Thursday, April 24, 2014

My Favorite Plant in the Garden This Week Is...

Arum italicum 'Jack Sprat.'

This variety of Arum has random black spots on the arrowhead-shaped leaves -- not burgundy or purple or blue, but truly black. Like the Epimediums that I posted about last week here, it's another great little plant for dry shade. I bought it 3 years ago, and it has clumped up beautifully since then. I have it in four spots in my garden, and each clump has gotten bigger and wider since I first planted it, but it hasn't self-sown or made runners, or shown itself to be the least bit of an aggressive spreader, a complaint I have heard about the plain green species Arum italicum. I have the plain species too, and in my garden, in dry shade, it also hasn't spread at all. Both have increased modestly via offsets that stay very close to the mother plant.

'Jack Sprat' is a great companion plant to black mondo grass, Saxifrages, golden Hakone grass, Epimediums, Brunnera and dark-leafed Heucheras.

A nice size clump of 'Jack Sprat' next to a Saxifrage

Here it is next to Brunnera, Hellebore and gold Carex

Last year my 'Jack Sprat' Arum flowered, but didn't produce the spike of red berries that I was hoping for (You can see pictures of the flower in this post). Maybe this year I'll get flowers and berries. The cool thing about the cluster of red berries is that it lingers and ripens over the summer after the foliage fades and dies back. The plant will tolerate both dry soil and extremely wet soil.

Here are some particulars about Arum italicum 'Jack Sprat.'

Height: 1 to 1 1/2 feet
Width: 1 to 1 1/2 feet
Hardiness: Zone 5-9
Light: Part Shade to Full Shade
Soil: Moist, humusy, organically rich

I haven't seen it for sale online. I bought mine at an early spring plant sale a few years ago.

Loree at danger garden hosts the Favorite Plant in the Garden meme. You can read her current post about her favorite plant this week here, and be sure and take a look at the comments, where other bloggers like me leave links to their posts.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Wildflower Wednesday, April, 2014 -- Vine Maple

Although I very much miss the sugar maples, and other kinds of maple trees, which were everywhere when we lived in Massachusetts, and that gave us such stunning fall color, I have wholeheartedly embraced the PNW native vine maple, Acer circinatum, as a garden-worthy plant (and I think other gardeners here in the PNW should too).

Although technically an understory tree is not a wildflower, I'm going to take the opportunity here, in my Wildflower Wednesday post, to champion the native vine maple as a great plant for the garden (it does flower after all). And I have my reasons.

Last week I visited the Elisabeth C. Miller Botanical Garden in North Seattle, for a two-hour class on the use of natives in the Miller Garden. Basically, it was a two-hour tour that focused on pointing out which plants in the garden were West Coast natives. Before the tour started we were given a handout with the names of the plants and their general locations. About halfway through the tour it occurred to me that there were no vine maples on the list, and the tour guide hadn't even mentioned them.

So I asked her about them. And I got the stink-eye.

"Betty Miller was a great champion of Japanese maples. The garden has a lot of those."

......Ok, then....

Japanese maples are alright, I guess. But especially here in the PNW, they are way over-used. At least two of my non-gardening neighbors have them, both pruned into that ubiquitous umbrella shape. They're very much at home in a Japanese garden, and they appeal to a certain aesthetic.

That aesthetic isn't my personal favorite, and I prefer vine maples. And I still don't understand why I got the stink-eye for mentioning them. I mean, Betty Miller died in 1994, and since then the garden has changed and been updated with lots of new introductions that she probably never even heard of.

Why not some of the new named varieties of vine maple?

The vine maple does have a pretty little cluster of flowers that hide under the leaves
Acer circinatum 'Pacific Fire' in my garden

'Pacific Fire' has lovely red twigs and accordion-pleated new foliage

A. circinatum 'Pacific Fire' when first planted here back in 2010

Not actually a vine, the vine maple is a small multi-trunked understory tree with sometimes twisty, sinuous limbs (hence "vine"). In undisturbed areas, the vine maple grows with bigleaf maple, Douglas-fir, western hemlock, grand fir, and Pacific dogwood, with sword fern underneath. Hardy in Zones 6 to 9, it thrives in medium moisture soil in full to partial sun. It's native from British Columbia to northern California.

Species vine maple in a corner of my garden devoted to PNW natives

It works well as a leafy companion to Trillium ovatum, Asarum caudatum, and Dicentra formosa

Besides the 'Pacific Fire' that I have growing in my garden, there are quite a few named varieties of vine maple that are fabulous choices for any PNW gardener.

From the Dancing Oaks nursery website:

'Burgundy Jewel' -- "The larger leaves on this Vine Maple are dark red-purple when they come out in the spring, fading to a coppery-red in late summer. The fall color is rich and varied. This is an upright tree with stiff branches forming a vase shape. The trunk and branches are an impressive deep reddish-purple - beautiful in winter. It's great for an accent, a focal point, or for a dense screen."

'Del's Dwarf' --  "Many are unaware of this choice selection that forms a 4'x4' foliage poof with summer-long reddish-bronze, orange, yellow, and green leaf color: autumn in summer!"

'Little Gem' -- "This jewel produces a thicket of candy-red stems on shrubs that reach 3 feet tall and 5 feet wide. Unfortunately hard to find and thus seldom used in landscapes, but very valuable as a dense, rounded, and attractive shrub with a great texture and winter interest. A good alternative to the winter red stems of Cornus stolonifera."

'Monroe' -- "Who would have guessed that this dainty leaf belonged to our native from Southern Oregon? Dissected leaves with red and gold fall color on strongly horizontal branching shrubs 8 ft tall x 12 ft wide."

'Pacific Sprite' -- "Forest green leaves are crinkled in upon themselves in congested clumps resembling the Acer palmatum 'Shishigashira' or Lion's Mane Maple."

A. circinatum 'Monroe' and 'Pacific Fire' are both Great Plant Picks as well. Read about them here and here.

Wildflower Wednesday is hosted by Gail at the blog clay and limestone. You can read her post here, about three of her favorite native wildflowers. Check out the links to other bloggers' posts about wildflowers too!

Sunday, April 20, 2014

A Peek Inside the Greenhouse 3

It's time for another look inside the greenhouse to see what's progressing in there.

The greenhouse from the front door

A few weeks ago I gave everything a nice drink of fish emulsion, which in the enclosed space gave off a strong smell of bad sushi. But more recently I had noticed that smell had dissipated, and in its place was another scent, just as strong, but more lemony and much more pleasant. I wondered what it was, but had no clue until one morning while pulling out of the driveway to take Nigel to the train station, I noticed a bright orange glow behind the glass. I recognized what it was immediately, and was amazed that I had overlooked it.

What's that orange glow?
 One of my Brugmansias liked the fish emulsion and the conditions inside the greenhouse so much that it has already started flowering.

There's the shy bloom hiding behind a couple of Agaves

Right side view through the door

Left side view

My castor beans, which had just been sowed at the time of my last greenhouse post, have sprouted like crazy.

I'll have lots to share at the Spring Portland Garden Bloggers Plant Exchange next weekend.

I have an abundance of a variety of castor bean called New Zealand Purple. Chiltern's website, where I bought some of my seeds, has this to say about the variety: "Looking for a plant to impress the neighbours? Then try this one! All parts of this splendid and handsome specimen (including the seed pods) are deep purple; but not just any old purple but a sunlight-reflecting, metallic rich coppery-bronze which gives the enormous leaves the impression of having been hammered out of the finest alloy. A variety that will illuminate any garden. 6 ft."

A good start to my tropicalesque vision for my front garden.

Another plant that is very happy to be inside the greenhouse is my Musa sikkimensis 'Red Tiger.' It is pumping out leaves that are hitting the ceiling, and is going to have to exit the greenhouse lying down in a couple of weeks.

And it has produced three offsets.

The third offset is small and perhaps hard to see, sitting at about the 7 or 8 o'clock position around the banana's stem.

I thought last year when I put it in this large pot that it would be happy there for a few years, but...perhaps not.

The Bromeliads under the big wire-topped bench are very happy. They get a drink of water into their cups every so often, and get dripped on by the others above them as they drain.

Wide-leaved Cordyline 'Miss Andrea' is happy, also pumping out new leaves.

I have lots of flowers on my variegated, orange-flowered Abutilon.

And the beginnings of a flower on brand-new greenhouse resident Alstroemeria 'Rock and Roll.'

Tiny pincushion-like Euphorbia obesa is also a new acquistion.

Begonia boliviensis is finally showing indications that I didn't in fact kill it via neglect over the winter.

Unfortunately I can't say the same for the Bougainvillea that I bought from WeHOP last fall. She is apparently dead as a doornail. No pictures, may she rest in peace.

I added a folding chair and a stepladder. I seldom use the chair, but the stepladder has been useful.

In a few weeks, around Mother's Day (here in the U.S. Mother's Day is in mid-May), many of these greenhouse plants will be moving out into the sunshine for the summer, and the tomatoes and peppers will spend the summer in here getting big and fat and hopefully chock-full of fruit. For a while after that there will be more room in there, so I might re-arrange things and set up the chair and a little table, for those rare moments when I am out in the garden and actually think about resting, which isn't often.

I hope you enjoyed this view inside the greenhouse. I posted as a participant in Helen Johnstone's meme 'The Greenhouse Year.' You can read her post here, and check out the comments, where others may leave links to posts about their greenhouse goings-on as well.

Friday, April 18, 2014

My Favorite Plant in the Garden This Week is Epimedium

One of my favorite plants for dry shade is Epimedium. It comes in such a wonderful variety of leaf shapes and flower colors. I have lots, all over my garden, in many different beds, but unfortunately have lost or misplaced or buried beyond retrieval most of the tags, so for the most part I have no idea which is which.

But I still want to share this great plant in all its variety. They are all blooming like crazy right now, and sending up new foliage.

'Frohnleiten,' the first Epimedium I planted here in Washington

The clump has spread nicely

'Frohnleiten' flowers at the same time as Brunnera, and the yellow and blue work well together

When we first moved here from Massachusetts, I had a steep learning curve regarding all the new plants I could grow in this climate and zone. But Epimedium is one that I was already familiar with. I had been growing it in my Massachusetts garden for at least 15 years or so, but when I first bought it there was nowhere near the variety that I see now at nurseries and at all the special spring sales.

Epimedium makes a great companion to other shade plants such as Hellebore, Hakone grass and Beesia.

Epimedium has a wide range of interesting and funny common names -- barrenwort, bishop's hat, fairy wings, horny goat weed, rowdy lamb herb, randy beef grass or yin yang huo. There are about 50 species of Epimedium, most of which come from China.

Epimedium grandiflorum 'Red Beauty'

Here in my Zone 7b/8a PNW garden, they are evergreen, although the old foliage does get ratty-looking after a harsh winter like the one we just had. It helps the plant's looks to cut the old foliage back in the late winter, which has the added benefit of making the new flowers stand out more (like many Hellebores). They are a great option for dry shade, but also thrive in our very wet and cool fall/winter/spring period. Epimediums increase slowly via underground rhizomes, but the rhizomes never travel far from the main plant, unlike other plants that run riot. In zones colder than 7 (like my previous Zone 6 Massachusetts garden) they are deciduous.

Some are grown primarily for their foliage. I have a small handful that I bought for their leaves, such as Epimedium wushanense, below.

I love the pattern on this leaf, it reminds me of stained glass

I can see the reason for the common name 'Fairy Wings.'

I don't know the name of this one, but I love its fabulous chocolate foliage

It eventually fades to green

You can find lots more info about all kinds of Epimediums here, at the website Plant Lust.

The favorite plant in the garden meme is hosted by Loree at the blog danger garden. Her favorite this week is Magnolia laevifolia, which looks like a fabulous plant (Read her post here)! Check out the comments to see what other bloggers are sharing this week.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

A Different Kind of Spring Ephemeral

I don't know much about mayflies of the Pacific Northwest. But I've been seeing them lately hanging out on the outside of my greenhouse. According to Wikipedia, they belong to a group of insects called Ephemeroptera. They're aquatic insects, which in the adult stage have a very short lifespan, from a few minutes to a few days. The nymphs live longer than a year, in a body of water. The adults' primary function is to reproduce. They have vestigial mouthparts, which apparently are not used for eating (what a bummer that would be), and a digestive system full of air.

Not as pretty as butterflies or dragonflies, but then, they hold still longer.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Foliage Followup -- April 2014

There's so much new growth out in my garden right now, it's hard to focus on the flowers. It seems like every day I see something new leafing out. Some plants, like Rodgersia, come up late, and I always worry each year that they won't come back. I have lost a few things, like Melianthus major, to the harsh winter, but plenty of plants are coming back quite well.

Here's a little rundown on what's catching my eye.

Heuchera 'Miracle'

Mottled Podophyllum (I'm sure I have the name somewhere)

Solid green Podophyllum pleianthum has been in this spot for a couple of years now, and the number of leaves increases every year, so it must be happy

Ostrich ferns unfurling remind me of cobras getting ready to strike

Our native sword fern isn't quite as graceful as the ostrich fern

This one reminds me of an elephant's trunk

Little furry knots


When I finally got to this bed to tidy it after the winter, I was so thrilled to see this healthy Cardiocrinum giganteum foliage

Honeysuckle, trellis, fence

Hydrangea macrophylla 'New Wave'

Solomon's Seal

Trillium and PNW native Vanilla Leaf (Achlys triphylla)

New foliage on Corylopsis spicata


Tulip 'Fire of Love' in front and Carex 'Banana Boat'

Foliage Followup is hosted by Pam Penick of the blog Digging on the 16th of every month, the day after Garden Bloggers Bloom Day, and its purpose is to celebrate the unique contribution that foliage makes to our gardens. Check out Pam's blog post here, and be sure and visit the links in the comments.