While so many flowers are finishing their bloom and leaving their drying foliage behind, naked lady, Amaryllis belladonna, is just beginning to bloom, naked of any foliage. Clusters of a few to several bright pink flowers stand on bare stems about two feet tall. Individual flowers are about two and a half to three and a half inches long, and resemble lily flowers. Foliage only appears after flowers deteriorate, and lasts only until weather gets warm late in spring. The strap shaped leaves are about a foot to a foot and a half long. Through summer, the two or three inch wide bulbs are dormant and bare, and seem to be dead with their tops visible at the soil surface, but retain fleshy roots below. They should therefore only be dug and divided if they get too crowded or need to be moved.
Gladiolus papilio was the topic of my Six on Saturday post for the tenth of November in 2018, when the author of Tangly Cottage Gardening Journal sent me bulbs from one of her landscapes. Embarrassingly, that was almost three years ago. They were properly installed into a landscape here, and grew well for their first season. However, they needed to be relocated as their bed got renovated. They had been in no mood to bloom during recovery. Then, while I was away, a colleague staked a single unfamiliar bloom.
1. Here it is! This is the first bloom of the RAD Gladiolus papilio since it was planted here almost three years ago! I know it looks silly staked like this, but it would not stand upright otherwise.
2. Bloom is exemplary. Well, I believe that it is. I am unfamiliar with this species, so studied it and pictures of it online. It would have been nice to get a picture before the first floret shriveled.
3. The exteriors of the florets seems to be almost light gray blushed with pale purple. Upon closer inspection, they seem to be pale purple with pale white. I am certainly not an expert on color.
4. The interiors exhibit a slightly more distinct pattern with the same colors, as well as a pair of yellow blotches in front where pollinators can see them. I do not know who the pollinators are.
5. A few bulbs got canned so that they can eventually get planted directly into my garden, without getting dug from where the rest of them live. They were staked like this only for this picture.
6. Rhody does not understand what all this fuss is about. He would be more interested to read about the many other dogs, kitties and, of course, Skooter of Tangly Cottage Gardening Journal.
This is the link for Six on Saturday, for anyone else who would like to participate:
‘Perennial’ is a simple adjective that describes something that last for more than a single year. Horticulturally, it is not this simple. After all, every plant that is not an ‘annual’, which completes its entire life cycle within only one year, is technically a ‘perennial’. Those that develop lignified (woody) parts instead conform to such categories as tree, shrub or vine.
Even these categories are not as simple as they seem to be. Palms are trees, but without woody stems. Technically, they are merely very large perennials. Some consider them to be ‘herbaceous trees’. Yucca trees conform to the same category; while terrestrial yuccas are usual perennials. Sweet peas are annual vines. Perennial peas are perennial vines.
Many annual bedding plants, such as begonia, chrysanthemum, primrose, cyclamen and even busy Lizzie, are technically perennial. They could survive for a few or several years if they get such a chance. All ferns, including tree ferns, are perennials. So are bamboos, ornamental grasses, and many succulents. ‘Biennials’ are perennials that live two years.
Many of the most popular perennial plants have an indefinite life span. It is impossible to know how long they can survive. They are constantly replacing themselves with new but genetically identical parts. For example, bearded iris migrate and propagate by rhizomes that could have been propagating for centuries. New plants are identical to their original.
However, many perennial plants with potential to propagate indefinitely might eventually get shabby. New Zealand flax, after many years, may slowly migrate outward from where it started growing, leaving a bald spot in the middle. Outer shoots relocate easily to patch such bald spots, or unite as a fresh clump. Crowded lily of the Nile benefit from thinning.
Bulbs and bulb like plants are generally perennial, even if unreliable as such in the mild local climate. (Many bulbs and bulb like plants prefer more chill through winter than they get here.) Most of these sorts of perennials are dormant for part of the year, so die back to the ground. Hostas are bare through winter. Florists’ cyclamen are bare through summer.
The fact that peonies do not perform well in such mild climates does not dissuade some of us from growing them. After all, they can sometimes be found in local nurseries and even farmers’ markets as if they belong here. Tubers of more of the countless varieties can be purchased online or from mail order catalogs while dormant in autumn. Unfortunately, without much winter chill, few peonies perform as they should.
Peonies can be white or various shades of pink or red, with considerable variation of flower structure. Tree peonies that bloom yellow are the most likely to be wimpy without winter chill. All peonies are good cut flowers. After spring bloom, the distinctively coarse and rich green foliage stays until autumn dormancy. The more popular herbaceous peonies should not get more than three feet tall and broad. Tree peonies do not actually grow into trees, but develop woody stems that can hold flowers nearly six feet high. Larger flowers may need support.
Because plants get established so slowly, they should not be moved or disturbed. Small new plants can be divided from larger plants while dormant, but take a few years to actually bloom. Peonies like rich soil and regular watering, where they do not get crowded or shaded by other plants.
Wildflowers have been quite a fad. Relative to most fads, they are not so impractical. For some situations, they are a good excuse to waste less effort and resources on unrefined parts of the garden. Of course, they all require some degree of effort and resources. Most are neither as wild nor as natural as their marketing suggests them to be. Few are native.
Wildflowers that lived here centuries ago, prior to the introduction of exotic species, were relatively unimpressive. Although some bloomed spectacularly, they did so within a brief season. Winter is too cool for pollinators that wildflowers intend to attract. Summer is too dry for bloom to last long. Most bloom was limited to the transition from winter into spring.
The same native wildflowers bloom even less now than they did centuries ago because of competition with exotic species. Most exotic species that compete with wildflowers are feral forage crops that lack colorful bloom. They grow so vigorously that they obscure the natives. Mitigation of such undesirable vegetation ruins wildflowers that mature within it.
Most of the best wildflowers here now are as exotic as feral forage crops. Those that are native might be more reliant on unnatural cultivation. California poppy, evening primrose, and native annual lupines might prolong bloom with a bit of extra water through summer, but need weeding. With the same watering, (non-native) cosmos stands up to the weeds.
Unfortunately, vegetation management is more important than wildflowers outside of the refined garden. Overgrown weeds are combustible and can be dangerous to pets. Weed whacking too often involves wildflowers before they get their chance to bloom, as well as foliage of spring bulbs after bloom. (It sometimes damages bark of trees and shrubs too.)
Some low and dense perennial wildflowers are more reliable than annual sorts because they exclude annual weeds. Saint John’s wort and periwinkle are invasive exotic plants, but work well as ground covers. Mowing or shearing them late in winter slows their competing weeds, and also enhances their foliar density before competing weeds regenerate.
When there is not an app for that, there is probably a bearded iris that will work just fine. Really, there is just about every shade of yellow, blue, purple, orange, pink and almost-red imaginable, ranging from wildly bright to subdued pastel. There are actually several shades of white, and a few rare flavors of dark purplish black.
It seems that the most popular of the bearded iris bloom with two or more colors. The standards may be very different from the falls. Any part of the flower may be striped, spotted, blotched or bordered with another color. Flowers may be relatively simple or garishly ruffled. Many are fragrant.
Bearded Iris bloom between March and May. Some of the modern varieties bloom again in autumn. Flower stems can be as short as a few inches, or as tall as four feet, with only a few to several flowers. The rubbery and somewhat bluish leaves form flat fans that look neater if groomed of deteriorating older leaves. Each fan dies back after bloom, but is efficiently replaced by about two more new fans. Colonies of fans should be divided over summer every few years, or as they get too crowded to bloom well. Bearded iris likes well drained soil and at least six hours of direct sun exposure daily.
Iris got its name from the Greek word for rainbow, because all the colors are included. There are thousands of varieties of bearded iris alone, to display every color except only true red, true black, and perhaps true green. (However, some are convincingly red, black or green.) Then there are as many as three hundred other specie of iris to provide whatever colors that bearded iris lack.
Bearded iris are still the most popular for home gardening because they are so reliably and impressively colorful, and because they are so easy to grow and propagate by division of their spreading rhizomes. Siberian, Japanese and xiphium iris are less common types that spread slower with similar rhizomes. Japanese iris wants quite a bit of water, and is sometimes grown in garden ponds. The others, like most other rhizomatous iris, do not need much water once established. Dutch iris grows from bulbs that do not multiply, and may not even bloom after the first year.
Iris flowers are so distinctive because of their unique symmetry of six paired and fused ‘halves’ that form a triad of ‘falls’ and ‘standards’. The ‘falls’ are the parts that hang downward. The ‘standards’ that stand upright above are the true flower petals. As if the range of colors were not enough, the falls and standards are very often colored very differently from each other, and adorned with stripes, margins, spots or blotches. Many specie have fragrant flowers. Each flower stalk supports multiple flowers. Some carry quite a few flowers!
Some types of iris are so resilient to neglect that they naturalize and grow wild in abandoned gardens. Bearded iris are more appealing and bloom better with somewhat regular watering, but can survive with only very minimal watering once established. Some iris multiply so freely that they get divided after bloom, and shared with any of the neighbors who will take them. Newly divided rhizomes should be planted laying flat, with the upper surfaces at the surface of the soil.
Are they reliably perennial or invasive? In ideal situations, old fashioned grape hyacinth, Muscari armeniacum, can get a bit too eager to proliferate and migrate. Not only do their bulbs divide efficiently, but their seed disperse beyond bulb colonies. However, bulbs do not migrate too rapidly for containment. Thorough deadheading inhibits seed dispersion.
Grape hyacinth provides some of the earliest spring bloom. Floral spikes of tiny rounded flowers do not get much more than six inches tall, but are delightfully abundant. The rich blue color is exquisite. Hybrids and other species can bloom with pale pink, pale purple, white, yellow, or various shades or tints of blue. The grassy foliage is somewhat rubbery.
If they do not migrate efficiently enough, established colonies of grape hyacinth are easy to divide in autumn. Of course, it will be necessary to mark their locations as their foliage dies back at the end of spring. Division is easier and faster than growing new plants from seed. If hybrids produce seed at all, it may not be viable. If it is, it may not be true to type.
Now that the various spring bulbs have finished blooming, or will soon, many will benefit from deadheading. The techniques are simple, and actually benefit many plants besides spring bulbs. In the most basic terms, deadheading is merely the removal of deteriorating flowers after bloom. Ideally, it should happen prior to the development of seed structures.
A most obvious advantage of deadheading is that it eliminates unappealing carcasses of finished flowers. This neatens the appearance of remaining foliage. The foliage of some spring bulbs shrivels soon after bloom, but remains intact through the process, to sustain development of new bulbs. It is easier to ignore without prominently shabby floral stalks.
Deadheading also conserves and redirects resources that would otherwise sustain seed production. Such resources can instead promote vegetative growth, including production of new bulbs to replace the old. Furthermore, depriving bulbs of seed provides an added incentive for vegetative regeneration. If unable to survive by one means, they try another.
Some bulbs are more reliant on deadheading than others. Grape hyacinth and snowdrop are too profuse with bloom for minor seed production to inhibit their performance. In fact, they produce viable and genetically stable seed, which could be an advantage if more of the same are desirable. Although seed production is limited, seed disperses extensively.
Dutch crocus are an example of sterile hybrids that are unable to produce viable seed, or waste associated resources on such efforts. Other extensively bred bulbs that are not so sterile may not be true to type. Consequently, their progeny are likely to be very different. Freesia do not require deadheading, but can produce feral seedlings with insipid bloom.
Lily, narcissus, daffodil, tulip and hyacinth are some of the popular spring bulbs that now are ready for deadheading. Summer bulbs and perennials will get their turn later. Canna, dahlia and perennials that continue to bloom through summer will be tidier, and perhaps bloom more abundantly with efficient deadheading. They need not wait until next year to express their gratitude.
Some of us here on the West Coast know it incorrectly as ‘snowdrop’. That is actually the common name of the many cultivars of Galanthus that are so very popular in other regions. ‘Snowflake’ is the correct common name for Leucojum aestivum. Of course, most of us accept either name. The real snowdrop is not so popular here anyway. It blooms better with more chill than it gets locally.
Snowflake does not seem to need much chill at all. It performs so reliably here that it can slowly spread. A few may even self sow in damp situations. Leucojum vernum is another snowflake, with single or paired flowers instead of three or more on each arching stem. Leucojum vernum blooms before Leucojum aestivum. Both are supposed to bloom later in spring, but are in bloom now.
The somewhat rubbery foliage of snowflake resembles that of daffodil, but is a bit darker green. Individual leaves are about a foot tall and an inch wide, and stand rather vertically. Floral stems do not get much higher, but lean slightly outward with the weight of bloom. Their individual flowers are quite small and pendulous, with single yellowish or green dots near the tips of each of six tepals.