DIGGING UP the tuberoses is not exactly like bringing in the sheaves, but we should not curse the harvest, even so.
It rained, of course, on tuberose day and was cold and raw.Had it been a beautiful day, on the other hand, I certainly would not have fooled around digging these bulbs, so things even out.
Two of the grape vines, 'Steuben,' a blue-black with better flavor than 'Concord,' but on that order, have astonished me this year. First, they died all the way to the ground last spring, which they were not entitled to do since they were bred in New York state, but I have learned that if a plant dies back or, for that matter, dies outright, I may as well go along with fate, since my uproarss rarely bring anything back.
'Steuben' sent up new growth, about 15 feet worth, in May, but the astonishing thing is the leaves this fall turned to salmon, crimson, canary and chartreuse - the range of the sugar maple, and almost (not quite) as brilliant. I have grown this grape for some years and it never colored before. Gardening is full of small bonuses to offset ordinary disasters.
Once I grew a wild grape from Asia, Vitis coignetiae, because it turns fine colors. Specifically, it turns solid crimson, and since its leaves are a foot across, this makes a show. For me, in 10 years, it never turned any color at all, except dead brown in the fall, not even a brief burst of yellow.
True, it comes from damp river bottoms in Japan and grows 40 feet up into the trees (it says here) and admittedly I planted it beneath an old willow oak so it never had any water to spare. Of course it never grew much, and did not get enough moisture to color properly. Even so, I fussed at it every fall for not doing its thing right.
(I was always afraid that if I gave it the correct site, it would grow out of hand entirely, which it would have). A similar experience occurred with a kind of creeper, Parthenocissus henryana, which is a bit tender to cold. It has greenish silver leaves, purple on the undersides. It carried on modestly, jammed in behind a very large camellia, getting virtually no sun. At the time I feared this vine might swamp the camellia, but it was the other way around.
All of which is to point out the obvious: There is no plant so vigorous or foolproof that the gardener cannot stung it into worthlessness by cheating on the site or the planting preparation.
Several years ago I left a space to plant a Japanese andromeda bush (Pieris japonica) which has those March sprays of flowers like lily of the valley, on an evergreen plant like a laurel.
I saw some beautiful pieris plants last spring at a suburban Virginia nursery - precisely what I wanted, and at a good price, but at the moment I had spent a trifle more on hobble bushes than I meant to, so I didn't buy the pieris.
Time passes, and no pieris. Some days ago I spotted a plant of pieris forrestil at a nursery, the one called 'Flame of the Forest,' and promptly bought it. What a pleasure to have its planting station all ready (though in two years some maple roots had moved in, and had to be grubbed out anew).
This pieris is one of those creatures that is perfectly hardy sometimes and quite tender other times. Its great feature is its spring foliage. The new leaves are glossy red, looking as if it is in bloom, but it is only the new growth.
No plant can be more beautiful than the plain ordinary Pieris japonica, which is not only hardy but will grow in outrageously poor situations (sometimes) like the aucuba.
But P. forrestii, because it is new, scratches that unworthy (but persistent) itch for novelty. If it proves to be a poor plant this far north, I will go back to P. japonica. Sometimes it takes gardeners a long time to get things going.
Thanks to my Energetic Friend, the one who sits right down and orders things, I now have Clematis texensis, which has become rare.
The great clematis specialist did not want to sell us the two plants, but we carried on (at least E. F. did) so he shipped them, infants though they were. Mine was the size of a cat's whisker, with four small leaves.
I potted it and nursed it along through the summer. Once it began to grow a little, a grackle sat on it, breaking the stem off at the ground. Twice it was cut off completely, from accidents of this kind (it is hardly to be believed that grackles, hounds, squirrels all have this unexplained instinct to sit on rare plants being coddled along in pots), and I lost heart.
But with her usual perversity, Nature was unreasonably generous and the clematis sprouted for the third time, and by September was sturdy enough for me to risk planting it in the open garden. If it lives, I will be a happy gardener, with those rose-colored urn-shaped thimble-sized blooms for some weeks in the spring. Few plants ever pleased me more in years past, and I was insane to move my old plant.
Sometimes, if success attends us, we get careless and forget how lucky we are to be succeeding with the plant to begin with. My old clematis - so vigorous nothing could possibly harm it - died as instantly as any plant ever died. All because I stupidly decided to shift it.
If this one grows, nothing will persuade me to disturb it. My experience has been that when you order C. texensis, they are always sold out.
Maybe it is hard to grow from seed (I never had any luck with growing it from seed, but that does not prove much), but it would be well if somebody propagated it and got it into general commerce, for it is one of the most beautiful native vines. Perfect for a five-foopt fence near the terrace, or some place where its waxy flowers and beautiful blue-green leaves will be seen closely, since it makes no great show at a distance.