Archive for the ‘Natives to Know’ Category

I’ve been spending far too much time pulling up nasty plants like garlic mustard, so this morning I took a walk through the part of our woods that isn’t overrun with invasives. The mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia) is just coming into bloom. It is breathtaking every year, and this one is no exception. I thought I would share some pictures.


Our Mountain laurel is out along the creek in a beech-maple forest. For the most part, it grows just inside the woods. The tallest plants are up to 10 feet or more in height. Spots right along the creek are occupied by sweet pepperbush or clethera (Clethra alnifolia) and some of the blueberry/deerberry (Vaccinium spp.) relatives that I haven’t sorted out yet. The woods is about 10 or 12 feet above the water at high tide.


The flowers are carried in corymbs, and crimped, starry buds open into pleated bowls. Most of our plants have white flowers, although I saw a plant or two with pale pink ones. I need to take my Macro lens out into the woods to try to get a better picture of the individual flowers.



Despite the delicate looking flowers, these are tough plants. They’ve had a hard time with summer droughts in recent years. Plus snow loads and crashing trees have splintered branches and trunks. Fortunately, they resprout from very mature wood. If you look closely at the base of this plant, you’ll see lots of new sprouts. I was happy to see regrowth everywhere.



I surprised a young eagle out on the point, and I also heard a great blue heron flap away across the creek—their prehistoric croaking is an incredible sound. Pileated woodpeckers called and drummed in the treetops, although I didn’t spot any of them. Finally, this lovely box turtle crossed my path. He would only stick out the tip of his nose for a picture, but he is actually one of the largest ones I have ever seen. Very handsome!


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If there’ one plant combination that could lure me to live in the deep South, it is live oaks festooned with Spanish moss and resurrection ferns. Live oak (Quercus virginiana) is a massive evergreen, hardy to Zone 8, that supports the other two plants. Blue-gray Spanish moss (Tillandsia usneoides) sways romantically all around the canopy, while leathery leaved resurrection fern (Polypodium polypodioides) clusters along the tops of the branches. I can’t think of a similar iconic combination for the Eastern Shore, at least not one that instantly tells you where you are the way live oaks and Spanish moss do.


Above: A live oak with Spanish moss and resurrection ferns gracing the plantings of Brookgreen Gardens outside Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

I’ve recently had plenty of time to think about it. My husband and I just returned from visiting family in Florida. For various reasons, we drive, and I enjoy the time spent looking at plants and landscapes. (Once again this trip, I contemplated compiling a horrible pruning errors blog post, but stopping and taking pictures of people’s yards seemed rude. Suffice it to say the pair of tightly sheared camellias that had been shaped into dense giant green gumballs studded with struggling red flowers won this year’s prize!)

We travel back roads as much as possible, since 95 is boring and hectic. (Did you know Route 301 goes the entire way, only joining up with 95 for a couple short sections?) I started thinking about iconic plants as I watched spring roll in as we drove south.

One plant that seemed to signal spring is Carolina jasmine (Gelsemium sempervirens), whose yellow, trumpet-shaped blooms were much in evidence by the time we reached the Carolinas. A native, evergreen to semievergreen vine that reaches about 20 feet, it grew along fences and climbed up through trees and shrubs lining the roads. It’s a lovely plant, hardy in Zones 7 to 9, that should be grown more often.

I added improved cultivar ‘Margarita’ to the garden here at Hackberry Point a couple years ago. I got my plant from North Creek Nursery, who report the cultivar has larger flowers than the species and is reliably hardy to Zone 6. Its clear yellow flowers appear in early summer. (See North Creek Nursery for more information and a photograph.) In a “do as I say, not as I do” move, I finally installed a permanent trellis for it last year—luckily, without major damage!

Camellias were also much in evidence both on the way down and the way back, and as we rolled back onto the Eastern Shore, I noticed the first signs of spring up here as well. There were early daffodils, especially in warm, south-facing spots, along with cherry trees in full bloom. I also spotted a Cornelian cherry dogwood (Cornus mas) strutting its stuff in Chestertown yesterday.

Above: American holly along with tupelo (Nyssa sylvatica) in full fall regalia.

As for iconic plants and plant combinations for the Eastern Shore, marshes along the Chesapeake Bay spring to mind. As a horticulturist, though, I decided to pick a native plant that most of us can grow, and for me, that’s American holly (Ilex opaca). I’ve never lived anywhere that it grows so well. Plants thrive in our beech-maple woodland along Worton creek. I’ve seen hollies combined with all sorts of plants, and grown alone, but its native companions in the woods are my favorites. There, it grows with summersweet clethra (Clethra alnifolia), mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia), and what I think is deerberry (Vaccinium stamineum) filling in below. In the patches of sun beneath the shrubs is a ground cover of emerald moss and partridge berry (Mitchella repens). Hollies anchor a more subtle combination than live oaks provide, but it is one that grows on you. I’ll happily claim it!


Above: Mountain Laurel blooming in June, with gardening companion Casey.

A travel note: If you’ve always wanted to see manatees, plan a trip to Blue Spring State Park in Orange City, Florida. My picture isn’t great, but if you look you can see one of the many manatees we spotted. (Reminder to self: Check your camera battery before you go so you can take better pictures next time!) Best time to visit is during cold weather, from late November through early April. Blue Spring is a consistent 72°F, and when the weather gets cold, manatees from the St. John’s River gather there. One person I talked to saw over 300 on a day when it was 26°F in the morning!


Above: A manatee glides through the clear water of Blue Spring off the St. John’s River in Florida.

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Showy red buds opening into flowers signal the season for a favorite native that is coming into bloom this week: red buckeye (Aesculus pavia). The tubular flowers are borne in panicles at the tips of the branches. (A panicle is a type of inflorescence that has a main stalk with branched side stems.) Each panicle is 4 to 8 inches long in bloom, and the individual flowers are about 1½ inches long. The flowers are showy for a couple weeks from mid spring to early summer. The flowers are very attractive to hummingbirds.


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I’ve been poking around for sources of the two new dwarf oakleaf hydrangeas released by the U.S. National Arboretum since I first posted about them last week. While it seems that Hydrangea quercifolia ‘Munchkin’ and ‘Ruby Slippers’ are going to be scarce on the retail level for at least another year, plants are available. Fortunately there are nurseries hard at work building up stock. Both cultivars are well worth the wait, if the descriptions and initial reports I’ve heard are any indication.


ABOVE: H. quercifolia ‘Munchkin’

This handsome cultivar features white, 6½-long flower clusters that fade to pink as they age. The dark green foliage turns mahogany in fall. The Arboretum reports plants are 3 feet tall and spread to 4½ feet at 9 years of age. Plants can be used in mass plantings, as hedges, and in mixed borders. Since they’re wider than they are tall, I also will be using them as tall ground covers!

Ron Rabideau of Rare Find Nursery has had ‘Munchkin’ for several years. He reports that it is considerably smaller than other dwarf selections, including both ‘Pee Wee’ and ‘Sikes Dwarf’. (‘Munchkin’ is a seedling of ‘Sikes Dwarf’.) Rare Find has a few plants of ‘Munchkin’ available for this spring, with more to come in the fall.


ABOVE: H. quercifolia ‘Ruby Slippers’

Selected for its showy blooms, ‘Ruby Slippers’ produces 9-inch-long trusses that emerge white, but quickly turn pale pink and then deeper rose pink. Dark green foliage turns mahogany in fall. This cultivar is the result of a cross between showy ‘Snow Queen’ oakleaf hydrangea and dwarf ‘Pee Wee’. Plants are about 3½ feet tall and 5 feet wide at 7 years. It, too, makes a handsome addition to shrub borders, and can be used in mass plantings or as a hedge. Again, because of the spreading character of the plant, I’d consider using it as a tall ground cover for a large area.

Note that while the plants in these pictures are growing in full sun, they are irrigated. Both are growing in McMinnville, Tennessee, where the Arboretum’s shrub breeding program is located. To grow them in gardens on the Eastern Shore, look for a spot in partial shade with rich, moist, well-drained soil for best results. A spot with afternoon shade is ideal. Plants located in dry soil and full sun are liable to be stressed, and their leaves will begin turning color and will likely exhibit scorching by late summer. Mulch to retain soil moisture and help keep the roots cool.

Rare Find Nursery will have a few plants of ‘Ruby Slippers’ available in the fall.

I also wanted to mention another nursery I found in the process of looking for sources that is new to me: Hydrangeas Plus. They are working to build up stock of both ‘Munchkin’ and ‘Ruby Slippers’ and will offer it eventually. In the meantime, if you love hydrangeas, check out their other listings!

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I left the Mid-Atlantic Nursery Trades Show (MANTS) in Baltimore last week with a deep case of plant lust. This is a serious problem on a number of levels, not the least of which is the fact that it’s beastly cold and snowy outside—hardly the season for planting.

Normally, I come away from such shows with lists of annuals and perennials I’d like to try. The lust for these beauties is easily satisfied, since it’s a relatively simple matter to find garden space for them. This year, however, a couple species of native shrubs and trees grabbed my attention. Finding room for them is another matter altogether.


Above: Oakleaf hydrangea with daylily ‘Patricia Fay’.

Oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia) has been in every garden I’ve ever had, and the MANTS show renewed my my interest in this handsome native shrub. For those of you who don’t know it, it is a deciduous, summer-blooming shrub that also features fabulous fall color and attractive exfoliating bark. Plants range from 6 to 8 or more feet tall. They spread by suckers, and Michael Dirr (Manual of Woody Landscape Plants) estimates the spread at 10 to 12 or more feet wide.


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