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Hearts a' busting has possibly the most colorful fruit ever!

Hearts a busting has possibly the most colorful fruit ever!

So… we recently had a taste of winter.

It wasn’t actually that cold – just in the 50’s – but it was cloudy, chilly, humid and reminiscent of a Mississippi winter.

So I’m dreaming of the blue skied crisp fall days to come.

The asters are budded and the magnolias have red seeded cones.  The grasses are seeding and Maryland goldenaster is blooming on the roadsides.

A scattering of colored leaves is beginning to tint the woods just a bit.

But right now Euonymus americanus is the most fallish plant in my garden.   It has nary a stained leaf but it offers the most interesting and lovely fruit.

Each plant is loaded with fruit right now.

Each plant is loaded with fruit right now.

Euonymus americanus (aka hearts a busting; wahoo, strawberry bush, brook euonymus) is a fall precursor.  By the time our fall color really lights up, the hearts a busting fruit will be gone – shattered or consumed by hungry birds

Now, though, it is peaking and showing out on this gloomy day.

The hot pink warty covering has split to expose several intense orange pulp covered seed.  The scarlet arils are oblong and pendant with a seed that is curiously shaped like a baby tooth.

The orange and pink medley is as lovely as any flower and the plants are loaded.  They reflect the light and capture my attention.  Even on this overcast day, they are begging to be picked and tucked into a flower arrangement.

Here are 2 fruits with a top view of the warty pink cover & an inside view of the scarlet pulpy fruit.

Here are 2 fruits with a top view of the warty pink covering & an inside view of the scarlet pulp covered seed.

Euonymus americanus is a narrow upright shrub that suckers to form small colonies.

Foliage will turn strawberry pink or creamy before falling.  The angular green stems will be left to dominate during winter.

In the wild this native is found along creek banks with river birch, pawpaw and Christmas fern.

Generally, in a woodland setting, though, the fruit set is scanty.  Deer nibble young leaves and stems so that flowering and fruiting are minimal.

My back yard is not a deer free zone by any means but the close proximity to my house allows the wahoo to persevere.

On this murky day I am grateful for that!


 

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!

 

 

Yucca Conquers Dismal Driveway Dirt

My front garden is a difficult site.

Since the house is barely 50′ off the street, most of the front yard is driveway or reclaimed driveway.  Of course, driveway equals compaction.  So only the toughest plants will survive.

Last year I lost a few newbies from drought.  This year I have had the opposite problem.  We have had tons of rain and a few plants  have succumbed to root rot diseases.  Let me clarify, however, that I am NOT complaining about the rain.

The plants that survive here are tough cookies.  I study them daily often finding something that attracts my attention when I am on my way to the mailbox.

One of the most interesting events this summer was the first blooming of my nodding yucca (Yucca cernua).  This is a rare yucca that came to me from my East Texas plant bud, Peter Loos.   I will admit that I kept it in the pot for an embarrassingly long time.  I couldn’t find the right place for it plus was not really sure I wanted a yucca!  But then I saw it in bloom in a friend’s garden and decided to work it in to the driveway bed.

During the first year I admired the dramatic sword-like foliage and decided that maybe I was wrong to have waited so long to plant the yucca.

In late May I noticed the first bloom stalk.  Every day as I ran errands or went to my consulting  job I would stop and take note.  The stalk grew to 2′, 4′, 6′ and finally stopped around 8′ or so.  It dominated the front yard like a totem and I began to notice that on sunny days a dragonfly was always perched on the tip.

 

The nodding yucca flower stalk seemed to dominate the front garden forever like a giant pencil pointing toward they sky.

It seemed to take forever for the flowers to emerge from the naked stalk.  After about two weeks, a crop of lovely florets hovered above – like small dangling orchids.   A constant stream of pollinators visited them every day.

The pendant flowers of the nodding yucca took over 2 weeks to emerge from buds after the stalk reached its ultimate height.

For over two weeks my front garden was graced by a giant bouquet of pristine white blooms on an 8′ stem.  It politely flowered in harmony with the gardenia in my front foundation planting.

I most definitely was wrong to keep the poor old nodding yucca languishing in a pot for so long.   It has rewarded me well for a chamce to grow in my dismal driveway dirt.

 

 

 

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!

‘Semmes Beauty’ Shines

My 3 year old 'Semmes Beauty' on left grows in my garden beside an established 15 year old oakleaf hydrangea.

The oakleaf hydrangeas are gradually coming into bloom.  All are still showing a good bit of green color except for the lovely and precocious ‘Semmes Beauty’.

Instead Hydrangea quercifolia ‘Semmes Beauty’ is in full glorious bloom.  The flowers are much larger than the norm and are a gleaming pristine white.

There is a reason why this wonderful plant blooms so much earlier than the other oakleaf hydrangeas.  I have been told that it was selected by the late Mr. Tom Dodd, Jr.  from a wild population near Semmes, Alabama.  The small town of Semmes is just a few miles from Mobile and is a community of nurseries.

Since ‘Semmes Beauty’ comes from the Deep Deep South it usually blooms about two weeks earlier than the wild oakleafs here and may bloom as much as a month earlier than a cultivar such as ‘Snow Queen’ (which hails from New Jersey).

I bought ‘Semmes Beauty’ from Mark Bronstad who manages a wholesale nursery in east Texas.  Mark thinks that ‘Semmes Beauty’ is a superior selection but as a nurseryman, he loves it most because it is easy to root from cuttings.

It's easy to see 'Semmes Beauty' from the deck above. My husband keeps stopping on the stairs to ask "What IS that?"

It seems to be a very vigorous plant to me.

My ‘Semmes Beauty’ is planted in terrible soil but has outgrown other oakleaf hydranges that were planted at the same time.  It is rapidly catching up with oakleafs in the area that have been in the ground for 10+ years longer.  Perhaps the ease in rooting makes it quicker to establish.

It is always described as being heat tolerant.  Go figure – it is from Semmes, after all.  If you live in Semmes and are not heat tolerant, you die!

Some references even list it as sun tolerant.

All in all it is such a great plant that I am writing about it in the hope that if I rant about it enough, it will become more widely available.  Right now, I can’t find a single retail mail order nursery that is selling it.

I did find 3 wholesalers who grow it – one in east Texas, one in south Alabama and one in North Carolina.

So… if you live in the south, it is out there somewhere.  It is languishing in a retail garden center just waiting to get in the car with you and go home.

Beautiful Baptisia

This delightful stand of white baptisia is gracing an Alabama roadside. Hope it's still there when I return to get seed.

Here in Mississippi, even though it is only April, we seem to be rushing madly toward the summer.

The baptisia or false indigo is in full bloom unseasonably early.   For me, that lovely perennial wildflower normally indicates that late spring is upon us.

I still remember the first time I saw white wild indigo on a Mississippi roadside.  I was driving in adjoining Neshoba County when I spied a mounding 5′ plant that was covered with white spikey flowers.   I came to a screeching halt and rapidly approached the interesting specimen.  It looked like a lupine on steroids and had curious glaucous blue green leaves that were compound like clover.  The stalks were purple.

I stood and gaped in amazement.

Immediately I knew that this was a member of the bean and pea family.  I even knew that it was a false indigo or baptisia.

The florets sparkle against white baptisia's charcoaly purple stems.

I soon had my find identified to species by my botany professor, Dr. Sidney McDaniel, as Baptisia leucantha, a white blooming false indigo.  At that time, there were 4 or 5 white blooming species listed.  Since then the taxonomists have consolidated all into a single species with two sub-divisions.  So our Mississippi species has become Baptisia alba var. macrophylla.

I returned about 6 weeks later and collected a sack full of the lovely purple inflated bean pods from the plant.  I shucked them out as if I were shelling butterbeans and soaked them overnight to kill a pestilence of weevils.  In spite of the bugs, I had great germination and soon added this baptisia to our nursery list.  I am glad I did because the highway department eradicated the mama plant and all her kin the next year.

This strain of yellow baptisia from south Mississippi is happily blooming in the bee meadow.

Later I started visiting the Cajun Prairie in Eunice, Lousiana, where I discovered and fell in love with the yellow baptisias.  To me the most beautiful of the several species of yellow false indigos is Baptisia sphaerocarpa.  The plants themselves are smaller than the white species – usually 2′ to 3′ and are sometimes called bush clovers.  The Cajun prairie is full of this lovely plant and in Mississippi we have it in a few southern counties.  I was lucky enough to get a start of our Mississippi strain from my friend Allen Anderson.  Again – it was collected from roadside population that has since been demolished.

Alan’s lovely yellow form is thriving happily in my bee meadow.

Both of these garden gems will cheerfully prosper in any site with reasonable moisture and full sun.  A long tap root allows them to survive drought. They are at home in the baking heavy clay prairie soils in sites that are annually burned.   I have grown them in sunny perennial borders in heavy clay with great results.

In addition to these two species I am fond of a couple of cultivars.  ‘Screaming Yellow’ is a loud yellow selection of B. sphaerocarpa made by the illustrious Larry Lowman in Arkansas.    I haven’t actually seen it in bloom yet since I started with small plants.  However the foliage is a beautiful healthy emerald green and the pictures of the flowers are striking.  ‘Carolina Moonlight’ is a cross between the white and yellow species.  This variety was a volunteer discovered by Rob Gardner in the North Carolina Botanical Garden. Flowers are a pale yellow color and plants are quite vigorous.  This hybrid produces no fruit.

The baptisias are lovely in all seasons.  In late winter they emerge as curious purple-ish shoots that look a little like asparagus.  Wonderful lupine-like  flower stalks appear in late spring.  Tony Avent of Plant Delights Nursery carries a good selection and calls them “redneck lupines”.

After the flowers are gone, interesting purple inflated pods can be used in floral arrangements or collected and shucked for the seed.  I have learned to collect much earlier than I used to.  I harvest as soon as seed pods begin to turn from green to purple.  The seed inside should have just turned tan.  Plant them immediately and they will sprout in a couple of weeks or so.

Or… you can leave the pods for ornamentation.  Then for the rest of the year – except in the dead of winter – cool blue foliage provides the perfect backdrop for other flowers.

These baptisias are pest free and extremely long lived unless they encounter the staff of your local highway department!

 

 

 

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!


 

Ravishingly Robust Radicchio Rules!

One of my New Year’s resolutions was to blog more consistently.

So – on January 2, I set out to create a new post and rapidly encountered multiple problems.  In short I have been out of commission since then and just got back up and running today.  Yay!

Meanwhile I missed my 2 year blog anniversary on January 6.

So what a bummer!  The Blog-iversary has come and gone and I have so many potential blog posts dancing in my head that I just don’t know which to write first.

Ravishingly Robust Radicchio Rules! Note the small head that is beginning to form in the middle of the rosette.

I think I will post a closeup of the most beautiful thing in my vegetable garden which is, by the way, really rocking right now.

Of all the eye candy therein… my robust radicchio is the most lovely.  The plant carried over from last year and is in its second year in the veg garden.  This perennial nature seems to be the norm for radicchio here in Mississippi.

Radicchio (Cichorium intybus) is a leafy form of chicory with some red color.  I read that the ancient Egyptians selected it from wild chicory populations.  Then in the 1860’s a Belgian agronomist tinkered with it to incorporate consistent red color.

When I planted my summer veggies, the radicchio languished in the shade and remained hidden so that I was pleasantly surprised to find it when I pulled out the tomatoes, peppers and green beans.

During the cleanup, the tag was lost.  I have done some research and speculate that this variety might be ‘Early Treviso’.

I do know that the seed came from Nichols Garden Nursery and I am relatively sure that it is either ‘Early Treviso’ or some unknown variety from Nichols’ Wild Garden Chicory Mix.

Regardless it is a beautiful plant and quite tasty if you like buttery bitterness.  I pick a few leaves off the side of the rosette and add them to every salad.

I am looking forward to watching this little jewel head up.

Due to the high entertainment value, I planted more seed in the fall and have healthy baby radicchio coming along.

So… all is well.  The blog is up and running and the radicchio rules!


 

 

An Unexpected Pleasure

I picked these roses in mid December in Bill and Lydia Fontenot's garden near Carencro, Louisiana.

I’m always delighted in late autumn when the antique roses come forth with one last burst of bloom.  It happens every year but I am usually distracted by the fall foliage, the autumn berries, the sasanqua and aster blossoms.  And suddenly I look up and am dazzled to see all the roses in bloom.

Today – out on a Halloween stroll, I realized that my ‘Cramoisi Superieur’ rose was in full bloom.

‘Cramoisi Superieur’ is one of my old friends.  It is one of the first antique roses that I ever planted in the garden.

I simply could not resist a rose with a French name that meant Superior Crimson!

My lovely specimen has bloomed dependably for an average of 10 months each year for the past 20 years.

As my landscape has matured, shade has encroached.  In response this rose started to climb onto an adjacent titi.

Cramoisi Superieur is loaded with Halloween roses.

What can I say?  She is a survivor.

Like many other old roses, her blooms demurely nod.  They are heavily laden with rose red petals and cannot hold their heads upright.

Cramoisi Superieur is an old China rose (from 1832).  Blossoms are two toned with  rich red petals that are lighter on the reverse side.  They emit a wonderful fragrance.

The stems are pea green and practically thornless.

Foliage is deep green and healthy.

It’s all good.

Cramoisi Superieur is perfect for every garden… except for those people who insists that a rose hold its head proudly upright.

I think that Cramoisi Superieur is a proud rose with a modest demeanor.   Her blossoms nod and as I pass by, I nod back.


 

 

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