Monday, June 22, 2009

No-name irises

The first bearded iris to bloom.

As much as I like knowing the specific variety of a plant, sometimes, in the end, it doesn't really matter. Take these two bearded irises for example. The gold one is the first to bloom here; the first bud opened a week ago. It came from a stand of irises at my father-in-law's Chicago-area home. They were planted many years ago and the name has long been forgotten.

Found in a Nebraska cemetery.

The name of the pale yellow iris, which started blooming just a day later, also is unknown. It's from a country cemetery in southwestern Nebraska, where it rings the graves of my great-grandparents. The tiny graveyard is in the middle of nowhere, and who knows who originally planted the iris or how many springs they have bloomed. We sliced off a couple of pieces of rhizome when we visited about 10 years ago. It was one of those perfect fall Nebraska afternoons, when everything was blue sky and burnished earth, and it seemed appropriate to take a piece of the day back to Minnesota with us. From those first few pieces of rhizomes we now have six sturdy, beautiful clumps.

Both varieties feature smallish blossoms, very different from some of the highly-bred varieties you see in many catalogs. But they possess a simplicity and a grace that can't be duplicated. Plus, every summer they are a reminder of where we came from.

Purple 'Joan Elliot' campanula glomerata is a friendly companion
for the Nebraska immigrant.

Favorite plant of the day: Clematis

Claire de lune is the only clematis I'm growing. That's crazy; I need more.

So much to catch the eye right now: bearded iris, Siberian iris, sweet woodruff, ajuga, forget-me-nots, veronica, viburnum, roses. But this morning it was the clematis Claire de lune Evirin. The surprise factor made it the clear winner. Enjoying the morning ritual of a stroll through the garden, I turned a corner and there it was with three open blooms. It's taken several years for this clematis to reach this point. I was tempted several times to pull the darn thing out; it seemed a waste of the copper trellis, a handcrafted birthday gift from my husband. At one point it appeared to have died. But it stayed and persevered and now I know that pale lavender is the color of patience rewarded.

The color works well with the blue-purple Ajuga reptans (bugleweed)
in the background.
The clematis is growing in a semi-shady spot
on the north side of the house.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

A salad with bite

For years, I'd seen French sorrel (Rumex) in the herb books but never bothered to try growing it until a few years ago. It's not the most attractive plant, but the tiny seedling I plopped in place then came up early and strong this year. It had to be used. While there are recipes for sauces and soups (none of which I've attempted so far), I've taken a liking to using the leaves in salads. The tangy, citrus flavor adds some nice bite to the more mellow lettuce. Just pick a few leaves, wash, tear into bite-size pieces and toss with the other greens in your salad. My sorrel is thriving in a sunny spot in the herb garden; I even spotted some seedling progeny when I was weeding there the other day. But happy though it may be in its current location, I think a move to another, less visible spot may be in order.

Meanwhile, its cousin bloody dock (Rumex sanguineus) is making a return appearance in the front bed but didn't survive the winter in the courtyard berm. Go figure. I love the foliage on this plant, but it's not recommended for eating. I love the name even more: "bloody dock!" It's a nice substitute for cursing.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Tulips on my mind

The calendar may say June, but it feels more like fall today. Daytime temperatures in the 40s aren't unheard of this time of year, but that doesn't make them any more palatable. So, if the weather conjures up visions of autumn maybe it's an appropriate time to think about fall planting. I'm thinking about tulips. Of course, it helps that the Beauty from Bulbs catalog from John Sheepers arrived last week and with it Brian's announcement that we need to plant more species tulips. Indeed we do. We've dabbled with species tulips and so far have been very happy with the results. They're undemanding and beautiful. Here's a sampling of the show we enjoyed this spring, in order of appearance:

1. Tulipa turkestanica: This cool little baby has multiple flowers on each stem. It strikes me as an incredibly happy flower, probably because it blooms early when I really need a dose of optimism. It flutters and dances beautifully in a light breeze.

2. Tulipa humilis violacea: Lovely pools of magenta-purple. Rabbits got some of them this year, but not too many. That's tall garden phlox off to the right. It will help camouflage the tulip's dying foliage. Like other bulbs, you want to let the foliage of species tulips ripen before cutting them back.

3. Professor de Monsseri: This Greigii tulip has mottled foliage and red and yellow blooms. That's Sedum cauticola coming up between the bulbs. Another way to help camouflage dying/unattractive bulb foliage.

4. Tulipa dasystemon: The yellow center with white tips reminds me of fresh fried eggs. Delicious!

5. Tulipa hageri 'Splendens' (above and below): Love the skinny leaves and rusty red, dainty blooms. That's pussytoes (Antennaria) surrounding the tulips. I don't really care for the flowers of pussytoes so I'll whack them off and enjoy the silvery mat-forming foliage.