Lack of bloom a mysterious malady

Lack of bloom a mysterious malady

Posted: Tuesday, October 30, 2012 8:00 pm
By: By Jimmy Williams

Among the most exasperating and puzzling occurrences for any gardener is a plant that simply refuses to bloom. Seemingly otherwise healthy and robust, the raison d’etre of the wretched thing is conspicuously absent.
We’re not talking here about something like a hosta, whose merits are judged by foliage, the flowers being secondary. No, the subject at hand is, say, a daylily or hydrangea.
Let us take the latter first. A few years ago I had in our rock wall border an Annabelle hydrangea. This common plant is an admirable variety of our native Hydrangea arborescens, with outsize white flower heads that morph off into chartreuse before going brown late in the season. A fine shrub indeed, but after some several seasons perennials and other things fronting it outgrew its three-foot height, largely hiding the hydrangea flowers.
I liked the hydrangea idea, so I replaced it with a Quickfire paniculata hydrangea type, one supposed (supposed!) to flower earlier than others, thus the monicker Quickfire. The first season it had three flowers, the second season one, and this year zip. Not quick and not firey.
A few weeks ago, out it went, destined to my graveyard (arboretum), where drought runs rampant. Its days are numbered.
By coincidence I was with friend Mike Garner at a flea market a few days later where a vendor had a specimen of Phantom hydrangea. It was covered, in September with monstrous heads of flowers that were turning from white to pink. I couldn’t resist it. When I researched it online, the description told of a late flowering shrub with a potential of 10 feet unless pruned. It now resides in Quickfire’s abode. I will hope for the best, but the question remains, why didn’t the Quickfire flower? More to the point, will Phantom do any better?
At the other end of my garden is a red border, so called, consisting of flowers and foliage of hot colors, mostly red but mixed with orange and brassy yellow.
Last spring, friend Carol Reese gave me a plant of Diclepteria suberecta, commonly called (as are other things) hummingbird plant.
It was covered with tubular orange flowers and had felty, gray leaves, a stunning combination and just the thing for the red border.
Some authorities list it as hardy only to zone 8 but others say hardy to zone 7, which would make it perennial here.
Red and orange perennials are rare, so I had high hopes for it as I placed it into the recommended high-drainage soil. The extant flowers lasted a week or two, and they were never replaced with new ones.
Not a single one, though the foliage ramped to three feet wide and two feet tall. A nice attraction but, hey, I can get gray foliage anywhere.
I believe the University of Tennessee Gardens in Jackson, of which Reese is one of the movers and shakers, have these plants burgeoning with flowers. Thanks anyway, Reese.
Just down the way in that same border is a plant I picked up a couple of years ago that was, likewise, covered with similar orange flowers, though it obviously was not related to the Suberecta.
The name of the plant escapes me, a happenstance occurring with increasing frequency, and the label has disappeared. It was listed as a perennial to zone 7, and indeed has proven so, obviously thriving in good heart, for three years now.
How many flowers has it produced, since the originals faded? Three: two late this spring and one a few weeks ago. Again, the green foliage is nice, but, again, green leaves are a dime a dozen, even cheaper than gray ones.
Three years ago now, friend (I really do have three) Diane Mahan was showing me her specimen of Dolly Parton daylily. At least that’s the way I remember it, though I could not find it on the Internet.
At any rate, the thing was loaded with little (not like the real Dolly’s — tee hee) flowers. Mahan kindly dug out a sizeable portion of it and I duly set into good soil in the aforementioned rock wall border.
How many flowers has it produced? Zip. Meanwhile, Mahan’s original continues to go from strength to strength every year, with more and more bloom.
I could go on, but you have your own miseries. Suffice it to say, I  know I don’t live right, but then I never have and stuff used to bloom.
Editor’s note: Jimmy Williams is the garden writer for The Paris Post-Intelligencer, where he can be contacted on Mondays at (731) 642-1162.

Published in The Messenger 10.30.12

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