First dates: Anchusa

 Third in the series “First Dates: Plants I’m Trying This Year.”

When I saw the rich blue flowers of Anchusa ‘Dawn Mix’ featured in the catalogue, I knew I would soon be parted from my buck and a quarter.

Anchusa 'Dawn Mix' blue flower

Anchusa photo courtesy of Pinetree Garden Seeds, http://www.superseeds.com.

Seed catalogue writers and designers know what they are doing. What gardener can resist any blue flowers, let alone those so sumptuously saturated? I am assured of having some pink and white flowers as well (the ‘mix’ part), but it’s the blue flowers that sell me.

Anchusa, or bugloss, is a borage relative native to Europe, West Asia, and Africa. The variety I am growing is perennial, although there are annual and biennial types as well. They grow 4-5 feet tall and are frankly a bit rangy, but like the awkward kid in the elementary school class picture, they can be stuck at the back of the border to peek over the heads of their shorter, more picturesque classmates.

These plants, like their borage relatives, are said to be attractive to bees (they like the blue color), and are a food source for butterfly larva (another good reason to stash them at the back of the border, where any chewed leaves will be less noticeable). Anchusas like it hot and dry, conditions that I can provide in summer, although there is some question as to how well they’ll cope with summer humidity.

As often happens when I research a plant’s site requirements, it seems I can find few definitive answers to my questions. With Anchusa, it appears that some strains of the plant ask very little of the gardener by way of environmental accommodation: Any place with a bit of sun will do. Others seem persnickety, wanting silty, free-draining soil but constant moisture. Some reseed politely, some can only be propagated by cuttings.

It seems like a typical first date: I’m not quite sure what to expect. It probably won’t be anything like what I imagine. It may be better, or it may be worse. I’m willing to give it a little grace, however. All good long-term relationships must begin at the beginning.

 

More of a good thing: Propagating trilliums and other rhizomatous plants

My favorite time of the gardening year is when my trilliums come into bloom.

Trillium luteum

Trillium luteum

These plants, native (in the case of Trillium luteum) to North Carolina, grow in deciduous forests. Slow-growing and typically reproduced by tissue culture, they command hefty prices at nurseries and garden centers, in the range of $15-20 for a quart pot containing one plant. Please don’t use this as an excuse to harvest them from their native habitat; that’s strictly taboo.

I have been waiting patiently for perhaps eight years for these plants to multiply. This year, I think the oldest of my three plants may send up a second bloom. Growing trilliums is a bit like watching children mature, I suppose; the gardener must exercise a great deal of patience as the subject slowly and rather invisibly matures, showing exciting glimpses in brief bursts of what lovely and graceful specimens they will become.

Well, my patience is not where it ought to be. You can imagine my excitement, then, when I read in Nancy Goodwin’s delightful book, Montrose: Life in a Garden, about how she increased her stand of Trillium catesbaei by pricking the rhizomes with a pin to stimulate new growth.  She describes a ninefold increase in her plants in one year using this technique.

I contacted Nancy to ask about the process and she assured me it was extremely simple. Uncover the rhizome (easiest to do now, when the flower is visible), and prick it with a pin beneath the growing point, found at the end of the rhizome. The injury stimulates the plant to produce additional tubers, she writes. Perhaps while the plant photosynthesizes, it pumps more energy into additional tuber/rhizome (I will grasp this one day) formation, yielding a greater increase than would occur if, say, the gardener tried this technique during the plant’s dormancy.

Yesterday I gave it a try. I dug gently down with my fingers, not wanting to risk severing the rhizome with a vigorous plunge of a trowel (perhaps an irrational thought, given what I was about to do). I found the growing point, or what I think is the growing point, and, not having a pin to hand, gave it a timid poke with the tip of a pair of scissors. I made an incision only detectible by the droplet of white fluid that emerged from the rhizome. I filled the hole back up and firmed it well. I tried the technique on two of the three plants, so if I’ve erred in my execution, next year I can be assured of having at least one plant surviving (the one that’s sending up two flowers this year).

Feeling a bit bold, I tried it on the single specimen I have of Trillium sessile as well.

Trillium sessile (red)

Trillium sessile, dusted with pollen

Next year, we’ll see what emerges. You may want to give this technique a try in your own gardens. If you do, please let me know your results.

Garden log, 4.14.14

After four or five days near 80 degrees (26C), everything in the garden has exploded. The daffodils, which like a long, cool spring, expired in the pseudosummer of last week. Pollen rains down constantly and blows in great clouds, like photos from the Dust Bowl, except yellowish green. The weather report calls for lots of rain tomorrow, and perhaps a freeze tomorrow night. I must dig out the plastic sheeting to protect the tomatoes I spent last week planting.

But iris season is coming. My first blossom of ‘Eco Easter’ appeared today. Flora Weather, I hope yours are just as pretty! Enjoy them.

Iris 'Eco Easter'

First dates: Gilia tricolor

Second in the series “First Dates: Plants I’m Trying This Year”

Gilia tricolor is an annual plant native to central California. Bees (and I) love the small, open-faced flowers.

Gilia tricolor

Gilia tricolor. Photo courtesy of Annie’s Annuals.

I have read that they like moist soil, and I have read that they like dry soil. I’ve read they like hot conditions, and that they prefer cool summers. At $2.25 per seed pack, I figured I could experiment and see who’s correct. It’s entirely possible that they all are.

The cultivar I am growing, ‘Felicitas,’ offers half-inch pale pinkish-purple blossoms brushed with darker red-violet tones in the throat of the blossom, and a sharp yellow color in the cup. The anthers hold faint blue pollen above the blossom, which makes for a charming, offbeat color contrast (should it be called Gilia quadricolor?). The plant self-sows where it is happy. This, like the Mina lobata profiled yesterday and several of the other plants I’ll showcase later this week, are open-pollinated annuals. That means that while they’ll live their life cycle in one year (growing, flowering, setting seed, and dying), their offspring will perform the same show the following year. Thus, although the plants themselves are not the same, the result in the garden is much like that of having perennials (those plants which do come back year after year).

‘Felicitas,’ seems to be on the smaller side, growing 12 inches tall and wide, whereas others grow slightly larger, 18-20 inches tall and perhaps 12-18 inches wide. The flowers apparently smell faintly of chocolate, and what they lack in size they make up for in abundance. The leaves are fine and needle-like. A member of the Phlox family (Polemoniaceae), they can be found in Yosemite National Park.

Gilia tricolor 'Felicitas'

Gilia tricolor ‘Felicitas.’ Photo courtesy of Select Seeds.

They are supposed to make fine cut flowers.

I hope to grow these in the blue slope, a patch of west-facing land close to the radiant heat of the street. The plants that live out there need to be tough, and these seem to fit the qualifications.