Why am I awake and typing madly at 7am? Who knows? But the coffee and toast are made and I'm cozy in bed listening to the cold rain, glad that it's watering the sweet-pea and bachelor's-button seeds planted yesterday up in the garden. Oh, sweet peas! How I love them. They smell so incredibly sweet, especially the old-fashioned ones, which were specifically bred & cultivated for their scent. Their Latin name is "Lathyrus odoratus"--as you might expect, anything with "odoratus" in the name is a good thing.
Most really sweet-scented flowers use their perfume just like you do--for sex! Since they can't hit the bars, they have to get the hotties to come to them, by sending out a waft of tasty, tasty scent to attract the creepy-crawly pollinating bugs who'll climb in for nectar. Presumably, flying past a rose is like walking past a doughnut shop for a bee--irresistible.
On their way down to the nectar bar, they get powdered in pollen, which is full of the plant's genetic material. Then they head off to flower #2 (because each flower only offers a tiny siplet of nectar, so everyone can get a little lovin') and track the previous flower's pollen all over the floor. Which makes the plant babies (fruits with seeds, to grow more plants) happen.
Not surprisingly, many flowers are only perfumey before they're pollinated. Once they get knocked up, as it were, they don't bother. Sweatpants and dirty hair after that! The flower itself often drops its petals and dies off shortly after pollination, so the plant can put its energy into fruit & seed production. If you're growing flowers for cutting, it's important to be able to visually identify your flowers' status pre- and post-pollination, because a flower that hasn't been pollinated will last a lot longer in a bouquet than one that has.
Sweet peas, though, just spread their gorgeousness around for the sake of it, since they self-pollinate before the flowers even open. Thank you, sweet peas! Since I've always had such limited gardening space, I've always felt strongly that any plant had to pull its weight and be either edible, a useful companion plant (like alyssum or marigolds, which repel aphids from other plants), or a banquet for the pollinators (bees love anything blue, hence the bachelor's buttons). But now I'm mellowing and making space for that which is simply shamelessly pretty, too.
My latest favorite is Salpiglossis (also called Stained Glass Flower or Painted Tongue), which I fell in love with out at the farm at UCSC. I had one last year, bought at the fabulous Flora Grubb, called Chocolate Royale, which produced a big ball of really beautiful deep, deep maroon-brown velvety flowers, all summer long. Plus, I love that its Latin name is Salpiglossis sinuata--so belly-dancer-ish!
And in your gardening news: stop by new gardening/groovy stuff shop Succulence on Sat, Feb. 13, for their grand opening party. I met co-owner Amy Shelf at the Underground Farmers Market last month, and she's just as nice as can be (she and her husband run 4-Star Video on Cortland Ave; Succulence is out back). Plus, she'll have some of her groovy preserves and pickles on hand. I'm going to go and remind her about her offer of a lemon-marmalade-making date...
And Pam Peirce, doyenne of gardening in the Bay Area's kooky microclimates, has recently revised and updated her classic reference book, Golden Gate Gardening. She'll be talking at Flora Grubb at 1pm on Sat., Feb. 28th.