Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Bugleweed and Glaze Idiocy

Saying about a plant that at least it stays green all summer may be damning with faint praise, but I'm not sure that Bugleweed, Ajuga reptans in its many guises, deserves even that amount of good press.

Why ever did I plant it in the Herb Garden? Wait, I didn't. It came in on some other plant and I wasn't vigilant enough to spot and uproot it at once. Now I have just spent two hours digging it out from underneath the rue and the wormwood and the Rosa Mundi, that Rose of the World, which has about the largest and fiercest prickles of any rose in the garden. Actually its the understock, I think the Rose of the World has long since moved on to a better World, but it still blooms with amazing deep carmine flowers that look just like those kleenex flowers we used to make to decorate wedding cars with back in our wasted youths. So I leave it there. Besides, it somewhat hides the telephone pole in the corner of the Herb Garden, and that's worth something.

Ajuga, as I prefer to call it, comes in a number of forms and colour phases. You can get it with gnarly twisty leaves, very ugly, with reddish leaves, somewhat less ugly, with variegated green and white leaves, even with plain green leaves. I like the plain green one best because its flowers are the bluest. All the others have flowers which lean heavily towards the mauve/purple part of the spectrum. The plain one is Cambridge Blue. The leaves are shiny and mid-green. There is a white form, but it isn't nearly as vigorous. I have some, but every spring I forget that I like that one and weed it out and then wonder where my white one went. Luckily I usually miss a few and so still have some. 

Ajuga spreads from seeds (and it produces them by the zillions) and by stolons. One plant of Ajuga sends out a dozen or more stolons, radiating around the plant like a starburst, and each one forms a new little plant, which promptly sends out a dozen or so stolons.... by the end of the summer you have a solid mat and Ajugas growing on top of Ajugas. Their roots are strong and pulling them up isn't the easiest thing in the world.

For some strange reason, I did buy two slightly different ones, though. Last summer I got one with tiny leaves. The leaves are shaped like tongue depressors, not like the usual spoons, and are only about 2" long. They are quite an interesting purple/dark green colour mix, too. I stuck it in an impossible spot on top of a small rock ledge and it has made itself completely at home there. No doubt it will soon rampage up or down from its perch and take over real estate meant for more exciting plants, but until then I admire it. It's flowers are alright, not brilliant, but alright. The pink granite sets them off well.

The other one has been around for a couple of years and I am about ready to admit it might not be as much of a thug as the regular Ajuga. It was labelled 'The Giant', and the reason is obvious. Its leaves, instead of the usual 3 to 4 inches long, reach as much as 8 inches, and the flower stalks stand up a good 14 or so. The flowers are dark blue. The leaves are coloured much like the little one and rather nice. So far it has only overpowered a few admittedly unassertive things like some mauve columbines somebody gave me. I note with amusement that it has grown carefully all around a seedling of Cirsium muticum, the Swamp Thistle.

Maybe this business with the Ajugas has affected my brain. One of my two main glazes in the pottery studio has been giving me trouble lately. Over the past three or four months it has gotten darker and shinier. So I tried mixing a completely new batch (I use laundry tubs for my production glazes and mix large batches at a time and keep adding them to the existing glaze in the tub) and tested it. It was too matte and too pale. So I added a measured amount of the old stuff and tested the mixture. That came out of the kiln looking pretty good, so I mixed the old and new glaze batches in the sink. Now suddenly it hard-panned, that is, the glaze particles all sang out 'Dive, dive!' and headed for the bottom. Even while I was stirring it, it settled. The layer on the bottom of the tub the next morning was absolutely solid - no amount of scraping or digging had much effect. I appealed to ClayArt, that wonderful list, for help. Several potters suggested Epsom salts. So I disolved some in water and, in a moment of total idiocy, added a small amount to the glaze batch directly. I should have tested it by drops in a small cup, but instead I just put some right into the tub of glaze. To my horror it turned into cottage cheese. Dark reddish brown cottage cheese.

 Back to ClayArt for more help. What an idiot I felt. John Britt came to the rescue and suggested I add sodium silicate. He also reminded me to try it first in a small amount, and then to add it drop by drop so as not to over-shoot, which I deserved. Just for fun I did try adding too much to my small amount and the result was impressive. The glaze turned into quite solid pudding. But I was more sensible this time with the large batch and only added the amount suggested by the test, and to my relief, the glaze became reasonably liquid again. I dipped a number of pots and they are in the kiln now. Fingers crossed!

If it doesn't work I'll throw the whole mess out (how does one throw out glaze?) and start over and go out in the garden and eat worms, I mean, plant Ajugas.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Real Trilliums

It must be about time for the deer to come by and eat my trilliums. They are in full bloom, although perhaps a bit short. The Spring was so early and so fast this year that the plants hardly had time to get out of the ground before the flowers opened. Usually around this time a deer or two will wander by, munching on a flower here, stepping on a plant there..... I gnash my teeth and have earnest conversations with my supposed-to-be-guard-dog but to no effect. Kip won't chase them, he knows perfectly well that they are much faster than he is. In fact, they know it too because last year when he did try to chase one it stood its ground.

Several of the plants in the Sampler Garden (a shady woodsy area in front of the house where I am trying to have samples of all the interesting native plants on the property) are pale pink. They are pink in the bud, open pale p
ink, and stay pale pink. They don't get quite as dark as the others when they start to fade. T. grandiflorum flowers typically fade to pink. That sounds pretty but actually isn't. They look a bit tired by then so the pink makes it worse, not better.

The rockery has its share of T. gran
ds, too.