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, November 18, 2010

Yet more fruit of the season

Kicking these big brain fruits down the street while I walked to school remains a very fond childhood memory. So was rolling them into traffic and watching them get pulverized by cars. Originally from Texas and Oklahoma, osage-orange (Maclura pomifera) has been spread throughout the US, but can be found only in a handful of places in Ann Arbor.  There's a 600' row of the them along the west side of the North Campus Rec Building. One presumes it is remnant of an old hedge-row planted when this area was farmland. The row picks up again north of Plymouth Rd.  Osage-orange was also once planted along State St, and specimens still stand across the street from the Produce Station.
        Closer into town, there is largish tree at the corner of Glendale and Jackson, and another at Granger and Prospect. At a quick glance, the bark and overall form could lead one to mistake it for mulberry, to which it is related botanically.  You gotta love them.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

A note from a grower in Hillsdale County

Native plants are in full bloom around our newest wetland retention pond on the farm. The pond stores all the rainwater from the barn roofs and gutters from the house. The uplands and lowlands were planted with native plants from Greg's Native Plant Nursery purchased at the Ann Arbor Farmer's market, and some I grew myself.
        This picture was taken this summer which for us in southern Hillsdale County was a major drought. We missed ALL the rains Ann Arbor had. Our last significant rain was in May. And then nothing except a tenth until this week. A long, hot, dry summer but the native plant meadow was fantastic.
(note: Kathy Melmoth of Recipe Gardens is the classiest of the plant vendors at the Ann Arbor Farmers Market

Monday, November 15, 2010

Evergreen magnolia for Michigan gardens

This evergreen magnolia, now 20' tall, has been growing for more than a decade besides my house in Chelsea. Some winters have been harder on it than others, but it has always retained a respectable complement of leaves. A pair of goats, Daisy and Jackson, ate the foliage on the lowest branches, so I took this picture today from the roof. Magnolia grandiflorum is common in southern gardens. Cold-tolerant cultivars enable it to be grown as far north as, well, at least Chelsea. Check back on these pages in February -- I will update you with a picture of the leaves glazed with ice.  Heck, why not just subscribe to this blog right now!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

More fruit of the season

Some cultures relish this "fruit."  I don't know how they prepare it, because the fleshy seeds of Ginkgo biloba (technically not a fruiting plant) smell foul. That's why male specimens are preferred in the landscape, and pedestrians give the females a wide berth at this time of year.
        You should be able to collect lots of "fruit"  now under the male specimens along Harbrooke on Ann Arbor's west side. Discover their culinary uses, then get back to me, would ya.
        Update: Tony Reznicek at the U-M Herbarium writes that it is the “nut” inside the smelly fruit that is eaten, roasted. "It’s quite tasty and there are large-fruited selections grown in orchards in China – and the nuts are sold at Oriental groceries around here."

Himalayan white pine

My brother Steve, visiting from N.C.
With a 99 cent iPhone app, today we measured this remarkable white pine at 87 feet tall. With long (7") drooping needles in clusters of five, and a cone considerably larger than our native eastern white pine, it was identified as Himalayan white pine (Pinus wallichiana), probably well over 100 years old, on property in Grosse Pointe that was once part of a large old estate.
        OK, I know this is supposed to be a garden blog. Well, there's not much happening in gardens right now, and furthermore we need you gardeners to contribute posts! So e-mail me already:

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Pogo and Me

If you're curious about sampling the fruit of our native persimmon tree, now (i.e., early November) is your chance. The easiest tree to reach grows in front of the Bethlehem Church at 441 S Fourth Ave downtown. If you're not overly picky, you can sample one that has already fallen to the ground. Otherwise bring a tall ladder or a tall pole with a hook on the end. Pick one that is very soft but not overly puckered. There's only a small window of opportunity between under-ripe (think Daffy Duck after a teaspoon of alum) and fermented. Their taste is not unlike that of commercially grown persimmons; the fruit, unfortunately, is a lot smaller.
        The bark of the native persimmon (Diospyros virginiana) is distinct -- very dark-colored and very blocky. Several other specimens grow next to the caretaker's office in the Arb. Otherwise they're grown only rarely around Ann Arbor. I believe this is the only plant of the ebony family that you might encounter outdoors in the midwest. Someone correct me if I'm wrong.
         If you are interested in growing persimmons, Oikos Tree Crops ( in Kalamazoo is your source.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Snakebarks in winter

Now that all the leaves have fallen from this street-side snake-bark maple on Brooks Street, it's possible to appreciate its unique beauty. There are a number of Asian snake-bark species, but only one native to the US -- Acer pensylvanicum, known as moosewood or striped maple. Our native species has a clumsy form and thus does not generally make for a beautiful ornamental. Some of the Asian species (Acer tegmentosum is my favorite) are outstanding. I haven't tried to determine the identity of the Brooks Street specimen, but I presume it was planted by the home's former owner Charlene Harris, who is very active in the Chelsea Area Garden Club and the American Conifer Society.

Friday, November 5, 2010

If it still has nice green foliage, it's probably not native

I came upon a very attractive oak last week that I briefly mistook for the native shingle oak. It had unlobed leaves and horizontal branches akin to shingle and pin oak. Oddly, the leaves were deep green, and the plant showed no indication that it was preparing for the winter weather. A clue, a clue!
        The plants that hang onto their green leaves late into the fall are typically imports from Europe and Asia -- honeysuckles, buckthorns, and, in this case, sawtooth oak, Quercus acutissima. There is a degree of melancholy that one feels after trees have flamed out and cast their leaves. Not sure if these clueless imports are any consolation. But enough of that. Sawtooth oaks are attractive trees with leaves like those of true chestnuts (unlobed with bristles along the margins), and acorns enclosed in a cup with wacky long recurved scales. A nice specimen is in the open space just east of the new North Quad. Shingle oaks are in this grove also, as well as west of North Quad along State Street.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Paxistima: an evergreen groundcover that I like to show off to visitors and which is deserving of a wider introduction

Paxistima is an excellent, non-invasive alternative to myrtle and the evergreen euonymus species. I planted a piece of it more than 10 years ago in dry, crumbly, unfertilized soil in the shade of a large oak. It now forms a compact, low, six-foot-wide patch of fine dark-green foliage. What more can one ask for?
        I first became acquainted with Paxistima when working for the Forest Service in the Siskiyou Mountains of Oregon. In that area Paxistima myrsinites (called Oregon boxleaf) was quite common. I even donated a pressed specimen of it to the woody-plant-identification lab at U-M, ignoring the fact that it could serve no function there. I was excited to discover that there exists a second species, Paxistima canbyi, which is native to the mountains of Virginia and West Virginia and is available in the nursery trade. OK, it's not available around here, but apparently it is used in gardens of the eastern US, and you can order it through the mail. Which I did. And so did another gardener on Orkney in Ann Arbor who is using it to very nice effect. Plantsman Michael Dirr from Georgia says that the eastern species is sometimes called 'rat-stripper.' Well!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Bulbs for pennies apiece

If you are looking to purchase flower bulbs on the cheap, it really pays to wait until mid-fall. The Van Engelen bulb company has just sent out an e-mail offering 40% off on all in-ground bulbs. This is far and away the cheapest way I know of to acquire a good quantity of high quality Dutch-grown bulbs. Some examples: 100 Iris reticulata for $10.05; Alliums for 6 cents and up; Fritillaria imperialis for $3.00. Minimum order $50. I've ordered from them for many years and have never been disappointed. Note: this is NOT a paid endorsement. Here's the link:

Monday, November 1, 2010

And the biggest magnolia in . . .

Trick-or-treating in Chelsea last night, I stopped to take a picture of the largest magnolia I've ever seen in Michigan. This is the cucumber magnolia, or cucumber-tree, Magnolia acuminata, which the USDA says is native to Ohio and Ontario (but not Michigan). Obviously it is very unlike the common ornamentals. This species is a parent of the yellow-flowering selections now in cultivation. I planted 'Edith Bogue' under the high-voltage primaries, and it had to be topped by DTE contractors just a couple years later. Ah, live and learn. You can find a couple more large cucumber-trees growing along Huron on the north corners of the Rackham Building in Ann Arbor.