June 11, 2013

Nostalgia and the June Garden

I picked a few old world roses from the early 20th C. and some vintage peonies that were once my grandmothers from around 1910. In this 600 year old Chinese vase, this almost looks like an arrangement from Saipua! (sorry for the blur).

Last week while visiting my friends iris breeders Jan and Marty, we were discussing how we both had some of our grandmothers peonies in our gardens. Jan had transplanted ( saved-slash-rescued some of her moms') and I, some of my moms, although I still live on the same property, so it was not really a 'rescue', as it was "oh, I thought I got rid of those, and now they are back" sort of thing. Peony's are terribly long-lived and tenacious, except when you want them to be.

Today, I wish I was more careful with the peonies that once lived in our garden, but most were crushed under the tractors when the greenhouse was built twelve years ago, and few, if any, survived. below, a pink one from the late 1800's still blooms ( intensely fragrant!), and I know I can replace some of our older ones as I have the vintage names, but its just been something I have been putting off. To be honest, I think I am more attached to the newer selections, especially the inter-sectionals, or Itoh Hybrids, which are a cross between a tree peony and and herbaceous kind ( the sort that die to the ground each winter). These intersectional peonies are stronger, more robust in growth and flower, sometimes not even needing staking. I keep some antique varieties off the the edge of the garden for nostalgia's sake, but if they don't perform as well as I expect, they are sometimes put out of their misery. I don't have time for willy nilly emotions when it comes to some plants ( others, I will take a sword for - you know that).

A 100 year old unknown peony that was once my grandmothers, still blooms in the garden where it was first planted around 1910.

A new intersectional peony, a lovely yellow form, blooms upright and sturdy in the perennial border. Even the foliage is nicer with these newer crosses.

An heirloom iris has strong, rootbeer-like grapey fragrance, but it barely compares with newer crosses such as the big German Bearded below.
This large new (2010) German Bearded Iris "Greatest Show on Earth" has on-trend coloring and massive flowers.

Other new German Bearded Iris have striking stripes and colors, such as the aptly named"Crows Feet" introduced in 2006, which has brilliantly striped falls.

Some new Itoh Hyrbid Peonies have pure yellow blossoms, with little or no red in them.

Just an update on those pansy's that I started last summer and transplanted into the garden in the autumn - this is the proper way to grow pansy's, as when others are failing in summer heat, these are growing stronger and bushier. Hopefully, they will self sow for next year.

Artichokes are growing fast ( with little chokes already showing!). The pansy's probably should be pulled out to provide more air movement around the base, but I just can't bring myself to do this just yet. Maybe in another week or two.
Baby Artichokes! These will probably be ready to pick while I am in California amongst the 'real big artichokes being harvested' in two weeks, as I will be in the San Fran area.
The lemons that provided us with many jars of marmalade in January, still have a few fruit on them, but these will be harvested as the trees are well budded and ready to start the season over again, now that they are out from the greenhouse for the summer.

In the alpine troughs, the late blooming silver saxifrages are starting to bloom. I always enjoy their delicate white flowers, sometimes produced on long panicles, and other times, just like this. They always remind me of the Italian Alps and the Dolomites, where they grow on the highest, limestone mountain peaks.

In the vegetable garden, the seedling onions ( 'Copra' from Johnny's Selected Seeds) that I started in January, are already thickening up. Some are already being harvested as green onions for weekend morning omelette's.
There was a time when every onion we grew came from onion sets. Then, I discovered that the finest onions are grown from seed, and that onions ( as well as other alliums such as leeks and shallots) must be sown early, indoors, often as early as late January here in Massachusetts. It's always surprising to watch them mature faster than those grown from sets in my side-by-side comparison studies. With plenty of water, good sandy loam and fertilizer low in nitrogen, my onions can grow as large as those found at Whole Foods by the end of July, but what really wins me over is the texture - crispy and sharp, home-grown onions are superior to store bought ones.
The many primula ( Primrose) species which Is started from seed this winter, are ready to be placed out into the garden, where they will bloom next spring. I dug a new bed this weekend ( I have blisters to prove it!), and most will be going in there. These are Primula denticulata - blue forms, from the Himalaya, but I have at least 7 species that I will be transplanting over the next few weeks.

Primroses are best grown from seed for many reasons, but mostly for cost. Sure, it's hard to find most varieties and species other than those polyanthus or acaulis types grown for the potted plant trade, which are rarely hardy once planted out, but when grown from seed, primroses can be very hardy, often withstanding very cold temperatures, even in Alaska and Canada - so there are no excuses why you should not grow some next year. My favorite for garden performance are the drumstick Primroses ( Primula denticulata, and the Polyanthus forms, Primual veris ( the wild cowslips in England), and  Primual acaulis. The only thing 'acaulis' means is that the flower does not have a stem, just a pedicel, so the flowers sit down low in the rosette of foliage, whereas the Polyanthus forms have a stem, and then pedicel, like a magic wand, if you will. In the garden, stemmed forms are usually better, but they are rarely sold in pots as the stem once wilted in the garden center, rarely comes back with full force. Primula veris have stems, but the flowers are not that showy, a characteristic I happen to appreciate, so I grow many of these, and the fact that they are the easiest to grow from seed, helps.

Sunday was beautiful here, bright blue skies, cool temperatures and hardly a breeze or a cloud in the sky. The perfect June morning for home made Black Cherry Buttermilk muffins.


  1. I love peonies! Your arrangement is beautiful!

  2. Anonymous5:47 PM

    I have over 300 ft of 104 yr old peonies. 3 varieties. The scent can knock you out it is so fragrant. I've taken a few pieces off over the years to replant elsewhere. I have one plant that is nearly a 5 ft circle
    this week with road widening I have to move about 100 ft of them to keep our historical story going. Quite nervous at first dig but after a lot of water came out pretty good. they require such low maintenance. we just mow over them after hard frost about every 3 years I feed them peat moss.


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