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, June 30, 2012

Tupelo in southeast Michigan

I'm speculatating that tupelo (also known as blackgum or Nyssa sylvatica) might have once formed a significant component of the original woodlands in ye olde lake bed between Ypsi and Detroit, back before it was converted to farmland. The tree develops into a decent size in some woodlands in the Milan area. But in the more hilly glacial topography in Ann Arbor and to the west, it is very scattered in distribution. And it rarely makes a nice landscape tree although I wouldn't fault anyone for trying and I think the one by my garage is quite nice, thank you very much.

Here's some big tupelos that I found growing at Woodmere Cemetery s.w. of downtown Detroit. Now that's what I'm talking about! It forms a very distinct bark pattern which I came to know from working in some woodlands near Philadelphia a lifetime ago. More pictures if you click on the link under the picture to the left.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Tornado-like event hits near (my) home

big old ailanthus finally met its match
My neighbor Dale Lesser says the pressure behind his ears was tremendous when the unexpected tornado-like-event hit his family's farm on Island Lake Dr in Dexter Township yesterday. One of his sheds was moved a quarter mile. I had to chainsaw my way home. A lot of big trees down in a small area, but no damage at all a mile east.

A number of trees, like this cottonwood, were uprooted, but most broke off mid-stem. The county responded very quickly by dispatching a bulldozer to clear the road.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Topsoil, mosquitoes, drought and where to buy good perennials

     The topsoil sold by Lodi Farms on Wagner Road seems to be real topsoil! Not muck + sand, not clay + sand, but real actual mineral soil without coarse grit but with enough fines to enable to you to wet it and mold it into a ribbon. Add compost and you have a darn good 'garden' soil.
     It's mid June and I've hardly seen a mosquito. It's mid June and things are flowering that you usually don't see until August. It's mid June and the lawns are turning golden and the soil is powder. My sources tell me there's a line near I-96 south of which things are wicked dry and north of which the precipitation has been closer to normal. You can see it as your drive north/south.  
     I received a box of new epimediums from Garden Vision mail-order nursery. Beautiful plants. I also received Gentiana scabra, which I don't know how to grow, and a form of Primula sieboldii, a very easy-to-grow primrose that enjoys cult status in its native Japan. I never see it in Michigan gardens, which makes zero sense.
     Speaking of well-grown plants, Cathy Melmoth at the Ann Arbor Farmers Market sells the finest plant stock you'll ever find. The roots are always full but never bound in undersized-pots. It's such a pleasure to release them from their pots, gently shake out some of the soil mix, and put them into the ground. And her selection is always choice. She has a base of knowledgeable fans (all avid gardeners) who depend on her for perennials. Of course most people passing through the market would have no reason to know better.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Some June randomness: tree lilac, bristly locust, and how I would like to buy my jeans from Sam's Store

Here's an example of why we love the Japanese tree-lilac: big bushy clumps of white flowers in late spring. This large specimen grows nears an old farmhouse in Chelsea (the trunk is hidden by construction materials).

There is at least one reason why we don't love the Japanese tree lilac. The whiteness of the flowers is short-lived, after which they turn a sickly brown and persist way past the time when the party should be over.  Not sure of this second reason: there seem to be many more specimens in Nichols Arboretum than a sane person would have deliberately planted. Syringa reticulata isn't something I would like to see spread into native plant communities.

I don't recall ever seeing shrubby locusts on sale at the nurseries but occasionally you'll run across them. I first saw the bristly locust (Robinia hispida) growing along a roadside in the pine barrens area of southern New Jersey. Not sure if it is considered a native there, but it's certainly pretty close.

The one in the photo was growing along a side street off Jackson Avenue west of Wagner. Note the bristles on the stem. Note the overall habit: it's a mess of a plant. This species along with the similar clammy locust (Robinia viscosa) are both listed in Michigan Flora as they are very persistent once introduced into cultivation.

No good reason that I know of not to plant the Turkish hazel (Corylus colurna). There is a fabulous old specimen growing in Nichols Arboretum, and I've never seen one yet in cultivation that I didn't like. This young specimen is in someone's yard on Copley Street off Brockman. Beautiful foliage and form.

Daphne mezereum produces very attractive fruit. Quite poisonous, the books tell me. I yank out seedlings by the bushel, but never far from the parent plant. Daphnes do not produce fibrous roots, and they do not transplant readily. Probably easier to just toss the fruit around.

I need new jeans. I would like to buy them from Sam's Store which has been in business on State Street as long as I've lived in the area (at least 40 years). But they never have my size on the shelf, and then the salesman always goes into the basement to check the stock down there, but they always come up short. It's an incentive to order on-line, but I'd rather help maintain a vibrant downtown. July update: I can't find my size on-line either, the reason being that my preferred style has been withdrawn from production.

I'm always thrilled to see the late-arriving Arisaema candidissimum. Usually the flowers face the wrong direction -- I can't figure out how they do this -- but this year I had good luck.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Chinese tulip-tree meets his cousin after million-year separation

A submission from plant expert Tony Reznicek:
Many people realize that the closest relatives of many of our distinctive and unusual deciduous forest plants occur not nearby, or even on the same continent, but on the opposite side of the globe in temperate southeast Asia (China, Japan, and Korea). The list is long, but one of the most striking is that fact that there are only two tulip trees in the world. Our eastern North American (and Michigan) native, and one in China (and northern Vietnam). After waiting for years, this spring was the first flowering for my small Chinese tulip tree, Liriodendron chinense
This is a smaller tree than our native Liriodendron tulipifera, very rare and mostly subtropical in China. The hardiest forms from the northernmost colonies can survive in southern Michigan, but it is exceedingly rare in cultivation. But while it is fun to see the first flowers, compared to our native, they are less attractive. The flowers lack the orange flare on the petals, and they are smaller and duller. That's not a big deal -- nobody really grows tulip trees just for their flowers since they are borne high in the tree, and when the leaves are fully expanded. But the Chinese species does have much larger, more strikingly cleft, leaves which are often purplish tinged when expanding. And besides, you could ask the same question of stamp collectors who treasure the rare misprinted stamps, like ones with the image upside down. They are very rare and so is the Chinese tulip tree. Besides, it is amazing to think of how similar the two species are despite having been separated for many millions of years on opposite sides if the earth, and why this should be. What is so special about tulip trees that their form has not changed despite such a long period with different histories?

Allium karataviense

One reader responded to the description of Allium karataviense as being "stocky, dull-looking overgrown and dandelion-like." He said, "The comment is right on.  But attached is a pic of here is a nice color form of A. karataviense -- 'Red Giant.' It's pretty nice."

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Horned rampion

How much time should I spend thinking up a clever title for a posting like this? I mean, I want to draw the crowds and everything, but what can I honestly say? As far as I know, people in other parts of the world put rampion on their breakfast cereal. One thing that I am certain about is that the 'horned' species (Phyteuma scheuchzeri) is a very easy plant to grow, and I regularly weed out seedlings. Phyteuma is a sizable genus from Europe and Asia, and they are much beloved by rock/alpine gardeners. The odd flowers bear little superficial resemblance to the bellflowers (Campanula) which are close cousins.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Forelock and Bletilla

Here's a humurous Allium that I had never seen before. It is sold under the name 'Forelock,' and I think it's just beginning to develop into its potential -- if the plant grows according to plan, the flowers on top will extend vertically to produce an unruly tuft "looking a bit like Tom Hank's buddy Wilson in the movie Castaway," according to the catalog promise. An updated picture to come . .

I paid big bucks for this hardy orchid from Asia named Bletilla striata. After I put it in the ground, I never saw it again, but at least one Ann Arbor resident is doing fine with it. She has two patches. The one in the shadier spot seems healthier, whereas the flowers are somewhat bleached in the patch that receives more exposure to the sun. That's a tip for you all.

The Star-of-Bethlehem (Ornithogalum umbellatum) is a non-smelly Allium relative that spreads so aggressively that many people may shy away from planting anything in the genus. There are some good ones, though. O. magnum, for example, grows to 3' or so, sports nice white flowers, and mixes well in the perennial bed without being a nuisance. This species, along with the Allium above, is available for cheap from While you're shopping check out as well.