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Spring 2016: A Singing Bird May Come

According to an ancient proverb: “If you keep a green tree in your heart, a singing bird may come.”

Last month, at a rally in an indoor arena filled with thousands of jubilant supporters of Senator Bernie Sanders, a tiny songbird suddenly appeared and flew over to the podium to be with Bernie. A joyous and magical moment.

Talking about birds, did you know that a group of Flamingos is called a Flamboyance? I found this delightful nugget of information in a small gem of a book released this year by Ten Speed Press: Maja Safstrom’s “THE illustrated COMPENDIUM OF amazing ANIMAL FACTS.”

Sadly, we aren’t all blessed with Flamingos, but we can easily achieve Spring Flamboyance in the garden by planting Rhododendron ‘Amoena’. This gorgeous, old-timey evergreen azalea is a hardy, vigorous shrub, and a reliable May bloomer. Mine flourishes in sandy acid soil in shade. (Photos below.)

copyright 2016 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2016 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2016 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2016 – Lois Sheinfeld

 

If you prefer understated elegance, one of my favorite early Spring bloomers — sharing the same culture requirements as Amoena — is the evergreen native shrub, Chamaedaphne calyculata ‘Tiny Tom.’ In April, Tom’s elegant wand-like stems are cloaked with dainty, snowy-white, dangling bells. (Photo below.)

copyright 2016 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2016 – Lois Sheinfeld

 

For long-blooming elegance, you can’t beat Helleborus — my  hellebore flowers opened in March and continue to bloom despite subsequent snow storms and frigid weather. Helleborus does best in sweet soil. I amend my acid soil with lime and wood ash. (Photos below.)

copyright 2016 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2016 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2016 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2016 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2016 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2016 – Lois Sheinfeld

 

copyright 2016 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2016 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2016 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2016 – Lois Sheinfeld

 

HOT TIP: To ensure success in the garden this year, plant Trifolium purpurascens and enjoy a steady supply of lucky four-leaf clovers. (Photo below.)

copyright 2016 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2016 – Lois Sheinfeld

Trifolium purpurascens is not widely available. My well-grown healthy plants were purchased by mail order from Bluestone Perennials, in Ohio. (bluestoneperennials.com; Phone: 800-852-5243).

Fall 2014: Betula lenta & Peattie’s Native Trees

It began life on the shady east side of the house, this gift from Mother Nature, improbably nosing its way up through a path of dirt and gravel to reach the light.  Even as a seedling, I knew it was special.

Growing straight and tall with no help from me (save supportive adoring looks and whispered sweet nothings), the object of my affection developed into an elegant tree, unlike any I had.

Yet, that’s not entirely true. The lovely tiered branching was similar to a nearby dogwood and the foliage was almost identical to a white-barked weeping birch which succumbed to disease years before.

A romantic dalliance between a dogwood and a birch?  No. I don’t think so.  Besides, no way their progeny could possess the tree’s resplendent mahogany-red, Black Cherry Tree like bark.

Actually, the richly painted bark was a dead giveaway, but I didn’t get it until a tree guru came to visit.  He took one look, broke off a twig, handed it to me and said: “Smell this.”  Ah hah!  Unmistakable.  The delicious, heady aroma of wintergreen.  I should have known.

My treasure, Betula lenta, commonly called Sweet Birch or Cherry Birch in apt tribute to its unique aroma and bark, is native to the U.S.A. For years, the tree was the primary source of the extract, oil of wintergreen, used to flavor medicine and candy.  Author Donald Culross Peattie informs us that the sap was also the essential ingredient of Birch Beer; and in his noted work, A Natural History of Trees of Eastern and Central North America (Houghton Mifflin Co. 1950), he shares an old-time recipe:

Tap the tree as the Sugar Maple is tapped, in spring when the sap is rising and the buds are just swelling; jug the sap and throw in a handful of shelled corn, and natural fermentation — so the mountaineers tell us — will finish the job for you.”

(Hopefully, this brew didn’t finish off the mountaineers as well!)

In the foreword of his book, Peattie voices an intention to aid in the identification of trees, and the book includes valuable, detailed descriptions. But he also prized what makes a tree most interesting and important to man. “Almost every tree in our sylva,” he observed, “has made history, or witnessed it, or entered into our folkways, or usefully become a part of our daily life. To tell a little of these things is the main purpose of this book.” And these fascinating, informed discussions make the book a must-read.

Someone once said to Peattie: “I see you could not resist the temptation to be interesting.” Unfortunately, his book is out of print. Do search it out. It’s a treasure.

And so is my gift from Mother Nature, Betula lenta (Cherry Birch).   Photos below.

copyright 2014  -  Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2011 – Lois Sheinfeld

 

Copyright 2014  -  Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2014 – Lois Sheinfeld

 

copyright 2014  -  Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2014 – Lois Sheinfeld

 

2014: What’s New? Part 3

The “miraculous power of gardening: it evokes tomorrow, it is eternally forward-looking, it invites plans and ambitions, creativity, expectation…. Gardening defies time; you think in seasons to come.” So said award-winning author Penelope Lively in her latest book, Dancing Fish And Ammonites. And so say I. Fie on this horrific winter! I’m planning for Spring.

Over 20 years ago, the late, great plantsman, Jim Cross, pointed me in the direction of Broken Arrow Nursery in Hamden, CT.  The Nursery was for a time a rather small operation, with a mimeographed plant list of 4 or 5 pages stapled together, and sales only on site. Broken Arrow’s current inventory includes over 1,500 woody ornamentals and perennials. (At present, Broken Arrow’s website and online sales are not operational.)

For my garden this year, I largely focused on Broken Arrow’s collection of Japanese Maples:

Acer palmatum ‘Koto no ito’ (Zones 5-8)

credit  Broken Arrow Nursery

credit Broken Arrow Nursery

Koto no ito means Harp Strings. True to its name this small, elegant tree has delightful, string-like foliage. New growth is green with red tones, becoming green in summer and then shades of gold, orange and red in the fall. (Note: For many Japanese maples, leaf color is variable, depending on the degree of light exposure; this may account for the differing views on seasonal color expressed by various reference texts.)

 

Acer palmatum ‘Fairy Hair’ (Zones 6-8)

credit  Broken Arrow Nursery

credit Broken Arrow Nursery

This slow-growing, dwarf maple’s mature height will probably not exceed 3 feet. Its unique, fine, thread-like foliage is orange-red in spring, green in summer, and orange-red again in fall. The tree has an ethereal quality, impossible to resist.

 

Acer shirasawanum ‘Autumn Moon’ (Zones 5-8)

credit  Broken Arrow Nursery

credit Broken Arrow Nursery

Highly prized for its showy, colorful foliage – burnt-orange and pink in spring, chartreuse with touches of peach in summer, and autumnal shades of gold, red and orange in fall – Autumn Moon is a show-stopper.

For comprehensive information about Japanese Maples see Japanese Maples: The Complete Guide to Selection and Cultivation (Timber Press, Fourth Edition 2009)

And for successful companion planting, I like to partner Japanese Maples with Rhododendrons; they have similar culture requirements. A particular Rhododendron favorite is the divine, snowy-white, purple-flared, R.’Calsap’, purchased by me from Broken Arrow over fifteen years ago. (Below are photos of my Calsap in the garden.)

copyright 2013  Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2013 Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2013  -  Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2013 – Lois Sheinfeld

 

For 2014 I’m also adding to the mix a new plant offering from Broken Arrow, Bletilla striata ‘Yellow Striped’ (Zones 6-9),  a recent woodland orchid introduction from Japan. This lovely has a reputation as a tough, long-blooming perennial. (Photo below.)

copyright  -  Shikoko Garden, Japan

copyright – Shikoku Garden, Japan

 

The orchid has green leaves striped with creamy-yellow, and charming magenta flowers for three to four weeks in late-Spring, early-Summer. It’s a spreader – but not fast enough for some! And it too shares similar culture needs with the maples.

Update 2015: The bletillas didn’t survive. Voles, perhaps?

 

 

 

2014: My Favorite Deciduous Azaleas

Like Alice, I fear we have fallen down the rabbit hole. It’s loony tunes out there.

The New York Times reported that the nation’s largest food and beverage companies are seeking FDA approval to label as “natural” foods laced with genetically modified organisms (GMO’S). (The New York Times, December 20, 2013, p.B3)

Huh?

Hard to believe, but true. The same folks who are spending millions of dollars in a nation-wide campaign to prevent GMO food labeling, thus denying consumers the right to make informed choices, are now shamelessly demanding the right to label their GMO-laboratory-designed-food, “NATURAL”. 

Thank goodness we can retreat to the sanity and comfort of the garden — in mind and spirit, if not in person — and dream about the upcoming joys of Spring, namely, Mother Nature’s sweet progeny, Deciduous Azaleas. Here are some of my favorites:

Rhododendron ‘Arneson Ruby’. (Zones 5-8).

As you can see from the photos, this exquisite show-stopper has ball-shaped trusses of purple-red buds, opening in May to vibrant ruby-red flowers. The plant is a hardy, disease-resistant, upright grower that can reach 5-6 feet in height.

copyright 2013  -  Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2014 – Lois Sheinfeld

 

copright 2014  -  Lois Sheinfeld

copright 2014 – Lois Sheinfeld

If you aren’t into upright and tall, I recommend R. ‘Arneson’s Ruby Princess’ with similar ruby-red flowers on a mounding azalea that most likely will not exceed 3 feet. The Princess shares Ruby’s cold hardiness and good health and possesses the additional attribute of attractive dense foliage. (Photo below.)

copyright 2014  -  Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2014 – Lois Sheinfeld

 

 

In my garden, R. ‘Arneson Ruby’ grows alongside another May bloomer, Rhododendron ‘Klondyke’ (Zones 5-8), an azalea highly prized for its beautiful, fragrant, golden-orange flowers, complemented by handsome bronzy-green new foliage. (Photos below)

copyright 2014  -  Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2014 – Lois Sheinfeld

 

copyright 2014  -  Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2014 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2014  -  Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2014 – Lois Sheinfeld

 

For those seeking fragrant flowers, Rhododendron ‘Narcissiflora’ (Zones 5-8) is a must-have. This tall, vigorous, old-timer flaunts masses of bright yellow flowers that fill the air with sweet perfume. And as for white-flowering azaleas, there’s none better than the uber-fragrant “twins”, Rhododendrons ‘Snowbird’ and ‘Fragrant Star.’ (Zones 4-8)  (Photos below in order of mention.)

copyright 2014  -  Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2014 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2014  -  Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2014 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright  -  Lois Sheinfeld

copyright – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2014  -  Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2014 – Lois Sheinfeld

 

All of these deciduous azaleas have been time-tested and flourish in my organic, toxic-chemical-free garden. They require acid, well-drained soil and can tolerate — even appreciate — more sun than their big cousins, the Elepidote Rhododendrons. [See also: June 14, 2013 post, “Evergreen Azaleas: La Crème de la Crème”, and for comprehensive information on all things azalea, Azaleas by Fred C. Galle (Timber Press. 1999).]

Franklinia alatamaha: An American Story

Now you see it, now you don’t!

The New York Times reports that United States Supreme Court opinions have cited to materials on the internet that “are very often ephemeral.” In short, you click on and get a whole lot of nothing, and as a result: “The modern Supreme Court opinion is increasingly built on sand.” (The New York Times, 9/24/2013, p. A13.)

Moreover, this disappearing-text-dilemma is not limited to Court decisions; the problem of lost data is universal, affecting all web-users—including bloggers.

My garden club recently visited Longwood Gardens in PA., the former estate of Pierre S. du Pont. There was much to see and admire, including a very fine example of our beautiful native tree, Franklinia alatamaha. Seeing it reminded me of my blog about Franklinia’s fascinating history, so with some trepidation–triggered by the New York Times piece—I re-visited the 2012 post. Worse than I feared: The title, some of the text, and the photos were gone. Simply vanished. A pox on those responsible!!!!!!!

Here is a restored and hopefully permanent post:

I like plants with a back story, a history, and there’s none better than Franklinia alatamaha.

 

copyright 2012  -- Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2012 — Lois Sheinfeld

It all began with John Bartram (1699-1777), a botanist and nurseryman from Pennsylvania, who traveled extensively in colonial America collecting native plants for customers in the colonies as well as in Europe, including the English aristocracy. As reported by Andrea Wulf in her fascinating, informative book, The Brother Gardeners, in England, “a landscape garden filled with Bartram’s trees and shrubs had become the way to show one’s wealth and taste.” The Duke of Richmond, for example, planted 400 different American species at his estate.

This “taste” for American plants led to a rash of plant thefts, which in turn, Wulf tells us, led to a Parliamentary Act providing that plant thieves could be sent to an American penal colony. [An American penal colony? Did Wulf confuse us with Australia? I decided to do a little research of my own and discovered that from 1620-1776 about 50,000 British criminals were transported to the colonies in North America to serve out their sentences, primarily as indentured servants. It was not until a decade later that convicts were sent to Australia.]

But I digress. Back to John Bartram and Franklinia alatamaha.

On a plant-hunting trip in 1765, Bartram and his son William discovered Franklinia along the Altamaha river in Georgia. The plants were not in flower, so they could not collect seed. William finally accomplished this task on a solo return trip in 1776, and at the Bartram farm in PA successfully grew plants from the seed.

After 1803 Franklinia was never again seen in the wild; it is believed that every tree now in existence may be traced back to the seeds collected by William Bartram in 1776. Living history in our own backyards!

John Bartram died in 1777 without ever seeing the exquisite flowers of his discovery. (William’s seedlings didn’t flower until 1781.) The tree was named Franklinia in honor of John Bartram’s great friend, Benjamin Franklin, with whom he and other scholars founded the American Philosophical Society. (This prestigious Society was dedicated to furthering knowledge of the natural sciences. In 1803, in preparation for The Lewis and Clark Expedition of exploration, President Thomas Jefferson sent Meriwether Lewis to the Society to receive instruction from the nation’s leading scientists.)

In rich, acid, well-drained soil with adequate moisture, Franklinia will produce radiant, fragrant, snowy-white flowers in late summer-early fall. (Photo above) In my garden, when the flowers fade, the foliage takes on shades of vibrant red and orange. What a treasure!

Note: Franklinia is quite cold hardy (z5) and seems to do better in the Northeast than in the South–its place of origin–where it is said to be short-lived.

The Sweet Apple Gardening Book

DSCN1840

Winter is here.  The plants are asleep, safely tucked under a soft blanket of fallen leaves and dreaming of fragrant, warm Springtime breezes.   A perfect time for me to snuggle up by the fire with a good book. Maybe one about gardening.

But not a garden book crammed with monthly to-do lists, or plant lists, or lists of lists.  Nor one dashed off by a writer who doesn’t garden, yet for some reason feels empowered to give gardening advice.   A wrong turn if ever there was one.

No, I’m after a hands-in-the-dirt storyteller, a gifted writer passionate about plants and willing to tell-all about their gardening trials, tribulations, and joys.

Like Celestine Sibley.   Sibley, who died in 1999, was a reporter and columnist for the Atlantic Journal and Constitution and the author of over a dozen books.  My favorite, The Sweet Apple Gardening Book (Doubleday, 1972; Peachtree Publishers, 1989), is a wise and wonderful, homespun, often humorous account of her hands-on gardening life in rural Georgia.

“The doing is the thing,” she said about gardening.  “And if by some happy chance you should have a little success, ah, the satisfaction that is!”

Just consider her experience with roses.  At first she styled them “an exclusive club that blackballed me at every meeting.”  And then suddenly her luck changed when she discovered “a rosebush with the will to live”, a mislabeled “nameless little pink semiclimber that gives me a bloom or two almost every day between April and October.  Not enough to set a rosarian’s pulses hammering, I know, but one of its blooms on the table in a rose-painted cream pitcher … makes me feel like a millionaire when I sit down to breakfast.”   (Haven’t we all had a similar experience?)

And I relish her take on pest prevention:

“There’s a Theory circulating among my friends and neighbors that I don’t rise up and do battle against the creeping, crawling, hopping, flying, boring, sucking wild life that makes free with my garden because I’m either too lazy or too squeamish …. And while there’s an element of truth in this theory, it’s not the whole truth …. I do worry that I might kill villains and heroes indiscriminately ….”

Common sense also prevailed when she commented on Vita Sackville-West’s idea to plant an apple seed in a flower pot to commemorate a birth, and then to watch, according to Sackville-West, ‘the growth of the infant tree keep pace with the growth of the human infant.’   “It’s a happy idea,” said Sibley, “but if you’re in a hurry and more interested in fruit than ceremony you might do better to buy a dwarf tree.  After all, the baby has passed the seed stage and the tree might as well be up, too.” Amen!

A great admirer of Thomas Jefferson’s fifty-eight years of meticulous garden record-keeping (“How I love that Garden Book!”), Sibley most appreciated the planning bits.  “Mr Jefferson did a lot of this”, she said, “and along about mid-July I wish that I had done the same. That is the season when the what-might-have-been’s get you.  It’s too late to plant many of the things that you really meant to get into the ground last spring. Maddeningly enough, you can’t even remember what many of them were.”

Finally, in the Epilogue of the 1989 edition of the book, Sibley summed it all up:

“Since I wrote this Book 17 years ago I have edged forward a bit and I have backslid a bit. My garden knowledge and accomplishments have been — to use both a scriptural and horticultural reference — no bigger than a mustard seed, but my pleasure in working the earth has doubled and redoubled.”

Double ditto for me.

How I love this garden book! I think you will too.