Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Sidewalk crack blues

Last summer my husband (with a little help from me) laid a patio in our front garden, thereby "completing" the front garden project started in 2007.  You are probably smart enough to know that laying a patio should be one of the first projects, not the last, in creating a new garden space.  You may even be smart enough to have done it that way once or twice.  But in our case, knowing that it takes a major effort to scrape together enough time to do any project, we actually did this on purpose, and it worked out all right. 
The patio was made with concrete pavers and I asked for some gaps to be left for tiny plants.  Somewhat poor drainage is a chronic problem in my garden and I was looking forward to seeing if some new things might thrive in the gravelly gaps.  Wooly thyme for example.  Will this survive for more than one season this time?  I got that and another kind of thyme for two of the gaps.  For another, I kind of wanted something like this:
The above photo was taken in Sintra (Portugal) at the Sintra Palace in 2009.  These adorable pink and white daisies are growing at the foot of balustrades one storey above ground level, and there is no soil here.  This is sharp drainage indeed.  But since I don't actually know what this adorable plant is, I don't have it to plant in my patio.  I did see something similar in this winter's catalogs, but what I saw didn't really seem appropriate to hot and humid Virginia.  I think I need a little more information before acting on this impulse.

Meanwhile, I had another crack to fill.  This one is right on the edge of the patio where an aster keeps flopping, so it seemed too high-risk for a new, special, catalog-bought plant.  But what to put in it?  By coincidence I read hints that two plants I already grow and love might like these conditions even better.  In the heat of June just as the patio finished up, I tucked a sad-looking sprig of the spring blooming "Georgia Blue" speedwell (Veronica umbrosa 'Georgia Blue') into the crack.  It didn't look too happy the rest of the summer, but started perking up in the fall, lasted through the winter, and bloomed in the spring.  Here it is in March:

This creeping speedwell is a favorite of mine.  I first noticed some in my next-door neighbors yard where the carpet of sky blue so early in the spring was very charming.  I never got around to asking her about it and ended up buying some on sale out of bloom without realizing it was the same thing.  How pleased I was to have my own!  What I hadn't noticed on my neighbor's was the lovely reddish foliage it keeps all winter.  I'm still in love with this plant, although I have noticed that this year it has spread alarmingly.  It stays very low so it doesn't seem to be a threat to nearby plants, but I was surprised to lose track of an entire stepping stone that has a mat of speedwell draped over it.  Probably not a good plant to put in my bed of annual self-sowers, not if I want to see new seeds sprouting next year.  On the other hand, it seems to do a good job smothering weed seeds.  Interestingly, "Georgia Blue" is not named for the state of Georgia, but for the country.  This species is native to Eastern Europe and Siberia.  Not the kind of birthplace I would expect for something that likes my garden.  It seems to like the patio crack as well.  
On an even more random impulse, I dropped a bulb of Ithuriel's Spear (Tritelia laxa) into the same crack.  Now where did that name come from, I wonder?  This may be the only plant I know whose Latin name is easier to pronounce than its common name.  Who is Ithuriel?  Looking on Wikipedia, I see "Ithuriel is one of the 3 deputy sarim of the holy sefiroth serving under the ethnarchy of the angel Sephuriron" -- so I still don't know.  But it goes on to say that John Milton portrays Ithuriel in the Garden of Eden where touching Satan with his spear he forces him to take on his true shape.  I have Ithuriel's Spear in my garden, too, and snakes as well, occasionally.  I hope they don't touch, because I greatly prefer snakes to Satan.
I ended up digging some small bulbs up unintentionally as we were preparing for the patio.  This is a beautiful plant and does very well in the regular garden bed where I first planted it, but it's a California native and I read some lyrical description of it blooming among summer-browned grasses in California.  That was enough to make me drop one of the displaced bulbs into the crack: after all, it must like dry conditions, right?  I thought the bulbs seemed small and imagined myself in two or three years being surprised to see its blue blooms coming out of the patio (but that more likely they wouldn't survive).  I was even more surprised to see them bloom already this year!  This unusual placement gives a more intimate view of this lovely flower and bud.  I love the stripes on the backs of the petals and on the buds.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Wildflower Wednesday: Venus's looking glass

Thank you to Clay and Limestone for hosting Wildflower Wednesday.  I've been wanting to contribute but the fourth Wednesday keeps slipping by without me realizing it.  Finally I caught one.

The wildflower I chose is Venus's looking glass, Triodanus perfoliata (Specularia perfoliata in my old guide).  This is an annual wildflower that pops up regularly in one spot in my garden.  It's small and many people probably consider it a weed, but I have a liberal weed policy when it comes to pretty native wildflowers.  To me, the flowers are very lovely and the plants themselves are even rather cute pre-bloom.  It is usually a single stalk about six inches to a foot tall, with small round leaves clasping the stem.  It looks a bit like a fairy wand might.  When it blooms, the flowers appear in the leaf axils all down the stem.  Usually I get only a few well spaced out stems, but this year in a newly cleared spot I found a small colony and the overall effect is fairly showy.  It's an annual and doesn't spread aggressively.

Here's a vocab word: oligolege.  I know from reading about gardening for butterflies that butterfly larvae (caterpillars) are very particular about the plants they eat.  The most familiar example is probably the monarch which eats only milkweed.  Now I have learned that some bee larvae have similarly picky tastes when it comes to pollen.  Some species eat the pollen of only a single genus (or even a single species).  This is called oligolecty.  According to the Illinois Wildflower site I was looking at to learn more about Venus's looking glass, there is a species of bee, Colletes brevicornis, that is an oligolege of the Venus's looking glass.  So if compulsive weeders were able to eradicate this lovely little gem of a wildflower, this species of bee would go, too.  That's a good reason not to be too neat in the garden, if you ask me.

Monday, May 21, 2012


I'm not sure how this spiderwort (Tradescantia virginiana) is managing to survive, since it has become pretty severely overshadowed by a neighboring shrub.  And yet, every time I walk by I notice it has several blooms on it that seem almost to glow in the dark recesses under the shrub.  I am always attracted to blue flowers, which is probably why I planted this, but it wasn't 'till I looked through the macro lens that I really took a good look at the crazy yellow stamens or the fringe of blue filaments.   Now I like Tradescantia even better.  You may have also heard some odd lore about this plant.  Apparently the stamen hairs change color in the presence of nuclear fallout.  Hmmm.  I'm not sure if that's this plant's particular superpower, or if it's just that this is the one that was chosen for the study, but if you notice your Tradescantia blooming with pink stamen hairs, I'd suggest relocating.  Today I'm joining Macro Monday, hosted by Lisa's Chaos.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

May Bloom Day -- oops

Good gracious!  Am I really five days late already?  Well, even so, I can't completely miss Garden Blogger's Bloom Day, not this month, with all this great stuff in bloom!  I'll only cheat a little bit.  While some of these photos were taken a few days before the 15th and some were taken today, all of these flowers were actually in bloom on May 15th.

I'll start off with Clematis x jackmanii.  This is its third year in my garden.  The first year it was great and then last year not so great.  I'm glad to see it thriving again.  Maybe last year I pruned it too late.
I love taking macros, but with all these great flowers in bloom, maybe I can make an attempt at a grouping.  Here are four of my favorites: the clematis, sundrops (Oenothera fruticosa), larkspur (Consolida ambigua) and speedwell (Veronica spicata? or is this taller one something else? -- unfortunately I don't remember).  Purple and burgundy is not my favorite color combination, but the neighbor's Japanese maple is a better background than the neighbor's car, which is what I got the first time I framed this shot.  That's a serviceberry with lots of ripe tasty berries on it, peeking in from the left.
A closeup of the sundrops.
I've been looking forward to the larkspurs for a long time, since the foliage comes up, tantalizingly, in the winter when I am desperate for flowers.  I'd sown seeds of larkspur for several years hoping for a drift of them before I finally achieved what I wanted in this bed with the birdbath.  They came back this year here and in neighboring beds (like the one shown above) but I'm just as happy with them everywhere they have appeared.  I'm not crazy about the pink ones (one of the seed packs was a mix) but lately I've seen photos of white ones.  I think a few white ones would set off the purple ones nicely and be more attractive than the pink.  I'll have to look for some more seeds.  There's also an "Earl Gray" color in my population that I like, but none of them are obvious in this shot.
Here are the larkspurs with two more favorite self-sowers, chamomile and French hollyhock (Malva sylvestris).
Here is the other star of the garden that I have been waiting for, the Virginia rose (thanks to my husband for the photo).
The mophead hydrangea is just starting up
Virginia sweetspire (Itea virginica), just planted in December by my wonderful husband, is blooming its head off.
I'll finish up with some herbs in bloom, including thyme (also photographed by my husband)...
...and dill. The end of the dill is a sad day.  I think I like dill almost as much as the black swallowtail caterpillars do.  Fortunately, unlike parsley or basil, the dill still tastes fine as it begins to bloom.  But soon it will die back and I'll have to wait for next year.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Three's company

For Macro Monday hosted by Lisa's Chaos, here is a trio of Eastern U.S. native plants in bloom in my garden now.  Above is Iris virginica.  I have three different iris in my garden that were sold to me under the name Iris virginica that are all notably different, a short one with purple/blue flowers, a tall one with similar blue flowers, and a tall one with white flowers.  I think the shorter one could be Iris virginica var. shrevei.  I think that one is the neatest and most well behaved but they all are quite nice.  I like the blue flowers better than the white.  I would not have chosen the white, but sometimes when you buy plants sold by local garden or wildflower clubs (as I like to do) the labeling is a bit lacking.  It's a great way to get interesting new plants, though, especially natives.
The second photo is an Erigeron species, perhaps Erigeron pulchellus, Robin plaintain, or else Erigeron philadelphicus, Philadelphia fleabane.  I favor the second option because it amuses me to imagine Elton John singing "Philadelphia Fleabane, shine on me!"  That just doesn't work with "Robin plantain", but I suppose I should try harder to find out which one it really is.  This plant just popped up in my garden a few years ago and has stayed and gotten more and more attractive.  I feel honored to have a genuine native wildflower (as opposed to dandelions) feel at home in my garden.

The third photo is Amsonia tabernaemontana, Bluestar.  Many of the natives in my garden don't exactly wow me when out of bloom but this is an exception.  The medium narrow leaves are attractive right through the heat of summer and never wilt even when it hasn't rained for weeks.  On the other hand, I have heard great things about the fall foliage color but I don't really see it.  Perhaps this individual is in too much shade or doesn't have the showy fall genes.  Or maybe the fall color is really only appropriate to its cousin, Amsonia hubrichtii, which has much narrower leaves that I definitely have seen turn banana yellow in the fall.  I like bluestar a lot but the light blue flowers haven't grabbed my attention in previous years.  They are blooming especially prolifically this year, however, and not just in my garden.  When the plant is covered in blooms it is indeed very showy.   I like the ice blue color against the nearly black shaded background in this photo, but to be a real garden standout, I think I need to give my bluestar some blooming companions.  I think the color would look very nice with the blue iris shown above.  A grouping of these three plants in a partly shaded spot would be a very nice native midspring threesome, I think.  In fact, I just found a baby Erigeron at the parent's feet, so now all I need to do is find a patch of empty space in the garden...  

Saturday, May 5, 2012


It was a case of mistaken identity.  The creature with a license to kill somehow took me for its intended target, despite the fact that it is about a quarter of an inch long and I am 5'3". I also outweigh both it and its intended victim by ... I'll just say a considerable fraction.

The victim: an innocent gardener, no enemy to predatory insects or their bloodthirsty way of life.

The bite: reported by the victim as similar to a yellow jacket sting, but not as long lasting.  Surprisingly powerful considering the small size of the suspect. 

The suspect: Assassin bug.  Species unknown.  The suspect was not apprehended and fled from the scene, aided - ironically - by the victim (with a flick of the fingernail accompanied by a shout of "Ugh! Get off me!").  Suspect is believed to be a member of a large gang of various species of assassin bugs.  An associate was previously photographed on the premises (see above).  Current suspect is believed to be a similar species.  Victim unfortunately unable to identify more specifically than "small and brown with a narrow head and large abdomen."  Under stress, victim is prone to not taking much notice of identification details of small insects, despite exhibiting reasonable observational skills at other times. 

Extenuating circumstances:  Victim admits that suspect somehow or other got trapped under victim's shirt.  It may have been self-defense.