Wednesday, May 23, 2018

In the Merry Month of May...


...there are arrowwood (Viburnum dentatum) buds...

Flower buds on arrowwood viburnum (Viburnum dentatum)


...and blooms.

Flower clusters on arrowwood (Viburnum dentatum)


An arrowwood viburnum volunteered next to the oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia) in the front foundation, which is fortuitous since they both have complementary white flowers and bloom around the same time...

Flower panicles blooming on oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia)


I planted that oakleaf hydrangea way too close to the house. (I was young and foolish in those days. Unlike now, when I'm a bit older and still foolish.) As a result, I had to trim back some of the stems to the ground over the winter, and I can see where I'll probably need to do more trimming next winter. But for now, I end up with lovely vignettes of the white flowers blooming against the white porch railing...

White flowers of oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia) blooming against white porch railing


There are no flowers yet on the new oakleaf hydrangea that I planted last autumn, but it seems to be settling in nicely. I sited this one in the understory shade of a crape myrtle, where I'm hoping it will thrive with filtered sunlight all day...



Nearby Clematis 'Crystal Fountain' has been putting a great show for weeks and weeks. I completely failed in my attempt to get this to climb into the crape myrtle, but it sprawls charmingly and forms an attractive groundcover. I cut this back near the ground over the winter, so this is pretty much all new growth. I grumble a little about Crystal Fountain since I don't believe it provides any benefits to wildlife, but even wildlife gardeners need a few purely aesthetic marvels in their gardens, right? (Just a reminder - Crystal Fountain clematis flowers can look lovely for at least a week floating in a bowl of water on the breakfast table...





The 'Carefree Beauty' rose really does live up to its name. It's the only rose I grow and all I've needed to do so far is prune it back to keep it from swallowing up the sidewalk. I don't fertilize, I don't spray, I rarely water it, and I still get two powerful flushes of blooms in spring and autumn. I'm really just winging it when it comes to rose pruning. I cut it back fairly hard this winter and got a wonderful spring bloom, but all the soft lush foliage got a bit floppy. I think some gardeners try for the floppy look, but (grass always being greener and all that) I sort of wish the bush was a bit more upright and structured. So I may prune it back again when this bloom finishes. I'll let you know whether that works or can go into my bulging file of Not So Great Ideas.



I totally gave up on rose verbena (Glandularia canadensis). It's got a reputation for being floriferous, but finicky. And it's certainly lived up to that reputation in my garden, flowering its heart out and then vanishing. But a couple of rose verbena plants have either come back from the roots or volunteered, and this one has put on a fantastic show this year.



Finally, I don't remember planting this penstemon and have no idea what type or species it may be, but it sure is pretty!




What are some of the shining stars in your May garden? 

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Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Life Could Be a Dream


Cue The Crew Cuts...

My wife chooses the tulips for our garden. I've gotta admit, she knows how to pick some beauties...

Tulipa 'Dream Touch' from Brent and Becky's Bulbs



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Tuesday, April 17, 2018

One of the Best Groundcovers - Erigeron puchellus, Robin's plantain


I've sung the praises of groundcovers for years.

But it's hard to find the right groundcover - one that is assertive enough to spread and block weeds, but not so aggressive that it rampages over the landscape.

I tend to prefer and seek out native plants -- because I think they contribute to a 'sense of place', because I think they tend to fit into an intricate web of ecosystem services that I only dimly understand, and because I don't worry about messing up any wild spaces if the plants spread outside the garden.

Of course, I also want the plant to look good! Gardens should have aesthetic beauty too!

For a groundcover, I'd love to have an evergreen - something that's capable of tolerating Tennessee winters - multiple nights in the 20s, teens, even single digits. (It rarely gets below zero degrees Fahrenheit here, but it does happen occasionally.) And then something that can take hot, humid, droughty Tennessee summers without wimping out.

Surely if a plant filled all these criteria, it would be famous! People would be shouting its (slightly unwieldy) name from the rooftops, draping it with garlands and crowning it with honors.

Or not.

In this case, hardly any seems to have heard of Robin's plantain (Erigeron pulchellus), despite the fact that it's native throughout much of the Eastern and Central U.S. and thus is probably growing (literally) right under our noses. Or our feet.

It's a lovely plant - splendidly fuzzy and touchable. Unlike that other fuzzy, touchable groundcover - lamb's ears (Stachys byzantina) it doesn't turn to mush in the winter. (It does get tattered, but I say tatters are better than mush.)

And the old foliage tends to decompose quickly on its own, again unlike lamb's ears, where the detritus just builds from year to year.

So far, I've only trialed Robin's plantain in partial to heavy shade. It seems to tolerate heavy clay soil just fine. It can even grow on a slope beneath an eastern red cedar in what must be pretty dry conditions (to put it mildly).

So yeah, it's Tough with a capital "T".

But I've found it easy to pull (unlike say exotic Ajuga) and relatively easy to transplant. It does seem to do best when transplanted in early-to-mid autumn -- past the heat of summer but with some time to settle in and put down roots before the real winter chill sets in.

Without further ado, here are some glamour shots of this lovely creature:

Here she is in February. A little tattered, but not bad, considering evergreen plants here in Tennessee have to endure harsh sub-freezing temperatures without the insulating snowy blanket that protects plants in white winter areas.


Here's Robin's plantain doing its best Venus flytrap impersonation.


Here you can get a good sense of the plant's capacity to cover ground and block weeds.  In my experience, Robin's plantain is not aggressive at all. I don't think gardeners would have much trouble keeping it from invading lawns. (Although how much better to replace parts of a lawn with Robin's plantain... That's my plan, to dig out strips of the lawn as Robin's plantain approaches. And it grows so low to the ground that I can't imagine it would be a threat to any shrubs or taller perennials.

The flower stems can be a bit droopy and wavy at first, but they tend to rise upright and erect as they come into bloom.


I believe the flowers bloom for about 3-4 weeks. They do attract small pollinators, so that's another major bonus if you're trying to grow a garden that is welcoming and supportive for wildlife!

If you garden in the Eastern or Central U.S., you may be able to find Robin's plantain at a nearby nursery that specializes in native plants.

Otherwise, you could try ordering it from a mail order supplier. If you live in the South, I'd recommend Mail Order Natives. If you garden in the North, I'd suggest trying to find a supplier that would probably carry a more local ecotype.

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Friday, April 13, 2018

Long Live Moss!


Sorry I've been remiss about posting recently. I blame the long, cold, wet winter / early spring. (I may have proclaimed winter dead back in February, but it came back with a vengeance in March.)

Anyway, I have a backlog of photos I've been wanting to post, including these shots of moss in its sporophyte phase.

I really like moss. A lot. I wish I had more of it. It's soft. It's carefree. It's tougher than it looks, but generally non-aggressive (at least in my experience). And you never need to mow it! 😃

If you're willing to get down on your knees and go up close and personal with the moss, you'll find it has a lot of beauty, particularly in late winter (in Tennessee anyway).





Flashback -- I sang the praises of moss in this March, 2015 post! I've changed my tune on a lot of plants over the years, but my fondness for moss has only grown stronger.

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Monday, February 26, 2018

The Stages of a Blue Hyacinth


Blue hyacinth



Blue hyacinth



Blue hyacinth close up



Blue hyacinth in bloom

Blue hyacinth in bloom


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Thursday, February 22, 2018

Winter is Dead



She turned to the sunlight
And shook her yellow head,
And whispered to her neighbor:
"Winter is dead."

- A. A. Milne, When We Were Very Young


A single daffodil bows her pretty head



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Sunday, February 18, 2018

2018 -- Let's get this party started with some clove currant!


Hello and a belated happy 2018 to all you cheerful chipmunks out there!  🐹

Sorry for the radio silence recently. The garden was relatively dormant. The weather was chilly and/or windy and/or rainy. And I had a busted camera that kept me from documenting the winter landscape.

(Don't worry... you didn't miss much.)

So now I'm back with a new and improved camera in hand.

So come along for the ride. I've got a feeling this will be the Best Year Ever for the Garden of Aaron.

To kick things off...

New spring foliage on clove currant (Ribes aureum)
You've gotta love clove currant (Ribes aureum) leafing out in mid-February! This is reliably the first deciduous plant to leaf out in my garden. And are these copper-tinged new leaves beauties or what!

More new foliage on clove currant (Ribes aureum)
Another shot of these stunning new clove currant leaves. 

Stay tuned... in a couple of weeks, clove currant will probably look like this.

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Tuesday, December 5, 2017

The December Salad

Don't get too excited -- I didn't grow this whole bowl of salad goodness. The bulk of the green leaves came from the amazing organic farmers at Bloomsbury Farm. But the Shin Kuroda carrots, Rouge d'Hiver lettuce and corn salad (all grown with seeds from Sow True Seed) came from the backyard and were pulled about 10 minutes before they made their way into this bowl. I think I would have gotten bigger and better veggies if I had sowed my fall crop a little earlier and thinned a bit more (or at all), but overall, I'm pretty happy with the harvest. :)

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Monday, November 20, 2017

The skinniest carrot ever (and two decent daikon radishes)




The daikon radishes shown above are volunteers from a spring crop. They grew bigger in the spring, but these are still a decent size. Recently, the deer have discovered the crop and are munching away at the top growth, so I don't know if the roots still in the ground will get much bigger.

The carrots were sown in September. I've since learned that University of Tennessee does not recommend carrots as a fall crop here. If I want to try them in fall next year, I'll probably try sowing a month earlier and try to do a better job thinning out the seedlings.

(Actually, I didn't do any thinning at all of the carrot seedlings, so I've set the bar pretty low to do a 'better' job next time.)

Happy early Thanksgiving!

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Monday, October 2, 2017

Strawberries Must Go!

Wild strawberry (Fragaria virginiana) doing what it does best - covering ground.
Photo by Patrick Standish


I thought that I had it all figured out.

But that's what gardening is good at -- Just when you're feeling cocky, it pulls the rug out and shows you who's boss.

At first, I thought wild strawberry (Fragaria virginiana) would be the answer to my prayers. I've been searching for a tough groundcover (ideally native) that would cover all the bare dirt in my beds, block weeds and provide a beautiful green backdrop for all the other perennials, shrubs and trees in the garden.

Wild strawberry definitely excels in the fast groundcover category - like 10-feet-in-every-direction-in-a-single-season fast.

I will admit that wild strawberry foliage can display some excellent, vibrant colors in fall and winter. Photo by Joshua Mayer


Of course, I should have known better.

Just like canopy trees planted next to a house foundation don't stop growing when they hit 10-feet tall, a rampant groundcover doesn't stop expanding when it hits the end of a bed.

In the case of a plant like wild strawberry that throws out long above-ground stolons, it just starts gunning for the lawn or sprawling onto the patio, the sidewalk, the driveway, etc.

Once I realized it would be a daily (hourly?) chore to keep it in bounds, I decided to remove it. Since then, I've spent hours and hours trying to evict wild strawberry from the garden.

I know it's a native here (though I don't remember ever seeing it in the wild). And it's probably a lovely plant in the right circumstances, but I just couldn't keep up with it here.

The wild strawberry fruit is tiny (compared to the typical commercialized hybrid berry that you find at a grocery store, farmers market or pick-your-own farm). Notice all the wiry, red stolons that connect the strawberry plantlets. Photo by espie (on and off)

For those who are wondering, it also didn't yield much fruit. A chipmunk (or chipmunks) got most of the fruit it did produce. And contrary to the rhapsodies you find on the Internet, I did not find the taste of wild strawberry fruit particularly impressive. In fact, I'd say that market hybrid strawberries are much sweeter and juicier. But I might have picked my wild strawberry too soon. I was pretty sure that if I waited another day or two, a critter would beat me to the punch and I wouldn't get to taste it at all.

So where does this leave me in terms of groundcovers?

I'm still trialing a few spreaders:

Erigeron pulchellus (rose petty)
- Epimedium x perralchicum 'Frohnleiten'
Packera obovata (golden groundsel)
Asarum canadense (wild ginger)
and
- Coelestinum conoclinium (blue mistflower).

I'm also thinking about certain reseeding, clumping plants as groundcovers in their own right. Plants like
- Agastache foeniculum
Baptisia australis
- Gaillardia x grandiflora 
and
- Platycodon grandiflorus)

And a couple of woodies:

Cephalotaxus harringtonia 'Prostrata'
and
Juniperus virginiana 'Grey Owl'


I know some readers might feel that I'm too picky, that I want it all. Can't I just give up this wild goose chase and blanket my beds in wood chips, compost or pine straw like everyone else?

Nope. Not yet. I haven't given up hope quite yet.


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