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, June 29, 2015

Four White (and One Orange) Perennials for Late June

This post was a bit difficult for me because I was unable to identify any of these white-flowered specimens without consulting the internet, my library, and my local plant expert.

To the right is a gorgeous member of the large Polygonum genus, which includes bindweeds, knotweeds, buckwheat and much more. Polygonum has a bad rap because of the so-called Mexican bamboo (P. cuspidatum) which is neither Mexican nor a bamboo. One thing it is is very robust, so much so that it is officially unwelcome in Michigan. At one time a mail-order nursery sold cultivars of the species with a special note: 'Shipping is $10.00, or we can just give the plant your address and let it grow its way to you.'

The pictured plant is Polygonum polymorphum, which forms a nice fat clump but doesn't run wild. I've run into other Polygonum types that are deserving of wider use.

Next up is Filipendula ulmaria, 'commonly' known as meadowsweet or mead-wort. Certainly it is more commonly known in Europe and western Asia where it is native. Us North Americans are more familiar with our native F. rubra, Queen of the Prairie. I found this specimen growing in the middle of a shade garden in the 'Waterhill' neighborhood of Ann Arbor. Nobody was home so I took the liberty of entering the garden to get a close view. 

OK, this one to the right is really not for the garden. It is the common crown-vetch (Securigera varia) and I found it besides the parking lot at Knights Market. The thing is: I always thought the flowers of this species were purple (or at least purple-ish). Tony Reznicek set me straight. Whites and pinks happen. 

This plant was introduced for erosion control and it certainly does a satisfactory job in that respect. The problem is it keeps spreading and is very hard to get rid of. 

I don't know what the plant to the left is. I bought it from Kathy Melmoth at the Ann Arbor Farmers Market. She has retired and I don't know how to reach her. I presume it is a Michigan native, since that was her specialty. Also it is a composite. I was unable to match it to anything in or the second volume of The Random House Book of Perennials by Phillips and Rix (a great series to have on you shelf!). So please, dear reader, help me out. Or do I have to go back to Tony Reznicek . . .

The unfortunately-named butterfly-"weed" makes for the nicest orange in the plant world, IMHO. If I recall correctly, I received the one pictured from a grower in upstate New York, and it has more yellow that the usual type. It is also flowering much earlier than the other specimens in my garden. Butterfly-weed is a species of milkweed, Asclepias tuberosa. You'll see a lot of it in the environs of Pickerel Lake. 

And for comic relief, I offer the picture to the left. Yeah, sure, some company probably sprayed an herbicide, but how sad! I'm so used to seeing these signs posted by companies treating lawns or spraying trees. Here someone has applied chemicals to kill everything -- in an effort to beautify the parking lot. Why not plant some butterfly-weed!

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Mid-June and the Serviceberries are Ripe

A great year for serviceberry fruit! My family has been enjoying them in front of the Bank of Ann Arbor on Fifth Ave, at the entrance to the Quality 16 Theaters, and most recently, thanks to a friend, in the form of a delicious pie. This friend has four trees, which have yielded enough fruit for three pies. The biggest challenge is to beat out the waxwings, robins and catbirds.

In the odd chance you are unfamiliar with this fruit, it comes from a common native small tree that grows in the understory in our oak-hickory woods. It's also become quite popular as a landscape plant. There are a handful of species in the genus (Amelanchier). Unfortunately the tree suffers from having no good common name: serviceberry, shadbush, juneberry, etc. There is a northern species that is now being cultivated for fruit production in the Traverse City area. Growers are calling is 'saskatoon.'

So what else is going on at this time of year? One thing I have noticed is the expanded use of the Asian tree lilac (Syringa reticulata) as a street tree in Ann Arbor. I think it is unfortunate. The flowers have a very pleasant spell, but they are only attractive for a very short period before the white flowers begin to turn a rotten yellow-brown. I'm not positive, but I believe this plant has spread into the woods around Nichols Arboretum. It wouldn't surprise me to see it show up more often where it might be unwelcome.

Kousa dogwood (Cornus kousa) is putting on a fabulous show (much later than our native flowering dogwood). The picture to the right shows only a small portion of the crown of the tree by my house. I am unable to get a good picture because of the intense contrast between the white flowers and the dark shade underneath. Trust me, it's fantastic. AND, I have half a dozen babies that have sprouted from seeds underneath. Let me know if you would like one.

It's only mid June but the leaves of many crabapples are already showing signs of the leaf disease called apple scab. Leaves are beginning to fall, and trees will be barren by August. If you like crabapples, the best thing to do is to plant a cultivar that is resistant to the fungus. If you are stuck with an old-fashioned cultivar, the disease can be held in check by a couple fungicide sprays when the leaves first begin to develop. My company GreenStreet Tree Care sprays a large number of them every spring. In fact, spraying to control fungal diseases on crabapples, pines and spruces makes up about 80% of our chemical interventions. 

Sunday, June 14, 2015

A Modest Geranium Goes Rogue

I probably first encountered the cute little Geranium robertianum on the shores of Lake Huron at Drummond Island. It's a small-flowered cranesbill, known 'commonly' as herb-robert. Historically it was first collected in Michigan on Mackinac Island, and then later along the shores of the Great Lakes. It is a circumpolar species, found in parts of northern North America, Europe and Asia.

. . . And then, there is was, growing in profusion along the side of the driveway at a home on E Delhi in Ann Arbor. Ignoring the fact that it appeared to be quite rambunctious, I brought one home. Now I am chasing it down the hillside with a backpack full of Roundup, and pulling out specimens hidden under the leaves of mayapple and wild ginger.

What gives? It is a plant of tremendous fecundity and it has been in Michigan for thousands of years. Why haven't I encountered it locally before?

I e-mailed Tony Reznicek of the University of Michigan Herbarium. His reply: "Well, you have the same problem that I have. I think I got my Geranium robertianum from H. E., and am pretty sure it is the European form. It is somewhat invasive for me, but not so much in woodland shade. I doubt it will be another garlic mustard.

"I should note that farther north in Michigan, Geranium robertianum appears to be a native of rich woods, presumably a different form that your plant and mine."

So that's the likely story: it may be a native species, but there are a variety of forms found in its huge range. It seems we've introduced an aggressive genotype from overseas into the local flora. And now I can't decide how aggressive I should be about eradicating it from my property. How native is it? How important is it to protect the woodlands from this "newcomer"? Is it inevitable? Does it matter? If it gets out it will change the character of my woods, but it is not at all clear that it will outcompete anything native. After all, other than Virginia creeper, mayapple and the native oaks, hickories, cherries, etc., what I gave growing in my woods consists of Asian bittersweet, garlic mustard, weedy celandine, buckthorns, autumn olive, burning bush, japanese barberry, etc. -- all things that I wish would just disappear. I'm tempted to say "Go for it, little geranium." I don't know if I can stop it. I pulled up one large clump, threw it over my shoulder, came back a week later and found that it had re-rooted itself. 

Wikipedia tells me that in the state of Washington, it is known as Stinky Bob and classified as a noxious week.