MICHELANGELIC ASPIRATIONS

I Start with the Easiest

I spent an hour or so today working on my sculptures. Yes, they were out in the garden. No, they were not stone renderings of fish spouting water into a pond or of ethereal females sprinkling the ground with flower petals. These sculptures are quite large and, as you might guess, the are green, with leaves. 

Some of the sculptures have been completed; some are works in progress. The easiest of these sculptures are nothing more than short hedges, one of boxwood and the the other of yew. Each makes a cozy enclosure, the yew for my front stoop and the boxwood for a bed of Smooth (Hills-of-Snow) hydrangea, a hop vine climbing a trellis, and a Sweet Autumn clematis climbing a brick wall.

With flat tops and nearly vertical sides, both hedges are quick and easy to prune. They both widen slightly from head to toe because, …

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CALLING ALL VOLUNTEERS

A Returning Beauty

I have some of the nicest volunteers in my garden. Some of them have been people, many of them are plants, and one of my favorites – among the plants, that is – is columbine. Years ago, I planted some native columbines, those dainty plants whose orange and yellow flowers hover on thin stalks above their ferny foliage. Since being planted, these wildings self-seed – volunteer, that is — every year in various nooks and crannies around my yard, such as in the thin crevice of soil between my bluestone front path and the adjacent stone wall.
       
I once also planted cultivated columbines, the common McKana Giants, and their offspring have been volunteering around the yard as well. Flowers and foliage of these more cultivated sorts are similar to the natives, just bigger in all respects, which is not necessarily better. Or worse. Just different.

Colors of these larger columbines …

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MARKING SPRING’S ONWARD MARCH

It’s spring, a time when a man’s thoughts turn to . . . flowers, of course. (At least this man’s thoughts, some of them, do.) Sure, I’ve been reveling in the colorful progression of blossoms beginning, this year, with cornelian cherry and hellebore on about the first day of spring, and moving on to forsythia, plum, Asian pear, flowering quince, European pear, cherry, and — probably by the time you read this — apple followed by shipova. All this is the flamboyance of spring.

This year, I’ve also been admiring a few of the more subtle flowers of spring.

MAPLE BEAUTIES, AND OTHERS

Some of the maples are now in bloom. Sugar maples (Acer saccharum) is perhaps the prettiest and most useful of the maples. Unfortunately, it’s also the least tolerant of compacted or wet soils, or a warming climate. The beauty of sugar maples lies not just in the leaves’ autumn show …

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MY MENAGERIE EXPANDS (and a free webinar)

A Little Bit of the Mediterranean

The UPS guy arrived yesterday with a long, narrow cardboard box containing the latest addition to my menagerie, a menagerie of mostly Mediterranean plants. “Mostly” because not all of them have roots in the Mediterranean. But all of them thrive and are grown in Mediterranean climates of mild winters and sunny summers.

My collection is a “menagerie” because, although all the plants thrive and are grown in Mediterranean climates, the makeup is quite diverse. There’s the evergreen pineapple guava (Acca sellowiana that also goes under the common name feijoa), olive, rosemary, bay laurel, and Meyer lemon.

Pollinating pineapple guava

And a few of the plants — black mulberry (Morus nigra), Pakistani mulberry (Morus macroura), pomegranate, and fig — go dormant and lose their leaves in winter.

Pakistan mulberry fruit

Here at the farmden, winter temperatures can plummet to minus 20°F, so getting these plants to thrive …

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FRUITFUL FUTURES

Making the Best of It

Eek! Mice (or rabbits)! Not the animals but the damage they have wrought. The bark on virtually all my pear grafts of last year has been nibbled off enough to kill the grafts.

Once I calmed down, I realized that all was not lost. All the chewing was above ground level, leaving a small amount of intact bark still in place. The plants aren’t dead, just their portions above the chewing. The near-ground portions could be grafted again.

Daisy showered with petals (more on this later)

(Most fruit trees neither come true from seed nor root readily from cuttings, so are propagated by grafting a scion — a short length of one-year-old stem — of the desired variety onto a rootstock. The rootstock is the same kind of plant as the scion variety and could be a seedling or a variety developed for special rootstock purposes. My …

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TRANSPLANT GROWING, A BETTER WAY

Snicker if You Will

I don’t know about your propagation space, but mine is getting overcrowded. Yes, now with a greenhouse, I’ve got more room than in the the past when I grew seedlings in windowsills or in my basement under lights. But my greenhouse is small, and with greenhouse beds home to fig trees and early spring lettuce, arugula, and other greenery, seedlings are relegated to a 12 by 2 foot shelf along the north wall.

I make the most of that shelf by “pricking out.” Snicker if you will at this Britishism, but pricking out is a way to get a lot of bang for your buck space-wise, whether in a greenhouse, on a windowsill, or beneath lights. It also makes more economical use of seeds.

The process begins, for me, with either 4 by 6 inch or 6 by 8 inch seed flats, which are plastic pans a couple of …

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SOUTHERN FRANCE, IN SCENT AND SIGHT

Heaven Scent Flower

I trace the origin of my present obsession with growing carnations – big, fat, fragrant carnations (Dianthus caryophyllus) – to the movie, Jean de Florette, that I saw back in 1986. Not that I aspire to labor under the weight of hauling water long distances to care for my plants, as did Ugolin. And not that I’m hoping to get good money selling the cut flowers at a local market.

Actually, my only memories of the film are of the charming countryside of Provence, of Ugolin crouching over the plants and lavishing them with care, and of the pretty pink flowers. Come to think of it, I’m not sure Ugolin’s carnations even got as far as the flowering stage. Anyway, in my mind’s eye I see those pink blossoms and smell their spicy perfume.

With good soil and ample water, my carnations have an easier time of it that did …

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BEE GLORY, GONE (FOR NOW)

Arnold’s Promise?

I miss the bees. No, they’re not gone from here because of Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), widely responsible for the loss of bees. Most years, they would have been here and perhaps gone on to greener pastures by now.

The bees come for my witchhazel, and the reason for their absence this year is because my witchhazel didn’t bloom. It usually blooms in late winter or very early spring. And it won’t bloom this season at all. The reason is because it bloomed last fall.

It’s not uncommon for an early spring bloomer such as witchhazel to jump the gun and bloom in fall. And the cause for this behavior is growing conditions through summer that send the plant into a kind of sleep, then fall conditions that all of a sudden shake the plant awake. My guess is that the plant considered the very dry weather last summer an ersatz …

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SWEET POSSIBILITIES

It’s time to prune, and to help you, I’ll be holding a PRUNING WEBINAR on March 29, 7-8:30 EST. Learn the tools of the trade, how plants respond to pruning, details for pruning various plants, and enjoy a fun finale on an easy espalier. There’ll be time for questions also. Cost is $35 and you can register with Paypal or credit card here.

Choice Syrups

I’ve given up on maple syrup this year. The tree I tapped was too small to yield anything significant. 

I’d almost given up on river birch syrup. I thought perhaps it was the timing — and, have since learned, that it is! Sap from any one of a number of birch species doesn’t begin to flow until temperatures are consistently 50°F or higher, which arrives near the end of the maple tapping season and continues until about the time the trees leaf out.

River birch, tapped

Black …

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