Archive for the ‘Plant Friends’ Category

Arrow-wood Viburnums Hit The Mark

I've been enjoying the arrow-wood flowers for about a month now.

I’m enjoying the arrow-wood viburnums that are blooming now around my place.

I have one indigenous stand on my land and have purchased all sorts of forms from my nursery friends.  Due to the genetic diversity, some bloom early and are already finished.  Others are just beginning to flower.

I love the arrow-woods for their showy white flowers.  They have nice foliage and a crop of blueberry like fruit for the birds.

My friend Rick Webb, owner of Louisiana Growers in Amite, loves the arrow-woods too.  He amuses himself after a hard day at the nursery by exploring the gravel roads around his his nursery.  He has selected at least 6 forms of arrow-woods from the area and introduced them in his nursery.

I can see this arrow-wood from my bedroom window.

Mostly they area named after their location of origin.

The large leaf arrow-wood is Viburnum dentatum.  Rick lists a selection called ‘Squirrel Creek’ and another called ‘Ben’s Creek’.  This species has larger leaves and flowers.   I am particularly fond of ‘Ben’s Creek’ due to its huge leaves and striking fall color.  The large leaved arrow-woods seem to bloom later.   ‘Ben’s Creek’ and my own indigenous form are in full bloom now.

Birds love the blue fruit.

The Southern arrow-woods (Viburnum dentatum var. scabrellum a.k.a V. dentatum var. dentatum) are sometimes called little leaf arrow-woods or southern arrow-wood.

Rick lists four forms including ‘Chemekete’, ‘Greensburg’, ‘Lee’s Landing’, and ‘Osceola’.   These generally have smaller more dainty flowers and leaves.  When I see these from my golf cart on our evening excursions, I always think about Rick riding the back roads of Louisiana.

There are several selections of arrow-wood viburnum in the nursery trade.

Hopefully, like me, you can find one for your garden that originates close to home.

Summer Stars

Gordonia or loblolly bay sports pristine white camellia-like blooms.

Several months ago with the help of some friends, I planted a wonderful new bed in my front yard.

The bed is situated on abysmal compacted soil that used to be part of the driveway.  The horrible soil is riddled with chunks of gravel.

My plant palette consisted of mostly native wetland and prairie species.  Surprisingly, due to the tenacious nature of these contenders, almost everything I planted has done really well.

This spring I enjoyed the ‘Forest Frost’ phlox, zig-zag irises and the Virginia sweetspire.

Now that summer has rolled around, a new set of stars have taken center stage.

Just this week the gordonia or loblolly bay (Gordonia lasianthus) produced her first flowers.  I chose the gordonia for this bed because it is evergreen and will grow tall enough to provide some screening.  Also its narrow upright growth habit should allow this tree to fit into my small space without encroaching on the power line.

Gordonia flowers look like single white camellias with a tuft of cheerful yellow stamens in the center.  On close examination, you can see that the white petals are bordered with a fine fringe.  Instead of withering on the plant, the flowers fall off while the petals are still white.  As the tree matures, we can drive in on a carpet of flowers every June!

The bumblebees and other pollinators love Bedstraw St. John's Wort.

Behind the gordonia a beautiful native Bedstraw St. John’s wort (Hypericum galioides) is blooming non-stop.    The flowers are golden with puffy clusters of stamens in the center.   A constant parade of bumblebees travel to and fro with their baskets full of pollen.

This is a souvenir plant.  I grew it  from cuttings collected on a float trip down the Chunky River.  The glowing blooms remind me of happy times canoeing with my pal Peter Loos.

Nearby the ‘Raydon’s Favorite’ aromatic aster (Symphyotrichum oblongifolium ‘Raydon’s Favorite’) is throwing a crop of unseasonably early blossoms.   I have grown the straight species aromatic aster for years but this is my first experience with this cultivar.  I am impressed so far by the precocious blooms and healthy deep green leaves.

'Raydon's Favorite' aster is a precocious bloomer.

All these blossoms attract an array of pollinators.  So… every time I step out my front door there is something new to admire.

A swallowtail butterfly sails by…

A gordonia blossom drifts to the ground…

The golden St. John’s wort bobs under the weight of a hefty bee…

And the unexpected asters reflect the perfect June sky…

It all reminds me of a poem I was forced to memorize back in Junior High School.  The poem is the prelude to  “The Vision of Sir Launfel” by James Russell Lowell.

The part I remember best goes like this:

“…There is no price set on the lavish summer,

And June may be had by the poorest comer.

And what is so rare as a day in June?

Then, if ever, come perfect days..”


A Visit to the Cajun Prairie

Welcome to the Cajun Prairie Restoration site in Eunice, LA.

Saturday, I visited a couple of prairie sites in and near Eunice, Louisiana.

The tours were part of the Cajun Prairie Habitat Preservation Society meeting.

I have been a member of this group for many years and am totally humbled by the wonderful things they have done.

The Cajun Prairie Society formally started in 1989.

The two main movers and shakers were Dr. Charles Allen and Dr. Malcolm Vidrine.  These two had begun exploring tallgrass prairie remnants in south Louisiana.

White false indigo and bee balm mingle with dewberries and grasses at the Eunice site.

As a group they were able to obtain a lease on a piece of wasteland adjacent to an abandoned railroad track and a low income neighborhood.

They quickly began seeding and transplanting prairie plants to the site.

The society was eventually able to buy the land and over the years has installed a pic-nic shelter, sidewalks, signage and benches.

It is a grand place to visit.  The best time is at one of the society’s two annual meeting.  The first is in late spring – usually late April or early May and the second in late summer.  I just attended the early meeting.  The benefit of a meeting and not just a self-guided tour is that you can walk the site with Dr. Allen and Dr. Vidrine.  What a treat!

It may seem that you are lost in a sea of gamma grass and bee balm until you notice the adjacent houses.

Blooming highlights of the Eunice prairie were masses of white false indigo (Baptisia alba), bee balms (Monarda fistulosa and Monarda lindheimeri), early rosin weed (Silphium gracile) and black eyed Susans (Rudbeckia hirta).

There were scattered hot pink rose gentians (Sabatia campanulata), pristine white butterfly gaura (Gaura lindheimeri) and magenta sensitive briar (Mimosa microphylla).  The first of the narrowleaf mountain mints (Pycnanthemum tenuifolium) were starting to turn frosty white.  Later two other mountain mints will bloom along with two species of obedient plant (Physostegia virginiana and P. intermedia).  The perennial hibiscus or rose mallow (Hibiscus moscheutos) sported buds and button snakeroot (Eryngium yuccafolium) looked like a robust blue yucca just waiting to burst into flower.

The grasses were beginning to assert themselves – soaring upward.

We wandered through the prairie pausing to graze on dewberries lost in the tallgrass.  We seemed to be miles away from civilization but a glance at the horizon showed houses in the distance.

Today’s blog post will consist mostly of pictures taken at the Eunice site this year and last year at the May meeting.

Malcolm Vidrine explores a mass of yellow false indigo loaded with seed pods.

One day I hope to visit the site when the yellow false indigo (Baptisia sphaerocarpa) is in full bloom.  This is usually in late March.  Last weekend they were loaded with seed pods as far as I could see.  I can only imagine what a spectacular thing it must be to see them in full bloom.

Another goal is to make it to the prairie in late summer to see the gayfeather in flower.  The tall stately Liatris pycnostachya is a lovely thing and this site it full of it.  Two other species of gayfeather (L. acidota and L. spicata) bloom earlier in the summer.

If you want to learn more about the Cajun Prairie, I highly recommend Malcolm Vidrine’s wonderful book, The Cajun Prairie: A Natural History.


With A Little Help From My Friends – Part I

Marc used the pick to dig all the planting holes and here he is using it to dig a trench to border the bed.

I haven’t been blogging due to the lovely weather and abundance of gardening projects.

Of all the projects I am most obsessed with the new bed in the front yard of my new house.

Several months before we moved, I discussed the dilemma of the front garden with my bud Marc Pastorek.  My house is barely 50′ off a busy street.  The area was graveled and had been used by my renters for parking.

I wanted to create a bed to screen the unsightly street view but we still had to park in the small space and there is a low power line that crosses the property.

So Marc & I discussed the options.  We used a paint marker to define a proposed planting space and then test drove Richard’s giant F-150 through the loop.  With a little modification we defined our shape – a half oval bed that measured 19′ across and 16′ back from the street.

Then I got busy with the process of renovating, moving and settling in and let the idea simmer on the back burner.  And so… five months passed.

I crawled along the edge and installed chunks of petrified wood in the trench to make a border.

In March, Marc came for a visit and we laid out the bed and did the first stage of planting.  Due to the compacted nature of the soil, Marc dug the planting holes with a pick.

The plant list included tall evergreens for screening.  A loblolly bay (Gordonia lasianthus) was planted as far away from the power line as possible near the edge of the bed.  This lovely native is upright and narrow.  My specimen had been pre-trained to a single trunk and had been nurtured in my nursery for a couple of years until it was ready to bust out of a 7 gallon pot.

The rest of the screening was provided by 3 star bush (Illicium floridanum) that I bought this past spring.  Star bush should be just the right height to screen without getting into the power line.  However it is such a tough cookie that it could be cut to the ground to regrow if the power company decides to tamper.

I added a small collection of Virginia sweetspire or Virginia willow (Itea virginica).  There are two dwarf selections and three with long flowers from the Chunky River.

The star bush is blooming now. Since we started with large plants, by the end of the summer they will offer the suggestion of a screen.

Most of the rest of the plants are tough perennials or prairie species including ‘Screaming Yellow’ baptisia, Mr. Hubricht’s amsonia, ‘Forest Frost phlox, and ‘Henry Eillers’ sweet coneflower.

We generously amended the terrible soil with cottonseed meal and composted chicken manure.

My plan was to edge the bed with a border of petrified wood.  My friend Peter Loos hunts petrified wood near his home in East Texas.  Pete had gifted me with several buckets full of small pieces.

After the planting was complete, Marc used the pick to dig a trench along the edge of the bed.  Meanwhile, I crawled along (on my hands and knees like a dog) installing pieces of the petrified wood into the trench.

We were both extremely tired but proud at the end of the day.

Change of Heart

Junebug (aka Muffin) grazes behind a righteous clump of Spring Beauty in a disturbed area on our land.

Right now in my part of the world a humble little wildflower adorns the roadsides.  It even occurs in fields and lawns if herbicide has not been rampantly applied.

I am speaking, of course, of a frothy little thing known as Spring Beauty or Claytionia virginica.

Many years ago my friend Peter gave me a carefully nurtured pot of Spring beauty.  I accepted politely, but as he handed it to me I wondered “WTF?”.

After all it was not a very showy plant even in full bloom and it was everywhere in the Black Belt Prairie where I grew up.

Why propagate it and label it with a carefully scripted tag indicating date and place of origin?  Seemed like overkill…

But I was younger then.  I missed a few subtleties.

And I was not alone.  For the most part, I don’t think young people notice Spring beauty.

It is too small.  It is white or pinkish and seems to disappear in certain kinds of light.  It is difficult to photograph.

Now, however, my attitude has certainly changed.

I’m on a crusade.  I must have more Spring Beauty.  I crave it like Chris Walken craves the cow bell.  I’ve learned that the power of Spring Beauty lies in numbers.

I want it in every patch of lawn.

I want to watch it feed my honeybees.

I stop people and point it out to them.  They look quizzically at me.

And I realize that I’ve come full circle.



White Trash Composting

I’m a lazy composter.

I let piles of leave lie around and rot in place.  When I was a kid, my Icey called the resulting  rich brown earthy mixture “leaf mold”.   I can assure you that leaf mold is fine stuff.

As for my kitchen scraps, I just dump them in a pile and ever so often add a layer of leaves.

Every time I do a nursery cleanup I dump pots of dead soil in.

Here is the lovely lupine in my compost pile. Note the eggshells and coffee filters in the background.

Occasionally I also throw expired seed packets, the residue after I have cleaned seed and moldy bird seed in with the veggie trimmings, eggshells and coffee filters.

As a result, I sometimes have some interesting volunteers in the old compost pile.

Last year I had a dense stand of black oil sunflower plants.  The bunnies loved them.  Then a coral bean (Erythrina herbaceae) popped up.   I was excited to have such a cool prairie plant in the compost.

This winter I have been noticing several plants that are definitely lupines.

I sent pictures out to several of my plant friends.  The consensus was that the plants were Texas bluebonnets (Lupinus texensis).

But yesterday, I noticed that one was blooming.  It is a pale lavender – not the deep blue color I would expect from a bluebonnet.

I’ll send the picture out again to see if anyone has other ideas.  I suppose it could be an unusual color form of the Texas bluebonnet.

Meanwhile, I’ve been going around humming a Willis Allen Ramsey song from my old college days called “Geraldine and the Honeybee”.   It goes like this:

“Geraldine chrysanthemine prettiest li’l flower that I ever seen
She’s a friend of mine; she’s a friend of mine
Petal chile growin’ wild, even tho she’s livin’ on a compost pile
She’s my glitter and my gold; she’s my glitter and my gold
Oh Geraldine have you forgotten
Baby I have come for your sweet pollen
I can’t wait to pollinate come on pretty baby let’s celebrate
The warm and the livin’, the takin’ and the givin’
Love ya high, sting ya low, buzz ya everywhere that you’ll let me go
Let me go my way, mama, let me go my way
Oh Geraldine have you forgotten
Baby I have come for your sweet pollen
I might go crazy, I might go blind I’m never goin’ back to that honeysuckle vine
Long as you’re alive, I’ll buzz around your hive
Geraldine chrysanthmine prettiest li’l flower that I ever seen
She’s my honeydew baby, honey do me again”
I realize that my compost pile would be much more productive if I did it by the book.  But it certainly is interesting this way and sometimes it even makes me want to sing.

Memory Lane

The dwarf huckleberry is budded and ready to burst into bloom.

Today is my birthday.

I awoke to thunderstorms and the rain has continued for most of the day.

I usually spend my birthday doing a little planting and meandering around in the garden.  After all those are my favorite things to do.

But today, due to the weather, I spent a lot of time listening to the pattering rain – ensconced on the couch with my computer.

When the rain slowed to a drizzle, I went forth to plant.

First I excavated a hole for a batch of spider lily bulbs (Lycoris radiata) that my friend Jerry Palmer gave me.  Then I planted 3 mysterious daffodils pilfered by my friend Pete from a field behind the Meat Pie Store we often visit in Louisiana.

The Optician, one of Marc Pastorek's ceramic heads, is thrilled that soon he will co-habit with a coral honeysuckle.

I headed to the back yard next.   I had set several pots in place for planting and they’ve been waiting on me for almost two weeks.  They seemed to taunt me every time I looked out the back window.

Their roots are in the real dirt now.  The rain tonight will settle them in and the taunting will come to an end.

I planted a couple of coral honeysuckles (Lonicera sempervirens) from Dr. Dirt.  I will train them to scramble up the posts that hold our Marc Pastorek heads.

I prepared three lovely holes for the native bellflowers (Campanula americana) that I got from Terri and Mike at Gro-Wild.

I admired one of my first year daffodils.  It is a large golden trumpet called ‘California’.  It looks like a keeper.  Then I found the first flowers on an old favorite, the sweet little ‘Hawera’.

'California' is one of the newest dafs in residence.

I was surprised to find plump pink flower buds on my dwarf huckleberry (Vaccinnium darrowii) and glad that the early viburnums and the pearlbush (Exochorda racemosa) are still blooming.

Like many garden rambles, this one felt like a walk down Memory Lane.  Almost everything that I planted or admired reminded me of one of my plant buds and brought a smile to my face.

I returned to the couch and my computer.  I was wet and muddy

The dogs slept contentedly after their garden romp.

In my younger years, I might have considered this to be a boring  birthday.

But… today was a good day.


The Gift That Keeps On Giving

Yesterday on Christmas Eve the weather was cloudy and cold.  We bundled up anyway and headed out to explore the nature trails with the dogs.

That gloomy overcast day, I found our two tiny prairie plots particularly appealing.  Of course, there was not a flower to be found.  There was no colorful fruit and no evergreen foliage.

The grasses, though, were radiant in their lovely buff-ness.  The rudbeckias sported prickly chocolate brown seed heads and the asters were laden with soft gray achenes.

I admired the tremendous textural variations as we approached the first prairie plot.  Then we made a sharp turn toward our second prairie planting (a.k.a. the Bee Meadow).

The Bee Meadow is deceptively calm on Christmas Eve.

We approached slowly – studying the scene.

And then suddenly…

An explosion of activity…

A burst of motion…

A twenty-ish sized flock of tiny birds flushed out of the grasses and swept upward into the trees nearby.

My heart pounded and it took a moment for me to regain my composure.

It was an unexpected thing of beauty.

I managed to get a glimpse of one of the birds and thought it was a sparrow.

I later theorized that we had encountered a precipitous flock of chipping sparrows.

My friend, Bill Fontenot, The Nature Dude, says that in winter “… the chipping sparrow often forms small flocks of 10-30 birds, scouring short grass and bare ground areas of open forests and roadsides for seeds.  When flushed, these flocks erupt in a characteristically strong steep-angled escape flight, landing high up into the branches of the nearest trees…”

And yes, I would concur, they do indeed!

I think it is fitting here on Christmas evening to be thankful for our gifts.

And along with my other blessings, I am most thankful for the many things I have learned from my little prairie plot and my bee meadow.

I expected that these “projects” would provide flowers for the vase and forage for the bees.  And yes they have.

I was certain that the flowers would attract unusual insects and the occasional hummer.  And yes they have.

But it never occurred to me that such a startling display of avian agility would take my breath on Christmas Eve.

Go figure…


The Cassandra Loos Marsh Mallow

The small fuzzy bud was the size of an English pea when I first noticed.

The bud reached this stage and seemed to stay that way for days!

It’s always exciting to see a new flower for the first time.

It’s even more of a thrill when the flower was named for someone you know.

Just last week I admired the first flower on a new marsh mallow variety named in honor of my friend Cassandra Loos.

Since Cass passed about this time last year, she has been in my thoughts.  So when I first noticed a fuzzy English pea sized bud on my Cassandra Loos marsh mallow I studied it with great anticipation.

I visited the plant in my nursery daily and watched as a rosebud pink color developed.

The Cass-teletzkya's overlapping petals seem to form a starburst in the center of my first fully opened flower.

Then very slowly over several days, the bud began to unfurl.

Eventually my patience was rewarded and I finally observed an open flower.

The morning dew was heavy and the overlapping petals glistened.  The deep pink color was lovely.

I took a ton of pictures and then just paused to admire a sweet memorial for my kind and witty friend.

Kosteletzkya virginica ‘Cassandra Loos’ was bred and selected by our friend Greg Grant.

Greg is a horticulturist, plant breeder, author and Gardens Research Associate at the Stephen F. Austin Arboretum.  Greg chose this mallow for its large flowers, deep pink color and overlapping petals.  It has already been distributed to several wholesale growers and should be available for purchase next year.

I do believe that Cassandra would have liked it.





A Visit to Briarwood

I was delighted that the mountain laurel was in bloom at Briarwood.

I chanced upon Caroline Dormon’s writings  back in the 80’s – probably as a result of reading Elizabeth Lawrence’s gardening books.

Lawrence and Dormon were friends.  They corresponded frequently and worked together on a couple of books.

Their most notable collaboration was probably Gardens in Winter which was written by Lawrence and beautifully illustrated by Dormon.

From all accounts, Miss Caroline was a ball of fire.  She had definite opinions and she spoke her mind.   She was a Naturalist, the first female Forester in Louisiana, a Teacher, an Artist and a Writer.  She called her North Louisiana home Briarwood.

The Bay Garden's Louisiana iris were in bloom.

Miss Caroline passed in the early 1970’s and her friends took steps to insure that Briarwood was preserved.

Richard and Jessie Johnson were chosen as curators.  As a child, Richard was Miss Carrie’s neighbor.  He worked in her garden and became her friend.

Richard and Jessie live at Briarwood.

They spend their days maintaining the nature preserve and interacting with visitors.   For more information, check out this link to a recent news story about Briarwood.

I have enjoyed many visits to Briarwood and have always hoped to be there when the Louisiana iris were blooming in the Bay Garden.  Luckily for me, this was the year for that trip.

A lovely lavender Louisiana iris

'Dixie Deb'

I visited on April 20 and 21.  In spite of the drought, the Bay Garden was lush.  This is due to the fact that the site is on a seep.

I arrived late in the day and explored Briarwood with Jessie.  We strolled through the Bay Garden.  I had a great time taking tons of pictures.  I realized later that I should have been listening to Jessie and taking notes because she knows the name of every iris in the garden.

At the pond mountain laurel bloomed beneath a large buckwheat titi.

After we left the Bay Garden, Jessie took me to the pond where the mountain laurels were in full bloom.  We paused to admire Grandpappy, Miss Caroline’s 300 year old longleaf pine.

We proceeded to Miss Dormon’s cabin where more mountain laurels were cohabiting with the Florida yew (Torreya taxifolia).

Then we cruised through the woods to the wildflower meadow where the yellow baptisia (Baptisia nuttallii) was sporting a few lingering blooms.

Later that evening, Richard and I rode through the wooded trails that were populated with scattered clumps of white butterfly weed (Asclepias variegata). The luminescent blooms seemed to glow in the dusk.

Richard Johnson paused from trail repair to tell a story.

The stewartia blooms were a pleasant surprise.

Our destination was Briarwood’s newest land purchase.  We crossed a beautiful tea-colored sandy creek as Richard talked about his future plans for Briarwood.

Richard is a storyteller of the highest degree.   As we rode, he talked and I listened with a big grin on my face.

The next morning as I was leaving, Jessie said “Oh, the silky camellia (Stewartia malacodendron) might be in bloom.  Do you want to check?”

“Please”  I responded and we were off to find, of course, the desired plant in full bloom.  It was the perfect ending to a wonderful visit!

I highly recommend a visit to Briarwood.  For details and contact information, visit the Briarwood website.


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