Category Archives: Flowers

Spring is in the garden


Snowdrops amid fallen leaves.

A sure sign that spring is coming is when the little Common Snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis) push themselves up above ground.  Our Common Snowdrops have already blossomed with white delicate flowers like little lanterns shining spring light.  Don’t let the delicate looking petals fool you, they are tougher than they look.  I used to rush to look at them in the morning after a snow fall overnight or when the temperature was down to a little bit above 20 degrees to make sure that they survived.  They always look happy and playful in the morning wind.

They are very easy to grow.  You just put the bulbs in the ground in autumn, give them some good dirt and wait for spring to come.  The deer won’t bother them.

Snowdrops after a drizzle.

I will have to do something about the Lily of the Valley (Convallaria majalis) that appeared to crowd this little beauty a bit too closely last year.  I think I will dig some of the lilies out to provide room for the Snowdrops.  As much as I don’t like growing bulbs since they will disapper underground after spring blossoming, Snowdrops are one of the exceptions.

If you want to grow something that will push your late winter depression away; I give you Snowdrops.  Their appearance is a confirmation that life goes round and round; after a dark and moody winter, there will be a bright spring.

Drought Tolerant Flowers

Don’t need much care and yet still lovely.

Finally the rains came, tempest mostly.  We don’t seem to have normal rain any more.  It’s either no rain or it’s pouring cats and dogs.  It doesn’t really matter what type sky juice come down  – drizzle, rain, shower or thunder storm – it’s better than a drought. The heat wave we had in our area last month subsided to just a high humidity. Trees and flowers in our garden seem to be able to take a deep breath again after having held their their breath through temperatures exceeding 90 degrees with not a drop of rain in anywhere.  Just standing outside in the shade brought rivulets of perspiration down my skin. The vegetables didn’t seem to care very much since they had the privilege of having someone water them daily and without fail.

Droughts are a good test for flowers.  We don’t want to grow flowers that need too much care and watering since we use well water here.  We love roses.  They only need a lot of water during the first couple of years until their root structure is established.  Then, if they are well mulched, they will be fine, especially the Rosa Rugosa.   Aside from the roses, most of the flowers we put in the ground are either native species or drought tolerant.

Mostly self-sown and still happy during drought.

Most of the flowers in the front yard are self-sown or plants that can last for months on moisture they can pull from their surroundings. I let Echanecia, Rudbeckia, Garden Phlox and Coreopsis grow freely.  I only have to weed out the seedlings when they get too crowded.  They still happily produce abundant flowers during high temperatures and last month’s drought.  Since they have such a will to live, we support and nurture them a little by providing them with good compost once a year.

Himalayan Alba Rose

“Bare-root” is like a box of chocolates….

You never know what you’re gonna’ get when you order plants that will be shipped bare-rooted.  You frequently won’t know what it is you have been sent until the plant blossoms.  I  received some things that I hadn’t expected three times.  Once, I ordered “Clematis Sweet Autumn” and I received Clematis Montana instead.  Another time, I ordered two “Paul’s Himalayan Musk” roses, I received one Paul’s and one Himalayan Alba.  When the alba blossomed a year later I called the nursery I ordered from to let them know that I received some other rose now growing in the garden, one with white flowers, not pink, and I wanted to know what it was.  The nursery asked me to send a photograph to them so they can show it to their botanist.  I did.  I was told it’s a Himalayan Alba. They offered to send me a replacement of Paul’s Himalayan Musk which they did.  I  like the Alba for its color and scent though and kept it where it was.

A cluster of white spicy flowers

A year later, the replacement produced white flowers.  It was another Alba.  What can I say…now I have two Himalayan Alba roses in the garden.  I still order from this nursery but never mention how the replacement came out.  I think two is enough.  I ended up propagating the Paul’s Himalayan Musk myself.

It grows like a rose on steroids.  The first one covered the trellis in no time and is still creeping all over the place.  In one season I had to cut it down three times  to keep it in order.  Last year, a family of Robins decided to nest in it.  The poor Robins.  They built the nest at the edge of the branches, still on the trellis though.  The roses grew so fast that they tipped the nest over and one egg rolled off the nest.  A few weeks later after the other two had hatched, one chick fell out and was impaled by thorns.  We found the last surviving chick on the ground a week later when the nest had been tipped sideways by the growing rose tendrils and promptly put it back in the nest.  The Robins came back and raised that one successfully.  We decided to tie the branch and pulled them back up to save the nest.  We saved a chick.  This year the Robins nested in the same place, but we had tied a wood ‘Robin nest box’ there in an attempt to help.  To our surprise, the Robins built their nest on the roof of the box, not in it.

The beauty up close

The Alba blooms only once a year.  But when it blooms the whole trellis is covered with clusters of white flowers and the sound of buzzing bees.  The spicy fragrance will linger in the air for a month.  The perfume is similar to the invasive wild rose you see all over the place, but a little bit sweeter.  I wish it would bloom all season long.  Most of them have faded now.   I just trimmed the branches again this year, for the second time, after the Robin babies left the nest.

If you love a really fast growing rose, disease resistant, with a lot of shiny green leaves, and a lot of white spicy scented flowers…it’s a perfect choice.  It’s the only rose in our garden that I don’t feed hoping to slow down the growth.  But it’s not working, they’re still growing like crazy.  I moved the replacement from the pool fence to the Tulip tree once I knew what it was.  It’s happy there as well.

Kaffir Lime

Kaffir Lime:  A Tree Worth Traveling With. 

Asian cooking uses a lot of Kaffir Lime leaves.   It gives a tangy lemony scent and taste.   Though finding lime leaves in the US is getting easier, you still have to go to an Asian market and for the most part they’re not fresh enough or they’re frozen.  I grow my own Kaffir Lime, in pots of course.  As a tropical plant they won’t last the winter outside in my area.  The largest one has been with me for at least 18 years, spends most of its life inside.  I take it with me, along with the jasmines wherever I move.  I have to cut it down every year, in spring and late fall; otherwise it won’t fit in the basement (winter training camp).  At my parent’s house (tropics), they grow in the ground and one of them grew almost as high as the house itself and bore plenty of fruit.   Last I heard, it had died of old age, and may it rest in peace.

18 years old & fresh out of winter camp.

Two of my largest I trim to keep just a little taller than me, no higher.   The three-year-old generation, five of them, is just over a foot and a half tall.  I think I’m going to limit their growth to two feet since dragging the largest one in and out of the basement twice a year proves not an easy task.  I love the perfume from their leaves so brushing against them during moving makes the job sort of pleasant until the 1 to 1.5 inch thorns find your skin.  Yes, their thorns are very intimidating.

I started sixteen seedlings last March.  Don’t ask me why.  I just like them and I think it’s a challenge to grow a small tree from seed, let alone a tropical tree.  They are pretty good looking 1.5 inch tall babies currently and are enjoying their first summer outside.  Two of my colleagues have already put their names on one kid each.  Once they have a couple more sets of leaves they will be ready for adoption. I will have to figure out how I’m going to deal with the rest them in winter when they are bigger; our basement is still the same size.

Cooking with fresh Kaffir Lime leaf is a pleasure.  I usually use the fresh leaves in soup, curry and salad.  The really young buds that still have a hint of burgundy in them, you can just pick them off and dip in a tasty sauce.  The fruit can be used in sour curry, but you need to take its skin off first. Just be very careful since it has a much stronger, sharper taste than other limes.  The common use of fruit is the skin; it’s part of the ingredient in most curry if you plan to make curry paste yourself.

You can also grill the fruit, skin and all, then use the juice to wash your hair.  It’s supposed to clean all the residue off your hair very well and give a shine and smoothness to it.  I did try it when I was young just to see if it really works.  It did but I felt a tingling on my scalp since it had a little scratch in it; imagine squeezing a lemon on a scratch.  I also had a tough time rinsing the pulp out of my hair since no one told me I was suppose to strain it first.  My hair smelled really nice though.  You can find shampoo infused with Kaffir lime in the market now but I don’t know if it works as well as the real thing.

Seedlings a few months old enjoy sunlight.

Anyway,  growing one Kaffir Lime is one of the best things you can give yourself if you love cooking  Southeast Asian food or just cooking in general.  New recipes always start with an experiment.  One of my colleagues finely chopped  a little bit of leaf and put it in scrambled eggs.  She told me it was good.  I haven’t tried it myself, so can’t really vouch.  My new trick is tearing it to small pieces and putting it in ice tea just to give the tea that fresh, uplifting scent.

Kaffir lime doesn’t need much attention.  Light and water, not too much though, and it will keep growing.  I feed them twice a year since they are in pots and change the potting soil every couple of years.  One thing to watch for if you keep them in the house is spider mites.   They love to hang out on the young leaves, but are easy to get rid of.  If the plant is small, just put it in the bathtub and spray with water on both the top and bottom of the leaves.  If the plant is too big to give it a bath, take the bucket to the plant.  If you take good care of it, it will keep you company for years and may outlast you.  One of mine has been with me for at least 18 years, longer than many relationships I’ve known.  I haven’t come to the point of having a conversation with it yet but Bill chats up the plants whenever he’s among them.  ..Don’t ask.

Paul’s Himalayan Musk

A graceful rambler

Every year in June is the time for roses to push out and bloom.  We have a mix of once a season blooming and continuous blooming roses in our garden.  When I started fixing our garden, I didn’t know that some roses in this climate bloom only once a year.  The roses in the tropics bloom all year round, at least in my parents’ garden.  I picked the roses based on fragrance and color, never considering how many times they would bloom in a season.  I’m better educated about the roses now, not much better but better than before.

Sea of pink

I picked Paul’s Himalayan musk because we needed something to cover our unattractive chain link pool fence.  When I found this rose in the catalog it was perfect; rambling, soft pink in color, honey scented and will survive in our climate zone.  I didn’t look at whether it was once blooming or continuous blooming during the season.

The first time it bloomed, it took our collective breath away.  There wasn’t much arching of the branches, but every stem produced a profusion of buds, which opened to soft pink, then faded to almost white before dropping off.  But, what captured us most was the honey fragrance, and, in the heat of the day, a little spice added in.

Turns from pink to off white before it drops

Five years later, it covers a large portion of the fence and a trellis.  I have to cut it back every spring to keep it confined and make room for other plants.  This is one of the roses I have a fight with every spring.  The other is its cousin, the Himalayan Alba.  Once established, both of them can easily shoot up 10 feet or more in one season.  There is no doubt that they are true ramblers.  Bill will cut the branches sticking out over the pool in the middle of summer since the thorns keep catch us when we walk past.  As much as we love the flowers we like to have easy access to the pool deck with out being poked with sharp thorns.

A lot of the flowers have opened up now.  There will be a sea of pink floating over the pool fence in a week then the whole garden will smell like honey.  The bees will be busy working on hundreds of roses.  The ground will be carpeted with petals; some will fall in the pool.   It’s very romantic to float among rose petals looking up at the blue sky while breathing in a mix of fresh, sweet fragrance.  ..Paradise.  Until reality catches up and we have to clean it out of the pool.

Close up

I don’t have anything bad to say about the Paul’s Himalayan Musk aside from blooming only a few weeks every spring.  But to make up for the lack of flowers, it provides little red rose hips that will bring in the Cedar Waxwings and provide a beautiful decoration in winter.  I will cut whatever is left of the hips in spring along with the weak or unruly branches.  If you have a lot of space to cover, plant it.

New Columbine

A Good decision to let it grow

I was excited to see the purple and white double bell shaped columbine blooming in the garden.  I may be naïve, but I haven’t seen this type of columbine in this color or shade before.  We have a white bell shape in our garden and I’ve seen it come in pink too.   We also have purple and white shades with a single layer of petals.  I guess open pollination serves nature well.

New addition by mother nature

Last year, when it was just a little seedling, I nearly pulled it out.  We have a lot of Columbine in the garden and most of them are self-sown.  When I go to the farmer’s market or nursery or browse the catalogs I’m only looking for something new to add to our garden.  I’ve learned that buying one plant is enough since I know how to propagate.  The ones that self-sow have been sowing themselves too well.  I’ve had to pull some of them out.  But, in some cases, letting the unknown seedlings grow produces a marvelous result.

A few reasons for letting the Columbine live, though it grows right next to a rose, are that they aren’t exactly invasive, they are pretty and the butterflies and Hummingbirds love them.  What can go wrong?  They self-sow but don’t spread like plants in the mint family.  I can’t get rid of the mint, Lemon Balm and Bee balm at this point, try as I might.  Columbine, on the other hand, is easy to get rid of or transplant if I don’t like the color.  And, it’s an indication of the hummingbirds arrival.  The hummingbirds will be here when the columbine blooms.

Two feet stems

Letting this particular one grows was a good decision.  Now, as far as I know, we have a new plant that can’t be bought.

Clematis Montana

Flood of flowers and fragrance

Spring wouldn’t be complete without the Clematis Montana (Clematis montana var.Rubens) blooming.   A sea of pale pink flowers draped on the pool fence and so crowded we can hardly see their leaves.  Not just the beautiful delicate flowers that make the Montana the desired climber for cottage gardens, but also its fragrance that is so breathtaking.  It is a mix of vanilla and chocolate that perfumes the garden in spring for a month.  In May, the lilacs at the corner of the toolshed pass the fragrance baton to the Montana who, in the next couple of weeks, will pass it to Ms. Kim Lilac at the corner of the pool deck.

A sea of pink with a heavenly scent

We have the Montana by accident, by the way.  I ordered two Sweet Autumn Clematis (Clematis terniflora) years ago in hopes of having some flowers that would keep the garden fragrant in fall and early winter.  I planted them not far from one another.  A year later, the one on the pool fence bloomed pink – and in spring!  I knew then it’s not a Sweet Autumn, but what?  After doing some research, I found that it’s a Clematis Montana.  No complaint here, just surprise, and even more surprised when it did really well in our garden.  As far as I know, we’re not supposed to be able to grow the Montana in our zone; it’s too cold for this cultivar.  A vender in the city assured me of as much.

Up close

Now, its bloom becomes something we wait for every spring.  It can grow to 30 feet and grab everything in its path.  I will have to prune it a little bit this spring after the bloom fades, to keep it to one side of the fence.  I never have to take care of it, aside from mulching once a year.  The down side is that it only blooms in spring, then we have to wait for another ten months.  It is worth the wait though.

Scented Garden (continue)

Sweet Smell of Tropical

Certain smells brings back certain memories.  It’s true for everyone.  Every time I get a scent of Jasmine it brings me right back to my childhood like it was yesterday.  A hand hammered silver bowl of cold water infused with Jasmine that still float in the bowl.  One whiff and one sip of that water my fatigue starts melting away.  I remember my grandmother sending me out to pick jasmine in the evening when they were not fully open to make an offering.  There were rows of them since she grew a few kinds of jasmine, the Arabian Tea Jasmine, the Grand Duke of Tuscany (we called it something different where I grew up), and the one that looked like 3-4 tiny stacked up white stars.  I haven’t seen the last one around for years but I still keep my eye out for it.  It may have already become extinct.

Arabian Tea Jasmine

Growing tropical plants in the Northern Hemisphere is a pain when you don’t have a greenhouse.  Our plants spend their winter in the basement under plant lights on a timer. “Winter training camp” we call it.  Once the weather is warm enough, night temperature staying above 50 degrees, they can hang out outside.  Carrying them in and out the basement every year is not an easy task, especially when some of them are taller than me.  But out of love of cooking with fresh ingredients and sweet scent in our home and garden, we happily bear this pain twice a year.  OK, well, Bill groans and fakes back pain twice a year in a lame attempt to get out of lifting them.  But he likes to eat too so always succumbs eventually.  He has suggested that I don’t get any new plants that will become miniature trees since we’re not getting any younger.  Point taken.

Our Jasmine provide plenty of flowers that we share with friends and neighbors.  I let the plants bloom during the evening so they can perfume the garden then pick them early in the morning to use in the house and take to work.  The Arabian Tea Jasmine, Jasminum Sambac, that we grew, proliferated from 2 pots of jasmine I have had from over ten years ago.  I’ve been taking them with me wherever I moved to.  That two little pots became eleven large ones and bloom profusely every summer.  They give us a treat here and there while in their winter training camp as well.  You needn’t have a garden to grow them, a windowsill with direct sunlight will do fine.  Trust me, a whiff of fresh jasmine will sooth all your senses.

Grand Duke of Tuscany

Arabian Tea Jasmine is not just good for their scent, it’s also great to mix with tea and use in potpourri.  If you already like this delicate one-layer-petal jasmine, you will fall in love with the Grand Duke of Tuscany, also of the  Jasminum Sambac family.  Its one inch wide double bloom of white petals plus rich sweet jasmine fragrance can stop you in your tracks.  It doesn’t bloom as profusely as the Arabian Tea though.

Sweet Almond Verbena

Jasmine is not the only fragrant tropical flower that perfumes our garden, Gardenia, Orchid, Night Blooming Jasmine, Sweet Almond Verbena, and Orange Jasmine do their share as well.   I grow Sweet Almond Verbena, Aloysia virgata, because it smells like sweet incense.  I guess it’s not just me that can relate its scent to incense since it’s also known as “Incense Bush”.  When I first saw it in the catalog, I could smell it in my memory.  I had to have it.  Yes, I ended up with two of them.  I will not be able to let them grow as big as the ones at my parents house, but two little bushes will do the trick.  The clustered tiny little white flowers have never been without insects on them, especially bees.  I don’t have to get my nose close to the flower.  I can smell this sweet incense when I sit on the pool deck any time there is a light breeze.

Orange Jasmine

I got Orange Jasmine, Murraya paniculata, to surprise Bill.  When we were on vacation a couple of years ago, he walked under the canopy of Orange Jasmine and stopped midway under it.  He kept smelling their fragrance.  I waited until the plants I got flowered then I let him know we had new additions.  He remembered the trip.

Night Blooming Jasmine, Cestrum noctumum, will broadcast its sweet scent from tiny pale green star shape flowers as soon as the sun goes down.  Its fragrance will linger until early in the morning before it fades away in order to start over again in the evening.

Night Blooming Jasmine

The combination of fragrance from these tropical flowers makes the summer heat bearable when we are outside during the day.  Evening is just heaven, except for the mosquitoes.  I wish I could have them flower profusely all year round like in the tropics.  Well, at this point they can leave the basement and fake sunlight to hang out on the bay window, soaking up real winter sunlight anytime they blossom.  I guess it’s a worthy bribe and the orchids seem to like that bribe more than the others.

Scented Garden

Sweet Smell of Summer

Spending  a lot of weekends with my mother at the plant market hunting for new plants for our garden is a great memory.  She loved fragrant flowers so the main question we always asked was “Is it fragrant?”  I still do the same here at the local farmer’s markets, nurseries and when my fingers walk through catalogs looking for new additions to our collection, the first thing I look for in a flower is fragrance.

In summer our garden has the sweet scent of one flower or another floating in the air all day and all night.  The sweetness of the Bitter Melon flower would linger in the air until noon when the sun gets too hot and the flowers start to close up.  We have Garden Phlox, Phlox Paniculata, in variety of colors which continue perfuming the air day and night until they fade away slowly.

Hover Fly inspects Garden Phlox

Summersweet, Clethra Alnifolia, in both white and pink fill the garden with their intoxicating sweet scent. And, who can forget the arcing branches and oblong pompoms of clustered, tiny flowers at the end of the Butterfly Bush, Buddleia, and its scent. Whoever named this plant “Butterfly Bush” hit the spot.  We have a few of them in our garden and they are drawing all types of butterflies, bees and hummingbirds.  Its only bad charactor is that it self-sow like crazy.  I either have to cut the spent flowers or take time to pull the seedlings from the garden.

Ailanthus Webworm Moth sips nectar from Summer Sweet

The ground hugging Sweet Alyssum, Lobularia Maritima, in both white and lavender also contribute their scent.  Don’t under estimate their tiny little flowers.   Tiny tough guys, they can deal with drought and foot traffic really well.  They sow themselves along the driveway neatly in rows as well as in any cracks in our walkway.  We let them be, let them send sweet honey fragrance into the air.

Little tough guys, Sweet Alyssum

The roses and Echinacea also do a great job of soothing us during the day.  I’m not going to mention the tropical flowers otherwise this topic won’t end.

Once the sun goes down, the graceful Moonflowers, Ipomoea Alba, start to unfurl themselves and fill the night with their scent.  This year we have to wait a little bit longer for the flowers to bloom since the weather has had mood swings early in the season.  The vine slows growth until the temperature gets and stays hot.  We’re seeing flower buds now though.

Swallowtail on Butterfly Bush

When we come home in the evening during the weekday, the first thing we do is take a deep breath in the garden.  The sweet mingling from Jasmine, Moonflowers and Garden Phlox washes away the dust and fog of a long workday and commute home.  We are ready for a glass of wine and a good night’s sleep.  We don’t call our garden our sanctuary for nothing.

Clematis Montana

A Wonderful Surprise

We were looking for a vine to cover our ugly pool fence.  It was my task to search under our agreed guidelines: something that will produce fragrant flowers, not just green. I thought Clematis  Terniflora “Sweet Autumn”  would be really nice.  Since it will flower in late fall to early winter when most of our flowers will start to fade and it will produce abundant small fragrant white flowers.  So I ordered it from a nursery.  It came to us bare-root, just a stick and a few roots nothing else.  I planted it just right by the pool fence and watched it grow, anxiously.  The first year it crept up only  a few feet on the fence, nice looking green leaves with a hint of burgundy.  On the second year, it started to form flower buds in spring… odd.  Something wrong here.  The clematis I bought was supposed to flower in fall.  Or, maybe it flowers twice a year, I didn’t give up hope for “Sweet Autumn.”

Then the first flower opened up.  It was pale pink! As much as I wanted to keep my hopes up, I wasn’t color blind.  It’s definitely not Sweet Autumn. But what is it?  I searched my library and online, looking for any large, single, pink, fragrant clematis. Finally, it’s a Clematis Montana var. Rubens ‘Tetrarose’.

Clematis montana var. rubens 'Tetrarose'

A native of the Himalayas and Central and Western China and can grow close to 30 feet long. But what surprised me most was that it ‘s not supposed to grow in zone 5 (our zone); it grows in zones 7-9.  I mentioned that I have a  Clematis Montana in the garden to one of the vendors at local farmer’s market who sold variety of Clematis and she insisted that I cannot grow it in this zone.  The next time I brought pictures along, she didn’t want to talk to me after that.

It was a really wonderful surprise and now I love it more than my original choice though I ended up getting that later on. When all the Montana flowers opened, the fence was covered with mauve pink and the whole area was scented with wonderful vanilla fragrance.  I love to get my nose close to it. Now we can hardly wait for spring.  It blossoms right after the Daffodil fades, and that’s when the wave of flowering in our garden starts.  

The only thing I would wish for is that it could bloom from spring right through autumn.  At this point I’m satisfied with my luck. I got the ugly fence well covered… too well I think since it’s climbing on not just the fence but every plant that it can reach.  I will have to trim it down this year though.  It starts to get too unruly and annoy its neighbor.  But its beauty got hold of my heart; I added two more Clematis to the garden: a Crystal Fountain and a Belle of Woking.  To quote Forest Gump “life is like a box of chocolates….” well, bare-root plants are like a surprise waiting to happen.