Sun Kissed

15 Feb

SaffronI know I’ve said it before, but winter can be oppressive here in the Pacific Northwest. Days and days of gray, cold weather all run together into long stretches without a glimmer of sunlight. In the deepest part of winter I sometimes forget that the sun exists. When the heavens do part for a day drenching everything with that warm winter sunlight, I am stunned and almost feel undeserving of such a lavish gift. I know I sound crazy, but everyone in the Northwest is a little bit bonkers.

A second furry, silvery bud is opening on Edgeworthia chrysantha 'Akabana' revealing a soft coral and apricot flower.

A second furry, silvery bud has opened on Edgeworthia chrysantha ‘Akabana’ revealing a soft coral and apricot flower.

I know my plants appreciate these rare days and no ray of precious sunlight goes to waste. The Edgeworthia has a few more buds beginning to swell but the original inflorescence from earlier posts now has two buds open revealing a more pastel color I wasn’t expecting, however still lovely! Hopefully the flowers will eventually fade to a nice orangey-red. Though the flowers just opened, I still haven’t detected a fragrance – I’ll check a few days later. I love how the light gently dances on it’s silvery hairs, a lovely contrast to the pastel tones inside the flowers. Just delicious!

Crocus sativus, or Saffron, soaking in the winter sun.

Crocus sativus, or Saffron, soaking in the winter sun.

No, the “grass” under my potted Japanese Maple are not weeds. They are Crocus sativus, or better known as Saffron. (Though there are some weeds mixed in under there, mainly bittercress and willow-herb, which I need to pull out.)

A single Saffron flower from late October with the stigmas plucked out from within the blossom.

A single Saffron flower from late October with the pistils plucked out from within the blossom.

In it’s native range, the Mediterranean, Crocus sativus goes dormant during the summer when it’s hot and dry. The leaves and flowers appear once autumn rains return. The flowers have silky, soft lavender petals with deep violet veining within and tend to open on non-raining days. Each chalice-shaped blossom will have three rich golden threads poking out. These “threads” are actually the pistils (female part of the flower), which is collected and dried to make Saffron. One flower only offers up three threads and still to this day all Saffron has to be picked my hand. That’s the reason why Saffron is still the most expensive spice.

The coral twigs of Cornus alba 'Elegantissima' glowing in the sunlight.

The coral twigs of Cornus alba ‘Elegantissima’ glowing in the sunlight.

Since we don’t get much sun here in the winter, I’m sure the saffron is gobbling up this rare treat. More sun means more food, more food means more flowers, and more flowers means more saffron to harvest! I’ve heard a hot, baking summer helps Saffron Crocuses to bloom. (Think Crete.) August through October was quite dry and hot, and that probably played a factor in flowering last year.

Off in the shady part of the back garden Sarcococca confusa is in full bloom. It’s a tough medium sized shrub that has the miraculous ability to thrive in deep, dry shade. The leaves are glossy green, rather much like a boxwood. (Actually, it is a member of the boxwood family.)

Don't let the little Sarcococca blooms fool you, the fragrance has a strong presence.

Don’t let the little Sarcococca blooms fool you, the fragrance has a strong presence.

Though it is blooming now, the flowers are just reduced to anthers and pistils – aka not very conspicuous – but it’s the coy fragrance that reaches out and lures you over. The sweet and spicy fragrance can be too much for some people, but I quite like the lovely scent drifting through the garden –  it’s much appreciated, especially at this time of year.

Strolling through the back garden I was delighted by come nice surprises. The Viola odorata that I’ve bought the past three years at the Northwest Flower and Garden Show are beginning to bud now. I’ve been a bit more religious with the Sluggo this year, so I hopefully none will be eaten and I will be able to pick them and smell their rich perfume.

The beds are beginning to swell on the Viola odorata and the petals are maturing into a deep purple.

The buds are beginning to swell on the Viola odorata and the petals are maturing into a deep purple.

The French Tarragon I planted in the autumn is starting to wake up now. I’m glad to see the voles have left it alone and the slugs haven’t been interested lately either.

The real French Tarragon just waking up.

Can the real French Tarragon please stand up?

Another thing that’s waking up is my Impatiens omeiana. This cool perennial Impatiens is native to China and it has overwintered well in a quart -sized pot.

Impatiens omeiana throwing up a few shoots.

Impatiens omeiana throwing up a few shoots.

I wasn’t expecting my Lobelia tupa to survive the winter, since it’s only in a 4″ pot. I’m excited to see it’s quite alive!

Lobelia tupa emerging! Oh, ignore the gray fuzz, that's lint from the dryer vent.

Lobelia tupa emerging! Oh pleaseignore the gray fuzz, that’s lint from the dryer vent.

Here is another winter grower from Eurasia, Papaver orientale ‘Miss Piggy’. Like the Saffron, she goes completely dormant by summer, but it doesn’t head off to bed before a fleeting showstopping display in spring. She should have HUGE really fluffy, light pink flowers with these crazy, fringed, crepe paper petals – I can’t wait!

Papaver orientale 'Miss Piggy' throwing out more growth. I made that wicker fence to stop hungry wild rabbits from nibbling.

Papaver orientale ‘Miss Piggy’ throwing out more growth after I made the wicker fence. Previously it was ravaged by hungry wild rabbits.

Install for the Northwest Flower & Garden Show 2013 starts tomorrow and I still need to finish the plant labels. Okay, gotta run and finish up the name tags! Oh before I forget, here is the illustration  I did for Riz’s display garden: “The Lost Gardener” that will go on his plant list brochures.

"The Lost Gardener" - done in ink and watercolor.

“The Lost Gardener” – done with ink and watercolor.

Okay, running now for real!

2 Responses to “Sun Kissed”

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Bloominocity – Part II | Terry Gardens - April 14, 2013

    […] and Chionodoxa blooming in the Japanese Maple Container where I also planted my Saffron Crocuses. Tulipa humilis is one of the species Tulips that will multiply and reliably come back year after […]

  2. Spring Fever | Terry Gardens - May 27, 2013

    […] in the middle of all the Bletilla action my Papaver orientale ‘Miss Piggy’ just opened its first flower today, but something tells me that this isn’t the real […]

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