July is Roscoea month. Despite our heat – and cold winters – we can grow some of these remarkable eastern Asian hardy gingers in southern Michigan, with some care.
First off, hardiness – many are just casually said to be “Zone 5” in nurseries. Sounds good but, of course, a lot depends on planting depth, site, and snow cover. During our terrible “polar vortex” some years back, I lost a number of plants, and started planting deeper – they don’t seem to mind being at a depth of 8-10 inches or even more for larger species. They also seem to be heavy feeders, so I dig out the planting spot and put a rich mix at that depth. I suspect a cool root run helps, and so I also overplant with lower things that they can come through. You have to be careful as they are “late risers,” and it’s easy to forget they are there. But now I’m waiting for the next “test winter.”
I’ve seen growing conditions for them described as “woodland – or even seen them described as shade plants” and that’s problematic. My suggestion for our area is light shade, with especially morning or later afternoon sun. This keeps them cooler, which they like. They won’t bloom or grow well in too much shade, but definitely don’t like blazing hot sun either, nor dry soils.
So what ones are best for us – I should say me, and not generalize? Well, starting with the hardies and easiest, Roscoea scillifolia. This is small, not ugly, just, well, unassuming species, and seems very hardy, never winterkilling and even self-sowing gently. It is a bit floppy, and has small, flesh-pink flowers. There is a very cute purple-black flowered form, that has to be planted where you can admire it close-up.
Also quite hardy, and probably the best species for our area is the hybrid Roscoea ×beesiana. There are a range of color forms of this hybrid between the yellow (usually) Roscoea cautleoides and the purple Roscoea auriculata. This seems to tolerate a tad more heat and sun, and blooms well. Some forms are a lovely pale yellow, others are yellow, but with purple streaking.
Both the parents of Roscoea ×beesiana are also relatively hardy species for us. Roscoea cautleoides is a lovely Chinese species, medium sized, usually yellow flowered, growing at higher elevations (to 3500 m) in Sichuan and Yunnan, and also performing well in southern Michigan. Roscoea auriculata is also higher elevation, but from the Himalayas, and was also a species where some plants made it through the “polar vortex” It’s a bigger species with purple flowers. both are worth planting deep and trying.
My favorite, and a true alpine, is Roscoea tibetica. This is a small plant, rather orchid like in appearance, and flowering at only a few cm tall, with broad leaves close to the ground, and (in my favorite form) delicate white flowers. It grows at high elevations, extending from open forests and shrub lands to alpine meadows up to 3800 m. This also does not seem (so far) to need deep planting, and also self-sows a bit. You can see self-sown seedling in the photo to the right.
A couple other, bigger species I’m still experimenting with still. One is Roscoea humeana. I’ve gotten this before, but so far as I can tell, not correctly named. But it should be hardy, and I’ll find out now that I have the real thing (in a couple genotypes). Also, Himalayan and apparently not as hardy, but a nice big plant is Roscoea purpurea. This species has a striking red form called ‘Red Gurkha’ that is positively amazing. It is the only Roscoea with this color, and a stunning summer bloomer. Hopefully, deep planting allows it to overwinter! — Tony Reznicek
I think it was roughly 10 day ago that the above image appeared in my e-mail. The fellow standing here (for Scale) is Dennis Groh, a past president of the American Conifer Society, a consummate gardener, and tireless promoter of Conifers as well as the ACS. He is also a patient friend and mentor to countless plants people, and was a dear friend of departed giant-of-the-ACS, Chub Harper, without whom the Harper Dwarf and Rare Conifer Collection would not exist. This conifer collection is a prominent feature of the Hidden Lakes Garden (Michigan State University Botanical Garden) located in Tipton, MI.
Dennis and his wife Carol had gone to Hidden Lakes Garden that day to join in the festivities of a Birthday Celebration and Fundraising event for HLG, but he couldn’t do so without first popping over to have a quick look at the Harper Conifers.
What he found was a familiar sight in this “Age of Covid”. Being closed to the public for such an extended period of time, combined with crippling shortage of staff, gave the opportunistic weeds free range.
Once he returned home, Dennis wasted no time in getting the word out.
All that was required, was to post a note of his visit to Hidden Lakes and the opening photo above.
Within very short order, responses came in, and 2 work days of weed pulling were scheduled for the following week. Much of the Canada thistle were about to shed their seed, and quick action was required.
At roughly 8:00 am Wednesday morning 13 volunteers joined in with 5 Hidden Lakes Garden staff and interns. Some quick directions by the gardens director Paul Pfeifer and it was on!
Everyone got right to it and there was no looking back. Pulled weeds were tossed onto tarps, when the piles of weeds was sufficient, the tarps were rolled up and placed onto carts to be hauled off to the burn site.
Some of the beds had previously received an application of herbicide, and those areas got a quick going over as well.
In spite of the 90 degree temperature and high humidity the work carried on thru the morning
Water breaks and short visits gave everyone a chance to catch up on recent events.
And weedy nooks in need attention offered a shaded, if short-lived respid from the sun.
A wonderful, catered box-lunch revived everyones’ spirits.
These determined gardeners went right back to it, while half of my crew said they’d had enough. It must be noted that not only did Carol & Dennis Groh along with Teresa Holmquist & Betsy Turner carry on thru the remainder of the afternoon session (as did many others) but these four dedicated “Cone-Heads” returned the following day, to guide another group thru a second grueling assault of weed pulling. It is said that many hands make for quick work, but I can tell you it wasn’t quick enough for any of those above.
However, the results could not be denied.
Everyone was far-more than pleased with what was accomplished!
No one more so than this guy! Way to go Dennis, this wouldn’t have happened were it not for you!
(Take a moment and compare the last photo with the very first photo)
Looking back it almost embarrassing how much time I’ve let slip by, sense my last post. This is also an all-too common entry that I find myself jotting down whenever I get around to making entries in my Garden Journal.
It’s not that there’s been a lack of things going on in the garden or events to attend. Rather it seems as though the gardening year has been racing past, and I find that I am constantly trying to play catch-up between what needs to be done and the progression of Spring into Summer.
Everything that I’d planned on getting into the ground had been planted. Most all to the woody plants that perished over the past winter (and there’s been a lot, more so than I can recall previously), had been removed. I have kept up with the weeding, at least that was the case until we returned home from the ACS (American Conifer Society) Central Region’s Annual Meeting earlier this month. The rapidity with which the weeds shot-up made it look as though we’d been away for a couple of weeks rather than the 3 days we’d spent in Dayton, Ohio with fellow Cone-Heads.
But the jungle of weeds was tamed, nearly all of the new conifers found a home in the garden (after all I did have a lot of vacancies to fill), and besides, back in early June it was still relatively cool and rains were still plentiful. Then the Summer’s heat got turned on!
Being homeowners of an old house means there’s never a lack of things that need doing, so as Andreas’ school year had ended, she set her sights on organizing the basement (and by she I mean “we”). It was fine really, I mean I’m of an age where I can not work outdoors all-day like I used to. Despite the temperatures being in the mid-to-upper 90’s and matching humidity, the basement was a refreshing mid-60’s, so it was working out pretty well all in all.
Then one afternoon around 3:30 (just when it was really getting toasty outside), and I was walking some trash to the bins I happened upon this:
A Norway Spruce tree, that I’d topped and stripped of branches year’s ago, so that I would have a place to hang another nest-box for the smaller owls (Screech & Saw-Whet’s) had fallen over, and it wasn’t even a breezy day!
Of course there was a large rock that has been laying-in-wait for just this day, as the nest box landed squarely on it, smashing it to pieces! As I gently lifted some of the larger sections, I was surprised not by an owl or owlets but a very strange looking squirrel. Its’ small size, somewhat over-sized, black eyes and fur color, clearly made it a Northern Flying Squirrel. We’ve had Flying Squirrels in other nest-boxes on the property.
The strange part to me, was the very wideness of her body as well as a somewhat clumsy and labored gait as she made her retreat downhill and under the cover of a large Hosta. This was either a very pregnant mom-to-be, or she was making her escape with her young tucked up and under her sail-like flaps of fur. As I stood there trying to think of all of the bad things that could happen to her and young, my eyes were attracted by movement overhead. Papa-F S. came sailing down from above, flared and landed on the trunk of another large Norway Spruce and then quickly scurried up out of sight into the branches above.
OK, I guess I’m putting up another Nest-Box on this tree. Certainly not something on my list of things to do today, but certain calamity awaited this now-homeless family and I wasn’t even sure I had all of the supplies on hand.
First thing was to get out the ladder remove all of the branches from the section of trunk above and below where the box was to be mounted. Ideally the box should be mounted a good 20ft or more up off the ground, however my ideal weight for climbing up that high into trees is years behind me, and they were just going to have to make due with less than ideal.
As I had no plans to preform any tree-topping, that meant I would have to place a metal collar around the trunk several feet above where I would hang the nest-box, in order to prevent out many resident Red Squirrels from climbing down the trunk from above, and making a meal of my intended occupants as well as taking over their new home. After I’d secured the metal flashing, I decided I needed to remove several additional branches (above the collar) to stop marauders from safely leaping from those branches and grabbing the tree trunk below the collar. So down I went, and higher up the ladder got extended, to a height taller than what’s shown here, and off went more branches.
Then I needed to round up the wood and fasteners, haul out the saw horses and required tools and get busy. This nest-box came together rather quickly, and I had a bag of wood shavings on hand (from my Good Buddy Don), so I added a generous 5-6″ worth into the box.
I returned to what was left of the old box hoping Mom might have gone back to her former place of security, and coax her into the new box (I had not attached the roof yet) but there was no sign of her or any youngsters.
Living with Red Squirrels for 3 plus decades, I’ve come to know them as persistent, to say the least. I thought of one more thing I could add as a deterrent, and that was a covering the roof with aluminum This would prevent the “Red Villains”, from gaining any purchase, in the event one felt embolden enough to jump down off the tree trunk (above the upper metal collar) and land on the nest-box roof. A feat probably done only once as they’d go sliding right off!
Confidant that I’d done the best that I could, to give my charming if rarely-seen “Honey-Glider” co-residents, a snug (and Red-Squirrel proof) home, I looped a rope around the new box, and grabbed the drill to rebore the holes to bolt the box to the tree.
And got the new box hung, all in about 3-4 hours. As I said earlier it was a hot day (wicked-hot), and I was completely oblivious about the fact that Andrea had been taking any pictures of any of this. Fortunately she did or as with every other thing of interest that’s transpired of late, I’d have nothing to post about. I did place another metal collar around the lower part of the tree (to keep the Red Pillagers from climbing up the trunk) but by the time that happened Andrea had already had enough of my nonsense and retreated indoors.
The other thing I need to mention, is that I don’t want to convey that I was anything less than thrilled, to be able to watch an actual Flying Squirrel fly! I’ve seen them poke their heads out of a nest box entrance when I’ve rapped on the tree trunk down below. But to see one in action was a lifetime moment for me. I think I’ll have to get a Game -Cam and mount it on a neighboring tree, as Andrea’s never seen one, and such a pic would have added a lot to this post!
I complain a lot about the heavy clay-loam that comprises most of the soil that I have to garden in. There are plenty of wonderful plants that I have given up on as residents in my garden. However I’ve come to embrace those species which thrive here and seed about happily.
One such group of plants (that of special interest to me) are the Trilliums. As long time member of the GLC (Great Lakes Chapter of NARGS), I have benefited greatly from the generosity and guidance of many of our legendary members, most of whom are only with us in the wonderful plants they shared, and I am grateful for this memorable connection.
Decades ago, the GLCs’ sales tables as well as the generosity garden friends, were the only means one had to acquire these special plants found in our gardens today. The greatest driving force in both the dispersal and how to grow trilliums, rests with a pair of our chapter’s founding members; Roberta & Fred Case. To be sure other members contributed as well, but year in and year out most all of the trillium to appear in our Plant Sales, trace their histories back to the Case’s Garden and many of those went into the plant Auction. The bidding was always lively and quickly ascended to a point well beyond my comfort level.
The first trillium to appear in our gardens is the Snow Trillium, T. nivale. which is always snapped up whenever a division appears on our Club’s sales tables.
With each passing year they and their progeny, have increased and improved, some becoming quite spectacular in their own right with near black flowers,
But even before I had any success at the Sales my dear friend and mentor Dick Punnett, had shared countless numbers of the T. grandifloras that he considered near-weeds. So plentiful were these adaptable trillium, in the rich damp woods that made-up most of his one of a kind garden, that almost anytime he wanted to create a new bed he would first start by digging up a dozen or so and tossing them aside. I would gather them up, quick as I could or they’d die in the sun. They may have been weeds to him but they were nothing short of treasures to me. Better still the form that grew in his woods have a wonderful trait in that they quickly grew into sizable clumps.
Today almost every woodland bed in our garden contains some of Dick’s Trillium grandifloras. They are the most plentiful trillium here, but I can’t bring myself to call them common.
Other members have contributed T. grandifloras as well to our clubs’ sales over the years, and I always took advantage of adding to the gene pool in the garden.
Whenever a local woodlot was about to be razed to make way for yet another sub-division, I would always make a quick search and if Trillium were present, a stop at the construction trailer to get permission to remove them was never refused.
A close second to T. grandiflora (in abundance in this garden), would have to be T. recurvatum. The prairie trillium is very happy to occupy sunnier edges of the woodland bed, even venturing out quite some distance into full sun.
There are several forms of trillium recurvatum in the garden. One is stoloniferous and makes massive patches with alarming rapidity, but when you’ve started with acres of empty space this was a plus as I could easily add it here and there and let it do it’s thing.
Other forms were later purchased from nurseries such as Arrowhead Alpines or Plant Delights.
This is Trillium stamineum (another purchase from Arrowhead Alpines), it’s twisted petals distinguishes it from all other trillium. This spring I was surprised to find a single flowering stem over 200ft. away from what has become the original patch, the work of Yellow Jackets and wasps.
This plant remains a mystery to me. It was given to me by Bob Stewart on the day his shipment of trillium came in from a Southern wholesaler. Dick & I happened to be present the day the box arrived. When Bob opened the crate and there were three copies of a plant that looked very different from all of the others. Bob handed one of them to Dick, another to me and kept on for himself.
I planted mine in the garden and it made a clump of a dozen stems in short order. So I dug up and divided the clump, gave divisions to Don and Tony, and scattered the others through out the garden, but only 3 of my divisions survived the ordeal.
My first copy of the following trillium arrived via Southern acquaintance of Dicks, I remember his first name was Ewen but I cannot recall his last name.
This little beauty is Trillium discolor. It had never set seed on its own so I’ve added several more courtesy of PDN.
These also came to be in our garden thanks to the folks at Plants Delight Nursery. Sadly the rain has muted its silvery sheen, and dulled its maroon blotches.
Trillium underwoodii according to the PDN, catalog hales from the dry Alabama woodlands, but has been a reliable performer here in my somewhat dry Michigan woodland bed. Which is more than I can say for T. decipiens, in three tries I have as yet to find a place to make that species happy.
Not too far away from the proceeding trillium, is a thriving clump of another mail-ordered trillium.
Trillium albidum arrived as gifts in an order from Natures Garden Nursery, a mail order nursery run by Frederick Held in Scio, Oregon. They have made the move East and slowly self sown seedlings appear here or there.
I can’t say the following Trillium sessile have seeded about…
…the clumps of the forms I have seem amiable to division. There are at least 2 forms in the garden, one a GLC Sales purchase, the other a gift from Don La Fond.
This unusual 6 leaved form of Trillium cuneatum arrived in the garden via a GLC Sales also. It was donated to the plant auction by Tony Reznicek, who acquired it from Ellen Horning’s ‘Senica Hill Nursery’.
Another GLC Sales purchase (from long ago) was Trillium luteum. Very few seedlings have appear, however I believe the fault is mine, as these plants are located in an area with far too much, other plant competition for seedlings to survive.
I believe the trillium species with the third oldest longevity in our garden belongs to this cultivar of Trillium cernuum.
Decades ago Dick and I went to explore the long-ago, abandoned site of his garden mentor Bob Tucker. The property had been purchased by one of the Big Three Automobile Companies, but hadn’t fenced it in, nor razed the house or garden as yet. This was one of the few rescues from the Bull-dozer
A relatively, more recent purchase via a GLC auction, is this Trillium viridescens. The bidding was so intense between myself and another long-time GLC member (as well as a fellow fanatic of the genus, and dear soul to boot), I simply had to divide the clump to share it with her. I am really over-due in dividing this clump again.
An even more recent addition is this expanding clump of Trillium oostingii, which came to me via fellow, long-time GLC member, Bob Swartz. It is the only one of the more recently-discovered, Southern species that I’ve succeeded in finding the correct placement for in the garden, on the first try.
Within the past decade, I have been one of the very fortunate recipients to have been handed a 1-gallon, plastic zip-lock bag-full, of trillium seed heads that were gathered from the Case’s Garden. There was no telling what they were, but they were sure to be good. I sowed the seed from each capsule into t’sown 4″x4″ pot, and by the third year the pots were chock-full of multiple plants needing to be planted out. Dozens of pot-fulls went into the garden and dozens went onto the GLC Sales tables.
Not only have those pots yielded wonderful species but many hybrids as well, most of which had flowered so early I failed to capture their images. This year there are a second round of mixed-Case- seedlings ready for a place in the garden.
As special and wonderful as all of these species and hybrids are, the trilliums which stop visitors in their tracks are the double-flowered forms of T. grandiflora.
Some were gifts, one a rare plant auction win, others and perhaps my favorites were finds, while out roaming woodlots with very close friends.
All are quite unique.
All of them need to be grown on, divided and shared.
In spite of my attempts, I have as yet failed in getting this green, single-flowered form to set seed.
Hopefully in the not too far future, they will make it into the trade.
In creating this post, I’ve failed to include not only nearly all of the hybrids, but several species as well. However I feel confident this post illustrates how these wonderful and growable woodland plants are, and deserve a place in our gardens.