Monthly Archives: July 2015

A star in the mid-summer garden no matter what you call it

I am named after no one in particular. I know because I asked. I asked because I have always hated my name and wondered why of all the names out there Cheryl was chosen for me. My parents  and their families  are Polish. Our roots in this country are barely established. They are also strongly Catholic, again a very defining affiliation, so  I guess I would have expected I would have a Polish, or at least a Biblical name. Not so much.

Names fascinate me, because at least up until recently ( in most cases other than my own,)  a name usually told a story, or at least some small part of one. They connect you to a history, a culture, a family. My brother in law was telling me about a friend of theirs who, while in the maternity ward with their youngest, was taking record of the other baby names and could not help but be horrified to see this name on a bassinet…..La-ah. To the uninitiated,  that would be pronounced lahdashah, but the letters in “dash” are represented by the symbol  - .

It makes me sad to think how disconnected this child will always be. Made up names, especially ones that are so beyond normal rules of pronunciation and comprehension , do not ground you to anything. They say nothing  endearing about who you are or where you came from, and that is always how I felt about mine. Cheryl was not a popular movie star name, had no clear affiliation with a race of people or country of origin, no great story of why that name belongs to me exists.  To boot, I have never had a nickname, or a cute abbreviation, leaving me only the one icky  and unconnected name.

Somehow, conversely,  that has translated to me always being very curious about names, which has naturally led to an obsession with plants names and the consequent study of them in both their common and botanical Latin form .

The plant I am talking about today has more names than any one thing should have. It has common names referencing a country, someones offspring, , a bird, several other plants, and even a weapon.

It has been botanically named and renamed until i am no longer sure what is the correct and current one to use.

to whit….it is a member of the Iris family ( iridacea) yet called variously an orchid and a lily.

It It is a gladiolus, yet  has born the name acidanthera

It has been known in botanical Latin  as Gladiolus callianthus ( beautifully flowered)

Gladioulus murielae ( after botanist Ernest Wilson’s daughter Muriel)

Acidanthera bicolor ( obvious when you see it bloom)

Acidanthera murielae

and commonly as Abyssinian gladiolus ( from Ethiopia)

Peacock orchid

Fragrant gladiolus and

Sword lily

Yikes. Anyway, just pick one and call it that . I will stick to Peacock Orchid for now, because I am sensitive to yucky names, and personally like that one. Peacock orchids, unlike other gladiolus are graceful . They nod instead of standing ramrod straight and are anything but funereal. They are planted out as little corms, here (Z5) in late spring after frost or even a little before, and by midsummer have grown to 2-3 ft and start blooming. The flowers are a creamy white with a maroon center, and mildly fragrant. DSC_0025.

There are many great reasons to love this plant. is dirt cheap. you can get the corms anywhere and plant them in the ground or in pots. They are only hardy to zone 7, but in colder areas  if you lift them at the end of the season and store them in perlite over the winter in your house, you can plant the old bulbs as well as all of the offsets they produced next year, This translates to $$$ saved on annuals .As someone who gardens on an acre and plants as many as 50 containers a year, cost matters. I warmer areas they will multiply if left in the ground.DSC_0016.

Secondly, you can easily stagger the bloom time by planting the corms in waves , and if you do this in pots, will have many plants to  place in any  area that needs a pick me up  when the long summer takes it’s toll on the garden. You can move the growing plants from the pot into the ground , drop the pots into more decorative pots, or place them pots and all in the ground. Your choice, all will work.DSC_0032

Third, they are easy. They are full sun plants, but will tolerate part shade and so far they have suffered no pest damage here. I have them growing in the ground and in 3 different containers and they all look beautiful. In one container I have a black eyed susan vine working its way up their stalks and into the tree above them, which was a brilliant idea if I do say so myself.

Peacock orchids  combine very well with other containers plants both when it has just its dramatic foliage as well as when it is is bloom because the color is subtle.DSC_0035DSC_0022

Whatever you call it, be sure add it to your “need to plant” list next spring



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nice to meet you, hydrangea involucrata

Every one in a while I become completely enamored with a plant, or a group of plants, In the past few years I have all but become obsessed with the genus hydrangea. Until recently I did not have enough shadier areas and soil moisture is always a concern, so I stuck with the paniculatas like ‘Limelight’ and grandiflora, and  for 4 years have been doing a blooming experiment moving around an ‘Endless Summer’ and ‘Penny Mac’. I also have two old macrophyllas, ‘Nikko Blue’ and an unnamed lace cap that have been here since the garden originated and will only bloom if the weather is  conducive.

But lately I have been adding hydrangeas  in wherever I can eek out space, or even evicting other plants in some cases (gasp)!

I have posted on my faves and the ones I have found to reliably bloom in colder climates, and now am branching out to try other species that are listed as hardy to higher zones but may in fact be hardy here…only time will tell!

The first I am going to tell you  about is hydrangea involucrata. The species in native to Japan and Tawaiin and is often called bracted hydrangea.  it is a close relative of h. aspera  but it stays much smaller …3-4 ft where aspera can get 10-12 ft.

The flower buds are really fascinating as they are involucral ( the word comes from the Latin for wrapper) and consist of a rosette or whorl of bracts that surround the flower cluster which  remains enveloped or wrapped  until bursting open to slowly reveal the opening flowers. I think they look like wee little eggs.DSC_0009 DSC_0004 DSC_0005

The cultivar I planted this year is called ‘Yokudanka’ which  blooms in a undefined color, sort of pinkish-green tinged cream with soft yellow at the centers.  They sort of remind me colorwise  of the flowers on hydrangea quercifolia ‘Snowflake’.The leaves are bristly which makes it a great rabbit resistant choice .DSC_0019

So far I have discovered a few things about it. It does not appreciate being let dry out, so I have a few leaves that are brown around the edges, and it’s leaves have remained bright yellowish green even though I thought they may fade to a deeper  green as the season elapsed. I am committing myself to watering it better, and have taken a few cuttings to overwinter indoors in case it does not survive the winter.

Next on my list is h.involucrata ‘Blue Bunny’,  which flowers blue on acidic soil and is said to bloom on new wood so if it dies back I still should get flowers.  You can get one here  It is listed as hardy  to z6, but in  a sheltered spot I am hoping it will do well.

This is pure speculation, but I think these hydrangeas bloom very late here (  end of July into October) because of the die back and consequently the  necessary time to re-grow , which makes them great additions to the late season garden. Mine is blooming now because it was green house grown so had an earlier start , and boy am I am happy to have it! Fingers crossed I can get it to overwinter , but even if I don’t I will grow it in a container forever and ever, it is a really cool plant!


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more firsts for the garden, both good and bad

If you have been hearing a loud “WHOOT WHOOT!”  in the atmosphere lately it is probably me because I HAVE POPPIES!!! ( or shoud l I say “poppy”)

After the lupines I figured it was just too much to ask the gardening gods to let me have a poppy or two, so even though I scattered seed AND started a flat that I planted out in spring I held out no hope to see any of them make it to blooming stage. One year they actually got big enough to tease me with all their  dangly fuzzy buds, but just like every other time those were quickly eaten off by the rabbits . DSC_0020With plants that cost $$$ I am always willing to go the extra mile to protect them if necessary, but with anything from seed I sow and pray and hope maybe one day to have success.

Well, that day is now, and I refuse to complain that only one single solitary plant made it because one is enough to see plenty of flowers and to also ensure i have some seed for next year.DSC_0021poppy

The poppy that made it is unfortunately of unknown name. Erin and I went on a garden tour in Maine last year for the Garden Conservancy fundraiser and at one of the sign in tables the owners were handing out poppy seed heads. We managed to spill many all over the car  on our way home  and then again I spilled them all over the couch when I was seed organizing, but thankfully there are a million in each pod so I still had plenty to sow.  They are just delightful and I am beyond thrilled to have them whoever they are.

Another first is a day lily cross  that I had absolutely  nothing to do with. It is dreadfully ugly.  I guess I have reached the magic number of gardening years after which things start willy nilly procreating without my attention. Good for lily cross

The next first , and one that is just plain gross, is the first ever sighting here of a mole.

Last week Wil called out to me from the garage in that very special tone he uses that lets me know something is wrong/scary/broken or hurt and when I came to rescue him from the big bad whatever, he informed me that a large rodent had made it’s way into the garage and I needed to locate and evict it. From his description I was expecting  a capyberra or another R.O.U.S  , but alas I could not find it and then sort of forgot about it…….that is until I went out near the pool two days ago and saw what  had once been a mole floating dead in the water. It was pretty small for what I was expecting , but really, those things are disgusting. The next day another had joined it’s sibling in the great  mole hill beyond the sky, and it was then that it dawned on me that what Wil saw in the garage was probably the mama.  I inquired about the R.O.U.S. and was told that yes, it may have been smaller than described, and yes it was moving slowly  ( it appears the size and scary frantic activity related to me originally  may have been embellished).

Mama mole  is clearly not doing a good job in the mothering department. A suburban garage is not good mole raising habitat and especially not when it is adjacent to a very large chlorinated body of water. I have been searching around for tunnels  but so far nada.

We also have our first capture of the green tree frog,  a pond dweller, yet happily hanging here in the hydrangea,DSC_0001

It is curious to me when a new critter arrives and I can’t help but wonder how in heaven’s name they found their way here. We have had those yucky  yellow spotted salamanders even though they would most certainly dehydrate before they got to the nearest vernal pond . We have had foxes, of course rabbits, evil reptiles that shall remain unnamed, and every bug and bird known to exist in MA. We now have a pair of hawks that circle overhead hunting  which is a little disconcerting for corgi dog owners…word to the hawks, I keep them well fed  and thus they are too fat for you to fly off with…take note. I am patiently waiting for a bear and of all the things that have shown up here for a snack I am bewildered by the fact that a bear is not among them.Although my development  abuts state forest and conservation land on all sides and there are year round bird feeders everywhere, the only bears seen  in town are in the more populated areas that have smaller  woods close by. Curious.

As for the rest of the visitors, I wonder who is sending out the message that this former desolate sand pit is now a dream vacation land with a 24 hour buffet? Really, it needs to stop.

What follows are just some random photos of the garden taken in the past few days, a little eye candy if you will. Enjoy your week!DSC_0027 DSC_0025 DSC_0023 DSC_0019 DSC_0017 DSC_0012 DSC_0016 DSC_0004 DSC_0002 DSC_0033 DSC_0032 DSC_0028 DSC_0024 DSC_0022 DSC_0021 DSC_0019 DSC_0012 DSC_0010 DSC_0007 DSC_0007 (2) DSC_0006 sweet pea Salmon Rose

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gardening by the calendar

The garden chores get accomplished around here usually when I have time. I find it hard to follow any kind of schedule . Much as I love phenology and enamored as I am with the romantic notions of gardening by the moon phases, most of the time it’s catch as can and stuff gets planted way too late or pruned according to my schedule as opposed to the plants best interest. But, Independence Day, celelbrated as it is on July 4, means two things always and always.

First, it is the last safe day here to cut back late summer and fall bloomers to either delay bloom, decrease the height of a tall variety, or enforce bushiness as opposed to legginess. July 5 ( and later) is a no-go for pruning anything you want to bloom late in the season, there just won’t be enough time for it to recover.

Second, like clockwork, July 4 is when the iris ensata will start blooming. Why? I have no earthly idea why they are so prompt. I could probably investigate , but sometimes  it is best to just enjoy the mystery of  it all. :)  iris ensata DSC_0003 (2)

Happy Independence Day!in

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American Flowers Week #2 and 3

wildflowersTuesday I went with a wildflower look gathering as many smaller and less refined flowers as I could jam in the pitcher including yarrow, indian aster, coreopsis, salvia, rose campion, feverfew, spirea and the first of the sweet peas to put on the porch.clem col

Today it is clematis Betty Corning, Etoille Violette, Pope John Paul, and Comtesse de Bouchard in a little container of test tube vases set on the deck.

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