Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Ripe for Discussion: Vines on Walls?

Ivy covers a structure in Kurashiki, Japan. Photo by Joel Abroad.
There may be a building under there somewhere....
Ivy covers a structure in Kurashiki, Japan.
Photo by Joel Abroad

I recently came across this study (published nearly four years ago, but new to me) from Oxford University in the UK saying that ivy could benefit walls by protecting them from temperature extremes and pollution.

I'd say there are at least two important caveats to this study:

1) The authors seem comfortable claiming ivy helps protect intact walls, but they note that ivy might exacerbate problems in walls that already have cracks or holes.

2) The ivy study seems to have focused only on five sites in England, so it's not clear whether the findings apply in much hotter/colder/drier/wetter settings. (Although really, is there any place wetter than England? Probably not this winter.)

What do other Internet sources say?

Today's Homeowner pretty much agrees with the Oxford study, saying ivy can protect "solid, well-constructed masonry walls" but basically warning against using ivy as a climber anywhere else -- dry-stacked walls, old brick homes, wooden walls or fences, siding, stucco, painted surfaces, etc.

The consensus on one home improvement forum (StackExchange) seems to be that ivy on walls is bad news. The only dissenters were the ones who cited the Oxford study.

And then there's the whole issue of invasiveness, at least here in the States (since the commonly used English Ivy, Hedera helix, seems to have been introduced here from Europe and western Asia).

As I understand it, ivy grown as a groundcover can be annoying in terms of running rampant over anything else in a garden bed, but it only really becomes invasive when it is allowed to climb, flower and produce seeds that are then dispersed by birds into forest settings. Seems like wall-grown ivy would be a constant source of menace in terms of introducing ivy seeds into the environment.


But even if you swear off English Ivy, what about using other vines - perhaps native vines - to cloak your walls? For example, what about letting the native Crossvine (Bignonia capreolata) clamber up your wall? Does the idea intrigue you or you terrified that tendrils will creep into your attic one dark and stormy night?

Bignonia capreolata, Crossvine, "Tangerine Beauty" variety. Photo by Eran Finkle
Bignonia capreolata, Crossvine, "Tangerine Beauty" variety (may be a bit easier to tame than the species)
Photo by Eran Finkle
Or what about Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia), also native to North America, but sounds far more rampant than Crossvine. The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center says that Virginia Creeper climbs with adhesive disks rather than penetrating rootlets and thus does not cause as much damage to buildings as some other vines.

Have you -- or would you -- grow a vine on a wall of your house or other structure (garage, shed, etc.)? 

Or do you think that's just asking for trouble?

One other idea -- what about getting the aesthetic and protective benefits of a vine without the potentially destructive drawbacks? Old-House Online suggests building a trellis along a wall for a twining climber like wisteria or grapevine.

I like the concept, although I object to the wisteria suggestion. Japanese Wisteria and Chinese Wisteria are exotic invasives, and I believe even our native wisteria -- American Wisteria, W. frutescens -- would want to grow too big and heavy for a wall trellis. Plus wisterias have poisonous seeds, which I would argue mitigates against using wisteria in a residential setting.

But perhaps other twining vines -- e.g.,  Coral HoneysuckleArmand Clematis or the Hops vine (Humulus lupulus) -- would do the trick?

Clematis armandii in bloom. Photo by Ali Eminov
Clematis armandii in bloom
Photo by Ali Eminov

Update: Here's how Mr. Smarty Plants of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center sees the pros and cons of growing vines on walls.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Help Wanted: How and When to Cut Back?

My Dad likes to say, "Dates on the calendar are closer than they appear."

Spring will be here before you know it. This past week, we finally got our first real stretch of above average temperatures with highs in the 60s. I know it won't be long before lots of plants start putting on new growth.

Before that happens, I'm aware that I probably should do some trimming. But I confess that I'm not confident I know exactly how or when to trim. Thus I humbly solicit the expertise of other more experienced gardeners on the following plants. Your advice is greatly appreciated!

Muhlenbergia capillaris, Pink Muhly Grass, Sweetgrass - Some online sources suggest cutting Pink Mulhy grass to 6-inches tall in the early spring. Other sources say that Pink Muhly should never be cut shorter than 12-inches tall, or should be cut back by one-third or even left untrimmed with the old foliage just raked out if desired. You can see why I could use some guidance here from gardeners who have grown this plant.

Schizachyrium scoparium, Little Bluestem, "The Blues" - I was dubious when a landscaper suggested these plants, but I'm oh-so-glad I agreed. This tiny little 'meadow' of waving grasses has been one of the happiest sites in my garden year-round since it was installed. Color me impressed with these golden blues. My landscaper may cut the Little Bluestem for me, but I'd still like to know what y'all think. I think I've heard that Little Bluestem should be cut to around 8-inches tall in late winter or early spring. Does that sound right to you? Or should I just rake/pull out any loose leaves?

Epimedium x perralchicum "Frohnleiten" -- An evergreen perennial with groundcover habit, I've read in the AHS Encyclopedia of Garden Plants that it's often a good idea to clip back old epimedium foliage in late winter or early spring to stimulate flowering and the growth of new foliage. Does this align with your experience? And how do epimediums typically deal with transplantation of I wanted to try moving it someplace a little shadier? (It gets lots of shade in the winter where it is now, but it has to cope with the strong afternoon sun in summertime.)

Dryopteris x australis, Dixie Wood Fern - This is a native Southeast fern that did great last year. As you can see, in winter the stems all collapsed, but the fronds stayed green. I don't have much experience with ferns, but I guess I'm just wondering whether I should cut the fronds at the base where they've already fallen to make way for new fronds in the springtime, or whether I should just let them naturally decompose as they seemed to do regularly during the warmer months last year. (I'm predisposed to just let them be.) But if I were to trim away the old fronds, should I do so now or wait until a bit later in the spring? (I'm not sure when the new fronds typically emerge...)

Finally, there's the question of Aucuba japonica or Gold Dust Plant. I'm probably zone-pushing a little with this plant, but MSU does call it hardy to -5 Fahrenheit. In a sheltered spot, it seems to have come through the harsh winter of 2013-14 (official low temperature of -2) without too much damage. Some leaves have blackened, however. Should I trim those off or will they just fall away naturally and decompose?

I'm most worried about the top part of the plant. Aucuba leaves tend to droop in cold weather and then perk up again when temperatures warm. But the leaves at the top of this Aucuba are staying droopy. And I don't see any new leaves emerging here as they are elsewhere on the plant. Should I trim off this top section or will that permanently stunt the Aucuba's growth?

Just another pic to show the new leaves emerging elsewhere on the Aucuba that I don't see at the top of the plant. From what I understand, Aucubas typically respond well to pruning. Pennsylvania garden writer George Weigel says that the tips of cold-damaged stems can be snipped off in late March just before new growth begins. Does that jibe with your experience?

Thanks for any advice or suggestions you may have. It's always nice when we gardeners can benefit from one another's experiences!

Monday, February 17, 2014

A Hard Winter, A Lot of Damage, A Little Hope

This has been a hard winter in Tennessee.

For the first time in years, the mercury dipped below zero degrees (-2 was the lowest I saw) and we had several nights in the zero to 5 degree range.

The lack of insulating snow cover and gusty breezes in my windswept hilltop garden compounded the impact of the cold temperatures.

The result? Zone-pushing plants took a real hit -- and even some broadleaf evergreens that should have been OK in my zone (like Sarcococca confusa) seem to have been killed or severely wounded.

After singing the praises of camellias in previous years, now I'm faced with the hard truth that they are only marginally hardy in Middle Tennessee.

A young camellia that I planted in November in a windy, relatively sunny spot seems to have suffered severe damage. 
Even this established camellia in a shadier and slightly more sheltered spot seems to have damage on about half its foliage.

And then there's Raphiolepsis umbellata, a.k.a. Indian Hawthorn. There were three of these in the back foundation bed (SW exposure) when we moved in. Native to India and Southern China, these members of the rose family are champs when it comes to tolerating heat and drought. They barely blinked and certainly did not wilt even when temperatures regularly soared past 100 degrees during the summer of 2012. Wind and humidity didn't faze them. Rabbits and deer didn't bother them. But the cold seems to have got the better of them.

Even the most cold-tolerant varieties are only rated as being hardy to 5 degrees Fahrenheit, and we've fallen below that number a couple of times this winter. I'm seeing what looks like significant foliage damage on all three Hawthorns. Of course, having never dealt with this before, I don't know whether the plants will shed their leaves in the spring and grow new ones, or whether they're not long for this world.

Indian Hawthorn in happier times (July 2013)

A toasted Indian Hawthorn in February 2014. Not looking promising...

Here are some photos of a few other plants that are not looking their best:

Ajuga reptans - Looks awful, but since it is rated as being hardy to zone 4, I presume it will bounce back

Ajuga genevensis - Much less common but a zone hardier than A. reptans, looks relatively thick, lush and unperturbed by zero degree temps.

Rubus calycinoides, Creeping Raspberry looking crispy. Hopefully this one will bounce back. It's rated to zone 6, but it's in a sunny, windy spot where it probably faced unusually high winter stress.

Stachys byzantina, Helene von Stein, Lamb's Ear - Most of this looks dead, but rated as hardy to zone 4, so I'm hoping it's just playing possum. There's a bit of fresh new growth peaking out from under the rubble of last year's leaves. The question is: Do I need to rake away the old growth this spring, or should I let it stay and decompose as mulch/fertilizer?

Veronica peduncularis, Prostrate Speedwell "Georgia Blue" - Looking fairly dreadful, but rated as hardy to zone 4 or 5, so again, I'm hoping this will bounce back as the weather warms.

What about the deciduous plants like crape myrtle, vitex, rose of sharon, fothergilla, chokeberry or redbud? Any damage they've suffered in these cold spells won't be visible for months until the plants leaf out (or not). I'll try to post an update when that happens.

It's hard not to get discouraged seeing how poorly some of the new and established plants have fared in this hard winter. But gardening teaches humility. I've gone back to the drawing board a bit this winter, scratching some ideas off the list and trying to find others that can withstand whatever heat, cold, floods or drought Tennessee's climate can throw at them!

So....where does the Hope come in?

Well, I did add two new shrubs to the garden that have impressed me so far with their toughness:

Juniperus virginiana "Grey Owl" -- rated to zone 2, this charming evergreen with a soft grey-green color has seemed fairly unperturbed, which is no real surprise as it's rated hardy to zone 2. Supposed to eventually reach 3-feet high by 6-feet wide, I'm considering getting several more as replacements for the Indian Hawthorns. As an Eastern Red Cedar, it's native to Tennessee, which is another plus in my book. 

Viburnum x rhytidophylloides --  Yes, the Latin name is daunting. And the 'common' name of Lantanaphyllum Viburnum really isn't that much friendlier. But last November, I bought and planted the pronounceable and esteemed "Allegheny" variety, which is supposedly more resistant to bacterial leaf spot than the species. (Always a good thing.) Allegheny viburnum is supposed to tolerate drought, pollution and heat. Thrown into the crucible its first winter in the ground, I can report that it has held onto at least a few of its leaves, which turned a lovely purplish color. And it's very encouraging to see the new baby leaves taking shape at a time when there are not many other signs of life in the garden.

So hope does spring eternal!

A maple branch starts to color up against a bright blue sky on a clear and seasonable February day.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Anger, Snow, Drought, Butterflies and Poetry

Snowy Chicago and frozen Lake Michigan, February 4, 2014
Photo by Patrick Giblin via Creative Commons

I read online a few months back that anger is the Internet's most prevalent and powerful emotion.

That sounds about right to me.

And it concerns me a bit, because so many of us spend so much time on the Internet these days, that we're probably absorbing that anger, contributing to it and most likely taking it offline into our personal lives.

That's probably not healthy.

Of course, that's one reason I like writing and reading gardening blogs. There's usually not much anger either on the part of the writer or the commentators.

On most sites, comments sections are typically inane at best or vicious at worst, filled with ad hominem attacks. But gardening blog comment sections are typically supportive, humorous, helpful and kind. I think it speaks well for our ilk and gives me hope for the human race. (OK, maybe that's naive or silly, but that's how I feel.)

And yet...

Allow me to vent just a little on a story I came across just today in the venerable New York Times with an editor from Powder magazine scaremongering about "The End of Snow?"


Did the Times commission this piece and agree to run it back in July?

Because last time I checked, this has been the harshest winter in decades in large parts of the Eastern United States.

Here in Tennessee, our temperatures have been running about 20 degrees below normal lately. Over the next couple of days, 2-4 inches of snowfall is being forecast south of us in Alabama and Georgia.

Wait....what's that white stuff?
Oh yeah, it's SNOW in Bethlehem Pennsylvania, February 3, 2014
Photo by Marty Desilets via Creative Commons

My father up in Pennsylvania seems to spend most days shoveling snow as his state has been hammered week after week by snow and ice. The most recent storm left hundreds of thousands of people without power - some for five days now. One guy apparently tried to stay warm in his powerless house by lighting a Duraflame log on his kitchen table.

Now I know that somebody is bound to jump up at this point and say, "But wait - global warming is a global phenomenon and you're talking about local weather patterns."

To which I say: Sure. I know that temperatures have been running above average in California and southern Florida, but large sections of North America have clearly been way below average temperature-wise this winter. Thousands of cold and snowfall records were broken last month. Just for a sampling, this winter is shaping up to be one the snowiest on record in places like Cleveland, Detroit and Chicago.

Of course, all that snow may have escaped the notice of Powder magazine since the skiing probably isn't so great on Michigan Avenue. But I'm sure that some ski resorts (e.g., in Montana) have gotten oodles of snow this year.

Farther afield, Tokyo just had its heaviest snowfall in 13 years. I don't think we need to worry that snow is on its way to becoming something you can only view in a very cold museum.

I am a fervent and proud environmentalist. I also understand that some people actually believe global warming is a proven fact, but personally I don't hold great faith in climate prognosticators of any stripe when the meteorologists with all their satellites and sophisticated computer models tend to get the weather wrong more often than not, especially when trying to predict anything more than 24-48 hours into the future.

And I don't find all that helpful to have anecdotal evidence that the snowpack in a given location might be less than 40 years ago. Because four decades ago, we were in the 1970s (yikes), which I believe was such an unusually cold decade that news magazines were running stories about how we might be about to enter a new ice age.

(Incidentally, we might be due for another ice age. On the down side, it would wipe out a lot of life on the planet. On the upside, the skiing opportunities would probably be legendary.)

Lots of snow in this Turkish mountain range., but no visible ski resorts.
Maybe there is an inverse relationship between ski resorts and snowfall?
Beautiful photo by Frans Zwart via Creative Commons

The point I would like to make is that scaremongering may win clicks, but I think it tends to boomerang and erode the scaremonger's credibility in the long run.

Unfortunately, that's what has been happening. When people run around year after year saying, "The sky is falling! The sky is falling! We're not going to have winter anymore unless we all radically change our lifestyles." And then we have a brutal winter, people just stop listening and figure we can all merrily pollute to our heart's content.

And that's a problem. Because I think we are screwing up the planet in some ways. That's what happens when you have billions and billions of people blithely building, consuming, polluting and reproducing.

I wouldn't be quite so harsh on homo sapiens as Agent Smith was in The Matrix, but it's clear that collectively we are are tacitly supporting an agricultural system that rips out milkweed, plants endless fields of corn and drives the Monarch butterflies to the brink of extinction in the process.

We are withdrawing water from underground aquifers faster than those aquifers naturally can be replenished.

And yet we have someone wringing his hands about how global warming is going to harm the skiing industry?!

Here's an idea -- If you're concerned about human impact on the planet, why not stop flying around the world on pollution-spewing airplanes just so you can get your kicks sliding down a mountainside.

(The ski industry's eco-friendly credentials are not burnished by the news that snow-making in the Alps uses more water than the inhabitants of Vienna in wintertime.)

Let's face it - the whole skiing industry is massively wasteful and probably representative of our cavalier disregard for the planet. Let's take a pristine mountainside, chop down the trees to create ski runs, build condos and hotels and other buildings -- all of which incidentally emit heat, almost certainly making the local microclimate warmer. Then let's attract millions of people from all over the world who will almost certainly arrive by car or plane clad in the latest space-age gear made from petroleum products.

(I realize I just aggravated off an awful lot of people, thus fulfilling my initial point that the dominant emotion on the Internet is anger.)

All I'm trying to say is this -- If you want to ski, OK. If you want to agitate against global warming, OK. But you cannot credibly have it both ways by pretending to care about global warming and then blithely advocating a lifestyle that emits massive amounts of global warming inducing greenhouse gases while calling on "federal policy makers to take action on climate change."

You want action? How about starting by changing your own lifestyle.

If you're upset about big agribusiness, try to eat local, grow your own food, support local organic agriculture and so forth.

If you're upset about the fact that the Monarchs are dying out, plant milkweed.

If you're upset about droughts, advocate more sensible water policies. Encouragingly, cities across the West are doing just that by paying citizens to rip out their lawns and replace them with drought-tolerant landscaping - or even by outlawing lawns altogether.

And if the vitriol on the Internet, cable talk shows, newspaper editorial columns, radio shows, etc. makes you mad, just shut it off.

Take a deep breath.

Plant some flowers.

Read a gardening blog -- most of the time we're really quite calm and civil.

And if the whole rigmarole has got you down, if you feel buffeted by inanity and calamity, assailed by the cruel winds of fate (or perhaps just the howling gales of this bitterly cold winter), it may help to remember the encouraging words of the English poet William Ernest Henley who wrote:


Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Another New Resource: List of Selected U.S. Arboreta

Red-tailed hawk, Arboretum at Flagstaff 
Photo by James Jordon (via Creative Commons license)

Back in December, I added links to many U.S. botanical gardens into the right sidebar.

In an attempt to make this site into an even more useful and comprehensive gardening resource, I've gone ahead and added an additional list to the sidebar -- a collection of some of the biggest and best U.S. arboreta (alphabetized by state).

There seems to be some overlap in definitions of arboreta and botanical gardens. An arboretum can theoretically still contains shrubs and even perennials. I'd put forward the Dallas Arboretum as case in point (although that institution's full name is "Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden").

But from a practical, workaday perspective, I'd say that arboreta tend to focus their attention on tree collections, whereas botanical gardens typically have much broader collections.

In many cases, an arboretum may consist of a city park or university campus with a diverse collection of trees, many of which are labeled for the edification of visitors.

An arboretum may have a specific educational mission. University arboreta such as the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University can provide students and professors with living laboratories.

Other institutions, like the Dyck Arboretum of the Plains in Hesston, Kansas try to demonstrate which plants are native and/or adaptable to the demands of the local climate and soil.

I hope you find this new resource useful. During my research to develop these two lists (botanic gardens and arboreta), I know I was impressed with the rich array of horticultural resources that await us within this vast and bounteous country.

PS - If you feel I've inadvertently left out a worth arboretum from the list, please contact me and let me know.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Breaking Up 2014 Edition - 31 Failed Plant Relationships in my Garden

Some garden relationships just don't work out.

Here is a rogue's gallery of past loves that have since fallen into disfavor:

(PS - It probably should go without saying, but just because these plants flopped in my garden doesn't mean that they're doomed to do the same in yours. Every garden is different. Every gardener is different. Feel free to catch some of these rejects on the rebound. YMMV - Your Mileage May Vary...)

Callirhoe bushii, Bush's Poppy Mallow, blooming June 2013
1) Callirhoe bushii, Bush's Poppy Mallow - Supposed to have a long bloom season and attract lots of bees and other pollinators. Instead it had a short bloom season and I never saw a single pollinator on a C. bushii flower.

Callirhoe involucrata, Winecup, photo by peganum

2) Callirhoe involucrata, Wine Cups, Poppy Mallow - Tried growing this from seed by sowing directly in the garden. Failed.

3) Calycanthus floridus, Carolina Allspice, Sweetshrub - Planted in spring 2012 in partial shade. This plant struggled through the dreadful drought and heat of the 2012 summer. Somehow when picking this plant, I missed the fact that it prefers moist soils. When it had not shown any signs of life by early April 2013, I gave it the heave-ho. The photo I was going to share of this plant is so hideous that to post it would be to dishonor the dead. But if you must see the train wreck, you can check it out in this late 2012 post.

Caryopteris, Blue Mist Spiraea. You can find other caryopteris photos online that make the plant seem bigger and bushier, but this is sort of what mine looked like - rather unassuming, almost see-through, not a bold presence in the garden. I can't say that I dislike it. The blue color is lovely and it does attract bees when in bloom, but the bloom season was not long for me and the plant was not attractive out of flower. Maybe a plant for an unobtrusive, out-of-the-way corner of your garden? Photo by mwms1916

4) Caryopteris, Blue Mist Spiraea - Chosen for its reported drought tolerance and ability to attract bees and butterflies over a long bloom season (supposedly July to September). In reality, Caryopteris did not leaf out until mid April and did not start blooming until mid-August. The sparse blooms did attract some bees, but I never saw a butterfly on the plant. I've since read that Caryopteris performs best with a hard pruning in the spring, so I'll give that a shot this year and see if it makes any difference. I may also try transplanting it to a slightly sunnier location to see if that induces more flowers.

Ceratostigma plumbaginoides, Leadwort, Hardy Blue Plumbago finally emerging from a long winter nap, mid-April 2013

5) Ceratostigma plumbaginoides, Leadwort, Hardy Blue Plumbago - In 2012, several of these plants performed admirably through the record heat. 2013? Not so good. The plumbago in full sun looked sickly all year and pretty much pooped out early. Maybe it was negatively impacted by the roots of a large sunflower growing nearby? I won't be surprised if it doesn't return next year. The leadworts growing in partial shade (morning sun, afternoon shade) performed better, but they didn't start putting on new growth until mid-April. Since the plants drop their leaves by late-November, we're looking at nearly five months of bare stems, which isn't appealing on a specimen plant, and certainly is not desirable on a large-scale groundcover. The blue flowers are pretty in late summer and early autumn, but they don't seem to draw many pollinators. Under the right circumstances, the leaves can attain a rich red coloring before they fall. I don't think I'll rip out my plumbago, at least not quite yet, but neither am I eager to add any more to garden.

6) Ceratostigma griffithii, Griffith's Plumbago - A total flop. It was supposed to be a drought-tolerant evergreen shrub or sub-shrub (depending on which catalog description you chose to believe). Purchased via mail order, the plant looked feeble to start and saved  me the trouble of shovel-pruning by disappearing sometime during the 2013 growing season. (Sorry I've got no photo for this one. What can I say? It's a rare plant and I couldn't find any Creative Commons-licensed photos of it on Flickr. Nor could I showcase any photos from my own garden, since it did its disappearing act before I could take any.)

Redbud in bloom. Enjoy it while it lasts...Photo by Jeff Stvan
7) Cercis canadensis, Redbud - I'm going to go out on a limb here and criticize the Redbud (not to be confused with Citizen Kane's beloved Rosebud). Yes, it's native to Tennessee (and much of the Southeast, Mid-Atlantic and Midwest). Yes, it looks lovely for about one week in the springtime when it is covered with flowers. Yes, the bees go crazy for it - although just over a few days. But it is reportedly short-lived (typically 20-25 years acording to various sources), reportedly weak-wooded and susceptible to damage from snow, ice and wind. In sheltered understories, the leaves probably look quite nice.

Clematis integrifolia, May 2013

8) Clematis integrifolia - I admire this plant, but I wouldn't necessarily recommend planting it or add any more of it to my garden. It is tough and reblooms throughout the summer, but I'm not a fan of the lax, sprawling growth habit or the downturned flowers. Nor have I ever seen any pollinators visiting those flowers. I can appreciate its strong points, but Clematis integrifolia and I just aren't meant for each other.

Dianthus gratianopolitanus "Firewitch", May 2013

9) Dianthus gratianopolitanus "Firewitch" - Hardy to zone 3, but tough enough to make a full sun perennial / groundcover in Middle Tennessee. So what's the problem here? I admit I'm probably being persnickety, but I find the persistent stems terribly unappealing and I don't know how to remove them. Also, despite the fact that Firewitch is supposed to be appealing to bees, I've never yet seen a bee on a dianthus flower. Some sources say that Firewitch flower petals are edible. I've tried them occasionally and lived to tell about it. While they may make an attractive garnish, they have zero appeal for my palate.

Eupatorium dubium, Dwarf Joe Pye Weed, August 2013

10) Eupatorium dubium, Dwarf Joe Pye Weed - Purchased for its reported ability to attract butterflies. I did not see any butterflies on the plant all summer, although a few small bees did visit the flowers. It didn't seem all that happy in full sun even though the summer was neither particularly hot nor dry by Tennessee standards. Not impressed from an aesthetic standpoint.

Galium odoratum, Sweet Woodruff, February 2014

11) Galium odoratum, Sweet Woodruff - How the mighty have fallen. After a torrid love affair with this plant, the romance cooled toward the end of last summer. One patch that got morning sun and afternoon shade petered away to nothing. The main patch (in a morning sun, afternoon shade setting) suffered some ugly dieback that I believe could have been fungal. Despite the fact that it's rated as hardy to zone 4, this winter has given Sweet Woodruff severe freezer burn. I can accept a plant that doesn't look its best in winter (such as Ajuga or Creeping Raspberry), but I can't see the logic in keeping a plant that looks dreadful year-round. I will say that the tiny white flowers have a pleasant vanilla fragrance when dried, but that's not enough for me to keep or recommend Sweet Woodruff as a groundcover any longer.

Gardenia jasminoides "Jubilation", February 2014

12) Gardenia jasminoides - I was hooked when I caught a whiff of gardenia on a garden tour. I don't know what secrets that gardener had for keeping his or her bushes lush and healthy, because my "Jubilation" gardenia has struggled pretty much ever since I planted it in late 2012. It made it through 2013 and even produced a few sweetly-scented blooms, but it's been downhill ever since. The near-zero temperatures this winter have blackened many of the remaining leaves. Missouri Botanical Garden calls gardenias high maintenance and warns they are susceptible to numerous diseases and pests. There is a very funny, very long archived thread on the Gardenweb forum that reveals how gardenias drive many gardeners bonkers. I still love the scent of gardenia -- I'll just be seeking it out in someone else's garden. (Incidentally, while some gardeners report their gardenias surviving negative Fahrenheit temperatures, it's also the case that gardenias seems susceptible to major damage from late spring freezes.) In any case, I like tough and trouble-free plants, and gardenias don't exactly seem to fit that bill.

Geranium maculatum, April 2013, shortly after planting, not long for this world

13) Geranium maculatum - Native to the Southeast, reported to have great fall color and to be somewhat evergreen, my G. maculatum gave up the ghost within months of being planted. I have good luck with other geraniums, but maculatum and I clearly were not meant for each other.

Unknown daylily, May 2012

14) Hemerocallis, Daylily - OK, if the gardening community isn't coming for me yet with pitchforks over my criticism of the Redbud, this may soon have them storming the parapets. But I'll say it anyway -- I'm just not a fan of daylilies. The plants look awful in winter. The flowers are pretty, but they typically only last a single day, and the dead flowers and persistent scapes are a pain to remove. Daylilies don't seem to attract bees, butterflies or other beneficials, but they do attract plenty of aphids. (The only good thing about that is that the aphids in turn attract ladybugs and other predators.) I'll admit that they're fairly tough and even drought tolerant, although my personal experience indicates that daylilies will stop flowering and suffer serious foliage damage unless given supplemental water in drought conditions. Daylilies aren't dreadful. I'm not planning on shovel-pruning the ones in my garden, but I do think they are far over-used and over-hyped. There, I said it.

Hexastylis arifolia, Heartleaf Ginger, photo by BlueRidgeKitties

15) Hexastylis arifolia, Heartleaf Ginger - I really wanted this to work out. An ornamental (non-edible) ginger native to Tennessee and throughout the Southeast, I thought this might make a nice evergreen groundcover. The plant I received via mail order was pathetically small and it struggled from the get-go. (My mail order experiences last year have really pushed me toward buying local in 2014.) The plant never had more than one leaf throughout the growing season and it ultimately disappeared sometime in the autumn. I'm keeping my finger's crossed that it could make a reappearance this spring, but I'm not holding my breath.

Hibiscus moscheutos, Hardy Hibiscus "Lady Baltimore", July 2013

16) Hibiscus moscheutos, Hardy Hibiscus - The flowers are beautiful, and the plant is tough enough to survive Tennessee droughts (with a bit of supplemental water). So what's the problem? The flowers are very short-lived. The plant is slow to emerge from dormancy in spring (late April in 2013). Hardy Hibiscus flowers are supposed to attract hummingbirds and butterflies, but I've never seen either one visiting the flowers. Hibiscus moscheutos is also very susceptible to the hibiscus sawfly, which tatters the foliage and frequently leads to frustrating levels of bud drop before the flowers even open. So what's a zone 6/7 hibiscus lover to do? Hibiscus coccineus (a.k.a. Swamp Hibiscus or Texas Star) is supposed to be at least moderately resistant to the sawfly, so that's a plant that I'll probably try to trial in my garden in the near future.

Kolkwitzia amabilis, Beauty Bush "Dream Catcher", April 2013

17) Kolkwitzia amabilis, Beauty Bush "Dream Catcher" - Looks nice in the online photos. In reality? Ugly foliage. Zero flowers. I guess no one would buy it if they called it "Ugly Bush"? And that, my friends, is why there will rarely be truth in advertising.

Lagurus ovatus, Bunny Tails, photo by Jon Sullivan

18) Lagurus ovatus, Bunny Tails - Mea culpa. I did a lousy job raising this from seed and transplanting it. It's also true that my heavy clay soil is the diametric opposite of the sandy soil that L. ovatus reportedly prefers. That said, I was underwhelmed with the size and vigor of this plant. Sigh.

Lobularia maritima, Sweet Alyssum, October 2012

19) Lobularia maritima, Sweet Alyssum - Well, here's another 2-3 year love affair that has crashed on the rocks of reality. In 2011, I was pleased with the smattering of sweet alyssum I grew from seed. In 2012, I tried working with starter plants, but most of them croaked, so I decided that starting my own plants from seed was the way to go. So I ordered a gazillion seeds (I exaggerate slightly) from American Meadows and scattered them liberally along the borders of my garden beds. Many sprouted, but did not thrive. Those that sprouted and thrived (especially in morning sun, afternoon shade settings) quickly grew leggy and ugly, swamping nearby plants. Yes, the flowers are fragrant when massed. Yes, this is a fairly easy annual plant to grow in the right conditions, but the dead flower stems are ugly, persistent and a huge pain to remove. As I struggled to grub out Sweet Alyssum from the beds, I found myself wondering - "Why did I create all this work for myself?" I still don't have a good answer to that question. Well...except for the fact that Sweet Alyssum does attract hoverflies and parasitic wasps. That's a good thing, but not good enough to grow it again next year. And if I do have another fling with Sweet Alyssum, I can promise that it will be a single, small seed packet, sparsely scattered into a discrete corner, not flung about with wild abandon. I've learned my lesson. Really.

Lonicera periclymenum, European Honeysuckle, Woodbine, April 2013

20) Lonicera periclymenum, European Honeysuckle, Woodbine - A variegated vine died in 2012 just months after it was planted. A variety called Serotina did survive and returned more strongly in 2013, but it did not perform to expectations. This deciduous woody plant sprawled perhaps 7-feet wide and produced pretty but very short-lived flowers. These were followed by a few red berries. It's not an awful plant, and it might get better in subsequent years. (I've pruned it way back, but haven't decided yet whether or not to shovel prune it.) But I much prefer the native climbing Lonicera sempervirens (Coral Honeysuckle) over the European Woodbine.

Monarda didyma, Bee Balm, "Jacob Cline", July 2013

21) Monarda didyma, Bee Balm, "Jacob Cline" - Just a bit too vigorous for my tastes. After only a few months, I saw Jacob Cline was spreading through underground stems and popping up throughout the bed. Well, I might have simply tried to control its spread if the flowers had been attractive, or if they had lived up to their reputation to attract bees, butterflies and hummingbirds. As it was, I never saw bees or butterflies on Jacob Cline and the hummers seemed far more interested in the Coral Honeysuckle (not to mention the Zinnias). So I went for a clean break (not that easy since the M. didyma stems tend to snap when you try to pull up the roots. I'm still keeping my eye on a Monarda (M. fistulosa, a.k.a. Wild Bergamot), but I don't see any more M. didyma in my future.

Salvia elegans, Pineapple Sage, June 2012

22) Salvia elegans, Pineapple Sage - Didn't live up to the hype. Officially only hardy to zone 8, Pineapple Sage survived the long (though not especially cold) winter of 2012-13. I doubt it will return after the below-zero cold temperatures during this 2013-14 winter. But I won't mourn its passing. Despite a reputation for attracting bees and hummingbirds, I never saw a single bee visit the late autumn flowers, and the hummingbirds didn't visit much either. (Perhaps because it bloomed so late in the season that most hummers had already begun migrating further South?) Leaves and flowers are both supposed to be edible, but I couldn't discern any pineapple flavor (or any flavor at all really) when I sampled one of the leaves. In drought conditions, S. elegans is one of the first plants in my garden to show distress, curling its leaves and generally looking miserable. It can survive a drought with some supplemental water, but it won't win any beauty contests in the process.

Salvia nemorosa, August 2013

23) Salvia nemorosa, Woodland Sage -- I added two kinds of woodland sage to the garden in September 2012 - May Night and Blue Hill. Both plants performed tolerably in the first half of 2013. In June, I was able to post a picture of May Night in the midst of a mild rebloom. They both drew a couple of bees, but neither became the bee magnet I had envisioned. These plants are not what you would call "self-cleaning". They need deadheading and trimming to look their best, but deadheading can be a chore when S. nemorosa's tough, wiry stems that fought back against the bypass pruner. After the bloom is done, these plants are not particularly attractive and they look more and more ragged as the calendar turns toward autumn and winter. I haven't yet given up on the whole Salvia genus yet, but I think I've crossed S. nemorosa and S.elegans off my list.

Sarcococca confusa, Sweet Box, February 2014

24) Sarcococca confusa, Sweet Box - On paper, this looked like a winner. Evergreen? Check. Drought-tolerant once established? Check. Fragrant winter flowers that reportedly attract bees? Double-check. And yet...the two plants that arrived via mail order in the spring of 2012 were tiny. One died due to the punishing double-whammy of summer drought and heat wave. The other struggled onward and put on a promising growth spurt in early 2013. I was sure that this year would be the year that S. confusa came into its own. But the plant looks to have sustained serious foliage damage from the arctic blasts of the winter of 2013-14. It's a little strange, since Sweet Box is rated as hardy at least to zone 5, but I'm thinking that rating probably applies to a sheltered forest setting rather than an exposed foundation planting. I guess I should have paid more attention to the warning to shelter S. confusa from winter winds (which would have meant not buying it at all, since I don't really have any significant shelter to offer at this point in my hilltop garden). With snow cover or a properly wooded setting, I think S. confusa might be a nice, modest plant for most of the year with the added of bonus of winter fragrance (provided it's nice enough to outdoors and do a little sniffing). But I can't see adding it to any garden of mine in the near future. It also grew very slowly - which has advantages in terms of not needing much pruning, but disadvantages if starting with a small plant and hoping to have any sort of near-term significant impact.

Autumn Joy, Sedum spectabile, January 2013

25) Sedums - I hope that I won't have to surrender my gardening license, but I have to admit that I don't really like sedums much. And in the interest of reciprocity, I have to admit that they don't seem to like me much either! I've tried a few different types - Sedum spectabile (e.g., Autumn Joy, Autumn Fire and Vera Jameson), as well as Sedum tectractinum (Chinese Stonecrop) and Sedum ternatum (Whorled Stonecrop, a Tennessee native). None of them have wowed me. The spectabile sedums have proven particularly disappointing this year - weak, spindly, beset by aphids, hardly attracting any beneficial insects even when they deigned to flower. I'm sure I'm doing something wrong here, because I've seen flourishing stands of Autumn Joy sedum on a garden tour. I will say that Autumn Joy sedum is very easy to propagate simply by breaking off a stem, removing the bottom leaves and sticking the stem in the ground. But what's the point of propagating something you don't like very much? No point at all.

Sempervivum "Red Rubin" April 2013

26) Sempervivum, Hens and Chicks, "Red Rubin" -- Simply failed to thrive. As a plant native to Northern Africa, Southern Europe and SW Asia, I'm guessing it did not appreciate our humidity or the heavy clay soil. It hasn't died a dramatic death, but rather seems to be subtly and quietly sinking into the background and being absorbed into the surrounding soil.

Tiarella cordifolia, Foamflower, May 2013 (the Tiarella is at the top of the photo, the bottom plant is Stachys officinalis, a.k.a. Betony or Hummelo

27) Tiarella cordifolia, Foamflower -- Somehow I overlooked the fact that these plants have low drought tolerance. Oops. Tennessee has frequent periods of drought, often coupled with high heat. I'm trying to grow a self-sufficient garden. Ergo, drought intolerant plants are doomed.

Verbascum phoeniceum, Mullein, photo by Kingsbrae Garden

28) Verbascum phoeniceum, Mullein -- This was a funny one. I know I read somewhere that these plants will rebloom if the flower stalks are cut back. So I cut it back. Did it rebloom? It did not. Argh! In addition, while the flowers were supposed to attract bees, hoverflies and moths, I never saw any visiting pollinators. I do recall reading that these pollinators are supposed to visit early in the day. Maybe I needed to check the Mullein at the crack of dawn? If it returns this year, I'll try to remember to set my alarm to go out and scout the flowers for any early-rising pollinators.

Vernonia noveboracensis, Ironweed, August 2013
29) Vernonia noveboracensis, Ironweed - Native plant enthusiasts tend to sing Ironweed's praises to the heavens, so perhaps my expectations were overinflated when it came to this plant. Regardless, I thought the sprays of little purple flowers were pretty, but short-lived. And I never saw those flowers attract a single bee or butterfly. Now it's possible that Ironweed might attract such pollinators if I planted a whole patch of it, but I'm not about to do the experiment when I have other plants I'd rather trial instead.

Veronica spicata, Spike Speedwell "Giles van Hees", June 2013

30) Veronica spicata, Spike Speedwell, Giles van Hees variety -- Once again, this was a case of flowers that were reputed to attract bees and butterflies not living up to that claim. Lest you think that I live in bee or butterfly free zone, there were plenty of both in the garden last year working plants such as Hypericum, Vitex, Crape Myrtle, Zinnia, Cosmos and several varieties of Sunflower. But they bypassed the Spike Speedwell completely. In addition, the middle part of the plant seemed to die out by late summer, although sections of the plant at the edges were still throwing up long-lasting flower spikes into autumn. This is somewhat of a mixed verdict. I'd like to see how the plant performs in the year ahead -- or even if it comes back at all -- but at this point I greatly prefer the Creeping Speedwell (V. peduncularis) over the spike variety.

Zinnia haageana "Persian Carpet" July 2013

31) Zinnia haageana "Persian Carpet" -- Here's the backstory: I grow Zinnia elegans partly for its beautiful flowers and partly for its potent ability to attract butterflies to the garden. Powdery mildew is the scourge of my Z. elegans, often killing the plants mid-summer and rendering them fairly hideous-looking in the process. Z. haageana promised mildew resistance and it certainly seemed at least somewhat resistant, but it didn't really matter. The petite yellow flowers held little interest for the butterflies and the plants themselves were diminutive and not particularly attractive. So it's back to the drawing board. I'm taking a break from sowing Zinnia seeds in 2014 (although I may allow some self-sown zinnias to grow if any seeds survive this harsh winter), but I'll be trialing one or more of the supposedly mildew-resistant Zinnia elegans varieties - such as Benary's Giant Purple - in 2015.

Thus ends a long and somewhat embarrassing role call. And yet, I am not (too) discouraged. This is a challenging environment for plants in many ways - the heat, cold, droughts, wind, heavy clay soil - not to mention a cold-hearted gardener who insists they get by on their own without too much coddling, fertilizing, watering, spraying or other interventions.

Well, I do whisper sweet nothings at them...

And I know that sooner or later, I'll winnow down the possibilities to find plants that were meant for me, plants with which I can build a long and fruitful relationship.