It would be unseemly at best and ungrateful at worst to complain about anything related to my upcoming trip to Alaska.
My "Festiva Maxima" peony is running about 10 days behind schedule. In the past, it has bloomed like clockwork on May 1. This year, its fourth in my garden, promises to be spectacular. It has finally hit a good size and has tons of big fat buds. My best guess is that it will start blooming on Friday.
Unfortunately, I won't see it.
Last week, I bought another lavender. Of course I didn't need; I already have two rather enormous specimens and have no room for more. And yet, after a trip to the Farmers Market to purchase basil plants, I somehow wound up with another lavender. In my defense, it was a white flowering variety. Pretty cool.
My fixation with lavender is odd, because I am not the lavender type. I hate perfume, sachets, and scented soaps. I think lavender in food is an abomination, and I don't care how many trendy chefs think I'm an unsophisticated boor for saying so. Yes lavender is pretty, yes it smells nice, and yes the bees love it, but you could say that about a lot of plants. So why the obsession with lavender?
Adjacent to my driveway, ending where my neighbor's holly bushes begin, is a little strip of land that I have dubbed the Valley of Death. A few years ago, Ron and I had the harebrained idea of turning it into a shade garden; ever since, it has been the place where plants go to die. The entire experience has been an education.
First, some background. When we moved in 8 years ago, our future shade garden was an unsightly slope of not-very-nice grass. Two mature trees, an oak and an alder, did a good job of preventing anything decent from growing around them. Throw in years of topsoil erosion and the reflected heat from the driveway, and you had just about the least likely place to plant a garden.
Fast forward to fall 2008. We had just replaced our ugly cracked driveway with pavers, and suddenly the wasteland seemed like a shade garden waiting to happen. We spent fall and winter preparing the site, piling on bag after bag of compost and top soil to improve and raise the planting bed. Then, beginning in March 2009, we filled it with a very expensive assortment of "tough" and "drought-tolerant" shade plants. Among the lucky winners were some A plants (asarum, aspidistra, and acanthus), some H plants (hostas, heucheras, and hellebores), one bergenia, two carex, one euphorbia robbiae, two "heat-tolerant" primulas, and assorted ferns.
I am sure all of you been wondering what has become of my extra-late-blooming kniphofia rooperi.
When we last left this aberrant specimen, it was the week after Thanksgiving, and the plant was doing its typical maneuver: producing buds about 3 months later than it should have. It had pulled this stunt every year since I brought it home from the nursery. What was supposed to be a late summer/early fall flowering plant in fact was some sort of mutant strain that took its own sweet time hatching those orange Popsicle blooms that made me buy it in the first place. And with the freezing nights that descend on Cary, North Carolina in December, its cavalier attitude usually proved fatal. Consequently, the buds of my kniphofia rooperi (torch lilies to the rest of us) never made it to the flowering stage until 2011-2012, the year of the winter that wasn't.
Today, for the January 2013 edition of Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day (hosted by Carol at May Dream Gardens), I offer you the latest installment of the kniphofia soap opera.
Say hello to my winter torch lilies. Yes, they made it. We are having another mild winter, although it has been a tiny bit colder than last year. There have even been mornings when I was sure that they could not possibly have survived - mornings when the Acuba, my unofficial outdoor thermometer, was drooping pathetically in the frost and the pansies were positively crispy. I need not have worried. The Popsicle sticks bent a little on those frigid mornings, but they straightened out as the day warmed up.
So the good news is, they bloomed. The bad news is, nobody cares. It's January. At this time of year, the only reason I pass my side garden is to pull the garbage cart up to the street. Since they insist upon blooming in December and January, they will need to move to the front yard, where I can enjoy them in the color-compatible company of my pyracantha and coral bark willow.
It will be a cliffhanger, I know. It is impossible to tell how they will perform in their new home, away from the protective warmth of the brick wall.
Will they decide to bloom when they should - in September and October?
Will they continue to set buds in November, only to be nipped by the cold in their more exposed location?
Or - dare I hope? - will they burst forth with glorious flowers in the dead of winter, inspiring awe and wonder among gardeners everywhere?
They say that what doesn't kill you makes you stronger. I have always thought that cliché was a little dubious when applied to people; what doesn't kill you is just as likely to wear you down until you just can't take it anymore. But what about flower buds?
That is the burning question posed by my annoyingly late-blooming kniphofia rooperi, commonly known as red hot poker or torch lily. This obnoxious tease of a plant sucked me in at a summer Plant Delights Open House about 5 years ago. It wasn't flowering, but I knew it had flamboyant orange and yellow blooms in early fall, and thought it would look fantastic with my swamp sunflowers. Into the garden it went.
That was July. September came, but no buds. October came. The swamp sunflowers were in their glory, but still no buds. Finally, at Thanksgiving, an army of buds appeared. They were a day late and a dollar short - the sunflowers were long gone and the garden was in winter mode - but I figured the plant was just settling in to its new home and would bloom at the proper time next year. Not surprisingly, a few days later the temperatures dropped and the buds bit the dust.
What should I say when somebody tells me my dog is cute? "Thank you" is probably the right response, but why? I had absolutely nothing to do with my dog's cuteness.
I feel the same way about swamp sunflower, which right now is getting all the attention in my garden. It is, bar none, the most spectacular plant in town right now. But I take no credit for it whatsoever.
For those of us in the Southeast, swamp sunflower (zones 6-9) may just be the perfect plant. It's beautiful, it's low maintenance, and it's pretty much disease-free. Plant it in full sun, give it decent soil, and make sure it gets some water during dry spells, and you'll look like a pro. Put it in a soggy spot, and you'll look like a genius.
The Galloping Horse Gardener is a native New Yorker who packed it in in 2005 to live under the radar in Cary, North Carolina. In 2014, she removed to a new secure location somewhere in Raleigh.
Follow the Blog
Problems signing up? Send me an email and let me know.