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:

Monday, May 30, 2011

Meconopsis for the masses

Like a lot of people, when I first saw a picture of the blue Himalayan poppies of the genus Meconopsis, I had to try my hand at them. I've never had a plant die to quickly -- I think it started to shrivel as soon as it read the mailing label at the originating nursery. I'm not the only one to have that experience. It got so out of control that Heronswood Nursery made it a policy NOT to sell and ship specimens to Michigan.

There is one attractive member of the genus that is content to grow and reproduce here. It's very easy from seed. It's just not blue. The plant is Meconopsis cambrica, known as the Welsh poppy, and it's the only member of genus from Europe. (I read that if botanists were to start all over again, they wouldn't include it in the genus, but I don't know from those things). The Welsh poppy is normally yellow but comes in orange and red forms, it seeds around lightly, it persists in the garden, it doesn't need full sun, it looks nice . . . go get yourself some.

If you are interesting in learning more about the genus, check out It's not just in bread, beer and bacon where the Brits are miles ahead of us. 


Finding someone to sell you a laburnum tree in Michigan is nearly impossible. I have plenty of reasons to presume it's a common enough ornamental in Great Britain, but the nursery industry doesn't produce it for us mid-westerners -- too obscure?, not cold-hearty enough? -- not even Gee Farms routinely stocks it.

Well, I paid my nickel and I'm taking my chances and so far so good. It's a small tree, a member of the pea family, bland as can be when not in flower. But the flower display is spectacular. In Ann Arbor there's a big one on Dorset, an old street-side tree on Third between Huron and Washington, one at the end of Wickfield Ct in the Pontiac Trail area, some nice ones at Lurie Terrace (n.e. corner Huron/Third) and some very pretty small ones on the north side of Liberty across from Dartmoor (near Eberwhite Woods). Except for the last batch, I haven't check up any of these this year.  F.Y.I, laburnum is also known as a 'golden-chain tree.'

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Epimediums are easy to grow (tough to photograph)

I have a score or two of epimediums (barrenworts) in my garden, but given their smallish flowers I've found it hard to capture them on 'film' in a way that does them justice. But here's a couple pictures. Someday I'll try to sort out the names.  There are 180 or so selections available from Garden Vision Epimediums, including many species that are largely unknown and available only from them. There are no members of the Epimedium genus native to our hemisphere. The closest thing we have are a couple species of Vancouveria from the west coast. I've planted both. One died immediately, and the other won't go away despite much effort on my part (it runs too much and gets badly tangled in other plants). All the epimediums I know are well behaved, and most very easy to grow.

Help me identify these two plants

Can anyone out there identify these plants for me?
I flipped through every page of the American Horticultural Society's Encyclopedia of Garden Plants and was unable to find a match. It took years for this specimen to bulk up and flower in my garden, and in the meantime I've lost track of its name.

The second plant (see below) is a member of the Boraginaceae and, although not the prettiest thing, makes a good weed-smothering ground cover. I received it from a rock garden society plant sale and am happy to give it a home.

Friday, May 27, 2011

My kind of birdwatching!

The warblers took a rest two nights ago at Machias Seal Island in Maine. Apparently this is called a "migrant fall-out." More amazing photos at -- to think how much trouble we birdwatchers go through to track down a single warbler! And if my cats knew what they were missing . . .

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Horsechestnuts and buckeyes in living color

Aesculus hippocastanum, horsechestnut
Take the common European horsechestnut and cross is with the diminutive American red buckeye, and you get . . . the red horsechestnut, which is now (I've read) one of the most popular plants in Germany.

European members of this group are called horsechestnuts. American members are buckeyes. There's nothing particularly 'Ohio' about buckeyes, so get over it. In fact there is even less that is 'Michigan' about wolverines -- they aren't even native to the state.

A. pavia, red buckeye
You can find horsechestnut on most any block in Ann Arbor. The red buckeye I found along Broadway. The hybrid makes a splash at the corner of State and Washington and down the block to the west.

A. x carnea, red horsechestnut

A little basement flooding aint nothing

Right. We thought we had it bad last night when a little water seeped into one of the downstair's rooms. Ann Arbor Railroad had a whole section of its embankment wash out onto Plymouth road, along with a small forest of trees. Just imagine if one of their trains had tried to make it across that stretch.

A lotta water for a minor creek 5/26/11

No, this isn't the Huron River, but rather the tiny Fleming Creek, just below Matthaei Botanical Garden.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

A little pocket of uncommon trees in Ann Arbor

Take a drive (or a walk or a bike-ride) down Pineridge off Dexter to the corner of Maryfield and you can visit a handful of cool trees. Right at the corner are three (or four) pawpaw trees that the resident planted more than a decade ago. Not real big specimens, but I expect they would be considerably larger if they received more sun.

Acer sp.
On Maryfield at the same address around the corner is a truly remarkable tri-foliate maple that the homeowner purchased long ago as a 'paper-bark maple' (Acer griseum). I wonder if the tree might be a closely-related species, as there is little evidence of the papery bark. Still and all it's an outstanding and exceptionally large specimen.

Continue down Maryfield a bit and on the same side of the street you'll run across an unusual tree related to honeysuckle, Heptacodium micinioides. (In this case I like saying the Latin name much more than the dubious 'common' name of Seven Sons Flower.)  You can't tell from this specimen, but Heptacodium can quickly put on height. At least mine did before it withered back to a stump. Nice arching branches, unique shreddy honeysuckle-ish bark, and odd summer flowers whose somewhat showy bracts remain after the petals have fallen. By the way, my specimen is not dead; rather it reverted to a shrubby habit, and I expect it will be a substantive multi-stem tree by the end of the season.

Heptacodium foliage
Finally, if you desire, you can walk find your way back to Dexter Rd, head towards town, cross Ravena and at the first address on the north side is a large and lovely bitternut hickory (Carya cordiformis), a native tree that happens to be quite uncommon within the city limits. Its foliage can be easily mistaken for that of ash, but in the case of the hickories the leaves are attached in an alternate fashion rather than in pairs. 

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

A bulb from out west

I've never lived in Camassia country, so I don't have any stories to tell about it. And until this year I never tried to grow it -- mostly because it's all of 24" tall, which is getting beyond my comfort level. But, yes, you can put the taller things in back, and it works out quite nicely. Hey, I'm learning.

GreenStreet at work Tues 5/24

The earth shook and the basement foundations cracked when this walnut log came to earth. But just kidding about the foundations. Call GrenStreet Tree Care (this blogger's business) at 734-996-9020.

An unusual trillium (with enhanced color!) (and the smell of carrion!)

I didn't think the photo I took of Trillium stamineum did the plant justice so I juiced it up a tad with iPhoto. But just a tad. The short deep-maroon twisted petals account for a number of odd so-called common names -- twisted trillium, propeller toadshade, blue ridge wakerobin. And as an additional bonus, the flower smells like carrion! Native to three southern states -- Tennessee, Mississippi and Alabama. Don't know why but much of that Alabama flora is perfectly hardy in Michigan. Or so Fred Case used to tell us. 

Monday, May 23, 2011

Botanical kitsch

Big leaves on an Asian mayapple.

The flower of the mouse-plant, Arisarum proboscedium, is well hidden under the foliage.  I expect some pollinator grooves on those mouse tails.


Here is a tupelo. Or blackgum. Or gum. Or Nyssa sylvatica.  A tree most easily recognized by its straight trunk ("strong apical dominance") and horizontal branches -- a habit more generally associated with conifers.

I've seen small stands of tupelo east of Milan in lake plain soil, and big specimens in Detroit in an old cemetery. But it is an infrequent denizen of the Ann Arbor area. Riverside Park (near Island Park) and Nichols Arboretum have some you can visit. The county bought some land out Scio Church Rd past Wagner that I've been told has some native trees. And I can describe how to find some along a little lake in the Waterloo Rec Area.

From the time I worked at an arboretum outside Philadephia, I recall tupelo as being a decent sized tree intermingled with oaks. Most of the ones I've seen locally start to conk out before they achieve any significant height. Even the one at my house (i.e., the tree in the picture) stopped growing any taller a couple years ago. I still love it. Best fall color is achieved if planted in full sun. And I believe tupelo honey is made from a swamp species found in the southern states along with baldcypress.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

A rare daisy for the garden

A true Great Lakes endemic, the Lakeside daisy, Tetraneuris (Hymenoxys) herbacea, is very amenable to cultivation. But in the wild in Michigan it is known from only one location in one county (Mackinac), where it grows in marly soil near a cedar swamp. This species is used as the logo for the Great Lakes Chapter of the North American Rock Garden Society.

Snowdrop anemone and manitee

Competition for space in a small garden can get brutal especially if you are a small European anemone about to get rolled upon by a vicious fur-bearing manitee.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

A few species for a woodland garden

I'm posting pictures of these two species primarily so that I have a record of their identity. And you might like them. 

The plant on the left with the cheery flowers and lime-green foliage is the diminutive Corydalis buschii. Forgetting its identity, I flipped through a book about the genus, and there is was. The text even mentioned it had been introduced into cultivation by the Latvian bulb expert Janis Ruksans -- the very person from whom I purchased it. You can e-mail him at and request his amazing catalog. Timber Press published his book Buried Treasures: Finding and Growing the World's Choicest Bulbs in 2007.

I acquired Iris henryi from Garden Vision Epimediums, along with a variety pack of choice epimediums.  I recall that founder Darrell Probst had announced he would be closing the mail-order nursery, but I just received a new catalog last week. Rather than close shop, Darrell turned the business over to his partner, and she is continuing with the great service.

I have only managed to eke out a few flowers from the large clump of grassy leaves. I will split it and move it around to find out what suits it.

What's the deal with bladdernut?

Nice flowers on an interesting native shrub: bladdernut (Staphylea trifolia). I've only seen this rarely in cultivation. This specimen on Felch St has been ignored and seriously abused, but someone apparently was thinking outside the box at some point in the past.

Around here bladdernut grows naturally along the Huron River and smaller streams. In my mind I group it, leatherwood and spicebush together as three rarely utilized native shrubs that thrive in wetter sites. The latter two I grow in my sandy upland garden. I also grew a rare Chinese species of bladdernut for a number of years. It had even more attractive flowers and an upright tree-like form, but grew too tall for its space. Old gardening books list six species in cultivation, but apparently they never took hold in the popular imagination since where are they now?

Bladdernut can be recognized by its trifoliate oppositely-arranged leaves on long petioles, by its unique bladder-like fruit in the fall, and by a stem pattern/color that I won't try to describe but is quite recognizable.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Who are you?

So, who are the 353 people (according to Google) who viewed this blog yesterday? Hey you! Yes, I'm talking to you! I need your feedback. Chime in. Post a comment. Send me something about gardening that I can post, or I can give you rights to post directly if that makes sense.  I don't want this to be my voice alone.

Boxelders in the landscape

Here's a shot of some leaves of a striking cultivar of boxelder planted as a street-tree in Ypsilanti on Elm St. The specimen is upright, single-trunked, and has a nice even canopy.

I think people are too quick to discount boxelder as a worthy landscape tree. It's a native plant. Multiple stems and horizontal trunks can make for some fabulous recreational climbing and fort-building for kids. I can't explain it -- there's just something that seems so relaxed, natural, and American about it. Male trees are to be preferred as the female seeds attract boxelder bugs and are ugly in the winter.

Maybe someday I will make pilgrimages to Box Elder, Montana and Box Elder, South Dakota. Better get to it before Christ returns on Friday.

Ash borer survivors

The trunk of this green ash in Ypsilanti is pretty beat up, but the tree itself has a full crown, and it's the one and only green ash I have ever seen in our area that wasn't killed right back to the ground by emerald ash borer.

Ash trees are not gone. Countless green ashes have sprouted back from their remaining stumps. This is especially evident along highways, where many of the trees are beginning to reach their former heights.  Their forms are much different, as typically they now have multiple stems.

The situation is probably even better with white ash, which has demonstrated a bit more resistance to borer damage. For example, while bird-watching in Dolph Park recently, I spotted numerous young white ash trees reaching into the sunlight. In Chelsea near my home, a beautiful vigorous specimen is thriving in a front yard just down the street from where all the older road-side specimens were killed. Like many people, I am very curious to see how ashes fare in the future. Will a new wave of borers come sweeping through, or will the reduction in host material change the dynamics?

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Suspected blue grosbeak (close but no cigar)

There have been only a dozen or so confirmed sightings of the blue grosbeak in Michigan -- and only one in Washtenaw County -- but a friend of mine was able to take this picture from her upstairs window in Chelsea two days ago. The only other species it could possible be would be the indigo bunting, but my friend knows the buntings, and she says this was no bunting. We await to hear from the authorities if this will be listed as a confirmed sighting of a blue grosbeak.

Ann Arbor city ornithologist Dea Armstrong reports back: "The bird in the photo is an Indigo Bunting. Blue Grosbeaks have a more powder blue color than the vibrant blue of Indigo Buntings but the real separating detail are the distinct brown wing bars of the Blue Grosbeak. This photo shows the Indigo Bunting dark wings (no wing bars) and dark around the bill that is so characteristic of Indigo Buntings. I have a link for a website that shows photos of both birds: "

Oh darn!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Butternut in Ann Arbor

You don't see many butternut trees in Ann Arbor, but this one made for a striking display this afternoon. The is the only butternut (Juglans cinerea) that I am aware of on public property -- it is on the south side of Jackson Ave, a short distance west from the Jackson/Dexter split. A number of people have alerted me to other butternut specimens, but they've always turned out to be English walnut.

Butternut (also known as white walnut) is native to southern Michigan but has been decimated by a canker disease that girdles mature trees. I have no knowledge as to whether it was ever very abundant around here. But I know from experience that it is quite common in parts of northern Ontario.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Three plants upside down or downside up

Start with wild ginger, Asarum, with its ground-hugging flowers pollinated by inquisitive newts and whatnot. Now take the letters of the genus and put them in a blender to get Saruma. And take the ginger flowers and put them on top, facing up, and give them a little color. Thus you have Saruma henryi, 'discovered' in China about a hundred years ago, but only recently making the rounds as a cultivated plant in the US. The plant itself is both better and worse than the photo suggests. It can be quite floriferous, but by late in the season you'll find it taking up more garden space than it deserves. It doesn't resent being cut back to the ground. Seedlings are plentiful.

Another upside-down variation is found in the Asian mayapple, Podophyllum hexandrum whose showy upward-facing flowers contrast with those of our native species. This one also has interesting leaf coloration when it first unfolds.  Not a real showy addition to the garden, but something you can point out to someone if you need to change the topic of conversation away from politics or religion.

The shooting-stars are pretty swell-looking garden gems, imho. And are they not primroses turned upside-down (and even a bit inside-out)? Well, it wouldn't have occurred to me either. But I guess it's true, seeing as the old shooting-star genus (Dodecatheon) is being scrapped, and all the shooting-stars are being folded into the primrose genus (Primula). Whatever they are called, they are easy to grow. If they work for me, they'll most likely work for you. In my sandy soil, I try to keep them out of the full sun. The leaves will look seriously stressed in full afternoon sunlight, but they always seem to recover.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Love and death

Daphne arbuscula
Pulling weeds after a long day of work. Sweet perfume from the little Daphne nearby permeates the air. Yes, I'll overlook the balding spot in the middle of the clump. Grab my camera, make sure to shoot from a low angle.

Something in the air suddenly isn't right. Something stinky and foul. The fragrance of the Daphne is not enough to cover up the smell of  decaying roadkill.

But I'm really not fooled this time. It's that stinking Arum with the purple spathe. The first time I experienced it Robin and I were, shall we say, 'concerned.' We thought some animal had been hit by a car and had wandered into the garden to die. I was sure I would soon discover some corpse about to explode into putrescence.

Why would I grow this? I don't know, but it's annoying when you waste 15 minutes trying to relocate the fresh gin-and-tonic you set into the foliage somewhere.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

More plants from bizarro-world

Another Arisaema from Asia. Given its appearance 'cobra-lily' better describes it than 'jack-in-the-pulpit.' It's hard to see in the photo, but there is a crazy tendril that extends from the flower, looping up and under the leaf, then back down all the way to the ground. A dark plant, indeed, attractive to . . . ?

Another Arisaema -- this one came to me directly from a 'nursery' in China. Most likely they pulled it from the wild and put it right into a shipping crate labeled 'USA.' I feel a little bad about having contributed to the harvesting of wild plants, but only a little. Maintaining biological diversity is not a priority for Chinese society right now, and plant explorers race against the tide to find, identify and collect species there before they are extirpated. We can play a role by keeping some of the genetic stock alive in our gardens.

Like a bellwort on steroids. I believe this is Disporum flavens from China and Korea. A striking and hefty plant. In my shady well-drained soils, I do well growing the early spring blooming 'wood-lilies,' a term I use loosely to include the solomon's-seals, fairy-bells, bellworts, dingle-berries, elf-toes, Smilacina, etc.

Spaceships coming in for a landing. This barrenwort (Epimedium sp.) is another plant I received from China. It just so happens that of the 20 or so epimediums that I grow, this is perhaps my favorite. The Chinese pull these plants up by the ton, powderize them, then ship the stuff to the US where it is sold at gas-stations in the southern states under the name "horny goat weed." 

It's nearly impossible to garden around this thing. Whenever I start pulling weeds or playing with the dirt, it flops down on its back in front of me and squishes whatever happens to be growing there.

Rock garden gaywings

If you enjoy looking at flowers in the woods up north, you've likely run into Polygala paucifolia, a dimunitive species commonly known as fringed polygala or gaywings. Way cute, it is. I brought a piece of it back home once, and it flowered a couple times then fizzled out in my dry soil.

Apparently more amenable to cultivation is a species good for a rock garden setting, Polygala chamaebuxus. In this photo from my garden it is growing under, through and around chunks of tufa. With it woody roots/rhizomes, it is unfortunately quite unmanageable (it's a 'subshrub' -- see previous post re. forget-me-nots). If you want to try growing it, search for the species on-line and you'll see some beautiful forms grown and sold by Bob Stewart at Arrowhead Alpines in Fowlerville. Speaking of which . . it's a great time of year for a Saturday road trip to his place and to Gee Farms outside Stockbridge. Between those two places, you can get any plant you might dream of. Feel free to e-mail me for directions.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Three nice perennials, no make that four

Primula kisoana is pretty and very easy to grow. 'Nuff said.

So why don't we see more of the crazy Fritillaria imperialis? These were growing on Main St in Chelsea today. Look at those leaves! I can't stop staring! Did this evolve in the wild?

Our native trout lilies are just fine thank-you, but so is this readily available and easy-to-grow cultivar Erythronium 'Pagoda.'

This Ornithogalum is a definite keeper in my garden. Not invasive in the least, but competes on its own against Scilla. But I don't remember where I got it, or its specific identity.