This gallery contains 8 photos.
The calendar read Spring but the garden was having none of it. Warm December breezes seduced Forsythia, Spring’s herald, into untimely bloom — which was then zapped by Mother Nature’s icy hand. So now the remaining buds, exercising extreme caution, were shut tight.
Thankfully, daffodils and the deliciously fragrant flowering shrubs Pieris japonica and Sarcococca hookeriana humilis stepped up and saved the day.
Ah, Spring, at last.
Still, it’s not all “raindrops on roses.” Because of climate change, we have to contend with a dramatic increase of pollen in the air. The National Institute of Environmental Health Services recommends that allergy sufferers remain indoors from 5 a.m. – 10 a.m. when the pollen count is highest. Regrettably, that’s Prime Time for work in the garden — especially in hot weather.
But we cope and move on.
British author Iris Murdoch got it right: “One of the secrets of a happy life,” she said, “is continuous small treats.” A wonderful small Spring treat is Lily of the Valley (Convallaria majalis). I’ve treasured this vigorous, rhizomatous, perennial groundcover for over forty-five years. I can’t imagine my garden without it. In May the plant produces enchanting racemes of very fragrant, tiny, snowy-white bells. A striking variegated-leafed variety, Convallaria majalis ‘Albostriata’, is also available. Photos below.
Lily of the Valley thrives in moist, well-drained, acid soil in shade. All parts of the easy-care plant are poisonous and deer don’t mess with it.
But not everyone is a fan. One of our best garden writers, Allen Lacy, had this to say: “I once planted lily-of-the-valley in a far corner of my garden, for what garden should be without its graceful nodding bells in late spring? But I now have a sheet of it fifteen feet in every direction that must be confined by ripping out great numbers of plants each year. I should have known better.” In a Green Shade (Houghton Mifflin Co. 2000).
Another outstanding American garden writer/author, Elisabeth Sheldon, was even more emphatic: “Who warns people about lily of the valley?” she said. “[It] sends its troops forward underground — under rocks, pathways, and other plants. I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t be stopped by a cement sidewalk, so if you want to grow anything other than lily of the valley in your shade garden, you should never let it get started, no matter how much you love its scent.” A Proper Garden (Stackpole Books 1989).
Lacy and Sheldon: Accomplished, hands-on gardeners and a joy to read.
Both writers are factually correct: Lily of the Valley likes to travel and increase. But plant numbers are depressed now because of climate change, so I welcome the volunteers. (I’m sure the voles also deserve credit for the reduced numbers in my garden — unlike deer, voles never let toxicity get between them and a yummy plant meal.)
On an icy cold day in January — when I was loath to venture out — I decided to finally slog through humongous piles of old garden magazines, a task I’d been avoiding forever. While I was sorely tempted to chuck the whole lot sight unseen, I’m glad I didn’t. It was clear as soon as I started reading: the older the magazine, the more interesting and informative the content. As for example, in a 1999 copy of Garden Design I read that in Israel a professor of plant physiology discovered that a pill would extend the life of cut flowers for a whole week. The name of that magic pill? Would you believe Viagra?
(If anyone is interested in the science, the professor knew that nitric oxide preserves vegetables by blocking production of ethylene, which causes produce to age. When he read that Viagra induces the production of nitric oxide, he decided to experiment. And, as often happens in science, one thing led to another.)
Valentine’s Day is fast approaching. If you intend to give that special someone a bouquet of roses, why not tuck in a Viagra pill. (Best to also tuck in an explanation.)
In addition to reading old garden magazines, I’ve been checking out 2019 mail order garden catalogs. Looks like a very good year for plants. My orders are in and I’ve chosen favorite nurseries and a garden-worthy selection of plants to highlight and share with you:
SELECT SEEDS, www.selectseeds.com, 1-800-684-0395.
When I was searching for an elusive Salvia cultivar, my friend and plant maven, Anne Haines, suggested I contact Select Seeds. I did, they had it, and I’m happy to recommend this excellent, environmentally friendly source. Following are three of Select Seeds’s favorite plants for Hummingbirds, Bees and Butterflies:
Salvia guaranitica (Blue Brazilian Sage) Z. 8-10
Of all the many Salvias offered by Select Seeds, this deep-blue sage is the Hummingbird hands-down favorite — and the plant also attracts butterflies. It can grow 3-6 feet and blooms from mid-summer to frost. According to Salvia guru, Betty Clebsch, author of A Book of Salvias, you may be able to increase S. guaranitica’s winter hardiness by protecting the plant with pine boughs — a method I use successfully with my container roses. Worth a try. Plant in rich, well-drained soil, in sun or part shade with regular water. (Select Seeds also offers the fabulous and hard-to-find Salvias: S. splendens ‘Van Houttei’ and S. x ‘Amistad’; I snatched up both.)
Pycnanthemum muticum (Mountain Mint) Z. 4-8
A magnet for bees, this 1-3-foot spearmint-scented, hardy perennial blooms from July-September with showy silvery white bracts surrounding pink-flowering centers. Grow in sun or part shade in rich, well-drained soil. Mountain Mint is vigorous but not invasive like the mint Mentha. Plant this deer-resistant U.S. native, and bees — our hard-working pollinators — will thank you.
Asclepias incarnata (Swamp Milkweed) Z 3-9
Monarch butterflies voted this U.S. native perennial their number one favorite. Moreover, the plant has numerous additional assets: Pink vanilla-scented flowers form in summer on erect 3-4-foot stems and when the flowers fade, the plant produces attractive seed pods. In the Fall, the leaves turn vibrant autumnal colors. Site in full sun or part shade in moist, well-drained soil. Site carefully because Swamp Milkweed has a deep tap-root and when established should not be disturbed.
BLUESTONE PERENNIALS, bluestoneperennials.com, 1-800-852-5243
Bluestone is one of the few sources — if not the only source — for my treasured Trifolium purpurascens. And their plants are shipped in biodegradable pots which do not have to be removed for planting. A plus for the gardener and less stress for the plants. Below are three plants I chose for my garden:
Trifolium purpurascens (Black Four-Leaf Clover) Z. 5-9
A must-have plant for my garden and a perfect gift for gardening friends as well. Everyone appreciates a little luck, especially now that Mother Nature has become loony and unpredictable. This lucky clover is perfect for containers or as a ground cover, and will flourish in sun or shade.
Astilbe ‘Chocolate Shogun’ Z. 4-8
Lovely pink-blushed flowers in summer and handsome, unique, chocolate-bronze foliage set this Astilbe apart. Shogun, an award-winning native of Japan, requires a moist, shady site. It is deer-resistant, but needs protection from voles.
Sempervivum ‘Pacific Blue Ice’ (Hens and Chicks) Z. 3-8
I love the look of succulents, and Pacific Blue Ice is pretty irresistible with its elegant, icy-blue rosettes. In addition, the plant is evergreen, deer-and-rabbit-resistant, and, when established, tolerant of drought. Provide a sunny site with neutral or alkaline well-drained soil. It will do well in containers or in the ground.
NOTE: Punxsutawney Phil predicts an early Spring. After experiencing the recent polar vortex, I hope we are alive to see it.
Watch for the next post: 2019 Choice Garden Plants Part 2
“There is something healing in the repeated refrains of nature.” Rachel Carson.
A surprising trend is rapidly taking hold in the premier tech enclave of Silicon Valley, California: Parental concern over children becoming addicted to tech devices has resulted in home use restrictions—even total bans—of smart phones, iPads etc. “I’m convinced the devil lives in our phones”, said one techie, “and is wreaking havoc on our children.” And a top tech exec. said of his children’s screen addiction: “On the scale between candy and crack cocaine, it’s closer to crack cocaine.”
Clearly kids need other interesting and healthy diversions. The late British author/garden designer Gertrude Jekyll recommended one close to my heart:
“I rejoice when I see any one, and especially children, inquiring about flowers, and wanting gardens of their own, and carefully working in them. For love of gardening is a seed that once sown never dies, but always grows and grows to an enduring and ever-increasing source of happiness….I hold that the best purpose of a garden is to give delight and to give refreshment of mind, to soothe, to refine, and to lift up the heart.” The Gardener’s Essential (Godine 1986).
I’m also reminded of the words of Maribel P., a fourth grader in an inner city school, who was taking a nature enrichment class: “Sometimes I feel sad,” she said, “and with all the things about plants it makes my day feel better.”
Ditto for me, Maribel.
But I digress. With 2019 almost upon us, I thought a look back might be instructive. Here is a small, diverse sample of plants and highlights from my 2018 garden year:
January-March: Not a big fan of Winter, but in January Mother Nature decorated our kitchen door with wonderful ice art.
April: Spring began with a heavy snowstorm; then a first sighting of our wild turkeys and the lovely early Spring flowering duo: Pieris ‘Valley Valentine’ and evergreen Azalea, Rhododendron ‘White Surprise’.
May: May dazzled with large-leafed Rhododendrons like R. ‘Solidarity’, the signature plant of rareFindnursery, and with our beloved native plant, the Pink Lady’s Slipper Orchid (Cypripedium acaule).
June: Roses owned the month of June, represented here by time-tested, fragrant Rosas ‘Leander’ and ‘Aschermittwoch.’ And we had our first sighting of the garden’s treasured native box turtles.
July/August: Summer bloomers were center stage, especially my favorite Hydrangea, H. x ‘Sweet Chris’ and the very fragrant butterfly/hummingbird magnet, Phlox ‘Laura’.
September\October: This Autumn we reveled in the intoxicating perfume of Osmanthus x fortunei ‘UNC’. (For years my shrubs suffered winter damage and didn’t bloom at all. Maybe our luck has changed for the better.) I wonder if the fragrance lured our shy garden snakes out of hiding.
November: Acer palmatum ‘Aoyagi/ukon’ (Japanese Maple).
December: Miscanthus ‘Morning Light’ was a picture of ghostly white, graceful elegance, and the birds appreciated the abundance of seeds. Good reasons to delay cutting back perennials and grasses until Spring. Moreover, top growth protects a plant’s crown over Winter. Another good reason.
Garden Year 2018: TAKE A BOW!
Wishing you all a wonderful holiday and a Happy, Healthy New Year!
Americans have often experienced green envy when touring gardens across the pond. So I guess the Brits are entitled to bragging rights. Yet, I was a bit surprised when I read these in-your-face assertions made by English author, Penelope Lively:
“I am going to get xenophobic here: we garden rather well. I am tempted to say we garden second to none . . . English gardens do not wear a straitjacket; they are lush, exuberant, expansive . . . We have an immediate advantage: the climate. The temperate climate that means plenty of rain for those lawns, and for everything else, few prolonged extremes of either cold or heat, a long growing period.” LIFE IN THE GARDEN (Viking 2017).
As recently reported by The New York Times, England’s green and pleasant land has turned “brown and brittle”. (The New York Times, 7/5/2018, p. A8.) Britain is now suffering prolonged drought and record high temperatures. (Sorry, Penelope.)
Climate change is real and affects us all. I’m finding it increasingly difficult to perform simple summer garden tasks in the suffocating heat. And temperature extremes exact a brutal toll on the plants.
Now is an ideal time to identify and celebrate time-tested, outstanding garden survivors:
Oxydendrum arboreum (Sourwood) Z 5-9, is a deciduous, native tree, with multi-seasons of interest. In summer it produces cascading sprays of tiny, urn-shape, fragrant white flowers, beloved by bees. The lustrous, dark green leaves turn vibrant shades of red in Autumn. After twenty years my tree is about 25 feet tall. Photos below.
Provide acid, moist, well-drained soil, rich in organic matter. The tree does well in sun or part-shade. Here it receives only a few hours of filtered sun, yet is a reliable bloomer. Thus far, my Sourwood has been pest and disease free and immune to Mother Nature’s insults. A fabulous, easy-care, specimen tree.
I’m also quite taken with the striking, unusual, Asian native deciduous tree, Firmiana simplex (Chinese Parasol Tree) Z 7-9. The Parasol Tree is a stand-out with enormous, tropical-like leaves and green bark. Photo below.
It blooms in summer with clusters of small yellow-green flowers on showy, long panicles at the ends of branches. When the flowers age and produce seed in late summer, the tree reveals the reason for its common name: the papery seed-covers separate and drape over the seeds like tiny umbrellas (parasols).
Chinese Parasol Trees can be successfully grown in a variety of soils and in sun or shade. Mine has been healthy for 10 years in acid soil and in shade. But it has never bloomed. Moreover, while Firmiana can attain a height of 40 feet my tree is only about 3 feet and doesn’t seem inclined to grow any higher. Methinks it needs sun for growth and bloom. Act accordingly if you are into tall and parasols.
One more thing: It is believed that the mythical Chinese Phoenix Bird, feng huang, perches on the Firmiana tree.This extraordinary bird symbolizes unity and harmony — male-female, yin-yang — as well as goodness and justice. And it sings like an angel.
Provide the perch and the bird may come.
HUH??? Was Mother Nature a bit tipsy when she was staging Spring? (April photo below.)
She took three weeks to sober up before forsythia — the official herald of Spring — finally burst into bloom. (Photo below.)
Prunus ‘Snow Fountain,’ my ethereal and fragrant weeping cherry tree, also flowers in April and has been problem free and a reliable Spring bloomer for over 25 years. An ideal addition for a white garden– or any garden. (Photo below.)
Ditto for the Prunus glandulosa ‘Alba Plena’ (Dwarf Flowering Almond) that I purchased last year. Alba Plena, a small, multi-stemmed, deciduous shrub, survived the horrific winter without damage and then cloaked itself in showy, double white Spring blossoms. (Photo below.)
I’m aware that P. glandulosa has been called “a very poor plant” because it doesn’t play Mozart in all seasons. Actually, I’m quite partial to plants that possess multi-seasons of interest. But I’m a pushover for exceptional flowering beauty, especially in the early Spring when it is so appreciated. (And P. glandulosa is one tough, hardy plant. I’m sorry to report that a few of those Mozart players did not survive the winter.)
Talk about exceptional flowering beauty, this Spring I was seduced by the bi-color, fragrant bloom of the Annual Nemesia ‘Cherry Blue’. Couldn’t resist the razzle-dazzle. Perfect in a pot. (Photo below.)
Finally, when making plant decisions for my garden — including additions and subtractions — I’m ever mindful of the words of one of my favorite garden writers, Elizabeth Lawrence:
“A pomegranate tree was one of the first plants to come into my garden…and it was one of the first to go, for I could never find a place where the burning scarlet of the flowers was not at war with its surroundings.
Now I often wish I had kept the pomegranate and let everything else go. I have nothing to match its beauty and brilliance in flower and fruit.”
Through The Garden Gate (1990)
NEWS ALERT: The Environmental Protection Agency’s Scott Pruitt should be shown the door — or, these days, shown the tweet. In addition to having a history of ethically questionable conduct, including misuse of public funds, we now learn that Pruitt has accepted a financial benefit (bribe?) from a lobbyist. Isn’t that a fatal no-no? Even in Trumpville?
Not that we can expect any Pruitt replacement to protect the environment. (See post, Jan.\Feb. 2018: “Toxic Chemical Alert”). A recent appointee to EPA’s Scientific Advisory Board actually said that our air is “too clean.”
All the more reason for us to hug a tree. Trees inhale toxic carbon dioxide and exhale life-supporting oxygen. As Peter Wohlleben observed in The Hidden Life of Trees: “Every walk in the forest is like taking a shower in oxygen.” Moreover, in the home garden, trees provide needed shade and a habitat for songbirds and other wildlife. They also endow the garden with a sense of permanence, beauty, and ofttimes fragrance.
In this post I’d like to focus on one of my favorite “Peelers” — an interesting tree with exfoliating bark and multi-seasons of interest — that has been problem-free in my organic garden for over twenty years:
Clethra barbinervis (Zones 5-8) is a deciduous tree, native to Japan and a kissin’ cousin of our native shrub, Clethra alnifolia. While not as well known as C. alnifolia, this showy, 10-20 foot, deer-resistant beauty deserves our attention. C. barbinervis has dark green, trouble-free foliage and abundant racemes of fragrant, snowy white flowers in July and August. The tree is a reliable bloomer; the fragrance is carried on the air and attracts bees, butterflies, and me.
When the flowers fade, attractive seed capsules are produced and persist until frost. My tree’s foliage never displays Fall color, though the garden literature speaks of it. But the mottled, exfoliating bark is handsome year round. (Photo below of bark, foliage, and flowers.)
Provide acid, well-drained, moist, rich soil. A shady site is best. Avoid dry areas; water during drought.
Finally, if anyone gardens in Zones 9-10, you can grow the extraordinary, ne plus ultra exfoliating tree, Eucalyptus deglupta (Rainbow Eucalyptus). (Photo below).
UPDATE April 13, 2018: Corrupt Scott Pruitt is still on the job at the Environmental Protection Agency. Hurry up and pay your Federal income tax: Pruitt wants your hard-earned dollars to support his in-your-face opulent lifestyle—first class plane tickets, deluxe hotels here and abroad, expensive five course dinners in Italy for him and 6 of his Agency pals, etc. etc. etc. All on the public dime. He is a National disgrace!
President Lyndon Johnson once said: “A man’s judgment is no better than his information.” True enough. Unfortunately, in Washington D.C., bad judgment often prevails despite good information.
In the 2017 November/December issue of The American Gardener, Scott Aker recommended killing bindweed with an herbicide containing glyphosate, a toxic chemical known to have a probable link to cancer.
[Scott Aker is the federal bureaucrat, who, in 2010, proposed killing the entire historic collection of beautiful Glenn Dale azaleas at the U.S. National Arboretum. He said the azalea display was too popular and caused parking problems. (I wonder what was next on his list? The Lincoln Memorial?). Public outrage rightly put an end to the Aker plan.]
Aker is now head of horticulture and education at the National Arboretum–which operates under the jurisdiction and control of the United States Department of Agriculture (U.S.D.A.). Perhaps that explains his unfortunate embrace of glyphosate:
By executive order, President Trump mandated a widespread government deregulation review. A top official at the U.S.D.A., Rebeckah Adcock, is currently leading that Department’s “deregulation team.” Adcock was previously employed as an executive and lobbyist for CropLife America, the pesticide industry’s primary trade group. CropLife has a vested interest in promoting pesticides and deregulation—i.e., an interest in the removal of pesticide-restrictive health and safety regulatory protections. And, as reported by The New York Times, Adcock is playing footsie with her old pals: (“At the U.S.D.A., Pesticide Lobbyists Encounter a Welcome Mat,” The New York Times, November 14, 2017, p. B1.). Republicans have applauded the deregulation teams for their “unprecedented reduction in the federal regulatory footprint.”
Note: As for Scott Aker, Monsanto, the producer of Roundup—arguably the best-selling herbicide containing cancer-linked glyphosate—is a member of CropLife. Connect the dots and close the circle.
The situation at the United States Environmental Protection Agency (E.P.A.) is even more dire. President Trump choose Scott Pruitt to head up the Agency. When Pruitt was the Oklahoma attorney general, he sued the E.P.A. at least 14 times in an attempt to block public-interest rules he is now in charge of enforcing.
Pruitt has not disappointed the President: Since he took office, “he has held back to-back meetings, briefing sessions and speaking engagements almost daily with top corporate executives and lobbyists from all the major economic sectors that he regulates—and almost no meetings with environmental groups or consumer or public health advocates.” ( The New York Times, October 3, 2017, p. A1.)
No surprise that the Pruitt E.P.A. will likely act in favor of industry and against the public interest, endangering the environment and American lives. And it has. Consider the Agency’s review of the toxic pesticide chlorpyrifos—produced by Dow—which is one of a class of chemicals developed to attack the nervous system. Much like sarin gas.
Almost twenty years ago, based on scientific evidence linking chlorpyrifos with severe human health problems—especially with children— it was banned for inside use. Since that time, because of the results of the E.P.A.’s own studies as well as other compelling scientific evidence, E.P.A. scientists determined that there must be a total ban of chlorpyrifos. This determination enjoyed considerable public support: The American Academy of Pediatrics, for example, declared the pesticide “unambiguously dangerous” and called for its ban.
Scott Pruitt thought otherwise. Result: Dow: ONE. Public Health: ZERO.
Just one day after Pruitt overruled his own scientists and refused to ban chlorpyrifos, representatives of CropLife America met with him to “acknowledge the many actions taken already to correct recent regulatory overreach.” (Yes, Dow is also a member of CropLife.)
As long as pesticide producers reap billions in profits, they will saturate the market with toxic products that threaten wildlife, domestic pets, and beneficial insects—not to mention beneficial family members. The current Administration will not protect us. Until there is a change in Washington D.C., we can at least do everything within our control to protect ourselves. In the wonderful book, “The Sweet Apple Gardening Book,” Celestine Sibley said it best:
“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, repay the kindness of my invaluable friends, the birds, with a case of acute gastritis and possibly even jeopardize the health and well-being of those great gardening assistants, my grandchildren.”
“Orchids are among the best liars on earth,” declared orchid guru Judy White in a recent issue of The American Gardener. “They have developed an arsenal of seduction mechanisms,” she explained, “aimed at attracting — and often hoodwinking — pollinators . . . . These deceptions frequently are one-way streets when it comes to reward.” The orchid is fertilized “while the duped pollinator gets nothing in return.”
Sound familiar? As evidenced by The New York Times, President Trump is a card-carrying member of the Best Liars Club. (The New York Times, “Trump’s Lies,” June 23, 2017, updated December 14, 2017.) He can teach orchids a thing or two. In addition to the lies, almost every day we suffer the trashing of essential protections by an Administration reeking with corrupt ambition and unbridled greed. Drain the Swamp? Make America Great Again? Really??? Haven’t we been duped like the unfortunate folks who signed up for the phony Trump University?
It’s enough to make one very cranky.
Yet, if we can’t have the White House we wish for — where is Aaron Sorkin when you really need him? — we can always look to the garden for comfort. As a garden writer once said: “The whole garden seems one loud voice of exultant hope.” So, let’s talk time-tested worthy plants for 2018:
Flowering Rhododendron shrubs add beauty and distinction to a garden. Moreover, they are remarkably self-reliant. The plant pictured below lost a huge branch during a horrific storm but soon produced others that flowered after a few seasons. Don’t ever give up on your Rhododendrons. They know how to survive.
Some are better than others at survival. Rhododendron ‘Koromo Shikibu’, an evergreen azalea, not only thrives but expands under adverse weather conditions — often at the expense of its neighbors. Although Koromo may prefer taking over half a garden to express itself, it won’t hold a grudge when subjected to yearly hard-pruning. Photo below of the exquisite flowers. (Note: Some claim the flowers are fragrant. My plants are not fragrant, nor are the plants in the many gardens I’ve visited.)
Trees are also self-reliant. Punch a hole in a tree trunk and it will repair itself. Photo below. (Using tar, etc. to cover the hole is no longer advised as it hinders the tree’s recovery. Don’t help — just stand back and admire.) For tree huggers everywhere, I recommend the fascinating, informed book by Peter Wohlleben: The Hidden Life of TREES.
If you adopt a few Digitalis plants, they will seed themselves, and the progeny of these stately foxgloves will grace your garden forever. The bees will thank you. Photos below of D. grandiflora and D. ferruginea.
Finally, let’s not forget the birds. They appreciate berry producing shrubs like the Berberis thunbergii pictured below. This bird-favorite, easy-care, thorny barberry is deer-resistant, tolerates shade, and, in addition to providing autumn interest, produces lovely primrose yellow flowers in Spring.
Have hope — 2018 is but a shiver away. Think plants — and midterm elections!
Wishing you and yours a New Year as fabulous as a Flamboyance of Flamingos!
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.)
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.)
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.)
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.)
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).
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.
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)
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)
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)
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.)
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.)
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?
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)
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.
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.)
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)
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.)
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).]
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.
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.
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.