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Black Magic, Stream Orchids, and a Wet Monkey in a Tub

Mimulus cardinalis

Mimulus cardinalis

Our wet monkey, Mimulus cardinalis, has started blooming. There are two kinds of monkey flowers, ones that like wet soil and ones that like dry soil. The dry monkeys (also sometimes called sticky monkeys, preferably with a faux-British accent) are starting to get listed as Diplacus, instead of Mimulus, which makes some sense to me, even though the switch also causes some confusion. There’s not really anything similar about the wet and dry types — not the foliage, the form, the habitat, the cultural needs, and not the flowers — so I’m not sure how they got grouped together in the first place. Las Pilitas has a page devoted to the various monkey flowers that talks about the differences. I’ve grown a few different types of wet monkey flowers, but the only one in our garden now is the scarlet monkey flower in our bog planting.

Colocasia Black Magic and Mimulus cardinalis

Colocasia Black Magic and Mimulus cardinalis

Our bog planting is set inside an old cast-iron bathtub dug into the ground and covered over with mulch. The idea is that the water drains more slowly than it would in open ground, so we don’t have to irrigate these water-loving plants as often as we would otherwise, a way to keep our garden low-water without excluding all the plants we’re interested in growing. We filled it with 2/3 soil and 1/3 compost, which is a ton of amendment by our standards. The only outlet from the tub is the open drain at the bottom and we water it the same amount and on the same irrigation zone as the moderate-water section of the yard where we have the blueberries, the mock orange, the heucheras, the astilbes, and our young citrus tree, plants that you wouldn’t normally expect to share an irrigation zone with a colocasia, which is often grown directly in ponds and fountains.

Black Magic stems

Black Magic stems

Colocasia “Black Magic,” aka Elephant Ears for its big leaves, is a very cool plant. It’s in the low part of our yard, so we don’t have a good view of the black stems, though the stems are my favorite feature of the plant, even more so than the leaves. We also have Yerba Buena (Satureja douglasii) and Yellow-Eyed Grass (Sisyrinchium californicum) hanging out under the colocasia, and a canna growing behind it. This is the third summer for the planting, and the colocasia has steadily increased, while the canna seems to be fading.

Stream Orchid, Epipactis gigantea

Stream Orchid, Epipactis gigantea

Last month the Stream Orchid, (Epipactis gigantea) was the main bloomer in the tub. It still has a few blooms, but it’s mostly finished now. Not a showy flower, but interesting up close.

Stream Orchid, Epipactis gigantea

Stream Orchid, Epipactis gigantea

Epipactis gigntea and Mimulus cardinalis

Epipactis gigntea and Mimulus cardinalis

I feel like the scarlet monkey flower doesn’t even have the same color tone as most California natives. It’s more like the nasturtiums which come up as volunteers in our yard. A yellow one recently came up in the bamboo behind the bathtub, so we’re hoping it will ramble out into the monkey flower patch before the monkeys stop blooming. It’s a little surprising to me that a California native would combine so well with colocasias and nasturtiums, but I guess I should know better by now. Photos of wet and dry monkey flower buds (the one similarity I find between the two kinds), the yellow nasturtium, and a raunchy close up of the stream orchid are below.

volunteer nasturtium

volunteer nasturtium

Mimulus cardinalis flower bud

Mimulus cardinalis flower bud

Mimulus hybrid flower bud

Mimulus hybrid flower bud

monkey flower hybrid

monkey flower hybrid

Similar when the buds are closed. After the buds open, not so much.

Stream Orchid, Epipactis gigantea

Stream Orchid, Epipactis gigantea

Yikes! That thing seems like maybe it should have an R-rating, though I’m not sure whether that would be for violence or sexual content.

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11 Responses to “Black Magic, Stream Orchids, and a Wet Monkey in a Tub”

  1. July 12th, 2009 at 1:43 pm

    Frances says:

    Hi Ryan, what a good idea to have that tub sunk into the ground to make a more moist spot. We grew the black colocasia in our little pond a couple of years ago and it took over the whole thing. Maybe in the ground, even in a bathtub will help keep it in bounds. Wouldn’t want it to eat the orchids and monkey! :-)
    Frances

  2. July 12th, 2009 at 1:47 pm

    Pam/Digging says:

    I don’t know if my first comment went through, so I’ll try again. I’m looking for a dark-leaved pond plant, so I wonder if that ‘Black Magic’ colocasia would be a good one to try. The stems DO look lovely, and since it would be in an elevated pond, they’d be easier to see. I’ll be sure to keep it potted to avoid any Napoleonic designs it may have on the whole pond.

  3. July 12th, 2009 at 6:49 pm

    ryan says:

    This is my only time growing it, because it’s a thirsty plant, and it has been well behaved, spreading nicely. We’re not giving it tons of water, though, and only partial shade, so that might be having an effect. I’ve heard it can be aggressive, but I think it’s fairly easy to pull up if it gets out of hand. I think full sun and unlimited water might make it pretty exuberant. Sometimes people do keep it in a pot inside the pond to keep it well behaved. The don’t like frost real well, so that might have an effect on it’s spreading, too.

  4. July 12th, 2009 at 7:13 pm

    Town Mouse says:

    Great collection! I love stream orchids, and even with fairly little water they seem to do well and spread, at least with some shade. I started with one, and have a whole field now.

  5. July 12th, 2009 at 8:06 pm

    Susie says:

    I’ve been wanting to plant some Mimulus, but the stream orchid is beautiful!

  6. July 15th, 2009 at 8:54 am

    ryan says:

    Yeah, I’ve loved how easy stream orchids are, too. It’s probably time to divide them after only three years.

  7. July 15th, 2009 at 8:00 pm

    lostlandscape(James) says:

    Orchids. Shameless. If there’s any plant that advertises s.e.x., it’s orchids, with their pointy column right there in the middle of the flower… You’ve had better luck with the Black Magic colocasia than I did, but I think setting mine in the ground in a cold, wet November wasn’t the best way to introduce it to life in the garden. Your wetland natives look totally at home with the more tropical plant.

  8. July 16th, 2009 at 9:41 pm

    chuck b. says:

    That Mimulus vs. Diplacus thing goes back years. Is there a trend toward Diplacus now? My subscription to Fremontodendron lapsed.

  9. July 16th, 2009 at 9:44 pm

    chuck b. says:

    I mean Fremontia.

  10. July 17th, 2009 at 8:53 am

    Pomona Belvedere says:

    I confess I’ve always had trouble with Black Magic, also; never gotten it to grow big. I was interested in your bog construction; I’m wondering why you left the drain on the bathtub open?

    The stream orchid is new to me, and a beautiful little thing. Wow. I’ll have to check that out. Red monkeyflower is a local favorite for me, but I hadn’t thought of incorporating it into the garden. I agree, the red isn’t like anything else wild – except maybe Indian Pink is pretty close.

  11. July 18th, 2009 at 10:28 am

    ryan says:

    This was my first bathtub planting, so I’m not an authority by any means on bog plantings. I remember researching this and finding some sources saying to plug it and some saying to leave it open. There’s a possibility of creating soil that’s too anaerobic if you plug it.
    From what I understand, bogs do drain, just very slowly, so that’s roughly what we were trying to create with the bathtub. Using the tub slows the drying of the soil, allows for a little bit of circulation with the tub’s slope to the drain, and it creates the slightly more anaerobic kind of soil that these plants like. Maybe we’d be able to water even less with the tub plugged, but I’m not sure how every plant would react. I try to keep my eye out for other folks who have planted in tubs like this.
    It might be moot; the roots have probably plugged the drain by now, anyways.

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