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, December 22, 2011

Merry Christmas from Arisaema sikkokianum

It wasn't until mid-December that the fruit of my most spectacular jack-in-the-pulpit morphed into this beautiful red color. After Christmas I will scatter some of the fruit as is into the garden. I will clean the pulp off of other pips and 'stratify' them in pots and stick them in my minimally-heated garage. I expect to see germination next year. Maybe I'll consult my reference 'library' for more info . . .

Don't forget: feel free to e-mail me at if you have anything you want to post onto this site, or if you have ideas for content.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Glorious red fruit on 'good' plants and 'bad'

Wow, it's been more than a month since I last posted onto this blog. It's not that I haven't been thinking about it. I've just been busy. Sometime in September or so, all the homeowners in Ann Arbor got together and collectively decided their trees were long overdue for a haircut or removal. Everybody in my line of work was suddenly swamped after a mediocre summer. That's what I call a trend. Whoever has the talent to see these things coming could make a fortune on Wall Street.

And . . I found a couple good musicians to play with. We have nailed down 102 tunes by Lennon-McCartney-Harrison, plus a smattering of classics such as 'Fresh Garbage' by Spirit and 'Incense and Peppermint' by the Strawberry Alarm Clark. We don't sing great, but we can provide huge amounts of entertainment for private parties -- we provide lyric sheets and do a kind-of sing-along karaoke thing. Super fun but you gotta pay us.

So, what was I going to say about plants . . Hmm. . Ah yes, I took these two pictures along Geddes Rd a month or so ago. The plants were next-door neighbors. One is a desirable and well-behaved native, the other is an invasive thug. Equally pretty?

Lonicera maackii (honeysuckle)

Ilex verticillata (deciduous holly)

Sunday, October 16, 2011

I can't get enough of them cyclamens

How can you resist the cyclamen once you realize you can grow them outside? Every individual is unique and every individual is beautiful. The ones with the rounded leaves are Cyclamen coum, and they flower in the spring. The ones with the jagged leaves are Cyclamen heterophylla, and they are in flower now.

Cyclamen are summer-dormant. The leaves are just now (it being October!) expanding to their fullest. Such odd organisms they are.
Cyclamen seeds around freely. The young'uns are easy to transplant.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Trees of U-M's original botanical garden

From 1913 until 1960, the University of Michigan's botanical gardens were located one block east of the corner of E Stadium and S Industrial, on property that is now Woodbury Gardens apartments. At the time of the move to Dixboro Rd, many of the important specimen trees were moved, but there remain a handful of unusual large trees worth visiting.

Entering Woodbury Dr you'll pass a row of white poplars to the left and a grove of siberian elms to the right. The first street on the left is unmarked but shows on maps as being Wisteria Dr. At the point where Wisteria takes a sharp right turn, several large healthy persimmon trees can be found to the left. I can't figure why this species is so uncommon in cultivation -- perhaps it is the 'mess' created by the small edible fruit. However, it's a dioecious species and one can select non-fruiting male specimens. The tree has a very attractive form and a stunning bark pattern. No fruit on these trees on Wisteria -- they are either male, or it was an unproductive year. Diospyros virginiana is native to the southern states.

Back to Woodbury Dr: the two pecan trees on the east side of the street just beyond Wisteria are just stunning.  Pecan (Carya illinoiensis) is in the same genus as the hickories, but the leaves more closely resemble those of walnut. I know of only one Ann Arborite who has a pecan in her yard. She says the flowers make a mess in the spring, the squirrels go ga-ga over the fruit, and maybe she mentioned it stains her deck. I could live with those things. It's definitely a beautiful nut tree.

The odd hickory growing between the pecans is curious-looking but admittedly not very beautiful. Rumor has it that it is Carya laciniosa, shellbark hickory, a species recognizable in part by its exceptionally large nuts and large winter buds. reports that it grows on river banks and in rich floodplain forests in the counties to the south, east and west of us, but not in Washtenaw County itself.

Seven-sons Flower

"Seven-sons flower" is a worthy odd-ball woody ornamental that is now in full flower in the Ann Arbor area.  I may have mentioned this specimen on Amherst near Longshore before, but now is a good time to visit it and experience its nice floral display and strong honeysuckle-like fragrance. (And while you are at it, consider putting in a bid for this gorgeous property that was lovingly landscaped by a plant-loving friend of mine.)

The scientific name is Heptacodium micinioides, which is one of my favorite combinations of syllables. It has an odd leaf, with veins that run parallel to the leaf-margins. The shreddy bark is honeysuckle to the second power, verging on melaleuca.  Kudos to those people who are willing to try new plants in their landscapes!

The rare and difficult Franklinia, in flower, here in Ann Arbor, this week

Franklinia altamaha is a plant of legendary stature. A member of the tea family, it was first observed (among those of European descent) by William Bartram, who discovered it along the Altamaha River in Georgia in 1765. On later visits he collected seed. Good thing! By 1803 or thereabouts it had vanished from the wild, and all specimens currently in existence derive from his original collections.

It's a difficult plant to grow and flower. This is Tony Reznicek's fourth attempt in his garden in Ann Arbor's north side. He writes, "I think I may have it. My tries have included two supposedly hardier forms (of which this is one), so it is evidently a fussy plant. But is is such a legendary species that I'm glad to fuss!"

Monday, September 19, 2011

It's been a horrible summer and I, for one, am really glad fall is arriving

This summer was the pits. Couldn't go outside because of the mosquitoes, couldn't even open the windows because of the humidity. In Ann Arbor proper things weren't nearly as bad, but residents was driven to distraction by the mosquitoes in parts of Burns Park and elsewhere. Really, what purpose do mosquitoes serve? Are they an essential part of any ecosystem? Perhaps they have assisted in mammalian and bird evolution via their role in transferring genetic material between organisms. Thank you, I'd rather not participate in that grand game of chance.

With the recent cool weather I was able to shake off the 'I hate nature' blues and get back into the garden, take a few pictures, and pull up a few tons of Acalypa. I found that I have at least three color forms of the late-summer-flowering Anemone hupehensis, a big, easy, vigorous and spreading plant. Don't underestimate this species -- it likes to grow.

What else?  Hmm. I finally got some nice flowers out of my turtlehead (Chelone obliqua). I moved it from a spot that was just a bit too dry for it and into a brand new-terraced bed of heavy moist soil. We're all happy now. The turtlehead species are native to North America, and I was surprised to learn from that the genus was recently moved out of the figwort family, Scrophulariaceae, and into the Plantaginaceae, where it resides with the common weedy plantains. Weird to me! Perhaps meaningless to you. Wikipedia lays out the arcane details at

But check out the fruit on my devil's walking stick, Aralia something-or-other. I've never keyed it out. I dug up a piece near St Joes hospital prior to it being bulldozed. It took readily and now I've got a small forest of prickly sticks topped by umbrellas of giant compound leaves. I'm sure I'll regret planting this some day, but so far nobody has been badly mutilated by the thorns. There is one woody spiny species of Aralia native to the eastern U.S.; two others come from Asia.

Only a fool would pass up a chance to grow the fall flowering Clematis terniflora. It will put on rampant growth in sun or shade. It will crawl, it will climb, it will smother weeds, and it will flower so prolifically that it will hide the foliage. Missouri Botanical Gardens writes that it can self-seed and become a pest, but I've not seen that happen in Michigan.

My umbrella magnolia (Magnolia tripetala) is now sporting lots of these brilliant red lanterns. I can hardly say enough about how fond I am of the large-leaved southern magnolias. The foliage is bold and tropical, and the plants seem to be completely drought-tolerant. I also grow M. macrophylla, which has ridiculous white foot-wide flowers -- it's easily the most impressive tree on my property.

This is a good time of year to prove to people that the maple with the plain unlobed leaves is truly a maple (note the fruit). This is Acer carpinifolium. It's just a novelty in my garden.  Might make a nice specimen tree if given a chance.

I think I originally introduced bluestem goldenrod (Solidago caesia) into my garden by digging up a piece out of the woods. I learned to appreciate its gentle beauty in my exploring around Pickerel Lake. It spreads underground and has made appearances in my lawn. It's a small chore to keep it under control.

I have mixed feelings about Colchicum. Am I crazy, or do the flowers collapse if they are not given enough sun? My neighbor Borek has a patch in his sunny rock garden that really stands out, but mine often look quite sad. Ah, if only I had more time, I'd move them around and find the best places for them; but as it is, they'll have to manage where they are. These things have huge underground bulbs that can be broken apart and distributed to wherever the spirit moves you.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Historic trees of Paris' Jardin des Plantes

Some of the specimen trees at the beautiful and expansive Jardin des Plantes (a short walk from the central Ile de la Cite) were planted round about the time of the founding of Les Etats-Unis.  I'll write about some of these, then move onto some rarities that, while probably not perfectly hardy in Michigan, may be worth a try after Greenland's ice shelves melt.

Platanus orientalis, the oriental planetree, is one of the trio of trees that is used to line most of the streets of Paris (the others being the linden and the horsechestnut). According to the documentation, the specimen to the left was planted in 1785. There were others of a similar vintage.

(And speaking of relying on a small number of species . . in the gardens at Versailles were thousands and thousands of mature lindens planted in perfect rows extending literally for miles.  What will happen when the emerald linden beetle or Dutch linden disease finds its way to that country . . ?)

A European species of hackberry (Celtis australis) grew to enormous heights in the park, and some of these were several hundred years old. I wouldn't know about a young specimen, but the old ones had smooth beech-like bark, unlike the species we know and love on this side of the Atlantic.

It was a pleasant surprise to come upon a 130-year-old "Chene a gros fruits," which is the French translation of Quercus macrocarpa, the bur oak. I also saw an enormous specimen of an unfamiliar (to me) exotic oak species Quercus castaneifolia from Asia (see photo). And scattered here and there was another oak species with tiny evergreen leaves.

Why is the fabulous Parrotia persica ('Persian ironwood') still such a rarity in the United States? The big specimen in the park was 110 years old. It's not like it is new to cultivation or anything. The branches of this tree trailed to the ground so I stuck my head between them to get a view of the lovely ornamental bark. I was then tapped on the shoulder by park security who wondered what perverse activity I was engaged in. Untangling my camera from the branches, I withdrew my head and cheerfully answered in my best French 'Parrotia persica!'  Nutty tourist.

The most famous trees in the Jardin des Plantes are undoubtedly the cedars-of-Lebanon (Cedrus libani). Which territory did the French occupy 250 years ago to give them access to this species? I did not have the equipment to properly photograph the biggest specimen, but its top was completely flat. Typical of an old specimen? I don't know.

The extensive and historic herbaceous display gardens in the park were grouped by plant family.  I counted 17 species of Carex and of course a million members of the mint family. Ive never seen Plantago lanceolata or Rhamus frangula (labeled there as Frangula dodonei, but now listed as Frangula alnus in Michigan Flora -- woo!) tended so lovingly. You can read more by clicking the link immediately below!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

An outstanding ash tree!

Here's an incredible ash tree that I stumbled upon today. It's well over a hundred years old, in perfect health, and with thin leaflets that give the plant a texture more like that of willow than ash. It's Fraxinus angustifolia, colloquially called frêne à feuilles étroites (which translates as narrow-leaved ash).

What I have yet to mention is the fact that I found this tree at the Jardin des Plantes in Paris, France. I met one of the horticulturalists and told him about emerald ash borer in Les Etats-Unis. He told me about some pest that is killing all the horsechestnuts in Paris.

At the same garden is this beautiful allee of London plane trees. Contrast this with the hodgepodge of species that are thrown together in the streets of Ann Arbor so as to avoid another catastrophe such as Dutch elm disease.

I suggest a compromise. Go ahead and use a single species on one block or on one street. Just don't make use of a single species for more than a certain small percent of the overall urban forest. There is nothing more strikingly beautiful than streets such as Cherokee and Harbrook where a single species is utilized (kentucky coffeetree and ginkgo respectively).

And here's one photo of the very extensive display gardens at the Jardin des Plantes. Ooh-la-la.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

A prickly not-an-ash

Prickly-ash as an ornamental plant? Well, yeah, why not? Especially if you can put it full sun, like the large hedge/clone I encountered south of Ypsilanti yesterday.

In case you aren't familiar with it, prickly-ash is not an ash. It's a native clonal shrub, and it is a bit prickly. Without any striking features (usually), it gets passed by without notice, but chances are you've brushed against it on occasion. 

Now that your attention has been inescapably grabbed by those opening remarks, here's some really cool things about it. It's one of those subtropical things that sent a emissary up north to test out our cold winters. Taste the fruit. It's a lime! Now spit out the fruit because you're going to be salivating heavily for the next 30 minutes while your mouth goes to sleep. Now look down at that drool on your t-shirt. What a mess. Now wipe up the drool.

Another feature: the leaves provide food for the larvae of the great swallowtail butterfly, a beautiful insect as a winged adult (but looking identical to bird dropping as a larva).

So let's hear it for this scratch-and-sniff underdog. (Yeah.) Compound leaves, alternately arranged with the occasional set of weak prickles along the midrib; reddish hairy buds; all parts (especially the fruit) with an aromatic citrus-y aroma and taste; clonal suckering habit. Zanthoxylum americanum in the literature. It is one of just a couple native representatives of the interesting and important Rutaceae family. Speaking of which . . . I need the herb Ruta graveolens (rue) for my garden, but I never see it at the markets. It is the national plant of Lithuania, where they sing songs about it and place it on the desks of judges to ward off witches and evil spirits. If you run into it, let me know. (Thank you Laura for coming through on this for me!).

Monday, August 15, 2011

Weed number 7 and the also-rans

Photo by Ronald Calhoun (copyright!)
Deciding which were the worst six weeds in my garden was a no-brainer. After thinking it over for a week, I decided that there is only one other weed species that deserves special recognition. And after consulting a helpful authority, I found out its identity: nimbleweed (Muhlenbergia schreberi) a native grass with underground rhizomes that break off when you pull up the stems. The rhizomes produce new stems, making eradication very difficult.

The other garden weeds I consider also-rans. In my more intensively managed beds, there is  lambquarters, black nightshade and a bit of plantain (Plantago spp.). In the less-managed shrub borders, I struggle with two species of Cardamine, motherwort, celandine (Chelidonium majus) with the orange sap, and foxtails (Setaria). In shady edges, Impatiens pallida is abundant.

Corydalis incisa (photo by Arrowhead Alpines)
And then there are my mistakes. I thought the cute little cranesbill (Geranium (robertianum?)) growing along East Delhi might make a nice addition to my garden. Now it is competing against garlic mustard.  When Corydalis incisa didn't thrive in my rock garden, I assumed it must be a finicky plant. Wrong! You can purchase this species from Arrowhead Alpines, but be forewarned. And the alliums . . I pull them out by the hank.

And let's not forget the woodies which went unmentioned in my last post: common buckthorn, redbud (I've heard several complaints about this plant from others this season), poison-ivy, etc.

Here's an off-the-cuff top-10 list of worst weeds submitted to me by Tony Reznicek of the University of Michigan Herbarium:
1. Oxalis sp. (O. stricta, O. dillenii, and even O. corniculata)
2. Digitaria sanguinalis (hairy crabgrass)
3. Conyza canadensis (horseweed)
4. Erigeron annuus (annual fleabane)
5. Setaria sp (foxtail grass)
6. Medicago lupulina (black medic)
7. Shrub seedlings (Lonicera sp., Rhamnus sp.)
8. Tree seedlings (Quercus sp., Juglans nigra, Cercis canadensis especially)
9. Solidago sp.(goldenrods, especially S. altissima)
10. Taraxacum officinale (dandelion, mostly in my paths)

Friday, August 12, 2011

A west-side garden

Today I stumbled upon a remarkable back yard garden at an address on W Huron. The focal point was a massive butterfly-bush (Buddleia) that worked like a sci-fi tractor-beam on butterflies and hummingbirds. A lot of birds followed just to see what the commotion was.

A powerful sweet fragrance came from Clethra alnifolia, a shrub that was very au courant a decade ago, but didn't end up as amenable to cultivation as we all hoped. I had forgotten about. It comes from New Jersey. So do I. I wonder what is behind that coincidence? I tried Clethra it in my garden once and it didn't last a week. "Give me rich, moist soil, damn you", it called out minutes before it expired.

What the heck is this bizarre plant with the turtle-head flowers and goth foliage?

(Tony Reznicek answers:  "Acanthus, probably A. spinosus. It might pass on in a really severe winter, but other species are quite hardy.")

In front of the house was a very happy oregon grape-holly (Mahonia/Berberis), an evergreen barberry relative which I deeply wish I could grow. Maybe I'll excavate the parent soil at my house and then order a glacier to carve our some depressions and leave behind a nice till soil. These plants are everywhere in the Pacific Northwest where they are native.

(Tony Reznicek comments: "The lovely Mahonia appears to be one of the Japanese species, M. bealii or M. japonica -- also marginal in hardiness, but doable in a sheltered site in town -- not one of the west coast species.")
Great foliage on this viburnum, don't cha think? Someone please save me a search and e-mail its name.

My, how the streets are changing

Remember not long ago when streets were lined with green ash trees, one after another? And before that, American elms? How different things are today. I hardly even know what some of these new trees are. Consider this one block of Bunker Hill, for example.

2045: swamp white oak (Quercus bicolor)
2429: sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua) -- good!
2438: American elm (Ulmus americana) -- bold move!
2450: Asian fringetree (Chionanthus retusus) -- wow!
2453: hardy rubbertree (Eucommia ulmoides) -- gosh!
2464: silver basswood (Tilia tomentosa) -- a gem within the genus
2514: Maackia amurensis (across street) -- wow squared!
2570: Hackberry (Celtis occidentalis) -- long overdue

And there's a tupelo (Nyssa) in the yard of 2477, a prolifically fruiting hornbeam (Carpinus) in another, and a hophornbeam (Ostyra), yellowwood (Cladrastis) and English oak (Quercus robur) around the corner on Bluett. Kudos to Kay Sicheneder and others at the city for broadening the palette.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Sophora in the summer

Sophora is used extensively as a street tree in Ann Arbor, but almost never in the private landscape. With its soft fluffy clouds of light yellow flowers, for mid-summer action it can't be beat. (I should have posted this a week or two ago because right right now the flowers are beginning to drop.)

Sophora japonica is the name I learned. I call is sophora. Simple enough. But its proper scientific name is now Styphnolobium japonica. And it doesn't come from Japan. But no doubt that is, as my daughter might say, TMI*.  The tree is a legume. It has green twigs and pinnately compound leaves. Check it out on Melrose off Devonshire, or Geddes east of Washtenaw, or along Brooks (where it grows with corktree) and Fountain St.

There's a relative of this tree that grows in the southwest. I know this because a certain local professional botanist grows it in Ann Arbor. He gave me a sample of the fruit to see if I could identify the genus. I should have been able to guess but I was too intimidated to be think clearly. Westerners call the plant 'Eve's necklace' because of the way the pod is constricted between the 'peas.' Necklace-y for sure. And just like the fruit of the trees growing along Melrose, Geddes and Brooks.

*TMI -- 'too much information.'
A little more TMI: some 'common' names of sophora are 'pagoda tree' and 'scholar tree.'

Monday, August 8, 2011

The 10 most worst weeds in my garden

These aren't just the worst. These are the most worst. Chime in, add your two cents, and let the other dozen readers of this blog know how you would rate them.

1) Oxalis: If I were granted the wish to eliminate for all time one garden weed from my garden, it would be Oxalis.  But if the djinni were to ask, 'which one?' I'm afraid I would be stumped. Both Oxalis stricta and O. dillenii are (apparently) native to North America, and it's hard to tell them apart. Michigan flora tells me that the former tends to have a single stem, whereas the latter is more branchy (my word). Anyway they are both ubiquitous weeds, and their exploding capsules reliably propel seed into every nook and cranny of the garden. These plants have the common name of 'yellow wood-sorrel,' and they can be mixed with salad greens to add a lemony spice.

2) Three-seeded mercury: you've probably never heard those three words in that sequence before. How about Acalypha virginica? Hey, I didn't say this would be easy. I admit that my choice of this spurge-relative may be controversial, but in sheer numbers, it runs a close second to Oxalis; and in volume it is number one in my garden. I used an old botanical reference to key out the identity of this species. I was unable to make out the flower parts; luckily the floral key accommodated the observation "flower parts indistinguishable." To the plant's credit: it's very easy to pull out. Also noted: it's another native.

3) Black medick (Medicago lupulina): with it's clover-like leaves and yellow flowers, this weed is probably familiar to anyone who gardens. You have to grab the stem right at its base to get the roots out. If you're in clay more drastic measures might be required. And the base of the plant always seems to hide behind or amidst the stems of those things you want to keep.

4) Hairy crabgrass (Digitaria sanguinalis): ignore the garden for a week, and the crabgrass plants will reach 10" across when you return.

5) Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia): presumably it was the wet spring that enabled the thousands of virginia creeper seeds to germinate in my garden. Even without the new seedlings, this vine is hard enough to keep out of the flower beds. This spring also brought an amazing number of oak and hickory seedlings. The oaks were easy to pull up. I'm afraid I'll never be rid of the hickories.

6) Asian bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculata): I'm giving this one a prominent place in my top ten list because it is the scariest. I've seen woodlands destroyed by this nuisance. It has a solid foothold in my neighborhood, and the birds are continually defecating its seed into my garden. Bad birds. There's no doubt about its identity when you pull out those reddish roots.

7) What? 10:00 pm already?!! Help me pick the final four!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

When goats go bad . . .

. . . they eat the bark off your finest garden specimens, in this case a beautiful upright 'Persian ironwood' (Parrotia persica).  Seriously, if you want a nice garden, don't keeps goats, and especially don't give them free reign as my family and I did. (In fact a couple times we came home and found them camped out on the living room couch, where they rested while digesting their generous meal of succulent house plants.)

But here's something I was surprised to see: the goats ate the bark all the way around, but the tree didn't die.  The first year it produced new bark, sent sprouts up from the base, and the crown remained full and deep green. 

the trunk in year 2
Year two, the new bark has developed impressively. Unfortunately the crown is very thin, and I can't predict if I'll have to cut the tree back to its sprouts.

My understanding: the goats didn't touch the water-conducting xylem, so the roots were able to supply the crown with water. However, the goats did eat the outer phloem which conducts photosynthates to the roots. Basically the roots have been starved. I'm leaving the basal sprouts in hopes that the low foliage will help the roots recover.  

Monday, August 1, 2011

A banana plant grows in Dexter

Musa basjoo is its name, and although it's not the edible banana of commerce, it's darn close. When the homeowners first planted it, they made sure to apply a thick bed of mulch before the onset of winter. Now they don't even bother -- it's perfectly content tucked into a south-west-facing corner of the house where it receives full sun year-round.

By the end of the summer, the leaves extend well above the roof line. I don't believe it has ever flowered -- it would need a longer growing season than that of Michigan.