In the Garden:
Mid-Atlantic
May, 2009
Regional Report

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Encore azalea's Autumn Twist can surprise -- with the occasional purple flower among its festive white and purple-striped blossoms.

Enjoy Imperfections

Have the bright pink, hot salmon, deep lavender, and rich scarlet azalea clouds been more dazzling this spring than in Mays past? Frequent rains are turning brown garden beds into lush, leafy, colorful mixed perennial and blooming shrub borders seemingly overnight.

Blue, purple, yellow irises are popping. Blue false indigo (baptisia) flowers poke from blue/green, pealike foliage on tall stems. Coral bells are ringing with slender, delicate red, white, pink flower spikes.

Columbine (Aquilegia spp.) -- McKana's hybrids; mid-size, upright facing blue, white-rimmed 'Spring Magic'; compact, hummingbird magnet 'Beidermeister'; double-flowered, red-pink 'Nora Barlow'; Granny's Bonnet, and delicate native Aquilegia canadensis -- are in their prime. Smaller, younger plants nearby may bloom later so don't mistakenly pull them as weeds.

When columbine set seed, I thoroughly enjoy cutting the stalks and waving the dry, crackly seedpods over empty, offbeat, shady spots. A playful, fairy moment with its special serendipity. Many columbine seeds (especially those from cultivated varieties) don't bloom true to the parent plant. The new offspring may have different flower color and/or form. Often successive generations revert to the strongest genes in the familial line.

If you want specific flowers, textures, and colors consistent with a design, use plants or reputable seed. If you're open to surprises or just want spring flowers and delicate yet substantial green, lobed foliage in an otherwise weedy patch, throw caution to the wind. And Shake, Shake, Shake those seedpods.

In The Eye of the Beholder
%There's something wrong with the azaleas,% phoned a client in distress last fall. %They're not the color we chose.%

Perplexed and curious, I drove to her Mt. Airy garden rather soon. She was right. The Encore Autumn Twist (Azalea x 'Conlep') azaleas she and her partner had very thoughtfully selected WERE different. Yes, present were the desired large, white and pink/purple-stripped blooms -- each as if painted with wide/narrow, straight/angled/curved brush strokes in various hues. The blossoms danced festively, face up, pink stamen prominent against white petal, just beyond the canopy of a young, coppery-purple-leafed Acer palmatum atropurpureum 'Bloodgood.'

Some Autumn Twist branches, though, held flowers of solid purple. I called the company to learn what was happening. The representative explained the purple flowers as not unexpected. One parent shrub has purple flowers; sometimes that gene comes to the forefront. It's a non-harmful aspect of hybridization. One can either prune off the branches or enjoy the combination and consider this a two-for-the-price of one. The website now includes a caveat about the occasional purple flower.

In this case I removed the branches for several reasons. The client prefers the bi-colored flowers and doesn't appreciate the hybridization fluke. Number two -- several botany professors' words echo in my mind -- the plant will revert to its original form if left alone. Also the purple flowers are small, mostly low on the shrub.

We were just in the garden on Sunday. Next to the shiny leafed maple, the impressionistic, 3- to 4-inch Twist blossoms capture the eye. They seem to sing %Celebrate% spring.% Maybe I'll clip off the purple branches on my next visit.


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