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:

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Biggest darn holly we've seen

I expect there are bigger ones growing on old estates around Detroit, but this is largest evergreen holly I've run across in Michigan. I discovered this one today in a back yard off Pontiac Trail.
       On a visit to the Sandy Hook National Seashore in New Jersey a decade or two ago, I learned that this species and poison ivy are among the first two woody plants to colonize the ocean-side sand dunes.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Hardy-orange in Michigan

Yes, you can grow citrus fruit outdoors in the open garden. Poncirus trifoliata  sports large white flowers in spring followed by fruit that looks every bit like edible oranges in the fall. You can't eat them, but you can toss them around, and where they fall you are likely to get a cluster of hardy-orange seedlings. This is a plant you need to keep your distance from -- the thorns are vicious, and the plant is truly impenetrable.  Even trimming it is very risky business. Poncirus, 'commonly' referred to as trifoliate orange or Japanese bitter orange, is very closely related to true Citrus and is used as rootstock in commercial orchards. The above photo was taken today.

Around Town with Katsura

There may be no tree prettier than a well-grown katsura... and chances are you've never heard of it. It's been over 90 years since it was first introduced to Ann Arbor, and there are some choice mature specimens in our area. Given that it's the tallest deciduous tree in all of Japan, you'd expect it to be more widely recognized.
        Katsura (Cercidiphyllum japonicum) is a first choice among tree connoisseurs, or most anyone who has been privileged to see a proper mature specimen, such as the gigantic one at Michigan State University's Beal Botanical Garden. The tree sports luscious cascading branches with refined heart-shaped leaves that are elegantly arranged both in pairs and singly along the stems. The leaves emerge a bronzy color in spring, remain clean and green all summer, then turn a myriad shades of apricot, red and yellow in the fall. As a bonus the fallen leaves emit a sweet fruity cotton-candy fragrance that permeates the area. I know by the smell when one is nearby.
        Katsura trees are not common in Ann Arbor. There are a handful of large specimens on private property, but none accessible to the general public, as far as this writer is aware. Nichols Arboretum received seed as early as 1917, but none of the early attempts to get the young plants

Monday, October 25, 2010

Evergreen soloman's seals

If you have a woodland garden and like to grow the so-called wood-lilies, the 'evergreen soloman's seal' (Disporopsis pernyi) is one you should seek out. It manages fine in my dry sandy soil, and no doubt it would do even better in a proper medium. This picture was taken just yesterday (Oct 25), long after its relatives have gone underground. I have another patch that spends the summer hidden under a patch of lanky cimicifugas. It's a nice surprise to find it again when I clean up the garden in the fall. This plant stays green and attractive until mid-winter. It bears pleasant white pendulous lanterns in the leaf-axils in spring.

       I've lost records about this second evergreen wood-lily. It's not as vigorous a grower in my lousy soil. It's been suggested that it is Disporopsis arisanensis, which makes sense -- that species was sold by Heronswood Nursery, where I once bought many unusual garden plants. Has anyone had experience with them lately?

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Wake up, winter's coming

You've got to give credit to a plant that gets ready for the long hard winter by putting out leaves just before it frosts, or flowering after all the pollinators have ceased activity. At this time year hardy cylcamens will put out a new crop of leaves after being dormant all summer. The spring-flowering Cyclamen coum and the fall-flowering C. heterophyllum are the common species in cultivation here. The former has rounded leaves and is at the center of the photo. These seed around gently, and every plant is unique. One winter they all rotted in my garden, and I had to start over.

I think Helleborus foetidus is perfect as an evergreen maintenance-free plant for the odd corner. In my garden it doesn't self-seed excessively, and it's easy to weed out. The shoot tips are just starting to develop into flowers. They will be fully formed sometime in the absolute dead of winter. The flowers aren't pretty, but neither are they offensive. What a hoot.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Baldcypress on North U.

What gives with all the dawn-redwoods in town when you can do perfectly well with a nice native (to the U.S. at least) bald-cypress? Yes, this is the same tree that inhabits swamps and bayous of the southeast, home to ivory-billed woodpeckers (once) and prothonotary warblers (still). You can see an impressive row of them on North University just off State Street.
    Dawn-redwood and bald-cypress are in two separate genera, but both drop their branchlets of needles in the fall. The branchlets on dawn-redwood come in pairs, whereas in bald-cypress they are arranged in an alternate fashion . . . and they are soft and feathery. Check them out!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Around Town with Kentucky Coffeetree

        Kentucky coffeetree is a handsome Michigan native that remains underutilized in the landscape. Its native range, in which where it is never very abundant, includes bits of Washtenaw and Wayne Counties, but we are at its northern limit. People around here may think of it as a bit of an exotic, but there are stands of mature specimens in several Ann Arbor parks, and they make an amazing sight.
        With a twice-compound leaf that can measure a full 3' in length, it hosts the largest tree-leaf in north America.
In early fall these giant leaves turn a bright yellow, break into segments and drop to the ground, leaving behind an extremely coarse-textured and open crown. This characteristic is commemorated by the tree's Latin name:: Gymnocladus, which translates as "naked branch." Canadians of French ancestry call it chicot, a word that more commonly refers to a stump -- an undeserved insult, I would argue. Its interesting overall form and the swirly psychedelic patterns formed by the grey bark give it year-round interest.
        Coffetree grows naturally in floodplain environments, and you can see some fabulous specimens growing along the Huron River at Lower Huron Metro Park (take I-94 east to Haggerty Rd exit). It's well worth a visit not just for the coffeetrees, but for the entire assemblage of unusual trees including pawpaws, native honeylocust and blue ash. But you don't need to drive that far.  There are a half-dozen jaw-dropping specimens in Lakewood Park on Ann Arbor's west side. From the street-sign marking the intersection of Hazelwood and Central, walk a mere 100' ssw and you'll find yourself in the midst of a

Kerrytown Tree Walk

        Later summer and early fall is a great time to visit Ann Arbor's Farmers Market. It coincidentally happens to be the best time of year to educate yourself on those wonderful tall woody perennials we call trees. Following is a tour of 18 interesting common and not-so-common trees that can be accessed by strolling within a couple block radius of Kerrytown. Combine your Farmers Market shopping with the scenic walk below, and you can be guaranteed of a perfectly pleasant Saturday morning.
        Our tour begins on Fourth Ave, on the downtown side of Braun Ct, behind the Aut Bar. Ah, no tree could be considered more characteristic of the concrete urban environment that the tree-of-heaven (Ailanthus altissima). Often given a bad rap and shunned by the cognoscenti, this is the tree that grown in Brooklyn and back alleys throughout the nation. This parking lot is perfect place for it -- the tree provides nice tall shade, softens and greens-up a harsh environment, and demands nothing in terms of soil, moisture or even growing space. Not recommended for around the house since there are many superior trees, and if you ever cut it down, your lot will quickly transform into an impenetrable thicket of ailanthus root sprouts.

Blue ash in the landscape

Fraxinus quadrangulata, or blue ash, is a native tree you would not be likely to stumble upon by accident, and I was suspicious when I was called to look at a back-yard tree that the homeowner had identified as this species -- and just a few blocks from Arborland no less. But there it was, all ash-like but with bark that was puffed up like Meg Ryan's lips. A lovely specimen. You can usually tell blue ash by the corky ridges on the twigs, but in this case that character was lacking. However the samaras (winged seeds) had obviously read the field manual. Blue ash seems to have some resistance to emerald ash borer, and it is often just disfigured rather than killed outright. The homeowner had been injecting his specimen annually with orthene/acephate, which seems to have done the trick. In the wild, blue ash can be found on rich moist soils in Bird Hills Park, Lower Huron Metro Park and the Sharon Hollow Reserve.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Dog-strangling vine

my garden Cynanchum
Some years back I acquired Cynanchum ascyrifolium from Ellen Hornig at Seneca Hill Perennials in Oswego NY. It is a milkweed relative that has turned out to be an interesting, well-behaved low-stature plant that produces waxy white flowers over a long period of time in the spring and summer. I then encouraged Kathy Melmoth at Recipe Gardens to try selling it at the Farmers Market -- she is always looking for the next 'oh-wow' plant to introduce to her appreciative customers.
     Being an uncommon plant, Cynanchum ascyrifolium has no common name, but this morning I was inspired by a report on NPR to look further into the world of Cynanchums. The name 'cynanchum' is from the Greek words meaning 'dog-choker.'  Some 'common' names for members of the genus include 'cruel plant' and 'mosquito-trap plant' and 'swallow-wort.'  And the genus name is sometimes given as Vincetoxicum.
a dog-strangling field in Michigan
       Well, these certainly don't sound like desirable garden plants. How about something called 'dog-strangling vine?'  This is C. rossicum, and it has the potential to become the kudzu of the north. It has become established in Michigan where it has swallowed up acres of disturbed and early successional habitat, tying up everything in impenetrable masses of ropey, twisty stems. It spreads by massive underground root systems and a multitude of seed that germinates profusely. Have I mentioned it is poisonous to cattle? And to monarch butterfly larvae, which hatch from eggs laid by butterflies which have confused the plant for milkweed. You can hear more about it at It's not new to Michigan, but it's a new one to me.

Photo of field is courtesy of John M. Randall, the Nature Conservancy,