May 31, 2011

Itoh Peony 'Keiko' aka 'Pink Double Dandy'

Intersectional peonies - crosses between tree peonies and herbaceous peonies - are becoming very popular of late. Here are some photos of 'Keiko' (otherwise known as 'Pink Double Dandy'), which I bought this spring from my local nursery in a 5 gallon Monrovia pot.

These intersectionals are ridiculously expensive. Most catalogs and websites seem to price them around $100, which is about what I paid. At least I brought home a seriously big plant (above) for that seriously big price! Although my peony was in the same size pot as several other Itoh hybrids, it was two or three times as large. Who knows whether my plant was just older than the others or if 'Keiko' is especially vigorous.

Here is a series of photos showing how the flowers progress from bud to full bloom. You can see above that the buds aren't perfectly round balls like herbaceous peony buds. One nice thing about these Itoh types is that their stems are strong enough to hold the flowers aloft without staking, even when in full bloom.

The color changes as the flower develops. Here it's a vivid cool pink, but it soon fades.

The flowers on my new plant are not as full as the ones pictured on the Monrovia website here. It will be nice to see how they fill out in coming years as the plant settles into its spot and develops plenty of roots.

The color of the flowers is sophisticated and not easy to describe. Maybe vivid rose fading to tapestry or vintage rose would be the best description. There seems to be just a hint of pale yellow underlying the pink, which becomes more apparent as the flower ages.

The stamens are bright golden yellow and are very prominent when the flower is fully open. The flowers on my plant seem to open and close through the day, depending on how sunny and warm it is.

I've read comments from other gardeners about how it is difficult to place pinkish Itohs into the garden because their color is different from the clear pinks of herbaceous peonies. I agree with that assessment.

It's a very pretty pink though, and would make sophisticated floral arrangements (if one can figure out what other flowers to put with it). I'll probably cut some to bring inside now that I've taken pictures for this post.

Soon I will post about my 'Kopper Kettle' Itoh peony, which has just one bud waiting to open. If you find yourself wanting more information about Itohs, check out Monrovia's collection here or the Intersectional page from Swenson Gardens here.

May 23, 2011

Spokane Temple Tulips and Daffodils

Here are some photos of the spring bulb plantings at my church's nearby temple, taken in mid-May. The yellow tulips above are 'Jap Groot'.

It's been nearly two years since I was asked to work with the temple landscaping committee as a volunteer, and it's always nice to see our work paying off with beautiful displays.

Our church currently has 134 temples scattered all over the world, and all of them are expected to have beautiful grounds surrounding the elegant buildings.

New temples are open to the public during open houses, but after dedication only church members in good standing are allowed inside. The grounds remain open to anyone who wants to enjoy a peaceful setting.

Large temples - like the ones in Salt Lake City, Washington, D.C., or Los Angeles - have crews of paid workers to take care of the grounds. Little temples like the one in Spokane are cared for by volunteers.

It's a lot of work taking care of the temple grounds! Each year volunteers donate hundreds of hours of labor doing things like pulling weeds, watering, deadheading, planting annuals, etc.

A big part of my job is rounding up volunteers to help with temple work projects. This task is hard for me, because I get nervous calling busy people to ask them to get their hands dirty working at the temple grounds.

In the past year I have also helped the main coordinators pick new plants and draw out new perennial beds, which has been a lot of fun. We're working with a Master Composter to add lots organic material to improve the soil.

I earned my Horticulture degree from Brigham Young University, which is heavily subsidized by my church. So it feels great to use that education as a volunteer at the temple.

It's helpful that I live just a mile away from the temple, so I have experience working with the same soil and microclimate challenges in my own garden.

Oh, and we have plenty of challenges at the temple grounds. It's definitely not a garden of Eden! Besides thistles and thorns and other weeds, we have to plan for deer eating plants outside the fence.

Supposedly this area was once a riverbed, so the original soil is poor, rocky clay. Since we're at the bottom of the Spokane Valley, the cold air sinks down here and gives us early fall and late spring frosts, plus extra cold temperatures in the winter.

In addition, the temple site gets a lot of drying winds. And the areas immediately south and west of the temple get intensely hot in the summer from sun bouncing off the white granite walls.

These harsh conditions have made refinements necessary in the twelve years since the Spokane temple was built. But the landscape is getting better each year as plantings - especially trees and large shrubs - mature and give the grounds a fuller look.

Soon the huge beds of peonies will be in bloom, and next weekend we're planting hundreds of annuals that will make a great show all summer. I'll try to remember to get some more pictures later in the season to post.

May 16, 2011

Saturated Spring Color in the West Bed

It has been so exciting to see the vivid colors burst into bloom in the west flagstone bed this spring. It ended up as a rainbow of hues - warm purple, deep indigo blue, green leaves of course, golden yellow, orange-red, and hot pink.

The most rewarding part for me has been to finally have an area of the garden that looks 'designed'. Although the front yard is getting to that organized, polished point, it's not quite there yet. And of course the backyard abounds with pretty plants that are thrown in together without much planning.

Anyway, this west bed features repeating clumps of plants - both perennials and bulbs - that tie the whole area together and draw you along the path. Though it didn't turn out exactly as planned . . . the orange-red tulips were supposed to be peach 'Daydream' with a 'pencil-thin dark edge'. Hmmm. These tulips do not look like the picture on the bag from Costco. But I think their vivid color works even better than the soft peach would have, so I'm not complaining.

This photo shows Alyssum 'Basket of Gold' with dwarf purple irises (from my friend Robyne) and Aubrieta 'Axcent Purple' in the background. I grew the Alyssum from seed last year, so the clumps are still small, but they're adding a bright note of gold to the design.

I have been so impressed with this type of Aubrieta. It has been blooming for nearly two months now, outlasting each wave of bulb blooms and continuing to provide cheerful color. I highly recommend this plant, which also comes in rose, blue, and I'm pretty sure I saw a golden yellow version as well.

Here we have 'Crown Princess Mary' tulips, which were ordered from White Flower Farm last fall. It's another plant that I'd strongly recommend, since each bulb gives several peony-like blooms. It's given a lot of bang for each bulb. Of course my daughters are quick to point out that the beautiful hot pink color is their very favorite part of this bed!

I've learned that the only thing better than a beautiful plant is a beautiful plant set off by the perfect accent plant, so the colors, forms and textures of both plants enhance each other. In this case the 'Axcent Purple' Aubrieta is the perfect accent (ha-ha) for the tulips.

Here's a shot showing a 'Blue Jacket' hyacinth, which started blooming before most of the other plants and are completely spent by now. I cut back all the flower spikes yesterday.

Thankfully, as the 'Blue Jacket' hyacinths finished, these 'Blue Spike' grape hyacinths started up (Muscari armeniacum - available from Brent & Becky's bulbs). They are larger than most grape hyacinths but still smaller than regular hyacinths. They have proven to be good naturalizers for me, coming back in bigger clumps each year.

This photo highlights the difference in color between the warm purple dwarf irises and the true blue of the grape hyacinths.

Here's another shot showing how well three different forms can work together - airy, lacy golden Alyssum with bold balls of pink from the tulips and a mat of purple Aubrieta.

I'll end with a final shot of the tulips-which-are-not-'Daydream' with purple and pink in the background, to remind me that surprises can be even better than the plan. Now I'm looking forward to salvia, bearded irises, catmint, asiatic lilies, english roses, daylilies, coreopsis and yarrow to bloom in this area as the season progresses. Plenty of vivid color to come.

May 9, 2011

Mother's Day Projects

First a sneak peek of the west flagstone bed. By next week the spring bulbs should be in full bloom so I can post a bunch of pictures. Above you can see a pink 'Crown Princess Mary' tulip with violet and orange flowers in the background.
Last weekend we accomplished a lot of work in the garden. A dump truck left 5 yards of bark in the driveway on Saturday morning, and we worked through sun, rain and hail to get it all spread by evening. My husband did most of the work, but the kids and I helped some, too.

I bought a fountain to match the birdbath from last year, both from Lowe's. My husband put it together and set it into place near the back patio. The sound of the water running is nice - not to loud, not too soft. Of course nothing can drown out the shrieks and wails of our kids when they're playing in the backyard, but after they go to bed the fountain makes the patio very pleasant.

I also brought home three more big black urns from Lowe's, to match the one I bought a year or two ago. I planted them simply with an Asparagus densiflorus 'Sprengeri' in each one. The conditions on our back porch are difficult for flowers, with shade for most of the day, then intense sun and heat for a couple of hours during the summer afternoons. Hopefully the asparagus ferns will be tough enough to take the extremes.

The bark in the beds makes a nice backdrop for all the emerging leaves, and the smell of fresh bark is wonderful. I chose 'bark fines' instead of bigger chunks, so it will be interesting to see if the small pieces rot away in one season or if they stick around longer. My tired husband informed me that he'd love to avoid this project next spring, if possible. The photo above shows a lily stalk among columbine leaves, with delphinium leaves in the background.

I was grateful for all the work my family put into these garden projects. Some moms enjoy breakfast in bed, but I was happy to get bark in my (flower) bed for Mother's Day. I also wanted a nice picture of the children to send to the grandmas and great-grandmas, which I caught after ice cream bribes, threats, and lots of eye-rolling (from me as well as the kids, wonder where they learned it?). You can see the result above. I hope all you moms had a great day as well!

May 2, 2011

More Sunny Daffodils and Garden Updates

Here are some more photos of daffodils from my dad's backyard garden. My miniature daffs (Tete-a-Tete) are still blooming happily in my front yard - that's one advantage to having a very cool spring, the bulbs last forever. Last week it snowed here, though it lasted less than an hour before disappearing. A fellow gardener noted yesterday that we have just a few weeks before the summer solstice and the days start getting shorter again. Everyone within hearing just groaned, since it so often feels like winter still.

Winter or not, I have planted a bunch of new perennials and bulbs recently. All of my mail-order plants have arrived in reasonably good shape, including the siberian irises from JPW Flowers; the LA lilies from Brent and Becky's Bulbs; the poppies and rhubarb from Burpee's; and the campanula, phlox, filipendula, and siberian iris from Bluestone Perennials. I finally got all six hellebores from the Northwest Garden Nursery out of their pots and into the ground - that took some rearranging to make space.

I've got my eye out for some new perennials to buy, especially 'Absolute Amethyst' candytuft (Iberis) from Proven Winners and 'Peachy Seduction' yarrow (Achillea) from Blooms of Bressingham. They've been added to the Wish List on my sidebar. Maybe I'll find them this season or maybe not until next year.

I have also been intrigued by the new Itoh peonies offered by Monrovia. I bought 'Kopper Kettle' last year and look forward to seeing it bloom for the first time in June. I'd also like to try 'Julia Rose', 'Takara' or 'Keiko'. Today I stopped by nearby Gibson's Nursery and didn't see any of those three, so I came home with an old-fashioned 'Pink Parfait' peony instead. I will keep checking back to see if any of the pink Itohs come into stock.

I keep drawing plans for where to plant more bulbs in the front yard this fall - crocus, colchicums, hyacinths, more mini-daffodils. It's been so nice to have these little bulbs blooming for the past couple of months, while the backyard perennials and shrubs have been sleeping still. Meanwhile the 'Salmon Parrot' (or was it 'Apricot Parrot' - will have to check my notes) and 'Salmon Impression' tulips are just about ready to start blooming out front.

Vivid colors are getting ready to pop in the west garden - rosy and rosy-peach tulips, golden Basket of Gold, and many shades of blue-violet in Aubrieta, hyacinths and dwarf iris. Plus the unusual 'Hair' alliums are getting ready to bloom. I've got my camera ready to shoot lots of pictures when the flower buds finally burst open.

Purple buds are showing on the lilac shrubs and new leaves are unfurling everywhere in the garden. I'm looking forward to seeing the first blooms ever from some of the perennials planted last year - siberian and japanese irises, peonies, astrantia, columbines, yarrow. There's plenty to get excited about in the garden - now we just need some warmer weather to enjoy it!