Sunday, May 3, 2015
Three days of glory
After a long, cold winter and a late, chilly spring--followed by a week in Buffalo--I finally enjoyed a perfect spring weekend, feeling a bit guilty about not working in the garden but happy to just enjoy the warm weather and appreciate the flowers. Stealing the show today is my tree peony, an unknown cultivar that is one of the very few plants I've kept from the previous owner.
For about 3 days every spring, the tree peony gives me this glorious flouncy display. If I'm lucky, that is; some years they're even shorter-lived. The flowers are at their best when the days are chilly and overcast. Rain ruins the flowers. Sun makes them wilt. Heat makes them shrivel right up. (The "Bulgarian" windmill palm behind it was supposed to provide a bit of shade, but seems to have finally bitten the dust. More on that later.) One year, we hit 90 degrees (32 C) on the day the flowers opened, and they wilted and shriveled up right then and there. It would help if the flowers were staggered a bit, but no, they all open at the same time and in just a couple of days they'll all be gone.
In a small garden, every plant has to pull its weight, and it's hard to justify something with such a short blooming period. But because the flowers are so beautiful, the plant requires so little maintenance, and the foliage looks halfway decent for the rest of the year, I tolerate it.
Spring is always a short season in Washington, DC gardens and this spring has been especially accelerated and compressed, with all the plants catching up fast. By now, most spring flowers are just a few days behind schedule. Some plants seem to have enjoyed two back-to-back cold winters: bleeding heart, Lamprocapnos (formerly Dicentra) spectabilis, languished for several years in my garden but has exploded and is finally putting on the spectacle its species name promises! But alas, this is another plant whose display is shockingly short-lived in my area; at least it goes summer dormant, so I don't have to deal with its foliage. I've given up on some of my favorite spring flowers because they just don't last long enough. At best they give me a few days of pleasure; some springs, when we get hot weather unusually early, they hardly give me any show at all.
Winter survivor: Begonia pedatifida
Today was also a day to poke around a bit to see what survived the winter. Hardy begonias are notoriously late risers but Begonia pedatifida, B. emeiensis, and B. U584 survived another cold winter with no more than a light mulch and are putting out strong new growth (see Beyond Begonia grandis: new hardy begonias). These are always the first ones to show signs of life, and despite the cold winter I'm optimistic that more of the hardy(ish) begonias I'm testing will come back. Watch for an update on my begonias in the coming weeks!
Winter survivor: Tetrapanax papyrifer 'Steroidal Giant'
I was somewhat surprised to see Tetrapanax papyrifer 'Steroidal Giant' showing new growth already, especially since one of the plants was in a pot that received no protection at all. This relatively new selection of the species is definitely living up to its reputation for hardiness!
Here are a few spring flower photos... enjoy them while they last!
Bearded iris: opening tomorrow!
Epilogue: this photo, taken less than 8 hours after the photo up at the top, shows what a warm, sunny spring day does to the tree peony flowers. Tomorrow the show will be over, and the petals will be littering the ground: