Ah March!

Well there’s little doubt as to just how March is coming in this year. Two weeks ago we had an Ice storm that knocked out electric power (almost 5 days) in addition to Cable TV and internet for nearly 6 days. Many of the trees in the garden suffered broken branches snapped from their trunks which often fell onto smaller woody plants beneath. While this did create a mess that took several days to clean up, all in all I found it to be a plus as in every case, the fallen branches were ones in need of removal so that more sunlight reach the garden below.

The following weekend’s winter storm delivered 13’+ inches of wet snow that stuck to every twig and branch like spray-on flocking some folks applied to their Christmas trees and windows. The resulting damage was much more significant. Many trees had their tops snapped off, many many more branches were ripped out of the tree trunks, and even a 60ft White Pine snapped at ground level! And of course took out the power as well as TV & internet service again. Aahgggg!

Unlike the preceding Ice Storm (which melted away within a day and a half) the heavy snow persisted in spite to the 40 degree daytime temps, postponing any kind of clean-up until all of the snow’s melts. Only about half of which did so prior to today’s additional 5″+ of fresh, but thankfully dry, fluffy snow.

This is the second pile of broken branches that have fallen here, in a little over a week!

While the devastation had me thinking that perhaps there just might be something to Prairie / Steppe Gardening, I refrained from chainsawing all of the remaining trees.

Where the snow had melted, reassuring signs of Spring appeared.

One of 4 Adonis amurensis, though others are still beneath the snow.

This cut-leaf alder is one of many casualties.

Headless Abies koreana ‘Silver Show’ will have to go.
This Stewartia koreana was already slated for removal.

Galanthus nivalis (planted as single bulbs just several years previously) are increasing nicely. I don’t know if voracious rabbits would attack, but I’m not taking any chances with this young Hamamelis ‘Pallida’. The tree guards remain on all of young woodies, until the grass greens-up!

The top 8 ft. of Pinus strobus pendula, along with countless other branches from larger, straight-species Pinus strobus in the background.
Our native White Pines are especially ill-equip to deal with ice or excessive snow-loading. I sure hope my Abies koreana ‘Kohouts Icebreaker’ (somewhere beneath) is unmalled.

The top of this Picea pungens had to be cut in half in order for me to drag it out of the “Ditch”

Only time will tell if this Thuja occidentals ‘Rheingold’ will remain, or be chainsawed.

While things are currently a mess to be sure …

Spring’s heralder’s continue onward, unabated.

I find Eranthus especially cheerful, and successful at seeding about.

One of several less-common forms I’ve been most fortunate to find.

As well this peony-flowered form.

There will be lots of clean-up for me to see to, in the not too distant future.

The first of the Crocus tommasinianus to appear.
Impatient Trillium naval, just waiting for some sunshine!

Helleborus tibetanus, (Thanks Marion)!

Spring will not be denied, and with each flower every day gets little better!

September ? Already!

Looking back I’m a bit shocked to find so many weeks have shot past since I’ve last posted anything. It wasn’t for a lack of anything worthwhile going on, but rather as one of the last few gardeners without a smartphone, I don’t have a camera handy in order to capture images of those events.

My friend Pat Karl and I, have been making weekly trips out to Hidden Lakes Gardens ( in Tipton Michigan) in order to volunteer, working in the Harper Conifer Collection, a designated reference Conifer Garden of the American Conifer Society. Most recently, there’s been small but growing number of volunteers who have joined us. They share a passion for conifers, and their efforts are making a difference. We’ve been enjoying our time there assisting with edging, weeding, pruning and mulching the beds. It’s been slow going (it is quite a large collection), but what’s been accomplished by the tireless and undermanned staff at HLG can only be called impressive, well and beautiful too. Sadly, my thoughts on those Wednesday-Workdays have been focused on the work to be done and remembering to pack the right tools needed for the day, and never a thought about a camera.

Work in my own garden has for the most part, been limited to dragging around hoses. The usual Monsoon season, that normally brings rainfall to the American Southwest (and then on to us as it moves East and North), hasn’t been making it this far (or at least not to my garden)! Additionally, the Hurricane Season which plagues the Southeast U.S. seems behind schedule as well, and that also plays a role in putting an end to our annual Summer drought. So for the most part the garden is beyond dry. Frankly, much of my garden is crispy with brown foliage.

If I limit the scope of view though, I can capture a few images that look presentable.

A number of late season flowering plants (at least in this garden) seem to take the extended dry periods all in stride. Decades ago Andrea’s mom shared seed of Nicotiana sylvestris from her garden, and it has proven to be a reliable performer here ever since.

Anemone robustissima (foreground) & Anemone japonica ‘Pamina’.

Anemone japonica ‘Honerine Jobert’

Just like the Asters, the Anemonies have shown themselves to be equally up to the challanges of less-than-ideal growing conditions.

Begonia grandis ‘Heronswoods Pirouette’
Begonia grandis alba

Hardy begonia’s have amazed me by their tolerance of droughty spells!

However it is the arrival of the late season bulbs that ( for me) signals the waning days of Summer.

Barnardia japonica

The lead off to the fall bulb season, is a toss-up between the pink scilla (above) and the Cyclamen hederifolia (of which I neglected to capture a single image). I was introduced to this easy-to-please little bulb over a decade ago by my dear friend and garden mentor Dick Punnett. It does put on a good show, however it is “a good doer” aka a bit of a weed, so you’ll need to give it some room. Here it is taking over a path in the Limestone Bed, but it is rather late in the garden season, and the foliage will wither in the coming frost, by spring there’ll be no sign of it until the foliage begins to appear in mid August.

Colchicum ciliata

Ah but the Colchicums! They have won me over, and there’s no such thing as too many colchicums, at least not in this garden. They thrive just about anywhere I site them (except really dry spots) and unlike the autumn flowering crocuses, Colchicums are not devoured by rodents, as they are quite poisonous. These easy to please, fall flowering bulbs, seem to relish the heavy clay-loam soil that makes up most-all of my garden, but don’t seem to mind the improved drainage found in the raised beds either, again so long as it’s not too dry. In this garden, the bulbs off-set with such great abandon the off-sets “push” themselves up and out of the soil. I simply gather those heaved up bulbs, and find new spots to tuck them into the garden.

Colchicum agrippinum

The first Colchicum to flower here is always C. agrippinum, ( another gift ) from a generous and longtime friend Bill Brown. Not only does it “open the season” but it is by far the most commented on, and requested Colchicum in the garden.

Next to appear is C. ‘Disraeli’ also a handsomely, tessellated-colchicum and good increaser. As with so many others in my collection this came to me as a gift from yet another very generous and long, long-time friend Don La Fond. Thankfully non-generous gardeners are an anathema!

Once things get started more colchicums start popping-up daily

And now (in mid September) the early season Colchicums are in full swing!

C. autumnal perhaps ‘Faberge Silver’ ?

C. autumnal ‘Album’ & C. ‘Disraeli’

I have been spurring them on with a drink from the hose in order for a better showing at the GLC’s Open Garden & Fall Plant Sale that was I hosted this past weekend.

Good thing too, as the prolonged drought had left the garden’s floral display pretty sparse indeed!

C. sp. (one of many potfuls donated to the Sale by Glen Pace)

As I feel there’s never too many Colchicums in my garden, I couldn’t pass-up this potful of beauties above. The only purchase I made at the sale, not for want of other treasures, but rather too many distractions as host!

Sternbergia lutea

While not a colchicum I couldn’t resist adding the first of the Sternbergia lutes to bloom. Several years ago I teased several bulbs out from an overly crowded clump of bulbs, and scattered those divisions into raised beds elsewhere in the garden. Only a few, which had benefited from my passing-by with the hose while watering new additions (such as the weeping Japanese Red Pine in the background) are blooming. All of the others have, as yet to come up due to the dryness of their sites.

As I said previously, the Colchicum season is just getting started. What with all of the species and hybrids there will more new flowers to feed the bees as well as this gardener’s heart for weeks to come.

July is Roscoea month

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.

Roscoea scillifolia forma atropurpurea
Roscoea scillifolia

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.

Roscoea ×beesiana

Roscoea ×beesiana with purple streaking
Roscoea ×beesiana

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.

Roscoea cautleoides
Roscoea auriculata

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.

Roscoea tibetica forma alba

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

Roscoea purpurea ‘Red Gurkha’

Just another day in the life of gardeners.

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)

Its Always Something

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!