Thursday, May 30, 2013

It's Alive!

Last spring I planted three different varieties of Canna to see if, with heavy mulching, I would be able to get them through the winter in the ground. Today I found one of them, Canna indica 'Mactro' or Tropicanna Gold Canna, sprouting!


Considering how late they are to emerge they might not actually end up getting very big or have time to flower, but we shall see; for now I am just excited they made it through a Michigan winter!

More Wildlife and More Irises

When I went outside after a late afternoon thunderstorm yesterday, I found a rather unusual visitor in the backyard. There, between freshly planted African marigolds and some young irises, sat a sizable - we are talking at least foot (ca. 30 cm) long nose to tail - snapping turtle.

It is sitting there, just to the left of the yew

Here it is a few moments later, having trundled up the hill a bit further

My apologies for the unexciting images. I did not want to get too close lest I scare it, especially since it kept periodically digging the ground, which made me think that it may be looking  for a place to lay eggs. It was there for the rest of the evening, but this morning it is nowhere in sight. Other wildlife sightings include a tiny praying mantis about as long as my thumbnail - I love praying mantises and always look forward to observing them in the garden in late summer when they get really big - and a woodchuck that was cavorting in the backyard this morning. Luckily I did not let my parents' dachshund Willy outside before seeing it, because the woodchuck is the one animal he just loves to track and chase. Now, finally, for the flowers. Two more varieties of bearded iris have joined the show today, and those already in bloom longer are also still very nice:

This bearded iris cultivar has the largest flowers of any in the the garden, though they are not always as abundant as those other varieties.

This variety might just have the darkest blooms of any plant I grow

This stand is almost perfect this year  - please disregard the lawn, or lack thereof, in the foreground

Other plants that have just begun blooming include Eastern red columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) and Indigofera kirilowii.

Eastern red columbine (Aquilegia canadensis)

Indigofera kirilowii

Columbines are more and more becoming favorites of mine, with their many variations in form and color and largely carefree disposition. I am going to have to try and establish a few more strains in the garden. Yesterday on Willy's evening walk I saw a garden full of tall double white ones, for instance, which were truly impressive.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Life With Deer

My parents' house is situated in a leafy suburb, which is lovely and full of wildlife. That wildlife also includes roving bands of deer, which periodically pass through the yard and do varying amounts of damage. We regularly wrap shed hair from our dog around those plants that seem most delicious to them, but every time I plant something new it is a gamble. This morning I found two recently planted perennials - one gray-headed prairie coneflower (Ratibida pinnata) and one gay feather (Liatris spicata 'Kobold') - decimated:


Liatris spicata 'Kobold'

Ratibida pinnata

Oddly, native plants like these two do not appear to be less prone to deer damage than exotics, despite having always shared their habitat with the deer.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The Garden Indoors

The garden outside was soaked and steamy today after hours of torrential rain which, oddly but luckily, were accompanied by rising temperatures. Indoors, however, there are still quite a few plants as well, even though a number have already taken up their summer residency outdoors.

Phalaenopsis cv.

Phalaenopsis cv.

Florist's cyclamen (Cyclamen persicum) - not very impressive now, but it has been flowering with only brief interruptions for a good three years now

A rex begonia (Begonia rex-cultorum) doing well, at least for the time being

I just love having a smattering of flowers and foliage everywhere - these are on a shelf along the window in my room, so they are pretty much the first thing I see in the morning.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Planting - Finally! - Continued

After the rain that I had been waiting for to plant the rest of that large batch of plants I had bought over a week ago finally came, it suddenly got terribly cold for several days. It did not freeze, but the weather was frigid enough that my basil (Ocimum basilicum) and some of my coleus (Solenostemon scutellarioides), which had been among the plants brought back from Massachusetts, began to wilt. It looks as though they will make it, but several of the nicest specimens lost a lot of foliage. Perhaps hardest hit was the sturdiest cutting of a coleus with bright magenta leaf patterning which I have been propagating from a chance seedling for the past year and a half. It had just been repotted and installed in a nice shady spot on the terrace. Now it is almost entirely defoliated, but hopefully once the weather is back to normal summer temperatures it will recover quickly. We are not quite there yet; the last two days have once again be sunny and warm enough to work outside comfortably but we are still some ways from the sweltering heat that usually begins to set in around this time of year and of which we already had a little taste early last week. With the cool and sunny weather and rain-soaked ground, I was able to divide and replant two large stands of 'Stella d'Oro' daylilies (Hemerocallis 'Stella d'Oro') in the front border, in addition to finally planting the following:

1 Belamcanda chinensis (Blackberry/leopard lily)
1 Nipponanthemum nipponicum (Montauk daisy)
1 Agapanthus 'Hardy Blue' (Lily of the Nile)
1 Cortaderia selloana (Pampas grass)

I also edged, weeded, and mulched the island bed in the front lawn, which contains a red lace-leaf Japanese maple (Acer palmatum dissectum atropurpureum 'Tamukeyama'), two 'Little Lime' hydrangeas (Hydrangea paniculata 'Jane'), and a Yucca filamentosa 'Color Guard'. Finally, I planted a little fir sapling, which had been languishing in a pot for several years, in a still somewhat wild corner of the garden that I am slowly turning into a hedgerow of sorts. Meanwhile, the backyard flower beds around the terrace are chugging along quite satisfactorily:

Bearded iris, chives, double buttercups, perennial cornflower... and boxwoods that are getting to be nice and plump!

Lots of blues...

... and purples!

 Today there will be lots of weeding, and perhaps I will plant some more snapdragons and sow a few things.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

On Flowers and Gardens and Gentlemanly Pursuits

As part of my academic work, I recently came across a scholarly article published in 1975 by Aziz Ahmed which discusses some 17th-century Indian texts that are written in Persian and bear the title Mīrzānāma. They are prescriptive guides to the behavior, etiquette, and "good taste" to be expected of a mīrzā or aristocratic Mughal gentleman of that time period. Among the passages offered in English translation by Ahmed, there are a number that deal with flowers and gardens:

"The real mīrzā-hood is a very different thing altogether. It is not merely pinning flowers to one's headgear or wearing a greenish or semi-greenish turban and strolling through a garden. It is rather to inhale and imbibe the fragrance of the flower" (Ahmed 100)

"He should always provide perfumes in his parties; and try to keep his party fragrant with them. All sorts of vases full of flowers in every season should be on view. Without them, he should consider the luxury of living as forbidden. He should keep his feast colourful; so that whoever departs from it may feel that he has been to the feast of a mīrzā; that is to say, he should depart bearing the fragrant smell of scent and flower" (Ahmed 102)

"He should regard the beauty of flowers as better than the green beauty of grass, though he should appreciate that also. He should appreciate more the green grass under the flower-shrubs. Of the jewels, he should like rubies and pearls; of the fruits, pomegranate. A house which does not have a pond and a fountain surrounded by flowerpots filled with flowers of every season, is a house without enjoyment. He should set a garden wherever possible in the compound of the house, for the mīrzā is equal in numbers (ham-'adad) to a gulzār (a rose-garden); he is bound to be attracted by a garden. In every corner of his garden there should be colourful chirping and singing birds like nightingales and parrots. He should hear unpleasant voices of other birds from a distance, because a mīrzā's temperament cannot bear listening to such noises. The beauty of these flowers and birds is not merely for external view; the beauty of every bird leads one to the contemplation of its Maker, and its singing leads the heart to the anguish [of divine love]" (Ahmed 104-105)

"But for visiting gardens and viewing flowers and flower-gardens, he should ride a flower-coloured or black and white (ablaq) horse" (Ahmed 105)

"He should enjoy unfamiliar and half-coloured (nīmrang) flowers. If he wants a flower to yield fragrance, he should himself pluck it from the bough. He should not accept it from the hands of the gardener, for there is no hand cleaner than the hand of a mīrzā. He should not wear flowers in his turban, as it is effeminate to do so. It is a blemish for the mīrzā, who is a [masculine] lover. But he can, as a blessing, put a gul-i mutlaq [rose] which is made of the holy sweat drops of the Pride of All Creation on his head. Occasionally, in privacy, he may put a bunch of nāfarmān flowers, which is like a plume of feathers, in the corner of his turban; it would look becoming" (Ahmed 106)

So many rules, at times rather arbitrary from our contemporary perspective... But they clearly speak to an ideal, if not a reality, of a sophisticated appreciation of plants and gardens. Hopefully I will at some point be able to work on the Persian originals of these texts and perhaps track down some others like them.

Source: Ahmed, Aziz. "The British Museum Mīrzānāma and the Seventeenth Century Mīrzā in India." Iran 13 (1975): 99-110.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

More From the Garden

The bearded irises are in full swing now, with two more varieties joining the crowd today.

A pale blue variety with relatively small flowers on exceptionally tall stems - I think this one is flowering for the first time this year

A lovely red

Another plant that has come into bloom is my young tree peony, which has produced three buds this year. Unfortunately, the shimmery petals that make the flowers so gorgeous also make them hard to capture by my sub-par camera - in other words, my IPhone - since the shimmering comes out as weird glares. Here, therefore, is one of the somewhat less awful shots:

Tree peony (Paeonia suffruticosa)

I adore tree peonies and they are relatively care-free and reliable, so if they were not so ridiculously expensive - apparently they are quite a pain to propagate - I would have different varieties scattered all through the garden. Alas, I have to wait for the rare occasion when they are put on sale here and there, which is how I got a hold of this darling beauty. The garden as a whole is looking pretty nice, too, though it is interesting to observe a change from previous years as plantings begin to age in such a young garden. During the last couple of years, the border running along the front of the house usually looked best overall. It was the first area I planted after my parents moved, and by virtue of being the hottest and most sheltered part of the garden, it got of most my most treasured plants rescued from our previous yard, such as my original eastern prickly pear (Opuntia humifusa), the Japanese fiber bananas (Musa basjoo), or my first crape myrtle (Lagerstroemia indica), bought at a Walmart in the Florida panhandle on the first family vacation we took after moving to the United States. Those plants are still doing well and form the backbone of the border along with a number of new additions, although of course many only really come into their own in high summer. However, many of the more common perennials I with which originally filled the border have become rather untidy and are starting to underperform, either because they need to be divided and replanted or because the bed is actually a bit too hot and dry for their continued comfort. I will have to make quite a few corrections there. In the meantime, some parts of the backyard that were rather desolate the first few seasons have filled in nicely, due to may efforts at improving the soil, the removal of a number of trees that had been sucking away much of the moisture in that part of the garden, and lots and lots of new plantings.

 The long border in the front yard; from a distance it still looks decent, but up close much of it is a straggly mess.

More from the front yard - Musa basjoo is coming in nicely

The backyard, by comparison, is finally becoming quite lush

I have already bought a few new plants for the front border, among them a Montauk daisy (Nipponanthemum nipponicum) that I am quite excited about, because in Massachusetts they are quite common and look fantastic in fall when most other things are declining and around here no one seems to be growing them, and some pampas grass (Cortaderia selloana) which was very common when I was a kid in early 1990s Germany but has become much less popular since and is only borderline hardy here - which should also mean it will not get invasive. Along with moving around some of the plants already there and cleaning out and mulching some of the plantings, that will hopefully allow me to spruce up that part of the garden again.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Planting Continued

I continued planting the things I had bought at Eastern Market and Telly's yesterday afternoon until it finally - mercifully - began to rain. It was a short but heavy shower, and luckily followed by several more over the course of the night. Even before the rain started, though, I was able to get quite a few things into the ground, so here is a continuation of yesterday's list:

1 Begonia grandis (Hardy begonia)
1 Anthemis tinctoria 'Susanna Mitchell' (Marguerite daisy)
1 Lobelia x speciosa 'Fan Blue' (Blue cardinal flower)
1 Salvia verticillata 'Purple Rain' (Whorled clary/lilac sage)
1 Helianthemum 'Peach Double' (Sun rose)
1 Helianthemum 'Wisley Primrose' (Sun rose)
1 Ratibida pinnata (Gray-head prairie coneflower)
1 Liatris spicata 'Kobold' (Gay feather)
1 Sempervivum arachnoideum (Cobweb hen and chicks)
1 Thymus x citriodorus 'Variegata' (Variegated creeping lemon thyme)
1 Lavandula angustifolia 'Potpourri White' (White lavender)
12 Tagetes erecta 'Marvel Orange' (African marigold)
6 Cosmos sulphureus 'Cosmic Red' (Yellow cosmos)
6 Cosmos bipinnatus 'Sonata Mix' (Cosmos)
20 Antirrhinum majus 'Rocket Mix' (Snapdragon)
1 Lantana camara 'Bandana Peach' (Lantana)

With the ground now softened by rain it should be much easier to get the other new additions planted and I will also be able to divide and move around a few things in that sun-baked, clay-y border along the front of the house.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

And So It Begins...

Today the first of many bearded iris in the garden began blooming. So far three varieties have unfurled flowers. One of them is Iris 'Champagne Elegance', which I transplanted from our previous garden and which is one of my favorites. The other two, their names unknown, are holdovers from the previous owners of the property.

Iris 'Champagne Elegance'

Unidentified bearded iris #1

Unidentified bearded iris #2

Perhaps I should count this year how many varieties of bearded iris I have total. Over the last couple of years I have added a number of plants bought on sale after they had flowered or still too small to flower and without proper tags and last summer I also got a bag full of divisions from a family friend's garden, so I might still be surprised by hitherto unseen flowers.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Buying Lots of Plants and Other Joys

Flower Day at Eastern Market in Detroit  was bigger and more crowded than I remember it ever being when I was in middle school and high school and I am really glad to see that it only seems to get more popular. That being said, I did not get the impression that the selection of plants available had changed much. It was still mainly flats of run-of-the-mill annuals, with some vegetable transplants, shrubs, and perennials thrown in for good measure.

At Eastern Market

While most of what was on sale was not of much interest to me, I did get a whopping eighteen perennial starters for a mere $20 from one stand. This was particularly satisfying in light of the trend to be observed almost everywhere else of selling perennials of just a few over-used varieties in pots that are much too big, the pot size being a convenient way of pretending that the plant is bigger than it really is and thus charge $10 for what should be $5. I continued my plant shopping this morning at another place that bucks said obnoxious trend, namely Telly's Greenhouse in Troy and came away with the trunk of the car full of reasonably priced treasures - perennial as well as annual - in appropriately sized pots. Of all that I bought, so far I have planted the following:

1 Lamium/Lamiastrum galeobdolon 'Variegatum'
1 Lamium maculatum 'Shell Pink'
1 Lamium maculatum 'White Nancy'
1 Iris cristata 'Alba'  (Crested iris)
1 Galium odoratum (Sweet woodruff)
1 Papaver orientale 'Beauty of Livermere' (Oriental poppy)
1 Helianthemum 'Hartswood Ruby' (Sun rose)
1 Dianthus deltoides 'Vampire' (Maiden pink)
3 Lupinus polyphyllus cv. (Garden lupine)
6 Amaranthus caudatus (Love-lies-bleeding)

The garden on the whole is lovely right now, although we could really use a good rain. Any day now the bearded irises will begin blooming and the show promises to be grand this year. In the meantime, there are many smaller things adding specks of color amongst the sprouting green, and the backyard is filled with the fragrance of lily-of-the-valley.

Star-of-Bethlehem (Ornithogalum umbellatum)

 Azalea (Rhododendron sp.)

Columbine (Aquilegia x hybrida)

Perennial cornflower (Centaurea montana)

Perennial flax (Linum perenne)

Double creeping buttercup (Ranunculus repens 'Pleniflorus')

Lily-of-the-valley (Convallaria majalis)

For the next couple of days I have plenty more to plant, as well as lots of weeding and and a bit of dividing, transplanting, and moving around of things that needs to be done. After months of cold weather and gardening space limited to shady window sills, nothing could be better.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Flower Day at Detroit's Eastern Market

My parents and I are just about to set off for Flower Day at Eastern Market in Detroit, a massive annual event - now in its 47th year! - during which the already impressive market - think farmers' market plus restaurants and all kinds of other shops and vendors - is essentially taken over by plant vendors from throughout the region. I have not been in a couple of years, but it used to be mainly about the annuals - acres of flats full of impatiens, petunias, salvia, etc. - which people here buy by the hundreds every year to add instant color to those large Midwestern yards with their interminable sheets of immaculate - read: water-guzzling, over-fertilized, herbicide- and pesticide-drenched - lawns. I presume the annuals still reign supreme, which will make for a colorful show if nothing else, but I am also excited about what perennial and woody offerings there might be between all those marigolds and wax begonias. To find out more about the event, here is the link to the Eastern Market website:

Flower Day

Updates on the garden here and all those plants that made the journey from Massachusetts to follow soon!

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Plants on the Move

After taking my last exam of the semester this morning, I started packing up my collection of houseplants. I will traveling most of the summer, and my landlord might sublet the apartment for at least some of that time, so they will spent the next couple of months in the garden in Michigan.

Boxes of plants, all ready for their trip

I did give away a few plants that are very easily replaceable, and in cases where I had multiple specimens of a variety I tried not to keep more than one. However, giving a plant up never comes easy to me. Luckily I have an awesome, endlessly supportive mother who is willing to road trip it back to Michigan with me, our dog, and three boxes full of greenery...

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Elegant Treasures

Here are some more lovely finds from my various walks. First up a delicate late-blooming narcissus, the poet's daffodil (Narcissus poeticus), growing at the edge of a parking lot:

Poet's daffodil (Narcissus poeticus)

Then there is the quince tree (Cydonia oblonga) that I found in a quiet side street not far from my place, studded with shimmering shell-like flowers:

Quince (Cydonia oblonga)...

... and a close-up

Quinces are not very common but, like fig trees (Ficus carica) one occasionally finds them hidden away in old gardens around here.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Some Spring Blooms

Things are very busy with end-of-term papers and exams, but on the way to and from campus I have been taking the occasional picture of the glorious spring bloom currently in full swing. Here are just a few:

A redbud (Cercis canadensis)

White bleeding heart (Dicentra spectabilis 'Alba')

Creeping phlox (Phlox subulata cv.)

Lilac (Syringa vulgaris)

Flowering dogwood (Cornus florida)

Crab apple (Malus sp.)

Daphne (Daphne x burkwoodii 'Carol Mackie')

I somehow have not taken any pictures of tulips yet so I will have to hurry to do that before they all fade.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Windowsill Blooms, Inside and Out

On my bedroom windowsill, a balsam seedling (Impatiens balsamina) has just begun blooming. Not really a houseplant, but they do surprisingly well with the less-than-ideal light, much like their more common cousin Impatiens x walleriana:


On the outside windowsill, the little violas are really coming into their own:


Everything else is doing well, too, though with the spring sunshine and rise and temperatures, I find myself scrambling to keep up with watering even in my relatively dark apartment.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

I Am Back!

Somehow the last three weeks have been very chaotic and with everything that has been going on I have very much been neglecting the blogosphere. First there were the terrible events here in Boston - luckily everyone we know, including those running the marathon, was safe, but still - followed by the onset of the frantic last days of the semester. Then my computer decided to go on strike due to a malfunctioning cable that had already been replaced not two months ago and was out of commission for almost a week. My computer repaired I headed to Michigan for a weekend at my parents' place, and then almost immediately upon returning I was hit by a minor but still annoying bout of flu. However, it is finally, gloriously spring now, and even as I finish up my last assignments and term papers and try to figure out the schedule and necessary preparations for my PhD candidacy qualifying exams next term, I will try my best to get back to posting frequently. For today, here are a few pictures from the first stirrings of spring in my garden back in Michigan:

Magnolia stellata 'Centennial' - it appears to be producing increasingly pinkish flowers, which is just fine with me

Mahonia sp.

Abeliophyllum distichum

 As these pictures taken last weekend indicate, spring has been even more delayed in Michigan than here in Massachusetts. I spent an enjoyable Saturday tidying up the garden, uncovering plants that had been wrapped and mulched for winter protection, pulling up the first weeds, and so on, and so far it seems that despite the winter being quite cold and a good month longer than usual, most of my more tender plants appear to have survived without much damage.