Winter visits my piedmont landscape

Sunrise on the floodplain the day before frozen precipitation arrived.

Sunrise on the floodplain the day before frozen precipitation arrived.

You’ve probably been hearing about the Big Snow that came to the East Coast of the US over the last few days. My corner of piedmont, North Carolina only caught the merest edge of it. But when you catch the edge of such a storm, you often don’t get all snow, and that’s what happened to my area. My yard got two inches of sleet on January 22, followed by about a half inch of snow on January 23. Areas no more than 25 or 30 miles from me got freezing rain — lots of it. Some of those poor folks still don’t have their power back on yet. I know how miserable they are. It’s happened to us during previous ice events.

Northern Cardinals huddled in the winter hazel near the feeders as sleet falls.

Northern Cardinals and friends huddled in the winter hazel near the feeders as sleet fell.

Wonder Spouse and I were well prepared. The generator was hauled out and tested, extra food and water was acquired, cell phones were charged. And I put out extra suet and seed for the birds.

The sleet started early on the morning of January 22. I took occasional shots of wildlife activity through the windows of my warm living room while Wonder Spouse conducted business as usual from his home office.

Afternoon visitors

Afternoon visitors

About mid afternoon, a doe and her yearling stopped by the feeders to see what the birds might have knocked to the ground. They didn’t find much; hordes of white-throated sparrows had been cleaning up seed spills all day.

The doe did most of the scrounging while the yearling watched.

The doe did most of the scrounging while the yearling watched.

They soon jumped the fence and wandered back to the floodplain, heading for the swampy area where Atamasco lilies and Jack-in-the-Pulpits dreamed about next spring’s flowers.

Northern Cardinals remained at the feeders long after the deer left. And the sleet continued to fall.

Northern Cardinals remained at the feeders long after the deer left. And the sleet continued to fall.

On the morning of the 23rd, we woke to a warm house — a great relief, because the weather forecasters had promised we would get a coating of freezing rain before dawn. But they were wrong. When the sky brightened, we saw wind-whipped snow falling — sometimes heavily, often merely flurries.  After breakfast, Wonder Spouse refilled the bird feeders after we discovered that my boots were unable to grip the slick sleet-covered ground well enough to prevent falling.

January 23 snowfall brought even more birds to the feeders.

January 23 snowfall brought even more birds to the feeders.

I took all the photos during the two-day ice-fest from inside my living room, so they’re a bit less sharp than normal, but I think they convey a sense of what we were seeing.

January 23 snow flurries on our floodplain. The creek is on the left side of the photo.

January 23 snow flurries on our floodplain. The creek is on the left side of the photo.

Today we woke to cloudless blue skies, abundant sunshine, and light breezes. Sun reflecting on snow-covered sleet was blinding, but its potent warm was most welcome. Soon the gutters began to gurgle as melting snow trickled off the roof. Wonder Spouse and I spent most of the day shoveling heavy sleet off of decks and walkways. We were nearly done when we heard a loud thud. The solar panels on the roof heated up faster than the shingles, causing the sleet covering them to slide onto the deck below — the deck we had just finished cleaning.

All you can do is laugh.

All you can do is laugh.

The good news is the panels were able to start generating power again today.

Fortunately, we weren't standing where the solar panel avalanche landed.

Fortunately, we weren’t standing where the solar panel avalanche landed.

When we were reasonably sure the panels were done shedding ice, Wonder Spouse cleared the deck — again — while I tried to walk around the yard to take pictures. I managed to get a few, but the melting snow on top of the solid two inches of sleet was too slippery for me to negotiate any inclines, so my shots were limited.

I liked the way the ice melted first on the south-facing sides of the boulders. That's Prunus mume 'Peggy Clarke' (junior) with the ice-killed pink flowers.

I liked the way the ice melted first on the south-facing sides of the boulders. That’s Prunus mume ‘Peggy Clarke’ (junior) with the ice-killed pink flowers.

From the top of the hill on the north side of our yard, I managed to capture the dawn redwood highlighted by a sun already sinking toward the western horizon.

The trunk of the dawn redwood flutes out at the base similarly to the way bald cypresses expand at their bases.

The trunk of the dawn redwood flutes out at the base similarly to the way bald cypresses expand at their bases.

All the plants that bloomed prematurely during our absurdly warm December have paid for their misplaced enthusiasm, as evidenced by the earliest flowers on my Magnolia stellata ‘Royal Star.’

Fortunately, not all the flower buds were precocious bloomers. And, yes, the sky really was this blue today.

Fortunately, not all the flower buds were precocious bloomers. And, yes, the sky really was this blue today.

I couldn’t get down to the floodplain without sliding down the hill, and I wasn’t sure I could get back up the hill if I did slide down. So I settled for this more distant shot.

The lone green-leaved plant in the middle is a Red Bay (Persea borbonia) that I added years ago. Technically, it's  native to the coastal plain, but it has been there now for at least 15 years.

The lone green-leaved plant in the middle is a Red Bay (Persea borbonia) that I added years ago. Technically, it’s native to the coastal plain, but it has been there now for at least 15 years.

The moon rose this evening still nearly full and very bright as temperatures plummeted on an ice-covered landscape. When it first topped the ridge to our east, it was edged by almost autumnal colors. I was too lazy to grab the tripod, so the shot is fuzzy. Thus, I end this icy tale with a bright blur, which somehow feels right after a day filled with shoveling, and a promise of sore muscles on the morrow.

A blurry ice moon to close out a wintry weekend.

A blurry ice moon to close out a wintry weekend.

 

 

 

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2015 Review of Renee’s Garden Seeds: Part II

Dianthus 'Lace Perfume'

Dianthus ‘Lace Perfume’

As I promised in my post yesterday, here are the results for the other varieties from Renee’s Seeds that I tried this year. These varieties were less successful in my southeastern piedmont garden than the ones I described in my previous post.

Grade B

Dianthus ‘Lace Perfume’ — B

Dianthus 'Lace Perfume'

Dianthus ‘Lace Perfume’

I think perennial dianthus varieties are lovely, but in my garden, they only seem to be happy in early spring and late fall, when temperatures are cooler. I’ve had one variety — name long forgotten — that I always forget about until it pushes up bright green growth in early spring, followed by some lovely petite pink blooms. The description for Lace Perfume was so evocative that I tried it.

Dianthus 'Lace Perfume'

Dianthus ‘Lace Perfume’

I sowed these seeds quite early in the greenhouse. They germinated well and grew into sturdy little plants that I transplanted into two different beds. Some went into the bed beside my front walkway, and the rest went into the bed in my vegetable area, where I also planted the digitalis and rudbeckia trial varieties for 2015.

As with the zinnia variety I described in the previous post, I was disappointed that this supposed mix — described as producing flowers “in rose, lilac, soft pink, white, and many delicate bicolors” — did not yield the promised color diversity. I got pinks and mauves in a bicolor format.

Dianthus 'Lace Perfume'

Dianthus ‘Lace Perfume’

But I would have been content with these colors if the variety had delivered the other big promise described on the seed packet: “A new, highly fragrant dianthus…with a heady, spicy/sweet clove-like fragrance that wafts seductively in the air.” There was no wafting in my garden. Even when I put my nose on top of a bloom, I smelled a whole lot of nothing. After such a build-up on the packet, I was disappointed.

Despite these disappointments, this is a very cool-looking flower that drew inquiries from any visitor who saw it in bloom. But my southeastern piedmont climate is just not what these flowers need. We get too hot too quickly, we stay that way a long time, and we generally have either too much or not enough rain.

My test plants agreed. They bloomed freely and looked lovely until mid-May, when the weather turned hot and dry. I watered them to keep them alive, but the heat caused them to stop blooming. When the weather cooled in the fall, they began blooming again. Then the deluges of December hit us. Blooming stopped, and the plants looked increasingly ragged, but they didn’t melt into brown goop like their digitalis and rudbeckia test-mates.

Frost-damaged dianthus flower

Frost-damaged dianthus flower

Conclusion: My guess is that these plants will overwinter successfully and start growing in early spring. If they do return, I think it’s only fair to give them another chance in the new growing season. We all know perennials usually take three years to really start looking good. Maybe my first-year plants were so heat-stressed they just gave up on perfume production. I’m giving this variety a B, because I want it to deliver on its promised perfume. The flowers are quite striking and deserve another year to prove their worth.

Basil ‘Scented Trio’ — Grade B

Cinnamon Basil

Cinnamon Basil

Basil has many varieties, and I’d grow them all if I had room. The subtle differences in form, color, fragrance, and flavor are delightful. But when I order a seed packet of a single variety, I end up with way more seeds than I can use. So when I saw this variety listed, I was pleased, thinking that finally I could have some of each of these lovely aromatic basils without having to order them separately. The trio includes Cinnamon Basil, Mrs. Burn’s Lemon Basil, and Red Rubin Basil — a purple-leaved variety. All make fabulous additions to salads and even sweets, and all of them produce numerous flowers beloved by pollinators.

Seed germination was excellent, but variety representation was not. I ended up mostly with the lemon basil, which is lovely, but I would have preferred to have more cinnamon and purple basils among the seedlings that germinated. The lemon and cinnamon basil transplants thrived all summer. The purple basil transplants limped along with less enthusiasm, which was a shame, because nothing makes a bouquet of flowers pop like a few sprigs of purple basil.

Red Rubin Basil in foreground, Mrs. Burn's Lemon Basil in background

Red Rubin Basil in foreground, Mrs. Burn’s Lemon Basil in background

Conclusion: This mix gets a B, because of the uneven representation of seedlings it produced. One way Renee’s Seeds could avoid this issue would be to enclose each variety in its own little packet within the bigger Scented Trio seed packet. I would still receive a smaller number of each variety, and I could better manage their germination/seedling process. And perhaps they could consider replacing Red Rubin with another, more vigorous purple-leaved variety; other better options do exist.

Dill ‘Dukut’ — B

I love dill. We use it in many dishes throughout the year. I decided to try this variety because it was described as “especially sweet-tasting.” I grew it beside another variety I acquired elsewhere. That other variety was noted for its vigorous growth of foliage. Dukut got left in the dust by the other variety. It grew OK, I guess, but not vigorously, and the leaves didn’t taste any sweeter to my palate.

Conclusion: There’s nothing egregiously wrong with this variety, which is why I gave it a B. But I don’t think I’d grow it again, because I need a more productive variety to satisfy our dill cooking needs. I have no photo of this variety. Sorry about that, but dill plants look pretty much the same to me.

Daisy ‘Chocolate’ — C

Who can resist a flower described as having “a tantalizing chocolate scent that perfumes the sunshine with a continuous show of deliciously fragrant butter-yellow little blossoms?” I know I couldn’t. This is apparently a wildflower out west (Renee’s Seeds is in California), and is advertised as deer-resistant. I didn’t test that, because I transplanted my greenhouse-started seedlings into the trial bed within my enclosed vegetable garden, mostly because it was the only spot I had left.

It took this small-flowered perennial a long time to bloom, and the flowers are tiny. As soon as the first one opened, I was down on the ground trying to catch a whiff of its advertised chocolate scent. For about six weeks, I thought the packet spiel had misrepresented this flower. But one really hot summer day in late June/early July, I was in the vegetable garden tying tomatoes when I suddenly got a whiff of dessert — chocolate dessert — maybe dark chocolate brownies, or a decadent fudge — something with a whole lot of yummy chocolate fragrance. Sure enough, these little yellow flowers must have needed a hot, dry spell to persuade them to unleash their super power — chocolate!

Daisy 'Chocolate'

Daisy ‘Chocolate’

Conclusion: This variety gets a C. The plants were unimpressive, the flowers were short-lived, and the fragrance only appeared on hot, dry days. I’m thinking this California wildflower can’t handle the humid climate and intermittent downpours that my southeastern piedmont garden offers. The December deluge seems to have melted these plants into nothingness, but as with the other test perennials, I’ll wait until next spring to see if they re-sprout.

Sage ‘Italian Aromatic’ — D

Sage 'Italian Aromatic' in late May

Sage ‘Italian Aromatic’ in late May

Advertised as “an improved culinary selection” discovered in Italy, I was curious to see how this variety would compare with the culinary sage in my garden that has persisted about ten years through all kinds of weather. The newcomer was no match for my old faithful plant.

Sage 'Italian Aromatic' leaves in November

Sage ‘Italian Aromatic’ leaves in November

It germinated well and produced vigorous seedlings, which I transplanted into the far end of my chive bed, which was empty. The plants grew strongly and well until about September. As humidity grew and rain became frequent, this new variety contracted a fungal disease and began dropping leaves. By the time the December deluge hit, it was barely alive. It did not survive. My old reliable sage plant is still plugging along.

My old reliable sage in November

My old reliable sage in November

Conclusion: I gave this one a D because it did well for a while, but it is clearly not adapted to my growing conditions. As for its supposed superior flavor, blind taste tests between my old plant and this variety yielded no significant differences. The leaves on this variety were more narrow than those on my old plant, but the fragrance and taste were pretty much identical.

Cerinthe ‘Pride of Gibralter’ — F

I will grow anything once. You never know until you try whether a strange-sounding plant might just be the coolest one you’ve ever grown. So when I read the description for this variety, I was intrigued: In vogue in plant lover’s circles, this fascinating annual’s indigo-violet flowers dangle gracefully from bronzy-blue bracts above succulent rounded leaves.

Sounds interesting, yes? Maybe in California. In my garden, the stems grew tall, the bluish-green leaves covered the stems, and the flowers never looked like the ones in the pictures on the web site. In those pictures, the flowers are large enough to extend beyond the leaves they emerge from, and the purple color contrasts well with the leaf color. The plants in those photos are unusual-looking, but in an interesting way. Mine were so ugly I yanked them out and tossed them in July.

The first flower buds appeared in mid-June, but they never managed to open and extend the way the catalog photos showed.

The first flower buds appeared in mid-June, but they never managed to open and extend the way the catalog photos showed.

Conclusion: Nothing ventured, nothing gained, as the saying goes. But in this case, absolutely nothing was gained. This variety earned the only F in my trial of Renee’s Garden seeds.

Noteworthy Varieties from Previous Trials

Two Renee’s varieties with staying power deserve a brief mention here.

Salvia ‘Coral Nymph’

A close-up of flowers of Salvia 'Coral Nymph'

A close-up of flowers of Salvia ‘Coral Nymph’

I wrote about this in last year’s review of varieties from Renee’s Seeds. This gorgeous annual self-sowed itself all over my front garden. When seedlings popped up in suboptimal spots, it was easy to simply dig them up and relocate them. Myriad insects of all sizes adore the flowers, and so do I. As is true of most salvias, this variety seems to thrive despite our erratic weather patterns.

Dahlia ‘Watercolor Silks’

dahlia

I also grew this perennial from seed from Renee’s Garden last year. The mixed colors of this variety were lovely, and the seed packet describes it as a “perennial grown as an annual,” which befuddled me. So last year when frost killed them to the ground, I dug up the fat tubers the plants had produced, and stored them in plastic bags filled with vermiculite in my garage.

First open dahlia bloom

By spring, all the tubers had sprouted, so I re-planted them. In doing so, I discovered that I must have missed a tuber, because it was sprouting in the spot where it had overwintered. All the plants grew strongly in the spring and bloomed well, but the wet fall weather created fungus problems for them. I decided to let frost kill them, then let them overwinter in the beds where they had grown.

bumble on dahlia

But that was before I knew it was going to rain all of December. I kind of doubt the tubers will return for another year, but if they do, I’ll certainly write about it.

tiger on dahlia

Pollinators love these dahlias, and so do I. They’re a nice size — suitable for smaller spots.

This concludes my review of my 2015 trials of seeds from Renee’s Garden. Now I can turn to my pile of 2016 catalogs with a clear conscience — and just in time for a round of seriously cold weather that encourages indoor garden contemplation.

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2015 Review of Renee’s Garden Seeds: Part I

Rudbeckia 'Cappuccino'

Rudbeckia ‘Cappuccino’

With apologies for tardiness, here are my thoughts about the free seeds from Renee’s Garden that I trialed this year. As those of you who have been reading my blog for a year or two may recall, every year, Renee’s Garden offers up to 15 free seed packets to members of the Garden Writers Association in the hopes, I imagine, that we will write about the seeds we try. I know that I feel obliged every year to write up how my Renee’s Seeds samples fared. I had hoped to squeak in my review before last year slipped entirely away, but I know most folks haven’t ordered their seeds yet, so you’ll still have time to ponder my results here.

Zinnia 'BluePoint Florist' mix

Zinnia ‘Blue Point’ mix

I ordered 11 seed packets, and received an additional sample in a promotional mailing sent out by this company, so I tried 12 seed varieties this year ranging from perennials to annuals to herbs to a vegetable. I’ve assigned grades ranging from A to F to this year’s seeds, but many more high grades than low ones. This post describes all the varieties that earned an A from me.

Grade A

Kale ‘Tuscan Baby Leaf’ — A

baby kale seedlings

This was the freebie seed packet sent with a promotional mailing. Described as a cut-and-come-again salad baby kale, I had to try it, and it has not disappointed. I first tried it with the spring garden greens and loved it then. For that round, I started seedlings in the greenhouse and transplanted them out when the weather had settled. They produced well and were delicious, but they bolted sooner than many of the other spring greens.

However, when copious autumn rains began to fall, I decided to plant a small fall vegetable garden of broccoli and salad greens. I direct-sowed all the greens, using the same packets of seeds from the spring. All germinated enthusiastically, including this baby leaf kale. When our autumn temperatures turned absurdly warm, I was able to protect these crops through minor dips in temperatures by covering them with a tent of spun garden fabric. At this point, after something like 8 inches of rain during the month of December, the salad greens are mostly mush — except for this kale, which continues to happily grow and produce. I’m guessing that the prolonged cold forecast for January will finally end this delicious, tender, productive vegetable, but I’ll let you know.

Conclusion: I must give this variety an A for prolonged, delicious productivity, but with the caveat that my region experienced an extraordinary fall growing season. As a spring green, its productive life was too short to be worth the space it occupied.

Foxglove ‘Freckled Rose Princess’ — A-minus

The flowers lived up to their name.

The flowers lived up to their name.

I like foxgloves. I think they provide elegance to a flower garden, and the ones I’ve grown usually bloom for quite a while. Pollinators of many persuasions like them, and because they are poisonous, deer and rabbits don’t touch them. They aren’t native, but the ones I grow have never demonstrated any invasive tendencies. This variety sounded lovely, so I figured I’d try them.

I sowed the seeds in the greenhouse. They weren’t the fastest germinators, but they came up reasonably strongly. I managed to grow about 8 or 10 plants to transplant size, then planted them in their permanent bed at one end of my enclosed vegetable area. This bed is a trial bed for plants I’m testing.

Basal rosette of leaves in early November

Basal rosette of leaves in early November

A late spring-early summer drought required me to water the new foxglove plants attentively. By doing so, I was rewarded with a number of bloom stalks that showed off rosy bells for about six weeks. When the flowers were done, I removed the stalks. About that time, the rains returned enough to encourage lush growth in the basal rosettes.

Digitalis in mid-November

Foxgloves in mid-November

I was looking forward to a 2016 mid spring full of foxglove flowers until one of the wettest, warmest Decembers ever recorded hit my region. The last time I checked, most of the foxglove rosettes appear to have rotted into brown goop. I have a feeling they’re gone for good, but I’m going to wait to see if new growth emerges when spring returns.

Conclusion: This is a beautiful perennial that needs even moisture and perfect drainage to flourish. I’m not sure my gardening conditions meet this variety’s requirements. I’ll update you next spring. I’m giving this one an A-minus, because my December rains were more than many fussier perennials could probably handle.

Parsley ‘Gigante Italian’ — A+

Greenhouse-started seedlings

Greenhouse-started seedlings

All parsleys are biennials, meaning they grow vegetatively through the first year, then produce seeds the following spring, after which the plants die. I started my parsley seeds in the greenhouse and got abundant, nearly instantaneous germination. I ended up with about a dozen vigorous seedlings that grew rapidly and well. I gave away a few plants to friends and transplanted the rest in open areas of my bed of chives, where they flourished.

Chives and flourishing recently transplanted parsley plants in mid spring

Chives and flourishing recently transplanted parsley plants in mid spring

I harvested parsley leaves all spring, summer, and fall. This large, flat-leaved Italian variety enhanced salads, sauces, and many other savory dishes. About September, the plants surprised me by sending up flower stalks, which I had not been expecting until the next spring. I responded by cutting off the stalks before the flowers opened, in the hopes of prolonging their productivity. The tactic seemed to work, because the plants are still alive. This is one of the few herbs (chives being the other) that didn’t seem to mind the deluges of December.

Still tasty, thanks to a record mild December

Still tasty, thanks to a record mild December

Conclusion: I’ll be growing this variety again. Santa brought me a food dehydrator, so that I can dry and preserve the abundant tasty leaves of wonderful herbs like this one.

Basil, Thai ‘Queenette’ — A

Thai Basil

Renee’s Garden imports the seeds of this variety directly from Thailand, and I can attest that this is the very best Thai basil I’ve ever grown. Greenhouse-started seeds germinated well and produced strong, well-branched plants. This annual herb was powerfully fragrant and flowered constantly, attracting a great diversity of pollinators, including many of the smaller, solitary bees and wasps so important to a healthy garden.

Queenette flowers

Queenette flowers

I don’t cook much with this herb, but many folks do, and I know it is used in teas too. I grow it mostly as a companion plant for my vegetables, because it attracts beneficial insects, and I think its strong fragrance confuses some pest insects. My plants flourished with almost no supplemental water during the dry early summer. And later autumn rains didn’t bother them either.

Queenette plants in mid-July

Queenette plants in mid-July

The flower stalks make great additions to bouquets, and I used them often that way all growing season.

It is very frost-sensitive.

It is very frost-sensitive.

Conclusion: This is a wonderful summer annual herb that adds fragrance and insect appeal to any garden. I would happily grow it again, despite the fact that the faintest of frosts kills it completely — well before even other basil varieties surrender. This variety gets a solid A.

Zinnia ‘Blue Point’ mix — A-minus

Color representation was heavily weighted toward the pink shades

Color representation was heavily weighted toward the pink shades

I try a different zinnia variety from Renee’s Garden every year. Sometimes I’ve been wowed, sometimes disappointed; this year fell somewhere in between. In the past when I’ve tried a mix, I’ve been pleased by the relatively even color balance that resulted from the greenhouse-started seedlings I transplant into my garden. But this annual variety yielded more pink shades by far. They were nice enough, but I like to use zinnias for bouquets full of color. This year required more monochromatic bouquet construction.

One of the few whites from this trial.

One of the few whites from this trial.

The plants grew tall — about 5 feet or so, and the rains of autumn plagued the leaves with fungus. But for much of the summer, they looked pretty good.

Zinnia bed in June. Note the abundance of pink flowers in this "mix."

Zinnia bed in June. Note the abundance of pink flowers in this “mix.”

Still, zinnias are annual flowers I will always include. They are easy to grow, make great cut flowers, and draw a diversity of pollinators to the garden. Every piedmont gardener with four or more hours of sunshine on a flowerbed should grow zinnias.

Great Spangled Fritillary enjoying a Blue Point zinnia

Great Spangled Fritillary enjoying a Blue Point zinnia

Conclusion: I might try this variety again, but if I get another uneven color mixture of plants, I’d discard this zinnia option permanently. I’m giving it a provisional A-minus, based on the hope that future mixes would yield more color variety.

Rudbeckia ‘Capuccino’

Flowers on a single plant in mid-July!

Flowers on a single plant in mid-July!

What a gorgeous perennial this turned out to be. I had tried this the year before, but only got a couple of weak plants started in the greenhouse that never took off when I transplanted them. I had better success on my second try. I still had germination problems. More than half the seeds didn’t germinate for me in the greenhouse. This is very unusual. I almost always get excellent germination from any seed — perennial, annual, vegetable, etc. — that I start in my greenhouse. But the plants that did come up grew vigorously. I was able to transplant out four very healthy plants.

All the pollinators loved these flowers.

All the pollinators loved these flowers.

Floriferous is the word that best describes their productivity. During June and July, the two plants that survived vole and drought challenges bloomed copiously and constantly. I imagine they would make great cut flowers, but I couldn’t bring myself to cut any, because the pollinators were addicted to them — and they looked so gosh-darned fabulous in the garden.

I liked the way the flower patterns and colors varied.

I liked the way the flower patterns and colors varied.

I was very hopeful that these plants would survive the winter and return for a new growing season. After all, the native rudbeckias have no trouble with this. But like the foxgloves, my Capuccinos did not fare well during the warm, absurdly wet December my area experienced. The vigorous basal rosettes present in November seem to have melted into mush. Like the foxgloves, I will not dig up where I planted them until the new growing season begins. If I don’t see signs of resprouting then, I’ll know they drowned.

I liked the way the petals of new flowers un-rolled themselves in the sunshine.

I liked the way the petals of new flowers un-folded themselves in the sunshine.

Conclusion: As much as I want to give this variety an A+ for its wow factor, its weak germination combined with its apparent inability to handle wet soil mean I must give it a provisional A-minus. If it comes back next spring, I reserve the right to revise the grade upward.

Red Admiral on dahlia6

That concludes my description of the varieties that earned A grades in my garden. In my next post, I’ll describe the varieties that didn’t perform quite as well for me, along with a couple of varieties from previous years that continue to do well.

Here’s hoping the new gardening season will bring us optimal growing conditions. We could all use a break from droughts and deluges.

 

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“I’m so confused!”

Magnolia stellata 'Royal Star' -- blooming today!

Magnolia stellata ‘Royal Star’ — blooming today!

I’m a fan of the 1987 romantic comedy Moonstruck. It is full of fine actors having a wonderful time. Many great lines from this movie are permanently implanted in my brain, including the one in this title, stated tearfully by the actor playing Cher’s grandfather, who is deeply befuddled by the goings-on in his household at that moment. Deeply befuddled is exactly how I feel these days as I wander around my little corner of southeastern piedmont.

January Jasmine in foreground with Prunus mume 'Peggy Clarke' (senior) in the background

January Jasmine in foreground with Prunus mume ‘Peggy Clarke’ (senior) in the background

Multiple species of frogs chorus lustily. Wonder Spouse had to gently relocate an enormous toad from the middle of our driveway this morning. The green anoles are scampering around the front garden chasing insects and each other. Robins and Carolina Wrens are beginning to trill mating calls. And the plants — I am so confused — and so are they!

How I wish you could smell the sweet cinnamon-tinged perfume of Peggy Clarke Senior.

I wish you could smell the sweet cinnamon-tinged perfume of Peggy Clarke Senior — pure heaven!

I have recently written about most of the blooming plants in this post, but I was shocked — shocked, I say — by the opening flowers of the Royal Star magnolia. Granted, this is an early bloomer, but the earliest I’ve ever seen it open in my yard is the third week in February.

Just a few flowers of this magnolia are fully open, but many of the buds are breaking, revealing hints of white petals within.

Just a few flowers of this magnolia are fully open, but many of the buds are breaking, revealing hints of white petals within.

We haven’t seen an actual sunny day in my yard in at least two weeks. It may have been three. Frankly, it’s gone on so long, I’ve lost track (I would not survive Seattle weather for long.) The humid, warm air holds the perfume of the blooming Prunus mume trees close to the ground. When we step out any door of our house, we are greeted by their wondrous fragrances.

The great down side, of course, is that P. mume 'Peggy Clarke' (senior) has very few unopened buds left.

The great down side, of course, is that P. mume ‘Peggy Clarke’ (senior) has very few unopened buds left.

But the mood lift I get from these bouts of aroma therapy are tempered by the knowledge that this is most of what I’ll see and smell from these plants for the rest of the winter. In past years, the flowering apricots doled out their flowers judiciously during the brief warm spells that usually punctuate our winter season. But this December’s insanely mild weather has caused them to abandon caution and open all their flowers simultaneously. It is gloriously reckless, breathtakingly lovely, and deeply confusing.

The pink-flowering P. mume that always opens first has no buds left to open.

The pink-flowering P. mume that always opens first has no buds left to open.

Of my three flowering apricot trees, only one has not opened the majority of its buds yet. I think it is sited in a slightly cooler spot, which slowed its enthusiasm just a bit. It is my hope that P. mume ‘Peggy Clarke’ (junior) will be able to protect a fair number of flower buds for later blooming spells as winter progresses.

P. mume 'Peggy Clarke' (junior)

P. mume ‘Peggy Clarke’ (junior)

Peggy Junior’s flowers are much pinker than the rose-colored blooms of Peggy Senior, and they lack the cinnamon undertone to their perfume, but they are still very lovely.

Raindrops don't dry in the perpetual humidity, but they only enhance this close-up of the flowers of Peggy Clarke Junior.

Raindrops don’t dry in the perpetual humidity, but they only enhance this close-up of the flowers of Peggy Clarke Junior.

As you might expect, mushrooms/toadstools/lichens are all flourishing in this un-wintry landscape. I like the serrated edges on this grouping of fungi.

Fungi abound in this soggy landscape.

Fungi abound in this soggy landscape.

My witch hazel ‘Amethyst’ hasn’t opened much more, probably because we’ve had no sunlight to encourage it. Still, it was pretty enough this morning for another shot.

Witch hazel 'Amethyst'

Witch hazel ‘Amethyst’

The biggest surprise of the day was a blooming stalk of native columbine. The flowers are pale — either the result of a genetic mutation or perhaps the near-total absence of sunlight, but the flower at the top of the stalk was open. The earliest columbines normally bloom in my yard is March.

This precocious columbine was sheltering a slender spider. The arachnid clan has been much in evidence during this confusing bout of weather.

This precocious columbine was sheltering a slender spider. The arachnid clan has been much in evidence during this confusing bout of weather.

It has rained every day for at least a short while for most of December — or at least that’s how it feels to me. Yesterday, a line of showers came through just before sunset. As they headed east, the tall canopy trees on the eastern side of our yard were illuminated beautifully by the rays of the setting sun, which appeared just in time to disappear.

At least these trees towering over my home look as if they belong in a winter landscape.

At least these trees towering over my home look as if they belong in a winter landscape.

The moral of this confusing tale — if there is one — is to appreciate the precocious bloomers now, for their moment is nearly past. Seasonable winter temperatures — with actual sunshine — are predicted to return for a prolonged stay beginning New Year’s Day. I’m hoping that’s a sign that 2016 will be a more orderly, predictable year — hey, I can dream, can’t I?

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Christmas in Mudland

fp5

Merry Christmas to my loyal group of readers. I hope you know how much I appreciate you for taking time to read and comment on my little posts. Wonder Spouse and I spent a quiet day at home. But, of course, we couldn’t resist taking a closer look at our still-very-mucky floodplain. Wonder Spouse brought his shovel and rake to pull apart a few blockages in the creek in the hopes that the water level might drop a bit faster. I, of course, brought my camera to document our findings.

Floodplain Photos

I offer here a sampling of what it looks like on our floodplain, now that the creek has fully returned to its channel. Click on any image to see a larger version and any captions I may have added.

We saw a hint of sun just at sunrise. The colors were lovely, so I stepped out onto the deck to take a few photos. After only a couple of shots, it began to rain just enough to force me back inside. The colorful sunrise vanished behind thick gray clouds that never parted the rest of the day.  But the Christmas sunrise was photo-worthy.

sunrise2

Blooming on Christmas

Most of the flowers blooming today were not that far ahead of their usual winter-blooming schedules, but one shrub did surprise me. Apologies for less-than-optimal shots. The gray clouds offered inadequate illumination.

Textures in the Landscape

Perhaps it was the cloudy day and the desolate, muck-covered landscape that made me notice rich textures everywhere I wandered. Here a just a few that drew my eye today.

 

A flock of about 30 Cedar Waxwings has been foraging in my yard and adjacent woodlands for about a week now. All the berry-covered deciduous hollies that adorned my floodplain and other areas are now denuded. No berry was left un-devoured. The native evergreen Ilex opaca trees still retain most of their berries. Either they don’t taste as good, or perhaps the prickly leaves make that species a food of last resort. Whatever the reason, they make a nice closing shot for this Christmas walkabout of my muddy corner of southeastern piedmont.

ilex

Merry Christmas!

 

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Holiday Flood 2015

About 1:00 p.m. Dec. 23

About 1:00 p.m. Dec. 23

That green patch on the left side of this photo? That’s an earthen bridge over a low spot. We use it to get the tractor onto the floodplain — during drier times, obviously. Yesterday, raging creek waters overflowed, cutting it off on both sides, cascading in roaring torrents, filling the air with a dank, heaviness that made it hard to breathe.

I walked just to the edge of the floodplain after the rains stopped for a different view.

I walked just to the edge of the floodplain after the rains stopped for a different view.

Today our temperatures are predicted to rise into the high 70s. This morning I stepped outside to take a few “after” shots. Birds are flying about trying to make sense of the altered landscape. A chorus of spring peepers is being tentatively joined by the calls of a few Southern Leopard Frogs. “Spring already?” they inquire.

Muddy water everywhere.

Muddy water everywhere.

I am fortunate in my little corner of southern piedmont. My house sits above this chaotic scene, so I remained safe and dry as raging waters claimed the eastern and southern sides of my five-acre yard. But what a lesson on the power of water.

What follows are a few “during” and “after” shots. I shot the “during” photos from my back deck while holding an umbrella. These were taken about noon yesterday. I took the “after” shots about an hour ago, also from the deck. I attempted to use the same angles as much as I could, so you can clearly see the transformations. Click on the side-by-side photos to see their captions.

A co-worker of Wonder Spouse saw a crayfish scuttling across their office parking lot yesterday. No doubt it was fleeing the rapidly rising waters of a nearby creek. I hope the wildlife that lived in my wetland made it to higher ground in time. Usually after a flood like this, crows and great blue herons patrol the muddy floodplain, devouring any creature unable to dodge the disaster. I can hear the crows talking outside my window as I type this. I suspect they are waiting for the creek to return fully to its channel before they venture onto the mud.

Where do the frogs hide when floods rage?

Where do the frogs hide when floods rage?

I know that I won’t be venturing out there for several days. Right now, the floodplain is quicksand. It will eat your boots and leave you scrambling for a way to pull yourself out. I’ll be waiting for the sun and drier days before I head out for a closer look. A line of thunderstorms is predicted to pass through here later today, and no real promise of full sun for at least a week.

Until then, I’ll watch from my windows as lichens covering branches grow lush, waiting for mud’s domination to recede with the creek waters.

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Welcome Winter (wherever you are)

Willow Oak in snow

Just before midnight tonight, the winter solstice will mark the astronomical onset of winter in my hemisphere of Earth. My region has barely experienced cold weather, much less snow, so far this “winter,” but tonight that season begins, so I welcome it with the above photo from a previous year.

For three seasons, my little corner of piedmont shelters beneath tall, leafy canopy trees that keep it cooler than surrounding open areas. But that closed green canopy also means I cannot see the sky above the treetops very clearly. Light is softened, muted by lush vegetation and thick humidity. But during the month approaching the winter solstice, and for a few months that follow it, light dominates the landscape with its presence — and its absence.

sunrise2

After prolonged, dark nights, pastel masterpieces usher in the sun as it reluctantly pulls itself above the horizon. But the sun seems to know this is not its season, for it soon rushes west, bringing early darkness. Prolonged winter nights dazzle us with stars, and in its changing phases, the moon. In my landscape, winter is the season of the moon, which lingers even as dawn begins to subtly brighten the sky.

crescent moon and planet2

Even the thinnest of crescent moons persists as dawn light appears.

moon1

And full moons transform winter nights completely. Dark nights vanish, illuminated by this bright satellite that follows me from room to room, casting shadows across the floor, negating any need for a lamp when I wander the house after midnight, made restless by its potent light. I am often wakened by winter full moons; no blind or curtain seems able to suppress their power.

moon2

This Christmas will be celebrated beneath a full moon — the first time this has happened in 38 years. I pray the power of this potent light will illuminate all the dark places in the souls of humanity, bringing hope and peace to the millions now suffering. May the moon bring you comfort during winter’s longest night, as its light promises the greater power of a summer sun.

Happy Winter Solstice!

Happy Winter Solstice!

 

 

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