Archive for the ‘Spring’ Category


Sunday, May 3rd, 2009

It’s May! According to the Japanese flower calendar, May is the month of the iris.

<i>Iris</i> 'Starwoman'

Iris 'Starwoman'

The iris takes both its scientific and common names from the Greek goddess of the rainbow. Iris was also the messenger of Hera and, like the rainbow itself, was a physical link between the mortal earth and the gods. Iris’ other job was to lead the souls of dead women and girls to the Elysian Fields–supposedly the ancient Greeks planted purple irises on the graves of women in tribute.

The iris as a symbol of power or mysticism was not limited to the Greeks. The ancient Egyptians associated the three largest petals of the iris with faith, wisdom and valor, according to Lehner and Lehner’s [Folklore and Symbolism of Flowers, Plants and Trees]. The iris was also associated with the sphinx, another female entity.

Blue iris with Mary from an unnamed artist

Blue iris with Mary from an unnamed artist

In Christian tradition, the iris was dedicated to the Virgin Mary. Blue is a popular color in depictions of Mary, so often blue irises are used to represent Mary in her role as Queen of Heaven. In contrast, white iris are sometimes used alongside or in lieu of white lilies to represent Mary’s purity. [HolyPlants] also cites the iris as a sign of Mary’s sorrows.

The iris is also the commonly accepted inspiration for the fleur-de-lis, but there are numerous legends about the hows, whys, and whos of its adoption as a symbol of France. One of the stories cited in the book I’m currently reading is that in the first century Clovis, founder of the Merovingian dynasty, won a huge battle against the Alemanni. In celebration, the Frankish soldiers had a flower-power party and adorned themselves with irises fortuitously growing nearby.

<i>Iris tectorum</i> 'Alba'

Iris tectorum 'Alba'

Because it’s such and old and popular plant, there are [thousands of varieties] of iris and many of these are spectacular perrenials here in the Triangle. Irises come in a staggering array of shapes, sizes and colors (though blues, whites, and yellows are the most common). When visiting the J.C. Raulston Arboretum this spring I’ve seen irises nearly as wide as my head and irises much smaller than my fist–and I have tiny girl hands. Irises are usually be purchased as rhizomous roots but potted irises can be planted outdoors. Irises tend to perform best in full sun or mostly full sun and well-drained soil. A soil that’s too wet through the cold season can rot the root crown. Irises are also [easy to divide] after they’re done flowering–just be careful not to snap the biggest roots when breaking apart the crown.

The iris also has a unique flower structure. The lower petals are actually huge, colorful sepals (a leaf-like structure at the base of a flower–think the little leftover leafy things at the bottom of and apple or the base of a rose). These drooping sepals are called falls while the upright petals are called standards. The lighter parts of the flower in the diagram draw attention (and pollinators!) to the center of the flower.

March Flora Watch

Sunday, March 8th, 2009

I took a walk this past Saturday around N.C. State’s campus, J.C. Raulston Arboretum, and my own Gorman Street to see what’s what right now in the landscape. I’m not sure if we’re safely out of danger from frost yet between the alternating snow and eighty-degree weather, but it’s definitely spring. I saw lots of yellow and white blossoms plus the beginnings of new leaves of a lot of the shrubs and some of the trees. By the way, the stinky-but-pretty (and overplanted, frankly) bradford pears ([Pyrus calleryana 'Bradford']) are also in bloom so that’s probably the source of any random smells of decay.

Highlights from the [flickr photoset]:

<i>Narcissus willkommii</i>

Narcissus willkommii


Artemisia (wormwood)

<i>Crocus vernus</i>

Crocus vernus

<i>Fatsia japonica</i>

Fatsia japonica (aralia)

<i>Forsythia</i> X <i>intermedia</i>

Forsythia X intermedia (spring forsythia)

<i>Hammamelis virginiana</i> 'Sunburst'

Hammamelis virginiana 'Sunburst' (witch hazel)

<i>Hyacinthus orientalis</i> 'Blue Festival'

Hyacinthus orientalis 'Blue Festival'

<i>Iberis sempervirens</i>

Iberis sempervirens (candytufts)

<i>Lonicera fragrantissima</i> (fragrant winter honeysuckle)

Lonicera fragrantissima (fragrant winter honeysuckle)

<i>Magnolia</i> X <i>soulangiana</i> (saucer magnolia)

Magnolia X soulangiana (saucer magnolia)

<i>Phlox subulata</i> (moss pinks)

Phlox subulata (moss pinks)

<i>Berberis julianae</i>

Berberis julianae (wintergreen barberry)


J.C. Raulston Arboretum: Early Spring

Saturday, February 21st, 2009

My cockatiel and I visited N.C. State’s J.C. Raulston Arboretum this Thursdy afternoon to see what’s going on. Besides being a public garden, the Arboretum is used to research, outreach, and plant trials (among other things). It’s free and open to the public and right behind the Waffle House on Hillsborough Street–and I can never say no to waffles and flowers.

Right now there are some showy winter plants and early spring bloomers adding color around the grounds–I took a ton of pictures! I also sought out some old favorites to track as they leaf out and set fruit. I spent I don’t know how many hours there as an undergrad. I’m planning to take pictures at fixed points around the Arboretum so I can see how it changes throughout the seasons.

So many things looked beautiful. Many of the hollies are in full berry and some of the trees (like [this flame willow]) have incredibly striking bark to show off. There are a bunch of pictures up in [this Flickr photoset] but here are some highlights:

<i>Prunus</i> 'First Lady'

Prunus 'First Lady' (flowering cherry)

<i>Pieris japonica</i>

Pieris japonica (Japanese andromeda)

<i>Ilex cornuta</i> 'D'Or'

Ilex cornuta 'D'Or' (yellow berry Chinese holly)

In the Winter Garden

In the Winter Garden

Xeriscape garden

Xeriscape garden

<i>Iris reticulata</i> 'Spring Time'

Iris reticulata 'Spring Time'

<i>Edgeworthia chrysantha</i> 'Winter Gold'

Edgeworthia chrysantha 'Winter Gold' (golden paperbush)

<i>Daphne odora</i>

Daphne odora (winter daphne)

<i>Poncirus trifoliata</i> 'Flying Dragon'

Poncirus trifoliata 'Flying Dragon' (hardy contorted orange)


April is going to be a fabulous month. I’m really excited for the annual trial beds to get into full swing–daisies, grasses, ornamental veggies… It’s a great place in Raleigh to get some new ideas.

February Flora Watch

Thursday, February 12th, 2009

This is an aside, but I noticed a few of my favorite early spring bloomers are coming into flower over the last couple days.

This is a yellow crocus blooming in front of my boyfriend’s house. I planted a set of these in fall 2007 and adore them. Even when the brief flowers wither, the slender leaves persist like a delicate grass.Crocus species are in the iris family are not true bulbs–they overwinter as a specialized stem called a [corm]. The stigma (female reproductive structure) of Crocus sativus is dried to become the coveted spice saffron.

Carolina yellow jessamine (Gelsemium sempervirens) is a climbing vine that is also the state flower of South Carolina. Its yellow, trumpet-shaped flowers are fragrant and abundant, contrasting with the slightly glossy, dark green leaves. Once you know what it is, you’ll see it everywhere (and I hope you will). This clump was planted near the corner of North and Glenwood Streets in downtown Raleigh. There’s also a really stunning planting of jessamine on the arbor in front of Withers Hall on the N.C. State campus.

The flowering cherries/almonds/apricots (Prunus species) are coming out! Most of the flowering apricots (Prunus mume) just finished their flowering cycle so I hope to have some pictures of their fruit set later in the season. Either way, I saw some beautiful cherry trees (either Prunus campanulata ‘Okame’ or Prunus ‘First Lady’) when I was in Cameron Village Tuesday. The pears, peaches, and crabapples should start showing signs of flower soon as well. I can’t wait for the kwanzan cherry (Prunus serrulata) my boyfriend and I planted together to come into its own in a few months.


Tuesday, February 10th, 2009

The common garden hyacinth (Hyacinthus orientalis and cultivars) is just starting to come up here in the Triangle, so be on the look out for blooming in the next few weeks. It’s also a highly perfumed flower so planting it near your doors, windows, and walkways can have huge impact for the nose as well as a splash of color for the eyes.

In flower, the plant itself is around eight to ten inches tall with the inflorescence rising above the glossy, green leaves. The spread of each individual plant is about five inches, making them ideal for clumping. The most common flower color is a medium bluish purple, but it comes in a range of pinks, whites, yellows, and even some burgundy cultivars.

hyacinthus_orientalis_white_festival_march2009“Hyacinth” corresponds to the name of a Spartan youth and hero whose name anglicizes to Hyacinthus. The version retold in Ovid’s [Metamorphoses] boils down to Hyacinthus a horrible discus accident with his lover Apollo. Apollo threw the discus and Hyacinthus, hoping to impress his deity bro, tried to go catch it. It went terribly awry and struck him in the head, killing him. Apollo, in his grief, created a flower from Hyacinthus’ spilled blood. I prefer the more salacious story from [Encyclopedia Mythica]: Apollo and Zephyr, god of the west wind, were rivals for Hyacinthus’ affections. When Hyacinthus chose Apollo, it was Zephyr that blew the errant discus into Hyacinthus’ head in vengeance.

A good time to plant most spring flowering bulbs like hyacinth and daffodils in the warm Southeastern climate is November. Hyacinth bulbs are widely available from bulb distributors, garden centers, and the usual large chains. The leaves should not be cut back after the plant flowers so that the bulb can gather and store energy to bloom the next season. If the leftover leaves don’t fit in with your landscape, try planting them interspersed with summer blooming flowers like day lilies.

If you’d like blooming hyacinth indoors in pots or to use as cut flowers they can be easily forced indoors. Plant your bulbs in pots and then store them in the refrigerator for about three months. Don’t forget to water them during this period! After that, the bulbs can be moved to a sunny window to warm up and bloom.