Here in northern VA, the cherry blossoms are at their splendid best. Down at the Tidal Basin, at least some tourists are showing up to view the iconic Yoshino cherries (check the Bloom Cam to monitor the social distancing).
There are a couple of different ways to view the cherry trees:
a) that they are to be revered as symbols of ephemeral beauty, that they should be contemplated in the spirit of hanami to remind us that life is short and we should make the most of it (this view courtesy of the Japanese)
b) that they are a nuisance and “messy as hell” (this view courtesy of my dad)
The topic of spring blooming cherries came up when I visited my dad this weekend. Since we both have mature Yoshino cherry trees growing right next to our driveways, we bonded over the pros and cons of the tree. While I tried to tout the merits of the pale pink blossoms as a wondrous harbinger of spring, Dad was more circumspect:
“The petals fall on the cars and stick like hell,” he said. When I pointed out that the Japanese celebrate the beauty of the delicate blossoms scattered on the ground as the flowers fade, my dad had a different take: “It looks like an army of birds has shat on everything.”
I envision families in Japan gathered to contemplate the fleeting nature of life as they gaze upon the white-pink petals fluttering to the ground. Meanwhile, my dad scrapes the petals up with his snow shovel and dumps them into a trash can.
Dad’s getting older though. He’s nearly 84, moving slowly these days, and I realize that one day I will miss his cranky takes on cherry trees.
Hanami. Life is fleeting.
Very few can survive, let alone thrive, living in the vicinity of a toxic individual. Many will succumb instantly, unable to co-exist even for a short time in a toxic environment. Others make a go of it, only to perish slowly or merely limp along, never reaching their full potential living in the shadow of a toxic presence.
Those of us with black walnut trees need to find those plants who are co-dependent, who will not only put up with juglone (the toxin present in all parts of Juglans nigra) but who will thrive under its canopy, bringing the tree its slippers and laughing at its offensive jokes.
I got an email from Simeon in Ithaca, NY, who gardens under black walnuts and inquired about planting a Kousa dogwood beneath his trees. Would C. kousa pack its bags after encountering a black walnut’s toxic personality or would it accept its adverse circumstances and become self-actualized anyway?
I wasn’t sure, but I did ask Simeon to send me a picture of the perennial border that he has planted under his walnut trees, and he kindly obliged:
As you can see, all sorts of hostas and ferns look completely at ease in the presence of juglone.
Simeon also highly recommends ‘Sunburst’ St John’s Wort (Hypericum frondosum ‘Sunburst’) as a plant that flourishes alongside black walnuts. Thank you Simeon!
I find it both comforting and inspirational to find other souls who are committed to finding plants who tolerate the presence of black walnuts — messy, pernicious, beautiful, bountiful black walnuts. What? You’re too good for to live with one? Oh, you don’t want to live with someone who drops bombs on your head and poisons your environment? Get outta here, snowflake!
For when you get demoralized thinking about all the things you can’t grow under your black walnut, take heart. This venerable black walnut tree, located at Green Spring Gardens in Alexandria, VA, holds court over a lovely planting of magnolias and shade perennials:
I did not check to see if the magnolias were marked, but they are probably a cultivar of M. soulangeana, and they are pretty glorious right now.
Underneath was a comely mixture of bear’s foot hellebores, other hybrid hellebores, Japanese Shield fern, and Virginia bluebells:
This bed would be the envy of any woodland gardener, so those of us with black walnuts should not be feeling sorry for ourselves. I will say that the folks tending this garden add quite a bit of shredded leaves to their beds, which makes the soil nice and fluffy and the plants plenty healthy. My gut tells me that healthy, rich, organic soil tends to counteract the effects of juglone for plants that might be semi-susceptible.
However, I personally have hellebores, ferns, and bluebells growing very robustly under my black walnuts in terrible, dry soil. So I think these plants will grow well even if you don’t give them perfect duff.
What I’m rrrrrrreally jealous of with this garden bed is that mid-layer — the magnolias — which connects the ground layer to the big black walnut and pulls it all together. I have not had as much success getting small ornamental trees to survive with my BWs….maybe I need to put M. soulangeana on my shopping list….
Definitely a “come hither” tree when in bloom:
I’ve got plenty.
And plenty still to come:
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.
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).
Still, I never tire of this canopy:
And there are some other pleasant distractions from the tyranny of the black walnut trees. Some toad lily and sedum:
The Winterberry holly never disappoints:
Bottlebrush Buckeye fruit:
Some white wood aster:
Zigzag goldenrod, now fading:
This cute little bottle gentian that I nearly ripped out over the summer thinking it was a weed:
A Japanese combo — bloodgrass and anemone:
This year’s crown jewel — a Red Abissynian Banana. I adore it so much! The leaves are insane!
This lantana and bloodgrass was a good combo:
This lantana was so exuberant this year that it shaded out my herbs:
Elephant ear and celosia refusing to back down in the face of autumn:
I have a vivid memory of eating a Red Delicious apple when I was seven years old and, afterward, regarding the dark seeds embedded in the core. Continue reading
More good news for those of us living with Juglans nigra! In his new book The Layered Garden, David Culp describes several genera that he has grown with success beneath these anti-social trees, including:
Smilacina — (Smilacena racemosa — False Solomon’s Seal — an interesting perennial with white flowers in spring followed by green/red berries).
Asarum — (cute little gingers!)
Aucuba — (Evergreen, Gold Speckles. Reminds me of the upholstery on the couch from my childhood family room, circa 1976. What’s not to love?)
Pulmonaria — (I am always reading about how great these are — why don’t I grow them?)
Convallaria — (I actually have Lily-of-the-Valley growing under a Silver Maple, which means they will officially grow anywhere.)
Isn’t the weedy Hellebore bed with wire fencing just super classy? It’s my patented “Postmodern Retro Tacky” design aesthetic.
No, those aren’t dirty tennis balls. Those are just a few dozen of the THOUSANDS of black walnuts that rain down on my backyard at this time of year.