21 November 2013

Growing (real) mandrakes!

If you are a Harry Potter fan, or just interested in folklore, you may know the mythical mandrake, a plant with roots that are supposed to scream when you pull them up, a scream that will kill anyone who hears it. Another myth has it that mandrakes only grow where the semen of a hanged man hits the ground.


Luckily for us, cultivation of the actual factual mandrake is a great deal less difficult and dangerous. In fact it is fairly easy to grow, and they are looking lush and lovely at the nursery right now.
 It is only hardy to zone 6, so needs a sheltered spot to survive here in mid-Michigan, but otherwise the only trick is understanding how it grows. Mandrake is a winter grower -- plants are just putting up lush and beautiful leaves now, leaves which will stay up all winter, followed by rather pretty flowers and fruit in the spring, and then it goes totally dormant in the summer. This makes it pretty much impossible to sell at a regular nursery, because any time people are shopping, it looks like it is dead. But come fall, up it pops again, without fail.

Frustrating as this backwards growth cycle is for us a nursery, it makes it a terrific garden plant. Because it grows in the winter, it does beautifully under deciduous trees, soaking up the sun while the leaves are down, and it is terrific interplanted with normal perennials like hostas, because right when the hostas are going down for the fall, leaving the garden barren, up pops the mandrake to look beautiful all winter. Pretty magical.
And, of course, you can show it to all your Harry Potter obsessed friends and make them horribly jealous, which is pretty magical as well.
We've got a few for sale: http://www.arrowheadalpines.com/shop/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=65_182&products_id=7026

07 November 2013

Delosperma update: The field narrows

Back in May, I posted about my experiments with trying to kill delospermas. I planted out entire collection out during the summer of 2012, in our native sandy soil, but no special conditions like raised beds or anything else. My goal was to see what THRIVES here in Michigan with no extra effort, so I just plopped two plant of each variety in the ground and waited to see what happened.

In May, I reported that 11 species had come through the winter just fine -- over half of what I had planted out to begin with. Which was more than I expected. I was surprised to find that over the summer many more bit the dust. We're now down to just 5. We had a summer that was slightly on the rainy and cool side, but nothing extreme. I never would have guessed it would kill so many delospermas. But it has, leaving me with a narrowing field of the very best delospermas for the Michigan garden. Here are the survivors, with pictures of what they look like today, with my comments:

Delosperma 'Firespinner'
This CLEARLY wins the vigor contest. This was a little, MAYBE 2 inch across plant just one year ago, and now the patch has spread to nearly two feet across. Way to large and aggressive for a rock garden or other small garden, but if you want a vigorous tough ground covering delosperma, this is the one I'd recommend. The flowers are stunning red-orange bicolor. (Sorry, we don't have this listed in the catalog yet, but should have some ready for sale by spring. If not, you shouldn't have trouble finding it for sale... everyone is growing this beauty.)

Delosperma ecklonis v. latifolia
Coming in a close second on the vigor department, this one has gone from two inches to a foot and half in just one year. Typical bright magenta flowers, heavy blooming in the early summer, with quite decent rebloom. As you can see, it hasn't quite given up flowering now, in NOVEMBER, despite quite a dose of freezing weather.

Delosperma deleeuwiae (possibly actually D. neill)

Delosperma 'Broncoensis'

Delosperma 'Lesotho Pink'
Not much practical difference between these three... all spread from their original ~2 inches to 6 or 8 inches, intense magenta flowers. Most of the plants in the garden suffered some die back in the centers of the clump, which gives them a bit of a patchy look. 'Broncoensis' is probably the best looking plant of the bunch (Note: we don't have this in the catalog at the moment. Stand by, we should have some ready to list soon.) and better for a small space than 'Firespinner' or D. ecklonis.

Delosperma nubigenum (this name may be incorrect...)

This is one of my favorites. The plant stayed quite small and tight, barely getting to 4 inches from the original 2 inch plant, which means this would be terrific in a rock garden or container garden. Yellow flowers, which is always a nice change from the typical delosperma magenta, and the foliage is taking on this lovely red flush as we're getting into fall. Apparently turning red in the fall is normal for most delospermas in sunnier climes like Denver, but here, where fall is cloudy and rainy, it is the only one really worth looking at.

29 May 2013

Report from the trial beds: Erodium!

Erodium is one of those genera that I had vaguely heard of but didn't really know anything about before I started working at Arrowhead. They're closely related to Pelargoniums, and I'd always sort of assumed they wouldn't be very winter hardy. But they're proved me wrong on the hardiness front, and now, the more I see of them, the more I like them. The ones we grow all bloom continuously starting now in late spring and continuing on without a pause well into the fall. The flowering is never super heavy – these aren't plants that smother themselves with flower – but that is more than compensated for (at least in my mind) by the intricate beauty of the flowers and the absolutely terrific ferny foliage. Also a huge plus, so far the deer and rabbits haven't shown any interest in them (though I'm making no guarantees... if your critters are hungry enough they'll eat almost anything) and they absolutely laugh at drought, heat AND our cold, cold winters.
Erodium chelianthifolium

Erodium glandulosum
Erodium glandulosum and E. chelianthifolium are two of my favorites, and I'm totally geeked that they sailed through our solidly zone 5 winter without missing a beat. Both form compact, tidy mounds (at one year in, they're 3-4 inches tall, and maybe 6 inches wide) of beautiful silver, finely cute fern-like foliage and have delicate round pale pink (in the case of ) or white (in the case of ) flowers with a pansy-like eye of darker purple that dance above the leaves on slender stems.
Erodium glandulosum

Erodium chelianthifolium
The two species are quite similar, with E. glandulosum somewhat larger in all its parts and proving to be marginally more vigorous and heavily blooming in the garden, though I think E chelianthifolium. has somewhat prettier (though smaller) blooms, and a stronger silver to the foliage.

Erodium chrysanthum
E. chrysanthum has the best foliage I've seen in this genus, a brilliant silver of the sort people usually resort to annuals like dusty miller to get (though it doesn't show up well in this photo...), on a tidy compact plant that stays under 6 inches tall and slowly spreads to a foot or more in width.
Erodium chrysanthum
 The flowers look white in this photo, but are actually a delicate shade of the palest possible yellow. They're beautiful and produced continuously during the summer, but in all honesty are best described as sparse. This plant is all about the foliage, and the flowers are just a sprinkling of extra goodness.

Erodium carvifolium

Erodium circutarium

Erodium mannescovii
E. carvifolium, E. cirvutarium, and E. mannescovii look so similar that at first I wondered if they were different plants at all... but comparing the three side-by-side, they are distinct, and in the garden their growth habits are noticably different as well. 
All have large, dark green very ferny leaves that form an almost flat mat, only a few inches tall, but one year in, are already over a foot across, and all three are intense when it comes to flower production, blooming heavily all summer long with big masses of brilliant see-them-on-the-other-side-of-the-garden magenta flowers. 
Erodium carvifolium
I'm not usually a magenta fan, but these I like. A lot. They are loud and unabashed and cheerful. Comparing the three in the trial bed, my clear favorite is E. carvifolium Bigger leaves and flowers than the other two, it is also clearly the most vigorous and heathy of the three, and is blooming the heaviest. I do however also like E. circutarium, which holds its flowers more upright than the other two.

I did also put two other species of Erodium in the trial beds, E. chamaedryoides and E. richardii, neither of which made it through the winter... which came as no surprise. If you live somewhere warmer (zone 7 maybe 6) they're well worth growing, tiny, cute, adorable little things. But I think I'll stick with the hardy ones.