When you look at a fern, you are looking at an artifact of a time when things were very green. Flowers did not exist and seeds were still a dream. Ferns and many of those early plants produced spores and these spores were held in and on leaves. As time steadily went on these reproductive leaves would change so radically that they became sepals, petals, stamens, and pistils. The earliest flowers were leaves and those leaves have become flowers today. Like in Robert Frost’s poem, Nothing Gold Can Stay, it is not too much of a stretch to regard leaves unfurling in spring as flowers.
Compared to all the other parts of a plant, flowers receive the most attention – though plants probably want that anyway – but I can’t help to admire the structure of leaves and stems. For example, here is Berberis calliantha. This barberry is known for its compact size, large flowers, and black fruit, but if you flip a glossy, deep green leaf over (or happen to find yourself under one) you will discover another wonderful attribute. That shockingly, steel white is so mesmerizing! Isn’t the reverse amazing? This isn’t the only barberry to have leaves like this, which is lucky for people that want one, but unlucky for collectors who are running out of garden space.
If you are looking for another evergreen, high gloss, tough plant, Angelica pachycarpa is for you! It’s unclear if this plant is a true perennial, short-lived perennial, or a biennial, but it will produce enough seeds for a few volunteers every year. This Mediterranean plant can take some drought once established, but watering it will only encourage it to grow bigger and better. After I planted it, albeit late, it just sat there starting to senesce. I wasn’t sure why it was doing this, but I read some where that after producing large, fragrant chartreuse flowers in the summer it will go semi-dormant in the heat. Whether it was the fish emulsion, frequent watering, time, or a combination, it is now finally starting to grow. I hope this plant decides to stick around for more than two years. Plus if Annie’s Annuals says it is reliably perennial – where I bought this plant – it must be true, right?
Another plant that I grow mostly for its foliage is Rosa rubiginosa (syn. Rosa eglanteria). This European rose, is a thorny, suckering plant and produces the typical scented, five-petaled-wild rose. Though the short-lived flowers are nice and the hips are a brilliant red in the autumn, its famous for its leaves: a delicious apple scent is released when brushed or drenched by the rain. This is why it is also known as the ‘sweet briar rose’. The name sounds familiar? It’s because this rose is the stuff of legends, fairy tales, and classical english literature. This is the rose that Shakespeare referenced. This is the rose that wrapped Sleeping Beauty’s castle. This is the rose that was used as a rootstock for hybrid roses.
Sometimes at work I have the fun of trying to identify unusual mystery plants. In April, this semi-regular custumer came in with a small clipping of what looked like a shamrock. She said that she bought it at a local nursery unlabeled, and it was the only one there. She treated the plant as an annual and over wintered it inside. The plant grew quite tall produced large yellow pea flowers and had beautiful burgundy stipules. Miraculously by googling a description of the clipping, we discovered that it was Amicia zygomeris: a lanky shrub, native to the mountains of Mexico, and hardy down to USDA zone 7b. She went off excitedly that day and I didn’t think much of it afterward. Then about a month ago, she came in with a cutting of the plant and gave it to me as a thank you gift! This sweet little cutting was slow to grow, but it has begun to grow many side shoots.
I am a bit of a forgetful gardener (I blame my busy schedule) and bulbs/corms/tubers get the brunt of my forgetfulness. I don’t know if it is because they go dormant and hangout in easily forgotten paper bags, but I am glad that they are able to weather my neglect. The two bulbs (though technically one is a corm) that have grown despite a late potting is Amorphophallus konjac and Galtonia cancans. Amorpophallus is a strange tropical genus that is known for its terrible smelling, wicked flowers. It grows a single leaf a season, and with food and water the corm can grow quite large – like 100+ pounds large in the case of Amorphophallus titanum. In between growing years when the corm is mature enough, they will send up a single flower. Typically they look and smell like a giant calla lily that has risen from the dead.
Amorphophallus konjac is one of those evil looking ones when in bloom. The spathe is an off, meaty, deep purple-pink color on the inside with flecks of black, brown and olive on the outside. The spadix is a rather brownish puce. Here are some photos on plantlust.com. The flower lasts for several days and luckily, the scent is only horrible for the first day. This amorphophallus is an easy one to grow outside in frost free areas, but also as well as a potted specimen. I when I see signs of the corm starting to sprout in late spring, they get potted in rich potting soil just an inch or two below the surface. At this point they get one good drink to settle them in, but I back off on the water. Once the growing point emerges and the leaves begin to push up out of the sheath, keep it consistently moist and well feed. The more you feed it, the larger corm will be, and the sooner it will produce a flower. At the end of the growing season, the plants may still be green, but placing them in the sunniest window will keep them happy. Once the leaves begin to yellow and wither, I stop all watering and let it dry down into dormancy and next spring start the whole process again.
I’ve done with same with the galtonias for the past two seasons and all but one have decided to bloom! I don’t plant them in the ground, because I have chipmunks, heavy soil, slugs/snails, etc. The list goes on. Plus in pots I can move them around to catch more sun, or place them closer to the entrance to enjoy their sweet scent.
Galtonia candicans is a bulb from South Africa that has wide, blueish sword-like leaves and tall inflorescences with white, waxy, bell-shaped fragrant flowers. When happy, this bulb will grow into a impressive clump and all it asks for is sun, well drained soil, and some bulb food. Great for the late summer garden by providing freshness, flowers, scent, and height when things are getting tired. Though the flowers are why we grow galtonia, I love the succulent, blue leaves just as much.
In the back, the Begonia grandis subsp. evansiana is another plant that grow equally for the flowers and leaves. (I should probably just grow it for its leaves, because the flowers come so late and only if I’ve been watering well.) The young leaves start off a satiny, peachy-cream and then mature into an apple green, but not without brilliant red venation cutting through in regular sections. Even the base of the petiole and the knobby joints of the stem are stained with that same red. This begonia can propagate prolifically and I can see it becoming a weed in more tropical locations, but in Seattle its nice to have some back-ups. Just like any other household begonia you can create new plants from leaf and shoot cuttings easily, however this begonia also produces little bulbils on the joints of its stems. These ready-to-grow mini plants fall off and grow into a new begonia, so with just a few plants you can grow a large clump quickly, or fill in gaps in the shade garden. If the seedling isn’t cute enough, the juvenile leaves are dotted with the most shimmery silver spots!
In the front garden I’ve been amazed by how quickly the Chrysanthemum ‘Single Apricot’ Riz gave me last autumn is growing. The daisy flowers on this chrysanthemum are a lovely, warm apricot-pink and large and they really brighten up the garden during a time when the weather is becoming less cheerful. I’ve even seen this garden chrysanthemum bloom well into November even during not so mild years. Though I won’t get to see it bloom this year, at least I know it’s doing well in my heavier soil (and it looks like it will spread out in no time). Maybe I’ll get lucky next year and when I return home it will be in full bloom.
That’s my quick jaunt around the garden this week. Now if you are starving to see a flower, I’ve included a rose below for you. Also, the Garden Club of America has asked me to keep a blog of my travels while I am abroad, so for your viewing and reading pleasure I am bringing my blog with me to the British Isles! Drop by soon!