Monday, March 28, 2011

Papaveraceae - Part Last

Who doesn't like poppies with their crepe paper petals and gaudy colors. Their only drawback, as far as I can see, is that they go dormant shortly after blooming and leave a hole in your perennial border. We have enough things planted, that you mostly don't notice the ones in the proper garden, and our main poppy beds - 2 wide 80, maybe 100 foot rows - are between rows of peonies and daylilies that pretty much take over at the times when the poppies either aren't blooming or aren't there at all. This first picture is the 'normal' orange poppy. Which comes in various shades of orange, some lighter, some darker, but all really orange.
The one below is 'Big Jim' . This isn't an especially good photo, but you get the idea that this is one really red blossom, about the color of the Memorial Day poppies my father used to sell for the American Legion.
This next one is not quite as common, and seems to be a bit less hardy than the solid colored ones. Its name is 'Carousel'. I think it is not quite as tall as some of the other either.
Being someone who just loves purple, 'Patty's Plum' has to be one of my favorites. Purple or lavender poppies are pretty unusual. This one was a bear to get started, but the third try was the charm. It has been living here quite happily ever since it decided that it liked us. It has increased nicely and usually has lots of blooms. It is in the shade in the afternoon, which isn't usually what poppies like, but I'm not complaining since it grows and thrives.
This pink one isn't named, one of several we bought by color awhile back. It's nice having some of these other colors besides just the orange ones.
This orange sherbet color belongs to 'Helen Elizabeth'. She lives next to the pond occupied by the Imperial Lotus. Good thing she blooms fairly early because as gorgeous as she is, nothing else gets noticed once the lotus are in bloom.
Last but not least, is 'Watermelon'. No point trying to describe the actual color (which isn't quite right in this picture) except to say that it really looks like the inside of a watermelon.
Now, if you just came for the pictures, you can get on with your day. For the rest, here is a little about Oriental Poppies. Actually there is a bit of confusion here. Papaver orientale and Papaver bracteayum are both native to the area from Turkey to Iran and the Caucasus. One is slightly smaller than the other with more slender stems, but they seem to be sold interchangeably.

As far as growing them, they are exceedingly accommodating. They will grow on pretty much any soil as long as it's not waterlogged. Sun is best. The best time to divide them is late summer, while dormant, just before the resprout in the fall. If you haven't grown them before, their life cycle can seem a bit peculiar. They come up in the fall, a lovely rosette of leaves that stay fairly small through the winter. When nice weather returns in the late spring, they start growing and then flower in summer - after which they promptly turn brown and die back, to rest until it's time to come up again in the fall.

Oriental Poppies can be grown from seed. You'll get a variety in the colors, even in a packet that is supposedly all one color. Seeds can be started early indoors in pots, or sown where you want them to grow. Spring is the best time. As they grow, they will need to be spread out and the best time for this is autumn. Expect to wait 2 or 3 years for your first blooms.

Where do we go next? Not sure, but I'll be back with a new topic in a couple of days, as soon as I take some more spring photos.


Friday, March 25, 2011

Papaveraceae - Part 5

Oh, my. Has it really been that many days since I wrote. Hmmm.
Poppies again, second to last post on them. Today I would like to tell you all about Papaver somniferum - the Opium Poppies. Now these get a bad name. They're the ones we're trying to eradicate in Afghanistan. It is almost certain that the opium poppy was first cultivated for seed in Neolithic times and that it was spread by humans throughout western and northern Europe from where it originated in the Mediterranean Basin. It also spread eastward to India. The earliest known reference to Papaver somniferum is in an herbal written in 2000 B.C., although its use probably goes back a lot farther than that. The Egyptians used it as a sleep inducing medicine. The Greeks made a drink from the stems, leaves, and fruit-capsules that they used as a pain killer. Hippocrates called it 'Poppy Wine'.

Papaver somniferum

By the 7th century A.D., the cultivation of opium poppies was common throughout the Arab empire. The Arabs called it 'Father of Sleep'. By 1000 A.D. cultivation was also common in Europe. In China, it was grown more as a food (think poppy seed bread or something like that). In the eighteenth century they imported their opium from India and traded for it with gold and silver which was used to buy tea and silks for import into Europe. This trade was controlled by the British East India Company. By the middle of the nineteenth century, opium addiction had become such a problem in China that the Chinese government banned the use and import of opium. This led to war between China and the British. It is unfortunate that this beautiful flower has been responsible for so much suffering through addiction to opium and heroin when it has so many useful properties in medicine and surgery. (codeine and morphine are just 2 of over 20 alkaloids that have been isolated from it. )

Papaver somniferum with different type petals

This plant is also widely grown for its seeds which contain no appreciable levels of harmful alkaloids and which are edible and can be used as a condiment on breads, in salads and so on. They are also important as a source of oil used for a variety of purposes - cooking oil, paint, soap.

Papaver somniferum 'Flemish Antique'

Despite its nice and not so nice attributes, this is just one lovely garden plant. We grow them in many places, mostly of their choosing since the self seed however they like. The flowers are atop tall stiff stems, commonly about 3 feet tall. The grey/green leaves are mostly at the base of the stem. The flowers are usually 3-5 inches across, thought I'm told there are some cultivated selections that can have flowers up to 7 inches across. These very double blooms are often called peony flowered. Flower color is usually pink, at least on the wild form, but there are also white and purple and combinations of these available either as plants or seed. They are more readily available in Europe than they are here because of import restrictions.

Papaver somniferum with Bumblebee
I've been told that they are fragrant, but although I've never noticed much scent, the bees really love them. They do have to work hard to find the pollen on these very double blooms.
Once established, they self seed just about anywhere. They will grow in good soil or bad, nice deep loam or rocky places. Sun is better, but if they find themselves seeded into a shady spot, they'll still bloom quite happily. You will see the little plants coming up very early in the spring. They grow quickly and bloom in early summer through the fall. If you want nice flowers, thin the seedlings so that they have plenty of room, or you will have lots of tiny, straggly plants with small flowers. These are quite good as cut flowers, but you have to be sure to burn the stem as soon as they're picked. It is best to pick them just as the blooms are starting to come out for the longest lasting and sturdiest blooms.

Papaver somniferum 'Black Cloud'

The dried seed pods are good in dried fall arrangements. Pick them before they open at the tops to let the seeds out and then hang them upside down over something to catch the seeds which can be used in cooking or to plant more poppies. If you want to plant the seeds, scatter them where you want them to grow as soon as you collect the seeds. Saving the seeds until spring doesn't work and transplanting them is often unsuccessful as they resent disturbance once they start growing.
These are a worthy addition to any garden and will be noticed (can't be missed) by anyone who comes into your garden. I love how they just pop up here and there; my garden would seem much less cheerful without them.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Spring 2011 - v. 3.0

Not much writing today, just lots and lots of pictures that I took yesterday when the weather was sunny and not too cold. Rainy today so I have time to post them.

Eranthis cilicica - Winter Aconite

Crocus chrysanthus 'Lady Killer'

Bulbocodium vernum - Spring Meadow Saffron

Ranunculus 'Brazen Hussy' - no flowers yet, though

Galanthus 'Sam Arnott'

Helleborus thibetanus

Crocus - large Dutch, don't know if it has another name

Helleborus - a pink spotted one that someone has taken a bite of

Helleborus - a white spotted one that is quite large

Helleborus - one of the early yellow ones

Puschkinia scilloides var. libanotica

Iris danfordiae

Iris reticulata 'Joyce'

That's it for today. I'll get back to the poppy family next time. Only 2 more to go.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Papaveraceae - Part 4

Papaver nudicaule, commonly called Iceland Poppy, is not actually from Iceland, but rather from Asia. It lives from Siberia to Mongolia and southwards into the mountains of central Asia as far as Afghanistan. It is mostly a plant of mountain screes and moraines, steppes and river gravels at altitudes up to 15,100 feet. Those that you find in cultivation may actually be crosses of nudicaule and one or more of its cousins. This breeding has formed a race of rather gaudy poppies commonly called Iceland poppies and generally found in catalogues and lists under the name Papaver nudicaule.
The true P. nudicaule is rather tall, about 20 inches, with solitary-flowered, rather bristly scapes. The basal leaf tufts are blue/green and covered with grey hairs. The flowers are yellow (note my photo is probably of the one commonly sold here since it is orange) and 2-3 inches across.
Those plants that are the hybrids have stems up to 24 inches tall and flowers that can be up to 7 inches across. Mine are more in the 3-4 inch range. The color range is orange, red, yellow, apricot, pink, salmon, cream and white. Semi-double forms are quite common. The first flowers open on each plant will be the largest.
These are excellent garden plants and will flowers over a long season. Ours start with the first hot weather and continue sporadically until frost. They are easy to start from seed, either directly sown in the garden, or started ahead of time in the greenhouse or on the windowsill. Although these are perennial, you may lose them to rot in wet winters. We have had ours for many years, maybe because they sit in a high spot in the garden, and therefore aren't subjected to wet feet.
These poppies make excellent cut flowers, though like the others, you need to either plunge ends of the stems into boiling water or sear them with a match or lighter. I just carry a lighter with me in the garden if I am planning to pick any of these. They are best picked when the buds are ready to burst open but have not yet done so. This will insure the longest possible indoor display (unless your cats like to play with flowers, in which case, nothing you do to the stems will prolong the life of the flowers).
There are a number of named varieties and strains. The ones we got were the 'Champange Bubbles' type which have large flowers in various shades. These are good from zones 3-10, according to one source, but I do know they can take the cold here in zone 6.
Two more kinds of poppies to go - the most common and the ones most people think of when you say poppies.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Papaveraceae - Part 3

One plant I certainly didn't expect to find among the poppies is this Sanguinaria canadensis, or Bloodroot. Its name comes from the orange/red sap in its stems and roots. Bloodroot is a spring lovely. It comes up what seems like almost overnight. One day nothing, the next those buds in the picture above. The flowers are ephemeral, lasting longer in suitable weather - cool, no rain, no wind - but disappearing all too quickly if things don't suit. The leaves will grow larger and persist until the heat sets in, but then will go dormant until the next spring.
Bloodroot is native to eastern North America from about North Dakota and Oklahoma eastwards in both Canada and the U.S. It is a plant of the woodlands and rocky slopes. Shade is preferred, even quite dense shade. The clump will expand by rhizomes, though never as quickly as you would like. We also see it spread by seed, as we find new plants 20 or 30 feet away, across a pond where rhizomes couldn't go. Bloodroot is not all that picky on location, but prefers a leafy soil, slightly acid. Some books say that it will also grow in sun. I expect that is in the northern parts of its range, and not in the southern areas.

Although it is harder to find, you really need to have one of the double form, Sanguinaria canadensis 'Plena'. The flowers remind me of a tiny magnolia blossom. It seems to come up and bloom a little later than the single form, but it may just be because it is in a slightly cooler and shadier place than the others.
I wish I had a picture of the bank across from our farm in Berks County Pennsylvania. Not sure why I never took one. Three kids under the age of 5 might be part of it. Anyway, at the intersection, on one corner there was a steep bank, maybe 6 or 8 feet tall and 20 or 30 feet long, totally covered in Bloodroot. Just gorgeous. I've never seen anything like it since. Even our hillside of Trilliums doesn't have quite the impact of that spot. I often wonder, in the spring, when I look at our tiny Bloodroot patches, if it's still there or it someone, in the interest of 'improvement' thought they should flatten out the bank for a driveway or something else. It would be a shame. I hope it's still there and someone else is enjoying it as much as I did.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Papaveraceae - Part 2

Although Macleaya cordata is know as Plume (or Plumed) Poppy, I always thought it was just a name, not really a realtive. There are plenty of plants like that. After all, it didn't really look like a poppy in flower, leaf or size. This is a big guy, usually ranging from 6-8 feet tall. It spreads by stolons like the Eomecon from yesterday, but this one seems to be difficult to transplant (and doesn't spread nearly as far or fast as the Eomecon). The leaves are large, greyish-green above and a paler greyish-white underneath. The leaf veins are quite prominent. Its tiny flowers are borne in large feathery panicles. I don't think they are especially good as cut flowers, though I've never tried. This family isn't know for being good for cut flowers unless one cauterizes the stems immediately upon cutting the blooms with a match or lighter.
Macleaya cordata is a native of eastern China and Japan, where it is a plant of the woodlands, gullies and scrublands, generally in the mountains. It flowers in June and July, though the flower plumes persist for quite some time after that. The flowers are so tiny that unless you're really close (and unless you're tall, you won't be really close to the blooms) you won't really be able to tell the difference between fresh and older blossoms. It was introduced into cultivation in 1795 as Bocconia cordata, an incorrect name by which you still sometimes find it, and the name under which I first obtained it.
There is one form 'Flamingo' in cultivation, though I don't grow it here. It has pink flushed leaves and the flowers are also pink rather than the creamy color of the species.
In my garden, this is a plant of the shadier places. Being so tall, it makes a statement, even from the back of the bed. Quite a pretty statement, I think. I have it planted in one bed with among small trees and shrubs with bleeding heart, and the leaf colors are very similar to the Dicentra. In another spot, it grows mostly alone, under trees with only some hostas for companions.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Papaveraceae - Part 1

Our first member of the poppy family is Eomecon chionanthum, commonly called Snow Poppy or Dawn Poppy, though I first knew it as Chinese Bloodroot. This perennial spreads by long reaching underground stolons, which ooze orange/red sap when broken or cut. (Note: wear gloves when working with this plant because, despite the lovely color of the sap, I found out the hard way that it is difficult to remove the color from your hands for a day or so.)
Each leaf has its own petiole and all petioles come up separately from the ground. Blooms are on their own stems, all of which are quite smooth and hairless (quite un-poppylike) and grey green. The flowers are white with yellow centers and are and inch to an inch and a half across. They seem to face the ground when they are first opening up, but face outwards once they are fully open.
A small warning: This one will spread, coming up in all sorts of places, but it is lovely and easily pulled out, roots and all, so keeping it in check is just a matter of a bit of weeding occasionally. Just watch where you plant it and keep up with the weeding and it is really a lovely thing, especially when it is in bloom.
Main flowering season is May and June, but I often see the occasional bloom in summer or fall. Ours seem happy in light shade, even with some afternoon sun. They will grow in colder climates, but will be gone for the year with the first frosts and are a bit late to return in the spring, which is probably for the best since they are so frost sensitive.
Eomecon can be propagated from seed, but it is much easier to just lift some of the 'extra' plants you're sure to have and transplant them. Expect them to wilt for at least a week after you transplant them or pot them up. It's just something they do. Keep them watered well and soon enough they will be back to normal.
There are people who would say you shouldn't grow this one, but with only a little 'neatening' a couple of times a year, it will grow happily and provide a lovely addition to your garden.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Papaveaceae - The Poppy Family

While looking for something to read yesterday (pledge time on our only TV station) I came across my book on poppies, which I don't think I've looked at for a long time. I was kind of amazed (probably re-amazed, since I've already read this book) at the number of plants that are in this family - things one would never expect to be so closely related. So, this is just a tease of things to come. Today is reading day, and tomorrow I'll start telling you all about this diverse family.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Bamboo - Growing the Stuff

A taste of spring, before we get to the subject of the day, bamboo. There little beauties were blooming at the edge of the upper pond, even though it's a bit cold. The daffodils are just up.

Fargesia (an unknown miniature version)

Bamboos are a sub-family of the grass family Poaceae and are classified as Bambusoideae, which is further divided into two tribes: Bambuseae, the woody bamboos, and Olyreae, herbaceous bamboos. The herbaceous ones are all tropical, so don't expect to find them at your local nursery. Bamboos are monocots and like grasses, bulbs, hostas and daylilies, emerge from the seed with one cotyledon, or seed leaf.

Phyllostachys aureosulcata

The main structural parts of a bamboo are the underground rhizome system, which has buds and roots, and the aerial culms (canes or stems) which support the branches and leaves. All the parts, with the exception of the fine roots and the leaves are composed of a series of alternating solid nodes and usually hollow internodes. This structure gives the bamboo great strength, light weight and flexibility.
One thing about bamboos that makes them quite different from other trees and shrubs is that the diameter and height of the shoot that emerges from the ground will stay the same throughout its life. As long as that particular culm is alive it will stay the same height and girth. As the plant gets older, it will produce thicker and taller culms, but each will remain that size, unlike a tree which adds new rings with each new season. New leaves, however, will appear, even on evergreen varieties, each spring. Each culm lives for a number of years.
The underground rhizomes form a matted and interwoven structure (which is why it is so hard to remove once established) that is quite shallow in the soil, and can extend for amazing distances from the parent plant, shooting up new culms from the nodes along the rhizome. I have found the tip of the rhizome 20 or 30 feet away from the clump ! This is just the most basic overview, since in my reference book, there is a section of 44 pages explaining, culms, rhizomes and leaves - interesting, but much more information that you need to know to grow some bamboo in your garden.

Pleioblastus pygmaeus

In choosing a bamboo for your garden, you'll find that they aren't all alike, any more that all other perennials are alike. Some like full sun, while others will grow happily in the shade. Some enjoy cold winters and others more moderate climates. In general, though, they are very versatile and will adapt to many different types of soil. The exceptions are very sandy and dry soil and wet, boggy places. This last fact is one way that you can control bamboo. You can plant it at the edge of a pond or stream with no worries about it crossing the water. As long as you start with a nice planting hole, bamboos will even tolerate heavy clay soils. Because of their matted rhizomes underground, bamboo is excellent for stabilizing steep banks where the soil is prone to slipping. The easiest way to keep bamboos from spreading where you don't want them is to plant them where you will be able to mow around them. Chopping off new culms with the mower will stop them from spreading where you don't want them. I have been told that the rings they sell to keep bamboo under control don't work very well. In theory they should, but I'm not surprised that the rhizomes will find their way under or over the barrier. I suppose if you sank a 55 gallon drum and planted in that you might get control, but I don't expect that the bamboo will be too happy being that confined.
Bamboos are not too fussy about pH either, and any soil in your garden will probably be fine if other things will grow there.
There is a bamboo for every garden. We have some tiny ones that never get over 18 inches tall, and there are others (not in my garden, but nearby) that are over 20 feet tall. Solid green leaves and variegate ones with green or yellow stripes, different colored culms, large leaves or small, narrow or wide. Some are even clumping forms that are quite well behaved and won't even try to take over your garden.
So, I'm not here to discourage you from growing bamboo, since I do so quite happily (most of the time), but rather to encourage you to research the types you'd like to grow and have a good plan to keep them under control. The book I use most is 'Hardy Bamboos: Taming the Dragon' by Paul Whittaker and published by Timber Press. There are a number of other ones out there and many books on grasses will also contain a section on bamboos.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Bamboo - An Overview

Fargesia Nitida

I realized the other day that I was kind of getting ahead of myself on the bamboo thing, so today I think I'll do a more general post on bamboo.

According to one definition I read, bamboos are just tall or shrubby grasses with woody stems for structure. That pretty well says it all. There are bamboos that are hardy in quite cold climates, and many that are more tropical. Other than keeping them under control, they are easy plants to grow, needing no pruning or shaping other than removing old old or weak wood. Each stem lasts for a number of years and then you have - a fishing pole, or garden stakes or, use your imagination. Only the tallest and sturdiest make good stakes, but then again, they're free.

The one thing you notice after awhile is that bamboos don't have flowers. Actually they do, but they bloom rarely, some only every 50 or 100 years. When they do flower, the plants will die, but hopefully they will produce seed to re-do the patch. Their reproductive strategy of spreading by rhizomes is actually a more successful strategy, since baby plants from seed are far more vulnerable than large offsets from underground runners.

Bamboos are ancient plants and fossils have been found to date them at least 6.5 million years ago. DNA evidence suggests that bamboo or their relatives go back 26 million years.

Phyllostachys bissettii

Bamboos have been used in Chinese gardens since 2000 BCE and their cultivation was unique to that country for almost 3 millenia. By 1000 CE, the Japanese had started trading with China and took bamboo home to use in temple gardens and the homes of wealthy traders. The first bamboo introduction to the west was Phyllostachys nigra from Japan in 1827 after the American navy had negotiated a trade agreement.

The interior of China was not open for exploration until the middle of the 19th century at which time plant hunters invaded the mountains of China. Unfortunately, they were mostly attracted to the 'pretty faces' and pretty much ignored the bamboos. Two lesser known French collectors, M. Latour-Marliac (of waterlily fame) and Eugene Mazel were the ones responsible for the early bamboo acquisitions. In America, bamboos were valued more for the commercial production of timber, paper and edible shoots than for general gardening purposes.

Bamboo is native to parts of North and South America, Africa and Asia, but not to Europe. There are over a hundred genera and fifteen times that many species worldwide. Many more are likely left to be discovered and named. The majority come from the hot tropical areas but about 1/5 come from more temperate regions.

Pleioblastus viridistriatus

Tomorrow I'll write a bit about the botanical stuff, along with some more pictures.