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:

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Growing plants from seed

I can think of many reasons to start your plants from seed, instead of relying solely on nurseries.

1) It's fun and exciting (yes, it's a thrill when those seeds sprout).
2) You can work on your garden when the earth outdoors is frozen.
3) You end up with multiple plants, enabling you to try them out in different sites when you move them outdoors.
4) Seed is cheap.
5) There are many thousands of seed selections to choose from!

I've had good experience with the alpine plant societies. Checking the websites, I note that the North American Rock Garden Society seed list includes 4614 separate taxa. The Alpine Garden Society is offering 5893 taxa, including 43 members of the genus Draba (an easy-to-grow crucifer that I highly recommend), 70 Frits, and more than 50 gentians. And then there is the wonderful Scottish Rock Garden Society with more than 4000 entries. All seed is donated to the seed-exchanges by members. Most are garden-collected, but some are harvested in the wild. And yes, these European societies do ship to the US.
        Another option is to order from commercial providers. I've had fabulous success ordering from Alplains ( These folk collect their seed in the wilds of the west and southwest (including Mexico). A nice bonus is that they offer short descriptions, hardiness zone information, and clues as to germination requirements.
        You can also order from Rocky Mountain Rare Plants ( but you only have until Christmas as this will be their last year in business. I'm sure there are others out there, but this is a start.
        If you want to start this as a hobby, a couple of good books to keep on the shelf are Norman Deno's "Seed Germination Theory and Practice" and its supplement. In these materials he shares his experience germinating more than 2500 plant taxa. These books aren't available at stores. Try googling his name to locate a source.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

What else is there to see in late December?

How about this ? . . .
The goldenrain tree, Koelreutaria paniculata, produces these bladder-like pods following flowering in mid-summer. This is another plant that is sprinkled around Ann Arbor and environs. Contact me if you want some specific addresses.

More flakey, vaguely sycamore-like barks

The top picture is Parrotia persica, a smallish tree that was given the silly 'common' name of Persian ironwood. It's a refined witchhazel relative, very uncommon in Ann Arbor as of now -- one on the west side of 7th between Miller and Huron, a small one in the Arb, and a handful in people's yards. More on this wonderful landscape plant at a later date.

     The second is Cornus mas, a dogwood that produces attractive clusters of small mustard-yellow flowers in the early spring, prior to forsythia. It seems to fly beneath people's radar, though it deserves much more respect. The 'common' name may be any combination of the words 'European', 'cornel', 'cornelian-cherry' and, of course, 'dogwood.' When I took this picture a couple weeks ago, it still retained a few of its red cherry-like fruits, which are edible and which are used in jams in Europe. Look for this plant next spring -- they are sprinkled all over town.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Dividing perennials: an easy beginning

Just before the snows started to fly yesterday, I dug up a partially frozen clump of barrenwort (Epimedium sp.). There probably isn't any plant that is easier to divide. Just tease it apart so that at least one bud remains per division. From the one clump (that I paid $15 for), I can make 50 more. Now, multiply 50 times $15, and that equals $750. Took me 15 minutes. I'm making $3000 an hour!
     I use a potting soil that is a mix of sphagnum moss and perlite. Adding some extra perlite doesn't hurt.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

What a difference a couple weeks makes

I know there's a scientific explanation -- salts are concentrated in the spaces between the cells, which in turn draws the water out of the cells themselves, etc. . . But it's still seems amazing that soft broad-leaved foliage can make it through the winter and reconstitute itself when the temperature rises back up. The cyclamen photo on the right was taken yesterday.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Another nice hellebore

Helleborus x sternii (photo taken mid Nov. 2010)
Helleborus x sternii is a selection that has been in my garden for more than a decade. It is to be enjoyed as a summer foliage plant since (I believe) it wants to flower mid-winter and, unlike some of the other hellebores, just can't seem to pull it off. It is a hybrid, one of its parents being the tender H. lividus. The hybrid plants are quite variable, and it has been my experience that the bluer the foliage, the less hardy the plant. However, there are other people in the area more expert than me on the matter. Two good sources for information on hellebores are and the people at Arrowhead Alpines in Fowlerville ( 

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Five barks, no dogs

Our first dendrology quiz! See if you can guess the species identity of the five flaky-barked trees pictured below. No two are the same. If you can identify more than two, you are a true Jedi master. A couple clues are given below.

Some hints: photos #2 and #3 are in the same family, but different genera; #2 is locally common, but you're more likely to encounter #3 at Disney World in Orlando than in Ann Arbor; photos #4 and #5 are in the same genus; the common name of photo #1 is derived from a British name for a type of maple. Click "read more" for the answers.