May 31, 2010

What Color Is This, Anyway?

It's the first of the month, and I am sharing a Garden Oops.  Joene has more on her GOOPS page where she invites us to chronicle our mistakes, so check those out too.

I'm not sure if this is my mistake in placing the wrong plants together, or if it's the plant breeders' mistake in crossing two nice plants and producing a muddled mix of both.

I have a 'Twilite Prairieblues' baptisia that fills the garden with beautiful form, and clean looking green leaves.  I really like it.  But I can't figure out what color the blooms are.  They're weird.

To get this flower effect, the breeders crossed the classic yellow sphaerocarpa and blue australis varieties.  I'm mystified.  What would you call this color? The muddiness of the flowers is echoed in a compact Weigela 'My Monet' right below it, which has variegated foliage in deep pinks and tans, that somehow work to give this shrub the look of a brownish pile of leaves.  The white edged hosta repeats the washed out theme.  Nobody here is stepping up and declaring a color.  In full sun it looks like everything rusted slightly and then faded.

Up close the 'Twilite Prarieblues' pea-like blooms are completely different, a smoky purple.  It's been described as copper purple (huh?) with a yellow keel.

But step back and they become a funny metal / mauve hue.

Its indeterminate shade might look better with a saturated color close by, like the mahogany leaves of a Japanese maple.  Or maybe it needs something deep green with bold foliage near it.  The mound of weigela is echoing the baptisia's corroded color, not contrasting with it.  This whole grouping is a portrait of oxidation.... look at the little iron garden ornament rusting on the right.  Same exact color.  You couldn't plan this stuff.  (Obviously I didn't)

I have another baptisia that has lovely white blooms (Baptisia alba), which are very pretty.  Unlike the 'Twilite Prairieblues', it has a rangy leggy form, doing nothing to fill its space, but its arching spires are nice above the other garden plants.  And the usual blue and yellow baptisias I have seen are beautiful.

But 'Twilite Prairieblues' is a blend that did not get the best from either parent.  By midsummer when it is just foliage and green leaves, it won't be so bad.  But in late May, this plant is a bafflement, with flowers in a color I can't name, and in a shade that won't play with the others around it.

Baptisias don't move well, with their long tap roots, so my best bet might be to move the little weigela.  What would you put beneath the baptisia instead?  What color goes with faded rust?

Curtis suggested cutting them and enjoying them inside.  Oh, so much better:

May 29, 2010

Replacement Tree

The Littleleaf linden that was murdered by a buck was finally put to rest.  Two men with machines came and took it away, then ground up the stump, dustily and noisily.

The replacement tree is a Nyssa sylvatica, or Black Gum, which I've written about before, as I have planted several small ones in back of our house.

I was impressed with the whole enterprise.  These two men took all afternoon to plant this tree, carefully hand digging the planting hole to expand it, unwrapping the burlap, siting the tree, leveling it.  Then they took a good hour to water it in, clean up (even sweeping the street where some dirt had spilled), and add rich soft mulch.

And please note: the mulch is nowhere near the trunk.  It's not piled high in a volcano mound.  The curved flare of the stem is visible, not buried a foot below the ground with mulch packed up around it.

It is so distressing to see how most large trees are planted, inside high volcano mounds, anchored too deep in the earth.  The tree smothers, nutrients can't move easily from the roots up the conduits in the lower trunk, and it just looks stupid.   There is much written about this most misguided of landscaping practices, but it persists like no other.... why?

I know most landscapers are not arborists, they're machine guys who like to move big things around in their bucket loaders.  But the problem of dying trees in too-deep holes is so evident, and the right way to plant a tree is so widely known and easy to do..... why then do they insist on burying trunks and piling stuff up around them?
Photo from Fine Gardening as an example of WHAT NOT TO DO

I'm just glad I have a lovely new front yard tree, well planted.  I will make sure it will be well tended.

May 28, 2010

Pink Parasols

Isn't it funny how we determine we don't like certain plants?  I don't know why, but I've never liked spireas.  The bridal wreath heaps that spew fountains of white blooms are too much for me, although if you have an old beach cottage at the shore you absolutely do need a bridal wreath spirea next to it.

And I don't like the garish Goldflame spirea.  Too gaudy.  Or the pinkiness of Anthony Waterer.  I could go on, but here's one I really do like:

Spirea fritschiana 'Pink Parasols':

It is softly pale pink in bloom.  The flowers are complex, multi layered and eye catching at each stage as they open, but the plant never shouts.

It's next to a Rose of Sharon 'White Chiffon', which will get frilly white hibiscus blooms later in the summer, after the Pink Parasols flowerheads turn rosy brown, and it hovers over my elegant Deutzia gracilis 'Nikko'.  At the right edge in the bottom of this shot is a female kiwi vine that I will train up the brick and siding.

The whole effect of the softness, the frilly white and fuzzy pink, and the female fruiting vine just makes me think of a bunch of giggling girls... it's all so feminine. 

In fall the deutzia will turn burgundy and the spirea will turn spectacular red, orange and yellow.  This is the first year for this plant combo in my garden, so we'll see how that mix goes.  Like silly girls, this can get out of hand pretty quickly.  But they can also be so sweet and pretty at times, like now in my spring garden.

I really like these Pink Parasols, despite my antagonism to spireas in general.  And I really like it planted with the other girls in this half sun / half shade garden at the side of the house.

Spirea fritschiana 'Pink Parasols' in MoBot's plant files.

May 26, 2010

Color Without Flowers

One of the things I have learned recently is that foliage color can serve the same role as bloom color in spring.  Many of my shrubs and trees turn nice colors in fall, but spring foliage color is a new discovery for me.

I planted Knockout roses, and they are trouble free and they bloom all summer, as advertised.  But the bloom color is quite cherry-red and bright, and I really don't like them. 

But here's what I really do like --- the emerging foliage in early spring, so rich and vivid.  Long before there are any summer flowers, I have scarlet color in this part of the garden.

One of the sights that most pleases me is viewing a small clump of wine red heuchera edging the garden by the birch trees.  Their flower spikes in late spring are kind of insignificant and brief, but from early spring till fall the low red spot of foliage just glows in the afternoons, and attracts my eye the whole season.

I added a pop of upright color to this same garden by planting a Japanese maple 'Orange Dream' behind the leggy aronia shrubs.  It gives some substance to the garden that was missing, but mostly it just lights it up.

Here you can see both the bright Japanese maple and the red heuchera in the garden in May, from a distance.  There are almost no blooms, nothing in flower this early in this garden, but there's still color:

And another view, with dark clumps of Penstemon 'Huskers Red' foliage contrasting with the shining Japanese maple:

The red new foliage of a weeping Japanese maple 'Crimson Queen' is intense.  The deep green color of the groundcover Kinnikinnik is a good complement.  No blooms, no flowers (well, the kinnikinnik is wearing its tiny blueberry-like bells), just colorful foliage.

A small newly planted spirea 'Ogon' makes a bright little point at the back in the early garden in May, before anything else brightens up.  It will get much larger and fuller with age, and it keeps its colorful foliage till December:

I'm just learning how to do this, so I'm still pretty tentative about adding bright leaves and forms.  But I am finding that using foliage to color up the garden is very rewarding.

Some flowers will bloom for a long time: the Knockout roses go on forever, and Rudbeckia and coneflowers are in bloom most of the summer.  But foliage opens up whole new ways to add color, especially in early spring after the bright colored bulbs go by. Trees can add colorful substance and height, shrubs anchor the middle layers with bright round forms, and perennials bring saturated color down to the ground.

I need to try adding more!

May 25, 2010

I am grateful

Overheard yesterday as I shopped at the garden center:

Dad, look here, these are dogwoods.

I was behind a tightly jammed stand of container trees, all about 5 feet high, and they blocked my view of the shoppers on the other side.  But it sounded like an older woman, and a man answered:

Oh?  The same kind I got?

I don't know, Dad.  The tag says Kowza.

What the heck are kowza trees?  I want dogwoods to replace the dead ones I got.

An elderly man's face appeared amid the foliage.

Hi, I said.  Those trees are Kousa dogwoods.  They're a kind of dogwood that is a little bigger than your flowering dogwood.  And more disease resistant, I added.

They don't have flowers?  he asked, alarmed.

Oh, they do, I said.  Big showy ones.  Creamy white.

That's good, he said, relieved.  Cause I want to replace mine.  They got that disease.

Anthracnose, I said.  All the beautiful dogwoods around here have it, but the kousas don't get hit with it.

We chatted, and his daughter came around to join us.  I told them the kousas were bigger than what he had, with a more rounded shape.  They both said that was good, they'd plant several 10 feet apart.  I suggested more space than that.  Oh, good to know.  I told them I was just another customer, not an employee.  They were very grateful for my help.

What about those other trees that are so pretty, you know, the ones that bloom?  Do they have those?

I took a wild guess and said, you mean Bradford pears?  They do sell them here, lots of them.  They're kind of a problem, though.  Pretty, but prone to structural problems, and they are actually invasive.

Oh I know, she said, there's a ton of them in the mall parking lot.

No, those were planted, I said.  Yeah, she replied, the town center has so many too, they're really invasive, aren't they?

Ummm.... get the kousa dogwoods, I suggested.  You'll be happy with them.

They thanked me sincerely, asked a few more questions, and went away very grateful for the help and advice.

And me?  I was also immensely grateful.  Grateful for the fact that I could offer even this modest advice and I knew what I was talking about.  I was such a newbie a few years ago that I also would have asked someone for "that tree that blooms", or "that one with the bark".  I know so much more now, and I can even help people as they decide to purchase trees.

But I was more grateful for the fact that this nice man with the dead trees wanted to replace them with something pretty and hardy and growing.  He had to be 75 or 80 years old.  These container trees were $24 saplings.  He would never see them reach their full size, and might not even see them bloom very much.

But he was planting trees.

May 24, 2010

Arbor Day Trees

I have been a member of the Arbor Day Foundation for years.  It's a nonprofit conservation organization, and you can follow the link to read about it.  Membership is just $15 a year, and with your membership you get 10 free trees.  Free trees ... how could I resist?

They ship the trees each spring after I pay my membership dues.  The trees are 12 inch twigs and they are bare root.  That means they arrive completely dormant, with no dirt and no containers.  They are wrapped in a plastic bag with moisture gel on their naked roots, and they are small enough to come in a large envelope stuffed in my mailbox.  They look dead but they're not.

Here's what they look like, out of the packaging:
(they were exposed like this just for a few moments to take the photo, then immediately plunged into a bucket of water.  You don't want the fine roots to  dry out even a little.)

Over the years I have had mixed success planting each year's worth of new free trees.  Some don't make it.  But here is a photo gallery of some that did succeed, all of them having started out as the kind of sticks you see above, and all of them planted four years ago:
River Birch (Betula nigra), planted in 2006.  It's a very fast grower, and I've had to prune it quite a bit already.  It's about 10 feet tall in just four years.

Redbud (Cercis canadensis), planted in 2006 out in the meadow.  The little stick was eaten to the very ground by a rabbit the first year, so this growth is really from 2007.   It's going gangbusters now, but I have yet to see it bloom.  It's about four and a half feet tall.

Norway spruce (Picea abies).  I have two of these planted in the meadow since 2006.  They both took a few years to do anything, but now they are putting out lots of growth.  This was one single tuft of needles attached to a root when I planted it.  It is now about two feet high, but getting fat.

Gray Dogwood (Cornus racemosa), planted in 2006, then moved very unceremoniously in late fall, 2007 (I kind of ripped it out, tearing roots, thinking I would not keep it, but then replanted it).  It will get very large and shrubby and form a thicket.  It's four feet high now, despite my rough handling.

A sugar maple on the hillside is growing well too, but it's surrounded by other trees and vegetation and wouldn't come out for a decent photo.

I also had great success with crabapples and hawthorns, but they get cedar rust from the nearby junipers here in my yard, so they were not good choices for me. 

But I've had failures, and this year I am trying a new method.  I've installed the little twiglets in a protected part of the back of my garden and I will grow them on for a year or two before planting them in the meadow or wherever they'll go permanently.

In the past, I lost twigs that were too exposed to the elements and too vulnerable to wildlife when I planted them out in the field.  And an experiment last summer to get them started in pots wasn't very successful.

So this year I have the tiny little sprigs in the ground, being watched over by some big spruces and mentored by other garden shrubs, out of the wind, away from the elements, and hopefully learning something about growth and survival from their big cousins.

My 10 free trees
White Pine
Colorado Blue Spruce
River Birch
Northern Red Oak
Sugar Maple
Silver Maple
White Flowering Dogwood
Red Maple
Pin Oak

Come back in four years and see what they all look like.

May 21, 2010

Baby Buckeyes

Aesculus parviflora

I have my heart set on a big swath of green between our back yard and the meadow.  I planted six Bottlebrush buckeyes in a row, to form a giant mounded hedge that will look like this some day, all loosely undulating and tiered:
These mature buckeyes wowed me on a visit to Wave Hill Garden in New York.  They're 12 feet high.

My row, planted in late fall 2007, looked like little lumps in a line in 2009:

In spring 2010 they are still dollops in the distance at the edge of the yard, but up close I now see lots of growth, and suckers forming between each individual plant.

Bottlebrush buckeyes bloom in bristly white spikes that leap straight up out of the greenery in June and look like - wait for it - bottlebrushes!

I actually had one single spike emerge last year on one of my baby buckeye plants.  And sure enough, later in the season, there were some buckeye nuts, hanging heavy on the spindly little branch.

The Bottlebrush buckeye is related to the big Ohio buckeye tree or horsechestnut.  Leaves look similar, nuts are similar, flowers are smaller (that's what parviflora means in Latin: smaller-flowered).  They will bloom well in shade and they may even prefer the moist shade that is their natural habitat in the woods.  But they flower best in full sun, and I have lots of that.  They really need extra water while establishing, they get very cranky about dry soil; the big palmate leaves let me know by going all limp.

The Bottlebrush buckeye doesn't get the awful leaf scorch that horsechestnut trees get in summer; instead, foliage stays deep green, changing to yellow in fall, and stays looking nice.  And of course it's a shrubby mounded form, not a tree.  Although for a shrub the Bottlebrush gets huge... about 12 or 15 feet high.

But while I'm waiting for mine to fill out, sucker and spread, I find myself giggling.  Jim and I can't help laughing as we view our baby buckeyes, because, well, they are just so gangly.  My immature plants are all splayed and rangy and goofy looking.  Most garden shrubs look like a smaller version of the mature plant - you just have to wait patiently for them to put on size.  But the Bottlebrush buckeyes are a fright:

They make me think of awkward colts trying to find their legs, or lanky young boys, all bones and limbs.  Their big droopy leaves make them look mopheaded and silly.

Really, you have to laugh.  Are these hula dancers in training?

Oh, how I long for them to grow out of their awkward stage.

Will my misbegotten leaf heaps ever look like this?  Yes they will:

Aesculus parviflora
in MoBot's database
in University of Connecticut's plant files

May 20, 2010

Good Day So Far

It's been a good day so far.

I haven't lost the pruners in the shrubbery, or knelt on them while weeding.

I don't have burs sticking to the waistband of my underpants today.  And I didn't decapitate any flowers by dragging the hose over them.  I feel calm.

I haven't sworn, cursed, or toppled a wheelbarrow full of mulch in the middle of the lawn.  I didn't spray Round Up on anything accidentally.  I haven't pulled any shoots that were the seedlings I planted yesterday.  I'm feeling pretty capable.

I am going to get up in a few minutes, make coffee and head out into the garden.  And then I'm going to need all the help I can get.

May 18, 2010

Froth and Foam

One of the things I like about garden writing is the ability to use words like "frothy" and "foamy".   Mmmmm.

In my garden Tiarella 'Candy Striper' is spreading in a swirl of pink foam around a baptisia that is just emerging in May.  Tiarella's common name is actually foam flower, which is perfectly descriptive.  Later in the season the foliage of the big baptisia will rise over the foam flowers and keep them shaded all summer, which they appreciate.  But right now before the baptisia has any size, the foam flowers are the center of attention:

In Pierce's Woods at Longwood Gardens I saw vast sweeps of soft white foam flowers cascading down a slope under tall trees.  Later I read that there are tens of thousands of foam flowers growing there.  I have twelve here. 

Camassia cusickii has frothy light blue spikes, happy in a small sweep in the wet part of my back garden:
Camassias are quamash, and the Nez Perce dined on the fat bulbs.  I sliced into several early this spring when I accidentally dug some up (completely forgot where they were planted ... that's never happened to you, has it) and I have to admit the oniony bulbs looked richly juicy.  Camassia flowers are made up of delicate pale blue stars, like a frothier version of amsonia.

I don't know why I'm thinking of having a cappuccino, but I am.  Extra foam on yours?