Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Yew and I need to talk

This morning there were two men pulling a young over sheared hedge of Yews out of a front yard. They were using a tiny backhoe, chains, and shovels. There were flags marking power and cable lines. The shrubs were coming out with relative ease. I flashed back to one of my least favorite times in gardening.

I love the labor of gardening. I like the overall ache of my body after a long day digging. Of all of the landscaping, gardening, and other outdoor tasks I've ever done, pulling old Yews (Taxus sp.) from a yard is my least favorite.

Yews are highly durable, very disease resistant, and have been used to create anti-cancer drugs. These little plants can grow to 25' trees when left to their own devices. They are however incredibly adept at adapting to anything including 50 years of heavy shearing. How do I know this? My neighborhood was built some 50 years ago and back then, perhaps still now, planting yews along the foundation of the house was the thing to do. These little guys have been being sheared year-after-year to make that perfect LEGO square hedge. The problem is that they still manage to make a little gain in size every year.

My first house was a duplex, the yews were 5 high, by 5 feet deep, and 30 feet long on both halves covering the bottom half of the windows. The problem? I'm only 5'5" tall. Standing in the middle of the hedge, electric shears held over my head, reaching as far as I can to recreate that lovely shape got old after one year. I made the executive decision...they had to go.

There were only 4 shrubs that made up this hedge on each side. I was sure this would go easy. I laugh now at was a sweet a notion. Two days, 4 friends, a little beer, and a comical visit from a neighbor later and they were out. Tadaa!

What I learned from the process:
  • Only use sharp tools, it seems obvious, but you'd be surprised at the butter-knife quality chain saws friends own
  • When a neighbor comes by to see what you are doing, tells you about a really nice saw he has, shows it to you, then says you can't use it, remember that he is armed with the really nice saw and just say thanks.
  • Be nice to your friends
  • Feed your friends
  • Lie to your friends about how easy it is going to be
  • There is a water spigot on each side in the front of the duplex

Monday, May 23, 2011

Recommended Reading: My Garden (Book): by Jamaica Kincaid

I love it when a person I respect recommends a book to me. The topic almost doesn’t matter, but when someone I respect refers it...I find myself compelled to read it.

For many, reading is something they just do. Some people can consume book after book in days, sometimes hours. For me, it is a chore, another job. I regard it as freelancing with an emphasis on free, because it takes a lot time, and I choose what I spend that time on very judiciously.


My Garden (Book): by Jamaica Kincaid was referred to me by Hillary Barber.  She is a new acquaintance, with a near encyclopedic knowledge of plants. She pointed out that the title does indeed end with a colon, and it made me all the more interested. I know that no two people are going to view a book in the same way, but I could not be more grateful for this recommended reading.

I like to tag snippets as I read. I usually go back, read those tags again, and then sum up what I found interesting in the book. By Page 96 I had run out of page tags and gave up tagging the rest of the book. Kincaid’s writing style is unique, fluid, often repetitive, funny and compelling.

She can paint an image in your mind using gardening, plants, and situations. In her own garden Kincaid says things like, “how agitated I am when I am in the garden, and how happy I am to be so agitated”, capturing the emotion in the garden of things not being in the right place. She is the most thrilled when her garden designs do the unexpected.

Her adventures in her plant hunting expedition in China she captures the people, places and plants perfectly. Again she reflects and talks about what sparked her interest in plant hunting. One part of how her interest began was how she would, “deliberately feel and feel again the underside of the leaves of my Rhododendron smirnowii” and knowing it originally came from the Caucasus. It began with books by famous plant hunters like Frank Kingdon-Ward, Ernest Wilson, Patrick Synge, and Reginald Farrer. Her interest didn’t stop at books but was pushed further by plant catalogs published by Dan Hinkley and Robert Jones of Herronswood.

Her writing weaves fluidly in and out of the present time, bringing you back to her childhood, talking about her children now, and even intertwining stories of people who’ve touched her life through their previous ownership of her house. An example is how she once invited a botanist to look at her trees.

“The botanist said the trees were not of any real interest; just ordinary hemlocks, Norway spruce, pines. The botanist meant that there was nothing of botanical interest planted near my house, but he had never seen the youngest son of Robert Woodworth measure his grown self against the grown tree. To see the top of the grown tree now, the grown man has to arch his head way back until it is uncomfortable to swallow while doing so, and then he cannot hold such a post for too long.”

For me, the timeliness of this read was wonderful too. She mentions great plant collectors that she has gone on plant collecting journeys with. I had just met two of the people mentioned in this book prior to reading it. It was wonderful to join past adventures to their faces and conversations.

It was equally interesting to read the chapter on Monet’s Garden while on a trip in Paris. Kincaid visited Monet’s garden in Giverny and wondered what would the garden be without the paintings, without the perfect season. In words she painted the picture of visitor’s expectations. The lilies on the pond, the images we’ve come to know and mold as one with the images of France, or the artist himself. Would gardeners be as enchanted? The book gave me the impression that she was not.

She touched on a topic I’ve subconsciously come to learn, but had never consciously considered. In describing Monet’s garden Kincaid said, “a garden will die with its owner, a garden will die with the death of the person who made it.” On the surface, this seems morbid, but without the vision of the original owner, the vision changes. The very meaning of the garden changes.

This is the crux of Jamaica Kincaid’s garden book, she reflects on what moves her and is seemingly unafraid to say what she is thinking. Shares her thoughts and adventures of life through her experiences in the garden.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Bloomin' flowers

It's late Spring and taking walking tours on campus have begun again. The smell in the air overwhelming belongs to Lilacs on campus, but off campus the sweet scents of peonies, and irises are far more apparent. Many friends have posted beautiful pics of flowers and wishing they could share the fragrance. There is only one way to truly experience the smell--get outside.



Syringa pubescens subsp. patula 'Miss Kim'



Bearded Iris

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Josephine the Empress of the Clematis

I have a small garden, and have still managed to tuck four different clematis vines into the yard. A classic Jackmanii clematis (Clematis 'Jackmanii') and my Lemon Chiffon clematis (Clematis 'Lemon Chiffon') are the winners in the durability contest.

Josephine clematis (Clematis 'Evijohill' Josephine™) just beginning its display

The Jackmanii has been moved twice because of other changes made to the yard. It didn't blink at the move. Just kept going. The Lemon Chiffon has had a hard life. I planted it so that it would grow up a trellis against the front of the house. The trellis is under the eve of the house, but the vine was planted outside of the drip line so that it would get enough natural water. The problem is that people have walked across the front of the house and kicked right through the vine leaving what's left to grow through the vinca. It appears that I have created a new, beautiful, ground cover. The large flowers cover the ground.

I am also growing a Sweet Autumn clematis (Clematis terniflora) and Josephine clematis (Clematis 'Evijohill' Josephine™). The Sweet Autumn clematis always gives a good performance. It grows along a chainlink fence between my patio and my neighbor's patio. A sweet division, making good neighbors.

Showing the numerous flower petals waiting to open on the Josephine clematis (Clematis 'Evijohill' Josephine™)

This year, the clematis that is the empress in my yard is Josephine™. This is another example of a vine that is planted under the eves and has had to earn the water it gets. I helped initially, but the expectation of long term babying is not a recipe for success in my yard. It quickly adapted to its location and has been a very strong and beautiful grower. This year, we've had unusually cool temperatures with short-lived bouts of heat. No moderate temperatures.

The vine is covered with large pink double flowers that are very showy up close and from a distance. I have not been terribly considerate of the rule of thumb for pruning clematis. In my experience, this vine is hardy into zone 4. It grows best in a sunny location, but has tolerated the moderate shade of its current existence. This plant requires a type 2 pruning and calls to remove dead vines, and stagger cutting heights. If you want more details on maintenance I highly recommend investigating the Raymond Evison Clematis website. After all, this is one of his older introductions.

I met Raymond Evison in January at the National Green Centre Trade Show in St. Louis. He is a delightful man with a firm but gentle handshake that only someone who works with their hands can give. He's been working with clematis since he was a young man. His hard work has been making plant lovers smile for many many years.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Refreshing as a dandelion

Today I saw a woman cupping the puff of a dandelion in her hands. The smile on her face was wide with delight. She had never seen one before. She held it momentarily, and quickly discovered the delicate nature of the dandelion in seed as it magically took flight from her hands into the air and floated off. This photo reminds me how refreshing it is that something so ordinary can be still be new.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Gone in the blink of an eye

I can't believe this weather! I've been waiting five years for my Paeonia 'Thumbelina' (Peony Thumbelina) to bloom. I bought it as a very small bareroot plant and expected to wait for a year or two to see the blooms. Two years ago my toddler sat on it losing an antagonizing battle to gravity. Last year my 90 pound black lab sat on it resting after taking chase on a squirrel and losing.

So when this compact little beauty, marketed for rock gardens, bloomed this year, I was ready. I have been taking photos of it all week while waiting for the tight little buds to open. I expected something tragic to happen. A renegade frisbee accident. Death by squirrel.

No tragedy. The flowers opened up yesterday. Just offering a peek at the beautiful golden stamens inside. Gorgeous.  This morning there was no sun shining, with a forecast of rain and heat. At the last minute, on my way out the door to work, I grabbed my camera and took a shot of the flowers and left to get on with my day.

We were greeted with an unusually high heat, and no rain. I didn't see it coming. I got home and the petals were on the ground. Just a single day of full bloom.

Was it worth the wait? Yes. Was it worth the life of the bloom? Not so much. But I'm going to give it another a year, see what next year brings. My son, a King Kong in training? My dog, named Dog, that gets outwitted by a squirrel and is making a mockery of my efforts by sitting on my plants? The reality is, that I won't remove a shrub that isn't dead, but it will be fun to think about what will happen next year in my garden.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Timing is everything when you're seeing green

Female virescent green metallic bee (2011)

I finished up a round of Master Gardener volunteer gardening today, with a quick photography tour of the marvelous work my fellow gardeners do in Champaign, Illinois. When shooting flowers, I use a Nikon D90 with a 60mm f/2.8 Macro lens. While I had my lens peering deep into a tulip, I noticed a virescent green metallic bee in the flower. I got super excited. I snapped a lot of shots, to make sure I caught at least a glimpse of this bee before it flew off never to be seen again. This is only the second time I've seen this type of bee.

The last time I saw one of these bees was in 2001. I had never seen one before. I was lucky enough to catch a photo of it last time with a Nikon CoolPix 950. The bee was diligently working its way around a Purple coneflower (Echinacea) that was wide open. I captured the bee, the flower, the moment perfectly. The problem? I couldn't identify the bee. I knew it was anatomically a bee, but couldn't find a solid reference online. I used the Entomology resources available at the University of Illinois. It took a lot of footwork, but I managed to hunt it down.

Female virescent green metallic bee

After the photo shoot today, I came home to be greeted with the latest issue of Horticulture Magazine. I randomly flipped through the magazine and was amazed at the timing. There it was, a virescent green metallic bee! It was highlighted in the InsectID section of the magazine by Bill Johnson. The article was written perfectly for identification. Within an hour of taking the photo, I was able to confirm the genus of today's find, just by checking my mail.

I've been reading articles in Horticulture Magazine for years. I love that when I'm short on time I can still flip through the magazine and find an article that is interesting, enlightening, and accurate. Having Bill Johnson's succinct article and his extreme skill in photography to reference is a great addition to the magazine.

Male virescent green metallic bee (2001)

Friday, May 6, 2011

A true blue friend, the Forget-me-not

Myosotis slyvatica (Forget-me-not)
This is just a simple little true blue flower that is a biennial, will move around on you, and can disappear as rapidly as it appeared. Myosotis sylvatica or Forget-me-nots are one of my favorite little flowers. You want to stay away from rigid designs with this little plant and let it works its magic in its own way. It will perform better for you when well placed and left to its own devices.

The first time I saw this plant was in the Aosta Valley of Italy. It was a lighter blue. I don't know what the species name was, but it had the same petite qualities of this genus. It is a wonderful and happy little plant that dappled the large valley reminiscent of blue flecks of paint.

Monday, May 2, 2011

What's blooming today

Deutzia gracilis (Slender Deutzia)

Taken on a warm day you can see condensation forming inside the inflorescence.

Paeonia 'Thumbelina'

Fothergilla gardenii 'Blue Mist' (Blue Mist dwarf fothergilla)
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