Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Iris Bathing

Purple and peach bicolor iris.


The term "forest bathing," became popular in Japan in the 1980's, and has made inroads here in the U.S. in the past few years. "Forest bathing" is a translation of the Japanese word shinrin-yoku. As I understand it, it's a way of immersing oneself in the spirit of the place: the trees, flowers, ferns, the whole atmosphere of the forest. Mindful meditation might be another description of the practice, slowing down and getting away from the ordinary distractions of modern life. Only the Japanese would codify it into an art!

Since I love irises, and wish to immerse myself in the spirit of this lovely flower, particularly its perfume, today I invite you to go "iris bathing" in my garden. Just think of yourself submerged in a tubful of iris flowers--everyone should try it!


Regal purple.

This regal purple beauty didn't bloom last year, and I feared it might have disappeared somehow, but it is offering a few blooms this spring. My front bed of iris is getting overcrowded and shadier, it has not been as floriferous this year as in previous ones. I'll have to thin out this bed in late July or August when the plants are dormant, and create a new bed for the cuttings. 


Iris bed in front.

Yellow Iris bed


On the other hand, my yellow irises in the bed on the opposite side of the driveway are spectacular this year! Combined with 'Pink Attraction' and some Dutch iris, they look stunning! Some giant Alliums fill out the display.


Lavender Dutch iris

'Pink Attraction' iris.

Yellow and pink iris.

White iris with beard tongues.

I love these white irises with pale blue beards that have little tongues on the ends--some folks refer to these as horns. I've not learned what variety they are, these were acquired with a group of unlabeled varieties. 

In the back yard, the old-fashioned iris from my mother's garden have not bloomed as profusely this year either. They may be getting crowded out by the arbor vitae that have grown so large in the last few years. It may be time to dig some of these up and re-plant them elsewhere, or expand the Little Indians bed forward to allow them more room to grow.


Old-fashioned iris from my mother's garden.


'Victoria Falls' reigns in the Long Island bed in back this year. Earlier in April, the dwarf variety 'Bluebeard' produced some lovely blooms, but I was so busy I never took photos of them. The bi-color 'Blatant' seems to be resting this spring again, and has not produced any blooms. It put out a few flowers in the fall, so late that the frosts did them in, but they have not recovered from the attack of a beastie (ground hog or other garden pest?) that ate the rhizomes the year before last.

Iris 'Victoria Falls'


The one color of the spectrum my iris garden lacks (hah!) is a good purple-pink or mauve shade. I'll be looking in my gardening catalogs to see which varieties might fit the bill, and perhaps there will be some new bi-colors to try out too. It's looking like it will be the time to prepare a new iris bed in the fall. The more irises, the better the iris bathing!

Sunday, May 1, 2022

Flowers Galore

My front yard on April 24


Here's my annual photo of the front yard with its Kwanzan cherry tree in full bloom, which I like to post every year. This year the cherry blossoms didn't open fully until last Sunday, a full week after Easter Sunday. In other years it has bloomed a couple of weeks earlier, so that the progression of the other flowers in the front changes according to the timing of the cherry: the narcissi, the creeping Phlox, tulips and the dogwood have bloomed simultaneously on some years, on others, not so much.

This is the most beautiful time of the year for me, when just about everything comes into bloom. On the east side of the house, my Carolina Silverbell tree grows more beautiful every year! The 17-year locusts damaged the Japanese maples quite a bit last year, and they lost some growth at the tips of their branches, but hopefully they will recover this year.


East yard with Japanese maples and Carolina Silverbell tree.

Carolina Silverbell flowers.

My hybrid Rhododendron 'Southgate Brandi' has just opened its flowers. This one is growing nicely, thanks to the winter protection of my barriers--otherwise deer would have devoured the buds as they were developing.

Rhododendron 'Southgate Brandi'

Ajuga 'Black Scallop' ground cover.


I am hoping soon to see the flowers of another Rhododendron I planted several years ago, 'Anna Rose Whitney' has not produced any blooms before.

The back yard from our deck.

The redbud tree in the back yard was in full bloom this past week along with the double flowering quince. The border of narcissi in the back bed looks fuller this year than last. Sadly, my beautiful Korean fir 'Horstman's Silberlocke' died sometime during the winter--probably from lack of water during February's dry spell while I was away. I didn't know that when clay soil dries out, it can actually begin a reverse osmosis process where the soil will take moisture away from a plant's roots. Last week I received a new tree to replace the dead one--hope springs eternal in a gardener's heart!

Lewisia longipetala 'Little Peach'



The Lewisia continues to bloom prolifically, it's such an interesting plant. Originating in the alpine areas of California's Sierra Nevada, it's quite rare in its native environment, but the modern hybrids, such as this one, are a great addition to rock gardens. I keep mine in a pot because it needs excellent drainage which my clayey soil can't provide.

 It's so wonderful to see tender green shoots sprouting everywhere! Lots more blooms to come in May!

Sunday, April 24, 2022

Easter Monday Snow and My Sketches

Kwanzan cherry tree blossoms.


It snowed earlier in the week on Easter Monday, just as my Kwanzan cherry tree in front was starting to unfurl its lovely blossoms. Rain had been predicted, but snow--I was surprised, to say the least! Many trees were just starting to bloom: the Carolina Silverbell tree, the redbud, the flowering quince, the dogwoods, all those delicate  and precious flowers...fortunately the temperature was hovering just above the freezing point, so I hope the blossoms haven't been too damaged. I'll have to check on them later on today. Another frost is coming tonight, so there's even more chance of frost burn.


The back yard on Easter Monday.
Easter Monday snow on the front yard.

I like to take photos of my Kwanzan cherry tree in bloom, which usually happens around mid-April. On some years that coincides with Easter time. This year's shot is all the more memorable because of the snow!

Sometime last week my yellow Magnolia 'Butterflies' managed to produce a few of the blossoms that had lagged behind enough to escape the frost burn that blighted the rest. It was disappointing to lose so many flowers, the tree had been covered with buds--so sad!


Yellow Magnolia 'Butterflies'

My neighbor's weeping apricot tree was such a vision of loveliness last week that I asked permission to cut a branch for the sketch below. I used colored pencils, but didn't get an exact color match--the blossoms really are a little more coral and strong in color. But the delicate frills and details of the flowers would not have "read" if I hadn't used a light touch.

Weeping apricot tree blossoms, colored pencil sketch.

Mahogany tree seed pod (Swietenia mahagoni)

Above is a seed pod of the mahogany tree which a friend form Florida sent me--she sent a box full of fascinating seed pods and botanical oddities collected at the Montgomery Botanical Research Center in Miami that I'm trying to identify. The amazing geometry of the mahogany seed pod was very challenging--I re-worked my drawing completely several times in order to draw it accurately, and realize that I still didn't get some details of the curvatures correctly. The actual seeds are arranged inside the capsule in such a way that each winged seed fits in like a jigsaw puzzle inside each section.


Lewisia 'Littel Peach'

The Lewisia 'Little Peach' that I bought last year is covered with buds that have started to open/ The small flowers are a lovely soft yellow fading into peach. I couldn't resist making sketch of it for my botanical journal.


Lewisia sketch in my journal.

Recent pages from my botanical journal.

Monday, April 11, 2022

Rebirth of Spring

Daffodils and Thalia narcissi in front.
Creeping Phlox and Thalias.
Our front yard


Ahh, spring! Thus far it's been a changeable one, with the usual ups and downs in temperature: one beautiful mild sunny day here and there, interspersed with drizzly or wind-blasted ones, and bloom-burning frosts. Every year I find the seasonal progression of plants and flowers as they come into bloom in my garden ever more marvelous.

Prince Alfred daffodils with Forsythia in the back yard.

A week later the daffodils in the back bed are in bloom.

Blue grape hyacinths (Muscari armeniaca) among Mt. Hood daffodils.

Same bed a few days later.

 Every day is full of surprises as I discover plants I thought had perished are sprouting, while others that were doing so well have disappeared, eaten by the usual garden pests. The daffodils and narcissi predominate at this time, along with the grape hyacinths. Sadly, my yellow magnolia 'Butterflies' was frost-burned this year--no flowers to enjoy except for the branch I cut to paint indoors.

The buds of the Kwanzan cherry in front are still a week to ten days away from opening, yet other plants are starting to show signs of life. I'd all but forgotten about the Grecian anemones I planted two autumns ago, what a charming surprise to see a few of them popping up!

Tiny purple anemones
"Pink Charm" daffodils in the back bed.

The back bed a week later.


Spring truly is the season of rebirth! So many more flowers to come in the next months, I can hardly wait to see what surprises my garden will bring this year!

Thalias by the driveway.

My neighbor's weeping flowering apricot tree.

Muscari at the base of  the Zelkova tree.

Saturday, April 2, 2022

Yellow Magnolia 'Butterflies' Studies

Buds on a branch from by botanical sketchbook.


A heavy frost was predicted in my area for Monday morning, so on Sunday afternoon I cut a small branch with some buds from my yellow hybrid Magnolia 'Butterflies' to study and paint. I rarely get to paint this lovely flower from life, since most of the time the flowers get blighted by frosts before I have a chance to paint them.

The first sketch above was done in my botanical journal (the second notebook in this series) with Copic pens and colored with watercolor pencils just after the bud had shed its scales, which is the technical term for the furry outer covering on the buds.


The flower in three stages, three media.


The following day the first bud began to open, and I captured its progress in a larger sketchbook, showing the petals starting to unfurl. For the sketch on the upper left I used only colored pencils. 

On the third day, the petals (technically tepals) were completely unfurled, and center of the flower was visible, with its pinkish stamens still tightly closed, while the greenish pistils in the center are extended. In nature, an insect would visit the flower and deposit pollen from another flower on the pistils at this point, while they are receptive. The flower would close up for the night, perhaps trapping the insect inside. Indoors, of course, there weren't any insects available for pollination, but the flower's exquisite lemony perfume advertised its receptivity. An added bonus to painting these magnolias!

For the rendition on the middle right, I used only conventional watercolors. Another bud lower on the branch was starting to unfurl, and I drew it lightly in pencil on the lower part of my paper.

On the fourth day, the petals of the first flower had begun to fade to a pale cream, but now the stamens in the center were unfurled all around.  At this stage, in nature, the pollinating insect would be covered with the pollen and when the flower re-opened in the morning, the insect would be released to visit and pollinate another flower. 

This is the strategy the flower uses to avoid self-pollination. The version on the lower left was done with watercolor pencils only, connecting the opening bud that I'd drawn the day before to the upper flower.

By the fifth day, the flower was completely spent: the tepals had turned brown and were falling off. Such is the short-lived glory of a magnolia flower!

I read that this hybrid variety of magnolia was bred as a cross between Magnolia acuminata and Magnolia Denudata. M. acuminata is our native Cucumber magnolia from the Appalachian area, one of the largest trees of the American species. M. denudata is an Asian tree known as the Yulan magnolia. My tree has grown to about seven feet or eight in height and canopy, in time it should eventually reach 12 to 15 feet in size, perhaps a bit more. It's a lovely tree even if the flowers often get frost-bitten!

Saturday, March 26, 2022

My Early Spring Garden

Hyacinth 'Delft Blue'


With the Spring Equinox past, early spring manifests itself in my garden. 'Delft Blue' hyacinths bloom along the front walk, as the carpet of several varieties of sedum begins to revive from its winter slumber. 


Blue Siberian squill, Pieris, and young rosettes of great blue lobelia.

"Queen Charlotte' violet (Viola odorata)

Along the east side of the house, the tiny blue flowers of Siberian squill (Scilla siberica) carpet the ground near a Pieris in bloom, among the sprouting young rosettes of the Great Blue Lobelia that is spreading here. My 'Queen Charlotte' violet is reviving and spreading nicely, but so far I detect no scent--perhaps it's still too chilly for the violet to emit its lovely perfume?

Hellebore Wedding Party 'True Love'

Hellebore 'True Love'

Close-up of 'True Love'

At the foot of the 'Bloodgood' Japanese maple, the hellebore Wedding Party 'True Love' is flourishing now that it's protected from the browsing deer. As soon as the critters have enough to eat in the woods, I'll remove the barrier so I can admire it without obstructions. I'd love to grow another hellebore near this one, perhaps one with white flowers with a touch of pink on the edges. There are so many beautiful varieties to choose from in my gardening catalogs, but all are so expensive, I may have to wait until I find some on sale.

Blue grape hyacinths (Muscari armeniacum) with 'Mount Hood' daffodils

In the back yard some grape hyacinths that haven't been browsed too much by the deer are emerging among the 'Mount Hood' daffodils, while the Forsythia's yellow announces the official start of spring. A few of the 'February Gold' daffodils in the back bed are in bloom, but most of the others won't open until a week or two later.

The back yard this week.

The Little Indians bed.

Lots of new shoots are coming up in all my flower beds--above are 'Autumn Joy' sedum with muscari and daffodil bulbs, and daylilies. I'd forgotten about the anemones I planted last year, and was surprised to find this tiny one coming up near my roses. Such a delicate little thing!


Bergenia buds

Front yard this week

In the front yard, the seasonal progression continues: the February Gold daffodils are finished, now the Thalia and Tazetta narcissus are just about to pop open. And, I have great hopes of seeing a few camellia blossoms for the first time--the buds are just beginning to unfold.


Camellia 'Kumasaka'