Sunday, January 24, 2010

Pattern play with the snow

Today's slow, heavy, wet snow was just right for focusing the eye on patterns absent in other seasons.

A few rose hips still cling to Rosa glauca in the herb garden.

Capped with fresh snow, bee balm zombies march toward nowhere.

The tree lilac cuts a lacy silhouette against the house.

Monday, January 18, 2010

For your consideration: Baptisia

Yellow foxglove is stealing the show here, but that blue at left is Baptisia australis.

I always knew baptisia was a winner and this year the Perennial Plant Association says so, too. Baptisia is the group's choice for perennial of the year for 2010.

Baptisia australis, blue false indigo, was among the first perennials planted at sillydoggarden before it was sillydoggarden. It took several years for the original plant to get itself solidly situated, but now it anchors a corner of the garage. Even though it's not full sun, the plant performs well there in ordinary soil with minimum care. It's a powerful plant, dying back completely in winter, sprouting like a dark blue-black version of asparagus spears in the spring and then morphing into a shrub for the rest of the growing season. It can get a little floppy so last summer I experimented with growing it through a peony grid to help maintain a tidier appearance. The foliage is clean and clover-like and at first blush the flowers look like sweet peas or lupines (both of which are in the same family -- Fabaceae -- as baptisia). In the fall, the seed pods turn black and rattle in the wind -- it can be a little spooky at night if you're not familiar with it.

You can see the seedpods at right; they'll turn black later in the season and eventually crack open and spill the seeds.

Baptisia also readily self-sows. I'll pot up seedlings, grow them on and plant elsewhere around the garden or give them away. Self-sown seedlings have grown into charming companions for 'Grand Cru' lilies and daylilies.

But wait! there's more. Holly Scoggins over at The Garden Professors writes about baptisia cultivars and hybrids, including 'Twilite Prairieblues' which in a few short years has become one of my very favorite perennials. The color is a moody, dusky purple that I can't get enough of. Tony Avent at Plant Delights Nursery says that baptisias root easily in spring when stems are still soft. Use a rooting hormone and high humidity and in about 8 weeks you should have roots. Now, for a plant like this, that's definitely worth trying.

'Twilite Prairieblues' is a stunner in late June.

'Twilite Prairieblues' mixes it up with chives (left) and some declining daffodil foliage (right) in late June.

And the same plant (back left) in early September. It's really filled out. That's summer savory in front and clethra at back right.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Timing is everything

January sunshine streams through the petals of this amaryllis and paints petal edges with a touch of yellow.

Long before Thanksgiving we were cruising the aisles at Menards when we spotted a display of amaryllis bulbs. Your choice, red or white, each 5 bucks. Well alrighty then, let's take a red one -- for $5 the promise of bodacious blooms for Christmas is a lot cheaper than Prozac. I had the bulb potted up within a week, taking care to use my own plastic pot. (The pot that came with the bulb had no drainage. I don't get it -- drainage is everything.) Anyway, according to my estimates, I was about eight weeks from bloom and right on schedule for the holidays. But .... no. The buds only began showing color about a week ago.

Well, different varieties of amaryllis take varying lengths of time to flower. And, well, big-box home improvement stores probably aren't the best source of these bulbs. They're good for a cheap hit of color or texture or fragrance, but you have to be comfortable with the quality of handling and information you're getting. 

No matter, the amaryllis has bloomed and actually, I'm probably enjoying it more now without the competition from the tree and other holiday decorations.

If you want to know more about timing amaryllis read this .

Smooth, shapely buds are pretty in a quieter way.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The wildlife garden

This rabbit joined our bunny relocation program.
It may be winter but there's still plenty happening in the garden. Yesterday started and ended with wildlife. Those pesky rabbits were at it again, gnoshing on whatever isn't protected. That means they're chewing on some of the roses in the herb garden that aren't protected by wire cages. So out comes the live trap and sunflower seed bait. Yesterday morning, sometime between 6 a.m. and 8 a.m., one of the critters made a wrong move and wham! its breakfast was over. (How do I know there is more than one rabbit? Because one moonlit night I saw three at once bopping around the yard. And, well, they're rabbits -- there's always more than one.) Fortunately, it wasn't that cold and he wasn't in the trap for long. I loaded the trap into the car and released him down the road -- far enough away, I hope, to make a return unlikely.

The deer also have become regular visitors -- we see them almost every night and often during the day as well. They're still having some trouble moving in the deep snow but not so much that they're unable to browse around the bird feeders and scotch pines.

This is just one reason why many of our shrubs and small trees are caged in winter.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Seventh Day January up for viewing

Buds of azalea 'White Lights' will go from spare (left) in January to frothy (right) in June.
Buds, bark and needles are the stars in the January edition of the Seventh Day Project. A variety of winged and furry creatures also are a dominant theme this time of year. In recent days, we've had bunches of finches (and other birds), a trio of deer, rabbits, a short-tailed weasel that managed to make off with a vole while I watched and squirrels that scamper across the crusty snow like there's no tomorrow. 

Here's what happens (below) when the Sillydog corners a squirrel on the deck. The squirrel clings to the house siding until Sillydog is called back into the house and the coast is clear.

 Squirrels are either fearless or reckless. But they've managed to outsmart Sillydog so far.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Dealing with the cold

 A pina colada is garnished with fresh pineapple and maraschino cherries. If that doesn't jingle your bells, what will?

It's times like this -- when we're knee-deep in a cold spell -- that friends in warmer climes ask, "How do you stand it?" Here's one approach that seems to help:

First, get out the blender and make a batch of pina coladas. The flavors of pineapple and coconut immediately transport one to a place where it's summer all day every day. We follow the method outlined in "The Craft of the Cocktail" by Dale Degroff. Degroff says the trick to making a great pina colada is to use both light rum and dark rum, a dash of bitters and heavy cream. We agree.

With summer on my mind, it's a good time to check on some favorite tender plants wintering in the cool, dark closets under the stairs. My record on overwintering tuberous plants such as dahlias, begonias and chocolate cosmos is mixed, but I've done pretty well with waterlilies and brugmansias.

This is my first stab at saving Begonia boliviensis 'Bonfire'. The plant was too lovely to pass up last spring. I'm following Margaret Roach's advice at A Way to Garden -- I cut it back to nothing, left it in its pot and am leaving it dry until it start to shows some bit of growth (hopefully!) in the spring.

It's also my first try with these 'Black Beauty' dahlias. We grew them from seed last year and I'm experimenting with saving the tubers to see if I get flowers earlier.

Chocolate cosmos (Cosmos astrosanguineus) is a favorite and somewhat pricey plant. In the fall, I pulled the plants, cut off the foliage, shook off excess soil and am storing the tubers in a paper bag. So far, so good. I didn't notice any rotting flesh when I checked the bags.

Two closets and two brugmansias. I let the pots dry out and the foliage drop before cutting the plants back by a third to a half and plopping the pots into the dark. I hope they stay dormant until March/April before moving them back into the sun. I do check the soil occasionally throughout the winter and if it seems too dry, throw down a little water. But no soaking -- I don't want the roots to rot.

Waterlilies have become routine. They're hardy waterlilies, but I grow them in containers so they come in for the winter. I cut back all the foliage, double-bag the pots in plastic garbage bags and put them in the cool, dark closet. I give them a little water once or twice a winter. Peeking into the bags the other day, I could see they were already sprouting new growth, but that's OK. They'll be fine until spring.