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Magnolia Musings

Ahhh!  The sweetbays are blooming.

It’s a major event around here.

Sweetbay flowers are 4" across or less. The leaves are silver-backed and about 6" long.

Every evening about 7:30 the sweetbay magnolias (Magnolia virginiana) emit a deliciously wonderful scent.  The fragrance drifts through the air like a force of nature.

We are certain to be sitting on the deck about that time.

We breathe deeply and the air around us is infused with the fragrance.

The scent wafts from a nice little grove of sweetbays in a low area that we call “The Bottom”.  It drifts over the hill past the giant white oak and settles around us

The fragrance is familiar and recognizable to me.

I was returning home a few days ago around the specified hour when an olfactory jolt stopped me in my tracks.  I smiled and then said to the ephemeral manifestation “There you are!”

It never occurred to me that the scent originated from the blooming southern magnolia a few feet away.  It WAS the intense magnolia-lemony essence of sweetbay.

Not that there’s anything wrong with a southern magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora).  They are considered by many to be the stateliest of trees.  The flowers are large and beautiful. Their scent is delectable if you take the time to bury your nose inside and inhale.

I also love my cowcumbers (Magnolia macroplylla).  They are startlingly beautiful with 3′ leaves and flowers that measure a foot across.  They are like supermodel magnolias and are fragrant in a very fulfilling way.

Sweetbay is a kind of plain Jane magnolia with medium textured leaves and the smallest flowers of the three.

And as long as I’m talking trash, let me add that sweetbays habitually throw a late spring funk .   Just after new growth resumes the old leaves turn a pitiful yellow and gradually fall from the tree.

Compared to the others, sweetbays are kind of low brow. After all they are a pioneer species that will volunteer in swampy wasteland while the other two are climax species that require a pristine woodland setting.

Some of our trees have obviously been mown or bush-hogged to the ground during the old days when this was a cattle farm.  After the butchering, many came back as multi-trunked trees.

But being pioneers, they did come back.  They grew and are now over 60′ tall.   I admire their tenacity.

And I am delighted that their blooms are the sweetest of all.  I could pick them out of a lineup even if I was wearing a blindfold.

 

 

 

The Kitchen Sink Project

During winter and early spring I usually keep a vase of daffodils by my kitchen sink.

I am such a fool for dafs that I want to study and admire them as closely as possible during bloom season.

As I work at the sink, my eyes settle on the details of a particular variety and sometimes I get a delicious whiff of their fragrance.

It also has occurred to me that the series of arrangements that I make allows me to remember which varieties bloom together.   This knowledge helps me to place them more wisely in my landscape.

So today – I will share with you the blooming sequence this spring for the past month.  I am embarrassed to admit that the photo quality is not that great on some of these shots.  I believe all were taken with my cell phone – many under low light conditions.  The pictures were not intended to win any photography awards but were taken as a garden record.

On 2-26-2014, I was thrilled to see the early daffodils.

This arrangement contains the earliest bloomers for me this year and includes: ‘February Gold’, ‘Campernelle’, ‘Barrett-Browning’, ‘Grand Primo’, Lent Lily and Little Sweetie.  Notice how I padded the arrangement with boxwood greenery and used a disfigured blossom or two.  Dafs were in short supply!

Eleven days later on 3-9-2014, more daffodil varieties were blooming in the garden.

Most of the varieties mentioned above were still in bloom but I focused on collecting the newcomers for this arrangement.  Roman hyacinths and summer snowflakes are included along with the daffodil varieties: ‘Rapture’, ‘Petrel’, ‘Sir Watkin’, ‘Tete a Tete’, ‘Trevithian’, Texas Star (Narcissus x intermedius), ‘Grand Primo’ and Little Sweetie.

The weather was nice and my husband was cooking so I assembled this one on the deck railing on 3-15-14.

This week I chose to make an all daffodil (except for the lone Roman hyacinth) arrangement.  This arrangement contains: ‘Beryl, ‘Trevithian’, ‘Falconet’, ‘Petrel, ‘Little Sweetie’ ‘ Mrs. Langtry’ and a found ‘Incomparabilis’.  I still remember how good this arrangement smelled!

On 3-22-2014 I included the first azalea flowers from 'Vittatta fortunei' along with these mostly mid-season daffodils.

The daffodils were peaking when I made this arrangement.  It was hard to chose which contenders to put in the vase.  However, there is only so much room beside the kitchen sink so I picked stems of: ‘Barrett Browning’, ‘Pipit’, ‘Geranium’, ‘Trevithian’, ‘Tahiti’ ‘Little Sweetie’ and an unknown tazetta from Bill the Bulb Baron.

Today (3-27-2014) I picked these dafs which are mostly representative of the late season even though we had a hard frost 2 nights ago!

I picked one of the last pink camellias from an unknown variety and settled it into a vase with these (mostly) late season daffodils.  My arrangement includes:  ‘Beryl’, ‘Yellow Cheerfulness’, ‘Geranium’, ‘Stainless’, ‘Niveth’ ‘Sweetness’, Narcissus fernandesii, ‘ Hawera’, ‘Falconet’ and ‘Seagull’.

I wonder how many readers stayed with me until the end of this self-indulgent rambling.

If you hung in there I thank you for bearing with me.

You may now consider yourself an official daffodil fool and as my friend Peachie Saxon says “You are sick, sick, sick!”

Ahhhh!

This daphne meatball is covered with hundreds of flower clusters.

The last couple of days have been cold windy cloudy and miserable.

But this weekend was a different story.

On Sunday we sat on the deck.  We basked in a delicious spring-like breeze and inhaled the delightful scent of daphne.

Sweet daphne (Daphne odora) is one of my favorite winter blooming shrubs.  It is low and mounding – almost a little too meatball-like for me.

I’m embarrassed that someone might think I sheared it to look like that.  But, I swear, I never prune it except to extract a sprig to put in a vase.

It is an Asian evergreen that is said to be short lived.  I have had daphnes that lived 20 years or more with no special care, however.

These flower clusters survived temperatures in the single digits with only a little burn.

The white form blooms a week or two later. Both are beautiful in bud.

When they go it is usually due to a wilt disease that progresses quickly.

The shrub appears to be thriving one day and a couple of days later, it is dead as a hammer.

I just learned also that it is poisonous.

So it’s a short lived poisonous Asian meatball.

And against my better judgement, I dearly love it.

For the six winter weeks that it is in bloom, the smell of honeysuckle drifts through my garden.

And that, as they say,  is priceless!

I walk through the back yard almost drugged by the fragrance.  I think about Dorothy and the lion snoozing away in a field of poppies.

I keep walking though.

I realize that I am just a little woozy and I smile.

Five Reasons I Love My Mume

These blooms were buds that survived snow and nine degree temperatures,

I am a big fan of the Japanese apricot (Prunus mume).

My trees are the ‘Peggy Clarke’ variety.  They sport deliciously fragrant pink flowers as early as December here.  They flower for a month or six weeks.

With record low temperatures this year, I have had intermittent blooms since mid January.  The open blooms did not survive the snow or the single digits.  The buds, however, hunkered down and then popped open as soon as the ice was gone.

This tree is one tough cookie.  The mume in my old garden was crushed beneath a giant pine during Hurricane Katrina.  After the pine debris was removed and all the damaged wood was pruned, the mume was little more than a stump.  The tree regenerated from the trunk and scaffold branch stubs into a nice specimen.

This Japanese apricot regenerated from a stump after Hurricane Katrina.

Mume flowers are particularly lovely.  They are a clear bright pink and are borne on bare green twigs.  They look like cake decorations and are a wonderful addition to winter flower arrangements.

On warm winter days I like to stand beneath the tree and just inhale.  The floral scent is intoxicating – sweet with a hint of cinnamon.

Just this year as I was basking in the mume scent, I noticed a persistent droning buzz coming from the blossoms overhead.

I investigated and there were a lot of honeybees foraging on the mume.  After I began paying attention I realized that every day (weather permitting) the mume was full of honeybees.

Mume blooms look like lovely pink cake decorations to me!

I also noticed that my own little worker bees were returning to their hives with pollen baskets full.  Click on this link to see a short video I made of  Honeybees on Japanese Apricot

I’ve always loved my mumes because they bloom for a long time in a season when floral color is lacking.   I’m appreciative that they are tough, fragrant and lovely in a vase.

And now I have yet another reason to love my mumes.  Their fragrance beckons to my queens – Elizabeth, Latifah and Maria – and the worker bees come forth and return to the hive loaded with pollen.

And there you have it – Reason #5.  The mumes feed my honeybees in winter.   That, my friends, is really special!

 

 

Beginnings

I gathered early daffodils, a pink camellia and Japanese apricot twigs for this New Year's flower arrangement.

I’ve been in the throes of a remodeling project and have done little gardening or flower arranging for the duration.

Now that the kitchen is remodeled and the porch has a roof, I am beginning to devote some time to the green world again.

After all, the winter flowers are beginning to bloom and I am a total sucker for winter flowers.

Today I picked the first yellow daffodil of the year – ‘Princess Hallie’s Gold’.  This is one of Bill the Bulb Baron’s selections. I also gathered a ‘Minor Monarque’ narcissus bloom.  This is a white and yellow passalong pilfered from an old house site.

I harvested a mysterious pink camellia and the first blooms off the ‘Peggy Clarke’ Japanese apricot.

I assembled all of these with some dried wildflower seedheads and have enjoyed my little arrangement all day long.

It was a good way to begin a new year.

Up Close and Personal

From my deck I look into the top of my 12' sweet olive. The fragrance is intoxicating!

Right now the air all around my place is infused with the luscious scent of sweet olive.

Most of this wonderful fragrance emits from the lusty 12 footer that grows beside my deck.

According to my husband Richard I brought this sweet olive home in the early 1990’s.

I knew that the flower scent would waft through the air for a long distance but I didn’t want to take a chance on missing it.  So I kept the sweet olive up close and personal by using it as a deck plant.   It lived in a terra cotta pot on my deck for over a decade and was invited to every deck party and cookout!

Right now my longtime companion sweet olive is living in a construction zone beside the deck.

Eventually it became pot bound and needed to be released into the wild.  So I planted it beside the deck of the new house we had just purchased next door.

It has been there for the past 12 years.  It has grown large enough that we had to prune it off the stairs several times.

For the past year we have been planning a deck renovation.   I was afraid the osmanthus would have to be severely pruned.   One of our deck expansion plans would have even required removal.  We discarded that plan and decided to reroute the stairs to give the sweet olive more room.

It has rewarded us this fall with a bountiful crop of blossoms.  We’ve thoroughly enjoyed them while sitting out on our new deck.

We shared a deck with that plant for over 10 years.   Now it has grown up into our deck space and we are co-habiting again.

This time the roots are in real dirt and we’re lounging on our deck in the osmanthus canopy.

 

Frost in August

Here in Mississippi we’re in the midst of the oppressive heat of August.

I’m not complaining.  It’s just a fact of life.

But still – it’s August… in Mississippi…

Unless I stay indoors with the ac cranked, there is not much relief.

I can take a soak in the cold tub and dream of Paradise Falls for a while.  But… you can’t stay in the tub all day.

So I do all my gardening early while it’s still a little cool.  Then I opt for a cruise in the golf cart from one patch of shade to the next.

I pause at the Bee Meadow and watch the honeybees fan themselves on the “front porches” of their hives.  Then I linger to study the flowers.

This is the season of yellow daisies.  Sweet coneflower (Rudbeckia subtomentosa), orange black eyed Susan (Rudbeckia fulgida var. fulgida) and starry rosinweed (Silphium asteriscus) offer their golden blossoms to the sun.  The grasses (switch, big blue, Indian and Eastern gamma) are their stalwart companions.  The heat does not discourage these robust beauties.

But looking at all those warm orange and yellow blooms seems to make more sweat trickle down the back of my neck.  And looking at the grasses makes me itch.

 

Whiteleaf mountain mint and switch grass grace the Bee Meadow in August.

I am refreshed a bit though when I set my eyes on  the frosty bracts of the mountain mint that is blooming now.

Whiteleaf mountain mint (Pycnanthemum albescens) is among the last native mints to bloom here.  In July tiny purple spotted flowers make their appearance surrounded at first by white edged leafy bracts.  By August the first frost comes and the entire bract turns hoary white.

 

Here's my best attempt to capture mountain mint's frosty white bracts.

I am not the only one who is drawn to the mountain mint.  A steady stream of pollinators visits the flowers.  At every viewing, I usually see at least four or five kinds of native bees and flies.    When I lean in close to study an unknown pollinator the mountain mint releases a heady mint scent into the air. Ahhh!

Last weekend I managed to identify an unknown pollinator that has intrigued me for over a decade.  The first time I saw this bee relative, I described it as an iridescent purple dirt dauber.   I’ve seen it regularly over the years but only when the mountain mint is in bloom.

So… I set out to solve the mystery and after a wasted hour (in the ac) on the computer, I determined that the mystery pollinator was a giant black wasp.  This is a gentle ground nesting wasp.  Usually the males visit the flowers and they cannot sting me because they have no ovipositor.

 

The giant black wasp is busy foraging on refreshing mountain mint nectar.

The females are far too busy to sting because they are hunting, stinging and carrying paralyzed katydids back to the nest to feed the youngsters.

The giant black wasp has a slender thread-like waist.  It is commonly close to 2 inches long.  In certain light it appears to be black but soon the sun illuminates metallic purple pigments.  It is quite striking.

So for a few moments I forget that the heat is hanging heavily around me and that the humid air is almost too liquid to breathe.  I am transfixed – I watch the giant black wasps forage.  I make note of the tiny sweat bees, the flower fly and a mysterious pollinating fly.  All of them are headed for the frosty bracts and minty nectar of the whiteleaf mountain mint.

I look past them all – hoping to see a giant black wasp mama flying toward her nest burdened by a stupified katydid.

I have not seen her yet.

But… there is still tomorrow!

Bee Meadow Update

We have had a rainy summer and the Bee Meadow has prospered.

During late June and July, wild bergamot or beebalm (Monarda fistulosa) and purple coneflower (Ecninacea purpurea) dominated the space.  Since beebalm is a member of the mint family, it is very aromatic.  On hot days, it wafted like incense and we could smell it as we approached the meadow.  The place was buzzing with all sorts of insect pollinators as well.

My friend Denice Kopf enjoyed the beebalm, purple coneflower and native grasses during her visit in late June.

The beebalm and coneflowers seemed to bloom forever.  Through most of July they were still going strong.

During July the orange butterfly weed bloomed for a second time and the purple liatris 'Kobold' chimed in.

A first sighting of a plant is always exciting.  This year I had the first blooms on the shiny coneflower (Rudbeckia nitida).  I planted it 3 years ago and had seen foliage but no blooms.

Rudbeckia nitida glows in the bee meadow with native switch grass and a mass of beebalm.

The finger false dragonhead (Physostegia digitalis) had bloomed before but this year with all the rain it was spectacular.  This species is native to Louisiana and Texas but not to Mississippi.  The plant was given to me by Jessie Johnson.  She dug a small start for me from the meadow at Briarwood.  So, of course, the plant is very special from an aesthetic point of view as well as an emotional one.

 

The physostegia is one of those rare plants that is as beautiful in bud as it is in flower.

I will say that the buds are very intriguing – like beautiful rows of niblet corn.  But … the flowers are not too shabby.

Physostegia flowers are strking!

And this brings us up to date.  It is now August.  The grasses are robust and the yellow daisies are in full bloom.  The whiteleaf mountain mint is frosty in spite of the heat.

I don’t think I have ever gotten so much enjoyment from a gardening effort with so little work!

An August update will be forthcoming.

More Bee Meadow, Please

I’ve been ailing this spring.   Sciatic nerve pain has prevented me from doing many things that I love – like gardening…

This new condition has made me even more appreciative of the plants that grow with little or no maintenance.

Because of this, the Bee Meadow is one of my favorite spots these days.

In mid-May, I vowed to post regular pictures of the Bee Meadow.  The last were posted on May 15.

Here is the latest installment.

This shot was taken on May 26, from my neighbor's hill. Richard is lounging in the golf cart as Woodrow meanders through the meadow.

The orange milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa) has been the highlight of the planting recently.  This native milkweed is beautiful in bloom but I am hoping it will provide a food source for the Monarch butterfly caterpillar.

The orange butterfly milkweed is a beauty right now.

This New England aster always provides a few early flowers.  The main bloom time will be in fall when the bees are in need of forage.

This New England aster came from my friend, Jan Midgley. According to Jan it dependably offers some blooms in early summer.

The bee balm (Monarda fistulosa) is just beginning to bloom.  It is a wonderful plant for all the pollinators.  I love the scent of the blooms and the leaves.

Yellow rosin weed and a robust eastern gamma grass sing backup for the lovely lavender bee balm.

So there you have the latest installment.  But… fear not, there is much more meadow to come!

 

 

Studying the Buds

I am happy to see signs of spring.

On warm days, the honeybees are buzzing around.  I’ve noticed that the buds are swelling and have even seen leaves on the most precocious ones.

This year as usual, I am charmed by the native azalea flower buds.

Native azalea buds are striking all winter with overlapping scales that catch the low slanting sun.

 

The scales become loose and often take on different colors as the buds swell.

 

The scales separate and begin to reveal the inner contents in a slowly dramatic strip tease.

 

The exotic erotic flower parts will continue to expand as they mature to the final flower color and release their intoxicating fragrance.

Stay tuned for further developments!  I will soon post pictures of the golden orange flame azalea (Rhododendron austrinum) and the precious pink wild honeysuckle azalea (Rhododendron canescens).

Right now I’m enjoying the green phase.

 

 

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