Taking a Stand against Crepe Murder

crepe myrtle7It’s the middle of August and the crepe myrtles are at the peak of their 100 days of bloom. This ‘lilac of the south’ is in its glory, showering little crepes over the landscape.

In my front yard it has sprinkled the Alberta spruce with a candy-pink garnish; it has carpeted the ground around it with fluffy pink blooms.

At about 25 feet, its multiple, mature trunks have begun their annual peeling. The old cinnamon-brown bark falls off to reveal the mottled lighter next-year bark underneath. It has a silky feel and a beautiful look.crepe myrtle9

Crepe myrtles are native to China, Korea, Japan and India. Carl Linnaeus named them Lagerstroemia to honor his Swedish fellow-countryman, Magnus von Lagerström, a plant hunter who brought them back from his voyages. In 1790 French botanist, Andre Michaux planted them in his garden in Charleston, South Carolina. They thrived and our cultivars come from his original stock.

Zone 7 is favorable to crepe myrtles so we see them everywhere in their late-summer glory. But November will soon come and the flowers will be long gone. These deciduous trees will let go of their colorful autumn leaves. In the case of the one in my yard, the lovely limbs of the vase-shaped tree will stand elegant in the winter landscape.

crepe myrtle murder2But in many yards ‘crepe murder’ will begin. There is some notion, long debunked by gardeners, that crepe myrtles must be cut off at the knees to produce flowers for next year. This is practiced so universally here that people think it’s got some plantsman wisdom behind it. It doesn’t. Yes, in spring the branches will grow back with flowers on the ends, but they will be spindly branches that will dip toward the ground with the large flower weight in wind or storm. Not to mention there will be ruination of the crepe myrtle’s graceful natural shape. Those ugly knobby knees will peer up at the sky all winter long. It should be a capital offence to attempt ‘crepe murder’.

crepe myrtle5Tall varieties of crepe myrtle are great street trees if there are no overhead wires to require pruning.  The breeders have been busy. Many new hybrids are available. Some bred to thrive in colder zones. It’s great to have a vigorous large shrub or small tree, whichever you want to call it, that’s disease resistant and flowering in the heat of August.

The Tree Center has an extensive discussion of crepe myrtles: their history, varieties, care, landscape uses, proper pruning and possible problems. Just hold off on the murder impulse.

My Sensitive Sansevieria

snakeplant trifasciataI used to think diehard and tough were the best things you could say about Sansevieria, aka snake plant or mother-in-law tongue. Years ago snake plant (along with philodendron) was the plant most people had in their homes and offices. They were there because they’re almost impossible to kill, especially if no attention is paid. That’s generally what happened. They got dusty, shoved in corners, rarely watered. But they thrived on neglect. They were the quintessential ugly plant. I never thought I would buy a Sansevieria because I like pretty plants. But I now have two: the Sansevieria trifasciata (with a yellow border) and Sansevieria zeylanica (without a yellow border.)  Now they’ve grown on me. They’re attractive in an architectural way and contrast the leafy, spill-over plants with a tall, noble grace. Maybe one reason they’ve gained favor is they came out among the top air-purifying plants in a famous NASA study. And, they do it at night; collect carbon dioxide and release oxygen. They deserve a special place in the bedroom.

My daughter said she would like some houseplants and I thought I’ll share some with her for free. After we divided an aloe vera and potted that up, I thought why not take part of a snake plant. We unpotted the Sansevieria zaylanica and sliced off a section with my trusty bread knife. She went home with her new plant and called a few weeks later with the news. “There’s a flower stalk on that snake plant.”

“What,” I said and took a closer look at mine. Darned if I didn’t also have a flower stalk. I went to the internet. Turns out, snake plants rarely flower, but mild stress may cause it to happen. A bread knife slice must qualify as mild stress. I can go with that.

But Sansevieria flowers and fragrance, really? Yes, my Sansevieria zeylanica has sported lily-like flowers and lovely nighttime fragrance.  The plants are native to Madagascar and Africa, so there must be a moth somewhere in Madagascar or Africa who goes about at night searching for the sweet fragrance, because the scent isn’t there in the daytime and the flowers are closed up. How complex are these plants, knowing just what to do and when to do it.

Sansevieria honors Italian scientist and inventor Raimondo di Sangro [1710–71], Prince of San Severo.

Apparently the plant was found in his garden and so named for him. It has since been moved to the Dracaena genus. I prefer Sansevieria since the prince was a colorful man: inventor, alchemist and scientist with lots of rumors about nefarious activities.

snakeplant13So because of my bread knife and the desire to share a free plant with my daughter we both got to see and smell the rare Sansevieria lily. We may never get that opportunity again.

 

A Garden Visit

glenda28What gardener doesn’t like to take off their sweaty, muddy garden clothes and get cleaned up to visit someone else’s garden? It’s a real life “busman’s holiday.” I was invited to visit Glenda Clarke’s garden in Snow Hill this summer and it didn’t take a minute to say yes.

glenda27The trip to her Snow Hill property led through an iconic Eastern Shore country lane shaded on both sides by tall trees meeting overhead. The cooling, overhanging branches set the restful tone for a visit to a country garden.

glenda1 Glenda’s welcome left us with a strong first impression. Here’s a person who truly loves her plants and her garden and takes heartfelt pleasure in sharing it with others.

Besides the pleasure of walking through a beautifully tended garden landscape, it’s a plus to come away with new ideas that can be used in your own garden. Glenda’s garden is full of those. She uses ground hugging succulents to edges some of her gardens, creating a neat, lush border.

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She has made innovative use of concrete to add interest to her garden. There are concrete spheres, hypertufa planters and impressions of leaves in concrete. All of these have been constructed by Glenda herself.glenda8

One can imagine how the gardens looked in spring with daffodils and other spring flowering bulbs. We were there to greet the early summer perennials and the shrubs and trees in full leaf. The shade gardens displayed glenda19the leafy hostas and ferns and mosses. Raised beds held annuals and vegetables in symmetry.

Lushly planted pots and urns populated the patio as artistic statements standing out against the serene landscape. Glenda’s garden is a pleasure to visit, an inspiration to gardeners, advanced or just beginning.

 

 

Making Microgreens

longridge13I must confess I would never have thought to buy tiny sprouts to add to my salad if it wasn’t for my super nutritionally minded daughter. She got me hooked on microgreens. We were shopping at the Ocean Pines Farmers and Artisans Market on Saturday. That’s where we met Terry Jordan. She’s there every week with her tasty, fresh microgreens and beautiful, bouquet-ready cut flowers from her farm in Parsonsburg, Longridge Gardens.

longridge gardens 2

Terry’s booth at Farmer’s Market

I was interested. Is it difficult to grow microgreens? How is it done? What plants work best?

Terry is full of microgreen know-how. Sunflowers are the easiest to sprout. Arugula and cilantro are more difficult. Even though we think of them for summer recipes, they are not fond of heat. In fact, she says, they grow very well all winter in the passive-solar tunnels in her garden. Terry has two tunnels which raise that growing space from zone 7B to 8B: a 16 X 20 foot tunnel for microgreens and a 20 X 49 foot tunnel for flowers. The flower tunnel she calls “Margaritaville.” Like her tunnels, the other parts of her property have names. There’s the “Far Out” garden and the “Far Far Away” garden. These names make a lot of sense if you are a fan of Shrek.

Terry has been growing beautiful things for nineteen years on her five acre farm. She previously had a long career caring for the horses on the U.S. Equestrian Team. A crushed ankle put a halt to that career. Having to suddenly re-think what she would do, she turned to gardening. She knew from childhood she’d always had a green thumb. Before the Covid 19 pandemic, she was busy 24/7 growing microgreens for local restaurants. Needless to say that’s on hold this year.

The easiest way to get microgreens is to buy them from Terry at the market. But, if you’re a DIYer, they can be grown at home with a little know-how and the right amount of light. Terry sells packets of seeds. She also mentioned Johnny’s Selected Seeds is a reliable source for larger quantities.

The web is replete with step-by-step guides and YouTube videos on the subject. One good source is the Micro Gardener’s Easy guide to growing microgreens.

longridge12The other reason I visited Terry in Parsonsburg was to buy one of her beautiful bouquets and to take a stroll through her flower beds. The names of the flowers she uses twist on the tongue and enchant with their beauty and fragrance: ligularia, baptisia, crocosmia, peony, calla lily, allium, ranunculus and not to forget Gerber daisies. They bloom the longest into the early winter. Her skill in creating stunning arrangements shows why brides choose her for their special occasion.

It was a 95 degree day, but Terry was out weeding when I arrived. I said, what is the hardest part of your business? The heat, she answered.

 

A Tale of Three Pots

pots1I was never crazy about these three pots (industrial grey) but they came with the house. Thriftiness is bred in my bones and what is better than no-cost pots. So they’ve been in use for two years. 20191107_132341Last fall they were potted up with pumpkins, white mums and a little culinary herb, (Sage berggarten). The sage over wintered beautifully and is now threatening to take over. The mums and pumpkins are now replaced with Salvia ‘cathedral deep blue’ and Lantana ‘Chapel Hill Gold,’ two of my favorite summer annuals.

Then I met Linda Vater – on her Youtube channel. She’s an Oklahoma City gardener with a huge following. Her garden is splendid. In one episode she mucked up plastic pots to “age” them in a shabby chic sort of way using leftover paint.  I thought, that’s a great idea. I can make my grey pots pretty. I have leftover yellow paint from the sunroom and leftover pink paint from the bedroom – little bits sitting in gallon cans in case a touch up job is called for. Leave that paint long enough and it will be a solid brick at the bottom of the can.

pots4Voila! Pink and yellow morph into pale terracotta. Yes they do. I stopped at the color change point, being happy with that. I could have added more age with moss green smudges or moldy black patches. I’ll leave that to nature. In this damp beach climate it’s a possibility.pots7

 

What’s in a Name?

serviceberry plantThe Arbor Day Foundation sent me five serviceberry trees this week. They’re little guys but I’m a sucker for free plants.

Some background about  Arbor Day . The Arbor Day Foundation is a truly American holiday. It was the idea of J. Sterling Morton, a Nebraska newspaper editor. In 1872 he declared April 10th Nebraska Arbor Day and had one million trees planted in his state. The day became official in 1907 when President Theodore Roosevelt issued an Arbor Day proclamation to the school children of the United States about the importance of trees in our world. There are no Hallmark cards for Arbor Day but the Foundation is still going strong planting trees all over the world. Our garden club celebrates by planting a tree in the park to commemorate those in our community who have died in the past year. This year the ceremony has been postponed.

Back to my five Serviceberry trees (Amelanchier Canadensis). I’ve potted up one, waiting until I find a place for it in my garden. The other four I’ve planted in the woods across the street so, if they grow, I’ll see them from my porch.

Why are they called serviceberry? You have to look back to the beginning of our country when roads were unpaved. People didn’t get out much in the winter. (A bit like this past winter.) In rural areas acknowledgement of births, deaths and marriages generally had to wait until spring. That’s when the preacher made his rounds to officiate at funerals, baptisms and weddings. When this tree bloomed the ground could be dug for burials and all the ‘services’ could be performed.

Amelanchier is also called Shadbush. Guess what, it blooms when the shad runs in the rivers.

Serviceberry It’s a small tree, (15 to 25 feet) native to North America that has multi-season interest. Fragrant white blossoms in May are followed by edible dark purple berries and pretty fall foliage. Some say the berries are tastier than blueberries and the birds love them. I’m not looking for a serviceberry pie this summer but maybe in another summer or two if the birds are not too gluttonous.

The Art of Borrowed Scenery

Reading The Garden of Evening Mists has awakened my interest in the art of Japanese traditional gardens. Does it have any relevance to my garden? A stark landscape of carefully raked sand and carefully placed boulders wouldn’t do it for me. But maybe there is some wisdom in this centuries-old tradition that will make my garden more beautiful, more tranquil. I’ll take a look.

The novel emphasizes one element of Japanese garden design described as the “borrowed view.” Elements outside the garden are considered part of the garden and should be incorporated.  It’s good to remember that most Japanese private gardens are enclosed.  Borrowed elements could be the sky, trees, hills or water. They are appropriated from outside to enhance the inside of the garden. Openings are created to view them. Examples would be an open gate, an arbor or an opening in a hedge. Okay, I want to highlight my view of water; I don’t want to dwell on the view of my neighbor’s air conditioning unit.

 The Japanese garden imitates nature; seasons are important. In spring the soft colors of new bulbs appear even as the branches are still bare. Summer in Japanese gardens is not so much for the brightness of flowers but for the coolness of greenery as a respite from the hot weather. I can see that but I wouldn’t want to do away with lilies and black eyed Susan’s and coreopsis. Fall needs a color change to represent the bounty of the growing season’s end. Yes, bring on the mums and orange pumpkins and golden squash.  Winter plays up the structure of plants. Snow may even give definition to the grace of bare branches. Each season does have its own beauty. It’s worth remembering to consider all seasons when planning what to plant.

Proportion is important in Japanese garden thinking. A large shade tree is out of proportion in the average home landscape. It belongs in a park or public garden where its size is in scale with larger spaces. I never thought of it before but the elements in a private garden should be in proportion to the human body. Maybe that’s why I like my dwarf Alberta spruce. The spaced apart two in my front yard feel comfortable. The two in my side yard that, of necessity, I turned into topiaries and under-planted with astilbe make me smile.

I’m planning a deck and patio and am glad to bump into this wisdom on the importance of scale before it’s too late. Too big or too small will forever be jarring with no chance of a do-over. Pruning the shrubs is doable; it’s even therapeutic. No pruning the patio.

The view is what a Japanese gardener is looking for. That’s the view from inside. Large windows are a big help. And, foundation planting is purposeless as it can’t be seen when small and obstructs the view when big. So the shrubs go from mid garden to back garden and will help create a sense of depth in the garden

Setting out a pagoda in an eastern shore garden may not look authentic. But considering native plants for each season may be. Installing a koi pond in blue heron fly-over country may not be smart, but creating a water feature may subtly inspire peacefulness.

A Month of Sundays

It feels like a Month of Sundays, but it’s only been one month since we thought nothing of going someplace. On March first we packed up our coffee thermos and breakfast sandwiches and headed to Philadelphia for a day among an abundance of plants and a super abundance of people. We didn’t think it out of the ordinary to drive one hundred and fifty miles to a crowded city and walk the streets with not a worry in the world. Our feet hurt but what a great day we had.

At lunchtime we crossed the street to the Reading Terminal Market to grab a bite. If the convention center was elbow to elbow, the market was cheek by jowl. There were lines for every vendor and tables up for grabs. We ate at a communal table, sharing napkins with people we had never seen before. That was our norm and it didn’t bother us. The only thing we had wrong was considering it the first of our springtime expeditions.

The Pennsylvania Horticultural Society Philadelphia Flower Show is the oldest and largest indoor flower show in the world. 2020 was its one hundred and ninety-first year. 250,000 people walked through the “Riviera Holiday” themed exhibition. Elbow to elbow, with craned necks we were whisked away to Mediterranean colors and scents of lemon and olive and lavender and cypress.

This year the show paid tribute to a hometown girl – Princess Grace of Monaco. A replica of her wedding dress was on display among a re-creation of her rose garden. That was only one display among the acres of exhibits showcasing the beauty of the Mediterranean region.

 

 

 

 

Here are some of the glorious sights at the incredible Philadelphia Flower Show.

This last picture was a warning I didn’t recognize. Never stop taking in the joy of nature and what we can do with nature, but be mindful; life can change on a dime. It always has personally. This time it’s globally.

Plant More Pulmonaria

Right at the time we are obsessed with world-wide respiratory distress, pulmonaria pops out of the earth and blooms in delicate pastels. Last spring I bought two “twinkle toes” because the flowers looked so sweet. In the fall I cut each into three with my trusty bread knife and moved them to the front of a wet shady patch. Now look at them, all surviving and all in bloom.

These cute little guys were named by Leonart Fuchs, a German physician in the 1500s. He is considered one of the fathers of botany. At the time, Christian doctors believed in the “doctrine of signatures.” That is that God put plants on earth to help humans. (Aren’t we amazing in considering ourselves to be the center of the universe.)  So he shaped them to look like the parts of the body they could heal.

When Fuchs saw this plant he must have said, “My lord, all the spots on these leaves look like a diseased lung. I will call it pulmonaria.” So he did and we still call it by the Latin word for lung and in English, lungwort. Whether it helps coughs, I don’t know. I do know it gives pleasure to the eyes to see these perky fellows and know their leaves will be around into winter.

The light green or silver spots on the leaves are actually air pockets that cool the leaves. I must say ingenious; a word I often find myself uttering when plant facts come my way. Mixed with hellebores and ferns, they brighten the wet shady garden in spring.

Pandemic Blues

All socializing is off the table. What to do. I can go outside by myself and kneel in the springtime sun. It’s the perfect time for weeding. The winter weeds are small, the soil is moist; the roots yield easily to my tugs.

Time to get personal with mouse-ear chickweed (Cerastium fontanum). What an adorable name for this garden scourge. It’s trying mightily with its hairy, green mouse ears to strangle the emerging lilies and iris and allium. Given my forced isolation from garden center shopping, I’m on it. Bags of mouse-ears are ready for pick up by the yard waste collectors.

Cool weather and a shovel. It’s time to dig out the compost and spread it around. Exhaustion.

Sit on the garden bench and admire what’s blooming. Chinese Fringe Flower (Loropetalum chinense) is  flouncing graceful sprays of brilliant scarlet  fringe. When I first saw the rather drab burgundy branches I thought I’m gonna cut that bush down. Thankfully I never found the time. The delicate fringe brightens up the early spring garden before other shrubs have even popped out their green.

Down on ground level the crocus have come and gone and the tete a tete mini daffodils are having a private conversation with the grape hyacinths.

I’m listening.