June Blooms (June 21, 2013)

As of late, I have been browsing blogs to see what others go on about and what makes each blog special.  Yep, I’m looking for pointers and ideas so I’m surfing the blog-o-sphere.  I had become a fan of The Tidewater Gardener after a friend recommended that I check him out.  Recently, there was a post with a challenge that members of the blogger community – the flower lovers & gardeners among us – get out there and take photos of the flowers blooming in their gardens on June 15th and post them for all to see.  The original idea seems to have come from another blogger – Carol of May Dreams Gardens.  Carol invites all bloggers to survey, photograph, and share their blooms and then add a link at her blog-site to share the wealth with everyone.  Of course, I found all this a week or so later than the intended “share” date but I cannot really let that stop me, now can I?

So, round the yard I went taking photos of flowers with my trusty Sony Cybershot® only to find that most of the photos were too blurry to use.  Either my eyes are going bad or the camera has been dropped a few times too many.  Vanity keeps me from admitting the first and thriftiness the second.  So, next day, I was out there again with a little bit better camera….and I got a little bit better photos….and some are good enough to share.

Hydrangea Photo 12Starting off with the obvious, there are three different hydrangeas blooming in the flowerbeds at present.  I ask you, what respectable southern gardener would not have hydrangeas in the yard? There are some givens with southern gardens – hydrangeas and roses and crepe myrtles.  If you have any more yard room at all, then you have to have a Southern Magnolia; if your yard is small, like ours, you can get away with omitting the magnolia but you absolutely must have the others.   Of course, the crepe myrtles are not blooming right now or I’d surely have a picture to show you. We have both mopheads and lace cap hydrangeas blooming this June (Macophylla mophead & Macophylla normalus).

Rose Photo 3Moving on to roses, we have a few but mostly they are the easy to deal with type of roses – shrub or blanket.  I also, do not tell any of my gardening buddies, have Knock Out® roses.  I absolutely cannot grow roses – they are just too much trouble.  Every fungus and disease known to man also is known to roses – intimately.  I am here to tell you, if there is a spot to be had, black or otherwise, it’ll be had on the roses.  So, I gave up on the tea roses and the fancy ones and just stick to the wilder looking ones that seem to grow by themselves without dust or spray or, in my shady yard, light of day. The particular rose photo I am sharing is one from a rose whose name I do not know.  It is not unusual for me not to know the names of the flowers I grow because I do not always keep up with the right & proper (i.e. species) name for anything.  And, on top of that, I inherited my daddy’s habit of re-naming every flower to better fit what it looks like. For example, he called wild red Columbines (Aquilegia species) “red tinker-bells” and Forsythia was, of course, “yellow tinker-bells”.  I can totally see that so I now call them that too.  Oh, just so you know, Forsythia is another of those flower bushes that no southern home can be without.  But back to the rose that I do not know the name of whose photo I included.  This one I will not take credit for forgetting  – it didn’t come with a name. I got it for $1 at an “end of season” sale at Lowe’s®.  I got two roses and I stuck them in the ground that very day and it was some six months or so before I had any clue what kind of rose they were.  Turns out they were blanket (or carpet or groundcover) roses – one light pink and one dark pink.  Both are blooming now but I kind of like the light pink one best.

Wild Yam Vine Photo 4As you might be able to tell, I am a sucker for a bargain and will peruse the “on sale” area like nobody’s business.  I once bought a little piddly looking plant that didn’t have a chance of surviving because it was marked “slow mover”.  I took it home and tried to make it live because I wanted to see if it ever would move at all.  I’ll never know – it died shortly after I got it home.  But even better than buying a plant on sale is getting one free.  Now, hold your horses, I am not talking about “rustling” plants although it has occurred to me that pinching off a little Coleus now and then from someone’s overflowing container garden might not be such a bad thing.  I prefer to think of my habit as “relocating” plants to a better place in life.  But I do limit myself (for the most part) to relocating plants with permission or from places that are obviously not going to be a problem like construction sites where everything is being plowed up and destroyed – although you need to get permission to be there too. But the next photo (above) is a wild-flower (of sorts).  This is a Wild Yam Vine (Dioscorea villosa) that we inadvertently came home with while “relocating” a fern from beside a creek bed by the side of the road.  We also came home with a poison ivy vine that gave me the worst case of poison ivy I have had in many a year (plant rustling is not without its punishment).  The yam vine is an interesting one so I kept it.  I have never really seen any type of flowers blooming on it but it always has these tiny little seed pods.  I do not know if these are some sort of modified bloom but it is what passes for blooms for me.  On the good side, this vine comes back every year but doesn’t really seem to get bigger or spread any further than where it is.  These may be famous last words for me. On the other hand, no matter how much I love birds and how much birds love poison ivy berries, I am not about to keep that evil vine anywhere near my yard.

Wineberry Photo 1The next best kind of “free” plants are those that come up voluntarily.  These volunteers are usually weeds (beauty is truly in the eye of the beholder, is it not?) and most people do not want them around and spend considerable amounts of time and money trying to get rid of them. But the red raspberry vine growing in the yard is my favorite kind of volunteer.  The vines were here when we moved here and we have transplanted them to various places in the yard (with a little help from the birds). Fortunately, they are relatively easy to remove and keep under control (with good thick gloves).  AND, they produce wonderful sweet berries every year.  On the down side, we do not usually get to eat many of the berries because the birds get to them first.  I have noted that birds are better at gardening than I am – at least they are better at monitoring progress on the berry bushes than I am.  The blooms on a raspberry vine are pretty innocuous but the early buds are quite lovely.  I suspect this is not a cultivated red raspberry bush but rather a Japanese Wineberry (Rubus phoenicolaseus) which has become invasive in some parts of this state. For now, they are loved by the birds (and by me) so I allow the vines to continue to grow.

Beauty Berry Photo 8Another berry bush just coming into bloom is the Beauty Berry (Callicarpa americana).  Unlike the wineberry vines, the beauty berry is all American –  nothing foreign or invasive about it. Again, the blooms are tiny but will be replaced by bright purple berries in another few weeks.  I planted this bush specifically for the birds to enjoy and they do.  When we planted a blueberry bush out front, we dreamed of eating those sweet berries but the birds get to them and finish them off long before they are fully ripe so we never get a one.  On the other hand, the beauty berry bush is different… the birds do not really eat the berries until late autumn. Maybe, they know that we humans do not eat beauty berries so there is no need to eat them quickly to keep us from getting to them first.  So, a bit after the first good cold snap in autumn, the robins and mockingbirds and catbirds swoop in and consume every single little beauty berry in just a day or two.

Trumpet Vine Photo 9I also have planted Trumpet Vine (Campsis radecans) for the birds to enjoy – particularly the hummingbirds.  And who doesn’t want hummingbirds in their yards?  The trumpet vine is also a native plant but this one can be invasive and it can grow quite large so you have to plant it where you can try to control it.  I say “try” because that is about all you can do.  But, it is a favorite with hummingbirds and butterflies and, apparently from the photo, ants.  I have never seen so many ants on a bud before and I am wondering if the trumpet flower is like a peony that is covered with ants and has a bit of a symbiotic relationship during the hard bud stage.  I note that a more common name for the plant is the “cow-itch vine”.  Do you suppose it is the ants that cause the cows to itch or the vine? Of course, the “itch” could come from some allergen in the plant – the leaves remind me quite a bit of poison sumac. But I’m good with it as long as it is the cows that are itching and not me.

Red Dragon Photo 5Now, moving back to blooms from plants less wild.  The next two flowers are plants I purchased in years past at the Philadelphia Flower Show.  The first is a Persicaria ‘Red Dragon’ and has a tiny bloom but, like coleus, has such beautiful foliage that it holds a special place in my garden.  For me, that is. It hangs over the edges of the flower beds and drives my husband to distraction…but that is only because I do not let him run through it with the weed whacker.

Firecracker Photo 10The other is one of those mystery plants that I bought on a whim at the show and I haven’t the foggiest idea what it is.  It is a bulb and not hardy at all so I keep it in a pot with an Elephant’s Ear that I bring in to the sun room to winter over every year.   You’ve been to those shows and heard those vendors talking about magic bulbs that produce marvelous tropical flowers that you know you just got to have and today only they are only $2.99 or you know you’ll regret it if you do not buy this bulb right now!!!  Well, I heard the spiel and had to have it and I bought it and came home proudly with my little bulb like a treasure in a little brown paper bag.  I figured I would plant it and it would never come up and I’d just be out my three bucks….which is usually what happens.  But it has surpassed all my expectations and then some.  It was supposed to be a “firecracker” lily and I continue to call it that because it blooms without fail every year around July 4th. This year, it is a little bit early but the blooms will last a week or so and take us right into Independence Day. I have googled the name and did see one image of a similar plant but mostly the only bloom that popped up on Google® was a bright red Asiatic lily.  If anyone knows the name of this bulb, please pass it along. Otherwise, it’ll remain the Firecracker Lily. I think that maybe an orange or yellow one planted in the same pot would make a nice fireworks type display but I would have to know what it is before I can try to buy another one.  It is sounding more and more like I need to go back to the flower show in hopes that the bulb hustler is still there with his brown bag of goodies that no gardener can ever resist.

And finally, June is the month for lilies, both daylilies and Asiatic lilies.  And there are few plants more beautiful.  From the cool clean elegance of the Easter Lily (Lilium longiflorum) to the bright hot orange of the roadside orange or tawny daylily (Hemerocallis fulva) , they are all quite beautiful.

For lilies & daylilies, it is best to let the photos speak for themselves.

Easter Lily Photo 6Daylily 2 Photo 11

Tulips or Bust — Netherlands Trip Notes (June 12, 2013)

Photo1 Garden with textLet’s face it – going to the Netherlands in the spring is about tulips. It is what it is. You can talk about the canals and the red light district and smoked sausage but pretty much everyone who goes to the country in spring is looking for tulips…and their counterparts, the daffodils and the crocus. And we were certainly no different.  We had dreams of seeing fields of tulips like gigantic impressionist paintings spread across the landscape…..Monet or Van Gogh in dirt, if you would.  And we had planned and checked and cross-checked and scheduled so that we would be in country when the tulips were in full bloom. But it was not to be. Although the tour company had assured us that the first week in April was the optimum week for visiting to see the best and the most tulips, Mother Nature had other things on her mind in 2013. Things like blackberry winters and whirling snowstorms in Europe in late March.  There is nothing like a late cold spell with freezing temperatures and snow to keep the bulbs dormant, snug and warm underground.   As we flew over northern England and noted lingering patches of snow on the hills, I had a sinking feeling about our chances for tulips but I had high hopes nonetheless and it didn’t do to fret over it too much….when you’re flying over England and the North Sea, it is a bit late to change your travel plans.

Photo 2a flower market w textAnd so, we continued.  We spent time in Amsterdam and saw wonderful old buildings and canals and some birds and enjoyed cool Amstel lager and a very expensive margarita but there were no tulips or daffodils or crocus.  We did see an herb garden growing in a sunny window and the largest, if not the only, floating flower market in the world.  We went to Kinderdijk and saw beautiful windmills and geese and lots of rain.  We traveled in layers – long sleeve shirts with sweaters and jackets – because it was still very cold in country and you never knew when the sun would come out and bless you with a little warmth allowing you to strip off some of those layers.  We visited a lovely town called Hoorne – more canals, more birds, a lovely visit with a former mayor…but, again, no tulips or any flowers to speak of except maybe a few lonely crocuses (croci?).  We visited a former royal palace, Palais Let Hoo, with beautiful formal gardens but not a blooming flower in sight.  So, you can imagine how excited we were to go to an actual tulip farm. Hallelujah, we are finally going to see some tulips. Or not.Photo 2 No tulips with text

The farm was a wonderful experience.  We got lucky and our guide for the farm tour Photo 3 Five together greenhousewas the farmer’s wife – no one would know better what’s going on at the farm than the farmer’s wife – her business to keep up with absolutely everything. (Do notice the down jacket.)  We were advised that the Dutch think of the farms as “bulb” farms because what they are growing as a sellable crop are the bulbs.  Hmm.  I hadn’t thought of it that way but it makes perfect sense.  So, they grow tulips in order to harvest the bulbs and sell them all over the world. In the fields – some of which, unfortunately, were under plastic in an effort to warm the fields and allow the tulips to grow in spite of the cold weather – the tulips are planted in the fall for harvest the next summer. When the tulips come up in spring and bloom, the blooms are cut off to allow the plant to recapture all the nutrients in the stems and leaves to be absorbed back into the bulb and to prevent the loss of nutrients by producing seed heads after the bloom.  So, in fact, there is a limited viewing period for blooms in the fields under any circumstances.  They actually have a tractor that goes through the field removing the blooms and capturing them to be used as compost.  It seems a bit of a shame to have all those glorious blooms just whacked off and thrown away…but their money-maker is the bulb, not the bloom.   In the fields, that is.

But there was a second line of business for this tulip farm and that is for cut flowers.  So there were huge (and I mean huge) greenhouses that were used to grow tulips to sell in the flower market in Amsterdam.  The season for cut flowers is from December until May so we were visiting at the end of the season.  This farm sold about 6 million cut flowers per season, all tulips. Yes, I said 6 million with an “m”. The whole farm was quite an operation but the scope of the greenhouse operations was very impressive.  I cannot keep saying “gigantic” and “huge” but “large” just doesn’t describe the operation there.  The cold storage unit was probably bigger than our house back home.  The “fridge” as relatively empty at this point but we were assured that the space was not wasted – in autumn when they bring in the bulbs to plant, the unit is packed to the gills – floor to ceiling –  with hundreds of thousands of bulbs.  Some of the bulbs will chill in the coolers to give them time to go dormant to be grown in the greenhouses over the winter to sell as cut flowers.  And the rest will be planted in the fields where they will rest throughout the winter waiting for spring to become next year’s bulb crop.

But back to the greenhouse business…… fascinating.  I am often reminded of how many details there are to running a successful business and how most of us take it all for granted and, perhaps, think that tulips (or automobiles or houses) just pop up out of the ground and it’s all so easy and no one has to work at all as things just sort of happen on their own.  But that is far from the truth, of course.  Even on a farm where things, like tulips, do literally pop up out of the ground, there are a million and one details that have to be attended to in order to get to harvest.  The bulbs are planted in the greenhouses on a staggered schedule to provide for cut flowers throughout the winter. When the plants are at the bud stage, they are inspected and sorted by a specialist whose job it is to know from Photo4 Rejected Tulipjust looking at the bud, whether or not, the bloom will be beautiful and full or not.  The sorter picks the flowers (pulls it up by the bulb) that pass inspection and leaves the rejects – blooms too early or too late or has a virus or is mal-formed – to become compost.  Yep, lots of composting going on at this farm.  The bulb is sliced in half and the stem is plucked from inside so that every inch of the stem is available as part of the cut flower.  It seemed strange that they would go to so much trouble to get an eighth of an inch more stem but that mystery was solved when we were advised that the flowers are sold by the inch.  While an eighth or fifth of an inch doesn’t sound like much and would only bring in an extra tenth or so of a cent per individual stem, the fractions can add up when you are selling thousands of the flowers per day.  Let’s see, six million cut flowers multiplied by a fraction of a cent….well, you get the picture, those quarter- inches can add up to real money by the time all is said and done. The farm employs about twelve workers for the process of processing the cut flowers, which are really just buds at this stage.  The flowers are harvested at the tight bud stage so that they will be fully opened as blooms at your local florist and not an hour before.  The flowers are packed by the dozen and transported to the flower market every afternoon to be sold at market opening early the next morning.  By noon, the next day (less than 24 hours after picking), the flowers are on their way to all parts of the world.

Photo 9 Plastic fields w textOne final note about the tulip farm in North Holland. The farm is a family farm that has been passed down for several generations but is on “reclaimed” land – that is, land that used to be under the sea.  It has been “reclaimed” several times over the past few hundred years.  The farmer’s wife told us that they used small “kennels” to irrigate the fields – turns out she was saying “canals” but I kept hearing kennels and trying to figure out if it had something to do with dog runs. Just a little loss of communications there for a moment. At any rate, she said that occasionally the salt would come up out of the ground in spots and they couldn’t plant there for a season or two.  It seemed as if the sea is always ready to reclaim the land from the Dutch who are always ready to reclaim it from the sea. For hundreds of years this battle has been going on and I suppose it will continue as long as there are crops to be planted and people to plant them.

So we got a taste of tulips and the overall industry but we still hadn’t really seen any tulips to really write home about.  We had one last shot at seeing great masses of tulips – the Keukenhof Gardens at Lisse, Holland.  And we couldn’t wait – finally we are going to see tulips.  Or not.Photo 7a Greeter w text

Keukenhof Gardens are only open during the spring every year (mid-March through mid-May).  The Keukenhof is a private flower garden – the world’s largest, I am told –  that is open to the public for tourists and visitors but the primary purpose of the gardens was originally to allow growers to exhibit their flower bulbs and dealers and buyers to see the all the varieties of tulips and daffodils and crocus in a garden setting.  According to the guidebooks, there are about 7 million flower bulbs planted over 32 hectares – or about 79 acres.  (Just in case you find yourself trying to figure out hectares and acres someday, there is a converter on line at http://www.asknumbers.com/HectaresToAcresConversion.aspx.)

Photo 6 pavilion iwth textIn the very beginning, the garden was set up to grow herbs for the kitchens for Countess Jacqueline of Hainaut, hence the name related to the kitchen gardens.  The garden is set up to display the flower bulbs and there are also pavilions showing the flowers in more of a “display” setting with information about the varieties and their availability. And, finally, the garden is set in the midst of farms and fields where the tulips, etc. are grown.

We visited in the rain, of course, and it was cold, again, so we spent a good Photo 5 crocus field with textbit of time in the pavilions where it was warm and dry.  And where there were lots of tulips and daffodils and amaryllis and every other bulb plant you could think of.  And they all were quite lovely and I took tons of photos to bring home to show everyone we had, in fact, seen tulips. We also did a little bit of birding in the gardens – why waste an opportunity to do so when birds do love gardens too?  And we only got lost once and we almost missed our ride back to the ship but that was because I was buying souvenirs and that is another story entirely.

According to the Keukenhof’s website (http://www.keukenhof.nl/), 2013 was a good year – Very successful Keukenhof season. The 64th edition of Keukenhof ended successfully. It was a year of extremes. The first 3.5 weeks were extremely cold, followed by a sunny May vacation and ended with a park that still bloomed exuberantly until the very last day. This year 848,984 guests visited Keukenhof.”

 Photo 7 Gardens with textUnfortunately, we were there during those initial 3.5 weeks but maybe we’ll get to go again in the future….. but maybe we’ll hold off until the first week in May next time…..maybe Mother’s Day or thereabouts…make sure it is a little warmer for us and for the tulips.  But, all in all, we did see some tulips in full bloom and we did see some daffodils and crocus and tulips in the fields although not as many as we had envisioned.   And I did get some ideas for adding some more bulb flowers to our garden at home. Unfortunately, the flowers I liked were the more expensive ones. Guess you cannot have too many flowers to grow in your little piece of the earth.

Finally, the farmer’s wife did tell us that, if we wanted to see a bulb farm in the States, we should try to visit Brent and Becky’s Bulbs (https://store.brentandbeckysbulbs.com/) near Gloucester in southern Virginia.  Now that might work.  No planes and no snow in April in southern Virginia – at least I hope not.Photo 8 four tulips together