Saturday, March 22, 2014

And They're Back!

Yellow daffodil
Daffodils have been blooming for weeks now in Middle Tennessee
The earliest blooms got felled by nights in the teens, but new flowers have taken their place

If you’re anything like me, you start looking forward to spring around, oh, January 2nd

But it’s a long, cold slog from the dawn of the New Year until many plants starting showing signs of life here on the zone 6-7 border in Middle Tennessee. Trees like Crape Myrtle and Vitex may be able to handle our summer heat, but they can take until mid-April to start leafing out. And perennials like Hardy Hibiscus can hide below ground until at least that time.

Since this winter was particularly harsh, I was worried that Spring would come late. But a stretch of temperatures in the 50s and 60s has breathed new life into the garden. 

(Note that the forecast over the next few days calls for a cold spell with lows in the lower-20s. I'll post updates of any damage. If I don't show damage, that means the plant seems to have emerged unscathed. No news equals good news in this case.)

Fuzzy new growth on an Arrowwood Viburnum
These plants sat in the garage all winter with barely any water.
I bought them too late last year (via mail order) and the weather turned brutal before I could get them in the ground.
Mea culpa. 
And yet, they survived. Color me impressed.
Alleghany Viburnum
New leaves on Alleghany Viburnum. Actually, the leaves have looked this way for weeks now.
It's my first spring with this plant, so I'm not sure if this is normal or when they'll unfurl.

"Vera Jameson" Sedum
"Vera Jameson" Sedum  

Salvia nemorosa (either May Night or Blue Hill, not sure which)
Salvia nemorosa (either May Night or Blue Hill, not sure which)

Redbud buds
Red buds on a redbud tree

Phlox paniculata "David"
Phlox paniculata "David", third year in the ground
I do like that P. paniculata emerges so early and the young leaves look beautiful.
They tend to look tired and tattered later in the summer in Middle TN.
I may try thinning out the stems this year to see if that helps improve air circulation and prevent mildew.

Phlox paniculata "Blue Boy"
Phlox paniculata "Blue Boy"
Beautiful foliage

Mock Orange, Philadelphus x virginalis "Natchez"
Mock Orange, Philadelphus x virginalis "Natchez"

Hydrangea quercifolia, Oakleaf Hydrangea "Snowflake"
Hydrangea quercifolia, Oakleaf Hydrangea "Snowflake"

Maple tree flowers
Maple tree flowers

Nigella damascena, Love in a Mist, self-sown seedling
Nigella damascena, Love in a Mist, self-sown seedling

Love in a Mist and a little Henbit
Loads of Love in a Mist (and a little Henbit, which is a weed, but a pretty one)
If you grow Love in a Mist, be aware that it can self sow enthusiastically unless seed heads are removed.
(The seed heads do stay on the plant a long time without shattering, so it should not be too hard to prevent or limit self-seeding if desired.)

Stachys byzantina, Lamb's Ear "Helene von Stein"
Stachys byzantina, Lamb's Ear "Helene von Stein"
Note that I left last year's dead leaves to decay. 
Most sources advise raking the dead leaves away in the spring, but I wanted to see what would happen if I left them. So far, the Lamb's Ear seems to be doing just fine. I hope the old leaves will decay in warm weather and provide the plant with nutrients. It's a little unsightly at the moment, but I presume the new leaves will soon cover the old foliage.

Close up of Stachys byzantina, Lamb's Ear "Helene von Stein"
Close up on the Lamb's Ear. 
Love the fuzzy foliage.

Geranium x Cantabrigiense, Cambridge Geranium "Biokovo"
Geranium x Cantabrigiense, Cambridge Geranium "Biokovo"

Juniperus virginiana "Grey Owl"
Juniperus virginiana "Grey Owl"
(I cheated here a little. There are no flowers or new leaves to show here, but this new addition to the garden performed beautifully through the cold weather and deserves a moment in the spotlight.)

Viola tricolor, Johnny Jump Up
Viola tricolor, Johnny Jump Up
I had lots of these last year, but this is the only flower I've seen so far this year. 
Hopefully more will soon appear.  

Gaillardia grandiflora “Arizona Apricot”
 Gaillardia grandiflora “Arizona Apricot”
Gaillardias reportedly are susceptible to root rot in heavy clay soils, so I wasn’t sure if this would come back at all, but it seems to have survived. (Plus you can see how poorly the plant was rooted last year. Now that it's taken root more firmly, hopefully it will perform even better in 2014.)

My neighbor's forsythia. All the forsythias in the neighborhood have burst into bloom in the past few days.

Daylily new foliage
As I've mentioned in other blog posts, I'm not a huge fan of daylilies for most of the year.
But I do love the exuberant fresh green foliage in early springtime!

Clematis "Crystal Fountain"
Clematis "Crystal Fountain"
I'm trying to train this clematis to climb a crape myrtle, so far with limited success.

Echinacea purpurea, Eastern Purple Coneflower
Echinacea purpurea, Eastern Purple Coneflower
I leave the seedheads standing over the winter  both to feed the birds and to help the Coneflowers multiply.
This strategy seems to be working!

Rubus calycinoides (a.k.a. Rubus pentalobus), Creeping Raspberry
Rubus calycinoides (a.k.a. Rubus pentalobus), Creeping Raspberry
I was under the impression that Creeping Raspberry was an evergreen groundcover, instead it seems to be performing like an herbaceous perennial in my zone 6/7 garden. 
This is a little disappointing. 
But I'll be patient. Perhaps the old stems will sprout new leaves later in the spring?
Anyway, it's nice to see new growth and know the plant is not dead!

Camellia buds after cold winter
Unknown camellia.
Several young camellias were severely damaged by our cold winter.
You can see that this established camellia suffered some foliage damage too. 
Still, I'm impressed it did not drop its buds. They seem poised to bloom any day now.

Sedum "Autumn Joy"
Sedum "Autumn Joy"

Alchemilla mollis, Lady's Mantle
Alchemilla mollis, Lady's Mantle
As with the Lamb's Ears, I'm experimenting with leaving the old foliage in the hopes it will decay and fertilize the plant.

Aronia arbutifolia "Brilliantissima", Red Chokeberry
Aronia arbutifolia "Brilliantissima", Red Chokeberry

Ajuga genevensis, Geneva Ajuga
Ajuga genevensis, Geneva Ajuga

Agastache foeniculum, Anise Hyssop "Golden Jubilee"
Agastache foeniculum, Anise Hyssop "Golden Jubilee"
Love the coloration on these early leaves. Later, they'll turn bright gold.

Agastache foeniculum, Anise Hyssop "Golden Jubilee" with coccoons
Close up on a bunch of tightly-packed cocoons on the old stems of the Golden Jubilee Agastache.
I've no idea what species spun these cocoons, but perhaps I'll get to see if/when they hatch! 
Anyone have any guesses?’s spring shaping up in your garden?

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Ripe for Discussion: Ethiopian Seed Bank, Pizza Hut and Sheep

Beautiful undulating farmland in the hills of Northern Ethiopia's Gondar region. Photo by Marta Semu
Beautiful undulating farmland in the hills of Northern Ethiopia's Gondar region
Photo by Marta Semu

I came across two article in The Guardian newspaper that seemed of interest to gardening-minded readers:

First, a story on an Ethiopian seed bank trying to preserve agricultural genetic diversity. One quote that caught my eye from the article, "The UN Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that 75% of the genetic diversity of agricultural crops worldwide was lost over the course of the 20th century." (The actual report summary says "crop diversity" rather than "genetic diversity", but I'm not sure if that's splitting hairs.)

What's the upshot for a home gardener? I'd say the story reinforced my interest in growing heirloom vegetables. I believe a more diverse food web is a stronger food web. See the Irish Potato Famine for evidence of what can go wrong when a population leans too heavily on a monoculture.

Then I came across this hyperbolic but funny article on a 2,880-calorie cheeseburger crust pizza that Pizza Hut has launched in the UK. Much of the humor may be over-the-top, but then so is the calorie count.

For me, that article threw a spotlight on wretched excess. I'm not saying we should all wear hair shirts, but there's a case to be made that the gluttony of billions of humans and the associated food waste cause much damage to our planet.

A dumpster full of discarded food. Photo by Stephen Rees
A dumpster full of discarded food
Photo by Stephen Rees

Again, what is the takeaway for a gardener? For me, growing some of my own food made me much more cognizant of the beauty and the hardship of creating food from seed. As a result, I found that I was more likely to treasure the food on my plate and less likely to waste it.

It's also true that if Americans were willing to devote even a small part of our residential landscapes to growing edibles instead of grass, we would strengthen our food web while simultaneously reducing some waste. While it's possible to garden wastefully, a gardener who sows, tends and harvests his or her own lettuce would surely create less waste than the massive system involved in packaging, transporting and discarding millions of bags of lettuce.

Where do sheep come into the picture? Well, I could make the point that we modern consumers too often act like sheep in following the herd toward whatever marketers tell us to buy, but I really just wanted to finish on a light note with this fun story from Temple University's News Center showing that sheep might do a better job than mowers at controlling vegetation in storm water basins.

Paris apparently has already gotten the jump on the U.S. in the sheep lawn mower department.

What do you think? Would you let sheep "mow" your lawn? Apparently, it's an option in at least one Ohio town -- and for the incredibly low price of just $1 per sheep per day!

Sheep lawn mowers?! Photo by t0msk
Sheep lawn mowers?!
Photo by t0msk

Personally, I love the idea of having sheep grazing my lawn. My only concern would be whether they would stop at the lawn or go on to eat the ornamental grasses, the flowers, the shrubbery and so forth. But if you had a patch of lawn fenced off from the flowerbeds, it would be perfect for grazing.

Who's with me? :-)

Monday, March 3, 2014

One More Horticultural Resource -- List of Selected U.S. Historical and Estate Gardens

Visitor at Monticello vegetable gardens. Photo by Chiot's Run
Visitor at Monticello vegetable gardens
Photo by Chiot's Run

Over the past couple of months, I've added a few lists to the sidebar of this blog.

The first list was my effort to provide a fairly comprehensive overview of the highest quality U.S. botanical gardens I could find.

Last month, I tried to give the same treatment to U.S. arboreta.

Now I have compiled a third (and perhaps final) resource list comprising some of the most famous, impressive and beautiful historical and estate gardens across the United States. As with the others, you'll find that list in the sidebar directly following the arboretum list.

What separates an historic or estate garden from a botanic garden or arboretum?

Clearly historic or estate gardens typically are built around old mansions. Many of these properties try to stay true to their historical roots by continuing to use the same types of plants (including heirloom vegetables and ornamentals) or at least the same design ethos.

Botanic gardens and arboreta are subject to no such constraints. Generally, they can experiment to their heart's content with new designs and new plants.

In other cases, the difference is simply a question of age. Gardens like the ones at Monticello and Tryon Palace are hundreds of years old, whereas many U.S. botanic gardens were founded within the 20th Century.
Gardens at Tryon Palace, New Bern, NC. Photo by Zach Frailey
Gardens at Tryon Palace, New Bern, NC
Photo by Zach Frailey

On the other hand, there are much older botanic gardens overseas -- the botanic garden in Padua, Italy is more than 450 years old!

So age is not the main consideration and neither is the question of whether or not the garden is built around an old estate. In Nashville, Tennessee, Cheekwood Botanical Garden is built on the grounds of a 1930s estate that was constructed with a fortune made through an early investment in Maxwell House coffee.

But Cheekwood does not attempt to recreate the formal gardens that existed on the site 80 years ago. Elements of those gardens may remain, but Cheekwood now includes a Japanese garden, an herb garden, an impressive dogwood collection, a rain garden and many other marvelous ahistorical plantings.

I would say the other major difference between botanical gardens, arboreta and historic/estate gardens, is that botanical gardens and arboreta have multiple missions. Yes, they are places of beauty, but they are also focused on horticultural education, research and preservation.

By contrast, it seems that historical or estate gardens are concerned primarily with aesthetic beauty, with historical education being a secondary goal.

One obvious way in which these different types of institutions reveal their different goals is through the use of plant labeling. Botanical gardens and arboreta understandably tend to be very good about labeling the plants in their collection so that a visitor instantly knows what type of plant she is observing - genus, species and named variety (if applicable).

By contrast, an historical or estate gardening may have minimal labeling, if it has any at all. Last summer, I had the opportunity to visit the wonderful Chanticleer garden in the Philadelphia suburb of Wayne. There were unobtrusive boxes where placards were stored that gave interested visitors information on nearby plants, but the plants themselves were unlabeled so as not to interfere with the pure aesthetic appreciation of their beauty.

A floating wonderland at Chanticleer in Wayne, PA. Photo by Simon
A floating wonderland at Chanticleer in Wayne, PA
Photo by Simon
All three types of gardens have their merits. I hope these three lists in the sidebar inspire you to visit botanic gardens, arboreta and historical/estate gardens near where you live - or wherever your travels take you.

(PS - I hope that my focus on the U.S. will not be misinterpreted as narrow-minded nationalism. I have no doubt there are many amazing and worthy botanic gardens, arboreta and historical/estate gardens around the world, but unfortunately I do not have the time at the moment to publish a comprehensive list. What I may do sometime later this year is create another list in the sidebar of some of my favorite foreign gardens that I have visited in person. That list would be rather brief at the moment, but I hope it would grow in years to come.)