Anemones: Not driving me crazy, for the moment.

I wrote in response to a prompt from the Grow Write Guild that anemones are a challenging plant for me. Well, thanks to an absurd amount of rainfall this spring and summer, I have finally coaxed one into bloom.

Anemone hupehensis 'Pamina' blossom

Anemone hupehensis var. japonica ‘Pamina’

The weather has turned cooler earlier than in most years, although we haven’t had rain in some time. The anemones looked a bit puny earlier in the day so I gave them a long drink, and they perked up neatly.

Anemone hupehensis 'Pamina' blossom

I mean to savor this plant while it blooms, but not let long-sought success go to my head. I am wondering if I should have the courage to try some other anemones, though? Maybe just one, for now?

Grow Write Guild #10: This Plant Is Driving Me Nuts

The Grow Write Guild’s prompt #10 is This Plant Is Driving Me Nuts.

Anemone hupehensis, Anemone hupehensis var. ja...

Anemone hupehensis, Anemone hupehensis var. japonica, and Anemone × hybrida (commonly known as the Chinese or Japanese anemone, thimbleweed, or windflower) are herbaceous perennials in the buttercup family. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I cannot seem to grow Japanese anemones (Anemone hupehensis var. japonica). These gorgeous plants typically top out at about 3′ tall,  showing lovely wide blooms in shades of white, pink, and lavender from August to October or so. At a time when asters and chrysanthemums dominate, anemones bring much-needed elegance to the fall garden.

Just not to mine.

Anemone hupehensis

Anemone hupehensis (Photo credit: Alexandre Dulaunoy)

Gardening literature alleges that Japanese anemones can colonize large areas and become “almost thuggish.” I wish. This article does acknowledge that they dislike disturbance, so transplanting them can be tricky. If I can find a local gardening friend who has them, perhaps I can try propagating them by root cuttings.

Gardening literature also instructs me to plant them in partial shade to full sun, in well-drained soil (what else is there?). I have plenty of partial shade and I would have thought I had dug in enough compost anywhere I tried to plant them, but my efforts are insufficient. They also apparently like regular moisture and cool soil. This year notwithstanding, the regular moisture, I am sure, is at the heart of my problem. I am habitually irregular in my watering: very good for a few weeks, then forgetting a bit, revisiting it once again, then leaving it while I go on vacation, hoping a little rain falls during the week of above-90 temperatures.

“Tough plants for partial shade!” “Easily grown in average soil!” One can always find Japanese anemone on plant lists with such headings. These reminders only serve to highlight my anemone-incompetence.

Anemone hupehensis 'Prince Henry'

Anemone hupehensis ‘Prince Henry’ (Photo credit: KingsbraeGarden)

This year, though, I may finally be in luck. I have planted Anemone hupehensis ‘Pamina,’ which I got at the Duke Gardens plant sale last fall. When I transplanted it, the root ball fell into perhaps a dozen small pieces, and I planted each of them that was of reasonable size. The others I overwintered in my winter sowing orgy, and transplanted this spring. Then it has rained, almost nonstop, since March.

Here they are the Anemones ‘Pamina’ today, offering such promises as I can hardly hope to believe. Look at all those buds. What method will they contrive to break my heart again?

Anemone hupehensis 'Pamina' in bud

Grow Write Guild #11: Grow Your Own

The Grow Write Guild’s current prompt is Your Edible Rewards.

The last thing I ate that came from my own garden was mint, which I prepared in a sauce for a delicious North African pork tenderloin recipe. My collection of edibles is meager; having a garden of large oaks means wonderful shade for our semi-tropical summers, but they do cut down on the prospective edible landscape. My edibles, except for some blueberries, reside in pots on the deck.

I am, however, planning to experiment next year by intermingling more food crops with the sun-hogging shrubs and perennials on the south side of my garden. Okra, I know, will do very well; I love a good grilled summer squash but fear that if I’m not careful about the selection the plant may overtake not only the shrubbery but my neighbor’s driveway as well:

exuberant mystery squash

This is a vining-type squash that has overrun the small community garden I oversee. I apologize for the poor-quality photo. I don’t know the variety–the seeds came in a seed-swap and were labeled “squash.” I am reminded to be less frugal with information whenever I share seeds with friends.

I also hope to expand my collection of container-grown veg by delving into the world of bush varieties: bush beans and tomatoes, peas (challenging with our volatile spring weather), compact peppers, and eggplant, and by researching and experimenting with more exotic vegetables from Africa or Asia that perform in hot, humid climates.

Every gardener faces challenges when growing her (or his) own food: if it’s not the infernal weather, it’s plagues of insects, varieties that don’t live up to their promises, pollinators that don’t show, or the wildlife that is so charming when it’s beyond the fence, but less so when it takes precisely one bite out of each tomato on the vine, which of course we were planning to harvest tomorrow. So for me, I try to find my rewards in the process of growing, of observing nature in its cycles, and if I have anything to snack on at the end of it all, then that’s cause for celebration in itself. So it’s a good thing that I have mint for the mojitos.

Grow Write Guild # 9

The prompt for Grow Write Guild #9 is to change the lyrics of a song to reflect your relationship with a particular plant or food crop.

With sincere apologies to Barbra, Neil, and songwriters Alan and Marilyn Bergman:

You Don’t Bring Me Flowers Anymore

You don’t bring me flowers  nearly dead rosemary bush

You don’t bring me fresh herbs.
You hardly look too green anymore.
Just a bare pile of gore
Just a mess of decay.
I remember when….

You used to be so shrubby
You used to have such green leaves rosemary first transplanted

Now after two long months in low light
It’s not good for you, babe.
You’ve clearly got mites.
Well, you just mold over
Like you’ve got a blight.
And you don’t bring me flowers anymore.

rosemary in flower

It used to be so natural.
I thought you’d grow forever.
But honeybees don’t come anymore.
They just fly past your lack of a floral display.

And baby, I remember
All the joy you brought me.
I learned how to cook Provençal roasts and pies.
Well, I learned how to prune you, though needles poked my eye.
So you’d think I could learn how to tell you goodbye.
‘Cause you don’t bring me flowers anymore.

Well, you’d think I could learn how to tell you goodbye.
You don’t flavor meat & three
You don’t bring the bees’ song
You don’t bring me flowers anymore.

Grow Write Guild #7: Write about a plant currently blooming

Write about one plant that is currently in bloom.

One of my favorite plants in the world is blooming now: the gardenia.

gardenia flowers

When I walk into my garden, I smell them before I see them. Their scent is rich, redolent, sweet, but not overbearing. It invites me to take long, deep breaths, savoring the smell as I grow calmer and more relaxed. The flowers do not smell anything like a gardenia candle from a home store, or a gardenia soap or hand lotion; I don’t know if it’s possible to authentically replicate the scent of the flowers in the garden without somehow destroying that unexpected lightness that makes the scent so alluring.

My gardenia hedge started out in 2005 as tiny things in 8-inch pots, as I recall. My sister, knowing of my keen interest in gardening and my keen lack of disposable cash given the young and expensive child in the house (didn’t those shoes fit last week?) and another on the way, told me: I have got a plant source for you. It’s a wholesale nursery, see, and they’re out in the absolute middle of nowhere. It’s two counties away. They don’t have a website and you can try calling them, but no one answers the phone and their answering machine is completely unhelpful. They won’t call you back. Nothing they have is labeled, so you’d better know what that plant you’re looking for looks like. But they’re cheap!

It should be taken as a sign of my desperation that this seemed to me to be a worthwhile, even promising, venture. I drove an hour out into the countryside using vague directions provided by a friend of my sister’s (it is seldom advisable to embark on a journey for which your directions instruct you to turn left at the big rock). As promised, none of the plants were labeled. There were no helpful staff. I bought six gardenias and spent a whopping $18.

beginning gardenia bed apr 05

I did, however, plant them in $100 holes (give or take $90). I had prepared a bed 10 feet wide and about 50 feet long. I tested the soil, amended it accordingly, dug in loads of leaf mold and homemade compost, all before I went shopping (this has never happened since). I planted the little shrubs about 8 feet on center, watered, and mulched generously.

They took off like beagles on the scent of a rabbit. I recall getting flowers the next year, the buds so heavy they bent their branches to the ground like the ball on Charlie Brown’s real wooden Christmas tree.

The hedge is now about 6 feet high, and even though the site is in deep shade for most of the afternoon (and light shade in the morning), the plants have filled in so that there are no gaps between them. They provide a beautiful, rich lime-green wall all year round. And every June (and again in August if I am lucky), I discover new blossoms each day. Their petals are like heavy silk satin; the blooms are the size of the palm of my hand. I cut fistfuls of them to bring inside; their perfume fills the house.

Grow Write Guild #5: What Does Your Garden Sound Like?

GWG Prompt 5: What Does Your Garden Sound Like?

If the time lapse between the initial assignment and its completion didn’t give it away, I confess I wasn’t excited by this prompt. I imagine that my garden sounds much like other suburban gardens: calls of various birds, squeaks of squirrels, perhaps a dull roar of distant traffic or airplanes passing somewhere overhead. Saturday morning sounds of mowers. The mow-blow-and-go guys in the Carrot Lady‘s neighborhood.

It is generally very quiet in my neighborhood. I’m probably two miles from a major interstate highway, but I seldom hear its traffic. In fact, I don’t often hear the traffic sounds from the closest major street. But every morning and every evening, my garden becomes noisy with the sounds of birds. And, I realized, I have no idea who’s talking.

This being the Internet age and all that, I assumed that I could find some reliable source to identify the bird sounds I hear. I turned to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology‘s terrific site, All About Birds.org. Their site contains information on 587 species of birds.

I hope it contains the one I hear in my memory.

Name That Bird.

Like the sense of smell, the sensation of hearing a familiar sound can recall deeply connected memories and feelings. There are two bird songs that to me are iconic of my time outdoors. The first is that of the bobwhite quail (Northern Bobwhite, Colinus virginianus), which I heard often on visits to my grandparents’ farm. I distinctly remember my grandfather telling me to listen to its’ call: “bob-WHITE….bob-WHITE”.

The other sound is one that I instantly associate with summer, probably because I heard it growing up when I played outside in the evenings. When I asked my parents what kind of bird made that noise, they said they thought it was some kind of owl. It is a haunting sound, instantly recognizable, and unlike any other bird I have ever heard.

Getting dragged more deeply into the website (it is getting very late), I try all the owl samples. Even ones not indigenous to my area. None of them sound anything like what I hear in my memory.

I want only to find out this owl song. If I find that, I can go to sleep.

[My cat is hunting in the living room, stalking prey she hears but cannot find. My son staggers groggily out of his bedroom, asking if he can shut his window (it is already) because Mom, the birds are SO LOUD. I turn down the sound on the computer.]

Sample after sample, nothing matches my memory. I begin to doubt that it was in fact an owl. This irritates me. I like the idea of its being an owl. I like owls.

I browse in the other bird families. It’s not a stork. It’s not in the sandpiper group. Could it be in the pigeons and doves group? I hope not. Pigeons, as my husband says, are nothing better than flying rats. I know what city pigeons sound like and my sound doesn’t sound like that. I skim the list: city pigeons (no)…White-winged dove (Is the Stevie Nicks song supposed to sound like that?). Not it. Mourning dove? I have often heard of those, in stories and general lore. What does a mourning dove sound like?

It sounds like my owl.

This sound resonates in my heart. I play it again, and then once more. I’m so relieved to know the identity of the bird who makes my beloved sound that I forgive it for being a cousin to a flying rat. I go to bed happy, the mystery solved.

Grow Write Guild #4: Missing Geoff Hamilton

The Grow Write Guild’s fourth prompt is to write about our gardening mentors or muses.

It would be obvious for me to write about Henry Mitchell, the late Washington Post garden writer for whom this blog is named. But I think I should actually write about the fellow who piqued my interest in gardening in the first place: Geoff Hamilton.

In late 1994 and early 1995, I lived and worked in London.  I didn’t have a television in my flat. On the weekends, I explored the rest of Great Britain. One night in Salisbury, after a long day of hiking around Avebury, I returned to my room at the B&B and switched on the telly Continue reading