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Honeybee

'Honeybee' mingles with 'Autumn Pearl', 'Peggy Clarke' Japanese apricot and the final roses of the season.

We’ve barely had any winter yet – just a few nights in the mid-20’s and I already have spring fever.

I’m fairly certain that ‘Honeybee’ is the cause of my dilemma.

A couple of months ago I splurged on some daffodil bulbs from Bill the Bulb Baron.  Many of the Bulb Baron’s hybrids have been selected for their early bloom time.  I planted two of these very early bloomers – ‘Autumn Pearl’ and ‘Honeybee’  in the front driveway bed where I could not fail to notice their first flowers.

‘Autumn Pearl’ bloomed first.   I have really enjoyed her wonderful bunches of cream and white blossoms that are reminiscent of ‘Grand Primo’.     ‘Autumn Pearl’ has appeared in several bouquets.  She has also inspired me to pause and watch the wild bees and sulfur butterflies that forage in her nether regions.  That is quite a gift for the hectic holiday season.

When ‘Honeybee’ came along just last week though,  I was even more smitten.  Both these hybrids have one tazetta or bunch daffodil parent.  ‘Honeybee’, however has a wild jonquil (Narcissus jonquilla) or “Little Sweetie” as the other parent.  This means that my sweet little ‘Honeybee’ is golden yellow and full of that delicious jonquil fragrance that I cherish.

I’m pretty sure that i t was not just the appearance of the first yellow narcissus of the season that sent me longing for spring.  I think the scent sent me!

Now I’m not saying that I want to cut the winter short… I love that season too.  I’m just saying that sweet little ‘Honeybee’ with her precocious golden delightfully aromatic flowers makes me smile with thoughts of things to come.

Wildflower Groundcovers

The Louisiana phlox really is a perfect backdrop for the purple gazing ball by my front door.

I’ve got to admit that most of the mainstream groundcovers seriously annoy me.

Asiatic jasmine is very aggressive.  It forms deep dense mats and constant pruning is required to keep it in bounds.

English ivy will climb and strangle a tree.

Liriope and mondograss have better manners but are somewhat boring.

Out of necessity I have developed a short list of wildflower groundcovers that I use in my design work and around my own place.

The criteria for this group of plants is simple.

First, like traditional groundcovers, they must be low growing – usually no more than two feet even in bloom.

The Louisiana phlox was mingling with the atamasco lilies on our wildflower field trip yesterday.

Second, they must have interesting foliage even when not in bloom.  It is really nice, or course, if they are evergreen.

Third, like every other plant I buy or recommend, they must be relatively free of pests and easy to maintain.

The star of my garden right now is the very lovely Louisiana or woodland phlox (Phlox divaricata).  It is planted throughout the garden in shade or partly shaded situations.

This phlox has done remarkably well in my front flower bed on the shaded north side of the house even though the soil is abysmal.

The plants have attractive fine textured leaves all winter.

The cool icy blue blossoms are lovely right now.  In fact they have been blooming for almost three weeks and will probably continue for three more.

What a champ!

This lovely mass of woodland phlox was even more beautiful in person.

Yesterday I went with the Mississippi Native Plant Society to see wild Easter lilies a.k.a atamaso lilies (Zephyranthes atamasco) in bloom.

Our site was low, wet and shady.

The woodland phlox was in bloom there as well.

So there you have it – my wildflower groundcover in its natural habitat covering the ground in a swamp forest.

I had been to the site before but this was the first time I caught the phlox in full flower.

Still – maybe that’s where I got the idea!

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.


 

Winter Wonderland

My Peggy Clark Japanese apricot looks particularly fetching when adorned with glistening raindrops.

It has been unseasonably warm here.

The garden has more January flowers than I ever remember seeing.

My Japanese apricot (Prunus mume ‘Peggy Clarke’) is in full bloom.  The ground beneath is covered with pink confetti.   I’ve been surprised how many honeybees have been out working the flowers.

My Professor Sergeant camellia (Camellia japonica ‘Professor Sergeant’) at my old house next door, looks like a red carnation tree.  I’ve been pleasantly surprised that Fess is highly visible from the deck at my new house next door.

The daphnes are beautifully mounded and loaded with rounded flower clusters.

The Bulb Baron’s fall blooming tazetta daffodils are beginning to put on a show.  I kind of like it that here in Mississippi they will probably consistently bloom in early winter – a teaser before the feature presentation.

I'm quite taken with this Chinese camellia that is producing her first full crop of flowers this year.

I’m probably the most excited though that my Chinese camellia (Camellia fraterna) produced a good bloom for the first time.

This camellia was highly recommended by my bud Bill Fontenot.   On my annual December visits we would always view his prized specimen.

Bill loves this camellia because its diminutive flowers have a delicious scent.

His plant is a lovely thing with arched branches heavily laden with buds.

Heavily budded but unfortunately never in bloom when I was around to see.

On one visit I honed in on the plumpest bud I could find.  The bud was showing a little color and looked about ready to open.  I leaned forward and nuzzled it to try and catch a whiff…. but all was in vain.

Now, thanks to my friend Margie Jenkins at Jenkins Farm and Nursery, I have my own Chinese camellia.

The camellia is absolutely loaded with dainty blooms.  They are about two inches across and white with golden stamens.  The scent is indeed enticing.

It was worth the wait.


 

 

 

Pushing the Envelope

This colorful arrangement contains camellias, Walter's viburnum, loud orange blueberry foliage & early blooming dafs.

First let me apologized for being MIA for the last 6 weeks or so.

I have been in the process of moving.

Fortunately just next door so I still have access to both gardens.

This weekend my dear friend J’Lynn came for a visit.

To celebrate –  I made one of the first flower arrangements in the new house.

I do love the daffodils.  Last year I ordered some new Narcissus tazetta hybrids from Bill the Bulb Baron .

These hybrids are supposed to bloom early – some in fall and others in early winter.

I am still discovering what they will actually do in Mississippi.  But… as you can see in my kitchen window arrangement, at least a couple are blooming very early as advertised.

'Autumn Pearl' & 'Princess Hallie's Gold'

The white flowered narcissus is ‘Autumn Pearl’ and the yellow (I believe) is ‘Princess Hallie’s Gold’.

I wondered when I ordered these bulbs if I was pushing the envelope too much.

Is it against God to have daffodil flowers in the fall?

Will it make me appreciate them less during daf season?

I don’t know but the gleaming pair in my kitchen window two weeks before Christmas make me ridiculously happy.

Thanks to you, Bill the Bulb Baron!


 

My Current Favorite DYC

In the bee meadow, the sweet coneflower mingles happily with big bluestem.

Ever since I can remember there have been yellow daisies in my life.

First there were the black eyed Susans that bordered the gravel road we often traversed to visit my relative in the country.

They were probably just plain old Rudbeckia hirta, the most common black eyed Susan.

Still… I admired their cheerful demeanor – colorfully blooming from beneath a mantle of dust in spite of the drought and heat.

As I grew older, I was introduced to the exotic zinnias and dahlias in my Aunt’s flower garden.   Their loud colors and pom-pom shapes intrigued me.  They temporarily replaced the wild black eyed Susans as my favorites.

Then in college, I took a Plant Taxonomy class and the daisies and their kin fell further out of favor.  There are so many members of the Composite (a.k.a. Aster, Sunflower) family that it is very difficult to key out a damned yellow composite (DYC).

I was overwhelmed.  There were too many of them and they looked so much alike!

They seemed common and I was immune to their charms until I began to garden with native plants and rediscovered the Daisy tribe.

Since then I’ve been enamored of various Rudbeckia species.  I love the tickseeds (Coreopsis spp.), the native sunflowers, rosin weeds and likewise the purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea).

The closer you get, the better a sweet coneflower looks!

This year I went full circle – back to my childhood favorite black eyed Susan.  The one I love most right now is called a sweet coneflower (Rudbeckia subtomentosa).

This charmer hails from the prairies.  It is generally 4 to 5 feet tall with sturdy stems.

The flowers are the typically arranged into a chocolate brown mass of disc flowers wreathed by a golden yellow halo of twisted ray flowers.  They smell sweet like licorice and bloom for a long time in late summer and autumn.

There is a sweet coneflower selection that is becoming popular.   Rudbeckia subtomentosa ‘Henry Eilers’ was named for the retired nurseryman who found the plant along a railroad right of way in Arkansas.

The ‘Henry Eilers’ sweet coneflower was promoted by my friend Larry Lowman and has found its way into many nurseries.  This cultivar’s claim to fame is that the ray flowers are narrow and quill-like instead of wider and twisted.  I grow it also but for now at least, prefer the original.

I have been visiting both of them in the bee meadow almost every day for the last two months.  They are still flowering and I am happy when they greet me.


 

Sweet Olive Everywhere

One of our released deck plants is quite happy in her new digs. Don't forget to scratch and sniff!

I have a keen sense of smell.  I am easily distracted by good (or foul) scents.  In fact I often think that I follow my nose around like a hound dog.

And… that’s a wonderful thing this time of year.

Right now, the deck door is open and the luscious scent of sweet olive is wafting in on a delightful breeze.

Since the scent of sweet olive (Osmanthus fragrans) is one of my favorite fragrances, I decided to revel in it.

I planned and strategically planted 4 sweet olive shrubs around the property so that my two adjacent gardens are perfumed when the shrubs blossom.

Two of these are retired deck plants.  I potted 1 gallon nursery plants into large terra-cotta pots and lived with them for several years.  When they became pot bound, I dug holes in the back garden near the decks and released them into the wild.  The largest of these is almost 10′ tall now.

Then I purchased an “improved” variety from my friend Maarten VanderGiessen’s wholesale nursery. I planted it in the front yard between my two houses.

This selection is called Nanjing Beauty Sweet Olive (Osmanthus fragrans ‘Fudingzhu’) and is reported to have more flowers, better fragrance and longer bloom time than the norm.  So far I can’t see a lot of difference. But I shouldn’t judge yet. Mine is a young plant barely 2 feet tall and just now coming into its own.  I will admit that this fall it has done an outstanding job of scenting the two front gardens.   If you want to form your own opinion, this selection is available at Almost Eden Nursery.

My orange flowered sweet olive glows in the autumn light.

After chancing upon an orange flowered sweet olive in an old garden many years ago, I just had to have one.  I searched until I finally scored the object of my desire at Woodlanders Nursery.  The orange sweet olive (Osmanthus fragrans ‘Aurantiacus’) is prized for use in perfumery.   A solvent extraction process is used to distill a very expensive Osmanthus absolute from the blossoms.  Orange sweet olives are reported to have a more desirable fragrance due to the presence of carotenes in the flowers.   Unfortunately the orange form blooms in autumn only.  Mine is now about 12′ tall and is in full glorious flower right now so I’ll forgive it for not repeating.

Sweet olives are evergreen and can become quite large if not challenged by extreme winters.  The white flowering forms bloom in autumn, during warm spells in the winter and then repeat in spring.

In my landscape drawings I often site sweet olive near high traffic entrances and adjacent to patios and decks where it is likely to stop unsuspecting passers-by in their tracks.  The individual flowers are tiny (less than 1/4″) but are arranged in larger clusters.

I recently learned that in China, osmanthus flowers are used to scent black or green teas.  They are also used to flavor jams, sweet cakes, dumplings, soups and liquor.

I’ve never eaten the flowers but they do emit a fruity scent that makes me want to bite into a perfectly ripe peach.   They are a yummy no calorie olfactory snack!


 

Bee Balm, Bumblebees and Burns

Bee balm is the most exciting flower in the Bee Meadow right now.

Despite the heat and drought, the wild bergamot or native bee balm (Monarda fistulosa) is blooming now in my Bee Meadow and in the wild.

This weekend I visited a prairie in Scott County that was full of bee balm blooming in harmony with butterfly milkweed, black eyed Susan, prairie clover and narrowleaf mountain mint.  It looked like a wonderful flower garden but the presence of charred wood indicated that the prairie was probably burned in March.

I enjoyed the prairie outing but am also glad to have bee balm close to home.  The flower heads are a beautiful frothy cluster of many individual florets.  In late evening as we approach the Bee Meadow, the fragrance of bee balm is delightful and reminiscent of the bergamot orange peel used to flavor Early Grey tea.

The bee balm blooms seem to glow in the late afternoon sun.

The scent attracts foraging bumble bees and other long-tongued bees, many other solitary bees like carpenter bees, butterflies, hummingbird moths and even ruby throated hummingbirds.

The foliage is aromatic as well.  A few moth caterpillars feed on the leaves but it is unpalatable to the ever encroaching deer.

On our late afternoon nature jaunts, we have particularly enjoyed watching the bumblebees and carpenter bees forage on the bee balm.

Bumblebees are very hairy and usually black with some sort of yellow striping.  They are closely related to honeybees but live in much smaller colonies.  They nest in holes in the ground or in cavities in rotting wood.

This carpenter bee is foraging on narrowleaf mountain mint. Note the smooth rear of the abdomen. A bumblebee would be uniformly hairy.

Bumblebees are especially efficient at pollinating flowers that are tubular shaped with pollen held on anthers deep inside.

They release the pollen by grasping the flower and vibrating their flight muscles.  This technique is called “buzz pollination” or sonication.

In addition to wildflowers, bumblebees are important pollinators of tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, blueberries and cranberries.

Bumblebees are even released into greenhouses to pollinate tomatoes and strawberries .  Honeybees are very inefficient at pollinating all these crops so buzz pollination results in more and larger fruit.

Carpenter bees are solitary. They have the annoying habit of tunneling into wood to make their nests.  They are working on my front porch railings this summer.  Male carpenter bees are unable to sting but the females can inflict a painful stab.

In this Scott County Mississippi prairie, wild bergamot and butterfly milkweed are enticing the pollinators all day long.

Like bumblebees, carpenter bees practice buzz pollination.  Sometimes, however, they steal nectar without pollinating.  They bypass the pollen and go directly to the nectar by making a slit in the side of the flower.

At first I was calling all the large bees in the bee meadow bumble bees.  I finally learned that a bumblebee’s entire abdomen is hairy while a carpenter bee is smooth on the rear.

Just as I expected, the bee balms, mountain mints and other wildflowers in the Bee Meadow are attracting some interesting critters and bringing them in close so I can learn.

Bee balm and the other wildflowers mentioned here have a delicate appearance when in bloom.  But they are tough. They will grow in full Mississippi sun without irrigation in 100 degree plus temperatures.

And… they even thrive in areas that are regularly burned.


 

 



 

Hello, Sweet Pea!

My husband has often accused me of planting too many flowers in the vegetable garden.

I’m beginning to think that he has a point.

This year, for example, it started as always.  The winter garden was lush.  Kale, lettuce, mustard, onions, broccoli, parsley and cilantro were thriving.  I browsed the seed catalogs and impulsively bought a pack of sweet pea seed.

I planted them interspersed with snow pea seed and several weeks later had no seedlings.

So… I visited my friend June during December and got a half dozen sweet pea plants.

As I was setting the sweet pea plants in my vegetable beds I noticed that suddenly I also had sweet pea seedlings.

So now, I have trellises full of lovely fragrant sweet peas in full bloom.  The snow peas, unfortunately, never germinated.

Today this vase of sweet peas attained a coveted spot on the toilet tank.

I should be remorseful.  I did, after all, fill the veggie beds with flowers.

And there is a lack of space since we have downsized to two raised veggie beds

I choose instead to fill my vases with the rare and lovely sweet pea flowers.  They are delightful in shades of pink, red, burgundy and lavender.  There is a purple one that looks like vetch on steroids.

I made a feeble attempt to placate Richard by planting some Friday the 13th pole beans in every available space.

As the cool temperature loving sweet peas wane, perhaps the heat loving pole beans will come in as understudies.  At least that is the plan.


 

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