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:

Friday, June 8, 2018

A Yellow Allium, Fringe-tree and Calycanthus: three winners for mid spring

The cheery yellow allium in flower right now is the favorite in my garden. It is the rock solid Allium moly. Readily available, well-behaved (I think) and growable in shade, it will brighten up any corner, border or nook. I have a half dozen patches. I don't quite recall how many I had last year, but certainly they weren't as full as they are this year. My reading tells me it will colonize but is not overly aggressive. That's my kind of allium.

This year I tossed out my straight Calycanthus floridus (Carolina allspice) and replaced it with the hybrid Calycanthus x raulstonii "Heritage Red." Now that your attention has been firmly grabbed, let me flush out the details. Calycanthus is a shrub that I know from Smokey Mountains where it is quite common. All parts are (usually) mildly fragrant, as are the flowers which emit a fruity blend of pineapple, banana and strawberry aromas. Usually. If you have a good specimen. Which I didn't. In fact I don't even recall ever planting the thing.

But I do recall planting the Chinese version, Calycanthus chinensis, which has flowers that look like over-easy fried eggs. It wasn't particularly pretty, and visitors were unimpressed by the novelty, so I added this one to the compost pile as well.

This year I brought in a hybrid which reunites the two distant (counted in miles) cousins. Nice flowers! Disappointing fragrance (virtually none). Nice round compact form.

Did I say round compact form? Certainly true of the nursery-pruned specimen in year 1. I will have to see how well it behaves in year 2 and beyond. Nichols Arboretum has a huge spreading patch of the native species, a patch as large as a quarter of my entire garden. And the Missouri Botanical Garden describes its habit as "thicket-forming, multi-stemmed, (and) suckering." If it gets out of hand, I think I will do without Calycanthus. But for now, all is fine thank you!

Hard to take a worthy full picture of our native fringe-tree Chionanthus virginicus because the flowers are so fleecy. I try every year. The tree remains a real stand-out in the garden -- even the UPS delivery person asked about it. Would I love it so much if it were as common as the crabapple? Probably not. Analagously, I'm sure I would be a huge fan of honeylocust if it weren't so ubiquitous.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

What to do with Parrotia persica?

Parrotia is a connoisseur's tree. Well, that seems to be its reputation. And it's a tree I really would like to love: tasteful witchhazel-like leaves, brilliant fall color, bark that blotches like a sycamore. It's not a common species in the Ann Arbor area, even though it has been known for many many decades.*

Too bad it is often a sorry sight in the landscape. It holds its brown desiccated leaves throughout the dormant period (i.e., over half the year); and its branching it so crowded and twisted it can look like a wall-o'-tree. And then, as you can see from the photos, it sends up the odd exploratory branch at the top of the crown, begging for intervention with a pair of lopers.

In my garden I have a Parrotia that looks like all heck, and it is flanked by two 'cornelian cherry' dogwoods in full flower right now. I want to shave the parrotia right to the ground. I will give it one final year to redeem itself and prove to me why it deserves a spot in my landscape.

* Parrotia is listed in old garden literature, but it has been difficult to find for purchase for decades. Why? The usual story. Growers need to know there will be a market for their trees ten years ahead of time. If a tree is not well known, growers will balk at the risk. And that guarantees that the tree will remain in obscurity. On the opposite end, the industry ends up producing a limited number of sure-fire hits: most recently red maple cultivars, prior to that green ash, and before that the thornless honeylocust.

Corydalis solida jumps the shark

Well, here's another taxon that I have to chase down into the woods with my backpack Roundup sprayer. SO SORRY for those who took to heart my previous effusive accolades for this species, Corydalis solida (sorry, no common name).

C. solida is a spring bulb that begins flowering with the early crocuses. There are some beautiful forms, such as the brick red George Baker cultivar. I have one with a pure white flower that I received from a grower in Latvia. Or was that Lithuania? But generally you commonly get horrid shades of mauve and wussy pinks.

The common mauve type, not very pretty in situ
I started to get suspicious of this species last fall when I noticed that a large population had sprung up on my property alongside Waterloo Road. A few individuals had even jumped to the other side of the road, which I think means that this species is now eligible for a listing in michiganflora . This spring the plant has showed up most EVERYWHERE in my garden.

I am terrified of the possibility of introducing a new weed into our woodlands. I am equally terrified that it would be obvious where the weed came from. I would live the rest of my life in shame.

For the record, there is one native species of Corydalis (syn. Capnoides), the attractive 'rock harlequin' that grows in disturbed gravelly habitats further north. Two other species -- one with yellow flowers, the other white -- are not uncommon garden plants.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

A Bee and Flower in February

This is probably not a first, but certainly the first I've seen: a fully open flower (winter aconite) being pollinated by a honeybee in February. In my own yard. In Chelsea, Michigan. Yep, February 28 still qualifies as February. I had hundreds of aconites in full flower on this date.

And a more current picture: Helleborus thibetanus. This is as good as mine gets, the flowers never spread their petals, but it's a nice attraction for so early in the season. I searched for images on the google. Nursery catalogues show off a much nicer-looking plant. I never believe those pictures.

What Happens When Norway Maple Roots Are Confined


Ann Arbor Gardener Rises Again from Its Leaf-Moldy Grave

Can't believe it's been two years since my last post. So much has happened. I grew my first beard. I sold my business. I was elected governor but was subsequently impeached. So now it's just me and my beard and some extra time on my hands . . .  and hopefully enough spirit to keep this going again for a good while. It sure would be gratifying if YOU would help by submitting posts. This project was never intended to be a solo endeavor. Even if you are just selling divisions at a yard sale or want to show off pictures of your vegetable garden, jump in. I am now at
-- Guerin

New(:) Annuals for 2018

Amaranth "Dreadlocks"
I don't think less of the firefly than the raccoon. So why does it take a person (i.e., me) half a life-time to  accept that annual plants can be just as much fun, as exciting, and as worthy as perennials. You get a new world of plants to work with. And you get to re-create something new every year. Well, that's the theory. Ask me next year how this project went.

What I did NOT want to do is grow the same bedding plants that are commonly offered commercially. Instead I ordered seed of the following taxa from Select Seeds (good website with a broad selection and useful advice on germination). I am clearing out a patch of lawn that gets, well maybe not FULL sun all day, but hopefully enough to allow me to get satisfaction from my new 'sandbox.' Let me know if you have any particular experience with the following, good or bad . .

Linara maroccana "Rhythm & Blues"
Viscaria oculata (German catchfly?) "Blue Angel"
Agrostemma githago "Ocean Pears"
Linaria maroccana "Northern Lights"
Persicaria orientalis "Cerise Pearls" -- Kiss-me-over-the-garden-gate?!
Mina lobata (Spanish flag)
Anagallis monellii (Pimpernel) "Gentian Blue"
Ammi majus "Graceland"
Cynoglossum amabile "Mystery Rose"
Zaluzianskya capensis (Night phlox) "Midnight Candy"
Orlaya grandilora "White Lace"
Salpiglossis sinuata (Painted Tongue) "Kew Blue"
Echium plantagineum "Blue Bedder"

And some choices that are not uncommon or that I have grown before:
Verbena bonariensis
Amaranth "Dreadlocks"
Eschscholzia californica (California poppy)
Ricinus communis (Castor oil bean)

Sunday, October 4, 2015

A true American chestnut

note old staminate flowers still attached
When I was a young lad growing up in New Jersey, there were still a few big chestnut trees in the neighborhood. When we kids took the “long” unaccompanied one-mile trek to Finnerty’s candy store, we would take a shortcut through a neighbor's yard with a huge specimen chestnut tree. We took great pains to circumvent passing underneath its crown which was littered with big round stiff and prickly burs. But we always stopped to pick one up -- it felt like the spines could easily draw blood.

That tree died, as did almost every other one of the estimated four billion chestnut trees that made up 25% of the great ‘Chestnut-Oak’ forests east of the Mississippi. But for years afterwards, in the Smokey Mountains and elsewhere, you could regularly find sprouts that had shot up from the still-vital roots from where there had once been a forest tree. Unfortunately the sprouts never amounted to much. They certainly never grew large enough to set fruit before they were once again attacked by the introduced pathogenic fungus Cryphonectria parasitica. My understanding is that it is becoming quite rare to find chestnut sprouts any longer.

Once in a while you will run into a healthy specimen in somebody’s yard. These trees were grown from saplings distributed by various state agencies in an attempt to re-establish the species (or at least remind people of their dendrological heritage). I found one on N Whitman Circle in Loch Alpine this morning.

I think of the chestnut tree as being a kind of beech tree on steroids. The leaves of chestnuts are much larger that those of beech, and rather than a little spiny beech-nut husk, you get a formidable hedge-hog of a fruit.

There is no relation between the true chestnut (Castanea dentata) and the common horse-chestnut (Aesculus hippocastananum). The latter is related to the buckeye, and bears palmately-compound leaves and inedible (if you are not a rodent or goat) fruit. Chestnuts are related to oaks. Horse-chestnuts are more closely related (botanically) to the maple.