This site is for people who like plants -- growers, enthusiasts, aesthetes, novices and professionals, those who appreciate wild things and those who appreciate the cultivated. I garden in Chelsea, and I've been visiting people's yards for 20+ years in the course of my work. My goal is to make this blog a community project, so if you share my interests, please consider becoming a participant and contributing content -- Guerin. Info: greenstreet@mindspring.com

Monday, April 7, 2014

A Sure Cure for Winter Blues


One of the things most of us garden type people like to do come the first few warm weeks of spring is to patrol the lawn and beds looking for any sort of hopeful sign that life is waking up.  For most, this means getting ecstatic over even the first dainty crocus that pops up, while still others enjoy snowdrops or similar early spring bloomers.  Crazy native plant people, like your post author here, go nuts over the arrival of Skunk Cabbage (Symplocarpus Foetidus) in both our local natural mucky areas and even some gardens.  For some early powerful color, though, nothing punches winter in the face more than the aptly named orchid iris, otherwise known as Iris Histroides.

I mean come on, look at the thing.  Even the most charming orange crocuses simple pale in comparison with the deep blue of the orchid iris.  This particular cultivar, 'Lady Beatrix Stanley' (which I recommend), is perhaps the best of the bunch.  Even from a few houses down, the flowers are a distinctly noticeable new blue jeans sort of blue that just begs passers by to take a second look at the cultivated wonders of the domestic landscape job. 


Those who sneak a closer look are rewarded by this wonderful white blotches and yellow veins.  Indeed, if there was to be an official spring mascot flower of Ann Arbor, it would have to be this appropriately hued blue and maize treasure.  Not only does the color scheme work, but the plant happens to love our assortment of local soils, anything from our pesky brown clay to our sandier reaches.  Whatever their soil, they are definitely in love with the drier side of life, and they can handle rock gardens very nicely as during their dormant season they neither need nor prefer much in the way of water.  This is probably because they, like their close relatives Iris Reticulata (so close, in fact, that they are in the same sub-genus and not usually distinguished between), come from the drier reaches of the eastern Black Sea, i.e.Turkey and the Caucasus mountains.  That said, they work just as well in beds or even dry, exposed parts of the lawn.  All in all, a great plant to help fire us up for our wonderful springs.

Post submitted by Brent Kryda

Thursday, April 3, 2014

A look back on winter 2014

submitted by Brent Kryda in South Lyon:

These past few months have been brutal for just about everyone, the gardeners among us most of all.  As Guerin pointed out in his last post, us zone denial types have certainly taken a hit; had I been a bit wiser and paid attention to the weather rumors and long term forecasts, I would not have given my Magnolia Grandiflora a trial run in the ground this season.  That said, Guerin also mentioned that the snow that came along to blanket our landscape would provide an amount of insulation for the tender ground-level plants.  To some degree, this was certainly true.  Up here in South Lyon, I managed to lose none of my zone 6 plants!  The most noticeable victory was the survival, without any burn whatsoever, of an Agave Parryi.

One of the most noticeable defeats, for many of us I am sure, was how much sun we did get this winter.  While we Michiganders may joke that the sun goes down one night in November not to be seen again until April, the truth is that we had our fair share of bright blue days this past frigid season.  This was murder on our broadleaved evergreens.  While I saw many rhododendrons survive the worst of those terrible lows, most of them have since been scorched in the southerly direction.  I've been growing them for years and have a great deal of experience with the evils of winter sun, but it took 2014 for me to really get schooled in the fact that some things don't like southern exposure. 

They at least have the benefit of curling their leaves into pencils; certain hollies and boxwood did not do nearly as well.  The truth is that winter 2014 was very cold for a very long time, with few thaws to speak of.  This meant that our evergreen friends were baking in the sun and did not have a means of replenishing their dessicated foliage.  Even the shallow rooted rhododendrons could not take a sip from the surface level soil, because it never had a chance to thaw even a little.  In some ways, our wonderful borderline zone 6 greater Ann Arbor area was acting more like something hundreds of miles to the north.  Yes, the minimum temperatures for the most part technically stayed above zone 5 lows, but the prolonged cold definitely brought us out of our fake subtropical revery.  I did notice some of the more well-established hollies and even bamboo managed to hold their own, at least in the more sheltered locations.  The many overused Colorado Blue Spruce (Picea Pungens) seem to be looking more robust than ever, as does the completely out of place Jack Pine (Pinus Banksiana) that sprawls over my front lawn. 

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Wow, did it get cold! Be thankful for the blanket of snow.

Those of us who like to push the boundaries of the USDA hardiness zones need not worry about the frigid temperatures early in January. The think blanket of snow provided superb insulation for everything it covered. If you are growing a marginally hardy woody plant, say perhaps an evergreen magnolia or a species of Corylopsis, it wouldn’t be unusual for the uninsulated parts to die back. However, the root-stock and buried stems will come about unscathed. In many cases a simple pruning in the spring will make everything right as rain.

One nursery that used to sell me somewhat tender plants was located in a part of upstate New York where the temperatures routinely dropped much lower than in southern Michigan. The low temperatures were rarely a problem for the grower since she could always depend on a thick blanket of snow. This just goes to show some of the limitations of the USDA hardiness zones which are based entirely on absolute low temperatures.  There are many other factors that determine whether a particular plant is ‘growable’ in a specific location.

Anyway, to back up some . . . I think we've gotten out of the habit of proper winters in Michigan. We certainly didn't break any records for low temperature. Furthermore, I expect the average temperature for the month will turn out to be well above the historic norm.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Can't hardly believe it's December already

It's December, and this is what my side yard looked like just a couple of days ago. Quite a spectacular mess from my big-leaved magnolia, for sure. OK, the leaves are big, but at least I can take comfort in the fact that they are relatively few. My leaf vacuum is JUST barely able to suck them up.

Someone who knows the evergreen(ish) viburnums might be able to identify this plant growing in front of one the administration buildings on Thompson. I assume the species epithet begins with the letters "rhytid" but that's as far as I've ever gotten with this group of unusual and impressive shrubs. Maybe they are a little gloomy, but they deserve much wider use, in my humble opinion.

This honeysuckle no doubt started as a volunteer from a seed shat out by a robin. I placed the 8-1/2 x 11" sheet of paper in the photo for scale.  The corner of this yard is now a no-man's-land.

A gotta say: the iPhone can take nice enough pictures, but it never does justice to large objects.  It invariably makes the largest landscape objects appear positively puny.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

To Steve: pawpaws, magnolia leaves and the new Miller Road


A funny thing happened last week: someone mentioned that they had recently discovered (and enjoyed!) this blog. In recognition of this unusual sign of appreciation, I hereby post a few more pictures and thoughts since I last visited this space in September. You want a post dedicated in your honor? Just send me a note!

Wow! On Sept 20, I saw these pawpaw fruits growing on a tree on Westport off Newport Rd. My pawpaw tree has flowered but has never set fruit. I think the trick is obvious: grow more than one specimen, thus assuring good cross pollination. That's what this individual did. Two of the trees were barren, one was laden. Some of the fruit hung just inches from the ground.
In November I went on a hunt for pawpaw fruit in the wild. My son and I checked many hundreds of stems along the lower Huron River, and found not a one. The trees still had their leaves, but I suppose we very well could have been too late.

Yes, that is a distinct possibility. My recollection is that the fruit is ripe at about the time the leaves drop, but it was a very unusual season: never seen so much leafiness in the trees on a Halloween night.

Hurrah! Miller Road is open again to two-way traffic. A nice feature that was integrated into the upgraded road is the addition of 'rain-gardens' between the sidewalk and street. The idea of course is for these gardens to absorb some of the rain-water that would otherwise all rush into the storm drains. It will be interesting to see how they look mid-season next year. It certainly will require a type of maintenance that cannot be met with a lawn-mower.

And on Lexington in the northeast part of town, I braked for a lone osage-orange in the middle of the road. I got out of my car and did a search for the parent. Couldn't find one. If this were someone's idea of a joke, it would a bit obscure IMHO. 

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Local rock garden society meeting and plant-sale set for Sept 21; Houstonia canadensis

If you want to truly expand your knowledge the plants world; if you are interested in unusual plants, the flora of Michigan, daphnes, Asian woodland species, alpine plants, etc., etc.; if you want to pick the brains of some of the most accomplished, knowledgeable, and friendliest bunch of plant lovers in southern Michigan, I strongly recommend that you hook up with the Great Lakes Chapter of the North American Rock Garden Society. The organization is having its fall garden tour and plant sale/exchange in Ann Arbor on Sept 21 at 11:30 a.m. Shoot me an e-mail and I'll give you specifics.

Meanwhile, I hereby reproduce an article by member Don LaFond from the just-released September newsletter. The topic: Houstonia canadensis (Canadian summer bluet).

"It's getting tougher to grow alpines in Michigan. The weather is getting hotter and more humid. So to find a native pant that at least looks like an alpine cushin, and is easily grown, well that's just grand.

H. canadensis growing up north (from michiganflora.net)
"Most of us know the little bluets Houstonia caerulea and H. serpyllifolia, found usually in wet areas, sometimes creating wide swathes of color in the spring. In my gravel pit garden I can't seem to keep the little blue flowers alive. H. canadensis, on the other hand, isn't blue, but will grow in dry sand. As a matter of fact if you grow H. canadensis in a dry and lean position it resemble an alpine cushion with white flowers on 2-3" stems. Some flowers have a pink blush, so maybe a good pink will be found someday.

"I was first introduced to Houstonia canadensis on a sandy gravelly bank in the back end of a cemetery in southern Michigan. I have also seen it growing in very wet areas. Both times it was growing among other plants and grasses and under shrubs. In wet areas it rambles about, nudging its flowers up through the herbage in a polka dot fashion. When not in bloom it becomes almost unnoticeable. Unlike in the wild where it always seems to be mixed up with other plants, when growing it in a garden setting without as much competition, it can make a pretty good substitute for an alpine cushion. The leaves are 1/2" long and 1/4" wide forming a cushion to 6" across. I grow it in the ground and in troughs. Grown with an Asperula, their white and pink flowers bloom together and make great friends. In the fall the cushions turn a nice rusty red and sometimes rebloom to boot. Individual cushions don't last too many years, but its seedlings are always found in my garden. Perhaps for the gardener who is a bit of a control freak it might be a bit too aggressive, but for those of use who are a little more laissez-faire, it's great plant."

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Spigelia and some hydrangeas for September

Spigelia: I remember planting this strange native of Ohio and parts south many years ago. Never saw it again. That was before I knew anything water, soil and those other components that support plant life. It's an uncommon plant of moist soils and wooded stream banks, and I was delighted to see it in flower at someone's home in the Ann Arbor Hills this morning. It was a new acquisition for the home owner, and it will be interesting to see how it develops in the coming years. If you, dear reader, grow this successfully, send some pictures! The full name is Spigelia marilandica, and it is in the mostly tropical Loganiceae family (no species are native to Michigan).

Also in this person's yard: a 15-year-old elm, barely six feet in height, originally bought at 50% off from Gee Farms in Stockbridge.


I've never put my attention on hydrangeas, having always considered them the opposite of rock garden plants (where I started my gardening journeys), but check these out. The pictures are from three plants. I do believe that these are all the same type of flower, just at different phases of development.


Saturday, August 31, 2013

Late August 2013: apple trees are busting; pokers and frogs

2012 was a bust for apple producers because of a late freeze. This year apple and crabapple trees are releasing their pent-up energy by producing enormous quantities of fruit -- which had lead to many trees falling apart under the heavy load. Which has lead to a reporter from the Ann Arbor Observer tracking me down to establish the veracity and extent of the phenomenon. I doubt it's a problem for orchardists because they always keep their trees low, open, and severely trimmed; but if you have an old apple tree, you might want to thin out the branches or the fruit to prevent damage.

This is my second Knifophia picture of the year. Someone explain why we don't see more use of the large and spectacular South African genus. I've heard it rumored that these 'red-hot-pokers' are not to everyone's tastes, but c'mon people, what more could you want from a perennial this late in the summer? Lots of nice pictures in the fabulous Phillips and Rix series of books on garden plants. This one might have a name like 'ice princess,' but I don't recall where I got it or anything else about it. 

Dig a hole. Put some plastic pool liner into it. Cover up the edge of the liner with rock. The rest will take care of itself, but it will speed things up if you add some water instead of waiting for the pond to fill naturally from rain-water. I do a small amount of maintenance (chemical and mechanical) to keep the algae in check. I have a little fountain that I bought from Lowe's. I clean out all the leaves and muck at the bottom of the pond once a year. And I get lots of frogs.

The cat is much amused. Occasionally he'll catch a frog and try and play with it like a mouse, but the frog will go limb and not smell so good, so eventually I return the frog to the pond where it swims away.



Saturday, July 6, 2013

The buzz of the Flueggea

You can hear it from most anywhere in the garden: the sound of honeybees going bonkers over the flowers of the Flueggea, perhaps the most obscure of the woody plants in my garden. I don't recall where I got it. At the time it went under the name Securinega, and I don't know what inspired me to buy it. Was it once considered a member of the Euphorbiacea? Am I boring you, dear reader? Now it is listed as being in the Phyllanthaceae, which means absolutely nothing to me except I read they are from the tropics. A large number of the twigs of my Flueggea die in the winter, but they can be easily be snapped off and it's not an unpleasant task. New shoots readily arise from the older wood, and of course the flowers are produced on same year's growth. If I'm not mistaken, Tony Reznicek told me I should be glad to have a male plant, as the females set seed which germinate in obnoxious numbers. 

The flower heads of garden Delphiniums get huge and heavy. How should they be managed so that they stay straight and don't break off?

Schizophragma ('hyrdangea vine') really outshined the climbing hydrangea (Hydrangea anomala ssp. petiolaris) in my garden this year. It is now all the way up into the crown of a wild black cherry. It is a stunning display that be enjoyed from a hundred feet away.

What a color on this garden monarda! And foliage that is mildew free.

The cones on a douglas-fir as of July 4. Note the mouse tails extending from under the cone scales.

Nice fruit on a recently-planted hophornbeam (Ostrya) along St Francis street.