Monday, December 24, 2012

Merry Christmas from Adams Garden

It's Christmas Eve 2012 and we are getting our first snow of the season here in Knoxville, MD.  This is a great treat for family visiting from Texas.  I don't know if it will last, but it sure is pretty right now!

Merry Christmas and a Joyous New Year to all!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Making Progress, Inch by Inch

As the leaves are falling and the undergrowth is dying back I am able to get a better idea of what is actually growing on my new property.  My goal is to (re)establish a population of native plant species that is consistent with this geographical area (Mid-Atlantic Piedmont).  The first step is to learn what is already present.  That is becoming more difficult as the leaves and flowers of most to the plants are now gone.  I am moving ahead with step two, removing those invasive species that I had already identified.

Ailanthus trees are fast growing, these ca. 10 year old trees were about 25 ft tall.
My most recent targets are the Tree Of Heaven, Ailanthus altissima, that are scattered along the edges of the woodlands.  Spring to early summer are better times to cut this tree down, after the tree has used up much of its stored energy putting out new growth.  However, now that the undergrowth is thinning, I have better access to the trunks to cut them out.  I will need to follow up with cutting and/or treating the new growth in the spring.  The Virginia Department of Forestry has a detailed bulletin on Control and Uses of Tree-of-Heaven. From this I learned that Ailanthus makes decent firewood, so rather than throwing them in the brush pile, I'm stacking up the pieces for use in the fireplace next season (Ailanthus has a high moisture content and needs seasoning to burn well).

Ailanthus wood, when properly dried, can be for building furniture,
but burning it as firewood will be more satisfying
Other species currently on my removal list are the Multiflora Rose, Winged Euonymus and Oriental Bittersweet.  I will thin the thickets now to make them more accessible so that I can cut-and-treat the main stems in the best season (late summer for the Rose and Euonymus, and nearly anytime for the Bittersweet, as long as the ground isn't frozen).

Sycamores along Israel Creek.  
While I was clearing the trees I realized just how beautiful the bare trees can be.  The the native Sycamores, Platanus occidentalis, have strikingly white branches against the brown backdrop of the woodlands. The white bark of these trees made be think of Paper Birches, more common in the northern forests; although the Sycamores have a very different branching form.  I have also begun to appreciate the forms of the other trees, especially when the sun is low and they are silhouetted in the dim light.

Beautiful color at sunrise on a partly cloudy morning...

...but ground fog creates a more dramatic effect.

I was very surprized to find a few blooms on a Coral Honeysuckle, Lonicera sempervirens.  These vines are everywhere, but this one close to the house is the only one in bloom right now.  Since we didn't move in until late September, we missed the peak blooming of these vines earlier in the summer.  I'm looking forward to seeing how many of these vines put out blooms.

For the rest of the winter my main chore will be to continue cutting back the thickets of invasive shrubs as I make out my shopping list for native shrubs to replace them in the spring.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Getting Aquainted

View upstream toward Harper's Ferry, WV a few days before Hurricane Sandy.
We've been in the new house for a little over a month now and we are starting to get into a new rhythm.  We are about a mile from the Potomac River, near Harper's Ferry.  As the leaves are falling it is easier to see the landscape features on the grounds and also identify some of the plants that were previously inaccessible through the brush.

The woolly leaves of Sweet Everlasting are similar
to those of Pearly Everlasting (see below). 
As I was tramping through the less explored areas, one familiar plant that stood out for me was the annual, Sweet Everlasting, Pseudognaphalium obtussifolium.  This can be distinguished by its nearly pure white flowers, compared to the yellow-centered flowers of the similar looking Pearly Everlasting.

The flowers of Pearly Everlasting have yellow centers.

The reddish-brown stipe of Ebony Spleenwort
is not as rigid as those of Christmas Fern.

As I made my way into the ravine at the back of the property I saw some familiar Christmas Ferns growing in the shade.  I turned around and saw another similar looking fern that turned out to be Ebony Spleenwort, Asplenium platyneuron.  These are both 'once-cut' ferns with boot-shaped leaves (pinnae), but the spleenwort has a reddish brown stem (stipe) and is generally more delicate in appearance.

One of the projects I have in mind is to 'develop' a portion of the property as a meadow area.   I was planning on covering the area with cardboard (a material I have an ample supply of after unpacking) to kill off the existing lawn.  However, a good portion of this area has been going wild for a couple of years and, on closer examination, I have found many of the desired grasses already present.  Now I think I will take a different approach, rather than starting with a clean slate, I will augment the existing native species and edit out the invasives.  This will be a tedious job, but  it would be a shame to remove the indigenous gene pool and replace them with the same species from some other ecoregion.  Currently in this meadow to be there are a lot of Multiflora Rose.  There also appear to be some other rose species.  I will need to wait for some fresh growth to make a determination of which rose is which.  
Multiflora Rose can be identified by the comb-like stipules.
Most native roses less complex stipules.
Anyone familiar with this plant?

There are a number of wildflowers growing in this area.  One that was still in bloom in October is what I believe to be a species of Helianthus.  I would appreciate any thoughts as to which species this is.  Since there was only one plant in bloom, I did not want to generalize too much based on one (partial) flower.  I'm leaning toward Jerusalem Artichoke, H. tuberosus, but there are so many other possibilities.

Some of the native grasses that are well represented in this meadow area are Little Bluestem, Switch Grass, and Deer Tongue Grass.  In the deciduous woods there are many clumps of Spreading Sedge, Carex laxiculmis.

Little Bluestem comes into its glory in the fall
when the seedheads glow in the low sunlight
Deer Tongue Grass stands out among the other grasses in the sunny meadow with its relatively short, broad blades.  The plume-like seed heads are lost early in the season.  
Clumps of Spreading Sedge are scattered
through the moist deciduous woodlands.

Fall projects include clearing out some of the fallen trees and thinning the River Grape vines and other overgrown shrubs from around the trees.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Late Summer Round-up

Wildflower border in early September.

As summer is winding down for us, it is still going strong for the summer and fall-blooming wildflowers.  In this border on the south side of the house the flowers are sharing space with a few varieties of tomatoes.  Notable here is the Brown-eyed Susan, Rudbeckia triloba.  This plant is also growing in part sun, in dryish soils (I have some doing well near a Norway Maple, but it gets 3-4 hours of sun), but fades out early in deep shade.  Also in this border is the annual Crowned Beggarticks, Bidens coronata.  These are of a more manageable size, and bloom earlier, than the Bearded Beggarticks, B. aristosa, that I have grown in the past.

One plant that is expanding its presence in the border is Texas Sage, Salvia coccinea.  This southeastern native annual has managed to overwinter in the warmer locations here in my northeastern garden and in the pots where I have reused the soil.  The original planting was done 3 years ago, but that doesn't mean that a really cold winter will finish them off.

The bees access the nectar at the base of the flower

The Smooth Asters, Symphiotrichum laeve, have been blooming for about a week.  I don't usually see them blooming with the Black-eyed Susan's, since they usually get dried out here in late August.  I started out with only a couple of these asters, but now they a showing up all around the garden.  Another plant that has adapted well to this residential site is Wild Petunia, Ruellia humilis.  The tiny seeds of these plants are finding their way into pavement cracks and then growing with some success.  They bloom all summer.  I didn't take a photo because they are looking kind of ratty now as they are going to seed.

One new plant I started this year was Giant Blue Hyssop, Agastache foeniculum.  The natural range for this mid-west native does not extend to Massachusetts.  The indigenous Agastache is the Purple Giant Hyssop, A. scrophulariifolia, and it grows to over 6' tall.  Since I wanted to grow this in a small residential setting I opted for the smaller sized species.  I was happy to see that, despite its youth, it has started to bloom.

This new Agastache is attacting bees already;
however, the nearby Beeblossum gets little traffic.

I have been growing Meadowsweet, Spiraea latifolia (actually Spiraea alba var. latifolia) around the house for over 5 years.  It is long blooming and very attractive to the native bees.  The down side is that it gets very rangy and tends to flop over onto other plantings.  This year, after the first big flush of flowers was spent at the end of June, I pruned a plant back by about half.  Now in September it is blooming again and has a more contained shape.

Probably the best place for this plant is in a hedgerow or a naturalistic planting; however, with some attentive maintenance it can work in an informal residential design.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Welcome to Maryland

We just closed on our new property in Maryland.  It is in what I consider to be a pretty rural area near Harper's Ferry.  This is a new experience for me, since I have always been living in more or less suburban areas.  We have a mix of mowed lawn, unmown/early successional meadow and woodland edge.  Over the next couple of months I will be trying to ID the plants on the site and then deciding how to use the spaces for creating new gardens, plant production and possibly just letting go.

In this posting I'll share some of the plants and insects I've ID'ed so far.  There are a lot of Box Elder, Acer negundo, but they are all growing in thickets and don't stand out too well.  One of the easiest trees to pick out was this Tulip Tree in the mown part of the yard.  The leaves have a distinctive tulip-like shape.  I'm guessing it's about 20 years old.

There are a number of what appear to be ornamental cherries on the property but these are in need of some TLC.  What I'm pretty sure are the native Pin Cherry, Prunus pensylvanica, looks a lot healthier, despite being in a less managed area.

I think this is a Pin Cherry.  The fruits were in small clusters,
rather than on racemes as found on Choke Cherries

Further in the back or the property I noticed the distinctive leaves of a Paw Paw tree.  This small tree/shrub has large drooping leaves.  I did not notice any fruits, but I understand that they are favored by the wildlife, so I may never get a chance.  I did see some Zebra Swallowtail butterflies which use the Paw Paw as a larval host.

The upper wings of this Swallowtail were in constant motion.
Another small native tree/shrub I found appeared to be a Carolina Silverbell.  This was in a shrub border close to the house so I don't know if it was planted or naturally occurring.  I would not have noticed it if it weren't for the winged seed pods.

The previous owner planted a wonderful assortment of flowering plants near the house, including a bunch of Butterfly Bushes.  I will probably replace some of these with native alternatives, but for now we will enjoy the variety of insect pollinators they attract.

I found the website Gardens with Wings to be very helpful in IDing these butterflies.

There are also a number of invasive plants that I will need to deal with.  One of the first we noticed was a displaced mid-western native Catalpa Tree.  These huge leaves really make the seedlings stand out along the roadsides.
This tree is no more.
 Some of the more insidious invasives to deal with are Japanese Stiltgrass and Mile-a-Minute vine.  The annual stilt grass is pretty easy to pull out, the key will be to keep it from reseeding and spreading.  Mile-a-Minute vine is pretty nasty looking and will require more work, and protection, to remove.
Stiltgrass can be recognized by a silvery line
along the mid-vein on the top of the leaf.

I started to pull at this vine, but then I noticed
the barbs all over the plant.  This will have to
wait until I have my gloves on.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Native Plant Firsts....and Lasts

This past month I have celebrated several firsts!  After trying for a number of years I finally brought along several native plants from seed to maturity.

American Lady butterfly may be laying eggs on its host plant?

The American Lady is distinguished from
the similar Painted Lady butterfly by the
colored swath on the outside of its wings 

The first plant is Pearly Everlasting, Anaphalis margaritacea.  I have been able to get these to germinate well, but they languished after transplanting into the garden.  I had success last year by planting them into the bark mulch surrounding the raised vegetable beds.  I think the rather sterile conditions there favored this plant that is common to 'old field' conditions.  (I have had similar disappointments with a related plant Sweet Everlasting, Pseudognaphalium obtussifolium).  The double bonus was that, not only did I get blossoms this year, the plant was visited by an American Lady butterfly (Vanessa virginiensis).  Pearly Everlasting is a larval host for that species of butterfly.

The second first, as it were, was having the Woodland Sunflower, Helianthus divaricatus, come into bloom under my Norway Maple.  These plants were not particularly difficult to grow, it just took a long time to find a commercial seed source.  These did take a year in the ground to get established before sending up blooms this summer.

Brown-eyed Susan growing 3-4' tall in a sunny flower bed.

The Brown-eyed Susan, Rudbeckia triloba, was easier to find as seed but they were more difficult to get to germinate.  Moist stratification in soil-less mix for 60 days gave better results than using damp sand for a similar time.  (Since two methods were tried in successive years, cold storage for a year may have helped as well.)  These Rudbeckia did take a year to get established before blooming.  I have them growing in both sun and shade (Norway Maple), and in a pot; they are all doing well.

The easiest plant to bring along was the Partridge Pea, Chamaecrista fasciculata.  This annual germinated well after moist stratification and treatment with a bacterial innoculum that gives this legume its nitrogen fixing capability.  I have these growing in dry sunny to partly sunny locations, and they are all doing well.  This plant may be a solution to a road-side bed that I have been working with.  They tolerate dry road-side conditions and as an annual, they should be resistant to the effects of snow plows!

The yellow Partridge Pea here is holding its own with the
crab grass and inhospitable conditions

While not a first, we were thrilled to see this Eastern Tiger Swallowtail drop by our deck plantings yesterday and I wanted to share this action shot.    This butterfly was the first native insect I've seen to go after the Lantana and totally ignore the Mealy-cup Sage.

The reason that all of these firsts are also 'Lasts' for me is that we are in the process of moving south, down to Maryland.  This is an exciting move for us.  We will be getting quite a bit more land.  There will be room for larger native plant gardens and hopefully the opportunity to do some limited production of underutilized native plants that I can used in my design business.  So as we go through this transition I will be blogging about my new environs, the native plant communities there and the new challenges to establishing new plantings in the woods.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Early Summer Blooms

Bees visit American Bellflower in both sunny
and shady locations
Now that we are getting into the hot days of summer, blooming of many native plants and the associated pollinator activity are picking up.  Here at home I saw my first Monarch Butterfly in many years.  You'll have to take my work for it, since it was gone by the time I got my camera.

One plant that has been blooming for awhile is the American Bellflower, Campanulastrum americanum.  This is particularly attractive to a medium sized black bee, probably a Miner Bee.  This plant blooms nearly as well in the shade as it does in the sun.

This Miner Bee is the primary visitor to the Bellflower
This Miner Bee draws nectar from the open face of the flower.  To do this it lands on the stamen and style of the flower.  Apparently the flower's stigma is situated to receive pollen from the bee as it makes its approach to the flower.

Nearby, on the sunny side of the driveway the Echinacea is in full bloom.  These attract a variety of pollinators, such as this Green Sweat Bee.  The Meadowsweet, Spiraea latifoia, has finished it's first round of blooms.  This year I cut some of the plants back significantly to keep the growth in check.  (I'm pretty sure it will put out a second growth.)  So for now the bees will be visiting other flowers for pollen and nectar.

It's interesting to note that with all the activity on the native flowers, I have seen very few insects visiting the flowers on my nearby shrub rose (other than a couple of Japanese Beetles).

Another early bloomer in the dry shade of my Norway Maple is Rosin Weed, Silphium integrifolium.  I chose this species of of Silphium because it does not get as big as the more familiar Cup Plant, S. perfoliatum.  This plant has slowly been expanding its mass, but I have not seen it show up in other parts of the garden.

A Hover Fly monitoring a cluster of Rosinweed blooms.

The flowers on this particular plant tend to form on the shady side.
This makes for a difficult photograph.

A new native annual that I'm trying out this year is Partridge Pea, Chamaecrista fasciculata.  This plant will grow in poor, dryish soils.  So far I'm favorably impressed.  One grouping that I planted near a highway is growing and blooming, despite receiving no additional moisture, other than the small amount of rain this summer.  Like its relative the Sensitive Plant, its leaves will fold up when the plant is handled roughly.  The leaves also fold up when it gets dark.  I wonder if this behavior helps it to survive under dry conditions (by limiting transpiration).

Some drifts are still intact, like the lavender-color Beebalm, Monarda fistulosa;
the orange Butterflyweed has blown over from another part of the
Wildflower Meadow at Mount Auburn Cemetery.
A Monarch Butterfly passing over
some Beebalm and Hoary Vervain

Over at Mount Auburn Cemetery, in Cambridge, MA, there is a good sized native wildflower meadow installed about 5 years ago.  Here I have seen many more butterflies than in my urban backyard.  This meadow features a number of native grasses as well as many showy flowering plants.  The original planting had the plants arranged in drifts, but the management plan is to let the plants move around as they will, to create a dynamic garden with plants finding there best locations.

In another part of the cemetery I noticed this Bottlebrush Buckeye, Aesculus parviflora, in full bloom.  While native to the Southeastern US, this shrub is very attractive to the bees up in the Northeast.  I spent some time watching how the bees interacted with the flower.  It was more like a mugging than a gentle approach to sip some nectar.  The bee grabs onto to the outside of the flower and extracts nectar from between the petals and the calyx.  In the process the bee's abdomen rubs all over the anthers and the stigma, thus achieving pollination of the flower.  

This bee on the Buckeye flower is about 1.5" long.

Other flowers are about to open up here, like the Scarlet Sage, Woodland Sunflower and Prairie Coneflower, so the show has only just begun.

Monday, July 2, 2012

North American Natives for a Patio Container

Last year I had spotty results using the combination of Mealy-cup Sage (Salvia farinacea), Phlox drummondii, and Bidens ferulifolia to do a Native-species planting box scheme using primary colors.  The sage performed well, but the Phlox didn't transplant well and the Bidens bloomed in cycles, so I rarely had all three color blooming at once.  This year I stuck with the Salvia (cultivar 'Victoria Blue') as my tall plant and used a Lantana cultivar 'Bandana-Rose Improved' as the 'spiller' and Zinnias from the 'Profusion' series as 'fillers.'

This Lantana starts out yellow and ages to a pinkish-red.
The Zinnias had not bloomed yet.

In this flower box I also got a surprize.  A Drummond Phlox reseeded itself and has grown much better than the ones I grew indoors last year.  This past winter was mild enough to allow the seeds of this Texas species to overwinter in the flower box.  I also got a bunch of Salvia reseeding themselves as well.  This was great, I got bonus plants for free!

Native species that I have found to work well in a sunny flower box are native to Mexico and the Southwest US.  The hot and often dry conditions encountered in these containers is not unlike their native environment.  At first, I hesitated to use the Zinnias.  They have been highly bred and manipulated, but then I remembered the these plants actually have their origins in the North America, Mexico to be more specific.  The ones you see in the garden centers have been horticulturally improved for features like color, long bloom and resistance to powdery mildew, to name a few.

The 'Profusion Series' are hybrids of Zinnia elegans (the common tall Zinnia) and Z. angustifolia (Narrow-leaf Zinnia).  They tend to be about a foot tall with 1.5 inch flowers in a wide variety of colors that are supposed to bloom all summer.  I am using the cherry- and the white-flowered cultivars.  So far the cherry-form matured more quickly and is a little larger than the white-flowered form.

In checking out the progress of this Zinnia the first thing I noticed was the intricacy of the flower bud.  Maybe all Zinnia buds look like this, but this is the first time I noticed.  So now I'll watch and see if these Zinnias keeps pace with their neighbors.

I was happy to see that this cultivar still has fertile flowers
 - a bonus for the pollinators.
In another sunny area a random selection of blooms caught my eye.  Here the magenta-colored Wine-cups (Callirhoe involucrata) have encroached on a new planting of 'Apricot Sparkles' Day lily (yes, not everything I have is native).  To these, some self-seeded Wild petunias (Ruellia humilis) have also popped up.  I don't think I would have planned on this color combination, but the three taken together work for me.

I don't think the Daylily and the pale lavender Petunia would work
together if it weren't for the intense color of the  Wine-cups.