Friday, June 23, 2006

Cora Leich's larkspur

These larkspur are happy interlopers next to the house. The original plant hitched a ride in a clump of shasta daisies transplanted from my mother's Maryland garden. My mother said that she had received the larkspur from a friend, Cora Leich, and that it would grow like a weed. She was right and then some: little larkspur plants can be found popping up in the lawn, sprouting in beds on other sides of the house, and even struggling in the darkness of the window wells.

These plants have an open, pleasantly messy habit with numerous branches and delicate pinate leaves. One variety of larkspur produces deep blue flowers.

The other type blooms pink--just the same shade as the "New Dawn" roses.

What with all this liberal self-sowing, the only challenge is to direct the plants' efforts towards the desired plot of ground. When the seed pods have dried and begun to open, I collect as many seeds as possible. These are stored in the refrigerator until Thanksgiving Day. Half of the seeds are sown directly then and the remainder in early spring. They inevitably crowd themselves and, by late June, only the strong--or well placed--survive. Next year, I am looking forward to recapturing the space so gracelessly taken up by my (big) mistake.

My recollection may not be accurate, but I think that Cora Leich died about thirty years ago.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Stake, edge, prune, stake, edge . . .

A few hours of the garden grind this weekend. The weather was unbearably oppressive, the mosquitoes were thirsty for blood, and all the beds needed attention.

Here's what I can check off on my "to-do" list: (1) stake the dahlia from VPS, Sr., that's visiting my new bed--what happened to its friend? (2) edge the back bed, trying to separate the grass from the creeping, burrowing, and arching profusion of lily-of-the-valley and sweet woodruff, (3) edge the daylily bed along the side of the house and sprinkle the plants with 10-10-10, (4) toss peat moss on the new bed and the front walk beds, (5) stake up the daisies and phlox at the back of the house and the daisies, ladybells, and phlox in the old side bed, (6) deadhead irises and columbines, and (7) weed, weed, weed. Payback time is far off!

Friday, June 16, 2006

"New Dawn" rose

A "New Dawn" rose scales the trellis over the kitchen door and climbs to the floor above. Here, my view from the bedroom window finds the buds and blooms craning towards the sun. At the height of rose season, their scent seeps into the house.

As with Briar Rose's castle, in past years, the canes have insinuated themselves into the windows. Come October, putting in the winter storm windows becomes a serious challenge. My rose care is straight-forward. Every spring and fall, I dowse with 1/4 cup epsom salts dissolved in two cups of water. On the first of the month from June to September, I claw in 3/4 cup of Rose-Tone. If the leaves exhibit yellowing, which I think is chlorosis caused by lime in the adjacent foundation, I toss on a few handfuls of chelated iron. After the New Year, I winter mulch the base with evergreen boughs.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Today's favorite bearded iris

Bearded iris "Play with Fire, " with its deep burgundy color, is today's winner. This group is two years old. Last year they sported one stalk; this year they threw up about a half dozen. The stalks each carry three or four blooms, so staking is required with all our recent rains.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Siberian irises

The Siberian irises have been in bloom for a week and will probably continue for another. I love them but I'm not sure that the feeling is reciprocated. It's one of those uncomprending motherly devotions--I have absolutely no clue as to how or why these specific plants are affected by light, water, or fertilizer or by frequency of division. On occasion, I've separated and replanted a healthy clump, only to have the new plants disappear like a teenager silently easing out the back door.

I provide as much water as possible and mulch the irises in the spring with compost, peat moss, or composted cow manure. In the fall, I cut the leaves down to about three inches.


"Eric the Red"

"Caesar's Brother" (Thanks, AWC!)

"King of Kings"

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Peony in a suitcase

Five or six years ago, when my mother asked me what she could bring during her annual trip up north from Maryland, I replied that I would really like to have a division from one of the peonies lining her driveway. She had tended a row of seven or eight peonies during her forty-five years in that Chevy Chase house, and I loved watching as every spring the maroon peony stalks emerged, their deep red foliage turned green, and shell pink blossoms erupted from their tight round buds.

After not a small amount of badgering, my mother reluctantly agreed to bring up a division. She packed it carefully in a hard-sided suitcase and checked it as luggage on her flight north. The day after her arrival, she planted the peony in my garden. Her gardening skill was unerring: the peony was blooming the next year and still holds pride of place.

Every spring, I dust with a copper fungicide when the stalks are about three inches high, claw in a handful of bonemeal and 1/4 cup of 10-10-10 around the roots, and stake with a metal ring support. After the foliage dies in the fall, I trim the stems back to about 1 inch and fertilize with more bonemeal.

Last spring, before my mother sold her house, I asked my older brother to take some more peonies. He transplanted several clumps into his Laurel yard. In late July, I stopped there to collect a few during the long drive back north after my mother's memorial service and burial in Virginia. After being twice moved in six months, they looked pretty miserable by the end of the summer. However, this spring, the familiar maroon stalks emerged. A blessing and a gift.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

My favorite beaded iris--today

Bearded iris "Champagne Elegance" is my favorite iris--today. Lovely lemon scent, occasional reblooms, and strong habit. However, its subtle colors--pale taupe falls and white standards--yield a blossom that resembles a used tea bag as it fades. This glorious stand used to grow next to the kitchen door. As I regularly walked by, I was alternately elated by the opening flowers and disgusted at their soggy corpses. So two years ago, I moved these irises uphill to a location with better drainage but less sunlight. Both of us seem to enjoy the distance.