Sunday, September 23, 2007


What’s blooming in the area: Roses, trumpet creeper, silver lace vine, buddleia, honeysuckle, canna, datura, bindweed, Heavenly Blue morning glory, cardinal climber, narrow leaf globemallow, white sweet clover, goat’s head, yellow and white evening primrose, purslane, Russian thistle, pigweed, broom snakeweed, winterfat, Tahokia daisy, French marigolds, Maximilian and native sunflowers, áñil del muerto, ragweed, gumweed, golden, heath and purple asters; piñon cones and juniper berries; grapes turning color.

What’s blooming in my garden, looking north: Golden spur columbine, hartwegii, chocolate flower, blanket flower, coreopsis, Mexican hat, black-eyed Susan, yellow cosmos, chrysanthemum.

Looking east: Hosta, garlic chives, large-leaf soapwort, sweet alyssum, winecup, hollyhock, sidalcea, larkspur, scarlet flax, California poppies, pink bachelor buttons, Crackerjack marigolds.

Looking south: Rose of Sharon, rugosa rose, Crimson Rambler morning glory, Sensation cosmos, zinnia.

Looking west: Caryopteris, Russian sage, catmint, leadplant, ladybells, purple ice plant, Silver King artemisia.

Bedding plants: Sweet alyssum, snapdragons, petunia, Dahlberg daisy.

Inside: Aptenia, zonal geranium.

Animal sightings: Small gecko, stink bugs, ants, bees, grasshoppers, miller moth; turkeys feeding in grass near orchards yesterday.

Weather: At last, some rain on Monday. The storm was severe when I drove through Pojoaque, but the skies were already blue when I got to my turnoff. Water still stood in gullies by the road, and water was flowing in the arroyos I crossed. The road was drying when I started up the rise to my house, but when I got to my drive, water was standing in tire tracks and I could hear the big arroyo running in back. The sun was shining, and a rainbow appeared to the north. When I walked out, even the ground in the bone dry prairie was soft enough to sink into. Storms remained in the area the rest of the week, releasing more water on Thursday and preventing evaporation the other days.

Weekly update: Larkspur is usually described as a hardy, cool season annual. That turns out to be a useful guideline for planting and planning, but doesn’t much explain why I have problems growing it.

Sunset’s garden manual suggests cool season annuals like cool soil and mild temperatures, but doesn’t hazard ideal temperatures. Stokes advises greenhouse owners to prechill larkspur seeds, plant them in soil 45-50 degrees and grow seedlings at 50-54 degreesConsolida, while HPS informs the same growers the optimal germination temperature is 60 degrees and the best growing temperature is 50 degrees.

Seymour told readers hardy plants were those that could be started outdoors, as distinct from a greenhouse or cold frame, and still have enough days to flower. However, he didn’t indicate the number of days required for larkspur, but did recommend planting in May for blooms all summer.

The reason writers may be hesitant to specify the number of days to bloom is that germination times vary from 8 to 15 days for Ann Reilly to a month for June Huston. Peter Loewer had success in 20 days with flowers 100 days after he planted seeds.

Larkspur apparently has not lost its evolutionary sensitivity to climate. Consolida ambigua née Delphinium ajacis are members of the buttercup family, one of the first flowering groups to emerge in the cretaceous age, after North America had separated from Eurasia and temperatures were dropping following the extinction of the dinosaurs some 50 million years ago. As climates continued to change, Ranunculaceae retreated north. Consolida apparently developed in southern Europe, probably in the cooler, mountainous regions of eastern Balkan places like Albania, Bulgaria, and Croatia, and Mediterranean islands like Crete.

Larkspur found its natural environment so favorable, it developed no adaptation strategy for bad years. The seed is only viable for one cycle, which means it must drop and bury itself, then hope winter snow melt fosters it. Wildseed claims 80% of its Rocket Larkspur will germinate; Stokes found its rate was between 74% and 76% in January. Viability declines rapidly after that.

Hot, dry New Mexico is obviously the wrong place for larkspur. I had no success until last year when I dropped Rosalie and Exquisite Rose seeds between perennials in the windy bed shaded by the retaining wall. The seeds I planted last May 20 bloomed from August 30 until killed by frost in late November. This year, I planted seed May 12 that put out its first flower August 29.

My two French grown tetraploids are the only varieties that have prospered here and probably only one of them is, in fact, blooming. I suspect, on the flimsiest of evidence, that it’s the Exquisite because I failed with Rosalie in 1999 and the other was being developed when seedsmen were still creating new offerings by multiple crosses with both Consolida ambigua and possibly other larkspurs. Paeonut found Exquisite Pink in a 1929 catalog.

Sometime, some person somewhere introduced some genetic factor that allows the one cultivar of a winter hungry wildflower to germinate in New Mexico’s late spring, then endure the summer heat to bloom when conditions change in late summer. Here, it turns out, cool season can mean either late spring or early fall.

Horticultural Products and Services. Catalog.

Hutson, June and Brian Ward. Annual Gardening, 1995.

Loewer,Peter. Rodale’s Annual Garden, 1988, 1992 edition.

Paeonut. “Introduction Dates for some Annuals,” 2005, available on-line.

Reilly, Ann. Park’s Success with Seeds, 1978.

Seymour, E. L. D. The New Garden Encyclopedia, 1936, 1946 revision.

Stokes Seeds. Catalog.

Sunset. Western Garden Book, edited by Kathleen Norris Brenzel.

Wildseed Farms. Catalog.

Ziman, Svetlana N. and Carl S. Keener. “A Geographical Analysis of the Family Ranunculaceae,” Missouri Botanical Garden, Annals 76:1012-1049:1989.

Photograph: Larkspur, 22 September 2007.

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