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.

26 March 2013

Lindera, bacon, or both?

What's better than being married to someone who risks losing a hand to save you the last two slices of bacon from the mouths of ravenous teenagers, you ask?  (Editor's (wife) note:  NOTHING)

Growing Lindera benzoin (spicebush), one of the earliest shrubs (beaten out, here, by witchhazels) to bloom every year, that's what! 

Lindera benzoin (spicebush).
Okay, perhaps that is a little over the top. I get that not everyone is into bacon; it's not for everyone (my apologies/condolences to those who aren't permitted). I suppose it's equally possible that one might not be interested in growing a shade-tolerant shrub with fragrant flowers under a window that catches breezes.

Over 8' tall in 2008. Local deer seem to be slackers, so I cut it back myself in 2011

Heck, some of you might not even look forward to opening your windows to bring in that first breath of warm, fresh spring air (personally, the wait is killing me). Perish the thought of experiencing the frisson that might accompany inhaling the delicate perfume of those numerous little yellow flowers found in clusters up and down the slender, yet sometimes lengthy (see above), stems of the spicebush.

Individually insignificant, the tiny flowers are borne in overwhelming numbers. Certainly whelming numbers, at least.
I know, too, that a shrub which merely grows medium green, unvariegated, yet-tasty-to-the-larvae-of-the-beautiful-spicebush-swallowtail foliage which turns yellow in fall may be equally unappealing.

Even though mid-October (2009) this is pretty representative of average summer foliage, hints of fall color notwithstanding.
One year and six days later, full bore fall color.

An anomalous curled leaf conceals...
a spicebush swallowtail larva. Don't be fooled by the eyes; this is the posterior end.
Empty pupal case

And those little red berries it produces, reportedly eaten by songbirds, are certainly responsible for a scattering of seedlings around any but the cultivar 'Rubra' (I've never laid eyes on one yet) and probably represent a threat to any nearby Amur honeysuckle colony!

A pretty threat to Amur honeysuckle? You be the judge.
Never mind, either, how well it's adapted for use in one of those trendy rain gardens (in the wild it's commonly found growing in bottomlands [which have nothing to do with your derriere- grow up!]). Although it hasn't happened to the spicebush in my garden (northeast corner of the house, the bed surrounded by perforated drain pipe connected to the downspout), have reported that deer may make a meal of the slender branches. So, deer like it. I bet they don't like bacon, though.

However, I still understand that, like the many witchhazels (locally, they win the first-shrub-to-bloom contest), spicebush isn't for everyone.

Perhaps not even for some of you who DO like bacon.

19 March 2013

To cut back, or to wait?

Spring IS upon us. As many have undoubtedly noticed, it's quite unlike that of 2012. Dire longterm portents aside, I'd rather have a speedier warmup.

Last Saturday, in those hours when the weather was pleasant, I found the time to cut back the old foliage on the hellebores. By the look of the largest clump (others in the garden have been moved once or twice, which is something one should avoid doing with hellebores), I was a bit on the late side.

Hellebore, partially divested of last year's leaves.

A lot of new growth was six to eight inches tall and had not only buds but open flowers. Taking care to avoid accidentally cutting new stems makes cutting back slow work. But, I think the dense older foliage can provide some needed protection for the new growth from late cold snaps and snow.

Freshly exposed hellebore.

I have some scant evidence in support of this: new shoots of other clumps, their old foliage being less dense, had suffered some light, but still apparent, cold damage. It could be, too,  that they're in a less sheltered location.

Some browning on this year's growth.
Either way, in spite of my annual fretting over whether I've waited too long before cutting, or that I've cut them back too early, they haven't failed to put on a decent spring show.

Now is also a good time to cut back old Epimedium (images of several can be seen here) foliage. That is, it's certainly much, much easier to avoid inadvertently cutting off new growth right now. Now, I just hope it doesn't get too cold over the next few days.

13 March 2013

Putty in my head

Sometimes we may learn more from a man's errors than from his virtues.
-Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Sometimes my brain fails to deliver the right information about the thing I see. Please allow me to explain, to your benefit.

Yesterday found me outside (that's happening a lot lately, and should continue; warmer please!?), poking around in the woods at East Fork State park. I should be looking up. However, knowing that spring ephemerals are starting to show up (Hello, harbinger of spring!), I can't help but look down.

So, I'm pretty excited because I think I've spotted some putty-root (Adam and Eve is another common name; the latin name is Aplectrum hyemale) in a location that isn't as remote to me as, say, the Smoky Mountains.

Aplectrum hyemale, or putty root.

As I said, I was excited and I couldn't help but share my discovery with others around me (what point is there in knowing something cool without being able to share that knowledge?).

A native orchid! The leaves emerge in fall, persist through winter, and senesce (die back) just as the flower emerges. I have yet to capture an image of the blooms, but one can see images of those at the PLANTS database profile for putty root.

And then, last night, as I lay in bed, I realized that it wasn't putty-root that I found. I had soundly misremembered the name of what I had actually seen. The foliage I saw belongs to the crane-fly orchid (or cranefly orchid; Why crippled? I have no idea, but am willing to entertain any theories).

Like Aplectrum hyemale, Tipularia discolor also pushes up new leaves in autumn which then disappear as, or before, it blooms. However, those leaves look like this:

Tipularia discolor, or crane-fly orchid. NOT putty root.

Not green-and-white striped. Spotted. The spotting varies between individual specimens, and can be quite attractive. The underside, if one were to turn the leaf over, is purple (I've seen newly emerged leaves look purple on both sides). Again, I have yet to capture an image of this flowering, so I will refer the reader to the PLANTS database profile for cranefly orchid.

So, while they have a similar lifecycle, and while they take on a roughly similar form, it's relatively easy to distinguish the two when in leaf. The hard part is getting my brain to maintain the proper associations, and deliver the right name sometime sooner than eight hours after seeing the plant!