Eric’s Pet Plants

Eric’s Pet Plant: Black Pussywillow (Salix gracilistylus ‘Melanostachys’)

As you may be noticing long about now, we are surrounded by spring flowers, their heart-lifting color everywhere – in the landscape, on garden blogs, at nurseries, in omigodheretheycome fall bulb catalogs.

But there’s one branch of the spring flower shower that doesn’t get as much notice as it deserves, the one that doesn’t have any petals (At least not petals the way forsythia has petals, and certainly not the way daffodils have petals).

So right here I want to put in a good word for catkins, the fuzzy flowering parts of birches, beeches, mulberries, hazels and of course pussy willows.

In a moment, our friend Eric will be extolling the Black Pussy Willows he grows over at Yale, but first a glimpse of our own backyard thrill, the contorted hazel, in full chandelier mode:

 Corylus avellana 'Contorta', in spring flower

Corylus avellana 'Contorta' in flower

The stems look a lot like the curly branches offered at some high end florists, but those are usually the faster growing curly willow, which brings us back to Eric and his fashionably

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Ice Damage to Trees

I doubt there's a gardener living who can contemplate an ice storm without deeply mixed emotions. On the one hand, it's beautiful, possibly the most beautiful thing the winter landscape offers. Trees that have been encased in ice, that shimmer and twinkle in the least light and shine with their own cold brilliance are winter trees at their best - line drawings electrified.

ice on viburnum

Iced viburnum

On the other hand, that’s “best” in a strictly visual sense. Unless you count being covered with ice while still in leaf, there’s no greater stress for a tree’s crown than having to bear great weight on frozen, unbendable branches.

Unless you count ice plus wind.

Our friend Eric over at Yale isn’t mentioning any woes that may have befallen Marsh Gardens, but he does have a lot of good advice in the “how to save your trees” department.

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Eric’s Pet Plant: Juniper ( Juniperus species)

OK, it’s officially evergreen season, when gardeners’ thoughts turn to plant material that does not shed its leaves and (in most cases) does not add any more brown to the landscape. That’s gardeners. Everyone else of course is thinking – or trying not to think – about Holiday/Solstice/Christmas trees.

I have already tied a shortbread recipe to these ubiquitous conifers and my strong feelings about them, but our friend Eric over at Yale has been inspired in a whole different direction. If you choose junipers, you’re not just honoring a symbol, you’re getting rid of pests.

blue star juniper

Recently planted ‘Blue Star’ Juniper. It will take about a decade to reach full size.

“Our Juniperus squamata ‘BlueStar’ shows how it got its name in this image,” says Eric. “It will take ten years or so to become 3 feet in spread and almost that in height. That slow growth combines with its excellent coloration to make it a good choice for the mixed border.”

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Eric’s Pet Plant: Bald Cypress (Taxodium distichum)

bald cypress taxodium disticum fall color

This bald cypress is roughly nine feet high, with a spread of about four feet. Its coppery fall colors show off well against the yellow of the River Birch (Betula nigra) in the background. Not visible in Eric's snapshot are the yellow Clethra, the red and purple Itea and other plants typical of East Coast swamp lands.

As autumn takes hold over at Marsh Gardens, our friend Eric turns his attention to one of Yale’s more educational plantings, a small native bog display. There’s not much chance his bald cypress trees will attain the majesty of those in the southern swamps, but with any luck they’ll grow large enough to show how much beauty these deciduous conifers can confer on a landscape.

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Eric’s Pet Plant: Canna and Mealy-cup Sage (Canna species and Salvia farinacea)

canna pretoria and salvia farinacea victoria blue

Eric's Salvia farinacea 'Victoria Blue' and Canna x 'Pretoria'

We are in the season of summing up and looking ahead. Half-empty types (that would be me) are making careful notes of what failed to thrive, what failed to please and why. Those with sunnier dispositions (that would be our friend Eric, over at Yale) are reflecting on their successes and planning repeats.

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Eric’s Pet Plant: Ylang-ylang Tree (Cananga odorata)

It has been hot in the Hudson Valley. Also in Maine. Also in New Haven, where our friend Eric has been doing what we’ve all been doing: cutting back annuals, planting fall crops and reveling in abundant tomatoes.

Unlike the rest of us, he’s also been enjoying the fragrance of  blooming Ylang-ylang, an easy bit of exotica if you have a large enough greenhouse (emphasis on the large enough).

Ylang-ylang Cananga odorata, flower

"The solitary flower of Ylang-ylang with its strap-like petals is a chartreuse to light yellow color," says Eric. "The aroma fills the large bay of the greenhouse in which we keep this easily-grown tropical tree."

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Eric’s Pet Plant: Switchgrass (Panicum Virgatum), with a bonus trip to Storm King

Sculpture at Storm King

“This is what happens when your I-phone lens gets dirty,” Eric explained when he sent this picture,” and of course I have a plastic cover on it to protect the poor device from my unhealthy-for-digital-equipment lifestyle. Sorry for that. But the Switchgrass just behind the sculpture adds an interesting texture, with a life of its own on a breezy day.”

This round, Eric’s Pet Plant is from Storm King, and his article is a reminder of two very important things:

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Eric’s Pet Plant: Copper Beech ( Fagus sylvatica ‘Atropururea’)

full grown copper beech

One of the copper beeches at Yale, showing the classic bronze-red color and classic full crown.

One of the great things about having Eric with us is that his pet plants are not usually the same as my pet plants, so we all get a different viewpoint (and set of growing hints). But this time around he’s making love to one of my favorite trees.

One of my favorite tree genera, actually, since I don’t think I ever met a beech I didn’t like.

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Eric’s Pet Plants: Dublin Bay Rose (Rosa x ‘Dublin Bay’)

dublin bay rose, aka blaze improved and don Juan

Deep red is a magnet for the eye, says Eric, and the deep red climber called Dublin Bay is also a magnet for the nose. (Those dark edges come with maturity; they're not visible on younger flowers.)

One problem with going on vacation is that you’re not there to photograph your favorite rose when it’s at its peak, but that hasn’t stopped our friend Eric from resuming his series on pet plants with a shout-out to Dublin Bay, a real landscape workhorse: long blooming, trouble free and (unlike most low-maintenance roses) delightfully fragrant.

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Eric’s Pet Plant(s): Vegetables! Fighting Pests with Healthy Plants and Companion Planting

Our friend Eric has again turned from his many plant charges at Yale to take another run at his home vegetable garden. And I do mean run; what follows is a drive-by “do-this” list from someone who knows what he’s talking about…and was, when he sent it, just about to go on a well-deserved vacation.

lettuce interplanted with broccoli

According to Eric, "The broccoli and lettuce are interplanted to maximize space and the broccoli provides just enough shade for the lettuce in the long sometimes hot days in June. Note the (untreated!) rough lumber for the raised bed." Works just as well with the red cabbage in the foreground.

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