Monthly Archives: December 2021

WILL THE TRUE BALSAM PLEASE STAND UP?

Cold Enough for Balsam Fir?

Ah, to sit by the fire on a cold winter’s eve. The fire’s warmth suffuses me with somnolence and drives into the air a resinous, woodsy aroma from my fresh cut balsam fir branches draped about the room or steaming on the woodstove. 

Balsam fir (Abies balsamea) would be an oddity amongst my plants. Here in the colder part of Zone 5, blackberries and some of my grapes have been pushed to their northern limits. Balsam fir would be unique in being a plant pushed to its southern limit. Most of my plants require well-drained soils. Balsam fir grows in well-drained soil, but it also will grow in swampy land, even very acidic (pH 5.0-6.0), swampy land

Balsam fir is native from northern New England to the tundra and mountaintops further south. I live in lowland. In those cold, moist locales where they are native, the trees grow …

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THERE ARE LOTS OF NUTS OUT THERE

I’ve written recently about how bountiful this past season has been with fruits. Well, botanically, at least, “fruits” includes “nuts.” More on this later.* The nut harvest was also abundant.

Except for last year, just about every year has been a good year for black walnuts. But this year,  it didn’t take long to pick up and fill baskets quickly. After being husked, cleaned, and then left to cure in a squirrel-proof loft, I’ve started cracking them (with my ‘Master Nutcracker’). Large, plum, tasty nutmeats drop free from the shells.

A Surprise Nut

What surprised me most was the harvest of English walnuts, botanically Juglans regia and also known as Persian walnuts. (The moniker “English” may be because of the significant role played by English sailors in distributing the nuts around the world.) Persia, or Eastern Europe is where this plant originated. Early on, humans introduced it to other parts of the …

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THE WISDOM OF SEEDS

Tweaking the View

Finally, today, I’m planting seeds. “Too late to plant seeds,” you say? Or, perhaps you’re thinking that it’s way too early, with the coldest days of the year still about a month away. Well, the seeds I’m talking about aren’t vegetable or flower seeds; they’re tree and shrub seeds.

Planting seeds is a way to get lots of new plants at little or no cost. The seeds I’m going to be planting are ones that I collected this past summer, fall, and yesterday.

I already grow way too many plants but I need these plants for a barrier. The rear of my property backs up to a rail trail which, from spring through fall, is a wall of greenery in a swath about twenty feet wide. Nothing special, just whatever popped up there naturally, mostly bush honeysuckles and some viburnums nearby with black cherries and ashes further in. Grape or …

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And Never the Twains Shall Meet

Detente, Plant Style

“Oh, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet,” wrote Kipling a hundred years ago. Not so with respect to gardening. The Far East, spared the great sheets of ice that descended upon North America during the Ice Ages, has been a treasure trove of plants. Though distance, water, and culture kept the gardening worlds of the East and the West separate for millennia, the gap began to narrow just over two-hundred years ago.

The first plants to trickle out of China were those plants most accessible to foreigners — cultivated plants growing at and around seaport towns. It was not until the

Potted kumquat

middle of the nineteenth century that plant explorers pressed inland to open wide the treasure chest of wild and cultivated plants, many of which have found their way into my garden. These plant explorers are honored in plants that …

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GIFT IDEAS

Great Gift Ideas! Gardening books, of course. All available from the usual sources as well as, signed, right from me, here.

Weedless Gardening: Not only weedlessness; also lots of information on drip irrigation, making or buying compost, cover crops, timing and details for individual vegetables, tree planting, fertilization, and soil testing. I’ve used this weed-less system for over 25 years! $10.95

 

Growing Figs in Cold Climates: Five methods for growing figs in cold climates, pruning techniques, best varieties, harvesting, and ways to hasten ripening. $24.99

 

The Pruning Book: Reasons to prune, tools of the trade, how plants respond to being pruned, and details on just pruning just about every plant you can imagine, from ornamental trees and bushes, to fruit and nut trees, to houseplants and perennials. A final section delves into specialized techniques such as topiary, bonsai, and espalier. $29.95

Landscaping with Fruit: How to choose what to grow depending on your region and …

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FILBERT NUTS OR HAZELNUTS?

Species Matter; Varieties Matter

You say “tomayto,” I say “tomahto.” You say “filbert,” I say “hazelnut.” (“Filbert” is from St. Philibert, to whom August 22nd, is dedicated and which is the day of first ripening of hazelnuts in England.) Although hazelnuts originally referred to native American filberts, hazelnut and filbert are now equivalent.

It’s been over twenty years since I planted my first hazelnuts. Fortunately, hazels bear quickly, often within 3 or 4 years. Unfortunately, a disease called eastern filbert blight can decimate the trees, and not begin to do so for about a decade. Our native hazels (Corylus americana), having evolved with the blight, are resistant. Not so for European hazels, which are the hazelnuts of commerce.

My first planting was of our native hazel, which I planted for beauty and for nuts. It did turn out to be an attractive, suckering shrub that lit up fall with its boldly colored leaves. …

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