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:

Monday, June 29, 2015

Four White (and One Orange) Perennials for Late June

This post was a bit difficult for me because I was unable to identify any of these white-flowered specimens without consulting the internet, my library, and my local plant expert.

To the right is gorgeous member of the large Polygonum genus, which includes bindweeds, knotweeds, buckwheat and much more. Polygonum has a bad rap because of the so-called Mexican bamboo (P. cuspidatum) which is neither Mexican nor a bamboo. One thing it is is very robust, so much so that it is officially unwelcome in Michigan. At one time a mail-order nursery sold cultivars of the species with a special note: 'Shipping is $10.00, or we can just give the plant your address and let it grow its way to you.'

The pictured plant is Polygonum polymorphum, which forms a nice fat clump but doesn't run wild. I've run into other Polygonum types that are deserving of wider use.

Next up is Filipendula ulmaria, 'commonly' known as meadowsweet or mead wort. Certainly it is more commonly known in Europe and western Asia where it is native. Us North Americans are more familiar with our native F. rubra, Queen of the Prairie. I found this specimen growing in the middle of a shade garden in the 'Waterhill' neighborhood of Ann Arbor. Nobody was home so I took the liberty of entering the garden to get a close view. 

OK, this one to the right is really not for the garden. It is the common crown-vetch (Securigera varia) and I found it besides the parking lot at Knights Market. The thing is: I always thought the flowers of this species were purple (or at least purple-ish). Tony Reznicek set me straight. Whites and pinks happen. 

This plant was introduced for erosion control and it certainly does a satisfactory job in that respect. The problem is it keeps spreading and is very hard to get rid of. 

I don't know what the plant to the left is. I bought it from Kathy Melmoth at the Ann Arbor Farmers Market. She has retired and I don't know how to reach her. I presume it is a Michigan native, since that was her specialty. Also it is a composite. I was unable to match it to anything in or the second volume of The Random House Book of Perennials by Phillips and Rix (a great series to have on you shelf!). So please, dear reader, help me out. Or do I have to go back to Tony Reznicek . . .

The unfortunately-named butterfly-weed makes for the nicest orange in the plant world, IMHO. If I recall correctly, I received the one pictured from a grower in upstate New York, and it has more yellow that the usual type. It is also flowering much earlier than the other specimens in my garden. Butterfly-weed is a species of milkweed, Asclepias tuberosa. You'll see a lot of it in the environs of Pickerel Lake. 

And for comic relief, I offer the picture to the left. Yeah, sure, some company probably sprayed an herbicide, but how sad! I'm so used to seeing these signs posted by companies treating lawns or spraying trees. Here someone has applied chemicals to kill everything -- in an effort to beautify the parking lot. Why not plant some butterfly-weed!

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Mid-June and the Serviceberries are Ripe

A great year for serviceberry fruit! My family has been enjoying them in front of the Bank of Ann Arbor on Fifth Ave, at the entrance to the Quality 16 Theaters, and most recently, thanks to a friend, in the form of a delicious pie. This friend has four trees, which have yielded enough fruit for three pies. The biggest challenge is to beat out the waxwings, robins and catbirds.

In the odd chance you are unfamiliar with this fruit, it comes from a common native small tree that grows in the understory in our oak-hickory woods. It's also become quite popular as a landscape plant. There are a handful of species in the genus (Amelanchier). Unfortunately the tree suffers from having no good common name: serviceberry, shadbush, juneberry, etc. There is a northern species that is now being cultivated for fruit production in the Traverse City area. Growers are calling is 'saskatoon.'

So what else is going on at this time of year? One thing I have noticed is the expanded use of the Asian tree lilac (Syringa reticulata) as a street tree in Ann Arbor. I think it is unfortunate. The flowers have a very pleasant spell, but they are only attractive for a very short period before the white flowers begin to turn a rotten yellow-brown. I'm not positive, but I believe this plant has spread into the woods around Nichols Arboretum. It wouldn't surprise me to see it show up more often where it might be unwelcome.

Kousa dogwood (Cornus kousa) is putting on a fabulous show (much later than our native flowering dogwood). The picture to the right shows only a small portion of the crown of the tree by my house. I am unable to get a good picture because of the intense contrast between the white flowers and the dark shade underneath. Trust me, it's fantastic. AND, I have half a dozen babies that have sprouted from seeds underneath. Let me know if you would like one.

It's only mid June but the leaves of many crabapples are already showing signs of the leaf disease called apple scab. Leaves are beginning to fall, and trees will be barren by August. If you like crabapples, the best thing to do is to plant a cultivar that is resistant to the fungus. If you are stuck with an old-fashioned cultivar, the disease can be held in check by a couple fungicide sprays when the leaves first begin to develop. My company GreenStreet Tree Care sprays a large number of them every spring. In fact, spraying to control fungal diseases on crabapples, pines and spruces makes up about 80% of our chemical interventions. 

Sunday, June 14, 2015

A Modest Geranium Goes Rogue

I probably first encountered the cute little Geranium robertianum on the shores of Lake Huron at Drummond Island. It's a small-flowered cranesbill, known 'commonly' as herb-robert. Historically it was first collected in Michigan on Mackinac Island, and then later along the shores of the Great Lakes. It is a circumpolar species, found in parts of northern North America, Europe and Asia.

. . . And then, there is was, growing in profusion along the side of the driveway at a home on E Delhi in Ann Arbor. Ignoring the fact that it appeared to be quite rambunctious, I brought one home. Now I am chasing it down the hillside with a backpack full of Roundup, and pulling out specimens hidden under the leaves of mayapple and wild ginger.

What gives? It is a plant of tremendous fecundity and it has been in Michigan for thousands of years. Why haven't I encountered it locally before?

I e-mailed Tony Reznicek of the University of Michigan Herbarium. His reply: "Well, you have the same problem that I have. I think I got my Geranium robertianum from H. E., and am pretty sure it is the European form. It is somewhat invasive for me, but not so much in woodland shade. I doubt it will be another garlic mustard.

"I should note that farther north in Michigan, Geranium robertianum appears to be a native of rich woods, presumably a different form that your plant and mine."

So that's the likely story: it may be a native species, but there are a variety of forms found in its huge range. It seems we've introduced an aggressive genotype from overseas into the local flora. And now I can't decide how aggressive I should be about eradicating it from my property. How native is it? How important is it to protect the woodlands from this "newcomer"? Is it inevitable? Does it matter? If it gets out it will change the character of my woods, but it is not at all clear that it will outcompete anything native. After all, other than Virginia creeper, mayapple and the native oaks, hickories, cherries, etc., what I gave growing in my woods consists of Asian bittersweet, garlic mustard, weedy celandine, buckthorns, autumn olive, burning bush, japanese barberry, etc. -- all things that I wish would just disappear. I'm tempted to say "Go for it, little geranium." I don't know if I can stop it. I pulled up one large clump, threw it over my shoulder, came back a week later and found that it had re-rooted itself. 

Wikipedia tells me that in the state of Washington, it is known as Stinky Bob and classified as a noxious week.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Shredded Umbrella in the Garden

Here's an oddity that a fellow gardener shared with me last year. It is Syneilesis aconitifolia. Commerce dictated that it be given a "common" name, thus it is presently sold under the name 'shredded umbrella plant.'

It is a woodland species in the aster/composite family and is native to China, Japan and Korea. The flowers are of no consequence, but the leaves are pretty far-out. This is the plant's first year in my garden, and I expect it will fill in and expand in just a few years.

To me, the big thrill is seeing this plant emerge in the spring. You have to get on the belly to appreciate it, but ain't it strange? More like an emerging mushroom than anything else. Spooky!


Something happened to my primroses this year. I seem to have lost Primula kisoana (generally an easy thing to cultivate) as well as all my cultivars of the revered Japanese primrose, Primula sieboldii (search this plant on google and check out all the images!).  I have to assume my losses are due to the cold winter.

But here is one primrose that is putting on a nice show right now: Primula japonica. Hard to believe I started with just a couple specimens grown from seed!
Syneilesis aconitifolia
Syneilesis aconitifolia

An Explosion of Helicopters

I doubt anyone knows how or why this happens: all the silver and red maples in the region are laden with so much fruit it is hard to pick out any leaves. How can this phenomenon be coordinated among all the trees?

One client called yesterday and asked how to spell the word ‘schizocarp.’ I had always referred to the maple fruit as samaras, but I think she was technically correct, despite what you might read in Wikipedia.  Anyway, expect big messes to clean up if you own a soft maple, followed by a very thin-looking crown until later in the season.

Now that I consider it further, both terms for the fruit are correct. It starts as a schizocarp, which then divides into two samaras. Anyway, tell me that the color of the silver maple in the photo to the right would not cause you some alarm.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Birdwatching people-jam in northwest Ohio

I had no idea that the pastime of birdwatching had come to this. We scheduled our early-May visit to Maggie Marsh in northwest Ohio for a Tuesday in order to avoid any weekend crowd. It was quite cool and very windy, far from an ideal day for viewing migrating song birds. No matter. The place was packed with birdwatchers. Definitely upwards of a thousand people crowding onto the boardwalk. Maybe 5 humans for every little warbler. I have to say: this is a good thing. A large population of people finely attuned and dedicated to appreciating and preserving our wonderfully diverse bird population, whose numbers superbly reflect the biological health of our planet.

Still, it was comical at times. We came across a logjam of people with truly expensive binoculars, cameras and flash accessories all viewing and documenting a solitary Tennesee warbler. It was like a fashion shoot.

At one point along our walk, I briefly spotted a bird whose identity was lost to me, and I jokingly made the off-hand comment to my partner, “Must have been a female Cape May warbler.” In short order there was crowd around us, all peering through binoculars and passing down the word that there was a female Cape May warbler.
I can’t make too much light of this. I saw a dark thrush in the dark shade in front of a dark tree, and someone commented that it was a grey-cheeked thrush. One more for my life list.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Three marvelous tree oddities

I passed this tree while driving down Stein Rd off Whitmore Lake Rd.  Creepiest looking apple tree I've ever seen. The resident told me that she had been informed that this was "the oldest" apple tree in Michigan by another passing forester. It's not an impossible idea: the two "bottoms" of the tree are rooted, so, if you use your imagination to fill in the large gap, you can see it once had a massive trunk.

Here's a very queer looking beech tree (Fagus sylvatica) growing in Ann Arbor west of town. It is one of a small grove of beech oddities. The person who developed the property was an avid collector of woody plants and left behind an entire box of neatly-typed notes of his acquisitions. There's an example of his notes (with address information redacted) at the bottom of this post.

I admit this one isn't quite as remarkable, but this is what my lacebark pine (Pinus bungeana) looked like this spring. What a cool tree. I saw a few others in town this spring that displayed the same marvelous shredding. Why isn't this more common in commerce? Probably because it is slow to grow and does not provide as full a screen as, say, a blue spruce. There were several comely specimens once in Nichols Arboretum. They died. I don't know why. But I'm certain they were well over 30 years old, and surely provided more usefulness than your common austrian pine or blue spruce.

Ooh, interesting fact from Wikipedia: the species is native to the mountains of China, but . . wait for it . . it has naturalized in the Sierra de la Ventana of eastern Argentina. Sounds exotic. Who wants to visit with me?
To the right: the first page in a whole box of records of woody plant acquisitions.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Fall Colors!!

Maples are well-known and loved for their fall colors, but here are some contenders that I am particularly fond of. Top of my list is sassafras. It can be a range of colors depending on whether it is grown in shade (yellow) or full sun (fiery red). Sometimes it is all colors at once.

Such a sad story with the white ash. Such a spectacular range of fall colors including electric green and shades of purple. This picture, taken yesterday, was sent to me unsolicited by a tree trimmer friend. If you are able to develop an eye for the tree's particular palette of colors , when you drive down the highway at this time of year you can readily see that there are still good numbers of specimens around, mostly on the small side, sometimes having grown back from the roots after being attacked by the emerald ash borer.

I don't know anyone who is fond of virginia creeper (AKA woodbine). But at least it puts on a modest show before going dormant. The reds contrast nicely with the dark-colored bark that it uses as support.

How about Amelachier (AKA shadbush, shadblow, serviceberry, sarviceberry, saskatoon, etc)?  Better known for its early spring flowers and delicious fruit, it creates a nice effect when the leaves turn color in a staggered fashion.

I learned one species of Smilax (greenbrier) when I was in college. The name I learned is no longer considered valid, and according to there are five species present in Washtenaw County. I'm going to make a stab and say this is Smilax hispida. Correct me if I'm wrong. I usually let the plant have its way in my garden because I think it's just . . interesting.

Colchicum is finishing up. So easy to grow, so easy to divide and make millions more.

Ditto Arum italicum, although it doesn't require any effort to help it get around the garden, it does it all on its own.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Crazy Worm on It's Way

The ecosystems of southern Michigan were worm-free until European settlers introduced them, along with the dandelions, queen-anne’s-lace, and a host of deadly diseases.  I don’t know how prevalent earthworms worm before the last ice-age, but there were none left when the final glacier retreated 12 or so thousand years ago.

If you think earthworms are nothing but benign, you are misinformed. Yes, they help aerate heavy soils, but in light-to-medium textured soils they can be devastating by consuming the organic matter and decimating the productivity of surface horizons. In the sandy soil where I garden in Chelsea, incorporating compost only improves the soil for several seasons, after which the action of earthworms leaves it positively crumbly, sterile and hydrophobic — in fact worse than before I added the compost. I hate them.

arboretum_wormThere’s a new species of earthworm headed our way. It’s the “crazy worm.” Last year it was found in the University of Wisconsin’s arboretum. It’s called the crazy worm because it jumps around so wildly that it is not possible to hold in one’s hand. It comes from Asia and is so prolific and aggressive that it drives out our familiar “native” European earthworm. The worm reaches maturity in just two months, and is parthenogenic (no mate required). As a result populations explode rapidly. No good will come from it.

Our native plant communities evolved without earthworms. Quoting from the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s News: “‘Amynthas [the crazy worm] was listed as a prohibited species under Invasive Species Rule NR 40 since its adoption in 2009, because we knew their introduction into our state poses a huge threat to the future of our forests,’ says Bernie Williams, invasive species specialist in forest health at the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.” The worms eat so much that they eliminate the spongy surface organic layer and leave behind an easily-compacted, balled-up water-repellant granular soil.

Here’s a link to the article in the News: