Monday, May 30, 2016

Class of 2016 -- Foeniculum vulgare ‘Rubrum’, bronze fennel

Black swallowtail caterpillar on bronze fennel (photo by John Brandauer)

Why I'm growing Foeniculum vulgare ‘Rubrum’ in my garden...

1) Cornell University calls fennel drought tolerant and says that its flowers attract beneficial insects including bees, parasitic wasps and hoverflies.

2) Cornell also notes that fennel serves as a host plant for swallowtail butterflies!

3) Fennel seeds reportedly have a sweet anise flavor and can be used for seasoning, while fennel leaves can be added to salads or used as a garnish. There are many sources on the Internet, including The Herb Society of America and Mother Earth Living, that provide advice on using Foeniculum vulgare in the kitchen.

Two warnings / cautionary notes:

1) Fennel is native to the Mediterranean and has become a seriously invasive weed in some parts of the world, including California and Washington. I would not recommend planting this herb on the West Coast, but I can't find any indication that it's running rampant in the Southeast. For instance, I don't see it on the lists of invasive plant species in TennesseeNorth Carolina, Alabama or South Carolina. In general, before adding non-native plants to your garden, it's a good idea to do your own research, consult local experts and err on the side of caution if there's any indication that an exotic plant could disrupt native plant communities in your region.

2) Tempted to nibble something that looks like fennel? Keep in mind that fennel bears some resemblance to poison hemlock (Conium maculatum). As its common name suggests, poison hemlock is reportedly really, really poisonous. Per the USDA: "People may be poisoned by eating any part of a hemlock plant. Often, poisoning occurs after the victim confuses hemlock root with wild parsnips, hemlock leaves with parsley, or hemlock seed with anise. Whistles made from hollow stems of poison-hemlock have caused death in children." King County, Washington notes that the toxins in poison hemlock can even be absorbed through the skin. Please exercise caution and don't ingest anything unless you are certain you know the identity of the plant.  

Do you grow bronze fennel? If so, what has been your experience with this plant?


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Monday, May 23, 2016

Class of 2016 -- Osmanthus heterophyllus 'Goshiki', false holly

Osmanthus heterophyllus 'Goshiki', false holly, the small reddish leaves represent new growth, while the older leaves have green and yellow variegation.
Yep, Goshiki offers pretty a whole rainbow of colors in a single plant!

Why I'm growing Osmanthus heterophyllus 'Goshiki' in my garden...

1) I like the fact that it is a broadleaf evergreen shrub. There are not that many broadleaf evergreens that are reliably hardy in Tennessee, but Fred Spicer of the Birmingham Botanical Gardens says that O. heterophyllus should be "rock-hardy" even in USDA zone 6a.

2) Spicer also notes that false holly has excellent drought tolerance in Alabama.

3) Louisiana State University says that O. heterophyllus has fragrant autumn flowers. (Personally I have not seen or smelled any flowers yet on my false hollies.)

4) Rutgers indicates that false holly is fairly deer resistant ("seldom severely damaged").

5) Respected plantsman Michael Dirr says O. heterophyllus makes a resilient and virtually impenetrable hedge that can withstand heat, drought and pruning.

6) The Urban Forest Ecosystems Institute says that false holly flowers attract bees, while its fruit provides food for wildlife.

Do you grow false holly? If so, what has been your experience with this plant?


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Monday, May 16, 2016

Class of 2016 -- Coreopsis lanceolata, lanceleaf coreopsis

Lanceleaf coreopsis (Coreopsis lanceolata) started to bloom on May 11th.

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

1) Lanceleaf coreopsis is native to Tennessee and throughout much of the Eastern U.S.

2) Missouri Botanical Garden says it can grow in full sun and tolerate deer, drought, heat and humidity. (I've got all of those in abundance!)

3) I found an 1890 (!) article in The Garden magazine saying that C. lanceolata grew "exceptionally fine" on heavy clay soil during wet summers.

4) Michigan State University says that lanceleaf coreopsis flowers are very attractive to bees and other beneficial insects.

5) The Missouri Prairie Foundation says that C. lanceolata seeds provide food for finches.

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


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Thursday, May 12, 2016

Class of 2016 -- Oenothera fruticosa, sundrops

The sundrops have opened! Today is the second day I've seen flowers on Oenothera fruticosa.  
These are really bright, cheerful flowers that are visible way across the garden.
And the red buds provide extra appeal alongside the flowers.

Why I'm growing Oenothera fruticosa in my garden...

1) It's native to Tennessee and throughout much of the Eastern U.S. from Mississippi and Florida in the south all the way up to Michigan and New Hampshire in the north.

2) Virginia Native Plant Society calls it drought tolerant and deer resistant, able to grow on hot sites in poor dry soils with diurnal flowers that attract butterflies

3) Nicole Selby, a Gardener at The Scott Arboretum in Pennsylvania told me that O. fruticosa (which is also known as "narrowleaf primrose") seems to be a good plant for wildlife with insects visiting the flowers to feed on nectar, birds eating the seeds and mammals nibbling on the roots.

(That last bit about mammals eating the roots could be worrisome, but since O. fruticosa has a reputation of spreading both by seed and roots, perhaps the mammals just help keep the plant in check?)

4) Asheville Botanical Gardens says that sundrops can bloom for two months, attracting pollinators including sphinx moths, hummingbirds, honeybees and bumblebees. The foliage may have an evergreen reddish presence in winter. 

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


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Wednesday, May 11, 2016

A Little Weedy?

The benefit of not using Preen or any other pre-emergent herbicide in the garden is that I enjoy LOTS of volunteer seedlings in my garden. Some of these are desirable plants (Cosmos, redbuds, asters, milkweeds, arrowwood viburnum, last year even a sassafras tree!).

On the other hand, the drawback of not using a pre-emergent is that I do have to hand-weed the beds to remove unwanted volunteers such as crabgrass, clover, wild grape and love-in-a-mist. (I planted that last one myself before I realized it was give me approximately a bazillion volunteers every year. So now I'm trying to rectify my mistake.)

And then there are the unknowns. Even our local extension agent couldn't pin a label on the photos below. So I'm hoping to crowdsource the answer through the magic of the World Wide Web and all you gardening wizards out there.  Any ideas?

Handsome. Symmetrical. Weedy?

These next three photos might all be the same species, though they're not the same specimen.

Vigorous for sure.

Healthy and strong, but is it desirable or pernicious?

This deep green beauty with toothed leaves popped up in the front border amid some Agastache. Should I keep it or give it the heave-ho?


Monday, May 9, 2016

Class of 2016 -- Ilex decidua, possumhaw

Ilex decidua, possumhaw holly, photo by Earl McGehee

Why I'm growing Ilex decidua in my garden...

1) It is native to Tennessee, throughout the Southeast and into southern portions of the Midwest and Mid-Atlantic.

2) Powell Gardens in Kingsville, Missouri calls it drought-resistant, while Texas AgriLife Extension says it also can cope with poor drainage.

3) Missouri Botanical Garden says it can tolerate heavy clay soil.

4) From what I've seen in person at Cheekwood Botanical Garden in Nashville, Ilex decidua flowers attract bees. (Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center agrees that all holly flowers provide bees with a good source of nectar.)

5) As the name implies, Ilex decidua is a deciduous holly,which means its berries should be conspicuous in the wintertime. Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center notes that possumhaw berries provide food for songbirds, gamebirds, opossums, raccoons and other wildlife.

Note that Ilex decidua is a dioecious species, meaning that both cross-pollination must occur between male and female plants in order for the females to bear fruit. I only planted one female cultivar, so it will be interesting to see if the bees manage to bring pollen from any male possumhaws growing wild or in other nearby gardens. I'e also heard that female possumhaw plants can bear fruit if they receive pollen from male Ilex opaca (American holly) trees.

6) The Native Plant Society of Texas says that possumhaw is deer-resistant and serves as a host plant for dusky-blue groundstreak butterflies.

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


Friday, May 6, 2016

Shots in the Garden - Late April 2016 Edition -- Swamp Milkweed, Mock Orange, Blanket Flower, 'Crystal Fountain' Clematis and More!

I know I just did a "Shots in the Garden" post a couple of weeks ago, but there were so many more exciting images I wanted to share with you all, that I decided to throw caution to the wind and publish another "Shots in the Garden" post. All photos here were taken on April 27, 2016.

Gaillardia (blanket flower) has come into full bloom and is now attracting pollinators. Once it starts, Gaillardia x grandiflora often will bloom straight through until frost (!) with little or no deadheading required.

Clematis 'Crystal Fountain' in full bloom

Likewise, the 'Natchez' mock orange (Philadelphus x virginalis) is blooming its heart out. I detect a bit more fragrance this year and have seen a few pollinators. (In previous years, the pollinators seemed to bypass this shrub, but as the flowering show gets bigger and bigger each year, perhaps they're starting to take more notice?)

Epimedium x perralchicum 'Frohnleiten' looking fantastic. The new growth has effectively swamped and hidden the old foliage on those parts of the clump that I did not cut back this winter (as most gardening sources suggest doing).

Love the incongruous touch of bronze in the spring garden, courtesy of the new growth on Dryopteris erythrosora (autumn fern, Japanese shield fern)
This corner of the front foundation border is looking quite ferny thanks to (from left to right) lady fern (Athyrium filix-femina), eastern wood fern (Dryopteris x australis) and Japanese painted fern (Athyrium niponicum var. pictum).  

Can you believe all this new growth sprang to life in just a few weeks? Aralia racemosa (American spikenard) only emerged from dormancy in early April. Three weeks later, it was already the size of a small shrub. At maturity, I've heard this native perennial can reach 6 feet tall or even higher!

I profiled Cornus amomum (silky dogwood) as a new addition to the garden back in February with a photo off a mature shrub loaded with berries. Well, here's the shrub I planted last autumn. As you can see, it has leafed out nicely. I really like the tinge of red on the new growth!

I was really excited to see the native Asclepias incarnata (swamp milkweed) emerge from dormancy in early April. As you can tell, it seems to be doing really well, with lots of healthy-looking foliage and strong stems emerging from the base of the plant. 

I tried scattering lots of silky seeds from the Asclepias incarnata pods last autumn. And what's this? It looks like I have successful germination throughout one of the beds in the back of the garden! Exciting!! The monarch butterfly caterpillars and lots of other critters made a home on my single swamp milkweed plant last year. If these are in fact all swamp milkweed seedlings, I can't wait to see how much insect life turns up around the plants this year! (I did also scatter seeds from Asclepias viridis, green antelopehorn, last autumn, so some of these milkweed seedlings could be from that species, but the leaves look a bit narrower and more pointed than the photos of A. viridis seedlings I've seen online. It also looks as though A. viridis has wavy leaves, but the leaves on these seedlings don't seem wavy to me, so I'm guessing that they are A. incarnata seedlings. We shall see if/when they bloom! 

Wednesday, May 4, 2016


I've been fairly disturbed recently to notice some cracks in the bark of a maple and some redbuds in my garden...

Here's the red maple (Acer rubrum) showing cracked bark and some new growth emerging from the trunk below the crack. This tree is probably about 15-20 feet tall, with a bare trunk for 5-6 feet off the ground. When we had a landscaper install it a few years ago, it was already pretty much this height with a very slender, upright growth habit. In other words, the 'canopy' (such as it is) offers little-to-no shade protection for the trunk in a full-sun setting.

This redbud - also in full sun - has a vertical crack extending for several feet along its trunk almost to the soil line.

Yet another full sun redbud (Cercis canadensis) with a crack extending almost the entire length of the trunk. I don't know whether these cracks will kill or hurt the trees - whether they are a symptom of poor health or whether they might cause the trees' demise by providing entry for diseases and insects. Or perhaps the trees will be able to heal themselves and seal the cracks on their own with new bark? I do suspect that sun scald might be part of the problem, so if the trees do survive, I plan on wrapping the trunks with some sort of protective tree paper next winter to protect the bark.

Here's a volunteer redbud looking extremely healthy. It seems to me this little guy has a much bushier growth habit than the redbuds we had installed from a tree nursery. As I understand it (and from what I observe), redbuds often grow naturally in a forest understory or on the edge of a woodland. In those situations, perhaps redbuds would have a lanky, upright growth habit. But it seems to me that in the open, redbuds - like this volunteer - would have a bushier growth habit so that that the leaves could protect the bark of the trunk, at least during the summertime. (This theory sort of falls apart for wintertime protection, since the tree will be bare and the bark probably unprotected regardless of the growth habit of the branches...)

Have you experienced bark cracks due to sunscald or other causes (such as frost crack) on maples, redbuds or other trees? Were you able to protect your trees from such issues with tree wrap or other methods?


Monday, May 2, 2016

Class of 2016 -- Packera aurea, Senecio aureus, golden groundsel

Packera aurea, golden groundsel

Why I'm growing Packera aurea in my garden...

1) It is native to Tennessee and throughout much of the Eastern and Central U.S.

2) Mt. Cuba Center recommends it as an effective, evergreen groundcover for shady spots. I'm always on the lookout for good groundcovers, especially natives.

3) The Indiana Native Plant & Wildflower Society notes that golden groundsel is a host plant for the gem moth (Orthonama obstipata).

4) Scott Woodbury, Curator of the Whitmire Wildflower Garden at Missouri Botanical Garden recommends this species, promoting it as an alternative to invasive exotic groundcovers including ivy, periwinkle and wintercreeper. He says the showy spring flowers attract tons of pollinators. Woodbury notes that Packera aurea rarely self-sows, but he says it does spread vigorously by underground rhizomes and can form a solid groundcover in a couple of years if planted on 12 to 18-inch centers.

5) Audobon at Home calls it resistant to deer browsing. (Perhaps it gets this resistance due to the presence of pyrrolizidne alkaloids that can cause liver damage in people if taken internally.)

Do you grow golden groundsel? If so, what has been your experience with this plant?


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