Sunday, December 18, 2016

Spanish Bluebells

(As in the previous post-- and at least one more to follow-- the photos are unrelated the content of the post.  They're just some snaps from around the yard, within the past week or so.)

Purple Coneflower
{Purple coneflower}
If you read as much English literature as I have (and still do), you can't easily avoid hearing all about bluebells-- their fresh, ephemeral beauty, their heavenly fragrance, their graceful presence in the English woodland every spring.  The English bluebell (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) is a national treasure, though it has been somewhat fetishized (if I may use that word in polite company (g)).

Bluebells can be grown in other places than England and Europe, of course, including the United States-- but in this part of the world, it's perhaps more common to plant one of its close relatives, Hyacinthoides hispanica, or the Spanish bluebell or wood hyacinth.

Mexican Bush Sage in December
{Mexican bush sage}
In overall look, the Spanish bluebell bears a fair resemblance to its northern cousin, though they are easily differentiated by size, foliage thickness, and flower placement-- and the Spanish version lacks the fragrance of the English.  (Or rather, the Spanish is very faintly scented, compared to the English.)

I suspect we'll have better luck with the Spanish bluebells, in this area.  When I first read about these wood hyacinths, it came as a surprise that there were any bluebells that might do well around here.  (And technically, we're still on the warmest edge of the suggested range for even the Spanish bluebells, but I'm trying to be optimistic...)

Goldenrod in December
I've read that Spanish bluebells are known as "squill" in the South.  I don't recall ever hearing about "squill", but then again, I don't remember anyone in my family ever growing any type of bluebell, either.  Personally, when I hear "squill" I'm reminded of "squalid" and "squid"-- not exactly a positive connotation-- but that's just me. (g)

Apparently this is another plant that has gone through a few name changes.  It used to be Scilla hispanica (or campanulata) or Endymion.  (I'm partial to Endymion, myself.)

Spanish bluebells prefer well-drained (even sandy) soil and are not particularly thirsty (though they do better with sufficient early-season moisture).  They will bloom in anything from sun to shade, which makes them ideal for planting under trees or in other places where spring bulbs might not get enough sun to bloom reliably.  (Some sources say they may perform best in dappled sun, but others say they're really not at all picky.)

Variegated Shell Ginger in December
{Variegated shell ginger}
I ordered a couple varieties of wood hyacinths-- a large handful of 'White City' with white flowers and another couple handfuls of 'Excelsior' with violet-blue-- and planted them in a random mix.  Most of them went in the semi-shade garden, around the loropetalum trimmed into a tree, though a few found their way around a white Rose of Sharon, further to the west.

'Excelsior' is a popular variety of Spanish bluebell-- an heirloom from 1906.  The flowers are "deep violet-blue, darker and larger than most varieties".  Depending on who you believe, they grow anywhere from 10" to 16" tall.

'White City' is about the same size as 'Excelsior'-- possibly just a tiny bit shorter.  As the name indicates, its flowers are described as snow-white.  I can imagine the white blooms almost glowing, if planted in a shady location...

There are also varieties with violet-pink blooms.  If the blue and white do well, I wouldn't mind adding pink ('Dainty Maid', maybe?), at some point (because they are gorgeous in photos)-- but blue and white felt more "fresh spring" to me, this year.

Bog Sage in December
{Bog sage}
These bulbs are said to spread "discreetly but steadily".  They bloom in late spring (the calendar date of which will vary by zone, I'm sure), bridging the gap between early-spring bulbs and early-summer perennials.

(I'm getting impatient to see them, just thinking about it!  Easy, girl!  Don't get ahead of yourself!  Do you realize how much mulching you still have to do before you even think about wishing for spring?!  Also, mosquitoes.  Don't forget the mosquitoes.  Enjoy the respite and blessings of winter while they last.)

NOID Pink Rose
{Unknown pink rose}
Note:  Where English bluebells are native, there are problems with Spanish bluebells taking over and hybridizing with the native form, which robs them of their scent.  For this reason, they are sometimes viewed in a negative light, in that part of the world.  Over here, however, neither type is native, so there's no reason (in the privacy of your own garden) not to grow one or the other-- or both together, if you're not concerned about the hybrids lacking scent.  

KO Rose with Leaf-footed Bug
{Leaf-footed bug on KO rose}

Spring Starflower

Note: I'm slipping in a few recent photos from the garden in these bulb posts, to break the monotony of walls of text.  They have nothing to do with the post content, but I think they're better than nothing!

{Unknown clematis}

Last time I wrote about planting some hardy gladiolus (gladiola? gladioli?) because I'd read about their history of long success in Southern gardens.  They weren't the only bulbs I'd been keen to try-- but (so far as I've seen) these are not the kinds of thing you normally find in stock at your local big box nursery, so when I decided to place an order, I scratched a few more things off my garden wish list.

I'm not sure why they don't stock these plants in the same places that sell at least a handful of other types of common garden bulbs-- for instance, hybrid gladiolus, amaryllis, daffodils, and grape hyacinths.  Is it because relatively few people know what these plants are (i.e. they're not "in style" at the moment)?  Possibly some of them are considered inferior to larger, showier plants...  I can also imagine that for the very most casual gardener, bulbs are not big sellers.  A bag of bulbs doesn't hold much beauty, save to the eye of experience and love. ;o)

Goldenrod in December

One of the bulbs I've been wanting to grow is an old-fashioned favorite-- Ipheion uniflorum, common name "spring starflower".  Ipheion is an excellent pass-along plant, but those of us who don't know anyone growing them have to order them.  (They may be difficult to source locally, but these days there are numerous places to buy them online.)

These are diminutive plants with small flowers in spring-- one per stem, but multiple stems per bulb each spring.  The foliage is grassy and not particularly noteworthy.  In fact, the whole plant can be easily overlooked, if they aren't planted en masse-- or are hidden by taller plants-- or are in the garden of someone too busy to stop and look and enjoy the little things.

Good things about spring starflower:
--Tolerates a wide range of soils and is generally easy to grow.
--Can get by on relatively little water.
--Often multiplies quickly/naturalizes by bulb offsets and self-seeding.
--Comes in a small variety of colors (white, pale blue, violet-blue).
--Is fragrant (described as "sweet violet", "mildly spicy", "honey-scented").
--Can be grown in the lawn for a wildflower meadow effect.
--Flowers last a good long time (weeks) before fading.
--Deer- and rodent-resistant.
--Bloom early in spring.
--Survives over a wide range of hardiness zones (5-9 or 10).
--Works as a cut flower.

Umbrella Palm
{Umbrella palm}

Spring starflower bulbs are inexpensive. Since you'll probably have to order them, shipping/handling adds to the overall cost, but the bulbs themselves are very reasonably priced.

Ipheion has gone through numerous name changes over the years.  Some will remember them as Triteleia-- and they may still be sold under that name.  Apparently there's been recent argument over whether it should be called Ipheion or Tristagma.  (Ugh, plant taxonomists.  Just get over yourselves, okay?  Choose a name and let it be.  No-one but you really cares, anyway.)

I planted my spring starflower bulbs here and there throughout the garden on the western side of the house, where they'll get lots of sun and well-drained soil.  I put most (if not all) of the species (Ipheion uniflorum) in the new bed-- the Oval Bed or whatever I'll end up calling it, over the field lines.  (This is one of the many plants that won't interfere with field lines.)

Mexican Heather
{Mexican heather}
The species is the cheapest type, though the named varieties are very affordable.  The flower colors "range from pale white to violet-blue".  (...Look, don't ask me how "pale white" differs from "white", because I can't tell you.  I'm just quoting from a supplier's website. (g))

I planted a few other varieties of spring starflower, too, here and there:

'White Star', as you might imagine, has white or nearly-white blooms.  I've seen photos where these small white flowers seem to glow, and they also look beautiful mixed in with the blue/violet starflowers.

'Rolf Fiedler' is described as "bright, periwinkle blue".  Photos show this variety as having wider, more overlapping petals than the species or 'White Star' for a more circular-shaped bloom.

'Jessie' is marketed as the darkest blue of all Ipheion, described by some as gentian blue.

If you plant different varieties near one another, they are said to hybridize themselves and produce interesting color variations.

Spring starflowers are an early-spring treat I'm already looking forward to seeing in my garden for the first time.  Just a few more months!

Zéphirine Drouhin Foliage, December
{foliage, Zéphirine Drouhin}

Friday, December 9, 2016

Impostor Bulbs?!

This morning, I planted the last of my bulb order.  Now we wait for spring to see what happens...

One of the first sets of bulbs I planted has interested me for a while, as I've read about them in a number of books.  The Byzantine gladiolus (Gladiolus communis ssp. byzantinus) is an old-fashioned "Southern heirloom".  It's not native to the U.S., but has been grown here and passed along from gardener to gardener for generations.  Unfortunately, I don't know anyone who has this particular heirloom plant, so I can't beg a "start".

After placing my bulb order (months and months ago), I read that many of the bulbs/corms sold (cheaply) as Byzantine gladiolus are actually not the same plant, but another type of gladiolus-- Gladiolus italicus.  Based on the price I paid, I assumed that my "Byzantine glads" would turn out to be this so-called "impostor".

When the corms arrived, I looked again at this very useful comparison of the various similar gladioli, and I'm convinced that mine are Gladiolus italicus.  (They have the "reticulated veins" you'll see pictured at the previous link.  I should've photographed them before planting, but I didn't take the time.  Apparently, another "tell" is that G. italicus is the only species that doesn't have winged seeds.  Instead, its seeds are shaped more like small peppercorns.)

...So based on this experience, I can report that at least as of this year, if you order Byzantine glads from Brent and Becky's Bulbs, you're probably not getting exactly what you expect.  (But there may be a silver lining!  Keep reading...)

While sellers of the One True Byzantine Gladiolus suggest that the impostors are inferior in every way, information on the Pacific Bulb Society's website offers some solace for those of us who've bought the bargain basement version.  ;o)  Angelo Porcelli writes that G. italicus is a shorter plant (20-23" versus "up to 40 inches" for G. byzantinus), with smaller flowers.  However, he adds the following (encouragingly):  "Many claim that Gladiolus byzantinus is a rich dark purple while Gladiolus italicus is a pale, dull copy, but actually that isn't so. I have seen some photos of Gladiolus italicus that show really ugly forms, pale and small, almost deformed, and I wonder who introduced them into cultivation, seeing that in nature there are many nice, strong, colorful plants."  I guess we can only hope that we get some of the good ones!  At least there's a chance...

The reason G. italicus is so much cheaper and more widely available is that it increases very quickly: "This species is highly bulbilliferous, it increases by cormlets at an alarming rate and a single corm will turn in a clump in a few years."

If these turn out to be total duds, I suppose there's always the option of trying again from one of the other sources.  The price is said to be a good indicator of whether or not you'll be getting the real thing.  If they're cheap, they're most likely going to be G. italicus.  If, on the other hand, the price makes you step back with in-drawn breath and a sharp pain from the region of the pocketbook, you can be more optimistic that you'll receive the genuine article.

Joking aside, the seller making the biggest online fuss about the fact that they have the "true" Byzantine gladiolus charges $12.50 for a single corm/bulb ($34 for 3, and so on, up to $225 for 25).  That's an awful lot for such a tiny corm, unless it multiplies like the dickens!  (And evidently it doesn't, or else surely it wouldn't be so expensive!)  I guess I'll just hope that my almost-Byzantine glads look okay, because I don't think I can justify that kind of money for such a small start of a plant...

- - - - - - -

Anyway, I planted most of these gladiolus corms in the new flowerbed-- the one on the septic pad-- the one that needs a nicer name...  But it doesn't really have a "theme", so an easy name doesn't pop into my head.  The Oval Bed?  (How creative!)  Nope, no good ideas.

I think the new bed will be a good location.  Well-drained soil, plenty of sun... And it's where we'll see the flowers every day, from windows along the back of the house.  A few spare corms found a home in one of the beds on the western side of the house.

- - - - - - -

I apologize for the lack of photos, today.  There's more to write about the other bulbs I've planted, and though I didn't take photos of any of the bulbs before planting them, maybe I can find a few photos of other garden-y things to add a little color to the next post.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016


The rain has returned!  I'm not sure how much we got in the past week, because I forgot to empty the rain gauge (and the rain gauge leaks when it gets full past a certain point, anyway).  We may not know the exact amount, but it was lots.

Yesterday, during a particularly heavy rainfall, the front yard looked like a pond, fed by a waterfall to one side of the front door...:

Heavy Rain - Early December 2016

Here's a close-up of the temporary water feature... ;o)

Heavy Rain - Early December 2016

And on the other side of the front door, a second stream of water plunged from the roof and into a boxwood:

Heavy Rain - Early December 2016

Out the back door, there was a view of the waterlogged back yard.  (That's the beginning of my new "septic field flower bed", though I must think of a more appealing name for it...)

Heavy Rain - Early December 2016

As usual during heavy downpours, parts of the gravel paths turned into shallow streams...

Heavy Rain - Early December 2016

But none of it lasted, fortunately.  The water soon flowed on its way downhill, and now everything's back to normal-- a little soggy, perhaps, but we wouldn't dare complain about that after such a long dry spell.

I hope to do some planting this week.  We're expecting cold weather (by our standards) by Thursday night.