Tuesday, July 22, 2014 2 comments

Are the new coneflowers just pretty faces?




When you specialize in one particular plant, it’s easy to fall into a gardening rut.

While living in Maryland, I focused on roses and companion plants that looked good with roses. I wasn’t very interested in experimenting with anything new.
Now that I’m starting over with a garden in the mountains of North Carolina, I see I’ve been missing out on some really interesting perennials. I inherited a few daylilies and am just beginning to appreciate their beauty and usefulness.
I was also intrigued when a coneflower popped up in an area where I’d sown wildflower seeds last summer. It was just an old fashioned Echinacea purpurea but it looked quite elegant amid a group of oxeye daisies.

I wondered why I hadn’t noticed this appealing flower before.
The humble Echinacea has some fancy new cousins
Hardy, attractive, and easy to grow, these popular American wildflowers have long been a staple of the perennial border both here and in Europe.

Beginning in the mid-1990s, a number of enterprising plant breeders began making crosses between several varieties of native coneflowers in an attempt to make a good thing even better.

Harvest Moon

The result is a dizzying array of new hybrids in a rainbow of delicious colors, along with a wide choice of flower forms (including pom-poms and doubles) and sizes from midget to statuesque.
Keeping up with all these new and unusual coneflowers is about as difficult as figuring out which of a multitude of rose introductions to try. The number of choices and names boggle the mind.
Milk Shake

Should I get a Milkshake and Tomato Soup? Or a Marmalade and Merlot?
And once I decide on which of the new beauties to try, should I assume it will be as easy-care as the old standby?
The coneflower controversy
The traditional purple coneflower has been a Top 10 perennial for decades. It self-seeds so even when the original plant is just a memory, true seedlings will have taken its place.
Unfortunately, many of the new introductions don’t perform as dependably in the garden.
Raspberry Truffle

Many seem to disappear after a year or so, and others never bloom. Some fade quickly in the heat. A number of varieties don’t set seed and others produce strange seedlings.
It’s a disappointing result after a great deal of hype and high expectations.
Anecdotal evidence also suggests that the success rate for certain new coneflowers may depend on the region where they are grown.

Jeff Dinslage of Nature Hills Nursery reports that Tomato Soup has been a star in his Nebraska yard for several years despite being placed in the worst spot in the garden. Kim’s Knee Hi is another variety that does well in the heartland.
Kim's Knee Hi
Fatal Attraction and Fragrant Angel don’t mind the heat and clay soils of the mid-Atlantic according to a three-year study done by the nonprofit Mount Cuba Center in northern Delaware.
And compact Elton Knight has done well enough in Britain to be given the Award of Garden Merit by the Royal Horticultural Society.
White Swan
I don’t know if my White Swan and Ruby Star will be winners here in the North Carolina mountains, but I will certainly report if either one rates a thumbs-up.
I hope to hear more about Echinacea experiences in other areas of the country.


The explosion of these unique and enticing plants is exciting news for gardeners.

But before we all go coneflower crazy, we need to separate the dazzlers from the duds.


Hot Paprika






Monday, June 23, 2014 5 comments

Another golden Chelsea for David Austin English Roses


I attended the Chelsea Flower Show in May 1991. That year, a Silver Medal was awarded to a garden called Gothic Retreat. If I saw it, the plants and design have completely slipped my mind. You see, I was so gobsmacked by the enormity of the show and the variety of blooms, I didn’t know which way to turn. 

 
I trained Cottage Rose as a climber
That year a hybridizer named David Austin introduced three roses I later grew in my Maryland garden. Cottage Rose, The Dark Lady and Evelyn remain among my favorites. 


But Mr. Austin was not new to Chelsea – in 1983 he unveiled two of his new, old-fashioned “English Roses” to the world, Graham Thomas and Mary Rose.

The rest, as they say, is history.


This year David Austin English Roses secured an 18th Gold Medal in the Great Pavilion awards. Their team of eight worked for five days to prepare the display in the main marquee. Those readers who recall my posting about the 2013 Austin stand may not believe it, but this year’s presentation was even more stunning.

 
As a bonus, this year’s show was a family affair.

David Austin Senior, David Austin Junior and his son Richard were on hand to celebrate the award.  In addition, one of the 2014 Chelsea introductions is named Olivia Rose Austin after David Junior’s 19-year-old daughter.
 
Olivia Rose Austin
Because the variety is named for a family member, it had to be something special. Olivia is the first offering in their disease-free line and has been in development for almost ten years.  The rose features soft pink rosette blooms and a fruity fragrance.  The Austin folks believe it might be their best rose to date. 

 A second introduction, The Poet’s Wife has really caught my eye. Technical Manager Michael Marriott says it is a rare color in the David Austin pastel palette – an unfading rich yellow. It is a low grower, ideal for the front of the border. The fragrance is described as lemony, becoming sweeter and stronger with age.

The Poet's Wife
The final new rose to make its debut is The Lady of the Lake, only the fourth rambler to be added to the English Rose collection. It promises to grow 10 to 12 feet or more with long, slender, flexible canes. Unlike many ramblers, it repeat flowers throughout the summer and boasts a fresh citrus scent.
 
The Lady of the Lake
So there you have it. All the beauty of Chelsea, and all the beauty to come with three new David Austin roses.


I am checking now to see if they will be available here in 2015.  Hope so.

I already have The Poet’s Wife at the top on my must have list.


Sunday, June 1, 2014 9 comments

More miracles at the Biltmore International Rose Trials

Ta da, this year's big winner at Biltmore


Last year, a part-time hybridizer made history when one of his creations won Best in Show at the first Biltmore International Rose Trials competition in Asheville, North Carolina.

Mike Athy of Gisborne, New Zealand entered his climbing/groundcover rose (temporarily known as Athyfalaa) in 2011 and after eight rounds of judging over two years it was declared the winner in five of eleven categories.

This year another amateur, Robert Neal Rippetoe, took top honors with “Miracle on the Hudson”, a vibrant shrub named to salute the Captain, crew and passengers of US Airways Flight 1549. Rippetoe’s rose also won for Best Shrub Rose, Best Growth Habit and Most Disease Resistant. Some of his other introductions include “Buttercream”, “June Anne” and “Bohemian Rhapsody”.

The Biltmore Rose Garden was nothing less than spectacular
This is the second year Biltmore’s Rose Garden has been home to the trials where more than 90 varieties from growers and breeders worldwide have been planted and cared for by Biltmore Rosarian Lucas Jacks (he is a certified genius) and his team of horticulturalists.

No fungicides or insecticides are used on these roses and any entry that displays disease over 25% of the bush is removed from the competition.

Each trial lasts two years and a permanent jury judges the roses four times annually. I am fortunate to be on that permanent panel (despite the fact it can be mighty cold out in the gardens in mid-January.) 

 
The Biltmore Estate and its glorious gardens are a must-see

 The roses judged this year were from Canada, France, Ireland, New Zealand, Germany, the UK and the United States. 29 roses planted in 2012 made it to the finals (the roses are displayed by a numerical code and names are not known to the judges.) An international panel from across the rose world joined our permanent group to select the pick of the posies.


Lest you think only newbies are snapping up awards, many luminaries of rosedom also made the head table. 

    
Sweet Drift


Tequila Supreme
Meilland of France won Best Groundcover with “Sweet Drift”, Best Floribunda with “Tequila Supreme” and Best Hybrid Tea with “Francis Meilland.”


“Munstead Wood” hybridized by David Austin English Roses was named Most Fragrant.
My Munstead Woods are almost always in bloom

And the stunner “Bajazzo” from Kordes of Germany won Best Climber.

Bajazzo bewitched judges


New rose varieties are planted for the trials each May. These bushes are evaluated for garden performance, fragrance, disease resistance and usability in a variety of landscape situations. The next awards will be in 2015 for the trials planted in 2013.

I judged the 2013 hopefuls as part of my duties Saturday.

I saw some amazing entries, so I fully expect more wonderous events to materialize next May.

Monday, May 19, 2014 10 comments

Seeing rhododendrons through rose-colored glasses


Roses give you more bang for your buck than most any other plant in the garden.  I have been preaching this fact for many years. That’s why very few “seasonal” plants reside at Hunt Manor. Even my daylilies and clematis repeat bloom. 

Purpureum Elegans

So, in the past, my head has not been turned by peonies, azaleas, iris or rhododendrons.

This year, I’ve been giving the rhodys a second look. Maybe it’s because we had a very harsh winter and I am dying to see something in bloom. Or maybe it’s because until now, I hadn’t appreciated the variety of colors available.

Catawbiense Album

Rhododendron is a genus of over 1,000 species of woody plants in the heath family. Although they are native to many areas of the world, most of the rhododendrons grown in gardens today are hybrids. According to the Royal Horticultural Society, there are more than 28,000 cultivars in the international registry, most bred for the showy flowers.


Percy Wiseman
I saw a bright yellow one outside the grocery store the other day and almost bought it, thinking how it would be a perfect companion for my native flame azalea. But alas, by the time I made up my mind, it was gone.
 

So I decided to scout around the area and see what other beauties I’d been missing. 

My friend Margaret refers to the hybrid rhododendrons as the “tame” ones in contrast to the native varieties that will be blooming throughout the mountains this summer.   


Nova Zembia






Edith Bosley
The Rosebay is the most common rhododendron in the Smokies. It is one of the largest and hardiest of evergreen shrubs, believed to be able to tolerate temperatures of 40 below zero. (Although the leaves do collapse and look wilted on super cold days.)

Native rhodys can vary in color
Rosebay thrives near streams and ravines at elevations below 5,000 feet. The flowers range from white to purplish-pink and the wood has been used to make tool handles.

Last year not many of the flowers bloomed, and I wondered if it was due to the 30+ inches of rain we’d had in June and July. Now I’ve learned that this variety only puts out a “big bloom” every two to four years. No one knows when the extravaganza will happen, or why.

The Rosebays by the trail and stream are mostly white
I know that come late June and July I’ll be looking at these natives with new interest and curiosity.

The name rhododendron comes from the Greek and means rose tree.

Rosebay is the variety that is growing all around me.

Maybe the rose trees and the Rosebay are trying to tell this rose lover something.
















Thursday, May 1, 2014 10 comments

Small wonders on the trail, big doings on the deck

Catesby's Trillium

After several weeks of not much happening in the garden, all hell has broken loose in the past few days. In fact, so much is going on I’ve looked like a human yo-yo zipping down and up the outside steps to keep current with events that seem to change every hour.

Something is always happening along the trail
It all started a couple of days ago when I observed many varieties of ferns unfurling after their long winter’s nap.

Then my variegated Solomon’s Seal began to burst into bloom. Luckily I took a photo because the next day the entire plant was gone. I don’t know if it was a bunny or a deer. Obviously I waited too long to start applying Liquid Fence.
Variegated Solomon's Seal


About the same time I noticed the Trilliums were about the start their spectacular spring show. Trilliums are members of the lily family and are easily identified because they are a “three-fer”. No matter the height, form or color, each one of these woodland jewels has three leaves, three sepals and three petals. 
Wake Robin

About 40 species of these “trinity flowers” are native to temperate regions of America and Asia. Fifteen varieties can be found in the piedmont and mountains of North Carolina. Five are growing right by my trail.
Painted Trilliums are disappearing

The Wake Robin or “Stinking Benjamin” bloomed first. I saw a Painted Trillium two days ago, a Large-flowered yesterday and a Nodding Trillium today. I keep looking for the Yellow Toadshade but have yet to spy one yet.

Although keeping up with the activity around the trail is time-consuming, all kinds of interesting things are also happening on the deck.
 
The hummers are back, along with the Rose-breasted Grosbeak and the Rufous-sided towhees. Brilliant lemon-yellow Goldfinches decorate the branches of nearby trees.
 


Hummers are back and fighting
  The male hummingbirds arrived on April 12th and the ladies flew in a few days ago. Already the deck is like scene from a World War II movie with birds dive-bombing and zapping each other. 

Hummingbird Helper or useless gadget?

I ordered a new gadget called a Hummingbird Helper to assist the girls in their search for nesting materials. I just hope they don’t kill each other before the little ones come along.







Who is stealing the suet?

During the winter we put out three suet feeders, two are “squirrel-proof” and the third is a decorative holder the wrens love. We use hot pepper suet in the “apple” and the squirrels never bother it.

However, now that hummingbird feeders have replaced two of the squirrel-proofs, the only suet feeder available is the apple. For three nights in a row, something has delicately untied and discarded the twist tie that holds the feeder closed.




Whatever it is then opens the door and removes the entire cake of suet. Could it be a raccoon? Or a crow? We have no clue but have decided to bring the feeders in from now on. (FYI, we used to bring them in every night because of the bears. But since we’ve put metal flashing on each post, Yogi hasn’t visited.)

A female Mourning Dove comes to visit the deck every day. I love how sweet and peaceful she appears. But I best not tarry watching her for too long. 



Something new will be blooming along the trail and with apologies to Aerosmith, I don’t want to miss a thing.

Monday, April 7, 2014 9 comments

FINALLY, it's spring



Just when I thought it was going to be bleak, cold and miserable for the remainder of my lifetime, I spied some tiny blooms near the path to the waterfall.

The first one is a pretty little yellow flower with brown veins on its lower petals. I don’t recall seeing this Lilliputian lovely last year, and it may be because the Roundleaf Yellow Violet (also known as the Early Yellow Violet or Viola rotundifolia) often has come and gone before other varieties even appear.

Early Yellow Violet
Once the early spring flowers have faded, the attractive heart-shaped leaves keep growing and can measure up to 5” across by the end of summer. 

It is the only yellow violet in eastern North America with leaves and flowers on separate stalks.

My next discovery was growing right by the stream and turned out to be the Sweet White Violet (V. blanda). The Cherokees used this this plant as a vegetable, mixing the leaves and stems with other greens, sprinkling them with salt and frying them up in fat.

 
The Sweet Violet is very similar to the Northern White Violet but the sweet variety has two upper petals that are twisted backwards. 

I must point out here that these flowers are all of ¼ inch in diameter so your humble scribe should get some extra brownie points (or a bonus glass of red wine) for figuring out the difference.

The Halberd-leaf Yellow Violets (V. hastata) are also making their first appearances of 2014. 

I’ve read the name came about because the arrowhead leaves are reminiscent of a battle-ax type weapon used in the 15th and 16th centuries.

 I’ll have to take the historians at their word.

Confederate Violet
In addition to these early bloomers, we will soon see other varieties including the Confederate, Beaked and common blue violets. 

Because of the diminitive size they can be easily overlooked, even though the humble violet has been celebrated in myths and literature from ancient times. 

In addition to the violets, the Bluets are back. When I first noticed them in spring of 2012, I thought they were Forget-me-nots.


Upon further review, the jaunty blue flowers weren’t forget-me-nots at all, but Mountain or Thymeleaf Bluets, a member of the Madder family. They are sometimes called “Innocence” or “Quaker ladies” because the flower shape resembles a Quaker lady’s hat. They can grow in open grassy areas, woodlands and along streams.

No matter what you call them, these delicate blooms are a welcome addition to my garden.

And it occurs to me if all these beauties are now putting on their spring show, can the roses be far behind?
 
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