Archive | 2018

2018 Unspooled: A Year In the Garden

“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.

copyright 2018 – Lois Sheinfeld


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’.

copyright 2018 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2018 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2018 – Lois Sheinfeld


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).

copyright 2018 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2018 – Lois Sheinfeld


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.

copyright 2018 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2018 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2018 – Lois Sheinfeld


July/August: Summer bloomers were center stage, especially my favorite Hydrangea, H. x ‘Sweet Chris’ and the very fragrant butterfly/hummingbird magnet, Phlox ‘Laura’.

copyright 2018 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2018 – Lois Sheinfeld


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.

copyright 2018 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2018 – Lois Sheinfeld


November: Acer palmatum ‘Aoyagi/ukon’ (Japanese Maple).

copyright 2018 – Lois Sheinfeld


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.

copyright 2018 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2018 – Lois Sheinfeld


Garden Year 2018: TAKE A BOW!

copyright 2018 – Jessica Amsterdam

Wishing you all a wonderful holiday and a Happy, Healthy New Year! 

November 2018: Rhododendrons

Wow! I was reading an illustrated article about the gardens at Winterthur when I turned a page and there, strutting her stuff, was one of my favorite plants: Rhododendron ‘Winterthur-Dexter #7’. Quite a beauty! (“Azaleas and Rhododendrons at Winterthur,” JARS Vol.72, Number 4, Fall 2018, pp. 179, 180.)

A beauty with a history: Acquired in the 1930’s by H.F. du Pont for his private estate at Winterthur, #7 arrived in a flat of unnamed seedlings from acclaimed plant breeder Charles O. Dexter. The seedlings were tagged with numbers and in 2004 a cutting of #7 was acquired by me at a Rhododendron Convention plant sale. It took a long time to mature and bloom but worth the wait. Photos below. (For more information about Dexter, Winterthur and #7, see post of “June 2016: Rhododendron Razzle Dazzle”.)

copyright 2018 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2018 – Lois Sheinfeld


R. ‘Mount Siga’ is another prized Rhododendron with an interesting provenance. Joseph Gable propagated the plant from wild seed collected in China in 1929 and introduced it into commerce in 1979. I purchased a small plant in 2006 from Rarefind Nursery and it bloomed the following year. Flowering at a young age is not its only asset. My mature Mount Siga is a winter-hardy (-10 F), disease-free, handsome, impressive, 6-foot mound-like shrub. The large-leafed foliage is evergreen and the pink flowers in May are abundant and exquisite. Truly a plant with four seasons of interest. Photos below.

copyright 2018 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2018 – Lois Sheinfeld


[Note: While choice Rhododendrons like #7 and Mount Siga are currently difficult to find in commerce, they may turn up at Rhododendron and Azalea Society Chapter plant sales. And there will be a plant sale at the 2019 ARS Convention; I’m told that the final plant list for the sale may be available in March.]

March 2019 Addendum:  I’m now informed the list will be available April 1.


This Fall a number of my Spring-blooming Rhododendrons have been duped into bloom by warm weather, compromising Spring flowering. Worse still, if dormancy is delayed, it may affect the hardiness and health of plants like the evergreen Azalea, Rhododendron ‘Chipmunk.’ Photos below.

copyright 2018 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2018 – Lois Sheinfeld


Many broad-leafed evergreens, like Rhododendrons, are not entirely photoperiodic — i.e., dependent on shorter days to trigger dormancy. These plants are also sensitive to temperature change. (Yet, an alternative theory, proposed  anonymously, suggests that R. ‘Chipmunk’ et al. force their buds to open in the Fall because they suffer from green envy. Well, my evergreen Azaleas R. ‘Marshy Point’s Humdinger’, R. Bloom-a-Thon Pink Double, and the Encore Azalea R. Autumn Sunburst (aka R.’Roblet’) are bred to bloom in Spring and Fall — and they do tend to flaunt it.)

In the past I’ve planted an army of Encore Azaleas. None survived their first winter. So I’m happy to report that this is Encore Azalea Autumn Sunburst’s third year in the garden. The Azalea is winter-hardy (Zones 6-9) and it’s a reliable bloomer, producing yummy coral-pink flowers in Spring and Fall. An Encore I can safely recommend. Photo below.

copyright 2018 – Lois Sheinfeld


Finally, we will be celebrating Thanksgiving next week. Here is my I’M THANKFUL SHORT LIST:

I’m thankful for my family.

I’m thankful for my organic garden and the wildlife it supports. (Except for voles and ticks. A pox on them!)

I’m thankful that the Democrats won the House. (A good beginning. A very good beginning.)


Autumn 2018: Showy Variegated Grasses

Louis Pasteur once said: “Chance favors only the prepared mind.”

This is as true for gardeners as it is for scientists. I’m constantly finding wonderful gifts from Mother Nature, volunteer plants like Japanese Maples, Weigelas, Hydrangeas and Magnolias, and I try to be “prepared” in order to avoid yanking out the good guys along with undesirable weeds.

Recently, though, I was stumped by an interesting grass-like volunteer growing in a large container of clematis. It had multiple stems ending in a starburst of foliage centered with a cluster of spikelets. I liked it a lot and transferred it to a pot of its own. Photo below.

copyright – Lois Sheinfeld 2018

Then I sent off a photo to The Cornell Cooperative Extension requesting an identification. The plant’s ID, Yellow Nutsedge, arrived with a warning: “Yellow Nutsedge will spread readily by seed . . . you might want to cull this plant!” And my go-to reference book on grasses and sedges agreed, calling Yellow Nutsedge (Cyperus esculentus) an “infamous” and “pernicious weed.” So much for a pretty face!


I do grow two showy, variegated grasses with stellar reputations and I’m happy to recommend them:

Arundo donax ‘Variegata’ (Zones 6-10) is a hardy, compact, deer-resistant, green and white boldly striped form of Giant Reed Grass. Photos below.

copyright – Lois Sheinfeld 2018

copyright – Lois Sheinfeld 2018

In my garden, Zone 7, it dies back in winter and returns in the Spring. It has never flowered for me and since it doesn’t set seed it is not invasive like the standard form of Giant Reed Grass. While it has been said that Variegata requires sun, my plant flourishes in shade. This Autumn it’s been embraced by a volunteer pink-eyed aster, enhancing the garden presence of both. Photo below.

copyright – Lois Sheinfeld 2018


Miscanthus sinensis ‘Morning Light’ (Japanese Silver Grass. Zones 5-9) is a hardy, deer-resistant, silvery, shimmering, award-winning fountain of elegance. In the Fall, Morning Light produces abundant, pink, tassel-like flowers and thereafter plumes of white seed heads that last well into winter. In the Spring, my plant has to be cut back close to the ground to make way for the new growth. Photos below.

copyright – Lois Sheinfeld 2018

copyright – Lois Sheinfeld 2018

copyright – Lois Sheinfeld 2018


I have been delighted to find a number of Morning Light’s progeny popping up in the garden.

2018: Late Summer Interest

Late summer is prime bloom time for Rose-of-Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus zones 5-8). My hardy shrubs are beloved by bees and hummingbirds and flower from early August thru September in varying shades of white, pink and purple. They never disappoint. Photo below.

copyright — Lois Sheinfeld 2018


Would that I could say the same for the beautiful begonias I wrote about in June. Pounding, torrential downpours in August wreaked havoc on them. So, for late summer interest, I’ve identified a sturdy, intrepid, time-tested plant that has withstood Mother Nature’s assaults and can be successfully grown in a container or in the ground:

Hylotelephium telephium ssp. ruprechtii ‘Hab Gray’ (aka Sedum telephium ssp. ruprechtii ‘Hab Grey’)  Quite a mouthful. It must have been a slow day in taxonomy land when the plant was christened. Defined by all that hoity-toity Latin, one might expect a demanding, pampered aristocrat. Hab Gray is anything but.

This hardy herbaceous perennial has showy, succulent, gray-green foliage adorning 12-14 inch pink stems, and in late summer produces dense clusters of small, white, star-like flowers, magnets for butterflies and bees. Photos below.

copyright — Lois Sheinfeld 2018

copyright — Lois Sheinfeld 2018

copyright — Lois Sheinfeld 2018

Hab Gray is drought tolerant and will succeed in zones 4-8 in well-drained, low-fertile soil. My plant has flourished for 15 years in an outdoor container. At the onset of winter, I cover the plant with conifer branches and store it under an outdoor bench until Spring. In the ground, it’s an ideal plant for a rock garden or for the front of the border.

Finally, Hab Gray has an additional asset: A detached leaf rooted in soil will form a new plant — perfect for gifts, garden club plant sales or classroom/home projects with children.


Toxic Chemical Update: A recent study has found elevated levels of the cancer-linked herbicide glyphosate in 31 tested samples of breakfast food, including Cheerios and Quaker Oats. (A study last year also reported a link between glyphosate and liver disease.)

No surprise that Monsanto—the producer of Roundup, the most popular herbicide containing glyphosate –and the manufacturers of the tainted cereal say that their products meet federal standards and the glyphosate in the food does not exceed levels set by the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). That’s a joke. This is the very same Trump EPA that is trashing all reasonable and essential health and safety regulations and standards in the name of deregulation in favor of Big Business. (See post, “Jan/Feb. 2018: Toxic Chemical Alert”).

I no more trust Trump’s EPA than I trust Monsanto. Besides, a pox on EPA’s acceptable levels of poison! I don’t want to eat ANY toxic glyphosate. Or feed it to my family. Or feed it to anyone else for that matter.

Maybe that’s just me.

2018: Resplendent Trees & Climate Change

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.

copyright – Lois Sheinfeld 2018

copyright – Lois Sheinfeld 2018


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.

copyright – Lois Sheinfeld 2018

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.

June\July 2018: Begonias & Rhododendrons

Next time you eat in a restaurant and indulge in a calorie-laden rich desert, blame it on the music. Studies now show that loud music compels us to make unhealthy food choices. We gravitate toward healthier items when the music volume is low.

In the garden, you don’t need the right music to make smart choices.

It was a piece of cake to fill the garden’s outdoor seasonal containers: I simply adopted a bevy of healthy, showy, long-blooming Begonias:

I found the perfect apricot-pink flowered, dark-leafed beauty for my favorite pot. (Alas, no name-tag.) Photos below.

copyright 2018 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2018 – Lois Sheinfeld


A fixed container on the front door stair landing was paired with a handsome selection of orange tuberous begonias. (Also nameless.) Photos below.

copyright 2018 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2018 – Lois Sheinfeld


And a large container in the back-garden dazzles with the tried-and-true, award-winning Begonia ‘Encanto Orange’. Photo below.

copyright 2018 – Lois Sheinfeld

Begonias appreciate compost-rich soil, shade, and, if it doesn’t rain, weekly watering.

My go-to sources for Begonias are Marders Garden Center, Bridgehampton, NY and Halsey Farm & Nursery, Watermill, NY.


In the Fall, I wrote about another wonderful shade lover, Rhododendron Bloom-A-Thon Pink Double. (See post “Autumn 2017: Snap, Crackle, and Pop”.) This hardy evergreen azalea bloomed in October 2017, survived the horrific winter, and rebloomed this June. A star performer. June Photo below.

copyright 2018 – Lois Sheinfeld


I purchased Bloom-A-Thon Pink Double from Rarefind Nursery in Jackson, NJ. And I scored again in 2018 with their luscious offering, the evergreen azalea R. ‘Mrs. Nancy Dipple’. Finally! Nancy is mine! It’s been over ten years since I first saw her on a garden tour and added her to my wish list. Photo below.

copyright 2018 – Lois Sheinfeld


Rhododendron, R. makinoi, is an outstanding evergreen shrub for a shade garden. It is slow growing to 3 feet with a dense, rounded habit. Included among its many assets are unusual long narrow leaves arranged like the ribs of an umbrella, April/May white flowers opening from pink buds, and, in July, new foliage that emerges cloaked with white tomentum. (By late summer, the plant flaunts its evergreen dark-green foliage with tawny indumentum.) And did I mention R. makinoi’s essential attributes of winter hardiness and good health? Photos below. (Purchased years ago from Rarefind.)

copyright 2018 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2018 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2018 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2018 – Lois Sheinfeld

All of the above are healthy choices. Indulge away!


ADDENDUM June 22: Just got word from Marders, the apricot-pink Begonia, featured above in my favorite pot, is called Unstoppable Salmon.

Early Spring 2018: A Vision in White

HUH??? Was Mother Nature a bit tipsy when she was staging Spring? (April photo below.)

copyright 2018 – Lois Sheinfeld


She took three weeks to sober up before forsythia — the official herald of Spring — finally burst into bloom.  (Photo below.)

copyright 2018 – Lois Sheinfeld


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.)

copyright 2018 – Lois Sheinfeld


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.)

copyright 2018 – Lois Sheinfeld

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.)

copyright 2018 – Lois Sheinfeld


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)

April 2018: Trees, Trees, Wonderful Trees

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.)


copyright 2018 – Lois Sheinfeld

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).

copyright 2018 – Jessica Amsterdam


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!

March 2018: Helleborus and Naming Names.

Dear Reader,

I had knee replacement surgery in February. Recovery has been slow but sure. Sort of like the garden slowly but surely shedding the last insults of Winter.

Looking forward to April!

Until then, thought you might enjoy this March 2012 post about Helleborus and Naming Names:

Helleborus and Naming Names

Big surprise! February wasn’t the “cruellest” month, not even close. (See “Birds” (February 2012.) And now that March has arrived, Spring is just a shiver away. Let’s talk plants:

These days you can’t open a nursery catalog without seeing scores of new hellebores. Breeders have gone overboard,  producing double flowers, multicolored flowers, speckled flowers and all sorts of combinations. You name it, they’ve got it.

And the plant photos are spectacular. Which is all well and good if you are gardening in a catalog. In a garden, most of the flowers are so hangdog you can’t appreciate their beauty without first getting down on your hands and knees in order to lift their heads for a peek. I don’t know about you, but since my knees suffered through two bouts of Lyme Disease (ticks 2, Lois o) I might  be able to get down, but I sure as blazes can’t get back up.

But all is not lost. There is a fella I know (and grow), Helleborus ‘Ivory Prince’, who isn’t at all shy and downcast. With sturdy stems, lovely outward facing white flowers with streaks of pink and green, and blue-green foliage, he’s my kind of guy.

Ditto for H. ‘HGC Josef Lemper’, similarly endowed and possessing even larger white flowers that fade to a light green. I saw this robust hellebore featured in the Linden Hill Gardens’ exhibit at the 2012 Plant-O-Rama held at Brooklyn Botanic Garden. The folks at Linden Hill told me that the plant blooms for them in Bucks County, PA, from November to May. Wow! The real Josef Lemper must be quite something.

Or, maybe not.

Breeders name plants for all sorts of reasons. Some auction off naming rights to the highest bidder and others, like Dr. Griffith Buck, the famed rose hybridizer, named plants after friends. But as Dr. Buck discovered, it didn’t always work out. One friend refused the honor because she didn’t want to hear:  “Fleeta has a weak neck, Fleeta wilts, Fleeta fades”. (Fleeta had a point.)

The most famous name-caller of all was the Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus, who, in the 18th century, devised an entirely new classification procedure for plants, the Linnaean binomial system of nomenclature, which is the basis of our modern method. As aptly stated in an informative article  by Kennedy Warne, founding editor of New Zealand Geographic, “Carl Linnaeus, born 300 years ago, brought order to nature’s blooming, buzzing confusion.”  (Warne, “Organization Man,” Smithsonian magazine, May 2007).

Linnaeus took advantage of his position as namer-in-chief to honor those he liked and to belittle those he didn’t. As for example, he “rewarded” one of his critics by naming a smelly weed after him. He didn’t always play nice.

(But he was quite interesting. Many of his lectures were nature studies held outdoors, walking through fields with hundreds of participants —  joyous, educational social gatherings replete with colorful banners and the jubilant sounds of trumpets, bugles and horns. Linnaeus styled these events, “inquisitions of the pastures”. Unfortunately, too much of a good thing for some. “We Swedes are a serious and slow-witted people”, protested the rector of Uppsala University. “We cannot, like others, unite the pleasurable and fun with the serious and useful”.)

In the 2012 plant catalogs, plant names are followed by plant descriptions, but I don’t think we are getting the whole story — at least not where hellebores are concerned. I much prefer John Gerard’s popular Herball of 1597, because he paid attention to the “vertues”of plants. Accordingly, hellebores were recommended “for mad men”, “for melancholy,” and “for dull persons.”

In other words, it’s a great plant if you are crazy, depressed or dull. Useful information.

Hellebores prefer a sweet (alkaline) soil. So, if your soil is acidic, amend with lime, or even better, wood-ash, in order to raise the ph. Provide some shade and moisture and you are good to go. (Note: Wood-ash from the fireplace also benefits other sweet-soil lovers like lilacs and peonies).

Finally, naming names isn’t limited to plants, and Linnaeus isn’t the only name-calling meanie. On a visit to the zoo, we saw a sign on a bear’s enclosure that said “Ursus horribilis”. Now, how do you suppose the bear felt? Maybe it says “Beautiful Bear” on his side of the fence, but I doubt it. (And his common name, Grizzly, isn’t much better!).

Postscript: Just read in the New York Times (3/6/2012, p.D.3) that, like me, the 5,300 year old Tyrolean Iceman had bad knees, and like me, researchers suspect that he had Lyme Disease. Wonder what he thought about hellebores.

Jan./Feb. 2018: Toxic Chemical Alert

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.