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:

Friday, April 29, 2011

CCC in Ann Arbor

During the Great Depression the Civilian Conservation Corps planted something on the order of three BILLION trees. Drive up north on 23 or 127, or tour through the Upper Peninsula, and you'll see plenty of evidence of their activities.

The young volunteers were busy in Ann Arbor as well. Drive down Woodlea Dr off Wagner Rd in Ann Arbor, and you'll see skinny 90'-tall red pines arranged in neat rows. Was there ever a local market for softwood pulp?

Red pines rarely thrive this far south, but these are growing in pure sand, and the property owner tells me the snow remains two weeks later here than elsewhere in Ann Arbor -- apparently a quite suitable localized habitat. Sure feels like the U.P.

An early jack-in-the-pulpit

I didn't realize until today this Asian jack-in-the-pulpit was such an early riser. Arisaema sikkokianum is one of the most treasured of the cobra-lilies because of its white clapper inspired by 20th century western toilet bowls. I got this one as a seedling from Jacques Thompson of Ypsilanti. If I'm not mistaken, this is its third year in the garden, its first year to flower. This is supposed to attract WHAT kind of insect?

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Trout lilies in Eberwhite Woods

The scene in Eberwhite Woods is something to behold right now: what an amazing display of Erythronium!

The Bloomberg daily garden report

The winds and the rain are keeping people inside, but the garden plants keep coming. The speciment on the left looks much like the fritillaria I posted yesterday, but this one is easier, taller and not as elegant. It is Fritillaria uva-vulpis (translation: fox-grape). I planted some in an area that I later converted to lawn and they still come up every spring despite their annual beheading.

Another corydalis, this one with fern-like leaves. It gently seeds around, usually positioning itself attractively at the base of a rock. Such vanity. Corydalis cheilanthifolia. Did you know you can click on these pictures to get a closer view?

Another form of Anemone nemorosa. Makes a big clump in no time but stays put. Piece of cake. Come visit and take some. In fact take some corydalis also. I got lots of things to share and would love some visitors.

Hopefully someone will correct me if I am wrong about the identity of this very early-flowering pasque-flower, which I am guessing, based on an intensive 30-second search on the internet, is the alpine pasque-flower, Pulsatilla alpina.

And for spookiness, here is a Disporum beginning to open up. I got this one from the late Fred Case, and I will likely remember its identity sometime tomorrow. Trust me, it turns into something beautiful.

I've never done well with this unusual umbellifer, Hacquetia epipactis (no common name that I know of). It grows and persists --  maybe it even seeds around a little bit because now I have five clumps, which I have moved around in hopes of finding a perfect spot for it. But I think it would do better in the richer soil of Burns Park. The flowers are tiny, clustered in bunches that are surrounded by bright green bracts -- a cross between flowering dogwood and a carrot.  

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Big changes every day

New things popping up every minute, many of which I'd love to document and share but my Nikon D40 and I are not getting along. The colors are off, the depth of field is depth-less, definition is lost in the highlights, and as I type this I realize maybe I need to clean the lens and dust out the insides . .  or, as Mary suggests, read the manual.

So, of all the pictures I took this afternoon, I offer you only this single Fritillaria michailovskyi, a bulb which is propagated by the bazillions by the Dutch and which has persisted (in slowly declining numbers) in my garden for 15 years. Its aroma is the definition of 'foxy.'

Identifying warblers

Northern parula (photo by Giff Beaton)
We've seen a spattering of migrating warblers over the last two weeks -- yellow-rumps, pine warblers, the occasional black-and-white -- but the large mass of them is yet to pass through. Prime time for bird watchers is just getting rolling.

The resources available to dedicated birders these days are phenomenal. There are daily reports being filed from stations further south. The location of rarities is documented and shared with a large on-line community. And experts share their hard-earned knowledge at sites such as

This is a really helpful resource for anyone who is learning how to sort out the many warblers that nest in or pass through our area. Many pictures, many tips for sorting out look-alikes. Good stuff! At least one person on-line said she accesses it in the field on her i-Phone.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

A surprise on the west side

When I saw this Royal Paulonia today in front of a home on Westport, I knocked on the door to get the story. The homeowner says he bought it out of a magazine. He's cut it to the ground twice, and he says "it's a real nuisance."

However, this spring it is filled with flower buds, and as far as I can tell they remain viable. If it does come into its full lavender glory, I will send out an APB to the press and the local authorities.

(I found an add for this tree on the internet: "The Royal Empress Tree is easy to grow. Simply add water… stand back and watch how fast it soars!" How could one resist? Unfortunately it's a might tender for our area.)

And some heat!

Jeffersonia dubia, the Asian twin-leaf, easy-to-grow, a little longer-flowering than our native species.

Adonis vernalis: it's been a strange spring. Note the flower on the left is about spent, while others are still in bud.

There is a species of pachysandra native to the eastern U.S.: Pachysandra procumbens, native from West Virginia down to Louisiana and Florida.  Since it isn't evergreen, it will never get the use that the common Japanese pachysandra does. Search on google, and you will be told that the common name is 'Allegheny spurge.'

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Finally, a little sun

Dirca palustris
Anemone nemerosa

Cardamine something-or-other

Podophyllum pleianthum

Frits getting ready

Anxious hellebores

Magnolia macrophylla -- texture: coarse

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Looks like a forsythia, but it's white

In 1937 this plant received the Award of Garden Merit from the Royal Horticultural Society. Someone explain: does the queen pin a medal on a shrubbery? Or knight it with a sword?  I had never noticed this plant before this spring, even though I had driven past it at least twice a day for 20 years. And once I noticed it, it was like, 'hey, it's a white forsythia, I've read about that one before.'

Abeliophyllum distichum looks like a forsythia, it's just as rangy/mangy as a forsythia, but it's in a distinct genus in the olive family. It's rare in its native range in the middle of Korea, but thanks to people like the resident at Miller and Seventh, it will never go extinct. Its big asset is that it flowers even before its familiar bright yellow cousin. Probably best to cut it right back to the ground every four or five years, and let it regrow.

Michigan Flora: updated and on-line!

While you wait for the puddles to drain and the clouds to part, you might want to check out a superb new on-line resource offered by our friends at the University of Michigan Herbarium: Michigan Flora.

Michigan Flora has been the life work Ed Voss. For those who know Dr Voss from his classes (this writer studied Boreal Flora under him at the U-M Biological Station) or from his books, it's hard to believe that it's been almost 40 years since the first volume was published, and seven years since the third and last. Since the first volume came out, 42,000 Michigan specimens have been added to the University's herbarium collection, 250 additional species have been recognized (80% of them alien), and numerous changes have been made to the taxonomy and nomenclature. brings it all up-to-date and on-line. Available are keys to plant families, genera, and species (admittedly difficult to use, but doable with some practice and familiarity). In addition, the goal is to include images of all the species, and a good deal of headway has already been made, as the herbarium staff has been able to access the large slide collection of the late Herb Wagner. Tony Reznicek (whose name has appeared earlier in this blog) is taking the lead in the on-line project.

Just to test it out, I searched the genus Cardamine (the cresses). Well look-ee there! The common cut-leaved toothwort is no longer Dentaria laciniata, but instead Cardamine concatenata. And there's that horrible Cardamine hirsuta, a smallish weed with explosive seed pods that is everywhere in my lawn and garden. Michigan Flora calls it hoary bitter cress. I call it 'poppers.'

Wait a sec! Check out Cardamine impatiens. It's a weed known from only three Michigan counties (one being Washtenaw), and I do believe that it is the newest invasive on my property. I was on my hands and knees pulling it out just a few days, wondering why it keeps re-appearing despite my effort to eradicate it.

Anyways . . . know ye that Michigan Flora is on-line and at your service!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Scopolia in the spring-time

I don't grow Scopolia carniolica because of the hallucinogenic and memory-inhibiting effects of its oil.  OK, maybe there is some allure in knowing of the plant's potential as a knock-out drug.  And it's a member of the nightshade family, one that is not generally recognized for its horticultural assets. And it does produce nodding flowers very early in the season (i.e., now). So I suppose I could say the plant is paying its rent -- but just barely.

Why plants change their name

At the last meeting of the local chapter of the Rock Garden Society, Tony Reznicek addressed the issue of why the scientific names of plants continue to change. The talk was titled "Why plants change their names: Rock Garden Plants, Woodland Plants, and Modern Biology." I am posting the notes on his talk taken by Laura Serowicz. It's a fascinating story, IMHO worthy of publication in the New Yorker.


At the October 30, 2010 meeting Tony Reznicek (presented a) lecture discussing the elements of modern evolutionary biology generating the current change in some plant names. He joked that it is standard practice for Plant Systematists to change the names of plants as soon as they become familiar to people to keep us on our toes, and if they didn’t we’d decide that we didn’t need those experts.

To put modern systematic biology into perspective Tony gave us a little background as to how the science of plant systematics, the naming of plants and the understanding of their evolutionary relationships have developed through time. People have been naming plants since forever. Even as far back as the Neanderthals plants were used in burial ceremonies, and they must have had ways to identify them.

With just a few plants to name you didn’t have to be very scientific about it, but once you developed a large enough body of knowledge and were teaching, then you had to change. The monks in Renaissance Europe realized that they could teach students all year long if they pressed and dried plants while they were in flower and then taught students from those dried specimens in the winter. Thus dried herbarium specimens began in the 1400’s and some of those are still in the herbarium at Florence Italy, one of the centers of the Renaissance. At that point collections were simply used as a reference for identification and not to study the plants.          (continued, click link below!)

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Corydalis solida: an encore

Botanist Tony Reznicek just forwarded this picture of the best red form of Corydalis solida in his garden. Wow.

Rock-gardening is a misnomer

Hymenoxys herbacea, the GLC-NARGS mascot
It's not about rocks. It's about plants -- plants of smallish stature that would look at home if placed amongst rocks. Rocks themselves are not required.

A 'rock-gardener' is typically a true plant and garden buff whose interests will invariably extend to plants of bogs, fens, woodlands, alvars, mountains, dunes, you-name-it.

My point: if you live in southern Michigan and really want to learn about the world of plants, you should get connected with these people. To do that you should fork out the $10 annual dues and join the Great Lakes Chapter of the North American Rock Garden Society (address below). I will personally refund your money if you feel your money was misspent.

The spring meeting of the GLC of the NARGS is scheduled for Saturday, April 23, to be held at the Hamburg Senior Community Center at 11:00. Guest speaker is Chris Chadwell, a world expert on the plants of the Himalayas, an area he first visited in 1980 as a botanist on an expedition with Southampton University (U.K.). Chris will speak on "Beautiful Alpines of Kashmir" and "Growing Himalayan Rock Garden Plants." His two talks will be interrupted by a catered lunch.

You can send your membership dues to Susan Reznicek, treasurer GLC-NARGS, 890 Wickfield Ct, Ann Arbor, MI 48105-1227. Or you can pay at the meeting. But I do suggest you get in contact with her, or with me, prior to the meeting so that they might know how many people to expect.

-- Guerin, past president GLC-NARGS

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Talking about Daphne

Daphnes are so wonderful and yet so flawed. Easiest for me is the 'February Daphne,' Daphne mezereum. It will flower in March or April here, filling the air with sweet perfume. I have the white form, which produces lots of babies from its poisonous seeds. The flower of the species is a lilac color.

The internet tells me it's an old-fashioned plant. The internet also tells me that its common name is 'mezereon.' Or 'spurge laurel.' Or 'garland flower.' Since I've never heard any of these combinations of words, I conclude they're all wrong.

Did I say 'flawed?'  Daphnes have crummy roots. The plants flop over. They're hard as heck to move without killing them since fibrous roots are either non-existent or ridiculously delicate.  The pictured specimen used to have a bigger base, but it fell over so that the stems were 20 degrees off vertical, so I cut the thing way back. Problem fixed!

D Carol Mackie 'after'
D Carol Mackie 'before'
The most common daphne is D. 'Carol Mackie,' which you'll see on campus and around town. Also nicely fragrant, and with nice variegated leaves, it is sometimes used as a low hedge. Well, mine started to sprawl and flop (maybe it's my soil?!) so today I cut it down to little nubbins. Return to this site in summer and I'll post an updated picture.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Hellebores and other things

note damage to flower on right
This hasn't been the best spring for your average hellebore. The late cold was a little too long and intense, and it shows in this picture of one of my favorites. It's hard to capture on film, but the green is electric. My memory tells me it is a species that I got from Heronswood years ago. Could it be H. cyclophyllus? One of the readers of this blog should know.

Also, here's a picture of a one of those Latvian Corydalis solida selections.  I'm waiting for it to buff up and spread around and give me new colors, but nothing much has happened in the many years since I acquired it.

Oooh, I received a sublime new catalog from Oikos Tree Crops in Kalamazoo today. Anyone want to go in on a private arboretum with me so we can grow some of their amazing oaks, pawpaws, buarnuts, trazels, and -- new for this year -- a 'less sting' stinging nettle.

Global ReLeaf sponsors tree sale; order deadline April 15

I helped deliver some of the plant materials for Global ReLeaf's tree sale last year, and they were top quality, with tremendous masses of fibrous roots. Maples, birches, elms, swamp white oak, tulip-trees, crabs, and whatever a 'mayday tree' is go for $32 each. They are bare-root, 4-6'. Other specialty trees sell for $50. Many wonderful shrub selections: $18. Conifers: $20. Bare-root is a great way to move plants, in many essential respects preferable to burlap.

The deadline for ordering plants is April 15. Pick-up date is April 30 at Fraleigh's Nursery on Jackson Rd in Dexter. Your purchases also contribute to a good cause. Global ReLeaf of Michigan, a state wide non-profit organization, has been working with community groups throughout the state for 23 years to plant trees on public property. Over 25,000 trees have been planted with 350 community organizations. For information, go to

Monday, April 11, 2011

The first frit: cuter than cute

This little sweetheart is Fritillaria pudica, and although you've got to get very close to appreciate it, it's probably my favorite of this generally bizarre genus of bulbs. Most frits give off an aroma not unlike  human sperm (not that I would be familiar the sperm of other animals), but this one smells as sweet as a freesia.  It's one species of many that are indigenous to the western US. The only reason I don't fill my garden with it is that, even though it is grown commercially en masse by the Dutch, it still costs a couple bucks a pop. 

This species also happens to be one of the few plants that seems to be actually content in my little rock garden. The soil is moist and very well-drained in spring, then very dry and hot in the summer -- just like much of the states of Oregon and Washington. 

Behind the fritillaria is a rock cress, Arabis ferdinandi-coburgi 'variegata,' one of the few variegated plants that I love and grow.  And behind that is a piece of tufa that I collected from a farm field near Sandusky, Ohio. Tufa is in much demand amongst rock gardeners, but I haven't found much use for it. My stock is up for sale. 

Sunday, April 10, 2011

I like them reliable and easy

Corydalis solida is a favorite of mine.  It comes up bright and cheery early in spring and doesn't embarrass itself before going dormant six weeks later.  The standard type is an ugly purplish color that I cannot put a name to, so it's best to start with a selection such as the brick red 'George Baker.' The plant will self-seed graciously and produce a variety of flower colors (which I'm too much of a softy to cull through for the best selections -- actually, I just lack the time and discipline).

Should he stay or should he go?
Once I ordered a set of color-forms from Janis Ruksans in Latvia. They all produced, but I lost track of most of them in just a few years. I still have one nice whitish-lilac specimen that I am determined to keep an eye on.  (I also received a number of odd crocus species, mostly fall-flowering, but again I was not organized enough to keep them apart from all the bullies that are better able to compete. Next time I will keep them in pots!).

What else is up? A few Iris reticulata. For the first time ever, most of my bulbs produced foliage but no flowers. Puschkinia libanotica (a very common and easy bulb with an impossible name) has advanced into new territories around my property -- not my favorite, but I'm grateful for its generosity. Crocuses, small and large. And Draba! How I love that little bright yellow crucifer in all its forms. Drabas are very easy from seed, and I am overdo in re-building my stock. More on them later.  
Puschkinia: striped squill

I'd pollinate that if I were a bug!

Spring chores on a very warm Sunday in April

Irises, hellebores and whatnot on April 10, 2011

I don't know how it is for other people, but gardening for me is mostly hard work that generates lots of sweat and sore muscles. I gather and shred my leaves. My oaks produce millions of them. If I have time before the snow falls, I will clear out what beds I can and cover them with a couple inches of shredded leaves. But usually I don't complete this task until April. I'm happy to report that the job is almost complete as of today. I would be embarrassed to admit how many hours this job entails each year. The nice thing is: I don't really have to do anything more for two or three months. 

The other task that my gardening entails is improving beds. I have introduced hundreds of cubic yards of 'soil,' mulch and compost over the years. Thanks to the irresistible forces of nature, I still always end up with sand so this chore never ends.  
I've heard about other people who do crazy things like 'divide perennials.' That sounds easy and fun. Someone tell me what that's all about. 

How much time do you actually just sit back and 'enjoy' your garden? For me, almost never. If I'm looking, I'm pulling weeds. Strange hobby this is.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Condolences to those growing doug-firs

Not long ago I was advising people to consider growing douglas-fir as an evergreen alternative to spruces and pines. This spring many of the doug-firs in our area look near death. State plant pathologists report that two fungal pathogens are plaguing this conifer -- swiss needle-cast and rhadocline needle-cast. Both diseases spread in the early spring. GreenStreet Tree Care (my company) will be trying a course of fungicide sprays this year in hopes of turning some of these trees around.

The really big big trees

A listing of "Michigan Big Trees" just crossed my desk (actually, the list had been at my feet under the desk for a couple weeks, and I just now rediscovered it while cleaning up), and what kind of tree do you guess is the 'biggest' on record in Michigan? I'll give you some choices: it is an elm, ash, willow, oak, maple, beech, or basswood. The correct answer is . . .