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:

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 It's 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. 

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Out with the Old, In with the Pinky Winky

Other than the oak-leaf, Pinky Winky is my first hydrangea. (No, that's not exactly true: I remember killing an Hydrangea paniculata tar diva years ago. Apparently it requires water.)

So why Pinky Winky? I saw it at my brother's place in southeast Maine. Not only was it it lovely, not only was it flowering at a time when most other things had packed it up for the season, it was so full of pollinators that you could hear the buzz from inside the house. So listen closely to the video I took with my cell phone.

What else is new? How about this one from Detroit's Eastern Market: a bougainvillea! If anybody out there has ideas about how to keep this over the winter, please clue me in. I expect I'll bring it inside, place it in front of a bright window, and attend to all the fallen leaves before family members tell me I have to toss it out.

And here are some plants I have decided to retire: Saruma henryi, an upright yellow-flowered asian relative of wild ginger (Asarum canadense). (Note that the two genera names are anagrams). Saruma is fine early in the season but it gets too large and bushy and then it seeds around, and I am tired of managing it. Also going is Sinocalycanthus chinensis, an Asian relative of Carolina sweetshrub (Calycanthus floridus). It is unusual for sure, and the flowers look just like sunnyside-down fried eggs. But being unusual with eggy flowers does not cut it when space is at a premium.

But wait! Look what I dug up: one giant cyclamen bulb. That one stays for sure.

I'm thinning out my collection of jack-in-the-pulpits. Half of them I received via seed exchange, and knew nothing about them until I grew them on. There's some satisfaction in knowing that I probably have the largest collection of Arisaema's in Chelsea, Michigan, but I've got to face the fact that, while curious, they are not all garden-worthy.

Well, at least that's a small start. Anyone out there want a seedling of my hardy orange (Poncirus trifoliata)? It is beautiful, wickedly thorny, and the big parent plant didn't make it through this past winter. Plenty of offspring from where my son and I pelted each other with the sour limes.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Apricots in August

I suppose it is not generally recognized that apricots will grow quite nicely in southeast Michigan, thank you very much. They do. My tree service once had to cope with one specimen near Portage Lake whose trunk was 4' in diameter.

So I remembered passing a specimen on Fair off Burwood which I had seen laden with fruit a few years ago. I went back to check it out this month. See the photo to the left. They were good! OK, not as good as the fat cultivated Turkish apricots for which you have to empty your wallet, but . . . this tree was probably not provided a whole lot of TLC, given that the masses of fruit on the driveway had been run over repeatedly by the homeowner's car. Also the last two winters had taken their toll, much like they did on many ornamental cherry trees.

Another August event: the big native lobelia that gave me a case of syphilis when I planted it in off-site in a dry soil, Lobelia siphilitica. It is native to most Michigan counties on wet sites. Actually it did fine in my normally-dryish garden, thanks to lots of rain and fresh soil. Or maybe I am wrong about which species I am growing -- that's always a possibility.

Golden-seal (Hydrastis canadensis) is listed as having many useful herbal properties, but my guess is that the original herbalists were mostly impressed by its "knotty yellow rhizomes"* and assumed the plants had higher powers. It is native to southern Michigan. I grow it. It spreads. It makes a couple nice "raspberries." They don't taste good. I think I will make room for something better next year. says the plant has become rare in the wild due to intense harvesting by evil herbalists. 

(* -- I quote

This one on the right flowered back in July, but I don't want to forget to write about it. It is a huge-flowered evening primrose, Oenothera macrocarpa (= O. missouriensis). They were selling them for a buck a pop at the farmer's market in Ann Arbor so I splurged and bought five. Quite a show when they were at their peak. A lovely color. The plant is also called both Missouri evening-primrose and Ozark sundrop. What is the difference between a sundrop and an evening primrose? To my knowledge, none, except the sundrops flower in the sun, and the other ones . . you get the idea. This one, I don't know, it was always in flower when I got home in the late afternoon.

Today's comic relief comes in the form of the thousands of Japanese beetles that I found feasting and making insect nookie on the grape vines next to the parking lot at the Chelsea High School. You usually find them in great numbers next to golf courses and other places with extensive lawns. Lindens are a favorite food.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Surprising Appearance of a Chinese Yellowhorn

Nobody could figure out what it is.

images courtesy Steve Goebel Jr
A small tree growing across the street from the Jefferson Market in Ann Arbor. Bill Dale, a tree worker employed by the City of Ann Arbor, spotted it and brought a sample back to the office. He and co-worker Steve Goebel Jr were completely flummoxed, and asked for help from the community of "tree professionals" like me. Alternately-arranged pinnately-compound leaves, huge 'tropical' fruit with very large seeds. I had no idea. In the next couple of days, people suggested a wide range of possibilities until certified arborist Isaac Finn Dunigan of Grand Rapids came up with "Chinese yellowhorn."

In my world, finding a completely unrecognizable novel woody plant growing in a public space is so rare that it, like, never happens. But there it was cataloged in Michael Dirr's fantastic Manual of Woody Landscape Plants: Xanthoceras sorbifolium.

"Striking tree or more often large shrub, virtually unknown in commerce and gardens, zones 5-8, introduced via the Plant Select program at Colorado State University." Roasted seeds reportedly taste a little like macadamia nuts. In the mostly tropical Sapindaceae family, which now includes maples and horse-chestnuts.

Methinks the big payoff is the flower. Never seen it, but I've got to have one. 

Image is ripped from the headlines World Wide Web. Thank you Kew Gardens.