Sunday, April 25, 2010

Garden flowers

The garden that I act as "caretaker" has mainly perennials. This makes it lower maintenance than a garden that has to be largely replanted each year, but it risks becoming monotonous. Fortunately, there are enough different types of flowers to keep it colorful and varied throughout the majority of the growing season.

The first flowers in the garden every spring are the crocuses.

Crocuses usually come up in late March or early April here. They will push up through snow if there is still some on the ground. Since this spring got mild earlier than usual, they came up in the middle of March with no trace of snow to impede them. The flowers are unfortunately short-lived - after about a week they start looking kind of worn out and soon start dropping petals, and are pretty much gone less than three weeks after opening.

The second flowers to start opening are usually the anemones.
This plant usually continues producing new flowers until June or later.

Soon, the hyacinths make a dramatic appearance, with a whole clump of flowers opening simultaneously on a stalk rising from each plant.
The lawn grass is has been pushing into this flower bed for the last couple of years,
but the hyacinths don't seem to be bothered.

Hyacinths usually flower mid-April, but this spring they came up in early April, and the flowers are already fading in color and on their way out for the year.

The daffodils often are the very first plants to poke leaves out of the ground, before even the crocus. Unlike the crocus, though, they usually take a little while (maybe 3-4 weeks) after first rising from the ground to open their flowers.
A pleasant surprise - this group had only pure lemon-yellow flowers last year,
but this year one of the flowers has two distinct colors.

Some of the daffodils are shriveling already, while others probably have another month left. They seem to vary widely in terms of how long their flowers last.

Then, there are the tulips. I am seeing most of them for the first time in 3 years, because in the previous 2 springs they almost all got eaten by deer. The lot does not border directly on a wooded area - it's several hundred feet from the edge of the nearest woods - so the deer liked the tulips enough to walk through several peoples' yards at night to get a special treat. In some cases they ate the plant down to near ground level, but in other cases they waited until the flower was just about to open, and then ate just the flower and stem, which must be like the finest piece of chocolate to them. Finding these "decapitated" tulips was especially annoying.

This year, though, the deer haven't touched anything. Maybe the early spring meant more plants sprouting earlier in the forests so less need to forage in peoples' gardens. In any case, the tulips got a chance to flower again:
The pink and white striped ones in the middle photo were another pleasant surprise - I'm pretty sure that they were solid pink the last time they got a chance to flower. The stripes of various colors and patterns have an interesting history. These markings were especially prized by European tulip growers back in the 17th century. For a few years in the 1630s, breeding tulips became so lucrative in the Netherlands that tulip bulbs became a major investment vehicle, with single bulbs that produced flowers with unusual color combinations and patterns selling for the equivalent of several million dollars. This "tulipmania" collapsed, but tulips remained among the more prized flowers for the wealthy into the 19th century, when they finally became affordable to a larger public. Many attempts were made to crossbreed plants for seeds with more elaborate colors and patterns, but these almost always failed. Unbeknownst to early tulip-breeders, the stripes and multiple colors are not hereditary. They are caused by a viral infection that usually does not have any serious negative effect on the plant's health except to discolor the flowers. That's why a plant can go from solid-color flowers one year to striped and multicolored flowers the next year - it has been infected at some point. The fact that these diseased flowers happened to look more attractive to some people was just a lucky coincidence. Tulip growers discovered that the only way to reproduce a tulip with a desirable color and pattern was to wait for the main bulb to reproduce asexually by budding off smaller bulbs, and then separating these extra bulbs and replanting them. A tulip bulb in good soil will usually produce a number of clones in this fashion, so that rather than seeds became the main technique of tulip propagation.

Anyway, moving on from that hopefully not too dull mini-lecture, here is one of the next flowers to bloom, Dicentra spectabilis, the Bleeding heart:
Flowers slightly less than 1 inch (~2 cm.) from top to bottom.

Dicentra spectabilis is native to eastern Asia. It grows 2-3 feet tall and produces rows of fairly large, colorful, unusually shaped flowers by mid to late April. Unfortunately, as is the case with so many colorful perennials, the flowers have a limited life span. In less than a month, the flowers have mostly dropped. By late June, the plant's leaves and stems start to wilt and yellow in the summer heat, and by July I cut them back to the ground because the entire plant has turned a dead-looking yellow-brown. Ideally, a gardener should plant something that flowers later in the season alongside the bleeding heart so that something can take the plant's space in the garden when it dies back. I've tried a couple of things, but they haven't lasted more than a season.

In another part of the garden, there is a close relative of the bleeding-heart. This is Dicentra eximia. The garden has plants with both white and pink flowers. Dicentra eximia is a native of eastern North America (unlike most of the other plants in this post, which originate in various parts of Asia or Europe). It is only about 1 foot tall, and the flowers are proportionally smaller than those of Dicentra spectabilis, so it is much less showy. However, it has one major advantage - it stays green and keeps blooming throughout the entire growing season. It produces flowers from April through October, although there tend to be fewer later in the season.

Finally, some yellow Alyssum next to the front walkway. This plant is quite good at reseeding itself - it was originally planted in the garden some 20 years ago, and has grown in various parts of most of the different flower beds over time. It's a perennial, but the individual plants often die after a few years, to be replaced by their "children" growing nearby. The alyssum looks all but surrounded by various shrubs and trees, including the weeping cherry in the background.

Next - greenery and general views of the garden ....


Digger said...

Thanks for the garden tour! I never knew that about tulip viruses. I don't grow tulips; for some reason, only a very few will come up for me. I blame the squirrels.

I absolutely adore bleeding hearts. Someone told me just last week that you can propagate them by splitting the roots. I'll be on the lookout for Dicentra eximia .... a native plant AND all season flowers = win.

RPS77 said...

I also like bleeding hearts, both the big but short-lived Dicentra spectabilis and the smaller but longer-lasting Dicentra eximia. Another thing I forgot to mention is that they sometimes spread by seed (in this garden at least). The ones we originally bought all had pink flowers, but both species have produced offspring with white flowers as well as pink, including the one shown in the picture above.