Sunday, December 5, 2010

Encourage Them to Grow

Having a degree in a horticultural field and volunteering as a Master Gardener, year after year I hear the same timid refrain from non-gardeners, "I can't keep anything alive", or "I kill everything I try to grow". They go into detail about a beautiful plant that was given to them as a gift, a plant they tried everything they could to keep it alive. Its demise--inevitable. Predetermined by some attribute that the uninitiated gardener could never have seen coming.

Every gardener worth their weight in compost has witnessed numerous deaths of plants in their own gardens. The plants may have been experimental, gifts, or great finds, but again the end was inevitable. Over time I've managed to compile a short list of easy to grow plants that I recommend to my friends and family who claim to have thumbs other than green. When making suggestions, whatever you do, encourage them to grow.

One thought to consider when suggesting plants for someone who is sure they can only kill plants, is to suggest a durable plant with a reward. An impact that is sure to start the bug that none of us has been able to shed. Whether it be a bountiful garden or show of flowers, it must make an impact to a beginner.

Helping Houseplants
If indoor plants is where someone wants to start then here are some good beginnings. Fresh herbs or a simple vine can add that touch of life that makes people happy. A number of herbs are simple to grow indoors and keep close at hand. Useful for looks, cooking, or fragrance herbs are a great start. Placed close to the kitchen, they are less likely to be forgotten when it comes to watering.

Spider Plant (Chlorophytum comosum)
Pothos is probably the most common indoor plant. I cannot emphasize enough the durability of Pothos to survive some of the harshest conditions the vicious indoors can throw at it. It takes a lot of punishment. When treated properly though, Pothos is a lush beautiful vine plant.

Madagascar Dragon Tree
(Dracaena marginata)
How could one completely ignore something as simple as a Spider Plant (Chlorophytum comosum). Grown most often for its ease, it also offers beautiful texture. This plant tolerates, over-watering, under-watering, and flourishes with mediocre care. The secret to this plant's durability is its adventitious roots. Adventitious roots will store water for those bouts of neglect that can happen.

For those who really like an exotic look with little effort a Madagascar Dragon Tree (Dracaena marginata) is a nice addition to the family. This little tree has a thin trunk, with spiked leaves at the tips of the stems. This plant can have multiple stems or one single stem. Simple to grow, simple to keep in check for height, I think this is one knock-out indoor plant.

Autumn Joy Sedum
(Sedum telephium 'Autumn Joy')
Perennials with Pulse
Starting from a nice mound of lush bulbous textured leaves, Autumn Joy Sedum (Sedum telephium 'Autumn Joy') is one of the easiest perennials to begin growing in your yard. They root easily and don't spread our of control, and give a great show in every part of the year. From new growth to fall color to seed heads this is a strong and very durable plant. A great starter.

Hosta spp.
 Hostas spp. have such a wide variety of options to offer, shade to sun, blues to chartreuse, and fragrant to non-fragrant flowers. Where do you begin? Start with the location where you want to plant it (is it sunny or shady). Then pick one that has a leaf color and texture that is appealing. Look around, you'll see that many people have Hostas in their yards. Ask them for suggestions. Gardeners love to share. Who knows, maybe you'll end up walking home with a new division for your collection.
Fountain Grass
(Miscanthus sp.)

If you admire ornamental grasses, then Fountain Grass (Miscanthus sinensis ‘Malepartus’) is a good starter for you. These species of grasses give a nice show, can fit into most landscapes and this variety can't escape into other areas of the yard because it is sterile and doesn't develop seeds. Avoid ornamental grasses that have heavy seed production, it has been well documented that they can become weedy.

Shape up with Shrubs
Shadblow Serviceberry
(Amelanchier canadensis)
The Shadblow Serviceberry (Amelanchier canadensis) (or many of the species) are really well suited (large) shrubs for the home landscape. Attractive traits 3 out of 4 seasons, with white spring flowers, delicious edible fruit in early summer, and reliably great fall color.

Forsythia (Forsythia)
Forsythia (Forsythia suspensa) are standards in the shrub world. This isn't just the sheared yellow shrubs anymore. There are a number of varieties that have changed the face of forsythias. Variegated leaves, dwarf plants, and lighter flowers are just a few new options available. Tip for flower production, if you are going to prune these shrubs, prune immediately after flowering in the spring, otherwise you will remove next year's blooms.

Three-flower Maple
(Acer triflorum)
There are two thoughts that come to mind when Maple is mentioned, a huge shady tree, or the Japanese maple. The Three-flower Maple (Acer triflorum) is a nice change of pace. This maple is not as expensive as Japanese maples, but has similar traits. Well suited as a medium to large shrub, the leaflets offer a soft texture with a mild green through the growing season, and an outstanding red-orange fall color.

Loebner Magnolia
(Magnolia x loebneri)
Toning up with Trees
The Loebner Magnolia (Magnolia x loebneri) is one of my favorite trees. The flowers are lovely and fragrant on this tree. The arching branches with an overall oval habit is refreshing to see in the landscape.

Flowering Dogwoods (Cornus florida) are be a gem of a find, but disease resistant cultivars are welcome. Look for trees that are resistant to powdery mildew and/or anthracnose. Spring flowers, nice foliage and good fall color make for great reasons to suggest this tree as a starter.
Flowering Dogwood
(Cornus florida)

Black Tupelo (Nyssa sylvatica) has dark glossy green leaves that turn a brilliant red in the fall. This is a slow growing tree with very few pest problems. Very solid, trouble free tree for any medium to large yard.

Black Tupelo
(Nyssa sylvatica)
The most common cause for the loss of plants is watering. Too much water, too little, when to water are all recurring problems. When in doubt use the best test for determining if an indoor plant needs water, your finger. You should be able to feel if there is moisture in the soil, or if it is too dry. It's important to make sure new large plantings get enough water for the best production. For newer varieties and cultivars, you may need to travel beyond your local home improvement centers. You should give some of your larger local nurseries a go. They tend to be very knowledgeable on newer species and carry some lesser-known plants. Even if you think you know what you want, always ask. People are a fountain of information, and you may find something new that is durable and fun.

Resources: 1. Dogwoods, By Paul Cappiello, Don Shadow
All Photos Copyright © 2011 Laura Hayden

Friday, December 3, 2010

Bishop's Weed

Variegated bishop's weed (Aegopodium podagraria) is a beautiful plant when mass planted in a border. I treat bishop's weed like poison ivy. I've used the mantra of leaves of three, let them another yard. Though this plant looks lovely en-mass, it is an aggressive spreader. If you want to keep this plant contained, it will need a barrier, and you will want to remove the flowers before they go to seed. Removal of the plant is tedious and all of the rhizomes (spreading roots) must be removed. If you leave any behind, or worse, try tilling it, you will have made exponentially more plants.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Making the Grade

When we bought our house years ago, the house had sat silently on the market for quite a while. Usually leery of slow to move houses, I had to see what was making this house sit on the market for so long.

I visited this small 1960's ranch style home on an ideal Spring day at an open house. It couldn't have been shown at a better time of year. A gnarled old crab apple in peek bloom arched its heavily laden, pink, scented blossoms gently over the front floor-to-ceiling windows. Perfectly framing the entry. The inside was dark, small and boxy. I saw nothing tragic as I walked through (except a picket fence and sun flower mural in the laundry room). I started to become suspicious as I moved toward the back of the house.

I followed the looks of dismay and found myself standing in the back yard staring at a overgrown jungle. An un-pruned Linden arched to the ground. Meant to be the focal point, it was now lost in a sea of weeds. A large mound ran diagonally across the yard running from the house to the back lot line, sending up a divide between the house and the tree. No mower had seen this yard for some time.

What was the cause of this catastrophe? A newly dug sewer line. I'd like to emphasize new. That's right an improvement had been made to the house that should remove the need for me to have to deal with sewer issues for a long time. I'm liking this flaw. I was going to be digging up the yard anyway. This was perfect. A blank slate...I called my soon-to-be husband immediately.

A nice offer and a loan later, we owned a home that needed work inside and out. Of course the backyard took a lot of hard work, but it is a work in progress. I hired a crew to regrade the yard and we had a smooth canvas to work with. A lucky strike on some old street pavers and I had the makings for new landscape beds that would frame in the the new turf. It's been 6 years since we bought the house. Every time I come home with a new plant, my husband tells me we don't have room for it. I keep proving him wrong. With this home project, it turns out the hardest garden related job, was the four coats of primer and two coats of paint it took to cover up the picket fence and sunflower mural.

Quite the optical illusion, half of the yard sloped toward the house.

The finished product with border and plantings in place.
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