Crinum bulbispermum

Hardy swamplily, Crinum bulbispermum, proves to be as cold-hardy as it is reputed. (I’ve read that it is the most cold tolerant Crinum species.) This one came into bud during last week’s hard freeze and I thought the flower would die. But it opened. The earliest it’s opened in my garden before this is April 7th.

As you might guess from the name, hardy swamplily likes wet feet and is happy in a bog garden. But it can survive drought although it won’t flower as freely.

Related post: Crinums Gone Wild

Labularia maritima procumbens ‘Tiny Tim’

I usually buy sweet alyssum in six-packs from a big box store. I love it’s thick honey-scent on a warm spring day and the flowers last usually until mid-May or until Austin’s high temperatures are in the mid 90s.

This year I decided to see if I could grow it from seed and it was ridiculously easy.

Botanical Interests ($1.69 250mg). Alyssum, sweet ‘Tiny Tim’. Packet blurb, “Much superior to ‘Carpet of Snow’—dense, compact dwarf plant never needs to be sheared. Fragrant white flowers all summer!”

Garden History

Plant two rows (the whole packet) of sweet alyssum ‘Tiny Tim’ in raised vegetable garden.

First flower. And I haven’t even gotten around to transplanting them yet!

Crocus speciosus

Dateline: 2008
I finally followed through on my resolve to buy more fall crocuses and purchased 96 Crocus speciosus bulbs from McClure & Zimmerman ($23.95) and planted them on September 6, 2008. This time I bought the Crocus speciosus speciosus which the catalog assured me was the “earliest autumn flowering crocus to bloom…” with a “profusion of deep violet-blue flowers”.

The first six bloomed on November 23, 2008. I’m not sure what happened to the other 90. I suspect squirrels. I did cover them with wire after I noticed that the squirrels had been digging them up, taking a bite, tossing them to the side and digging for more. Hmmm. $23.95 for 96 teeny-tiny bulbs seems economical; for 6, not so much.

In Adventures with Hardy Bulbs, Louise Beebe Wilder is enthusiastic about the autumn flowering Crocus speciosus. It “is infinitely worth growing, all its ways are seemly, all its forms lovely.” For color in the garden, she much prefers it to the saffron crocus, C. sativus.

The flowers of [C. speciosus] are distinguished by their remarkable (for a Crocus) blue tone–it is the bluest of all the Crocuses–and they are very large, the outer segments marked with fine veining, while the stigmata are conspicuous for their size, and the fact that they are divided into a mass of orange-scarlet threads. It is the first autumnal species to flower, and it is always startling when it comes bubbling through the earth, innocent of leaves, usually after a warm rain in late September.” — LBW

Dateline: 2007
Despite my failing to buy more fall-flowering crocuses, as I vowed to do four years ago, two little blue jewels revealed themselves among the orange cosmos today.

photo: Crocus speciosus Cassiope
Crocus speciosus. December 4, 2007.

In my garden, the autumn crocuses usually bloom, not in September but, in mid-November. I was disappointed when none did this year and thus even more delighted than usual when a late bloom surprised me today. Despite being described as the largest fall crocus, they are a tiny delight. I’ve never had any luck with the far showier spring-blooming crocuses.

photo: Crocus speciosus Cassiope
Crocus speciosus. Austin, Texas. December 4, 2007.

Dateline: 2004
photo: Crocus speciosus Conqueror
Crocus speciosus. November 11, 2004.

This one has different petals than all the others I’ve photographed. One is ‘Conqueror’ and the other is ‘Cassiope’. I know longer know which is which. When I buy more I’ll have to buy some of each and keep them in separate parts of the garden.

Dateline: 2003
One little crocus opened today, and four more promise to follow tomorrow. I must remember to buy some more next year. Even though, they disappear (maybe stolen by squirrels?), they bring unexpected pleasure every November.
photo: Crocus speciosus Cassiope
Crocus speciosus. November 11, 2003.

I remember telling a coworker once that I had planted 100 crocuses. He thought I must have a yard full of flowers. But they are only about four inches tall. It would take 1000 of them to make a drift that anyone other than a gardener, who is always looking for the little things under leaves and among the weeds, to notice.

photo: Crocus speciosus Cassiope
Crocus speciosus. November 10, 2003.

Dateline: 2002
One of the first bulbs I bought for the meadow garden was a type of fall-blooming crocus, Crocus speciosus. In the fall of 1996, I planted ‘Cassiope’. And later I planted ‘Conqueror’. They both bloomed beautifully in their first years and have waned in each succeeding year. However, every fall a few return to surprise and delight.

photo: Crocus Speciosus CassiopeCrocus speciosus. November 6, 2002

Today, five bloomed. I think they are the ‘Cassiope’ since those have yellow throats. They have been described variously as sky blue, pale blue, and aniline blue.

photo: Crocus Speciosus CassiopeCrocus speciosus. November 6, 2002

Lurid Fall Pinks

Antigonon leptopus
None of my specially selected four o’clocks come back. But there’s no getting rid of this common one. It seeds prolifically and forms huge tuberous roots as well.

Aren’t those two colors just scary together?

lurid: very vivid in color, esp. so as to create an unpleasantly harsh or unnatural effect

I’m not, nor have I ever been, a fan of pink. Apart from a very pale ice pink of some roses—like my beloved ‘Souvenir de la Malmaison)—I don’t choose pinks on purpose. (And I’d love SdlM just as well if she were pale apricot–because what really I love about her is the quartered form of her flowers, not the color.)

I can admire the warming pinks of late spring and early summer. The colors of the meadow evolve with the season from the cool bluebonnet blues of March, to the larkspur purples of April, to finally the various warm May Day Pinks. Pink seems very seasonal–for Spring.

But Fall’s colors should be fiery.

Instead my garden is currently drenched in gaudy, garish pinks. And yes, these pinks have been blooming at the same time as the oxblood lilies, the turk’s cap, and the red spider lilies against a background of indifferent purple heart. The result is a garden colorist’s nightmare. Add in some orange cosmos and butterfly weed to complete the chaos.

Pandorea ricasoliana
Podranea ricasoliana is called desert trumpet/willow vine in Austin because the flowers look strikingly similar to the desert willow’s.

And what am I doing to resolve this problem? Nothing. Because these plants survive. They survived the entire summer without any attention at all. Not one drop of supplemental water. Although the coral vine did not climb 30 feet into a tree this year as it did in the rainy summer of 2007, it has covered my entire driveway fence (while trying to eat my husband’s car). And the bees love it. It drooped in the heat but never succumbed. Coral vine is just one of those plants I associate with old Austin. I’d as soon cut it out as move to the suburbs.

The four o’clock plants died all the way down to the ground during the summer but at the first hint of rain they shot up a couple of feet in a couple of weeks and have been flowering ever since. I like the scent and the plants get big only after most of the spring wildflowers are finished. So we have a truce.

Not so with the P. ricasoliana. I spend hours hacking back the Port St. Johns creeper (aka desert trumpet vine). The vines are voracious, swallowing up a large stand of yucca, taking over the entire north border by self-layering. They also form huge tuberous roots. There seems no way to get rid of them. I started out with three plants in 4-inch pots and they have swallowed up the north side of my yard, even though frost cuts them to the ground every year. Apparently they only get enough sun in my yard to flower about three weeks of the year, in late October. I think I could like them if they were less vigorous and flowered in spring. As it is, I regret I ever introduced them.

Sun Dried Tomatoes

AJM thinks I have the concept wrong.

Abelmoschus esculentus

Sometimes gardeners need to be a little pretentious. Juliet might have thought that “that which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet” but she was blinded by love. Let’s be honest. Wouldn’t you pass the lovely Abelmoschus esculentus by without a second glance if you knew it was just plain, common okra?

Despite my 30+ years in the south, I’ve never become southern enough to enjoy eating okra. However, I do think it has a lovely flower–large compared with the other things which are flowering now (almost nothing) and a refreshing pale lemon color with a deep maroon eye. I planted a packet of okra seeds at the end of April. Most came up but only two seedlings survived the early triple-digit heat of May.

They must have been flowering before this because I picked the first okra yesterday. And yes, the flowers are covered in ants…meaning (the photograph revealed what I didn’t see with my naked eye) that the okra has aphids. Still I think it’s a pretty flower. And I’m going to be practicing so that the next time you visit my garden, I can say, “Oh, let me show you my Abelmoschus esculentus.”


Is there any truth in the saying that a watched tomato never ripens?

Coral Bean, Erythrina herbacea

I no longer say things like “I don’t like red flowers” because I’ve realized that the color of a flower affects me differently depending on the texture and shape of the flower. When I think of marigolds, I don’t like orange. But when I think of California poppies, orange becomes my favorite color. And when I see coral bean, I suddenly love red flowers.

Coral bean, Erythrina herbacea, unfolds huge panicles of a satisfyingly deep red that makes the nearby red yucca look washed out. I find the color difficult to capture. Photos taken in the shade make the red too dull and purple. Photos, like these, taken in the sunlight turn the color more orange than they look to the naked eye.

coral bean

The coral bean is an undemanding plant. Here in Austin it dies down to the ground every winter but is root hardy. In the spring it grows fairly large (about the size of a duranta or esperanza) before flowering in late April or early May. The deep red flowers attract both hummingbirds and butterflies. The heart-shaped leaves are large and tropical-looking but it can take the heat. I bought mine in a 2-gallon pot in 2003 and it survived the drought of 2006.

Coral bean blooms better in sun. Last year the spot it was in was so overshadowed by trees that it didn’t bloom at all. Now that I’ve cut down the Chinaberry tree it’s getting both early morning and mid-afternoon sun and flowering better.

Coral bean is not a child-friendly plant. It is quite thorny and its seeds are poisonous.

Garden History

Suffering from neglect. Cut back all the dead branches which is almost 2/3s at the top. There is some new growth near the base, with buds. Topdress with two tubs of sifted compost, an inch of Revitalizer, and 3 handfuls of bone meal. Fork in and pull up big dry clods of clay. After it is well worked in, water, and mulch with Texas native hardwood mulch.

The coral bean looked like it was recovering but in the last two weeks it just died back. AJM cut it back to the ground with the reciprocating saw. I have a slim hope that, like in a hard freeze, it might come back from the roots. But, the stump looks pretty dead. R.I.P.

Iris ‘Silverado’

Two small stems of the bearded iris ‘Silverado’ bloomed for May Day. I want to say that ‘Silverado’ has never been very vigorous in my garden but photographic evidence contradicts me. Apparently I had quite a good stand of it in 2003 before I divided it and moved it. The three large rhizomes I’d bought from Schreiner’s Iris in 1999 had multiplied to 12 crowded small ones.

Schreiner’s bred ‘Silverado’ and introduced it to the iris world in 1987 where it took award after award, winning the highest honor, the Dykes Medal, in 1994. The color is the palest silvery blue with the slightest hint of lavender. The color glimmers in the mist or moonlight but washes out in glaring sunlight. The blooms are full and ruffled without the over-the-top frilliness of some modern irises. The standards and the falls are proportionately balanced.

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Week 18: May Day Pinks

Julie @ Human Flower Project passed along poppy seeds which finally started blooming this week. (Everyone else’s in Austin bloomed throughout April.) She said the double-selection was salmon. In soft early morning light it looked more dusty rose; in glaring afternoon light, definitely salmon. (These two photos are of the same flower taken about six hours apart.)

Papaver Dorothy Cavanaugh passalong

My love-in-a-mist, Nigella damascena had almost died out so, thinking I had enough blue flowers, I planted some ‘Mulberry Rose’ seeds from Renee’s Garden. The cilantro overgrew them and when I was clearing it out yesterday, I discovered these miniature nigella flowers, about the size of a dime, on teeny-tiny plants. (Seed packet: mature height 18-24 inches). Apparently they prefer room to grow.

Nigella damascena

On the opposite end of the scale, the unwieldy crinum (maybe Crinum bulbispermum) continue to flower. These large bulbs don’t like being moved and have taken about three years to settle in and start blooming.

The pink rainlilies, Zephryanthes grandiflora opened all at once today. A single early flower opened on April 28th–but today is really rainlily day.

Zephyranthes grandiflora