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.