Our estate has been designated a wildlife friendly "yard" and certainly it provides cover and shelter, water, and food. Here in the last category is the problem; wildlife and the Phactors disagree about what is for wildlife consumption. Generally some fencing and and other restrictive placements help with the definitions, but what with all that is provided a bit of reciprocation would not be a bad thing. OK for the most part house plants outside for their seasonal R&R are off limits, but TPP forgot how little bun-buns are at the outset, so a quite small bunny able to fit through 2" fence ate an orchid, not just a nibble, ate it down to the base. Then there's the strawberry problem. Someone doesn't wait until they even ripen, so you don't stand a chance, and the bed is pretty well fortified, but someone found a way in, one of the tree rats probably. A good country-living friend has a strawberry bed that looks like a well-fortified prison camp, and a raccoon still helped himself to every berry available. Unlike deer at least raccoons leave the plants. What TPP desires is for some top predators to know how friendly our yard is if they wish to eat some herbivores, and although mostly the birds understand what is for them and not, Mrs. Phactor says the herons can stay away from her lily pond fish.
Various species and cultivars of the genus Tradescantia (spiderworts) make very nice additions to your perennial garden and naturalized gardens, although they can be a bit weedy, so dead heading is a good idea. The flowers are fairly large, 1" diam, and blue to purple (like in the image); some cultivars are lighter, almost white, or more purple. They all have the sort of hairy looking center of the flower (the spider?). These are long filamentous hairs (trichomes) on the stamen filaments. Under a microscope the cells composing the hairs look rather like beads. They are mostly filled with a central vacuole, a water-filled sac that contains a purple pigment. The other cytoplasmic contents of the cells a pushed out against the cell wall occupying the ends of the cell with strands running along the cell wall. The large blobby sac is the cell's nucleus. According to biological history it was in exactly such spiderwort filament hair cells that Robert Brown, he of Brownian motion, first observed the nucleus of a cell (1833). It's a great specimen to observe the streaming of cytoplasm too.
TPP has been blogging now for a bit more than 8 years! Blog traffic has been tracked for the past 6 years, and went past the one millionth page view a month or so back. It works out to an average of 500 page views a day, 15,000 page views a month for 6 years. The two prior years were more or less shouting into the internet abyss where a stand-alone blog was hardly ever noticed. It's all still there in the archives, and for most of you new material. The blogs used to be longer and less frequent, but that seemed to take too much time. And for all of this TPP remains unsullied by money or advertising. This is not actually very impressive traffic by the standards of some blogs, and this blog's readers are largely silent, not the chatter boxes of some blogs, but a lot of real content has been delivered over the years, a lot of pretty nice images (some of which get used without permission). And so there you have it. Insane or kept sane; you decide. The Phytophactor goes on.
First off the snooze alarm simply did not work; it has black fur and green eyes and was sure it was time for breakfast makers to get up. She was only an hour early, but would not reset. Then just as us lazy humans get stirring, the electricity goes out. Now this presents some interesting problems to solve perhaps without coffee, which itself is one of the problems. Fortunately the Phactors own an Italian range top coffee brewer and a gas range. So there you go, coffee and hot milch easy as that but maybe that manual coffee grinder should have been kept? Just enough ground coffee saved us. Some Italian bread fried in a bit of butter solved the third problem. Fortunately the garage door can be opened fairly easily once you get inside to disengage the opener. No lights was a great excuse to sit out on the patio to read the morning paper listening to a lonely house wren and looking at the iris and peonies in bloom. It was a bit like camping out and the lack of electricity was not a problem for most because they simply get coffee and breakfast out at a fast foodie place just like they get din-dins. It was only a 2 hour outage in our extended neighborhood. But you had best make sure you are prepared for such things. Next step would have been a camp stove and percolator.
Field work is underway doing vegetational analyses of an old field as part of our research into the biology of a hemiparasitic plant that appears to have a considerable impact on this plant community. It's hard, rather slow work, but you do find some little treasures. The area is dominated by tall goldenrod and warm season pasture grasses. So it doesn't look like much. But when you examine things close enough you find some nice things: a green, fringed orchids and purple twayblade orchids that are so cute buried down in knee high vegetation already. A grape fern (Botrychium dissectum) was also found, a new record for this site, and not just once, but twice. But then the rest was way too much Solidago. TPP was also using a nice to wildlife approach to discourage any woodchucks looking to relocate to our botanical buffet. A chicken wire skirt was installed around the base of our pavilion, a not subtle message to stay out. Do not attempt to wrestle with chicken wire, juniper shrubs, and staple guns all at the same time. TPP came off the worst, but didn't loose too much blood. So far, so good. The kitchen garden is coming along. The lettuce and spinach is coming to an end, some broccoli is ready, all the spring onions have been eaten. The snap peas are just being so slow. The herb garden is shaping up too. Soon there will be enough parsley even for us. But will there be enough basil? Dill, never enough dill, and it's a bloody weed! Come on dill! Look at the cilantro and get with the program!
Here's a pictorial preview of the Chelsea Flower show from the Guardian. It doesn't do the show justice, but it does give you a taste of the floral extravagance that will be on display. Logistically it seems quite impossible to have so many perfectly flowering specimens of so many different plants all at once and for the entire week of the show. The displays are always quite beautiful, and even the potatoes are beautiful. Was it worth attending? Yes, although they limit the number for each day of the show, the crowd was a bit dismaying. Rather hard to stand and just admire a garden at times even if they do forbid that bane of street fairs, farmers' markets, and garden shows, the stroller (or is it a pram?). And also no dogs. What ever makes you think your dog enjoys going to such events with you? Sorry. You also get an idea here just how creative some of the garden designs are. Enjoy.
It's been a busy week gardening and field work, and neither is very conducive to blogging. Still the FFF must be honored even a day late. Here's an image of a new addition to our university's quad, a red horse chestnut, rather one with red flowers. The horse chestnut is a pretty spectacular tree in flower, massive flowering, huge display of big conical inflorescences, all at once, a so-called "big bang" flowering, but the flowers are white although with bits of color up close. This ornamental is not a mutant; it's a hybrid called Aesculus x carnea. So not a true horse chestnut at all although that is one of the parents, the other being the quite handsome small red buckeye that TPP has featured on FFF before. This tree has good cold hardiness for having a southern parent and is more of a tree, less of a shrub. As a taxonomic note buckeyes used to be in their own family, but now molecular data has placed them in the soapberry family, one not very familiar sailing in the N. temperate zone, but that's still better than the old stand alone family that told us nothing except they weren't real chestnuts at all. Sigh, one more genus to refile in the herbarium.
Yes, please eat it all. Garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) is a horribly invasive weed. TPP must make the rounds of our estate two or three times a spring to keep the garlic mustard at bay; it invades from an un-kept preserve next door. It's a biennial taking two seasons to go from seed to seed. And, yes, especially when young the leaves are edible; they have a nice peppery garlicy flavor that would probably go quite well in wilted salad or in a pesto. A young person asked about this. They are fascinated with the idea of foraging for edibles. So, why not collect it and eat it? Basically, it isn't that good that it's worth it. Think about this. The plant is native to Europe where agriculture has been practiced for a few millenia. The plant has long been collected as a culinary herb. The really good food plants have been domesticated and are grown at least in some places for food. But not garlic mustard. Our ancestors are telling us something, but by all means collect all the garlic mustard you want. TPP would recommend collecting along a section of a walking/biking trail built on an abandoned railway line. The banks of this trail abound (too weak), are a dense, weedy, morass of garlic mustard, and all these jogger/biker types zoom/zoom-zoom by thinking (?), isn't nature wonderful? All the botanist sees is a mess of invasive weeds, and enough peppery, garlicy greens to choke the population of Chi-town. Understand TPP is not opposed to foraging. Back in the poor graduate student days TPP foraged the country side for asparagus. Clumps grew along fences in the grassy margins of maize fields, so you could ride your bike along and harvest some spears returning home with a nice veggie for din-dins. The spears were hard to see in the tall grass, so TPP would bend a discarded can (all too common) over the fence to mark the spot when the asparagus shoots were tall and easily seen so you could find the young shoots next spring. This worked well until someone figured out the marking system and foraged earlier. So TPP does not intend to discourage foraging per se, but does have a thing about invasive plants and people's insensitivity to them. One friend says she can no longer walk in woods because she can't stop pulling garlic mustard or honeysuckle seedlings.
Where do I join? After reading about the Australian Sex Party (It's not what you think, so shame on you.), and some of their political policies (links provided at the above link), and their position on vaccinations, TPP was pretty impressed. Do you think the USA (Unlimited Sex in America?) might do better if our political policies were out-sourced, and written by people who think science actually is more important than their political ideologies?
Our constant search for shade-loving plants has produced a number of survivors, a few not bads, a very few nices, and one clear winner, Neillia sinensis. This shrub grows really well and does not appear to be soil fussy. It grows with a nice loose rounded form of arching branches (if not pruned poorly) rather like a Spirea to which it is related. The bush is about 6' by 6'. And it has a great flowering display of pink flowers (that's quite a hypanthium), not as gaudy as an azalea, but nice enough for heavy shade. It does tend to spread a little, but not in a frightening way. Unfortunately the bun-buns like it, so it requires winter caging in our gardens. TPP saw this growing at the Missouri Botanical Garden in heavy shade. The plant is not common in commercial nurseries as yet. Also found a smaller, sprawling shrub called Stephanandra incisa; it also grows well in shade, but the flowering display is rather quiet (small flowers), and the bun-buns really love it (one got eaten to the ground), so in general more of a "not bad".
They say that imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, and it can be true for gardens as well. Several years ago on a botanical geek trip that included the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, Mrs. Phactor was quite taken by their Bluebell Wood, a shady expanse of large trees with an understory of solid bluebell shown here from their what's in bloom page of their webpage.
These are not the bluebells that North Americans are used to; these are actually Spanish bluebells, Hyacinthoides hispanica, and yes, this genus is more like hyacinths than our trumpet like native bluebells of the borage family. "Bluebells" is a pretty common common name. To make a long story short, Mrs. Phactor decided to duplicate the bluebell wood, except the original is several times larger than our whole estate, so the plans had to be scaled down. Here's the result.
OK it's not quite the same vista with only one oak tree making the "wood" and it's a different species of bluebell, H. non-scripta, English bluebells. But given the size difference, the comparison is still favorable. Hope the Brooklyn Botanic Garden isn't jealous. Considering that this was formerly all lily of the valley, it took some real dedicated effort to get them out and the bluebells in. Say something nice about her bluebells.
Here's a web site that some of you may need, or like even if you don't need it - Plant Amnesty: working to end the senseless torture and mutilation of trees and shrubs. This was a new resource for TPP brought to my attention by those good people over at the Garden Rant blog. Funny how things like this pop up. For years TPP has ranted about "poodle" pruning of shrubs and other horrible, nasty, terrible things people do to shrubs and trees. Seems like most people prune too much or too little. SoAnd then because people don't know what they're doing they wait too long and only radical pruning can be used to try and rescue a specimen. TPP should have been a founding member of Plant Amnesty. You'll find a lot of good advice and helpful articles at Plant Amnesty. The F1 had to have a letter writing campaign to get her well-meaning neighbors to release her fosythia from being regularly mutilated into a ball.
Our gardens can generally be classified as shady, so TPP has been working at increasing our fern diversity while keeping the ostrich ferns and sensitive ferns in check. Winter hardiness is not so much a problem as is the hot, dry summers of the upper midwest and the clay content of our soils. In addition to the usual garden ferns, a couple of more unusual ferns have managed to hang on even if not particularly flourishing. Here's a Hart's Tongue fern (Asplenium scolopendium) sending up it's spring fiddleheads. As you can readily see, the fronds are long, un-divided, straps, and often persist through the winter. Given the rather tricky conditions needed for its culture, it's a bit of a surprise that this fern has survived under a Japanese maple although it has remained a fairly small plant and is kept caged to prevent it from becoming bunny candy and much smaller. Since it is native in Michigan and New York, it's no surprise it doesn't like our summers. Our local fern growing guru says it's doing well. His fern and moss garden/collection is impressive, but requires watering and quite a bit of care. And he's just offered us some new plants. Nice!
Our kitchen garden is rather limited and still in need of some repair, especially in the small fruit category. It's cool, wet weather for the end of April and early May. It was hotter a month ago, but some things should not be rushed. Lettuce and salad greens abound; they love the cool, wet weather, and if salad comes along before May, then the garden is early. A light row cover not only keeps the herbivores at bay, it really does speed up their growth. TPP has been watching people buying tomato, pepper, eggplant plants, but it still isn't time. These plants don't like cool and wet, and as long as the night time temps are in the 40s and low 50s they just don't grow, so early planting will not get you earlier tomatoes unless each plant has its own personal hot house. Same thing goes for squashes, cucumbers, and melons. These are warm weather plants, so wait. This is just about our frost-free date, the day beyond which the chances of a frost or freeze are just about nil. The above mentioned plants are very tender, any frost will do them in, while the garden greens and cole crops are pretty tough. The frost free date is normally when the weather warms up. The longer days and warmer weather will encourage your nightshades and cucurbits, while doing in your salad greens, which begin to bolt and get bitter. It means your BLT is pretty unnatural. Lettuce and tomatoes are virtually never in your garden together, let alone the bacon. So now is preparation time, but not planting time for the warm weather plants. In a way it's let TPP get some chores done in other areas, like pulling young honeysuckle bushes and other woody weeds (not to mention loosestrife) in shady areas. You sometimes don't realize how many there are until you start pulling. A lot of elderberry too, but no idea where those seeds are coming from (yes, birds), but where are the fruiting plants? Broccoli and peas are growing, so time to get everything else ready.
This is an unabashed repeat, but this is a favorite flowering shrub. How can you beat big yellow flowers like this? You can't. This is the latest flowering of the tree peonies, some of the earlier ones got buds damaged a bit by a late freeze. This one was undamaged. It's at the top of a 4 foot shrub.
Isn't this just a great looking flower? Too bad the scratch and sniff technology hasn't been worked out just yet.
Life can be a bit easier if you learn from the mistakes of others. On a few occasions TPP has issued you plant warnings; fail to heed them at your own risk: plume poppy, giant lamb's quarters, Houttoynia cordata, spreading hardy bamboo. Never wrote the blog about the Houttoynia or the bamboo; the Houttoynia may be the worst, spreading like wild fire and while the flowers are cool and the leaves attractive, it will come back from the tiniest bit of rhizome, and it's brittle, so you are sure to break it into lots of pieces (think Mickey Mouse as the sorcerer's apprentice and brooms). Now every garden has some tough spots where gardeners keep looking for something tough to fill a spot. One of ours is a smallish triangle, 3-4 foot on a side, pond margin on one side, base of a rock garden on the other and a looming tulip magnolia on the hypotenuse. So that resulted in trying a fringed yellow loosestrife (Lysimachia ciliata); it seemed able to deal with the shade and wetness, and its sort of native and rather handsome, especially this purple-leafed cultivar. But previous experience with L. vulgaris had not really taught us a lasting lesson. And to make us sound really foolish, it takes an effort to control L. clethroides, the very handsome gooseneck loosestrife, inherited with the house purchase. Those are our slow-learner credentials, but last year TPP put in 3 one gallon plants, as an experiment, and this year the yellow loosestrife came up every where. If you live in the upper midwest and you see this nice purple foliage sprouting with the prominent ciliated margins on the petioles, then TPP is truly sorry, it got away. As you can see from the images it produces a network of rhizomes some as long as 2 feet sending up new shoots along the way. It took an hour and a half with a spading fork, along with brute force, to remove the 3 plants. The plant material nearly filled a 30 gallon trash container. Don't plant this plant! Don't plant loosestrifes, period.
OK, here's a big confession. No! Everything out there is nothing but chemicals, and organic too; no inorganic lawn or garden at all. Has that clarified the issue? In all honesty, one of our lawns had become a total field of blue violets and thousands of seedlings were germinating promising things would get worse, so it was treated with an herbicide. A well-meaning neighbor asked if the violets had been "poisoned"? No, not in the sense that you mean; they were treated with an artificial plant hormone that kills dicots by affecting their physiology. And next some chemicals will be used on azaleas and rhododendrons to prevent clorosis, iron-deficiency. Small gardens are sometimes hard to maintain without some chemicals because you cannot sustain many losses. Our gardens seldom need insecticides. A row cover protects the broccoli from Lepidopteran herbivores, and every now and then an infestation requires some insecticidal soap, and our fountain pond is treated with Bt bacteria to prevent them from breeding swarms of mosquitos. Unfortunately, tree holes abound, and so do tree-hole mosquitos, a not good species in terms of disease vectoring. And fertilizer, yes, it becomes handy in intensive cultivation situations. Chemicals for certain, but it's a funny thing, plants don't care about where they obtain their nitrogen. So, no again. Not chemical free.
TPP is not a fan of golf. Growing up a rural blue-collar semi-farmer type kid starts you out a long ways from having an interest in an expensive game (compared to our other games) that takes a nice natural area and transform it into a monoculture of grass. Also developed a strong aversion to mowing grass as a kid, and although the game does not involve much of that the course is a constant reminder of the boredom. So TPP was cheered this morning to hear that Brazil may have succeeded in making golf interesting for the Olympics this year. Yes, golf course alligators could make the game more interesting, further suggest poisonous snakes and Africanized bees, and anything else that could help see which contestants really can concentrate on their shots while being stalked, and the dun-dun, dun-dun music that gives away what is coming. And it's just so much more interesting when the water hazard is a hazard to the golfer not just the ball. While exploring the botany of the roughs, and finding almost as many golf balls as Dr. Chips lost for a pretty good score of -2 balls (for 18), the course warned about marauding black bears, one shown running along with a bag of golf clubs in its mouth. Now that's interesting. Add some alligators and you really have something!
As the lawn mowing season commences, TPP must remind you that trees, particularly young ones, do not like lawn mowers, not the misused machine but the idiot guiding it. A walk through any particular neighborhood will provide numerous examples of tree abuse at the hands of lawn mowers usually in the form of gouges and missing hunks of bark near the base of the trunk. It's the most common sort of urban tree damage. This is simply not good, and here's the thing, such injury is forever and can have long reaching consequences that will reduce the longevity of the tree. The injury shown is not new; it's a few years old. You can see some evidence of the wood and bark growth closing over the wound, but it does not ever completely heal. The tree compartmentalizes the wound; the cambium may over grow the wound encasing the wound in wood. Evidence of the abuse. But that's not all; where the cambium fuses together from the two sides, it forms abnormal wood for years afterward, a radial seam of weakness that many years later under stress, particularly during the winter, can split forming what is called a "frost crack". It's really a tree-injury crack and this has been thoroughly demonstrated by dissecting cracked trees and sure enough there is always, always, anatomical evidence of prior injury. This particular injury is also promoting some unsightly basal sprouting, which sometimes encourages lawn mowing dummies to mow even closer to trim the sprouts. The solution is to mulch a perimeter around the tree to keep the lawn mower away. If you want either a book or a pamphlet about tree care, you should go here. It's a web site about the life's work and publications of Alex Shigo, a noted forest pathologist and a mentor to many of us. In particular many of these publications especially the economically priced pamphlets very useful, informative, and not technical. These are PP approved, and if you've been reader for any time at all, you will know that this blog gives very few endorsements and is bereft of ads and popups that plague and diminish many blogs with tawdry advertising.