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:

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Four more plants with nothing in common except that they are in flower now

Gillenia trifoliata: how this plant first got to my attention is lost to my memory. It's in the rose family, it is native to eastern North America (but probably not Michigan), and it sports very crisp, attractive foliage and flowers with slim five-petaled white starry petals. I don't recall ever seeing it in another garden. It seeds around lightly, which is how I like things to seed around, and, all that being said, what more could you possibly ask of a garden plant? The 'common' names include Bowman's root, Indian-physic, and American ipecac, none of which mean anything to me.

A friend in Ann Arbor sent this picture to me. It's Gladiolus communis ssp. byzantinus. It grows to 16-24 inches tall and, as she reports, is much easier to use in a mixed border than the typical store-bought gladiolus. Neither of us recall ever seeing it grown in local gardens.

An iris. Maybe someone can tell me what iris this is. The flowers are on short stems and surrounded by much taller leaves -- definitely not a species you'll find on the short list at your average garden center. Even so, they are of a nice cool color, and I'm happy to include them in my garden.

Here's an odd species of solomon's seal (Polygonatum) that was shipped to me from a 'nursery' in China some years ago. Nothing at all showy about it, but it is of interest for the twisted hooks at the ends of the leaves that allow it to scramble up neighboring plants. I've got several other exotic examples of this genus in my garden, and I extirpated one or two others for reasons of being overly rambunctious. But not to worry, I have an electrified fence around my property that prevents anything from escaping the perimeter and polluting the natural environment. Not true, but I do keep an eye on these things.

Gillenia again!! Same picture, more or less, but this one taken with the little camera that came imbedded in my new iPhone 4S. The picture has more detail in the shadows and highlights than the ones I have been taking with my digital Nikon SLR and with my Canon whatever-it-is. Every single picture in this blog (minus the recent Alliums) had to be adjusted in my software to bring in some detail to the highlights and to increase the contrast. And neither of the aforementioned cameras would capture the magentas and light blues that seem to populate my garden. The iPhone manages just fine. So, there is my plug for one amazing pocket-sized gadget.

If the color of the flower of this Geranium does not display as a brilliant magenta on your screen, it's not the fault of the camera on my iPhone.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Alliums, part deux

More alliums, all in bloom at this time, thanks to a contributor who gardens on the northwest side of Ann Arbor. All comments are hers except where noted. 

Allium albopilosum
in cultivation since about 1901; not a self-seeder.
(ed. note: this species is often listed in the trade as "Star of Persia" or "Persian onion." Some references refer to it as being synonymous with A. christophii. Information available on the internet is confusing.)

Allium unifolium:
Introduced into cultivation circa 1873, this species is approximately 12 inches tall with pink florets. It does seed around a bit.

Allium Silver Spring:
This is a 1999 selection of A. multibulbosum. Sweetly-scented white flowers with lovely garnet centers in a sweetly scented white. I just got this last fall as small bulbs, so the flower head is not as full as it would be on a more mature bulb. Still
quite expensive, easily $10 for a small example mail order.

Allium Globemaster:
A gorgeous 1971 hybrid; definitely should be planted in full sun. Mine are planted in half-sun and the globes have decreased by 50% over the years, despite being fertilized. Sterile, thus no self-seeding. 

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Alliums, lots of alliums!

Last week I asked you dear readers to submit photos and information about Alliums that might grow in your gardens. It's a huge genus with many garden-worthy species and cultivars. My personal attempts to grow them and get to know them ended in disaster -- I'm not organized in my record-keeping, I don't have much space or sunlight, and I started growing them from seed via seed-exchanges without a lot of rhyme or reason. It ended as a jumbled mess in my garden and in my brain.

But I (and you readers) have hit pay-dirt. A grower on the northwest part of town sent in a treasure trove of pictures and information that is enough to make any gardener salivate. These are not pictures from catalogs, these are pictures from her garden. I thank her deeply, and herewith share it all with you. All comments are hers, except where noted . . .

Allium multibulbosum:
compact spheres of white florets with green eyes, in bloom now

Allium moly Jeannine, an improved selection (this one will do well in some shade -- ed. note), in bloom now

Allium cowanii: a smallish species with glistening white flowers, in bloom now!

Allium cernuum in bud: graceful little goose necks; it does self seed but it is a lovely little pink allium so it is welcome in my garden. Native.

Allium atropurpureum: two inch umbels of maroon-purple florets. In flower now, but note that we are early this year because of the warm winter.

Allium schubertii: loose florets of varying lengths; I have had no seedlings show up in 10 years.

Allium karataviense: my least favorite among the alliums; stocky, dull-looking overgrown and dandelion-like (ed. note: I think it's fine in my rock garden, but I see her point)

Allium aflatunense. The deeper colored one is 'Purple Sensation.' Lovely as mass plantings and long-lasting as a cut flower. They do seed around freely, so unless you are trying to naturalize them, you simply dead-head them.

Allium maximowiczii "Alba": this is an alpine form of the species. Great in a trough due to its small size.

I have forgotten the name of this one. Light purple somewhat glistening florets. The florets form a dome-shaped half-globe rather than a full globe. A little shorter than A. aflatunense and blooming about a weed later.

More Alliums to come soon. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Fringetree a new tree for treetown

A Chinese fringetree (Chionanthus retusus) has been growing happily in the arb for decades, but more recently it was introduced into Ann Arbor's more immediate landscape thanks to the city's street-tree program. At this time of year it's easy to spot -- it's in full bloom and displaying its distinct fleecy four-petaled flowers. I haven't seen enough of this tree to be able to easily pick it out in a line-up, but the leaves are quite lustrous and arranged in pairs (or close to it). And it seems that its habit is a little more relaxed than that of our native fringetree. The literature says it typically grows to 20' or so. The flowers look a bit like those of forsythia, but white and elongated. Makes sense as the two plants are in the same family (the Oleaceae). 

Since the honeylocust is such a ubiquitous shade tree, I am posting this image of the damage I saw yesterday to a grouping off Jackson Rd west of town. Freeze damage? Not sure. Honeylocust leaves had just begun to emerge when the freeze hit us in late April. Maybe the leaves on these trees were ahead of the pack due to the extreme parking-lot microclimate.  

Saturday, May 12, 2012

A Call for Contributions

I've done close to 200 posts, each accompanied by Peabody-award-winning photography by yours truly. And I've had about 6 comments and no contributions of consequence. So here is an assignment. I want to hear about three things: 1) Alliums in the garden, 2) hardy cacti in Michigan gardens, and 3) Washtenaw County Parks. If you don't know anything about the first two, go and visit one of the many new county park acquisitions and write something up. I'd like to visit them all, one each week, but I know that will never happen. I happen to live across the street from one of the new parks (thank you all at the parks department for acquiring this parcel!) on Waterloo Rd in Dexter Township. I think the county program is one of the most exciting things happening nature-wise in our region (thank you county residents for approving the millage). It makes me proud and happy to be a resident here. Anyway, take a hike and let the readers of this blog know what you discover.

Six oddballs in flower

None of the plants in this post are going to stop traffic, unless you are an insect, such as the one that took the picture of my towering  Nectaroscordum siculum. 'Towering' if you are an insect. I've had this Allium relative for many years. If I had proper soil, it might have seeded around more, but as it is, it has made a nice well-behaved clump. Nobody in my household has ever noticed it.

A late-flowering barrenwort, the flowers are actually a soothing pale yellow in color. Wish I could say more about it but I'm still searching for the Excel file I created to keep track of my Epimediums.

The umbrella magnolia, Magnolia tripetala, grows in the Smoky Mountains and at my house. It only has a dozen or so flowers but they are big, really big, and are pleasantly fragrant -- not sweet like sweetbay but a bit dirty, with hints of pear blossoms, burnt chocolate, and vinyl seat-covers. Great in dry soils.

Enkianthus serrulatus (common name 'Enkianthus') is a rhododendron relative that is easy to grow, not requiring acid soil, and managing fine in droughty situations thank you very much. Mine are about 6' tall and 20 years old. It is beloved by all who know it, unlike the following. . .

The truth is, I don't know what I am talking about, but I have a recollection of reading someone commenting on what a useless plant Tellima grandiflora ('fringe-cups') is. Is it because this native of the Pacific northwest has become an nuisance escapee in Great Britain? Or because there are many better Heucheras, which is somewhat resembles? Supposedly it self-seeds generously (but not with me). I grow it mostly because I harbor a fantasy of the different northwestern natives in my garden somehow recognizing each other and having a conversation like 'Wow, fancy meeting you here, old friend. Hey, what's with this strange climate and where are all the doug-firs?'

This isn't the first time I've photographed Euonymus cornuta, which looks more like a bamboo than other euonymuseses. But this is the first spring that it didn't have to recover from being eaten by the local deer herd, so it's looking quite nice. And it has flowers of measurable size. Pretty neat for the genus. 

Monday, May 7, 2012

Hybrid horsechestnut

On a drive from point A to point B in Chelsea yesterday, I had to stop and take a picture of this yellow-flowered buckeye. The homeowner identified it as "Autumn Splendor" horsechestnut, Aesculus x arnoldiana, which she had purchased from Gee Farms in Stockbridge. In my opinion the flowers are certainly no improvement over those of the the parent species, A. flava and A. pavia (yellow and red buckeye respectively, both species from eastern North America). But, as the name implies, this hybrid is supposed to put on a show of color in the fall. I'll try to remember to check back in September.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

A worthy dandelion

Another one that I think I got from Arrowhead Alpines: a garden-worthy dandelion. It doesn't seed around, it spreads by runners at just the rate you would like, it's a cheery yellow. I didn't forget its proper taxonomic identity . . because I never knew it. Some reader will hopefully clue me in. Better yet would be for me to locate my Encyclopedia of Rock Garden Plants, but it's in Ann Arbor and I'm in Chelsea, worlds away on this pleasant Saturday. Update: a reader ID'ed it as a hawkweed: "one of the whitish hairy subspecies of Hieracium pilosella (aka Pilosella officinarum of a lot of European literature)." He also noted that the plant is well-documented for being highly allelopathic, i.e., toxic to other species. And since he's mentioned it, I recall that the only thing I've ever had to weed out of it was some depauperate Oxalis.

More freeze damage: this is what happened to many yews. Should anyone care about a little bit of freezing at the tip? Not really.

Pasque-flower in the rock garden

The county should consider an initiative requiring all residents to grow at least one pasqueflower (Pulsatilla). I grow a couple, including the red form of the common Pulsatilla vulgaris (photo left), plus a yellow-flowered European Pulsatilla alpina. There are 30 or so other species, including some North American ones, that I have never tried.

I know I have planted a bunch over the years. My experience is that sometimes they don't take, but otherwise they are idiot-proof.

The specimen in the photo is in very well-drained sandy soil surrounded by tufa (collected in Sandusky, OH). The yellow flower at the top of the photo is another euphorb which makes a nice clump in a rock-garden environment. I've forgotten its name, don't have reference materials near by, but I got it from Arrowhead Alpines. It is soft-spoken and seeds around very gently. Happy to have it.

New subject: in December I decorated the Christmas tree with a bright red fruit of Arisaema sikkokianum (an Asian jack-in-the-pulpit). I later washed the seed, sprinkled some around outside, and put a bunch in a flat on the porch. The first seedling showed its head a few days ago. Today I count 11. Anyone want to offer me tips about growing them on from here?

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Big bad diseases on landscape conifers

After years of chasing after the familiar Diplodia tip-blight on Austrian pines, we have found that another fungal pathogen has proliferated and spread to become the number one killer of this popular landscape conifer. This 'newer' and less-familiar disease is Dothistroma needle-blight. The photo shows the usual damage -- the needles turn brown from the tip, darker brown bands show up on infected needles, and a small amount of healthy green tissue remains at the base of the needles. Often the entire needles will eventally turn brown. The expanding bud will produce new needles but these will become infected soon after emergence. The result is branch die-back and sometimes tree mortality.  We at GreenStreet (my tree service) don't have enough experience with it to be able to predict the effectiveness of chemical controls. Whereas fungicides are applied in April and May to control the old tip-blight disease, the life-cycle of Dothistroma is different and plant pathologists are recommending sprays in June and July.  Austrian pine has proven to be a very useful landscape conifer because of its tolerance of clay soils. However, you might do best to just stay away from it for now because of disease pressures.

Another plant disease of note is cedar-apple rust. On native old-field junipers,  the fungus produces swollen nodules that drip with slimy orange 'worms.' This occurs during the first rains of spring after the plants come out of dormancy (i.e., this past week). Yucky beautiful. The spores created by these structures go on to infect the leaves of hawthorns. Kudos to whomever figured out the crazy life-cycle of the rust fungi. The organism is mostly harmless.

I suppose something should be said about spruce trees which are declining in great numbers throughout our area. The situation is a complicated mess. A number of fungal agents appear to be involved, and questions remain as to which are causal agents and which are incidental. Until a few days ago, we were happy to lump them all together as 'needlecast' diseases, in hopes that a few judiciously timed sprays each year would keep the problems at bay. Thus it was disconcerting to read the following headline in a recent bulletin from Michigan State University Extension: "Michigan awash with Phomopsis cankers on spruce trees." The bulletin continues to state that "we now know that a group of Phomopsis strains of unknown species are at the center of the current landscape spruce problems . . and is now causing mature tree defoliation, branch death and, in some cases, tree death." Making things more difficult is the fact that symptoms appear much like needlecast, and it is necessary to skin off a lot of thin bark to determine the presence of the canker. The final paragraph begins "it appears we are in a cloud of Phomopsis spores, the likes of which we have never seen before." Trying to treat spruces with fungicides is becoming a shot in the dark.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

May Day odds and ends

As you may have noticed, assuming you live in Michigan and have a pulse, the record breaking heat in March was followed by some very cold nights in April.  Did it take a toll on any of your plants? I've seen complete and partial defoliation on some japanese maples, and I noticed a tree-of-heaven (Ailanthus altissima) with liquified leaves. Some of my odd-ball asian perennials took a hit, including my two exotic species of mayapple (Podophyllum). My Kirengeshoma palmata (sorry, no common name) was reduced to mush, but it serves me right -- it had no future in my dry sandy soil. I was saddened to see damage to my toad-lilies, but it doesn't appear severe. And of course whatever is left of the magnolia flowers has become quite the embarrassment. (Late breaking news: caller reports that her tulip-tree has suffered 75% defoliation).

My neighbor's rock-cress, Aubrieta deltoidea, is putting on a great show right now. The one I grow hugs the ground, whereas his has distinctly upright stems. His creates enormous patches, mine is the same puny size it was when I planted it. I would ask him what his secret is for encouraging such a magnificent display, but a stroke has left him unable to tend his garden for some years now. So the answer is: sunlight, some moisture, decent drainage and neglect. I've got that last bit covered.

Here's another worthy euphorb from my neighbor's garden, this one being Euphorbia myrsinites. This plant used to volunteer quite a bit in the very coarse limestone gravel I used in the steps by the side of the house. When I converted to landscape timbers, the plant disappeared and I forgot about it. The stems, which are are cloaked in bluish leaves, continue to elongate during the season. It's a nice enough curiosity in Michigan, but in some of the arid western states it is considered a noxious weed.

A final oddball (at least in Michigan) from my neighbor's garden is this conifer with spiny-ish needles, Cunninghamia lanceolata. From what I've seen in local gardens, it's a little tender for our area, and it's typical for it to have a complement of ugly brown foliage. This is the species that was planted by the gazillions during a drive to reforest China under the reign of Chairman Mao. One species for all occasions. A colossal failure.