Saturday, May 31, 2014


Garden, late May

This has been a bit of an odd spring for me and my garden.  After my area's coldest winter in 20 years, here it is the last day of May and I'm still waiting to see what survived and what didn't.  Many plants that I thought for certain were dead and gone are finally showing signs of life, so in the meantime I'm trying not to disturb plants that may or may not be alive.  For example, just a few days ago I decided to transplant something, and accidentally uncovered a begonia that was sending up a strong new shoot from deep underground.   Just this morning I discovered hardy elephant ear Colocasia 'Pink China' finally coming up, and two new shoots on my hardy banana (Musa basjoo).

So I'm holding off a bit on planting new plants, although it's killing me not to fill the gaps left in my garden by dead or badly damaged plants.  (You can see in the photo above my recovering windmill palm at lower left, and a seemingly dead fig at upper right).   I've also lost much of my shade, so I'm not certain where to plant the gazillion potted begonias from my breeding program that need to get into the ground soon.  My window to get everything planted, before summer heat, humidity, and mosquitoes make gardening unbearable, is rapidly closing.  At what point should I declare plants dead and plant new ones in their place?

It will be quite a while before my garden is anywhere near back to normal, and it will look nothing like last year's garden.  That's the nature of this hobby; every year is different, and our creations grow and change, sometimes in the ways we planned but often in ways we never expected. 

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Tropical palms in downtown Washington, DC

Navy Memorial

For over 10 years I walked past tropical palm trees in downtown Washington, DC without ever seeing them.  One day I finally took notice and decided to investigate further.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Spring has sprung

Iris 'Buckwheat'
Iris 'Buckwheat'

What a relief that spring is finally here!  In fact the last 3 days have felt more like summer, humid and with highs close to 80.  In addition to the spring perennials cheering me up, I'm seeing recovery on several plants that were badly damaged by the winter and that I thought (or feared) were dead.  To recap, this was the Washington, DC area's coldest winter in 20 years, and was a good test of all the marginally hardy plants we're growing here!  The low in my own yard was about 5 degrees in early January, with several more lows in the 9-12 degree range and several periods of temperatures well below freezing.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Spring: blink and you'll miss it

Tree peony
Tree peony (unknown cultivar)

Spring has finally come to Washington, DC after a long, cold, and snowy winter.  An unknown cultivar of tree peony--one of the very few plants remaining in my garden that was planted by the previous owners--exemplifies everything I love and hate about spring here: absolutely glorious but all too short-lived.  We seem to go from winter to summer with just a week or two of spring in between.

This year the tree peony gave me a surprisingly long-lived display of about 4 days, but it was still sad to come home from work today and find it already finished.   Most years I'm lucky to enjoy it for 2 days before the flowers are spoiled by either rain or a day in the 80's.  One year it hit 90 degrees, and the flowers literally opened and withered on the same day.  My clump of herbaceous peonies will be blooming in another week or two, and will be likewise short-lived (and to add insult to injury, will flop all over the place).

Spring in DC is not only short, but fast.  Flowers that lasted a week or two in upstate New York last a couple of days here, and the spring blooming sequence that was spread over two months is compressed into a few short weeks.  Columbineirisespeonies and then summer slaps you in the face.

Bleeding heart (Lamprocapnos spectabilis) is starting to fade, and the bearded irises are about to burst open.   I gave up on siberian irises, one of my great loves, because like the tree peony they lasted just a few days in this climate.  But I still love the spring-blooming perennials and keep a few of them in my garden.  I suppose I'll never completely shake myself free of my upstate New York roots, and I'll enjoy these reminders of my childhood while I can.  In no time at all, we'll be complaining about the heat and the humidity.

Bleeding heart
Bleeding heart, Lamprocapnos (Dicentra) spectabilis