Monday, April 24, 2017

They're Escaping...

In the past, I've blogged about how the deer keep eating the bright and beautifully bold tulips I planted for my hellstrip garden.  I've pretty much given up on trying to grow those red and yellow tulips in such an inhospitable environment, despite how beautiful they were.

Well at least one very smart tulip got the message and planned its escape.  I'm not sure how, but it packed up and moved completely out of my garden...


...and into the middle of my neighbor's lawn.


Smart little plant.  All of the tulips on my side were eaten.  Again.


Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Pussy Willows to the Rescue for Precocious Pollinators

As winter recedes into spring, the pollinators start emerging on warm, mild days. First the gnats, flies, and beetles, then the bumbles and other bees appear, hungry and ready to forage.  Finally now the early blooming flowers of spring are beginning to open here in New England to meet that demand.  But where did precocious pollinators go before now, on those sporadically warm but still barren days we got before those spring flowers started opening?  To find that answer, we have to look up...

emerging Pussy willow catkins
We don't often think of trees as great plants for pollinators, but they are actually some of the earliest available sources of pollen and nectar.  Here the American Pussy Willow, or Salix discolor, is one of the earliest bloomers around and a wonderful resource for bees and other early pollinators.  They break out of dormancy in late winter or very early spring, the distinctive furry coats on their catkins trapping heat from the sun to keep the developing reproductive parts warm.  

bee on male Pussy Willow tree
The furry emerging catkins open into white and yellowish odd sort of flowers.  Pussy Willows are dioecious, that is, they have male catkins and female catkins on different plants.  The earlier blooming male trees have the most to offer pollinators, with their catkin flowers containing both strongly scented nectar and pollen. The female willow trees, whose more greenish-colored catkins tend to open slightly later, offer only nectar.  

bee on female Pussy Willow catkin
While many trees with catkins are wind-pollinated, the Pussy Willow relies on insects for pollination. Its early flowering time proves beneficial, as there is much less competition for attracting pollinators when hardly anything else is in bloom!


The American Pussy Willow is native to much of the northern half of North America, and grows around 10 to 20 feet tall, usually with multiple stems.   Like many willows, it loves water and sun.  It grows wild all around the Red House Garden in the wetlands and in the detention pond we have out back. I love the Pussy Willows, as they are the first sign of the coming spring here.  Now that other trees and spring flowers are now starting to bloom, the Pussy Willows are finishing up for the season, leaves slowly replacing catkins.  Their job has been done...

a tiny pollinator on a male Pussy Willow catkin
...and what an important job it is to those early pollinators.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Daffodil Explosion

Ah, daffodils, one of my absolute favorites!  Who doesn't love those cheerfully bright yellow blooms after a long dreary winter?  Here in my garden, it's always a much-anticipated race to see which daffodil blooms first.   The winner is usually the somewhat unspellable 'Rijnveld's Early Sensation', which can even bloom in March here.  This year, sadly, the ones that were almost about to open by the end of March saw their buds zapped by an April Fool's Day freeze.

(That wasn't funny, Mother Nature.  Really.)

Narcissus 'Rijnveld's Early Sensation'
This week, however, the temperatures have risen back up for several amazingly beautiful days, and several varieties of daffodils were all ready and waiting to bloom.


It was a glorious explosion of daffodils in the garden.

miniature daffodils in the hellstrip
Technically tied for first spring daffodil blooms were the tardy 'Rijnveld's Early Sensation' flowers that managed to avoid the April Fool's freeze...

Narcissus 'Rijnveld's Early Sensation'
...and the little 'Tete-a-Tete' daffodils, which opened at the same time.

Narcissus 'Tete-a-Tete'
But they were quickly followed by other daffodils that were eager to strut their stuff.  We had some big bloomers...

Narcissus 'Ice Follies'
and lots of little miniatures...

Narcissus 'Topolino'
and even the tiniest, daintiest little daffodil in the garden came out for the nice weather.

Narcissus 'Mite' starting to open
I adore daffodil season.  There's something about planting all those sleeping bulbs in good faith in fall and getting to see the result when they wake up after winter to joyfully herald the return of spring.

Narcissus 'Monal' starting to open
Here is to many more to follow.
Happy gardening!



Friday, March 24, 2017

Stirrings of Galanthophilism

I wonder if the sap is stirring yet,
If wintry birds are dreaming of a mate,
If frozen snowdrops feel as yet the sun
And crocus fires are kindling one by one:
Sing robin, sing:
I still am sore in doubt concerning Spring.
~Christina Rossetti

a patch of snowdrops in snow
I must admit, for a long time I just didn't get the whole love of snowdrops.  Snowdrops are so ardently beloved that gardeners are known to become obsessed with them.  These passionate snowdrop collectors even have their own name: Galanthophiles (Galanthus being the botanical name for the genus of snowdrops).  However, when I lived down south and could have the bolder and brighter crocuses and daffodils blooming by January or February, this little plant was just so easy to overlook.


However, after having snowdrops in my northern garden and seeing just what these tiny, early-blooming flowers can do, I can't help but be impressed.


In the time since they began blooming at the end of February, my patch of snowdrops has suffered through two snow storms and multiple days of below freezing temperatures.


One month later, they look a little worse for wear but are impressively still in bloom, opening their little battered wings during sunny warm spells in invitation to precocious pollinators.


Having leaves with specially hardened tips to break through freezing soil and containing special anti-freeze proteins to prevent ice crystals from forming and destroying the flowers, this surprising powerhouse of a plant is built to withstand that rocky transition from winter to spring.  The little blooms are even fragrant.


I might end up one of those enthusiastic, snowdrop-loving Galanthophiles yet.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

The Earliest Spring Arrivals

While we now have winter snow and freezing temperatures back in force, the previous days of warm spring weather we've been having were enough to see the earliest spring arrivals here.

Winter aconite - February 25


Crocus 'Romance' - February 28


Snowdrops - February 28


Pussy Willows - March 7


And last, but certainly not least...


Meet George and Charlie.
They are four-year-old brothers we adopted from the local shelter.  They are total sweethearts, and they are by far our favorite early spring arrival!


Wednesday, March 1, 2017

A South Indian Garden

It's been a mild weather here lately, but this winter we escaped for awhile anyway.  The past couple weeks we have been traveling and visiting relatives in much warmer southern India!


Mr. Red House's aunt lives near Bangalore (or Bangaluru, as it is now officially known by), and she is renowned for her welcoming spirit and gracious hosting talents, as well as for her beautiful garden.  I have visited here before, but only in the evening, so I was very excited to be able to enjoy the garden in daylight this time.


Come on in...


....preferably by following the walkway that travels under a thick canopy of flowering vines.


Who knows what you will find?  I believe this extraordinary flower is called 'Duck Plant' locally.  It is likely from the Aristolochia genus, a far relative of our Dutchman's Pipe vine.

One of my daughters checking out a water feature in the garden
The delightful walkway then leads one to the backyard's wide lawn, which is edged with garden beds, including a small waterfall with plantings.


Is that Sansevieria trifasciata (aka Mother-in-Law's Tongue or Snake Plant) I spy planted to the left of the waterfall?  It is so interesting to see plants in garden beds that I think of as houseplants here in our northern climate.  On the other side of the lawn is a more shady garden bed with a row of Peace lilies, another well-known houseplant here.


Though there are definitely also some plants I am less familiar with.  I was quite taken by what I believe is Euphorbia milii (aka Crown of Thorns).


Such vicious thorns, but such vivid flowers!


Another favorite was the Yellow Chalice Vine in front whose spectacular yellow flowers were almost as large as my head.

Yellow Chalice Vine
I also love surprises in the garden, and at the back of the yard there is quite a gem.  One's eye is drawn to the river of red Salvia that borders the back of the lawn...


which leads to a striking stand of Birds of Paradise standing amongst billowing pink Cosmos...


...but hidden behind the blooms is whole other garden.  If one peeks behind the flowers, one discovers a kitchen garden with divided plots for fresh herbs and vegetables.  I love it!

the vegetable garden
The property is bordered by trees and more flowering vines, including several different colors of Bougainvillea.


So many flowers, and such a pretty sight to see in winter!


It was so great to see relatives and visit places that we don't often get to see.  We are now back home in the States, recovering from jet lag, and looking forward to our own flowers in the rapidly approaching spring...


...though maybe still dreaming a bit of tropical blooms and fresh coconuts.


Sunday, February 5, 2017

Winter-blooming Chains of Glory a.k.a. the Lightbulb Plant

After the holiday Paperwhite and Amaryllis flowers decline, there is usually a dearth of flowers at the Red House Garden until the blooming of earliest spring bulbs.  This year, however, my Chains of Glory is in bloom.

Chains of Glory plant
I bought this Chains of Glory plant, or Clerodendrum smithianum, three years ago from Logee's, a well-known nursery down in Connecticut that specializes in rare and tropical plants.  (They are known as a mail-order nursery, but if you ever have the chance to visit their greenhouses, it is well worth the trip!)  I am extremely negligent of my houseplants, so the fact that this one has survived to tell the tale is an indicator of how hardy it is.

Clerodendrum smithianum
Clerodendrum smithianum is actually a shrub or small, multi-stemmed tree native to Thailand that can grow up to ten feet tall.  For use as a houseplant, it is recommended that it be pruned after its winter blooming to keep it a more manageable size.  My plant has managed to stay nice and small thanks to two battles with spider mites and one unexpected and drastic pruning by a plant-hungry cat.  (Like I said, this plant is impressively hardy.)  When a mature plant is in full flower, the effect of multitudes of cascading flowers makes it easy to see where it gets its nickname 'Chains of Glory'.


Another common nickname for this Clerodendrum is the 'Lightbulb Plant', which I personally love.  Before the flowers fully open, they do rather look like little white lightbulbs.  I've also seen it called 'Indian beads'.

Lightbulb Plant
Clerodendrum smithianum is hardy to zone 9b, and prefers full sun to part shade, though direct afternoon sun can burn the leaves.  I have mine on a shelf near a south facing window.  It is a very long blooming plant as the flowers slowly open, starting with the top and working their way down. Mine has been in bloom for a month and is still going strong.  It is said that it can bloom twice in winter, so I am excited to see how long it will be in flower.  When grown in warmer climates, it can bloom for months.  It is a great plant for a hanging basket or as a patio plant, and it is sometimes even grown as a bonsai.  Chains of Glory likes fertile, well draining soil, and the soil should look dry before watering again.

Clerodendrum smithianum
Many Chains of Glory plants have both dark red stems and red star-shaped sepals which are quite showy in contrast with the white flowers.  My stems do age red, but the flower sepals of my plant are all light green with just a touch of red on the tips.


As far as botanical nomenclature goes, Clerodendrum smithianum's past appears to be quite mysterious.  Some online resources seem to think that C. smithianum is synonymous with C. schmidtii (also syn. C. hastato-oblongum C.B. Clarke).  This plant was first documented by E.J.Schmidt, a Danish oceanographer and naturalist who collected plant specimens from Koh Chang Island in Thailand in 1899, and catalogued by C.B. Clarke, a British botanist who worked at Kew.

Clerodendrum smithianum = Clerodendrum schmidtii ?
Other online resources, on the other hand, seem to think that C. smithianum is synonymous with the more similarly named C. smitinandii, a different species of Clerodendrum that was collected a few decades later by Tem Smitinand, a Thai forest botanist, and likely categorized by the American botanist H.N. Moldenke.

Clerodendrum smithianum = Clerodendrum smitinandii ?
All of these are known as 'Lightbulb Plant' or 'Chains of Glory'.  Is my Clerodendrum smithianum just another name for a different species, or is it its own separate one?  If anyone else knows, let me know! 

(p.s. If you would like to go down the rabbit hole with me, there is a paper published by botanists in connection with Chulalongkorn University that describes and illustrates the differences between the two other species.  My C. smithianum seems to resemble C. schmidtii the most to me, but I am no botanist.)

**UPDATE: I e-mailed Logee's and they replied back that it is, indeed, the same plant as C. schmidtii.  Mystery solved!


Whatever its origins, having a plant that blooms in the depths of winter is most definitely a thing of beauty!


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