Friday, June 29, 2007

Honduras horticulture

Just back from the third annual community service project in El Paraiso, Honduras. Lots of moving dirt and digging holes, but for a kindergarten in Lainez, not for a garden.

Nevertheless, it's difficult not to notice the surrounding plant life. The brilliant colors sparkled in the tropical sunshine.

A yellow thistle-like plant was in bloom in the plaza at Lainez . . .

At the kindergarten at Los Tablones, a pink lily was in full flower . . .

a yellow canna lily was beginning to open . . .

and a red canna lily glistened after the morning rain.

Up in these mountains, bromiliads dotted the tree branches. Pines along the ridge road through Los Tablones sported orange-flowering Tillandsia species.

And at Lainez, a Tillandsia fasciculata was just budding up among the branches of a mango tree.

Everywhere, little wildflowers could be seen. I could identify a star sedge . . .

. . . but forgot to ask about the names of these others.

Maybe next year.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Summer solstice scenes

This time of year, the sun is high in the sky, the days are long, and the scent of roses is in the air. Here's an account of what's in bloom from the back quarter acre.

Along the house
Going: Peonies
Holding steady: Siberian iris "King of Kings," larkspur, angelonica, Salvia farinacea "Victoria Blue," bellflower Campanula persicifolia "Chettle Charm", climbing rose "New Dawn"
Coming: Phlox panticulata "David," shasta daisies, yarrow Achillea x "Summer Wine"

New side bed
Going: Bearded iris, columbine Aquilegia "Grandmother's Garden" and "McKana Hybrid"
Holding steady: Yellow foxglove Digitalis grandiflora, hosta "Gold Tiara"
Coming: Astilbe japonica "Rheinland"
Neither coming nor going: Lirope

Old side bed
Going: Bearded iris, columbine Aquilegia, peonies, bluestar Amsonia
Holding steady: Lady's mantle Alchemilla vulgaris, catmint Nepeta x faassenii "Walker's Low"
Coming: Phlox panticulata "David," shasta daisies, Ladybells Adenophora confusa

And just breaking ground: Dahlias!

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Field trip to Tower Hill

Over the weekend, I took a break from tending my own garden to enjoy someone else's and to spend some time musing on matters horticultural and otherwise with my prairie-gardening pal, DK.

Tower Hill in Boylston, Massachusetts, was inspirational in its range. The curving beds of the cottage garden were filled with familiar plants like larkspur, sedums, and shasta daisies. In this setting, sweeping around a handsome specimen of witch hazel "Arnold Promise," these plants were unexpectedly dynamic.

In another area, plants were grouped systemically by scientific family. The didactic and aesthetic successes of this approach were generally, but not always, balanced. It may simply be impossible to make a border of pines interesting. However, here in the Saxifrage bed, the red stems of astilbe, maroon leaves of heuchera, and pink-flowering tiarella play off each other wonderfully. And how did they get those shade-loving plants to perform so robustly in the sun?

What else was there? Because of my on-going battle with its noxious cousin, an ornamental knotweed almost induced a fight-or-flee response. All I could see was a barbarian at the gate.

A more pleasant reaction was evoked by blue flag irises blooming along the edge of the pond.

In the woods was a Japanese milieu: stone lantern, ferns, and rhododendrons. Don't know whether the mosses covering these steps would be considered "Very Important" or merely "Interloper" in Japan.

After inspecting that exotic Arcadia, we emerged into the familiar New England landscape. Happy day!

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Pinks of perfection

There are a lot of pink flowers in my garden. A real lot, especially since I don't consider myself a pink person. I put in one pink blooming plant, added another, then realized that a third would look great next to the others . . . and so on, down the slippery slope.

This deep pink peony is a division from a colleague's homestead in Vermont. (Thanks, SF!) The petals are a rich raspberry color with edges tinged almost silver. It's been slowly increasing each year--but won't we all take our time when we're 70 years old?

Perennial dianthus "Bewitched" rings the feet of another pink peony. By cutting back after the first bloom, I can usually extract a smaller second season. As well as its cheerful flowers, it boasts delicate blue-green foliage.

Self-sowing larkspur has moved closer to the similarly hue "New Dawn" roses.

Above the retaining wall in the front, little fuchsia Allium ostrowskianum are growing in a bed of white-flowering vinca.

Worth replanting bulbs every year!

Monday, June 11, 2007

Irises, irises, irises

How fortunate that there is an iris for almost every corner of my yard.

In the drier areas and on the slopes, I grow bearded irises, like "Champagne Elegance," "Play with Fire," and several unnamed passalongs.

Just added this year from my sister-in-law's bounty comes a tall, graceful iris with lilac-striped falls, yellow beards, and white standards. This nameless variety catches the sunlight so well that it looks like it's glowing from within.

"Eric the Red," "King of Kings," and "Cambridge," Siberian irises, like to be in well-watered ground, particularly when they are setting flowers.

In the spring, I top-dress both bearded and Siberian species with peatmoss. After blooming, I cut down the stems to a few inches. The foliage remains until fall, when it is trimmed down to a few inches. I try not to over-fertilize but just can't help but scatter a little 5-10-5 around.

And the blue flag irises (Iris versicolor) keep their feet muddy in the soggy area of my former lawn. I haven't a clue how to care for them!

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Monnie's peonies

The peonies that I transplanted from my mother's garden two years ago have bloomed for the first time.

When I saw these full, frilly blossoms, I thought of their connection with my grandmother, Monnie.

Although she looks very solemn in this formal portrait, taken in St. Louis around 1909, I know from her diaries that this lively woman loved playing cards, riding horses, attending theatricals, and socializing with her seven siblings, numerous cousins, and beaux.

Monnie was relatively young when she died from a protracted degenerative illness. According to my mother, my grandfather never spoke about her--"because he loved her too much"--but he would take peonies from my mother's garden to lay on Monnie's grave on their wedding anniversary. I suspect that the story is rather more complicated than that of transcendent love, but who knows?

So now, linking three generations, sixty years, and four hundred miles, I have the same peonies growing in my garden.