Care for a Black Walnut?

I’ve got plenty.

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And plenty still to come:

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This is a nifty nut collector made by the folks at Garden Weasel.  What a treat to discover a yard device that requires no engine and makes no noise, that is so simply designed and yet works beautifully.

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Just roll it along the ground and the nuts become trapped in the wire cage.  To release them you push a doohickey on the handle (like when you squeeze out a mop) that spreads the wires so the nuts can fall out again.  The only trouble is that there SO MANY NUTS and collectively they are very heavy.  A plastic trash can should only be filled about a quarter full; otherwise, there is risk of it busting wide open as it’s dragged (ask me how I know).

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Still, I never tire of this canopy:

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And there are some other pleasant distractions from the tyranny of the black walnut trees.  Some toad lily and sedum:DSC_2195

The Winterberry holly never disappoints:

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Bottlebrush Buckeye fruit:

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Some white wood aster:

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Zigzag goldenrod, now fading:

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This cute little bottle gentian that I nearly ripped out over the summer thinking it was a weed:

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A Japanese combo — bloodgrass and anemone:

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Blackberry lily:

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This year’s crown jewel — a Red Abissynian Banana.  I adore it so much! The leaves are insane!

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This lantana and bloodgrass was a good combo:

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This lantana was so exuberant this year that it shaded out my herbs:

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Elephant ear and celosia refusing to back down in the face of autumn:

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Sedge Allegiance

This WaPo article by Adrian Higgins about sedges has been going around among my garden-oriented acquaintances, so I thought I’d share my own sedge experiences.

I’ve got two types of sedge in abundance: Carex pensylvanica and Carex flaccosperma. Here is a spot where I’ve got quite a bit of C. pensylvanica:

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This started as 3 quart-sized plants about 4-5 years ago and it has spread (and as you’ll see I’ve lifted many chunks of it to other areas of my yard.) It’s planted behind a retaining wall in extremely dry soil in part sun.  As you can see in the photo, it does go a bit tawny by the middle of summer, but I don’t mind that.  I really like its fine texture and the way it splays.  I’ve always had the urge to comb and braid it.

Here’s some more that I transplanted about 2 years ago in attempt to make my ceramic fish look like they’re swimming through a river.  It sort of works:

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The thrust of Higgins’ article is that sedges make a good alternative mulch, and my experience does bear this out.  Before I planted the sedge above, this was an area that I had to weed and mulch to keep looking decent.

Below is a shot taken a bit further up the slope where the sedge has not filled in yet.  It doesn’t happen overnight.  And you do have to keep weeding and/or mulching during the years that you are waiting for it to fill in.

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Here is another spot way in the back of my yard where I transplanted some C. pensylvanica a few years ago.  It has spread very nicely.  Again, this is dry clay soil, part sun:

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I’ve got tons of these garden phlox seedlings all over my yard (the taller pink flowered plant), so I experimented with mixing some of them into the sedge.  It’s not bad, but I think a shorter plant might make a better complement.

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A word of warning about the idea of sedge as a mulch.  It’s definitely not foolproof.  I’ve had places where weed seeds had no problem sprouting up through the sedge, and then it’s kind of a nightmare to get them out.  For example, this big patch of sedge (above) was pretty infested by some weedy grass last year (maybe stiltgrass?) and I went nuts trying to pull it out.  I finally resorted to buying a spray-on grass killer from the nursery; it killed the grass but not the sedge and now this area is pretty weed free.

Here’s another place where I moved some C. pensylvanica:

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Again, it’s a place where I use mulch to fill in the gaps around the plants, but you can see that the sedge is starting to fill in those spaces.  I was even thinking of planting it in between some of those irises on the right.  Irises are a headache for me because weeds appear right down among the plants all tangled up in the rhizomes.  I was thinking of trying either the sedge or perhaps Japanese painted fern interplanted with the irises.

Now for the Carex flaccosperma.  This is a much coarser sedge with an agreeable blue color that seeds all over the place.  Unlike the C. pensylvanica, which spreads via stolons, C. flaccosperma spreads via seeds that pop off in the spring.  I have a lot of it an area of my backyard where I am trying to use lots of natives and make a sort of mixed woodland floor type thing:

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In the pic above, the C. flaccosperma is the strappy looking plant in the foreground.  It’s planted among wood poppies, bluebells, lady ferns, eastern wood ferns, and heucheras.  This is my attempt at a “matrix planting” that we hear so much about lately.  It has been an interesting experiment.

Here’s another shot of this matrix with the C. flaccosperma visible throughout:

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I took this shot today (mid July) but this planting looks best in spring and fall.  In spring it has blue bells and wood poppies blooming, and in fall there are many flowers of Heuchera “Autumn Bride” that emerge. The sedge is definitely the background plant that stays more or less constant while the other plants ebb and flow.

But again, the weeds can invade here, too.  In the pic above, you can see some dastardly bishop’s weed has snuck in, which is really hard to get rid of.  Also, oxalis, crabgrass, and other weeds pop up in there fairly regularly and need to be dealt with.

So it’s not like you can just have this great sedge matrix and then sit in your lawn chair for the rest of your summer.  There will always be some maintenance.  But yes, it is less work and less money than a sea of mulch, and it is infinitely more interesting to watch it change over the seasons.

It hardly needs mentioning, but of course sedges aren’t the only plant that can act as a living mulch.  Behold my Sweetbay magnolia amid a sea of plain green, absolutely indestructible hostas:

sedge1 Unlike the sedges, once the hostas are filled in there is rarely an issue with weeds.  Those wide green leaves pretty much shade out any weed that has the audacity to emerge from the soil.  I can move these hostas, hack them in pieces, plop the pieces in a hastily dug holes in some barren part of the yard, and they are sure to survive and cover ground despite my subsequent neglect.  They are tough! (I should mention that, sadly, most of the fancy hosta cultivars aren’t this accommodating).

The hosta-scape is functional, but is definitely somewhat static and boring; the sedge matrices I’ve played with are definitely more dynamic and more fun.

I leave you with a non-sedge-related picture of a plant I grow more in love with each year — my bottlebrush buckeye bush, in bloom right now:

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Great Day to Be Alive

When it’s close to 70 degrees on February 18 it seems like there is very little in the world worth complaining about.  Even the traffic on New York Avenue seems worth it once you’re finally at the National Arboretum walking among these beauties:

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(Prunus mume and Edgeworthia in the Chinese/Japanese Pavilion Gardens)

Even the often dour blooms of hellebore knew enough to perk up and tilt their faces toward the sun:

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(I know, I know, many hellebores are bred that way, let me just do my personification thing, will you?)

I liked the stark contrast between the black mondo grass and the old stalks of ornamental grass (Northern Sea Oats, I think):

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Cherry blossoms!  (I think it’s another Prunus mume, so technically apricot but I’m in a t-shirt in February so who gives a toss!)

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Terrible photo of one of my favorite plants in the whole arboretum: Chimonanthus praecox:

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This specimen is perched on a steep slope above the Anacostia River, where the winter sun warms its buttery yellow blooms, which emit THE most delicious fragrance in the floral world (except maybe Vibunum carlesii???) a sort of warm vanilla spice that definitely makes you forget it’s winter.

And last but not least my beloved Camellias.  It always surprises me seeing such perfect, extravagant blooms on such awkward, lanky plants.  Kinda like seeing a beautiful young girl with knock-knees and pigeon toes…all the more charming for their imperfections.

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Melania Trump Vows to Preserve Obama Garden

Though many of her husband’s projects are likely to be uprooted, there is good news for Michelle Obama’s vegetable garden.

Looks like Melania Trump is fond of gardening, too.  Or at least fond of gardens.

This weekend, Mrs.Trump accompanied Akie Abe, the wife of the Japanese prime minister, to Morikami Museum and Japanese Garden in Delray, Florida.  Based on the brief video footage available, it looks like the two women strolled around the gardens somewhat awkwardly, posing for pictures, smiling at the guide, and feeding some koi.

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http://time.com/4668035/melania-trump-michelle-obama-vegetable-garden/

But it is this statement from Mrs. Trump that is most noteworthy if you’ve been fretting about the fate of the White House gardens: ‘As a mother and as the First Lady of this country, Mrs. Trump is committed to the preservation and continuation of the White House Gardens, specifically the First Lady’s Kitchen Garden and the Rose Garden.’

Trump also spoke of the positive effect of gardens and nature on young people: ‘I hope that together Mrs. Abe and I can continue to inspire our youth to enjoy the beauty around them and to restore their minds in the peacefulness of their surroundings.’ 

There are many minds that need to be restored in the aftermath of this election — I won’t say whose! — and one thing most of us can agree on is that gardens are a good place to do that.

It’s interesting that before she left the White House, Mrs. Obama reinforced her garden with more permanent fixtures of cement, stone, and wood; she did not want this thing torn out!  It will be ironic if something as mutable and unpredictable as a garden turns out to be the most enduring Obama initiative of them all.

obamagardenhttp://www.politico.com/story/2016/10/michelle-obama-garden-changes-white-house-229204

No Longer Winter

Is there anything more miraculous than taking a walk on a late January afternoon in zone 7a and encountering masses of flowers?  Not “winter interest”, no, but full-on, voluptuous, lipstick-colored blossoms?

img_5071This is Camellia ‘Autumn Pink Icicle’ — thriving at Green Spring Gardens — which is a hybrid of the already cold hardy ‘Pink Icicle’, an Ackerman hybrid.

Anyway, as I walked along with the sun shining overhead and these hot pink blooms reaching out to say hello, well for a minute it was no longer winter.

In Praise of the Boxwood

The boxwood gods have always smiled upon me.  Despite what I’ve read about gardeners having difficulties with Buxus, every single boxwood I’ve planted in my garden has performed admirably while asking almost nothing in return.  (I only wish I could find such favor with whatever wrathful deities oversee Camellia and Viburnum.)

I have eight varieties of boxwood growing in my garden.  I know because I just went outside and counted them.  I have Buxus microphylla ‘Franklin’s Gem’, B. microphylla ‘Winter Gem’, B. x ‘Green Velvet’ as well as the five featured below.

One of my favorites is B. microphylla ‘John Baldwin’…what a jolly chubby fellow!  I have this guy planted in a teeny patch of soil between a brick patio and a screened-in porch and right now he is the only thing keeping that space from being a little wasteland of dead leaves and empty pots:

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I have another ‘John Baldwin’ planted in rather heavy shade, under a black walnut tree, where he gets regularly peed on by a large Labrador retriever, and he just carries on without complaint.  What a star!

I notice that on a major growers’ website it says you can substitute ‘Dee Runk’ for ‘John Baldwin’ but I am going to have to raise a SERIOUS objection to that recommendation.  I also have a B. sempervirens ‘Dee Runk’ growing in my sideyard:

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and I would say, yeah, go ahead and substitute her for ‘John Baldwin’ if you are also okay with substituting, say, Grace Kelly for Richard Dreyfus.  (Tip: not all pyramids are alike! Some are slim and lithe, some are dense and compact!)

I love all my boxwoods.  They are not flashy but they are stalwart.  They are like your friend who doesn’t throw a glamorous dinner party but who can always be counted on to give you a ride to your colonoscopy.  Stalwart & true.  They have color at the time you need it most.  In winter, when everything goes brown and gray, they retain rich shades of green, sometimes tinged with bronze and amber and orange, like this B. microphylla ‘Golden Dream’:

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My ‘Golden Dream’ is planted under a cherry tree right by the sidewalk out front; it NEVER gets supplemental water, and it gets peed on by any number of neighborhood dogs.  Last winter a branch broke off under the 30 inches of snow we got in January; I simply tied it back on with twine and it soldiered on as though it hadn’t been brutalized by the one of the heaviest snowfalls in decades.

I tend to buy my boxwoods in small sizes.  They are said to grow very slowly but I have found that they usually grow a couple to as much as several inches a year. That’s good enough for me.  I’m only 45 and won’t be retiring to my villa in Provence until I’m at least 60, so I have time to watch them grow.

When you go to the garden center you can go to the boxwood aisle and, if you are the Queen of Sheba, pick up a fully grown boxwood for $249.99.

Or you can go to the one-gallon section and get the same thing in a diminutive version for $16.99.  I bought this teeny little B. sempervirens ‘Variegata’ last spring and planted it in a place where it will cheer me up on dreary, gray winter days.  It is only bringing me about 8″ worth of cheer right now, but in five years I am hoping it increases to 24-36″ of cheer in lovely shades of cream and green.

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Here is another boxwood in my yard:

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Notice anything different?  I bought this one at Home Depot.  It was relatively cheap for its size, and its label mentioned no specific cultivar — just generic B. sempervirens.  And although I still appreciate it for the splash (blob?) of green it provides in the winter garden, it is certainly inferior to the plants I bought at quality nurseries.  I think the difference is that it lacks any definite shape; in fact, Buxus ‘Amorphous Blob’ is probably an apt name for it.

Supposedly, boxwoods need evenly moist, well-drained loam” but they DEFINITELY aren’t getting that in my yard.  Besides maybe Prince Charles and Martha Stewart, who actually has well-drained loam?  No, even though boxwoods are favored by royals and aristocrats, they will perform just as loyally for all of us peasants.

 

 

Winter Red, Green Panda, Blue Trout

Ilex verticillata ‘Winter Red’

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Garden Trout

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Imperata cylindrica ‘Red Baron’

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Fargesia rufa ‘Green Panda’; Aspidistra elatior ‘Alahi’; Danae racemosa

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Confused forsythia bloom

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High Maintenance Plants & People

Behold my Camellia ‘Niccio’s Bella Rossa’:

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My li’l camellia cowers in the cold and snow.

Sad, right? Let me tell you the story of this plant. I spotted her a few years ago at the garden center – in bloom – and was immediately smitten. Anxiously, I checked the tag. Zone 8, it said. Prefers acid soil. I can make it work, I thought, disregarding my alkaline soil and Zone 7 location. I have that little protected area in the side yard by the fence. It doesn’t get below 10 degrees here that often. Just because that other camellia I planted a few years ago died almost immediately doesn’t mean this one will, too.

And on and on with the rationalizing. Sixty dollars later and the sweet little thing was in my passenger seat and on her way to the inevitable slow demise (but hopefully not!) in my garden.

Why do we do this to ourselves? Why do we buy these precious, high-maintenance plants that we know will require constant coddling and tending?

I mean, I consider myself a very practical person. I drive an old Honda. I’ve pretty much abandoned make-up and jewelry. I’d rather eat meatloaf than prime rib, rather walk my dog than play golf. I like things to be easy, sensible, and reliable.

I generally try to surround myself with easy people, too. “Low-maintenance” people who pay their bills and show up to work every day. People who don’t have giant mood swings, constant hurt feelings, or mysterious ailments and traumas. Much better to have folks in your life who don’t need deadheading, dividing, or staking, who will perform faithfully for you year after year, without your having to ask.

So why do I lust after camellias? It really doesn’t make sense. I know deep down my gardening life would be easier and more sanguine if I would just stick to the hostas, carex, sedums, and phlox that are properly suited to my Black Walnutty Northern Virginia garden. Why would I go through all the effort and heartache of inviting an acid-loving denizen of the Deep South into my life, yet again?

I mean, I should have learned my lesson with Camellia ‘Yuletide’ back in ’09, right? Talk about heartache. I first spied ‘Yuletide’ when I worked at the garden center during the fall of that year. I was transporting some plants in a little electric truck to one of the back lots when I suddenly slammed on the brakes. Placed serendipitously together in one of the overflow beds was a small Camellia ‘Yuletide’, in full bloom, flanked by a couple of large nandinas heavy with crimson fruit. This simple combination was a stunning vision in red! My heart raced.

That same week, I attempted to recreate the vignette in my backyard. I spent about two hours digging a wide, shallow hole with a pedestal of carefully amended soil on which to perch the camellia, as my internet research had advised. I backfilled a third of the way, lightly pressed, and watered. Repeated three times. Carefully mulched. Meanwhile, I am sure the viburnum sitting a few feet away was like, “this is some bullshit. She just opened a wedge in the ground and shoved me in. Pfffft.”

Alas, by spring it was clear that ‘Yuletide’ was not merry. I would check it each day, and each day it seemed yet another branch had succumbed to the dreaded “dieback.” Heartbreak! I tore the plant out and promised myself I would never do it again — with the same sense of hurt betrayal that I swore to myself years ago that I’d never date another Texan.

And yet here I am with another camellia. And here I am again with the fussing and anxiety. I planted ‘Bella Rossa’ far away from my black walnuts, so (fingers crossed) no dieback yet. Still, all week the forecast calls for temps below 10 degrees, so I rummage through the basement for an old fleece blanket and some rope. I wrap Bella up carefully to protect the beautiful plump buds that might (with luck) open into exquisite fully double blooms the color of a child’s flushed cheek.

I know deep down that’s a pretty big “might.” And part of me feels ridiculous for doting on a plant this way. Most of the time I choose sensible plants that are native to the area or otherwise suited to my environs. Toughness and adaptability – in plants as well as people – are the qualities I find most beautiful of all.

Still, each day I visit ‘Bella Rossa’ and tend to her health, hoping for a few enchanting blooms come March. See, sometimes high maintenance is worth it. I guess we’re all high maintenance sometimes, and where would we be if we never took a chance on those who required a little extra care?

Camellia 'Nuccio's Bella Rossa' from oregonstate.edu

Camellia ‘Nuccio’s Bella Rossa’ from oregonstate.edu

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