January 28, 2013

When I Started

I began this blog on January 30, 2010. Wednesday is my third year blog anniversary.

When I started this blog, the 'Bloodgood' Acer palmatum had looked like this just the summer before:

Three years later it looks like this:

When I started, the sourwood, Oxydendrum arboreum looked like this in the fall:

Last fall it looked like this, after I moved it to a new spot. It's not a fast grower, but I'm pleased with its progress:

When I started blogging, the black gum, Nyssa sylvatica, looked like this just leafing out:

In the fullness of summer three years later, it looks like this:

When I started this blog, there was a lot of lawn.

Now, three years later, there is a nice sitting area and new gardens surrounding it. There is still a lot of lawn, but not as much.

When I started, I put a big irregular bed in the middle of the yard and barely filled it with random plants.

After three years, it has filled in, compensating for the random design by mounding together.

In fact, after three years, its very lack of any plan is a plus, especially in the fall.

One of the biggest challenges I had the year that I started this blog was to reforest the hillside in back of our house, and screen us from the houses and busy road that ran up the small ridge behind us.

Three years later the entire hillside is transformed. You can't tell there is a road behind the trees now, or houses or traffic.

And in the process of creating that screening, a beautiful meadow and little forest has emerged.

Not everything has improved and grown since I began my blog. When I started I had four butterfly bushes -- two yellow ones, Buddleia x weyeriana 'Honeycomb' and two low, tidy dwarf ones called 'Lo & Behold Blue Chip'.

But now, three years later, they are all gone. I lost all of them in one winter.

I've had so many other losses too. Trees, shrubs, perennials, many are gone, some are replaced. But the remarkable thing about keeping a blog going is that I can always go back into the archives and see not just a photo of a plant, but a write up about something that appealed to me about it, or the experience I had growing it. And it's all instantly searchable.

A blog is just a journal, with pictures. I was never good at keeping written diaries. Blog journaling, with pictures, easy searchability, an encouraging audience of readers and commenters, and a community of other gardeners, turned out to be ideal for me.

Three years. When I started, who knew I'd still be at it now.

To all of you: thanks for reading!!

January 24, 2013

National Calamities

This January the Connecticut Horticultural Society had Eric Rutkow come to talk to us about two great tragedies that occurred in the last century -- the complete loss of the American chestnut tree and the near elimination of the American elm.
Illustration by The Heads of State
from an article in Bloomberg Businessweek

I think the audience was disappointed that he did not talk about horticultural restoration. The gardeners in the group wanted to hear about new resistant cultivars, replacement trees that look almost the same, where to buy them and how fast they grow.

The native advocates were disappointed that he did not belabor the outrage of the devastation and use it to rant about current introduced alien pests.

But his talk was not about cultivating chestnuts or elms, it was entirely about the development of two national catastrophes and how the American government reacted.

I thought it was a fascinating history tour.

Eric Rutkow is a graduate of Yale and Harvard Law, and worked as an environmental lawyer.  He is pursuing a doctorate in American history at Yale. He is the author of American Canopy: Trees, Forests, and the Making of a Nation.

It's a history of the exploitation of our forests pitted against naive celebration and impassioned conservation as our nation grew, as this very good book review states. The reviewer points out that wood was our original energy addiction.

Eric focused his talk on the rise and fall of two trees that most defined us as a nation.

The breadth of the chestnut in American culture can not be comprehended today. Not only were the eastern forests completely dominated by this beautiful tree, but the expanding industrial economy of the 1800s was based on its wood in every facet as furniture, tools, vast miles of railroad ties, electric poles, timber, endless rows of fencing, daily implements. Cradles were made of chestnut. Coffins were too. Chestnuts were food for wildlife and for humans.

In the 1800s, they say, a squirrel could travel from Georgia to Maine leaping from chestnut tree to chestnut tree without ever hitting the ground, and humans touched or used or ate chestnut products every day of their lives.

But in the 1900s the trees were gone. All gone. Billions of them, harvested for a growing nation at first, then killed outright in only a few years by an introduced fungus that still kills re-sprouted chestnuts today.
An archival photo of a now-rare American chestnut, Castanea dentata
(American Chestnut Foundation)

Eric talked about the government commissions that tried to figure out what was happening and didn't know how to react, but tried, with quarantines and isolation and inoculation programs and targeted controls. They simply couldn't imagine anything like a total collapse of billions of trees.  Millions of dollars of public money were spent and none of the efforts worked.

Elm trees, Ulmus americana, were not used commercially, but became highly valued ornamental trees in cities all over the east in the 1800s. Huge monocultures of elm trees lined streets and came to symbolize what America looked like. Like chestnuts, they were a defining cultural icon.

Elm disease rampaged through planted landscapes in the mid 1900s just as the government was losing the battle with the forest chestnuts. The public debate was difficult, no one wanted to waste more money, but now, because of the chestnuts, the nation could imagine a total die off of all the elms. That simply could not be allowed.
Archival photo of Ulmus americana in 1914 (from Wikimedia)

One of the eye openers in Eric's talk was the program of DDT spraying that was used to eradicate the bark beetles that carried the elm fungus. They sprayed DDT in the 1950s -- from airplanes, from big hoses attached to tanker trucks cruising city streets. They drenched the air and the streets and neighborhoods with it. Can you believe it now? But it seemed so effective and so right to do at the time.

That stopped with the ban of DDT, and other methods are used now to inoculate the few elms that do remain.  Isolating them (there are no long arching avenues of shady elms in a row any more) has helped.

A history lesson aimed at a gardening audience may have been a bit of a miss. There were no recommendations for planting, no growing advice, no helpful sourcing tips, no pictures of fall color or spring buds.

But the history of a nation facing two resource calamities was fascinating (and timely), and the book is a great read. I thought it was a total hit.

(Kudos to the Connecticut Horticultural Society. The program of speakers in recent years has been excellent. We're lucky gardeners here.)

January 20, 2013

Photo Gardening

In winter, gardening does not stop in northern climates. It moves indoors and onto the laptop. My winter garden lives and grows and thrives on Aperture.

Where is yours? Blooming in Photoshop? Growing on Picasa?

In my photo garden I can look at last season's Magnolia stellata 'Royal Star' which is just a tiny blob of foliage in my garden, and . . .

. . . . in a couple clicks I can grow it into a mature, spreading specimen like the star magnolia behind my friend Jane's post lamp. This kind of gardening doesn't take twenty years, it takes a click or two.

In my photo garden I can admire the wintry architectural branches of a New Jersey Tea plant, Ceanothus americanus, and then . . . .

. . .  in several clicks I can grow it backward into a fat shrub with white pompoms that drive the bees craaaazy. Photo gardening can reverse the seasons. Easily.

Photo gardening means I can enjoy the funny explosions of blooms on Virginia sweetspire, Itea virginiana 'Henry's Garnet' and just a moment later . . .

. . . . I can enjoy its fall color, the clearest garnet red I have ever seen.

When I photo garden I can even replant dead plants. After their untimely demise, I can put plants back in the beds they grew in years ago. How cool is that?

This redbud, Cercis reniformis 'Oklahoma' was decapitated in a 2011 storm and had to be removed, but this winter I can enjoy it all over again in my photo garden.

In my photo garden there are no nasty voles eating the roots of plants from below, toppling them over, and my dwarf Gingko biloba 'Spring Grove' still lives, with roots intact and miniature gingko leaves making delicate fans.

I can grow purple coneflowers in my photo garden just by clicking on them. It's so easy. Never mind that Echinacea purpurea 'Pink Double Delight' succumbed after a few years to something chompy and disappeared. In my photo garden I still grow it, and grow it well.

There are no bad bugs in my photo garden, and no deer at all. Sometimes it threatens to rain . . .

. . . but it never hails, there is no wind damage, and after it rains, my photo garden sparkles.

In many ways photo gardening is more rewarding than what I do in spring and summer. I certainly don't sweat so much. The fear of tick bites and knee damage is minimal. When I photo garden I am less likely to get dirt all over everything, although cookie crumbs in the keyboard have been an annoying problem.

I really do enjoy watching my small, newly planted shrubs and trees morph into mature specimens in just a click or two. My smokebush, Cotinus coggygria 'Grace' looks like this now. . .

. . .  but in my photo garden it becomes this quite easily, looking just like my friend Sharon's mature smokebush that it took her years to grow.

Is your photo garden growing well this winter?


January 16, 2013

My Suicidal Tree

Does this tree want to live? Does it want to be in my garden? Because, you know, it's not giving me much encouragement.

It is willfully, frequently and I think suicidally trying to come apart.

It is a weeping Japanese maple, Acer palmatum var. dissectum 'Crimson Queen'. Every winter it splits apart at major intersections. It does not simply drop branches or lose limbs. It cracks up in the middle with a very specific intent to kill itself.

The first damage was fixed last year with a stainless steel bolt, and it saved the tree, since both halves of the dissected trunk leafed out last summer and the tree looked fine. The bark is already starting to grow over the bolt. I took a major branch off below the wound, but that was to limb it up for looks.

The bolted trunk is the major stem, but now, this winter, the largest branch that arches to make the canopy has cracked. More bolt surgery is needed to hold this latest split together. And you can see a dark wound where a large branch tore off below the split branch as well.

The site of the torn branch needs to be cleaned up. I have to cut off that ragged piece. The callus that has formed to seal the edges looks healthy, though.

Are weeping Japanese maples inherently defective? Are they overbred, over-modified plant oddities like dogs that have health problems because of highly selective breeding? I wonder.

This tree is gorgeous, and I am sure it was bred long ago for its weeping habit and contorted branches. I love it in its spot in front of my house. But it seems to have been developed to fall apart.

You wouldn't know from these pictures last spring that the entire trunk was held together with hardware.

It fills the square in front of the open porch. Later in the season I pruned it quite a bit to reveal the curvy trunk and branch structure, although the steel hardware, healing wounds, and shorn branch collars didn't look that great when exposed.

But does this tree want to be here?

It weeps, and that seems melancholy. It is trying to kill itself, and that seems alarming.

I'm starting to feel very bad about bolting it back together all the time against its will.

January 13, 2013

Jangle Around Gently

In winter you don't really need a sign to tell you to relax. There are few garden chores to do other than sit inside reading catalogs and planning for the coming season.

But you should keep the juices flowing by jangling around gently as you move.

Satchel Paige said that. He is best known for his comment about not looking back, because something may be gaining on you.

But that was only one of several suggestions Satchel made on how to stay young and healthy. He also listed this piece of advice, which is my favorite.

Keep the juices flowing by jangling around gently as you move.

It's my goal for 2013. Not a resolution. Just a way of moving in the world, balanced between energetic action and relaxed inertia. Don't sit all day, get moving, stay loose, but stay active.

This year I am going to remember to do that. Just as soon as the sun moves and I have to get up out of this chair and find another sunny spot to snooze in.


January 9, 2013

The Perfect Plan

For several years I grew the beautiful pink and white tipped kiwi vine, Actinidia kolomikta.

But it is no longer in my garden. Not because I killed it, but because I could not figure out where it should go. It was a case of plant desire without a plan.

I bought it originally to climb up a trellis to hide the utility meters on the side of the house. But it didn't work there, and I moved it to the patio, to scramble over a low wall rather than climb up a structure. That wasn't right either.

Moved it again to a holding spot at the side of the deck. And moved it again, and finally gave up. It's gone now.

But now, making plans in the dead of winter (danger! danger!) I think I have an idea.

I do. I have a great idea.

The entrance to my gravel garden needs definition, and I think a gate and vine covered arbor would be perfect right there.

To the left of this opening there is a baby magnolia tree -- you can see the leaves on a plant in the foreground about a foot high. It is tiny and won't shade the area or frame the entrance for another 15 or 20 years (I'm on the extended garden plan schedule).  To the right next to the grass clump, you can just see the dark leaves of a smokebush, and that will grow large quite soon, filling the right side of the entrance.

Where the two bluestone steps lead from the driveway into the pea gravel area, I want to put a gate and arbor with the variegated foliage of Actinidia kolomikta climbing over it. How it would frame the entrance to the space! And provide shade!

Looking the opposite way, from inside the gravel garden, the entrance opens unceremoniously out into a grassy area. It needs a gate. And an arbor, doesn't it?

I've been spending a winter afternoon looking at ideas for a gate and arch -- I don't want a white picket cottage look, and I don't want it to be too fussy or too cute or too ornate.

Or too rustic.  I have my standards.

Okay, some ideas, see what you think:
If this was natural wood I'd like it better than white pickets.
From bhg.com
From Flickr - Jon Shadford
Photo is taken at Tangled Garden in Nova Scotia (link here)
This was found at A Primitive Place

I like the gate and arch but not the overly flowery climbers.
Picture it with the pink tipped foliage of a kiwi vine on it.

This is from Timothy Lee Landscape Design. I'd want a gate below.

This is from Clive Nichols.  Again, I'd want a gate
below, but the framing into the gravel area is what I like here.

So, with a beautiful gate and arbor, I think I now have a place to try growing a kiwi vine again.

Variegated kiwi vine is hardy in my zone 5 / 6 garden, but it should not be confused with Actinidia arguta, which is actually called "hardy kiwi". That plant is quite a climber, getting way too big for a small arbor.

Actinidia kolomikta is smaller, the perfect size (it vines to 12 feet), and the 'Arctic Fire' cultivar has lovely random pink or white color on the leaf tips. Male plants show the most color, and my young vines did show some paint splashes in spring. The female vine I grew also produced little grape-sized green kiwis. They did not have a fuzzy brown rind, but were thin skinned and you could eat the little fruits skin and all.
Even my young, frequently transplanted kiwi vine had pink splashes last spring

I need to mull this idea over. I move too many plants and change too many ideas too often to be comfortable committing to a structure installed in the garden. And I have a fear of cluttering the place up.

But I would have a place to grow a kiwi vine again, and it would be soooo perfect, wouldn't it?