December 29, 2014

Surprisingly Ornamental 'Victoria' Rhubarb

Plants with bold leaves make a valuable contribution to the texture of a garden, but choices are limited for sunny spots (hostas need shade) in cold climates (tender Gunnera is out).  The huge leaves of 'Victoria' rhubarb have proven to be surprisingly pretty and sturdy in my garden.

Another great advantage of rhubarb is its early start in spring.  The photo above was taken March 12, while most perennials in my garden were still fast asleep. 

By April 8, this plant was making a much appreciated splash of green in the still sparse landscape.

Above you can see just how small everything else is, while the rhubarb has pretty ruffles and flowers ready to bloom.

Here rhubarb makes a nice backdrop for the reddish new leaves of a tree peony.  My rhubarb plants have grown quickly in rich soil with water from the drip system, while I have been waiting and waiting for my large-leaved Darmera and Astilboides to take off in shady spots.

If you are growing rhubarb to harvest the stalks, I have heard that you should cut off the buds so they don't use up all the plant's sugar energy and make the stalks bitter.  Since I'm just growing them to be ornamental, I let the flowers bloom.

The white rhubarb flowers bloomed at the same time as the magenta 'Royal Raindrops' crabapples nearby, which made a nice contrast.

I used the flowers in arrangements with tulips and hellebores.  Plenty of bees made use of the flowers as well.  I removed the flower stalks before they dropped thousands of seeds.

Here is a shot of my rhubarb plants from the end of the season.  After an especially hot stretch in midsummer, some of the rhubarb leaves at the base died and needed to be removed to keep the clumps looking tidy. 

In fall the rhubarb leaves turned red around the edges and then yellow all over.  They survived light frosts, then turned to stinky mush when it got really cold. 
'Victoria' rhubarb is a beautiful, useful, sturdy plant that deserves consideration for a spot outside of the vegetable garden, especially for those of us in cold climates.

December 15, 2014

Vase of White Delphiniums, Laceflower, Daisies and Corkscrew Willow

This vase was created in September during the second flush of bloom for my delphiniums and daisies.  The delphs, unhappy in part shade, flopped over and were begging to be cut instead of being left to drag their flowers through the dirt.

Last summer I grew annual laceflower, Ammi visnaga 'Green Mist' (above), with the hope of using it in lots of flower arrangements.  I ended up not using it much at all, because the early inflorescences were too large for the tight bouquets I usually make, and then I forgot about it by the time the smaller side shoots were ready.  Oh well.  At least I used it in this one arrangement.

The young Ammi flowers are white like this . . .

. . . while the older ones turn green and are still interesting in bouquets.


A vase full of nothing but delphiniums is lovely, or they blend well with other long stemmed flowers. 

In the photo above you can see the hint of green that gives these 'Green Twist' delphiniums their name.
'Esther Reed' double daisies (Leucanthemum x superbum) are preferable to single daisies, in my opinion, because they don't have an unpleasant scent.  Young ER daisies have a hint of yellow in the center, then they mature to completely white.  In the background you can see leaves of Solomon's seal (Polygonatum odoratum 'Variegatum'), which is easy to grow in partial shade and an excellent filler plant for arrangements.
Twists of corkscrew willow (Salix matsudana 'Tortuosa') add to the slightly wild look of this arrangement.  Willow roots are so invasive that I'm experimenting with growing the corkscrew type in pots.  We'll see how well it works over the next few years.  In the meantime, the stems are a great addition to vases.

December 8, 2014

A Year for Planting Allium Bulbs

This has been the year for planting large globe alliums in my garden with sixty-one new bulbs planted this fall, thanks in large measure to my husband's help.  Globe alliums are useful for filling the gap between the last of the tulips in May and June-flowering perennials, so I planted a few from Costco last fall in the East garden.  Above is 'Globemaster,' which is one of the most expensive but most sturdy of the large alliums.

You have to look closely to see all the alliums in this photo, but next spring there will be more of them since they return and multiply over the years.  The tallest ones are 'Gladiator,' some of which reached nearly five feet.  This area gets about half a day of sun, so things tend to stretch taller than they would in full sun.

Here is another view of the East garden in late May.  You can see that tall 'Gladiator' is in full bloom, while shorter 'Globemaster' is just starting to open.  There are also some 'Purple Sensation' alliums blooming, which are less expensive but have smaller heads than the others.

Here is a shot of two 'Purple Sensation' alliums.  This type is supposed to multiply quickly to form large clumps, and the seeds are viable as well, so this type is a good choice for a gardener with a limited budget.  Chartreuse lady's mantle (Alchimella mollis) blooms in the background.  I especially love mauve with chartreuse, and there is a lot of each color in this part of the yard.

Above is Allium christophii, which is the last globe allium to bloom in June.  It is quite a bit shorter than the others, and the inflorescence is very large and silvery-mauve in color.  This one is only halfway open.  Like most bulbs, alliums prefer full sun and well drained soil.  Most are hardy in zones 5-7.

Most of the newly planted alliums were placed in this northwest corner of the backyard.  We also planted several hundred perennial tulips ('Don Quichotte', 'Negrita' and 'Renown') across the front of this mound.  Ten purple-blooming 'Ambassador' bulbs were planted among 'Caradonna' salvia at the back of this photo.  I'm hoping they bloom together, as they'd make a great show, but I'll have to wait and see.  The salvia might be too late.  We also planted sixteen 'Globemaster' bulbs in groups across the top of the mounded bed, and twenty 'Purple Caila' along the path running behind the mound.  'Purple Caila' is somewhat rare, and I am excited to see its blue-violet coloring.  In the northeast corner of the backyard, I planted ten 'Early Emperor' alliums, which are supposed to bloom a couple of weeks earlier than the others.  Five 'White Empress' alliums were planted in the white garden.

The odd thing about alliums is that their leaves show up early and then start dying back by the time the flowers bloom.  In the photo above from April, much of the green in the flower beds comes from rosettes of allium leaves.  It's really nice to have more green early in the season, but alliums look best when they are planted among clusters of perennials so the perennial leaves form a base for the allium blooms after their own leaves have withered away. 

Here is one final shot with alliums in the background.  I am excited to take more photos next May and June and share how the alliums are doing in my garden.

December 1, 2014

Annual Gardens at Temple in July 2014

It is especially nice to dig out summer photos in December when the temperature is down in the teens and the sky is grey.  Here are some photos from July of the annual gardens near the front entrance of the Spokane Temple.  Above on the left you can see 'King Tut' papyrus, which has been a great performer for us for several years.

Above you see the 'Bordeaux' supertunias are just getting started with their rambunctious growth.  I can't remember the exact cultivar of coleus that we planted, but you can see how interesting it is with touches of maroon at the base of the lime leaves.  Tall 'Senorita Rosalita' cleome is a sturdy performer and attracts butterflies.  In summer we often had sulphurs and cabbage whites fluttering about.

We use a lot of mauve in the annual beds to tie in to the permanent Liatris plantings at the back of this shot.  Clouds of 'Diamond Frost' euphorbia, purple alyssum and light blue lobelia add airiness to the annual design in contrast to the chunky petunias and lime green sweet potato vine.

Last week during a blessed thaw we planted the tulips and other bulbs in these beds, and we dug up several sweet potato tubers from these 'Marguerite' vines.  My husband and another volunteer tried a slice.  Hmmm . . . interesting, they said.  We didn't take them home to add to the Thanksgiving table.

This area is becoming more lovely each year as the permanent shrubs and trees mature.  In this shot the berries on the large 'Wentworth' cranberry bushes at right are just starting to turn cheery red.  By December many of them have turned to brown mush after single digit temperatures, but they were pretty for several months.

Above silvery licorice vine (Helichrysum) and the sweet potato vine clamber happily over the front wall of the 'Spiral' beds.  By the time the annuals were removed in October, they had grown large and lovely.  We didn't plant any along the other edge of the bed since they crawl over the sidewalk and have to be cut back frequently.

This is a final shot of the area just outside the gates.  Deer or rabbits munch on the petunias if we plant them farther away from the gate, but the lights deter them, so we have a few on each side.  Silver dusty miller and plum '3D Purple' African daisies (Osteospermum) stretch out in front of the mauve daylilies.  It's nice to look forward to the beauty awaiting next year while taking a break from gardening chores for a few months.