gardening with nature

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It’s always healing to admit your mistakes.

If a bit embarrassing.

I’ve been entirely mistaken about what makes tulips thrive. Or at least I’ve been very mistaken about some of them.

For years, I’ve been saying that tulips like a dry summer, that they thrive in the dry summers that mimic their ancient Mediterranean origins. I even started this blog because of that (you can read about it here).  I chose to focus on tulips because I lived on a piece of land that had a very very sparse well for about 10 people. I couldn’t have a well-watered garden, so I looked for plants that could do with very little of it. Bulbs were one of the obvious winners.

And bulbs did very well for me, once I stopped trying to plant them in the clay and decomposed granite that is our soil here – what is left of it after mining and clear-cutting. When I planted bulbs in containers of fluffy boughten soil, they came up lavishly in spring, richly unlike most other flowers you can grow in the woods. I didn’t have to water them in summer, and some of them came back.

But most of them didn’t, and I was always on the search for bulbs that would become perennial, bulbs I would never have to plant again. The closest I’ve come are some forms of narcissus, all older varieties, which came back for at least a few years: ‘Hawera’, ‘Thalia’, ‘Geranium’, and the sometimes-anonymous yellow trumpet daffodils that I either order or pick up at the hardware store. Most bulbs are much better bought from a specialist, but daffodil bulbs are so tough that sitting out with light streaming on them really doesn’t affect them all that badly. (And our hardware store is smart enough to put them in covered outdoor area, where they stay cool.)

Tulips were a different story. Even the ones that came back for a year or two died out, or reduced to single, blind blades, despite all the hours I hovered over them (figuratively or actually), cultivating, fertilizing and theorizing. I theorized that bulbs closer to the species, the ones who hadn’t been coddled by being hybridized in the rich wet northern fields of the Netherlands – I thought those tulips might come back more easily.

And I was sort of right. The beautiful T.  batalinii in its various forms often came back for me for a year, maybe two – and then disappeared.

But T. clusiana, which is one of the tulips dearest to my heart, stubbornly refused to return. I mean the original T. clusiana, not the upstart modern versions. (You can read a long caption on some of the different types of T. clusiana here and a post here, where you will find that I’ve actually fallen in love with one of the modern types. Nonetheless, that doesn’t keep me from my devotion to the original.)

The original T. clusiana - more slender, more elegant, more vividly colored than its descendants and imitators

T. clusiana is an ancient tulip first grown in Europe by Clusius, who was the first director of the botanical garden in Leiden, in the very early 1600s. This was the first beginning of what would turn into Tulipomania.

Anna Pavord’s The Tulip (which in the hardback form is an excellent, although not absolutely reliable (who could get every detail absolutely correct in such a huge compendium of knowledge from so many sources, including the field?) ) – Anna Pavord’s The Tulip says that Clusius got T. clusiana from a guy in Florence who got it from a guy in Constantinople, who probably got it from somebody else, eventually going back to someone who made a living – or part of one- by digging tulips in the wild and bringing them to the city to sell.

The Tulip also points out that, in the wild, T. clusiana grows in the wet fields of Iran and on to the Himalayas. No wonder it disappeared when I tried to grow it as a dry-summer perennial. I was making the assumption that ALL tulips came from the Mediterranean, or the dry mountains inland. I was making the assumption that dryness was over the entire landscape.

Well, you know what they say about when you assume: you’re making an ass of u and me (thus foreshadowing the days of texting). Of course the Mediterranean has wet areas, just as my very own dry-summer county does, and of course some tulips come from regions far from the Mediterranean, just as the madrones in my northern California home are the very bottom range of madrones that start in British Columbia, or beyond.

And then, as my Anonymous Gardening Expert says, a few hundred years of cultivation in those rich, relatively fluffy, lowland soils in a cold-winter Europe, a few hundred years of breeding to bigger and fatter bulbs and blooms, changed tulips utterly as plants.

The proof of it is in my garden, poking its nose (or noses) up, showing me my longstanding error. The salmon parrot bulbs I planted last year – one of the biggest and most effulgent types of tulips, the easiest types to lose – are coming up again. These are the ones I planted in the big raised garden bed, as a kind of cool-weather crop. I expected that, after I had watered and fertilized my hungry crops all summer, the tulips would turn to mush. Although I also wondered if, perhaps, they might return. The beds are rounds made of hardware cloth (1/4 inch metal mesh) lined with hay; they have excellent drainage.

Not only have the tulips returned: their noses have the double nested form that shows they will flower, every one of them. Most of my other last-year-and-older tulips, the ones in the dry containers, are coming up blind – the single blade that says, “I’m still here, but no flower this year. I just don’t have the energy.” The tulips I’ve been trying madly, for years, to get to return.

Unreturning tulip blade, next to Iris danfordiae

Long ago I made a conclusion, and I based all my efforts on that conclusion. One problem: the conclusion was based on a very scanty knowledge of the situation. The conclusion came early in my learning about tulips, and I never re-inspected it. I took it for granted as a given, and based all my subsequent decisions on it.

It seems to me that a lot of life runs that way. For instance: is faster always better? There’s even an online commercial that says so. But, is everything going faster making people happier? Is it making the rest of the world happier? Or healthier? Is it always such a great thing? Does it even feel good all the time? Could it be that some things feel better slower, and others faster, or even that varying the rhythm like the seasons do would work better for us as a species and a planet? Did we base the conclusion that faster is always better on someone else’s theory, a theory that sprang from an incomplete understanding, and became common knowledge?

In my own life, I look at my own assumption that making an error – especially a huge crashing error like this – is something to be ashamed of, and either fluff over or immediately remedy by a brazen crusade for the new notion. In some circles, admitting to this kind of error could crash a career, or even an entire academic discipline: for twenty years my tulip “career” was based on my understanding – no, my knowledge – that tulips prefer dryness. (Yes, tulips need drainage, or they rot. But drainage may be achieved by many methods, not just by keeping the soil dry.)

But what kind of silliness is it to shrink from admitting my errors? Isn’t it what makes life interesting, that we keep discovering new things, or new joys in old ones? Isn’t it the page-turner aspect of life that keeps it alive for us? And can we ever, really, predict a future, or declare absolutely that our lives are going to be a certain way, forever?

Even my new Tulip Truth, my new revelation being proven in the garden this moment, may not be more than partial.  Old House Garden Bulbs, a small but mighty operation that keeps heirloom bulbs in circulation by growing them on city farms – their directions for assured tulip bulb increase is to dig up tulip bulbs every year after they go dormant, and store in a dry cool place. That’s what they do, and their business proves it works. But they’re in Michigan.

If I dug my tulips up every year in my climate, would they multiply? It’s a moot point: I don’t have the energy and I don’t have the dry cool place. I will enjoy seeing how my new theory works, though: feed tulips like crazy, and give them good drainage and rich soil, see what happens. I planted more tulips in the garden beds last fall, so I’ll have more test material. Or fun.

This time I won’t assume that this is the method that works for every tulip, or even every gardener. I’ll just be interested to see what does work, and go on from there. Isn’t that, pretty much, the essence of gardening?

April 8, 2013   5 Comments


Since I haven’t written in here for a year, and I assume I have a readership of zero, I feel oddly free saying this: I’m no longer capable of writing a chatty, informative blog about gardening. And I’m not going to.

The twists and turns a long, debilitating illness takes you through – they shave off the extra bits, in my case the part where I decided that a chatty informative tone would be the way I got my Garden Information out there. I no longer have the energy to maintain an extra personality that I manufactured in order to accomplish a special task. I’m not sure I have the desire any more, either.

Because part of that chatty informative extra personality was designed to hide my real agenda. Even though I hinted that my garden experiences are not entirely in the rational world, in the past I’ve been pretty shy of actually saying how that works for me.

Well, gardening is not entirely in the rational world for anybody, as every gardener knows who has FINALLY FIGURED OUT something – only to find that, next year, that that thing doesn’t work at all.

In my case, I’ve not only accepted that gardening doesn’t always make sense: I’ve courted the irrational aspect of gardening. I would say, “that unscientific aspect of gardening” – only science really does come into it. It’s just that some of it’s wacky science. Or cutting-edge, as some of us like to call it.

Or magic, as some of us have called it for years. Plants are an easy access to a power that goes way beyond the rational; that’s the way it was for the first people who needed to know which plants to use for medicine and food; that’s the way it has been for me since my first memory of meeting a plant.

I’m just coming out of the closet about it.

Even to myself. I was in the garden, looking at a rose bush that is very skinny and long, from having been in inadequate sun for too long. (I’m actually in the middle of moving it, but in my current state, that has to happen about ten feet at a time, on a good day, so its progress down the garden has been very stately.)

That rose bush had been moved to a spot in the garden where – finally—I could walk entirely around it, view it from every angle. I thought, “OK, this would be a good time to prune that rose. It’s dormant, it needs it, I can do it without any awkwardness.”

My next thought was: “I’d better go and look up how to prune roses again.”

And the thought that followed that? “Why do that when all I have to do is get in tune with the plant and ask it where to make the cuts?” I did, and I got directions.

But before I acted on them, I had a little moment of self-doubt: had I read the plant correctly?

So I compromised. I went inside, and I looked up pruning roses. And, as far as I could interpret the instructions as they applied to my spindly rose bush, they were giving the same advice as the rose bush itself. You cut just above a 5-leafed twig; that makes sense, because leaf buds are where mitosis happens, the cell division that makes new growth (and, with any luck, a fuller rose bush, with more roses). A place where mitosis happens is a place that will make new growth when you cut it off – often two branches instead of one.

And, of course, I cut out the deadwood, but that’s a no-brainer. (Fortunate: since some of my health issues are neurological, lack of brain is frequently what I have to work with.)

There are infinite resources of information available to us, at any time, all around. All we have to do is listen, and learn how to receive it.

Well, maybe there’s one more thing: we might have to get over feeling that we’re crazy. We’ve been carefully taught how NOT to receive that information, because it’s just, well, not rational, is it? (No, it’s not, but what’s that got to do with anything?) About the time when we were being gently told that our invisible friend wasn’t real, and that magical speaking plants were just a pretty story, we began closing our ears to those worlds. The worlds where anything can shift in an instant, where we aren’t limited to human speech or human understanding. The worlds of that peace we so often find in the garden.

That’s because a garden – and this isn’t even weird science, it’s accepted physics – a garden is really a dancing whirl of waves and particles which can part, shift, and rearrange in an instant. Which respond to our desires. (Yep, they’ve done tests for that, too.) And since cities, buildings, oceans, and human bodies are made of that same dancing whirl, a garden is a place where we can return to feeling that we belong in the world, that the world can be a beautiful place to be, and our part in it can be beautiful, too.

When we do without the leafy ornament of words, the extended branches of meaning, the hard dead carapace of a past life, we return to our natural selves, opening to the ever-moving life that flows around and through us.

January 25, 2013   11 Comments

Dahlias: Love ‘em or Leave ‘em? Or, Historical Disagreements and Descriptions with Modern-Day Ramifications for Tuberous Plant Culture: Part I*

Dahlia atropurpurea in its more purple guise.

Dahlias have been on my mind lately. This fall, I had a noticeable gap in fall color. My young blueberry bushes had a spectacular range of leaf-colors, better than I’d hoped, ranging from dull matte wine-red to yellow and red with bits of flame in it.

But deer had pruned my “Emperor of China” chrysanthemums to the ground, and my late-blooming sweet peas were about the only other fall color I got. When my Old House Gardens catalogue arrived, I fell victim to the beautiful shapes and colors of their heirloom dahlias, and ordered six.

Naturally, when I got to my favorite historical library, where garden books from the eighteen hundreds are on the open shelves for all to peruse, I turned to books and sections on books about dahlias.

I love historical garden books. The first one I picked up, Joseph Breck’s** Flower Garden, published in 1851, starts each plant section with a quotation of poetry, if one is available. Attributions aren’t given; you get the feeling that these are poets you’re just supposed to know, the way we know quotes from Beatles songs and TV shows.

The poetic heading for Breck’s dahlia section is:

“In queenly elegance the Dahlia stands,
And waves her coronet.”

But the laudatory poetry ends at the first sentence of prose:

“The Dahlia is a native of Mexico, found on the table lands of that country, and I have sometimes wished it had been let alone there, ‘to waste its sweets on the desert air.’ It is so capricious in its flowering, so subject to the ravages of insects, so much influenced by too much heat, or too much dryess, or too much wet; and then, just as it begins to give promise of abundant bloom, having escaped all the casualties of the season, is cut down by the frost, and becomes a blackened, hideous object in the garden;, that, after many disappointed hopes, I have been sometimes disposed to say, I would not try it again.”

Which of us has not been jilted by a plant, and retained the mixed feeling of a teenager who can’t help being attracted to someone who used to be close, but now doesn’t even deign to notice our existence?

Will disappointment be the story of my dahlias? I have tried them before, one put up a few leaves; the others disappeared.

But at this point, I’m still hopeful: not inclined to take Breck’s dim view of things:

“True it is, that, after paying extravagant prices for new sorts, I have frequently been disappointed in not having a single bloom; and what is worse, the roots may not get strength enough to stand through the winter, even with the greatest care.”

In my own garden experience, I can’t really blame the dahlias for their poor showing. I ordered them on sale, late; planted them two months later, and proceeded to abandon them completely for months. This was due to my health, which didn’t run to taking care of all the plants I greedily acquired.

But I did successfully grow one dahlia last year: the august ancestor of many, Dahlia atropurpurea, whose picture you see above. I can’t agree with Breck’s dismissal of what I assume to be the same plant (nomenclature is a chancy thing when you’re reading historical garden books; Latin names were thrown around like confetti, and not infrequently the same plant had several of them, none of which may be the one that’s used now, or even in recent times).

“It was first introduced into England in the year 1789, was but little noticed, and soon lost. It was reintroduced in 1804, then a single purple flower of not much interest.”

I loved the mahogany-purple of this dahlia, which changes with the changing light, and obliged me with more flowers than I really deserved, for I threw it in a pot with some hard-clotted compost and left it to its own devices. Since I didn’t prune it back, it grew a single slender stalk of a few feet in part sun, and while it gave me only a couple of flowers at a time, they were magnificent, and more than I could have expected.

But, like sweethearts, the same plant may be a joy to one and a disappointment to another. I can’t help feeling that Breck is prejudiced. Cultivation was my main interest in this entry, because I wanted to repeat whatever it was I did that allowed the Dahlia atropurpurea to do as well as it did.

While Breck is more straightforward in the sections about growing dahlias, notes of chagrin keep creeping in. The dahlia cultivation section of The Flower Garden leads off like this:

“Too much has been said and written about the cultivation of the Dahlia.”

About the disposal of dahlias in the garden, Breck says:

“Dahlias look best in groups, as they hide each other’s ugliness…”

Even the propagation section sounds a soft note of scorn. Breck discusses storing the roots in a cellar over the winter:

“There is no danger from rats or mice or any other creature. I never knew an animal to touch them. You could not catch an old rat even to smell of them the second time.”

When I perused the cultivation section more thoroughly, I found a useful hint which I had not seen elsewhere – and perhaps the deep-buried root of Breck’s disappointment:

“While I resided in Lancaster [Massachusetts], my garden was situated on the banks of a branch of the Nashua River. In hot weather, a damp or mist rose from the river every night, and gave my Dahlia plants a good wetting. I did not have any difficulty then with the Dahlia; it flowered in great profusion, having had nearly one hundred blooms on a plant at one time.”

I am more fortunate than Joseph Breck; when hot weather comes, I have the technology to take his tip and mist my dahlias. Whether or not this will lead to a flourishing relationship, only time will tell.

Next post: Dahlia lovers (and more confused nomenclature)

* For those of you who are wondering, why the lengthy title, my title is a pale copy of the effulgently prolix titles of the 1800s. They cover entire pages, in a show of fonts and layout that I wish I could find online today. For a full view of the glory of Breck’s title page, check out this Google books link, where you will find a photocopy.

** Yes, this is the Breck of Breck’s catalogue. While he was clearly very interested in bulbs – he has much fuller writeups on them than some of his contemporaries – he also covered the full range of plants. In those days, U.S. horticulture was in its infancy, and there was less specialization. I’m not sure how the current Breck’s catalogue came to be bulb-centric.

December 24, 2011   7 Comments

Sorting Through Bulbs

Finally, I’m doing it. I’m going through all those old bulb pots I’ve had skulking around, putting up fewer and fewer flowers and leaves, giving me a guilty quiver whenever I looked at them: I was being a bad bulb mother.

My idea was to go through them all, save the dirt – which I paid good money for – and retrieve as many bulbs as were still there. I knew whatever was left would probably have shrunk small, doing their best to survive by shriveling on their lean rations and making offsets. But I figured: in nature, bulbs revive after long droughts and difficulties; maybe I can find a way to help them do that.

When I find loose-tuniced bulbs, I’ve learned to unwrap them for the surprise inside.

I have a lot of fellow feeling for these bulbs. I myself am slowly,slowly convalescing from a long illness which was supposed to get worse and worse, shrinking my life into a small shriveled thing until it took me out entirely. Instead, despite the advice of the experts, I’m resurrecting.

So, why not my bulbs?

Some of them are rare antiques, bought at prices I don’t even want to mention in public; those I replanted right away. Others – Apricot Beauty, Queen of the Night, Thalia – can be bought anywhere, and if you shop right, can be found very cheaply. But don’t they deserve a new life, too, if I can help them to it?

So I’m sorting through all my pots, looking for hidden treasure.

This one reveals three offsets.

Some of the old containers turn up completely empty, with only a few papery bits of bulb tunic and dried nets of roots to show anything was there. I can’t help seeing the parable, here. Some aspects of my old life have been completely obliterated by going through this illness, become part of the compost for whatever comes next.

Other bulbs surprise me by their tenacity, like the mysterious bulbs I found in a pot today.

At first, I thought, “Are these lilies?” They already had roots going – my plan to go through the pots while the bulbs were still completely dormant had to go the way of many of my plans lately. I just didn’t have the energy or ability to do it this summer, not even little by little, as I am now.

But I couldn’t imagine that lilies would last unwatered that long. It’s my custom to leave my spring bulbs unwatered in summer, as they are in their native lands. That’s actually why I started gardening with bulbs. I had so little water available to me that I scoured books and catalogues, seeking beauty that didn’t requre water.

Lilies do, though, year-round, and they never really go dormant. But these bulbs looked wrong for lilies. Their thick white roots were a little fatter than lily roots, and when I brushed off the dirt, I couldn’t see scales on the bulbs.

Finally the mystery was revealed: I found a label, deep into the pot.

(And by the way, how do labels do that? I mean, I know some bulbs can burrow themselves deeper into the soil to resist drought, but labels? Do the bulbs teach them how?)

The label read, “F. persica”. Fritillaria persica, that elusive bulb which has never once bloomed for me, had not only survived, but multiplied. I’ve never bought more than five, and there were seven or eight.

I’m still not sure the fritillaria will flower for me, but I repotted it into nursery pots, as I have several other bulbs that were showing roots. The nursery pots are special situations designed to encourage bulbs tottering on the edge of extinction into resurrection. I split the bulbs into their separate entities and buried them in richer soil with good doses of organic flower fertilizer blend, azomite and greensand. I’m also experimenting with using mycorhizzae. I have no idea if this will actually help; I’m just going by instinct, here. But since instinct is the way I got through a medically incurable illness, I figure it’s worth the experiment. Resurrection is a chancy thing.

The surviving bulbs vary from about half-size (with darkened, tough tunics) to very, very tiny pale white offsets that don’t have tunics at all.

The fritillaria label managed to burrow deep and survive, but other labels have learned the art of transmigration, dematerializing from one reality into another. I’m putting most of the retrieved bulbs into paper bags with the labels in and the names written on the bag – but the biggest assortment of bags are named something like “T. ?” or “N. ?” for the anonymous tiny tulips and narcissi which abound in my old pots. Even the treasured antique ones (which I know by their special pots) have labels like, “antique tulip #1” and on through 4 or 5.

Despite my labeling mania, my deep personal religious practice of using permanent aluminum labels which become engraved with the stroke of a ball point pen, many of the pots are complete mysteries to me now. At one time this would have irritated me immensely: all that labor lost.

But now, I just have to laugh. All that effort, all that obsessive and – I have to admit it – somewhat self-righteous labeling, all of that jaw-tightening effort to make sure everything was put into its proper category, remembered by its proper name, done right.

What was I trying to accomplish by that, I wonder? Why were those labels – which will probably last longer than my body – such a point of fervor? As Wallace Stevens put it, “Oh blessed rage for order, pale Ramon.” Well, I got pale on my rage for order, all right, pale enough that I’m putting aside both rage and the need to impose my conception of order on a deeper order that already exists.

Instead, I’m just enjoying myself. Resurrection can be fun.

Here’s the latest offering for my “T. ?” bags, to soak in kelp water and maybe do some juju on before I plant. (The labels? Not only do I have bulbs without labels, I have labels which have lost their bulbs. Since they have two sides, I’m saving these to be repurposed, also.)

Sorting through bulbs has an Easter-egg-hunt aspect to it. I’m never quite sure if I’ll find something or not, or what it will be if I do. I don’t have any way of predicting what will thrive and what will give up the ghost. It’s a good harbinger for my own future life, which may present me with unknown gifts, fragmented remains of something which once flourished in my garden, or something I can’t even imagine.

The pleasure is in not knowing.

And waiting for spring.

November 28, 2011   6 Comments

Sweet Peas that Beat the Heat: Lathyrus odoratus ‘Zinfandel’ and ‘Cupani’

‘Zinfandel’ looks more like ‘grape’ to me

I was letting my sweet pea vines grow out so I could collect seed. As all seed-collectors know, this means you have ratty drying vines for a while.

But then something miraculous happened.

My sweet peas started flowering again.

I don’t live in those wonderful cool-summer climes where you can have sweet peas all summer, or so I thought. This year, for the first time, I may have sweet peas spring, summer, and fall.

What brought this on?

Part of it I have to lay up to compost tea, which I’m using for the first time this year in my garden. I have to say I’m a fan; my other flowering plants are sitting up and flowering robustly, at a time of year when they usually get a little pale and droopy.

But the varieties of sweet pea have a lot to do with it, too; ‘Zinfandel’ and ‘Cupani’ have special talents for lasting out the summer.

In case you’re not familiar with them, here’s a little description.

Unless your zinfandel comes in a bottle with a plastic screwtop and a long list of artificial colors on the label, it won’t match the hue of ‘Zinfandel’ sweet peas.

I suppose ‘Grape Juice’ is just not as marketable a name, although it’s a much better indicator of the color, a straight-on Concord purple. At least that’s what they look like in my garden.

The developing buds have a two-tone look, with a grapey center.

Maybe the name ‘Zinfandel’ was inspired by the yes, slightly winy, attractively deeper note to that high-arching intoxicating sweet pea scent. These flowers may not have matched my expectations colorwise – I put them in a container with ‘Falling in Love’ poppies , expecting an exuberant shades-of-red experience. But they have exceeded my expectations for fragrance – which is indeed deep and almost winey. And they are gorgeous.

Some of them have white on their keels, others are the deep, solid, violet-purple all through. They scent the house beautifully without being overpowering (to me, anyway). And in the garden, they didn’t look bad against the ‘Falling in Love’ poppies, either. (I like it when the garden offers me a color combination I wouldn’t have thought of by myself.)

I’ve even had a branch of them sport to fuchsia flowers, not a favorite color of mine in a sweet pea, but still an interesting variation with, appropriately, a slightly more upper-note scent than the dark purple ones.

The most remarkable thing about ‘Zinfandel’ sweet pea, though, is its heat resistance. We’re among the folks who have had a cooler year than usual, this year, with rains into June and mild temperatures (in the eighties F/high twenties C) into July.

So at first I ascribed “Zinfandel’s’ long-lasting blooms to the weather.

Now it’s August, we’ve had plenty of days in the nineties F (over 32 degrees C), and ‘Zinfandel’ is still blooming away.

But it’s not compost tea alone that’s creating the ‘Zinfandel’ miracle. I planted ‘Cupani’ sweet pea side-by-side with ‘Zinfandel’. ‘Cupani’ has been, for decades, one of the two reliably heat-tolerant sweet peas that actually flower here before they croak. (You can read about the other one, ‘Painted Lady’, here.)

Two-tone heirloom ‘Cupani’

There’s good reason for that. ‘Cupani’ is one of the original wild sweet peas, brought into the garden from the Italian roadside by a Sicilian monk, Francesco Cupani, who sent them to a friend in England, thereby starting a mania which has never quite subsided in that country.

Originally, the Latin name of ‘Cupani’ was Lathyrus distoplatyphyllos, hirsutis, mollis, magno et peramoeno, flore odoratissimo, purpureo. We can thank the efforts of Linnaeus for the shorter version.

Since, like Brother Cupani, I collect seed, I let my sweet pea vines live on to the bitter end, dry leaves and everything.

Usually when you do this, flower production stops: as most gardeners know, sweet peas are one of those flowers that really really need picking (or deadheading) to keep blooming.

I never bothered much with this before, because the hot weather called an end to sweet pea season long before it was an issue.

But this year is different. In searing late August, ‘Cupani’ has a gradually come back and has a fairly respectable scattering of blooms. ‘Zinfandel’ is even more abundantly blooming (in a relative sense); it keeps producing beautifuly-formed, modestly pickable amounts of sweet peas.

‘Cupani’ close up

Cupani, like many heirloom sweet peas, is not as large or as ruffled as the commercial ones grown today. But its two-tone blossoms are a respectable size (I do think the compost tea helps here), and have a beautiful straight-on honey scent.

You can get ‘Zinfandel’ at Renee’s Garden – or whatever gardening center in your area sells Renee’s Seeds. As the writeup claims that ‘Zinfandel’ is exclusive to Renee’s, you may not be able to get them anywhere else. The link I’m giving takes you to their entire sweet pea selection, which will not be a problem for the true sweet pea devotee.

‘Cupani’ is available some years through J.L. Hudson , and reliably, in plant or seed form, from Select Seeds , and other purveyors of heirloom flowers.

August 29, 2011   7 Comments