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, April 7, 2014

A Sure Cure for Winter Blues

One of the things most of us garden type people like to do come the first few warm weeks of spring is to patrol the lawn and beds looking for any sort of hopeful sign that life is waking up.  For most, this means getting ecstatic over even the first dainty crocus that pops up, while still others enjoy snowdrops or similar early spring bloomers.  Crazy native plant people, like your post author here, go nuts over the arrival of Skunk Cabbage (Symplocarpus Foetidus) in both our local natural mucky areas and even some gardens.  For some early powerful color, though, nothing punches winter in the face more than the aptly named orchid iris, otherwise known as Iris Histroides.

I mean come on, look at the thing.  Even the most charming orange crocuses simple pale in comparison with the deep blue of the orchid iris.  This particular cultivar, 'Lady Beatrix Stanley' (which I recommend), is perhaps the best of the bunch.  Even from a few houses down, the flowers are a distinctly noticeable new blue jeans sort of blue that just begs passers by to take a second look at the cultivated wonders of the domestic landscape job. 

Those who sneak a closer look are rewarded by this wonderful white blotches and yellow veins.  Indeed, if there was to be an official spring mascot flower of Ann Arbor, it would have to be this appropriately hued blue and maize treasure.  Not only does the color scheme work, but the plant happens to love our assortment of local soils, anything from our pesky brown clay to our sandier reaches.  Whatever their soil, they are definitely in love with the drier side of life, and they can handle rock gardens very nicely as during their dormant season they neither need nor prefer much in the way of water.  This is probably because they, like their close relatives Iris Reticulata (so close, in fact, that they are in the same sub-genus and not usually distinguished between), come from the drier reaches of the eastern Black Sea, i.e.Turkey and the Caucasus mountains.  That said, they work just as well in beds or even dry, exposed parts of the lawn.  All in all, a great plant to help fire us up for our wonderful springs.

Post submitted by Brent Kryda

Thursday, April 3, 2014

A look back on winter 2014

submitted by Brent Kryda in South Lyon:

These past few months have been brutal for just about everyone, the gardeners among us most of all.  As Guerin pointed out in his last post, us zone denial types have certainly taken a hit; had I been a bit wiser and paid attention to the weather rumors and long term forecasts, I would not have given my Magnolia Grandiflora a trial run in the ground this season.  That said, Guerin also mentioned that the snow that came along to blanket our landscape would provide an amount of insulation for the tender ground-level plants.  To some degree, this was certainly true.  Up here in South Lyon, I managed to lose none of my zone 6 plants!  The most noticeable victory was the survival, without any burn whatsoever, of an Agave Parryi.

One of the most noticeable defeats, for many of us I am sure, was how much sun we did get this winter.  While we Michiganders may joke that the sun goes down one night in November not to be seen again until April, the truth is that we had our fair share of bright blue days this past frigid season.  This was murder on our broadleaved evergreens.  While I saw many rhododendrons survive the worst of those terrible lows, most of them have since been scorched in the southerly direction.  I've been growing them for years and have a great deal of experience with the evils of winter sun, but it took 2014 for me to really get schooled in the fact that some things don't like southern exposure. 

They at least have the benefit of curling their leaves into pencils; certain hollies and boxwood did not do nearly as well.  The truth is that winter 2014 was very cold for a very long time, with few thaws to speak of.  This meant that our evergreen friends were baking in the sun and did not have a means of replenishing their dessicated foliage.  Even the shallow rooted rhododendrons could not take a sip from the surface level soil, because it never had a chance to thaw even a little.  In some ways, our wonderful borderline zone 6 greater Ann Arbor area was acting more like something hundreds of miles to the north.  Yes, the minimum temperatures for the most part technically stayed above zone 5 lows, but the prolonged cold definitely brought us out of our fake subtropical revery.  I did notice some of the more well-established hollies and even bamboo managed to hold their own, at least in the more sheltered locations.  The many overused Colorado Blue Spruce (Picea Pungens) seem to be looking more robust than ever, as does the completely out of place Jack Pine (Pinus Banksiana) that sprawls over my front lawn.