Six foot, seven foot, eight foot bunch …

This is a photo of a very high-up bunch of bananas that I took in the Tropical Terrace of the conservatory at Longwood Gardens. It’s also an excuse for me to announce that the Lil’ Wayne song that samples Harry Belafonte’s “Banana Boat Song” (also known as “The Day-O Song,” and used to great effect in the film Beetlejuice) makes me want to perforate my eyeballs with bamboo slivers. How in God’s name did the producers manage to create such an absolutely annoying wall of sound?

Then again, this may not be the audience for Longwood and Lil’ Wayne complaints …

I would say this was about a four-foot bunch.

Am I blue?

Okay, so there was an entire passageway at Longwood Gardens lined with these blue orchids. I’ve never seen an orchid that color before. I’ve rarely seen a flower this color before. I think this is a Vanda coerulea, a species that hails from Assam, in India, and reaches all the way to China. Export of plants collected in the wild is forbidden, because all wild orchids are considered endangered species.

My heart would stop dead if I came across this plant in the wild. It stopped me in my tracks at Longwood. The color is so striking, and the flowers are big, the size of the palm of your hand.

Until I looked this up, I was suspicious, because a separate exhibit at Longwood explained how flower sellers have devised a way to feed orchids in such a way that  their color changes. This baby just doesn’t look real, even though I know now that it is! I’m pretty sure this is Vanda ‘Pachera Delight,’ and for once, my photo looks every bit as good as the ones I can find by Googling!

Peas on fire

Among the plants I saw at Longwood Gardens this weekend was the flame pea, a.k.a. Choritzema cordata, which sounds like a combination between a spicy Spanish sausage and a dreadful skin condition. Well, it is a very spicy plant, as you can see from the photo I took. I wish I’d gotten a bit closer, though! The small flowers of this mounding shrub, which grows about two feet high, are intricately shaped, like small pea flowers or pansies or maybe snapdragons, and the colors are just spectacular, like a sunset–clear orange and hot, hot pink, with a bright yellow eye. It’s a native of Western Australia, and is sometimes called Australian flame pea or heartleaf flame pea, “flame” and “pea” apparently being the operative descriptive terms. It’s supposed to flower almost year-round, but then again, it’s only suitable for growing in a greenhouse, which is where Longwood was showcasing it.

And even Longwood only had one shrub of it, which does give one pause. If the pros at Longwood can only manage to keep one of these presentable at a time, it doesn’t say much for regular old gardeners like me! Still, what a beauty it was!

Said the pitcher to the fly

Over the weekend, I took a class down at Longwood Gardens and made a green-roofed birdhouse. It’s totally cool! It’s a regular old birdhouse, but with an oversized room that’s planted with tiny little hardy sedums. It’s out in the backyard, and pretty soon I’ll have some professional photos to share with you. But! While I was down there, I toured the conservatory. It’s been a while since I’ve been to Longwood, and every time I visit anew, I’m amazed that I don’t go more often. Sure, it’s expensive, but it is the cure for the winter doldrums.

I took a lot of photos with my cellphone while I was there. I’ve occasionally posted photos I took with my cellphone on this blog, and they’re always pretty dreadful. My hands tend to shake, the light’s bad, whatever. But for some reason, the photos I took on this trip turned out beautiful! I’m especially pleased with this one, of a Venus fly-trap. It was in a small sort of alcove full of different flesh-eating plants, all of which were weird-looking in one way or another. I don’t know if they looked sinister to me because I knew they were flesh-eaters, or if they really are ominous, like something out of Sweeney Todd. I seem to recall buying my son Jake a Venus fly-trap at some point when he was small. I don’t think it lived long. And I know it didn’t ever look as gorgeous (in a weird way, of course) as this. They must feed their fly-traps a particularly succulent and nutritious breed of flies down at Longwood. More photos in the days to come!

Oh, Glory!

The latest show-off in my garden is Glory of the Snow, also known as Chionodoxa, a member of the hyacinth family that’s native to the Mediterranean—Turkey, Cyprus, Crete. They’re one of those small bulbs you tend to forget about from year to year until you realize how pretty they are when they reappear. I have no idea when I first planted Chionodoxa, but they show up for me faithfully, year after year after year. They’re tiny, only a few inches tall. Mine are bluey-purple, with little orange centers. They stay in neat clumps, and the flowers look like small, bright stars. I think come fall, I’m going to try to remember these and order more. John Scheepers has an all-white variety, Chionodoxa gigantea alba, that’s simply gorgeous.

Oh, and the best thing about Chionodoxa? Like so many of the early, smaller bulbs, they’re dirt-cheap. Last fall, Scheepers offered 50 bulbs of either Chionodoxa forbesii, a rich blue, for $7. Because these bulbs naturalize, they’re a cheap investment in future beauty.

Photo by N.P. Holmes licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Baby French flags

The iris reticulata are blooming! They’re some of my early-spring favorites (though the truth is, I get awfully excited over anything that blooms this time of year). I had a handful of them showing in the front garden yesterday. They’re only about five inches tall, but the flowers aren’t that much smaller than those on the more familiar taller irises, the fleur-de-lis the French have entwined so intimately with the monarchy. (It also appears in the coats of arms of the monarchs of Luxembourg and Spain). Though “fleur-de-lis” literally means “lily flower,” the symbol’s believed to represent the species Iris pseudacorus, shown above, which is also known as yellow flag. Hey, isn’t that cool, the way it goes around and around, symbol-flag-symbol-flag?  Here’s a very cool website showing the different coats of arms for various members of England’s queen and her family, including the soon-to-be-wed Prince William.

The three petals of the fleur-de-lis have been connected with the Trinity, and the symbol with the conversion of King Clovis of France to Christianity in 493–the first French king to convert.

Iris pseudacorus grow wild in Europe and can actually become invasive around water. It’s a plant I’d very much like to be invaded by. And given England’s and France’s long history of mutual invasion and reinvasion, the iris seems the perfect symbol for both!

Photo by Stahlkocher licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Purple and gold

It’s been gray, as my daughter’s been complaining, for weeks now. Yesterday was promised at 55 degrees and sunny; it turned out windswept and bleak. But! And it’s a big one. It did bring the first flowers of the year to my garden–a handful of purple species crocuses in the front bed. They looked befittingly frail and pale, but oh, so pretty: Crocus tommasinianus ‘Lilac Beauty,’ with bright orange stamens held high. They’re supposed to be good at naturalizing; we shall see. Some of these small bulbs I have good luck with, and they hang on for decades; others are never seen again.

It was also the first day the branches of forsythia I cut while I was cleaning up the garden last weekend actually showed some signs of life. And they actually look pretty, even though I’m not a big forsythia fan (so common!), the long, arching branches curling out of a tall vase. So—purple and gold make the first showings of the season. Here’s to much more color to come!

Photo by Irish Rover Two.

I spotted them, I bought them

So I stopped by Home Depot yesterday to buy some caulk so I could recaulk the tub in the bathroom. I was actually re-recaulking the bathtub, because I just recaulked it, but somebody keeps sticking his big feet in one of the corners and mucking up the caulk, and it ain’t me. I found the caulk and picked out a tube (there sure are a lot of different kinds of caulk), and made my way toward the exit … and was stopped by a huge display of bulbs and seeds.

Now, it is true that my mail-order seeds just arrived last weekend, and I haven’t even got them in the ground yet. (Tomorrow!) But that didn’t stop me from picking out just a few lil’ packets of seeds. I got some sunflowers, and some linum, and some stocks (yeah, I know; good luck with that), which I thought was fairly restrained. But then I went and spent the big bucks on a dozen caladium ‘Little Miss Muffet’ (so cute and spotty!) and a half-dozen ‘Muscadet’ Oriental lilies (also freckly!). I guess I was just in the mood for spots. The ‘Muscadet’ bulbs already have an inch or so of growth on them—gotta get them in the ground! It’s always been my theory that it’s impossible to have too many Oriental lilies. This year, I’m not going to plant them in the side yard, where the very cute little boys next door chopped off all my lilies’ heads last year!

Photo by Thorkild Poulsen licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic license.

Alata nicotiana–for free!

I love free stuff SO MUCH! The only time I don’t love free stuff is when it’s free stuff I neither want nor need. That happens to be the case most times when seed companies toss in that notorious “Free Pack of Seed” with your order. In my experience, this usually turns out to be a packet of beets (nothing wrong with beets, but I eat about one every five years, so why would I grow them?) or alyssum (whoo-hoo, big spender there, Mr. Seed Company) or some weird tomato hybrid that will grow full-size fruits on a six-inch plant, or something like that.

Still. Freedom is a beautiful thing. So when I saw that the company I was ordering from this year, Select Seed, was throwing in a freebie packet, I dared to hope. And when my order arrived over the weekend–with breathtaking promptness, I might add–I was thrilled to pieces to discover that my free seed packet was of Nicotiana alata, or jasmine flowering tobacco.

I love me some nicotiana. They’re not high-impact plants; they’re sort of rangy, but gracefully so. There’s more foliage than flower. But I love the wand-like stems and the way the long, slim trumpets seem to dance on the summer breeze. And at night, I love the sweet, haunting scent of the blossoms.

I usually can’t resist buying at least one six-pack of nicotiana plants each summer. Trouble is, the ones that are available tend to be hybrids: shorter, less graceful, with a higher ratio of flower to foliage, but scentless—and scentless is senseless when it comes to these plants, if you ask me. I used to start alata seeds indoors, but I gave that up when I stopped indoor sowing, years and years ago (too much trouble and mess when I had little kids). I never had all that much luck with them anyway. This year, I’m just gonna sprinkle my free seed around. If nothing comes of it, it will have cost me nothing anyway!

Photo by Carl E. Lewis licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

Sticks and stones

Will break my back. Ooph, what a day in the garden! It was at least partly sunny and 60 degrees out, so I decided to finally get around to cleaning out all the detritus I leave in my beds over the winter so the birds can have a little shelter. It was also my day to trim shrubs–the forsythia (brought the branches I cut inside, of course, to force them), a couple of straggling roses (not the right time of year, but they never seem to suffer for it), a lilac that got beat up when we had our porch rebuilt, and so on and so on. I can’t decide what the worst part of this is–clipping off 1,000,000 old dead chrysanthemum stalks (I swear you could make steel out of chrysanthemum stalks), or trying to yank out 120 miles of browned vinca vine (I swear you could use vinca vine as rope for mountain-climbing). It’s all a reminder of how when people only had plant material to make ropes and stuff out of, they did just fine.

Now the sun’s getting low in the sky, and I took a breather before going back out to bind all that stuff up with twine so the trash department will take it when they have their semi-annual “pick up yard waste” days. That means a trip beforehand to borough hall to get the proper decompostable bags, too. They don’t make it simple! But even though it’s hard work and a lot of trouble, my heart’s pretty darn merry, because SO MUCH STUFF is starting to poke up through the ground. I think it was a good winter for bulbs! I’ve got thousands of baby larkspurs out there! And the sweet rocket and cornflower plants look as though they’re going to green right out from last autumn. I guess they liked being buried under all that snow. 🙂

Photo by Roberta F. licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

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