Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Virginia sweetspire was there after all

Those jeep rides around the farm back in late March and early April yielded some wonderful discoveries.  First, the colony of Atamasco lilies. Then, the discovery of a Piedmont native azalea.  I posted a photograph of the latter when it was in thick bud.  At the time, though, I lamented that there was no Itea virginica along the creek where I'd seen it in profusion before.

It turned out, I couldn't see the forest for the trees.  A return visit to the site of the native azalea, already past its bloom, yielded a surprise.  I'd been so busy looking at the pink honeysuckle blooms of Rhododendron canescens that I'd missed the Itea virginica right next to it.

I was reminded of the plant this past weekend, when I went to Charlottesville, Virginia, to see my daughter graduate from law school.  I took a walk around her neighborhood.  The peonies were just going over, as were the roses.  But, in a shady glade that was quite beautiful, I saw a row of Virginia sweetspire in bloom.  I was reminded that I hadn't posted my own picture of this native plant.

This deciduous shrub grows along the creek banks of the Eastern U.S., but it does very well in shady garden situations.  In fact, it does too well sometimes, spreading rapidly.  But with a little management, this is a wonderful shrub to own if you don't have a lot of sun.  Despite its position in shade, it turns beautiful colors in the fall.

Here's what Dr. Michael Dirr says of the plant:  "An interesting native shrub valued for fragrant flowers at a time when few plants are in flower...on some specimens the fall color is fantastic.....not utilized enough in American gardens; it would make a good choice for naturalizing in moist areas...not given sufficient credit for drought tolerance which is considerable."

I remember seeing this in a garden on the Atlanta Botanical Garden's tour on Mother's Day weekend several years ago.  It was amazing what the couple had done with a shady situation.  The Virginia sweetspire 'Henry's Garnet' was dripping with long white flowers and blended well with all their Japanese maples and hostas.

So, it was a wonderful surprise to see it growing over the creek at the farm, so beautiful against the flowing water.  I look forward to going back and seeing the plants in the fall.  As I remember, the leaves were a translucent, glowing red.  We shall see.

What can happen to Easter lilies after Easter

It was in a book either by or about Eudora Welty that I saw a photograph that inspired me.  The grainy black and white picture showed Easter lilies that had been planted in a cemetery and looked a lot like the ones pictured above.  Apparently, the flowers came up year after year, and people with relatives in the cemetery added to them each Easter.

Only once, when I was in charge of potted Easter lilies at church (never again!  Stressing over whether the flowers would open in time or be over for Easter day was too much), did I plant some.  I had kept a couple of pots that didn't work out.  I put the bulbs in a larger container and forgot about them.

The next year, the foliage began to emerge, and by late May, I had Lilium longiflorum blooming.  I meant to put them in the ground somewhere, but never did.  I'm not sure what happened after that (squirrels may have dug them up), but the lilies disappeared.

The Easter lilies in the above photograph are planted in the ground in an Alabama garden and come up year after year.  They bloom in the South in late May.  In colder climates, it's June or July.   In this scene, you can see the bell-shaped Clematis texensis 'Princess Diana' on the right and a large flowering blue clematis (I'm not sure which one, but looks like C. jackmanii) on the left.  Overhead in the background, some form of trumpet vine (Campsis radicans, perhaps) is already starting to bloom.

I just looked for that Eudora Welty book.  I can't find it, but I'll keep searching. This past year, I didn't buy a pot of lilies for anyone.  Next year, I will, and then I'll ask if I can have the bulbs afterwards.  By then, I'll have my deer fence and can add bulbs each year so I can enjoy their beauty and fragrance in a garden setting, even though I really liked the way those Easter lilies looked in that cemetery,