My home garden is in Monroe, Ohio. Officially in USDA hardiness zone 6a, we still, however briefly, have hit zone 5a lows in winters not to distantly past. The soil in my immediate vicinity is Eden silty clay. In many local developments, the good stuff has been scraped away and sold off as topsoil to some other poor schmuck who also had THEIR upper soil horizons scraped away. Whatever we had upon our arrival has been amended with horse manure, coir, and compost. There is no bed in my yard that couldn’t have been amended some more.

12 March 2017

Cold reality

Every year is strange in its own way. This year, thus far, has been unseasonably warm. When I say thus far, I'm actually being somewhat generous, as temperatures returned to March normal on Friday. Unfortunately, certain plants had already developed to the point where their cold-susceptible flowers were already open. Magnolia x loebneri 'Leonard Messel' is one of those.

Magnolia x loebneri 'Leonard Messel' on 10 March, 2017

Grown here in a partly shady location, more flowers can be expected in a sunnier spot.
In the past, I have observed 'Leonard Messel' locally flowering around the second week of April, and in 2016 mine was in full bloom by the 18th of March. And while it's still possible for frosts to occur through April and early May, the chances of it happening are typically lower. Overall, my 'Leonard Messel' has fared well when it was in bloom.

In addition to being so beautiful, the flowers can smell great (more so on a warm day).

The low for Saturday the 11th was 21°F.

By Saturday afternoon, the overall plant didn't look too different, but closer inspection revealed the tender nature of the flowers:

Magnolias that tend flower early in the season (M. kobus, M. stellata, M. x soulangeana, etc.) will always be at risk of getting damaged by cold snaps, but in the years when they flower unscathed, they can be fabulous. Even though there will be occasional years that disappoint, in the long run you will appreciate having taken the risk of growing one.

There's always next year.

03 March 2017

Early is a gamble

Jasminum nudiflorum is among the earliest flowering of the shrubby plants. Aptly called winter jasmine, it may start blooming at the slightest hint of warmth in late winter. This year, at the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden, a significant portion of the flowers were open by mid-February:
By February 22nd, it was nearly in full bloom:

Descriptions of its habit may be quite subjective. As I photographed the plant at left, one passerby described it as flopping. Now, it's possible that their glass is only half full. I didn't think to ask, but I did point out that they could, instead, think of the delicate green (all winter!) stems as arching, or gracefully cascading down the slope atop which it had been planted.

In my opinion, it seemed to me to be a particularly effective use for the plant, as it has a tendency to layer (root where branches touch the ground), thereby reducing erosion. Form and function combined!

It has been elsewhere described as vining. That might be the case in richer soils, or shadier situations. Although winter jasmine will tolerate a great deal of shade, such conditions will result in the formation of fewer flower buds.

Relatively inconspicuous during initial expansion (perhaps because they are too small and widely distributed to attract attention), partially developed red-tipped buds will open into the bright yellow, 6-petalled flowers.
In spite of numerous flowers, little or no seed development seems to occur. However, as I alluded to above, it may slowly spread by layering (as raspberries do, only at a more reasonable pace).
Aside from the tendency to lose flower buds in harsher winters, the only shortcoming, at least around here, is the unseemly lack of fragrance in a species of Jasminum. All in all, I find that winter jasmine is worth the gamble.

23 April 2015

And the winner is...

Epimedium x versicolor 'Sulphureum' (foreground), and Epimedium x perralchicum ‘Fröhnleiten’ (background)
Epimedium x versicolor 'Sulphureum' seems to be the most commonly available of the Epimedium spp., but, for a showier dry shade/part sun groundcover, I would sooner recommend Epimedium x perralchicum 'Fröhnleiten’. Both are seen above in my garden where they get full late afternoon sun.

Epimedium x perralchicum 'Fröhnleiten’, with the foliage of Galanthus elwesii in the background. Yellow flowers are those of Stylophorum diphyllum (celandine poppy). 

05 April 2015

Glory of the (s)now

Iris histrioides 'Frank Elder' has been in full bloom for a week now, the last bit of color faded from the Eranthis cilicica a couple days ago and the Eranthis hyemalis and Galanthus elwesii are well along into setting seeds by the time the first Chionodoxa (glory of the snow) flowers open in my garden. Glory of the snow?! Here, the snow is good and gone by the time this blooms, but Chionodoxa spp. are known to flower while the snow is still on the ground in their native habitats of the eastern Mediterranean.

Small beginnings - most of the 300 Chionodoxa I planted around 2002. I think I need to mow a little later than I have.

Chionodoxa sp.

Although the Royal Horticulture Society's publication "Hyacinthaceae - little blue bulbs" (2005) recognizes 8 species, it seems as though only four species are currently widely accepted. One might even find it lumped into the genus Scilla. Nomenclatural squabbles aside, the differences between the widely accepted species are subtle enough that they are confused in the trade. Some years ago, I ordered and planted 300 Chionodoxa forbesii. I didn't pay close attention to differences among them until I recently read the aforementioned RHS publication, and now I think I might have representatives of Chionodoxa forebesii, C. luciliae, and C. seihei. I'm not even sure.

What I do know is that I like 'em. A lot.

A little closeup action. Can I get a hubba hubba?

Scans of slides I shot in the '90's, this and the next image show the naturalizing potential for Chionodoxa spp.

Maybe, someday, my yard will be covered in lavender blue like this.

Chionodoxa with little competition under a redbud (Cercis canadensis). 

C. 'Pink Giant'

20 September 2014

Pretty, not pink.

Conoclinium coelestinum, formerly known as Eupatorium coelestinum, may also be known by any of several common names: wild ageratum, hardy ageratum, blue boneset, blue mist flower, pink eupatorium. The last (the pink part, anyway) is a misnomer that likely arose from film-recorded images of the flowers.

While the flowers are actually a lavender-blue, print and slide films images show them as pink; something to do with film's limited spectral sensitivity? If anyone can tell me the definitive answer why this is, I'd love to know.

Anyway, the advent of digital imaging appears to have overcome this problem, and I can tell you that hardy ageratum (which is the name I first learned for it) really looks like this:

A shaded colony of Conoclinium coelestinum just coming into bloom.

I haven't paid enough attention in previous years to know if this is anomalous, but hardy ageratum here in my garden has been in flower since the first week in August. And it's still going:

Evening light, earlier this week, on a smaller colony of blue mist flower.

The first colony above is now a bit on the sprawly-falling-in-on-itself side of things, but still has flowers. All the same, it's due for a cutting-down before the seeds start forming in earnest. Like those of many other members of the aster family, hardy ageratum seeds disperse on the wind via fluffy pappi (plural of pappus) reminiscent of hairy parachutes. Shearing the plants now, rather than letting the few blooms sputter on, will reduce the number of unwanted seedlings popping up elsewhere.

While we're on the topic of unwanted spreading; the astute reader has noted my use of the word colony. Hardy, or wild, ageratum does move about via rhizomes and can eat up a fair chunk of space in the garden where one is not mindful of marauding sprouts.

In spite of its tendencies to wander, I appreciate hardy ageratum for the color it gives shady/partly-sunny spots at a time of year when many other blooms are spent. Consider pairing it with some large-leaved hostas for a textural contrast, as well as a vigorous partner which can keep up with it.

09 August 2014

Well, last weekend I had a lot I should have planted (attendees to PPA symposia, especially their tours, tend to pick up a couple of things here and there). I DID plant Lindera glauca var. salicifolia (Lindera salicifolia? Lindera glauca var. somethingelsia? taxonomists appear to be fence sitting on that one), Lobelia 'Fried Green Tomatoes' (seen here, in front of the 'Sutherland Gold' elderberry),

a couple Andropogon gerardii, Teucrium hircanicum (planted, I kid you not, somewhat sideways as it is  normally kinda lax),

Phlomis russelliana, Kniphofia uvaria 'Echo Mango',

Geum 'Totally Tangerine' and I put bits of a Carex siderosticha 'Banana Boat' (detecting a fruit theme?) in several locations.

That leaves me needing to plant Caryopteris divaricata 'Snow Fairy', Heuchera 'Pistache', Deinanthe caerulea 'Blue Wonder', Arisaema 'Starburst' and Salix repens var. argentea ('Argentea', some would say). Well, maybe not that last one. It seems to have greatly resented being left in the driveway for a couple of days.  I would give the willow (sun plant!) crap about how the Deinanthe (shade plant!) looks remarkably better, but the latter may have benefitted from even the light shade offered by the seemingly sacrificial Salix. And, to be fair, maybe the willow needed more water than the false hydrangea.

I also should repot a couple of tiny (but, they were only $1!) succulents (Stapelia or Huernia [did you know Asclepiadaceae have been lumped into Apocynaceae- ]? and Echeveria or Aeonium?)

More sometime soon on how well the willow recovers. If at all.

24 April 2013

A Cercis sampler.

Cercis canadensis (eastern redbud)
Profuse cauliflory on redbud.
Closeup of one cluster of flowers.
In some years the fruit set (flat pea-like pods) can be very heavy. I find them attractive. The subsequent seedlings can, in a garden setting, be annoyingly numerous.
Seed pods on Cercis 'Oklahoma'
This one looks pretty much like your average C. canadensis. But when the leaves emerge:
C. 'Forest Pansy' has purple foliage at emergence and for a little while after that. Mileage varies... Some newer cultivars are better at retaining their color through summer.
C. 'Silver Cloud', an early variegated selection
Also 'Silver Cloud'; again, mileage varies.
Brr! But here's a good look at the form of C. 'Covey' (commonly marketed as Lavender Twist). Aside from the weeping habit, the leaves and flowers are much like plain old redbud. One can now get this form with either variegated or purple foliage ('Whitewater' and 'Ruby Falls', respectively).
A redder redbud: C. canadensis 'Appalachian Red', fenced against deer rub.
C. canadensis 'Alba', the white redbud (whitebud???).
C. chinensis 'Don Egolf' is compact and floriferous.