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Aster umbellatus2Flat topped white aster, also known as parasol whitetop and tall white aster, is a bushyherbaceous perennial native to eastern and north central US where it is found in moist to wet slightly acidic soils in meadows, fields, thickets, seeps, and swamp borders. It is a member of the Asteraceae family that also includes daisies, sunflowers, yarrow, and lettuce. The wiry stems branch only at the top, lack basal foliage, but have lanceolate to elliptical leaves from three to six inches long along their length. The ½-3/4 inch flowerheads appear in late summer to fall and are carried in somewhat flat clusters. Each flowerhead is up to ten inches across and consists of ten to fifteen downcurving ray flowers that are white tinged with purple and surround a center of yellow disk flowers that turn gray with age. The flowers provide nectar and pollen for a variety of insects including bees and butterflies and the foliage provide food for larval butterflies and moths. The seeds provide food for birds. A good choice for wildflower,  wet meadow, butterfly and rain gardens. The generic name Aster comes from the Latin word aster meaning star and refers to the form of the flowers. The specific epithet umbellatus refers to the inflorescence that is characterized by the fact that all the flowering stalks arise from the same place.

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Gardening at Sissinghurst

Gardening at SissinghurstTony Lord’s book, Gardening at Sissinghurst offers readers a chance to learn how this amazing garden was created, maintaine and enhanced. Using the personal writings of Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicolson as well as information from head gardeners at Sissinghurst past and present, Lord, details the design elements provided by Harold, the planting features provided by Vita, and the extraordinary result that sprung from the symbiosis of the two. Since Sissinghurst is always changing due to the need to accommodate and delight an ever increasing number of visitors from spring into fall, Lord takes the readers from the time Harold and Vita started the garden in 1930 to 1995 when the National Trust owned the property and Lord published the book. [click to continue…]

Also called creeping bentgrass, this is a low growing perennial grass grown for high quality putting-green turf on golf courses. It is a member of the grass family, Poaceae, that also includes bamboo, rice, and barley, and is native to Eurasia, North Africa, and possibly North America where it grows in wet areas such as marshy grasslands, shores of rivers and lakes, and salt marshes and flats. Because it prefers cool humid conditions, it is especially troublesome as a weed in the Northeast, Northwest, and upper Midwest where it grows by stolons and invades lawn areas composed of other kinds of grass such as bluegrass or fescue. [click to continue…]

Also known as bitterbrush, buckbrush, and quinine brush this semi-evergreen shrub is native to open woods, stream banks, rocky slopes and pine forest in mountainous areas from Alberta to British Columbia, south to New Mexico and California. It belong to the rose family, Roasaceae, that also includes cherry, lady’s mantel and Pyracantha. The plant has a long tap root and many stiff erect branches that carry small oval leathery leaves ¼-3/4 inch long that are green to gray-green above and grayish-white beneath. They have three lobes and inward rolled margins during times of extremely hot weather when they also emit a resinous smell . The pale yellow flower and have five flared petals and long dark yellow anthers that protrude beyond the corolla. The flowers are short lived but borne singly from spring to early summer. Plants are nitrogen fixing and very drought and heat tolerant but do best where nights are cool. They are a good choice for a hedge, screen, shelterbelt, mass or informal planting, erosion control, and revegetation on disturbed sites. The genus name, Purshia, refers to the German-American botanist, F.T. Pursh, who originally described the plant. The specific epithet, tridentate, comes from the Latin words tres meaning three and dens, meaning teeth, and refers to the three teeth at the end of the leaf. The common name, antelope brush, suggests the importance of the plant as a browse species for antelopes. [click to continue…]

Edible Flowers: Cowslip (Primula veris)

primula-veris 2Cowslip is an evergreen or semi-evergreen perennial native to Europe and Asia. It is a member of the primrose family (Primulaceae) along with shooting star (Dodecatheon maedia), oxslip (Primula elatior) and common primrose (Primula vulgaris). In the US shooting star (D. meadia, Virgina bluebell (Mertensia virginica), and marsh marogold (Caltha palustris) are also called cowslip but bear little resemblance to Primula veris that typically is a ten inch tall plant with a rosette of leaves and a flowering stalk carrying a terminal umbel of ten to thirty yellow bell-shaped flowers. The oval to oblong wrinkled leaves are two to six inches long, have toothed margins, and sparse hairs on the upper side, dense hairs on the lower side. The flowers are about 1/2″ wide, may be orange or red, and appear in the spring. Cowslip grows best in full sun , and in moist well-drained soil. The common name cowslip may come from the old English word for cow dung, or the the slippery ground in which the plants grow. The specific epithet veris is from the Latin word, ver meaning spring referring to its early appearance in the growing season. [click to continue…]

Plant Profile: Rose ‘The Fairy’

The Fairy 2One of the most popular and widely grown Polyanthas, ‘The Fairy’ has mid-pink frilly double flowers that fade to almost white. They are produced in clusters of ten to forty beginning late in the season but ending in late autumn. The pale green glossy leaves are carried on compact , thorny bushes. Although susceptible to black spot and mildew ,infection is not severe and does not seem to hurt the bush. It is somewhat shade tolerant and a good choice for a ground cover, shrub border, container, patio or hedge. Has been designated an Earth-Kind rose so is tough and low maintenance. [click to continue…]

Nature Craft Techniques 2Getting back to basics is a good way to put new life into a favorite hobby. The Complete Book of Nature Craft Techniques, by Deborah Morgenthal and Chris Rich, provides a refreshing look at the skills needed for exploring the many gifts that nature provides along with projects to inspire you and nurture your creativity. Whether you are a novice or expert the book has valuable incites into nature crafts that will encourage you to try new things and try new avenues of learning.

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Collecting Seed: Hollyhock (Alcea rosea)

hollyhockHollyhocks are handsome plants that give the garden vertical movement and bring a touch of nostalgia. They are usually treated as biennials so that seeds are collected in summer and then sown outdoors in fall. Young plants overwinter and bloom while the weather is cool in late spring or early summer. Hollyhocks are cross pollinated by insects so seed may be variable. When crosses occur double flowers are incompletely dominant over single so that after a couple of generations double, single and semidouble offspring may result. When selecting plants for seed saving look for resistance to rust, powdery mildew, and leaf spot. [click to continue…]

Itea virginicaVirginia sweetspire is a deciduous to semievergreen shrub native to eastern North America from New Jersey and Missouri south to Florida and Louisiana where it grows on stream and pond margins, swamps, and low woods. It is a member of the Iteaceae family, a small group containing two genera and eighteen species. The arching branches form a spreading shrub with lustrous oval leaves up to four inches long that are serrated and mid- to dark green until fall when they turn gold, orange, and red and purple, persisting well into early winter. In late spring to early summer fragrant white flowers appear in pendulous cylindrical racemes three to six inches long. The plants are tolerant of different light and soil conditions and are a good choice for a specimen, shrub border, and ground cover as well as along stream borders, on slopes, and included in a rain garden or woodland garden. The cultivar ‘Henry’s Garnet’ is more widely available than the species and boasts more compact form, larger more showy flowers, and better fall coloration. The generic name, Itea, comes from the Greek word meaning willow and refers to the willow-like leaves. The specific epithet, virginica, means of Virginia. [click to continue…]

Acuba japonicaSpotted laurel is a broad leaf evergreen shrub native to China, Japan and Korea where it grows in moist forest soils. Its variegated forms are very useful in both the garden and flower arrangements because of the color and texture of the foliage that is the main reason for growing the plant. The leaves may be all green or variegated by a sprinkling of yellow-to-yellow leaves edged with green. They are two to three inches long, l-2 inches wide, and glossy. Male and female flowers are usually on different plants and are small (less than 1/3 inch). They have four purplish brown petals, and are produced in loose clusters of ten to thirty. The fruits are small scarlet berries about 1/3 inch across and are not attractive to birds. Established plants are tolerant of drought, urban conditions, lean soil, salt spray, and dry shade. How can it get better than that? [click to continue…]