Thursday, September 17, 2020

Turning of the Season


Miniature rose.

As the mornings grow cooler with the approach of the equinox, summer is drawing to an end. It's a lovely time to admire the season's growth in all its fullness before fall begins to show its effects. My potted plants outdoors have reached their peak: the miniature rose, coleus and impatiens seem to be at the maximum of beauty. Many of my tropical begonias haven't been as floriferous as in other years, I can't explain it, except that plants have their cycles, and perhaps the extraordinary heat this year had something to do with it. Or, perhaps they need re-potting in fresh soil. There's always next year.


Red impatiens with begonias and coleus.

Hanging baskets on porch.

Plants in the porch

The hanging baskets on the porch are spilling over with multi-colored Calibrachoas and red Begonias, while the porch protects the other summering houseplants. The hibiscus is lush with yellow blossoms and the Cuban Rain tree (Brunfelsia nitida) is about to produce another round of its tubular flowers. I set out my Cattleya orchids on the porch this year, in hopes of some flower buds, but with the overnight temperatures now in the 40's, it's time to bring them into the house--I'll have to try again next year to see if some flowers can be coaxed.

Salvia 'Black and Blue' with mums and impatiens behind.

Salvia 'Wendy's Wish'


My 'Black and Blue' salvia didn't start to bloom until August this year, while the re-potted magenta salvia that Lili gave me (I think it may be a variety called  'Wendy's Wish') caught up with it and surpassed it in terms of flowers--interesting contrast in the color of the foliage and the flowers of the salvias. My Chrysanthemums are starting to bloom too, orange and dusty pink in the front, and the yellow ones I transplanted to the back beds.


Herb's bed and the Little Indians.

The deer really decimated my sedums this year, particularly the 'Neon' variety, but some of the 'Autumn Joy' have managed to produce some flowers; I must protect them better next spring so they can make progress. The blue Ageratum in Herb's bed was a hit with the butterflies--it's starting to fade now--the aster flowers will soon predominate, along with the pink Muhly grass.


New tree & shrubs on the west side.


I've been taking advantage of the cooler weather to start planting the trees and shrubs I'd bought  earlier in the year and had been holding in large pots, waiting for a propitious time to plant. The beautiful Korean fir 'Horstmann's Silberlocke' was planted on the west side of the house; it may reach  up to 20 feet, though I doubt it will get that tall, but will remain slim at the base. The new Ceanothus 'Gloire de Versailles'--barely visible in the bed behind the Zelkova tree's trunk--will eventually become a shrub some eight feet tall and six feet around, and hopefully filled with lavender flowers to delight butterflies and other pollinators.

Hardy begonias bloom under the cherry tree.


The hardy begonias are blooming under the cherry tree, while the dogwood's leaves are starting to turn bronzy, announcing the change of season. My Angel Trumpet still has some flowers, and perhaps a few more are in store before it's time to bring it in for the winter.

The front walk this week

Angel Trumpets (Brugmansia hybrid)

The other evening we had an unusual visitor--a hawk perched on one of the oaks in back. He stayed there for a good amount of time, long enough for me to grab my camera and take some photos. We later  identified it as a juvenile Cooper's hawk. The beautiful creature lingered for a while, then swooped low as he flew between our house and the neighbor's before disappearing.


An unusual visitor.

Wednesday, September 9, 2020


Franklinia alatamaha, graphite sketch, 10"h x 8"w.

A couple of weeks ago I learned that the Virginia State Arboretum at Blandy Farm has a small grove of the fabled Franklinia alatamaha tree growing in their back acres, and the trees were in bloom. Naturally, I went there to check them out.

Following the directions, I parked at the back in the designated spot, walked across the road, past some large trees to a clearing where six trees of different sizes were growing, all of them full of flowers!

Franklinia alatamaha
Franklinia alatamaha tree

All of the trees were surrounded by deer fencing; I looked over the blossoms in all of the trees, photographed a number of them, and selected one lovely perfect flower for sketching that was about eye level to me. I'd have to draw while standing--fortunately my 8" x 10" sketchpad has a good rigid backing, which I propped up against the deer fence. Thus happily occupied the afternoon waned. As I was finishing, the sun started to come out and the temperature rose immediately.


Franklinia alatamaha tree

I put away my gear and walked around to take more photos, then wandered farther afield to see what else was growing near by. I saw three different types of Stewartias, another member of the tea family which encompasses the Franklinia as well as Camellias. I was familiar with this genus from a large specimen of Stewartia pseudocamellia at McCrillis Gardens when I was studying botanical art at Brookside Gardens. The flowers resemble the Franklinia's but they're smaller, and more profuse, making a lovely display in early summer. As it ages, the bark of the tree trunk peels in layers.


Stewartia serrata 'Hikosan Himeshara'

Stewartia koreana

The Arboretum had a Stewartia serrata 'Hikosan Himeshara' , and a Stewartia koreana, both past bloom, but with lots of seed pods, some of which I collected. The third species, Stewartia monadelpha, also known as Tall Stewartia, I've never seen before--it too was past bloom and with seed pods. I'll have to come back to this spot next year in late spring in order to see these trees in bloom--I imagine they are all gorgeous!


Franklinia watercolor - Stage 1

In the meantime, I'm working on a watercolor of the Franklinia based on my sketch and photographs. It'll take a bit more time to finish. I hope to be able to return soon to take photos of the tree as the leaves start to turn red, and still with flowers. Maybe I can collect some of the seeds then.

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Late Summer Flowers

Red Dahlias.

Red Dahlia with hardy Begonia.

Late summer is a time of the year when most plants are finished with the season's growth, and setting seed. Fall bloomers are starting to show color in their buds, but in between, there are some plants that like to bloom. I bought this deep red Dahlia on sale a couple of years ago, and was so late in setting it out that it only produced a couple of flowers before the first frosts arrived. Last year I replanted the rhizome in a pot, hoping to be able to save it from early frosts, and it never produced any flowers--the pot was probably too small. So, this year I re-potted it in a much larger pot, and set it outside.

The Dahlia grew to handsome proportions, with several large stems, but these started to flop over. I tried staking it and succeeded only in breaking off one stem. You can't fight gravity after all, so I set it against the trunk of my cherry tree and allowed it to flop as it pleased; the reward is these two gorgeous flowers!

The hardy Begonias growing next to the Dahlia are now starting to bloom and will make a nice show in a week or two. My Begonia patch has been gradually expanding from one plant I brought from my garden in Columbia eight years ago and reliably re-seeds itself every year.

Clematis 'New Love'

Clematis 'New Love'

My recently acquired Clematis 'New Love' has put forth some flowering spikes. This is a new type of Clematis bred to form a small shrub rather than a vine, and has small bell-shaped purple flowers. It's not quite what I had expected, but very unusual and pretty anyway. We'll see if it manages to survive and continue to bloom in my garden.

Black cotton bolls

The black cotton plants are developing a number of large bolls that should be loaded with seeds for next year's garden. The coneflower seeds are ripe and the goldfinches have been having a banquet with them--they've been visiting regularly morning and evening.

Goldfinch on coneflower seedhead.

Goldfinch feasting on coneflower seeds.
Caryopteris 'Longwood Blue' and native mints

Caryopteris 'Longwood Blue' above, known as Blue Mist or Bluebeard plant is another late flowering shrub with feathery blue spikes. I combined my three plants with two native mints (whitish flowers on the right): hoary mountain mint (Pycnanthemum incanum), common mountain mint (Pycnanthemum virginianum), and sea oat grass (Chasmanthium latifolium) in this bed.

Dog stinkhorn (Mutinus caninus)

The odd fungus known as Dog stinkhorn (Mutinus caninus) has made its reappearance in our yard recently. Herb came across these while he was mowing the lawn the other morning, and ran in to tell me about his strange sighting. I recognized it at once--we'd first encountered this weird fungus in Columbia, where it sprouted from a mulched flowerbed. Apparently the spores can be carried in the shredded bark mulch that is commercially available.

These strange mushrooms are members of the Phallaceae family, appropriately named as you can see. They attract flies and other insects that spread the spores. I find these weirdly fascinating--I may do a botanical illustration of one eventually.

Saturday, August 15, 2020

Dog Days Coming Around Again

Great Blue Lobelia (Lobelia syphillitica)

Great Blue Lobelias

The dog days of August are coming around again, as they do every summer. After July's record high temperatures, they don't seem so awful, thus far.  My Great Blue Lobelias have put forth more flower spikes than ever this year, and they are gorgeous. The crabgrass and weeds are lush, too--I went out yesterday morning to weed around my veggie bed and try to tackle the worst of it in the back yard beds. Two hours later I was drenched in sweat, had one large plastic bag full of weeds, and feeling that I'd barely made a dent. It will take many more sessions to get the weeds under control, in as much as that is at all possible.

Black or Levant cotton (Gossypium herbaceum ' Nigrum')

My three black cotton plants grown from Lili's seeds are producing lots of flowers and bolls. The seeds were collected from the U.S. Botanic Gardens a number of years ago (I've seen this exotic annual selling for amazingly high prices in catalogs), and thanks to my daughter-in-law's green thumb, we've managed to keep this line going.

Black cotton flower bud.

The following spring the collected seeds went in my garden beds, and I shared some with my daughter-in-law. But with soil as poor as mine, only a few blooms and bolls with seeds developed.  Lili had better luck in her garden, and managed to get enough seeds to return the favor last year. The flowers are so lovely! Their beauty is hard to appreciate fully because they tend to hide under the foliage.

Black cotton flower

I've done paintings of both the Great Blue Lobelia and the black cotton--my Great Blue Lobelia painting sold last year, but I still have the watercolor of black cotton that I painted as Artist in Residence at the U.S. Botanic Garden in 2018. The specimen I worked from didn't have any flowers present so I introduced some from my photos taken of the ones I'd grown. Unfortunately, my photos didn't show the exact way the flower stem grows out from the middle of the leaf petiole, so I didn't get this detail quite right. I'm tempted to try another painting to correct my previous misunderstanding.

The back yard from the Badlands.

I took this photo of the back yard from the rearmost bed, the one we call "The Badlands" because the soil there was the worst imaginable. I remember well how little grew here and all along the perimeter of our lot at the edge of the woods. My idea for landscaping this area was to create a transition zone for the huge trees at the edge of the woods with a series of smaller understory trees. These three trees were the first I planted in the back yard: a dogwood, which revealed itself to be a C. kousa (Asian) type only this spring, when it finally produced its first blooms, a redbud (Cercis canadense), and behind that, a Seven Son Flower tree (Heptacodium miconoides) which is a native of China.

Seven Son Flower tree (Heptacodium miconoides)
Flowering clusters of the Seven Son Flower tree

The common name for this small tree comes from the observation that the number of flowers in each cluster is usually seven. I bought this Heptacodium as a sapling on sale for the amazing price of $6--the selling point for me wasn't just the price, but that the tree blossoms in August, at a time when little else in the garden is in bloom, the blossoms are fragrant, and it grows fast.  After planting it I've had time to appreciate its other attractive features--in autumn, after the flowers fade, the sepals turn pink, giving the appearance of a second flowering, and the bark peels in layers of different colors that make a wonderful display in winter.

Basket of begonia.

I didn't find any fuschias for the hanging baskets on the porch this year, so I bought this beautiful red Begonia instead. Calibrachoas in several colors went in the two other baskets, with the addition of some creeping Jenny (Lysimachia nummularia 'Aurea') hanging over the edges. 

Hanging baskets of Calibrachoas on the porch.

The recent rains have brought out some new flowers: Crocosmia 'Lucifer's red flowers make a nice contrast against the fluffy blue Ageratum, with orange marigolds. The yellow Chrysanthemums are already starting to bloom, despite earlier de-budding. I'm curious to see how the 'Autumn Joy' sedum will look in the fall when the pink Muhly grass puts out some of its plumes--the deer have really chewed up the sedums!

Herb's bed.

Sunday, August 2, 2020

High Summer

Monarch butterfly on Meadow Blazing Star (Liatris ligulistylis)

This July has been one of the hottest that I can recall in eight years, as well as one of the driest. The drought broke last week when a series of thunderstorms dropped much-needed rain--over one and a half inches! This was a blessing for the plants, and for the wildlife. Another overnight storm and a rainy day yesterday added more to the total accumulation.

A Monarch butterfly wafted in a few days ago and has been very taken by the Meadow Blazing Star (Liatris ligustylis) I planted this spring. Now that I see how much the butterflies love it, I'm buying more of this plant in hopes of attracting more of them. The Monarchs don't seem much drawn to the Asclepias tuberosa--although this is one of their host plants, it's not their preferred milkweed family host, Asclepias syriaca. In years past I've seen a number of Monarch caterpillars on my bushes, but I presume the birds ate the caterpillars before they had a chance to mature, since I never found any pupas or newly-hatched butterflies.

Ruby-throated hummingbird.

The Ruby-throated humming birds have been visiting regularly the 'Major Wheeler' red honeysuckle this summer, and the other morning I spotted one feasting on the flowers of the Bottle Brush Buckeye (Aesculus parviflora). That hummingbird was so covered in pollen that it looked as if it was yellow--unfortunately I wasn't able to get a photo of that, or of the Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly that also loves the flowers of this native tree. This morning, however, one of the hummers perched on a dead branch of my small honey locust tree long enough to be photographed through my telephoto.

Abelia 'Panoramic Color Radiance'

The Abelia 'Panoramic Color Radiance' that I bought this past spring and planted in a pot, has grown very well and is currently blooming--a really lovely shrub, with its variegated green and white leaves and small white flowers. I have no idea yet where I'll end up planting it--it should reach 3 to 5 feet in height and width according to the tag information, but with such a delicate look, I need to select a site where it can be admired up close and not be too susceptible to deer attacks.

Great Blue Lobelia (Lobelia syphillitica)
Great Blue Lobelia with Mexican feather grass.

The Great Blue Lobelia I planted a few years back in the east bed has multiplied very well, forming several nice clumps which are just starting to bloom. This native wildflower is spectacular when in full bloom! The Mexican Feather Grass (Nassella tenuissima), native to the southwest, has also spread and formed clumps that make a beautiful backdrop to the Lobelias.

East side of the yard.

Overall, the plantings on this side of the house continue to develop, though the hydrangeas haven't produced much in the way of blooms this year, with the exception of the white 'Incrediball.' Two late frosts this spring are probably the reason--although 'Endless Summer' (with pink flowers) is supposed to bloom on old as well as new wood, it isn't doing much blooming thus far. I plan to put in another hydrangea in this area in the fall, an Oakleaf variety, though I haven't decided on the exact location.

Pentstemon 'Rosie Posie'

The Pentstemons I planted last fall are now blooming. I think the soft pink color on the grayish green foliage looks great, but I'd hoped that the hummingbirds would be attracted to these--it seems the color doesn't appeal to them, since I've yet to see even one bird exploring the nectar-rich flowers.

The long island bed in back.

The Black-eyed Susans are now in their glory in the long island bed below the deck, while the red 'Major Wheeler' honeysuckle takes a rest. The honeysuckle will probably re-bloom later on as the weather begins to cool off. I wonder what the dog days of August will bring?

Long island bed from the deck.

Friday, July 24, 2020

Dawn and Dusk Watercolor

Dawn and Dusk, watercolor, 17"h x 13"w.

My latest watercolor is a luscious combination of the climbing rose 'New Dawn' and clematis 'Etoile de Violette' that grows on the side of my porch. I started working on this two years ago, developing the drawing from a set of photos I'd taken that spring--my drawing is a bit on the sloppy side with many unresolved areas, but I thought it was enough to get started, and worry about developing it more fully as I got into the painting.

Pen and ink drawing for tracing.

The idea was to try to convey the lushness of the two intertwining plants in a composition that spilled in a rambunctious fashion over the entire sheet of watercolor. I started applying some under painting to the central clematis flower when I realized that the Permanent Rose and Cobalt Blue pigment combination I was using was too opaque for the desired effect.

Dawn and Dusk - early stages.

I put the painting aside for two years, searching for more transparent pigments. A number of workshops I took in the intervening years helped me to develop other techniques and find the transparent pigments I was looking for: Quinacridone Coral and Brilliant Blue-violet. I scrubbed as much of the early pigments as possible and started again, this time with happier results.

Dawn and Dusk - later stage.

The illusion of perspective is created mostly by the change in size of the flowers and leaves, as well as light and dark areas. A bit of redesign was necessary to hide a couple of paint spills that happened along the way--I don't always cover my painting to protect the white areas because this makes it difficult to see the entire painting at one time. That's a risk I'm willing to take.

At this point I'm trying to decide if it's finished, or if it needs a few more leaves and/or buds or a little more drybrush in places to bring out the edges of the pale roses. I'll let it sit on my easel for a few more weeks now and think about it before I decide. There's no hurry, as there are no art shows in my schedule anytime in the future.