest. We brought one home from South Carolina seven years ago and planted it in a spot we thought would be perfect—in partial shade with only morning sun. Its first summer, its leaves burned terribly no matter how much water we gave it. I chalked it up to youth and a limited root system. The following year I moved it to the edge of our oak woods where for the next several years it grew gangly but strongly in upward and outward directions.
Fully open but missing petals.

I discovered them on the last day of March—buds on several of the branches! We’d had such a mild winter and this was finally going to be the year it blooms, I thought. But then we had a couple of nights below freezing, and the more developed buds turned brown and most of the tree’s leaves became black and crispy.

All of the information I’ve found on Magnolia sieboldii, also called Oyama Magnolia, contests to the difficult placement of the plant, which is more of a gangly shrub than a tree. Scorched leaves are common in a sunny location, but it’s not a pretty sight in a small garden. The spot it’s in now is uncultivated woodland with soil rich and on the acid side.
A fresh flower showing a bit of its colorful center.
A promising bud in May.

In the woods, this Magnolia is unobtrusive, even in bloom. The novelty of getting it to bloom is exciting, especially in a Zone 5-6 garden. Is it worth the wait? I’ll answer that question next year when it blooms (or not). But for now as I post in this month's "You Can Grow That" series, I have to say I can't wait to see what happens next. And, for me, that's one of the best things about gardening.