The Unsung Season of Baby Leaves

In much of the country, April is a frenzy of blossoms–cherries and magnolias, crabapples, lilacs, and tulips.  The landscape is flooded with new flowers, and they receive all the glory.

Another, more subtle season also unfolds now, however.  It is the season of tiny new leaves.  Out they come in shades of bronze, silver, mustard, toffee, and lime green:  maples and sweetgums, ginkgos, planetrees, birches, beeches, and oaks.

What a shame it would be to miss this special season of fresh greenery on account of the showboats of spring!

 

baby liriodendron tulipifera tulip poplar leaves The Unsung Season of Baby LeavesTulip poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera) leaves emerge folded neatly in half.  Then they open like a book and expand quickly to full size.

 

baby quercus oak leaves1 The Unsung Season of Baby LeavesChange happens fast this time of year.  In Cincinnati (and in much of the Eastern U.S.), the average high jumps 10 degrees from April 1 to April 30.  Here in the Pacific Northwest, the changes are more gradual, but still significant.  Here are some brand new oak leaves on April 4 in Portland.

baby quercus oak leaves2 The Unsung Season of Baby LeavesDo you even recognize those same oak leaves a week later?

 

baby liquidambar styraciflua sweetgum leaves The Unsung Season of Baby LeavesThe baby leaves of sweetgum are perfect miniatures of the final product.  The little balls you see are the flowers, which will turn into spiky “gumball” fruits later on.

 

baby koelreuteria paniculata goldenraintree leaves The Unsung Season of Baby LeavesHow distinctive are the compound leaves of goldenraintree (Koelreuteria paniculata)!  They are usually infused with a shrimp-pink color unlike anything else in the mid-spring landscape.

 

baby malus tschonoskii crabapple leaves The Unsung Season of Baby LeavesCrabapple foliage is often a tragedy by late summer, but now it has not yet been molested by insects or disease.  This Malus tschonoskii is unique among crabs in that its foliage is covered with a silver-white indumentum.

 

baby cercidophyllym japonica katsura leaves The Unsung Season of Baby LeavesKatsura (Cercidophyllum japonicum) leaves come out dime-sized and arranged along the slender stems in orderly pairs.  They range in color from brick red to caramel to asparagus-green.

 

baby styrax japonica japanese snowbell leaves The Unsung Season of Baby LeavesJapanese silverbell (Styrax japonica) leaves also flush out in neat pairs.  They stand up primly; the flowers will come later and hang down below.

 

baby betula birch leaves The Unsung Season of Baby LeavesHow cute are these European white birch (Betula pendula) leaves?  The structures standing (almost) upright are made up of female flowers.  The familiar catkins that sway below are the males.

 

baby fagus sylvatica copper beech leaves The Unsung Season of Baby LeavesBeeches (Fagus spp.) unfurl from long, sharply pointed buds.  This copper beech cries out for some backlighting to set it off.  The dangling fuzzy bits are the flowers.

 

baby ginkgo biloba leaves The Unsung Season of Baby LeavesThe iconic fans of ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba) are easily recognizable, even when they are teeny-tiny.  Ginkgo is a tough urban tree, and a handful of them even survived the nuclear blast at Hiroshima.

 

baby parrotia persica leaves The Unsung Season of Baby LeavesPersian parrotia (Parrotia persica) is a tough tree with a cult-like status among Serious Gardeners.  These perfect leaves will remain unblemished all season and then turn patchwork quilt colors in the fall.

 

baby acer campestre hedge maple leaves The Unsung Season of Baby LeavesHedge maple (Acer campestre) leaves come out a little crumpled.  Like a butterfly just emerged from its chrysalis, they will soon expand and smooth out.

 

baby platanus planetree leaves The Unsung Season of Baby LeavesPlanetree’s (Platanus ×acerifolia) and the closely related sycamore’s (P. occidentalis) leaves emerge covered in a dense fuzz.  They will grow to many times their original size, but aren’t they precious now?

So, show me your kids’ baby pictures if you must, and I will agree that they’re adorable, but secretly I will be thinking, “They’ve got nothing on baby tree leaves!”  No, not even kittens or puppies or bunnies or ducklings are cuter.

Well, maybe one thing.  I did find this baby box turtle in the garden one year…

baby box turtle The Unsung Season of Baby Leaves

 

 

 

 

 

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Four Seasons? How about 43!

Spring, summer, fall, and winter.  That covers it, right?

Not by a long shot.

The more I have gardened, and observed, and become attuned to nature’s rhythms, the less satisfied I have become with our clumsy, generalized words for the seasons.  Four measly divisions?!  It’s like trying to describe all the colors in the rainbow using only the terms red, blue, and yellow.  There are so many more events and milestones that deserve to be noted throughout the year–and celebrated.

The Chinese have an ancient calendar based on 24 seasons of the year.  I first learned of it in Nancy Ross Hugo and Robert Llewellyn’s scrumptious book, Seeing Trees, from Timber Press.  This traditional, agriculture-based calendar divides the year into 24 “solar terms”, as follows:

  • Feb. 4:  The Beginning of Spring
  • Feb. 19:  Rain Water
  • Mar. 6:  The Awakening of Insects
  • Mar. 21:  Vernal Equinox
  • Apr. 5:  Pure Brightness
  • Apr. 20:  Grain Rain
  • May 6:  The Beginning of Summer
  • May 21:  Lesser Fullness of Grain (Kernels fatten)
  • June 6:  Grain in Beard (Kernals become ripe)
  • June 21:  Summer Solstice
  • July 7:  Lesser Heat
  • July 23:  Greater Heat
  • Aug. 8:  The Beginning of Autumn
  • Aug. 23:  The End of Heat
  • Sept. 8:  White Dew
  • Sept. 23:  Autumn Equinox
  • Oct. 8:  Cold Dew
  • Oct. 23:  Frost Descends
  • Nov. 7:  The Beginning of Winter
  • Nov. 22:  Lesser Snow
  • Dec. 7:  Greater Snow
  • Dec. 22:  The Winter Solstice
  • Jan. 6:  Lesser Cold
  • Jan. 20:  Greater Cold

I think the Chinese calendar does a much better job of conveying exactly where we are on the calendar at any given time than does our Western version.  But I would take it a step further.

After many years of notetaking in the Ohio Valley, I have concluded that while the landscape changes little during about 10 weeks of winter, the remaining 42 weeks of the year are distinct enough to each deserve the title of a “mini-season”, different from all others.  I would argue that there are 43 seasons in one year.

For example:

eranthis hyemalis winter aconite Four Seasons?  How about 43!How can you ignore the arrival of the first winter aconite (Eranthis hyemalis)?  The calendar says it’s still winter, but it is clearly a turning point, and it fills our hearts with hope.  I like to call this moment ”The Arrival of Sprinter”.

 

dicentra cucullaria dutchmans breeches Four Seasons?  How about 43!Dutchman’s breeches (Dicentra cucullaria), hung up to dry.  One of the first of the spring ephemerals to bloom, it flowers before the forest canopy closes overhead.  Some woodland wildflowers, like trilliums and Virginia bluebells, do have their own local festivals to make sure that the “Blooming of Woodland Wildflowers” is not missed.

 

ferns unfurling Four Seasons?  How about 43!Ferns have a charming and unique way of uncurling and expanding their fresh green fronds.  They only do it once a year, and then it’s over.  Take the time to appreciate the season of “Unfurling Ferns” while you can.

 

baby oak leaves Four Seasons?  How about 43!From the time buds break until leaves develop fully is very brief.  The period I would call “The Season of Tiny Leaves” ought to be given its due.  Is there anything cuter than baby oak leaves?  I think not.

 

paeonia suffruticosa tree peony Four Seasons?  How about 43!When I was taking pictures yesterday, a neighbor told me, “You’re going to want to come back when that’s blooming,” pointing at a tree peony (Paeonia suffruticosa) studded with fat buds.  The “Blooming of Tree Peonies” is a gala event in any gardener’s year.

 

chionanthus virginicus fringe tree Four Seasons?  How about 43!Mmmm… fringetree (Chionanthus virginicus).  Smells as good as it looks. Cincinnati once sponsored a “White Blossom Festival”, and encouraged residents to plant more fringetrees.  Let’s bring it back.

 

spicebush swallowtail caterpillar Four Seasons?  How about 43!Look for spicebush swallowtail “Caterpillars Hiding” in the folded leaves of spicebush (Lindera benzoin) in Mid-May.  This humble caterpillar’s coloring says, “Nothing to see here, folks.  I’m just a poop.”  But it will become a magnificent blue, black, and orange butterfly… if the birds aren’t wise to its game.

 

killdeer Four Seasons?  How about 43!Killdeer nest in the gravel at the nursery where I used to work.  Their eggs look like speckled pebbles and blend right in.  When anyone walks too close, the mother fakes a broken wing and hobbles away from the nest.  Every year, it’s the same trick: “Killdeer Faking”… but it never gets old.

 

lycoris squamigera barenaked ladies Four Seasons?  How about 43!Barenaked ladies or “magic lilies” (Lycoris squamigera) pop up out of nowhere at the same time every summer.  The leaves have long since withered away, and the stems are “naked.”  “Barenaked Ladies in the Backyard.”  Tee hee.

 

spiderwebs Four Seasons?  How about 43!In August, it seems like all of a sudden there are “Spiderwebs Everywhere”.  The dew settles on them in the night, making them all the more visible come morning.

 

stinkhorn Four Seasons?  How about 43!With the cooler temps and moisture of September come “Fungi Galore”.  This stinkhorn rises up, and true to its name, it announces its presence with an earthy, musty funk.  Others have fun names like witch’s butter, turkey tails, and chicken of the woods.

 

acorns1 Four Seasons?  How about 43!There is a time in October when there are so many “Acorns on the Ground” that the animals aren’t able to squirrel them all away.  A particularly fruitful harvest is called a “mast year”.

 

deer rub Four Seasons?  How about 43!Not all seasons are cause for celebration.  “Deer Rutting” time in October is a painful and sometimes deadly period for young trees.

 

cercidophyllum japonicum katsura Four Seasons?  How about 43!What a wonderful time of the year it is when “Katsura Leaves Smell Like Toasted Marshmallows“.  It’s funny to watch people get a whiff of the sugary scent, and then look around to see where the sweets are.

 

liquidambar styraciflua sweetgum Four Seasons?  How about 43!Sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua) reaches its most colorful point along with many other trees and shrubs in autumn’s “Peak Color” week.  Sweetgum doesn’t merely turn yellow or red, but yellow, red, orange, and purple all at once.  No two are alike!

What mini-seasons would you celebrate if YOU wrote the calendar?

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Mad about Magnolias: Eight Early-Bloomers

Magnolia lovers are the kind of people whose glasses are always half full.

Even though frost may turn the pink and white blossoms to brown mush every few years, people that love magnolias continue to plant them and adore them.  Their displays are so over-the-top that it is easy to forget about the dud years.

Here–in order of bloom–are eight of the first beauties to bloom:

magnolia kobus1 Mad about Magnolias: Eight Early BloomersIn most of the country, kobus magnolia (Magnolia kobus) is the first mag to bloom.  The white flowers often feature a brushstroke of pink on the back sides.  Unfortunately, the plant is usually devoid of blooms until its 20th or even 30th birthday.  This one takes its time in getting the show on the road.

Some of these very early magnolias can be hard to tell apart, but Dirr says the green stems on kobus are splotched with brown markings like those on a Holstein cow.

 

magnolia stellata Mad about Magnolias: Eight Early BloomersStar magnolia (M. stellata) is not far behind kobus in bloom time–around mid-March in a normal year in the Ohio Valley.  The flowers are abundantly produced even on very young plants and they have a soapy-sweet fragrance.

The petals and sepals on magnolias look the same and are collectively referred to as “tepals”.  Each individual star magnolia flower has from about a dozen to as many as 60 tepals–more than any other type of magnolia you are likely to encounter.

 

magnolia loebneri merrill Mad about Magnolias: Eight Early BloomersLoebner magnolias (M. ×loebneri) are hybrids between M. kobus and M. stellata.  They have inherited the tendency to bloom at a young age from the star parent.  This dependable, fragrant, snow-white form is ‘Merrill’.  A lusty grower, it makes a shrubby tree that tops out at around 30 feet.  It was first grown at the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University in the late 1930s.

 

magnolia loebneri leonard messel Mad about Magnolias: Eight Early BloomersThe M. stellata parent is more evident in this Loebner hybrid.  This frilly poof of a flower belongs to ‘Leonard Messell’.  It produces tons of blossoms, has a lovely fragrance, and some say it has a thicker skin than other mags when it comes to late frosts.  It blooms a bit later than ‘Merrill’.  One of my favorite magnolias.

 

magnolia soulangiana saucer magnolia Mad about Magnolias: Eight Early BloomersSaucer magnolias (M. ×soulangeana) are the crème de la crème of the magnolia world.  Hybrids of the not-often-planted M. denudata and M. liliiflora, they loft trusses of big bowl-shaped flowers of rose, soft pink, or milk-white into the air.  The tepals are so thick and plentiful that it’s a wonder the branches can hold them up.  They release a pleasant scent to those walking underneath, too.

The flower buds of these and many other magnolias are protected in winter by a silvery-gray, faux-fur wrap.  The plump buds in their winter coats are mistaken for pussy willows by casual observer.

 

magnolia galaxy Mad about Magnolias: Eight Early BloomersSome other hybrids of various parentage have also earned their way into gardens.  This is ‘Galaxy’, released by the National Arboretum in 1980.  Its jumbo, deep pink flowers can stretch 10 inches wide.  It is a single-stem, tree-form type with a pyramidal habit.

 

magnolia susan Mad about Magnolias: Eight Early BloomersThe National Arboretum has also gifted us with the Little Girl Hybrids, which are shrubby trees with smallish, purple-pink flowers.  This is ‘Susan’.  Her flowers are a little homelier and floppier than those of some of the more popular Little Girls, like ‘Ann’ and ‘Jane’.  These hybrids have a better chance of escaping a late frost than the magnolias that bloom ahead of them, and they also sometimes offer the bonus of repeat bloom in summer.

 

magnolia butterflies Mad about Magnolias: Eight Early BloomersI love, love, love buttery yellow flowers and the hybrid ‘Butterflies’ supplies them in droves.  Sublime.  There has been a breeding frenzy as of late in yellow mags, and many new selections are available, including some with pink genes in their background that render their flowers odd muddled mixtures of banana and strawberry and peach.

Sadly, I have noticed that many of the yellow magnolias suffer bark splits when young, near the base of the tree.  Does anyone know what causes this?  Usually with time, the break will close over, but a gash in a tree is never a good thing.  Wounds don’t “heal” in trees like they do in people or animals, but are merely “sealed off”.

 

magnolia elizabeth Mad about Magnolias: Eight Early BloomersThis hybrid, ‘Elizabeth’, is the plant that initially piqued the interest in yellow magnolias.  Its flowers start out yellow, but they fade to this cream color in time and do so more quickly during a spell of unusually warm weather.  It grows upright to a height of 50 feet.

So when it comes to magnolias, is your glass half empty or half full?  When you hear the word, do you think of this?

toasted magnolia1 Mad about Magnolias: Eight Early Bloomers

Toasted marshmallows, anyone?

Or of this? magnolia saucer Mad about Magnolias: Eight Early BloomersYeah.  I think it’s a gamble worth taking.

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A Simple Trick for More Dramatic Garden Photos

March and April bring fresh new foliage back into our lives.

I love to capture this special time of year in photos, so that I can better recall at any time of year the brilliance and translucency of those young spring leaves.  But sometimes, when going through the day’s photos, I have found that they don’t capture the spirit of what I saw through the lens.

Turns out the secret is to shoot into the sun.  Here is one example of what I mean, right outside my front door:

salvia officinalis head on A Simple Trick for More Dramatic Garden PhotosHere’s a clump of culinary sage (Salvia officinalis) with the sun at my back.  The new foliage is coming on, a soft gray-green (sage green, if you will), but the photo is not too memorable.

salvia officinalis backlit A Simple Trick for More Dramatic Garden PhotosMoving around to the other side, the leaves are now lit up.

salvia officinalis backlit close up A Simple Trick for More Dramatic Garden PhotosDon’t be shy.  Take a good, close look.  See how nubbly the leaves are now!

 

nandina domestica head on A Simple Trick for More Dramatic Garden PhotosHere’s heavenly bamboo (Nandina domestica).  No slouch in the color department with its evergreen (everpink?  everyellow?) leaves, but…

nandina domestica backlit A Simple Trick for More Dramatic Garden PhotosGet down on the ground and shoot up at the sky.  Zowie!  Keep in mind that these before and after shots are all of the same plants, taken on the same day, with the same camera.

 

cornus sericea head on A Simple Trick for More Dramatic Garden PhotosHere a redtwig dogwood (Cornus sericea) is sending out tender new leaves, but the shot is ho-hum.

cornus sericea backlit A Simple Trick for More Dramatic Garden PhotosFrom the other side it is exquisite.  I did hardly any editing on any of these photos.

 

euphorbia griffithii with glare A Simple Trick for More Dramatic Garden PhotosShooting into the sun does create a lot of glare in your photos if you’re not careful.  The image will have a whitish haze like this pic of Euphorbia griffithii emerging or it will show bright spots of pink, purple, or orange.

euphorbia griffithii no glare A Simple Trick for More Dramatic Garden PhotosJust hold up your hand or a piece of cardboard to block the glare.  Be sure to keep your hand out of the frame!

 

syringa vulgaris head on A Simple Trick for More Dramatic Garden PhotosWho doesn’t welcome the first leaves of common lilac (Syringa vulgaris) in spring?  As of yet, unmildewed and perfect.

syringa vulgaris backlit A Simple Trick for More Dramatic Garden PhotosBut that’s even more perfect.  You can even see the fuzz on the stems and leaf margins.

 

lonicera head on A Simple Trick for More Dramatic Garden PhotosHoneysuckles (Lonicera spp.) get leafy early, showing pink, purple, green, and blue pigments when viewed head-on,

lonicera backlit A Simple Trick for More Dramatic Garden Photosand warm copper, gold, and burnished orange tones when illuminated from behind.

 

raspberries head on A Simple Trick for More Dramatic Garden PhotosHumble plants like the early-leafing raspberries can look much more dramatic

raspberries backlit A Simple Trick for More Dramatic Garden Photoswhen the sun shines through their leaves instead of on them.

 

hemerocallis head on A Simple Trick for More Dramatic Garden PhotosThe same goes for early-sprouting daylily foliage… a morning shot here looking west,

hemerocallis backlit A Simple Trick for More Dramatic Garden Photosand the same plant, looking east into the rising sun.

 

cercidophyllum japonicum head on A Simple Trick for More Dramatic Garden PhotosKatsura (Cercidophyllum japonicum) is an early-leafing tree.  On some, the foliage comes out a butterscotch color, or more of a bronze-red, like this one, before turning green.

cercidophyllum japonicum backlit A Simple Trick for More Dramatic Garden PhotosWith the sun behind it, you see how thin and delicate the leaves really are.  I wonder, what would a treeful of leaves like this look like?

cercidophyllum japonicum backlit whole tree A Simple Trick for More Dramatic Garden PhotosProbably something like this.  New copper pennies, freshly minted.

 

ulmus accolade head on A Simple Trick for More Dramatic Garden PhotosThis ‘Accolade’ elm gets plenty of accolades from me.  Love those shiny, shiny, pleated leaves.

ulmus accolade backlit A Simple Trick for More Dramatic Garden PhotosBut when I contorted my body to get a better shot, I was richly rewarded.

 

lyonothamnus floribundus head on A Simple Trick for More Dramatic Garden PhotosI do apologize to my friends back in the Midwest… This is Lyonothamnus floribunda ssp. asplenifolia, a very cool tree, unfortunately only hardy to Zone 8b.  Its evergreen leaves look like this head on,

lyonothamnus floribunda backlit A Simple Trick for More Dramatic Garden Photosand like this when lit up.  In colder zones you could get the same effect with ferns later in the year.

 

spiraea goldflame head on A Simple Trick for More Dramatic Garden Photos‘Goldflame’ spirea is much more accessible, and while it looks brilliant with the light over my shoulder,

spiraea goldflame backlit A Simple Trick for More Dramatic Garden Photosit’s more fun to see it combust in the sunshine.

 

rose head on A Simple Trick for More Dramatic Garden PhotosRoses have some of the earliest foliage of all, and it’s not always green.  Many times it’s rose, red, or bronze.  In this light it’s a dull pink,

rose backlit close up A Simple Trick for More Dramatic Garden Photosbut in the sun it’s much more vibrant.

rose backlit whole plant A Simple Trick for More Dramatic Garden PhotosAnd here’s what the whole plant looks like.  You might have mistaken it for the ‘Goldflame’ spirea!

So much drama to be found, and with only foliage…  Imagine what effects the sun can have on flowers!  Cross your fingers for a nice, sunny day to come again soon, and I’ll charge my battery.

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Woo-hoo! Bulbs!

Who doesn’t like bulbs?  And you can always find a space for them… tucking them under shrubs, or in between perennials, or in a planter by the door.  In late winter and early spring they shine, playing a big part in the early-season show.  Here are a few of my favorites, in order of bloom.  Some of them are off the beaten path and worth a look!

 

crocus vernus pickwick Woo hoo!  Bulbs!Crocus vernus ‘Pickwick’.  Called “giant” crocus, though less than a foot tall, C. vernus blooms after the snow crocuses (C. chrysanthus) and tommies (C. tommasinianus) and is, in fact, a little bigger than those two species.  The flowers come in purple or white, but if you can’t decide, why not have both colors in one plant?  The lines seemed to have been painstakingly etched in lavender ink by an artist.

 

iris katherine hodgkin Woo hoo!  Bulbs!Iris reticulata ‘Katherine Hodgkin’.  What a dreamy, pale, cotton-candy blue.  And so early!  Other I. reticulata clones are no slouches, either, usually wearing purple or cobalt-blue shades.  When clumps get crowded, it gets hard to see the graceful individual forms of the flowers, though a solid swath of color in early March is quite a treat.

 

anemone blanda Woo hoo!  Bulbs!Anemone blanda.  Grecian windflower is a buttercup family (Ranunculaceae) plant, though it appears to be the season’s first aster (except for the parsley-like foliage).  It appreciates dappled shade and excellent drainage and can often survive being wedged among tree roots.

 

narcissus tete a tete Woo hoo!  Bulbs!Narcissus ‘Tête-à-tête’.  Daffodils are probably the world’s most perfect flower.  Easy to grow, beautiful, often fragrant, long-lived.  The flowers sport a simple form and a limited palette of colors, but there are so many riffs on that theme!  ‘Tête-à-tête’ is a miniature, but a lusty grower.  It is what is known in the trade as a “good doer.”  It never disappoints.

 

hyacinth orientalis carnegie Woo hoo!  Bulbs!Hyacinthus orientalis ‘Carnegie’.  Hyacinths are usually treated as annuals and tossed after the first go-around.  What a shame!  They can actually look prettier in successive years–not the stubby cobs of corn they are the first year, but more refined.  In any case, the flowers are just a vehicle for that heady perfume.  These have been in the ground several years and are still doin’ their thing.

 

tulipa kaufmanniana Woo hoo!  Bulbs!Tulipa kaufmanniana.  Scrumptious.  Yes, magnolias are starting to bloom when these flower, but the landscape is still pretty bleak in general.  And then, to come across these?!  The gardener here had the right idea planting these with ‘Ice Follies’ daffodils, but why so timid?  Think what this would look like with a few fat clumps of daffodils thrown in!

 

muscari latifolium Woo hoo!  Bulbs!Muscari latifolium.  I usually don’t think blue and purple look good together, but when the colors are contained in a flower, any combination works.  It’s as if the marriage were sanctioned by nature.  How electrifying would this be with orange, yellow, and white daffodils?  This grape hyacinth doesn’t have the grassy, weedy foliage of the usual sort, but rather each bulb has one wide leaf.

 

puschkinia scilloides Woo hoo!  Bulbs!Puschkinia scilloides.  That porcelain-blue on the back sides of the white petals is what won my heart.  Puschkinia is a little bulb like scilla and chionodoxa with flowers so small that a bumblebee can drag them to the ground.

 

muscari neglectum Woo hoo!  Bulbs!Muscari neglectum.  I would never have known about this plant if a gardener hadn’t planted it at our house in Kentucky many years ago.  It is known as “starch grape hyacinth” because of its scent.  I’m not sure what starch smells like, but apparently it’s kind of sweaty.  I love this plant for its weirdly stinky flowers and the blue-jean color of the lower bells.  It’s a somber, dusky, unspringlike color and totally unexpected.

 

iris bucharica Woo hoo!  Bulbs!Iris bucharica.  Juno iris is said to be fussy, but this swath has persisted several years at Ault Park in Cincinnati, Ohio.  The early, ladderlike foliage first calls attention to the plant and then the sparkly yellow and white flowers sit atop, catching the early April sunshine like jewels.

 

narcissus tahiti Woo hoo!  Bulbs!Narcissus ‘Tahiti’.  I’m not too crazy about a lot of double flowers, daffodils included, but this one is lovely.  I dig that buttery yellow color, and the petal segments tucked in among the petals look like strips of orange zest.  It’s a good performer, blooming heavily and increasing every year, though never obnoxiously.

 

ornithogalum nutans Woo hoo!  Bulbs!Ornithogalum nutans.  What a ghostly flower!  Silvery-white petals are backed by the faintest gray-green.  This drift, appropriately, resides in Spring Grove Cemetery in Cincinnati.  It is not tiny (growing to 18″ or so), but is a wispy thing nonetheless, appearing and disappearing before you know it.

Have any of these bulbs earned a place in your winter/spring celebrations?

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What Leafs When: Early Foliage

Not only do plants flower in a certain order, but they leaf out in a certain order, too, and some start to leaf even while frost is still a threat.  Winter flowers like hellebores, crocuses, and daffodils hog the limelight in March, but our color-starved eyes are also glad to see new foliage.  Look for the following early leafers to brighten up the landscape while other plants are still sleeping:

rose leafing out What Leafs When:  Early FoliageMany Rosaceae (rose family) plants get off to an early start, like this rose stretching out in the March sunshine

 

spirea leafing out1 What Leafs When:  Early Foliageand this spirea on fire (‘Goldflame’, most likely).  Other early rose family plants include crabapples, raspberries, potentilla, sorbaria,

 

quince leafing out What Leafs When:  Early Foliageflowering quince, like this one, and many more.

 

lilac leafing out What Leafs When:  Early FoliageSome olive family (Oleaceae) plants are super-early, like this lilac

 

privet leafing out What Leafs When:  Early Foliageand this privet, though others, like ash–oddly enough–are very late to break bud.

 

honeysuckle leafing What Leafs When:  Early FoliageHoneysuckles leaf out early, and some, like this ×heckrottii type, show beautiful glimmers of purple, pink, amber, and teal in their young foliage.

 

forget me not leafing out What Leafs When:  Early FoliageHere is a Boraginaceae member looking lush, Myosotis sylvatica.  I can never remember the common name.

 

daylilies leafing out What Leafs When:  Early FoliageDaylilies are some of the first plants to emerge in the spring.  They can be used like evergreens to accompany early bulbs, helping the flowers look a little less lost in a bed that may otherwise be brown and dormant.

 

sedum angelina leafing What Leafs When:  Early FoliageStonecrops (Sedum, and others) may be used in the same way.  Sedum ‘Angelina’ is especially dynamic in early spring, with mats of soft golden “needles” dotted with hints of orange-pink.  According to San Marcos Growers, ‘Angelina’ was originally a patented plant, but the plant had been in commerce prior to the patent, and the patent was declared void.  So, propagate it freely, and the plant police will not haul you away!

 

barenaked ladies leafing What Leafs When:  Early FoliageAll sorts of bulbs have some substantial foliage early on, even if they will not bloom for a long time, like these barenaked ladies (Lycoris squamigera) pushing up through a late snow.

 

oriental poppy leafing What Leafs When:  Early FoliageOriental poppies are a little out of sync with most other plants’ rhythms.  They are fat and sassy when the vinca blooms (the blue flowers in the background), flower in May, and then go utterly dormant.

 

yellow barberry leafing out What Leafs When:  Early FoliageBarberries have tiny, flowerlike clusters of leaves with the first warm breaths of March.  Do the yellow ones leaf out earlier, or are they just so much brighter than the red that they stand out more?

 

lamium leafing out What Leafs When:  Early Foliage

Lots of mint family (Lamiaceae) plants have lush foliage when the calendar says it’s still winter, like this deadnettle (Lamium).  Others include catmint, lamb’s ears, and bee balm.

 

doublefile viburnum leafing out What Leafs When:  Early FoliageI love the arrival of tightly pleated doublefile viburnum leaves.  Aren’t they sweet?  A lot of viburnums are quick on the trigger.

 

willow leafing out What Leafs When:  Early FoliageWillows are famously early to both flower and leaf.  Here a weeping willow is putting out chartreuse leaves before most other plants are stirring.

What other plants have you seen shrug off late winter weather and act as if spring were already here?

 

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Thanks on Your Sweat! Some of My Funniest Spam Comments

My Akismet spam blocker keeps you, dear readers, from having to see the spam messages that attack my comments section every day.  Most spam comments are meaningless and not worthy of anyone’s attention, but some, I have found, are surprisingly funny.  The spam bots’ use of shameless flattery combined with a–shall we say–unique grasp of the English language make it hard not to chuckle.  Here are some gems:

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spam1 620 Thanks on Your Sweat!  Some of My Funniest Spam Comments

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spam2 Thanks on Your Sweat!  Some of My Funniest Spam Comments

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spam33 Thanks on Your Sweat!  Some of My Funniest Spam Comments

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… and so my fragile ego is soothed by the dulcet tones of the spam bots.

Any way… what’s taking place, internet people?  I hope you have found that which I have written to be user pleasant.  Has it aided you out loads, or was it–at the very least–pretty worth enough?  Thanks on my sweat, I think I have hit the nail upon the top!  Just declaring.  Feel free to clutch my rss or lower me a e-mail, so you can get extra of my fastidious content.  Thanks 1,000,000!

Either way, I will keep up wrinting.  

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  • wp socializer sprite mask 32px Thanks on Your Sweat!  Some of My Funniest Spam Comments

Playing with Color Combinations in the Garden

Dreaming up stunning color combinations is one of the most fun, creative, and satisfying activities any gardener can do.  But how to come up with them?  Well, you can study plant combination books, look at pictures, and imagine compositions in your head, but nothing beats seeing plants live and in person and trying out different combinations right in the garden.

my old kentucky garden Playing with Color Combinations in the Garden

My old Kentucky garden was the collection of paint chips used in this exercise.

That’s why I came up with this game.  I gather up samples of all the flowers and colored leaves that I can find from the garden, throw them together on the lawn, and start playing.

The game is not necessarily all about the exact plants to use, but rather it is a way to discover which color combinations are pleasing to you.

flower color combinations group Playing with Color Combinations in the GardenThis is what the game looked like one year on August 31st.  I won’t go to the trouble of labeling them all, but if you’re curious about the identity of any of these plants, let me know.

 

flower color combinations usual 8 Playing with Color Combinations in the GardenMy favorite recipe:  hot colors, especially orange and gold (tithonia and Rudbeckia triloba here), with deep maroon or purple (ninebark), lots of cooling lavender (Verbena bonariensis), and an accent of white or cream (Hibiscus trionum).  See how the yellow and black in the hibiscus play off the rudbeckia colors and the deep purple ninebark?  And how the center of the tithonia reflects the gold in the rudbeckia?  Bonus.

flower color combinations usual 3 Playing with Color Combinations in the GardenHere’s my usual combo with different players.  An orangey-red sunflower, purple Shiso (Perilla), Agastache ‘Golden Jubilee’, and Shasta daisy.  Daisies are especially good for these sorts of combinations because the yellow centers echo the yellow in hot colors, and yellow looks fabulous with purple.  The agastache is a little more blue than the lavender color I would usually go with, but it works here.

 

flower color combinations antiquey Playing with Color Combinations in the GardenI’m proud of myself when I come up with something other than the usual color combo that I prefer to use.  These antiquey shades look great together.  Here we have red sunflower, Joe pye weed, bronze fennel (hard to see in the grass), and a zinnia that was supposed to be green (‘Envy’), but came out this moonlight-yellow color.

flower color combinations red white and blue Playing with Color Combinations in the GardenHere’s a red, white, and blue combo that’s different than my usual, too.  Red sunflower, Hibiscus trionum, and Salvia azurea.

 

flower color combinations blue is jarring1 Playing with Color Combinations in the GardenIt might seem to make sense to use blue as a filler, and that it would get along with all other colors.  Blue jeans go with everything, right?  Actually, lavender is a much better blender.  This Joe Pye weed is on the pink side of lavender, but it does the job (other plants are red sunflower, yellow marigold, Hibiscus trionum, and bronze fennel).  Blue can be quite jarring.  Look what happens when we throw Salvia azurea into the mix:

flower color combinations blue is jarring2 Playing with Color Combinations in the GardenEw.  Gertrude Jekyll, by the way, never liked to see blue and purple together.  I would have to agree.  In most (not all!) situations, it doesn’t work.

 

flower color combinations maroon gold pink lavender1 Playing with Color Combinations in the GardenThis exercise I do often ends up being a study of those troublemaker colors that are frequently at war with each other:  blue, orange, pink, and yellow.  Strong pinks can look too strong with yellow or gold.  In this picture, a pink lantana is fighting for attention with a yellow cosmos, but here’s what happens when we tone the pink down to more of a lavender color:

flower color combinations maroon gold pink lavender2 Playing with Color Combinations in the GardenAh, that’s better.  Oregano ‘Herrenhausen’ saves the day.

 

flower color combinations pink and yellow1 Playing with Color Combinations in the GardenSometimes, though, pink can use a shot of yellow to liven things up.  This composition is nice, but somber.  The purpley-pink zinnia, Verbena bonariensis, lantana, and purpleleaf ninebark need some pizazz.  Now where was that single yellow marigold?

flower color combinations pink and yellow2 Playing with Color Combinations in the GardenYes!  There it is.  It helps that there is some yellow in the zinnia and the lantana to tie to the marigold.

 

flower color combinations purple pink orange Playing with Color Combinations in the GardenHow about orange?  Can orange play nice with pink?  Well, not so much.  I don’t think this orange cosmos looks too hot with the purpley-pink zinnia, pink lantana, ironweed, purple Shiso, and Hibiscus trionum.  “Put me in, Coach!” says that yellow marigold.  Okay:

flower color combinations purple pink yellow Playing with Color Combinations in the GardenYep, I like that better.

 

flower color combinations yellow3 Playing with Color Combinations in the GardenI finish with three photos to compare.  This is rue, bronze fennel, lantana, and an orange cosmos.  Not bad!  It’s intense, but I like it.  (And it’s butterfly heaven.)  But what would a lemon-yellow cosmos look like in place of the orange?

flower color combinations yellow2 Playing with Color Combinations in the GardenWow.  Very nice.  A lot of primary colors going on here, so it’s strong, but in the right proportions it could be quite beautiful.  I would go easy on the rue here and emphasize the deeper colors.  What if we switch out the cosmos for that pale zinnia?

flower color combinations yellow1 Playing with Color Combinations in the GardenI think this one’s the best of the three.  What do you think?

I hope you enjoyed my game.  It can be enlightening to try out the “rules” of color, as laid out by Gertrude Jekyll, or Penelope Hobhouse, or Louise Beebe Wilder, in an actual garden and get a real sense of what they were trying to convey.

But remember, also, that feelings about color combinations are subjective.  You might prefer the compositions they dislike, and dislike the ones they prefer!  What are your go-to garden color combos?

 

 

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Icy Garden Photos: Leafcicles, Monkey Heads, and Winter Blooms

amy campion prunus buds Icy Garden Photos: Leafcicles, Monkey Heads, and Winter BloomsI love all seasons of the year–even when there’s not much (or anything) blooming.  Winter has its unique beauties.  However, after moving to Portland, I didn’t expect to see much of the winter wonderland that visits the Midwest.  Boy, was I wrong this year!  Nine inches of snow and a coating of ice made for some fierce cabin fever last weekend, but also afforded some great photo ops.  Two long walks around the neighborhood yielded these glamour shots…

amy campion leafcicle Icy Garden Photos: Leafcicles, Monkey Heads, and Winter BloomsHave you ever seen a leafcicle?  Water froze to the surface of this leaf, then slid off, suspended by a thread just long enough for me to snap a photo.

amy campion buds in ice Icy Garden Photos: Leafcicles, Monkey Heads, and Winter BloomsBuds all over town were imprisoned in ice.  It’s like looking into a crystal ball… what do you see?  Six more weeks of winter, apparently.  Oh, well.

amy campion euphorbia Icy Garden Photos: Leafcicles, Monkey Heads, and Winter BloomsI had to up the brightness and contrast on most of these shots, because they were taken on two very gray and sunless days.  This one I left untouched–it really was that colorful.  Danger Garden tells me it’s Euphorbia stygiana.  Looks like it’s toast, but if so, it sure went out with a bang.

amy campion manzanita Icy Garden Photos: Leafcicles, Monkey Heads, and Winter BloomsManzanita (Arctostaphylos) blooming away, oblivious to the cold and snow.  It has beautiful cinnamon-colored bark and cardboardy leaves.

amy campion calluna or erica Icy Garden Photos: Leafcicles, Monkey Heads, and Winter BloomsA heath (Erica carnea) poking its fool pink head out of the snow.  I have a lot to learn about ericaceous plants, after having spent so many years in the alkaline Midwest.

amy campion monkey puzzle Icy Garden Photos: Leafcicles, Monkey Heads, and Winter BloomsA young monkey puzzle tree (Araucaria araucana).  You’d have to be made of stone not to have an affection for these weird, tropical-looking things.  They are as lethal as they look, though–do not hug.

amy campion nandina Icy Garden Photos: Leafcicles, Monkey Heads, and Winter BloomsThese are heavenly bamboo (Nandina) fruits encased in ice.

amy campion prunus cerasifera Icy Garden Photos: Leafcicles, Monkey Heads, and Winter BloomsPurpleleaf plum (Prunus cerasifera).  There are probably at least five of these on every city block in Portland.

amy campion squidward Icy Garden Photos: Leafcicles, Monkey Heads, and Winter BloomsFreemontodendron californicum with its Squidward-shaped leaves.

amy campion laurel Icy Garden Photos: Leafcicles, Monkey Heads, and Winter BloomsThis English laurel (Prunus laurocerasus) is not happy that it got planted under a drain spout.  Something to think about when putting in a foundation planting.

amy campion yucca Icy Garden Photos: Leafcicles, Monkey Heads, and Winter BloomsGrasses and spiky things, like this yucca, do funny things in the snow.  Some sort of Sputnik fallen to Earth?  What does it look like to you?

amy campion pinus sylvestris Icy Garden Photos: Leafcicles, Monkey Heads, and Winter BloomsThe orange buds on this Scots pine really popped on this gray day.  Scots pine needles are short and grouped in bundles of two.

amy campion bud in ice2 Icy Garden Photos: Leafcicles, Monkey Heads, and Winter BloomsNot sure what plant this bud belonged to (a serviceberry?), but it looks like a painting.

The next time a winter storm strikes, don’t think of it as a bummer… grab your camera!

You might also like:

Winter Flowers:  Ten Plants that Bloom before the Daffodils

Judging a Tree by Its Cover–A Bark Quiz

The Joys of Obsessive Garden Journaling

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