Archive for the ‘dracunculus vulgaris’ Category

One of my favorite flower beds is right out the back door. It’s a little triangle that is always full of something growing from May through October. This year, I tried to snap a photo diary of the corner garden.

I missed April – when the grape hyacinth and the tiny wild violets are the only color in this little corner.


May is peony time.


The Dragon Lily (dracunculus vulgaris) ends May and starts June with its stench – and striking beauty.


Even though the Dragon Lily is in full bloom, the corner seems a sea of green as the peonies fade, the milkweed and the asters push upward.


July. The peonies and dragon lilies fade as the milkweed blooms, fragrant and alluring. The corner goes from one aroma (dead meat) to another (sweet milkweed) in a matter of weeks.


August. The asters bloom when the milkweed fades – red and tall in the back, purple and lodged in a crack in the sidewalk. (The yellow mum was a potted plant.) You can see the faded glory of the Dragon Lilies, seed heads brilliant red, and the peony leaves turning brown. Seed pods are forming on the milkweed plants now.


And just like that the sun is low in the sky and September is leaching the color from the milkweed plants.


It is late October now. The rains have held off. The leaves have fallen from most of the milkweed. The asters cling to a little bit of green, but their blooms are all but faded now.

Soon, it will be an empty space of grown, brown and sad, all the stalks cut back before the new growth begins again in April. The rains will come, the days grow dark and – for me – depressing. But the cycle will resume in four short months.

The grape hyacinth, the violets, and the peonies came with the house and this little corner. I pulled back a blanket of creeping myrtle (aka periwinkle or variegated vinca minor) to bare the ground. We planted the Dragon Lilies, babies from a single corm we stole from a rental many moons ago and have carried around with us for 30 years. (Want some? We’ll gladly ship – up to zone 8.) I planted the little purple aster from a plant a dear friend gave me some 25 years ago. It’s been divided and planted elsewhere, but this little bit insists on pushing up through a crack in the sidewalk right at the apex of the flower bed. The tall red aster surprised me that first autumn in the house – an added bonus of the many flowers already here and hidden by neglect.

The milkweed, now – that was a project. I tried two or three times over the years to grow it by seed. I gave up four or five years ago, but one fine day three years ago, a small plant survived long enough for me to identify that it was, indeed, showy milkweed. Last year, more came up and they flowered for the first time. This year, they tripled in number. They are truly one of my finer moments in gardening, even if they are now rather prolific.



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Today was such a beautiful and mostly dry day that I decided to take advantage of the break in the weather and get some last minute gardening done. I rarely get an opportunity like this in November, and I had a number of peonies that I wanted to rescue from the choke-hold of the Creeping Myrtle.

The Myrtle is pretty, but it grows thick and deep and eventually it chokes out everything that was there before. Fortunately, it does not spread as quickly as an ivy, and a gardener who pays attention can hold myrtle at bay, confining it to one corner of a garden by pruning it back.

I like Periwinkle. It has several names: vinca minor, Periwinkle, Creeping Myrtle. I call it all of those names. The flowers are pretty in the Spring and it makes an excellent ground cover that springs back from a lot of abuse. I did not plant the Periwinkle in my yard, it came with the house. It wasn’t as widespread at it is now, but I neglected that corner of the garden a little too long.

That’s how it looked after I was finished digging and pulling and walking on it. It will spring back.

That corner is also choked with grape hyacinth bulbs. I did not plant them, either. I do not particularly care for them, but the ground in that corner is so littered with their bulbs that I can’t make any headway in getting rid of them. I’ve tried.

I divided five peonies and moved them to new plots. I dug up my purple aster and moved it to a sunnier and more open spot to allow for expansion. I also rolled back the Creeping Myrtle and dug out a handful of the dracunculus vulgaris bulbs (sometimes known as a “Voodoo Lily”I found enough bulbs to make two more clumps of the smelly carnivorous beauty.

As my husband said, I “shared the love” around the yard.

I wanted to weed the grass back from my Fothergilla Major Blue Shadow. It is supposed to be a showy plant through three seasons: when it flowers, after it flowers with it’s blue leaves, and in the Autumn when the leaves turn bright red. Hm. Not quite bright red, but it is pretty.

It’s behind a make shift “fence” because guess what dogs decided to use it as a marker?

All that digging and dead-heading and moving and bending over left me sore and tired, and covered with mud from head to foot. It felt good. I may not think so tomorrow. But I will think it was worth it next Spring, when the peonies bloom in their new locations and the “Voodoo Lilies” open their black hearts to spread the aroma of rotting meat around my yard.

I am so weird, I like that.

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Normally our dracunculus vulgaris blooms on the 7th of June. And this year, we were all set for a Stinkin’ 30th Wedding Anniversary barbecue. But the rain didn’t stop, the cold didn’t warm and the Dragon Plant didn’t bloom.

I was piddling around in the back yard Sunday (putting something together for Harvey) and I kept smelling this horrid dead animal smell. I thought:  Don really needs to clean his barbecue… Then I thought: turn around and LOOK, Stupid!

Oh yeah. It bloomed in time for the Stinkin’ Summer Solstice, a full two weeks late.

This plant STINKS. It smells so much like dead meat that the past two years, Murphy has bitten off the spadix on every bloom. I think he has not bothered the plant this year is that it must taste bad and he somehow (finally!) remembers that. Or he’s distracted with the temptation to get Harvey to play.

Today, I smelled that smell (again) and realized another one had opened up. They only stink for a day which is a good thing because the flower is spectacular.

I’m certain I have blogged about their history before: Don & I discovered them in the yard of a rental we lived in around 1984. The one plant that bloomed smelled so awful but produced such an incredible black flower that we figured no one would notice if we dug it up and moved it with us. And we did.

That one bulb has been planted and replanted in every home we’ve lived in since, until it is now several clumps of plants in serious need of another dividing. The best thing about this flower (aside from the incredible beauty and obnoxious odor – that only lasts one day) is that it invariably blooms for our anniversary, June 7.

Except for this year.

This year, one clump has begun to bloom just this week – in time for the Summer Solstice (June 21). But the second clump (pictured above) won’t open for a few more days.

Don’s birthday is next week. We should have at least one of these beauties in bloom for his birthday.

And then they will fade, the flower will wilt and the spathe will sag. The striking foliage will turn yellow and die back.

And we will dig one or both clumps up, separate and divide the bulbs, and spread them around the garden.

Tonight is the first time I have been able to find numerous sources on the Internet regarding this plant. We’ve loved it since our first whiff (OK, not so much the smell, but the deep purple-black flower) and no one has been able to provide us with much information. This year, I googled it and – wow! – all kinds of references.

So, for your pleasure & education:

Paghat’s Garden

The Garden Helper

Just remember: they really stink for that one day. After that, they are just incredible to view. And they are not little plants! Ours are HUGE.

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We had a wonderful warm Saturday that distracted me from all of my other responsibilities and plans. No one else was at home when I rose in the morning (except the parakeets). I looked at the loads of laundry, considered the posts I wanted to add to my blog (on homeschooling, mostly), the bills to pay and the myriad other little duties I have to do on a weekend. Then I looked outside. Sunshine. Real sunshine and real warm sunshine. I wheeled the parakeets outside so they could enjoy the day. I found my garden gloves, my garden shows, and I put on some sloppy parachute pants to get dirty in. I tied my hair back and dropped my trusty knee pads onto the still-dewy lawn.

And I dug. There’s something freeing about dirt. I pulled up chickweed and used the trowel to get under the dandelions, false dandelions and thistles that were trying to get a foothold in my flower beds. The day was warm and I lost track of time. Not much was blooming – yet – but so much had the promise of opening up to the sun! I decided to get two flower beds done: the ones out front, under the big rhododendrons, and the big “island” in the back, by the camelia. I refused to look at the camellia, which had just tipped past its prime. Camellias don’t last much more than fifteen minutes, and this one is no exception. It’s redeeming feature is the trunk. Really. And the ten minutes that the flowers are fully open, still vibrant and pink with bright yellow stamens. Then they turn brown and ugly, fall off the tree (bush? Mine is pruned to look like a dwarf tree)) and turn into slug slime on the ground beneath the camellia. Slugs won’t eat them, by the way: I suppose they consider the dead flowers are as slimy as them, so why bother? No, slugs eat my irises instead.

Ah! But I was a step ahead of the slugs this year and purchased some pretty wire ribbon from Lee Valley Garden Supply which I staked around all of my irises. The slugs crawl up to the copper and touch it with their slimy antennae. It is the gastropod equivalent of licking your finger and sticking it into an ungrounded light socket. Zap! No poison ever worked as well and was less toxic to the rest of the garden. That was what else I did while the parakeets watched me work.

Work? Playing in the dirt? Not work: pleasure. Mindless, soothing, addicting, dirty play.

I raked the rhodie leaves back from the few plants that survive the acidic soil beneath my bushes (which, like the camellia, are more like dwarf trees and have been pruned up to show off their beautiful trunks). I proudly noted that all of the crocus bulbs I planted last fall had produced spring blooms.

Here are some pictures:

The camellia just moments before her full glory…

Too late. The flowers have started to fall. THIS is why I hate camellias… (And they are marketed as “long blooming beauties.” yeah. Right. If you consider a week a long time.

The Oregon Grape. Mahonia aquifolium. I have four of them, and they were just sticks when I planted them three years ago. Not even that: twigs with roots. The birds will love me this autumn, when these bear fruit!

Chrystal’s Honesty. It survives under the rhododendrons.  lunaria annua or Silver Dollar Plant. It is a biennial, but once it gets established is not only difficult to eradicate, but will fill in the blank area under the rhodie. Chrystal threw the seeds out under the rhodie and forgot about them. One plant made it; now there are two. Next year: more.

The north rhododendron. First to bloom and the one that lasts the longest. I cut a number of blooms to take to work in a vase. Rhodies, like this cultivar, are pretty and bloom long enough to sate the bumblebees. I have a love/hate relationship with the domestic ones: they litter the yard like the camellia does, but at least I can cut the branches and make beautiful bouquets that last a week.

When cutting rhodies for a vase that you will be taking indoors, always leave it outside for several hours first. Gives the grease ants time to jump ship. Sugar ants? Whatever. Those pesky little itty bitty ants that find ways into your house, around the diatomaceous earth and into the dishwasher. Those ants. 

Look what I found, folded under some weed guard the dog dug up!! One of the anenome bulbs I planted last autumn survived! Against all odds, I have a bloom! I don’t know what happened to the rest of the bulbs (or I don’t want to know!), but one made it. Yay!! it’s still looking pale and fragile from having been hidden under the weed guard, but I think it will survive.

Finally, I have a little photo essay on the dracunculus vulgaris which is nestled under the variegated creeping myrtle (periwinkle, vinca minor) and the grape hyacinth:

Week one, March 29: just beginning to stick up above the bed of periwinkle.

Week 2, April 5. The purple-leafed item is a peony growing up beside the Dragon Plant.

Week 3, April 12. Well over a foot and half tall now. They will continue growing at this amazing rate until they bloom sometime the first week of June. Then my garden will smell like rotting meat for a few days. They make stunning flowers…

The artist’s rendition. Mine, of course.

I finished all my work in the garden sometime Sunday morning. No, I didn’t work all day and night: I saved my back and took frequent breaks, bought groceries, washed laundry, even cleaned some of the inside of the house and put the parakeets back in before the temperature dropped and they got chilled. I still have one more flower bed to weed out and several small spots. I will have to buy mulch and add it to the several flower beds, too. But I am ahead of the weeds in the major beds and I have flowers blooming!

That’s what it is all about, isn’t it? Oh, and the bumblebees, honey bees and mason bees that are buzzing happily around in my yard.

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To all my friends who are mothers, whether naturally, by marriage, spiritually or through adoption: Happy Mother’s Day.

Don took me shopping yesterday. We were looking for some specific plants to add to our garden (his gift to me for bearing his children). We had to find a nursery that carried the plants he wanted to buy: not everyone specializes in odd plants. The one we found doesn’t have a web site and has only been in business for a little over a year, specializing in orchids. We weren’t looking for orchids, but Hana Farms has recently expanded to include ariseaema – and we were looking for aroids. (A little free advertising for the nursery: they’re located at 1600 SW Borland Road in Tualatin. Right under the freeway, across from Southlake Foursquare Church).

Their collection was a little disorganized, but the gal working there knew where everything was and directed us to three very interesting plants, one of which will eventually grow to be two meters tall. We picked out ariseaema tortosum, ariseaema speciosum, and ariseaema costatum.

We already have arum italicum Miller – the house came with this particular arum growing wild in the yard. At first, I thought someone threw out a houseplant because the leaves look so much like a philodendron. I learned yesterday that philodendrons are aroids.

We also have the dracunculus vulgarius. We dug it up when we moved out of a rental some 20 years ago on the theory that the next residents would never appreciate it and it’s unique aroma as much as we did. It was a solitary plant then, and we have moved it several times as we moved around. We even kept it dormant in a box when we lived in an apartment with no yard of our own. It has multiplied to the point where we had seven in bloom at once last summer and it looks like we will have easily that many blooms again, in just a few weeks’ time. It smells like rotten hamburger and does not make a very good cut flower, but you can’t have everything.

Last summer, I sat down and painted a watercolour of some of the blooms.  Dragn Flower

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