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Like most gardeners this time of year, the majority of my gardening time is spent on my knees. Weeds are making their annual attempt to overtake beds and borders. (Now that I think about it, though, perhaps I should say weeds are continuing their perennial attempt to overtake the place.) Currently, my primary focus is on ridding the garden of bittercress  (Cardamine spp.). The bittercresses are charming, innocent-looking weeds with dainty, four-petaled flowers. Wait too long to pull them, though, and they catapult seeds everywhere for next season’s crop. Thus far, I must have eliminated seeds for at least a million of next spring’s seedlings.


ABOVE: Hypericum calycinum ‘Brigadoon’ with magnolia petals.

But, I didn’t start this post to write about weeds, despite the amount of time I am devoting to them. We have a large saucer magnolia (Magnolia soulangiana) in the backyard that has been lovely this year. I especially appreciate its flowers once they begin to fade. As the blooms break apart, they scatter a deep blanket of white petals blushed with pink all over the hillside behind the house. And while I barely notice their fragrance when they are fresh and still on the tree, once petals  coat every surface, it is simply marvelous. Perhaps the scent is more noticeable because I am spending so much time working on my knees, but whatever the reason, the petals and their fragrance create a memorable combination in the garden.


ABOVE: Epimedium rubrum mulched with magnolia petals.


ABOVE: Tulips with magnolia petals. This is a long-lived clump with leaves edged in yellow. If I can find the label when it is done flowering, I will post the name.

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This post is as much a celebration for me as it is a way to reconnect with readers of Eastern Shore Gardener. I mailed my manuscript for Chesapeake Gardening & Landscaping to the publisher, the University of North Carolina Press, this afternoon! While I still have photo editing to do, and there is lots left to do before the manuscript becomes a book, today certainly is a milestone.

I am looking forward to being able to get back out in the garden with a clear conscience and free of the deadline pressures that I have been under for a year.


Harley helping with mis-printed pages. (Sorry this isn’t a better picture, but she was not really interested in holding the pages still.)


UPCOMING EVENT: I also wanted to mention that the botanical illustration class I attend is having a show at the Chestertown Library. The show will be up for the month of April, and we are hosting a reception this Friday, April 5, from 5 to 8 p.m.. I hope some of you can stop by and say “hello!”



Here it is: Three copies and 14 pounds.

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Hug Your Trees

As the season moves into early summer, the deciduous trees here at Hackberry Point have finally leafed out fully. Depending on the time of day, trees cast welcoming pools of shade over various parts of the garden.  And while I don’t consciously think about the sounds trees bring to the garden very often, that, too, is a welcoming feature. For one thing, the sound of wind in the treetops says something about the weather today—whether I’ll be greeted by a brisk breeze or air that is still and humid when I venture out into the garden. Most days, birds and insects calling and chattering from the branches add to the the rustle and whisper of the leaves.



Above: Eastern redcedar (Juniperus virginiana)

While the garden here includes both native and non native plants, most of the tree canopy consists of native species. Not surprisingly, there are quite a few northern hackberries (Celtis occidentalis) here, plus I have oaks (Quercus spp.), osage orange (Maclura pomifera), black walnuts (Juglans nigra), cherries (Prunus spp.), and redcedars (Juniperus virginiana), to name a few. That’s good news for all the wildlife that share our space, since native plants support a rich array of insects, which in turn feed many of the birds that live here. Non-native plants don’t support wildlife as well as our native species do. For more on the connections between wildlife, gardens, and native plants, read Douglas Tallamy’s Bringing Nature Home.

Planting native trees is one of the best ways to make a garden more Bay friendly, and that’s not just because they are better for wildlife. They also help control runoff, can reduce electricity bills, and more.  I found a great link recently called the National Tree Benefit Calculator that lets you quantify the benefits that various trees bring to your landscape.

The Calculator uses your zip code, and lets you insert the species of tree (or general type), and trunk diameter. The red oak in my front yard, which is about 22 inches in diameter, brings an estimated $181 of benefits per year. That includes stormwater management, electricity saved, property value, air quality. According to the Calculator, this tree

  • Intercepts 5,953 gallons of water a year,
  • Contributes about $90 to my property value,
  • Conserves about $185 kilowatt hours in electricity per year,
  • Reduces atmospheric carbon by 846 pounds annually. (An average mid-size car emits about 11,000 pounds per year, so you need 13 trees this size to counteract your car emissions.)

The 25-inch diameter red cedar (Juniperus virginiana) in the back yard intercepts 3,278 gallons of water, but only adds $8 to property value—I suppose because it is a less appealing species. (Not to me!) The calculator estimates it saves 153 kilowatt hours, and will reduce atmospheric carbon by 551 pounds per year.

Figure in the value these trees bring  to wildlife: Oaks support 517 species of butterflies and moths, alone, and 40 species of birds and wildlife eat the berries of redcedars). Then add in the delicious shade they cast for sipping iced tea during the summer months (we actually have a hammock under the abovementioned red cedar), and I have a wealth of reasons to appreciate my trees today—and figure out where I can plant more.

Have you hugged your trees today?

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Enemy du Jour

In the past week, I’ve taken a run at eliminating a pretty, but particularly annoying, weed from my garden: Hairy bittercress (Cardamine hirsuta). This early in the season, its clusters of dainty white flowers look lacy and particularly decorative. Flowers are especially prevalent in the garden in cool weather, from mid to late spring, although this plant will bloom through much of the season provided plants have adequate moisture. Flowers arise from a mound of pinnate (featherlike) leaves with small rounded leaflets, and the plant springs up everywhere that moist soil occurs, including containers and mulched garden beds.


Innocent looking hairy bittercress in the garden.

How could I possibly identify this small, innocuous plant as my enemy du jour? In another week or two, the flowers from the main spring crop will fade and seed will ripen. Trying to pull plants with ripe seed is simply an exercise in futility. The authors of Weeds of the Northeast describe them as “explosively dehiscent, propelling seeds over 3m.” That’s nearly 10 feet, so pulling seedlings—or even walking through a patch of plants—is basically an exercise in seed distribution. So far, getting angry at the little boogers hasn’t helped at all, so I’m on a pulling mission.

When I’m weeding, I tend to focus on a single species. In this case, eliminating flowering plants cuts back on seeds for next year’s garden. Theme weeding also means I don’t have to change tools from plant to plant: Weeds like dandelions and wild onions require a gardening knife for digging, while hairy bittercress can just be pulled and tossed into a collection basket. (It does mean I have to go back over the beds again, though.) And while my aim is eradication, I know that’s impossible. In reality, I’ll just cut down on the hairy bittercress next season, but that’s good enough for me!


A day’s weeding. More planned for tomorrow!

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Greetings Eastern Shore Gardeners. I just wanted to let everyone know that I’ve added a variety of lectures sponsored by Queen Anne and Kent County Extension to the Calendar of Events. I also added several lectures to be held at London Town and Gardens that looked really interesting. (London Town is just over the Bay Bridge in Edgewater).

I hope something on the list piques your interest!


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While our recent wild weather whipped away lots of leaves and damaged a great many flowers, undaunted trees along our creek are really beginning to color up for fall. Despite the weather, in the garden I still have bubblegum pink blooms covering my fall-blooming Camellia sasanqua, mounds of marginally tattered chrysanthemum ‘Sheffield Pink’, and aster ‘Raydon’s Favorite’ (Symphyotrichum oblongifolius) in bloom. Plus, sprinkled throughout are flowering salvias,  roses, calamint (Calamintha nepeta nepeta), and a lone pale pink balloon flower (Platycodon grandiflorus). I swear next year I need to add some of the fall blooming bulbs to add to the show!



Above: Tupelo and holly on the creek.


Outstanding fall foliage is high on my list when considering trees and shrubs to plant. Tupelos (Nyssa sylvatica) probably top my list here. The one I planted on the bank along the roadside this fall won’t rival the ones growing along the creek during my lifetime, but I’m still happy that it’s there. I’ll get my share of enjoyment from it, and with any luck it will be here for the next person to own this place. I’ve also managed to transplant a couple of oak seedlings that showed outstanding fall color—I think both are black oak hybrids (Quercus velutina). They seem to have established themselves as well. Oh, and then there’s my little, newly planted ‘Ruby Slippers’ oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia). Now there’s some great fall color!



Above: Oakleaf hydrangea ‘Ruby Slippers’ has maintained scarlet foliage since October.


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While today’s cold wind and rain are whipping the flowers that remain out in the garden, I thought I’d share pictures of a favorite, and unusual, houseplant of mine that bloomed indoors this week: Sansevieria kirkia var. pulchella.


Sorry, it doesn’t have a common name, but as a Sanseveria it is related to the plants commonly known as mother-in-law’s tongue and snake plant. (I have something of a collection of them, but won’t go into detail here, because someone may try to cart me away to the loony bin if I mention another plant collection.) Sansevieria kirkia var. pulchella is native to southeastern tropical Africa. It is as tough and undemanding a houseplant as you can find.


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