Monday, March 31, 2008

The Trees of Spring

Spring really arrived with a bang this past week with the blooming of the ornamental trees. Walking around the garden is like being in a fairy land. The most spectacular is the Yoshino Cherry. This was the first tree I planted in my garden back in 1993. It is a fast-growing tree and gets lovelier with each passing year.

A few years later I added another Yoshino close to it. I'm not sure what I was thinking - maybe I wanted our garden to look like the Washington D.C. Tidal Basin? This tree is somewhat restricted with a sweet gum on one side and a red maple on the other. I sometimes get carried away.

I can't say that I'm a deeply religious person and the only spiritual feelings I do get come from nature. Sitting on the bench under the canopy of this tree is an awesome feeling (only problem is I don't have time to sit on that bench!)

Looking down the street -

This crabapple has never been this beautiful. I don't recall the variety and I believe I bought it at Wal-Mart.

This Weeping Cherry by the patio has never been very dramatic. The blooms are pale pink and not profuse. I've seen other specimens in town where they are not as cramped as mine and that really makes a difference.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Cane Creek Canyon Preserve

On Wednesday, I took a day off from gardening and went on a nature hike with some local Master Gardeners. Cane Creek Canyon Preserve is located in Colbert County (which neighbors my county to the south), just south of Tuscumbia. The property is owned by a couple who have accumulated over 400+ acres over the years and founded this conservatory which is fascinating. I'd been hearing about it for years but this was my first trip. Our mission was to scope out wildflowers, which I admit I know very little about. Deep ravines, gorges, caves, waterfalls and huge boulders cover the property and hundreds of wildflowers and native shrubs flourish. Some plants can only be found in this area. The trees had not leafed out yet and the azaleas were just budding so I hope I can make another trip and take more photos in a few weeks.

The trek was not for the weary or the faint-of-heart. There were all terrain vehicles to carry those around who couldn't climb the steep hills. By the end of the day, I was ready for one. This is the first large waterfall which is located close to the entrance to the canyon.

I wonder how many of us would have ventured to the edge of this rock had we known that it was basically suspended in the air like this -

The most incredible view is from this cliff. You can see almost 2 miles in the distance.

Notice how this tree grows around the rock. I also saw oakleaf hydrangeas growing out of rocks with no soil at all. It was quite amazing.

A cave and waterfall -

One of the huge boulders on the property. The gray-haired gentlemen is the owner of the property.

Our destination - lunch!

The creek -

Notice the roots on this tree!

Now for the wildflowers. This trillium and phlox were growing together.

Trilliums were everywhere -

Here's one of the plants that only grow in this area - American Columbo -

Rue anenome growinging in a rock -

Yellow Trout Lily -

This was called the Boulder Garden. It consisted of a large grouping of giant boulders covered on the top with wildflowers.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

My new article

I have an article in the April issue of Alabama Gardener. It is a garden profile of John and Lynn Ingwersen's garden in Killen, Alabama (just outside of Florence).

Here are a few photos that I took of their garden last year (some of these appear in the article, some don't) -

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Alabama Snow Wreath

{{{This post was written for my website A Southern Garden}}}

This shrub is blooming beautifully in my garden today!

Alabama Snow Wreath
(Neviusia alabamensis)

Native to the southeastern U.S.
Mature Height: 3-6 ft.
Growth Rate: Moderate
Soil: Moist, well-drained, not picky
Light Requirements: Sun/partial shade
Foliage: 1" - 2" long medium green leaves, deciduous, alternate with sharp-toothed margins
Flower/Fruit: White protruding stamens in early spring
Hardy to Zone 4

Discovered in 1857 by Reverend Reuben Denton Nevius on a bluff above the Black Warrior River near Tuscaloosa, this is a rare shrub not often seen in nurseries or gardens. I obtained mine from a local nursery that specializes in native plants but it can also be purchased at Forest Farm (

The shrub forms arching branches that eventually form a rounded mound. The flowers (which are actually stamens) appear very early, as soon as other plants are leafing out. They resemble a spirea or maybe a loropetalum in appearance. I have mine growing underneath a yoshino cherry tree where it receives dappled shade. It has bloomed reliably but never densely (more profuse bloom would probably be achieved with more sun). I have been told that the shrub can sucker in rich, moist soils but so far, this has not been a problem.

After blooming, the shrub is fairly nondescript and there is no fall color. Alabama Snow Wreath would be right at home in a woodland garden or in a border mixed with other early spring-flowering shrubs.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

How Not To Start Your Spring Vacation or "Am I Dead Yet?"

I was off work Friday for Good Friday and I'm off this entire week for Spring Break. I'm hoping to get some major gardening chores accomplished and I decided that the first order of business would be to clear out the Rambling Rector rose on my pergola that I wrote about a while back. Well, after wrestling with RR all day Friday, recuperating on Saturday, and finishing up today, I can say that the deed is done but I'm telling you it was a fight to the finish. Lord, this is one vicious rose - I swear it had it in for me! I had already cut the rose back a few months ago so the major clean-up involved getting the long prickly canes off the top of the pergola. Since I couldn't stand on top of the pergola, all I could do was work from a ladder or stand beneath it and reach up with lopers. I did both and it was a long and tedious job.

I don't know what was more pleasurable - having my body pinned against the ladder by swinging canes with death hooks digging into my back and then trying to disentangle myself or pulling down a portion of canes and actually breaking a prong off the pergola. No wait, the worst part was actually dragging the canes out to the street. This is a rather long route with narrow passageways, steps, etc. Like I said, the canes were alive and out to get me. They kept snagging on my jeans, other plants, my skin! I thought about posting a photo of my scarred arms but I don't want to gross out any readers. The Leona Lewis song "Bleeding Love" was playing in my head all day. I was bleeding all right but it wasn't love.

Friday night I could barely move. I soaked in an Epson Salt bath for about an hour and loaded up on Ibuprofin before crashing.

This is what is left of the vicious bugger -

You can see he has already leafed out and is ready for some more action. I'm going to find him a new home (in someone else's garden).

Now, I have a huge blank section at the corner of my pergola. (You can see the piece that broke off lying on the ground). I have learned my lesson and I will never plant another rambler without researching it fully. The rose Reve D'Or, which you can see in the photo, is going to be so much happier now. I haven't decided which rose I'll plant in the place of RR and I might even decide to plant the crossvine that I have wanted for so long. Pam, over at Digging, keeps tempting me with her photos of it. I'm not sure how it would work among roses - any suggestions?

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Another harbinger of spring

The daffodils are blooming everywhere and the tulips are getting ready to pop. The little grape hyacinths seem to get lost in the shuffle. I should plant more of these. They are not a problem to grow and they spread rapidly. I admire the large ribbons of grape hyacinths planted in Holland but I've never seen them grown like this in the United States. They are so tiny, you almost have to lay down on the ground to appreciate their beauty (which is what I did to get this photo!)

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Bloom Day

It's mostly camellias this month!

Camellia 'C.M. Wilson'

'Mary Agnes Patin'

'Nuccio's Pearl'

'Drama Girl'

'Drama Girl' bud


'Spring Festival'

Carolina Jessamine


Viburnum 'Spring Bouquet'

Saucer Magnolia

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Star Magnolia

{{{This post was written for my website A Southern Garden}}}

Size: 10’ – 15’ feet in height and spread
Leaves: 2” – 4” inch oblong, coarse and dense, much smaller than other magnolias
Flowers: White, sometimes pink tinged, star-shaped with thin petals
Growth Rate: Slow
Culture: Does best in partial sun in moist, acidic soils but is adaptable to a wide range of soil pHs

This delicate and fragile beauty blooms so early that it is often nipped by frosts which can be a frustrating experience. I once saw a spectacular specimen growing at a local dentist’s office and had to have one. I’ve had it now for twelve years and I’ve had those stunning shows maybe twice. I almost always get blooms but they may only last a few days before the cold get them. But on those occasions, when all the buds manage to open, it is a sight to behold. One year, during one of the rare fantastic displays, a passer-by stopped and asked me what kind of tree it was and went on to say that it was the prettiest tree he ever saw.

This is a small tree, unlike the popular traditional magnolia, and some might even refer to it as a large shrub. It is a slow grower with an oval and compact shape and will reach a height of anywhere from 10 -15 ft, maybe larger, depending on conditions. The leaves are small and dense and turn yellow in the fall. The flowers are fragrant and appear before the leaves do in late February and early March in my garden. It is a good tree for a courtyard or patio. If a sheltered spot is available, you might have more success with it.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Italian Arum

{{{This post was written for my website A Southern Garden}}}

Italian Arum (Arum Italicum)
(aka Lords and Ladies and Painted Arum)

Hardy to Zone 5
Bloom Time - Flowers in spring, berries in summer
Colors - White flowers, orange berries

Foliage -Arrowhead-shaped, long-petioled, glossy grayish-green leaves with pale green midribs, 8-12" long
Size - 12 - 18 inches in height
Exposure - Shade or partial shade
Culture - Best in humus-rich, well-drained soils in light dappled shade.

Stumbling upon this plant in the winter landscape might lead you to think that someone accidentally set out a houseplant. It does indeed resemble the common popular houseplant called Arrowhead Plant (Syngonium). Both are members of the philodendron family Araceae but Italian Arum is a much different plant.

Dormant during the latter part of the summer, growth appears in late fall and continues throughout the winter. Cold weather doesn't phase it a bit although extreme temperatures may cause it to wilt. In late spring, foot long greenish-white spathes appear above the foliage which attract insects for pollination. The foliage then begins to die back and a cluster of dark orange berries appear. The fruit clusters are very attractive and can be used in arrangements. Following this phase, the plant is dormant until fall.

Italian Arum grows from small corms which can be dug up and transplanted. I've also found that the plant will transplant well by digging up the entire plant during the leaf stage. This is an easy to grow plant and looks wonderful in woodland gardens or planted with hostas or hellebores.

A note of caution - Italian Arum can be very invasive in warm climate gardens. Gardeners in California especially refer to it as a pest. I've never had this problem in my garden. All parts of the plant are poisonous.