Carolina Silverbell on the Bridge of Flowers
Blooming trees are an important part of our domestic landscape, giving it substance as well as beauty. Planting a blooming tree requires more thought than planting a perennial or pots of annuals. A tree cannot be moved at will.
No matter what we plant in our garden we have to consider the site, sun or shade, and we have to consider the growth rate and the ultimate size of the plant. With a tree these considerations become even more important. We planted five ginkgo trees in our new Lawn Beds 16 years ago when we had five toddler grandsons belonging to our three daughters. The trees were a nod to our years in Beijing, and pleasing to me because of the unusual fan shape of the foliage which turns a beautiful shade of yellow in the fall.
Ginkgo in October 2012
Ginkgo trees are dioecious which means they need male and female trees to fruit. We did not know whether we had male or female trees so we couldn’t be sure they would fruit or not. Male ginkgoes are more desirable because they will never fruit, and the fruits are famous for their bad smell. We didn’t worry about this because even if we had male and female trees they would probably not mature and fruit for many years – when we would no longer be around. We might seem thoughtless, but it is my position that we can see only so far ahead into the future, and in the case of plants we can usually please ourselves. The only exception would be deliberately planting something invasive.
We had the room in our country garden to plant trees that would get fairly large. In a suburban yard or garden you will have to be more discriminating about which trees to plant. When I look at the dimensions of trees labeled ‘small’ they can still be larger than you might expect. For example, there are many crabapple varieties that range from 12 to 25 feet high with an equal spread. Donald Wyman crab, one of the ten most disease resistant, produces white flowers in spring and small red apples in the fall. Prairiefire is also highly disease resistant and has bright pink flowers in the spring. The foliage begins with a purplish shade, changes to bronzey green and finishes with a yellow/orange shade in the fall. Crabapples are wonderful trees, with beautiful spring bloom to please you and support pollinators, with small apples in the fall that you might use in the kitchen or that the birds will enjoy.
The pagoda dogwood, Cornus alternifolia, is a native dogwood that can reach a height of 25 feet with an equal spread. Its airy while blossoms do not resemble the more familiar flowers of Cornus florida or Cornus kousa, but there will eventually be small blue berries that will attract birds. The name refers to the attractive layered arrangement of the branches.
The Silverbell is slightly larger, possibly reaching a height of 35 feet. You can see this tree on the Bridge of Flowers. Clusters of small white bell-like flowers appear in mid to late April.
Rate of growth will depend on your soil, but I once listened to an arborist explaining to a friend that she could control the size of a tree by regular pruning. This is good to remember when a small blooming tree that you have planted becomes larger than you and your garden’s definition of ‘small.’
Careful planting is important to the future of a tree. Dig a generously wide hole and loosen the soil within the hole. It should be only as deep as the roots, or balled roots, or the container that your tree came in
If you have a small bare root tree support it in the middle of the hole so the root collar is even with the soil level. Fill in with the original soil. Tamp it down to make sure there are no air pockets and that the tree is firmly held. As you fill in the last of the soil make sure it is just below the root collar and that there is a shallow basin to collect water. Water well. Then mulch with two inches of wood chips or bark, but make sure to keep the mulch away from the trunk. No mulch volcanoes!
If your tree came balled and burlaped place it in a good big hole so it is at the proper level. Then cut away and remove all the wires and the burlap. If there is burlap left underneath that is fine as long as it is not plastic burlap. You want to free all those roots. Fill with original soil, water and mulch as for a barerooted tree. If you have a landscaper do this for you, make sure the wires and burlap get removed. I have heard horror stories of inept landscaping help not doing this resulting in the loss of the trees.
If your tree comes in a container and you find the roots are rootbound you should cut an X at the bottom of the root ball with a sharp knife, and make three or four cuts down the sides. This root-pruning will encourage new root growth. This is not unlike firmly combing out tangled roots in a rootbound perennial before planting. As with any plant, keep it well watered for the first year while it is getting established.
Trees give us so much: sculptural form, shade, the whispering of breezes among the leaves, seasonal flowering and food and shelter for many creatures. Choosing the appropriate tree for its site and planting it well will give you decades of beauty.
Between the Rows April 4, 2015
Dawn on September 22, 2014
The colors of the landscape on the first day of fall are shifting. Fall colors are mutable, first draining and then gathering richness. The dawn sun on the trees across the field show the rustiness of the trees as the fresh green seeps away.
Maple reds arrive
As I drove around on my errands I saw the different fall colors arrive in different ways, vibrantly on the treetops.
The low branches of the beeches are turning gold and if I look closely I can see the tiny pointy buds of next year’s leaves forming.
Golden riverside tree
A single golden tree along the river set against the green hillside.
This small maple is being transformed from emerald to ruby, but you can still see the transformation is not complete.
red leaves on a vine
Soon reds will become more prominent. Already this weedy vine has a brilliant sash.
Rich gold is to be seen in all the local farmstands as the pumpkin harvest is set out. These pumpkins are in the Hawlemont School garden.
What colors are changing in your landscape?
Bee Balm from the piazza
On this First of the Month I am going to show you some long views. My camera isn’t really ideal for long views but you might get a different idea of the garden, and the text is still a bloom record. I confess the weeds are not as visible in a long view. This is the bee balm in the Herb Bed right in front of the house. We can watch the hummingbirds, butterflies and bees from out dining/kitchen table. That is the f amous Cottage Ornee across the lawn.
west side of North Lawn Bed
Leaving the Herb Bed I go across the driveway/road and come to the North Lawn Bed. This section includes a weeping cherry, echinacea, phlox, Russian sage, cosmos, pansies still blooming, and a Fulda Glow sedum which is a great plant.
North Lawn Bed
Further on this side of the North Lawn Bed is The Fairy rose, toremia, phlox, and liatris.
End of the North Lawn Bed
The only thing blooming here is Mardi Gras helenium. A Montauk daisy at its base will bloom later. The Carolina lupine put out a lot of growth this year, but no blooms.
End of South Lawn Bed
There is a wide grass path between the Lawn Beds. This tangle includes cotoneaster, shasta daisies, a mystery golden yarrow, Connecticut Yankee delphinium, Blue Paradise phlox, toremia and more Fulda Glow. This bed is mostly filled with the fourth gingko, a weeping birch and a huge Mothlight hydrangea which I love and have not been able to keep pruned down. I will continue to try.
Very long view of North Lawn Bed
This is a very long view of the east side of the North Lawn bed. The most noticeable flower from this view if Achillea ‘The Pearl’. Phlox, white and pink on the right. This bed contains 3 gingkos, Golden threadleaf false cypress, yarrow, cosmos, and .artemesia lactiflora. More bloom still to come.
Very long view of South Lawn Bed.
You can see the Mothlight hydrangea is nearly as tall as the weeping birch.
View from the bedroom window
This view from the upstairs bedroom gives you a sense of the whole.
Echinops, meadow rue, and cimicifuga are blooming, as well and a few rose blossoms here and there: R. setigera, Belle Poitvine, Rugosa alba, Meideland red and Sitka.
Love Lies Bleeding
Love Lies Bleeding and other potted annuals are doing well at the edge of the piazza. The vegetables are struggling this year, but the ornamental garden hasn’t minded the cool summer. Neither has the lawn. It keeps growing and growing.
Dioecious Plants: Dioecious species have the male and female reproductive structures on separate plants.
Hardy Kiwi Vine
The Annual Rose Viewing was a success, but it was the hardy kiwi vine on our shed that also got a lot of attention.
Of course, it is the unusual green, white and pink foliage that makes the hardy kiwi so notable. I first saw this vine at the LakewoldGarden in Washington state many years ago. It was growing on a long trellis, so I did not realize how rampantly it could grow. I did not know the artful pruning it was receiving every summer – and winter.
Our hardy kiwi (Actinidia arguta) was planted on a trellis attached to our shed. I thought the colorful foliage would be very pretty when the roses in the Shed Bed were not in bloom. This has certainly worked very well. I have been happy that it has grown so vigorously and covers the better part of the shed wall. I have only done the most basic pruning, but this year I have come to realize that I need to take a firmer hand – and get out the ladder.
Since visitors to the garden are familiar with fuzzy kiwis that can be found on supermarket shelves they ask if my kiwi bears fruit. It does not, because kiwis are dioecious plants. This means that you must have a male and a female to get fruit. I was only interested in the unusual foliage so I was happy with one vine. I don’t know its sex.
Hardy Kiwi foliage
I do have a friend who wanted the fruit which is different from the supermarket variety. Hardy kiwis are as big as a large grape and have a smooth skin that can be eaten. He bought a male and a female vine from a nursery. One of the vines died over the winter, but he couldn’t remember which was which, so he planted another male and female. Again, one vine died, and his list and map were lost, so again he was not sure which vine had survived. I don’t actually know whether he finally got a male and female, and a fruit crop, but this is a problem with other dioecious plants as well.
I should add a caveat. Without pruning the hardy kiwi can reach a height of 40 feet, and if unattended or abandoned can overwhelm other plants and areas.
Perhaps the most commonly known dioecious shrubs are the hollies, the Ilex family. This includes the kinds of evergreen hollies with the beautiful red berries that are such a part of our Christmas traditions. I have a single ‘Blue Prince’ and a ‘Blue Princess’ holly, Ilex x meserveae. The male produces the pollen that is needed to fertilize the female’s flowers and so create the beautiful red berries. It only takes one male to fertilize nine females. You do not need to have as many males as females.
These hollies produce tiny white flowers in April and May. They are easy to miss, but not the red berries. My ‘Blue Prince’ took a beating this past winter, and the ‘Blue Princess’ also showed winter damage, but both are recovering nicely. There were lots of flowers, and even though the ‘Blue Prince’ is much smaller, I am expecting a good showing of berries later this season.
There is also the native deciduous holly, Ilex verticillata, which is more commonly called the winterberry. It also needs male and female plants in order to produce the orange-red berries that appear in the fall and persist through the winter. They tolerate wet soils which makes them an attractive shrub to plant in damp spots in the garden.
In addition to the hardy kiwi vine and the evergreen hollies, I have four ginkgo trees in my garden. We planted these about 16 years ago when our grandsons were hardly more than toddlers. We planted them partly as a memorial to our two years in Beijing. I was afraid they might be slightly too tender, but they are thriving and are even big enough now to throw welcome shade on hot summer afternoons.
Ginkgo biloba trees are used in cities because they are hardy, but the fruit of the female is said to be unpleasantly smelly. I cannot attest to this from my own experience because during our New York city years, and our Beijing years, I never came across ginkgo fruit. It takes at least 30 years for the tree to mature and produce fruit, which means that when my trees drop their fruit smelling of rotten eggs or vomit, I will not be around to suffer.
However, it seems to me that 30 years or more of a beautiful, hardy, disease resistant tree is better than those years without the tree even if it ultimately has got be cut down. Or at least the females have to be cut down.
The ginkgo is an ancient tree, sometimes called a living fossil, and is known for its unusual fan shaped leaves. They turn a beautiful gold in the fall which tend to fall all at once. We have often gone to bed on an October night, and awakened to find every golden leaf on the ground.
These are the three types of dioecious plants in my garden, but I recently checked a long list of dioecious plants online and found that the stinging nettles among my weeds, Urtica diocia, and the hop vine, Humulus, that is growing in a tangle of grapes and multiflora roses, are also dioecious plants, but they are subjects for another time.
Between the Rows July 5, 2014
I have been reading Evelyn Hadden’s book Hellstrip Gardening: Create a paradise between the sidewalk and the curb, with all its beautiful photographs of the different ways a curbside garden can be created. Hadden includes gardens from across the country from Oregon and California to Minnesota and New York. Different climates and different inspirations. I was very happy that she also included Rain Gardens as one of her themes because many urban areas have a great problem with rain runoff. In these days some rains have become amazingly heavy, stressing storm sewer systems that then flood waste water sewers. It is ever more important that we all work to keep rainfall where it falls. We can make sure we have many permeable surfaces – and raingardens. I know in Cambridge, Massachusetts where my son lives, there are rules about how much square footage in a house lot must be permeable. You cannot build or cover more.
While Heath is a rural town and I live where there is not a single sidewalk, there are local towns that have sidewalks and some of them even have hellstrips, an area between the street and the sidewalk. However, I have a friend with an absolutely fabulous curbside garden.
This photo gives an idea of how this curbside garden works in the streetscape.
With heucheras, hostas and creeping phlox in this area there is a wonderful arrangement of foliage color and texture.
A great use is made of everygreens which can supply a surprising range of color.
Small trees, shrubs, ground cover – and flowers! This curbside garden has everything! And something for every season.
If you would like to win a copy of Evelyn Hadden’s book, Hellstrip Gardening, leave a comment here before midnight July 6.
View from the Bedroom window May 5, 2014
The view from the bedroom window on May 5 shows that the grass is greening up, but it is cold, 46 degrees, cloudy and windy. I dug up plants for the Bridge of Flowers plant sale, but then went back in the house to work in front of the woodstove.
View from the bedroom window May 12, 2014
Now it is hot! 80 degrees. What a difference a week makes. We had a little rain and warmer days – although with strong breezes it has still felt cool – until today. The lawn just had its first mowing and you can see the lilacs beginning to leaf out. A close look will show tiny budded lilac flowers. The weeping birch in the South Lawn Bed is greening, and a green brush has barely touched the trees in the field. Perennials are well started, summer phlox, achilleas, delphiniums, and more and more daffodils.
View from the bedroom window May 19, 2014
A beautiful day, 70′s and sunny. You can see the trees are beginning to green, and the lilacs are just beginning to bloom.
View from the bedroom window May 28 2014
58 degrees this morning and still misting from last night’s rain which saved me from watering the gardens this morning. The lilacs are in full bloom, and the apple trees are also beginning to bloom. The ginkgo trees are finally greening up. Some of the daffodils are still blooming, but they are joined by columbine, epimediums, tiarella, trollius, barren strawberry, as well as a host of annuals bought at the Bridge of Flowers Plant Sale, geraniums, cuphea, Diamond Frost , lobelia, torenia, and blue felicia daisy. Boule de Neige and Rangoon rhodies are also starting to bloom. Full spring!
My record for May has not been very regular and doesn’t give a full taste of how cold it was for most of the month. Winter blankets still on our bed. And fires in the woodstove the first half of the month – and sometimes in the evening after that.
Elm Trees in Central Park
The Elm Trees in Central Park were featured prominently in the NYTimes Sunday Review (2-23-14) in a wonderful article by Guy Trebay. I have not walked in Central Park for many years, but even as a New Yorker in the 1980s I would not have paid much attention to the magnificent allee of elms that runs for about 2.5 miles along Fifth Avenue, “a continuous stand that, as it happens, may be the longest in the world.” In the summer these trees shade the Literary Walk and the stunning photograph by Craig Blankenhorn turns them into an urban sculpture.
Even after I started paying attention to trees, and trying to identify them after our move to Heath, I could not identify an elm which is quite recognizable by it graceful vase shape. I was so inept as identifying trees, and the elm in particular that I was stunned to find that a majestic elm was growing about 200 feet from my front door. One early spring day I was walking with a friend in front of my house and noticed honeybees flying around. One alighted long enough for us to see that the pollen baskets on its knees were full of a pale yellow pollen. I expressed my surprise that the bee was finding pollen anywhere; my friend raised his eyebrows at me and pointed to the elm tree, a very early producer of tiny flowers and pollen.
The majority of elm trees in the US and Europe were decimated in the 20th century by Dutch Elm Disease, a fungus carried by the elm bark beetle. These allees of giant elms used to adorn many rural roadsides and city avenues. No more. However, organizations like the Men’s Garden Club of Youngstown, OH have launched efforts to re-elm their region. Think how wonderful it would be if we could not only imagine all the still existing Elm Streets and Avenues as they looked more than half a century ago. And yet again wonderful if we could bring them back to our cities and towns. For ways we can each help this project visit the Liberty Tree Society.
Ginkgo biloba – Maidenhair tree
While we were living in Beijing we became fascinated with the ginkgo tree, sometimes called the maidenhair tree. This is an ancient tree and fossilized leaves dating back 270 MILLION years have been found. They saw the rise and fall of the dinosaur. Today it grows in many temperate and sub-tropical areas of the world because it is so unusual and beautiful and because it is so adaptable. It even tolerates pollution and is used in cities as a street tree.
Ginkgo leaves are distinctive with a fan shape, veins radiating from the stem end and a kind of waxy feel to the leaf. Their flexible stems allow them to flutter in the breeze, giving form to a summer zephyr. And of course, in the fall they turn a brilliant gold, and most of those leaves will drop all at once during an autumnal night. The leaf above has two lobes which account for its name Ginkgo biloba, but it can have no lobes, or three lobes.
When we planted our trees everyone said “but their fruit stinks.” So I have heard many times before. Was I worried? No. First off I have never experienced this stink in New York City or Beijing. Second, I have been told that they will not produce this fruit until they are over 30 years old – and we are old enough not to worry about things that may not happen for another ten or twenty years. As our construction guy said when we told him we were putting of a portion of our project he asked, “How long you plan on livin’?”
Ginkgos are male and female. I don’t know what we have. Perhaps we only have males and will never have to worry about stinky fruit. I did hear recently that nurseries propagate only male trees for this very reason. A friend told me that male and female ginkgos have different shapes. One is more upright, and they other is more horizontal, but she didn’t know which is which. If anyone can illuminate this theory I will be glad to hear it. I have both upright and horizontal trees. No sign of stinky fruit.
Our trees are about 15 years old, ceremonially planted by grandsons when they were between one and three years old. It was a great day, and the trees a tangible reminder.
Suddenly there seem to be many young oak trees growing by the side of Heath roads. They are particularly noticeable at this time of year because they retain their leaves until late in the season, and they have turn a burnished shade of red. I do not know for sure which of the 600 species of oak they are, or even of the 70 species that grow in the United States, but it is possible they are Quercus rubra, or red oaks.
I have been paying more attention to oaks ever since the walk we took through our woodland this spring with Stu Watson of the Massachusetts Audubon Society. He came to give an assessment of our woods and overgrown fields and give us suggestions on how to improve them for logging, and for bird habitat.
We were surprised that someone from Audubon was able and willing to give advice about logging, but he explained that thoughtfully cutting down trees can mean better habitat for birds, as well as possible profit for landowners. Removing trees can open up the canopy so that more sun can penetrate, allowing new trees to germinate and grow. Birds need tall trees, but they have an equal need for shrubs and young trees for protection as well as food. Some birds spend most of their life in those lower elevations.
As we walked through the woods with Watson, he identified different trees. I now can recognize striped maple with its large rounded leaves and green striped bark. But I was able to identify the tiny oak seedling, all by myself. I was so surprised to see it growing in our woods. There were no other oaks in the neighborhood. It must have been carried and dropped by a squirrel or other creature.
My oak seedling
I was very excited to see this oak seedling, less than a foot tall, because when Dr. Douglas Tallamy spoke at the Western Mass Master Gardeners Spring Symposium this year he said that oaks, the king of trees, support over 500 species of native insects and animals. Since we all need to be aware of our local food web, of plants, insects, animals – and us – I have been thinking of the ways I can do my bit in maintaining this web of life. I don’t use herbicides or pesticides, my husband mows the fields after the nesting season, and I plant many native flower varieties. Of course, I want trees that will support the largest number of species.
You can buy oak seedlings from tree nurseries. You can also collect acorns and plant your own, however, you will need to identify the type of oak tree the acorn belongs to. Immediate planting should be limited to the white oak species group including white, bur, chestnut and swamp oak. Red oak species group acorns must be planted in the second season – the following spring.
I had thought I could just get some acorns from a friend with oak trees, drop them here and there in my woods and wait for Mother Nature to do the rest of the work. Since planting acorns successfully depends on knowing what kind of oak you are dealing with, I think I will just check on my seedling from time to time and send it encouraging thoughts. I will visualize it growing tall and king-like.
Oak trees have been used and enjoyed since ancient times. The oak been used for construction, and is an important timber tree to this day. Some trees in England are so ancient that they have been named. The Major Oak in Sherwood Forest is reputed to be the place where Robin Hood and his merry men met and plotted. The romantic stories surrounding this oak make it a tourist attraction today.
I don’t know that we have any romantic stories, but when I looked up large oaks on the Internet I found the American Forest website and their database of champion trees of every variety.
American Forests is the oldest national nonprofit conservation organization in the country. Their mission is to protect and restore forests, and to help preserve the health of our planet for the benefit of its inhabitants. The organization educates and advocates for trees. In cooperation with others they have planted more than 40 million trees in the last quarter century. They also have a Big Trees program that invites people to find and nominate a Big Tree for inclusion in their database. It was in that database that I found the only listing for a Champion oak in Massachusetts is in Shelburne Falls, It was nominated by Peter Bravman in 2007. It measured 368 inches in circumference, 82 feet tall, and with a spread of 105 feet. I hoped this enormous tree grew on a street corner where we could all marvel and admire it, but it grows in the woods on Flagg Mountain. Storms in the last couple of years split the tree so it is no longer in good health. The land the tree grows on now belongs to New England Forestry and is available for walking and hiking.
I will never see my oak seedling reach even the size of one of its limbs, but other people will in the future, and that makes me happy right now.
Between the Rows November 16, 2013
Heavy frost on Monday. 21 degrees yesterday! The gingkos are unleafed all at once. As is their wont.
For more Wordlessness this Wednesday click here.