Signs of Life 2015

I think it’s safe to say that spring has sprung early this year.  While the east coast is busy trying not to collapse under snow, or freeze to death with -40 degree temperatures, I’m busy trying to get ahead of the weeds sprouting. Valentine’s Day was warm and sunny, almost 70 degrees.  I figured it was as good of a time as any to post my annual ‘Signs of Life’ writeup.

Last year I was surprised when the Musa basjoo (hardy banana) started poking out of the ground at the end of March.  This year, I’m even more surprised.  So far, the bananas haven’t been frozen to the ground yet.  I haven’t protected them at all, besides leaving the stems in place to offer a little bit of insulation from the wind.  I cut the stems off at the beginning of February and noticed that the inside of the stem on several bananas seems nice and firm.  I figured that they were just not quite to the rotten stage yet.  Apparently they were still alive and kicking!  Last fall I had a single banana that managed to flower, unbeknownst to me until after it had frosted and fallen to the ground. Maybe I’ll have several bananas that flower this year!  Without protection!  I feel like I’m in California or Hawaii…

Musa basjoo, showing how tough it really is.

This is the first spring after planting my initial clump of Alstroemeria ‘Glory of the Andes’. As I read the tag last summer, I saw that it was a slow spreader.  This year, I am pleasantly surprised to see a significant increase in the number of stems.

It’s much bigger this year!

Cannas like it warm, and again the southern side of my house is proving to be a very warm spring-time spot. This particular variety is called ‘Champion’.  The tropicannas are poking out of the mulch as well.

Canna ‘Champion’ is just starting to come up.

As for the most expensive plant I’ve ever even considered buying… Cardiocrinum yunnanense ‘Big and Pink’ from Far Reaches Farm in Port Townsend, WA.  Last year at the Oregon Hardy Plant Society’s plant sale I broke down and bought a bulb.  I had been looking for a cardiocrinum for what seemed like forever (and reading about them for even longer), and when I saw one in person I knew that I’d regret it if I didn’t try it out.  I planted it in the shadiest spot near a gutter downspout, on the north side of my back porch.  I was fairly dismayed when the leaves turned yellow and dried up last year.  I thought for sure that it got too hot and dried out, which is a death sentence for cardiocrinums.  Fortunately, I was overreacting.  It is back for 2015! Here’s to hoping for a 14′ tall lily poking over my roof this year…

Cardiocrinum yunnanense ‘Big and Pink’. At 14′, it’s most likely the tallest lily you will ever see.

I have several echiums this year.  The wildpretii x russicum hybrid has overwintered handily, and put out 3 new plantlets after sending up a bloom spike last summer.  It had a decent amount of seed that was scattered, but I’m not sure if it was sterile or not.  The echium wildpretii x pininana hybrids have been enjoying their springy-winter so far.  I’m hoping they have the cold tolerance and size of pininana, and the color of wildpretii.  I’ve started a fair bit of echiums from seed this year, but that’ll be another post in the future.

Echium russicum x wildpretii
Echium wildpretii x pininana hybrid.

Bamboo usually waits to send runners until later in the year around here.  Notice I said ‘usually’.  This year the Fargesia scabrida and F. rufa have both kicked into high gear.  Last year they waited until the end of March.  I wonder if the other bamboos will shoot early too?

Fargesia scabrida

Another early plant this year is Gunnera manicata, one of my favorite plants.  It has multiplied in size every year, with this year being no exception.  There are at least 4 new offshoots, and plenty more possible little nodes.  I think a healthy layer of chicken manure mulch will boost it’s growth nicely this year.

Gunnera manicata, reaching out with it’s dinosaur hands.

I was a little surprised when I did a little bit of weeding around the euphorbias in the mailbox garden.  I thought that I had deadheaded them properly, but there were a dozen little plants showing up around them anyway.  I pulled one up, thinking it was the start of a new euphorbia army.  I was even more surprised when I saw that the seed (still attached to the germinating plant) was definitely not a euphorbia.  As it turns out, the Hollyhock ‘Mars Magic’ had put out a lot of seeds and they had germinated in the bark mulch!

A hollyhock seedling!

If I can keep the slugs off of the Japanese Butterbur (Petasites japonicus ‘Gigantea’), I’ll have a neat area of big, lush leaves near my front door and water spigot.  I’ve heard that it grows so fast that you can almost see it getting bigger, but I haven’t seen it yet.  I didn’t take a photo of it, but above the butterbur is a group of Chilean Glory Vines (Eccremocarpus scaber).  They have been evergreen this winter, and will hopefully provide plenty of shade for the butterbur and plenty of bright, tubular flowers to bring in the bees.

Butterbur sends up flowers before the gigantic leaves begin to unfurl.

Yucca gloriosa is a hardy evergreen, so it doesn’t really fit with the signs of life theme.  But it still looks good!

A yucca, showing cool weather coloration.
A sempervivum hybrid, unnamed but still interesting.

I will end this post with hope.  Our last frost date is still a month away, so we aren’t completely safe yet.  We can always hope, though.  This Philodendron selloum ‘Hope’ has survived the winter so far, even though it’ll have to come back from the roots. The little bit of green that is still present is enough to keep me hopeful.  I may end up putting it in a pot, just to see it get bigger than a single season’s growth.  Last year it had leaves up to a foot long, but it has much more potential than that. I really enjoy this tropical plant that doesn’t act tropical.

The last remaining green bits of a Philodendron selloum ‘Hope’. It’s looking like it is (technically) hardy for me!

2 thoughts on “Signs of Life 2015

  1. I’ve only ever seen the Cardiocrinum yunnanense once in my life and that was at one of the grand open gardens in the UK. It was truly magnificent, and I have never seen one since, so fingers crossed for yours! Many of the Philodendrons are much hardier than usually credited: while they can usually tolerate short-ish periods of quite low temperatures, I found they give up if the temperature stays below 30F for more than a day

    Liked by 1 person

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