Saturday, December 27, 2008

Gardening ... in December

I was just griping on the GardenWeb New England forum, because I dropped by a local nursery yesterday and fell for a couple of hardy camellias. Now what? I asked - plant them, hold them in my inhospitable (to plants) house, or try keeping them in the old drafty garage? Well, I split the difference and planted one, a 'Pink Perfection' that was already nicely budded up.

Now don't get me wrong, I know camellias are iffy here on the Cape. I've tried them before and lost them, one at a time. Even if they survive, sudden temperature swings can blast the flower buds, too. The one I haven't planted yet, 'April Remembered' blooms later in the year, so it's probably safe. The winter-blooming varieties need to be in evergreen shade, so they don't jump the gun when the sun warms them on sunny winter days.

The new hardier varieties have turned out to be a mixed blessing for New Englanders. My sister grows them beautifully in her Long Island garden; she has some in bloom pretty much all winter. It pains me that I can't do that here, which I guess is why I keep trying.

Now, to the point of this post. At last. Having to get outside and plant that darn camellia was such a boost. While I was outside, I got back to the fall cleanup I'd done so quickly and haphazardly back in November. The weather was amazing - a bit of sun, no wind, and temperatures in the 50s.

What was left to do? I'd left a couple of ornamental (read: unplanned, inappropriately placed, volunteer) asparagus plants standing this fall, and they had collapsed in the recent snow. There's one on the east side of the house, in full sun, in what would be the foundation planting in any normal garden. The second is to the west of what's left of the lawn, next to a little cedar arch that supports a couple of clematis; this one is, I think, the older of the two - maybe 10 years now since it appeared. The conditions are approximately the same for the two specimens, with some afternoon shade, normal garden soil. So, I ask you, why was the one out front full of gorgeous red berries? It turns out, these are Asparagus officinalis is dioecious; the individuals are either male or female. Who knew? I guess they're close enough, even with the house standing between them, for pollination. Here's a more detailed description:

The asparagus inflorescence has been variously referred to as pseudohermaphrodite male and pseudohermaphrodite female (Kerner 1897*, p. 299); dioecious, rarely hermaphrodite (Knuth 1909*, p. 464); dioecious, sometimes changing to monoecious (Hexamer 1908); normally dioecious (Jones and Rosa 1928*); and dioecious (Hawthorn and Pollard 1954 *). Intergrades from strongly pistillate to strongly staminate have been observed (Jones and Robbins 1928). In their early stages, the flowers are similar, with both sets of sexual organs present. Later, however, one set usually aborts, leaving a "male" flower with an outer and inner whorl of three stamens each, or a "female" flower with a three-lobed pistil and three-locule ovary, and the other parts rudimentary (fig. 45). Both kinds of flowers have nectaries at the base of the corolla. The individual, whitish-green flowers, from one to four in each axil, are pendulous, bell-shaped, about one-quarter inch long (the male is slightly larger than the female flower) with a characteristic odor (Knuth, 1909*, p. 464). They are freely visited by honey bees and other bees (Norton 1913, Jones and Robbins 1928, Eckert 1956, Pellett 1947*, Jones and Rosa 1928*).

In cutting back one of the asparagus, I had to trim the clematis that had entwined itself around and through the giant ferny foliage. The one in the foundation bed led me into a weeding frenzy, digging out the Muhlenbergia shreberi, or nimblewill, the warm season grassy weed from hell. And that led me to see that the hellebores were starting to bud up, and many to show signs of fungal infection, so I got into stripping the leaves to minimize the chance of damage to the new growth.

All in all, a wonderful day in the garden, a rare treat in late December.