Friday, October 28, 2011

Beauty Before the Frost

Colchicum "Lilac Wonder"

In the last glorious weeks prior to our first frost, fragile beauty abounds. Every year, I add a few more Colchicums, They are referred to as autumn crocus, but that title has already been taken by the real autumn flowering crocus, a very different thing, and genus. Colchicums bloom at the time when every gardener needs a shot in the arm! Their interesting foliage arrives in the spring when everything else is surging in to bloom.It is gone before you know it, blending away in the cacophony of Hosta, Violet and Monarda leaves surrounding them. The garden fills in and blooms, going through the spring and summer seasons, then it slows way down, the heat and lack of rain taking their toll. Then, in early October , we get a decent rain storm. The rain triggers the Colchicums to surge in to growth, literally over night. The buds appear like a true Crocus, but continue to expand and grow in to a large clump of translucent lavender bloom. They are supposed to spread, but mine have not so far. There are many varieties to try, double, whites, checkered-they are pricey, but get better every year, and live long lives in the perennial garden.

This little Morning Glory, Ipomea sp. has traveled with me through my entire life. When I was little, I would help my father in the vegetable garden, were we also grew Sweetpeas for the house, as well as broken, flamed tulips, sweet Williams and this little beauty self seeded every year.I would gather the light tan seed pods in the fall, crumbling their shells off, exposing the jet black seed.When I moved away from home, the first garden I created, I plantd these simple flowers. You would think that they would be invasive, like the variety  I."Grandpa Ott's", but it keeps a low profile, never taking over the scene. This spring, my neighbors Ann and John gave me some seed they had saved from the same type of Morning glory, so I have "fresh blood" for the next seasons progeny, It's like a miniature I."Heavenly Blue", but with tri-lobed leaves,( and not the species I.triloba..) Does anyone know what variety this is? I found this vine growing through an Abolone shell by my door, what a perfect combination!

Anemone japonica  "Whirlwind"

Plants that come in to their own in the fall are so underused. These perennial Anemones are fantastic tall flowers to use in groups, or as a soft focal point all by themselves. They are beautiful cut flowers, but the blooms last at least a month on the plant if they are getting ample moisture. There are varieties in white, pink, mauve, raspberry-some single, others fully double. They will bloom until a hard frost, and even then, you might get some continued blooming if an Indian Summer settles in. This is a new one for me, and I've planted it in more sunlight this time, and gave it more organic matter in it's planting hole, I think the change will be good, my others are planted in dry shade, and suffer from low moisture in the soil. The new planting bed will be kept a little wetter than most of the areas in my gardens.

Iris germanica "Immortality"

I love this Iris, it blooms beautifully in the spring with the rest of the Iris, but then reblooms again in the fall, especially if it's gotten good care during the growing season. These Iris are called remontant, and there are many other colors and varieties  to try! This is an oldie, but a goody,with very fragrant blooms,  a whisper of pale blue on  a pure white ground. Remember to never plant a tall bearded Iris too deep-their rhizome needs to see some sun, half out of the ground, like a turtle in the water. The night after I took this picture , we had the hard freeze, ending the party, but this was the last blossom on the plant, so it was great timing!

Tricyrtis "Miyazaki Hybrids"

I love Tricyrtis, the Toad Lilies. I would have a serious collecting lust for them, but I loose them after a year or two, due to the population of voles that eat their roots in the winter here. I guess I could grow them in wire baskets, sunk in the ground, but that's not my style. I enjoy them for a few seasons, then get a few new ones to grace the fall shade garden. They look like tropical lilies or orchids, often banded and speckled with purple and brown. Although none of them are what I would call tall, they make great cut flowers, exquisite and long lasting. Some have striped foliage, or even spotted. Great companions of Epimediums, small Hosta, and ferns. Dappled light, even moisture and a light organic mulch will suite them well-and if happy, they will form gently expanding colonies. They are also super in containers with similar shade loving plants or all by themselves in a group.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Spider Lilies Steal the Show in Late Summer

Lycoris radiata radiata-Red Surprise lily

Once you have been bewitched by these ethereal bulbs, you will want more! I began seeking them out, and liking what I found..! The first one I grew was the traditional Southern favorite, the red spider lily. Some refer to them as hurricane lilies, fairy lilies or by their rightful description-Lycoris radiata.

Lycoris radiata pumila

These are the most common one you will see in the southern United States.These are sterile, polyploid plants, producing a  larger, more showy display. There is another L.radiata,---pumila. I think this is the original species, that's still fertile and seed bearing,  and half the stature of the popular L.radiata radiata.I'm buying some bulbs from a new collection from china, this is great, because I will have a whole new gene pool to work with. It seems like only about half of the discovered "species" are really natural, sterile hybrids that can only be multiplied by a slow division of the bulbs. One species that is a likely natural hybrid is, Lycoris houdyshelii. This spider lily is a real stunner! It has about the same stature as L. radiata, but the bloom cluster is larger and more ruffled. It is norrmaly a creamy white with streaks of pale pink, getting stronger with age. When I took this shot, only a touch of pink was apparent, due to the 100 degree weather we were having. Cooler temperatures would have brought out more blush, but it's still a highlight in my late season garden.

 Lycoris houdyshellii
Another amazing species is believed to be one of the parents of the popular Naked Lady pink surprise lily, L.squamigera. The other participant in this clandestine mating is most likely L. longituba. This is the spectacular L.sprengeri. It will not only surprise you with it's appearance seemingly out of nowhere, but with it's shocking true blue petals. The base of each petal in a bubble gum pink, but depending on the individual plant, it can be almost entirely covered with electric blue!

Lycoris sprengeri just opening..

the color is really more pronounced in sunlight..

The last one I'll talk about, is actually the first to bloom, late July here in the central Midwest. Lycoris sanguinea var.kuisiana is a demure plant, with smooth petals, in a soft salmon orange color. It has been shy to bloom for me, alternating years at this point. I believe in spreads by runners or roots, because it has shown up at least three feet away from the original bulb. It has never set seed that I know of, but that could be an answer as well! This year, just as the first and only stem was making it's debut, a snail got to the flower stalk and ate right through it! I found it laying on the ground, decapitated. Oh well, one more year I won't get seed! UGG. I brought it in to the house were it bloomed for well over a week. Lycoris make excellent cut flowers!

Lycoris sanguinea var.  kuisiana

There are some truly beautiful man made hybrids and more species as well--these are all hardy in my zone 5 garden, there are more tender species and cultivars for a little warmer location, in to zone 7-8. Dappled light and adequate moisture is all they need. The "neck" of the bulbs need to be just below the ground surface, but mulch and ground covers are a good idea. They are perfect with Hosta plants, and you can pair the different statures with a appropriate mate in scale-as Hosta come in all sizes too! Surprise yourself, try some Lycoris this year, they get better every season!

Sources: Telos Rare bulbs, Plant Delights nursery, and other specialty bulb vendors-even ebay!