Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Springtime Fragrance = Tulips Too!

Did you know some tulips have a fragrance? This I discovered a few years ago when I was perusing the Old House Gardens catalog. I ordered 'Prinses Irene' first. This variety might not be one of the oldest fragrant tulips, but it's one of my favorites. Introduced in 1949, its flower is subtle from a distance, but up close, it's like a Southwestern sunset. Its deep orange petals feature a bold purple freestyle streak at the center and edges that fade a bit to glowing peachy-gold. 
Inside a slightly differently-colored 'Prinses Irene'.
I found an ideal place for tulips up close to the house in a raised bed partially sheltered by deep eaves that prevent rain from dousing the soil nearest the house. Since tulips like to be left alone in the summer, they seem to be happy here where I haven't planted much for summer color. 
Tulip 'Generaal de Wet'
I bought and planted two more varieties last fall: 'Generaal de Wet' and 'Orange Favorite'. In the single early category of tulips, 'Generaal de Wet' (introduced in 1904) also is of the orange persuasion. But orange isn't enough to describe the color of this tulip. It starts out pale - more of a peach than orange, but just as fragrant as 'Prinses Irene'. As I went in for a sniff I was rewarded by the sight of delicate striations of shades belonging to the peach family. It's as if a brush laden with coral, salmon and the palest apricot were drawn in an outward motion from the center of each petal to its edge.
The last variety, a late parrot tulip, will hopefully come up when the others have faded. It's rare to find flowers both beautiful and fragrant. Even half a dozen fragrant tulips planted close at hand (or nose) is well worth enjoying in April.




Friday, April 25, 2014

Succulents Simplified Leads me to Temptation

Who doesn't love succulents? Perky, colorful, cute and compact--most make me want to just pick them up and hug them. Which I often do, after I get them home at least. But eventually, due to light limitations during the winter, they turn into sad and spindly shadows of their former selves.

But now I have a plant light, so once again I'll be putting together a succulent dish. The hardest part will be deciding which ones to gather out of the hundreds of varieties available. I'm already planning a trip to Ted's Greenhouse, which houses Ted's wonderful cacti and succulent selection, where you can find all sorts of treasures.

And I now have a wonderful guide to the selection, design and care of succulent/cacti planters in Debra Lee Baldwin's Succulents Simplified.

I love the look of mixed containers of succulents, and few people do it better than Baldwin. She is the author of two other titles on the subject: Designing with Succulents and Succulent Container Gardens.

What Baldwin does in her latest book is to showcase many possibilities along with suggestions for the easiest plants to grow. Succulents are increasingly easy to find, as many growers are capitalizing on their popularity. From adorably chubby Sedums to spiky Haworthias and elegant Echeverias, you're bound to find a batch at your local garden center.

It's hard not to page through the whole book, going from one gorgeous photo to the next. I'd definitely rate Succulents Simplified as eye candy, but of a type that's good for you as well. So let's see... Should I create a hanging basket of succulents like the one in Baldwin's book?  The gorgeous grouping of plants with names like paddle plant, kitten paws and burro tail make it sound as colorful as it looks. In addition to the ingredient list of plants with their botanical names, supplies like an artist's brush to sweep away debris from the plants after finishing to chopsticks and plastic spoons, this book makes it look easy.

After looking through the book and reading Baldwin's tips, I see that I haven't been packing the plants together tightly enough to create the look I'd like. 

I found some gorgeous bowls of succulents last summer at C. Raker & Sons, a leading wholesaler of plants in North America. 

Anyway, I fell in love with these colorful mixtures of simple succulents--easily found Sedum, Echeveria and Crassula.
Although the ingredients in these succulent dishes weren't listed, a quick look through Baldwin's book made it easy to glean an approximation of their identities.

Succulents Simplified brings together a primer on the most common but not less colorful varieties, their habits, and how to mix them with others of similar cultural requirements.

Baldwin has broken it down to ten steps to a lush and lovely container garden. And then she shows you how to take the steps. I can't wait to get started.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Deer Sends Dear Human Letter

Imagine if you woke up and found someone had sprinkled Hershey Kisses all over your living room. What would you do? Well, if you like chocolate, you'd eat them!

I'm a deer. Sure, we're known to oversimplify. That's why I'm having trouble making some sense out of these plants you put in your yard. Especially tulips. We deer LOVE tulips. They should be eaten just when the flower bud starts to emerge from the leaves. That's when they're at their best, is what my mother taught me.

So here's my question: What kind of sadistic idiot puts my favorite spring snack right where I can get it and then puts wire around half of them!!??!! If there was wire around all of the tulips, I'd just be on my way. There are some tasty Rhodo buds here in the woods, after all. But to lure me into the zone of the two-legged enemy and then close down the buffet is just cruel!

Humans say deer are getting smarter. Well, duh! You create all of these interesting obstacles just so that we can test ourselves. When we get together (in your woods!) we laugh about how a garden filled with beautiful plants partially covered by different barriers is the deer version of a Rubik's Cube. 

So from my perspective, what's blooming on Garden Bloggers Bloom Day? Not the tulips.

For more from people the world over about what's blooming in their garden, head over to May Dreams Gardens. I hear it's a virtual feast!


Meyer Lemon Obsession

I was doomed the first time I saw them at the supermarket - Meyer lemons, six to a bag, and as fresh as any lemon could be in northwest Indiana in March. I had a Meyer lemon plant for several years, and it produced approximately two lemons before it died. Now I could have them without the pain of trying to grow them.
Just one of the best things about the Meyer lemon is its story (on NPR by Julie O'Hara). The Meyer lemon was named after the explorer who brought it from China to the U.S. Frank Meyer, who worked for the USDA, brought back a sample of the plant in 1908.

Although its exact parentage is uncertain, it's thought to be a cross between a lemon and either an orange or a mandarin. Its claim to fame is its lack of acidity common to most lemons. With its very thin skin, smooth in texture unlike regular lemons, it doesn't ship well, so it's just now starting to find its way into supermarkets outside the citrus belt.

How appropriate it is that I received my first Microplane zester around the time I fell in love with lemons of all kinds, Meyers in particular. I'd been using the fine side of a four-sided cheese grater to zest lemons, always disappointed in the clumps of stuck together zest I ended up with. I had so much fun with my Microplane, I ended up zesting six Meyer lemons! I put it into small glass jars for freezing and, even frozen, I can easily scoop out a bit at a time.

I added about a tablespoon of the zest to an 8 oz. package of cream cheese and a cup of powdered sugar to make icing for the cupcakes.

I used a plain vanilla cupcake recipe but added some European candied lemon peel to it (about 1/4 cup), which gives it some nut-like bites with a mild lemon flavor. I cored the cupcakes and filled them with King Arthur Flour Lemon Curd, a creamy, custard-like product with a mild lemon taste. The cupcakes aren't sit-up-and-take-notice lemony, but they are definitely lemon. I think they'll be great for Easter brunch.





Friday, April 11, 2014

Colorful Surprises Lurk Beneath the Leaves

Hellebore 'Amber Gem'
The potential for springtime discoveries lure me into my garden. I keep a pretty good list of perennials I've planted, but still I'm surprised to find them. Helleborus 'Amber Gem' is one to see up close. And for that to happen requires me to get flat on my stomach with my camera lens facing nearly straight up. It's worth it. This Hellebore is among the Winter Jewels series, with this particular cultivar in the peach range. Although I wouldn't call this flower peach, it's definitely a double, and it's certainly gorgeous.

'Amber Gem' is new in my garden, planted just last year, so it hasn't really settled in, perhaps a reason for its flower color.

Bergenia cilliata
Another newcomer to my garden is Bergenia cilliata which I ordered from Sequim Rare Plants. They send a nice big plant, and this one took to very well and quickly to its new location when I planted it last June.

The blossoms on this plant are forming quite low to the ground, as are its leaves. This is where the gentle shrub rake comes in handy to brush aside remaining oak leaves still on the ground.


I don't remember when I got tired of re-planting daffodils and chucked these in a box before tossing it into the woods. My garden came with some daffodils and I planted more over the years. And each fall when I add  things like peonies or lilies, I try to remove the daffodil bulbs and put them in other places in my garden. Sometimes there are just too many to deal with. I've given them away by the bucket-full, but still I have more. We'll see if these will bloom or not.

Whenever I see the tiny crocuses bloom, adding bright spots of color in an otherwise drab landscape, I promise myself I'll plant more. And I do. But obviously not enough to really make the impact I'd like.

One of the bulbs that HAS made an impact and seem to be deer-resistant are Scilla mischtschenkoana from Brent and Becky's Bulbs. It's quite a mouthful, and so is also referred to as early squill.

I have a very hard time telling it from the Puschkinia scilloides I also planted, but solved the conundrum by looking at my garden journal. I only planted 10 Puschkinia and 60 of the Scilla.
Scilla mischtschenkoana

Scilla mischtschenkoana


Scilla is on the left; Puschkinia on the right. I'm sure this time.


Thursday, April 10, 2014

Dual-purpose Plants

Remember in the movie "What About Bob?" when Bill Murray's character faked a mental illness and then said, "If you can fake it, you don't have it."?

There is a lot less truth to the premise that if you deny it you don't have it. I've always denied the dried flower obsession that has taken hold of me. I blame my dry sauna, the perfect place, even without turning it on, to dry flowers hung along a shower rod running the length of the cedar bench. If obsession is defined as the repetition of an activity that has no purpose, I apparently have one. This particular obsession involves choosing flowers for their ability to look good when dried so they can sit around in vases throughout the house to collect dust.

I always have such high hopes for original and gorgeous arrangements for the winter holidays, but those ideas have yet to be realized. Well, maybe this year...

I've started an Amaranth called
'Oeschbert'  from Select Seeds. Seven plants are growing like crazy in the AeroGarden, having been started about four weeks ago. I'm keeping it at just seven so I won't run out of space for dried flowers like I usually do. This Amaranthus is said to bloom 10 weeks from sowing, so by mid to late May, I'll have deep burgundy flowers on stems reaching around 3-4 feet tall.

I never did like the bedding-height cockscomb with the crested heads topping out eight-inch plants. But I'm thinking I'll like Celosia 'Cramer's Burgundy', also from Select Seeds. This Celosia grows from two to three feet-tall, with flowers that beg to be cut and dried.

I think these plants will likely be relegated to the new raised bed that currently is host to new sun-lovers until and if I move them someplace else. And since I plan to harvest the flowers, they won't be center stage.

Oh, and I have no idea what I'll do with the harvest. Ideas, once they're dried, are very welcome. (Please provide instructions.)

Sunday, April 6, 2014

In Search of the Big Blue Flower

I'd call this a light violet blue on Hydrangea 'Let's Dance Starlight'
Here in the Midwest, we have a terrible case of Hydrangea Envy. It was blunted somewhat when 'Endless Summer' came out, and further alleviated over the past several years with the procession of improved reblooming cultivars. Now there are doubles, bi-colors, and flowers that age to shades  only found in the gowns of the Dowager Countess of Downton Abby.

Clematis 'Blue Angel'




Siberian Iris 'Baby Sister' is what I'd consider blue.
In my neck of the Midwest, we mostly have pink flowers on our hydrangeas. If the soil is a bit acidic instead of the more typical alkaline, and there is aluminum present, flowers will be pale blue or a slightly deeper purple. We don't get sapphire blue, or even a denim blue, unless that denim is very, very faded.
Agapanthus or African lily flowers are very blue.
Not that there is anything wrong, or even unsightly about the blue achieved in Midwestern Hydrangeas. In my garden, blue - any shade of blue - is very welcome.

Experts say true blue is rare in the horticultural world. What we often call blue is more correctly purple.

Sure, there are other flowers that provide a color very close to blue. But until the elusive blue rose is achieved, the largest, bluest flower in a Midwestern garden is the Hydrangea.

There are several cultivars of Siberian Iris that are blue, or at least the closest to blue a flower can get. Clematis also boasts a few nearly blue varieties.

I tried Agapanthus for the first time last summer. Planted in a pot, it seemed to take a long time to grow and even a longer time to open fully, but I officially want more. (Pause here for a one-hour online search.)

Geranium 'Azure Rush' with Veronica 'Hocus Pocus'.
Geranium 'Rozanne' is often described as blue, and in some lights it is, but even when combined with chartreuse foliage, there is more red in it than a truer blue would allow. 

A sport of 'Rozanne', called 'Azure Rush' has lighter blue flowers than the award winning perennial. It is said to be more compact than 'Rozanne', but just as long-blooming.