Friday, April 10, 2015

No Damage, No Cry

The last weekend of March, we had a big old cold front sweep through Middle Tennessee, sending temperatures plunging into the low 20s where I live (as low as 17 degrees a bit west of Nashville in a community called Kingston Springs).

I was worried.

Many of the perennials and trees were starting to leaf out. Would they come through the cold snap OK?

I'm not sure why I was quite so worried. Last year, we had an even later cold snap in April and most of the plants managed just fine, with the exception of some exotics like rose of Sharon, boxwood, vitex and crape myrtle.

We were probably ~6 degrees colder this time, but since the cold snap arrived weeks earlier, none of those sensitive plants mentioned above had even leafed out yet (except the evergreen boxwood of course, but I didn't notice any damage on those...perhaps they haven't pushed new foliage yet?)

Anyway, here are pics (taken April 3rd) of a bunch of plants from around the garden that seem to have made it through the freezing temps just fine. If you're looking for strong, resilient perennials, I present these for your consideration:

Typically I don't much care for plants with yellow or golden foliage, but I've made an exception for Abelia x grandiflora 'Rose Creek'. Just planted last autumn, this is its first spring in the garden. (Update - As Tammy at Casa Mariposa points out, this is probably not 'Rose Creek', which actually has green foliage. So unfortunately I don't know which Abelia cultivar I have here...)

Ajuga genevensis, blue bugle, Geneva bugleweed

Platycodon grandiflorus, balloon flower

Baptisia australis, blue wild indigo, this is its third spring in the garden and I'm happy to see a number of stems emerging. Baptisias have a reputation as long-lived perennials that can take a few years to establish a presence in the garden. I'm a little worried that three other small baptisias that I planted last autumn have not yet emerged from dormancy. I hope they're OK...

Amsonia 'Blue Ice' (a hybrid of unknown parentage). I have a feeling this is a better garden plant than the much-hyped Amsonia hubrichtii, Arkansas blue star.

Clematis 'Crystal Fountain' embarking on its fifth year in the garden. I love the fact that this plant has fully leafed out and budded by late March / early April!

Coreopsis verticillata 'Zagreb' -- this is its second year in the garden and I'm pleased to see that it seems to have multiplied and spread exponentially. You're looking at two clumps here, each of which only had a few stems last year.

Juniperus virginiana 'Grey Owl' - this relatively low-growing eastern red cedar that typically has bluish foliage, but now it seems frosted with golden highlights, which makes me think perhaps it is about to push new growth

Pleased and surprised to see new growth emerging on the Hakonechloa macra, Japanese forest grass. It didn't perform well last year and I thought it might not survive the winter, but I'm glad to be proven wrong. I've been told these grasses can also take a few years to get established, so perhaps it will do better this year with a bit of pampering.

Could this be new growth from Hosta 'Golden Tiara'? Not sure. I planted a few specimens of this hosta last spring and I thought they had all croaked, but again, I may have been far too quick to write off these plants. Can't imagine what else this could be...

New growth suddenly emerged on this Hypericum densiflorum, planted last autumn

Seemingly overnight, the lilies that I transplanted to a sunnier spot in the backyard with absolutely awful heavy clay soil (pottery quality) have pushed up thick gorgeous stems. (This was one of the few plants that suffered some foliar damage from the freezing temperatures the last weekend in March. You can see a few dead brown leaves on the ground that got blasted by the cold, but they seem to have been rapidly replaced by new growth.)

Hydrangea quercifolia, oakleaf hydrangea 'Snowflake' embarking on its third full year in the garden (planted November 2012). Oakleaf hydrangeas have some of the most beautiful foliage of any plants, IMHO.

After much anticipation, I was overjoyed to see new growth at last on the Rhus aromatica, fragrant sumac 'Gro-Low'

Here are some buds coloring up on the Gro-Low sumac. This is the second year in the garden for my three Gro-Low shrubs.

Viburnum dentatum, arrowwood viburnum -- I was so pleased with the performance of two arrowwood cultivars (Pearl Bleu and Chicago Lustre) last year that I ordered and planted a straight species arrowwood last autumn. I'm really charmed by this fresh new foliage with the rusty tinge on the edges.

I have to admit I was a little bummed that I only had a couple of flowers on my Jasminum nudiflorum (winter jasmine), another plant that I just added to the garden last autumn. Still, so far I'm liking the shape and color of the new foliage.

This is the time to shine for Veronica peduncularis, speedwell 'Georgia Blue'. This clump just keeps getting bigger and better every year. I wish the flowers attracted some pollinators, but at least Douglas Tallamy says that the genus serves as host for 6 native species (and 1 exotic species) of Lepidoptera.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

The Puffer and the Juniper

OK, so I didn't have an actual pufferfish on my juniper... (photo via a different Aaron)

But you have to admit there is some family resemblance with these cedar-apple rust fungi (Gymnosporangium juniperivirginianae) that I found on a couple branches of my Burkii eastern red cedars (Juniperus virginiana).

If I had not removed the fungal galls, the tiny brown protrusions (called telia) that you can see in the previous photo would have absorbed water from the warm spring rains and transmogrified into these jelly-like orange horns composed of thousands of two-celled spores called teliospores. The telia go through multiple swell-shrink cycles as they absorb water and then dry out. With each cycle, apparently the horns get longer and release more fungal spores. From what I understand the fungal galls typically don't cause much damage to the junipers, but if the spores land on young apple (Malus spp.) leaves or twigs under appropriate moisture and temperature conditions, they can infect those plant tissues. From what I understand, the fungal galls typically don't cause much damage to junipers, but since I have a crabapple growing nearby, I'm trying to remove any galls that I find to reduce the infection risk on the crabapple so that the tree stays healthy and able to produce flowers for the insects and fruit for the birds. (My limited understanding of this topic comes from reading materials prepared by experts at institutions like Cornell and the Missouri Botanical Garden. Photo by Mike Lewinski)

Saturday, April 4, 2015

The Crab and the Bee

We had this 'Sugar Tyme' crabapple added to the landscape in Spring 2014. It was not all that exciting last year -- well, except for the gorgeous stinging rose caterpillars that showed up. They were pretty awesome. Anyway, this year, Sugar Tyme was smothered in pink buds that have opened into these lightly scented white flowers. Beautiful!! (That cold snap we had a week ago with temperatures in the low 20s didn't seem to hurt the crabapple or its buds one bit.)

There were lots of little bees (and perhaps other insects) buzzing around the crabapple, but they were moving too fast for my rudimentary digicam to capture any images of them. But this big bumble bee paused to pry open this flower, which gave me a chance to capture his posterior for posterity.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Did Somebody Order Turkey?

Look who breezed into the garden last week...

These turkeys flew in for a little stroll. I was pretty excited, because it was only the second time in four years that I've spotted turkeys in the garden. I hope they'll be more frequent visitors in the future. From what I read, wild turkeys are making a comeback in the USA...

Monday, March 30, 2015

Cheekwood Botanical Garden in Spring - Flowering Quince, Cornelian Cherry, Hyacinths, Tulips, Winter Honeysuckle and More!

Chaenomeles x superba (C. japonica x speciosa) 'Jet Trail', flowering quince

'Jet Trail' quince looks like a good bee plant. I've never tried it, but I've read that ornamental quince (Chaenomeles spp.) produces a very hard fruit that can be used to perfume a room or even cooked to make jam.

The foliage emerges early (mid-March) on Heptacodium miconioides (seven-son flower), a Chinese tree that reportedly has fragrant late-summer flowers that attract bees and butterflies.

Beautiful peeling bark on the Heptacodium miconioides adds a lot of character and texture to the garden.

I confess I haven't had the courage to do much with bulbs (other than daffodils). I'm nervous that winter rains and heavy clay soil would be a death sentence for most bulbs. But since my wife was enamored with this hyacinth display, I guess I'll be digging holes and popping in hyacinth bulbs next autumn. Perhaps if I plant them on a hill they'll be OK?

There was something about these thick, twisting wisteria vines curled around a metal arbor that reminded me of the Elvish kingdom in Lord of the Rings. (FYI, Asian wisteria vines (Wisteria sinensis and Wisteria floribunda) are considered invasive in Eastern U.S. forests. And as you can see here, they can get massive over time. If you live in the Eastern U.S. and must have a wisteria, perhaps consider the American wisteria - W. frutescens - which is native primarily from Texas to Florida and Missouri to Kentucky.)

What a nice moss-covered rock. Gardeners in shady moist regions awash in moss would probably find this photo laughable, but in my moss-deprived garden, this would be a handsome sight. I have a few small patches of moss (including one shown in my last post) and am trying to encourage them to proliferate.

Cornus mas (cornelian cherry) flowers

Ribes odoratum (clove currant) leafed out nicely already in mid-March. Could the foliage withstand temperatures in the 20s? I'll have to make a return trip to find out... Primarily native to Western and Central North America from California to Arkansas and Washington to North Dakota, I think clove currant is supposed to be the only currant capable of surviving (or perhaps thriving?) in the heat and humidity of the Southeast.
There were bees (honeybees, I think) all over this blooming Lonicera fragrantissima (winter honeysuckle). Although some other exotic bush honeysuckles are considered highly invasive, winter honeysuckle apparently is much less of a problem from an invasiveness standpoint. For example, it has the lowest level rating (Alert) from the Tennessee Exotic Pest Plant Council (TNEPPC). By contrast, the TNEPPC considers Japanese honeysucke - L. japonica - to be a Severe Threat to native plant communities. Given this relatively well-behaved reputation and its clear appeal for bees, I may have to consider adding L. frangrantissima to my garden. As the common name suggests, the flowers have a marvelous scent that can be detected from some distance away when the shrub is in full bloom.

Cheekwood has a remarkable tulip festival in the Spring. We visited too early to see most of the tulips, but these precocious 'Rosy Delight' bulbs were putting on a good show! :)

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Enjoy It While It Lasts - Winter Jasmine, Hellebores, Daffodils, 'Georgia Blue' Speedwell, Boxwood Flowers and More!

After a harsh winter (especially last month - 8th coldest February on record in Tennessee) we have been basking in above-average temperatures for the past couple of weeks.

Yesterday's high temperature was 77 (Fahrenheit). The previous day was 73. Last week, we hit 80.

As a result, leaves, buds and flowers have been bursting out all over, making for a lot of pretty pictures (see below).

Unfortunately, temperatures are supposed to take a nose dive later this week. We're expecting lows in the 20s (perhaps as low as 23) on Friday night and Saturday night.

Usually, I am what you'd call a Darwinian gardener - I let plans thrive or die with minimal intervention. (Well, I water them for a season to get them established, but I don't spray or coddle after that.) But in this case, I'm tempted to try throwing a sheet over the crabapple tree. It's loaded with buds and I'm worried that many of them will be killed in the cold snap.

For now, enjoy these signs of Spring!

'Honey Bee Blue' Agastache (I believe A. rugosa). Purchased three from a local nursery last year, they all seem to be coming back nicely.

I'm pretty sure this is Agastache foeniculum 'Golden Jubilee' (anise hyssop), but the leaves should be emerging a chartreuse color. So perhaps the original plant has died and the seedlings have reverted to the species A. foeniculum? (Prairie Nursery does call the species a biennial.)  I'll post an update later in the year as to the foliage color as these seedlings mature.

Shoots and flower buds on Ajuga genevensis (blue bugle, Geneva bugleweed)

Sedum telephium (I believe the 'Autumn Joy' cultivar)

I'll admit it, generally I think boxwoods (Buxus) are boring and overplanted. Yet, the thing I like most about boxwoods is probably what other people overlook - not their bland evergreen foliage, but their sweetly-scented spiky flowers that attract pollinators such as bees and (as you can see here) other insects including flies. Flies don't get much respect, but I'm sure they have a bigger role to play in the world than landing on our picnic lunches.

And here's a bee (honeybee?) buzzing in the boxwood.

Clematis 'Crystal Fountain' -- got to do some judicious pruning here...

Aquilegia (columbine) self sows with abandon here. I love it and encourage it. Originally I planted a few different columbine species including the European A vulgaris and a hybrid called 'Winky', but I've decided to focus on adding and encouraging reseeding by the native species A. canadensis (wild columbine)

Purple coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea) are coming up throughout the garden, both as returning perennials and new seedlings. Again, love and encourage the reseeding. I'm also happy that the new seedlings are easy to spot and identify, unlike some species where you have to wonder for a while whether you're growing a desirable plant or nurturing weeds.

Look closely at the base of these stems and you could spot new growth emerging on Baptisia australis (blue false indigo). Although B. australis reportedly prefers well-drained soil and full sun, it seems to have done pretty well for a couple of years now in our heavy clay soil with a bit of shade from a neighboring crape myrtle tree. Note that the new growth can look a little bit like asparagus, but there is evidence that Baptisia is poisonous (for people) and should not be eaten! So to avoid a potentially dangerous misidentification, don't plant this anywhere near your asparagus patch!

Beautiful foliage and buds on the 'Sugar Tyme' crabapple. This is the one where I don't know whether I should try to provide some protection from the upcoming cold snap or stay true to my Darwinian ethos.

First cheerful blue flowers are appearing on 'Georgia Blue' speedwell (Veronica peduncularis)


Most of the year I'm neutral-to-negative on daylilies (overplanted, high-maintenance, don't seem to have much wildlife value), but I always appreciate the lush, fresh new foliage in March that leaps out of the ground when many other perennials are still snoozing.

Dianthus gratianopolitanus 'Firewitch' (cheddar pink) - I was thinking of planting more cheddar pinks as a groundcover, but I'm a bit concerned that this one could be dying off in the center after a few years, which would not speak well for its potential as a long-term groundcover. I think I'll wait to see how/whether it recovers over the next few weeks...

Geranium sanguineum (bloody cranesbill) - planted three tiny specimens of the 'Vision Violet' cultivar last year. They struggled a bit as they had to compete with a rampant patch of cherry tomatoes, but they all seem to have returned bigger and stronger than last year, so that's a good sign.

Added a couple of hellebores to the garden last month. Of course, I planted them just before our temperatures crashed below average and stayed there for weeks with temperatures dipping into the single digits multiple times. Since these had been growing in an unheated greenhouse and hadn't had a chance to harden off, I assumed they would be goners. I covered them cardboard boxes (weighted down by bricks) that subsequently got soaked by rain and collapsed by ice. When I gathered the courage to remove the boxes after a few weeks, the hellebores looked fit as a fiddle. These are some tough plants!

Alchemilla mollis (lady's mantle)

Stachys byzantina 'Helene von Stein' (lamb's ear)


Philadelphus x virginalis 'Natchez' (mock orange) - Bought this from a sale section in autumn 2013 and got a great bloom last May. Then the plant just say there all last year, not growing an inch. I worried as to whether it had exhausted itself with the bloom and was on the road to ruin. Then late in the season, it sent up a sucker about six inches with fresh new leaves. Was that a good sign or did it mean all the old growth had died off? Well, so far, things look good. I'm seeing all the old growth (and the new sucker) leafing out. I'll remain optimistic on the mock orange.

I don't know much about mosses, but I think they're fantastic from both a visual and tactile standpoint, so I try to encourage them in the garden. I don't know how to identify this moss, but it seems to be entering its reproductive stage where sporophytes will release spores that will hopefully help the moss spread around the garden!

Symphyotrichum oblongifolium 'October Skies' emerging from under a winter blanket of leaves. I'm pleased to see that all three clumps of October Skies aromatic aster seem to have expanded nicely.

Phlox paniculata (garden phlox) 'David' - As with the daylilies, I think the sight of the fresh green foliage emerging in early spring may be my favorite think about garden phlox. The foliage always seems to get pretty tattered (and sometimes mildewed) later in the season. Still, it's a tough plant that has come back reliably year after year, so I should probably learn to appreciate it more. (I think there are some little Agastache seedlings growing alongside it this year.)

Viburnum 'Pragense' (Prague viburnum). I had five of them planted last year. This is the most impressive one of the bunch and I'm still not impressed.

Here are two of the less impressive Prague viburnums (Viburnum 'Pragense')

I'm pretty excited to see that this Salvia greggii (autumn sage) survived the winter. It's only marginally hardy in our zone and supposedly dislikes poorly drained soil (which is a big problem with our heavy clay). Still, it's one tough cookie and I'm pleased to see that it's back for another round. The other autumn sage I planted last spring seems to have died back closer to the ground, but I still see some new leaves near the base of that plant.

Native to the Mediterranean, Teucrium chamaedrys (wall germander) supposedly needs (prefers?) well-drained soil, but it seemed to cope pretty well in lightly amended heavy clay. All three clumps survived the winter and stayed partially evergreen. I cut off some of the damaged foliage to reveal this fresh new growth. The clumps seem to be expanding at a measured, moderate pace.

Myrica cerifera (southern waxmyrtle) not looking good. This is another marginally hardy plant in our zone. It's mainly native to sandy soils in the Coastal Plain of the Deep South. Perhaps I should have planted it in the spring to give it a chance to get established before it had to face near-zero winter temperatures and ice storms? I may have been doing a bit of excessive zone pushing with this one...(To add insult to injury, I walked by yesterday - after this photo was taken - and saw that deer had chomped off most of the branches. They didn't eat it, they just decapitated the plant, said 'Blech!' and moved on.)

Jasminum nudiflorum (winter jasmine). I'd read that winter jasmine might flower as early as December or January, and perhaps it would if we'd had a couple weeks of warm weather, but with temperatures at or below normal, it started flowering around the same time as the forsythia in mid-March. Bloom was sparse this year, with some of the buds frozen before they had a chance to open. The flowers are cheerful and I like the green stems, but the plant has a reputation for being aggressive in the garden. I'm not terribly enthusiastic after the first winter, but I'll take a wait and see approach and hope I'm bowled over next year (in a good way).