Wednesday, June 5, 2019

A Month of Epimediums

We had a cool, rainy spring here in New England.  Finally in May temperatures started to slowly rise, and everything turned green.


This year I declared May 'the month of Epimediums'.  Epimedium (aka fairy wings, barrenwort, bishop's hat, or horny goat weed, as you might call it) started blooming in my garden at the beginning of May.  They bloomed throughout the month, with the latest one finally dropping its flowers on the last day of the month.

Epimedium × warleyense
Epimediums are common in Japan and China, but they were largely unknown to western gardens until a few decades ago.  It is thanks to a few dedicated lovers of this genus that they are now much more widely known and mentioned here when gardeners talk about plants for that dreaded 'dry shade'. 

white-flowering epimedium
One such epimedium enthusiast is the hybridizer Darrell Probst of Massachusetts.  He hunted and collected seedlings on expeditions in Asia along with his interpreter, Joanna Zhang, and networked with other enthusiasts such as the late Harold Epstein.

Epimedium × rubrum
In 1997 Darrell Probst and Karen Perkins opened Garden Visions Epimediums, a small retail mail-order nursery in central Massachusetts dedicated to these plants.  Darrell has largely moved on to hybridizing coreopsis (anyone else have a Big Bang series coreopsis in their garden?), but Karen still owns and operates the epimedium nursery.

Garden Visions
Garden Visions is open for just a couple weeks a year in May to visit and shop in person.  May is always a busy time of year, and I have been trying to find time to drive out there every year since I moved up here.  This year I finally succeeded.


It is a small nursery, but it contained an astonishing number of varieties of epimediums.

Clockwise from top left: E. lishihchenii, E. wushanense, E. sempervirens 'Cherry Hearts', E. × 'Pink Champagne',  E. grandiflorum var. violaceum 'Bronze Maiden'
I visited on a chilly, rainy day during the first week in May.  There wasn't much in bloom yet when I went, but many epimediums are also known for their stunning foliage, especially as they first emerge.

Clockwise from left: E. 'Mottled Madness', E. × versicolor 'Cupreum', E. sempervirens 'Variegated #1'
I loved seeing the growing beds behind the plants for sale.  New epimediums in the making!


Garden Visions also sells a few unusual companion plants, such as bloodroot, one of my favorite spring ephemerals.

growing beds of bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis)
Most people know of epimediums as groundcover plants for dry shade, but the genus is diverse. Some are clumping, some are spreading.  Some are evergreen, some deciduous.  And while some of the spreading types do tolerate dry soil, they usually prefer moisture.  Most of the epimediums in my garden are pass-a-longs from a generous friend who has a moist, shady garden where they spread happily.


Epimediums are hardy from zone 5 to zones 7, though there are varieties that can be grown in colder or warmer zones.  They bloom in spring and are best divided in fall.   They are widely known in Asia as a medicinal plant - thus the nickname 'horny goat weed'.  (Legend has it that a Chinese goat herder noticed his flock grazing on a patch of epimedium and then were afterwards much more 'active'.) Thankfully, while goats might eat this plant, the deer and bunnies won't.  

Epimedium 'Pink Champagne'
It was amazing to see so many different epimediums in one place at Garden Visions.  Of course, the hardest part was figuring out which ones to take home with me...


Happy gardening!

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Honeymoon

I previously posted about the beautiful Bluebird pair who moved into the bluebird house and started building a nest immediately after I hung it in the front yard.  They industriously built their nest, which was enjoyable to watch, but then.... nothing.  There was no activity for several days, and the house seemed to be abandoned.  Did they move out, or were they quietly sitting on eggs in there?  I took a quick look inside.

a surprisingly empty nest
Confused, I asked someone who knew more about birds what had possibly happened.  Did they find a better place to nest?  I had seen a cowbird checking the nest out.  Did it scare them away?

I was relieved when the woman I talked to said to not lose hope yet.  Apparently bluebirds will sometimes make a nest and then go on a 'honeymoon' before laying eggs, waiting for there to be a better food supply outside.  Sure enough, a couple weeks later after the weather had gotten warmer and bugs started to fly around, the bluebirds were back!  A quick peek inside confirmed it.


Five little blue eggs!  I look forward to seeing babies before too long.

Happy spring!


Monday, April 1, 2019

Location, Location, Location

For the past two years, my bluebird house hung in the backyard in what was really a bad location, hole facing into the wind.  A couple of other less picky birds gave it a try, but no bluebirds.


I finally took it down and moved it to a post in my gazebo garden in the front yard.


A mere four hours later, the house was sold!




Real estate here really is all about location.


Happy spring!

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