From the U.S. Botanic Garden.
on September 8, 2016 at 3:30 pm, in the category It’s the Plants, Darling.
From the U.S. Botanic Garden.
on September 8, 2016 at 3:30 pm, in the category It’s the Plants, Darling.
Meadows are HOT these days, thanks to anti-lawn sentiments, concern for pollinators, and some smart designers and plant researchers. I encountered all of the above one day last month.
University of Maryland at College Park
First I attended a talk+tour at the University of Maryland about the meadows on their campus (which is a certified arboretum now, just like the Swarthmore campus, we hope).
The meadow shown below is just two acres, but that’s room enough for 60 different native species, according to the signage. I’m told the soil here was something called “gravel-infused clay,” which sounds horrible and apparently can’t even sustain a meadow. So there was much amending with compost. Without amendment only scrub trees, like black locust, would grow there.
The meadow’s now four years old, and looks good even in November.
Notice how the meadow is made nonthreatening to passersby? By creating a nice wide mowed path for people to use without fear of ticks or snakes.
Larry Weaner in Annapolis
Later that day I attended a talk by the amazing New Jersey meadow-maker Larry Weaner at the Annapolis Horticulture Society. I’d heard Larry talk on the subject years ago but this talk was totally new to me because after creating 200+ meadows over 30 years, he’s evolved, along with his methods (especially) and plant choices.
So here are some take-aways about naturalistic design and meadow-making from the East Coast expert.
A Few Plants
More evidence that meadows and Larry Weaner are hot is the huge feature about them in the new issue of Landscape Architecture Magazine, which happens to be free online this month. Go to page 76 for a terrific article by Anne Raver, with full plant lists, designs, and more from Larry. The article also details the enormous cost savings enjoyed by the city of Stamford, CT after converting parkland from lawn to meadow.
And I was happy to learn that Larry is working on a book about all this, with Thomas Christopher and Timber Press. Tom told me that it’s fascinating to him “because Larry’s successes contradict so much of the traditional horticulture that I learned as a student at the New York Botanical Garden.” Goody.
on December 5, 2014 at 9:44 am, in the category Designs, Tricks, and Schemes, Lawn Reform, Unusually Clever People.
As a big fan of Organic Gardening Magazine, I take no pleasure in expressing my shock surprise at seeing this photo illustrating an otherwise wonderful article about growing wildlife-friendly gardens. The caption on the right says “Orange Boy watches wildlife from the front porch.”
I don’t imagine he just watches.
Do we need to repost links to research demonstrating the harm done to wildlife by outdoor cats?
on May 7, 2013 at 4:08 pm, in the category Everybody’s a Critic, Ministry of Controversy.
I like having bantam hens for the same reason that I like having girl children: pretty. A joy to watch.
It was the girls who chose the fancy bantams from the McMurray’s catalog. They are an assortment, Silkies with fur apres-ski hats, fat little Cochins in black, brown and barred, and one tiny little Mille Fleur hen who looks as if she belongs in a birdcage, not a barnyard.
We ordered the day-old chicks last fall, something I’ve never done before, in order to break two hens of extreme broodiness that had lasted all summer and made me fear for their health. The hens just refused to get off the nest, even to eat or drink, absolutely determined to hatch out unfertilized eggs that would turn to stone before they produced a chick.
In the past, I’d solved the problem of insane broodiness by getting fertile eggs from a friend out in the country who has roosters. This is also the easiest possible way to add to a flock. Skip the brooder and the lights and the awkward introduction of teenagers to territorial grown-ups. Just let the adult hens do the child-rearing. But my friend and I failed to connect, and I twice ordered fertile eggs by mail, expensive duds. So my kids and I decided to try day-old chicks.
Initially, the bantams appeared to be a disaster. At the post office, when I went to pick up my 26 chicks, I was astonished to be handed a box the size of a grapefruit.
They were ridiculously tiny and fragile. One was dead in the box and another soon after. I did successfully palm each little chick in turn and place it carefully under the hot underside of a broody hen, grabbing an egg on the way out. There was barely a ruffle from the adoptive mothers. “Mother hen” became a cliche for a reason.
All was well until the chicks decided two days later that it was time to head outdoors. I’d been trying to keep them in the coop by putting a screen over the opening to the chicken yard. The chicks were so minuscule yet determined, that they wound up wedging themselves between the screen and the wall, chirping pitifully, their adoptive mothers pacing angrily. And some managed to escape anyway, flinging themselves down three feet into the yard.
I gave up, made a ramp for them, and let them out. The problem was, they were too little and weak to use the ramp at night, so for weeks, I was out at dusk with a fishing net, catching panicky little chicks to put them to bed while their enraged mothers tried to attack me.
Eventually, most of them learned how to use the ramp. But I began to question bantam intelligence. There were at least 8 or 9 underachievers who could simply not solve the problem for weeks after the rest of their classmates figured it out.
There were losses along the way. One chick was stepped on during the evening commute. A owl spotted in a tall Norway spruce helped himself to several. And a full 9 turned out to be roosters. The roosters were so handsome. They were barely a foot tall, yet had all the attitude and lung power of Foghorn Leghorn. I love rooster music, but my city neighbors started developing bags under their eyes and eyeing me murderously, so I took the roosters to a farmer in the country, who “processed” them.
Now, however, I have ten lovely bantam hens happily coexisting with my five old large hens. And I have decided that the bantams are great city chickens. A whole bunch of them will comfortably share a limited space. And contrary to their reputation as only so-so egg layers, I am getting a lot of eggs every day. Even the size of the eggs is impressive, given the hens’ size. Smaller than a normal egg, but proportionately large.
And I think the flavor of the bantam eggs is better, richer, sweeter. Possibly, however, I am influenced by the aesthetics here. Pretty.
on September 14, 2013 at 7:24 am, in the category Eat This, Feed Me.
Crowd-sourcing for the DC Gardens media campaign starts NOW! Click here to see the video, the “story,” the team (more members being added today), and the “impacts.”
If you’re local to the DC area:
Browse images and videos of our 12 destinations gardens by month.
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If you live somewhere else:
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Donate to create work for gardenbloggers and photographers in your city, state or region – because who better to create a DCGardens-type service than experienced online garden writers and local photographers? In DC we’ll be contracting with gardenwriter/blogger Kathy Jentz to do regular digital outreach and keep the online resources current. We’re using photos donated by volunteers, but we expect and hope that with our proven success, other cities, states and regions will hire photographers to make it happen quickly and professionally.
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And please spread the word!
on March 2, 2015 at 8:07 am, in the category Public Gardens.
Of course, it’s very good that the White House and the National Park Foundation have decided to maintain a food patch on the property. And let’s be clear on one thing right away: I am a big fan of both Obamas and would be happy to see them stay in the WH indefinitely. Kudos also to the Burpee Foundation for its recent $2.5 million gift to maintain the garden after the Obamas leave at the end of the year.
It is important to eat seasonally and locally, which I try to do, though without growing the food myself. But the WH garden never seemed like much more than a stunt to me, albeit a good one. Nobody really finds a vegetable garden all that revolutionary. It sets a good, sensible example, but there are other gardening examples that might be more startling—at least to many Americans. Like less lawn or lawn alternatives. Like more native plants. Like a meadow on the property. I’ve enjoyed the photo ops of kids harvesting in the garden, but I’d also love to see those kids running through a White House meadow.
The garden’s new inscription includes the words with the hope of growing a healthier nation, but if that’s really the hope, there are more important ways in which government should help maintain public health. One of the most essential is preserving our supply of clean water. According to a wide range of reports, the Clean Water Act is violated regularly. There are just too many ways for polluting industries of all types (including farming) to around it, by it, or under the radar of it. And like many, I am not convinced that fracking (supported by government for the most part) does not pose a threat to groundwater. I’m also concerned about the effect growing GMO crops (supported by the administration) has on the environment.
I don’t mean to quibble. There have been many environmental victories (in the face of formidable opposition) over the past eight years as well. There is no doubt that the current occupants of the WH understand the importance of healthy food, air, and water, for the most part. I hope future administrations will do half so well. And that they enjoy the garden.
on October 13, 2016 at 9:13 am, in the category Gardening on the Planet.
Female rufous hummingbird on hummingbird mint (Agastache rupestris ‘Acapulco Orange’) in my Boise garden
My garden right now is a sensory feast. This morning, I cut the peppermint back from the path and hung bundles of it from the covered arbor in which I’m sitting, and its aroma perfumes the enclosed space as I write.
The colors of every scene and view are dramatic. Red blanketflower glows against a backdrop of purple ninebark leaves. Golden yellow apples dot the ground, echoing paler yellow blossoms on ‘Moonbeam’ coreopsis and evening primrose. Across the courtyard in the mini-prairie, leaning stalks of spent Maximilian sunflower tower above madly blooming white and purple asters threaded with ‘Fireworks’ goldenrod, while airy switchgrass seedheads reflect jewels of light. It is an embarrassment of riches here, and I feel lucky to witness it all.
Birds and squirrels still enliven my yard, twittering and fluttering and scampering, but the last hummingbird left a week ago, adding a note of sadness to this season of goodbyes. I miss the hummingbirds — their squeaky voices, whirring wings, and lively curiosity.
I cut part of my trumpetvine back this morning. Trained as a small tree, it had encroached on half of my driveway, but I waited to be sure the last hummingbird was truly gone before removing any of it. I thought she might be spending these colder nights in its sheltered interior.
I imagine her making her way from Boise down to Mexico, maybe even crossing the Gulf in a nonstop 20-hour flight. Of course, she might also head for New Orleans. Whatever her winter destination, I hope she will have a successful journey there and back.
So if you are in her path, please take care of my bird. Leave your late-blooming nectar sources and your insects; she might need them for fuel. Be sure she can find a safe shelter for the night.
Without other gardeners to help her on her way, we won’t be reunited next year. I’m depending on you! And I’ll do the same for your birds.
on October 7, 2015 at 1:52 am, in the category Gardening on the Planet.
There is an abandoned fencerow on our Salvisa, Kentucky, farm. It’s marked clearly. A dozen black walnut trees Juglans nigra grow in a straight line, running up a small hill toward the rising sun. A generation ago, squirrels stored thousands of walnuts and forgot about them. The trees, nearly 50 years old, grew like weeds.
There are dozens of trees scattered around the farm. If the walnuts are left lying around, they become ankle twisters. You can’t avoid them when walking anywhere close to a black walnut tree in the autumn or early winter. Isaac Rogers, a junior at Mercer County High School who lives nearby with his family, made some pocket money this fall with a friend, collecting the nuts. I was mighty glad the boys gathered them.
We cut down one tree three years ago and moved the 18-inch diameter logs to a spot where they lay waiting in the shadow of the other walnut trees along the old fencerow. The logs were considerably smaller than the tulip poplar logs in the photo above
Mac Reid, my friend and neighbor, had an even bigger walnut log from a tree he’d cut down on the back of his farm a few miles away. We agreed two years ago that we should cut the logs up into lumber. We waited. My walnut logs risked decay by the month.
Mark Peachey, who lives across the Salt River from us, gave me the phone number for a mobile sawmill. When I called Bill Jones, the owner, and asked a few questions about his milling process and the fees, he answered methodically and gave warm encouragement for his interest in our small job. Bill explained his reasonable set-up charge and hourly rate. There was one possible add-on. He said if he hit any nails or barbed wire, we would owe him $30 for a new saw blade.
Bill Jones’s professionalism and deep, soft-spoken voice fooled me. I was certain the man at the other end of the phone would be in his late 60s or even older.
The Master logger and Frankfort, Kentucky, resident is all of 42.
Bill Jones, in person, is lean and muscular. His long graying beard reminded me of Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top. Or maybe the bearded dude of the Oak Ridge Boys, William Lee Golden, back in his younger days.
Bill Jones got down to business. While he was setting up his mobile gear, he said we shouldn’t worry if he hit any embedded bullets during the saw milling. We hit two bullets. The saw blade cuts right through the soft lead.
Bill said one of the bullets, judging by the growth rings, would put the time of the gunshot at 20-25 years ago. I laughed and thought my neighbor Otis Knox might have been using the walnut tree outside his old house for target practice.
I called Otis, who once lived here and planted dozens of trees, and asked, “Were you shooting up the trees down here?”
He paused for a second and said, “I don’t shoot up trees.”
Otis had grown up east of here, in the mountains of Wolfe County. He has always loved trees—maybe more than his own guns. He planted a row of white pines on the farm in 1972. They look terrific today.
Otis couldn’t understand how anyone would shoot a tree. He complained that some of his buddies had been deer hunting on his farm last month and shot up a hickory tree. Otis got after them pretty hard. He didn’t think the tree would survive the shoot up. His friends didn’t take kindly to the scolding.
Bill Jones, after a few blustery hours, was packing up his mobile sawmill. We loaded one and two-inch thick, eight-foot foot long walnut boards onto my pick-up and parked it in the barn. Bill said eight to ten months of curing, stacked up in the barn, would bring the moisture level to 18 percent. (Two years of air-drying would be better for the two-inch pieces) Kiln drying will be needed to bring the moisture to seven to ten percent for furniture making.
We don’t have any idea what we’ll do with the walnut lumber. Benches, a table and paneling are all part of the discussion. The barn, in the meantime, suddenly has the new, fresh fragrance of walnut.
Just down the hill, 125 feet from the barn, in the bottomland adjacent to the Salt River, is the biggest black walnut on the farm. Rose’s brother Robin gave us a rusted hay rake that had been lying around his place for years. He thought we should let it lie around our place for years. It was parked under the large walnut, weeds growing up around it, until my arborist friend Robert Rollins came out. He and his crew are excellent climbers and good with ropes and wires. Robert is a tree craftsman with a fun, artistic streak.
I’ve not checked closely but, my guess is we’ve got the first-of-its-kind hay rake in a walnut tree. It’s a good conversation piece.
“What’s with the hay rake in the tree?” we’ve been asked.
I’m sure Alexander Calder was asked about what in the hell his sculptures were, too.
“It’s art,” I answer tongue-in-cheek.
Eyes roll. No one is fooled. It’s just a hay rake in a walnut tree.
on December 23, 2015 at 8:36 am, in the category But is it Art?, Unusually Clever People, What’s Happening.
As promised, here’s a follow-up to Ruth Kassinger’s guest rant. She wrote the very popular Paradise Under Glass and now A Garden of Marvels, which was published just this week.
I don’t review many garden books because I passed the learning-to-garden phase years ago and of the few books I try, I rarely like one well enough to recommend it. But Ruth doesn’t write how-to books; she’s a storyteller. (Like our Amy.) And stories, if they’re this well written, I enjoy.
A Garden of Marvels is subtitled “The Discovery that Flowers have Sex, Leaves Eat Air, and Other Secrets of the Way Plants Work” and that’s a tip-off to the good news that this is no Botany for Gardeners, which was about as readable as an outdated textbook. (Sorry!)
In contrast, A Garden of Marvels is thought-provoking and a delight to read, and the reviewers seem to agree. Some of my favorite parts of it cover:
– How early scientists gleaned their misunderstandings of how plants work through reason, rather than observation, an approach that was “embraced and interpreted by the medieval Catholic Church and then the late-medieval universities.” Thus, knowledge of botany progressed not at all from the third century B.C. to the 17th century!
– The “extreme gardeners” who compete to grow the largest pumpkin use gardening tips unknown to us regular gardeners: “So, many growers cap their emergent female flowers with a plastic cup or a sock – a sort of pumpkin condom – so that some randy flower on some loser vine won’t knock up their pedigreed virgins.”
– I’m considerably more respectful of roots after reading that: “It takes an extensive root system with trillions of bacteria supplying billions of root hairs to gather sufficient nitrogen, as well as water and other minerals, to support even a small plant.”
– The search for a perennial substitute for the easy-to-harvest but resource-intensive annual wheat species that dominates agriculture.
– The “amazing grasses” that may be the biofuel of tomorrow, especially Miscanthus giganteus, which grows to 15 feet tall and produces twice the biomass per acre as switchgrass.
– The chapter on “Cheap Sex” that sent me to this Youtube video of a bee “pseudocopulating” with an orchid.
– The author’s own journey from writing poetry to international reports for federal agencies and finally to freelance writing anything and everything that needed to be written. But with a growing portfolio, mere pamphlets turned into books, especially science books for young readers, and finally two plant-centric books for adults. And what she’ll do next is anybody’s guess.
– And why Ruth Kassinger is an indoors-only gardener. “No outdoor gardening with dog’s-breath heat and humidity, murderous mosquitoes, and horrible hundred-legged beasties for me.” But Ruth, how do you really feel about the outdoors?
Win a Copy
Just leave a comment here and we’ll choose one at random to receive a copy of A Garden of Marvels. Contest ends Friday March 7.
Ruth’s Famous Greenhouse Revealed!
After reading the book I boldly contacted the author to invite myself to meet her on her home turf so that I could see her “paradise under glass. Hey, it was January and I needed a plant fix – at least that was my excuse. And it turns out that her version of a greenhouse is prettier and more homey than the usual type because it’s a large addition that flows naturally into the living room but can be closed off to retain moisture and the right temperature. Here’s a quick video, followed by photos.
Ruth sent me home with kumquats and Meyer lemons. They’re so much tastier than the ones shipped up from Florida in winter.
on February 28, 2014 at 7:43 am, in the category Science Says.
There’s no more surefire way to get everybody all riled up on this site than to talk about native plants—whether or not to use them, how much to use them, who is too obsessed with them, who isn’t obsessed enough, where they work best, and where they work worst. I’ve read many an impassioned comment on these; too often, such comments are riddled with straw men arguments.
Is there a need? Aside from a very few fanatics—and in spite of Doug Tallamy’s arguments for natives, I do not consider him a fanatic in the least—most proponents of natives I know encourage their use. They do not enforce their use, nor can they. Unless certain plants—like ivy in the Pacific Northwest—are banned, or you live in some kind of HOA hell, you can pretty much plant what you want. Nobody is making you plant natives; nobody is making you plant anything.
But, in spite of all the hot air, I find so much satisfaction in my native plants. There’s the Collinsonia canadensis (at top), with its tiny but interesting blooms. Known commonly as horsebalm, this, like many of my natives, provides late summer interest and statuesque foliage. My Eupatorium varieties are starting to bloom now, as well, including the tangentially related blue mistflower.
I’m very pleased by the Clematis virginiana (above), which doesn’t seem to suffer from wilt, like the Sweet Autumn variety, and climbs undaunted through trumpet vine (not a native everyone likes).
This is the time of year, when the lilies are ending and the roses just coming out of pause, that I appreciate natives the most. They’re not spectacular, flower-wise, for the most part, but they add lush foliage at a time when the garden is beginning to harden, and their aggressive tendencies help them survive in my shade- and root-laden urban wilderness.
on August 5, 2014 at 7:30 am, in the category It’s the Plants, Darling, Ministry of Controversy.