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As always, my garden is speeding along this spring, and I am just barely keeping up. Today’s post features a couple of plants that have been especially spectacular this spring. I don’t take much credit for the display. All do their thing without any intervention from me.

For the past couple of weeks, the front garden is all about our native wild blue phlox (Phlox divaricata). I started with a handful of small plants that rode down with us years ago from Pennsylvania. These easy and accommodating wildflowers self sow, and I brought down plants in a range of colors in shades of lavender and lilac-blue to white. This spring, the front garden is filled with great clumps in a full range of shades. There also are some deep purples elsewhere in the garden that I am encouraging to sow around. I simply can’t stop looking at them, plus wild blue phlox has a delightful light fragrance as long as the weather is not too windy.

Phlox-in-spring

Above: Wild blue phlox (Phlox divaricata.

Wild blue phlox thrives in partial shade to partial sun, and tolerates evenly moist to somewhat dry soil. The seedlings appear in surprising spots and are always welcome!

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Whether I have been writing e-mails or delivering a gardening talk, one of my favorite hollies inevitably comes up once the conversation turns to plants that should be more available: American holly (Ilex opaca) ‘Maryland Dwarf’. Any of you who have tried to buy  ‘Maryland Dwarf’ will know that it is difficult, if not impossible, to find.

So, I am happy to let readers of Eastern Shore Gardener know that Vic Priapi, owner of Priapi Gardens, has ‘Maryland Dwarf’ in his nursery this spring. His first plants all sold, but he is picking up ten more 3-gallon plants today (Friday, April 8). I suspect there are plenty of gardeners looking for ‘Maryland Dwarf’, so if you want one, don’t dawdle. (If you are driving from a distance, it is probably a good idea to call and check availability first!)

Ilex-'Maryland-Dwarf'-with-

Above: ‘Maryland Dwarf’ holly (Ilex opaca ‘Maryland Dwarf’) at Mt. Cuba.

Unlike standard-size hollies, this is a true shrubby ground cover. Plants range from 3 to 5 feet tall and spread to 6 or 8 feet. My own plants are considerably shorter—all are under 3 feet. They have handsome, glossy, evergreen leaves. Plants produce very few berries. I have two plants in shade and one in fairly full sun. ‘Maryland Dwarf’ makes a handsome ground cover for shade, a specimen in the shade garden, a companion for low-growing perennials or ground covers that won’t swamp it, or a component of a shrub border.

So, I hope that those of you out there who have been wanting to try this great plant will swing by Priapi’s in Cecilton!

Now Vic, how about some dwarf white pines?

Welcome: The news is full of information on supporting pollinators, and mason bees are sone of our most effective and efficient native pollinators. This great post on mason bees is by Paula Shrewsbury from the University of Maryland’s Department of Entomology. I first saw it in The University of Maryland Cooperative Extension publication, Landscape and Nursery IPM Report, and I knew it would be of interest to a great many Eastern Shore Gardeners. Enjoy! Barbara

Since some pollinator species are in decline it is important to conserve these beneficial insects. Therefore, I will be discussing various pollinators throughout the season. The solitary bees to discuss this week are mason bees which are in the family Megachilidae since mason bees began to emerge from nesting habitat at my house just over a week ago (Columbia, MD on March 16th). In general, mason bees are early spring pollinators but a few species emerge in late spring or early summer. Mason bees nest in hollow stems of plants, reeds or galleries in wood left behind by wood boring insects. Mason bees get their name because of their habit of making compartments in their galleries that are separated by mud.

 

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Above: Male mason bees just emerging from galleries in wood where they overwintered (photo by P. Shrewsbury, UMD).

Mason bees are well known for the pollination benefits they provide and are some of the earliest pollinators of the season. It is estimated that just 250-300 mason bees can pollinate an acre of apples or cherries. Mason bee males emerge first and females emerge a few days later. This phenomenon, called protandry, is relatively common in the world of insects. It seems that female mason bees are a highly sought after “commodity” and males that emerge early in a season are more likely to find and hook up with mates. Once a male and female mate, the male bee then hangs out on the female’s back and fights off other males that would also like to mate with his partner. This “guarding behavior” ensures sperm from the original male are used by the female.

Mated female mason bees spend many hours and days gathering pollen and nectar from which they create pollen cakes or balls. They fill hollow plant stems or wooden galleries with these pollen cakes. After collecting pollen from plants, the female returns to her nest and enters the nest tube head first, deposits the pollen cake (this may take several trips to get enough pollen for one cake), exits the tube, turns around and enters the tube abdomen first. She then oviposits (lays) an egg onto the pollen cake. She then seals that section of the tube or gallery with mud. The female repeats this process until the tube contains several pollen cake – egg compartments and is filled. She plugs the entrance with mud and may then search out another nesting site. Eggs that are destined to be females are laid in the back of the tube, and male eggs toward the front.

Mason bees are active about 4 weeks and the females will fill as many nests (tubes) as she can in that time. The eggs hatch into bee larvae that consume the cake as they develop and grow during summer and fall. They complete their development (pupa and adults) during fall, settle down for winter, and are ready to emerge just in time for the return of spring. Mason bees do not produce honey, are not aggressive and do not sting. I stand for long periods of time in the midst of the 100’s of bees busy around their nesting site in my yard and have yet to be harmed but am always entertained by these beauties.

Mason bees provide valuable ecosystem services by pollinating a variety of native and non-native flowering plants, many of which are fruits that we consume or flowers of plants in natural and managed landscapes that provide resources and habitat for animals at other trophic levels. For those of you who would like to become active in the conservation of mason bees you have a little bit of time still – but hurry! At my house I have purchased commercially available “bee tubes” and drilled holes into firewood (see the images). Not only can you enhance ecosystem services of pollination, but you create a great learning environment for children and adults. I highly suggest you try buying or making habitat for these beneficial, educational and very entertaining insects. There are many resources on line that can inform you of best practices for creating habitat and raising these beneficial insects. Do a web search for mason bees or bee tubes. NOW is the time to set up nesting sites!

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Above: Bee tubes and galleries drilled in fire wood (~1/4 – 5/16” in diameter and 4-8” deep) provide suitable nesting sites for various solitary bees. Different diameter holes attract different species of mason bees. (photo by P. Shrewsbury, UMD)

Winter aconites, hellebores, snowdrops, and daffodils are in full bloom, and many more perennials are pushing up out of the ground. Although it is technically still late winter, for me, spring is here already. With spring come the annual plant sales and seed swaps.

I have posted a page one such event, Community Plant and Seed Swap, which promises to be a fun exchange of plants and seeds. It is scheduled scheduled for Saturday April 23 at the Pickering Creek Audubon Center in Easton, Maryland from 10:00 a.m. to noon. (Address: 11450 Audubon Lane, Easton, MD 21601; Phone: 410-822-4903). Why not make plans to join them, and pick up some new plants for your garden?

I am always on the lookout for perennials that are able to withstand summertime heat and humidity and still look great as the growing season wanes. This year one of the late-season standouts is hosta ‘Dick Ward’. Despite the drought this summer, coupled with neglectful watering, it remains attractive well into October.

Hosta-Dick-Ward

Above. Hosta ‘Dick Ward’ in the third week of October. The clump is about 19 inches tall and 25 inches wide.

While the foliage color is certainly fading, and there are a couple of browned-out leaf edges, all-in-all ‘Dick Ward’ remains quite attractive. Earlier in the season, the leaves were bright green with darker green margins.

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Primarily prized for their handsome foliage, heucheras or alumroots (Heuchera spp.) occupy a well-earned spot on my list of native perennials for shade. About 55 species belong to the genus, most from the western United states. Two are native to the Chesapeake Bay region: American alumroot (H. americana) and hairy alumroot (H. villosa). These two species, together with West Coast native crevice alumroot (H. micrantha), have been hybridized extensively to bring us a range of handsome plants suitable for shade gardens.

The Mount Cuba Center in Hockessin, Delaware, recently published the results of their three-year evaluation of heuchera hybrids.  Since I only have one of their top-ten hybrids in my garden, I have some planting to do!  Luckily, I visited the trial over the past few years and took photos of a couple of the top-ten plants. For a complete report on the trial, including a list of all ten top-scoring heucheras, see Mt. Cuba Center heuchera.

Heuchera-'Southern-Comfort'

Above: Heuchera ‘Southern Comfort’ was among the top-rated heucheras and one of my favorites among the trial plants. In addition to the foliage color, I especially loved the size: Plants are about 14 inches tall and spread to about 3 feet.

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I wanted to send out a reminder that I am speaking to the Chestertown Garden Club on Tuesday, September 8 at 11:15 a.m. The talk is at Emmanuel Episcopal Church, right on Fountain Square, 101 North Cross Street, Chestertown. The talk is open to the public, and I hope to see some of you there!  I will have copies of Chesapeake Gardening & Landscaping available for sale.

Also, I am happy to report that I have been “Garden Ranted” today. Susan Harris and Ruth Rodgers Claussen visited my garden in August, and Susan posted about it today on Garden Rant. Since Susan lead with a photo of my handsome Border Collie mix Casey, I’ll post another photo of him here.

Casey

Above: Casey is in the process of training his replacement as my scheduling secretary. I’ll post a picture of his replacement, Charlie, when the transition is complete.

Upcoming Talks, both open to the public:

Monday, October 12, 1:30 p.m.
Talk: Greener Gardens: One Step at a Time
Queen Anne’s County Garden Club
Queen Anne’s County Art’s Council
206 S. Commerce St.
Centreville, MD 216

Wednesday, November 4, 7:00 p.m.
Talk: Embracing Diversity with Native and Non-Native Plants
Annapolis Horticultural Society
St. Anne’s Parish Hall
199 Duke of Gloucester Street
Annapolis, MD
See Directions for information on getting to St. Anne’s Parish Hall

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