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.

29 January 2013

A little reminder

I know that someone, someday, will be walking around the yard without me (supposing I move, get hit by a bus, etc.) and they will come upon something they want identified (here I beg the indulgence of my readers for what I accept to be a conceit of hopefully minor proportion; that my garden may hold a couple of plants which give a person pause to wonder…). That’s one, of a couple, reasons why I try to keep some record of plants I grow.

You wouldn’t think that I’d have much trouble remembering what plants are in my own garden, especially since I like to label things. I admit that I make things difficult for myself by tending not to label a plant until it has lived through one winter. On the one hand, I avoid the unnecessary time spent making a label for things like the Dracunculus vulgaris (voodoo lily) that refused to arise from the $15 tuber (but I optimistically labeled a newly planted Sauromatum venosum, [also called voodoo lily] last fall- go figure). On the other hand, my pragmatic caution (sounds better than pessimism, what?) leaves me wondering where I even planted the Dracunculus.

A young voodoo lily,  relatively subtle in leaf only. 

Dracunculus vulgaris in bloom.

I've lately been trying to update a spreadsheet that amounts to a personal accessions list for my garden (for the unfamiliar, that's essentially an inventory of plants that one is growing or has grown). Keeping such a list isn’t just my way of indulging an obsessive-compulsive urge, it’s a way to track successes and failures so I can make informed purchases, site plants for optimum growth and ornamental effect, and finally so I can relate sound information about those plants to others.

With that in mind, this (nod to mild obsessive-compulsive tendencies) spreadsheet includes a column with the title "labeled." Ideally, every record would include a “y” in this column, or at least the designation “n/a” (applied to plants no longer with us [Rheum palmatum var. tanguticum ‘Rosa Auslese’, how I miss you!]).

Rheum palmatum var. tanguticum ‘Rosa Auslese’

Unfortunately, the “labeled” column is littered with more occurrences of "?"and "n" than I care to have.  Because, as I’ve already alluded, sometimes I forget what I've planted and where, I can't always put out a label and change the "n" or "?" to "y"(these little things can be so gratifying). What to do, but carry on and see what (or if) things pop where?

So, when I go to plant the next Dracunculus vulgaris (a gardener does not give up after killing only one of anything), I can’t be sure that I’m not plopping it into the same deadly (poor drainage? too exposed/cold? did the bloody squirrels find it?) spot as the last time. Then again, maybe I’ve just somehow missed the foliage of the tuber from 2011, so there’s a chance that when I dig a hole to plant a fresh tuber in what seems like a perfect spot, no labels indicating something hidden and biding its time, I’ll put the spade right through the old one.

17 January 2013


Todays blog is inspired by something I came across earlier this week. David Sibley is well known among birders for authoring and illustrating The Sibley Guide to Birds, and he posted this image on Facebook:

Original post can be seen here

Of course, that's just silly. We name parts so it's easier to describe, because we want to differentiate one thing from another. Indeed, that's also why we apply proper names to the owners of the parts. Then there's that unwieldy list of attributes (fancy word for parts)... there's something to be said for being able to putting a simple handle onto a long list of the parts. Why, if we didn't do that, it'd be just a little, confusing, wouldn't it?

Two plants.
Plant with bits cut out.

Plant with sky in background
Plant and bug
Plant and bug.

11 January 2013

Italian arum

Nobody I know raves over Arum italicum, but it's not a plant without its charms. Plus, it has a peculiar lifecycle.

One normally acquires a start in the form of a bulb, which should sited in part to full shade. I recommend getting that done early in fall because this Arum will grow new leaves BEFORE winter.

Fresh, variegated leaves, December 2012

In a mild location (maybe a nice USDA zone 6 or warmer), those leaves will persist through winter.

Snow atop sturdy leaves,  February 2012.
The attentive gardener might notice the curious spathe (the leafy looking bit) and spadix (the finger-like bit surrounded by the spathe) inflorescences around mid-to-late spring. They may be easier to spot the spring after a harsh, leaf-killing winter.

Arum italicum in bloom
Over the course of summer, the marbled leaves senesce (die off), and the pollinated blooms (there are tiny male and female flowers on the spadix) will develop fruit:

Clubs of green fruit change to red-orange in late July or early August.
Too many gardeners (and I'm among them!) site Arum italicum with only the foliage in mind. Once the leaves die back, one is left with 1 to 1-1/2' tall little stands of red-orange clubs. With more careful placement, these showy clubs could be punctuating the canopies of hosta gardens. It seems to me that the cultivars with faint red hues would make fine companions. Likewise, both the foliage and the fruit would show well against the bark of such plants as Acer griseum (paperbark maple) or Betula nigra (river birch).

The conscientious gardener may wish to be advised that Arum italicum can be an over-vigorous plant and may escape cultivation (robins and mockingbirds, among others, enjoy the ripe berries and thus distribute the seed). As attractive as the foliage may be (recovering well even after temperatures in the teens), it shouldn't be mingling with the natives in our natural areas.

Vigorous variegation freed of snow just this week (9 January, 2013).

09 January 2013

And so, it begins!

A break in the bleak! Although the snowdrops (I have Galanthus elwesii in my garden) are in their early stages of bud color, they are not yet open. But,...

The first few blooms on my Hamamelis 'Girard Orange'

I found several blooms on Hamamelis (witchhazel) 'Girard Orange', which has consistently been the first plant to bloom in my yard for the last several years. Here's to the beginning of the 2013 growing season!