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E-Garden Almanac: May 2009

E-Garden Almanac

The E-Garden Almanac is the push-button, real human journal of Kelly D. Norris. All errors, grammatic grievances, and opinions are that of the author. Kelly is a freelance writer and Master Gardener from southwest Iowa. His passion and obsession with horticulture, plants, and gardening embodies nearly every function of his life. The E-Garden Almanac serves as the web extension of his columns, articles, and lectures.
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Friday, May 29, 2009

Catching up: plant profiles, irises, etc.

So I'm playing catch up tonight. As I've noted countless times in the history of this blog, the gardening season fills me with all sorts of ideas to write about. I just lack the time (and the ambition some nights) to set fingers to keys and share them. I'll give you my best this summer, simply because too many things warrant sharing. The garden is insistent!

I've got several plants that you should hear about in the next few weeks (remember my Ozarks trip soon too!) All are rock star performers for the Midwest and qualify as "zone-worthy" by any account. In fact so much so that I've talked Iowa Gardening into letting me yammer on about them in print starting next year in a new column called.....ZoneWorthy! A trial run appeared in the Spring 2009 issue. But with only four issues a year, I'd need about 16 lifetimes to scratch the surface on the cool stuff worth talking about. So that's where the blog comes in! ;)

Irises. While feeling the gladness of May each year, I'm totally immersed in irises. Check out Rainbow Iris Farm if you haven't already. Also watch for me on Twitter (absolute, up-to-the-minute notices from the farm, garden, and my frazzled mind on most days of the week). But even if you don't tweet or follow twitter, you can check out Rainbow Iris Farm's Twitpic feed 24-7 at this link. It's a fast, free, and easily accessed way to check out photos of what's in bloom at the farm and in the garden. I'll post pics throughout the season, even after the irises have long stopped. It'll be like a roll call of fun plants in the garden all summer!

And last but not least....tell your friends about the E-Garden Almanac! I enjoy hearing from readers (either in person or via email) though I still feel slightly embarrassed considering the array of "raw and unedited" material that fills these pages. But let's just consider this little forum a chat between gardeners (one sane=you and one a little overzealous=me).

Weeding is Therapy

Despite the grudge I hold against vicious weeds like dandelions and white clover, I don't mind the occasional therapy borne of happily plucking off their tops and tossing them to the wind.

Mind you it's a chore and often one I don't have time for in the first place. But the older I've gotten, the more I've come to respect the wisdom of weeding as a sort of humble activity that thoughtful minds take up as an occupation of time. When I weed, I think. I think about the plants that surround me, like the spiderworts which have happily colonized a corner of the rock garden. As I untangle chickweed from my pink-flowering prickly pear (Opuntia polyacantha), I dream of what its blossoms will look like in maiden glory in my garden in just a few weeks. As I move on down the limestone wall near a raucous mound of catchflies (Silene), I think beyond the summer through the fall and into next spring, planning for a garden I don't even know yet. Gardens (weeds and all) are immutable life forms, growing and blooming with a rhythm of the season. The perception of that rhythm qualifies any of us to tend earthly space.

So despite the bucket of fluffy dandelions seed heads and three- and four-parted clover leaves sitting in the yard, my time spent weeding equates to much needed mental therapy, that escape that only happens amid flowers and bees. And when I need a little thinking time again, I'm sure a few weeds will be waiting for me.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Shooting Stars: Not the Galactic Kind

I never was big on watching the skies as a kid. Sure I stayed up and froze my butt off one December morning around 4:00 AM as I watched the Leonids trek across the sky (actually burning up in the atmosphere on their wayward traverse of the universe), but that was for extra credit.

But I've always been fascinated with shooting stars, just not the galactic kind. Members of the Primulaceae, the primrose family, the 14 species of the genus Dodecatheon qualify as some of the coolest damn plants alive. Seriously, who can beat petite, pendulous, pointy flowers with colorfully vibrant and reflexed petals? Plus they aren't so small that you need a magnifying glass.

I'm up to six or seven species with a few cultivars thrown in the mix for fun. They're perfect (absolutely perfect) companions for miniature dwarf and standard dwarf bearded irises. They bloom together and light up that garden with an ephemeral energy not possessed by anything else in the rock garden. The cultivar pictured above is a hybrid of unknown origins called 'Aphrodite'. Discovered in the Netherlands in 1990, its flowers are larger than most clones of any of the species in the trade. Let's put it this way--hybrid shooting stars don't happen every day!

Even with so few species in the genus, most haven't been grown in gardens or evaluated horticulturally. Names like D. frigidum (Latin for "damn cold" referring to its native home of Alaska and Siberia) and D. conjugans (Latin for....let's not even go there) top my list, though in southwest Iowa I doubt I can keep them all happy. All plants won't do well in all places, you know. But just because I can't grow all the shooting stars doesn't mean I'll stop reaching for them.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

News from the Garden: the loosestrife wars

It seems like I blog less when it's gardening season, ironic (or maybe not) for a gardening blog. But boy do I have news to share today. The garden is thoroughly alive and in a place or two, at war. Yes, that's right--at war.

I suppose the loosestrife wars began long before I ever had the notion to start amassing my favorite Lysimachia. I know what some of you are thinking, "oh that silly boy, he's gone and planted those weedy loosestrifes and now they run amuck." Au contraire! In fact the loosestrife are on my side.

The loosestrife wars began with the installation of Saponaria officinalis, the common bouncing bet found naturalized in road ditches from Bedford to Philadelphia. It was purely innocent. A young, bright-eyed gardener took pity on the semi-double pink blossoms that attracted sphinx moths and hummingbirds and lifted them from their rocky homes along the road. Up to the garden he came, toting a shovel full to plant inside the cement square frame of a long-gone outhouse in the backyard. That was 1997.

Since that idiotic lapse of conscience and morality, the cement square has fallen apart, another bed built around it, and the bouncing bet happily overrunning everything in sight. It forms a mat of perilous darkness over the ground, snuffing out weed seeds and anything else keen to germinate in its midst. Why I didn't completely remove it when I constructed that new bed, I'll never know. It's royal looking in mid-July, don't get me wrong. Butterflies, sphinx moths, bees, and hummingbirds adore me. Then it goes to seed--jet black beds spurned from hell itself.

So rather than continue the futile resistance, I elicited the help of my friends in the genus Lysimachia. Calling on their fortune, I planted the following: L. atropurpurea 'Beaujolais' and L. ciliata 'Firecracker'. One of each and neither far from the edge of the soapwort. They'll establish, sleep a bit, creep more, and then leap with fervor into the soapwort's domain (at least I hope). Let the battle begin. This is what you call a duel to the death.

What will I do with the situation should the loosestrife conquer? Move onto the less than obedient plants, Physostegia virginiana.