Thursday, July 14, 2011

Creature Feature: Eastern Garter Snake

Let me introduce you to one of the denizens of my garden:

This attractive young lady is an Eastern Garter Snake (Thamnophis sirtalis). She lives in and amongst the junk that I have laying around the greenhouse. In this photo she's laying on top of a pile of debris left from me sifting potting mix ingredients. This seems to be a good spot to warm up for the day... it's near the shelter of junk piles and brush, but open to the sun.

Later on I caught her basking on top of a rotting bale of straw:

Having garter snakes in the garden is a mixed blessing. One one hand, they eat slugs and insects, but they also love to eat frogs and toads. Considering how many amphibians I see hopping around, I have a feeling that they make up a pretty large part of this particular snake's diet.

I'm pretty sure she's a female. I've caught her before, and her size and shorter tail bring me to that conclusion. She doesn't bite, but she will poop all over you while emptying her scent glands. Lesson: don't pick up snakes unless you're prepared to smell funny.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Friday Foliage: Aralia cordata 'Sun King'

Please help me welcome one of the newest additions to my garden: 'Sun King' Aralia!

I have a confession to make: this isn’t my first try with this plant. The first one I got from Asiatica Nursery (now closed) and I let it dry out too much before I could even get it in the ground. I purchased this one at the Flower Factory this spring. They seem to be the only local source so far, and I was pleasantly surprised to find it.
This variety was discovered as an ornamental cultivar in Japan, and it’s still pretty new to the trade here in the US. Aralia cordata is a relatively hardy plant to zone 4, so I believe that this should have no problem with winter hardiness. I’m exited about it because it has the potential to grow pretty large… the straight species is downright huge, getting up to eight feet tall and wide (or more?!?). The jury’s out as to how large Sun King will get… one commercial grower’s claiming only 3 by 3 feet, others think it will get big like the wild variety.
The best feature of this plant is the bold, gold foliage that’s lighting up a dark space under my oak trees. I planted it next to Aralia racemosa, which is Sun King’s slightly smaller American cousin.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Tuesday Tip: Get out your clippers!

It’s time to start cutting! Now until the end of June is the best time to prune spring-flowering shrubs and ornamental trees. That includes lilacs, forsythia, crabapples, flowering plums and pears, azaleas, mock orange, and viburnums, as well as anything else woody that blooms before July. On lilacs, remove the spent blossoms and trim back branches to maintain their shape. On shrubs like forsythia, it’s best to cut back the largest branches to the ground to encourage new healthy growth.
            This is also the time to trim back summer blooming perennials that get leggy. Phlox, bee balm (Monarda), joe-pye weed, taller Sedum, mums, and asters can all benefit from pinching back at this point, both to control height and to encourage branching and more flowers.

With all of these shrubs and perennials, it’s important to stop pinching/pruning after June, because that’s when the plants will start producing flower buds. Yes, that’s the shrubs too… they produce their flower buds the summer and fall of the season prior to blooming.

So, get out there and garden!

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Feeling Spiny

I've had a long, angst-ridden day. To celebrate, I'm going to share one of my favorite plants with you.

Meet Solanum atropurpureum, also known as Five-Minute Plant, Malevolence, or Gates-of-Hell. It’s a tender perennial eggplant relative that can be grown as an annual here in Wisconsin. I started several from saved seed this February, and they’re about a foot or so tall now. As they grow, the spines get larger, and they turn purple-black. I’ll post pics later this summer to show their progress.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Spring Foliage

Many of my favorite garden plants are those with interesting foliage. Relying on foliage for color and interest allows me to garden without too much concern for bloom times. That and I've always just liked neat-looking leaves.

Christmas Fern (Polystichum acrostichoides)

The first plants that come to mind when I think of foliage is ferns. I especially like the look of the ‘fiddleheads’ in the spring as they unfurl:

Mexican Male Fern (Dryopteris pseudo-filix-mas)

Some ferns are ephemeral: they die back to the ground at the onset of dry, hot weather. An example is the Fragile Fern, living at the edge of my chocolate garden. It’s a native fern, and it spreads somewhat quickly by underground rhizomes.

 Fragile Fern (Cystopteris fragilis)

I really love the lacy look of maidenhair ferns. Another inhabitant of the chocolate garden is this ‘Miss Sharpless’ Northern Maidenhair, which has bronze new foliage and dark bronze wiry stems.

 Adiantum pedatum 'Miss Sharpless', fronds almost unfurled.

But this isn't a post just about ferns! There are all sorts of interesting foliage plants in my garden.

Tiarella ‘Mint Chocolate’

Heuchera 'Blackcurrant'. I need to add some light green, fine foliage plants around this one to set off the color.

Persicaria ‘Lance Corporal’. I love the patterns on the leaves.

Heuchera ‘Brownies’ and ‘Caramel’. I planted them together on purpose, but for the names more than the look... mmm, caramel brownies....

Pulmonaria ‘Raspberry Splash’

Wild Sarsaparilla (Aralia nudicaulis) is a plant native to my yard.

You may notice from my pictures that I haven't gotten around to major weeding and mulching yet this year. Dandelions like to pop up everywhere, and grass seems to prefer growing in my garden beds over growing in the 'lawn'.

Yes, I do own a handful of Hosta. Here’s ‘June’, with some more grass.

Asarum aff. shuttleworthii

One of my favorite groups of plants is the Wild Gingers, or Asarum. I have many species in my garden, and I hope to collect more.

Asarum arifolium, or Little Brown Jugs, is named for its flowers which hide under the leaves. Also hiding beneath the leaves seem to be bits of cars(?) from the garage (my partner is a mechanic).

Silver is an excellent color for shade gardens, since it shines out against the gloom. So I'll end with a little bit of argent...

Some kind of Lungwort (Pulmonaria)

Another kind of Lungwort (also Pulmonaria). I really should try to figure out what their names are. I don't think I've ever bought a lungwort... they're all from friend's gardens.

Athyrium ‘Ghost’ …what? I didn’t promise I wouldn’t show another fern, did I?

Saturday, May 21, 2011

A welcome surprise!

I was truly exited when I came home today to find this:
Galearis spectabilis

My Showy Orchis are blooming! This is a lovely native orchid that I got from a co-worker/friend. It seeds around her yard, and she gave me a generous chunk of it a couple of years ago. I traded it for another native orchid that grows in my yard: Rattlesnake Plantain (Goodyera pubescens).

After I received them, I gently pulled them apart into three pieces and planted them here and there in my "Oak Grove" garden, which has sandy soil amended with compost, and oak leaf/pine needle mold. This particular clump started out with three "noses", or three growing points. Now, just a few years later, it's up to around ten! I'm considering dividing this clump either this fall or the next... no, don't raise your hand just yet, I don't feel I have enough to share/trade/sell quite yet. You'll be the first to know when I do!


Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Helleborus 'Birkin's Black'

I have several hellebores in my garden, but so far this is my favorite. I like it for several reasons: one, it's not a variety that's easy to find; two, my friend (Shady Character) gave it to me; three, it's got black flowers; and four, it has interesting divided foliage that suggests H. foetidus parentage. 'Birkin's Black' is not really an official name (it doesn't have one). That's just what my friend calls it because it was bred by Graham Birkin, a hellebore breeder in England. Of my 3 small divisions, this one has the most flowers. I'm considering under planting it with a lighter-colored companion to make its dark flowers and dark green foliage stand out.

Of my other hellebores, only 2 are named, and one of those names escapes me at the moment. I have an 'Onyx Odyssey' in the chocolate garden, a pink-flowered variety from another friend's garden, 2 seedlings from Sunshine Farm and Gardens (bred by Barry Glick), and a new pink-flowered one with a name that I acquired from work this winter.

Hellebores are great plants. They're more or less evergreen, so they provide a long season of interest. Even when the flowers fade, the colorful bracts remain and look like faded flowers themselves for months. They thrive in the deep shade of my oak trees. On top of that, they're drought tolerant, which makes them my kind of plant.

The pink hellebore. Ok, maybe it's more mauve.