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The Twelve Plants of Christmas

I spent some time yesterday assembling a wreath to decorate my door.

I started by coiling a long aggressive elaeagnus stem to make my wreath form.  Then I collected and added an assortment of greenery, fresh and dried flowers and fruit.

When I counted, I realized that I had chosen 12 different plant species.  Everything was selected for a purpose or sentimental reason.

 

So… for the twelve days of Christmas my garden gave to me:

Can you find all 12 plants in my wreath?

 

A budded mume twig

Aromatic Cedar

Holly from a friend

And dried roses for remembrance

 

Fruiting Possumhaw

Hypericum for health

A spray of silvery mums

And Star Magnolia to lead the wise

 

Wedding hydrangeas

First narcissus blooms

Vaccinium darrowii

And robust red camellias.

A Late Splash of Orange

We had enough of a hard frost to fry the African blue basil in my front yard.  But then our weather progressed from balmy winter days to muggy winter days.

I can see this 'Georgia Gem' blueberry from my bedroom window. Wilbur B-Diddy Bobo likes it.

I am really appreciative of the fall leaf color that is hanging in.  Right now the blueberries are my favorites.  I try to never draw a landscape plan without using a few blueberries.  As landscape plants alone they have lovely late winter flowers, nice arching stems and day glow orange fall leaves.  Then, of course, the tasty fruit is there for me and the birds.

I’ve noticed several rabbiteye blueberries (Vaccinium ashei) in my neighborhood with very showy fall color.  My rabbiteye blueberries here have pretty good color but my showiest blueberry is a variety called ‘Georgia Gem’.

‘Georgia Gem’ is actually a southern highbush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum).  Here in the first week of December the leaves are a startling coppery orange.  They show no sign of dropping any time soon.

Woody strolled on a shag carpet of cypress straw last weekend.

This has also been a stellar year for bald cypress color.  It has been so fine, in fact, that I’ve been embarrassed to remember that I used to think that bald cypress didn’t have very good fall color.  I’ve officially apologized to cypress trees everywhere because I was just wrong!

After the hickory next door lost its leaves, we could see the Earth Day cypress glowing like a beacon even though it is well over 200 feet from our deck.

The Earth Day cypress was planted by my students during an Earth Day celebration at Meridian Community College where I used to teach.    Two years later I walked out the back door of my classroom one day to find the poor tree ripped out of the ground and lying there with roots exposed.

After walking past it for two or three days, I decided to take it home.  It was about 8′ tall but was so dehydrated and emaciated that I could carry it by myself.  Richard made fresh clean cuts on the roots where the tree had been ripped from the ground and we planted it in our wet area.

The Earth Day cypress lived to tell the tale.  It took a lick or two during Katrina but is about 40′ tall now.

My bald cypress trees are still holding a little of their bronzy foliage.   Most of the leaves are in a colorful pool beneath the trees.  Walking through the cypress grove is like walking on a soft spongy orange carpet.

It’s a soggy dreary day today.  But… no worries – orange color shows up well on cloudy days.

When I pass my bedroom window on the west side, I can see the Earth Day cypress.   When I turn toward the south, I am treated to a view of the ‘Georgia Gem’.

Thanks to these two – it’s a lovely day!

 

A Strong Foundation

Right now the giant leopard plant is blooming beside my front door and the purple gazing ball echos the 'Tameukeyama' maple's fall color.

I taught a Landscape Design class for quite a few years.

We always spent a good bit of time discussing the foundation planting.

I still remember the first time I heard that term.   A “foundation planting” must be the basis of all landscaping, I thought.  It sounded important and mysterious…

But actually the term just referred to a planting that bordered the foundation of a house.

On older houses, the foundation planting served the purpose of hiding the unsightly things that might accumulate in the crawl space under a house – much like the skirt on a trailer.

A couple of years before I moved into my present residence, I decided that my then rental house needed a foundation planting redo.

For inspiration – I reviewed all the “rules” that I once taught all my eager design students.

The giant leopard plant offers interesting foliage texture all year long and surprises me with a bouquet of early winter daisies.

Rule #1 – Always accent the front door using a plant with striking form, texture or color or an attractive hard feature.

Rule #2 – Clearly define the edges of the bed.

Rule #3 – Plan for interest in all seasons since you will be likely enter the house in this area almost every day of the year.

Rule #4 – Repeat plants arranging them in masses or small groups.

Then – I modified the list and added a few new rules.

Rule #5 –  Incorporate native plants.

Rule # 6 – Paint your house a color that will serve as a nice backdrop for the plants.

Rule #7 – Use plants or yard art that has sentimental value.

And last but not least, Rule #8 – use the plants that have been sitting around in your nursery instead of going out to buy new ones.

So I followed the Eight Rules and have been pleased with the results.

The 'Miss Patricia' holly, 'Rosa's Blush' dwarf blueberry and 'Taylor's Rudolph' dwarf yaupon are evergreen and variable in hue.

The plants closest to the front sidewalk have strong features.  The giant leopard plant (Farfugium japonicum ‘Giganteum’) has large glossy leaves 24-7.  I also appreciate the fact that it blooms in early winter when little else is in flower.  The ‘Tameukeyama’ Japanese maple has extremely fine textured foliage, intense red-purple fall color and a striking growth habit.

Just in case two accents weren’t enough, I perched my favorite purple gazing ball on top of my husband’s grandmother’s bird bath pedestal to serve as a third.

Next to the maple, I grouped a trio of fruiting plants.  Darrow’s dwarf blueberry (Vaccinium darrowii ‘Rosa’s Blush’) is a lovely shade of gray green with pastel pink growing tips.   Dangling white blossoms are precursors to a crop of tiny blueberries.   My two hollies – ‘Miss Patricia’ and ‘Taylor’s Rudolph’  are not quite so precocious.  I’m hoping they will begin to produce red holly berries in the next year or so.  Right now I have to be content with the deep green foliage they offer.

The bed is bordered with small pieces of petrified wood gifted by my friend, Peter Loos and carpeted with a planting of native Louisiana phlox.  I think that the plants are quite striking in front of the background colors I have chosen for the house.

And 99% of this planting originated in my little backyard nursery.   Many of the plants were gifts from nursery friends or souvenirs of vacations.  Others were propagated from cuttings or seed.  Many had sentimental value.

It was wonderfully liberating to get them all in the ground so that I could really live with them as landscape plants.

And so that I had enough space in the nursery to start a new plant collection!

Change of Heart

Junebug (aka Muffin) grazes behind a righteous clump of Spring Beauty in a disturbed area on our land.

Right now in my part of the world a humble little wildflower adorns the roadsides.  It even occurs in fields and lawns if herbicide has not been rampantly applied.

I am speaking, of course, of a frothy little thing known as Spring Beauty or Claytionia virginica.

Many years ago my friend Peter gave me a carefully nurtured pot of Spring beauty.  I accepted politely, but as he handed it to me I wondered “WTF?”.

After all it was not a very showy plant even in full bloom and it was everywhere in the Black Belt Prairie where I grew up.

Why propagate it and label it with a carefully scripted tag indicating date and place of origin?  Seemed like overkill…

But I was younger then.  I missed a few subtleties.

And I was not alone.  For the most part, I don’t think young people notice Spring beauty.

It is too small.  It is white or pinkish and seems to disappear in certain kinds of light.  It is difficult to photograph.

Now, however, my attitude has certainly changed.

I’m on a crusade.  I must have more Spring Beauty.  I crave it like Chris Walken craves the cow bell.  I’ve learned that the power of Spring Beauty lies in numbers.

I want it in every patch of lawn.

I want to watch it feed my honeybees.

I stop people and point it out to them.  They look quizzically at me.

And I realize that I’ve come full circle.

 

 

White Trash Composting

I’m a lazy composter.

I let piles of leave lie around and rot in place.  When I was a kid, my Icey called the resulting  rich brown earthy mixture “leaf mold”.   I can assure you that leaf mold is fine stuff.

As for my kitchen scraps, I just dump them in a pile and ever so often add a layer of leaves.

Every time I do a nursery cleanup I dump pots of dead soil in.

Here is the lovely lupine in my compost pile. Note the eggshells and coffee filters in the background.

Occasionally I also throw expired seed packets, the residue after I have cleaned seed and moldy bird seed in with the veggie trimmings, eggshells and coffee filters.

As a result, I sometimes have some interesting volunteers in the old compost pile.

Last year I had a dense stand of black oil sunflower plants.  The bunnies loved them.  Then a coral bean (Erythrina herbaceae) popped up.   I was excited to have such a cool prairie plant in the compost.

This winter I have been noticing several plants that are definitely lupines.

I sent pictures out to several of my plant friends.  The consensus was that the plants were Texas bluebonnets (Lupinus texensis).

But yesterday, I noticed that one was blooming.  It is a pale lavender – not the deep blue color I would expect from a bluebonnet.

I’ll send the picture out again to see if anyone has other ideas.  I suppose it could be an unusual color form of the Texas bluebonnet.

Meanwhile, I’ve been going around humming a Willis Allen Ramsey song from my old college days called “Geraldine and the Honeybee”.   It goes like this:

“Geraldine chrysanthemine prettiest li’l flower that I ever seen
She’s a friend of mine; she’s a friend of mine
Petal chile growin’ wild, even tho she’s livin’ on a compost pile
She’s my glitter and my gold; she’s my glitter and my gold
Oh Geraldine have you forgotten
Baby I have come for your sweet pollen
I can’t wait to pollinate come on pretty baby let’s celebrate
The warm and the livin’, the takin’ and the givin’
Love ya high, sting ya low, buzz ya everywhere that you’ll let me go
Let me go my way, mama, let me go my way
Oh Geraldine have you forgotten
Baby I have come for your sweet pollen
I might go crazy, I might go blind I’m never goin’ back to that honeysuckle vine
Long as you’re alive, I’ll buzz around your hive
Geraldine chrysanthmine prettiest li’l flower that I ever seen
She’s my honeydew baby, honey do me again”
I realize that my compost pile would be much more productive if I did it by the book.  But it certainly is interesting this way and sometimes it even makes me want to sing.

Memory Lane

The dwarf huckleberry is budded and ready to burst into bloom.

Today is my birthday.

I awoke to thunderstorms and the rain has continued for most of the day.

I usually spend my birthday doing a little planting and meandering around in the garden.  After all those are my favorite things to do.

But today, due to the weather, I spent a lot of time listening to the pattering rain – ensconced on the couch with my computer.

When the rain slowed to a drizzle, I went forth to plant.

First I excavated a hole for a batch of spider lily bulbs (Lycoris radiata) that my friend Jerry Palmer gave me.  Then I planted 3 mysterious daffodils pilfered by my friend Pete from a field behind the Meat Pie Store we often visit in Louisiana.

The Optician, one of Marc Pastorek's ceramic heads, is thrilled that soon he will co-habit with a coral honeysuckle.

I headed to the back yard next.   I had set several pots in place for planting and they’ve been waiting on me for almost two weeks.  They seemed to taunt me every time I looked out the back window.

Their roots are in the real dirt now.  The rain tonight will settle them in and the taunting will come to an end.

I planted a couple of coral honeysuckles (Lonicera sempervirens) from Dr. Dirt.  I will train them to scramble up the posts that hold our Marc Pastorek heads.

I prepared three lovely holes for the native bellflowers (Campanula americana) that I got from Terri and Mike at Gro-Wild.

I admired one of my first year daffodils.  It is a large golden trumpet called ‘California’.  It looks like a keeper.  Then I found the first flowers on an old favorite, the sweet little ‘Hawera’.

'California' is one of the newest dafs in residence.

I was surprised to find plump pink flower buds on my dwarf huckleberry (Vaccinnium darrowii) and glad that the early viburnums and the pearlbush (Exochorda racemosa) are still blooming.

Like many garden rambles, this one felt like a walk down Memory Lane.  Almost everything that I planted or admired reminded me of one of my plant buds and brought a smile to my face.

I returned to the couch and my computer.  I was wet and muddy

The dogs slept contentedly after their garden romp.

In my younger years, I might have considered this to be a boring  birthday.

But… today was a good day.

 

The Purloined Iris

I enjoy this little blue iris when it blooms every spring.

About 15 years ago I was wandering in the woods with a friend.

We chanced upon a power line that was quite obviously chemically maintained.

The power line ran up a steep slope in a lot of sun.  The soil was poor and rocky.

And… there was a beautiful stand of a small blue iris in full bloom.

I speculated that the iris must have been dormant when herbicide was sprayed.  And I rationalized that it was okay to rescue a few due to the harsh circumstances they were surviving.

I later identified the iris as the dwarf violet iris (Iris verna var. smalliana).  It is listed as “occasional” in the Vascular Flora of Lauderdale County that I recently got my mitts on.

It has thrived in my back garden for all these years beneath a Japanese maple.

I do not encourage people to randomly dig from the wild, but I am glad that I stole this little gem.

A Valentine’s Bouquet

Valentine's Day Greetings!

Happy Valentine’s Day to all who visit this blog today!

Please accept this token of my esteem from ‘Sugar Cups’, ‘Rapture’, ‘Campernelle’, ‘Ice Follies’, ‘Incomparabilis’, ‘Erlicheer’, ‘Van Sion’ and the diminutive Little Sweeties.

These daffodils and the honeysuckle scented daphne are full of calorie-free sweetness.

The  ‘Professor Sargent’ camellia adds a touch of Valentine’s Day crimson.

The wild huckleberry is a reminder to be free.

And the luscious lavender ‘Koromo-Shikabu’ spider azalea is for those who are different.

Cheers!

Another Cup of Sugar… Please

This 2nd year clump of 'Sugar Cups' glows in the late afternoon sun.

I’m sure that those who have followed this blog for a while will agree that I am a daffodil nut.

I have been collecting for years and spend part of my annual vacation making daffodil tours.

I know those varieties that bloom early, mid-season and late.  I expect the first in February, peak bloom in March and a few late stragglers in April.

But this year…  I would say that my dafs are at least half finished ALREADY!

This turn of events has rocked my world.  I am discombobulated for sure.

My disorientation is further enhanced by the fact that I am in a new house.  The old garden is next door but the view from these windows is different.

The ‘February Gold’ dafs in the sideyard of my old house came and went before February – barely noticed.

The treasured ‘Barrett Browning’ blossoms in the back garden were gone before I picked a single stem.

Here are my 'Sugar Cups' up close and personal!

But there is always a silver lining…

When I survey the back garden from my new bedroom I am dazzled by a spectacular clump of ‘Sugar Cups” and a long golden swathe of ‘Campernelle’.

The ‘Sugar Cups’ are a tazetta hybrid that is creamy with a deeper yellow cup.  At first glance it looks like a golden tinted ‘Grand Primo’.

It is much taller than ‘Grand Primo’ with sturdy stems and an abundance of flowers.

I bought 8 ‘Sugar Cups’ bulbs last year from Bill the Bulb Baron.  The bulbs were hefty and, as usual, I planted them in a clump.

My theory is that if I dig a shallow wide hole and pack the bulbs in so there is a little space between each, the planting will look like an established clump very quickly.  Truthfully, I came to this method because it was much easier to plant this way.  I use this method almost exclusively.

The ‘Sugar Cups’ have responded well to this treatment.  In year two they look like an established stand.  I have harvested at least 9 stems from this planting and there are plenty left.

They gleam like a beacon when I look out my new bedroom window.  They are flanked by a fragrant lavender spider azalea and a 100 foot white oak.

Life is good!


 

Grand Primo?????

Here is a vase full of 'Grand Primo' and other lovely January flowers.

Yesterday after much rain, I ventured out to see what was going on in the garden.

I was startled to realize that the ‘Grand Primo’ daffodils were in bloom.

‘Grand Primo’ is a small white narcissus with a creamy yellow cup.  Flowers are borne in clusters and are very fragrant.  It is one of my favorite daffodils.

‘Grand Primo’, in my experience, blooms in late February or early March.

And yet – here it was in January.

I didn’t know quite what to think.

I was delighted to see it and yet sad that it would soon be gone.


 

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