It bloomed! One of the most satisfying times of the year for me is the discovery of this single bloom of Colchicum cilicicum, one of three Colchicum types that I currently possess (I must acquire more!). A few days before this photo, there were no signs of growth, that's how fast they are! By the time this post was published, there was already a second flower open; not present at the time the photos were taken.
Colchicums are perfect for me and my garden. First, they are toxic which means I don't have to worry about above/below ground attacks by hungry or otherwise destructive animals (sometimes I feel certain they just want to destroy stuff for the thrill of it). Second, they flower late in the season which adds a lot of interest while other plants fizzle out for the year, and they provide a late resource of pollen and nectar to the various bees that are still active at this time.
Last year, despite having only a few Colchicums in relatively disjunct locations relative to each other, honeybees and a few solitary bees foraged on the flowers. This plant was apparently well fertilized and produced three or four seed pods with seemingly viable seeds inside. I had collected the seeds (around ten in total) and stored them in a bag of dry sand. Just a few days ago, I sowed them, sand and all, into a small pot. My previous attempt with Colchicum from seed yielded no results; either the seeds rotted away or I was too impatient. Hopefully this year will be different!
The idea that different species or hybrid Colchicums will have varying degrees of success in different gardens in different locales is a viable idea for me. This drives my desire to try many different forms, species, and hybrids of many plants to discover which ones are the happiest where I live. This could vary just a few miles down the road, where depending on the garden's microclimate a plant may behave very differently than here. I believe I have found success with this species, Colchicum cilicicum. I also grow Colchicum speciosum and Colchicum 'Lilac Wonder' (thought to be a hybrid of Colchicum giganteum and C. bornmuelleri, though both taxa are often considered synonyms of C. speciosum) with varying degrees of success, though further observation is necessary to determine the vigor of those in my garden.
|Honeybee imbibing off of Stachys byzantina leaf|
The onset of cooler weather (temporary or not) has brought back a variety of butterflies that had been scarce in my garden during the hot smokey conditions of the past month or two. They too utilize the water source found on the hairy leaves. Bees and butterflies will alternatively attain water from soggy soil; wet enough to drink from but dry enough to land on. Bees and wasps turn to pools and other man made water sources when they don't have any other sources nearby.
|Puschkinia scilloides var. libanotica bulbs|
We have now officially entered "Bulb Season" (though considering the amazing array of bulbous or similarly geophytic species in the world, "Bulb Season" could be considered a year-round event). For many, particularly in the Northern latitudes, this is the time of year bulbs start showing up in stores and are delivered from mail order catalogs. Every year I spend way too much time and effort planting way too many bulbs. It is always worth the trouble. Besides the challenge of what to plant and where to plant it, there is the added headache of constant attack from deer, tree squirrels, ground squirrels, gophers, moles, rabbits, skunks, wild turkeys, crows, herbivorous insects, and freak accidents that can only be attributed to malicious divine intervention. Every day I must reassess my assumptions, fine tune my [gardening] technique, and adjust my plant selections carefully. Puschkinia, probably due to the close affinity to the genus Scilla (contains toxic cardiac glycosides), animal pests seem to leave them alone. Just a few days ago, I discovered some Puschkinia bulbs that were dug up, but not eaten, something worth celebration!
|From left: Arisaema heterophyllum, Crocus goulimyi, Arctostaphylos viscida|
|Good weatherproof labels and grit|
My current method is shown here. A good label is so valuable! I use these metal tags and engrave the name and date of sowing, also the source (these seeds from the PBS seed exchande: SX 3). If I were less lazy I would also scribe the date of germ/emergence, potentially valuable information down the road. Most seeds are merely scattered onto the surface of soil that is not tamped down (crevices for the seeds to fall into), then covered with a very fine layer of [salt-free] grit. Too much grit is a problem for weak seedlings, I have observed. Other seeds, like Arisaema, Crocus, Narcissus, and Scilla will appreciate deeper sowing, between a half-inch to halfway down the pot. This information is largely anecdotal and probably depends on the species and the soil mix, I suspect. I will keep some pots under lights all Winter, others will be plunged in a garden bed "in the elements." Some seeds seed the freeze/thaw cycle to break the seed coat (or other germ-inhibiting mechanisms), but care must be taken when they do germinate in the open as the tiny seedlings are vulnerable to damage from weather and pests.
|Well house bed|
This flower bed was originally planted with a random mix of annuals and perennials that my wife and I selected long long ago, having no clue about what plants needed. The sole survivor of that planting is the yellow snapdragon (Antirrhinum), the rest were either transplanted elsewhere or died immediately without hesitation. Since then, and wanting to learn about the needs of happy plants, I have planted the bed with small bulbs (mostly Allium, Scilla and Muscari) and seeded the bare patches with a large variety of plants.
The Colchicum pictured above is planted here, nearly halfway up the right hand front side, see the green plant tag? Lamium maculatum has settled in nicely in the corner, as well as Geranium macrorrhizum and Sedum album. There is a strong tree root presence that has infiltrated the beds (another bed wraps around the corner right of the pump house door). Originally I had attempted to rip the tree roots out, but that required removing every plant first. I've now resorted to letting nature figure it out. I provide seeds and water, nature does the rest.
|Shady driveway bed, under a mature Pseudotsuga menziesii|
This planting has gone through several reincarnations, both as a result of poor plant selection in the past (the first place I ever planted flowers here, an utter failure) and an onslaught of hungry or otherwise destructive animal-related incidents that caused plants to either die or require triage. Currently it is planted up with Lavendula (at the edge of its shade tolerance), Geranium macrorrhizum, Campanula, Viola, Agastache foeniculum, and a variety of other native/nonnative seedlings and plantings. As with nearly all of my garden beds, a soaker hose is submerged around the tree to provide water.
One of the most durable plantings here is my "Thyme garden," located just outside of my vegetable garden. While being planted with almost every species and cultivar of thyme available to me via local nurseries, companions include oregano, Sedum album (such a versatile and durable plant!), Symphoricarpos, chives, and a few others. They all do well with very infrequent waterings and are not bothered by deer or rodents, although rodents like moles have extensive tunnels under the bed. Thymes like alkaline soil, so in late fall I sprinkle some lime onto each plant. They have responded very well to this, growth has noticeably improved after lime applications.
|The rest of the yard|
|Halictus bee on Hypochaeris radicata|
|The tiny rock garden|
The soaker, still in good shape, is now buried and so has created a pseudo-moraine in part of the bed. The benefit of a soaker hose in this kind of planting is that it doesn't uniformly soak the bed, but instead facilitates areas of wet and dry. Varying the depth of the hose (or rather the height of the substrate piled on top of it, the bed has "mini-hills") also affects how moisture is applied. I have had good results with this.
|Heath (foreground) and heather (background)|
|Alyssum montanum with Calluna|
Heather is identified easily from heath by the leaves. Flowering time is generally the "warm" part of the year while heath flowers in the "cold" time of year, but leaf identification is easier and more reliable. The leaves of heath (Erica) are short needles perpendicular to the stem. Heather (Calluna) has overlapping scales clasping the stem or slightly lifted; definitely not at a right angle to the stem.
One of the plants that makes this bed feel like a real rock garden (whatever that means) is my tiny Dianthus gratianopolitanus. In Spring the plant is covered with many small semi-double highly scented flowers that appear to be favored by moths that visit at dusk. The plant is underplanted with a variety of small bulbs (as is the entire bed) which grow through the dense cushion easily.
|Armeria maritima 'Rubrifolia'|
|Armeria pseudarmeria 'Ballerina red'|
The thing that is strange to me about this plant is that natural populations in its native Portugal are small and shrinking, according to the IUCN Redlist of Threatened Species. See the IUCN Redlist page on Armeria pseudarmeria.
|Allium 'Sugar Melt'|
I have a sad story. The day after capturing this image, the happy Allium you see here was destroyed. Rodents, probably a gopher, ate the rhizome leaving me with a disappointing scape. I was once naive enough to think Alliums would be safe here, avoided by deer so obviously rodents wont like them. Very wrong, was I. My first discovery that rodents LOVE Alliums was when one of the garden beds lining our driveway was completely cleared of all the many Alliums planted in it (a mass planting of amplectens and sphaerocephalon, with the exception of the few individuals of ampeloprasum var. ampeloprasum which were left intact). I had acquired a single plant of Allium 'Sugar Melt' last year, and being a thrifty gardener I divided it upon arrival. The other division remains intact, planted towards the center of the rock garden, thankfully! It will be, uh, interesting to see how the dormant bulbs have fared when they appear in late Winter or Spring. I have planted different species of Scilla and Chionodoxa (considered a synonym of Scilla sensu lato) as well as the related Puschkinia. My hope is they are unfavorable to the rodents. We'll see.
|Sedum hispanicum var. minus|
Sempervivims are one of the easiest plants, requiring a minimum of care and unfairly rewarding the gardener with a lot of small surprises throughout the year with their relatively strange growth habits. They are related to well known plants like the saxifrages and jade plant, as well as many popular rock and desert species (Rhodiola, Echeveria, Sedum, etc). Sempervivums are monocarpic, meaning they die after flowering. Fortunately, they don't flower too often, and dead "mothers" are often succeeded by many "daughter" offsets which then become "mothers" themselves, and so on.
|Sedums & Sempervivums|
|Sedums & Sempervivums|
The bed was once filled with Calendula, now Calendula resides around the outside edges where it reseeds itself in the gravel along with remnants of Sedum album. My daughter happily picks all the Calendula flowers, a good compromise!
This is the highest point in the rock garden, excluding or including the large rock. The mound is mostly made up of sand, but deeper down is a thick layer of perlite and compost. This is also the driest part of the bed, hosting a wide array of plants that tolerate these conditions. All the rocks are native, some are acutely angled metamorphic like the big dark stone, while most are the rounded "river rock" deposited in the ground here by an ancient river basin (dubbed an "alluvial plain").
|A lizard perches on the big rock in the rock garden|
|Mini Rock Garden|
A view of the rock garden. Note the Calendula on the left. I have also tucked a few Sedums and Sempervivums into the spaces between the bricks, some more successful then others. The opposite side also features a prostrate rosemary plant, yet it has not yet flowered (not old enough?)
|Dasiphora fruticosa 'Abbotswood' with a honeybee|
Bush cinquefoil (syn. Potentilla fruticosa) grows in one of the other garden beds closer to the driveway. It was one of the first plants I bought to plant here, amazing it is still alive. It was originally planted in the shady driveway bed that wraps around a mature Douglas-fir. It has since been growing in a sunnier position, and this year it has finally flowered well enough to attract honeybees! The species typically has orange to yellow flowers, and grows at high latitudes and altitudes, occasionally growing as a prostrate subshrub.
|Honeybee on Echinacea|
|Halictus sweat bee on Coreopsis tinctoria|
A less frequent form of Coreopsis tinctoria is the all red-flowered form. All of the annual Coreopsis grow in gravel at the base of the driveway bed. They self sow and are reliable in that regard. I also help by spreading the seeds around to areas that are difficult to plant and where little else but weeds will grow. Another note, deer ignore them.
|Monarda didyma with a honeybee|
|Agastache foeniculum with a honeybee|
Also at the tail end of flowering is the licorice mint (sometimes called anise hyssop). A few florets continue to pop out of the elongated spikes, but bees in general know that the season is practically over for this plant. One of the easiest plants I grow, it is a figurative bee magnet that should be in every garden. Also, the tea from the dried leaves is excellent! Used as an herb, the effect is carminative, so everyone benefits and will probably thank you for your good deed.
|Madia elegans with a male Agapostemon sweat bee|
Tarweed, Madia elegans, is nearly out of flowers and is now mostly in seed. Some of the larger plants (some up to three feet tall) still have a few buds with early morning dots of yellow scattered across the field. Bees, like this male Agapostemon sweat bee (the females don't have stripes on the thorax), continue to utilize the resources found in these flowers.
Nearly all native bees live for just a single growing season. They emerge in Spring, mate, make a nest, lay eggs, provision their nests, then die when their food source dries up or up to the first frosts. Males typically hang around the flowers (sometimes a specific group of flowers, and can be territorial) and wait for females to mate with. This time of year, as resources become more and more scarce, it is probably the end of the line for the solitary bees that are still active at this time. Their nests, however, are probably fully provisioned with eggs ready to endure Winter and prepare for emergence next Spring when the cycle will continue.
|Zia (my 2y/o daughter), seed grown Echinaceas, and white-flowered Dasiphora fruticosa 'Abbotswood'|