Tag Archive | Trees

Picking Good Plants–Round Two

On Friday I talked about picking a plant that looked most like every other plant. This is a good rule no matter what type of plant you are buying.

Today I want to get into a few more specifics about  what to do when you get to the garden center–and let’s presume you are at a garden center today, simply because  it will have more signage about varieties and possibly more information on the plant tags that will be accurate for your location.

What do I mean by that? When I go to a box store, I am told that the plant “lantana” is a perennial. That’s technically true. It is not, however, a perennial for me here in New England.

I know that in some parts of the country lantana is considered an invasive pest and can grow to the size of a shrub. Here, we grow it as a nicely behaved hanging basket that has flowers that feed our butterflies and hummingbirds and the plant dies at the first hard freeze. See what I mean now about “for your location?”

So, when you walk into your garden center, depending on where you are, you might find lantana in a hanging basket, you might find it with the perennials, or you might not find it at all because it is invasive in your part of the country. There you are. But chances are, you’re not going to just find it willy-nilly labeled “perennial.”

I know the box stores are working on this–and one reason has to do with their guarantee for a year. They don’t want New England customers bringing in their dead lantana the following spring and asking for a refund–and rightly so! No one is happy in that scenario.

Enough plants die in our now unpredictable winters that they shouldn’t have to give for plants that are mis-labeled. But if they mis-label them, well, they get what they deserve.

Apparently I have gone on long enough about why you should be going to the garden center for your spring plant shopping and not a box store–at least if you are a brand new plant buyer. We’ll talk about what to look for on Friday.

Wordless Wednesday–The Story of a Tree


I planted this tree in 1997. I bought it as a tiny sapling, on close out, the prior year. I had  originally planned to make it into a bonsai.

After a nearby dogwood showed signs of decline, I decided that I would plant the maple instead and let it grow up as the dogwood declined.


I am not sure what I was thinking about when I planted it in this narrow spot. Talk about wrong place! Nevertheless, the tree has thrived and has found a way to cope.

And despite the presence of the above ground roots, don’t think that the tree is compromised. I have talked about my rock ledge many times. This is how trees in my yard have to cope. All of our trees look like this .

Do You Know This Tree?


Do you know this tree? It is a Katsura tree. It also comes in a weeping form.

It looks pretty unremarkable now. You can just see touches of its yellow fall color showing up on some of the outer branches.

What’s remarkable is that the leaves are scented,  however.  I have heard this for years but I sort of discounted it. I have never really smelled much of anything from this tree (it’s on my street,  but I have walked by it for years with my dogs.)

Over the years,  I have even picked up hands full of the fallen leaves to sniff to try to find a scent, but nothing.

This year is entirely different.  I can be on the opposite side of the street and get a scent from the tree.

What does it smell like? Some people say chocolate and others say vanilla.  I will just say that it smells sweet.  And it’s not a strong, cloying sweet like some of the plants  (my snake plants come to mind here). It’s just a sweet scent in the air that if I  didn’t know that the tree had fragrant leaves, I would be losing my mind trying to find the flower making the scentrip.

Obviously it is a large tree so it is not right for every home.  But if you have the space for a tree like this, you might consider planting one. It will surprise you.

Summer is Winding Down–What Should Gardeners Be Doing?

Last week I posted a photo about the quality of light that told me that the seasons were changing. I also had a photo of a type of spider that appears this time of year in my garden (at least in a size when its big enough for me to notice).

Since seasons are changing in the northern hemisphere, what should gardeners be doing?

Certain lucky gardeners can plant whole second gardens of course. And if I were organized enough, I could get in a second crop of faster growing things like leaf lettuces and radishes and perhaps even peas if I had started then a bit earlier. But honestly, between the drought this summer and the poor critters that have been coming to the gardens to get at the produce because there’s no other sources for moisture, I really don’t have much desire to plant anything else as a “salad” crop for critters.

If this has not been your problem, by all means, plant a second crop of edibles!

One thing that should be done this time of year–even for those of us in drought stricken areas unless there is a watering ban–is to renovate the lawn. But please, folks, once again, let’s do this sensibly.

I noticed that one of my neighbors–the one that has been having a lawn company pesticide the heck out of their lawn literally every single week all summer long–finally had some core aeration done. Any wonder why that was necessary? This is the same neighbor that “tried” organic care last year but then said that the lawn looked terrible. I hate to tell you what it looks like this year. It’s completely fried from all those chemicals in a drought. But no one’s asking my advice.

If someone were, I would say the core aeration is a great place to start. A little layer of compost might be next.  Ditch the pesticides and don’t fertilize–not in this drought! Lawn renovation might have to wait. But compost and aeration will never do any harm.

If you haven’t gotten around to ordering bulbs, you probably should. Even where I live, it’s still too warm to plant. But you definitely want to reserve them so that you get your choice. The growers won’t ship until it’s the appropriate time to plant anyway. And bulbs are remarkably forgiving.

Finally, get out to your garden centers. Anything that is left over is going to be on sale at a nice discount. And they most likely will have brought in some great new fresh stock for fall planting too. While that may not be discounted, you might see just the thing (beyond mums, cabbages and pumpkins) to liven up the yard for years to come. Just remember that you will need to water it if nature is not helping you.

So what are you waiting for? Fall has some of the best gardening weather around. Go out, enjoy, and get planting!

Garden Visit–The Mount


The Mount was Edith Wharton’s home from 1902 to 1911. It was her first home and it was her design lab, so to speak–she used the principles that she wrote about in her non-fiction book, Decoration of Houses, to design the house.

Wharton, like Mabel Choate,  had traveled in Italy and would later write another non-fiction book, Italian Villas and Their Gardens, so the gardens are heavily influenced by European design.


This is the alleé of pleached linden trees (which she referred to as lime trees in the European fashion).


At one end is a very shady, formal garden enclosed by high walls covered in climbing hydrangea. It has nooks for benches (rather than statuary as European gardens might), a fountain at the center and paths within surrounding formal beds enclosed by low hedges.


At the other end of the alleé is almost its polar opposite, influenced by British garden designer Gertrude Jekyll.  There are flowers beds of hot colored flowers–neatly contained, but nevertheless a riot of color.


There were American natives cone flowers and meadow rue, plus annuals like zinnia and floss flower and perennials like lady’s mantle, astilbe and bee balm.


Overall, however, the effect throughout all the gardens is one of formality–as one might find in European gardens-rather than the cottage gardens popular in England or the new American meadow garden style.


Having visited this garden on the same day as Naumkeag, it was an interesting contrast. The two gardens were almost contemporaneous–this one was designed during a brief time and then Ms. Wharton moved on to France after her marriage dissolved whereas the Choate family continued to garden at Naumkeag for decades until the late 1950s–and yet they very different as well perhaps because of the “snapshot in time” that the Mount represents.

But that’s the beauty of seeing different gardens. No matter what you see, there’s always something interesting and different to learn.


Garden Visit–Naumkeag

A week ago I went with the Garden Writers to tour 3 gardens in Massachusetts. Two of them were places I had always wanted to go but had never managed to get to, despite living in a neighboring state. The third I had never heard of but it turned out to be quite a gem. I’ll take you “touring” with me in the next couple of posts.

If you wonder why you might care, lots of folks do foliage tours through New England every year. These gardens are located in the Berkshire mountain range, a lovely place in and of itself, but also a great way to get up to Vermont.

And there’s also lots of other things to do there, which is why I had never been to these gardens. But I will leave that to you all to plan your visits.


The first garden we visited was called Naumkeag. It was the summer home of a family from New York, the Choates. We heard lots of amusing anecdotes about them, as well as a few sad stories as well. It was the daughter of the family, Mabel, who was responsible for the collaboration with Fletcher Steele, the landscape architect who worked on the gardens for 30 years with her. You can read everything you might want to know about the property at the web site, here.

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Even for those of you who have never heard of this place, or Fletcher Steele, you will know one of his most famous installations in this garden, the Blue Steps. It solved a problem: a way to get from the house to a series of cutting gardens below. But what a magnificent way to do so!



To be honest, this was all I knew of this garden before I got here. But I left enchanted by lots of other things.


Being unmarried, Mabel had lots of time (and the resources) to travel. She traveled extensively in the far east and brought home lots of souvenirs. Her Chinese garden was designed, in part, to accommodate them.  This is the Moon Gate from the Chinese garden.



On the opposite side of the house, there is an Afternoon Garden that was designed to remind Choate of her travels to Venice. There are wooden poles painted like the poles in the famous canals, a low boxwood hedge knot garden, decorative chairs with colorful backs and colorful tropical plants in containers.


In another spot, a shady pavilion overlooks the house, a cooling fountain and the pasture and valley below. There are still cows in the field but they no longer belong to the property.


It’s a wonderful place to spend  a day. Bring a picnic or pick something up from the gift shop. The food is catered by the nearby Red Lion Inn.


Leaflets 3, Let It Be?

Happy July 4th to all who are celebrating!

I will probably be celebrating with one of my favorite chores in the garden–weeding–which is why I chose this post topic.

I was originally going to make it a post about the importance of knowing the difference between the two native vines, Virginia Creeper (parthenocissus quinquefolia) and poison ivy (toxicodendron radicans). (Yes, poison ivy is a native and its berries are an important wildlife food source–that’s why it keeps appearing all over your gardens and mine!)

It is important for many reasons, not the least of which is that poison ivy causes a nasty rash in the majority of folks who come into contact with it. Also, poison ivy can contaminate anything it touches and the oil can linger anywhere from a year to up to 5 years and can re-infect the gardener that way.

But poison ivy seedlings are a little hard to identify–and there are a lot of mimics. The best case is to treat everything as if it is poison ivy, of course, and proceed with caution.

Still, you can save yourself a lot of heartache if you can recognize the different plants and keep ones that might be valuable to you. So here’s something that might help.

The first is the saying, above: Leaflets 3, let it be. That means that poison ivy has 3 leaves. But as you’ll soon see from my photos, so do a lot of other harmless plants when they are seedlings–and even larger plants. That’s okay. If in doubt, treat them as if they are poison ivy until you can positively identify them, particularly if you are sensitive.


This is a true poison ivy seedling. It’s very innocuous. It hardly looks like something that would make you want to rip your skin off.


But when we talk about “leaflets 3” here we have a 3 leafed plant that is definitely NOT poison ivy. It’s an alpine strawberry. Not something you would want to necessarily weed out. You can see how tiny this is by the acorn cap next to it.


Here’s another tri-lobed weed (again, notice the tiny size–I really had to hunt for this stuff!).  Weeder beware? Well, yes, but not of rashes. This is a maple seedling. I don’t want this to get too much bigger or it will be difficult to remove.

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Finally, you can tell this is nothing dangerous, even though it’s vining, because I have obviously picked it up and moved it. This is a Virginia Creeper vine at the beginning. I actually ripped a piece off to show that at the start, its “leaflets” are 3 lobed and not 5 lobed. So it can be a poison ivy mimic at times.


This is mature Virginia Creeper. It should look nothing like poison ivy to you. It doesn’t to me. We have it on a wood pile, climbing the trunks of a few pine trees, and here, on this stone wall, under a dogwood in places.

Despite the 5 leaflets, I can’t tell you how many neighbors have asked me to “please get rid of the poison ivy” on my trees. I’ve had to patiently explain that it isn’t poison ivy and tell them the “leaflets 3” rule. Every time a house sells, I go through this all over again.

And if we get help for a spring or fall clean-up, the Virginia Creeper inevitably gets removed as “poison ivy.” I know they think they are doing us as favor. Luckily the stuff is tough as nails and the birds bring some back for us within a year or two.

So for your own sake, and safety’s sake, learn the difference as you weed. It can make the difference between having some lovely native vines and a nasty itchy rash!