Cynara cardunculus, Artichoke

Sometimes it’s better not to do any research before impulsively buying a plant you love. What if I had read about the growing requirements of artichokes?

“While climate is a more important factor in production of tender buds than soil, artichokes are heavy feeders requiring large amounts of nitrogen and moist but well-drained soil…winter temperatures should be above freezing and summers should be cool and foggy. — How to Grow Vegetables and Fruits by the Organic Method (Rodale)

Could Austin be any less ideal for growing artichokes? My soil is dry, poorly draining black clay. Cool and foggy? Austin? I planted my artichoke in the spring of 2009, smack in the middle of our 2-year drought and just before Austin faced the summer of 67 days 100° plus temperatures. The artichoke struggled but somehow I managed to keep it alive all summer. Luckily, all I knew about growing artichokes was that someone up the street had one and it produced beautiful huge purple flowers.

In September 2009, it began raining in Austin and rained all fall, winter, and early spring. The artichoke liked that.

globe artichoke
2010-01-04. Artichoke plant just before the big freeze.

But in January, Austin got three days of freezing temperatures in a row that were unusually low for us (in the teens). I threw a sheet over the artichoke but was too busy worrying about even more tender plants to do anything else for it. It looked a bit shocked after the experience but as temperatures warmed it perked up. An afternoon of snow didn’t faze it.

globe artichoke
2010-02-23. The artichoke weathered Austin’s snow day.

A perennial, it sent up suckers, one of which I managed to remove and transplant successfully. By April 2010, the plant had doubled in size and the first bud was visible. Some bug ate it.

Soon other buds formed.

globe artichoke
2010-04-26. Artichoke bud.
For six weeks, I watched the globes get bigger and bigger. We considered eating some but as neither of us really like artichokes decided to hold out for the flowers.

globe artichoke
2010-05-11. Is it ever going to open?

On May 18th, we went on vacation. Still no flowers. When we returned a week later, the flowers had finally opened. Unfortunately, with temperatures in the 90s and no water in a week, the stems had bent to the ground under the weight of the huge flower heads. One had snapped. Talk about blooming its head off.

globe artichoke
2010-05-27. Collapse of the monster plant.

Was the artichoke worth the trouble? Oh, yeah!

globe artichoke

The flowers are impressive. Even if they are upside down. Maybe next year we’ll eat a few buds.

globe artichoke

Papaver rhoeas ‘Angels’ Choir’

One of my favorite flower tales is of the Rev. W. Wilkes, the Vicar of Shirley, whose keen observation and tenacious dedication is responsible for the Shirley poppy. He tells how “in the summer (I think) 1879 or 1880 I noticed in a wilderness corner of my garden among a patch of field poppies, one bloom with a narrow white edge”. He selected and selected over generations of descendants until he had obtained a strain of poppies with white edges and petals of pale pinks, mauves, and lilacs from the ordinary red corn poppy.

Papaver rhoeas Angels Choir

Papaver rhoeas Angels Choir

Papaver rhoeas Angels Choir

Papaver rhoeas Angels Choir

Over the years his single-flowering poppy was further selected for double poppies. On January 27, 2010 (a bit late) I planted the strain ‘Angels’ Choir’ from Renee’s Garden Seeds. The seed packet describes the ‘Angel’s Choir’ strain as an “award-winning combination of silken-petaled, double poppies featur[ing] shimmering watercolor shades including cream, apricot, peach, coral, lavender, pink and bicolors and picotees. It took breeders years of selection to develop these absolutely magical forms and lustrous soft colors”.

Going Rogue. Or Rouge

Following generations of work by those who carefully selected only the most delicate colors, I feel that I must dutifully rogue out the red and orange flowers. Although I like the clear hues, they really clash with the more delicate ones. Anyway, I can enjoy them inside.

Papaver rhoes Angels Choir

Nigella damascena

I mentioned that I love white Love-in-a-mist, Nigella damascena, for the way the flowers look like fallen stars caught in a mist in the meadow.

Nigella damascena

Last year Lancashire Rose gave me seeds for a double form she has. They began opening this week and they are just as enchanting but in an entirely different way. Some are solid and some are bicolor.

Nigella damascena

Nigella damascena

Nigella has the same growing habits and requirements as cilantro and larkspur. It is usually the last of the three to flower. For more information, see Zanthan Gardens: Nigella damascena.

Papaver ‘Lauren’s Grape’

I was so happy when three ‘Lauren’s Grape’ poppies opened today. They are just the deep plummy color I hoped for. You can see the color better in the distant shot, especially compared to the blue/violet of the larkspur. ‘Lauren’s Grape’ is not the slightest bit magenta, or pink. It is not even the purple of the Louisiana iris ‘Full Eclipse’.

I cannot get the color to register correctly in the close-up.

Papaver Laurens Grape
2010-04-29. The color is very deep plum which doesn’t show true in the closeup photo.

The only downside is that today the wind was very gusty and it blew all the petals off the three flowers in about six hours. The nearby ‘Dorothy Cavenaugh’ poppies which had been open longer were not affected. It would be a pity after all the months growing ‘Lauren’s Grape’ to have them last less than a day. I hope some more will open tomorrow and last a bit longer. I want to plant a lot more of them next year…but they have to last more than a day in the garden.

Papaver Laurens Grape
2010-05-02. ‘Lauren’s Grape’ poppies on a cloudy morning at about 8:30.

Garden History

2010-11-26. Sow in the same place.
2011-11-24. Sow in the same place.

Aristolochia fimbriata

Dutchman’s Pipe Vine

Finding little treasures in the garden brings the same childlike delight as finding candy on an Easter egg hunt. There I am down on my hands and knees when under a leaf I discover my treasure.

The Dutchman’s pipe vine is a passalong. The original plant died but it sowed itself through the holes of a brick where I can’t move it. Swallowtail caterpillars munch it back when it’s about to bloom. And somehow, this Zone 9 tropical survived our 3 day hard freeze to come back bigger and better than ever.

Dutchmans pipe vine
2009-09-10. Dutchman’s pipe vine.

Dutchmans pipe vine
Seeds and seedpods of Dutchman’s pipe vine.

Texas Dandelion

Dateline: 2006

You’ll think me a poor gardener when I admit that I didn’t even recognize a dandelion.

photo: Texas Dandelion

The other morning this bright spot of yellow caught my eye and I acquainted myself with this graceful, yellow flower. Consulting Marshall Enquist’s Wildflowers of the Texas Hill Country, I find that it is Texas dandelion, Pyrrhopappus multicaulis, also known as manystem false dandelion.

As Karel Capek says in The Gardener’s Year, “A flower without a name is a weed, a flower with a Latin name is somehow raised to a state of dignity. If a nettle grows on your bed, label it “Urtica dioica” and you will respect it.”

photo: Texas Dandelion

The leaves do look like a dandelion’s, but it has a multiple stems almost 18 inches tall.

photo: Texas Dandelion

One source said that it is distinguished from the common by the having leaves along the stems. The dark anthers also sets it apart.

Two different sources say that it is a cool-weather annual. I’m glad it chose this week of record highs to bloom. I don’t care if it is a dandelion, or merely a false one, I think it’s lovely.

photo: Texas Dandelion
2010-04-22. Texas dandelion going to seed

Blue Flowers

  • Muscari racemosum. Blue bottles. (aka, grape hyacinths. The “grape” refers to the way the flowers are clustered like a bunch of grapes, not the color.)
  • Nemophila insignis. Baby blue eyes.
  • Hyacinthoides hispanica. Spanish bluebells
  • Lupinus texensis. Texas bluebonnet.
  • Commelinantia anomala. False dayflowers. (solid blue and a bicolor)

Recently I tweeted about Suntory having GMO’d a “blue” rose. In response, @CarolineSays linked to a blog post by Chris Clarke Daze of Whine and Roses, which scoffed at the very idea that Suntory’s rose was blue. Lilac or mauve, maybe, but not blue.

In flower terms, “blue” is a pretty expansive color term–just like black, which typically is a really, really, deep red. So I decided to inventory my own blue flowers. Of course, the camera lies. Depending upon the settings in your camera, the setting on your monitor, or any number of other variables (photos shot in full sunlight, bright shade, full shade), colors are going to differ.

Massed, bluebonnets are a deep indigo or jewel-toned blue. (At least mine are. Some are a more pale sky blue.) Spanish bluebells look anemic beside them. Baby blue eyes are a hazy day sky blue. But in the photo they look almost lavender…or like my favorite crayon as a child “periwinkle blue”. In life, false dayflowers are an electric, aniline blue. In my photo, they have a reddish tint compared with the bluebonnets.

I wanted to see if some of the “lavender” blues looked more like blue when compared to flowers that I think of as purple in the garden: Texas mountain laurel, tradescantia, and verbena. And they do. The color of the Suntory rose seems similar to the periwinkle blue of the rosemary and baby blue eyes.

blue flowers
Purple and blue flowers blooming at Zanthan Gardens on March 29, 2010

So I’m not going to get on Suntory because their new flower isn’t really “blue”. Rather, I’m still disappointed that they think developing a blue rose is worth messing around with genetically modified organisms.

Narcissus tazetta ‘Grand Monarque’

According to Scott Ogden, Garden Bulbs for the South, the narcissus bulb I purchased at Gardens last fall that was marked ‘Grand Monarque’ is probably just ‘Grand Primo’. However if it is the ‘Grand Monarque’ grown in California, it will probably survive in Austin’s heavy clay soil for only a year or two.

I don’t have any ‘Grand Primo’ flowering right now to compare. Comparing from memory I will say that this ‘Grand Monarque’ is larger. The bulb was huge. Everything about the flowers are larger, too. This could be just because it’s a brand new bulb selected at its prime for sale. However, looking at old photographs of ‘Grand Primo’ they do look indistinguishable. So perhaps I do already grow the same bulb in my garden but they’ve suffered from neglect. The N. tazettas cross easily so there are different strains. I wouldn’t mind if this one pumped some new genetic material into the strain that’s naturalized.

Narcissus Grand Primo
Old photo of Narcissus tazetta ‘Grand Primo’. The light is different so it’s difficult to accurately compare colors but the forms look identical.

These photographs don’t quite capture the white of the ‘Grand Monarque’ accurately. I have some paperwhites blooming today and they are pure, brilliant, stunning white. Both ‘Grand Monarque’ and ‘Grand Primo’ tend toward the ivory and blend more naturally into the landscape.

Narcissus Grand Monarque
2010-03-07. Narcissus ‘Grand Monarque’

Rob Proctor, Naturalizing Bulbs, adds to my confusion. He says, “The variety ‘Grand Monarque is very much like the Chinese sacred lily but blooms a month later. It has long been a southern favorite.” Where’s a description or photograph? Then he describes ‘Grand Primo’ as being a member of the italicus family. This sounds like the same mistake I made initially. The italicus bloom earlier, have very long strappy leaves, smaller cups, and a much muddier white, compared with modern paperwhites. Proctor echoes Ogden, saying that a “similar variety (to ‘Grand Primo’) is found in California, called ‘Minor Monarque’ with white petals and a yellow cup.”

Garden History

First flower: 2010-03-03.

Tagetes erecta ‘Kilimanjaro’ (white marigold)

I love white flowers. In the heat of summer, they look so crisp and refreshing like wealthy women who never sweat in their white gloves and linen dresses. In Austin’s summer, it’s hard to be out in the garden when the sun is. White flowers, which reflect the most light, make wonderful twilight or moonlight gardens.

Marigolds are one of the easiest heat-tolerant annuals available. They are so easy to grow that they are often included on plant lists for children’s gardens. And they make good companion plants in the vegetable garden because the distinctive smell of the leaves throws off the bugs looking for tomatoes and other goodies.

If bluebonnets can come in colors other than blue, can’t marigolds come in colors other than gold? (Clearly the marketing name for screaming orange). I’m not the first gardener to wish for a white marigold. Others have been obsessed by the idea. For over 20 years Burpee offered a $10,000 prize to the breeder of a white marigold. 80,000 people tried for the prize. In 1975 Burpee awarded it to Alice Vonk. They called the new marigold ‘Snowbird’.

Garden History

Tweeted @MargaretRoach that I always wanted to try white marigolds but that I wasn’t sure about ordering seeds from Burpee.

Receive a packet o white marigold seeds from Pinetree Garden Seeds a gift from @indygardener who says life is too short not to try what you want to try.

Seed packet description: Vanilla white 2″ flowers on 18″ tall plant.

Plant the marigold seeds in a flat of 2″x2″ cells.

Marigold seeds sprout. (4 days). Almost every seed sprouted.

Plant out 9 marigold plants. Out of 24 which sprouted, 15 damped off. I plant these marigold in prime garden real estate next to my tomatoes. This raised bed is filled with bought soil from the Natural Gardener and gets a lot of sunlight with some afternoon shade. Because I water the tomatoes every day, I’m reminded to water the marigolds.

Pillbugs eat 2 of the marigold plants, leaving 7.

In May, we go to San Francisco for several days. When we return, only 5 plants have survived the heat without being watered. In September, we are gone for another week and on our return only 2 plants have survived. In the drenching rains that follow the penultimate plant dies, leaving a lone survivor. It is about 20 inches tall but has fallen on its side. Along the horizontal stem, new growth and buds spring. But the buds never seem to open.
white marigold Kilimanjaro
2009-12-03. The remaining plant on its side.

I send @indygardener a photo of a bud I hope will open for GBBD. It doesn’t.

The first bud which has almost formed a flower opens, although some petals are dwarfed or missing. It is not a clear white or even pale ivory (or vanilla, as the seed packet describes it, which I assume means it is supposed to be a bit yellowish). It is a greenish tint.
white marigold Kilimanjaro
2009-12-03. More than a week later, this first bloom finally looks white.

The first flower which opened finally looks white. New opening flowers still look greenish yellow. Tomorrow (12/4) a possibility of snow is forecast for Austin and then by Saturday morning we will flirt with our first hard freeze with temperatures around 28°F. So I despite half a dozen buds, I think this is the last day for white marigolds.
white marigold Kilimanjaro
2009-12-03. The remaining buds will probably never get a chance to open.

In Other People’s Gardens

Carol @ May Dreams Gardens (aka @indygardener) also planted some ‘Kilimanjaro’ marigolds.

A contributor to Dave’s Garden had a negative rating for ‘Kilimanjaro’. Even though she grew them in Madison, WI she experienced many of the same problems I did.

Commelinantia anomala

If Austin has received good fall rains, then by November my yard is filled with the first grassy green leaves of false dayflowers. The color is a young, spring green so bright and cheerful that it seems at odds with the season.

False dayflower is a beautiful, but generally uncultivated, member of the Commelinaceae family which includes spiderwort, wandering Jew, and the true, perennial day flower (widow’s tears). Seeds for false dayflower arrived in my garden in a bag of leaves that I collected for mulch. I’m glad they did because their 5-inch tufts of bright green foliage which appear in late fall, brighten the winter garden.

Commelinantia anomala
2009-11-12. The bright green leaves of false dayflower glow when they catch the sunlight.

Its habit is very similar to its relative, the spiderwort. I consider them far superior to spiderwort because they are shallow-rooted, easy to remove from any spot where they’re not wanted, and have more arresting flowers.

False dayflowers form grass-like drifts that disappear in the first heat of summer. Although they self-sow with the vigor of weeds, they are not rank. They are very shallow-rooted and easy to remove from any place that they are not wanted. They require absolutely no attention and make wonderful filler plants, especially on the edges of shady areas. The seeds sprout in moist soil covered with mulch.

Commelinantia anomala
2009-11-19. False dayflower massed next to purple heart–another relative.

They are also quite attractive as single plants.

Commelinantia anomala

With spring rains the flower spathes shoot up a foot or more and the funny-faced flowers float like pale blue butterflies. Normally, the petals are a solid lavender blue, but occasionally a bitone flower will appear. I’ve selected the bitones seeds over the years and now about 80 per cent of the flowers in my yard are bitoned.

Commelinantia anomala
2004-03-14. Two colors of false dayflowers growing among purple spiderwort. (Blooming more typically in March.)

I have never seen false dayflower or its seeds for sale. The Wildflower Center had plants at their Spring 2010 sale. I felt sorry for anyone who bought them because they were near the end of their lives and looked unlikely to flower and set seeds. I don’t know anyone else who grows them on purpose. They are weeds. But what wonderful weeds! They are endemic to central Texas so I can grow them without guilt.

Previously, the earliest that false dayflower had bloomed in my garden was December 7, 2001. However, this year it is already blooming. The first flower was October 28th.

Update: 2012-03-15

Commelinantia anomala


Wildflower Center: Native Plant Database: Tinantia anomala (The botanists are playing with names again. I say commelinantia because it took me such a long time to learn to spell it. And because it belongs to the Commelinaceae (Spiderwort) family.