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Posts Tagged ‘winter flowers’

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.

February Gold

Woodrow ponders a beautiful patch of 'February Gold' daffodils.

I am a fiend for daffodils.

This time of year I travel with a shovel.  I’ll stop in a heartbeat to dig heirloom bulbs from an old house site (with permission, of course).  I also have some regular digging spots – most notably my friend Stan’s kudzu patch.

I will fork out the cash to buy daffodil bulbs as well.  I add a few new ones every year and am already working on my list for 2012.

One of my favorite store bought daffodils is ‘February Gold’.

I purchased a huge sack about 15 years ago and they have grown without any care and never missed a season of bloom.  This is amazing because they are planted in heavy clay and part shade in an area of the garden that is often neglected.

These sort of growing conditions are deal breakers for many other daffodil varieties.

My research tells me that February Gold was introduced in 1923 and that it received a Royal Horticultural Society award.

According to the American Daffodil Society it is classified in Division 6 which makes it part of the Cyclamineus clan.  The ADS describes that Division as having “One flower to a stem, perianth significantly reflexed and corona straight and narrow.”  In plain English that means that the trumpet is straight and narrow and the petals are swept back.

This year ‘February Gold’ began blooming in January. It was the first yellow daffodil to bloom here this year.  It even beat out the Lent lily.

I look forward to filling my vases with these jewels for another couple of weeks.

A Blog-iversary Gift from The Professor

After four decades, Professor Sargent is still going strong.

Today is the one year anniversary of the day I started this blog.

It’s my Blog-iversary!

I think that today it is fitting to write about the Professor Sargent camellia that grows just outside my kitchen door.

Fess came with the house.   When I purchased the place in 1985, Fess was probably about 15 years old.

I took one look at him, turned up my nose and proclaimed (in a whiny voice) “I don’t like camellias.  They get scale.  I’m going to cut this down and replace it with a cool plant.”

But then, fortunately, I got busy for a month or two and left Fess alone.  Fall rolled around and then winter.  I still had plans to terminate Fess but then… in December he presented me with a bounty of beautiful red flowers.

The girth of the Professor's trunk is quite respectable now that he's 40 or so.

The flowers were double and jam packed with petals.  They reminded me of red carnations but the camellia enthusiasts describe them as having a peony or anemone form.

That year, Fess bloomed from December until May.  The ground was littered with spent blossoms.

I filled my vases again and again with rich red blooms – even in the dead of winter.

I was hooked.

I did some research and found out that ‘Professor Sargent’ dates from 1925 or earlier.  The camellia possibly originated in Charleston’s Magnolia Gardens and was named for Professor Charles Sprague Sargent who was then Director of the Arnold Arboretum.

‘Professor Sargent’ is a Japanese camellia (Camellia japonica) with evergreen foliage and robust growth.  In old gardens the plant can attain a height of 30+ feet.  I pruned mine into a multi-trunked small tree and it is close to 20′ tall.

After my first winter with Fess, I was embarrassed that I had ever considered chopping him down.

As Mick Jagger and Keith Richards once said,

“You can’t always get what you want
But if you try sometimes you just might find…
You get what you need…”

The Buddha is happy to be adorned by one of the Professor's crimson blossoms.

So apparently I needed Fess.  He is with me still – 26 years later.  He is pushing 40 at least and has earned a place of honor in my garden.

I look forward to his first December blossoms and consider him to be my finest Christmas tree.  I have danced with his flowers in my hair!

On the down side, Fess is very difficult to photograph.  I tried for years and never got a decent image.  But then, I realized that my rental house which was in the background provided an unsuitable backdrop.  I repainted the rental house with Fess in mind and my photos have greatly improved.

So here’s to ‘Professor Sargent’ – one of the elders of my garden – may he live long and prosper.

And thanks to those who have visited my blog this past year and listened to my ramblings  – may you live long and prosper as well.


 

The Party’s Over…

The tallest stems in this arrrangement were pilfered from my waning Japanese apricot.

One thing I am really enjoying about blogging is that I’m leaving a record in cyberspace that recounts my garden events.

On Monday (March 1), I made this arrangement for my bathroom.  I used some flowering quince and Japanese apricot branches, a leafy stalk of Chinese mahonia and a single tazetta daffodil stem.

This arrangement was the last appearance of my Japanese apricot (Prunus mume ‘Peggy Clarke’) in a vase this year.  Her flowers are waning like the moon.  Their demise was hastened by our recent rains.

I’m sad to see her blossoms go but I was able to go back in the blog and find my first mention of Miss Peggy this year.  On January 17, I described a flower arrangement I made that contained mume branches with sassy pink buds.

According to my math, that means that I had the joy of interacting with a blooming Japanese apricot for over 6 weeks.  I’m not sure how many arrangements I made during that interval.  I would probably estimate that I made “a gracious plenty” as we say in the South.

I do know that her tiny dried flowers are scattered around various locations in the house like pink confetti.  I am almost reluctant to remove them.  But… it has been an exceptionally good run and all parties have to end.

I Love a Bunch of Daffodils

This tazetta daffodil pilfered from an old house place is probably either Grand Primo or Avalanche

I’ve been impatiently admiring the fat juicy buds on my Tazetta daffodils.  I glanced away and suddenly this weekend, the flowers came busting out – just in time for my birthday.

Narcissus tazetta is believed to be the oldest cultivated narcissus.   It was grown in ancient Egypt and Greece and is possibly the rose of sharon mentioned in the Bible.  Origins of this narcissus are obscure but many believe that it came from China.

Tazetta daffodils are sometimes called bunch daffodils.   They bloom in clusters of 3 to 20 florets on a thick sturdy leafless stalk.  The word tazetta comes from a Latin word meaning “little cups” and indeed, the florets of this narcissus are small and flared into a cup or bowl shape.  The leaves are flat, wide and rather coarse textured.

Tazettas are naturalized throughout the Southeast U.S. where they are erroneously known as paper white narcissus.  They also tolerate more arid climates with hot baking summers.

The variety ‘Grand Primo’ was introduced in 1807 and is fairly common around old house sites in Texas.  Oriental immigrants brought the Chinese sacred lily (Narcissus tazetta var. chinensis) to California where it naturalized along with its Tazetta cousins.   Other Tazetta varieties include ‘Early Pearl’, ‘Avalanche’, ‘Geranium’, and ‘Cragford’.

Many references describe the “musky” scent of Tazetta flowers.   As I did some internet research, I encountered Tazetta expert, Bill Welch at his website http://www.billthebulbbaron.com/ Welch feels that the scent of tazettas is pleasant but… “About a quarter of the population cannot stand the scent of paperwhites, and that has poisoned their attitude towards the tazettas as a whole.   Someone I know was doing a study of the chemical components of fragrance in various flowers, and he found that paperwhites had a lot more indole in them than other tazettas. Then he told me that indole is the same chemical given off by E. coli!”

So the Tazettas have been branded guilty by association.  It may be helpful to remember that a true indole-containing paperwhite will be pure white in color.  Tazettas, on the other hand, will have yellow, orange or red cups and a strong but pleasant scent.

Just for the record, I intensely dislike the smell of a paperwhites but really dig the fragrance of the Tazettas – especially yesterday as they were singing “Happy Birthday” to me!

Icey’s Jonquils

A Campernelle Jonquil has a unique ruffled cup, twisted petals, curved swan-like flower stalk and narrow rush-like leaves.

I grew up in a sleepy little Mississippi town where everyone spoke the local dialect and conversation was peppered liberally with colloquial expressions.

My favorite aunt was an avid gardener and in those days that meant that she grew vegetables.  She raised okra (pronounced oak-ree), tomatoes (tumatas) and peas (not the English kind) in the summer garden and greens during winter.

She also loved flowers.  Her angel trumpet totally mesmerized me.  She had an antique peony (pronounced pee-on-ee) and she rooted climbing roses under mason jars.

She never grew a daffodil in her life but she did have jonquils.   I don’t believe that she actually planted them.  They probably moved in from someone else’s old house place.

Imagine my surprise, years later in a modern world when I learned that Icey’s jonquils were actually a daffodil hybrid called ‘Campernelle’.  The Latin name for Campernelle Jonquils is Narcissus x odorus ‘Campernelle’.  The Latin is best voiced in a Midwestern Standard dialect since it does not roll easily off the southern palate.

Campernelle Jonquils apparently originated when two different species of daffodils, the previously mentioned Lent lily (Narcissus pseudonarcissus) and the wild jonquil (Narcissus jonquilla), got frisky.   This co-mingling was first reported prior to 1600 in the Mediterranean area (Southern France, Spain and Italy) where the habitats of the two parents overlapped.  In the plant world, when two species hybridize, an x or cross is written between the genus and species name of the plants.  Also, like mules, most inter-specific hybrids are sterile.

The inability of Campernelle Jonquils to set seed doesn’t seem to have slowed them down a bit.  Throughout the deep south,  Campernelles have thrived and prospered.  They are often the only remaining remnant of vanished home places and in some parts of the South they colonize the roadsides and even thrive in kudzu patches.

Campernelle jonquils inherited their wild jonquil Mama’s narrow reed-like leaves and her ability to grow in wet heavy clay soils.  Also, like, Mama, their flowers often occur in clusters (usually with 2 to 5 florets).   Their scent is delightfully sweet but not as strong as Mama’s.  They are like Daddy size wise – much taller with larger flowers.

Campernelle flowers are golden with rounded twisted petals and a slender ruffled cup.  They are borne on a unique stalk that I’ll describe as a graceful swan-like pedicel.

I am delighted when they bloom.   They remind me of my happiest childhood memories.  Life was not perfect back then by any means.  Still, the jonquils were free.  They were not store bought, we thought they were wildflowers.   Since they had no monetary value, you could pick all you wanted.

Oh So Sweet Daphne

I like to bring budded Daphne into the house so it can open and release its lucious perfume indoors.

I like to bring budded Daphe stems indoors to open and perfume my house.


 

Walk out the any door of my house, pause for a minute and take a deep breath.   I guarantee that a sweet fragrance will waft in on the next breeze.  It smells a bit like honeysuckle only less cloying and verrrry pleasant.    Breathe in again and you will immediately contract a serious case of Spring Fever.

The source of this delightful scent is sweet Daphne (Daphne odora).   The Daphnes have been blooming in my garden for a couple of weeks now.  I have one in my front yard and one in my back yard.  These two are enough to supply wall to wall fragrance from late January until early March.

Sweet or Winter Daphne is an Asian evergreen shrub.  It is very easy to propagate from June cuttings but very difficult to find in the nursery trade.  The reason, I think, is that for some reason this wonderful shrub has an undeserved reputation of being difficult to grow.

I’ve found it to be quite easy if soil is well drained and plants are shaded from intense afternoon sun.   On the plus side, that seems to be all of the cultural requirements.  Daphne is extremely drought tolerant.  It needs little or no fertilizer and it will thrive in terrible soils as long as drainage is not an issue.

After blooming, sweet Daphne fills the bill as one of those perfect little green meatballs that so many gardeners love.  It maintains this symmetrical form with little or no pruning and with great age attains a height of about 3′ with a spread up to 4′.   In other words, it is shaped like a beautiful little ottoman.

Sweet Daphne is often listed as short lived.  That usually means you have 10 good years or so before the plant succumbs to Southern blight or some other wilt disease.   I try to make sure plants have good drainage and avoid over fertilizing with nitrogen so that my Daphnes can survive as long as possible.   If a Daphne succumbs to a wilt disease, another one should not be replanted in the same spot because the fungus that causes southern blight is probably lurking in the dirt.

I lost my Mama Plant when she was about 10 years old.  After an interval of mourning, I planted a couple of young Daphnes in other parts of my landscape.  They’ve been focal points in my winter garden for 6 or 7 years now.   They greet me on dreary winter days every time I step onto my porch and take a breath.   Their sweetness reminds me that spring is waiting in the wings.  That, my friends, is priceless.

Tree Sex???

If the pollen gets lucky, it lands on a pistillate (female) flower like these.


 

For today I’m going to don my teacher persona.  I worked as a Horticulture instructor for 26 years.  I retired in June 2009 and the teaching habit has been somewhat hard to break.

This time of year, I’m always excited to see the red maples, swamp maples or Mardi Gras Maples (Acer rubrum) in the woods and along the roadsides.  They can be strikingly beautiful when cloaked in their tiny red flowers.

Flowers, as you may know, contain a plant’s sex organs.  You’d think it was too cold for the trees to be having sex now but a few stalwart souls like the red maple are busily getting it on.

Red maple is one of those unique dioecious plants.  Literally this means that red maples have “two houses” or separate  boy trees and girl trees.  Winged seed are formed when pollen from the boy tree comes in contact with ovaries inside the girl tree’s flowers.

Staminate (male) flowers have club shaped anthers that hold pollen and make it possible for this tree to be a sperm donor.

Most trees including oaks, elms, pines and sycamores are pollinated when wind moves pollen from tree to tree.  I recently learned that red maple’s pollen can be carried on the wind or moved to a girl tree flower by early honeybees or butterflies.  This makes perfect sense because flowers that are only pollinated by wind are usually drab shades of brown or green.  The only reason a flower would need to be tinted in such a loud red color would be to attract a creature with eyes.

So, no matter how the pollen gets there, the result is a seed that contains a tiny embryo with two parents.   The seedling, then, can inherit all sorts of combinations of traits from the parental units.  It may have its mother’s fall color and its father’s fast growth rate.

The seed is only formed on girl (pistillate) trees.  And since we’re talking about red maple, the fruit containing the embryo is a samara or winged seed that looks something like the drawing below.

Red maple samara fruit will begin to form a few weeks after pollination.

The seeds mature in spring and  rapidly grow into young saplings while the weather is favorable.   Since the seed are very nutritious, however, many are eaten by squirrels, chipmunks and other wildlife before they have a chance to sprout.

Please forgive my teacher persona if she has blabbed on too much.  It’s just that I really dig walking in the woods when the red maples are in bloom and knowing whether to call them Bill or Susie.  Maybe you will too.

Mardi Gras Mume


 

The lovely Peggy Clarke has donned her beads for Mardi Gras.

I’ve been admiring the beautiful and fragrant Japanese apricot (Prunus mume ‘Peggy Clarke’) blossoms in my garden for a couple of weeks now.

Peggy Clarke has continued to bloom without damage even though we’ve had snow and nights in the low 20’s.

I’ve filled all my vases with her flowering branches at least three times.

When I turn onto my street, I can see her glimmering like a mirage in the winter landscape almost a quarter mile away.

She’s quite showy and is such a trooper.  So… I decided to honor her today by draping her limbs with some Mardi Gras finery and doing a photo shoot.

She looks quite fetching and I can verify that she definitely smells better than Mardi Gras!

High-Bred Witch Hazels

My hybrid witch hazel 'Diane' sparkles in the winter garden.

It’s very humid and 41 degrees with a brisk wind that makes me a believer in wind chill.  There is still standing water from our latest 2″ downpour and the usually sluggish ephemeral creek is gurgling like a mountain stream.  I wanted to work outdoors all day but am getting off to a verrrrrrrry slow start.

When I look out my back window at the dreary garden, I am comforted to know that the witch hazels are blooming.

Those blooming now are hybrids between Japanese witch hazel (Hamamelis japonica) and  Chinese witch hazel (Hamamelis mollis).  Their Latin name is Hamamelis x intermedia. The x in the middle indicates that they originated because of a cross between two species.  And yes, I am a nerd!

‘Diane’ is in full bloom right now.  She is the reddest of all. Unfortunately the dried leaves that she holds all winter here clutter up the floral display.  Further north, ‘Diane’ is totally deciduous.  I had hoped our 12 degree weather would knock her leaves off but had no such luck.  If I bring some branches in for my vases today I will take time to tediously pick off the withered leaves.

‘Jelena’, my favorite, is just beginning to produce beautiful coppery orange blooms.  She retains nary a leaf so her spidery flowers are artfully arranged on bare twigs.  ‘Primavera’ is a cheerful yellow.  She is budded to beat the band but I’m still waiting for her latent flowers.

All of these and the native fall blooming witch hazels do well in my shaded back garden.  They will eventually grow into small trees.

Witch hazel flowers are so small that the uninitiated might walk right past and never notice them.  I’m not sure why I’m so queer for them – maybe it’s the twisted feathery petals, the clean fresh scent or the fact that they bloom during the slow season.

Or maybe it’s just that the longer I garden and woods-walk, the more aware I become of the details.

 

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