Don’t worry: plant bulbs – GardenRant

Don’t worry: plant bulbs – GardenRant
Tarda ‘Dasystemon’ species tulips: these have returned for me for years. That’s the title of a talk I gave recently for a suburban/rural gardening club, though maybe it didn’t apply. They all seemed like longtime spade-wielding warriors. Very few of them ever looked online for gardening advice; they just did things the way they’d always done it and seemed Ok with that. It was refreshing. What a contrast to my online gardening group, most of whom seem to worry about everything. But there are a few bulb rules I follow, some of which go against bulb wisdom found both online and in newspaper columns and some of which were new to the club members. They work for me, so I’ll share them here. Bulb tools are dumb, as you know if you’ve ever spent minutes pounding plugs of soil out of them. I use a sharp... Read More

Update on Replacing Perennial Bed with Turf, and the Public Reaction

Update on Replacing Perennial Bed with Turf, and the Public Reaction
Summer of 2019. Last year I wrote about the weedy mess of a perennial bed in front of my town’s most important historic building. In 1985. The space had originally been turfgrass, a continuation of the lawn on the other side of the sidewalk. So maintenance was easy – another minute or two of mowing. Then the city’s director of horticulture got ambitious (in his words), ripped out the lawn, and planted landscape roses, ‘Autumn Joy’ sedums and presumably other perennials that are long gone. He now regrets creating such a high-maintenance bed in such a high-visibility spot, and recommended that it be ripped out and the lawn restored. This month it was done, and already looks better to my eyes, though I’m hoping some low shrubs will be added to partially hide the ugly lighting fixtures. And our iconic bas-reliefs will get an overdue cleaning this winter. (By … Read More

Advice on When to Prune Shrubs – Mostly Wrong?

Advice on When to Prune Shrubs – Mostly Wrong?
In a recent post I mentioned hiring an expert to teach my coop to prune their (damn) shrubs and linked to the pruning instruction that resulted. The shocker to me and most gardeners, I’m betting, is this bit of advice from the professional pruners: she told us that euonymus can be hand-pruned any time of the year, and that almost all shrubs can be, too. But-but-but doesn’t EVERYONE tell us to prune flowering shrubs soon after they’ve bloomed, to avoid removing the next year’s blooms? For example, typical advice for azaleas is that “If you prune azaleas after the beginning of July, you may not get any flowers on the bush next year.” Yes, shearing would remove most or all of next year’s buds if done too late, but shearing azaleas is not advised, anyway. The expert we hired, from a 29-year-old company whose sole job is to prune shrubs,… Read More

The shrub that won’t go away

The shrub that won’t go away
Serviceberry, Boston ivy and hydrangea are at their best in fall here. And there are many, many other great choices. “What’s this beautiful shrub?!” was the question on our gardening group. And, of course, the answer was well-known to many of us: euonymus alatus, aka burning bush. Euonymus alatus does have great color, but doesn’t provide much interest at other times. There is no escaping this ubiquitous corporate landscaping choice at this time of year. Indeed, whoever did the plantings at my office stuck two of these in front, where they remained either green and boring or bare and boring for four years; this is the first year they are showing color, which I agree is very pretty. But the two weeks of pleasure provided by its fall color does not in any way alleviate the fact that this plant is invading forests throughout the US and is on the... Read More

Let Natives Be Natives – GardenRant

Let Natives Be Natives – GardenRant
Throughout all of the preceding month, I’ve been mulling over a symposium I attended at the University of Connecticut on October 3rd.  Titled the “UConn Native Plants and Pollinators Conference,” it unintentionally highlighted a fundamental disconnect at the heart of contemporary gardening. In the morning, the conference featured as a speaker Annie White, a landscape architect from Vermont who researched for her doctoral thesis the relative value to pollinators of species-type native plants versus “nativars,” cultivated selections or hybrids of native plants.  White found that sometimes, though not always, the species type plants were far more attractive to the pollinators.  I found that interesting. Even more interesting, though, was the reaction of an afternoon speaker, a representative of the University of Connecticut faculty.  Dr. Jessica Lubell of UConn’s Department of Plant Science and Landscape Architecture  began by attacking Annie White’s data, insisting that unnamed studies had found that … Read More

Groundcovers: Grand to Aggressive – GardenRant

Groundcovers: Grand to Aggressive – GardenRant
This black mondo brings attention to subtly variegated plants. Groundcovers are often suggested as solutions for sites where turfgrass won’t grow, or for places that are difficult to mow. As useful as that suggestion is, I feel like it sells them a little short. They can absolutely sparkle as contributors to overall garden design, providing the theme that pulls together a disparate collection of plants, lead you through a landscape, or provide intriguing colorful or textural counterpoints to other plants. This bank of mondo grass does a good job of covering soil in an enclosed bed where it cannot run into infinity. I also have to quibble a bit on a commonly held belief that groundcovers are a low maintenance solution. Sometimes they are, and often not. Choosing those that don’t run rampant is paramount. When I am asked to recommend a fast-growing groundcover, I first spill my misgivings. “Fast”... Read More

Native vs. “Native” – GardenRant

Native vs. “Native” – GardenRant
For my podcast and radio program this week (they’ll post on Wednesday), I interviewed Uli Lorimer, the Director of Horticulture at the Native Plant Trust.  Uli first attracted attention as the curator of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s native flora garden, which he helped to expand into one of the finest, most innovative displays of natives in the United States.  A year ago, Uli moved to the Native Plant Trust (formerly the New England Wildflower Society) where he serves as Director of Horticulture, supervising the Trust’s 45-acre woodland garden and its nursery operation in western Massachusetts.  When I spoke to him, I asked Uli about the difficulties I have found in sourcing truly native, “native” plants. I enclosed native in quotation marks because, as Uli confirmed, many plants sold as natives are not actually native to the region where the customer gardens.   Nursery people commonly apply the term rather loosely.  So... Read More

The first step is admitting you have a problem

The first step is admitting you have a problem
This is the initial pile (partial view). At this moment, two things are true. I still have 4 boxes of bulbs—maybe 250 or so total—sitting in the back room. And when I opened the door of that room and stepped outside this morning, I walked into 10 inches of pre-Thanksgiving winter wonderland. This is also true: There probably wouldn’t have been that many bulbs left over if I had ordered a few less than 1900. Even with selling some to a friend and planting and potting all I could, I still have to find a place for a whole mess of hybrid tulips. Some of the tulips I don’t even remember choosing. Why did I get 100 Ballerina, lily-flowered? “Few can resist her,” say the Van Engelen copywriters. I should have. I don’t like the lily-flowered types that much, and I hate calling plants “her.” What’s with the 350 doubles?... Read More

The Ping-Pong Patch – GardenRant

The Ping-Pong Patch – GardenRant
The Table Tennis Arena If COVID-19 wasn’t worrisome enough, we dodged tornadoes, scared off black vultures, and survived two nights of hard freezes this month. Gardening and Ping-Pong, peculiar bedfellows, eased my restless mind. The Ping-Pong table, dubbed a “table tennis arena” by New York Times writer Michael Tortorello, is getting a workout this spring in our Salvisa barn. So is the adjacent patch of shade plants. Ping-Pong Patch and the crooked corn crib Mac Reid, a neighbor and life-long friend, and I play Ping-Pong several times a week. We are semi-isolationists. Neither one of us wanders far from home, except for essential shopping, wildflower walks and Ping-Pong. We maintain a social distance of 9’—the length of the table—when we play.  I can jaw with the best of them, but only occasionally win a game. (Mac has a bag of trick shots.) We wash our hands after each match. Trillium... Read More