Posts Tagged Rhododendron flammeum ‘Scarlet Ibis’

Hello, Summer — Almost

White Ibis flying over mouth of Cape Fear River in Southport, NC

White Ibis flying over mouth of Cape Fear River in Southport, NC

I know that most folks measure the beginning of summer from Memorial Day, which is still a bit more than two weeks away, but I’m thinking summer has gotten a head start this year. My evidence? Well, there’s Tropical Storm Ana, which hammered the NC coast just as Wonder Spouse and I were departing. We had a lovely, mild week of weather, and Wonder Spouse took hundreds of great photos, like the one above (Click on the photo to see a larger version). Let’s all meditate on that tranquil shot and say a collective “Aaaah,” before I return to the garden tasks now facing me.

Dazoc potatoes on May 11

Dazoc potatoes on May 11

The vegetables were very busy while we were gone. Wonder Spouse took one look at the growth of his beloved potatoes and immediately unfolded another level of his potato bags, so that he could tuck in more of his magic growing mix around his prodigies.

The Kipfel fingerling potatoes really multiplied:

Kipfel fingerling potatoes on May 11

Kipfel fingerling potatoes on May 11

I’m thinking their reputation for productivity is likely justified. If you’ve never eaten a fingerling potato, try some from your local farmer’s market when they show up freshly harvested in a month or so. Pure potato heaven awaits you.

Purple Viking potatoes on May 11

Purple Viking potatoes on May 11

The Purple Vikings are not as numerous, but the plants have really bulked up. I suspect their tubers are doing the same thing.

My beans germinated while I was gone. The Fortex pole beans came up enthusiastically, but the Jade bush beans did not. I wasn’t home to water the soil to keep it softer for germinating seedlings, and the Jades, which are not as robust as the Fortexes, may have suffered accordingly. Or the voles ate the seeds. I seem to have a bumper crop of voracious voles this year. I try not to hate any of Mother Nature’s creatures, but I’m still searching for a reason to appreciate voles.

Enthusiastic Fortex pole bean seedlings. I resowed the Jade bush beans yesterday.

Enthusiastic Fortex pole bean seedlings. I resowed the Jade bush beans yesterday.

The peppers and tomatoes are filled with flowers and tiny fruits. I spent a good half hour or so tying up tomatoes that shot up a foot while I wasn’t home to watch them. The squash seedlings now have multiple leaves; they’re still safely tucked beneath their Reemay tents until they begin flowering.

The bed of greens needs a good harvesting before the heat turns them bitter. The dill, chives, and parsley really filled out, and enhance just about every meal we eat (I don’t put them on my morning oatmeal, but they make scrambled eggs sing).

Red Ace beets look to be especially productive this year.

Red Ace beets look to be especially productive this year.

And, of course, I can’t close without showing you some of the fabulous flowers currently adorning our five acres. The Fraser Magnolia finished blooming while we were gone. I can just see small seed cones beginning to develop. Currently, the Ashe Magnolia is showing off, and I do mean showing off. This shrubby small tree decided to bloom from top to bottom this year. And when I say bottom, I mean touching the ground.

My Ashe Magnolia is just beginning its bloom cycle.

My Ashe Magnolia is just beginning its bloom cycle.

I could smell the sweet perfume of this magnolia before I got within 20 feet of it.

This Ashe Magnolia flower nearly rests on the ground.

This Ashe Magnolia flower nearly rests on the ground.

The Ashe Magnolia’s bigger cousin, Bigleaf Magnolia is full of buds. It will complete the native deciduous magnolia show in another week or two.

A Bigleaf Magnolia flower bud high above my head. This tree is about 20 feet tall now.

A Bigleaf Magnolia flower bud high above my head. This tree is about 20 feet tall now.

The deciduous azalea show is winding down, but the cultivar of Rhododendron flammeum — Scarlet Ibis — is peaking this week. The blooms don’t look scarlet to me, but they are indisputably spectacular, with a subtle perfume that adds to their wow factor.

R. flammeum 'Scarlet Ibis' grabs your attention even from a distance.

R. flammeum ‘Scarlet Ibis’ grabs your attention even from a distance.

A closer view of its flowers is even more eye-popping.

A closer view of its flowers is even more eye-popping.

A few more currently blooming floral highlights before I close this post:

Baptisa 'Purple Smoke' provides consistent spring color every year, and the plants continue to expand.

Baptisa ‘Purple Smoke’ provides consistent spring color every year, and the plants continue to expand.


The white-blooming form of Florida Anisetree contrasts beautifully with the more common red-flowered ones.

The white-blooming form of Florida Anise-tree contrasts beautifully with the more common red-flowered ones.


Seed-grown yellow foxgloves bloom for over a month every year, and they self-sow too.

Seed-grown yellow foxgloves bloom for over a month every year, and they self-sow too.

The two Tradescantia ‘Sweet Kate’ plants I added some years ago have become a Sweet Kate horde, and that’s just fine with me. They will bloom off and on until frost, barring severe heat waves/droughts.

Tradescantia 'Sweet Kate' is blooming enthusiastically beside my front water feature.

Tradescantia ‘Sweet Kate’ is blooming enthusiastically beside my front water feature.

To close this update, let’s meditate once more on the peace and tranquility that only a spring trip to the NC coast can provide. Wonder Spouse took this shot from the deck of our rental cottage. After several hours of rain, the sun returned on the final day of our visit and painted the sky with a rainbow framed against departing clouds (Click on it to fully appreciate the shot).



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Blog Highlights for 2012

This Eastern Fence Lizard was a new species in our yard this year.

This Eastern Fence Lizard was a new species in our yard this year.

Happy Last Day of 2012, everyone — unless you live in New Zealand or other countries where 2013 has already arrived. Here in my patch of southeastern US Piedmont, we were treated to a spectacular final sunrise of the year. A cold front is just arriving from the west, and a high-altitude wind is pushing herds of puffy sheep clouds across the sky from west to east.

When I looked west early this morning, the silvery sheep were nearly invisible in a lilac sky. But as I followed the herd across the sky to the east, they began to glow pink, as light from the rising sun reflected on their undersides. Turning to the ridge line that marks our eastern horizon, the sky was aflame with deep reds and oranges, reflecting fire onto the water of the creek. The cloud sheep in the east were peach and pink puffy masterpieces. Along the far south horizon, one sliver of vivid turquoise colored the sky where clouds had not yet arrived. The sun topped the horizon, and the colors muted to pastels as the sky directly above me deepened from lilac to azure. An eye blink later, the show was over as the sheep coalesced into a solid sheet of gray.

The rain won’t arrive until tomorrow, so the weather seers predict. The blanket of clouds will keep midnight revelers warmer than last night. Temperatures here fell to nineteen degrees Fahrenheit before the clouds showed up. Personally, I think a wet start to the new year is most auspicious. The drought here has lingered for most of the past decade. I estimate it would take an inch a week for the entire year to bring my area back up to the water levels it once enjoyed.  Here’s hoping we all get the weather we need in 2013.

Meanwhile, the folks at WordPress have been hard at work crunching year-end statistics for my little blog. As I did here last year, I thought I’d take a quick look at which posts you folks read most frequently.

First, let me remind you that I began this blog in January of 2011. Today’s post makes the 251st entry since I started. For 2012, this is the 73rd new entry. These new entries include 460 new photos.

This year, the day with the most page views was March 29, when the blog attained 208 views in one 24-hour period. I have no idea what happened that day, but I suspect someone in the Webiverse with readers linked to this site, resulting in the astonishing increase in traffic. The most popular post that day was a piece I wrote about my Loropetalum shrubs. Here’s the link, and here is that often-viewed photo of one of the shrubs in full bloom.

Loropetalum 'Zhuzhou Fuchsia'

Loropetalum ‘Zhuzhou Fuchsia’

It does make quite an impact, doesn’t it? This year, the most frequently viewed entries were all posts I wrote in 2011, and all but the first one dealt with specific plants in my garden, which reinforces the fact that most of you find my blog while searching for information on specific plant-related topics.

Top posts from last year include:

Going deeper into the most-viewed list reveals the top five entries written this year:

Personally, I was gratified that my posts on invasive exotic species were sought out frequently. This issue will only increase in significance in the coming years, so I’m glad folks are starting to pay more attention to this growing threat to our native ecosystems.

At this moment, my blog has been viewed 46,952 times since the first entry — 11,732 views in 2011, and 35,220 views in 2012. Average views per day in 2011 totaled 33, but climbed to 96 views per day for 2012. I think this is pretty good for a blog I’ve never advertised. I attribute the increased numbers to diligent tagging, enabling search engines to find relevant posts.

I can’t end this retrospective without acknowledging the amazing self-described “happiness engineers” at WordPress.  Their work to continually enhance and improve the functionality of their blogging software is most appreciated by this writer. Just this month, they’ve added a new statistic to the mix. I can now differentiate between the number of daily visitors and the number of daily views, thereby allowing a calculation for average views per visitor. Most interesting! And I must give a shout-out to Happiness Engineer Bryan, who through a series of e-mail exchanges, politely and patiently walked me through how to use some new functionality their interface now offers. Thanks again, Bryan!

And many thanks to my readers, especially those of you who take time to comment on my offerings. It is gratifying to know that sharing my gardening obsession is perhaps of some utility to others out there. I hope we can continue to help each other as weather challenges mount and new plant varieties arise.

Of course, the imminent arrival of a new year also brings a new gardening season. I’ve already placed my seed/plant orders, and I’ve been mentally building a to-do list so that the garden will be ready when planting time arrives. I’ll share my thoughts about all that in an entry next year.

Meanwhile, I wish all of you a Happy Gardening New Year!

R. flammeum 'Scarlet Ibis'

R. flammeum ‘Scarlet Ibis’

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My Secret Weapon: Wonder Spouse Photography

Winterhazel flower cluster close-up

All avid gardeners have their secrets for producing a great garden. Some of us save our own seed and bulbs, nurturing a plant line until it is maximally adapted to flourish in our garden. I know a farmer’s market vendor who has done this with the garlic variety he sells. Garlic can be tricky to grow in the middle of NC, but he has laboriously saved the best bulbs from his crops every year, until now his entire crop laughs at the wild swings in temperature and moisture levels that challenge growers in my region.

Some gardeners add secret ingredients to their soils that they swear improve the vigor of their plants. Others plant only on certain phases of the moon. The list of gardening tricks and secrets is likely as long as the list of experienced gardeners.

I have my own little secrets and tips, many of which I have shared here. Early on, I realized my greatest asset — my secret blogging weapon, if you will — is the magnificent photography of Wonder Spouse.  The best photos on this blog are all ones he has taken of the plants and animals who dwell with us on our five-acre patch of North Carolina Piedmont.

In going through my files today, I realized that he had given me a number of gorgeous photos that, for one reason or another, I haven’t shown you. Today, I am rectifying that oversight by sharing some of Wonder Spouse’s recent work, starting with that opening image.  To fully appreciate these photos, click on them to see enlarged versions.

He took that close-up of a cluster of Winterhazel flowers in the middle of March. It took his artistry (and his fancier camera) to convey what I tried to describe to you here.

In mid-April, he took this gorgeous shot of a flower bud cluster of Rhododendron flammeum ‘Scarlet Ibis’ before the flowers opened:

Rhododendron flammeum ‘Scarlet Ibis’

Even at this stage, you can tell it’s going to be a knock-out. I showed you an open bloom cluster from this year here and told you more about this cultivar here.

At the end of April, Wonder Spouse took several breath-taking photos that I want to share. This first is of an evergreen rhododendron that was growing beside our back deck when we moved in 23 years ago. I think it’s R. maximum, the species common to our mountains, and I doubt it’s a named cultivar. Somehow, it has managed to flourish beneath the enormous Northern Red Oak that towers over our home. This shrub is now twelve or so feet high and eight feet wide, and it blooms reliably despite near complete neglect on my part. Here’s Wonder Spouse’s shot of an open flower cluster during peak bloom last week:

A pollinator enjoys R. maximum flowers

Wonder Spouse is a big fan of Amaryllis cultivars. Many years ago, we bought several choice varieties, and they’ve been multiplying in their pots ever since. I overwinter them in the greenhouse and bring them inside or decorate our back deck with them when their thick bloom stalks appear. Here’s a close-up of the flowers of Amaryllis ‘Picotee’ that are still blooming on our back deck:

Each flower is about six inches across and equally long

To close, I want to share this “glamour shot” of one of the bearded iris varieties that thrive in our yard despite my less-than-optimal care. I’ve long forgotten the cultivar name, but the flowers are a lovely coppery orange color. I cut a stalk full of buds and put it in a vase on our kitchen counter, where we could appreciate its beauty and its gentle, sweet scent. One evening last week, Wonder Spouse was inspired by the effect of the overhead counter light on the iris bloom. Without bothering with a tripod, he photographed this iris in our darkened house. I think you’ll agree he captured the essential exquisiteness of this bloom:

Beauty caught between light and darkness

Thus, I have revealed my blogging secret weapon for all to see: the photography of the amazingly versatile Wonder Spouse. He makes our garden and yard look far better than I ever could show you with my pictures or words, and I deem myself the most fortunate of gardeners to be able to call upon his many talents.

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Current Bloomers

Iris ‘Batik’

This accelerated spring — with the occasional blasts of arctic air thrown in for fun — has made it difficult for me to keep up with everything blooming in my yard. I’ve missed showing you quite a few deciduous azaleas, for example, but I showed them all to you last year, when they politely bloomed mostly one at a time, so search on deciduous azaleas within this blog if you want to see what they look like.

We went down to 32 degrees at my house this morning. Last week, we dove to 28. Most of the flowers survived, but I am sad to say that my Magnolia ashei was most definitely a casualty this year.

Current bloomers that have weathered the weather include:

Tradescantia x andersoniana ‘Sweet Kate.’Here’s what the entire plant looked like this morning, where it flourishes beside our little front water feature:

And here’s a closer view so you can better appreciate her flowers:

The chartreuse foliage does a great job of accentuating the purple flowers.

My umbrella magnolia (Magnolia tripetala) is blooming thirty feet up at the top of the tree, but I couldn’t get a shot of the open flower. I settled for a nearly open bud:

When fully leafed out, this plant does provide excellent shelter from sudden rain storms.

The fringe trees — both native and Chinese varieties — are at peak bloom right now. Here’s the top of the native tree:

And here’s a close view of part of the Chinese species:

The wetland at the edge of my property is still full of blooming Jack-in-the-Pulpits, and a few Atamasco lilies still bloom too. The spore-producing fronds of the Cinnamon Ferns that give them their common name are just beginning to fade, as you can see here:

The Red Buckeyes are still blooming, although some of the flower clusters are showing signs of seed production.

Abundant and terrifyingly vigorous poison ivy is everywhere. Here’s a stem showing flower buds about to open:

Makes me feel itchy just looking at the stuff, so I think I’ll close for now with the one deciduous azalea currently about to reach peak bloom in our north-facing garden: Rhododendron flammeum ‘Scarlet Ibis.’ It’s already taller than me. In a few more years, this one in bloom will be so magnificent that it may stop traffic.

Despite the ups and downs of our temperatures, I am making progress in the vegetable garden. I’ll update you soon.

My advice to all this year: Walk outside as often as you can if you want to be sure you see every new blooming plant before it starts and finishes. Blink twice this year, and you’ve missed half the show.

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The blooms keep coming — more deciduous azaleas

Coastal Azalea

The change in wind direction after a frontal passage brought this azalea to my attention. Its powerful fragrance is described as clove-scented in some references. To my nose, it’s a tad overpowering, especially for a native deciduous azalea so relatively diminutive in size.

My cultivar of Coastal Azalea (Rhododendron atlanticum) is Winterthur, and its advantage is that, unlike the species, it is not stoloniferous. That means it won’t spread itself via underground roots. In my case, that’s a good thing, because in its native sandy soil of the Coastal Plain of the mid-Atlantic and Carolinas, this shrub has been known to cover a square mile. That’s too much of a good thing, even for me.  My references tell me that the species doesn’t spread so much in heavier soils, so it’s likely that Piedmont clay would inhibit its enthusiasm somewhat.

Coastal Azalea only grows three to four feet high and about as wide. It’s definitely the most petite native deciduous azalea I grow. But between the snow-white flowers and their potent perfume, you’ll never miss it in your shady landscape. Because this shrub naturally occurs in open pine forests in well-drained soil, I planted mine at the top of my hill beneath mature pines. It has been blooming for a few days now, and I’ll probably get another week of flowers before it’s done.

Also blooming right now is a cultivar of Oconee Azalea (Rhododendron flammeum) called Scarlet Ibis.  Its flowers have no fragrance, but they are lovely, as you can see here:

R. flammeum ‘Scarlet Ibis’

When I purchased this cultivar, I imagined it would be redder than the species. But in my yard, it’s really more pink than red. Don’t get me wrong — I think it’s gorgeous — just not what I was expecting. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised, because flower color in this species in the wild is quite variable, ranging from yellow to salmon to orange-red. It naturally occurs in the Piedmont of Georgia and South Carolina and is noted for its heat tolerance.

In my yard, Scarlet Ibis blooms about a week after my plain species Oconee Azalea finishes blooming. It is about six feet high now, and is supposed to top out at eight feet, with a similar spread. The flowers of my species representative are a magnificent shade of orange-red, which is why I was surprised when my Scarlet Ibis turned out to be paler than the species. Here’s a close-up that Wonder Spouse took of the flowers of the plain species:

Oconee Azalea (Rhododendron flammeum)

As you can see, they’re both lovely azaleas. But the one that grabs your eye in the shady landscape of my yard is the species version. The deep orange fire of the flowers cannot be ignored.

Scarlet Ibis, on the other hand, is more subtle. Luckily for me, I planted this cultivar along the edge of a bed near the house, where I can’t overlook its exquisite blooms.

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