Posts Tagged ‘native plants’

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.


Read Full Post »

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!

Read Full Post »

Despite the fact that we have been living here since 2004, I am happy to report that there are still botanical surprises at Hackberry Point. Over the weekend David Arnold, who is helping me in the garden this year, left a cutting and a brief note on my doorstep. “Barbara, What is it? David.” I could tell right away that the plant was a member of the pea family, Fabaceae, but beyond that, it wasn’t familiar. Furthermore, I was astounded that I hadn’t seen it first, and I had to call him back to find out where the plant was growing.

It turns out it was along the edge of the creek, just next to where our dock extends out over the water. After taking some pictures, I delved into my native plant books. I finally found a cool on-line key to pea family plants that helped me identify it. I determined that my new native plant was Apios americana, commonly called groundnut or potato bean.



Above: Groundnut (Apios americana)

The pinkish maroon flowers resemble miniature wisteria blooms. They look like tiny reddish replicas of the native America wisteria (Wisteria frutescens), which has more rounded bloom clusters than the non-native oriental species.  Groundnut flower clusters are 1 to 2 inches long and wide. Sources say the flowers are fragrant, although I couldn’t detect any scent. (I’ll keep trying on this point.)

The plants prefer sites with wet soil, which explains their location along the creek. Since I walk by the site frequently to go out onto the dock, I can’t imagine how I missed them in previous years, especially since they produce flowers in August. I wonder if tubers or seeds floated in from somewhere else and this year for the first time the vines conquered the tangle of grapes, phragmites, and shrubs at the water’s edge.


Above: Groundnut climbing phragmites.

Groundnut grows from edible tubers, and were an important source of food for native Americans and early settlers. Since tubers form slowly, they haven’t become a popular cultivated crop. For more information on ground nuts, Orion Magazine posted an excellent article by Tamara Dean. For a more detailed botanical description, see the page on this species in Climbers.

Groundnuts also aren’t popular garden plants because they are too rampant for most garden situations. Mine seem to be happy competing side-by-side with thugs like phragmites. I’ll continue to look for more spots in the wild garden where I could plant them. While I doubt I’ll be able to find tubers because of the density of the plantings along the creek,  I do plan to save seed this fall. E-mail me privately if you are interested in getting seed to start your own patch.

Read Full Post »

Two days ago, a small flock of bluebirds visited our backyard. They spent a few minutes flitting around near the house, then headed straight for an old, berry-laden Eastern red cedar (Juniperus virginiana) growing by the creek. Today, with a blanket of snow blocking access to seeds and whatever else is available among the leaf litter, the red cedar’s berries are a valuable source of food form all manner of birds that visit our yard.

Above: Eastern red cedar (Juniperus virginiana)

Since this is also the season of garden catalogs and seed-starting, the bluebirds got me to thinking whether or not there were more plants I could add to the landscape to feed birds over winter. Sweet summer fruits like blueberries and blackberries are gobbled up as soon as they are ripe, and often before that, so they are not available to birds in winter. Flowering dogwoods (Cornus florida) bear bright red fruit that is quickly consumed in fall by both birds and squirrels. The same is true of fruit borne by spicebush (Lindera benzoin) and American beautyberry (Callicarpa americana): Birds relish the berries, and they are gone long before wintertime. The best winter food stays on the plant until there is little else that birds will eat. Staying on the plant is important, because that means the fruit is still visible and available even if the ground is covered with snow, as it is today.


Read Full Post »

I haven’t managed many blog posts in the last year, and I have missed posting about plants and events in my garden. Happily, I have more than a lame excuse for the lapse involving dogs (or parrots) eating my homework.

After months and months of research and writing, plus agonizing photo editing and rounds of review, my book Chesapeake Gardening & Landscaping (CG&L for short) has finally been sent to the printer. It is scheduled for publication March 30, 2015.

CG&L Cover005Published by The University of North Carolina Press in association with Adkins Arboretum, the book features 293 pages and 317 color photographs. I can’t wait to see it in color. (I have a black-and-white version of the book now.) The cover here is just a tiny taste of what is inside. I hope this book (all sales benefit Adkins Arboretum!)  will become a guide for gardeners throughout our region.

You can pre-order Chesapeake Gardening & Landscaping by clicking the cover image on the right side of this blog. Or, to order from the University of North Carolina Press directly, visit http://uncpress.unc.edu/books/11759.html.

Of course, copies also will be available for sale at Adkins once they come from the printer. In addition, I have started booking talks based on the book, and I will be bringing books to all of these events as well. I will announce dates here once they have been finalized.


Read Full Post »

If I could send fragrance along with a blog post, this could be a one-sentence missive. All it would need to say is  common sweetshrub (Calycanthus floridus): Smell it, love it, plant it.


Above: Common sweetshrub (Calycanthus floridus)

One of  two plants in my backyard just started to bloom, and the fruity fragrance of the flowers gathers outside the back door whenever the air is still. William Cullina provided an effective description of the fragrance in his Native Trees, Shrubs, & Vines (Houghton Mifflin, 2002). He summed it up as “a fruit salad perfume of strawberry, banana, mango, and peach guaranteed to get your stomach rumbling.”


Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »