Friday, April 29, 2016

Tastiest Plant in the Garden?

Apparently smooth asters are irresistible to rabbits and/or deer...

It was a massacre committed in the dead of night. Symphyotrichum laeve (smooth aster) did not stand a chance. I think the culprit ate most of the evidence... 


Thursday, April 28, 2016

Are these both Carefree Beauties?

Last autumn, I thought I purchased two 'Carefree Beauty' roses via mail order.

Now that these roses are beginning to bloom, you be the judge - are they the same or two different cultivars?

I particularly like this light pink one, which has a faint, sweet, pleasing fragrance.

I'm happy with both roses and won't mind at all if they are different from one another, I just find it curious. I also have very little experience growing roses. Perhaps more experienced rosarians could tell me whether such variation is common within named cultivars?


Monday, April 25, 2016

Class of 2016 -- Ribes aureum, Ribes odoratum, clove currant, golden currant

This clove currant (Ribes aureum) grows on a clay hillside to the east of an eastern red cedar (Juniperus virginiana). It gets a couple of hours of early morning sun, but is then in shade for the rest of the day. All clove currant photos in this post were taken on 4/22/2016.

I really like clove currant's soft, toothed foliage. I planted both of my clove currants last autumn and was pleasantly surprised to find out that they held onto their leaves into December and started leafing out very early in the spring (February). It just goes to show that not all 'deciduous' shrubs have the same visual impact in the landscape. Something like Vitex agnus-castus (chaste tree) or crape myrtle (Lagerstroemia spp.) could be bare for 5 months of the year, whereas clove currant could have foliage for all but 2 months of the calendar here in Tennessee.

Here's a close-up on the clove currant leaves. Sorry for the flash effect, but it was the only way I could capture any detail on the small insect (bee?) that I noticed resting on one of the leaves.

Why I'm growing Ribes aureum in my garden...

1) Although it is native mainly to western North America, there are fairly significant populations not too far west of here in Arkansas and Missouri, plus waif populations in Tennessee and other parts of the Eastern U.S.

2) The British Beekeepers Association reports that clove currant flowers provide nectar and pollen to bees.

3) UC Davis says that the flowers also attract butterflies and beneficial insects.

4) Missouri Botanical Garden recommends it as one of the best shrubs for heavy clay soils.

5) Pacific Horticulture claims that golden currant fruits are excellent for desserts and jellies. Clove currants are dioecious (meaning cross-pollination must occur between male and female plants in order for the females to produce fruit). Although there are female cultivars like 'Crandall', the straight species plants are generally sold unsexed. I bought two shrubs, but I don't know whether I have two males, two females or one of each. If I get lucky and cross-pollination does occur successfully, then the female shrub should produce fruit. 

Do you grow clove currant? If so, what has been your experience with this plant?

Note: Commenter HKCL mentions below that currant growing is banned or restricted in certain states, such as New Jersey. I could not find an official list of such restrictions in the U.S., so here is a link to a recent unofficial list.


Thursday, April 21, 2016

Shots in the Garden April 2016 Edition - Ajuga, Erigeron pulchellus, Agastache, Ninebark, Epimediums, Clematis, Viburnums, Blanket Flower and More!

All photos taken in the Garden of Aaron on April 20, 2016...

New redbud (Cercis canadensis) leaves against a cerulean sky.
Some of the Ajuga flowers spikes (here on A. tenorii 'Chocolate Chip') are starting to fade ... 

But the flowers of other Ajuga (such as this large patch of A. genvensis and A. reptans) are still going strong. Strangely, while Ajuga flowers seemed to attract bumblebees last year, I have not seen any bees visiting the Ajuga this year, despite the fact that the patches have grown in the interim and that larger flower patches usually do a better job of attracting pollinators.

One more patch of Ajuga (A. genevensis). This patch is in shade most of the day, although it does get strong late  afternoon sun. The other photos above were of Ajuga in mostly full sun situations. As you can see, this is an adaptable genus that grows well (in my experience) in sun or shade. I've had pretty good luck with all three species, although A. genevensis seems more dependable and a bit more cold-hardy than the common A. reptans. Ajuga reptans also seems somewhat susceptible to sudden (fungal?) dieback, whereas I have not had this problem so far with either A. genevensis or A. tenorii. All three seem to do a pretty good job of blocking weeds. I'm not sure yet whether they will play nicely with other perennials, although strong growers (such as Platycodon grandiflorus, balloon flower) seem to be able to push right through the Ajuga.

Flower clusters on Prague viburnum (Viburnum x pragense). Although the flowers are pretty, they are unscented and do not seem to attract any pollinators. Still, Prague viburnum seems to be a tough, largely evergreen (in zone 7) and fast-growing plant that has a place in border / privacy plantings.

First flower opening on Gaillardia x grandiflora (blanket flower).

Most of the emerging foliage looks fantastic on the chaste tree (Vitex agnus-castus)...

....but I have notice some stunted, curled and blasted looking foliage among the healthy leaves. Any idea what could be causing this problem?

Love this soft, ferny, feathery patch of Coreopsis verticillata (threadleaf coreopsis), a regional native.

On casual inspection, this lavender hedge looks full, lush and healthy...

But peek behind the hedge, and you'll find lots of woody growth with foliage just on the tips.

I do wonder if I should have pruned my lavender back hard earlier in the spring? There was one section of the shrub that was mainly dead branches, though I did notice a bit of fresh growth near the base. So I gave that section a rejuvenation pruning as a test, and now I can see loads of fresh new growth emerging from the hard-pruned area. It makes me think I should try giving the whole shrub a hard prune next spring. Or is it not too late? Maybe I should/could still give it a hard prune now?

Any idea what this might be? Whatever it is, it's getting swamped by a large patch of Symphyotrichum oblongifolium (aromatic aster). 

The 'Crystal Fountain' clematis is starting to bloom...

Here's one 'Crystal Fountain' flower that is unfolding in an unusual asymmetrical fashion.

A month ago, lamb's ear looked like something the cat dragged in. I asked for advice on whether to prune selectively or leave it alone. By default (I got sick and was unable to work in the garden for a couple of weeks), I left it alone. As you can see, it now looks fantastic without any intervention on my part.
I love the fresh new foliage on the Alleghany viburnum (Viburnum x rhytidophylloides 'Alleghany'). Although some flower clusters on this plant have already bloomed, here you can see a cluster of buds that are getting ready to burst. In other words, the shrub has a nice, extended flower season. (Although as with the Prague viburnum, the flowers have no detectable scent and do not seem attractive to pollinators in my garden.)

Does this spell trouble? I suspect that voles have tunneled under the Alleghany viburnum. I hope they don't start snacking on its roots. Well, maybe it's just a chipmunk? Or a mouse hole?
Here's a cute little patch of self-sown Johnny jump-ups! 

The Natchez mock orange (Philadelphus x virginalis) is loaded with buds this year. This will be its third year in the garden. It's grown a good bit since I bought the rootbound 1-gallon shrub in the bargain section of a local nursery. Here's a look at the mock orange during its first year in the garden in 2014.  I'm pretty impressed with its toughness and perseverance. It tends to leaf out relatively early, which is also nice.

The pink azaleas (not sure of the variety since they were here when we bought the house, but they are repeat bloomers) are in bloom. Pretty flowers, but apparently have zero interest to pollinators.

Here's a shot you won't see in any nursery catalogs. I like to show not just the pretty side of a plant, but also its drawbacks. This is the same azalea, and as you can see, it's still hanging onto dried, dead flowers from last autumn. Not a pretty sight. IMHO, the tendency of azaleas (at least exotic evergreen azaleas like the ones I have) to hold onto their persistent dead flowers is a significant aesthetic demerit. 

Epimedium x perralchicum 'Frohnleiten' in flower and with lots of beautiful new rosy foliage. In previous years, I've followed the suggestions of many published experts to cut back the old foliage before the new growth emerges. This year, I decided to experiment with cutting back the old foliage on half the patch and leaving the old foliage on the other half. Well, as you can see, the old foliage (solid green in the photo, a bit tattered) does not seem to have hurt or hindered the emergence of new foliage. Although, it is also true that the new foliage is more prominent and thick on the edges of the patch, rather than in the center where I left the old growth. It will be interesting to see whether the old foliage persists throughout this year or fades away and decomposes as the new growth takes center stage. I'll try to report back later on the results of this experiment.

Here's another Epimedium species I planted last year. I think this one is Epimedium x versicolor 'Sulphureum'. The new foliage is quite charming on this one too. Unlike Frohnleiten, I think Sulphureum went totally deciduous last winter.

The 'Natchez' crape myrtles (Lagerstroemia 'Natchez') are leafing out really nicely this year.

From a distance, I'm not sure if I like the ultra-dark foliage on this 'Diablo' ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius 'Diablo'), but the golden highlights on the emergent foliage against the dark background of mature leaves sure is gorgeous up close.

Now that the blooms have faded, I'm having fun finding the adorable baby crabapples (including one here with stamens still attached) on the 'Sugar Tyme' crabapple tree.

It's been a long wait, but I've spotted new growth emerging on the native rose mallow (Hibiscus moscheutos). This is the 'Luna Pink Swirl' cultivar that I've had for a few years. I planted a straight species plant in more sun last autumn. Looking forward to seeing how that one performs this year. I think these plants love wet areas, but they seem to have surprisingly decent drought tolerance in my garden too. Even though this plant dies to the ground each year, I like to leave some of the old stems standing both because it helps mark the location of the plant (important especially since this plant emerges a bit late in the season - I don't want to accidentally forget where I planted it and dig it up while trying to plant something else in the same spot) and also because I think the sturdy old stems might offer some protection to the soft, tender emergent new growth.

Beautiful ruby-red new growth on this unknown crape myrtle.

Amsonia hubrichtii (Arkansas blue star) took a couple of years to settle in, but it seems to emerging strongly this year. It looks like it might even flower for the first time in my garden! 

Need a little (or a lot) of chartreuse in your garden? You can't go wrong with Agastache foeniculum 'Golden Jubilee' (anise hyssop) - tough, dependable, beautiful, with long-lasting lavender flower spikes that attract pollinators, seeds that attract goldfinches and incredible minty-scented foliage. I like the straight species just as much. Not only does Agastache come back year after year, but it also self-sows, giving you new volunteers that seem to accept transplantation well. I suppose some people might think Agastache self sows a bit too enthusiastically, but that has not been my experience. In any case, it's easy to grub out any unwanted seedlings. And even established plants can be pulled with little effort.

I'm going to finish on a high note with Erigeron pulchellus (Robin's plantain), a native groundcover in the aster family. I've been a bit discouraged/worried this spring by the relative lack of pollinators I've seen in the garden. Even plants that usually attract pollinators (Ajuga, redbud, crabapple) don't seem to have drawn in many bees, wasps, flies or butterflies. So I was really overjoyed to see lots of pollinator activity around this cheerful patch of Robin's plantain. (Note the bright yellow pollen on the pollinator pictured above!) In my experience, Robin's plantain will spread at a moderate rate. The foliage gets tattered by the end of the winter, but it stays semi-evergreen here in Tennessee and does a good job of protecting the soil and suppressing weeds. It does not seem to suffer much damage from herbivores, perhaps because the stems and foliage are pubescent (covered in downy fuzz).  So far, I've only trialed this plant in partial shade settings, where it has thrived. Missouri Botanical Garden says it is easily grown in full sun, so I guess I'll try that next - probably transplanting pieces from this main clump in the fall and perhaps buying some more quarts via Missouri Wildflowers Nursery, one of my favorite mail order plant sources. Missouri Wildflowers recommends light to medium shade for Erigeron pulchellus, so I don't know who to believe, but I think it's worth trialing it in some sunnier spots.

Incidentally, there's a wild Erigeron (I think perhaps the native E. annuus, eastern daisy fleabane) that has popped up in my garden too this year. I see the same flower (I think) growing wild along some of the roadsides near here. It's very pretty, and although some people would probably call it a 'weed', I think I'll let it stay in my garden. (Though perhaps I'll come to regret that...)


Monday, April 11, 2016

Class of 2016 -- Senna marilandica, wild senna

Senna marilandica, wild senna, photo by Dan Mullen

Why I'm growing Senna marilandica in my garden...

1) It's native to Tennessee and throughout much of the Southeast and Midwest.

2) Missouri Botanical Garden says it can tolerate both heat and humidity.

3) Cornell says it grows well poorly-drained clay soils.

4) According to University of Florida, it serves as a host plant for cloudless sulphur butterflies.

5) Per the Georgia chapter of the North American Butterfly Association, wild senna also serves as a host plant for sleepy orange butterflies.

6) The Midwestern Native Garden says that Senna marilandica flowers attract bees and some butterflies, while secondary nectaries attract ants and lady bugs that protect the plants from predators. The book also indicates that wild senna serves as a host plant for other butterfly species including little yellow, silver-spotted skipper and gray hairstreak butterflies.

7) The Illinois Natural History Survey says the flowers can also attract hummingbirds, while stands of wild senna provide excellent nesting cover to wildlife.

8) The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says that wild senna seedpods are an important source of food for upland gamebirds.

Do you grow wild senna? If so, what has been your experience with this plant?


Monday, April 4, 2016

Class of 2016 -- Fragaria virginiana, wild strawberry

Fragaria virginiana, wild strawberry, photo by Walter Siegmund via Wikimedia Commons
Fragaria virginiana, wild strawberry, photo by Walter Siegmund via Wikimedia Commons

Why I'm growing Fragaria virginiana in my garden...

1) It's native to Tennessee and across much of the Continental U.S.

2) According to Michael Kost at the University of Michigan Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum, wild strawberry flowers attract pollinators, while the small fruits that follow are edible for both people and wildlife.

3) The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center says that Fragaria virginiana serves as a host plant for the larvae of grizzled skipper and gray hairstreak butterflies.

4) I'm always on the lookout for groundcover candidates -- especially natives. Kost says that F. virginiana can spread relatively quickly, especially in partial to full sun, but that wild strawberry has shallow roots that make it easy to remove the plant if it expands out of bounds.

Do you grow wild strawberry? If so, what has been your experience with this plant?