It is unusual for us to have heavy snow in December, but we have about eight inches on the ground today. The setup was just perfect: cold air dropping down from the north and moisture streaming up from the Gulf of Mexico met right over central North Carolina. As the afternoon goes on, the warmer air should take over, and we’ll have cold rain. Right now, the tapping on the windows suggests that the snow has changed to sleet.
Incidentally, did you know that sleet means two different things in the UK and USA? My mom, who grew up in England, calls a mix of rain and snow “sleet.” Here in the U.S., the term refers to rain that freezes to form small ice pellets as it descends.
“Freezing rain,” the bane of our existence here in North Carolina, occurs when warm air rides over freezing temperatures at ground level. If the layer of cold air isn’t deep enough to form sleet (US version), the rain freezes on contact with trees and power lines, coating and often pulling them down. Hope we don’t have any of that today.
Among the many things that the French do with greater style and elegance than anyone else, I would list the crafting of pocket knives. Over the years, I have accumulated a small collection of French knives and am fond of them all, but the one that is currently seeing the most use is my most recent purchase: an inexpensive grafting knife made by Opinel.
Like the classic Opinel No.8 pocket knife, the grafting knife has a beechwood handle and virobloc, a steel collar that twists to lock the blade open or closed. The classic Opinel has a carbon steel blade, but in a concession to the amount of water that it will encounter in the garden, the blade of the grafting knife is stainless. The wooden handle is gently curved to accommodate the blade, and it fits most comfortably in my hand with the edge of the blade facing towards me.
For the price (approx. $25), this is the most useful garden tool I own. I don’t graft, but the knife makes short work of any light pruning, trimming, or flower cutting in the garden. Since the blade is usually facing towards me, a pulling motion feels most natural. The curved blade slices cleanly through fibrous stems that tend to be mashed or mangled by secateurs that aren’t perfectly sharp (and the knife is a lot easier to slip in a pocket than a pair of secateurs). It is also ideal for slicing open plastic bags of potting soil, cutting twine or rope, and harvesting vegetables.
Two minor modifications will make the knife even better. The wooden handles of Opinel knives tend to swell when wet, making the blade tight, so I always dip a new Opinel in linseed oil (after removing the virobloc) to make the handle more waterproof. While I have the virobloc collar off, I stretch it slightly with a pair of pliers so that it fits more loosely and can be twisted easily with a push of my thumb. If the collar becomes too loose, it can be tightened again by squeezing with the pliers until the fit is perfect.
Last weekend, the weather shifted from fairly cool spring to full-on summer, with highs around 90-93 F (~32-34 C) and high humidity. Over the past few days, the temperature has moderated, but only because tropical air streaming up from the Gulf of Mexico has brought frequent showers and thunderstorms.
Since I missed last week’s Six on Saturday (because I was attending Montrose Garden’s spring open-house and eldest offspring’s last track meet of the season), this six includes photos taken over the past ten days. Oldest photos are first.
1. Chionanthus virginicus (fringe tree)
There are a few wild fringe trees in the woods nearby, but I planted this specimen beside the path leading to the front door. It’s a male tree, so its flowers aren’t as showy as a female’s, but it doesn’t drop fruit on the path in autumn. [Correction: The internet says I was mistaken. It’s the male trees that have more impressive flowers.]
This species is often labeled Nectaroscordum siculum in bulb catalogs. By either name, it’s a good choice for piedmont gardens, because it blooms after most of the spring bulbs but before the summer bulbs like Crinum and Eucomis get started.
3. Cypella herbertii
This is the first flower of 2018 for my clump of Cypella herbertii. This little irid is amazingly hardy for a plant that is native to Argentina and Uruguay. It flowers for much of the spring and summer and remains green for most of the winter. Even when frozen to the ground by very cold weather, the foliage starts growing again as soon as temperatures rise above freezing. Flowers open early in the morning and usually last only one day, but each inflorescence produces new flowers sequentially for several weeks.
4. Liriodendron tulipifera (tulip poplar)
Although Liriodendron is one of most common deciduous tree species around here, I rarely see the flowers, because they open high in the forest canopy. The twig bearing this one broke off in the wind and landed on my garden path.
The garden’s resident box turtles are enjoying the wet weather.
I hadn’t seen this adult male box turtle in the garden before, but he turned up twice this week [update: three times]. The notch at the front of his carapace is distinctive, so I won’t have any trouble recognizing him if I find him again.
This smaller female is a garden regular. The kids have named her Penelope. We offered her a fresh strawberry on Friday morning, and she ate most of it before disappearing into the flowerbeds.
Look what else the rain brought out. I’m not sure what the scientist who named this species was thinking. Elegant?
Slugs and snails enjoy munching on the stinkhorns. Their smell also attracts American carrion beetles (Necrophilaamericana), but I was unable to get a good photo of the surprisingly alert insects. As soon as I get close, they scuttle down to the ground and bury themselves in the mulch.
Here we go again. Six more plants blooming on a Saturday. When you are finished here, get on over to The Propagator’s site for more Six on Saturday.
1. Philadelphus inodorus (scentless mock orange)
I grew this pretty native shrub from seed obtained from the NC Botanical Garden’s annual members’ seed list. It seems to be primarily a species of the Appalachians, but the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service has records for Orange and Randolph Counties in the NC piedmont.
I bought this European perennial partly for its pretty flowers, but mostly for its common name. It’s Latin name suggests that it is popular with bees, but I haven’t been able to track down the origin of “bastard balm”. For the first two years, it produced a fairly sad little flowerless rosette, and I wondered if it didn’t like our climate or soil. But, this year it has grown three flowering stems that are about a foot tall.
3. Iris tectorum (Japanese roof iris)
As with many other Japanese species, Iris tectorum loves our climate. After the flowers fade, the foliage remains neat and tidy throughout the summer and autumn, dying back only in midwinter. I started with a single plant ten years ago , but I scatter seed every autumn. Now there are scattered clumps and large drifts throughout the garden. Some of the older clumps suffer from iris borers in late summer, but there are always enough seedlings to replace them. I think it might be nice to get a few of the white form to intersperse among the typical lavender flowers, but the whites have suddenly become hard to find at local nurseries.
4. Arisaema triphyllum (jack in the pulpit)
This is another plant that is slowly spreading through the garden. I started my garden population from seed of local wild plants, but at this point I’m on the third or fourth generation of cultivated plants. A. triphyllum isn’t as bizarre as some of the Asian Arisaema species, but I like our little native.
5. Amorphophallus konjac (konjaku, voodoo lily)
Hey, who planted this stinking aroid so close to the house? And right next to the beautifully fragrant Persian musk rose, too. Oh, yeah, it was me.
There are three flowering this year. The burying beetles and blow flies are so pleased
6. Sarracenia flava (yellow pitcher plant)
Fresh young pitchers of one of our native carnivorous plants emerging from my bog garden which is in desperate need of a renovation.
This is the blooming season for the two species of lady’s slipper orchids that are native to the North Carolina piedmont. Unfortunately, I don’t have time to go out searching for them this year, but I have been lucky enough to see and photograph both species in past years.
C. acaule is definitely the most common of the two species in the piedmont. The plants are tolerant of varied moisture levels, and their main requirement is for very acidic soil. They often grow in fairly dry pine woods, but I have also seen plants in mixed deciduous forest.
Blooming-size plants usually produce a pair of pleated leaves that sit flat on the ground and are easy to recognize even when the plant isn’t flowering:
A good place to see C. acaule in the Triangle area is William B. Umstead State Park. I’ve seen plants blooming along the trail near the Reedy Creek Entrance.
Cypripedium parviflorum var. pubescens (greater yellow lady’s slipper)
C. parviflorum var. pubescens is quite rare in the piedmont, and I have only seen plants at one location. They were growing among Christmas ferns (Polystichum acrostichoides) on a fairly steep hillside in deciduous forest dominated by beeches, oaks, and tulip poplars.
Because C. parviflorum var. pubescens is rare and is one of the native plants most likely to be poached by unscrupulous plant collectors, I don’t feel comfortable publishing the location of this population on the internet. Thanks for understanding. If I know you in real life, you can ask me in person.