Adding Vulgarity to the Garden

We love “vulgar” plants, which are good for providing unexpected shrieks from garden visitors. One of our favorite plants for evoking such moments is the European native, Dracunculus vulgaris. For those who took Latin in school, you’ll know that the English translation of the Latin name is Vulgar Dragon’s Butt. This fascinating spring ephemeral is native to very rocky, dry sites in the Southwest corner of Turkey, the Aegean Island (inc. Greece), and into the Balkans.

Virtually all of the material in commerce, which comes from the Turkish populations, are the red spathe/purple spadix form. Once you move to Crete, the inflorescences take on a different color theme with blends of white in spathe, and spadices which range from black to yellow. Below are a few which flowered at JLBG this spring.

We inherited the work of the late aroid researcher Alan Galloway, who actively hybridized dracunculus in an attempt to study the genetics as well as create new color forms for gardeners. Once final selections are made, these will require tissue culture for reproduction. Without tissue culture (dividing plants with a tiny knife), commercial quantities could never be obtained. Wish us luck!

Dracunculus vulgaris typical purple form
Dracunculus vulgaris ‘Phallic Blush’
Dracunculus vulgaris ‘White Rhino’

Stay Kiss

We’ve grown quite a few stachys (pronounced stay-kiss) through the years, but have been most impressed this spring with our newest acquisition, Stachys cretica. This fascinating dryland perennial has a wide natural range from France to Iran, where it thrives in rocky, dry, Mediterranean-like conditions. Our plants are seed-grown from Greek Plantsman, Eleftherios Dariotis, who will be speaking at our upcoming Southeastern Plant Symposium.

Stachys is one of the largest genera of plants in the sage (Lamiaceae) family, with estimates ranging from 300 to over 400 species. Stachys species are spread worldwide, being found from Europe though Asia, Africa, and into North America.

Shockingly, Stachys cretica seems virtually unknown to most gardeners, despite it puttig on a killer floral show in an unirrigated bed, and being foraged in our garden, by a huge number of bumblebees.

Formanek’s Bellflower

The Greek bellflower, Campanula formanekiana has been superb in the crevice garden this spring. This amazing monocarpic (dies after flowering) species take three years to flower, and when it does, it puts on one heck of show. It’s namesake was Czech botanist, Eduard Formanek (1845-1900). We’re hoping for a good seed set. Hardiness is Zone 7a-9a, at least.

Buttercolor

Here are a few buttery-colored plants flowering today in garden, starting with Arum creticum ‘Golden Torch’. This started as a small field division of a particularly large flowered selection from our 2010 expedition to Crete.

Arum creticum ‘Golden Torch’

Paeonia mlokosewitschii is known for being un-pronouncable, so most folks refer to it as Molly the Witch peony. This is a particularly lovely butter yellow form from Ellen Hornig of the former Seneca Hill Perennials.

Paeonia mlokosewitschii JLBG-03

Trillium sp. nov. freemanii is a still unpublished new trillium species (hopefully soon), that we discovered in 1998. Normally red flowered, this is a rare yellow-flowered form.

Trillium sp. nov. freemanii JLBG-014

Oh, Daphne

My visit to Crete in 2010 was eye-opening when I observed that most native daphnes of the region grew in full sun among rock, in the driest conditions imaginable. That prompted us to re-try many of the daphnes that we’d killed years earlier…obviously, with too much kindness. Now, all of our daphnes are planted in baking sun in our crevice garden, or similar rock garden conditions. Here are a few photos at JLBG from early April.

The first is the Mediterranean native, Daphne collina, which most authorities now subsume under Daphne sericea. All daphne pictured below should be hardy from Zone 6a – 8b.

Daphne collina

Daphne ‘Rosy Wave’ is a Daphne collina hybrid with Daphne burkwoodii

Daphne ‘Rosy Wave’

Daphne x napolitana ‘Bramdream’ is a hybrid of Daphne collina and Daphne cneorum.

Daphne x napolitana ‘Bramdream’

Cracking Crocus

Spring crocus are popping all through the garden, and it’s a challenge to photograph them all. We just happened to recently catch Crocus isauricus ‘Spring Beauty’ in full flower. Crocus isauricus (formerly Crocus biflorus ssp. isauricus) is an endemic to Southern Turkey in the region along the Mediterranean Sea.

Iris days of Winter

Here are an assortment of Iris species flowering at JLBG during the last week of February. So many folks only know the bearded iris of later spring, and miss these amazing winter gems. Join us this weekend for our Winter Open Nursery & Garden Days and explore our winter blooming iris.

The first is Iris tuberosa, a winter blooming tuberous iris from Mediterranean Europe. Iris tuberosa is one of the few examples, where a Latinized name change actually results in something that’s easier to pronounce. This gem was formerly known by the tongue twisting name, Hermodactylus tuberosus. Most iris grow from rhizomes, with the tuberous iris being a much smaller and less-known group. We have found these to grow best in part sun. Winter hardiness Zone 7b-10b.

Iris tuberosa

The West-Asian (Caucuses, Iran, Turkey, and Russia) Iris reticulata is also different, in that it grows from a bulb. These are quite easy to grow, and are available commercially in a number of named color forms. Below is Iris reticulata ‘Painted Lady’…looking stunning today. The reticulate (netted) iris grow best in full to part sun. Hardiness is Zone 3-8.

Iris reticulata ‘Painted Lady’

We’ve shown some of the Mediterranean Iris unguicularis recently, but here are a couple more looking particularly nice this week…Iris ‘Front Drive’ (top) and Iris ‘Winter Echos’ below. Hardiness for both is Zone 6b-9b.

Iris unguicularis ‘Front Drive’
Iris unguicularis ‘Winter Echos’

Cyclamen and Cyclawomen

Here are a couple of images this week from the garden of our older clumps of Cyclamen hederifolium. For garden areas that are dark and dry, where nothing else grows, cyclamen are your best bet. Of the plants below, one is at the base of a cryptomeria and the other at the base of a pine. Although they flower from August until Christmas, the winter foliage is just hard to beat. Hardiness is Zone 4a-8b.

Arisarum in hiding

We were delighted to find a flower on our Arisarum simorrhinum in early February, tucked in a the base of a dwarf Chamaecyparis (false cypress). This little-grown Mediterranean native, dryland aroid is first cousin to the better known mouse plant, Arisarum proboscideum. This baby has been in the ground for 20 years, so slow is the operative word.

Arisarum simorrhinum

Winter Magnolias

This winter has been an amazing one at JLBG for the mid-winter flowering, evergreen magnolias. Formerly known as Michelia, there are several species from warm temperature Asian climates, which flower in the mid-winter. The plant in the top photo is our oldest specimen of Magnolia platypetala, and below is Magnolia macclurei…both planted in 1999, and in full flower in January. Obviously, we will loose open flowers if winter night temperatures drop too far below freezing, but the remainder of the flower buds usually open shortly after temperatures warm.

Also, the bright gold shrub in the first image is the original plant of our introduction, Illicium parviflorum ‘Florida Sunshine’…the plant from which all plants in the world were propagated. To the lower right is the Mediterranean native, Phlomis fruticosa ‘Miss Grace’. All in all, a lovely winter garden combination.

A Characias Cracker

For years, we struggled to grow the Mediterranean/Balkan native spurge, Euphorbia characias…until we discovered its secrets. First, it isn’t a long lived plant to begin with…in most cases 3-5 years is it, so you’ll need to plant it where it’s likely to reseed. That would be well-drained slopes that are either mulched or covered with gravel.

Secondly, after it flowers in spring with its stunning show of yellow flowers, remove most of the flower stalks as soon as flowering has finished, except those needed to produce new seedlings (the flowers are also great to use in floral arrangements). If not, the seed stalks use up energy causing the plant to decline much faster. We’ve now allowed this to seed throughout the slopes in front of our house, and here is the result…a smattering of 3′ tall x 3′ wide clumps, photo taken mid-winter.

Although this section of the garden, planted in compost-amended sandy loam is irrigated, we typically don’t recommend irrigation for this spurge without excellent drainage. You’ll also read on-line that Euphorbia characias doesn’t like hot, humid summers…another example of fake gardening news that just keeps getting repeated without any concern for the facts.

We’ve also found Euphorbia characias to grow well in part sun under large trees, which keeps the soil dry. The plants will never be as dense as they are in full sun, but they survive and flowers. There is really not anything else that gives you this evergreen blue color and form in the winter garden.

Are you a blue fan?

We love our Mediterranean blue fan palms…one of the coolest palms we can grow outdoors. We’re right on the edge of winter hardiness for Chamaerops humilis var. argentea, so the key is to grow it to a larger size before planting in the ground. We’ve lost a few that we planted too small, and when that planting coincided with a cold winter.

This is a photo taken this January of our oldest clump, now 17 years old. This is a very slow growing palm, so a good bit of patience is required when getting it established. When we do experience single digits F winter temperatures, all of the foliage is burned back, but it re-sprouts from the base in spring. Mediterranean blue fan palm hails from high elevations in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco, where it eventually makes a 15′ tall specimen. In our cold winter climate, we doubt it will ever top 4′ in height. It should be winter hardy from Zone 7b and warmer.

Winter flowering Strawberry Tree

There aren’t a large number of trees that flower in winter in temperate climates, but one we can’t imagine gardening without is Arbutus unedo ‘Compacta’. This amazing Mediterranean native has thrived for us since the late 1980s.

Arbutus is a member of the  Ericaceae family, which is why the flower so closely resemble those of its cousin, Pieris.

The clusters of red fruit that ripen in late winter after months of flowering resembles miniature strawberries, hence the common name of strawberry tree. The shaggy cinnamon bark is also another striking ornamental feature. Our 30 year old specimen has reached 12′ tall x 12′ wide. Hardiness is Zone 7b and warmer.

Arbutus unedo ‘Compacta’
Arbutus unedo ‘Compacta’
Arbutus unedo ‘Compacta’ bark

Unduly Undulate

Most plants have Latin name epithets (the 2nd word) that describes/commemorates either a place, person, or plant characteristic. In this case, the foliage of this Greek wooly mullein (Verbascum undulatum) is ridiculously wavy. Here it is looking great in our rock garden during the early winter. This will be our first full winter with it in the ground, so fingers crossed that it survives.

Fresh Olive Oil…anyone?

For the first time in years, our olive (Olea europea ‘Arbeqina’) here at JLBG is loaded with fruit. It’s been a while since we’ve had a crop, not because of cold, but because a f..xy!!!zz? beaver cut our tree completely to the ground several years ago. We offered this through Plant Delights for many years, so we hope others have been equally successful at producing an olive crop.

Michaux and Michauxia

Most keen botanist are familiar with the late French botanist, Andre’ Michaux (1746-1802). Michaux was a pioneer in botanizing North America, but how many people have actually grown the plant genus named in his honor. Michauxia is a genus of seven species, sister to campanulas, that hail from the Mediterranean though much of the Middle-East. We are fortunate to have his namesake, Michauxia campanuloides in flower this week for the first time, where it is thriving in the crevice garden.

Supersize & Vulgar

Just flowering at JLBG is our largest clone of the hardy aroid, Dracunculus vulgaris, that we named ‘Supersize’. This one produced a massive 30″ inflorescence. A typical length is 15-20″. We’d be curious is anyone has grown one any larger. As you can imagine, it was quite a feast for the pollinating flies.

Dracunculus vulgaris ‘Supersize’
Dracunculus vulgaris ‘Supersize’
Dracunculus vulgaris ‘Supersize’

Dazzling vulgarities

Flowering in the garden now are the amazing and very rare white-flowered Dracunculus vulgaris. This wild and crazy aroid, which typically has a red/purple inflorescence, hails from the Mediterranean region, centered around Greece and Turkey. The late aroid guru Alan Galloway worked extensively to breed these, and since we now hold his collections, we wanted to share the wonder of his work. It is our hope that tissue culture will be able to make these amazing color forms available one day.

Cyclamens in the cracks

When we completed our crevice garden, we wanted to see if it would be a good home to cyclamen, since they like to grow naturally in well drained sites, and sites that are very dry during their late spring/early dormant period. Here, they also get a couple of hours of morning sun, but shade after that and no supplemental water. The soil mix is about 50% Permatill and 50% native soil/compost. Here are some photos recently taken this winter showing how they have fared. The joy of growing cyclamen is that each seedling has a different leaf pattern…what amazing plants!

Cyclamen hederifolium
Cyclamen hederifolium
Cyclamen hederifolium
Cyclamen hederifolium
Cyclamen hederifolium
Cyclamen hederifolium
Cyclamen hederifolium
Cyclamen hederifolium
Cyclamen hederifolium
Cyclamen hederifolium
Cyclamen hederifolium
Cyclamen hederifolium
Cyclamen hederifolium
Cyclamen hederifolium
Cyclamen coum
Cyclamen coum