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.