Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Sweet Fern

Comptonia peregrina

For the last few years I have conducted seminars on groundcovers and discussed Sweet Fern, Comptonia peregrina. Most gardeners are not aware of this small shrub. Propagation issues have kept it from widespread introduction to the retail nursery trade. This problem has been generally resolved (http://www.amerinursery.com/article-8091.aspx) so availability should multiply.

I discuss this boreal groundcover with others who thrive in poor infertile or rocky soils; Bearberry, (Arctostaphylos Ursa-uvi) , Lowbush Blueberry (Vaccinium angustifolia), Northern Bush Honeysuckle, (Diervilla lonicera) and Common juniper (Juniperus communis). Sweet Fern is a pioneer plant spreading into disturbed soil, it can fix nitrogen and is salt tolerant. Some say it can be invasive.

Found in dry pine or oak woodlands in shallow soils over bedrock. The dominant shrub layer species are Lowbush Blueberries and Northern Bush Honeysuckle with larger Juneberries, Hazelnut, Prairie Willow and Staghorn or Smooth Sumac. The canopy is made of Red and White pine or Red Maple, Pin and Red Oak. The sub-canopy can be comprised of Mountain Maple, Mountain-ash, Quaking Aspen and Paper Birch.

How can Sweet Fern be used in landscapes? Mixed with any of the aforementioned groundcovers Sweet Fern can be used in many tough growing locations.  Edges of roadways, sidewalks and drives where salt is sprayed throughout winter, Sweet Fern can be utilized with Bearberry providing varying height. As a turf replacement in any dry growing conditions. Sweet Fern foliage is fragrant adding scent to any area. Wild Rose grows with Sweet Fern in the wild. Shrub roses such as Nearly Wild would add color. Native to rocky environments Sweet Fern could be used surrounding rock clusters.

Seek out Sweet Fern, I hope knowing something of its native ecology can help you find opportunities for this shrub in your landscape.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Little Joes

Two species of tall, pink-flowered Eupatorum, Joe pye weed, grow in my area maculatum and purpurea. Spotted Joe pye weed, maculatum has flat topped flower clusters at five feet tall. Sweet Joe pye weed, purpurea has dome shaped clusters at seven feet tall. Commonly called Eupatorum in the nursery trade they are now classified as Eutrochium. 

Joe pye weed is an integral component of the modern perennial garden. I have grown this autumn flowering perennial in many gardens where it adds height and attracts many insects, especially butterflies. These upright growers provide strong structure, emerge late, they quickly grow in a continental climate. 

A mass of Little Joe
I have also added two little Joe pye weeds, Little Joe and Baby Joe.  Little Joe, Eutrochium dubium grows in similar conditions to the large species, moist fertile soils, it reaches a mature height of four feet.  E. dubium is commonly called Coastal Plain or Eastern Eutrochium, Baby Joe is another selection of dubium growing to 2-3 feet.

Best in a consistently moist site, the leaves will curl and scorch if too dry. The plants are deer and rabbit resistant. Eutrochiums tolerate alkaline to acidic soils in full sun to partial shade. Do not cut back plants in the fall, they provide excellent winter interest and forage for many birds.
Both little "Joes" are licensed, propagation is prohibited without permission.

A mass in fall color

A young Joe among Siberian Iris
Baby Joe

White flowered species now make up the genus Eupatorium. This spring I plan to purchase a couple selections of Eupatorium fortunei, they also have deep pink flower clusters. "Pink Frost' has variegated foliage. 'Pink Elegance' and 'Fine Line' are all bushy and roughly three feet tall.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Oak of woodland and savanna

The area I live in was once dominated by oak woodland and savannas surrounding large wetlands, an ecosystem maintained by fire. Today many wetlands have been drained and the fires are suppressed. Large oak woods have been cut down and burned for development. Still remnants of great oaks persist and are never more prominent than in Fall color.

White, Bur, Red and Northern Pin Oak giants are slowing being lost to the ravages of old age and neglect. These are replaced by many varieties of maple and exotic ornamental trees in residential and commercial lawnscapes. These are easy to care for, lacking the large persistent leaves and acorns of oaks. Their scale works in small lots unlike the parkland often required for towering oaks.

Many of our eastern broadleaf forest oaks are slow growing reaching great age. They transcend our small lives outliving many generations.  They average two to three hundred years old, some living to four hundred and fifty years or more. A Bur Oak can be one hundred and thirty feet tall and as many wide. These trees require respect!

Oak wood in late morning sun.

Towering oak, wider than tall, in parkland.

Premier North American hardwood.
Majestic stand in morning light.

Basking in late afternoon sun.

Proud to be a tree hugger!

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Interstate State Park, Taylors Falls MN

This is the first post discussing famous places of scenic beauty, garden design and inspiration from nature.

A small park on the western shore of the St. Croix River at the south edge of Taylors Falls it’s full of beauty everyone can appreciate; towering rock, deep flowing water and a mix of broadleaf and boreal forest.  Found within The Dalles of the St. Croix the area is rich in geological, ecological and human history.
Bedrock of basalt lava flows filled a rift valley are over 1.1 billion years old. Sandstones deposited from tropical seas covered the basalt. The current topography was transformed by glaciers.

Here the St. Croix River flows through a valley over a mile wide. The river at this point is typically 70 feet with pools to 100 feet deep. A plaque in the park mentions the trail is 200 feet under the surface of Glacial River St. Croix which quickly reduced Glacial Lake Duluth (current remnant Lake Superior). The main feature of the park is the potholes created by circular erosion of material by the powerful flow of water. Some have been excavated and found to be 60 feet deep, the world’s largest potholes.

Just north of the park is St. Croix Falls Dam which drowned the rapids at the top of the dalles. This hydroelectric plant providing energy for the Twin Cities has recently been supplanted by connection to the Manitoba hydroelectric power grid. Originally a dam was proposed for a lumber mill and transporting timber south. But climax white pine forests were quickly cut and not restored, the timber industry collapsed as the dam was finished. Tourism is the primary industry today. Does the dam serve any purpose? Is restoration of the rapids possible? (See The St. Croix Dam a Fatal Blockage published by Macalester College.)

In 1771 in a great battle at the rapids portage the Ojibway wrested control of the Upper St Croix valley from the Lakota and their allies the Fox. This valley now comprises the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway, one of the original eight National Wild and Scenic Rivers. www.nps.gov/sacn

The park marks a transition from mixed deciduous hardwood to boreal ecologies. This area has been seriously altered through human intervention. The wild demand for timber destroyed the climax White Pine-White spruce-Aspen forest of pre-european settlement. Red Oak-Sugar Maple-Basswood forest has supplanted and dominates surrounding lands. The cliffs and talus slopes are covered with pine and cedar.

We can get inspiration for our gardens from nature in the park.

Much of the area is monumental in scope the scale creates wonder and awe. The river can inspire a water gardener to develop a plan modeled on the river. Replacing the dam, long swift rapids of tumbling water plunge into the deep pools of the basaltic canyon.  Depending on finances a gardener could recreate the river course on a god-like human perspective or with more expense on a half-human scale. Rather than using glacial or river boulders we could use trap rock or something of dense basaltic character. Many photos are taken from a rocky promontory in the park on the Minnesota side. It allows excellent views up and down the dalles. You can use a site on your garden course to the same effect.

As you can see by my photos there are many other ideas to adopt. A marker framed by a single monolithic pine.

Curtain Falls used to fashion a dry waterfall in an aspen vale.

The drooping branch of a maple reflected in the water at the mouth of a pothole.

A sight rarely created outside of nature, gnarled roots clinging to life, requires vision and time. What beauty in shape and texture can be fashioned. You may diminish scale and time through bonsai or niwaki. These techniques applied to pines and cedar can provide effective replacement.

Interstate Park and the upper St. Croix provide an inspirational guide for creating beauty from nature.

Before you visit download the wildflower and bird checklists from: www.dnr.state.mn.us/state_parks/interstate
Blue Vervain

Monday, August 4, 2014

Martagon Lilies

Martagon lilies are a Eurasian group of the genus Lilium comprised of five species:  L. martagon,  L. hansonii, L. tsingtauense,  L. medeoloides,  and L. distichum  and their hybrids. 
Martagons have the largest geographic distribution of any division of the genus Lilium, the five species are closest in “kin” (chromosomal) than any other group of species.
They are only found in the Northern hemisphere in environments characterized by cold winters and short summers. Generally they thrive in deciduous forests, in alpine conditions just above the tree-line and in the alluvial soils of river systems.

From the garden

Highly adaptive plants these lilies present a marvelous natural geometry, emerging from warming soils as spherical domes the foliage emerges as rosettes of whorled leaves elongating into ascending towers topped with nodding buds which unfold into a symmetrical candelabra of down-facing (turk’s cap) flowers.
I have written about martagons in past postings as great shade garden companions for cold climates. All parts of martagon lilies are of great beauty.

It was a very good year for martagon lilies. They were gorgeous in my garden, the bloom season weather was fine, flowering lasted for weeks. I also photographed an NALS, North America Lily Society (www.lilies.org) show sponsored by the North Star Lily Society, (www.northstarlilysociety.com) in Bloomington MN. The show displayed over 100 martagon spikes, many seedlings, mostly from Canada.

Earlier in March I attended a talk Martagons: The Toughest Lilies of Them All” by Dr. Ieuan Evans. It was informative to hear of his method of breeding.  (See the NSLS site) I have used the process outlined by E. Eugene Fox in his book Martagon Lilies which was available through NALS. I used this process for myself and Hartle-Gilman who sold through Faraway Flowers. Today; Doc Gilman has passed away, Jan Hartle had a stroke and Faraway Flowers has discontinued business. The current owners of Hartle-Gilman have sold bulbs through master gardener plant fairs throughout Minnesota and wholesale to NSLS. At one time this collection was one of the largest in North America.
 Photos from the show, most are unnamed seedlings.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Cacti and succulents

A few weeks ago the Minnesota Horticultural Society had an open house. In the drizzling rain I met Dennis Hoidal a wholesaler of cacti and succulents. I bought a few plants to add to our small collection and made an appointment to visit his greenhouses. My wife Mashell and I have a growing fascination with these plants, their exotic sculptural shapes, beautiful flowers and easy care are very appealing.

Dennis makes selections for sale.
Dennis began growing his passion in the 70s after giving his newlywed wife three cacti for their barren apartment. Today he has a large succulent greenhouse filled to overabundance. He also has a newer cacti greenhouse filled with rows of prickly beauty.

As we approached the first greenhouse I remarked about the large Golden Barrel Cactus and the flowering opuntia, commonly called prickly pear, or desert rose growing along the south wall. While the opuntia wintered outdoors the Golden Barrel were potted and wintered in the greenhouse. The opuntia were flowering in shades of yellow and rose pink.

Inside the succulent greenhouse (cactus also) was a fabulous array of exotic plants some were familiar, I had collected haworthia at one time, many were unknown to me or had such variety of color and form I had not encounter before. Sometimes my sight was overwhelmed, they all shouted "look at me!" I had asked Dennis if we could purchase a few. Mashell kept selecting the most rare and expensive, which Dennis would not let go, she has good taste!

To walk into Dennis's greenhouses is to walk in a world of odd and striking colors textures, and forms. An exhilarating step away from fields and forests.

Blooming Prickly Pear

Exotic shape

Beautiful color
Prickly texture
Incredible variety of form
Lets not forget height.
Bizarre and colorful
Silver blue for your windowsill
Summation to exotic beauty