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Japanese barberry is a thorny, deciduous shrub growing 3-6’ tall with obvate green leaves that are up to 1 ¼” long and turn yellow to red in the fall. Pendent clusters of pale yellow flowers appear in spring and give way to small red berries that persist into winter and are attractive to birds. Plants are very adaptable and tolerate shade, heat, drought, and urban conditions. They respond well to pruning and are especially useful for barrier hedges. Several cultivars are available that vary most significantly in height and foliage color. Japanese barberry is native to Japan but was introduced into the US in 1875 as an ornamental and as a replacement for common barberry (B. vulgaris) that is a host for black stem rust of wheat. Plants form dense stands that compete with native vegetation in open woods woodland borders, pastures, fields, and disturbed areas such as waste lots, and have become invasive from Maine too Manitoba, south to Georgia and Kansas due to their high reproductive capacity and the fact that they are avoided by browsing wildlife. USDA Hardiness Zones 4-8 [click to continue…]

Virginia mountain mint is a herbaceous perennial native to eastern US from Maine and north Dakota, south to Georgia and Oklahoma where it grows in wet prairies, and on stream edges and moist bluffs.  It is a member of the mint family, Lamiaceae, that also includes rosemary, beebalm, and ajuga.   Plants grow up to 3′ tall from a rhizomateous root system and have a multi-branched green or reddish stem that are square in cross section and have hairs on the edges.  The opposite linear leaves are up to 2.5″ long and are covered with a whitish bloom.  From mid to late summer, terminal flat clusters appear bearing up to 50 small white tubular flowers that are 1/8″ long and are 2-lipped.  The flower clusters are 3/4″ across and may be spotted with purple dots. The flowers are attractive to a variety of bees, wasps and butterflies.   All parts of the plant are fragrant when crushed.  The genus name, Pycnanthemm,  comes from the Greek words pyknos meaning dense and anthos meaning flower and refers to the clusters of densely packed flowers. The specific epithet, virginianum, refers to the geographic location of the plant. [click to continue…]

Book Review: Peck, Peck, Peck

Lucy Cousins’ Peck, Peck, Peck is a delightful tale of young woodpecker whose daddy teaches him to peck and takes off to peck with all the enthusiasm of any youngster eager to practice a new skill.  He pecks, pecks, pecks a tree,  fence,  front door, hat, tennis racket, book, teddy bear,clothes, food, the bathroom sink and toilet leaving a hole in the page just begging  for a little finger to pass through.  Exhausted, the little woodpecker is so tired he goes home for a rest and is welcomed by his very pleased daddy who puts him to bed with love, love love, and a kiss, kiss, kiss. An absolutely charming story. [click to continue…]

cosmos_bipinnatusThis easy to grow annual is native to Mexico and belongs to the aster family (Asteraceae)  that also includes daisies, sunflowers and lettuce.  The medium green foliage is greatly dissected and has a delicate texture. The daisy-like cup -haped flower heads are two to four inches across and have pink, white or maroon ray flowers surrounding yellow disc flowers. They appear on slender erect stems from spring until fall but may slow down in heat and humidity. Many cultivars are available including those with dwarf stature, bicolored petals, quilled petals, and semi-double or fully double flowers. Plants are easily grown from seed and self-seed. In addition to beneficial insects, Cosmos attracts beneficial spiders. Heavy rain and wind may cause damage to plants and staking may be necessary.
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This herbaceous perennial is also known as eggs and bacon and bird’s-foot deer vetch and is native to grasslands of Eurasia and North Africa. It was introduced to the US from Europe by chance and was subsequently cultivated for forage and erosion control along highways.   Now it is found in moist, open areas  such as pastures, meadows, riverbanks, roadsides and waste areas throughout North America except the Deep South where it form dense mats that shade out the native vegetation.  It is especially troublesome in the prairies and grasslands of the Midwest.   Like other members of the pea family, it fixes nitrogen in the soil and is highly nutritious to cattle without causing bloating, so continues to be cultivated.

Plants grow up to 2′ tall from a long taproot with branched underground roots and above ground stolons and rhizomes. They have well-branched stems and alternate compound leaves with 3 leaftlets about .5″ long, the central 3 of which extend above the others giving rise to the trefoil part of the common name. From spring until mid summer,  rounded clusters of 2-8 bright yellow to orange flowers appear. Each pea-like flower is up to 2/3″ long and has petals sometimes streaked with red. The brown cylindrical seed pods are 1/4-1 3/4″ long, contain numerous seeds,  and look like bird’s toes giving rise to the common name bird’s-f00t trefoil/deer vetch. Plants spread by seed, stolons and rhizomes.  Common bird’s foot trefoil prefers full sun and moist soil but tolerates dry, droughty soil.   USDA Hardiness Zones 3-8

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This herbaceous perennial is the result of a cross between two plants native to North America, Aster ptarmicoides and Solidago canadensis (goldenrod). From its aster parent it inherited a more controlled growth habit, lower stature, and daisy-like flowers that are larger than those of its other parent.  From the goldenrod parent it inherited its color and the large number of flowers in each cluster.  x Solidaster is in the aster family, Asteraceae, that also includes sunflower, yarrow, and lettuce.  Growing up to 2.5′ tall, the plant has narrow, lanceolate medium green leaves up to 6″ long and arching plumes of pale yellow flowers 1/2″ across over a long bloom period from late summer to fall.  A popular filler for flower arrangements the plants are also attractive in the border and attract butterflies and other beneficial insects.  The genus name, Solidaster, is a combination of the parents’ names.  The specific epithet, luteus, is the Latin word for yellow and refers to the color of the flowers.

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Japanese black pine is native to coastal Japan and South Korea and are common parkland trees in Japan. Because it is tolerant of poor, dry soil, pollution and salt it is sitable for planting in urban sites along streets. The shiny green needles, horizontal growth pattern, and charcoal-gray deeply fissured bark make it an attractive tree for bonsai. The best style for Japanese black pine are informal and formal upright but most styles can be employed except cascade.  One of the best cultivars for bonsai is ‘Corticosa’ that has particularly thick, suberose bark.

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Hairy alumroot is an evergreen herbaceous perennial and a member of the saxifrage family, Saxifragaceae, that also includes tiarella, bergenia, and astilbe.  It is native to Southeast from Virginia to Georgia west to Arkansas and Missouri where it grows on rocky outcrops in open woods as well as on cliffs and crevices.  Growing from a fibrous root system, plants are 1-3′ tall and form a 12-18″ tall basal rosette of light green round to heart-shaped leaves  up to 6″ wide with soft hairs and 5-9 somewhat triangular lobes.  They resemble the leaves of maples and sometimes are tinted with bronze , red, or purple.  From late summer to early fall  creamy , bell-shaped,  1/4″ wide flowers  appear on the hairy rust colored stems of open panicles up to 3′ long.  Although similar to other heuchers in many ways, hairy alumroot is more tolerant of heat and humidity and blooms much later in the season.  It is drought resistant once established and is a good choice for a groundcover, woodland garden, rock garden, or wildflower garden where its attractive foliage is an asset.  The genus name ,Heuchera ,honors Johann Heinrich von Heucher (1677-1747),  botanist, physician and medicinal plant expert at Wittenberg University, Germany.  The specific epithet, villosa, comes from the Latin word villosus meaning hairy and refers to the hairs on the leaves and stems. [click to continue…]

Book Review: Seasonal Flower Arranging

Florist Ariella Chezar shares her love of flowers and her knowledge of  changing plant material throughout the year in her book Seasonal Flower Arranging.  With a strong interest in buying flowers locally as they reach their peak, she reveals the secrets of her success as a floral designer and provides instructions for completing 39 floral projects for holidays, special occasions and daily enjoyment.  Topics include creation of a cutting garden, how to harvesting plant material from the garden or the wild, tools of the trade, basic mechanics and techniques, and the best ways to use arrangements to enhance a home or other venue.   [click to continue…]

My paternal grandmother, Helen S. Wright, included a recipe for Frontignac Wine in her book, Old Time Reciepes for Home Made Wine, published in 1909.  The recipe includes raisins and elder flowers but no reference to the Frontignac grape.  Research on the internet revealed that the Frontignac grape is  dark-skinned, hybrid French-American grape variety high in acidity and sugar that is used to produce red wine, rose, and fortified wine like port.  The plant is vigorous, very cold hardy, and resistant to downy mildew, powdery mildew and botrytis.  It was the result of a cross made in 1978 at the University of Minnesota and so unknown to my grandmother when she wrote her recipe, so whatever my grandmother’s recipe creates is not the wine sold by that name today. [click to continue…]