Sunday, May 17, 2015
Spring waits for no man
Herbaceous peony (unknown cultivar)
A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the three days of glory (rarely four, often two, sometimes as little as one) my tree peony gives me. It's always one of the first plants to bloom in my garden, in fact one of the first to stir at all, showing new growth long before the threat of frost is past (although oddly enough, the flowers have never been nipped by a late frost). Tree peonies aren't really trees; they are hybrids derived from Paeonia suffruticosa (whose Latin name means "kinda shrubby") and related species with persistent woody stems that might grow a few feet tall at most. Now it's time for the more familiar herbaceous peonies, the perennial kind that dies to the ground every winter, and tend to bloom a bit later.
More buds coming
Unlike tree peonies, the herbaceous kind don't open all their flowers at once, so the display is a bit longer, perhaps a week or so. Peonies are nicely fragrant and make great cut flowers if you cut them just as they're opening (just shake off the ants first!). I recently discovered an awesome way to extend their cut flower season that should work with all kinds of peonies: see Tree peony flowers: how to extend their life from days to weeks at Jim McKenney's My Virtual Maryland Garden.
If you have peonies, you will have ants
Peony breeders seem to have focused on giant double flowers, and not so much on stem sturdiness. More so than tree peonies, herbaceous peonies often require some support. If you gamble (as I usually do), and you're lucky (as I seem to be so far this year), the plants will lean and flop gracefully. But all it takes is one heavy rain and the plants are flat on the ground and the beautiful flowers covered with mud. This is why peony hoops were invented. I like to live dangerously, so mine are still hanging in the garage.
Flopping gracefully, until the next thunderstorm
Both of my peonies are unknown cultivars, planted by the previous owners of my house sometime before we purchased it in December 2000. The tree peony was in sad shape and needed a couple of years of careful pruning and TLC, but rewarded me with glorious (if gloriously short-lived) flowers. I have to give them credit for trying, but I don't think any of the previous owners did anything to improve the soil and their plant selection left something to be desired. Peonies, roses, oriental poppies, daylilies, bearded irises, as well as two plum trees and a blueberry shrub--so many plants I was familiar with from my upstate New York gardening days, and provide a cheerful spring display but don't always do well in my more southern region's summer heat. I removed most of these plants one by one; a small garden needs plants that look good throughout the growing season, and most of these simply didn't. I know they planted a lot of other plants too, because I keep finding their plastic labels as I dig!
Iris 'Honorabile', on its last legs
It's easy to have a beautiful garden in the spring. Everything is growing and blooming, everything has fresh new foliage, the weeds haven't sprung up yet and the long hot and humid days of summer haven't started to stifle everything yet. The challenge is to have a garden that looks good in the summer and into the fall. I think I've largely succeeded with this, but at the expense of the spring garden. I'm testing a lot of plants that are marginally hardy (or whose hardiness is unknown) and I'm still waiting for many of them to come back (or not). In between the columbine, and irises, and peonies, there are a lot of gaps that may (or may not!) need to be filled. Conspicuously absent so far are most of my begonias, but I'm going to give them some more time. I learned that lesson last year, when I waited until late May to plant a new begonia in a spot where a begonia had been growing the previous year, only to discover its rhizome, firm and healthy, with a strong shoot just about the break the surface.
When can we go outside???
A few begonias are showing themselves. Begonia emeiensis has proven quite hardy and practically jumps out of the ground. This species, along with B. pedatifida and B. U584, have proven to be the toughest of the newer introductions of hardy begonias.
Begonia emeiensis, unfazed by a cold winter
While I'm waiting for the begonias, I've had other surprises. Trachelospermum jasminoides, a.k.a. "confederate jasmine", not only stayed evergreen through a long and cold winter, but is blooming for the first time since I got it from a friend over 5 years ago. I could never decide where to put it and it's been sitting in the same spot ever since, still in the same pot. This plant has received no care or protection of any kind, although I think it's rooted itself outside the pot in several places.
It's another hot and humid weekend and it's hard to motivate myself to work in the garden. I always buy too many plants, too early, so I've been avoiding the nurseries and garden centers but yesterday was Spring Garden Day at Green Spring Gardens in Alexandria, Virginia and I had to go, if only to see the gardens plus a lot of my gardening friends. Right, that's what I always tell myself. Along with the FONA Spring Garden Fair (which I missed this year), this is one of the biggest horticultural events in the Washington, DC area every spring with a huge variety of plants offered by commercial vendors from near and far, as well as local garden clubs and chapters of national societies. As usual, my eyes were bigger than my garden and I came home with a couple of impulse purchases. I have to be careful because I never know where to plant those things that I never knew I had to have; a "Black Lace" elderberry that I purchased at this same sale last year is still in a pot. Buying plants is the easy part; they all need to be planted sooner or later!
Spring Garden Day: lining up for plants
Four Seasons Garden Club tent
Many people bring wagons. I'm not that bad... yet
Calycanthus 'Venus' blooming in the gardens
Plants weren't the only thing to see
Click here for more Green Spring photos
Now where to put that Black Lace elderberry...