Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Late March in the Garden of Aaron - Crabapple, Threadleaf Coreopsis, Yaupon Holly, False Sunflower and More!

New leaves on Vitex agnus-castus (chaste tree) are adorable! Chaste tree is native to the Mediterranean. It tends to leaf out a bit later than many of our native trees and shrubs, but the foliage is still susceptible to late frosts and freezes. (Our average last frost date is still two weeks away.) In 2014, temperatures dipped into the high 20s in mid-April, killing back all the newly emerged Vitex foliage. The damage turned out to be just temporary, with Vitex fully leafed out and looking fantastic a month later.)

Beautiful new foliage on a native Viburnum dentatum (arrowwood viburnum)

Teucrium chamaedrys 'Prostrata' (creeping germander) looking great. A couple of weeks ago I posted a photo (second to last in this post) showing how creeping germander stays semi-evergreen and attractive through the winter. It's fun to see how much it has leafed out and greened up since that previous post.

Newly planted Heliopsis helianthoides, our native false sunflower or ox-eye sunflower. (It's not a 'true' sunflower, which would be in the Helianthus genus.) I tried growing a cultivar of this plant a few years back and was never super impressed with its performance. On the other hand, it was well-behaved, tough and did not give me any problems. I decided to give it another chance and planted three specimens of the straight species close together. Last time, I was disappointed that false sunflower did not attract many pollinators. I'm hoping a larger patch of flowers from three plants clustered together will do a better job of catching the attention of bees, butterflies, wasps and other pollinators.
Newly planted Ilex vomitoria, yaupon holly. According to BONAP, yaupon holly is barely native to Tennessee (there's a waif population in the extreme southwestern corner of the state, around Memphis), but it's certainly a regional native throughout the Deep South. I would have liked to start with a larger plant, but as usual, it's very hard to find natives at our local nurseries, so this is a 1-gallon mail order plant. I find myself charmed by the reddish new foliage and (I believe) flower buds.
Physocarpus opulifolia, our native ninebark, I was so unimpressed with ninebark's performance last year that I almost shovel-pruned it over the winter. Still, learning from past mistakes (i.e. overly-hasty judgments), I decided to wait. So far, I'm very pleased with the new foliage on this plant. (For the life of me, I can't recall whether it's the 'Diablo' or 'Summer Wine' cultivar...)
Salvia guaranitica, anise-scented sage or hummingbird sage. The new foliage looks better this year than it ever did in the past. (In fact, I was so unimpressed with its first-year performance in 2014 that I shovel-pruned it --- or tried to. It came back anyway in 2015 (typical zombie plant behavior) and I decided to give it a reprieve. Feeling quite good about that decision so far and hoping it will be bigger and better than ever this year. 
'Queen of the Night' tulip from Easy to Grow bulbs. Whereas the earlier 'Pink Impression' tulips got chomped by some herbivore (let's blame the deer), so far these seem unmolested. 'Queen of the Night' is a really dark-flowered tulip. I had to use a flash to illustrate the interior of the bloom. I do think it's nice that there are early-flowering and late-flowering tulips so it's possible to spread out the tulip season over a month or more. (I'm guessing the deer might be less interested in late flowering tulips since there's probably more for them to eat in the woods this time of year now that many plants have leafed out.)

Crabapple coming into bloom! This 'Sugar Tyme' crab has pink buds that open into white flowers. Charming :) 
Newly emergent foliage on threadleaf coreopsis Coreopsis verticillata (in this case the 'Zagreb' cultivar) looks like a miniature forest if you get down on the ground and look at it sideways. This is another plant that is a regional native (barely native to far southeastern Tennessee, but quite widespread in the Carolinas and Virginia.

Here's a close-up on the newly emergent foliage on the evergreen Aucuba japonica.

Love the fresh new foliage on this Agastache foeniculum, anise hyssop. Despite the fact that this plant is native to the far Northern plains, it seems to thrive in Middle Tennessee. Of course, it's no surprise that it survives the winter with flying colors and emerges early in the spring. What is surprising to me is that it seems cool as a cucumber during our hot, humid summers. Based on my experience, the Agastaches are a highly garden-worthy genus, especially if you like to attract pollinators who flock to their long-blooming purple summertime flowers.


Monday, March 28, 2016

Class of 2016 -- Coreopsis tinctoria, plains coreopsis

Plains coreopsis, Coreopsis tinctoria, photo by RI via Wikimedia Commons
Plains coreopsis, Coreopsis tinctoria, photo by RI via Wikimedia Commons

Why I'm growing Coreopsis tinctoria in my garden...

1) It's native to Tennessee, the Central Plains, the Pacific Northwest and scattered locations throughout the U.S.

2) The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center says that plains coreopsis flowers provide nectar to bees and butterflies, while its seeds provide food for birds.

3) Missouri Botanical Garden says it can tolerate heat, humidity, clay soil and some drought.

4) This is an annual flower, but hopefully it will persist in the garden through self-sowing.

Do you grow plains coreopsis? If so, what has been your experience with this plant?


Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Poor Little Lamb

This little lamb has lost its way...

Garden blogs are filled with beautiful photos, but it's not all sunshine and roses out there.

Here's a pic of lamb's ear (Stachys byzantina) looking terribly bedraggled by the end of winter. I wish I knew the best way to prune out the dead, disfigured foliage, which is intermixed with fresh, healthy leaves.

Should I just raze the whole thing to the ground? The foliage is so thick and deceptively tough that it's not easy to prune, even with a hedge clipper.

If I leave it alone, I know that eventually the new growth will camouflage the mess beneath, but then I worry that the mass of dead foliage will impede air circulation and water penetration.

UPDATE - I ended up removing lamb's ear from the garden. It looked beautiful from spring to autumn, but just awful in the winter. The dead foliage was persistent, so that after a while, even the fresh new foliage was growing on a mound of dead and decaying gunk underneath. In addition to the cultivar, I got the straight species, which spread much faster and had lovely flowers with a long bloom season that attracted lots of bumble bees. Unfortunately, the flowers led to a plethora of seedlings in the immediate vicinity of the mother plant. If the old foliage decayed completely over the winter and/or if the plant didn't spread so quickly, I might have kept it. It's rock solid in the heat and didn't seem to have too many problems with our humidity. But I just couldn't deal with the old foliage and its spreading ways. Plus it's a non-native. Plus I didn't like the scent of the crushed foliage when I did try to clean it up at the end of the winter. Yuck. So... I had to give it the heave-ho.
There are other evergreen or semi-evergreen perennials that don't look their best in Middle Tennessee by the end of winter. Ajuga reptans (bugleweed) comes to mind. But the damaged, dead and dying foliage of the low-growing bugleweed seems to disintegrate to the point where the build-up of rotting foliage doesn't cause the same aesthetic issues as with lamb's ear.
Meanwhile, Ajuga genevensis (Geneva bugleweed) may even put start putting out a few cheerful blue flowers at the beginning of March. A hint of things to come...


Monday, March 21, 2016

Class of 2016 -- Sedges - Carex albicans, Carex annectens, Carex muskingumensis, Carex pensylvanica and Carex texensis

Carex pensylvanica, Pennsylvania sedge, photo by Chhe via Wikimedia Commons
Carex pensylvanica, Pennsylvania sedge, photo by Chhe via Wikimedia Commons

Why I'm growing sedges in my garden...

1) Carex albicans (oak sedge), C. annectens (yellowfruit fox sedge), C. pensylvanica (Pennsylvania sedge) and C. texensis (Texas sedge) are all native to Tennessee. Carex muskingumensis (palm sedge) rarely occurs in this state, but it is native nearby in Missouri, Kentucky and elsewhere in the Midwest.

2) Carex is a huge genus (Wikipedia estimates almost 2,000 species!) of grassy plants. I'd like to try some of the native species of Carex to see whether any of them might make good groundcover candidates. Since there are so many Carex species in different ecological niches (sun, shade, wet, dry, etc.), I'm hoping I can find sedges that will work in different spots around my garden.

Do you grow any of these sedges? If so, what has been your experience with these plants?


Saturday, March 19, 2016

What Is This, Pray Tell?

I found this beauty a couple of weeks ago while removing last season's dead growth from the aromatic aster (Symphoytrichum oblongifolium). I thought at first it must be a caterpillar cocoon, but now I'm thinking it might be a praying mantis egg case!

Even more excitingly, I think it's an egg case from one of our native North American praying mantis species. That's good news, because apparently there are also exotic, invasive praying mantis species that may have detrimental effects on local ecosystems.


Friday, March 18, 2016

I Knew Which Way the Wind was Blowing...

Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum 'Heavy Metal') stands strong all winter long. I love the sound it makes when the wind rustles through the leaves. Switchgrass is a warm-season grass, which means most years I don't think it really gets started in Middle Tennessee until April. 

Typically, I'd probably wait until late March to cut back the switchgrass. Since March has been an unusually warm this year, I cut back the switchgrass about a week ago. 

Now I can't tell which way the wind is blowing anymore just by looking out the window to see how the grass is leaning. 


Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Front Row Seats to the Frog Symphony

About 10 days ago, I went hiking at a local park.

Strolling down a hillside, I heard a rhythmic sound that got louder and louder as I approached a pond.

It was frogs singing -- what a joyous cacophony!

PS - I tried creeping closer to get a glimpse of at least one of the performers, but once I crossed some invisible threshold, the frogs' song gradually faded away. Chastened, I backed off and the frogs gradually resumed their singing.


Monday, March 14, 2016

Class of 2016 -- Asclepias viridis, green antelopehorn

Asclepias viridis, green antelopehorn, photo by mmarchin via Wikimedia Commons
Asclepias viridis, green antelopehorn, photo by mmarchin via Wikimedia Commons

Why I'm growing Asclepias viridis in my garden...

1) It's native to Tennessee and other portions of the Southeast and lower Midwest.

2) Missouri Botanical Garden calls it drought-tolerant and deer-resistant, with flowers that provide nectar for butterflies.

3) The leaves provide food for the larvae of monarch butterflies, which need all the help they can get to survive and migrate.

4) As with partridge pea and redwhisker clammyweed, it just seems like it would be fun to grow and discuss a plant called 'green antelopehorn'. :)

Do you grow green antelopehorn? If so, what has been your experience with this plant?


Saturday, March 12, 2016

Ready, Set, Go!

With unusually warm weather through the first half of March (10 to 20 degrees above normal), Spring is bursting out all over!

One of the things that interests me - and one factor for me in plant selection - is the speed with which a perennial, shrub or tree leafs out in the Spring.

Maybe that seems silly, but by the time late February rolls around, I'm desperate for some greenery and signs of life in the garden.

Here are some sights that gladdened my heart:

An expert told me not to count on Agastache rugosa 'Honey Bee Blue' acting as a perennial in Middle Tennessee. But the plant itself begs to differ. All three of the specimens I've planted have been returning reliably for a couple of years.

And this year I even have a few Agastache rugosa seedlings. (Or they could be hybrids, since I'm growing some other Agastache species in the garden. Not sure how easily they hybridize. But this one is growing right next to the other Agastache rugosa plants and its leaves look the same, so I'll call it A. rugosa for now!

Aronia arbutifolia (red chokeberry)

Clematis 'Crystal Fountain'.
I think I've butched the training and pruning of this plant, but it survives and blooms despite me.

'Sugar Tyme' crabapple.
You can see some old, dried apples still hanging on the plant, but the robins and other birds ate quite a bit of the fruit over the winter. That was nice to see.

'Johnny Jump Up' (Viola tricolor) has been self-sowing here and there in the garden ever since I planted it back in 2012.
Philadelphus x virginalis 'Natchez' (mock orange)

The rosy buds on the redbud tree (Cercis canadensis) gleam even on a cloudy day.

Physostegia virginia 'Miss Manners' - an obedient plant that really is supposed to be well-behaved.
I planted this little guy last autumn and the basal foliage stayed evergreen through the winter, although it recently seems to have put on some additional new growth.

Echinacea purpurea (purple coneflower), appearing amid leftover stems and seedheads from last year's purple coneflowers that I broke off, crushed and left to 'compost in place'. 

Pycnanthemum tenuifolium (narrow-leaf mountain mint) - I have high hopes for this guy. It looks capable of spreading and functioning as a groundcover, plus it's supposed to have flowers that are appealing to pollinators. This will be the second full year in the garden for this plant (and the two other specimens of P. tenuifolium that I planted at the same time). I'd say this clump is at least four times bigger than it was when I planted it last Spring.

Eryngium yuccifolium (rattlesnake master). This is another perennial that I added to the garden in 2015. It's supposed to need or prefer good drainage, so I'm relieved to see that it survived a typically wet winter in heavy clay soil in a part of the garden that drains even more poorly than most. Don't these adorable early toothed leaves remind you of a Venus flytrap or some other carnivorous plant?

Another contender in the groundcover sweepstakes, this is Teucrium chamaedrys (creeping germander). It stayed more-or-less evergreen through the winter and has started putting on some new growth. I like how the stems trapped fallen leaves, which hopefully will help built and improve the soil over time.

Strawberries! Helpfully appearing next to its ID tag, this charming tripartite leaf belongs to Fragaria virginiana, our native wild strawberry! I planted several specimens of F. virginiana in the garden last autumn. This will be their first growing season in the Garden of Aaron!


Thursday, March 10, 2016

Get Ready! Annual Nashville Plant Sale Coming Next Month!!

The Perennial Plant Society of Middle Tennessee's annual plant sale makes gardeners smile :)
(Photo courtesy of PPSMT)

Do you love plants?

Of course you do! (That's why you're reading this blog.)

Well, for gardeners in Middle Tennessee, one of the most exciting events of 2016 is just around the corner when the Perennial Plant Society of Middle Tennessee (PPSMT) hosts its annual plant sale starting at 9 a.m. on APRIL 9th at the Tennessee State Fairgrounds in Nashville!

I attended this plant sale a couple of years ago and was very favorably impressed with the quality and selection. I found lots of exciting plants at reasonable prices that I've never seen at any of our local nurseries. For instance, I bought my Baptisia australis (blue false indigo) at the PPSMT plant sale and it has become one of my favorite perennials. (I've never seen a Baptisia at either the big box stores or any of our local nurseries.)

I also learned the importance of arriving early! I showed up about 10 minutes after the event had started and several species of plants that I was hoping to buy had already sold out!

Just look at these healthy Heuchera that were sold at a PPSMT plant sale!
(Photo courtesy of PPSMT)


Monday, March 7, 2016

Class of 2016 -- Ratibida pinnata, grey-headed coneflower

Ratibida pinnata, grey-headed coneflower, photo by Glen Fell, Chicago Botanic Garden
Ratibida pinnata, grey-headed coneflower, photo by Glen Fell, Chicago Botanic Garden

Why I'm growing Ratibida pinnata in my garden...

1) It's native to Tennessee and elsewhere in the Southeast and Midwest.

2) Michigan State University says the flowers attract bees and other beneficial insects.

3) The USDA says the flowers attract butterflies throughout the summer, while birds feed heavily on the seedheads in autumn.

4) University of Minnesota says that grey-headed coneflower can grow well in heavy clay soil.

Do you grow grey-headed coneflower? If so, what has been your experience with this plant?