If you are looking for shrubs that produce super-early spring flowers, the choices are limited. Spicebush (Lindera benzoin) is my favorite native in this category. Before the Nor’easter passed through last weekend though, a non-native resident of my shrub border that runs along the road caught my eye. Commonly called white forsythia or Korean abelialeaf (Abeliophyllum distichum), this small, somewhat scraggly, shrub produces clouds of dainty white flowers in late winter. The flowers, sometimes blushed with pink, appear before the foliage. Although far less showy than the yellow forsythias (Forsythia spp.) that are scattered across spring landscapes everywhere, white forsythia does grace the garden with very early spring flowers.

Plants grow in full sun to partial shade and need well-drained soil. Beyond that, they need little care. Prune as needed immediately after flowering to keep the shape dense. Plants do spread a bit by suckering, and they range from 3 to 5 or more feet high and wide.

Descriptions I have read about Abeliophyllum distichum say the flowers are fragrant, but I can’t detect any fragrance. This is possibly due to the fact that my plant is out along the road and all the fragrance is lost in the wind. Still, the clouds of tiny white flowers are a promise of spring to come!


We have had some great weather for working out in the garden this spring. In the interest of getting in shape for the season and getting some work done, I have spend a couple of hours a day getting beds cleaned up for spring. Today, I nearly finished cutting back the old foliage on my hellebores, a task that ensures that flowers show to best effect.  My beds in the backyard are more protected than the front, and the plants are in full bloom on this last day of February.

Gryff helped the hellebore effort throughout. He wasn’t as interested in supervising cutting the old foliage off my epimediums. For once, I got to this task before the flowers started to emerge, so shearing was a cinch.

Hellebores and snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis) make perfect spring companions.

Clipping away last year’s leaves helps show off the flowers to best effect.

I have seen single snakes in early spring before, but this year I found two curled up next to where I was working.

Each spring, I look forward to the first flowers, and my winter aconites have come into bloom right on schedule. I won’t be surprised if there are insects visiting the blossoms next week during the warm days the weather forecasters are promising us. Warm weather also provides a great opportunity for pruning, so I am working on plans as I type this post.

Winter aconites (Ernthis hyemalis).

Flowers are not the only way to brighten up the landscape this time of year, though. As I turned back into the driveway at the end of a walk with my dogs today, my eye went right to the clumps of variegated yuccas along the driveway. They not only add splashes of bold yellow to the otherwise dreary winter landscape, they also produce spikes of white flowers in summer. Couple that with the fact that they are incredibly low maintenance plants–all they ask is full sun and average to dry, well-drained soil–and I can’t fathom why they aren’t more popular. (I know that all-green and blue-green types are pretty common!)

So, I am posting pictures of two of my clumps in the hopes that a few Eastern Shore Gardeners will add a plant or two to their own landscapes. Just be advised that you do have to be a bit patient: It takes a couple of years for pot-grown plants to really get established and produce a good-size clump.

Variegated yucca (Yucca flaccida ‘Variegata’

Variegated yucca (Yucca ‘Color Guard’)

I have another speaking engagement to announce—one that I meant to post about a couple of weeks ago. I hope some of you can join me on Saturday, September 23 at Chesapeake College. I am one of the speakers at a seminar titled Sustainable Landscaping on the Eastern Shore. The program was organized by the University of Maryland Extension Master Gardener program.

The seminar will be held at the Eastern Shore Higher Education Center, Chesapeake College Wye Mills Campus, 1000 College Circle Drive, Wye Mills, MD 21679.  The program starts at 9:00 a.m. with registration and light refreshments. I am speaking at 9:30 a.m., and my topic is Building Diversity in the Garden.

Sylvan Kaufrman is speaking at 11:00 a.m. on Plant More than just a Pretty Face: Native Alternatives to Invasive Ornamental Plants. Christina Pax speaks at 1:00 p.m. on Designing with Native Plants.

There is time during the day for book sales and signings. Lunch is on your own. After Chrisina Pax  speaks, there is an optional field walk at a nearby private garden (limited to 30 people).

Cost for the seminar is $25.00. You can register at Sustainable Landscaping on the Eastern Shore. See that link for a full description of the program. You can also register on Saturday morning until 10:00 a.m.: Bring a credit card, a $25.00 check written to University of Maryland, or $25.00 in cash on the day of the event.

I hope to see some of you there! It promises to be a great day.

I have a quick Speaking Engagement notice to post before I go outside to get a few things planted in the garden!

I will be speaking at the Oxford Community Center, 200 Oxford Road, Oxford, Maryland, this Thursday, September 7 at 2:00 p.m.  The topic is a favorite of mine, “Embracing Diversity with Native and Non Native Plants.” I will have books to sell and am happy to sign them.

The talk is open to the public and is sponsored by the Dorchester County Garden Club and the Oxford Garden Club. Hope to see you there!Spigelia-marilandica,-Mom's

Spigelia marilandica, Indian Pink

I made my annual trip to Mt. Cuba Center in Hockessin, Delaware, recently. Happily, it was on one of those glorious days we have had this summer when the humidity was low and the temperatures were summery, but not too hot. If you haven’t been to Mt. Cuba before, or if you haven’t made the trek in a few years, I hope this post will serve as some inspiration.


No visit is complete without a trek down to see what is in bloom around the ponds. Cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis) was in full flower during my visit the second week of August. At the other end of the pond, native lilies, pitcher plants, and golden club (Orontium aquaticum) crowded along the edge of the water.


As I am strolling through the garden, I always use my camera to record ideas for new ways to use favorite plants as well as new combinations. Mt. Cuba is one of the only places you will be able to see  native plants used in conventional plantings, such as beds and borders. This ground cover planting features seersucker sedge (Carex pantaginea).


A camera is also invaluable for recording plant combinations such as the one above: tall coreopsis (Coreopsis tripteris ‘Gold Standard’) with yellow passionflower (Passiflora lutea), and purple coneflower (Echniacea ‘Pica Bella’).



Yellow passionflower has tiny flowers that are about 1 inch across. Despite their small size, they are really pretty set against the handsome foliage and are produced in abundance.


Hands down, my favorite part of Mt. Cuba is the trial garden. Whether I am looking for new ideas of plants to try or new sites to try old favorites, being able to compare performance is invaluable.  A visit to a public garden is especially useful when your own garden is looking tired or lacking in color, because you will find lots of ideas for flowers or great foliage that can perk up your own plantings. This is  especially true of Mt. Cuba, because you can compare the performance of cultivated forms of various native plants, plus evaluate native plants in cultivation that you may not have seen before.

The shot above shows two cultivars of green-and-gold, also called golden star (Chrysogonum virginianum). The cultivar ‘Allen Bush’, is on the right, and ‘Norman Singer’s Form’ is on the left. During my visit in August, ‘Allen Bush’, the better known form, was still blooming, but ‘Norman Singer’s Form’, also has a lot to offer because of its richer green leaves and thicker foliage.


This is the last year of Mt. Cuba’s phlox trial, and quite a few of the cultivars in the trial have given up the ghost. ‘Shortwood’ garden phlox (Phlox paniculata ‘Shortwood’) still looked wonderful and appears to be one of the winners. (Mt. Cuba will publish the results of the trial once it has been completed.) ‘Jeana’ was another standout. In years to come, the trial winners inevitably find their way into borders and other plantings throughout the garden.


This is the first year of the garden’s three-year Helenium trial. Heleniums have unfortunately been saddled with the common name sneezeweed, a name  derived from the fact that the disk florets were once dried and used as snuff. Whether you think of them as heleniums or sneezeweeds, they are beautiful fall-blooming natives. After just one walk through the rows, I had already noted down a couple of plants I want to try in my own garden.  Helenium ‘Flammendes Katchen’ is one of them.

Heleniums need full sun and average to moist soil. Too much fertilizer, or soil that is too rich, leads to stems that flop if they are not staked. Cut plants back in mid June to encourage branching, more flowers, and shorter, more upright stems.



Some dwarf hybrids are also included in the trial. So far, ‘Salsa’ is my favorite!

As always, so many plants, so little time!

I manage a local community garden, and this season I tried out an heirloom crop that I have never grown before—or heard of for that matter: Dragon tail radishes. As their name suggests, they are related to true radishes, along with turnips, garden cress, and other popular crops. Unlike radishes and turnips, though, dragon tails are grown for their tasty purple seed pods.

Thus far, I have used them to add a zesty radishlike tang to salads and stir fries.  They also can be pickled.


ABOVE: Pod production on our plants got ahead of us this week, because I’ve been away visiting gardens with the Annapolis Horticultural Society. Nevertheless, I picked several pounds to deliver to St. Martin’s Ministries food pantry tomorrow. There will be more pods ready to pick on the plants in a day or so.


Above: The pods are best picked when they are slender—less than the width of a pencil, although if you like your salad or stir fry ingredients on the spicy side, slightly thicker is fine. Length can vary from about 3 inches to more than 12 inches.

The crisp, tender pods have a radish-like taste. The best pods are much thinner than green beans. As they become thicker and longer, they become spicier.  The largest ones are quite hot. In my kitchen, I use the really slender pods fresh in salads. Slender pods also are fine in stir fries. The thicker, spicier ones taste great in combinations that feature garlic, hot sauce, and other similar ingredients.

In the Garden

Dragon tail radishes couldn’t be easier to grow. Give them a spot in full sun, average soil, and direct sow seeds right in the garden. Water regularly until seedlings are up. Plants spread 1 to 2 feet at maturity, so thin seedlings accordingly. I have found that plants grown in a singe row, rather than a block, are easier to harvest.  Mature plants are about 3 feet tall. You can prune out older branches to keep the plants blooming through the summer months.

The plants are really stunning, and this heirloom crop would be right at home in a flower garden. I wish I had remembered to take pictures of the plants at the peak of bloom, when seedpods were just beginning to appear!  Not only do the plants  produce clouds of white and pinkish flowers that wave in the breeze, the purple pods and stems also are attractive. Furthermore, the flowers attract loads of butterflies. Yes, our plants primarily attracted  clouds of cabbage white butterflies, but still they are really pretty!


I would like to thank Burpee Seeds for sending me seed of dragon tail radishes to try in the garden.  Several other seed houses, including Baker Creek offer a similar crop called rat-tail radishes, which produce green seedpods.

Dragon tail radishes

Above. Our plants growing at Victory Farm Community Garden, just before today’s harvest. Tomorrow, they are getting pruned! If you are interested in volunteering in our garden, send me an e-mail!

I will be speaking to the Cape St Claire Garden Club, Tuesday, June 6th at 7:00 p.m., at Cape St Claire Clubhouse, 1223 River Bay Road, Annapolis, MD, 21409. The public is invited, and I hope some  Eastern Shore Gardener readers can join us!

My topic for the evening is Greener Gardens: One Step at a Time. I’ll be discussing options for creating landscapes that are more sustainable. Ideas range from simple steps to ambitious projects any gardener or homeowner can undertake. The goal is beautiful gardens and landscapes that are attractive and healthy for humans, wildlife, pets, and the environment as a whole. My focus is on  the Chesapeake Bay and all its tributaries.

Admission is free. I will have copies of my books, Chesapeake Gardening & Landscaping and How to Prune Trees & Shrubs for sale, which I will happily sign after the talk.

I am looking forward to it, and I hope to see some of you there!


Although it is dreary and rainy today, I am happy because we are getting some much-needed rain. Rain or shine, this time of year my garden looks both wonderful and riotous. I thought I would share a picture of what the front garden looks like this week, plus shots of a couple major players.


Above: Wild blue phlox (Phlox divaricata) in shades of purple and white fill the garden this time of year. Phlox self sows and pops up in shady parts of the front garden as well as the areas (toward the foreground) that receive a good amount of sun, meaning 6 or 7 hours of direct sun per day.



Above: I love full size wild columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) and have it everywhere in the garden, since it is a generous self-seeder. The plant above is ‘Little Lanterns’ (A. canadensis ‘Little Lanterns’) a dwarf cultivar that is 10 to 12 inches tall, self sows, and reliably comes true from seed.


Above: This is one of my new favorites: Robin’s plantain (Erigeron pulchellus ‘Lynnhaven Carpet’). Plants are currently covered with cheerful yellow and white daisies that arise from ground-hugging rosettes of gray-green leaves. Flowers are maybe 8 to 10 inches tall, but the leaves are only about 2 or 3 inches tall. (If it wasn’t raining right this minute, I would go out and measure!) This native species thrives in part shade to shade, tolerates a wide range of conditions, and spreads to form a nice, dense carpet.

The purple leaves in the photograph above are purple Japanese parsley (Cryptotanea japonica ‘Purpurea). They self sow and pop up here and there. I love the rich color of their leaves. (I don’t think they are edible despite the common name.) I was planting a garden at a friend’s house this morning in the rain, and I realized that some of them had piggy-backed their way to her a year or so ago with divisions of other plants.

Enjoy the rain!

I will be speaking to a small group in Snow Hill, Maryland,  on Saturday, April 8 at 10:00 a.m. I hope some Eastern Shore Gardener readers can join us! The talk is hosted by the Lower Shore Land Trust, 100 River Street, Snow Hill. There are still seats available. I will be speaking about Building Diversity in the Garden.

Cost is $15 (money raised supports the land trust!). You can also pay $40 for registration plus a copy of my book, Chesapeake Gardening & Landscaping, which I will happily sign after the talk. Reservations are required, and you can Register online today or RSVP at 443-234-5587. Limited seating!

I am looking forward to it, and I hope to see some of you there!


Scarlet buckeye (Aesculus pavia)