Elettaria cardamomum

Cardomom is a plant that’s doomed to fail with me. And yet I bought it anyway. Such is the impulsive acquisitiveness of a gardener confronted with a rare plant.

Elettaria cardamomum, true cardamom, is a tropical plant related to gingers. It thrives in the jungle understory where it receives filtered sunlight, 150 inches of rain a year (it likes its roots constantly moist), and a constant temperature in the 70s. Cardamom is unhappy when temperatures dip below 50. Such a climate is about as alien to central Texas as can be imagined. In Austin we experience temperatures from the teens to the hundreds, searing sunlight, and (now that we’re in semi-desert mode) 12 inches of rain.

Cardomom can grow into a huge plant, 12 feet tall and wide. However, it is unlikely ever to get out of a pot in Austin. Even if I built it its own special hot house, it probably will never flower much less set fruit and provide any of the special seeds used to spice Indian curries and Scandinavian baked goods.

Garden History

2011-11-19.
Pot up the cardamom. I decide to divide the plant in half for several reasons. Roots are coming out of the holes in the bottom of the pot. Also the inside leaves of the plant have yellowed. Finally, it’s easier for me to move smaller pots in and out of the house all winter, as we do in central Texas where winter temperatures vary from the 80s to the 20s and back again overnight.
cardamom plant
I cut the plant out of it’s pot. As I suspected, it’s pretty root-bound. The rhizomes look similar to ginger so I don’t think it will be any problem to divide.
cardamom plant
I use my Japanese digging knife (from Lee Valley–unsolicited and unpaid recommendation) to cut through the crown of the plant and then pry the roots apart. Crown is probably the wrong word. Like its ginger relative, the cardamom plant is a group of tightly packed rhizomes. I might have cut through a few but mostly I was just wedging them apart.
cardamom plant
A slip falls away and I pot it up separately.
cardamom plant

Crinum gowenii (maybe)

The last time these crinums bloomed was in 2005. And it wasn’t even this group but the largest ones along the front fence. That spot (under the pecan tree) is apparently too shady now because they’ve never shown any inclination to bloom again.

Crinum Gowenii2011-06-30

These flowers were from the same group of bulbs, the smallest of the bunch, which had languished under the front bedroom window next to the rain barrel. I finally rescued them from that unloving spot and moved them into the bog garden. They get more sun there. What caused them to flower was the couple of inches of rain that fell on June 22. Crinums are bog plants and they like wet feet. I haven’t read this elsewhere but I wonder if they are like rainlilies in that in order to flower they have to really dry out between drenchings.

Papaver "Dorothy Cavanaugh"

Dateline: 2010

This year I finally got around to buying and planting some ‘Lauren’s Grape’ breadseed poppies. Lauren Springer Ogden is a neighbor of mine (although I don’t know her personally). Over seven years she isolated a “plum-colored single poppy with gray foliage” which is now available from Select Seeds. Not only was I drawn to the color of ‘Lauren’s Grape’ (I love deep plums, blues, and violet-colored flowers) but to the idea of it. One of my great joys in gardening is trying to select my favorite strains of the various annuals I grow.

I planted ‘Lauren’s Grape’ in two spots. One, I had grown poppies before. The other, only larkspur. When the seedlings came up, I thinned them. I watched and waited with impatient anticipation for the first buds to unfurl. When they opened, I was disappointed to see they were peony-flowering and a deep, cherry pink. More and more opened and they were the same. Had I been shipped the wrong seeds? When some of the same type of flowers popped up in places in the front yard where I hadn’t planted ‘Lauren’s Grape’ I realized that they were flowers from previous years.

Looking carefully, I noticed that the peony-flowering poppy had a bluish-gray foliage. But the poppies next to it had a brighter, more lime-green foliage with more compact leaves, and were taller overall. I thought, “Ah ha! These are these ‘Lauren’s Grape’.” But no. When the flowers opened they were very double and salmon colored. The lime-green plants were the “Dorothy Cavanaugh” passalongs from @HumanFlower.

Here are two photos I took of the same flower on May 1, 2008. The second photo shows how the afternoon sun brings out the clearly orange tints.
Dorothy Cavanaugh

Dorothy Cavanaugh

This year I like “Dorothy Cavanaugh” better than I did initially. I’m not a big fan of salmon-colored flowers. The only orange I like in my garden is the very clear orange of the California poppies ‘Mikado’. Slowly, “Dorothy Cavanaugh” is winning me over with her charms.

I’m still hoping some ‘Lauren’s Grape’ will pop up somewhere. [Update: and they did!]

Update: Dateline 2011

Dorothy Cavanaugh
2011-04-06. On a cloudy day, the camera makes these poppies look even more pink than they do in life.

By the end of the 2010 season, I could distinguish between the three different strains of poppies which differ not only in flower color but in the color of their foliage and shape of their leaves. This year I wasn’t surprised to see the cherry red (pink?) poppies bloom first (4/1) on very gray foliage. I’m happy to see that they all came true and didn’t revert to any singles or reds. The first orange flowered one opened today (4/7).

Centaurea cyanus ‘Black Magic’

This post was published originally on 2007-03-24 and updated with data for 2008 and 2011.
The seed packet from Botanical Interests gives the common name for Centaurea cyanus as bachelor button. For us southerners, bachelor buttons are Gomphrena globosa. Julie at the Human Flower Project recognized it immediately as a cornflower, even though it was not the blue once so commonly identifiable that it is found in a box of Crayola crayons. I was going to go into a rant wondering whether children today connected their crayon colors with real flowers. The truth is, I’ve never seen a living cornflower before I grew this one. And then I chose a selection which is not cornflower blue.

Why don’t I like more cheerful flowers? This cornflower is a deep, plummy purple, a funereal maroon that, in flower marketing, is referred to as black. Morticia Addams would like it–she wouldn’t even have to snip off the flower before creating her bouquet. The plant itself is about two feet high with silvery gray foliage. From a distance, the dark flowers look like furry black caterpillars attacking the plant.

The seed packet said that cornflowers were drought tolerant. However, I’m not sure that translates into heat-tolerant. As soon as the mercury touched 80 today, they drooped. Instructions say to plant them in early spring before the last frost…unless you live in the south, of course! We’re suppose to plant them in late summer or early fall.

I planted these on September 11, 2006 and they just bloomed this week (late March 2007), more than six months later. They sprouted quickly and I transplanted them into the meadow close to the yellow irises thinking that the purple and yellow would make a nice combination. The irises aren’t blooming yet. None of Austin’s mild winter freezes bothered them, not even the ice storm or the night we got down to 25 degrees. They sent up flower spikes about the same time the cilantro did but took a long time to form buds and even a longer time for the buds to open. Every day I looked, expecting to see them open, and every day the flowers remained a tight closed ball. Then I went to New York and when I came back they were blooming. Maybe a watched cornflower never opens.

Dateline: 2007-2008

2007-11-05.
Discovered some seeds left over from last year and planted them in the west border where I’m clearing out the bearded irises that rotted in this summer’s rains.

2007-12-04.
The cornflowers (I still want to call them bachelor buttons) are about three inches tall and have two sets of true leaves. They are being smothered by competing baby blue eyes, so I dig up the whole bed and replant only the bachelor buttons spacing them about 5 inches apart.

2007-12-20.
In the mid-70s today and tomorrow. Transplant more bachelor button seedlings. From one group by the agave, three groups: 10 in place, 10 by butterfly bush, and 8 behind maiden grass.

2008-03-21.
First flower. Even though I planted the bachelor buttons two months later than last year it seemed to make no difference. They bloomed in exactly the same week. I prefer to plant them later if I can because then I don’t have to water as much and besides, I’m always running behind.

I think I will always grow bachelor buttons now because they are so easy and economical, although they did not self-sow. Two years of flowers from a $1.79 packet of seeds is satisfying. The effect is less somber than last year mostly because I have allowed the cilantro to overrun the meadow like a wave of white foam.

Dateline: 2010-2011

2010-11-24.
Sow half a packet of new seeds. Botanical Interests. 1 gram @ $1.79. Unseasonably warm ahead of a predicted hard freeze. Today’s high: 82°F; low, 70°F.

2011-03-25.
First flower. I never managed to thin these bachelor buttons so the plants are crowded and short. This dry spring has encouraged an abundance of pink evening primroses behind them. This is one of those unplanned combinations that bring delight.

photo: Centaurea cyanus Black Magic
2011-03-29. Bachelor Button/Cornflower. Austin, TX

Acorns

I have two oaks in my yard. At a glance they look identical to me. Both are beginning to turn a deep red.

The tree in the back yard has been dropping acorns like crazy this year. I don’t remember ever seeing so many acorns. Viewing each one as a potential sprout I’m going to have to pull up next spring, I’ve been raking them up and grinding them into meal with the chipper grinder.

The tree in the front yard hasn’t produced as many acorns. However, they’re almost twice as large. When they drop on our metal roof it sounds like someone’s throwing rocks at my house. They usually fall with their caps on. The leaves on this tree are larger, too.

Comparing them side by side, I now recognize each tree as an individual.

Salvia madrensis

I notice Salvia madrensis (Forsythia sage) for the first time last fall when some Austin garden bloggers make a field trip to the San Antonio Botanical garden. I was surprised to see a yellow salvia. I fell in love on the spot. It was blooming in dappled shade so I thought maybe I could grow it. When Renee (Renee’s Roots) heard I wanted one, she shared a plant from her garden.

I plant it in a new bed by the driveway with another acquisition from that trip, an Italian stone pine from Dan Hosage’s Madrone Nursery.

Salvia madrensis
2009-11-19. Plant the passalong from Renee.

I protect it during freezes and it survives even Austin’s big freeze in January 2010. After that, however, I get careless and forget to cover it in a later milder freeze. It responds by freezing to the ground. I fear I’ve lost it. During the spring that bed was a mass of Nigella damascena from Lancashire Rose. When the Nigella dies down and I clear it out, I’m happy to see three salvia plants coming up from the roots.

Salvia madrensis
2010-07-12. Three plant sprout from the roots.

Salvia madrensis struggled a bit in our very dry August 2010. Every day its large leaves wilt. I was relieved it was getting only morning light. I baby it with water more than most plants that month.

Now that it’s blooming, I know that it was worth the little extra effort.

Salvia madrensis
2010-11-17. Almost a year later, looking fantastic and producing new sprouts.

Salvia madrensis is said to grow in part to full shade. Just this week, the tree it was growing under was cut back severely resulting in much more sunlight in this spot. In order to help it survive next summer, I’m going to transplant the offsets in another part of the garden. It’s great to find a flower that I like that is happy in shade.

Salvia madrensis

Updates

Dateline: 2011-02-20.
I was afraid I’d lost the Salvia madrensis because (despite being covered) all the fresh new growth that had sprouted after I’d cut down the fading flower stems froze to the ground. Today, scores of little sprouts are coming back from the roots.

Dateline: 2017-07-17
They freeze back in a hard winter and die back in the heat of summer, but they have come back reliably every spring and fall.

Datura, a Mystery

Thanks to rains through July this year, a lot of self sown Datura inoxia (I think) sprouted. Most of these were seedlings from plants passed along from Diana at Sharing Nature’s Garden. One of the plants she gave me survived two winters in the ground. It didn’t even die back in the warm winter of 2008/9. However, it froze to the ground in the severe freeze of January 2010. I wasn’t too disappointed because it had sown plenty of seed. I knew there would be no shortage of plants this summer. I was very surprised, though, when it came back from its roots.

In October, I was watering when I noticed a lovely lemon scent. I followed my nose to this datura. None of the other datura flowers had a scent. I looked more carefully and noticed that the flowers on this one plant were larger and that the petals curved back at the lip.
datura
2010-10-04. The lemon-scented flower.

The flowers on the other datura plants did not open as fully and the petals didn’t curl back as much.
datura
2010-10-04. The unscented flower.

The leaves were different, too. The leaves of the scented datura were much wider at the base. The leaves of the unscented datura were more lanceolate.

As the seedpods formed, I could see more differences.
datura

The seeds from the scented plant were fat, round globes. When they split to drop their seeds, the bottom fell out of the globe.
datura

The pods from the unscented plant were more elongated, more egg-shaped. When they split to drop their seeds, the four sides curled back like a banana skin.
datura

The seeds inside differed as well. The seeds from the unscented flowers (left) were smaller and slightly darker brown than the seeds from the lemon scented flowers (right).
datura

I’m not that surprised to discover a lemon-scented datura in my garden. Ten years ago I bought seeds for Datura metel ‘Belle Blanche’ because it was described as having the scent of lemon chiffon pie.

Note: Wikipedia says that Datura metel has fruits that are “knobby, not spiny”. Both of these seedpods look pretty spiny to me. So I’m still not sure I can tell the difference between Datura inoxia and Datura metel. And I don’t know where Datura meteloides comes into it. But at least I can see the difference between these two datura in my garden. If my eyes fail me, the nose knows.

Update: March 1, 2011

The lemon-scented datura is sprouting back from its roots after freezing to the ground during Austin’s two hard freezes in February 2011.

Update: April 5, 2011

First flower.

Helianthus annuus ‘Elves Blend’

I like to try new ornamental sunflower varieties every year. No matter how the breeders try to “improve” sunflowers, they remain an unfussy, straightforward flower. There’s something very egalitarian about sunflowers. This fall I was attracted to ‘Elves Blend’ (from Botanical Interests) because it was advertised as a dwarf variety, growing only 16-24 inches tall.

Elves Blend sunflower

I planted them on September 13th in one of my future larkspur beds. I planned on them blooming in the fall to provide some interest until I could get the larkspur planted. Then after the sunflowers were felled by freeze, I’d put the larkspur seedlings in. I completely miscalculated when the leaves would fall. Here it is two months later, the leaves are still on the trees, and the sunflowers are in shade most of the day.

This is probably why they are only 6 to 12 inches tall! They aren’t happy but they’re trying their darnedest.They began blooming on Halloween.

If you like sunflowers but feel like you just don’t have the space for huge towering ones, ‘Elves Blend’ is just the ticket.

Elves Blend sunflower

Oxblood Lily Day

One day each year the oxblood lilies peak. Today is that day. A drenching from Tropical Storm Hermine last Tuesday brought forth the main display. I don’t know why I’m even inside writing this up. I could spend the whole day lying on my stomach in the grass reveling in the beauty.

Rhodophiala bifida

I say this every year, but…for Austinites, oxblood lilies are like daffodils for northern gardeners. They presage the beginning of the southerners’ gardening year. They trumpet the triumph of the garden over our worst and most dreaded season, summer. They are of similar size and form to daffodils. (I suppose technically they’re more lily-shaped, thus the name. No they are not related to lilies). They naturalize in lovely drifts. The only thing oxblood lilies lack is a scent.

Rhodophiala bifida

As you can see, I planned my garden house to overlook the oxblood lilies in the stump garden.

Rhodophiala bifida

Raspberry ‘Dorman’

Some of you have been waiting almost as impatiently as I have for the outcome of the great Austin raspberry experiment. In February, 2009 I dug deep and built a raised bed and planted raspberries. Raspberries are not recommended for Austin because our summers are too hot and our soil is too alkaline. But I had come across a variety, ‘Dorman’, which was supposed to be able to take our climate. And, well. I love raspberries.

Difficult as it was to wait for raspberries for an entire year, I followed the advice to pinch off the flowers the first year. Raspberries produce best on last year’s canes. Every year after the harvest, the old canes are thinned out to make room for the new canes on which next year’s fruit grows. The canes shot up to the top of the trellis, eight feet, and then curved down to the ground. Raspberries come in different forms and ‘Dorman’ is a rambling raspberry. Where the tip of the longest cane touched the ground it rooted. I now have a fourth raspberry plant (growing in completely unamended clay).

raspberry Dorman
2010-04-10. Raspberry flowers.

The raspberries survived the summer of second-most 100° days in Austin. They survived the big freeze in January 2010. They grew lush with all the extra rain and cooler days we had between September and April. On April 18th, they began flowering. I watched them like a bird for a month. Nothing. When we came back on May 25th from a week away, some raspberries had ripened. The birds had eaten most of the ripe ones. We covered the canes in netting. We tasted some raspberries the birds had missed.

As the Japanese say, “Suppai!” They were both flavorless and a bit sour at the same time. (Perhaps the flavor was more astringent/alum flavor, like green persimmons–“shibui” than “suppai”.)

raspberry Dorman

Perhaps we weren’t letting them ripen enough. Also, they hadn’t been watered the week we were gone. That week we had a nice rain and covered raspberries grew plump and deep red. The flavor did not improve. Over two weeks I ate raspberries every morning. I’m guessing I harvested about a quart of raspberries. And they were all bland and a bit sour. They were completely lacking in the unmistakable razzy raspberry flavor.

raspberry Dorman

So, yes. It turns out we can grow raspberries in Austin. But if you grow ‘Dorman’ they aren’t really worth the effort. Next I will try to find a variety that is known for its flavor and see if I can trick it into tolerating Austin.