Articles for the Month of March 2010

Goodbye Oak

Two Pin Oaks shade the deck

We planted two Pin Oaks (Quercus palustris) on the side of the deck when we built it about 30 years ago.  The intent was shade and shielding from the driveway and garage.  We chose Pin Oaks for their deep tap root and compatibility with house and driveway.  Mostly that has worked out to be a good choice.  Although they are much taller than we ever imagined in our youthful enthusiasm.  But last year we noticed that the smaller of the two trees had a lot of dead branches.  When we looked into it the verdict was that it was most likely oak decline without much prospect that it would get any better over time.   So we decided to bite the bullet and take the tree out.

We were somewhat nervous about this because, in addition to possible damage to the house, there were lots of plantings nearby, including our favorite daphne and an unusually fragrant azalea, Rhododendron ‘Visco Sepala’.

Next to the pin oak are many little specimen plants

However, our tree guy, the brother of a close family friend, said that he could remove it without any ancillary damage so we went ahead this week.  If you undertake to remove a tree this large next to the house you better have someone who knows what they are doing.  And Mike certainly was up to the job.

Mike strips the tree at the top

Even in my best days as a young man I could not have managed the one-handed chainsaw operation that I saw Mike engaged in.  My arm muscles ached just watching.

One hand for the chainsaw

Meanwhile, down below his partner Sam gathered falling pieces and began cutting them up further.

Down below Sam gathered the pieces

It looks like it would be very easy to lose track of which branch the safety harness is attached to.

Mike spread-eagled from branch to branch

I think that it took them about 2 1/2 hours to transform the deck to a one oak platform.

Now just one oak covers the deck

And other than a gentle sawdust mulch there was no damage to anything surrounding the oak, including the volunteer dogwood that had grown up behind it.

Nothing else at all harmed in cutting down the oak

And all that is left to testify to the pin oak’s existence is a stump which will become a potted plant platform and some of the biggest fireplace logs that I’ve yet encountered on our property.

The remains of the oak

Meanwhile, I was busy with another removal project next to the woods.  The previous owner had built a little cow/chicken shed but had only placed it on a limited brick foundation and it rotted off years ago.  I bashed it in with the tractor and hauled a lot off two years ago, but quite a bit of junk remained and the brush and vines had grown up around it.  So took tractor, chain saw and mower to hand and cleaned most of the remaining junk out.

Getting rid of the last of the shed

The goal is not only to get rid of the unsightly junk pile but to make a little grove of Wild Cherry (Prunus avium) and Green Ash (Fraxinus pennsylvanica) that we can mow around until we decide what to do next in that area.

Making a Cherry/Ash grove

One challenge was the Russian Olive (Elaeagnus angustifolia) that was well entangled in the one corner of the grove.

Pruning back the Russian Olive (Elaeagnus angustifolia)

It really can’t decide whether to grow as a tree or a shrub but I think with some careful pruning we should be able to keep it more willow-like in appearance.  I do like the fragrance in the early spring.

The remainder of the shed was carted off to the dump.  But because much of the shed material was throughly rotted I think we will be encountering roofing materials and plywood pieces for years.  And there is still a slab of concrete that formed part of the structure.  The concrete won’t be going anywhere soon.

Goodbye shed

And on a more constructive note we were not just tearing things down this week.  I also planted a replacement for the Coral Bark Maple that the Deer destroyed last year.

The new Acer palmatum 'Sango Kaku'

I opted for a bigger one, hoping they would not choose to repeat the process.  I had never before seen them disturb a Japanese Maple.

We put it in the logical place to sit down and admire it at the end of the day (were we sit down and admire kind of people …).

Relaxation at the end of the day

Hello Adonis

Adonis amurensis (unusual cultivar)

I first encountered the Adonis at a meeting of the North American Rock Garden Society in Reston last year.  Asiatica Nursery was exhibiting plants for sale at the meeting and I saw these pretty little giant yellow buttercups for sale.  I know that little and giant don’t go together but they were big for buttercups.  At $20 a pop I decided there other things I needed more.  But after the meeting, as I began to read about these little gems, my gardener’s lust began to grow.  So I ended up ordering two and paying for shipping as well.  When they arrived they looked fine but the only buds fell off before they bloomed and then the plants kind of faded away.  So I thought that I had failed in some way, but I reserved the space to try again this year.  And I did place an order with Asiatica in January.  So I was a bit surprised and quite pleased when I saw the Adonis emerging this year.  I was even more pleased when the flower actually opened because it is definitely a distinctively different and very pretty double flower.

Adonis side view

The new arrivals for planting this year look nothing like this one.  They are much more like the enhanced buttercups that I was expecting.  After looking around the web and getting amazed at the variety in the Adonis that are grown in Europe and Japan, my current thesis is that this one must have been mislabeled when it was shipped to me last year from Asiatica.  It looks very much like the variety ‘Sandanzaki’ that they are selling this year.  The clincher would be if the center of the flower opens yellow as it continues to unfold.  In any case it’s a beauty and we will hope for vigorous expansion.

It’s a little surprising to me that the Adonis is so little used and rather hard to find.  There may be other mail order sources in the U.S. besides Asiatica but I don’t know of any.  If you want to see them in profusion this is the ideal time to visit Winterthur in Delaware where the Adonis are a lovely part of the March Bank.

Adonis on the March Bank in March 2009

There is an awful lot happening outside right now, but it is hard not to pay some attention to the Clivia that is bursting forth in the house.

Kaffir lily (Clivia miniata)

This is a very mature plant that badly needs to be divided (I say this every year).  It is putting out four such flowering stalks at the moment.

On the outside there is really too much to relate in a single post.  I will share some of the pictures of things that have caught my fancy but, all in all it’s a splendid time of year.  There are the new arrivals, courtesy of Christmas gifts from the kids.

Primula kisonana

This one is said to spread by underground stolons.  I say go for it…

Then there is the miracle plant.  The Oconee Bells (Shortia galicifolia) were lost from the botanic world for 88 years after they were originally discovered in 1788.  The tale of their rediscovery makes very interesting reading.  This is another spring ephemeral but with interesting foliage as well.

Oconee Bells (Shortia galicifolia)

The Bloodroot have been having a field day at the foot of the Pin oak.

A cluster of happy bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis)

So far, none of the multiflowered Bloodroot’s purchased from last year have poked their heads out of the ground.

The Daphne is fully in bloom.

Daphne (Daphne odora 'Aureomarginata) fully in bloom

It is hard not to walk past without stopping to smell those flowers.

And then let me close with the Star Magnolia.

Star Magnolia (Magolia stellata)

I submitted the opening bud phase as my contribution to the March GGW photo contest.  So it’s only fair that I display the resulting flower as well.  Also a lovely scent I might add.


Dicentra spectabilis 'Alba' emerging

It is literally on the first day of spring that I am responding to the call for entries for the Gardening Gone Wild March photo contest.  Saxon Holt, co-author of The American Meadow Garden will be the judge.  The theme is ‘Awakening’ and that is so appropriate to what is happening all around us.  We’ve had weather in the 70’s and that has accelerated a spring that was long overdue.  A week of warm dry weather has even allowed me to till the garden and plant the peas today.  So yes, the spring is upon the land and things are waking up.  But which things to choose for the photo contest contribution.  Ah, there’s the question.  The little bleeding hearts at the top of the page struck me as almost like little people waving at the sky saying, “Look at me, look at me”.  But enough with these celery stalk wannabes.  I didn’t choose them.

There were also many little flowers like the ones I posted this morning.  One of the nicest for representing ‘Awakening’ was this Winter Aconite.

Winter Aconite (Eranthis hyemalis) opening up

This flower almost has a double meaning for the ‘Awakening’ theme.  Both for the season and for the daily opening of the flower in the morning.

Another candidate was this Tree Peony unraveling its bud.

Tree Peony bud opening up

The complexity of the bud as it wakes to the spring is marvelous.  And just a hint of what is to come in the flower.

The final candidate is the Star Magnolia which, as always, is a star of the show for this season.  It is waking up hour by hour right now and the tree cannot wait to share it’s flowery show.

Star Magnolia (Magnolia stellata) awakening

Shh, I think we caught the bud in the act of praying to the sky for more sunshine…

This will be my entry for the March contest.  Go to the GGW site to see other March photos.

Sometimes it’s the Little Things

Narcissus 'Little Gem'

Paeonia mlokosewitschii at Sissinghurst

The daffodils are coming and lighting up the woods and hillside.  For us the first real display begins with the clusters of ‘Little Gem’ along the woodland path.  But along with these striking harbingers of the colorful flower displays yet to come are numerous tiny gems that are the delight of going outside in the spring.  Some are the flowers themselves and some are just the emergence of plants that you weren’t sure were still alive or had forgotten about.  Two years ago we saw some lovely Paeonia mlokosewitschii (often referred to as Molly the Witch) plants at Sissinghurst in England.

Last year I put in three very tiny Molly the Witch Peony seedlings from Seneca Hill Perennials (I notice they are sold out already for this year).  And two have come up very nicely this past week.

Molly the Witch emerging (Paeonia mlokosewitschii)

Nearby was the first flowering of the Jeffersonia that was a Christmas/birthday gift from the kids last year.

Asian Twinleaf (Jeffersonia dubia)

This is the Korean relative of the native twinleaf.  Both are to be treasured.

And literally right beside the Twinleaf is a little Hepatica seedling with intense purple color.  Both are tiny and flower almost as they come out of the ground.

Hepatica nobilis 'Lithuanian blue'

You have to go down to the ground to really appreciate the Hepaticas.  Sort of like Epimediums in that respect.  But they are flowers worthy of closer examination.

Hepatica asiatica var. japonica (single purple)

And out in the woods again is a little cluster of the Scilla bifolia that seem be thriving in the woodland environment.

Scilla bifolia 'Rosea' in the woods

Absolutely everywhere, in the yard and in the pasture, are Glory of the Snow.

Glory of the Snow (Chionodoxa forbesii)

They are also worthy of closer examination.

Chionodoxa detail

Less common is the pink variety, but I’ve put a few clusters of those in as well.

Chionodoxa forbesii 'Pink Giant'

The first of many bloodroot are emerging from the raised bed at the back deck.  This colony prospers underneath the giant pin oak.

First Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis)

Another new little flower for us is a western version of the trout lilies that abound at our back deck.

Trout lily (Erythronium tuolumnese)

This one has clear green foliage and fully open and standup yellow flowers.  I had put some in the woods last year, but I think the deer ate them all.  It’s about two weeks earlier than the standard Erythronium americanum.  I’ve them put in next to the American Holly in the yard and we shall see if they chooses to colonize there.

I’ve focussed on the little plants above. But there is a slightly larger but charming new plant for us blooming at the back fence. It is a pretty white Iris Japonica that is probably blooming prematurely because I brought it back from Plant Delights in North Carolina.

Iris japonica 'Wuhan Angel'

Garden Blogger’s Bloom Day March 2010

Dwarf Iris (Iris histroides) 'George'

Well, it’s Garden Blogger’s Bloom Day for March.  In the custom established by May Dreams Gardens I surveyed the hilltop today to see what might be in bloom.  Since I went over many of the blooming plants in yesterday’s post I will only describe the additions.  We have had 3 days of incessant rain so there haven’t been that many more plants coming into bloom in the last couple of days.  Walking around our sponge-like grass I did find a few — like the little Dwarf Iris pictured above.  This was one of last December’s plantings.  I was glad to see its startling purple color because two of its neighbors were dug up and then discarded.  I’ve seen that happen even with Daffodils where the animals don’t really want to eat what they find but the dig it up nonetheless.  Just imagine what that flower would look like in the sunshine.

Because we had to replace our water heater I needed to move a couple of the plants out of the basement earlier than usual.  One was this beautiful Star Jasmine.

Star Jasmine (Jasminum multiflorum)

The fragrance is everything that you would expect from a Jasmine.  The overall plant exceeds my ability to lift so that each year becomes a little more trying for moving it in and out of the basement.  I’ll watch the nightly lows and take it back in again if need be but it should be good down to 25 degrees.

Lastly, the fall blooming Camellia Sasanqua is still putting out blooms at every given opportunity.

Camellia sasanqua still blooming

What a wonderful long-blooming plant.

I should mention that the first Daffodil also bloomed on the hillside but my faithful companion picked it before I could get a good picture.  So we are enjoying its fragrance and color on the inside…

Returning to Spring

Winter Aconite 'Eranthis Hyemalis' detail

I returned to Maryland late Wednesday night and on Thursday morning made a thorough tour of our hilltop.  It’s amazing what a week of warming temperatures can do.  I found many bulbs popping out and green growth everywhere.  When I left for Florida there were still patches of snow a foot deep and by Thursday only a tiny bit remained.  The Winter Aconite are always the first to really display their talents.

A nest of Winter Aconite

The original 5 bulbs continue to expand slowly and for a couple of weeks they are a cheery sight when you turn into the driveway.  Gradually they have been naturalizing in other parts of the yard.  This year I found yet another volunteer in a completely separate part of the yard.

Winter Aconite naturalizing into other garden beds

They are far from invasive and I welcome each little flower that I see.

Of course Crocus are also appearing in various parts of the yard – just the species types and not the big hybrids yet.

Crocus opening

It looks to me that are multiplying in the places where I manage to avoid prematurely mowing the foliage.

Crocus multiplying

The Snowdrops are continuing but now their distinctive green markings are more visible.

Snowdrop (Galanthus nivalis) with distinctive green markings

It’s incredible that they have been in bloom since early January.

It was delightful to discover that the first of the Primulas is also in bloom.  We have several small patches of Primula vulgaris that we planted after seeing them in the wild in England.  One little plant under the apple tree seems to be ahead of the others.

Primula vulgaris under the Apple tree

I took a little walk down through the woods, not really expecting to see much yet.  But, much to my pleasure, there is a little patch of what I think must be Scilla siberica in bloom.

Scilla siberica 'Alba' in woods

This is always a delightful experience.  To discover that which I must have planted but have no memory of at all.  Maybe that’s what my garden year is — just creating surprises for myself for the years to come.

I noticed that the Hellebores are not quite in bloom yet, but they are exotic in the way that they emerge from the ground with big buds that are beautiful all on their own.

Hellebore emerging

Similarly the Drumstick Primrose are coming back from last year and they make an interesting image as they emerge.

Primula denticulata emerging

I planted a couple of the plants that I brought back from Plant Delights before the rains came upon us.  One was this Helleborus hybrid ‘Green Corsican’.

Helleborus x nigercors 'HGC Green Corsican'

And then as I looked at a nearby planting spot I ran into one of the dangers of planting at this time of year.

A perfect planting spot under the Crepe Myrtle

As I mentioned earlier one of the delights of spring gardening is discovering something that you had forgotten that you had planted.  Another pleasure is discovering that a plant you had given up on was nonetheless coming out of the ground.  So it was in this case.  I had given up on the Adonis from last year because the plant disappeared so quickly after planting last year.  My reason told me that it was just plain PDP (prematurely dead plant).  But my hopes kept me returning to the spot to see if by chance something would come up anyway.  Well, I had given up and with trowel in hand I approached the spot and to my amazement saw the emerging Adonis.

Adonis amurensis emerging

So, no flower yet.  But I am hopeful that this may yet be the perfect spot for spring Adonis blooms.  And a cautionary tale for withholding that springtime trowel.

Goodbye Sarasota

Larger than life figures on the Sarasota waterfront

One more baseball game today then heading home to assess the progress of springtime there.  In the meantime I’ve been keeping my little treasures from Plant Delights happy in the motel room here.

Watering the plants as they travel

For those who have asked, the set of new acquisitions include

A Yellow-eyed grass,  four unusual Hellebores, 2 small Ranuculus, a hardy Rosemary, Corydalis ‘Blackberry Wine’, a very frizzy Lady Fern, False Freesia, Iris unguicularis, a startlingly pretty Acanthus mollis with gold edges, a hardy orchid Calanthe ‘Kozu Spice’, Iris Japonica ‘Wuhan Angel, Gladiolus ‘Priscilla’, 2 new Euphorbias, and a very pretty little dwarf Calamint.  Also there is a three gallon Daphne odora that jumped into the car at the last minute…

A Visit to Plant Delights

Helleborus x hybridus 'Heronswood Yellow w/red spot'

On my way to spring training I was able to stop at Plant Delights in North Carolina during one of their open house days.  It was a real treat to make my first visit there (I’m sure there will be others in the future).  The place is well named as it caters to the people who are delighted in the rare and unusual in the gardening world.  Part of what makes both the online presence and the actual place enjoyable is the personality of the owner, Tony Avent, whom I bumped into as I toured the grounds.  His enthusiasm for gardening bubbles over into his descriptions and interpretations of plant characteristics.  I noted that he seemed to push the boundaries of what could be growing in North Carolina and he responded that when he had failures he would go back and find another plant “higher on the mountain”, looking for the individual specimens that would survive.  In other words, a lot of intelligent experimentation.

The garden was open for touring but not a lot had come into flower yet because of the cold weather.   I saw a flowering cherry and camellias, but what particularly caught my eye was this Algerian Iris.

Algerian Iris (Iris unguicularius)

Very pretty and early -flowering to boot.

The garden was interesting for it’s winding paths which are heavily mulched and water features.

Garden pathways

Everything (and I mean everything) was labeled.  A lot seems to have been planted relatively recently but there were some really nice specimens like this Japanese Crepe Myrtle with cinnamon-colored bark.

Lagerstromia fauriei 'Townhouse'

The plants for sale were headlined by the Hellebores that were at their peak, with many interesting varieties to whet a gardener’s appetite.

Hellebores for sale

I came back with four new varieties but left this lovely double for the future.

Helleborus x hybridus 'Mardi Gras Double White'

There were a great many other interesting plants on display, including shade lovers, sun lovers, hardy and not-so-hardy, all of them carefully labeled with descriptions.  I think about seven greenhouses in all that were open to the public, though there are a great many more in production.

Row of greenhouses at Plant Delights

I spent about four hours going over the choices but could easily have spent longer.  As it was I came away with 18 tiny treasures that represent things that I either knew that I needed before I came or didn’t know that I needed until I came to Plant Delights  🙂

Garden treasures from my visit