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Tangled Branches: Cultivated

happenings in and around my zone 6b gardens in northern Virginia and in central Virginia

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Passalong Plants / Garden Bloggers' Book Club

I was pleased as could be to learn that the April/May selection for the Garden Bloggers' Book Club was a book I already had on my shelf - Passalong Plants by Steve Bender and Felder Rushing. I started reading about a year ago and just finished a few days ago. Not that it's thick and tedious to read, not at all. It's the kind of plant encyclopedia I wish there were more of - each entry comes with a story. Why would anybody want to grow this plant? How did the author learn of it? Any reason not to grow it? The kind of conversation you might expect from a friend who's just handed you a division or a seedling. But, most people don't sit down to read an encyclopedia from cover to cover. I'd say this is a great browsing book, especially if you're not a plant snob and if you live in zone 6 or better. Or maybe even if you are a plant snob, because some plants only need a new generation of gardeners to make them fashionable again (like Miz Friedman's Montbretia, p. 56).

Felder Rushing has been a Garden Hero of mine ever since I read a profile in the NY Times. There was a quote from him to the effect that his garden was a Southern Old Lady's Garden - she puts what she wants where she wants it, and if you don't like it, you can go home. But I always assumed that his books were not for me, being focused on the Deep South.

So I was surprised at how many of these plants I have. Four O'Clocks, Sweetshrub, Lily of the Valley, Cosmos, Cleome, Money Plant, Spiderwort, just picking a few out at random. And some I used to have, but no longer - Balsam, Hedychium, Bletilla, Moon Vine, Crinum, Tuberose. Did I choose these because they're old-fashioned or because they're easy to grow (in some places) or because everything old is new again? But I chose them all, and I paid for them all. Didn't acquire a single one via the passalong method. And I'm wracking my brain trying to remember if I've ever had any passalong plants. Well, yes, there have been a few houseplants (spider plant comes to mind). And I'm growing some tomatoes this year from seeds my dad saved a couple of years ago (Kellogg's Breakfast, to be specific). But many years ago (over 30), and not in my garden, but in my parents' and grandparents' yards, there grew some plants that spanned 4 generations (if you count me).

My great-grandmother was a collector of a sort - she saved everything. Several months after she died, the family held an estate sale. As I recall, it took place in a long-ago early summer at the house where she spent most of her adult life. This was in central Ohio, and we lived far away in northern Illinois but we had come out to help. Near her front porch grew a large Japanese honeysuckle. Yes, the same one that's now on every Invasive Plant hit list. Well. It was blooming and I had never smelled anything so wonderful in all my young life. I got the bright idea that growing a bit of Grandma Gordon's plant would be a nice remembrance and so I suggested that we take some cuttings and grow them at home. Somebody else got the brighter idea that it would be easier and faster to just dig some up. So we did. To the best of my knowledge, nobody else in northern Illinois had a Japanese honeysuckle. I had certainly never seen one. It grew and grew and my parents whacked it down and it grew back and grew and grew and.......I think they finally pulled it all out one day. Just too much trouble to keep up with it.

Now, of course, I know what a common plant it is (but I still don't know if anybody is purposely growing it in northern Illinois). And here in northern Virginia, I've dutifully ripped it out of the woods behind the house. It keeps coming back.

Maybe this is why:

The neighbors didn't see any reason to get rid of theirs, and at this time of year, I'm glad they didn't.
I'll try to waft a little fragrance your way....

Thanks, Carol, for graciously hosting the Garden Bloggers' Book Club.

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posted by Entangled at 6:35 PM
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Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Wordless Wednesday

Wordless because I don't know what most of these plants are. I photographed these last weekend in the country, and haven't tried to put a name to them yet.

Update: With a lot of help from my friends, I can now identify several of these. I need to check the leaves on some of these to nail down the species.

Deptford Pink (Dianthus armeria)

Ragwort (Senecio sp.) and Erigeron

Galium tinctorium?

Venus's Looking-glass (Triodanis perfoliata)

Deptford Pink again (Dianthus armeria)

And the ones I know - a much shorter list.

Blue-eyed Grass (Sisyrinchium sp.)

Mountain Laurel (Kalmia latifolia)

Partridgeberry (Mitchella repens)

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posted by Entangled at 10:12 AM
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Friday, May 25, 2007

Verbena and Bees?

In a burst of inspiration and ambition this morning, I decided to dig up an area next to the deck and plant a few herbs. And while daydreaming about vine-ripe juicy tomatoes with olive oil and cinnamon basil, I began to imagine sultry summer afternoons on the deck with a book, a beverage, and butterflies dancing at my feet. I have plenty of Verbena bonariensis seedlings this year, and it would be so cool to have the flowers peeking through the deck railing with a few million butterflies posing for pictures and...

Reality Check---> What's wrong with this vision?
Ummmm, bees? I've noticed that many of the butterfly plants are also bee plants.

Bees are fascinating creatures; we and the plants couldn't get along without them; etc. etc., but I really don't want to encourage them to hang out with us while we enjoy a relaxing afternoon. So here's a question for anybody who's growing Verbena bonariensis - have you noticed whether it's especially attractive to bees? I grew it last year for the first time, and although I remember the butterflies, I can't remember any bees.

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posted by Entangled at 2:38 PM
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Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Here's Karen

Karen Gray is finally blooming. I wait all year for this.

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posted by Entangled at 8:03 AM
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Friday, May 18, 2007


I find myself on this gray, cold, rainy afternoon not tending the potager, as I intended, but instead, trying to think up nice things to write about the place where I bought nice herbs to put in the potager.

Near where I live in northern Virginia, there is a herb grower with a national reputation. I know I'm supposed to like this place. Before yesterday, the last time I was there was 5 or 6 years ago, maybe more. I hadn't gone back because my impression was that the place was only grudgingly a retail establishment. Short hours, hard to find, not logically organized and high prices on tiny plants.

But yesterday I realized I needed some herbs for the potager before mid-summer which is about when I'd get around to rooting cuttings from existing plants. And besides this would be an opportunity to add some new varieties. So off I went.

My first surprise was that they're no longer in the middle of nowhere. Their road is now surrounded by McMansions. And to their credit, they've made a few improvements. I found a good selection of the kinds of plants I was looking for - rosemaries and thymes - well-labeled, and most of them available in two sizes. I was happy to find the ones I wanted in 2 1/2" pots. They've added a few annuals and perennials to their offerings, including the Purple Smoke Baptisia that I admired on Carol's Bloom Day. I might have to go back for that one. And they're selling Route 11 Potato Chips! So, I'll probably go back because they have things I want, but I still get a chilly vibe from the place.

My purchases:

Have I mentioned that I can't live without Corsican Mint? I have to run my fingers over it every time I pass it by.

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posted by Entangled at 4:19 PM
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Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day

Here's my contribution to the May edition of Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day. I thought that my favorite peony, 'Karen Gray', might be persuaded to open a blossom or two just in time, but nooooo.

So, then, starting on the front steps, moving down to the mailbox and working around the house clockwise, we have:

I may have missed a few, but that's most of them. Come back in a few days to see 'Karen Gray'.

Thanks again, Carol, for hosting the Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day.

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posted by Entangled at 1:31 PM
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Friday, May 11, 2007

Breaking New Ground

For 20 years I've wanted a vegetable garden, and now that I have space for one, I'm turning it into a potager. Do you think I've been living in DC too long?

When we bought the place in the country, one of the things we wanted from it was a place to grow vegetables. We had grand visions of sweet corn, tomatoes, beans, squash, peas, lettuce, carrots, potatoes, eggplant, peppers, okra, onions, garlic, spinach and on and on and on. And we may still do that someday, but for right now, we just don't have the time. I also had grand visions of a long sweep of shrubbery and trees bordered by every flower you can imagine. Well. No, I don't think there's going to be time for that either. So I scaled things back a bit and ended up with this manageable plot.

The idea of the potager seems to be part of the gardening zeitgeist. 129,000 hits on Google for "potager" for pages updated in the last 3 months. Is it no longer good enough to plant a few rows of vegetables out back - now it has to be pretty? Or maybe we're just saying potager instead of vegetable patch because it sounds more upscale? Or has the publishing herd just latched onto a new topic? I don't know. Something to ponder while I plant. And it's ironic, because I've been planting my tomatoes together with ornamentals for a couple of years now, trying to get them into the sun while hiding them from the homeowners' association. Now I don't have to do it and I'm doing it anyway.

So I've got the geometric layout and started my tomatoes, eggplant, herbs, y muchos chiles. Good so far, but where are the ornamentals? They're going to be tucked in here and there in any leftover space. OK, where are the vertical elements? Maybe the deer, munching the whole thing to the gound?

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posted by Entangled at 7:07 AM
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Saturday, May 05, 2007

Need Fern Expert!

Anybody know anything about ferns? I spent some time plant-scouting in central Virginia yesterday and I have several pictures with no IDs, several pictures with shaky IDs, and approximately One picture with a positive ID.

I know Christmas fern (Polystichum acrostichoides) because I planted some myself in my northern Virginia garden. These particular ones are at the country house, growing in the side of the streambank under a tree root.

I think I've correctly identified the Cinnamon Fern.

Not so sure about Bracken.

Then there are these. This one is a nice thick stand growing near the stream.
This one is a cute little fragile-looking thing, growing nearby the Uvularia I wrote about several days ago. The first picture in that post is the suspected Cinnamon fern, by the way.

So, while I'd love some help with IDs here, I'm really looking for a good field guide. The recently updated Peterson Field Guide appears to be a good one or at least this article thinks so. Any recommendations?

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posted by Entangled at 6:10 PM
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Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Rara Avis

Ladies and Gentlemen, I present to you the very rare black-and-white winged golden hummingbird. I think this may be a new species.
From Tangled Branc...

But seriously folks, I have no idea what these goldfinches think they're doing on the hummingbird feeder, unless they're convinced there must be sunflower seeds in it somewhere. Just last week I replaced "their" feeder with the hummingbird feeder. Apparently they haven't quite figured it out yet. I don't think it's possible for them to get at the nectar.

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posted by Entangled at 9:42 PM
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