Great Plants

Eric’s Pet Plant: Ginkgo

Over in Connecticut, our friend Eric at Yale’s Marsh Garden has lifted his eyes from his greenhouse’s travails and fastened them on the ginkgo trees. Herewith his overview of the ginkgo’s unique place in the plant kingdom, its fascinating history – and its worthiness in the garden.

Ginkgo biloba, a late-bloomer in the fall color department

Ginkgo biloba, a late-bloomer in the fall color department

Read More…

Eric’s Pet Plant: Persimmon

This post is the debut of a new regular feature: Eric’s Pet Plants, written and photographed by my friend Eric Larson, manager of Marsh Botanic Garden at Yale University. This week, Eric extolls the persimmon, describing the differences between species and pointing out the tree’s many merits: It’s small, it’s not fussy about soils, it doesn’t require a lot of spraying — and the fruit it produces is delicious (if you know the freezing trick).

Student Intern Ben Ashcraft holds a small portion of the Marsh harvest. Most  commercially available Persimmons are larger, sometimes three to four inches  across. But we like them small and tasty

Student Intern Ben Ashcraft holds a small portion of the Marsh harvest. Most commercially available persimmons are larger, sometimes three to four inches across. But we like them small and tasty.

Read More…

Fig Tree Protection Update

The discussion about protecting the fig was resolved in favor of the trench method, so I went back and put in a few more details about how we actually did it. Just a few – right now the story is a report , not a recommendation.

The bundled fig in its leaf-lined trench

The bundled fig in its leaf-lined trench

The trunk is of course a bit springy and must be held down until the leaf pile is big enough to act as a weight. The holder here is Bill’s ever-handy Italian rototiller, still on site after being used to dig the trench.

A Tale of Two Lettuces

One lettuce, actually, the delicious heirloom butterhead  ‘Merveille des Quatre Saisons’.

lettuce 'Merveille de Quatre Saisons," popular since the 1880's

lettuce 'Merveille des Quatre Saisons," popular since the 1880's

Where winter temperatures drop into the teens and below, it’s only merveille in 3 saisons, but that’s still pretty good. It’s one of the first to head up after a spring planting. It stays nicely flavorful in summer, even after it starts to bolt, and it’s really stellar in fall: tender, juicy, sweet, beautiful – and disinclined to rot, even when the autumn is unusually rainy.

Read More…

Passionflower, Fuchsia, Lemon Verbena and More – Tender Plants are now in for Winter. Except the Fig

It’s a ‘Chicago Hardy’, reputedly among the toughest, this year’s shot at zone denial. The goal is to have it live outdoors all winter, without dying down to the roots.

But our part of the Hudson Valley is still zone 5b, though teetering on the edge of 6, and figs are not hardy north of zone 7.  So what makes me think we can pull this off?  Pure hubris? My usual oversupply of sunny optimism ? Too much research into fig protection during the Times Q&A days?

Some of each, I have no doubt. But the main reason to give it a try is this house’s uniquely suitable spot, a double protected corner facing southwest.

The fig in late September, slightly taller than 6 feet. It arrived in May as a single 30 inch stick with a tiny shoot at the bottom.

The fig in late September, slightly taller than 5 feet, planted as close as possible to a very cosy corner.

If you count the fact that the house ( circa 1870) is not exactly a model of tightness, the protection is triple. But double is the important part; the corner has extra backup because the house sides don’t meet.

Read More…

Buying Lilacs in Autumn, aka Lilacs That Last, part 2

(Part 1 – bouquets – is here.)

 Miscanthus floridulus, wishing it were in Floridula.

Miscanthus floridulus, wishing it were in Floridula.

Okay, it doesn’t look like lilac time, and the snow that fell on the Hudson Valley last Thursday doesn’t help. But looks can be deceiving; mid fall is when you go out and buy lilacs on sale –

Leftover lilacs can be a good deal

Leftover lilacs can be a good deal

If there are lilacs, that is,  and they’re in good shape.

Why buy more? Silly question. Those with huge collections may have enough. The rest of us almost always need to add, because having a long lilac season requires multiple species as well as multiple varieties.

This ‘James Macfarlane' was sold to me as a Preston lilac, Syringa x prestoniae.

This ‘James Macfarlane' was sold to me as a Preston lilac, Syringa x prestoniae.

Other reputable sources say James is  S. x josiflexa and still others, equally reputable, say it’s a hybrid between that and S. x prestoniae. Doesn’t matter, really, prestoniae and josiflexa both bloom about 3 weeks later than the well known common lilac (S. vulgaris).

A favorite common lilac ( S. vulgaris), name alas unknown, that blooms early in the traditional lilac season.

A favorite common lilac, name alas unknown, that blooms early in the traditional lilac season.

Read More…

Another Great Thing About Daffodils

Or not, depending on what you plan to do with the ground after the daffodils are gone.

Turns out they not only  have all the virtues recently extolled, they also ” contain alkaloids that can inhibit the growth of other plants,” according to a paper titled “Applied Allelopathy: Effects of Daffodils on Other Species in Sustainable Agriculture and the Home Landscape,” presented at the 2009 conference of the American Society for Horticultural Science.

daffodils have something in common with black walnuts and garlic mustard

daffodils, like black walnuts and garlic mustard, can inhibit the growth of other plants

The authors were looking at success with followup crops like snapdragons, geraniums, basil and zinnias ( all of them adversely affected) but on the good side, “no airborne weed seeds germinated in pots placed outdoors containing daffodils but did germinate in pots with no daffodils.”

That second quote comes from  HortIdeas, which alerted me to the daffodil paper. HortIdeas is a newsletter-form aggregator of recently published horticultural and agricultural information from hundreds of universities, plant societies, popular magazines and commercial interests, all presented in digest form. It’s one of my favorite publications, heartily recommended to all hortnews geeks.

Read More…

Organic Tulip Bulbs for Fall Planting

It had to happen sooner or later, and sure enough here they are, catchily called Ecotulips.

As usual with newly-introduced organic versions of things, there still isn’t much selection and prices are a bit higher than for the conventional kind, but if you’d like to buy certified organic tulip bulbs, lovingly grown in Holland by an experienced bulb farmer, at least you’ve got the option.

a poeticus narcissus, probably 'Pheasant's Eye'

a poeticus narcissus, probably 'Pheasant's Eye'

So if the title is Organic Tulips, why is the picture of a narcissus? Partly because I’ve already gone into how to grow tulips, and partly because there’s more to environmental responsibility than simply buying organic and calling it a day.

Read More…

Annual Flowers in Abundance – Finally!

As you’ve no doubt noticed if you follow these things, the current fashion in bouquets has oneness at its heart. Either it’s one kind of flower  – roses, say or gerbera daisies – or it’s one color: white or pink or (in the higher rent districts) green.

Not usually purple, it must be admitted, but …

Otherwise this is typical

Otherwise this is typical

Or typical of one colorness, anyway. Gladioli and sweet peas are not typically buddies but this has been a weird summer.

This year, the kind of bouquets my old friend Sharon calls “ It must be August,” only became possible in early September. Most of the good annual cutting flowers take time to start producing in earnest, and that goes double for the ones you get by letting things like Verbena bonariensis and nigella self-sow.

Not subtle, but satisfying in it’s own way.

Not subtle, but satisfying in it’s own way.

Read More…

Shirley Poppies. One of Our Better Weeds

This started out being about garden volunteers, the children of plants with such willing seed you can count on new generations more or less for the life of the garden. But including everything the list turned out to be so huge it was about 2 books worth – plus a whole gigantic sidetrack about invasives.

So then it was just annuals –  flowers and herbs that more or less behave themselves. Then it was annual flowers and herbs that more or less behave themselves in the Northeast.

Then, unable to decide on images, I got it down to larkspur and Shirley poppies. And now, for the sake of brevity:

a volunteer Shirley poppy

a volunteer Shirley poppy.

Read More…