Emerald Creeper is not something that grows in my Northern Virginia garden but I was lucky to see it flower last week so I just had to share these photos with fellow gardeners on Garden Bloggers Bloom Day. Known for its turquoise colored flowers, which is an extremely rare color in the plant world, Emerald Creeper produces dozens of long pendent trusses, also called pseudoracemes, with claw-shaped flowers. In fact, the only way I was able to see such an exquisite flower was by visiting the U.S. Botanic Garden’s Conservatory in Washington DC. Few botanical gardens have the Emerald Creeper, which is rapidly becoming an endangered species. Native to the Philippines, this tropical vine lives in rainforests that are being decimated.
A member of the bean family, Emerald Creeper produces pea pods about 2 inches long but these are even rarer to see. The vine is pollinated by bats that hang upside down on the inflorescences to drink the nectar. Because there are no bats in glass houses, staff would have to mimic the way the bats enter the flower in order to hand pollinate.
The botanical name intrigued me. Strongylodon macrobotrys comes from the Greek word “strongylos” which means “round,” and “odontus” which means “tooth” and refers to the rounded teeth of the calyx. In the specific epithet, the Greek word “macros” means “large” and “botrys” means “grape-like clusters.” I can see all of that but “grape” escapes me!
Today is Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day where garden bloggers across the country post photos of blossoms on the 15th of the month. Although it is snowing today in Virginia, I am happy that spring is around the corner and “snow” in another form will appear soon in my garden. For many years now I have enjoyed Deutzia ‘Chardonnay Pearls’, a small, deciduous shrub that leafs out in March and covers itself with tiny, pearl-like buds in April. From April through May, the buds open to white, bell-shaped flowers, complementing the light green leaves. When my Deutzia ‘Chardonnay Pearls’ is in full bloom it looks like a snow-capped hill. Like snow, the flowers gently fall to the ground as they past their prime, melting and disappearing within the soil.
In the summer, the small shrub provides light green color in an otherwise dark corner of the garden. Some people say the leaves are lemon-lime colored; some say chartreuse, but mine are light green (I have another true chartreuse shrub near it so I can see the difference). The species has leaves of a darker green and grows taller, about 5 feet. Although the flowers are delicate, all deutzia shrubs are well-known for being pest, disease, and deer resistant. Proven Winners sent me my plant 9 years ago when it was a baby, only a few inches high. Since then it has matured into a 3-foot shrub and I do not expect it to grow any more. Mine is on the east side of the house where it receives morning sun and afternoon shade. Although that particular garden bed has well-drained soil, high in organic matter, the plant can tolerate a wide range of soils. Hardy to zone 5, Deutzia ‘Chardonnay Pearls’ thrives despite snowy winters and dry summers.
This past August and September has seen little rain in Northern Virginia, which is highly unusual. I am forced to water with my hose or watering can, which I don’t particularly enjoy. Except for the veggies and the new kids on the block, my other garden residents better be tough enough to make it without my constant attention. Yesterday, while watering a new kid on the block, a Proven Winners hydrangea given to me to trial, I noticed that one of my veterans has bloomed consistently during this dry period. Gaura or Gaura lindheimeri is an herbaceous perennial native to Texas and Louisiana, which explains its heat and humidity tolerance. Gaura grows to about 4 feet tall but really is a clump of leaves at ground level from which many wire-thin stems sway back and forth while butterflies try to land on the small, white flowers. Drought and deer resistant, gaura has bloomed every year for me in full sun with no pests or diseases. I have heard that gaura self-seeds but in my garden I consider myself lucky to find one new seedling in the spring. My plants are so old I don’t even know where I got them but they are easy to find in local nurseries and now there is a wider variety from which to choose — shorter stems or variations of flower colors. Gaura is my nomination for September’s Garden Bloggers Bloom Day!
Sugar Tip double flowers
Today is Garden Bloggers Bloom Day, the 15th of the month. Seven years ago, I was given a cultivar of the rose of Sharon shrub called Sugar Tip (Hibiscus syriacus) by Proven Winners Color Choice. I was unsure as I knew rose of Sharon plants were weedy, self-seeders. Like tall, thin cowboys, they provide lanky silhouettes across our Virginia countryside, too common to actually purchase and plant in one’s garden. But I had a particular space against the back fence that needed shrubs in full sun so I planted the cowboys, knowing they could take anything. Fortunately for me, my Sugar Tip plants grew to be large, robust shrubs, about 6 feet tall and 4 feet wide. Although their shape is still vase-like at the bottom, at the top they are broad enough to screen out the view of the neighbors in the back forty. Unlike the species, Sugar Tip’s foliage is variegated green and cream and the entire bush is studded with pink, double flowers that look more like roses than the few simple, hibiscus-like flowers on the species.
Sugar Tip buds
In addition to beauty, my Sugar Tip shrubs grow in full sun, too far away from the garden hose, so the only water they receive is rain. Rose of Sharon is a “low maintenance,” deciduous shrub, tolerant of our Virginia heat and humidity. I never fertilize and I don’t prune (or worse, spend time deadheading the spent flowers), yet my Sugar Tip bushes thrive in the summer and bloom continuously until the fall. Try growing a variegated rose of Sharon cultivar such as Sugar Tip instead of the species and you will be pleasantly surprised.
Sugar Tip variegated leaves
It’s Garden Bloggers Bloom Day! An interesting perennial to grow for spring flowers is Centaurea montana ‘Amethyst in Snow’. This member of the aster family is very easy to grow, tolerates poor soil, dry times, and full sun or partial shade. From April to June, I can cut the flowers and bring them to work where colleagues gasp, “ooh, aah!” (just kidding, but they do garner attention). The 2-inch flowers have a spiky, thistle-like appearance; purple centers are surrounded by white petals, like spokes on a wagon wheel. The species, often called mountain bluet, produces solid blue flowers while Amethyst in Snow is the first bicolor cultivar and the contrast between purple and white is striking.
My plants are five years old and so far, no problems despite full sun and poor soil. Over time they have spread enough that I can share divisions with friends or plant in other places in the garden. Hardy to zone 3, the plants are about a foot tall and you can tell by the silvery, woolly leaves that they are drought resistant; their leaves will not lose moisture fast. The butterflies love the flowers and supposedly the deer are not interested but in my Northern Virginia garden I don’t have enough deer to know if this is true or not. Grow Amethyst in Snow for a drought-tolerant, spring blooming, cut flower perennial.
Posted in Garden Bloggers Bloom Day, plants
Tagged Amethyst, blue flowers, bluet, Centaurea montana, Centaurea montana 'Amethyst in Snow', Garden Bloggers Bloom day, mountain bluet, perennial, spring blooms, spring flowers
columbine with spurs in my garden
Spring is the time for columbine. These hardy perennials are well known for their spurred petals but there are many varieties without spurs or with double petals. In fact, there are 60-70 species in the genus Aquilegia and many more hybrids featuring all types of petal colors and petal combinations.
double petals with no spurs at public park
In my Northern Virginia garden, I have a 7-year-old stand of columbine growing on the east side of the house where my garden hose is connected (but not tightly) so the plants receive morning sun, afternoon shade, and moisture from the water that leaks out of the spigot. Although columbine self-sows, it is easy to collect the seeds in the fall to give to others as gifts or to create new stands in other places. Columbine blooms in April and May resulting in seed capsules that dry on the flower stalks in late summer. By fall, some of these brown capsules have burst, releasing seed, but there are enough that you can cut the flower stalk into a paper bag to save the seed. By fall, the leaves die down and in the following March and April, the pretty scalloped leaves emerge again. A hummingbird favorite, columbine is an easy, low maintenance plant to grow and my Garden Bloggers Bloom Day selection for May.
columbine with spurs at public park, probably A. canadensis
Double Take Orange Storm Flowering Quince
For Garden Bloggers Bloom Day, try planting Double Take Orange Storm, which is a type of quince shrub marketed by Proven Winners (Chaenomeles speciosa). It is has large, orange double flowers but no fruit. I have had mine for five years and it blooms reliably in the spring, can tolerate our Virginia heat, and can take full sun or morning sun and afternoon shade. It is supposed to be deer resistant but I do not have enough deer to testify to that. The way the flowers appear before a lot of foliage and so close to the stem make it a great cut flower for oriental type flower arrangements or for forcing earlier in the spring.
Hyacinth Blue Pearl, first flush of flowers
For Garden Bloggers Bloom Day, the 15th of each month, check out my forced hyacinths. It is easy to force hyacinths to bloom early indoors, just pop bulb into paper bag, put in fridge in the fall, weeks later, take bulb out and plant in soil or water. Last year, on November 13 I put three Blue Pearls in a brown paper lunch bag and put them in the fridge. I wrote a note to pull them out in 10 weeks but really forgot about them and pulled them out after 11 weeks on February 2. I put mine in my three forcing vases, which are pinched vases that allow the bulbs to sit above the water. I have these forcing vases for so many years I don’t know where they came from but you can buy them at large independent garden centers, through online garden supply stores, or sometimes as a boxed combo of bulb and vase. It is not necessary to use these; you can place the bulb on a layer of pebbles or marbles in a wide-mouthed jar, such as a jam or Mason jar; or you can put them in a container of soil.
Hyacinth Blue Pearl in forcing vases
My Blue Pearls sat in a sunny windowsill in the office and on February 24, within 3 weeks, they were in full bloom — one month before they would have bloomed if they been out in the garden. Colleagues admired the beautiful flowers in my office and could not help commenting on the strong perfume. Three bulbs create such a sweet fragrance they are almost pungent. I cut the flowers and gave each one to a friend, as a cut flower in a vase. My bulbs continued to send up flower stalks for a second flush of flowers in the beginning of March. I cut those and now have a third flush of flowers. These are not as full and large as the first flush but that is okay because the scent is not as strong either. Next time, maybe one hyacinth in the office will suffice.
Hyacinth Blue Pearl, second flush of flowers
Try buying hyacinth bulbs in the fall to force them to bloom early inside. Compared to other bulbs, hyacinth bulbs are cheap, less than two dollars for high quality, individual bulbs or six or seven dollars for a package of three. From my bulbs, I got three flushes of flowers over a month’s time plus I will be able to plant them in my garden in April for flowers next spring. Hyacinths are very reliable here in Virginia; squirrels and deer do not bother them and they continue to flower year after year. Have you forced hyacinths before and if so, which type?
It’s Gardener Bloggers Bloom Day, the 15 of every month. Winter is a good time to visit the local conservatories to get one’s fix of “Bloom.” Recently I discovered Blueberry Ice bougainvillea at the Brookside Gardens conservatory in Wheaton, Maryland. This plant fascinated me because it was exactly opposite of the type of bougainvillea I grew up with in the Philippines, Thailand, and Indonesia. In the tropics, we had bougainvillea vines climbing up the sides of houses and buildings, as common as wisteria is where I now live in Northern Virginia. The green leaves and papery thin salmon flowers (really modified leaves called bracts) colored the buildings for months at a time. So I was intrigued by Blueberry Ice at the conservatory because it had cream/green variegated leaves, it was only about 2 feet tall, and it had bracts the color of grape popsicles. Think of how useful this small tropical plant could be here in the Washington DC metropolitan area. Grown as a summer annual, Blueberry Ice would thrive in a hanging basket, window box, or container. It will scoff at our heat and humidity and reward us with color all summer long. I love it when a new cultivar changes the paradigm and gives new meaning to what a bougainvillea could be in my garden.
For Garden Bloggers Bloom Day I took photos of Camellia ‘Winter’s Beauty’, flowering now in mid December, in Northern Virginia. Traditionally, camellias are thought of as a southern shrub, not at all tolerant of our USDA Zone 7, Virginia winters. However, the late Dr. William L. Ackerman developed a variety of cultivars that are hardy to USDA Zone 6 while he worked at the U.S. National Arboretum in Washington, DC. This particular camellia is ‘Winter’s Beauty’, part of the winter blooming Winter series of cold hardy camellias. Although these photos were taken in mid December at Green Spring Gardens, Alexandria, VA, these camellias can bloom earlier in November or later in January. Camellias are broadleaf evergreen shrubs preferring moist, well-drained, acidic soil, and partial shade. This one can grow to about 7 to 12 feet high and 4 to 7 feet wide.