Thursday, May 28, 2009

Variegated Iris

Often gardeners are thought of as being frugal individuals. After all, gardeners recycle kitchen waste into compost, grow and put up their own food, and share and swap plants and seeds with each other--all frugal activities.

But there is another side to gardeners. For, while we will happily scour the discount bins post-season in hopes of scoring cheap seeds and plants past their prime, we will also spend rather recklessly if we find something unusual and rare. How frugal is that?

Case in point: the variegated iris. I had to have it. I don't recall what I spent for it when I bought it a couple years ago--maybe $30 or so, but I do recall it was a large-sized container and I cringed inwardly. It seemed like a lot of money at the time, and it's not THAT exotic or rare. However, since I knew I wanted it, I squelched those second thoughts as quickly and mercilessly as I do Japanese beetles on my roses. I have not regretted it.

In fact, if I wanted to, I could justify the expense and consider it money well-spent. The foliage on this plant is a spot of sunshine in early spring, and it lasts well into summer. The cheerful purple flowers are a mid-spring delight. Like other irises, the variegated sort multiplies freely. I expect to be dividing them in another year or so. Frugal!

Right now, this is the only variety of iris in my garden. I longingly peruse catalogs and the offerings of fellow gardeners, but I hesitate to indulge. While nothing can beat the form and splashy color of irises in the spring garden, they tend to have a relatively short bloom period. And the foliage, especially on bearded irises, gets ragged after a while. Because of this, I haven't quite figured out how to work irises into my mixed flower bed.

While visiting in southeast Ohio last weekend I was invited to tour a private garden which featured long rows of heirloom irises in a rainbow of colors. It was stunning, to say the least. I didn't ask what was in the beds the rest of the year, and I wish I had. I might have learned how to better work this old-fashioned beauty into my own garden. Variegated Iris photo by JulenaJo.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Icebergs in May

Whenever I visit a nursery or garden, my eye is drawn to the unusual. That's how the two roses above found their way into my garden. 'Brilliant Pink Iceberg' is at the top, a lovely rose that looks as though its light pink petals were hand painted with strokes of deeper pink.

'Brilliant Pink Iceberg' is a floribunda rose, a relative of the classic 'Iceberg,' aka 'Scheewittchen' (Snow White, introduced in 1958) from the house of Kordes in Germany. It's not too tall in my garden, well under 3 feet, and it blooms prolifically. It resists black spot and disease, and the blooms have a sweet, light rose scent. The buds are long and pointed and beautiful to watch as they unfurl. Best of all, it's got an unexpected knot of deep burgundy stamens at the center when the flowers fully open. That's what caught my eye when I first saw the rose--that distinctive and unusual dark center.

Last year I added 'Burgundy Iceberg' to my garden. The second rose above, 'Burgundy Iceberg' features striking, dark, wine colored blooms, and the nice size and shape, lovely pointed buds, and overall good health of its famous relatives. It surprised me with its very first blossom this spring, however. Some of the petals are pristine white--obviously flaunting its noble 'Iceberg' heritage. These Iceberg descendants show a lot of variation in their coloring, as a Google image search reveals. It will be interesting to see how 'Burgundy' performs for the rest of the season.

Notes: Gourdo's mom welcomed mama cat and the trio of kittens. We will help her neuter or spay them when the time comes. Almost all the roses in my garden bloomed this weekend. Many of the flower seeds planted in the cutting garden are up. I'm looking forward to having tomorrow off to putter about the yard and gardens. Thank a veteran! Brilliant Pink and Burgundy Iceberg photos by JulenaJo.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Today's Trash

Why do people think they can dump unwanted pets in the country? It is something I have seen many times over the years, and each time it blows me away.

Mama and her 3 kittens were deposited near our house yesterday. I have no idea by whom or when. The coward no doubt opened his or her car door and plunked her and her litter onto the ground and drove off hurriedly, before anyone could notice.

The cats are clean and well-kept. Judging from how mama wants to come right into the house with us, I expect she lived at least part of her life with a human family, indoors. She's loving and affectionate. I believe this must be her first litter as she is barely full grown herself.

Mama hid her kittens and scoped out the situation at our house after being left behind. Are these people friendly? Do they like cats? Will they have food and water? Will my babies be safe with them? Can we sleep here?

Maybe it seems like I'm giving this creature human thoughts, and you think I shouldn't do that. But once she saw we welcomed her and fed her, mama brought her kittens to the door. As soon as a rug-lined box was rustled up, she nested there with her babies. She ate and drank. She purred. She followed us as we worked about the yard and garden. She still seems to love people, even after being abandoned.

We would love to keep these kittens and their mother, but it is simply not practical for us. First of all, we already have a cat, Jasmine, and two dogs, Boo and Roxy. Boo has a strong hunting instinct. I'm afraid she might view these kittens as prey. Secondly, we would have to spay or neuter all of them, and this is a bad time for us to come up with that kind of money. So, the bottom line is, we have to do what the previous owner shirked doing: we have to find homes for these adorable creatures.

We are visiting Gourdo's mother this holiday weekend and will bring the cats to her house. She has agreed to take two of them, but the kittens are not quite old enough to leave their mother. I'm hoping she will keep the entire litter until the kittens are weaned. Then we can all try to find a home for the remaining two cats.

Note: Willy White Socks, above, has extra toes. He and one of his siblings are six or seven-toed. The third kitten and mama do not. The technical term for this is polydactyl. Ernest Hemingway had a polydactyl cat, and the many-toed descendants of his cat live on today at his former home and museum in Key West, Florida, where they are provided for by the terms of his will. Cat Photos by JulenaJo.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Double Blanc de Coubert: A Dazzler

Every day there is something new in the garden. Today it was Double Blanc de Coubert bursting into bloom. The sight and scent of this rose are magnificent. Remember how severely I pruned my roses just a short while ago? Obviously, it did not harm them any. The white of these petals is dazzling, without a hint of cream or pink. Seldom in nature does one see such a pure, unadulterated white. The blossoms remind me of new white sheets, freshly laundered, hanging on a line to dry. The petals are even slightly rumpled, the way linens would be as they flap in the breeze.

Double Blanc de Coubert is hardy to zone 3 or 4, reblooms all season long, resists disease and pests, and needs little care, although deadheading is recommended, as it is with most roses. It's said to reach 6 ft. in height and width, but it attains probably half that size in my zone 5 garden--very manageable. On the downside, Double Blanc de Coubert doesn't take well to the vase. It begins to wither almost immediately upon cutting. Even on the plant, the blossoms fade quickly and unattractively. Since new buds are always coming on, that's not much of a problem, in my opinion.

Notes: The first iris blossom opened today. A ruby-throated hummingbird, male, has been visiting the coral bells every day. Planted tomatoes and peppers today. Still have a few flowers to get in, and some seeds to plant. The first gourd has sprouted. Lots to do before the holiday weekend takes us away! Double Blanc de Coubert Photo by JulenaJo.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Stern Task Master

There hasn't been as much activity in the blog as I'd like, but there has been activity in the garden. With his unblinking, green glass eyes, the clay tile lizard has been overseeing it all from a sunny spot between the ajuga and the ranunculus repens. The ajuga was rescued last year from the lawn. It was ground cover around the old house. The old flower beds were razed and turned to lawn and ajuga came up every year, but was mowed before it bloomed. Last year I dug some up and put it in the flower bed, where, as you see in the second photo, it is thriving. The bees love it because it blooms so early and there are so few sources of nectar then. Bumblebees in particular seem drawn to it. I love it, because it's attractive and crowds out weeds, but is not overly aggressive.

The ranunculus is not a dense ground cover, but spreads with loosely thrown runners and offers cheerful yellow bloom that takes up after the daffodils fade. I'm happy to let it spread wherever it will.

The third photo above shows the drumstick allium that I planted last fall--and the sad state of my flower bed. It's much less weedy now, as I spent quite a bit of time on it this weekend. I hoed and pulled and planted and moved things around. In addition to the work on the flower bed, I planted several rows of flowers in what I hope will become a cutting garden. The cutting garden is back by "Gourdhenge," the timber structure in the background of the allium photo. A variety of sunflowers, zinnias, cosmos and other old-fashioned flowers went into the rows. If they do well, I plan to sell bunches of them at a local farmer's market this summer. We shall see!

At any rate, the work outdoors leaves little time for blogging, and much more remains to be done. Packets of seeds, tomato and pepper plants, and bags of mulch are all over the house and patio, begging silently for attention. Eventually, the bulk of the work will be finished. I can sit with my feet up and enjoy the fruits of my labor. For now, though, it's almost overwhelming.

Oh, the green-eyed garden lizard is a stern task master! He cannot follow me into the house at night, though. I'll sneak a little writing in here and there as time permits. Cheers! Lizard, Ajuga and Mid-Spring Garden View Photos by JulenaJo.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The First Rose to Bloom: Rose de Rescht

The first rose to bloom in the garden this year: Rose de Rescht. What a lovely old garden rose!

While many old roses bloom only once, in spring, Rose de Rescht is classified as a Portland rose and reblooms all season. This small class of roses is among the first European hybrids bred from Chinese imports. The class earned its name from Margaret Cavendish, the Duchess of Portland (1715-1785), who used her wealth to amass great collections of art and natural history, flora and fauna. She established a zoo, an aviary and a botanical garden, which is sadly long gone.

The Portland class, including Rose de Rescht, is repeat-blooming and fragrant, perhaps due to ancestry that includes autumn damask, 'Quatre Saisons' (Rosa damascena bifera). Rose de Rescht bloom are fully double pompoms of vivid cerise red, almost fuchsia, with hints of magenta. The blooms are not large, only 2-3 inches in diameter, but the intense color makes them pop in the garden. The rose is reliably hardy in zones 4-9 and will attain a modest size of 2 by 3 feet.

I found a wonderful article on the web, if you're interested in reading up on this wonderful rose: As Rose de Rescht is one of the roses I planted late last season, I am just getting to know her myself. That first bloom is a winner, though. I'm sure it will be a long and happy acquaintance. Rose de Rescht photos by JulenaJo.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Boo-Boo: Skunked!

Skunks eat grubs. Did you know that? I like skunks better than Japanese beetles, whose larvae hide in my lawn and flower beds. So, if skunks are eating those, I guess I can like them for that reason. I really hate Japanese beetles, though, so you can imagine how little I like skunks.

However, in my world, as in yours I have no doubt, skunks and dogs do not mix. Meet Boo, the Great White Hunter. The horribly smelly, stinky, Great White Hunter. Small mammals -- BEWARE!

Boo is a white German shepherd-mystery mutt mix, rescued from a farmhouse where puppies were viewed with no affection whatsoever. When I found her, she was a miserable six-week-old with runny nose and eyes, flea-riddled and terrified of humans, especially men. She cowered whenever I got out the broom to sweep the floors. She hid from men as a pup and growled at them as an adult. Her tail was kinked and bald, as a steer had stepped on her in the barn where she and the other pups were living, their only solid food coming from table scraps that undoubtedly did not provide them with proper nourishment.

I feared it was a mistake to adopt one of these obviously troubled puppies, but my daughter insisted. We put the pup in a cardboard box and got in the car. On the way home, my daughter tried to come up with a name, "Princess! Beauty! Snowball!" All woeful misnomers. I glanced in the rear-view mirror at the pathetic creature peering out of the box and said, "Poor little boo-boo." When we got home and plopped the puppy at Gourdo's feet, a father's day present, he said, "Where'd you get this boo-boo?" I looked at our daughter and said, "Sorry, kiddo, I think we have the puppy's name: Boo it is."

Boo has been a challenge from the beginning, but she's family. I don't entirely trust her around small children or small animals. She no longer is quite so fierce (terrified) around men, but whenever she's nervous about anything she growls. She still casts a dubious eye at the broom, retreating to another room if I get within 10 feet of her with it. Roxy came to live with us when Boo was 4 and I was concerned about how Boo would treat her, but the relationship they've worked out has brought a lot of laughter into our lives. Roxy jumps on Boo, bites her, steals her food and toys--and Boo tolerates it all with uncharacteristic good humor. Roxy never does a thing without looking to see what Boo does first. Roxy has mellowed Boo and brought out her good side.

Anyway, I've digressed. Back to skunks.

The first skunk Boo encountered had wandered into our attached garage seeking garbage or maybe shelter. Boo cornered it behind the trash cans, and I thought it was a kitten. She dragged it from its hiding place by the scruff of the neck, and I was right behind her, yelling, "Drop it, Boo! Drop it!" My son, hearing the commotion from the house, opened the garage door just as I realized it wasn't a kitten but a skunk. I backpedaled out of the garage, shrieking, "CLOSE THE DOOR! CLOSE THE DOOR! SKUNK!"

Boo was sprayed. The garage was sprayed. The entire house reeked for weeks.

Apparently, Boo didn't remember that lesson earlier this week when she discovered a skunk in the woods. She came trotting home across the field from the woods--you know that happy jaunt dogs have with the wide, toothy grin and waving plume of tail? That was Boo. The stink preceded her like a breaker--no, a tsunami. Gourdo hosed her while I scrubbed with vinegar and dishwashing liquid. She spent a couple of days out of the house. I think we have most of it off her, though, as she's merely funky now, rather than skunky.

As ever, she is still our boo-boo. Boo photo by JulenaJo; skunk photo from Wikipedia.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Bargain Shrub

Because I'm always looking for a steal when I shop for garden plants, sometimes I don't get what I bargained for. The above plant is one such "bargain." I ordered it online from a website I read about last year that offered "free" plants. The site offered several items that I wished to incorporate into my garden, so I took the bait. I had checked out the site to see if it was scam and the only complaints that I could find were that the items were very small. I didn't care about that--after all they were "free." Of course, the shipping and handling were monstrous. Still, I reasoned, I'd be getting a lot of material for my buck.

Much of what I ordered did not "take" in my garden. I sort of figured it was a gamble, so I was disappointed but not overly so. The nanking cherries survived and blossomed this year, so that was good. One of the two echinops ritro survived and looks great. Two New England asters are coming up gangbusters--I guess those are practically foolproof. I found the baby's breath while I was weeding, and it survived winter only to take a serious hit when I inadvertantly whacked it with a hoe. I hope it recovers.

The above plants--there are two, and the heartiest of them is in bloom now--thrived. But what are they? I have absolutely no idea. I ordered American highbush cranberry. I don't think that's what this is. Don't they bloom white and have a different shape of leaf? Whatever this is, it's very attractive, and I'm pleased with it. I just wonder if it will bear fruit and what size it will get to be? Does anyone out there know? If so, enlighten me, please! Mystery Shrub photos by JulenaJo.