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:

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Can't hardly believe it's December already

It's December, and this is what my side yard looked like just a couple of days ago. Quite a spectacular mess from my big-leaved magnolia, for sure. OK, the leaves are big, but at least I can take comfort in the fact that they are relatively few. My leaf vacuum is JUST barely able to suck them up.

Someone who knows the evergreen(ish) viburnums might be able to identify this plant growing in front of one the administration buildings on Thompson. I assume the species epithet begins with the letters "rhytid" but that's as far as I've ever gotten with this group of unusual and impressive shrubs. Maybe they are a little gloomy, but they deserve much wider use, in my humble opinion.

This honeysuckle no doubt started as a volunteer from a seed shat out by a robin. I placed the 8-1/2 x 11" sheet of paper in the photo for scale.  The corner of this yard is now a no-man's-land.

A gotta say: the iPhone can take nice enough pictures, but it never does justice to large objects.  It invariably makes the largest landscape objects appear positively puny.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Pawpaws, magnolia leaves and the new Miller Road

A funny thing happened last week: someone mentioned that they had recently discovered (and enjoyed!) this blog. In recognition of this unusual sign of appreciation, I hereby post a few more pictures and thoughts since I last visited this space in September. You want a post dedicated in your honor? Just send me a note!

Wow! On Sept 20, I saw these pawpaw fruits growing on a tree on Westport off Newport Rd. My pawpaw tree has flowered but has never set fruit. I think the trick is obvious: grow more than one specimen, thus assuring good cross pollination. That's what this individual did. Two of the trees were barren, one was laden. Some of the fruit hung just inches from the ground.
In November I went on a hunt for pawpaw fruit in the wild. My son and I checked many hundreds of stems along the lower Huron River, and found not a one. The trees still had their leaves, but I suppose we very well could have been too late.

Yes, that is a distinct possibility. My recollection is that the fruit is ripe at about the time the leaves drop, but it was a very unusual season: never seen so much leafiness in the trees on a Halloween night.

Hurrah! Miller Road is open again to two-way traffic. A nice feature that was integrated into the upgraded road is the addition of 'rain-gardens' between the sidewalk and street. The idea of course is for these gardens to absorb some of the rain-water that would otherwise all rush into the storm drains. It will be interesting to see how they look mid-season next year. It certainly will require a type of maintenance that cannot be met with a lawn-mower.

And on Lexington in the northeast part of town, I braked for a lone osage-orange in the middle of the road. I got out of my car and did a search for the parent. Couldn't find one. If this were someone's idea of a joke, it would a bit obscure IMHO. 

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Local rock garden society meeting and plant-sale set for Sept 21; Houstonia canadensis

If you want to truly expand your knowledge the plants world; if you are interested in unusual plants, the flora of Michigan, daphnes, Asian woodland species, alpine plants, etc., etc.; if you want to pick the brains of some of the most accomplished, knowledgeable, and friendliest bunch of plant lovers in southern Michigan, I strongly recommend that you hook up with the Great Lakes Chapter of the North American Rock Garden Society. The organization is having its fall garden tour and plant sale/exchange in Ann Arbor on Sept 21 at 11:30 a.m. Shoot me an e-mail and I'll give you specifics.

Meanwhile, I hereby reproduce an article by member Don LaFond from the just-released September newsletter. The topic: Houstonia canadensis (Canadian summer bluet).

"It's getting tougher to grow alpines in Michigan. The weather is getting hotter and more humid. So to find a native pant that at least looks like an alpine cushin, and is easily grown, well that's just grand.

H. canadensis growing up north (from
"Most of us know the little bluets Houstonia caerulea and H. serpyllifolia, found usually in wet areas, sometimes creating wide swathes of color in the spring. In my gravel pit garden I can't seem to keep the little blue flowers alive. H. canadensis, on the other hand, isn't blue, but will grow in dry sand. As a matter of fact if you grow H. canadensis in a dry and lean position it resemble an alpine cushion with white flowers on 2-3" stems. Some flowers have a pink blush, so maybe a good pink will be found someday.

"I was first introduced to Houstonia canadensis on a sandy gravelly bank in the back end of a cemetery in southern Michigan. I have also seen it growing in very wet areas. Both times it was growing among other plants and grasses and under shrubs. In wet areas it rambles about, nudging its flowers up through the herbage in a polka dot fashion. When not in bloom it becomes almost unnoticeable. Unlike in the wild where it always seems to be mixed up with other plants, when growing it in a garden setting without as much competition, it can make a pretty good substitute for an alpine cushion. The leaves are 1/2" long and 1/4" wide forming a cushion to 6" across. I grow it in the ground and in troughs. Grown with an Asperula, their white and pink flowers bloom together and make great friends. In the fall the cushions turn a nice rusty red and sometimes rebloom to boot. Individual cushions don't last too many years, but its seedlings are always found in my garden. Perhaps for the gardener who is a bit of a control freak it might be a bit too aggressive, but for those of use who are a little more laissez-faire, it's great plant."

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Spigelia and some hydrangeas for September

Spigelia: I remember planting this strange native of Ohio and parts south many years ago. Never saw it again. That was before I knew anything water, soil and those other components that support plant life. It's an uncommon plant of moist soils and wooded stream banks, and I was delighted to see it in flower at someone's home in the Ann Arbor Hills this morning. It was a new acquisition for the home owner, and it will be interesting to see how it develops in the coming years. If you, dear reader, grow this successfully, send some pictures! The full name is Spigelia marilandica, and it is in the mostly tropical Loganiceae family (no species are native to Michigan).

Also in this person's yard: a 15-year-old elm, barely six feet in height, originally bought at 50% off from Gee Farms in Stockbridge.

I've never put my attention on hydrangeas, having always considered them the opposite of rock garden plants (where I started my gardening journeys), but check these out. The pictures are from three plants. I do believe that these are all the same type of flower, just at different phases of development.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Late August 2013: apple trees are busting; pokers and frogs

2012 was a bust for apple producers because of a late freeze. This year apple and crabapple trees are releasing their pent-up energy by producing enormous quantities of fruit -- which had lead to many trees falling apart under the heavy load. Which has lead to a reporter from the Ann Arbor Observer tracking me down to establish the veracity and extent of the phenomenon. I doubt it's a problem for orchardists because they always keep their trees low, open, and severely trimmed; but if you have an old apple tree, you might want to thin out the branches or the fruit to prevent damage.

This is my second Knifophia picture of the year. Someone explain why we don't see more use of the large and spectacular South African genus. I've heard it rumored that these 'red-hot-pokers' are not to everyone's tastes, but c'mon people, what more could you want from a perennial this late in the summer? Lots of nice pictures in the fabulous Phillips and Rix series of books on garden plants. This one might have a name like 'ice princess,' but I don't recall where I got it or anything else about it. 

Dig a hole. Put some plastic pool liner into it. Cover up the edge of the liner with rock. The rest will take care of itself, but it will speed things up if you add some water instead of waiting for the pond to fill naturally from rain-water. I do a small amount of maintenance (chemical and mechanical) to keep the algae in check. I have a little fountain that I bought from Lowe's. I clean out all the leaves and muck at the bottom of the pond once a year. And I get lots of frogs.

The cat is much amused. Occasionally he'll catch a frog and try and play with it like a mouse, but the frog will go limb and not smell so good, so eventually I return the frog to the pond where it swims away.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

The buzz of the Flueggea

You can hear it from most anywhere in the garden: the sound of honeybees going bonkers over the flowers of the Flueggea, perhaps the most obscure of the woody plants in my garden. I don't recall where I got it. At the time it went under the name Securinega, and I don't know what inspired me to buy it. Was it once considered a member of the Euphorbiacea? Am I boring you, dear reader? Now it is listed as being in the Phyllanthaceae, which means absolutely nothing to me except I read they are from the tropics. A large number of the twigs of my Flueggea die in the winter, but they can be easily be snapped off and it's not an unpleasant task. New shoots readily arise from the older wood, and of course the flowers are produced on same year's growth. If I'm not mistaken, Tony Reznicek told me I should be glad to have a male plant, as the females set seed which germinate in obnoxious numbers. 

The flower heads of garden Delphiniums get huge and heavy. How should they be managed so that they stay straight and don't break off?

Schizophragma ('hyrdangea vine') really outshined the climbing hydrangea (Hydrangea anomala ssp. petiolaris) in my garden this year. It is now all the way up into the crown of a wild black cherry. It is a stunning display that be enjoyed from a hundred feet away.

What a color on this garden monarda! And foliage that is mildew free.

The cones on a douglas-fir as of July 4. Note the mouse tails extending from under the cone scales.

Nice fruit on a recently-planted hophornbeam (Ostrya) along St Francis street.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Red hot pokers on a Fourth of July

I have read that some people take offense to the kniphofias on aesthetic grounds, but not me. This classic 'red hot poker' is growing on Spring St in Ann Arbor. That's one exciting flower IMHO. I've tried growing some selections, but I don't have enough sun and my garden is poorly organized. Some yellow ones appeared last year but this season they seem to be MIA. Enough of my sob story. There are 70 or more species, all from Africa, and many growable in Michigan. If you have any in your garden, send me pictures and whatever information you have on them!

I'm not sure if anyone deliberately purchases and plants this bellflower. It has naturalized in parts of Ann Arbor, but it sort of seems unfair to classify it as a weed. So, what is it? Is it Campanula rapunculoides (creeping bellflower)? For some reason I always thought it was a species of Adenophora, but this genus is not listed in the definitive Michigan Flora. I suppose I could look at it closely and key it out . . I'll get back to you on this!

Friday, June 28, 2013

Three trees in summer color

One doesn't see a lot of true chesnuts (Castanea) around. I can think of two good reasons. The burs are intensely prickly (which explains why indigenous Americans invented moccasins). And as much as I want to enjoy it, the odor of the flowers is pervasive and pretty gosh-darn awful. The specimen to the right was photographed this morning in Grosse Pointe. In Ann Arbor there is one off N Fourth near Kerrytown and another near the north end of Spring St. Just follow your nose. Dear readers, please send in addresses of other flowering specimens.

Tartarian maple (Acer tatarica) is putting on a nice show right now. The leaves of this small-stature species are mostly unlobed and resemble those of mulberry. It is a close relative of the more common Amur maple (A. ginnala), whose leaves are deeply three-lobed. I note that Tartarian maple is included in Rehder's Manual of Cultivated Trees and Shrubs, written almost 100 years ago, so this plant is not new to cultivation. I think you're most likely to run into this species as a recently-planted street tree. This one was photographed on Washington St in Chelsea.

Right now the golden-train tree (Koelreutaria paniculata) is stopping traffic on N. Fourth just north of Kerrytown. I wasn't the only one taking pictures of this specimen. If you want to grow this at home, consider collecting a seedling growing in the nearby shrubbery.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Big bad gypsy moth in Dexter; Arum and chestnut oak

Never saw this coming: nearly 100% defoliation of white oaks in Dexter due to a sudden explosion in the population of gypsy moths. What is strange to me is how localized this is. I have noticed no caterpillars in Chelsea. Just west of Ann Arbor, I saw a medium amount of damage, which probably would have gone unnoticed if the insect droppings hadn't been falling into a swimming pool.

An entomologist at MSU asked me and others to keep an eye on the caterpillar as it morphs into its final stages before pupation. With a high density of insects, the population is prone to collapse because the recent rains are favorable to the development and spread of an insect-killing fungus, Entomophaga maimaiga. The fungus was deliberately introduced into the environment for the purpose of controlling gypsy moth, and it has been doing an excellent job for the past 24 years.   

Enough of that! Let's look at some plants: One doesn't see Arum italicum in gardens very often, but it's an easy plant to grow, and it seeds around at a healthy but manageable rate. It's mostly grown for its foliage (absent in mid-summer!), but the flowers can make a nice effect. This picture was taken a couple weeks ago. (Also note the yellow spider-spaceship flower from an unidentified ever-flowering(!) Epimedium).

I was on the MSU campus recently and pulled my car over to check out an unfamiliar recently-planted street tree. Such luck: it still had its label, "Quercus montana." I thought I knew my oaks but I had never heard of this one. Turns out Q. montana is synonymous with Quercus prinus, the chestnut oak, which is a major species that I know from Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Previously it was listed in Michigan Flora as being native to Michigan, one specimen having been 'located' in Waterloo Recreation Area. (My guess is that the specimen was actually an exceptionally large dwarf-chestnut oak, Quercus prinoides.)
Chestnut oak along the Jersey shore
Before I test my readers' patience any longer, let me say that chestnut oak is a lovely tree, it has distinct blocky bark, and kudos for the folks at MSU for planting it.

I've never been certain about the identity of a certain tree-forming viburnum that one sees around town, particularly around old houses in older neighborhoods. This one is at a residence on Geddes Rd, and I've seen others on Pineridge on the west side and also around Grosse Pointe. The attractive fruit starts as a pink-red but turns very dark with age. My guess is that it is Viburnum sielboldii, which my old reference books say can grow into a tree.
I don't recall ever seeing it for sale at a nursery. Perhaps one day it will become the fashion once again, just need someone to tidy it up a little and then slap a fancy cultivar name onto it.

The sad story of spruce trees in the landscape

A common, but not pretty, sight
Spruce trees are the most problematic of all conifers in our landscape right now. There are so many factors contributing to their decline that it has become nearly impossible to tease them apart. New pathogens seem to be discovered annually, and the unusual weather conditions in recent years have further complicated everything. I will try to break down our understanding of spruce decline into environmental and biotic factors.

Our environment is not good for spruces, and it is getting worse. Essentially there are no spruces native to southeast Michigan. Most of the species in the landscape come from mountainous habitats where the air is dry and the soils are cool and reliably moist.Two severe droughts in the last three summers have been hard on landscape spruces. Muggy spring weather contributes to the rapid spread of fungal diseases. Our clay soils are good for sugar maples, but difficult for the roots of spruces to penetrate and thrive in.  

Diseases old and new: insects are (in general) easy on spruces, but the fungal diseases are numerous and their numbers are growing. Some of the diseases are familiar: Rhizosphaera needle-cast causes older needles (i.e.,those not at the ends of the twigs) to turn purplish and subsequently fall off. Sometimes the purple discoloration, which usually shows up in late summer, is shocking.What remains after the infected needles drop are thin, unhealthy-looking specimens with needles only at the ends of the branches.Norway spruce is usually not badly affected by this fungus.

Cytospora canker refers to a fungal disease in which the pathogen resides under the bark of twigs and branches, and causes entire branches to die back to the trunk. Usually the lower branches are first to die, but sometimes the disease begins in the upper crown or at multiple points. Often a white resin will drip from the infected branches. Trimming off the infected branches back to the trunk will reduce inoculum and slow the spread of the disease.

Whereas spruce decline is widely recognized to be occurring throughout the Midwest, there is uncertainty and debate about the extent to which other pathogens might be involved. A species of Phomopsis fungus once know only from nurseries has now been found in the landscape. Some pathologists believe it is a key causal factor in spruce decline in Michigan. Spraying specimen trees in spring may help contain this pathogen, but no studies have yet been conducted to test this. This Phomopsis disease may be the one most aggressively attacking Norway spruce.

Additional suspects have been identified. One was given the charming name SNEED (spruce needle drop), but last I heard the consensus was that it is not a disease-causing organism. There are others, and it gets very messy.

The challenge of disease control: “Fungicide” is a misnomer. A more precise term would be “fungistat.” Those products called fungicides do not kill fungi, but rather prevent spores from germinating or retard the growth of mycelia (the fungal mass).

With insects, control is relatively easy: see a bug, spray it, and it rolls on its back, kicks up its six legs and dies. Most commonly fungicides used in the landscape only act as prophylactics. Given that the fungal spores need water for germination, disease control usually involves spraying the fungicide in between rainy periods, so that when the environment is conducive to disease spread, the fungicide is in place to act as a preventative. As long as the environmental conditions favor disease spread, fungicides need to be reapplied approximately every couple of weeks in order to guarantee control.

In the real world of landscape plant management, it is only practical to spray two or three times a season, and those applications are timed to coincide when disease spread is most likely. With crabapples, a couple sprays in early spring are sufficient since the time of disease spread is very predictable. It is much more of a challenge in the case of spruce trees: for example, needle-cast diseases are most likely to spread in the spring, but weather conditions can allow their spread to occur in summer or even fall. Also different diseases might spread at different times of the year. The plain truth is that the more often the trees are sprayed with fungicide, the more likely it is to achieve disease control.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Southern blackhaw: Viburnum rufidulum

The cranky old guy at the nursery off Taylor Rd insisted it was Viburnum prunifolium, but the label begged to differ. I believe the label. Native to more southern parts of the eastern U.S., V. rufidulum is an attractive plant and vigorous grower. It is closely-related and similar to V.p., but it flowers a bit later and is less 'stiffy' in habit -- assuming the ones in my garden are typical representatives.

By now I expect I've lost my readers. I'll try again. There is a species of viburnum called Viburnum prunifolium. The specific epithet suggests the leaves are 'cherry-like.' True! Its native range squeaks into the very southern part of Michigan. The flower clusters are white and lack fragrance. Its shiny clean leaves and ease of cultivation make it a good candidate for a screen. Also it sends up suckers, so from one plant you can make many. Fun! Common name: black-haw.

V. rufidulum flowers
A little south, but overlapping in range, is the southern black-haw, Viburnum rufidulum. I stumbled upon it at the nursery referred to above. It is a little different and it, too, is a worthy species for the landscape (though unfortunately lacking the wonderful fragrance of other viburnums).

The fruit of V. rufidulum you can eat. It tastes prune-y. In fact it tastes just like the fruit of yet another species of viburnum, the nannyberry (V. lentago). says that these two species are closely related and sometimes hard to distinguish from each other. So now are you confused? I'm not because I've got all three growing within spitting distance. I love the viburnums.

Inglorious poppies

On North Ashley, photo taken yesterday

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Localized freeze/frost damage on a big list of woody plants

Healthy vs damaged leaves on shingle oak
Apparently it happened on Mother's Day. I didn't notice freeze damage on anything at my house in Chelsea, but my partners and I have seen extensive damage to a wide host of plants, including a variety of oak species (a big surprise to me, since they are generally so late to produce leaves), japanese maple (for the second year in a row), mulberry, tulip-tree, mountain-ash (ugly, ugly), sycamores, honeylocust, and walnut. We're debating amongst ourselves why the maples came out relatively unscathed. If you drive down Miller Rd west of town, check out all the big oaks near where the road crosses Honey Creek.

Surprise pawpaw in Ypsilanti

It was right there on Collegewood, right on the side of the road, a lush forest of flower-laden pawpaw stems. I have little doubt that these stems share a common root system, and therefore the whole thing should be considered a single plant.

Often solitary pawpaws fail to produce fruit. But on this one there were lots of these tiny little 'banana; clusters hanging from the tree. I'm no expert but I imagine that most of the 'banana' units will abort, leaving the remaining ones to develop into plump pawpaw fruit. I'll be back in October. And kindly forget I told you about this treasure. Anyway, it's right in front of someone's house, and the homeowner likely will want first pick.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

April 30 in my garden

There are two times of the year when I most appreciate mayapple: when they first emerge as ghostly shrouds in the spring, and again in June when the fruit ripens -- eat them when they are at the softest and about to drop from the stem.

Another common native that is great for the woodland garden: dog-tooth violet or trout lily (Erythronium americanum). There is a white-flowered species, but it closes up before I get home from work to photograph it.

The inexpensive Fritillaria uva-vulpis unfortunately is among the least worthy for the garden. Oh, but it is easy to grow -- some keep returning despite being buried under a yard of leaf-mulch and moved repeatedly. It is the second frit to flower in the spring in my garden.

Since I hardly have time to take photographs, I certainly don't have time to figure out which species of Epimedium this one is -- it's the first and only species in flower today, but others are close behind. I think this is one of the very common selections available at your corner grocery.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Close encounters

Welcome back, friends. Finally some spring has sprung. Chorus frog in full choral mode. Snowdrops have melted. So I took some pictures:

Hellebore and Corydalis solida up close;
Add some irises, cyclamen and rocks for
the long shot