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!

 

 

They’re Here!

My Mama is not very ephemeral. She just turned 91. On her birthday I'm always reminded to search for the first trillium.

I do love the spring ephemerals.  These wildflowers emerge from underground roots and stems.  They flower, make fruit and die within a month or two in late winter and early spring.

Most of the ephemerals grow beneath large old trees.  Their precipitous life cycle enables them to flower and set seed as the winter sun slants through the leafless canopy.  By the time the trees are in full leaf, the ephemerals are done!

Since they are above ground for such a short time, I have adopted  mnemonic devices so I can remember when to look for them.

Trillium, I learned, always seems to emerge within a day or two of my Mama’s birthday.  We celebrated her birthday on Friday and Saturday.  On Sunday I walked the trails in search of trillium.  Lo & behold – there it was – recently emerged and already sporting flower buds.

I spied the first trillium of the year yesterday. It was already budded as it emerged but will not bloom for another month.

Trillium is one of the first ephemerals to show up.  Most of the others emerge in March.

One of my plant mentors, Towhee Tisdale, taught me that bloodroot will flower for a week or ten days after the first full week in March.

Soon after my husband’s birthday on March 8, I start looking for bloodroot flowers.   A few days later I find the first curious emerging May apples.

Those dates really only work in my neck of the woods. As you move north or south the flowering season will vary.   It’s a localized personal kind of thing.

So every year when I sing “Happy Birthday” to Mama, I visualize a cluster of mottled trillium.  And I know that I’ll soon be seeking it in the woods.

 

Sensational

I've been studying the plump Van Sion buds and trying to cipher when the blooms will emerge.

Due to the unusually cold weather we’ve had, my daffodils are lagging behind.

Usually in January I have already picked a few stems of ‘February Gold’, ‘Van Scion’, ‘Minor Monarque’, ‘Early Pearl’,  ‘Grand Primo’ or Lent Lily.   Not all at the same time – but a few blossoms here and there that bring a smile to my face.

I did gather some early bunch daffodils or tazettas in December.  They were probably early blooming selections from Bill the Bulb Baron.  The ‘Minor Monarque’ also bloomed in December.

But then the single digits came and the snow.  As a result,  my daffodils have yet to produce a bloom in 2014.

I’ve visited the ‘February Gold’ patch several times in search of a flower or two.  So far all I’ve found are plump buds.

The first daffodil flower of 2014 - and the prize goes to 'Rijnveld's Early Sensation'.

My ‘Van Sion’ clumps have even plumper buds – a sign of the double flower that is cocooned inside.   And while that does help my feelings a little bit… a bud is just a promise – not a flower.

Yesterday a took a walk with the camera.  My goal was to see which daffodils had visible buds and to calculate how soon the blooms might materialize.  So… I checked the ‘February Gold’ patch and then the ‘Van Sion’ clumps.

I walked to the bottom of the hill to see if any of the fall bloomers might be throwing off a 2014 blossom.

Then I saw a single yellow trumpet daffodil – blooming it’s fool head off!

It had no tag and I had no memory of planting it.  I’m fairly certain though that is is ‘Rijnveld’s Early Sensation’.  This is an English selection that was introduced in the 1950’s.

It is hardly an heirloom.  The stem is kind of short and stumpy and there is no fragrance to speak of.  It will not likely win a blue ribbon.

But I will agree that  it’s sensational!!!

Snow Day!

It’s been a few years since we had snow in my part of Mississippi.

Today about 3 inches accumulated and, of course, everything closed except a few convenience stores.

Down here very few people are equipped to or know how to drive on ice.  So even if you are prepared and are a great driver, it is likely that someone will crash into you without warning.

Instead of lamenting the prospect of being house-bound, I embraced it.

We had a righteous breakfast mid-morning and later I took the dogs and my camera out for a walk on my land.

 

The view from my back window enticed me to go play in the snow.

My two old dogs, Woodrow and Ursaluna acted like puppies in the snow.

The view was great but I could not bring myself to lounge on the creek deck today.

The cold tub wasn't very inviting either!

This is probably the only snow we’ll see this year.

It’s been a lovely day but tomorrow I’m sure my Spring Fever will be back with a vengeance!

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.

Freebies

 

Woodrow enjoys hanging out with the spider lilies on our creek bank.

Lately I’ve been enjoying some of the humble plants that came with my land.

We bought most of our 6 acres, a parcel at a time from our neighbors, Eddie and Margurite Chestnut. 

Margurite was (and still hopefully is) quite the gardener.  She planted her own yard to the nines but we also notice remnants of Margurite’s landscaping through the woods and along the creek. 

I’m not sure if these plants were deliberately planted or if she just dumped out yard waste and it took root. 

At any rate some of the plants like English ivy are quite annoying.  

Others are not too invasive and are mildly entertaining – like the occasional clump of cast iron plant. 

And then there are those that we are quite fond of like the spider lilies which recently blossomed profusely. 

This was a good year for spider lilies.  I had never noticed them along the creek bank but in late winter we initiated a massive privet clearing effort that allowed the sun to come in.  The results were spectacular.

I do love wildflowers and even though the spider lily (Lycoris radiata) is not native, it does not seem to displace indigenous plants.  Hopefully it is helping to hold the creek bank. 

Maybe spider lilies are less offensive to me because they stay below ground for a great part of the year.  When the leafless blooms burst from the ground in early autumn they are like beautiful party girls popping up out of a cake.

Our most common bushy aster is blooming now in the Bee Meadow.

I’ve also been admiring our most common aster.  Years ago Sidney McDaniel identified it as Aster dumosus.  It has since had a name change to Symphyotrichum dumosum.  On the internet I recently learned that it is called bushy aster or rice button aster.  We just always thought of it as “our” aster.

It is a white frothy little thing that appears any where there is a little sun and lack of mowing.  It glows in the late afternoon light.

Last Sunday we had some very enjoyable company – our friends Danny and Rebecca Brantley.  We were all sitting out along the creek burning a small stick fire for amusement.   We talked about life and laughed at each other’s stories.  

The spider lilies were waning.  And the bumblebees were foraging on a bushy aster nearby.  Their gentle buzz almost put me to sleep

That’s reason enough to love a bushy aster. 

It reminded me of a line from an Ian Campbell song that Kate Wolf recorded “In the park, the dreamy bees are droning in the flowers among the trees…”

Spider lilies for days and dreamy asters – that’s a lot of free entertainment.

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.

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