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)
- 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 
- Platycodon grandiflorus)

And a couple of woodies:

Cephalotaxus harringtonia 'Prostrata'
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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Sunday, July 23, 2017

The Mad Seed Starter

Considering hanging up my indoor seed-starting hat forever...

I'm hopping mad --- at myself.

I'm mad at myself for failing - consistently and repeatedly - with my efforts to start plants from seed indoors.

I don't have any problem raising plants (at least certain plants) from seed outdoors, but I'm pretty pathetic when it comes to starting seeds in pots indoors.

Well, actually, my first experiment (inspired by videos and blog posts like this) was to try starting seeds in eggshells.

My wife and I diligently saved our plastic clamshell egg containers and washed-out eggshells all winter. In the spring, I purchased a plastic table, grow light and timer, setting up the whole shebang in the garage. Then I packed the shells with plain old topsoil from a big-box store, dusted the soil with seeds and set back to watch the magic.

Sure enough, seeds sprouted!

But the seedlings never grew much. And most of them soon withered and died.

Perhaps I hadn't given them enough water and the soil had dried out?

So I tried again, heading to a growers' supply shop to purchase biodegradable peat pots and some good organic potting soil with fertilizers built in.

Once again -- good germination, not much growth, eventual wilting and death.

I'm tempted to give up on this whole indoor seed-starting business with its grow lights and timers and spray bottles. Instead, maybe I'll try a bit of cold-frame gardening next winter.

Or does anyone want to try to convince me to give it another try and enlighten me as to what I might be doing wrong? Should I try the bottom watering method shown here?


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Monday, July 10, 2017

Hibiscus for Days

'Blue Bird' rose of Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus)
'Blue Bird' rose of Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus)
Hibiscus moscheutos 'Luna Pink Swirl'
Hibiscus moscheutos 'Luna Pink Swirl'
Native rose mallow (Hibiscus moscheutos)
Native rose mallow (Hibiscus moscheutos)

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