Friday, October 28, 2011

Glowing, blazing, burning

The spindle tree, Euonymus alata, in my frontyard; I love how the colours shift from the brightest crimson to the deepest burgundy in one single plant.

While photographing for an article about Araucarias in the Washington Park Arboretum, I was stunned by the amazing fall foliage this year. It is probably the most blazing show I've ever seen here; usually, the Pacific Northwest does not get the bright colours so typical for the Northeastern States or Northern Europe. Afterwards, I continued my photo session in my own garden, trying to make the most of the day before the next rainburst. As a result, here is a selection of my favorites for autumn blaze in the garden. Click on the photos for larger pictures - just don't burn your eyes...
Witch-hazels, members of the Hamamelis family, are one of my favorite shrubs, not only for their delicately scented winter flowers, but also for their glowing fall colour.
Stewartias, here S. monadelpha, really do have it all: wonderful bark, beautiful flowers, elegant form, and then good autumn colour - they are an excellent choice for just about any garden... 

Fothergillas are closely related to Hamamelis. Their leaves are quite similar, but they get a more mottled autumn colour, like a patchwork containing all alternatives on the warm spectrum, from yellows to dark maroon tones.
This is one eye-burning plant: the sourwood tree, Oxydendron arboreum. It is one of my new favorites here even if I don't normally love anything so extremely red. But this tree blooms with sprays of lily-of-the-valley -like flowers from July to August and ends the season with a blazing show that definitely brightens up gloomy autumn days. Very dramatic. 

Of course, no autumn colour show would be complete without maple leaves... here some Japanese ones from the Arboretum. I love the gradation from intensely red to green and then to soft, burnt orange, all in the same branch.

My weeping Japanese maple, Acer palmatum dissectum atropurpureum, changes from burgundy via green to toffee before it drops its leaves. With its drooping habit, it looks like a hairy mammoth in the end of the season... 
And a final picture from my backyard. A dark purple smoke bush to the left, then some blazing spindle trees and a brownish Stewartia that already show their autumn colour; the witch-hazels to the right still are completely green, but will soon turn lemony yellow. To the right from here, there is a star magnolia and a large cherry tree that were unfortunately cut out from the picture.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Farewell season

Gentiana asclepiadea, the Willow gentian, is still sending out some flowers, now much bluer than the skies...

No frost yet, but the rains arrived according to schedule. Soft drizzle with small breaks in between, long enough to lure one out in the garden, just to get drenched by the next cloudburst. Some plants are still hanging on as if there were no tomorrow. Perseverance, such an admirable quality to possess.  

Tricyrtis 'White Towers', or white toad lilies. Such an unfairly ugly name on an elegant plant... They are still holding on, producing cascades of delicate, orchid-like flowers.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Applicable advice from the other great recession

A tap on my own back again; my second article was just published in the Washington Park Arboretum Bulletin, which I am very happy about. This time, I wrote about the first region-specific gardening books published in the Pacific Northwest. These appeared in the 1930s; it seems that until then, gardeners here were satisfied by local newspaper and magazine articles and books published elsewhere.
The earliest book to come out was Pacific Northwest Garden Guide for the Puget Sound Country and Northern Oregon by Charles J. Love in 1933. This energetic nurseryman from Seattle was a predecessor of today's star gardeners who fill the media; he evolved into a well-known public figure with newspaper and magazine columns and even radio broadcasts. Much of his advice is still accurate, even if some of it raise a smile, like his comment about rhododendrons and azaleas, that according to him had “not yet gained the attention they deserve in Pacific Northwest gardens”. He was definitely heard, as they now fill gardens here.
Besides plant information, Love explained gardening and horticultural techniques, especially concentrating on growing edibles. The spirit of the economical depression of the 1930s shines through clearly when Love contemplates:

We have the same wealth we always had - more in fact than any other country on earth, but we have allowed that wealth to flow into one corner and our structure became unbalanced and toppled over. Going back to the land is significant and will help distribute our great wealth to every nook and corner of our land. Trade in your own locality with local men and watch the regaining of equilibrium.”

His words bear an almost uncanny reflection of our own economically distressed times. Despite having been written in the early 1930s, they could be from any Farmer’s Market or locavore manifesto of today. The circle seems to have closed, we are back in growing our own edibles and trying to find a way out from a new great recession. And I can't but agree with Mr. Love about the importance of using local produce and locally manufactured products as an important way for achieving this.

Washington Park Arboretum Bulletin

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Bulbs, distracted

Tulip bulbs ready to go to bed. This heap is only for the camera, I thought they looked so delicious... in reality I left much more space between the bulbs.

Yesterday, I tried to get some bulbs into the ground and into some pots and containers, but got severely distracted by our puppy Milo. She thought it was a great game trying to steal them from me, or to tear up the paper bags up and then hunt after the pieces in the wind. She was on tether, but after a while the subsequent yelping made me release her against the advice from our personal puppy trainer (only in America! :-). I admit that I'm still far from being a professional, consequent dog owner who knows how to handle these situations.

Porcelain blue Muscari armeniacum 'Valerie Finnis', which I planted in an Italian terracotta pot. I love these tightly planted in low containers, ready to lifted to places where they can be enjoyed at close distance in early spring.

Milo really is a major distraction to about everything in my life for the moment. Totally cute and lovely, but so much hard work, and I must admit that I wasn't prepared enough for either. So, instead of some well composed bulb photos, I'm just reverting to a couple of pics from last year (bulbs in pots) and some stolen from the bulb sellers website (I hope Van Bloem takes this as marketing and not stealing).

Anyway, here is what I planted:

Three large containers in my backyard:
White, green-striped lily flowering Tulipa 'Green Star' in the first container
Black Tulipa 'Queen of Night' in the second (I wonder how this will go, might be too strong combination)
Tulipa Clusiana in the third (cheery, hopefully only not too... but then I'll just lift it somewhere else)
all combined with Anemone blanda 'White Splendour'

Two smaller containers for the entrance:
Porcelain blue Muscari armeniacum 'Valerie Finnis' with Narcissus cyclamineus 'Jenny' in the first
Fritillaria meleagris mix in the second

For the front yard, amongst creeping Prunus laurocerasus:
Allium Schubertii (9 bulbs in total, just to see if it works - I don't want them to be too showy, but I've always wanted to grow this bulb and it never came up in Sweden, is was too cold)

I just love planting bulbs in containers, so I'm still hungry for planting more, there were so many temptations at the local nursery. We'll see, maybe in a week or two, if Milo allows me...

Tulipa 'Green Star'

Thursday, October 13, 2011

A Brazilian at wrong latitudes

Exotic looking with its red petals tinged with dark maroon and edged with green and cream, the parrot flower comes from the hot and humid savannas of Brazil.

Last Saturday, I went to a garden walk through two private gardens in North Seattle. Barely warmed by the thinning rays of sun, we wandered through the winding pathways of the two gardens that had been cultivated and loved for years. They were accordingly full of rarities and mature specimens of many interesting plants, which kept the participants - a group of landscape designers from the Seattle area - busy discussing their respective merits and qualities (of the plants, not the designers...) and possible uses in gardens.

The parrot flower blooms from July to October. The original species can become invasive, but there is a refined Japanese selection with cream-edged leaves that is much easier keep in bay.

One of them caught my eye, even if I really can't explain why. It was the parrot flower, Ahlstroemeria psittacina, a wild species from the Cerrado ecoregion of Brazil. Just looking at the words "Cerrado ecoregion of Brazil" makes me want to embark for a long botanical expedition to those hot and humid plains, said to be the richest savanna in the world. Think about all those flowers under the bright Brazilian sun, weaving through the abundant grasses and gently swaying in the wind.... What a bliss.
Even the seedpods of the parrot flower look interesting, bursting out amongst the surrounding groundcovers.

Now, I have to confess that red has never really been my color in a garden; I don't think I've ever planted anything pure red in the three gardens I've had so far. But even if these parrot flowers really are a bit too christmassy (in New Zealand, where they are commonly grown in gardens, they are called New Zealand Christmas bells), they looked quite elegant in the garden, picking up colors of the surrounding plants and adding a hint of warmth to the composition. The original species has sometimes a tendency to become invasive, but there is a Japanese selection with refined, white-edged leaves that it much easier to control. An additional bonus is that hummingbirds feed easily from their narrow, tubular flowers, which always is a great feature in a plant. So even if mine might only be a case of projected wanderlust, I am considering planting some parrot flowers somewhere in my current garden...

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Embracing the rain...

Quick-silver on Ginko biloba leaves

Didn't someone say that if you can't beat them, join them? So foolish. I've never thought joining one's adversaries is a great idea, however strong they might be. But sometimes one needs to do exceptions, so instead of cursing the ever-present rain, I decided to embrace it. And despite difficulties in keeping my camera dry, there seemed to be something to that old saying, after all.

A magnifying splash on velvety Geranium renardii leaves.

Tradescantias with little drops lining the edges of their leaves; how did they arrange themselves so neatly? 

A Tropaeolum speciosum, climbing nasturtium vine, with a string of pearls. Maybe it wanted to be pretty even after the flowers have faded?

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Fuchsias still hanging out there

 Named after one of the great figures of German botany, Leonhart Fuchs (1501-66), there's nothing foxy with the delicate flowers of Fuchsia magellanica var. alba... A favorite in the Victorian England, they look gracefully elegant their shell-pink tutus.

Hardy fuchsias are still blooming with undiminished vigor. Like small lanterns, their flowers hang from  elegantly arching canes, lighting up half-shady parts of the gardens. In this mild climate, many Fuchsia species form large shrubs that feed whole families of hummingbirds throughout their long flowering season from July until the first frosts nip them off in November.
Hailing from Central and South America (and with a couple of cousins in New Zealand), they look decidedly exotic in the evergreen Pacific Northwest gardens. I don't mind this, even if as a garden plant, I prefer the slimmer species, like the many F. magellanica varieties (the big, colorful cultivars I think look best planted in pots and containers at these latitudes). Their only drawback is that their buds are all too skinny to be popped, which is not a trivial matter, as popping them (secretly) certainly belongs to the joys of childhood that stay forever in one's memory...

Dark, cherry-red berries of Fuchsia magellanica, with color-matching stems.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

A plateful of cyclamen, with regret

One of the five, old cyclamen tubers I got from Marian. They all were over 20 cm/ 8 inches in diameter and almost 10 cm/4 inches high, with leaves and flowers sprouting from the top.

Sometimes I just want to kick myself, and hard. Why? Well, two years ago, I got five old, large Cyclamen hederifolium tubers from Marian, a wonderfully talented gardener in my neighborhood who I met briefly just before she moved and left her amazing garden behind. Very fond of cyclamen of any kind, I planted them like delighted squirrel under a weeping old Japanese maple in front of our bedroom window, where I thought I would be able to enjoy their delicate and nodding flowers first thing on drizzly autumn mornings.

A baby tuber beside the old lady; cyclamen thrive in the mild climate of Pacific Northwest and naturalize easily in gardens here.

Last summer I got help with some of the Sisyphean task of weeding this garden. But only now, waiting for some flowers to emerge, did I notice that these hard-handed young guys hadn't cared much of what had stuck into their rakes. They had pulled off four of the five of my cyclamen tubers from the ground and apparently disposed them into the compost bin of their big truck. So now I only have this old lady left, together with a sore conscience for my own laziness. I mean, if you don't do all of your own gardening (which is fine when things get too tedious), how difficult is it at least to mark plants that are dormant? None of that 'everybody makes mistakes' compassion will do today, I'm full pure and clear regret.

Flowers and leaves sprout from woody stems called "floral trunks" on the top of old tubers. They eventually form showy mats of tiny flowers, preferably under large trees.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Marble guardians of Nolhaga

These white marble Guardians by Italian sculptor Stefano Beccari stand in the park of Nolhaga Slott  in Alingsås, Sweden. Like full-length, frozen versions of Giuseppe Arcimboldo's crazy vegetable portrait heads, they stand in the middle of a clearing amongst tall, old beech trees. With their rigid, voluptuously decorated forms, they command one's attention, managing at the same time to look a tiny bit ridiculous, just like real-life guardians with their showy uniforms in front of palaces and castles often tend to do.

Part of a temporary sculpture exhibition until 2012, they are a great addition to this modest but charming little park. I only wish that the park department or whoever is in charge here would have spent more in lawn care. Now weeds and bare patches of worn lawn draw one's attention, when a dark, velvety lawn or a carefully composed planting of perennial grasses would have formed a magnificent stage for these guys, adding a mysterious note to the setting. Still, it is wonderful to see that the authorities of a small town like Alingsås do invest in art, as they did here together with two local art societies. As they say, one cannot live on bread alone.

(PS - Nolhaga Slott means Nolhaga Palace, but this 19th century building is really only a middle-sized mansion).

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Pehr Kalm's Sipsalo sold

Pehr Kalm's Sipsalo, the farm where he cultivated seeds from his botanical voyage as a disciple of Carl Linnaeus to North America in 1748-51, was sold in late July to a private owner. Appeals were made for the city of Turku to use its pre-emptive right to buy the property, but this week, Turku City made its final decision of not using this right, and leaving Sipsalo to its new owner. The new owner has expressed interest for the cultural history of the place and will hopefully at least not be doing any harm to the gardens. As is usual with historic places, the buildings are protected, but the garden (or what remains of it) is not.

Despite being overgrown and neglected, some plants from the time of Kalm still grow at Sipsalo, forming a living link to its past. As the only remaining site and garden where Pehr Kalm worked, Sipsalo represents an important piece of history of scientific, cultural and botanical relationships between Finland, Sweden and the United States. With its tight connection with the Linnaean legacy, it is a highly interesting and important site for botanists, garden historians and researchers internationally.

However culturally interested the new owner might be, Turku did lose a major opportunity for research and cultural exchange that otherwise could have taken place in Sipsalo. Sipsalo could have been a center where young and old students could have learned about botany and plants, and about the history of research and science. Exchange of students and researchers from different countries could have taken place here in the spirit of both Kalm and Linnaeus, and as a tribute to their contribution to botany and science. Now this possibility was lost. I truly hope that the new owner understands the value of Sipsalo, so that it will be saved to the future generations.

All posts of the passionate effort to save this 18th century garden for future generations I've been involved in:

Sipsalo, again, December 2009
Late November is Sipsalo, December 2009
Delivered today: an international appeal to save Pehr Kalm's experimental garden in Sipsalo, March 2011 (details of international support and summary of articles up to that date that were published about Sipsalo)
Still not giving up on Pehr Kalm's Sipsalo... August 2011 (about plants in Sipsalo)