Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Camellia in Bloom and Aquilegia Returns

A lone camellia bloom and lustrous dark green foliage brightens an otherwise drab February day.

Another blast of cold air (highs in 30s) is approaching this week. I'm not particularly keen on garden work when it's cold and blustery outdoors, so I haven't been doing much in the garden except laying more pine straw mulch.

That said, in the past few days I've ventured out to capture a few highlights from the February garden.

For instance, one of the camellia bushes has started blooming! We have five camellias - three that were here when we moved in and two Camellia sasanqua (Kanjiro and Pink-a-Boo) that I added last autumn. Four of the camellias bloomed back in November and December.

The fifth Camellia teased with big fat buds for the last month or two and finally has started bursting forth with flowers. It is a welcome sight when so much of the rest of the garden is still brown and austere.

It has also been heartening to watch as the aquilegia vulgaris "Winky" puts on new foliage. I have to say that I was pretty impressed with aquilegia this year. The foliage does get tattered (by slugs and leaf miners, I presume?) in the summer, but I cut it back twice last year and each time it produced a fresh flush of foliage.

In autumn, the foliage held green and proud into December.

And when that foliage finally started to fade away gracefully, it has quickly been replaced by new green growth!

Why wait until spring? Aquilegia is ready for new growth now! I went for the 'natural' look this winter and let last year's aquilegia foliage fade away gracefully. You can still see some of it crumpled next to the new foliage. I even think the tans and purples of last year's foliage have their own charm. But if they persist and are still noticeable next month, I may tidy them up a little.

I'm planning to add more aquilegia to the garden in a month or two - both A. vulgaris and A. canadensis. Hopefully both will fare well and I'll be able to share some beautiful photos with you all.

Here's hoping warmer and brighter days are just around the corner :)

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Gardening Gear -- Best Gloves?

These gloves are made for skiing, but that's not how I've been using them...

OK, fellow gardeners, here's a question that mystifies me:

I've been gardening for ~2 years now, but I have yet to figure out what to look for in an ideal gardening glove.

Part of me really likes natural materials (animal skin) and to shop local (Made in USA). For those two criteria, I think it's hard to meet Sullivan Leather Gloves for quality and value.

I have a pair of super-comfy outseam gloves (seam is on the outside of the gloves) from Sullivan made of deerskin that I wear as my everyday winter gloves (driving, walking, etc.) -- plus they're really nice enough to be considered dress gloves too for a night out.

They're way too nice to use in the garden. But Sullivan has gloves like these Work gloves made of elk, goat or deer that seem to be designed for dirty work.

Even so, I have a hard time imagining getting these all mucked up working in the muddy, sticky clay that we get here in spring or fall.

For that type of work, I almost want a glove that I can either rinse off with a hose (which I don't think would be a smart idea with a leather glove) or even throw in a washing machine.

So I've been improvising and using some gloves that were clearly not designed as gardening gloves. For instance, I've used ski gloves (keeps my hands warm in winter, overheated in summer, decently padded for working with a shovel, but forget about any delicate work like planting seeds or picking small weeds).

These are my other 'gardening gloves'. They are actually bicycling gloves. Not that I've ever tried to garden while bicycling. Because that would be weird.

I've also used gloves that were meant for bicycling. These have a bit more dexterity and I like the elastic around the wrists that keeps dirt and debris from falling into the gloves, but they're clearly not meant to be gardening gloves. They still don't give much dexterity for detail work (sowing seeds, picking weeds), plus they were sown roughly on the inside so I always feel like I'm getting poked in the fingertips.

I have gone out and bought dedicated gardening gloves in the past - like these Magid nitrile-and-bamboo gloves from Amazon - but I find that they tend to rip and tear very easily. Plus that nitrile stuff makes me hands really sweaty and uncomfortable, especially in hot weather, despite the fact that the bamboo is supposed to make the gloves breathable.

I found these Magid nitrile-rayon bamboo gloves from Amazon affordable, but not very durable (they tore easily). Plus they made my hands all sweaty. Yech. 

So help me out here fellow gardeners: What is the secret to the perfect gardening glove?

Or do you have a couple pairs of gloves that you use for different kinds of work?

For instance, should I get a pair of deerskin or goatskin gloves for certain kinds of heavy/dry work (chopping wood, trimming trees, etc.) and then just use disposable latex gloves for wet and muddy work?

I'd love to find a pair of gloves that is eco-friendly, durable, protective, comfortable, maybe even washable. Too much to ask?

All suggestions are appreciated! Looking forward to hearing what works best for you.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Would You Plant ... Wild Ginger?

Hexastylis arofolia, a.k.a. Wild Ginger. Photo by BlueRidgeKitties.

Hello, fellow gardeners!

I am hoping to benefit from your wisdom with a new series of posts called "Would You Plant..."

These posts will cover plants that intrigue me, that I'd like to add to my garden, but with which I have zero experience.

I'd like to get your opinions (ideally, but not necessarily, grounded in personal experience) as to the merits or demerits of these plants.

So the first one I'm considering is Hexastylis arifolia, a.k.a. Wild Ginger. Another common name is "Little Brown Jug", which refers to the small pitcher-shaped flowers that appear at the base of the stems.


- Native to the Southeast

- Evergreen groundcover (I'm looking for groundcovers that will stay green year round, protecting the soil and blocking winter weeds)

- Reportedly hardy to zone

- Beautiful patterned/mottled foliage

- Really cool and unusual flowers


- It does not appear to grow very thickly. Would it be thick enough to suppress weeds?

- I'm not sure how quickly it would grow to cover ground. I think gingers generally grow kind of slowly. On the other hand, this should make it easier to make sure it doesn't get out of control.

- Slug damage can reportedly be a problem. I'd probably try stopping the slugs in their tracks with diatomaceous earth if that became an issue.

Other comments:

- Wild gingers reportedly need at least partial shade and will grow in full shade. I think they prefer moist soil, but I hope they would do OK in dryer soil if given enough shade and/or supplemental irrigation in case of a drought.

- Wild ginger in the Hexastylis or Asarum genuses are NOT the same as the edible culinary ginger Zingiber officinale. Native to tropical Asia, Z. officinale reportedly is only hardy to zone 8 and thus would not survive a Middle Tennessee winter. Is Hexastylis arifolia edible? I have no idea. You can read conflicting information on the Internet as to whether Asarum (which I believe is closely-related botanically to Hexastylis) is safe or poisonous. Personally, I am not planning to eat any Hexastylis or Asarum roots. I'm just interested in using Hexastylis for ornamental purposes.

Here are some of the sources I found while researching Hexastylis arifolia:

- Clemson Cooperative Extension (Incidentally, Clemson seems to believe using the ornamental ginger in cooking is OK: "Wild ginger does not refer to the culinary ginger (Zingiber officinale) that is used in stir-fry and ginger ale. However, its fleshy root does have a spicy aroma and can be substituted for culinary ginger in your favorite Asian recipe.") 

- The Annotated Flora

- Alabamaplants.com

- Using Georgia Native Plants - Talks about the role that ants reportedly play in dispersing H. arifolia seeds!

Where to Buy:

- If I end up buying Hexastylis arifolia, I'll probably order it from Woodlanders.

So have you grown any of the Hexastylis or Asarum ornamental gingers?

If so, I'd love to hear about your experiences in the Comments section below.

If not, do you think you might add one of these native ornamental gingers to your garden someday based on the pros-and-cons above or would you steer clear? Why or why not?

Thursday, February 7, 2013

The bigger they are...

This is not what you want to see when you open the blinds and look out the window in the morning.

...the more expensive they are to cut down.

When two big branches from our ~100-year old oak tree fell on our driveway, they revealed rotted wood and a cracked trunk.

This was a *big* tree. How big? I couldn't even get the whole tree in the photo! I think the guys who cut it down estimated it was around 75-feet high. Notice how one big branch fell directly on top of the other branch, which in turn ripped the trunk as it fell in a chain-reaction. The upper branch is just resting on the lower branch, completely disconnected from the trunk. That made me really nervous and created a certain urgency around having the tree removed ASAP.

The tree had to come down for safety's sake.

On a neighbor's suggestion, I turned to Mike Hite and his company, Creative Tree Service.

It took several days, a crew of about six guys (including couple of acrobatic tree-climbers who could have given Cirque du Soleil a run for its money) and some really big chainsaws and to de-tree the yard.

I was really impressed with the work of Mike and his employees. So I asked his permission to post a few photos and videos of his team at work:

Let's get started! Can you spot the two men in the tree? They're rigging ropes both for their own safety and also so that they (and their colleagues on the ground) will have a way to lower the branches as gently as possible as they are severed with a chainsaw.

Is that really a safe place to stand?
Working their way up the tree. Naturally, they're starting with the lower branches and working their way up so that each branch they cut has a clear path to the ground.

Meanwhile, on the ground, lots of chainsaw work and heavy lifting.

The canopy is nearly gone now...

Watcha doin' today? Oh, just hanging out. In a tree. With a chainsaw on my hip. The usual.

Taking a breather...Must be a nice view from up there.

Time to bring in the stump grinder!

Check out that big hunk o' stump. Yep, it's hollow. Amazing that the outer ring of wood was able to hold up all that weight. Thank goodness!

And now some videos of Arborists in Action!

After the tree was cut up and gone, we were left with just a sawdust-filled hole where the stump had been ground out.

But I found a landscaper who installed a new landscape bed and a number of new trees in the front yard - Maples, Redbuds and Eastern Red Cedars. (Stay tuned for photos of the new bed in an upcoming post...though I may wait until the trees start leafing out to publish photos.)

For the first time, I now feel like our home is really 'grounded' in the landscape rather than looming over an empty lawn.

But none of the new trees we've planted will grow as big as that oak (I hope)!

On the bright side, there were no acorns to rake this year.

But I am feeling bad for the squirrel who used to live in the oak and was forced to relocate...