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Collecting Rocks

Pink Marble Rock showing lots of white

One thing that a rock garden needs is rocks, so I am always in the market for interesting rocks.  When the local chapter of the North American Rock Garden Society said it was planning a trip to a local quarry to harvest rocks, I was all for it.  Especially on Inauguration Day when I wanted some productive distraction.

It was a rainy overcast day which didn’t help the aspect of driving into the quarry which is almost canyon-like after years of harvesting rock.  Despite the mud and wet, cold weather it’s actually a very beautiful place which you would never see unless you were part of a similar expedition.

Entering the Quarry

The slope was steep enough that having my wheelbarrow was less use than I expected, unless you are accustomed to pushing up 30 degree slopes.

Lot’s of Rocks but on a steep hill for getting them out

The most desirable rock was (of course) at the bottom of the hill.

The beautiful pink marble was near the bottom of the hill

By the time I got each individual rock up to the truck I was huffing and puffing like a steam engine.  Nonetheless they were worth the effort.

Pink Marble Rock

I had two concerns that limited my collecting efforts.  One, the sheer physical difficulty, and then two, the fact that the truck was parked on a steep muddy hill and whether I would be able to get it out again.

Cars were parked at the bottom of a muddy road.

Truck wishing it was 4-wheel drive

Turn-around spot was a mud-hole

However, I did manage to get out with only a mild amount of wheel spinning.

Some of the rocks had beautiful crystalline structure.

Rock showing lots of calcite crystals

And one very special rock up at the office illustrated what limestone can do.

Complex limestone formation

In the end I only brought home about a dozen rocks but they are beautiful and I’m sure they will find a place in our gardens.

Rock harvest

If the club runs a similar field trip in the future I am ready to sign up for a repeat visit.

 

A Spectacular Carolina Weekend

Crepe Myrtles define the entrance

Crepe Myrtles define the entrance to JC Raulston

We just spent a marvelous weekend in Raleigh, North Carolina in an escape from the last snowstorm (I hope) to hit Maryland this year.  We had planned this weekend for a visit to the North Carolina nurseries but when a significant snowstorm threatened for last Thursday, we decided to skip town on Wednesday and I’m glad we did.  It gave us an extra day to visit nurseries and gardens in the ‘Triangle’ area.  Even four days is not sufficient to see all that this area offers to plant lovers.  There are three major gardens in Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill and we went to each.

Sarah P. Duke Gardens at Duke University in Durham is what I would characterize as a display garden.  It’s well funded and beautiful and has lots of examples of how to make a dramatic landscape.

Broad Allée with Winterberry on edges

Broad Allée with Winterberry on edges

It had many lovely individual plants including this daphne which illustrated how daphnes want to look in the wintertime as opposed to the burned leaves on ours.

Daphne getting ready for bloom

Daphne getting ready for bloom

The North Carolina Botanical Garden in Chapel Hill also appears to have a lot of financial backing and it’s focus seems to be well-coupled to the University’s effort to encourage the use of native plants.

North Carolina Botanical Garden

North Carolina Botanical Garden

It’s set next to woodland trails and seems to get a lot of visitors for that reason.

But our favorite was the JC Raulston Arboretum in Raleigh.  This is a plantsman’s paradise.  Many examples of exotic and unusual plants from all over the world including this dwarf Dawn Redwood.

Metasequoia glyptostroboides 'Schirrmann's Nordlicht'

Metasequoia glyptostroboides ‘Schirrmann’s Nordlicht’

It was still a little early in the season for any of these gardens but the Ralston captured our hearts.

One of the ulterior motives for this particular weekend was to attend an An Evening with the Plant Explorers at the JC Ralston.  This was a wonderful event with 4 1/2 hours of tales of plant exploring mixed in with socializing and plant auctions.  Anyone who thinks Latin is a dead language needs to attend one of these events.  The plant auction was particularly interesting because it was often for plants that had been part of the explorers’ talks.

Plant auction

Plant auction

In particular we were taken by a marvelous Einkianthus, the likes of which we had never encountered.

Einkianthus description

Einkianthus description

Einkianthus quinqueflorus

Einkianthus quinqueflorus

Well, in the end this was our take-home plant from the auction…

The other main component of the weekend was visiting nurseries.  First and foremost was Plant Delights (which has a bonus of a very nice garden as well).  As usual we found many wonderful plants that jumped into our car.

Plant Delights collection

Plant Delights collection

There were three crates like this one that we brought home including many new hellebores.

And then we went out to Pine Knot Farms where the focus is hellebores.

Pine Knot Farms

Pine Knot Farms

And we came away with even more hellebores as well as multiple cyclamen from John Lonsdale and a Mahonia confuse ‘Narihira’ (which we had seen at Raulson) and Edgeworthia chrysantha from Superior Plants.

Edgeworthia chrysantha

Edgeworthia chrysantha

John Lonsdale says that Edgeworthia survives for him in Pennsylvania so I have high hopes for it in Maryland.

Lastly we stopped at Camellia Forest and picked up four new camellias and two exquisite miniature Rhododendrons.

Rhododendron indicum 'Kokinsai'

Rhododendron indicum ‘Kokinsai’

Altogether a wonderful weekend, and by the time we arrived back home the spring was waiting for us…

Chinese Witch Hazel (Hamamelis mollis)

Chinese Witch Hazel (Hamamelis mollis)

Hamamelis × intermedia 'Diane'

Hamamelis × intermedia ‘Diane’

Adonis amurensis

Adonis amurensis

Let me close with one more shot of that Einkianthus which I hope will be with us for a long time…

Einkianthus quinqueflorus

Einkianthus quinqueflorus

A Primula Arrives Early to the Party

Primula allionii 'Wharfdale Ling' peeking out

Primula allionii ‘Wharfdale Ling’ peeking out

I was surprised to see a glint of color in the Alpine bed yesterday.  Indeed it was actually a first flower from the exquisite little Primula allionii ‘Wharfdale Ling’.  This tiny little primula species is relatively rare in the wild but has been widely propagated and hybridized because of the size and beauty of the flowers for such a small plant.  Jim Jermyn has a great write-up on this species and its natural growing conditions.  I’ve just finished my seed order for the Scottish Rock Garden Society seed exchange and I’ve included a different Primula allionii selection on my list.  This one has the honor of being the first plant to flower in the new alpine bed — months ahead of time.

Early blossom on Primula allionii 'Wharfdale Ling'

Early blossom on Primula allionii ‘Wharfdale Ling’

It’s been generally a great week for gardening.  Crisp mornings but sunny afternoons.  I spent this afternoon cleaning the moss off of pots in the greenhouse.  But not before noting that yet another oxalis species had come into flower.

Oxalis densa

Oxalis densa

Notice the little hairy leaves.  The oxalis are all so different.  The buds on these are yet another distinctive image — I need to get a picture.  Back to the moss, it  had really built up on some of the small bulb pots.  As it turns out when you use a gravel top dressing the moss just lifts out taking the some of the old gravel with it and doesn’t disturb the underlying bulbs.  And then you just replace the gravel.

We took off one day on an excursion looking at garden art at Alden Farms and the unusual plants at Susanna Farms.  Many of the items at Susanna Farms were landscaping specimens beyond our price range, but we did come back with two very nice additions.

Rhododendron nakaharai 'Pink ES'

Rhododendron nakaharai ‘Pink ES’

The fall coloring is just great on this prostrate rhodie.  It will be interesting to see how it flowers out in the spring.  It’s said the flowers appear at nearly the end of the rhododendron season which would make them very late indeed.

Crytomeria japonica 'Little Diamond'

Crytomeria japonica ‘Little Diamond’

We have always liked Cryptomeria.  Our biggest one is 30-40 feet high at the back of the yard.  This one should stay within the 2-3 ft range.

The garden art visit was equally fun.  We met David Therriault, stone designer and walked through his sculptures.  He works mostly with salvaged materials and repurposes them into artwork.  We saw several pieces that we liked (it’s Beth’s birthday present), but the one which was our favorite seemed to large for the new garden that we’ve built this fall.  However, when we came home it seemed like it could fit after all.  To check our perceptions I photoshopped a copy of the sculpture into place, and indeed, we think it fits.

Garden without totem

Garden without totem

 

Garden with Totem

Garden with Totem

This is all part of our growing love for stone of all sorts.  We went to the local stone dealer yesterday and came home with some very pretty pieces from their loose rubble.  It’s like buying plants except you don’t have to water them…

Stone with character

Stone with character

Silverlake strip

Silverlake strip

Emmitsburg-Brown

Emmitsburg-Brown

Trough update

Large Trough at end of July

Large Trough at end of July

Two months ago I planted two troughs and set out a number of alpine plants that I had been harboring this year.  I thought it might be useful just to touch bases with the plants after two months of growing in their new conditions.  The troughs are set in sunny locations and have received larger than normal rainfall over this period.  I have supplement with the hose only a couple of times.

The current state of the Large Trough is shown here.

Large Trough on Aug 4th

Large Trough on Aug 4th

This can be compared with the original planting.

Large Trough w- names

Large Trough w- names

What immediately stands out is the Boechera koehleri which took off like a rocket.  This is a relatively rare rock cress from Northern California but it has totally exceeded the bounds of the trough and I’ve since shifted it to its own pot.  Interestingly when I pulled it out the roots were relatively well behaved.  I had planted several other instances of the plant around the yard and none of the others showed more than 10% of the growth of this specimen.  The two losses were both Saxifrages, one paniculata and the other unknown in the tufa.  My guess is that it was too much sun for the paniculata.  Most of the other plants have done pretty well.  The Daphne looks very happy and the Delosperma is spreading nicely.  The Lewisia tweedyi is one I’m keeping my eye on, hoping that it makes through to next year.

For the small trough that I planted at the same time the comparison is as follows.

Small Trough on August 4th

Small Trough on August 4th

The original planting looked like

Small Trough w- names

Small Trough w- names

The position of this trough gets a little more shade than the large trough but it’s still pretty sunny.  The Silene caroliana grew so rapidly that I had to take it out.  I then put in a small primula that did not succeed.  The Saxifraga growing in the Tufa is the only other failure in this trough.  Everyone else is prospering.  Here is the Silene now ensconced in the front garden.

Silene caroliniana

Silene caroliniana

It’s interesting to note that the tufa plants have not succeeded all.  In principal the tufa should work well in the trough but it may be that it’s too sunny for the Saxifragas.

The longer term plan for more environmental opportunities for the alpines is the new alpine bed that I’ve built next to the greenhouse.

Alpine Bed by Greenhouse

Alpine Bed by Greenhouse

This has been a pretty labor intensive effort and I’m not done yet.  Just digging a trench and then laying the block was testing my muscle development, but then you have to fill the bed after building the bed.  I began by adding topsoil to bring the level up to about a foot short of the top.

Filling bottom of the alpine bed with topsoil

Filling bottom of the alpine bed with topsoil

Alpine bed ready for alpine soil mix

Alpine bed ready for alpine soil mix

 

Then, to do the remainder of the fill, I bought a cement mixer.  Cement mixer for blending ingredientsTo gain some sense of what’s involved, 1 foot deep by 14 feet long by 3 feet wide amounts to 42 cubic feet.  That is roughly 4000 pounds of soil mix.  Mixing it by hand just didn’t seem to make sense.  I used a formula of 1 part small gravel (starter grit), 1 part larger gravel (developer grit), 1 part topsoil, 1 part miracle gro potting soil, and 1/2 part garden sand.

Resulting alpine soil mix

Resulting alpine soil mix

This particular bed is on the shade side of the greenhouse so I think the Saxifragas should be happy when this is done.

 

 

Shepherd House Garden

My impression of the Meadow at Shepherd House Garden

My impression of the meadow at Shepherd House Garden

One of the special memories that we brought back from our June visit to Scotland was an afternoon spent at Shepherd House Garden in the small village of Inveresk, just outside of Edinburgh.  This is a small private garden that sparkles with personality.  Every aspect shows the care and attention that Charles and Ann Fraser have invested over the years.

Shepherd House Garden, one of the outstanding private gardens in Scotland

Shepherd House Garden, one of the outstanding private gardens in Scotland

This garden is intensive

This garden is intensive

Gardens Provide a Setting in Which Pigeons Appear as Doves

Gardens Provide a Setting in Which Pigeons Appear as Doves

Garden Art

Garden Art

Corydalis flexuosa

Corydalis flexuosa

We were fortunate to have Charles walk about in the garden with us as we toured the different garden ‘rooms’ within the 17th century walls.  They have about an acre over all but it is intensively gardened so that it seems even larger as I look back on my pictures.  Every year they take on another project to enhance their landscape, from the stone-walled potting shed to the artistic stone bench.

hings like the stone-built potting shed are examples of the yearly projects the Frasers take on. Note the green roof.

Things like the stone-built potting shed are examples of the yearly projects the Frasers take on. Note the green roof.

Another artistic garden project

Another artistic garden project

Ann Fraser's approach to a tree coming down

Ann Fraser’s approach to a tree coming down

A classic water feature

A classic water feature

Meadow Garden

Meadow Garden

Meadow Garden looking toward house

Meadow Garden looking toward house

Garden Alley

Garden Alley

If you find yourself anywhere near Shepherd House Garden you need to add it to your itinerary.  Bear in mind that it is only open for limited times each week andIt would be best to check with their website directly.

A Post-Sandy Posting

50 year-old pine tree uprooted the deer fence

It has been almost 2 weeks since Hurricane Sandy ripped through a good part of the east coast, including our little hillside.  Given the difficulties that many have faced with loss of homes and struggles for power and services our own difficulties pale in comparison.  Nonetheless there has been an impact.  Not the least of which was the loss of internet for 5 days, which slowed my abilities to report on the storm, but it was compounded by viral bronchial infection that hit both of us — hard — for about 10 days.  Fortunately the good folks at Comcast came through in the end and a local contractor repaired the roof damage very quickly.  Also, thanks to Chris and Kevin, the same young guys that installed our deer fence, we have the deer fence intact again.

We were without power for only about 4 1/2 hours when the storm first hit.  And given the way the trees were uprooted along our street it could have been much worse.

About 100 yds along our road a fallen tree in the forest knocked out power and internet cables

We live about 1 mile from the Monocacy River and the state highway bridge across the river was really not far above the water.

Monocacy River was well over its banks

In addition to the 50 year-old pine in our neighbor’s yard that came down in the storm without hitting either house, we lost the 35 year-old sugar maple that has regularly been a feature of our comments on fall color.

Sugar Maple toppled by the storm

Numerous white pines in the forest and pasture were felled or broken off halfway up by the storm.

Fallen Giants

Fallen White Pines in the windbreak

Many breaks were halfway up the tree

Losing these trees along the windbreak gives one a whole different impression about what the descriptor ‘windbreak’ might really mean.  All the white pines were planted back in 1976 from seedling trees from the Maryland Forest Service.

On the good side of the ledger the greenhouse, newly constructed, withstood the storm with flying colors.  We are beginning to feel healthy again.  The repairs have been made.  We have a new semi-shade garden spot where the neighboring pine used to starve other plants for light and water.

Restored Deer Fence

And some more firewood…

Remains of Sugar Maple

The fall, despite the storm, remains remarkably mild.  I have seen viburnum and azaleas beginning to flower.  Even the spring blooming camellias are beginning to put out blossoms.

Double Camellia showing spring bloom

And the Geranium hybrid ‘Rozanne’ is just a non-stop flowering wonder…

Geranium ‘Rozanne’

And with that I will close just counting our blessings, including four more years with president who doesn’t believe that 47% of the population can be dismissed just because they weren’t born into wealth…

 

Washington Gardener Magazine Photo Contest

Saturday afternoon found me at Brookside Gardens in Rockville, Maryland at the seed exchange sponsored by Washington Gardener’s Magazine.  I was there not for the seed exchange but for the results of the photo contest which I had entered a few weeks ago.  The challenge was to submit your best pictures from 2011 in four categories with the resultant winners to be published in the magazine.  As it turned out I won first place in the Garden Vignette category for my photo of an illuminated watering can

Watering Can First Prize Winner

And in addition I picked up an honorable mention in the Garden Creatures category for my photo of a blue-winged wasp from last July.

Blue-winged Wasp Honorable Mention

Actually the most rewarding part was reviewing all my gardening pictures for the year and thereby whetting my appetite for all those flowers and associated creatures that will be arriving in 2012.  In addition to appearing in the magazine the photos will also be on display in Silver Spring for a couple of months and I’ll share that information when it becomes available.

I took advantage of the trip down Rockville to do a little garden exploring at Brookside.  They have a lot of snowdrops in bloom right now (some in an interesting green and white ivy) and a few early daffodils.  Unfortunately they still have a lot of trees and bushes wrapped in Christmas lights which detracts from wanting to photograph the winter forms of the bushes and trees.  However, I did see a lovely little Japanese Flowering Apricot in bloom.

Japanese Flowering Apricot (Prunus mume) 'Kobai'

The flowers are small but very pretty up close.  There was also a spectacular hybrid Witchhazel with vivid orange coloring to the petals.

Witchhazel (Hamamelis x intermedia) 'Orange Peel'

As I walked around this small (about 50 acres) but well cared for garden I was reminded once again how much this is a community garden, one which strives to inspire and be a part of the surrounding neighborhood.  There are many walkers and joggers who look like they use the garden on a regular basis.  And for those of us who are less often there, the pathways and views provide ample reason to return again…

Brookside Gardens

 

Mid-Winter Transitions

Beth tilling our new garden in 1976

This winter is cause to take note of this old photo of a very pregnant Beth demonstrating her best one handed tilling technique with what was our most expensive purchase at the time, outside of car and house.  In the background is our neighbor’s house and along the fence line he had grapevines against a wire fence with metal posts.  And the pine trees in the picture were our neighbor’s as well — there was very little planted on our part of the hill, though you can see the deep trench where I was putting in asparagus.

Moving forward 35 years to last spring and you can see that a substantial crop of weed trees and vines grew up over time in addition to our garden crops.

Garlic row with Weedy boundary fence

Strawberry bed with boundary weeds in the background

When our neighbor’s husband passed away, the vines and trees simply flourished and the grapes went wild.  I had put in a deer fence with double height T-bar posts and they ended up falling over into my neighbor’s grapes.  Some of the weed trees were 15-20 feet tall and were the only thing holding up the fence.  With the collapsing fence it no longer stopped the deer and I was getting really discouraged about the deer situation in general.  They started eating our 35 year old blueberry bushes for the first time in Nov and Dec and for several years they have frustrated my attempts to start a new orchard.  This week I discovered the biggest of the new trees has just about been girdled by deer.

Deer damage on Apple tree

We have finally come to the conclusion that the years of coexistence on the hill are at an end.  The only way to garden here is to exclude the deer.  And to exclude the deer we had to begin with the mess on the side of the garden.  Fortunately a few things conspired to help.  We found two willing and able workers who have greatly magnified my effectiveness, the weather has been great,  and we’ve finally come up with a concept that will at least give us a start at excluding the deer from a lot of the area where grow valuable plants. When done (hopefully within the next month) we will have about 3/4 of an acre fenced in protecting the blueberries, the lilies, the azaleas, the tulips, etc. while still leaving the orchard protection as a future task.  In just the last week and a half we now have a totally cleared boundary for the garden with split rail fencing installed, deer posts in, and weed fabric laid down.  It’s been a really satisfying way to start the season.

New split rail and deer fence

They even preserved my neighbor’s grape vines

Neighboring 35 year-old grape vines

In fact it went so well that we decided to eliminate some additional sources of vines and extend the split rail/deer fence concept up the side yard.

Continuing the split rail

Others might enjoy skiing but I’m finding this a really delightful way to spend the winter.

It’s partly been made possible by sunny weather that is also moving the plants along ahead of schedule.  The Winter Aconite are just about ready to pop.

Winter Aconite (Eranthis hyemalis) ready to open

The Anemone Coronaria, which has not flowered since it was planted in 2009, is looking beautiful in bud.

Anemone coronaria 'Governor' in bud

Heck, the bud is so pretty I will make do with that…

And the Lungwort is already showing color.

Lungwort (Pulmonaria officinalis) in bud

Hey, life is good…