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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!

 

 

 

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.


 

It’s Beginning to Wreath a lot like Christmas!

Oh Christmas Wreath - Oh Christmas Wreath!

I spent a ridiculous amount of time today making this wreath for my door.

But… it’s okay  because I had fun with the process.

First I gathered from the garden:

  • A few sprigs from plants that are bordering on (if not full blown) invasive.  I harvested Chinese photinia fruit that I did not want to go to seed and silver embossed elaeagnus that needed to be curtailed.
  • Plants sporting red flowers or fruit like ‘Professor Sargent” Camellia and ‘Elizabeth Coleman’ holly.
  • Some sentimental favorites like Eastern redcedar, the Christmas tree of my childhood
  • Glossy foliage from ‘Miss Patricia’ holly and my favorite native shrub, Florida leucothoe.

I assembled all of the above with electric fence wire that I had on hand.  That makes it a redneck wreath!

Then I added a length of spiffy garland to finish it off.


 

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!


 

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.


 

 

Freeze Warning

The view from my kitchen sink

Our first frosts are in the forecast.

As usual, the seasonal changes are inspiring me to create flower arrangements.

This time of year I seem to almost follow a formula when I head to the garden to collect materials.  I’ve documented my process below.

Recipe for an Autumn Flower Arrangement

  • Gather a variety of fall flowers. I scored asters, tea camellias, ‘Silver Dollar’ sasanqua camellias, a lingering sweet olive stem and some Chipola river daisies (Coreopsis integrifolia).  I allowed myself to pick one precious sweet lady’s tresses orchid (Spiranthes odorata).  I raided the prairie garden and snagged grass plumes from big bluestem, switch grass and purple top.
  • Add blossoms from plants that are blooming out of season. The dropping temperatures always stimulate unexpected plants to flower.  I gathered  blossoms from ‘Nastarana’ and ‘Archduke Charles’ roses and was delighted to find flowers on the Sekidera azalea.
  • Combine a pinch of fall fruit. Yesterday the garden yielded stems of rose hips and a fragrant stalk of sweet Annie.
  • Mix well with colorful fall foliage. The scarlet tinted huckleberries (Vaccinium elliottii) filled the bill.
  • Assemble in a vase and fill in with healthy evergreen twigs. I gathered one of my favorites Florida leucothoe (Agarista populifolia).
  • Add water and enjoy.

The results reminded me why I love to do floral design.  The vases hold a distillation of a moment in garden time.  My favorites look like a portion of an overgrown flower border where the wild plants mingle with the garden exotics.

I particularly enjoy the arrangements that I place over the kitchen sink.   I have plenty of time to carefully study them while I wash the dishes!


 


 

 

The Most Fun I Had All Day

Boona likes to help me collect flowers.

I am in the middle of a house renovation.  It’s exciting but exhausting.

My mind is always going lickety split from one idea or task to the next.  What color should I paint the bedroom?  How much money have we spent?  Did I pick the perfect faucet?

This evening, however, time was suspended.  I wandered around my six acres and just looked and gathered flowers.  I compiled them into a bucket along with stems of foliage and fruit.

I collected native grasses, sunflowers, black eyed Susans, ironweed, beautyberry, mountain mint, devil’s walking stick and Joe Pye weed.

I will assemble these into a wildflower arrangement for our Mississippi Native Plant Society Meeting tomorrow at USM in Hattiesburg.

Stop by and check it out if you’re in the area.


 

Okra Hydrangea

This 'Semmes Beauty' inflorescence contains both pristine white sterile florets and tiny creamy fertile florets.

I recently blogged about the exotic mophead hydrangea which I do dearly love.

My favorite hydrangea though is actually our native oakleaf hydrangea.

Hydrangea quercifolia is native to the southeastern United States and cold hardy to zone 5.

This shrub is usually found on wooded slopes growing in rich well drained soil.  It was first discovered and named by John Bartram in the late 1700’s When Bartram was exploring Georgia and Florida.

Oakleaf hydrangea or Okra (pronounced oak-ree) hydrangea has large lobed leaves similar in shape to a red oak or an okra plant.  The leaves are bold and hairy and often have wonderful burgundy fall color.

Older specimens develop peeling cinnamon colored bark.

Wild oakleaf hydrangeas are draped along the steep slopes on I-20 coming into Vicksburg, Mississippi.

Oakleaf hydrangea has a long cylindrical panicle shaped inflorescence.   It is pure white gradually taking on a pink hue as it dries on the plant.

The blossoms are composed of two types of florets.   Tiny inconspicuous fertile florets mature into small brown rounded seed capsules.   The more showy sterile florets are white and similar to paper cutouts.

These hydrangeas grow best if shaded during the hottest part of the day.   Eastern exposures with morning sun and afternoon shade are usually ideal.

Soil must have good drainage.   If soil drainage is less than perfect, plant on a slope or a slight mound so the rootball can shed water.

If soil is acid, add a little lime or a calcium containing fertilizer.  In the wild, plants thrive in soils with pH near neutral.

'Snowflake' blooms cheerfully in my front garden.

I have collected several forms of this beautiful native.  ‘Snowflake’ bears showy semi-double sterile flowers.  ‘Semmes Beauty’  is a large flowered selection from Mr. Tom Dodd.  I have also collected seed and have a form that I found along the Chunky River near Dunn’s Falls.

Like the mophead, this hydrangea blooms on old wood.  Plants can be pruned after flowering by heading back the taller stems to shape as needed.

Be sure to leave some stems with dried flowers, these will produce blooms for next year.

This hydrangea is so lovely that I would certainly hate to miss a year’s bloom!


 

 

 

 

 

 

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