Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Eurybia divaricata (Aster divaricatus)

The white woodland aster, or eurybia divaricata, is a quiet beauty. It has sprays of white, starry flowers from June to October in England, from late summer through the fall in North America. 

Eurybia divaricata Aster divaricatus
Eurybia divaricata, photo by Tom Potterfield, Creative Commons
The leaves are heart-shaped, with a slight twist at the pointed end, as if someone had tweaked them. They also have a surprisingly spring-like fresh green to them all season long. The purple-black stems are twisty, with the flower sprays pointing this way and that. These stems are what give the plant part of its name, since divaricata means "straggly, sprawling, or spreading". The leaves and stems have also provided common names for the plant: Heartleaf Aster and Serpentine Aster.

What Colour is Alma?

When I was first planning my magenta border, I knew that I would have to have some asters to finish off the season. There are a lot of good ones out there, and one in particular, aster novae-angliae 'Andenken an Alma Pötschke' sounded great. Both Sarah Raven and Christopher Lloyd described it as 'magenta'. Nobody else did, but then people tend to shy off that particular word. Everyone agreed it was a great plant.

Aster 'Andenken an Alma Potschke'
Picture by Joan Hall, Creative Commons

Fall rolled round, and the asters began to flower. Alma flowered, and she looked fine. Magenta, however, she was not. At the time I found it mildly disturbing, because I couldn't think how to describe the colour it actually was. All I knew was that it looked wrong. 

Later, I would read Allan Lacy, who described it as "vivid, saturated cerise". Which, once I figured out what cerise was, seemed pretty accurate. Alma has a a very intense colour. Sequim Rare Plants, however, get the prize: they called it "vivid watermelon pink".

You can see why it had to go. It's not actually a salmon-pink, whatever the RHS says, but it looked like it surrounded by purples and pinks and magentas. It looked strange. It's such a contradictory colour that Graham Stuart Thomas described it as "cerise-scarlet", two colours which straddle the blue - orange divide in the red zone.

It's funny how even now that vivid colours have come back in, I had a hard time finding out which flowers were actually magenta-coloured. I find it ironic that I should be complaining about a plant being labeled as magenta. But if you're not colour-theming your garden, I can recommend Alma: it has great flowers, it's got striking colour, and it keeps its leaves, unlike a lot of asters. But it's not magenta.

Sunday, 29 July 2012

Spacing - Not an Exact Science

Ever had the experience of having to fill in space between plants? Maybe something died, or you hated it and hauled it out. (If it died, maybe it hated you. I should really write a post on plant suicide sometime.) Or perhaps you're starting from scratch and grappling with those wonderful books where they tell you how big and how wide your plants will get. They usually go on to tell you to map out your new garden on graph paper, using the measurements to figure out how many of each you need.

I don't want to knock the graph-paper method, but the problem is that once you've got the plants in the ground, they tend to have their own ideas about how big (or not) they want to be. There's only so much you can do about that.

Thursday, 26 July 2012

Learning from Your Mistakes

As you've probalby noticed if you've visited this blog before, it's been redesigned. I ran it through a readability test, and failed. Too dark, too many colours, too confusing. (I would love to give you the link for the test, but I've lost it.)

I read a few pages on blog design, and learned a great deal. No more than three colours, Keep it light, keep it simple. So the new version has a lot more white in it, and I've changed the font. I feel embarrased about how it looked before now - but what can I say, I love colour. 

Hope you like it, and feel free to let me know what you think.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

More Impurity

On the subject of "impure blue", I saw the following discussion on GardenWeb, and enjoyed it immensely, although one sentence from Kirk Johnson really stood out:
Blue is one color and purple is blue with red thrown in. Why do all the gardening publications insist on calling purple "blue" when they don't call orange "red"? Why pretend?

Monday, 23 July 2012

Kniphofia: Not So Scary? or, My Cold Green Poker

I always thought of kniphofias as red-hot pokers. You know, orange and yellow, tall, and ugly.

kniphofia 'Green Jade'
Kniphofia 'Green Jade', Creative Commons, photo by dracophylla 
Then I bought one. Not just any one, but 'Green Jade'. Which caused a problem, because what do I call it? My cold green poker? I've always liked the American name, torch lily, but that doesn't really apply either. So I'm back at the Latin name, which is the correct way to refer to it, except no one knows what I mean by it.

Silene Coronaria and Geranium 'Patricia'

Rose campion and Armenian geranium make a perfect pairing. The campion, with its fuzzy silver stems makes an upright contrast to the mound of finely-cut geranium foliage spangled with dark-eyed magenta flowers. The flowers on the campion are, if anything, even more vivid than the geranium’s, almost a fluorescent pink. See them together here and here.

geranium psilostemon
Geranium psilostemon, Wikipedia Commons, photo by Frank Vincentz

The two come from the same part of the world, too. Lychnis is native to southern and central Europe and central Asia, while geranium psilostemon comes from Armenia and the surrounding Caucasian territories.

silene coronaria
Silene coronaria, Wikipedia Commons, photo by Udo Schröter 

There are those who would say that this is a eye-hurting combination. The word I would use is “showy”, and who doesn't want a bit of pizazz in the garden?

Monday, 16 July 2012

Ken Thompson says don't worry.

Ken Thompson, a British botanist and writer, says that while plant names are all being changed around because of DNA, we shouldn't let it worry us. He thinks now they have it all sorted and the names won't change again. I'm not so sure, but it's a good article:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/gardening/8264847/Dont-judge-a-plant-by-appearances.html

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Primary Colours: good or bad?

Many years ago, I planted out blue and yellow Dutch irises. When they came up in the spring, next to the geum, I was horrified.. I maintained you couldn't have all three primary colours together. My then husband thought it was great, and took this picture. Friends and family also thought it looked good. Was I being too precious?

Dutch irises and geums; primary colours
Geums and irises. Photo by Simon Ross.



Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Coreopsis

I have to confess right away that the main coreopsis I have grown is pink. This puts me in a poor position for defending the yellow daisies. The one I grew was 'Heaven's Gate', a cultivar of coreopsis rosea, and it was such a perfect colour I was willing to keep buying it year after year, since it never survived winter in Northern England.

It was only after one year when I planted some out in front achillea 'Summerwine' that I really saw what it could do - the dark raspberry eye of the coreopsis matched the achillea perfectly - and on closer inspection, I noted that the flowers on the achillea were paler at the centre, like the coreopsis in reverse. Not planned - but satisfying. Their habits were a good contrast - the achillea stands in a clump, while the coreopsis is more wispy, with thin stems and leaves but plenty of flowers. (Like coreopsis verticilliata, below.) Unfortunately, no picture, but here's the two items in question, see for yourself:

Coreopsis rosea 'Heaven's Gate'

Achillea 'Summerwine'