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Seattle Fling 2011

Garden bloggers meet in Seattle in 2011

Weeds – An Appreciation

Purple vetch

Purple vetch

I’ve learned a lot about weeds over the decades, but I was never given the ominous warning “one year of seed, seven years of weed” until last year. I think every novice gardener should be given a t-shirt with this bit of wisdom. On the other hand that bit of wisdom might be too discouraging for a beginner.

The truth is that if you are a gardener, you will have weeds. All kinds of weeds, and all are fascinating in their own right.

Bedstraw

Bedstraw, Galium

Today I was trying to weed around the Rose Walk. The weeds here are very familiar to me. First there is the prettiest weed, galium or bedstraw. When I first noticed this weed many years ago I thought it was so pretty coming up in the middle of a rose bush that I hardly bothered to pull it out. I thought it turned the whole rose bush into a bouquet, like adding a bit of baby’s breath, gypsophilia, to a handful of flowers. Unfortunately, the variety of galium growing in my garden, Galium mollugo, has invaded thousands of acres of pastures and hayfields and been an enormous problem for farmers.      In spite of the legend that Galium aparine was in the manger where the Christ Child was laid on Christmas, leading to the name Lady’s bedstraw, cows won’t eat this bedstraw. Do not be seduced by the delicacy of the foliage and flowers; galium is a bad weed.

Another pretty weed is purple vetch. Vetch in my garden is fighting with the bedstraw on the Daylily Bank, right next to the Rose Bank. Purple vetch, like the galium has long loose stems with tendrils and fine foliage that will climb up and through other plants. I have to find an end of a vetch vine, and plow my way down the stem, through the heavy daylily foliage until I can put it out by the root. If I don’t weed it out, the whole daylily bank will be covered with a purple haze of the flowers – and then the seed pods will drop hundreds more seeds into the soil.

Less pretty is the stinging nettle, Urtica dioica. Children who spend any time in a garden learn to identify stinging nettles pretty quick. Every part of the stinging nettle plant has tiny hairs that are like little hypodermic needles that release a venom into your skin. The sting will vary in intensity person to person.

Stinging nettles

Stinging Nettles, Urtica

Curly dock

Curly dock

A traditional soothing agent is the crushed leaves of curled (or curly) dock, Rumex crispus, which often grows near nettles. I can testify that curled dock does indeed grow near nettles in my garden. Dock is tall, about four or five feet, with narrow lanced shaped leaves, large at the base and smaller near the top. It took me a long time to recognize that the upright spike sections were made of scores of tiny flowers. There are many surprises when you really get to know your weeds.

Nettles are easy to pull out of the ground when wearing gloves, but dock is something else. The roots are tenacious and greenish-brown stems are very fibrous requiring a garden clippers to cut.

Nettles sting, but burdock grabs you and won’t let go. The burrs on burdock are one of the ways Mother Nature make sure seeds are carried hither and yon. You don’t have to be a gardener to recognize burdock. These weeds are everywhere.

Purslane, Portulaca oleracea, is one of the commonest weeds in the vegetable garden. I can never rid my Herb Bed of purslane. When I read Charles Dudley Warner’s delightful and humorous book My Summer in a Garden about the trials and tribulations of a vegetable gardener, I echoed his complaints about “pussley” which was the scourge the garden. Purslane is a succulent weed that creeps along the ground that produces tiny white flowers that will quickly turn to seed. But I have found that if I leave the tiniest bit of root or a leaf of purslane in my soil it will never be eradicated.

Ralph Waldo Emerson once said that “a weed is just a plant whose virtues have not been discovered.”  According to that definition most of these plants are  not weeds because generations of gardeners, herbalists and apothecaries have found them useful and full of virtue.

Galium aparine has been used in spring drinks to purify the blood for centuries, and treated skin complaints including psoriasis. Its been used as a diuretic and as a remedy for scalds and burns – as well as many other medical problems. Dock shares many medicinal properties with Galium aparine.

Nettles were once used to make linen even as late at World War I when many materials were in short supply. Dried nettles and nettle seed have been used as feed or cows, horses and birds. They have numerous medicinal properties, treating conditions as different as arthritis and migraines. Nettles have also been used for nutritious soup or in puddings. Purslane, too, is edible and nutritious, but has fewer medicinal uses.

Burdock is a big imposing plant each part has been used medicinally. Decoctions of the seeds are said to improve the skin, bruised leaves will soothe various bruises, swellings and even gout. In the Middle Ages burdock leaves macerated in wine were considered a cure for leprosy. The roots are still used as a vegetable, most frequently in Japan.

That leaves us with the pretty and useless vetch. Do not eat it. It is toxic.

Useful or not, all the weeds I have pulled or dug these past few days have been dumped in the weed pile.

Visitors to the Last Rose Viewing at the End of Knott Rd in Heath on Sunday, June 27 from 1-4 pm will surely find more weeds, but we can celebrate everything – summer, roses and weeds.

Between the Rows  June 28, 2015

 

Hellstrip – or Curbside Garden

Carload of plants
Carload of plants including divisions from Heath Garden to Greenfield

Now that I have planted Greenfield hellstrip I can make the official announcement: we are the proud owners of a small house with a small yard in Greenfield. The house has garden space on the south side and a rectangular back yard, but there is only a small front yard plus a hellstrip, which a polite person might call a curbside garden. Once it is planted.

The house does come with a few small plantings of lovely perennials, but essentially we are being given a blank slate to design a whole new garden. Where to begin?

I don’t know about you, but when I am in a new space, even a temporary motel room on vacation, I have the need to mark my space. The result in a motel room can be pretty messy, but the result in a new house is achieved differently. For example, the living room and dining room in the new house were respectively bright yellow and sage-y green. Perfectly fine colors. Was I happy? No.

So to mark my space I enlisted a young friend to help me paint those two rooms. Eva painted the living room a slightly different shade of sage-y green, very similar to our Heath living room, while I painted the dining room a glowing peach color. When I look into that room I feel like the sun is shining even when it is not. I have marked my space and the house begins to feel like home.

The yard is small compared to the cultivated landscape around the Heath house, but it is still too large to handle without a lot of thought and lots of work. I needed a small space to help me mark this landscape as my own. The hellstrip was the answer.

Hellstrip begins
Hellstrip begins

Here in the countryside we don’t have hellstrips, but they are very common in urban areas. The area between the roadway and the sidewalk often officially belongs to the town. Trees on the hellstrip are usually the town responsibility. It is unrealistic to think that a town administration can care for all these spaces and most of them remain grass, mowed by the homeowner.

Over the past few years, however, I have noticed that some home owners have taken ownership of the hellstrips and turned them into curbside gardens. Some of them have tough low groundcovers with a few flowers, and some have riotous displays. Last summer Timber Press sent me a new book to review, Hellstrip Gardening: Create a paradise between the sidewalk and the curb. This is a comprehensive book that includes inspiring gardens in different climes, how to handle difficult situations from road maintenance to laws and covenants, how to choose plants and reduce your labor, as well as a list of “curbside worthy plants.”

I turned to this book for a refresher course and set to work. To say I started with a plan would be inaccurate, but I am happy with what I have done so far.

My hellstrip was all grass. I asked my husband to zip it down to the soil with a weed wacker. Then we took turns digging out the sod. We did this by stages, and of course, I neglected to take a before photo before we began. However, I am sure you all know what a grassy hellstrip looks like.

I dug up the first three foot section at both ends of the hellstrip, dug in some good compost and planted white astilbes and Stella d’Oro daylilies dug up from the front yard. Since these plants were dug, and replanted within minutes they suffered very little shock and I do not think I have lost any bloom.

Hellstrip
Hellstrip planting continues on both ends

My husband looked at these two plantings and reminded me that they shouldn’t be too symmetrical. He knows me so well. When I dug the next section I planted clumps of a chrysanthemum and bee balm from Heath as well as the annual Salvia Hot Lips when has already brought a little color to the strip.

More digging, removing sod and incorporating compost before more planting. This time I added daylilies, yarrow and cone flowers from Heath, more astilbe and an aster from the Bridge of Flowers Plant Sale.

I am not quite done planting. I need to pick up some new daylilies from the local Silver Garden Daylilies, and see what else I can bring from my own garden to finish. Please notice that many of these plants will support the pollinator population with their nectar and pollen. All will be cut down in the fall. Any plowed snow that is pushed on them will do no harm.

Hellstrip
Hellstrip – almost done

My new curbside garden has two sections. The third section is an extension of the walkway from the side walk to the porch steps. That will provide a path for the passenger from a car parking right in front of the house. I will have to think of a way to keep it weed free. Peastone?  Wood chips? Big paving stone? That will require more thought.

So here we are, just a month into our new ownership and I feel I have marked our space. In the past when I have moved I have felt that if I had a few pots and pans and a box of books easily accessible I would feel comfortable and able to operate. This move has required more. Pots and pans, and boxes of books are already in place. Two rooms are painted with my own chosen colors.

Now the bit of (almost) finished garden in front of the house marks my outside space and makes me comfortable, but it also tells my neighbors, who we are slowly meeting, something about us and one of the ways we want to become a part of the neighborhood.

Keep watching for more developments as we slowly make a new garden.

Between the Rows   June 20, 2015

Garden Club of Amherst celebrates 100 years!

Garden Club of Amherst

Garden Club of Amherst Garden Tour

The Amherst Historical Society is helping the Garden Club of Amherst celebrate their 100th anniversary – in its own way. The Amherst Historical Society will hold its Annual Garden Tour June 27 from 10:00-4:00.  Tickets are available at A.J. Hastings, Andrews Greenhouse, Amherst Books and Hadley Garden Center.  For more information click here.

100 YEARS!  In celebration of its 100th anniversary, the Garden Club of Amherst is holding a lecture by Roger Swain, the former host of PBS Victory Garden, Sunday June 28, 2:00 p.m. at the Yiddish Book Center with a reception to follow.  Tickets are $5.00 and can be purchased at A.J. Hastings, Andrew’s Greenhouse, Bay State Perennial Farm, and Hadley Garden Center. Come hear “the man with the red suspenders”!

Garden Tour Season – Northampton, Conway, Ashfield, and Greenfield

Garden entry

Garden entry in Northampton

The Garden Tour Season is upon us! The entry garden above is one of the gardens on the 22nd Forbes Library Garden Tour which will be held on Saturday, June 13 from 10 am to 3 pm. Your ticket is a map of the six varied gardens on this self guided tour. Tickets are $15, but $20 the day of the tour, and are available at Forbes  Library and businesses like Bay State Perennial Farm and State Street Fruit Market.  Rain or Shine. Proceeds benefit the Forbes Library.

Woven Willow Hedge

Woven Willow Hedge

Garden Tour Season continues through the end of June. The Franklin Land Trust Tour will be featuring gardens and farms in Conway and Ashfield. Have you ever seen a woven willow hedge? This is only one of the wonders on this tour Saturday, June 27 from 10 am – 4 pm. Tickets are $15 for members and $20 for non-members. There is also a lunch available by reservation for an additional $15. Proceeds from the tour support the conservaation mission of the Franklin Land Trust

Fabulous garden on the 2014 Greenfield Garden Club tour

Fabulous garden on the 2014 Greenfield Garden Club garden tour

Garden Tour Season is crowded on Saturday, June 27 when the Greenfield Garden Club holds their annual tour from 9 am – 4 pm.  Tickets are $12 and will be on sale at the Trap Plain  garden at the intersection of Federal and Silver Streets and will be on sale all morning. Please do not bring your pets. Proceeds from the tour help fund the Club’s grant program for local schools.

Garden tours give gardeners to share their gardens, and give other gardeners a chance to fine some inspiration and gain a little education. All tours are rain or shine and a good time is guaranteed.    MARK YOUR CALENDARS

Cutting Garden – Annuals

Profusion zinnias

Profusion zinnias

I have always dreamed about having a cutting garden that would enable me to give out endless bouquets to all my friends. One good thing about a cutting garden is that it is not designed to look beautiful in any organized way. A cutting garden has no other design purpose except to give each plant room to breathe. That means flowers can be planted in rows without consideration of whether they will clash with the other flowers around them. Rows and rows of flowers cannot help but be as beautiful in an unstudied mass as they are in considered arrangements.

When planning a cutting garden I might think of the flowers I like best, beginning with annuals which stay in bloom over a long season. Zinnias immediately come to mind because they are so easy to grow and come in so many forms and colors.  I am particularly interested in the Profusion series of single zinnias because they have won prizes from the All America Selections in the U.S. and from Fleuroselect in Europe. Profusion zinnias, yellow, apricot, cherry pink, orange, white and more, attract butterflies and bees. The single form gives pollinators a landing strip on the petals pointing to the center of the flower where the pollen and nectar are waiting. Profusion zinnias are about 15 inches tall with an equal spread and will bloom all summer. Cut all you want and the plant will continue to create blossoms.

Cosmos are taller and have always been a staple in my garden. One reason I like them is because they also attract bees and certain butterflies. They come in many colors, pinks, white, yellow and gold. There is even a dramatic chocolate cosmos, with deep maroon color and a chocolaty fragrance. Renee’s Garden Seeds offers a whole palette of cosmos from single flower forms to ruffly double forms. Some have petals that are rolled tubes like a seashell. In addition to the flowers themselves, cosmos also gives you lacy, light green foliage. If you don’t plant from seed, it is easy to find six packs of seedlings.

Salvia 'Victoria Blue'

Salvia ‘Victoria Blue’

The Salvia family is large and includes perennials and annuals. Some of the perennial varieties are sold in our area as annuals because they are too tender to survive our winters. I always buy at least three little boxes of Victoria Blue annual salvia which I plant around a rose bed in lieu of a lavender edging. But I regularly steal a few spikes for the few bouquets I do make.

There are also attention getting red salvias with names like Salsa, Bonfire and Firecracker. They range in size from one to two feet tall. Salvias are another plant family that provide nectar to bees and butterflies.

Snapdragons are wonderful annuals that come in a whole variety of colors from pale pastels to rich reds, brilliant golds and yellow. There are tall varieties, usually two to three feet tall, and dwarf varieties that are only a foot tall. The Rocket series grow to almost three feet tall and are considered an excellent cut flower.

Most of us will buy snapdragon seedlings because they take so long to come into flower, but when we finally get them into our gardens they might welcome a little bit of shade. They do not like very hot weather. Of course, our weather has been so uncertain recently, that maybe this is something we don’t need to worry about too much. I know that in Heath I have not had to worry about long spells of hot summer weather for some years. But of course, that is Heath.

Even this small list, zinnia, cosmos, salvia and snapdragon, includes a variety of flower forms and this will make a bouquet interesting.

In addition to flowers a bouquet needs foliage. Cosmos have their own lacy foliage, but you can also plant annual artemesias like Dusty Miller. Dusty Miller looks like heavy silver lace and is sold in six packs in the spring. It is valuable for its silver foliage, but it does produce a yellow flower which many people remove. The foliage can be used as a kind of collar around the bouquet to hide the lip of the vase. Of course, other foliage plants will also serve this purpose, including lady’s mantle, alchemilla, which is a perennial and that is a topic for next week.

If you are bedding out your cutting garden in rows, as I hope to do, it is easy to remove sod if necessary, then add compost to the new bed. Dig the compost in well. When I am starting a new bed I usually add some greensand to provide potassium, also called potash. When you see commercial fertilizers marked with N-P-K numbers, the last number is potash. Greensand releases potash slowly so there is no worry about harming tender roots.  It is needed for root development, and plant vigor because it moves water and nutrients through the plant.

Whenever you are starting a new bed it is good practice to dig in plenty of organic matter, rotted manure and compost. I am not very scientific so I add rock phosphate (NOT superphosphate) as well as greensand because both release nutrients very slowly. I do not use commercial 5-10-5 fertilizers which are commonly available at garden centers.

After digging your bed, incorporating any compost and fertilizer, you can plant your seeds or seedlings. Keep them watered while they germinate and become established.

Next week I’ll write about those perennials that make good cut flowers.

Between the Rows   April 18, 2015

Water – Fountains, Pools and Ponds

Mirror Lake, Japanese Garden in Buffalo NY

Mirror Lake, Japanese Garden in Buffalo NY

Water is a precious resource. It is also a source of beauty in our gardens. We cannot all have water like this in our garden, but . . .

Circular Fountain

Circular Fountain

we can have a circular fountain, and

Grotto fountain  and pool

Grotto fountain and pool

and we can have fountain and grotto pool in our back yard jungle, and

Urn Fountain

Urn Fountain

and we can have a simple urn fountain, but

Frog Fountain, Seattle WA

Frog Fountain, Seattle WA

we will probably never have a frogs with turtles fountain like this one in Seattle, Washington.

What kind of water  do you have in your garden?

For more (almost) Wordlessness this Wednesday click here.

Garden-pedia by Paula Bennett and Maria Zampini

Garden-pedia

Garden-pedia by Paula Bennett and Maria Zampini

With all the bad weather I’ve been happy to sit by the woodstove and read two new books from St. Lynn’s Press. Garden-pedia: An A to Z Guide to Gardening Terms by Paula Bennett and Maria Zampini ($16.95 paperback) is an excellent book for the novice gardener. There are so many terms that arise even in catalogs and other places that can confuse and confound. Writers and speakers may be trying to write or speak plainly, but sometimes assume prior knowledge. I should ask experienced gardeners how they felt the first time they ran into high tunnel, or nativar, or panicle.

In fact, I was very happy to go through Garden-pedia and see clearer ways of explaining or describing these particular three terms. I had never heard of high tunnels a decade or so ago until I was talking to a farmer who told me he had put his whole raspberry operation under high tunnels. Nowadays high tunnels, “a crop growing system that is structured somewhat between a greenhouse and row covers,” are more common. There are always new terms to describe new practices and it can take a while to catch up.

I knew about cultivars, a particular cultivated variety of a plant like Heuchera ‘Fireworks’ but what was a nativar?  A nativar is a cultivar or hybrid created from a native plant. For example, Ilex verticillata, winterberry, is native to the American northeast, but when you go to the nursery to buy one you will find ‘Red Sprite,’ ‘Jim Dandy’ and ‘Apollo.’ These are nativars. I was interested that Bennett and Zampini do explain that there is some debate about whether nativars give all the benefits of a plain native. We will each have to make our own decision about how purist we will be in growing the natives that will support our local food web. Where I live now, in the midst of fields and woods full of natives, I don’t worry about including nativars, or even exotics, plants that came from elsewhere to my garden. But that may change.

Bennett and Zampini clearly explain 300 gardening and horticultural terms from Abiotic to Zone but they say they are happy to hear of other terms that are not included for the next edition of the book. Do you think the term ‘food web’ needs an explanation?

Bennett took many of the clear photographs that are really all you need when trying to understand leaf patterns or the structure of a panicle. There is an excellent index and a list of resources: books, websites, plant organizations and societies, and databases. Of course, as a New Englander I wish they could have included the New England Wildflower Society with its Go Botany website which can help all  of us explore, identify and learn about  our native plants.

Cool Flowers

Cool Flowers by Lisa Mason Ziegler

Cool Flowers: How to Grow and Enjoy Long-Blooming Hardy Annual Flowers Using Cool Weather Techniques by Lisa Mason Siegler ($17.95 hardcover) is another small book with a lot of information!

Lisa Ziegler is a flower farmer, growing and selling cut flowers to florists and at farmers markets. She lives in Virginia on her husband’s old family farm, a farm now devoted to colorful flowers. Her book gives careful instruction on sowing seeds directly outdoors in fall, as well as in spring. Most of us will find seed starting indoors in the spring the most likely to work for us.

After a brief discussion of when to plant seeds indoors and out, Ziegler gives specific instructions for planting seeds of 30 particular hardy annuals from the familiar bachelor’s buttons and sweet peas to the less familiar False Queen Anne’s Lace.

Many hardy annuals can be started indoors six to eight weeks before you could put them outdoors. In my garden that means I could start seeds indoors in mid-March. I remember Elsa Bakalar starting snapdragon seeds at the very end of February. She had a homemade arrangement of shelves with low hanging grow-lights that enabled her to keep the seedlings growing sturdily for ten weeks.

Elsa did not use heat pads underneath her planting trays, but that is a technique we have available to us. Heat mats helps seeds germinate more quickly and dependably, but once the seeds have sent up shoots the heat mat should be removed. The seedlings now need good light for 16 hours a day. It is the long day under the lights that will give you strong transplants. I’m sure most of us have had experience with long leggy seedlings reaching for the sun.

Ziegler gives full instructions from seeding plants indoors, fertilizing, and hardening off the young transplants to prepare them for going into the ground. Once planted outdoors, she mulches, and then covers them with a floating row cover to protect them from the wind and any surprises in the winter weather. She finishes with advice for maintaining the garden all season long.

I was inspired by Ziegler’s plan for a 3×10 foot cutting bed for five flowers that would provide more bouquets over a long season than you ever imagined possible. Think of how all your neighbors would love you bouquets. The magic of a cutting garden is that the more you harvest the more flowers will come into bloom.

Garden-pedia and Cool Flowers will appeal to two different audiences; one of them might be just right for you.

Between the Rows   February 14, 2015

Conifers, Cone-bearing Evergreens in the Garden

Marsha Session's Conifers

Marsha Session’s Conifers

Pines, firs, junipers, spruces and others are all conifers, cone-bearing evergreen trees. Within this large family there are many sizes, from low growing groundcovers, to very tall trees, with many types of foliage and many foliage colors from green to blue-green to gold. Evergreens like pines, firs and spruces have needles, while junipers, cedars and arborvitae have scalelike foliage.

Recently I visited two friends with conifer collections. Both bought their plants locally at different nurseries so they could choose the exact plant they desired. One friend has made use of low-growing conifers for the edges of her in-town garden, while the other lives in Heath and chose large trees which she planted about 20 years ago. It seems that conifers can fulfill many garden fantasies and visions,

Weeping Nootka false cypress

Weeping Nootka false cypress

Marsha Sessions lives on a Heath hill surrounded by open fields, but she had a vision of a grove of evergreens on a rise. Her husband Norm created a hill for her; then she went shopping. For this planting she wanted evergreens that would make a statement and chose a collection of large conifers, trees and shrubs. Of course, as most of us have experienced, plants bought 20 years ago have lost their names.

The conifers have grown substantially over the years. In fact, a couple of them have grown so large that there is some crowding. One of the trickiest parts of gardening is estimating how wide and how tall our plants will grow over time, and making allowances for that growth, even if we think it looks a little skimpy at first.

Sessions has chosen different types of conifers, from dense shrubby forms to tall graceful forms. It was the tall skinny tree that I always found most fascinating as I passed by on my rounds. I believe it might be Abies alba Green Spiral, a tall silver fir tree that has a very narrow, graceful and slightly pendulous form.

On the other side of her grove is another large tree with a different form of grace. I think this tree might be a Chamaecyparis nootkatensis Pendula, a tree with scale-like foliage. This is a majestic dark green tree with horizontal branches, but drooping leaflets.

In contrast to these two trees she has a couple of shrubby gold threadleaf false cypress, another Chamaecyparis. There are several cultivars of this familiar bright evergreen available in local garden centers or nurseries. Sessions has created a brilliant collection of conifers with contrasting foliage, form and color.

It is a tribute to the hardiness of all these trees that they have thrived on an open hillside in the higher elevations of Heath for 20 winters. They get full sun, except for what shade they might throw on each other over the course of the day.

In ShelburneFalls, Maureen Moore has made use of low growing conifers in her lawn-less gardens. Marsha Sessions evergreen grove stands in majestic isolation, but Moore’s garden huddles around her in-town house, protecting it while providing a colorful delight for those who pass by.

lowgrowing conifer groundcovers

Maureen’s low-growiing conifer groundcovers

Moore told me that most of her evergreens are junipers, with a few pine and cypress. “The low ones along the walk are a combo of Nana juniper, Blue Rug juniper, Siberian cypress, and another (nameless) crawler, a very nice light green.”

It is the range of color and texture that she likes as well as their amenability to pruning, and ease of being controlled. Moore has also bought her plants locally.

Both Nana and Blue Rug are low growing junipers with blue-green foliage. They like sun and are undemanding of soil as long as it is well drained. Junipers in general are tolerant of drought and are not relished by deer.

Nana may reach a height of one foot, and spreads out to five or six feet, but Blue Rug is even lower, reaching a height of only six inches.

An All Gold juniper will only grow to a foot tall and will spread about six feet in 10 years. This is another tough plant, drought resistant in a golden shade that can really brighten the garden.

Siberian cypress (Microbiota decussata) is also known as Russian arbor-vitae. You can see that some of  these plants have common names that have little to do with their proper name; this is not a proper cypress or juniper. It has bright green lacy foliage which becomes a purple-brown in the winter. It can reach a height of a foot or a little more and will spread vigorously to 10-12 feet. This makes it suitable for a slope. It is also one of the few conifers that will tolerate some shade.

I have given only hints about the richness of these two gardens, but I hope I have whetted your interest in exploring the large world of needle conifers.

While I prefer to shop locally for plants as much as I can, I also like to scroll through online plant sites because they show a full range of cultivars, and  provide so much additional information about the plants I am interested in. Two dependable online sites for information are missouribotanicalgarden.org, and greatplantpicks.org, maintained by the ElisabethC.MillerBotanical Garden in Seattle. While neither of these institutions are local, they provide good plant photographs, and a great deal of their information is valuable to us in the PioneerValley. Greenfield is listed as being in hardiness zone 5b which means temperatures down to 15 degrees below zero. This classification is not the be-all or end-all of requirements for success with a plant, but it is a good start.

Do you have conifers in your garden? Wouldn’t you like to have more?

Beyond Rhododendrons – Broadleaf Evergreens in the Garden

Rhododendron 'Calsap' a broadleaf evergreen

Rhododendron ‘Calsap’ a broadleaf evergreen

Rhododendrons are probably the largest group of broadleaf evergreens that are familiar to most of us. They can play a big part in adding substance and interest in the garden during the winter. I do confess it took me a while to understand the cigar roll shape those broad leaves take when the temperatures are very low, but I accept that even plants must protect themselves from the elements as best they can.

Rhododendrons come in a whole range of sizes and colors from low growing varieties like the pink ‘Yaku Princess’ to brilliantly colored shrubs that will tower over us. After visiting Jerry Sternstein, whose rhododendron hillside in Hawley opened my eyes to this range, I have added rhodies to my garden. ‘Boule de Neige’ is an old white variety, ‘Calsap’ is white with a speckled purple flair at its heart, and the deep red ‘Rangoon’ is not as tall but it spreads wide in maturity.

Rhododendrons need an acid soil that is moist and rich in organic matter. Its feeding roots are close to the surface and so need to be protected from heat and drought. Those feeding roots also explain Sternstein’s rule about planting, “Keep it simple, just a dimple.” Rhodies do not need a big deep planting hole, but after planting in a dimple a layer of mulch is good practice. Mulch helps keep the roots cool and moist.

Rhododendrons are considered a plant that likes at least some shade, but Sternstein’s rhodies flourish in the sun. It seems that some rules can be broken. The height of Sternstein’s garden is usually Memorial Day – hundreds of rhododendrons in full bloom.

Mountain laurels, Kalmia, have most of the same requirements as rhododendrons, rich acid soil, and dependable moisture. They do require some shade, especially protection from summer afternoon sun. The hybrids intended for home gardens usually range about three to four feet tall with about that much spread. The white and pink of the native mountain laurel is beautiful, but there are other shades and combinations in the hybrids that you will find in catalogs. ‘Carol’ has dark pink buds that open to pale pink petals,‘Firecracker’ has intense red buds that open to white and pink, ‘Peppermint’, as you might expect has candy stripes. ‘Minuet’ is slow-growing reaching three feet after ten years with bicolor blossoms of cinnamon and white. Again, be careful planting. Just a dimple.

Ilex Blue Princess holly

Ilex Blue Princess holly

I hadn’t ever thought of them that way, but hollies are counted among the broadleaf evergreens. I have planted Ilex x meserveae ‘Blue Prince’ and ‘Blue Princess’ and they have proven hardy even on my windy hill. All hollies are dioecious which means they require a male and female plant to produce fruit. Actually, you only need one male for several females. ‘Blue Princess’ is the more vigorous grower, but she needs her little prince to produce those red berries.

Ilex opaca’Compacta’ is a native holly that is similar in form to the shiny leaved hollies we expect at Christmas, but the foliage does not have that sheen. This variety will grow slowly to six or eight feet.

Ilex glabra ‘Shamrock’ is an inkberry cultivar. Inkberry is a broadleaf evergreen with fine small foliage and little black berries in late fall. It likes sun, but can tolerate some shade and doesn’t mind the wet. It can even be used as part of a rain garden planting. It grows slowly to a height of about four feet with an equal spread. It is a neat plant, and like other Ilex is not much bothered by deer or rabbits. Good to know.

Yucca filamentosa is another plant I don’t think of as an evergreen, but so it is. It looks like a southwestern sort of plant with its rosette of spiky golden leaves. In midsummer it sends up a five or six foot spike with panicles of fragrant, creamy white flowers. The spiky form is so unusual in a New England garden that it makes a great focal point. The fragrance is a surprise and delight.

Arctostaphylos uva-ursi ‘Massachusetts’, better known as bearberry, is a very low-growing evergreen; this variety has small leaves bordered in white. The words uva and ursi refer to the fact that berries are prized by bears. Birds relish the berries, too. A sunny spot with good drainage is ideal for this native groundcover. Don’t worry about fertilizing; bearberry doesn’t need it. Red berries appear in the fall, and are often used as Christmas decorations, as holly is.

To a great degree our gardens in winter can be a simple blanket of white – if we have cut back all the perennials, removed the shriveled annuals and weeded carefully. We are lucky if we have trees with interesting sculptural limbs, but without broadleaf evergreens or conifers the effect can be a little skimpy.

Next week I’ll discuss conifers, those cone-bearing evergreens like pines, spruce and junipers.

Between the Rows   January 17, 2015

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas!  And holiday wishes  for every good thing for every one.