Monthly Archives: April 2015

Slow Flowers Week 15

DSC_0290Spring flowers are finally starting to appear in the garden en masse this week making the work of arranging all the easier, Daffodils , once they have begun blooming in The Burrow , will continue on well  into June ending with the very latest of the bunch ‘Baby Moon’. Unfortunately ( or fortunately depending on how you look at it) I plant countless daffodils a year that come in mixed bags from wherever I can find them so they are cheap, but unnamed. The earliest that are blooming now fall into the cheap and unnamed category, except one little miniature that I am sure was intentionally bought and planted, I just can’t find the label. Oh well. DSC_0224

 

I have been waiting patiently to use the container  in this weeks arrangement.DSC_0222 It is a little frog in the shape of  turtle and is sweet beyond words.When I found it at a consignment shop  I envisioned using very short stems and covering the shell  , and still plan on doing that, but today went for a different look.  There are 10 or so holes on the top making it easy to insert and support the flowers and it’s diminutive stature made it the perfect vessel to incorporate minor spring bulbs, in this case siberian squill.   Sweet turtle boy has been sitting on my bookshelf looking adorable even without flowers in it since the depths of winter ( I remember ever so clearly  climbing through a 5 ft. snow banking outside the shop to get to the parking meter  the day I bought him) but I am glad the time has come to start using him to arrange.

The only flowers used in this are three different daffodils, including the miniature, and squill, no foliage or fillers. I love how the sunlight plays with the very translucent tepals and coronas of the daffs and bounces off the glass and shiny silver of the container.DSC_0247DSC_0244

I am going to leave this in the kitchen that gets flooded with sunlight every  morning where I can enjoy it as I start the day. sfweek15

 

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Down and Dirty Lesson : Spring Garden Design

DSC_0196Quick! Head out into the garden with a pen and paper. Make note of what is blooming, where there is color or where it is woefully lacking . We have had a long winter, are you happy with your Spring garden?

Come inside now, and sit down at the computer or with your plant catalogs if you have them.  Why now? because summer is coming, you will be  busy with BBQ’s, vacations to the beach, vegetable gardening and chilling in the hammock. By Fall  you are tired , the garden has sucked the life out of you with watering, deadheading, weeding and pest control. You will be in no mood to think of Spring planning.

Here is a short list of plants you can add for very early color. Check out websites like Brent and Becky’s Bulbs, Odyssey Bulbs, John Scheepers, Old House Gardens  to name but a few.

Order bulbs soon and you won’t have to remember a thing as most bulb sellers release their seasonal lists way ahead of the actual season  for planting purposes, as a general rule Spring bulbs  are planted in the Fall for Spring blooming ,  and the growers will ship them at correct planting time for your area. You will probably even forget you were so organized and thought ahead and will be pleasantly surprised when they arrive on your doorstop . Plants may ship at any time and you can plant them knowing the great service you are doing for next year’s winter weary soul.

Erantis or winter aconite

anemone nemerosa

Pasque flower or pusatilla  vulgaris

corydalis like the lovely ‘Beth Evans’ 

daffodils and narcissus…look for those described by bloom time for early, mid and late season,Brent and Becky’s does a great job with descriptions of bloom time based on other flowering plants

species tulips …I grow t. clusiana and t. kaufmanniana but there are many more  available . These perennialize much better than the hybrids and flower reliably year after year. Look here for more varieties

chionodoxa  That is ‘Pink Giant’ below in a teeny ink well with the blushing leaves of  Polemonium reptans’Stairway to Heaven’DSC_0166

siberian squill

gallanthus or snowdrops

fritillary

lonicera fragrantissima or fragrant honeysuckle

If you can possibly add a small tree , or even a large one ,always add a magnolia…in New England look for those who flower a tad later to avoid loosing the flowers to frost. Magnolia ‘Ricki’  is a great choice and her girlfriends that join her in the party fashionably late  as well are described HERE

hamamelis or witch hazel,Click here for the  Chicago Botanic Gardens Trail info …. Oh! the choices!

a beautiful early blooming shrub ( relative of the forsythia) abeliophyllum distichum is an wonderful addition

crocus, but be careful with these if you have squirrel or chipmunk problems

hellebores  ,  SO MANY TO CHOOSE FROM!!! choose spring bloomers by reading the plant description and shop here at Plant Delights Nursery

I already ordered a few more this year.DSC_0064squill

 Won’t you be happy when your garden is carpeted in color just when you are so desperate to see it?

 

 

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Rant Part 2: The Word

Before we continue let me take a second to tell you why the native versus exotic plant debate interests  me so much. As someone who came into gardening via specific plants ( I love and adore roses, lilacs, clematis and peonies and wanted to grow them)  I was curious how my garden impacted it’s surroundings.  Many people come to gardening this very way, whether they are looking for the best tomato, the biggest pumpkin or want to exhibit dahlias . I  wonder all the time if  my community had been a “Native Planting Only”  (yes, many such places do exist!) if I would have bothered at all ? Would others who garden for their own personal reasons  feel the same? I did not set out to make an ecosystem, I set out to make a garden ,but have always kept in mind that I am part of a much larger picture even though the scope of that picture is much larger than any one gardener can take in or take care of. Am I responsible for the success all the wildlife around me ? Should my concern be for only indigenous species( thus absolving me from worry about the honeybees ) ? Am I responsible for care of our wetlands, forests, birds, etc the list could go on and on. As I discover more about myself and my garden I am coming to realize that I can and  should garden in a way that first does no harm to the environment and second keeps me actively engaged and thus providing whatever resources I am able and willing to give to the other creatures around me.

Does that mean I will let the rabbits and voles take over the garden? Absolutely not, there would be no garden if I did.  Does that mean I should be conscious of whatever I decide to spray, plant , or water? Yes, as long as I am doing so in an informed and educated fashion. No matter what information is presented to me via book, internet , or word of mouth , I question everything. On any garden subject you will likely be presented with more varying and often contradictory opinions than there are days in the year, yet there is a way to discern which of them  you believe.

My first rule of thumb is to avoid absolutes, zealotry or dogma.  It is easy to get so caught up in a belief system or ideology and loose your way, especially when it comes to noble and lofty concerns .

My second rule is to read, read, read. You can access many published scientific research papers online and if you are ever looking for particular ones  , one email to the right source can direct you where to look.

Third rule, read such papers with a critical and questioning mind. For example, one of the first papers I read posed the question; ‘Do insects feed and benefit equally from both native and non-native plants”?  I was so curious to see the results, but upon further investigation saw the plant lists used to draw the conclusions were in my opinion useless: The natives were known  lepidopteran (butterfly,moth and skipper)  host plants and they were  pitted against  a whole bevy of nonnative plants found on  the USDA Invasive Plant /Noxious weed list.  THAT is a biased study that helps  those interested in Invasion Biology, but not the average home gardener who wants to know if the specific maple or  birch they are planting is a good wildlife choice. You can not draw the conclusion that all native plants are better insect food using that data. ( and it ticks me off that someone did ) .

Anyway, that is what started me on this journey of trying to get the most accurate information to help me make the best choices  and have a garden that will suit both me, and the environment.

 

In rant part two,  we return to this same article  to talk  about  the power of words. In particular we shall discuss with a skeptical mind the very word at the cause of the debate: NATIVE.

What does native mean?  A plant growing here since the first European colonists arrived ?  A plant  that  naturalized itself before we came? A plant that appears in fossil records? One that co-evolved with other wildlife from this area ? If so , how long of a period of co-evolution counts? Well, the accepted loose definition used in discussions  such as these is : A Plant that occurs naturally in a particular region , ecosystem ,  or habitat without  direct or indirect  human intervention.

Hmmmm…..So beyond anecdotal evidence  of the first humans  to live here as well as what we can infer from science ( like age of a tree or length of time a species has been here  configured by dispersal patterns and density )  what evidence is acceptable to give a plant that coveted status of “Native”?  If a plant is no  longer  growing here but appears in the fossil record ( like ginko biloba) is it still a native?  If a plant was brought in say in 1491 via rafting   is it native? What about by mammals, birds or wind? What if we take it waaaaay back to when the continents were connected and we can look at certain genera of plants who live now in similar climates at similar latitudes  and share many of the same characteristics but  find themselves separated by oceans?  Where do we consider them “native” to?

Now let’s look at the word in a different context; how it is so often used in the media describing a very large group of  supposedly worthy and desirable plants. The word native sounds so noble and  has been given  just that connotation by many who advocate planting indigenous plants. BUT  in this grouping are plants that fit into so many categories, descriptions, and  uses it boggles the mind. They can be trees, shrubs, herbaceous perennials, aquatic plants, or bulbs. They can be shade dwellers or sun lovers, xeric plants or bog dwellers. Some , like our  indigenous spring ephemerals need very specific growing conditions and emerge early, bloom quickly then go dormant for the rest of the growing season. Some  can be aggressive growers like campsis radicans or trumpet vine that can climb to 35 feet  scrambling over anything in it’s path  , shading out any competing plants and will rapidly colonize a large area using suckers that crop up  many feet from the main plant.  Some native plants are very well behaved in their particular ecosystem, but move them down the road a pace or two and they become noxious weeds.  How about poison sumac?  the highly poisonous water hemlock? What about the Franklinia tree which is  prone to a multitude of  diseases , resists transplantation and is generally a  pain in the ass to grow?  would you choose that over the easy to grow Serviceberry ( amalnchier canadensis)? All of these plants are so diverse, so distinct in  cultivation and wildlife value, yet are all lumped as one holy grail of plant  material …THE NATIVE.

As for the words used to describe non-indigenous plants , they are  EXOTIC and ALIEN , powerfully negative words leaving a homeowner or gardener with feelings of guilt and failure when planting what could very well be both garden and wildlife friendly plants. Words are everything , and they can lead us down some very dangerous paths.

Moving on to  value, both to wildlife and the garden, there are many native plants that serve the same function as nonnatives.  Biodiversity ; or the number, variety and genetic variation of organisms found within a specific geopgraphic region , is not limited to native plants. Neither are leaf litter, shade canopy, shelter, or fruit.  Lepidoptera species ( butterflies and moths) utilize both native and nonantive species , and some plants regardless of nativity are never butterfly host plants. Some native species are LESS valuable to wildlife than nonatives, some are more.  Click here to see the U Maine’s wildlife support PDF for apple and crab apple trees, keep in mind they define ‘wild” as untended, NOT native…..pretty amazing the host of creatures they feed,( as an aside if you tried to plant one of the 4  indigenous crab apple species you would quickly loose them to disease ,whereas there are a multitude of disease resistant non native species.)

If we are going to get a homeowner to plant a small tree, the delightful crab apple  with both ornamental AND wildlife benefit is a win-win! The same can be said for lilac , host to 10 lepidoptera species , nectar source for countless pollinators and shelter for birds, and a homeowner favorite as well. They should not be shamed for doing so.

So, the point? Well, really I would like all involved in horticulture on any level to adopt a new way of talking. Just spewing off “plant native!”  does a great disservice to the average home gardener. Be specific,  for butterfly host plants familiarize yourself with  which butterflies rely on which plants for their caterpillars, as well as nectar sources. Same goes for birds, bees, whatever.  Then know the conditions of the site you are dealing with ,the kind of garden desired, the budget and the degree of maintenance the gardener is willing to tolerate, and  THEN suggest plants that you know they can access, plant and grow successfully within those parameters.

Also, keep in mind that many studies point to habitat as a big huge part of the battle in wildlife support, so encourage a planting that has a groundcover, understory and canopy if possible , or inclusion of un-mowed grass or even meadow areas. The worst type garden for wildlife is a few shrubs and loads of bark mulch surrounded by a lawn.

Next up…dealing with our New Ecosystem  (human density, pollution, soil compaction, deer pressure, plant diseases and pests) and what happens when a very worthy and honorable ideal becomes a crusade .

In further posts: The issues of insect biomass, cultivating new hybrids of natives for more widespread garden use, and the ever controversial butterfly bush.

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Time for a rant

Time for a rant, and a long overdue one at that. I realize that what I am about to rant against may rub some people the wrong way, so I will start by saying what I am NOT ranting against.

 

A.) I believe in taking out your lawn if you can . Lawns have been universally panned as any type of wildlife refugee, are generally water  and fertilizer hogs, and  mowing etc is a pain.

B.) I love many plants that are described as “native” or indigenous.( I disagree with the  terminology labeling them as such and the fact that they are all grouped together as though they  are one SUPER-plant, but that is not the rant here.)

C.) I think planting for wildlife is a stellar idea, and there are many plants that support our wildlife that are both native and nonnative and embrace any effort that a homeowner gives to provide shelter, food or water to said wildlife.

I must also mention that I love me some science, and I can(un) happily spend hours reading hypotheses, abstracts, graph and data charts, but DO NOT in any way support cherry picking of  results or agenda driven experiments ( more on that when I rant on the other Myths in a later post)

So, back to the rant. This article has come across  my social media feed ad nauseum in the past few days, and although in some circles it may get me  banned or worse, spit at, , I am going to rant against it because it’s my blog and I can.

I will state again, that I love science. I love that some amazing curious mind poses a question, then does enough research to pose a hypothesis, designs an experiment to test said hypothesis , and then draws whatever useful conclusions they can whether they support or undermine the initial theory. Science. Love it.

What I DO NOT love is people masquerading as scientists; posing theories then designing bad studies, then  picking and publishing the data that supports their theory and disregarding the rest. I despise when those results are quoted in articles written for the general public who may not be inclined to question their validity especially when the cause they seem to be supporting seems so noble.  But even though I could rant on the so very many half-truths, misleading information and unsubstantiated claims here, ( and trust me I will at a later date) today I will zero in on only the most egregious  and that is in Myth 4.

Myth 4 states , and I quote…..”Tallamy’s studies show that native plants suffer no greater damage from plant-eating pests than do nonnatives and may in fact be healthier because they foster a more balanced ecosystem. Natives do host many indigenous herbivorous insects such as caterpillars, but these plant eaters in turn attract native predators—such as birds, assassin bugs, preying mantids, ladybird beetles and parasitic wasps—that keep the herbivores under control. In contrast, imported nonnatives, such as azaleas, may host nonnative pests that have few predators. With no natural enemies, “the azalea lace bug is the No. 1 pest in the eastern United States,” says Tallamy.

So lets start with these two statements

1.) that non native azaleas host lace bugs and the unstated but implied statement that native azaleas do not ( although the author of these statements  does actually claim  that in his well known and never to be mentioned here on this blog book)

2.)that azalea lace bugs( stephantis pyriodes) are voracious pests with no know natural predators here in the US.

both a bunch of BS

 

Most Azaleas, regardless of parentage, are susceptible to the azalea lace bug. The lace bug is an introduced pest from Japan. that has spread throughout parts of the country and damages the plant by using piercing mouth parts to suck sap from the leaves .  The damage shows up as stippling on the tops of the leaves and if you look under the leaves you will see the bugs.Yes, it may have arrived on imported nursery stock,and that is unfortunate, and I hope we are learning from our mistakes, but any  azalea species or cultivar  can be infested. The Azelea lace bug has never and will never enquire about a particular host plant’s nativity before inviting itself to dinner. And if you bought a plant in 2015 that was propagated here in the US  you are not importing anything, it has been here since 1916, it is already widespread,   and as such must be dealt with. The azalea lace bug  will feast on native and non native alike, and actually some of the most resistant plants (meaning azaleas that are avoided by the azalea lace bug) are hybrids of foreign origin  and we should be encouraged to plant them . Four of our native species have been defined as resistant and there is a plan afoot to hydridize them at the University of Georgia which is good news.Every extension site I visited and a few university sites as well  recommend planting azaleas only in shadier locations( in the eastern part of the US) to encourage predatory insects as well as the fact that drought and sun -stressed plants are far more susceptible to attack and extreme damage. ( I read several studies that drew this as their conclusion, although in the Pacific Northwest damage was worse in the shade).

As for an entemologist that would make the statement that the azalea lace bug has no natural predators here, I can not even fathom how to comment. I can site you many extension sites that list a bevy of predators (spiders, assasin bugs, lacewings) ,  like here, or  here , or this article..( there were many many more btw ).so is everybody else wrong?  Or is this claim meant to create hysteria and mayhem all in the name of furthering an agenda?  ( again, shadier locations will be a better location for planting as the predatory insects will prefer this habitat).

Lastly, I can not find one other source that backs up the claim that azalea lace bug is the #1 pest in the eastern US. It is widespread in certain areas , but #1? Not according to anyone except this author.

The minute I read blatantly misleading information and disregard for inconvenient truths I immediately suspect every other word written . Agenda….driven….”science”…is……the….worst!

As to why azaleas were even mentioned in this article, I am still struggling to understand.  Of all the plants that could have been included to make a point germaine to the discussion here….azaleas? Anyway, part one of the rant is over. Part two when I am feeling brave :)

 

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Burn Day…in which Wil makes the rare appearance in the garden and on the blog

DSC_0099Every year sometime in April we  have a day long brush burning here in The Burrow. Burn Day is one of the rare days that Wil  is actually a worker bee in the garden, but let’s be clear, that only ever  happens when there is the chance to use power tools ( like leaf blowers, chippers, and chainsaws) ….and  that most primitive and powerful of all man’s tools…fire.  Although I do not enjoy any activity that involves a gas powered anything in my hands or even worse, strapped on my back, I do love Burn Day. There is something about fire  that makes me feel like master of my universe ,even if I am only  conquering the brush pile .

For a week before Burn Day  I have to work like a crazy person to get everything pruned and all the branches and logs in one location ready to be further cut down and thrown on the flames

What goes on the pile?

All the water sprouts and suckers from the apple trees ( those willowy branches growing straight up into the air )

One third of the oldest branches from the colored dogwood bushes. The  bark  from these starts to gray with age and pruning them severely will stimulate new growth with brilliant colorDSC_0100

The top 2/3 of the 4  ’Limelight’ Hydrangeas( hydrangea paniculata )…they get enormous and only flower on new wood so get cut back hard

Any large shrub I am coppicing ( wiki definition here). In The Burrow I coppice smoke trees, willows, and any die-back shrubs like buddleia, caryopteris, and elderberry

Loads of branches that get cut  because of  winter damage and loads more that have had the bark stripped by the  voles and rabbits who hide under the snow and thwart all my efforts to erradicate them. The voles also happily live under trees in the ground munching their roots for sustenance and usually killing their host . This year I lost an 8 foot hemlock and a crab apple.DSC_0103

I also try to get any other pruning for size constraints or shaping done now , but inevitably miss something, so whatever got cut after Burn Day last year goes on the pile as well.

After wicked winters the pile is quite large, and this year was no exception.DSC_0083

To add to the fun of the fire, Wil got to use the chain saw to cut apart two very large willow trunks we took out last fall, the big leaf blower to clean up the mess he made doing that, and the little leaf blower  as a bellows to get keep the fire raging. DSC_0096 As if that was not more than enough in the tool-o- fun department, I  bought this beauty  at the Boston Flower Show in March. It is a Telescoping Ratchet  Lopper form Ironwood Tools.DSC_0089

While walking around to see the vendors  on my  break from the Q&A booth, I happened to overhear the young kid who was selling these giving his pitch to someone .I have a ratcheting hand pruner that I adore as the ratcheting mechanism saves lots of wear and tear on the hands and was instantly sold . This larger version is a dream and it cut through all  the  branches( even those  with very large circumferences) quite easily.

Wil was initially a disbeliever in my new pruner, but  was soon pleasantly surprised  by how effortless it made the work. He also wanted me to know  that it looks like it is making a face at us, frowning or maybe grimacing .  The effect  is ever better if you use the handles to repeatedly open and close it’s scowl while making scary noises like any eight year old boy ( in a 50+ year old body) would . Hmmmm….I should have videod that!  DSC_0091

For safety , we use a hobo barrel ( an oil drum with venting holes drilled  into it)  made by my brother and what may be the best  gift I have ever received.  All the brush needs to be cut to fit into it , and so there we stand by the pile  all day long cutting and stoking and getting smoke in our eyes .On the surface it may not seem like a great way to spend a spring day, but  starting with a massive pile of  brush and watching while it all disappears down to ash and embers…. that, my friends ,is a  rockin’ good time.DSC_0094

oh yeah, and I must admit that  spending the day in the garden with Wil at my side is pretty cool too.

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