Eric’s Pet Plants

Eric’s Pet Plant: Lettuce ( Letuca sativa)

When our friend Eric isn’t managing Yale’s Marsh Garden or playing music, he’s cultivating his own garden, and – at least in this one instance – ignoring his own excellent advice. Unless he’s selling the stuff on the side or donating it to a food pantry, he has succumbed to temptation and planted too much lettuce all at once, just for the sheer beauty of it.

assorted lettuce varieties

“Note the color and texture variation in the Larson Lettuce Bed,” says Eric. “ I prefer looseleaf and buttercrunch lettuce, but also grow Cos. But I love the salad bowl with red, green and even dark purple leaves. A very vigorous variety ‘Speckles’ is not pictured, but I’ll follow up in the fall with more.”

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Eric’s Pet Plant: Weeping Willowleaf Pear (Pyrus salicifolia ‘Pendula’)

Maybe it’s the Northeast’s amazingly early spring, bringing out blossoms not normally seen at this time of year. Or maybe it’s the effect of the new greenhouse, bringing up thoughts of new landscaping to go with. Or maybe Eric’s just beginning to have vacation on his mind. Whatever the reason, get ready to enjoy English gardens as well as weeping pears.

Weeping Pear, Pyrus salicifolia ‘Pendula’

“Our little tree is four years old, planted at a foot tall and doing nicely,” he said about this specimen at Yale’s Marsh Gardens.

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Eric’s Pet Plant: Star Magnolia (Magnolia Stellata)

Here in the Northeast, as you may have noticed, spring’s gentle unfolding now seems more like a violent explosion. It used to be a slow progression: forsythia and hellebores before crocus, crocus before daffodils, delicate star magnolia well ahead of the big pinks.

Now we get the whole catalog in a rush, forced by temperatures 10 and 20 degrees above (formerly) normal. Makes me crazy, among other reasons because early beauties like star magnolia can get lost in the loud shuffle. Judging by the tone of this column, our friend Eric seems to be thinking along similar lines.

There are a score or more cultivated varieties of star magnolia, differentiated mostly by bud or flower color. The straplike flower petals give the species its name; the slow growth habit and modest size make it a great plant for cottage garden or terrace.

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Eric’s Pet Plant: Dwarf Hardy Orange, Poncirus trifoliata ‘Flying Dragon’

Okay, this may finally do it. For years I’ve been wanting to plant ‘Flying Dragon’, a contorted dwarf form of hardy orange that’s even more gorgeous than the species, and now here’s Eric giving it the pet treatment, just to remind me.

Thorny green lacework in winter, fragrant flowers in spring, aromatic fruit and golden foliage in fall. What’s not to love?

Lack of space and lack of warmth have combined to restrain me, but if I could get one going in a big pot and leave the pot outdoors year ’round…

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Eric’s Pet Plant: Pitch Pine (Pinus rigida)

It must be spring – after a string of posts from the greenhouses, our friend Eric over at Yale is moving outdoors again. But he’s still in highlight-the-underdog mode. Today’s pet plant is pretty much the Rodney Dangerfield of conifers.

Granted, Pinus rigida isn’t usually much to look at, but it is singularly resilient, and perhaps fittingly, it does approach genuine beauty just where it’s needed most: at the salty, wind-scoured seaside and on rocky slopes, where it can survive in crumbs of soil too scant for anything else.

One of Eric’s young pitch pines.“This one is only 5 years old but looking good,” he says.

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Eric’s Pet Plant: Sweet Orange (Citrus sinensis)

Every year about this time  I get thinking it would be nice to have a citrus tree in our little greenhouse – a Meyer lemon, perhaps, or a kumquat. Not so much for the fruit, of which we would get not so much, but for the long season of powerfully fragrant blossoms. A mature plant can sweeten the air for months on end

The sweet orange in blossom over at Yale’s Marsh Gardens. Flowers are only 1 to 1.5 inches across

No way of knowing if it was the perfume that inspired Eric to choose his sweet orange as a Pet Plant, but I wouldn’t be surprised.

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Eric’s Pet Plant: Geraniums – Pelargonium species

I think he’s getting cabin fever over there in the snows at Yale, and that fed-up-with-winteritis is turning his thoughts to approachable old friends. On the other hand, after two serious touch-me-nots ( Tree Ferns and Cholla cactus) he may simply be thinking “approachable” as in “can be handled without injury.”

Scented leafed geraniums like the plant in the center are not only safe to handle, they're downright pleasant to stroke. Brush your hand against the velvety leaves and you release a cloud of perfume. The leaves are often quite beautiful, too. And that's it. Scented leafed geraniums bloom sparsely when they bloom at all. The flowers in the picture belong to plants from different geranium categories.

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Eric’s Pet Plant: Teddy-bear Cholla (Cylindropuntia bigelovii)

Building the desert section of Yale’s new greenhouse has been consuming Eric’s every waking hour, so I guess it’s hardly surprising we’re hearing about the plants that will live there. His last column was devoted to a vicious tropical tree fern, and this time he’s palling around with one of the least friendly cacti in existence. Pretty though (if you like that sort of thing).

Cylindropuntia bigelovii is showing its silvery-grey aura, which is much nicer to view than to touch

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Eric’s Pet Plant – Australian Tree-fern (Cyathea cooperi)

The Tree-fern in its new surroundings seems to be quite happy. There is a smaller one lurking to the left.

Big doings over at Yale’s Marsh Gardens. Our friend Eric is finally about to climb out of the greenhouse construction blues and ascend toward the greenhouse enjoyment oratorio. This week he starts celebrating, giving us the lowdown on tree ferns and inviting us to the grand opening.

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Eric’s Pet Plant – Blue Atlas Cedar (Cedrus Atlanticus)

Fittingly, we have a beautiful evergreen for the holiday – in the landscape, not in the house. Our friend Eric over at Yale’s Marsh Gardens is extolling the merits of cedars, his baby blue one in particular.

A close-up of the foliage shows the whorled-arrangement of needles along the stem. This is distinctive to all of the Cedars.

A close-up of the foliage shows the whorled-arrangement of needles along the stem. This is distinctive to all of the Cedars.

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