Two Times the Tiger (Lily)!

You know how you see a photo of something in a plant catalog, and it calls out to you, and you resist because you know all those photos are doctored and photoshopped and that there’s just no way in hell what comes in the mail is going to wind up looking like the picture did, and you’ll just be disappointed and kick yourself for your naivete?

Um. Not always. I am here to say.

Last autumn, I saw a photo of a double tiger lily in a fall bulb catalog and laughed in delight. How incredibly cute! And pretty! And unlikely! I wasn’t a particular fan of tiger lilies, though I grow a lot of Asian and Oriental lilies. But these lovely, frilly, freckly orange lilies were so adorable that I went ahead and ordered three of them. They didn’t arrive in the fall, though. I’m not sure I even noticed, in my usual rush to get all the tulips and daffodils I’d ordered planted in places where there weren’t already tulips and daffodils lurking underground. Perhaps I just noticed their absence in the order and sniffed and said, “Hah! I knew that was too good to be true!”

But this spring, a small box arrived in the mail. Inside were my three double tiger lily bulbs. They did not look prepossessing. I planted them. Again, I forgot all about them. I even forgot when I planted them. And when three tall, very skinny lily stalks showed up a month or so ago, I wondered what they were.

THIS is what they were. Double tiger lilies. Aren’t they fantastic? Now I’m hoping the awful heat doesn’t blow them out of the water too soon. But even if it does, I’ll have this photo to remind me that sometimes, what comes in the mail is even better than advertised!


New Pop-Up Garden at 19th and Walnut!

I passed by the scene of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society’s newest “pop-up garden” today on my lunch break. It’s occupying a large vacant lot quite near Rittenhouse Square. I snapped a photo of the HUGE pile of empty pots the volunteer planters had accumulated. Here’s hoping all the tender new plants survive the coming onslaught of 100-plus degree days!

In case you’re curious, I saw a lot of orange coreopsis, mostly. The garden is being sponsored by the Chipotle restaurant chain, and later there will be a large communal table and many-colored chairs. Like last year’s pop-up garden at 20th and Market–conveniently, right beneath our office windows!–it will utilize elements leftover and/or salvaged from the Flower Show.

I love, love, love these large-scale outdoor gardening projects. They make people think about the role of plants, they enliven the city, they cool things off, and they’re such a fun place to stroll over lunch on a summer’s day.

Whoa. Just … whoa.

Spring sprang all of a sudden after that crazy winter. The usual calm, orderly procession of flowering trees, which spreads out over the course of weeks, even months, has been compressed to days. On Friday, the redbuds were flowering; on Saturday, I saw Bradford pears; on Sundays, the magnolias were out and about. It’s so deeply weird! My flowering bulbs are seeing the same sort of tightening. The snow crocuses didn’t even stick their heads out–only their foliage. (I missed them.) My iris reticulata lasted two days. The early tulips also seem to have just been completely blown out by a week of 70-degree-plus temperatures in May.

Every year for 30 years, I’ve planted early seeds the weekend after St. Patrick’s Day. This year, I moved the schedule up two weeks, and I’m still afraid nature won’t provide the cold snap my beloved poppies and sweet pea flowers and larkspur need. On the plus side, cornflowers that self-seeded are nearly six inches high already. But what about the roses that are rushed? What happens if we actually DO have a late cold snap?

Not that I think it’s likely. We’re about to settle into one more week of 70-plus. And while I can’t say it’s unwelcome—far be it from me to whine about the warm sun on my face!—I do wonder what additional havoc the weather will wreak on perennials–not to mention whether I should be putting my tomato plants in. Not that one can actually BUY tomato plants in March. Aw, come on, Mother Nature! You are totally messing with our heads this year!

New Year, New Growth


It’s Christmas Eve. Tomorrow, I’ll drive to Princeton to have Christmas dinner with my family. My sister Nancy will give me (us) an amaryllis for our Christmas gift. It will bloom, magnificently, sometime around April. (I keep our house COLD. All the other siblings, who also get amaryllises, say theirs bloom right away.) And then will come the conundrum–do I keep trying to keep this amaryllis going? Or do I just say–okay, I loved you this one time, but that’s enough?

I will keep growing the amaryllis, even though it will never again bloom so magnificently. So. I’m a sucker. Or an impossibly hopeful optimist.

Roses in the snow

Well, WE got walloped yesterday with snowfall. I’ve never in my life seen snow like that. I went out to scrape the car, and I felt snowballs pelting me in the back. I looked all around, but no one was in sight. Then–POW!–another snowball hit me! I realized the snow was actually FALLING in snowballs, great big clumps of it. It was uncanny. I had a bunch of errands to do, so off I went in the car. Every time I parked, when I came back out to the car I’d have to scrape another three inches of slush off of it.

I was so curious to see what would happen in the garden, not to mention to the houseplants I hadn’t quite gotten around to bringing inside yet. Out I went today, in the bright sunshine, and found … well, it’s a mixed bag. I’m pretty sure my gorgeous nicotiana are done for. What was great mounds of bushy tobacco-leaf foliage two days ago is all shriveled up now. Some zinnias are poking through the slush, and I have one peacock lily still standing tall and proud. I think the amaryllis I hadn’t brought in yet will be fine, along with the hibiscus I’d left on the front porch. And a jalapeño pepper plant that was drenched in snow yesterday is perky in its pot today. And look here! I went out to fill the birdfeeder, and the beautiful raspberry-scented ‘Madame Isaac Perriere’ rosebush is still blooming strong! I couldn’t quite reach the flowers over the mounds of snow, so I brushed the petals with my hand and inhaled that glorious scent.

Last garden ghosts

There’s a definite hint of fall in the air these days, though last night we were the warmest place in the entire nation, apparently. I went out and picked a few more dried hydrangea stems for arrangements before the frost, inevitably, hits. My gorgeous Nicotiana alata are still perfuming the sultry evenings, and the peacock orchids continue to bloom. I have a lot of sort of scraggly-looking Impatiens balsamina, mostly the fat, ready-to-pop buds along the stems, and the chrysanthemums are just starting to come into their own. Oh, I must remember to mention the toad lilies, which are blooming their pretty little heads off. But the summer flowers are just about over and done. These zinnias provide one last dash of sunshine, a memory of lazy summer days.

A coleus kaleidoscope!

I’ve never been that big a fan of coleus. I mean, I like flowers, not foliage. No matter how zany leaves are, they’re still just leaves. But for some reason, last spring I decided to plant a large planter on my back patio with four different kinds of coleus. And I have got to tell you, I’ve gotten more pleasure out of this planting than just about anything else I’ve ever done.

Those coleus took off! Something about the site and the container, maybe even the soil, just suited them perfectly. They got big and fluffy, they branched out, and they even all grew at sort of the same pace, filling out the planter and creating a garden focal point that really made me proud.

In past years, I’ve tried to grow flowers in this shady spot, but I’ve never had success like this with any varieties I planted. I’m afraid I’m a convert. From now on, it’s coleus or nothing for me!

And yes, I do realize I should either clean up before I take photos in the backyard or else learn how to crop photos. Probably easier to clean up, considering my technology aversion. Sorry about that!

Just in the nicotiana of time!

Remember how worried I was that my big, lush Nicotiana alata, also known as jasmine tobacco, wouldn’t get around to blooming before frost, since I hadn’t started them indoors the way the seed packet said to? Well, thank heaven for this stretch of extra-nice Indian summer, because these babies came through. They smell so wonderful at night! And they have much more substance than the smaller hybrid nicotianas (which I also love, by the way, even though it’s hard to understand why breeders allow fragrance to pass out of a plant like this). I am admiring them greatly and wondering what strange, monstrous moths and night insects they’re attracting while I’m safe asleep!

Stick a pin in it!

A guy at the place where I work got flowers sent to him recently. I love it when guys get flowers at work. It just makes me grin. Anyway, this was a tasteful little, contained bouquet of various stuff—allium, foamflowers, love-in-a-mist, pincushion flowers, a.k.a. scabiosa. This last one is one of those “okay” flowers for me. I don’t love it; I don’t hate it. I’ve never tried to grow it. But I think that next year, I will. Because this guy’s bouquet contained regular old pincushion flowers, and then, right beside them, it contained … well, how do I describe them? Pincushion flowers on steroids? Pincushion flowers gone postal? They were such wild-looking things that I took a picture. You can see what I mean in the flower on the lower left. The insides of the blossoms got all weirdly overgrown and mutated, kind of like floral cancer. (Not a pretty image, I know!) I found these singularly appropriate for a guy’s bouquet. There’s nothing run-of-the-mill “pretty” about them, but they sure are interesting!

Down to the Garden Wire

When I ordered flower seeds from a catalog last spring, the company, Select Seed (I tend to use a different one every year, just to keep the catalogs coming), threw in a free packet of Nicotiana alata, also known as jasmine tobacco. I love the sweet-smelling flowers of nicotiana, so I was pretty excited. I wasn’t, however, excited enough to start the seeds indoors, as the package advised. Instead, I tossed the nicotiana seeds in the ground when I did my first direct outdoor sowing of seeds, on St. Patrick’s Day. The other stuff I planted then—poppies, cornflowers, calendula, larkspur—duly grew, bloomed and withered. I forgot about the nicotiana, to tell the truth. By the time the dreadful heat of July gave way to the monsoon rains of August, I was pretty much done with gardening for the year.

The nicotiana, however, weren’t done with me.

I noticed them about a week ago, in the back of the bed. I went to college in North Carolina, so I know what tobacco looks like in the ground. And the big, strong monsters of plants coming up back there looked like Carolina’s best. There are flower stalks on them as well, growing up from the center. They look to be a few weeks away from blooming at the moment. The trouble is, jasmine tobacco isn’t hardy. Which means that if frost hits, I’ll never get to see my huge, gorgeous nicotiana plants bloom!

So it’s a race, out there in the garden bed. Oh, I know, when it’s as hot and muggy as it was today, and the Phils are still playing, it seems like summer. But autumn arrived last Friday, ready or not. (And I was not.) Which will get here first, I wonder—frost, or frosty white nicotiana flowers?

Incidentally, you can make cigarettes out of jasmine tobacco once you cure it, and there’s a ton of info on the Internet about how to cure the leaves after you pick them. Too bad I quit smoking. That would have made for a most interesting DIY!

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

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