Six on Saturday #74 (April 22, 2023)

Happy Earth Day! This would be an obvious day for working in the garden, but unfortunately we will have thunderstorms rolling through for most of the day (though luckily the potential for tornadoes seems to be southeast of our location). Here are a few pictures taken this morning before the rain, rounded out with a couple taken earlier this week.

1. Paeonia ‘America’

Photo of Peaonia 'America' flower

I planted this herbaceous peony about three years ago. It produced its first buds last year, but they all froze and aborted. This year, two buds survived, and I finally have the first flower. Each day, the flower starts to open after I leave for work and closes before I get home, so it was tricky to get a photo. The flower is already closing in this picture, and I only saw it partially open because I left work early to catch eldest offspring’s last high school tennis match.

2. Paeonia obovata (Japanese woodland peony)

photo of white Paeonia obovata flower

This peony does well the shade under a dogwood, where it grows among trilliums and Calanthe orchids. The white-flowered form sometimes goes by Paeonia japonica, but Kew lists that name as a synonum of P. obovata.

3. Calycanthus floridus (eastern sweetshrub, Carolina allspice)

Photo of Calycanthus floridus flowers and leaves

This native woodland shrub is famed for its fragrance, which is often compared to fresh strawberries. My plant smells more like overripe fruit–not horrible, but not something I’d seek out. If buying one to grow close to the house, it’s probably best to shop for plants in flower and give them a sniff test before laying down your money.

4. Actias luna (luna moth)

Luna moth with damaged wings

Luna moths only live for a few days after completing metamorphosis, and this one was at the end of its lifespan. It could no longer fly, and was fluttering weakly across the lawn this morning.

5. Quercus phellos (willow oak) growing on Juniperus virginiana (eastern red cedar)

photo of willow oak growing from the trunk of a red cedar tree

Not in my garden, but local, are two of my favorite individual trees. The pale green leaves are a small willow oak which is growing epiphytically on a red cedar. The oak must have grown from an acorn that fell or was deposited by a squirrel into a crack in the trunk of a red cedar. Enough water and organic debris sifts down to keep the oak alive, and I have been watching it grow slowly for almost a decade. Each spring, it’s always encouraging to see that the little oak has survived another year.

6. Allium schoenoprasum (chives)


Garlic chives, Allium tuberosum, seem to be more vigorous in this climate, but this little clump of chives is doing fairly well. It’s in a raised bed shared with walking onions and garlic chives, which are permanent residents of the bed, and two varieties of garlic (softneck and hardneck), which will be harvested in June.

Jim at Garden Ruminations is the host of Six on Saturday. Head over there to see his Six for this week and find links to the blogs of other participants.

Cemetery Iris


Iris albicans, the white cemetery iris, is a fairly plain, average-looking bearded iris, and its flowers, though a pristine white apart from the yellowish beard, cannot hold a candle to more intensely colored hybrids. So why bother to grow it? It’s the backstory that makes this plant interesting. I. albicans is reported to be sterile and is thought to be a natural hybrid of two species native to the Arabian peninsula. It is widely naturalized along the Mediterranean coast as far as Spain and Portugal and may have been cultivated, and propagated by division, for >1000 years. The story goes that the plants were carried from their original Arabian homeland during the Muslim conquests of Anatolia, north Africa and Spain, and they were traditionally planted at grave sites, a practice that continued among Christians when Spaniards brought the plants to the new world following the Reconquista.

So, that’s the story. It’s romantic and even plausible given what is known about the plant’s distribution, and more-or-less the same tale has been repeated in books and journals for the past century (see here for an early example in the Bulletin of the American Iris Society, October, 1925). There are a few holes in the narrative, though. As far as I can tell, there are no primary sources documenting the spread of I. albicans through the Muslim lands during the middle ages (not that we would expect there to be), and no one seems to know the species that were its putative parents.

But it’s a great story. I, for one, am going to assume it is true.

Physically, I. albicans is a fairly small bearded iris. Its gray-green foliage is more compact than the more modern hybrids that circulate among North Carolina gardeners, and the inflorescence is likewise short with stubby branches. The buds form very early in the year and are often damaged by freezing weather. Last year, they all froze just before opening. This year, we had generally mild weather in February and March, and I managed to see some flowers by covering the plants with buckets on several nights in late March when the temperature dipped below 28 F (-2.2 C). I think it’s at close to its northern limit in my garden, and the plants seem to be more commonly grown in the gulf coast states.

Six on Saturday #73 (April 1, 2023)

It’s been a while since I have had the time to put together a Six on Saturday post. Spring is well underway here in the North Carolina piedmont. The early Narcissus have long finished flowering, and only late-flowering clones like ‘Thalia’ and ‘Golden Bells’ are still in bloom. Azaleas are just getting started. The native pinxter flower, Rhododendron periclymenoides is in full bloom, and the buds are opening on Florida flame azalea (R. austrinum). My hardy Calanthe and Bletilla orchids were hit hard by a freeze after a prolonged frost-free spell, and many of their new growths were turned to mush. It remains to be seen how many flowers they’ll make this year.

Here are six plants from the greenhouse and garden that I haven’t featured before.

1. Rhododendron ‘Aravir’


‘Aravir’ is another of the modern vireya (tropical Rhododendron) hybrids. Its parentage is R. konori x (‘Pink Delight’ x jasminiflorum), which explains its similarity to the Victorian ‘Princess Alexandra’ (R. ‘Princess Royal’ x jasminiflorum). The parentage of ‘Pink Delight’ is unknown, but it was an old Veitch hybrid, so probably similar to ‘Princess Royal’. I got this plant as an unrooted cutting about 2 1/2 years ago, and this is the first time I have seen it flower. I am currently experiencing (hopefully temporary) post-COVID anosmia, so I can’t say much about its fragrance. I can barely detect a scent, which probably means that it is very strongly scented. Like all vireyas, this plant is not frost-hardy. I grow it in the greenhouse in winter and outdoors under shade cloth in summer.

This is one of a group of vireya hybrids with names drawn from the Chronicles of Narnia. ‘Aravir’ refers to the Narnian morning star.

2. Columnea crassifolia


This beautiful epiphytic gesneriad is from Guatemala, so it is a greenhouse plant. The large hummingbird-pollinated flowers are similar to its relative C. microcalyx (syn. gloriosa), but while the stems of C. microcalyx hang limp or creep along a surface, those of C. crassifolia are rigid. This plant flowers most of the winter and on-and-off during the summer. Like R. ‘Aravir’, it goes outside under shade cloth once the danger of frost is past.

3. Taraxacum albidum (Japanese white dandelion)


When growing dandelions for chicken snacks and salad greens, it’s fun to try unusual varieties. Last year we flowered the pink dandelion (Taraxacum pseudoroseum), and this year white dandelions are getting started. Taraxacum pseudoroseum wasn’t very pink, but T. albidum is definitely a more pure white. Since dandelions can be persistent weeds, we keep them in pots and clip off inflorescences before the seeds are mature.

4. Camellia ‘Rosehill Red’

Rosehill Red

Not much to say about this; it’s a very nice Camellia japonica cultivar. I tend not to like double and semi-double flowers, but these ones aren’t too fussy looking. It is beside Camellia ‘Yuletide’ which flowers in early winter, so I get an extended shot of red color in that part of the garden.

5. Muscari armeniacum ‘Touch of Snow’


These little guys that I planted last autumn are a little difficult to find in the garden, but they’ll become more obvious as they start to form clumps. They make a nice change from the more typical purple grape hyacinths.

6. Hyacinthus ‘Woodstock’


I had a little trouble finding six flowers that I hadn’t featured before, so I’ll slip in these hyacinths which actually flowered a couple of weeks ago. Like the Muscari ‘Touch of Snow’, I planted them last autumn, so this was my first look at the flowers. My wife was the one who picked them out of the catalog, but I very much like the intense magenta color which darkens to purple at the base of the flower. Quite possibly my favorite Hyacinth now.

Jim at Garden Ruminations is the host of Six on Saturday. Head over there to see his Six for this week and find links to the blogs of other participants.


As we approach the end of the year, here are a few photos from the garden and greenhouse in 2022 that inexplicably failed to make it into other blog posts.

Felis catus flying high on Nepeta cataria (catnip)–literally on the catnip.
photo of a red eft
Red eft–the juvenile terrestrial phase of the eastern newt (Notophthalmus viridescens)

I found this red eft when I was repotting my meyer lemon tree. It was tucked in at the bottom of the root ball and must have entered the pot through a drainage hole while the tree was outside for the summer.

Solanum carolinense (Carolina horsenettle)

If its stems weren’t so viciously spiny, the interesting flowers of Carolina horsenettle might make it a valued wildflower instead of a dreaded weed.

Asarum splendens

The spring flowers of Asarum splendens (Chinese wild ginger) are easy to miss in the leaf litter.

Eucomis bicolor

Eucomis bicolor is the last of the pineapple lilies to flower in my garden. It blooms in mid-September, about a month after the other species and hybrids

And in the greenhouse/summer shadehouse…

Eucrosia bicolor

E. bicolor is smaller than E. mirabilis, E. aurantiaca, and E. eucrosioides, and its thinner leaves suggest that it is less adapted to arid environments. Unlike the larger species, E. bicolor bulbs multiply rapidly and soon fill a pot.

Scadoxus puniceus ‘Magnificus’

S. puniceus ‘Magnificus’ is a large, spectacular clone of the South African paintbrush lily. I’m not sure if it would be as cold hardy as the typical variety, and I have been hesitant to risk my only plant. Its dormancy is quite short, and I have learned not to try storing it in the crawl space of our house along with other summer-growing tropical bulbs. Inevitably, I discover that it has sprouted sometime in the winter and produced a ghost-white etiolated stem in the darkness.

Paphiopedilum tranlienianum

P. tranlienianum is one of the smallest slipper orchid species. It is endemic to Vietnam and was described in 1998

Six on Saturday #71 (July 23, 2022)

While western Europe has been experiencing historically high temperatures, and the western US is in extreme drought, we have had a more-or-less normal summer. Much of June and early July was dry and hot and humid, but not unusually so; the high temperature recorded on our screened porch this summer was 95.5 F (35.3 C), in-range for the region and time of the year. The dry spell was broken by a brief storm this week which dropped three inches of rain in about half an hour. The garden is currently at its most lush and overgrown point in its annual cycle, and with 80 F (26.7 C) and 94% relative humidity this morning, it feels like we are in the tropics. In keeping with that impression, today’s six plants have a subtropical feeling to them.

1. Platanthera ciliaris (yellow fringed orchid)


Platanthera ciliaris is an orchid that looks as though it should grow in the tropics, but it actually has a native range extending from Florida north to Michigan and New England. In North Carolina, it grows in the mountains, piedmont, and coastal plain. Its distribution in the piedmont seems to be spotty, and although I have seen it growing wild along country roads near the coast, I have never seen it here in central NC. This one is growing in one of my mini-bog planters, a large pot filled with peat, sand, and perlite which sits in a shallow tray of water. P. ciliaris seems relatively easy to grow in costantly damp, acidic soil as long as it is not over-fertilized.

2. Lychnis senno ‘Once in a Vermillion’


I wasn’t sure if this Japanese species would thrive in my garden, but in its second year it has more than doubled in size. It is growing on a dry, sandy slope made drier by the roots of a rapidly growing fig tree.

3. Crinum ‘Ellen Bosanquet’


This classic Crinum hybrid is looking particularly good with six inflorescences this year.

4. Dionaea muscipula (Venus flytrap)

Despite its common name, the ground-level traps of D. muscipula catch more crawling insects than flies.

Old capsules with just a few shiny flytrap seeds left in them. Most of the seeds have already dropped into the pot below.

Another plant that looks as though it should be tropical, D. muscipula is actually native to a small region of coastal North and South Carolina centered around Wilmington, NC. These seed-grown plants in my mini-bogs are doing their best to increase their numbers by dropping seeds all over the place.

5. Eucomis ‘Glow Sticks’


Eucomis ‘Glow Sticks’ is noted for its foliage which emerges golden yellow and matures to bright green. Its pale flowers attract our local bees.

6. Chlosyne necteis (silvery checkerspot) on Iris domestica


I haven’t seen many butterflies this year. Even our usual crop of pipevine swallowtail caterpillars is absent from the Aristolochia fimbriata, and there aren’t any black swallowtail caterpillars on the fennel. I hope it doesn’t have anything to do with our neighbors’ habit of outdoor spraying against mosquitoes.

Perhaps this little checkerspot is a sign of better things to come. In a few weeks the big clump of Silphium perfoliatum (photo 6) will be flowering, and it usually attracts large numbers of tiger swallowtails whose caterpillars feed on the surrounding trees.

The Propagator is the host of Six on Saturday. Head over there to see his Six for this week and find links to the blogs of other participants.