An unapologetic plant geek shares advice and opinions on gardening, the contrived and the natural landscape, as well as occasional topics from the other side of the gate.

February 26, 2008

Anglophiles and Swedes

I have many favorite customers, but one I always look forward to seeing is a British ex-pat who shares a love of dogs with me, and who brings me her past copies of The Garden, which is published by the Royal Horitcultural Society. Even though my roots in this state go back nearly 400 years, I am an Anglophile at heart, especially when it comes to their gardens, so I love getting these magazines. Anyhow, in the January 2008 issue on the last page was this photo that caught my eye -- and held it.

At first I though it was some kind of environmental art installation representing a tree. But in reality it was a picture taken by Joakim Berglund from an airplane while he was flying over damaged parts of southern Sweden after Hurricane Gudrum in January 2005. Who knew that Sweden had hurricanes, and where did they get that name from? Berglund won an award for this picture in the 2006 Natural History Museum Shell Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition. The piles around the "roots" of the tree are trunks harvested from the fallen timber, the "branches" are access roads leading into the forested area.

Berglund said

"It was if the heavens had sent a message to the forestry industry reminding them that, in this area, deciduous trees would have withstood the winds better than pine."

February 23, 2008

Update Part III

This morning while I was still in my night clothes, there was a knock at the door. When I opened it I saw my plant thieving-vandal "neighbor" Monica leaving the porch. I asked what she wanted and she said to look in the mailbox. Inside was a paper lunch bag all crumpled up with a zip-lock bag inside. The baggie held $95 worth of wadded bills and $5 worth of couch change, as well as a note that was written just as follows:

" Here is 100.00 that you insist. I am going to let you pay, the tax. This is not a admission of guilt, I did not know that it was wrong to pick up a branch from the side walk. Now you can leave me alone"

I am going to write her a note with her receipt, and get the last word in, because that is the kind of guy I am. I hope that this will be the end of my dealings with her and I can finally start to plant in the front yard again.

Part I
Part II

February 22, 2008

Maymont Flower and Garden Show

I haven't gone to the Maymont Flower and Garden Show in several years, so I decided to spend a cold rainy day with a couple of co-workers and head inland to Richmond to see this year's show. The event is a fund raiser for The Maymont Foundation which helps operate Maymont Park in Richmond. The park sits above the James River and was one of my favorite places to go when I was a child. There are acres of unusual trees, a Gilded Age mansion, Italian and Japanese gardens, a small zoo with Virginia native animals as well as other attractions. The F&G show is held at the Richmond Convention Center and was once run entirely by the foundation and its dedicated volunteers, but now it is run by a company called MAC Events. I am sure the decision to let a for-profit company run the event was based solely on financial reasons, but I noticed some definite differences in shows past, and the show I saw today.

It used to be that as soon as you walked in from the parking garage or the street, the smell of fresh cut flowers greeted you and you could see a small sample of the vendors selling all sorts of things interesting to gardeners. This year we walked down a long sterile hall, with no sense of anticipation, and no indication that we were going to a garden show in the main hall. Previously there was a grand entrance leading to the main show floor, but this year you entered through a small side door. Once inside the show was divided in two; half was a home show and the other the flower and garden show. The entrance display is pictured above and gave you the theme of this year's event, which was a good thing because there was little else to indicate what it was.
The above picture is of the Best in Show landscape display, it was done by Ed's Landscaping & Nursery. It was clever and well planted with a wide variety of bulbs, perennials, trees and shrubs. Its theme was the Mad Hatter's Tea Party, and all of the plant material was labeled using broken bits of cups, plates and saucers. My favorite was done by Shipp & Wilson, Inc., and I liked it because it had what I thought was a better use of more unusual plants. Below are a couple of their pots.
Other landscapes displays were attractive and had a few unusual features, but were weakly planted, and some were merely exercises in seeing how many different ways landscaping block and pavers could be used. I did like this dripping bathtub. I also saw a "thinking out of the box" ikebana,
the biggest Clivia I have ever scene,
and I plant I will own this year.
The number of landscape displays was down from years past, and I saw no plants that I have not seen before, or that screamed "take me home". There were fewer vendors and what they offered was less varied, unless you went to the home show side of the event. Here could be found kitchen counters, vinyl siding, sunrooms, mortgage brokers, mop sellers, replacement windows and miracle cookware. Also missing or reduced in number were the various plant societies, government agencies, the art show, and the garden clubs.

Having worked with the Maymont show and others like it in the past, I can appreciate what kind of work goes into them, and what the pressures are for non-profits in creating and organizing a financially viable event. I guess it should be understandable that sometimes it is easier to let someone else manage an event; I only wish it could have been as colorfully varied and as fun as it once was to while away a cold rainy day there in February.

February 21, 2008

An Update and Some Photos

One of the reasons I began blogging was to channel some frustrations I was having due to a plant thief-vandal that had been plaguing my garden. You can visit my first post on the topic to get the big story that was written when the sense of injustice was still burning hot. Since that time the community police officer has been by her house twice, speaking first with her husband and then, finally with her. The problem seems to have abated, and I have made a point of spreading this story around the neighborhood, especially to gardeners. I still feel a need for some kind of closure-compensation-retribution, so I printed a quote from work on what it would cost to replace the Edgeworthia she destroyed. When I saw her outside walking, I ran into the house, grabbed the papers and confronted her on the sidewalk. I told her I had something for her and handed her the $105.00 quote. I told her the money was not the issue, and if she could find a single stemmed specimen that was about 4' tall, I could take that instead. I know she won't find a plant that nice locally - I don't know where she will find one. She told me all she took were a few twigs. I left her saying she had one week to get me the plant, or the money, or I would take it to the courts. I'll let you know what happens.

Now for some pictures.
The above Edgeworthia chrysantha was shot a couple of weeks ago while I was at Bill and Linda's and it was just coming into bloom. I would have photographed mine, but someone decided she needed it more than me. I am fairly certain the one I had came from a sucker or cutting of this one that I bought at work. Edgeworthia chrysantha is a less temperamental Daphne relative that can bloom anywhere from late January into March, depending on the weather. Its common name is Rice Paper Plant or Paper Bush, and indeed in its native China it is used to make paper. It can get about 6' tall and wide, and usually grows as a multi-stemmed shrub, but can be single stem as well. The flowers have a wonderful, strong fragrance that reminds me of a sweeter, softer version of narcissus. The foliage is slightly exotic looking, similar to Magnolia virginiana both in shape and color. The autumn foliage is of no consequence, but in late fall the buds form and are fuzzy, silver and hang upside down on the bare branches. As the flowers begin opening, the bloom cluster expands until it no longer hangs down, but faces up as well. It should be hardy in zones 7b to 9, maybe 10.

Below are some other things I saw while I was at Bill and Linda's. The first two are shots of Ranunculus ficaria 'Brazen Hussy'. The flowers are certainly attractive, particularly for mid-winter, but the foliage is glossy black.

Also blooming, but close to the end of its season, was a weeping, white Prunus mume that has a nice view of Batten Bay. I am sorry, I do not know the cultivar.
I would have sat on the bench and enjoyed the Witchhazel if it wasn't so wet. I am not sure, but think this is Arnold's Promise (Hamamelis x 'Arnold's Promise).
The last shot is a close up of the above Witchhazel, I particularly like the rain on it. After last summer I particularly like rain on anything - anytime.

February 18, 2008

"Local Dog Predicts Weather" - Film at Eleven

Last night I awoke to a vibrating bed, and it was not because I was in a cheap motel with a coin machine on the headboard. Loretta the Weather Dog was predicting impending storms. She usually begins shaking, then panting and finally drooling with the approach of storms. Sometimes the humans in the house can hear the thunder in the distance and sometimes we can detect no change at all, but she can; it must be a pressure thing. She is better then the local TV weather guys with all of their Storm Chaser-Super Triple Doppler-Get It To You First technology. Her behavior often procedes the weather alert scroll at the bottom of the television by a good 10 minutes. This ability is only one of her assets; she is also good looking, slender and she has a beautiful singing voice. After that, she has been the most trying dog we have ever owned, and certainly not the brighest crayon in the box, she may even be her own cousin. As it is said, God dosn't close a door without opening a window.

The day we got her we had not woken up saying "Let's get another dog today". We went to an unsuccessful school equipment auction out in Isle of Wight. On the way home we decided to stop by the animal shelter - just to look around. We were chatting with the attendant and told him of our penchant for hounds. As it was, he told us someone would be bringing in some pups momentarily. We saw the remaining three pups from a litter of Coon Hounds and fell in love with two of them right from the start, but they opened their mouths and began baying non-stop, singing their joy to be alive. Since we live in a fairly dense area, we picked the third, quiet pup - Loretta. Her quitness was just an act. She hasn't stopped barking in seven years. When we took her to the vet, we were told she had the "most impressive worm count" he had ever seen. She was near death from starvation, and it became clear to us that she was badly neglected and possibly abused. She is still in recovery, and we are still adjusting to her. When she was spayed, she nearly died from the anesthesia, we were told to try and "avoid" future surgeries, like they are optional. She managed to destroy a beaded leather pillow that actually survived a WWII concentration camp. Last year we spent close to $1200 on her ears alone. During Hurricane Isabel, we had to tranquilizer her so she wouldn't tremble herself into oblivion. Worst of all she has been know to dig holes in the garden. All of this for a spur of the moment dog. I can only hope that her constant barking has saved us from some unknown fate at the hands of a psychopath, and we just don't know it. Or perhaps her forcasting abilities may warn us of some future fast approaching tornado. Maybe later on I will write about the good dog Patsy.

Camellia Time

We are lucky here to be in the northern limit of the Camellia belt, and this looks like it is going to be another good year for them. At work we got in some very large specimens for a landscape job we are installing in Virginia Beach, and I must say they were exceptionally nice. When the truck driver who dropped off our bare root roses saw them he said he had never seen such a pretty flower. He asked what they were, and if he could grow them. I asked him where he lived to see if they would be hardy, to which he replied - Alabama. The Camellia is the state flower of Alabama! How could he go through his whole life in Alabama without knowing what a Camellia is? George Wallace is rolling in his grave. Enough already, here is the flower he was so smitten with - April Remembered (Camellia japonica 'April Remembered'). It is a more cold hardy variety that is said to go as far north as 6b. I took a couple of Camellia pictures in my own yard this morning. The first is the Nuccio's Gem (Camellia japonica 'Nuccio's Gem) . I would have taken a close up, but the white flowers show damage from the lastest freezing night, so I took a little license. I like all of the Nuccio's for their formal double structure. The other Camellia is Les Marbury (Camellia japonica 'Les Marbury') and I also like this one for its form, which is a series of concentric stars. The advertised color on this is white striped with pink, but mine reverted in the second season to a unappealing pink, which apparently is common. I can only hope that it might re-revert back to bi-color or at least put a few out every now and then.
Below is a shot I took at Bill and Linda's of what I wanted when I bought my Les Marbury. Their garden is spectacular and I wouldn't expect anything less from them, than a perfect Camellia that blooms as advertised.
If your ever in the Hampton Roads area at this time of the year, and you want to see Camellias then you should head to the Norfolk Botanical Gardens. At their Hofheimer Camellia Garden they have over 500 varieties planted, and the rest of the garden is well worth seeing.

February 16, 2008

An Afternoon at the Hermitage

On Friday afternoon my son and I went by the Hermitage here in Norfolk. The Hermitage Foundation operates a house museum with a noted art collection; it provides gallery, classrooms and studio space for local artists, students and patrons, and for me it also has 12 acres of grounds and gardens. Since it sits on the shores of the Lafayette River, part of their current mission now envolves restoring the shoreline to prevent erosion and to provide habitat for terrestrial and aquatic life. They have alot on their plate.

As we were headed back to the car we caught the unmistakeable scent of Winter Daphne (Daphne odora). After following the smell we found what I think is the most perfect specimen of Winter Daphne I have ever scene. This notoriously finicky plant was in full bloom and smelled of equal parts lemon and vanilla. It should be sited in a place that gets dappled shade or morning sun only, and in our hot humid climate, it is imparetive that it has good drainage. If it ever gets soggy it will start to die, sometimes fast and sometimes slow, either way, no amount of TLC can bring it back from the brink. Winter Daphne is listed as hardy to zones 7-9, and is worth any amount of trouble needed to make it happy, and if it is happy, don't ever move it.

Here it is close up. I wonder when Microsoft or Google will invent E-aromas.
They had beds full of snowdrops in full bloom.
Tree-like Camellias were also blooming.
I think the ground under blooming Camellias can be just attractive as the plant itself. What I wonder is, how did all of these land upright except for two, and no I did not touch them. I am not sure, but this looks like Lady Clare (Camellia japonica 'Lady Clare').

As I may have mentioned, there is more than a garden on the property. Here is a look a some detailed carving around a cluster of windows. To my eye, it looks as if the wood has never been painted, stained or treated, but given the riverside loacation, they must put something on it.

February 15, 2008

Bloom Day - Hellebores

This is my first post for Bloom Day, and I actually had several things I could have posted, but the Hellebores (Helleborus orientalis) are just starting to peak. If you are not growing this perennial , you need to start. They are evergreen, drought tolerant, shade tolerant, disease-insect-deer resistant and for me begin blooming in the longest month of the year when I need them the most.

The above is one of my favorites because of its dark color. Linda, one of the former owners of my company, gave me a few seedlings out of her garden that I put on the north side of my house. They began crossing with each other and with a few I had already and now I have a great collection of colors.

The dark purple from above looks great against the foliage of the O'Spring Holly (Ilex cornuta 'O'Spring')
How about a few freckles.
See what other gardeners are enjoying at Bloom Day.

February 14, 2008

Candles in the Snow

We got our second snow dusting of the season last night, but there was no accumulation. The schools here were opened two hours late, just to be cautious. I am sure there was lots of scrambling and re-juggling of morning routines and schedules all over the city. As it turns out the roads were fine, but I am sure they were gun shy from an incident last year when schools were opened with black ice on some of the roads.

Below is a Crimson Candles Camellia (Camellia x 'Crimson Candles') that I planted about 8 years ago. I am not thrilled with the color, I usually go for the larger showier cultivars, especially the blood reds and the red/white mixes. However, this one is exceptional in that it is as florific as a Sasanqua Camellia, very cold tolerant (7a), disease resistant, long blooming, and the new foliage is red when it emerges. Some of these flowers were open the other night when we got down to the low 20's and they did not turn brown as some of my other varieties did. The other nice thing about this Camellia are its buds, which as a matter of fact look like small crimson candles.

Here it is they day before, minus the snow.

February 13, 2008

North Carolina is Burning

For the last three days, the northeastern counties of North Carolina have been experiencing a series of very large brush fires that have forced schools to change schedules and roads to close. As I drove home on Monday, you could see a large plume of smoke that covered close to a quarter of the horizon in an otherwise cloudless sky, originating in the south and extending all the way to the Atlantic. On Tuesday the wind shifted and south Hampton Roads began to smell the acrid smoke. Last night it began to rain, and by this morning the air had the same smell that campers know when they pour water on last night's campfire. We got well over an inch of rain today, and I hope it will be enough to quell the flames.

We got the first of our spring trucks into work today (let the games begin). It was a shipment of bare-root roses from California, and we shall begin potting them up tomorrow. I did have a few minutes between rain drops to take some pictures in the display gardens and around the nursery.

The above are some of the soaked blooms on the Okame Cherry (Prunus x 'Okame'). This is the first cherry to bloom for us, but it usually blooms in early March. So far we are having a zone 9b winter in Norfolk, and a zone 8b winter at work, and this plant is about three weeks early. Okame is smaller than the other popular cherries that bloom later in this area, Yoshino and Kwanzan.

Also blooming today were a couple of Mediterranean natives; Algerian Iris (Iris unguicularis) and Clematis cirrhosa.

The Clematis twines its way through the Flying Dragon Hardy Orange (Poncirus trifoliata 'Flying Dragon'). I have often referred to the Clematis as a weed, and it does behave that way, but it is evergreen and it does bloom in the winter. The Hardy Orange is really a citrus but it can take temperatures into zone 6, maybe even 5. Don't expect to harvest a crop of tasty oranges; they are small and bitter. The best part of this plant are the twisted contorted branches and talon-like thorns. It is a great plant for birds, who build their nests in them, impervious to the neighborhood felines.

February 9, 2008

Signs of Spring

With all of the above average temperatures of the past week; things are beginning to pop open. While I hate February more than any other month, I am not ready for spring quite yet. Temperatures can fluctuate greatly here, and when they do it plays havoc on the blooms. Winter here is never a deep sleep, it is more of a toss and turn kind of night.

One of the first shrubs to bloom are the Quinces. This is one of the plants I remember from childhood at our house in Richmond. My mom planted one by the back steps that had no railing, and my brother and I liked the plant, not for its flowers, but for the fact we could push each other off the steps into the Quince's thorns. She called it Japonica, and I still have a few customers coming in using that name. She loved to cut it and bring it in for flower arrangements, and it is easy to force open in late winter.

All of the pictures were taken at work this week, and the one below is close in color to what I remember pushing my brother into. It is is Texas Scarlet (Chaenomeles japonica 'Texas Scarlet'). It gets about 3' by 5'. Another good red is Crimson and Gold ( Chaenomeles x superba 'Crimson and Gold'). It is a much richer color in my eyes and it gets about 3.5' tall by 5-6' wide. We started carrying this at work a couple of years ago when it was offered by one of my favorite weird plant places, Nurseries Caroliniana.
A favorite of my customers is Toyo Nishiki (Chaenomeles speciosa 'Toyo Nishiki'). It is usually advertised as a mix of white, pink and red, but more often it is primarily white and pink. This one will get 6' tall and wide, maybe more.
One that does not grow as big as the others is Jet Trails (Chaenomeles x superba 'Jet Trails'). It only gets to 3' tall and wide with a more spreading habit.

There are other quinces that I could not get a picture of, and one of my favorites is Cameo (Chaenomeles japonica 'Cameo') which is a good apricot. It gets 3' by 5'. All quince prefer to be in full sun for best flowering, they can take light shade but with fewer blooms. They produce a fruit that is reminiscent of an apple that can be used to make jelly, but I have never tried it. It might be one of those things that is only edible after you add enough sugar to make it palatable. If you are latin name person, beware that this plant has some confusion between species and hybrids.

February 7, 2008

Star Date 3034

On a mission to Alpa Centauri B, a small planet is discovered with a promising temperature range, occasional water, but little oxygen.

Twelve E-years later the planet is seeded with genetically engineered tree algae developed by Monsanto Corporation; the Unified Nations leader in terra-forming.
After several decades phase I terra-forming is complete and oxygen levels rise.

Or it could be just be a Common Hackberry taken on a clear February day in 2008.

These were shot at a house that has lots of these around the property. It was smart of the landscape architect to leave them, they are well suited to the windy exposed site, that ocassionally feels some salt spray. Common Hackberry (Celtis occidentalis) is a less graceful member of the Elm family. Incredibly hardy from zones 2 to 9, it can live in just about any part of the States and into southern Canada. Other than the bark, it is not the prettiest of trees but it makes up for it with a tough consitution.

At the same site was another tough native with striking bark; Common Persimmon (Diospyros virginiana).

February 5, 2008

Feels Like May

It was over 70 here today, quite nice, but I worry what prolonged high temperatures might do to the late winter/early spring plants that do not know how to hold back - like the deciduous magnolias or the quince. Last year we had an extremely warm January that caused many plants to swell and begin opening early, only to be smacked in February. Maybe things will moderate.

Here are a couple of camellias I shot at work. The first is 'April Remembered' and the second is 'Freedom Bell'.
I also want to share the incredible sunset tonight. I took this near the bridge leading into my neighborhood, overlooking the Layfayette River.

February 3, 2008

Blooming Today

After the somber tone of the last post, I thought I should post something more uplifting. It was nice today, sunny and pushing 60, and at work the the Prunus mume 'Peggy Clark' was blooming and the honeybees were getting busy with Peggy.

In my own garden, most of the Helleborus orientalis are only barely showing color, but the Helleborus foetidus are in full bloom, and among some of my customers, green flowers are very in.
In the greenhouse at work we have the plant that was stolen out of my garden this summer by my "neighbor". When I posted my rant about the plant thief/vandal I did not know the name of the stolen plant, but now I know it is Gynura or Velvet plant (thanks to Ann).