THERE ARE surprises, of course, that keep the gardener amazed through the years.
Today I was admiring my small purple clematis, "Etoile Violette," and . . . but while we're about it, maybe I should say this vine has only recently been accorded much attention. It is one of those 19th-century French clematis, the blooms not much larger than a silver dollar, and while it is pretty enough with its little grayish white tuft of stamens in the center, stil it is nothing to go berserk over.
I think it has always been grown in Paris, partly because the French like anything French, and partly because they may not be as hot for the latest novelties as the gardeners of America or England.
Anyway, this clematis was sent to me several years ago by one of those nurseries that seems to specialize in sending plants you do not order, and not sending the ones you do. I let it pass, when I saw they'd sent the wrong thing, and am glad I did, since it is a graceful little creature as it waddles up a white post on the front porch.
Today, as I was admiring it in a small way, I was astonished to see two great cecropia moths mating as they clung for dear life to the wiry stems of the clematis. The cecropia is the largest moth of the eastern states, and if you hold one, he will cover the palm of your hand with his outstretched wings. They are fairly gorgeous in brown, red, purple, with a band along the wing edges of buff yellow, and some large spots like eyes and these spots are translucent and present an eerie effect if you see light shining through them.
Earlier in the day the moth had freed itself from its cocoon, which I had been watching for some weeks in the house, sprinkling the beast every week or so with a little water and hoping it would emerge from its case of leathery leaves just as well indoors as out. It did.
After it had exercised a bit, and tried its furry red legs until they gained some strength, I set it on a wire outside, in a place I hoped would be safe from birds and other dragons.
The moth climbed leisurely upwards until it reached the tangle of purple flowers, then stopped. It showed no signs of working its wings in preparation for flight.
Within a few hours another cecropia arrived. The one I freed was a female, and the visitor was a -- guess what -- and they were observed mating over a period of 12 hours. They arranged themselves so only their bodies touched; their wings did not, and when they felt like it, both moths raised and lowered their wings leisurely, all four of them fully visible. m
This sort of thing enlivens the gardener's week.
As usual, the heavens opened just as the peonies and irises hit their stride this spring and, as usual, I was out of town a few days, over my dead body of course. When I returned, things looked pretty good, at least for my ratty garden, but within 24 hours the torrents raged. One of these years there will be a spring in which the rain holds off during the bloom season (which is lamentably short in town gardens where only a few plants can be grown; but when such a great year does come, we'll doubtless be so nervous about the weather the following day that we won't enjoy it.
For some reason the Japanese snowball (Viburnum plicatum sterile has lasted in bloom a good two weeks longer than usual, and the red climbing rose with ruffled single blooms (pure scarlet, I'd call them) called 'Dortmund' has rather outdone itself. This is one of those modern German roses that halfway wishes to be a great climber and halfway wishes to be a huge mounded bush 8 or 10 feet tall.
Like climbing roses in general, it may sit around being a bush for as long as three years, each year sending up new shoots a little stronger than the shoots of the year before, until one year the shoots really mean business and reach 10 feet within a few weeks.
Of course, in an ideal site, like a great open loamy pasture, the rose would have established itself in a third the time mine has required, but mine grows only a few feet from one of those wretched Norway maples, and somewhat under the projecting eaves of a house on the east side and admittedly it has to fight two 7-foot spirea bushes. On the other hand, I do water 'Dortmund' during the summer, when it is not doing anything at all, so it should be grateful.
The idea was for it to make a mass of scarlet out the dining room window, and to writhe about on top of the spireas, and to lean against the wall and flop over a fence to the north -- all of which it has done.
It is not fragrant, unfortunately, but it does produce a few clusters of flowers later in the summer, and it does have red-orange hips the size of marbles in the fall.
In the pool, recently and traumatically drained and cleaned, the first four water lilies to bloom are usually 'Pink Butterfly,' 'Yellow Pigmy,' 'Chromatella,' and 'James Brydon.' This year only one of these, 'Pink Butterfly,' flowered before the first of June, but two others, not usually considered especially early-blooming, did. They are the wild Nymphaea odorata gigantaea and 'Pink Opal.'
As you know, we are quite short on rain, but it does seem to me it rains here all the time whether we're having a drought or not. Maybe the water doesn't fall (except for the peony and iris season) but there are plenty of gray damp cold days which count as rainy days for the gardener who misses the blessed sun.
And dry or not, the tremendous leaves of the Japanese butterburr and the hostas have never been finer with me.