Archive for the garden essay Category

Fine Gardening Feature Article on Snowdrops

Posted in bulbs for shade, garden essay, my garden, snowdrops, winter interest with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 5, 2017 by Carolyn @ Carolyns Shade Gardens

 The 2018 Snowdrop Catalogue, featuring snowdrops and other winter interest plants, is on the sidebar, and we are taking orders, to access the catalogue please click here.

The cover of the February 2016 issue of Fine Gardening

In 2015, I was asked by Fine Gardening magazine to write an article on snowdrops, which appeared as the cover article of the February 2016 issue.   For readers who don’t subscribe to this excellent gardening magazine, I am going to reprint the text of the article here, accompanied by images of the magazine layout and some additional photos of the featured snowdrops.  Look for my article on spring ephemerals, scheduled for inclusion in the April 2018 issue.

Nursery News:  The 2018 Snowdrop Catalogue is posted on the website here.  If you would like to get an email announcing the catalogue, please send your full name and phone number (for back up use only) to carolyn@carolynsshadegardens.com. Carolyn’s Shade Gardens is a retail nursery located in Bryn Mawr, PA, specializing in showy, colorful, and unusual plants for shade.  The only plants that we ship are snowdrops and miniature hostas.  For catalogues and announcements of events, please send your full name, location, and phone number (for back up use only) to carolyn@carolynsshadegardens.com.  Click here to get to the home page of our website for catalogues and information about our nursery and to subscribe to our blog.

.  ‘Lady Beatrix Stanley’

“Passions are born in strange ways, and serendipity often plays a part.  In December of 1983, my husband and I purchased our home, not knowing that a treasure trove of snowdrops lay beneath the snowy landscape.  Our house was the gardener’s cottage for a large estate, and the gardener who lived there had planted thousands of common snowdrops, (Galanthus nivalis, USDA Hardiness Zones 3-8), which greeted us that February with their delightful honey-scented fragrance.  Those snowdrops were to become an important part of my personal and professional life.

For me, the original and greatest appeal of snowdrops is their bloom time.  I live on the side of a south-facing hill, where the soil heats up early, and common snowdrops begin to bloom in early February, just when I need some relief from the winter doldrums.  I have since planted snowdrop varieties that bloom from October through March, but it is the bursting into bloom of thousands of snowdrops in early February that thrills me the most.

..

As I gained experience as a gardener, I was exposed to less common varieties and realized that their ornamental characteristics were as interesting as their bloom time was uplifting.  Yes, they are small, and you do have to look at individual plants close up; but there are varieties that stand out when viewed from farther away if massed, and many that are worth a closer look.  Besides, most snowdrops are easy to grow in deciduous shade and multiply quickly to form striking swathes.

.

‘Viridapice’ and ‘Flore Pleno’

If you don’t currently have snowdrops, then start with the common snowdrop, cultivated in England since the 16th century.  The flowers have pure white outer segments (the correct term for a snowdrop petal), and the inner segments have bright green tips.  The linear leaves are gray-green, and the plant is only about 4” tall.  It is very easy to grow in almost all soil conditions, multiplies rapidly to form satisfying clumps, and is readily available both “in the green” (see sidebar below) and as a dried bulb.  With a very small investment of time and money, you can enjoy masses of honey-scented white flowers in late winter.

.

‘Blewbury Tart’, ‘Lady Elphinstone’, and a photo showing how I ship my snowdrops.

If you are already growing the common snowdrop, you may want to expand your palette to include several other easy-to-grow and easy-to-find cultivars.  Of the many cultivars selected from G. nivalis, my favorite is ‘Viridapice’, a vigorous, bold plant with green marks on the outer and inner segments.  It multiplies for me almost as fast as the species and, at 5 to 6” tall, has a distinct presence in the garden.  The double form of G. nivalis, ‘Flore Pleno’, is also lovely, if a bit disheveled.  It is the earliest recorded snowdrop cultivar, with references to its existence in the early 1700s.

.

Galanthus elwesii, ‘Magnet’, and a photo showing how I divide snowdrops.

For an even more distinctive look, plant G. nivalis ‘Blewbury Tart’ or ‘Lady Elphinstone’, both double-flowered, vigorous growers.  ‘Blewbury Tart’ points its mostly green, frilly, double segments upward and definitely stands out in a crowd.  It was discovered in a churchyard in Blewbury, England, in 1975 by snowdrop expert Alan Street.  Although a prominent British journalist told him it looked like a squashed fly on a windscreen, Alan introduced it, and it has become a favorite here and abroad.  ‘Lady Elphinstone’ is another venerable snowdrop, dating from 1890, and is one of a kind: its inner segments are a lovely egg yolk yellow.  Sometimes the yellow takes a year or so to settle in, but it is worth the wait.

.

‘Diggory’ and ‘Wendy’s Gold’

.

There are 19 species of snowdrops in addition to G.nivalis, and many of them have produced cultivars and hybrids, resulting in over 1,000 named varieties.  Most are not available in the US due to treaty restrictions; however, a diligent search yields a nice collection.  Here are five more I recommend for beauty and vigor.

.

Galanthus elwesii, the giant snowdrop

Not only is the giant snowdrop (G. elwesii, Zones 3–9) larger than the common snowdrop, but also it blooms earlier, starting in midwinter. This species tolerates hotter and drier conditions, making it great for Southern gardens. Its broad, upright, blue-gray leaves surround large, well-formed flowers with two bold green marks on the inner segments. Lots of natural variation in this species produces powder blue leaves, a variety of marks, and bloom times anywhere from November to February.

.

‘Diggory’

‘Diggory’ (G. plicatus ‘Diggory’) is a cultivar whose heavily quilted, pear-shaped, squared-off flowers make it recognizable anywhere. The wide, elegantly pleated leaves are characteristic of G. plicatus. Found in 1993, ‘Diggory’ became an instant, much-sought-after classic.

.

‘Lady Beatrix Stanley’

A hybrid snowdrop with dignified double flowers, ‘Lady Beatrix Stanley’ (G. ‘Lady Beatrix Stanley’) features a tightly packed inner rosette edged in green and a distinctive mark split into two elegant dots. It is easy to grow and multiplies well.

.

‘Magnet’

‘Magnet’ (G. ‘Magnet’) was selected in the 1880s and is still loved by collectors for its classic beauty and vigorous growth. It is instantly identifiable by its long flower stalk that allows the large blooms to sway in the slightest breeze.

.

‘Wendy’s Gold’

‘Wendy’s Gold’ (G. plicatus ‘Wendy’s Gold’) offers beautiful, large yellow markings on the inner segments and the ovary (the little cap above the segments), and wide, elegantly pleated leaves. It is much sought after for its beauty and vigorous growth. Other nice yellows available in the U.S. include ‘Primrose Warburg’ and ‘Spindlestone Surprise’.”

.
I hope you enjoyed the article as much as I enjoyed writing it!

Carolyn

.

Nursery Happenings: You can sign up to receive catalogues and emails about nursery events by sending your full name and phone number to carolyn@carolynsshadegardens.com.  Subscribing to my blog does not sign you up to receive this information.  Please indicate if you will be shopping at the nursery or are mail order only.

Carolyn’s Shade Gardens is a local retail nursery in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, U.S., zone 6b/7a. The only plants that we mail order are snowdrops and miniature hostas and only within the US.

Facebook: Carolyn’s Shade Gardens has a Facebook Page where I post single photos, garden tips, and other information that doesn’t fit into a blog post. You can look at my Facebook page here or click the Like button on my right sidebar here.

Notes: Every word that appears in orange on my blog is a link that you can click for more information. If you want to return to my blog’s homepage to access the sidebar information (catalogues, previous articles, etc.) or to subscribe to my blog, just click here.

Advertisements

Strike a Blow for the Environment in your own Yard

Posted in garden essay, green gardening, groundcover, landscape design, my garden, native plants, organic gardening, sustainable living with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 26, 2016 by Carolyn @ Carolyns Shade Gardens

Senecio aureus

Golden groundsel, Senecio aureus, is the best native plant for ground cover.

I write a lot about the things we do at Carolyn’s Shade Gardens to support the environment: gardening organically without herbicides and chemical fertilizers, doing little supplemental watering, composting, mulching with ground leaves, getting rid of our lawn, landscaping with large quantities of native plants, and promoting natives at the nursery.

Nursery News:  Carolyn’s Shade Gardens is a retail nursery located in Bryn Mawr, PA, specializing in showy, colorful, and unusual plants for shade.  The only plants that we ship are snowdrops and miniature hostas.  For catalogues and announcements of events, please send your full name, location, and phone number (for back up use only) to carolyn@carolynsshadegardens.com.  Click here to get to the home page of our website for catalogues and information about our nursery and to subscribe to our blog.

.

Carolyn's Shade Gardens Woodland

Our native white-flowered redbud surrounded by native plants.

You can read more about these practices in these posts among others: 

Your Native Woodland: If You Build it They Will Come, how to create your own woodland filled with native plants

My Thanksgiving Oak Forest, the importance of native plants to our survival

Your Most Precious Garden Resource, step-by-step guide to mulching with ground leaves 

Letting Go Part 1: The Lawn, the dangers of lawn chemicals to ourselves and the environment 

Do You Know Where Your Mulch Comes From?, toxic substances in shredded hardwood mulch

.

Carolyn's Shade Gardens woodland

Our woodland in April with Virginia bluebells, wild ginger, golden groundsel, and mayapples—all native.

My guide to creating a native woodland has been especially popular.  However, most gardeners don’t have vast areas of woods to convert to native plants but still want to make a difference.  And I am sure that most people realize that planting three milkweed plants, though admirable and to be encouraged, is not going to save the monarch butterflies.  So what can you do? 

.Viola striata

Native white violets, Viola striata, used in quantity as an edging along the front of a border.  The violets spread rapidly by seed, filling in empty areas and preventing weeds.

One solution is to find ways to include large quantities—a critical mass—of native plants in your garden, no matter what size.  You can accomplish this by replacing non-native ground covers like pachysandra, vinca, ivy, euonymus, and turf grass with native ground cover plants.  It is easy to do and you can start small by using spreading native plants like the violets above as edging for your existing beds.  Soon you will be eliminating whole swathes of your lawn!  Here are some more ideas of plants to use:

.
Phlox subulata 'Purple Beauty'
Native ‘Purple Beauty’ moss phlox, P. subulata, used as an edging.
.

Phlox subulata 'Emerald Blue'

This patch of native ‘Emerald Blue’ moss phlox has been in place for at least a decade and requires no maintenance at all.  It is evergreen so is present year round like pachysandra but provides you with beautiful flowers and the native insects with food.  Its mat-like habit excludes all weeds.

.

Phlox subulata 'Nice 'n White'

Native ‘Nice ‘n White’ moss phlox used to replace non-native vinca, which you can see behind it.  This location is quite shady and the moss phlox thrives.  All it needs is good drainage.

.

Phlox subulata 'Nice 'n White'

Our original planting of native ‘Nice ‘n White’ moss phlox is filling in to create a solid blanket while we continue to move down the hill adding new plants.

.

Iris cristata 'Tennessee White'

Native ‘Tennessee White’ dwarf crested iris, Iris cristata, used to edge our raised beds.  I expect these clumps to double in size by next spring.

.

Senecio aureus

Native golden groundsel, Senecio aureus, the yellow flower in the photo above and the first photo, makes the best ground cover of any native plant.  It spreads aggressively and is evergreen and mat-forming like pachysandra but also produces beautiful, fragrant flowers suitable for cutting.  Like pachysandra it is too aggressive to be mixed with other plants, but unlike the pachysandra in our area it is not subject to alfalfa mosaic virus.

.

Chrysognum virginianum 4-26-2016 11-47-39 AM

Native goldenstar, Chrysogonum virginianum, is another creeping plant that makes a good edger.

.

Chrysognum virginianum 4-26-2016 11-47-51 AM

Because the goldenstar was working so well at the edge, we decided to replace a whole section of our lawn with it.

.

Phlox stolonifera 'Sherwood Purple'

Two years ago we replaced another section of our lawn with native ‘Sherwood Purple’ creeping phlox, P. stolonifera.  This phlox grows in part to full shade and forms a flat, weed-choking mat that stays green all winter.

.

Aster cordifolius

Native blue wood aster, Aster cordifolius, replaced another section of lawn at Carolyn’s Shade Gardens that surrounded a gigantic black walnut.

.

Aster cordifolius

Native blue wood aster blooms in the fall and grows in part to full shade.

.

Doug Tallamy explains in his amazing book Bringing Nature Home* that we can make a difference for the environment and the plants and animals (including us) which are struggling to survive there, by planting native plants in our suburban gardens.  I hope I have given you some good ideas for accomplishing this laudable goal.

*Profiled in my blog post My Thanksgiving Oak Forest.

Carolyn

.

Nursery Happenings: You can sign up to receive catalogues and emails about nursery events by sending your full name and phone number to carolynsshadegardens@verizon.net.  Subscribing to my blog does not sign you up to receive this information.

Carolyn’s Shade Gardens is a local retail nursery in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, U.S., zone 6b/7a. The only plants that we mail order are snowdrops and miniature hostas and only within the US.

Facebook: Carolyn’s Shade Gardens has a Facebook Page where I post single photos, garden tips, and other information that doesn’t fit into a blog post. You can look at my Facebook page here or click the Like button on my right sidebar here.

Notes: Every word that appears in orange on my blog is a link that you can click for more information. If you want to return to my blog’s homepage to access the sidebar information (catalogues, previous articles, etc.) or to subscribe to my blog, just click here.

In Which I Decide To Be Thankful

Posted in garden essay, green gardening, native plants, Uncategorized with tags , , on November 22, 2011 by Carolyn @ Carolyns Shade Gardens

Carolyn’s Shade Gardens is a retail nursery located in Bryn Mawr, PA, specializing in showy, colorful, and unusual plants for shade.  The only plants that we ship are snowdrops and miniature hostas.  For catalogues and announcements of events, please send your full name, location, and phone number (for back up use only) to carolyn@carolynsshadegardens.com.  Click here to get to the home page of our website for catalogues and information about our nursery and to subscribe to our blog.

All photos in this post were taken in and around Cliff Island, Maine, U.S., in summer or fall.  Click on any photo to enlarge.

This is my 2011 Thanksgiving essay.  Last year in My Thanksgiving Oak Forest, I described why my husband and I decided to transplant native red oak seedlings to a waste area filled with invasive plants.  If you haven’t had a chance to read it, I hope you will click here because I think it is my most important post. This year’s essay is a glass-half-empty, glass-half-full kind of story, which ends with me deciding to be thankful, always a good result at any time of year.

Frequent readers of this blog will know that I spend a lot of time on a small island seven miles off the coast of Maine called Cliff Island.  The island is a very special place for many reasons.  Physically, it is achingly beautiful, surrounded by rocky shores and ocean and with acres of woods, marshes, and beaches created by nature and for the most part preserved that way, although it is all private land. 

Our family has no vehicle so I walk three to four miles every day often to get places but predominantly for pleasure.  And while I walk I think.  In the midst of all this beauty I am often sad.  Aside from public land, few places remain in the eastern U.S. like Cliff Island where the ecology is not rapidly changing for the worse.

Surrounded by a close to pristine landscape, I mourn for what southeastern Pennsylvania, where I live, must have been like and how it has been changed beyond recognition and probably beyond redemption.  As Heather from Restoring the Landscape with Native Plants says: “Although many of our woodland landscapes have been invaded with invasive species and altered by humans, diminished representations of the former plant community still exist and provide us with a window of what the woodland used to be [emphasis added].”

I think about how most people don’t know, and many of them don’t care, what a real native landscape looks and feels like.  How will we preserve the precious areas that remain if people have no context within which to appreciate them?  Jill on Landscape Lover’s Blog describes a noted French landscape architect as pointing out that “most people prefer highly-managed places – pleasurable gardens and efficient landscapes – over raw nature, which is increasingly perceived as distant, unpleasant, almost repellent, with its insects, bacteria, and disorder [emphasis added].”  Is that true?  I am afraid so.

Even Cliff Island is under attack with invasive non-native plants making their way out from the mainland and displacing the island’s delicate native ecology.  We currently have a full scale battle going on with Japanese knotweed, purple loosestrife, oriental bittersweet, multiflora rose, Japanese barberry, burning bush euonymus, and Norway maple.  These plants have only started multiplying invasively on Cliff Island in the last 20 years or so and yet the rate of increase is exponential.

On better days, when my half-full attitude takes over, I am deliriously thankful that I get to spend time on Cliff Island.  I stare at the landscape trying to burn it into my memory for viewing during the rest of the year.  I find it so beautiful that it seems unreal, like a movie set.  I never get tired of it.  No designed garden can compare with what nature has created.

I am also eternally thankful that I am able to appreciate this natural beauty.  That I don’t prefer highly managed landscapes and that I love being outside.  I am grateful that my training enables me to understand how the plant communities on the island work and to appreciate the ornamental characteristics of the native plants.

I am thankful that Cliff Island’s balance has not been destroyed.  In Pennsylvania, any unplanted area is soon filled with invasives.  On the island, the regenerative power of the native plants remains in tact.  An area of abandoned lawn will quickly be re-colonized by blueberries, goldenrod, bayberry, asters, and other natives.

I am also thankful that, four years ago, I was able to launch a non-native invasive plant removal program on Cliff Island.  Volunteers from the community are working hard to remove invasives before they become established like they are on the mainland.  I am happy to report that the program is a huge success.  If you would like to know more about the program, please feel free to email me at carolynsshadegardens@verizon.net.  Nothing would make me happier than to help others preserve their native landscape.

Readers of my 2010 Thanksgiving post will be pleased to know that we are continuing what will now be our Thanksgiving tradition and have planted three more native red oaks at the bottom of our property.

Happy Thanksgiving, Carolyn


Notes: Every word that appears in orange on my blog is a link that you can click for more information.  If you want to return to my blog’s homepage to access the sidebar information (catalogues, previous articles, etc.) or to subscribe to my blog, just click here.


Nursery Happenings:
The nursery is closed for the year.  Look for the snowdrop catalogue (snowdrops are available mail order) in January 2012 and an exciting new hellebore offering in February 2012.  If you are within visiting distance and would like to receive catalogues and information about customer events, please send your full name and phone number to carolynsshadegardens@verizon.net.  Subscribing to my blog does not sign you up to receive this information.

Forever Young

Posted in garden essay, garden to visit with tags , , , on September 21, 2011 by Carolyn @ Carolyns Shade Gardens

Carolyn’s Shade Gardens is a retail nursery located in Bryn Mawr, PA, specializing in showy, colorful, and unusual plants for shade.  The only plants that we ship are snowdrops and miniature hostas.  For catalogues and announcements of events, please send your full name, location, and phone number (for back up use only) to carolyn@carolynsshadegardens.com.  Click here to get to the home page of our website for catalogues and information about our nursery and to subscribe to our blog.

Daylily at Young’s Perennials

In terms of plants, this article is about daylilies, which is hardly timely because they won’t be blooming again for almost a year.  However, it’s also about being adventurous, finding a passion, meeting a kindred spirit, living a full life, and growing old gracefully.  Wow that’s a lot to cover.

During one of my wrong turns, I ended up at this beautiful farm.

It all started with the invasive plant removal program that I run on a tiny island seven miles off the coast of Maine.  Of course we remove invasive plants, but I also try to educate islanders about the joys of native plants.  To this end, I have designed and installed three exclusively native plant gardens to show off some wonderful plants that aren’t already growing on the island.  As I headed to a familiar mainland nursery to search for suitable plants, I saw a blue sign saying Young’s Perennials with an arrow pointing away from where I was going.   On a whim and feeling adventurous, I decided to follow the signs, which led me farther and farther into the country until I thought I was surely lost.  Finally I reached the penultimate sign, which led me into a small subdivision, up a long driveway, and into a magical spot.

The nursery benches display potted plants for sale and are surrounded by acres of  growing beds.

Here was Young’s Perennials, a 60 acre farm so far into the town of Yarmouth, Maine, where I saw the first sign, that it’s actually in Freeport.  And greeting me was the nursery’s owner and now sole employee, Walter Young.  I told Walter what I was after, and he promptly pointed to all the nursery stock he had left and said take whatever you want for free.  At his urging, I took plants for my projects and also for the island library and historical society gardens.  He was very generous.  But more than that, as we talked, I discovered that I had found a kindred spirit in this unlikely location–a fellow plantaholic.

The fields are so quiet and peaceful.

Walter is addicted to daylilies.  Now don’t tell him this, but daylilies are not one of my favorite flowers even though I like them.  What I do love though is talking with a fellow gardener who is passionate about his work no matter what the topic.  Especially if the gardener has lived as full and varied a life as Walter.  During the course of our hours of discussion (I was there twice), Walter told me a lot about daylilies but also about his many jobs, careers, hobbies, and other pursuits.

Walter grew up and attended a two-room schoolhouse on the northern coast of Maine.  He was the school janitor and lobstered on the side.  After serving four years in the Coast Guard during the Korean War, he graduated from business college and worked as a public accountant.  He taught business college, trained bird dogs, served as school board chairperson and assistant fire chief, and coached Little League, among other pursuits.  Walter and his wife, Peggy, raised six children, leasing the 60 acre farm next door so they could produce all their own food.  They also started the nursery, which in its heyday employed four people in addition to the Youngs and drew gardeners, especially daylily lovers, from all over New England.

Walter’s passion for daylilies began in 1982 when he visited a Vermont breeder and came home with a hundred cultivars.  He went on to buy seeds and plants from specialists all over the U.S.  Eventually he began making his own daylily crosses to produce plants with more buds and a later bloom time in a kaleidoscope of colors and forms.  As I walked around the nursery, I saw plants covered with plastic tags indicating which plant was the source for the pollen that Walter painstakingly applies by hand.  He collects the seeds, up to 14 per bud, and grows them on until they flower in one to three years.

Counter clockwise from top: daylily buds carefully marked with pollination information; plants resulting from seeds from one bud; Walter Young with one of his creations.

Every flower produced by this well-documented process is different.  And as far as I could tell, every flower is gorgeous.  I gave up asking for the name of each bloom I photographed because the answer was always the same: “It’s one of mine.  It doesn’t have a name.”  In 2010, Walter decided to scale back the nursery, but in 2011 he still purchased 103 new registered daylilies to trial and planted seeds from his crosses.  And growing on the property are over 50,000 daylily plants.  You have to see it to believe it.

Left, the 103 new plants purchased for trial in 2011.  Right, older plants in the fields.  I was there at the end of the season so most daylilies had finished blooming.

At the end of my visit, I said to Walter: “You don’t register your crosses, you don’t do mail order, you have limited hours at your nursery, so you do all this work….”  “That’s right,” he interjected, “I do all this work just for me.”  Just for the sheer joy of it.  Walter is 77 years old.

Walter Young’s daylilies are available at Young’s Perennials, 1 Young’s Lane, Freeport, Maine, 207-865-3533, from July 1 through August 15, depending on the weather.  It’s well worth the trip for many reasons!

Here are some more of the daylilies you will find there:

Carolyn

Notes: Every word that appears in orange on my blog is a link that you can click for more information.  If you want to return to my blog’s homepage to access the sidebar information (catalogues, previous articles, etc.), click here.

Nursery Happenings: Orders for woody shade plants will be accepted until  noon on Thursday, September 29.  Click here for the catalogue.  Our final fall open house sale will be on Saturday, October 8, from 10 am to 3 pm.  If you can’t make it because of Yom Kippur or other reasons, remember you can make an appointment to shop 24/7 by sending me an email at carolynsshadegardens@verizon.net.


Letting Go Part 1: The Lawn

Posted in garden essay, green gardening, landscape design, organic gardening with tags on May 2, 2011 by Carolyn @ Carolyns Shade Gardens

Carolyn’s Shade Gardens is a retail nursery located in Bryn Mawr, PA, specializing in showy, colorful, and unusual plants for shade.  The only plants that we ship are snowdrops and miniature hostas.  For catalogues and announcements of events, please send your full name, location, and phone number (for back up use only) to carolyn@carolynsshadegardens.com.  Click here to get to the home page of our website for catalogues and information about our nursery and to subscribe to our blog.

This photo and the next four all show beds created from former lawn at Carolyn’s Shade Gardens.

WARNING:  This post could be hazardous to your lawn or at least your relationship with your spouse.  It contains lawn profanity as well as intense language and strong opinions and recommends graphic violence to your lawn.  Drug use is discussed, and nudity is recommended.  Read at your own risk.

Depending on how you look at it, I was always ahead of the curve on the lawn issue.  When we bought our property in 1983, I already had it in for the lawn, which encompassed most of our 2 acres.  At the time I didn’t know that “advanced” gardeners were supposed to get rid of their lawn.  I just thought it was a ridiculous waste of garden space and resources like water and very high maintenance: it had to go.  Plus there was never any question of using chemicals to keep it green and weed free as we have been organic from day one.

In 2001, I read this tongue-in-cheek discussion between God and St. Francis and renewed my efforts to eliminate our lawn (click to enlarge):

This clever but provocative piece was printed in the Spring 2001 newsletter of The Friends of Casco Bay, Maine.  It also supports my practice of leaving leaves in my garden beds, see my post Fall Clean-Up.

To me, as pointed out by this article, the whole concept of lawn is inherently ridiculous even before you get to the environmental issues.

Then the scientific evidence kicked in.  Chemically treated lawns are a scientifically documented toxic hazard to your pets.  There is lots of information out there about the cancer causing hazards of commonly used lawn chemicals, for example, see The Truth About Cats, Dogs, and Lawn Chemicals.  After reading this would you let any family member, especially your children, walk on a chemically treated lawn?  

This whole hillside was an eroded, chemically dependent lawn when we moved in.

Lawn chemicals are a major contaminant of the Chesapeake Bay, which is the largest and most biologically diverse estuary in the U.S.  For more information, read this article by the Chesapeake Bay Program by clicking here.  A White Paper produced by a diverse group of scientists and policy experts for the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Project outlines the damage being done and recommends encouraging “consumers to question aesthetics-based behaviors (i.e., desire for visually attractive lawns or produce) in lieu of decision-making based on human health and ecological concerns.”  Phrased that way, it is amazing there is any question what the right path is.

The death warrant for my lawn as most Americans know it was sealed in stone in 2007 when I read an article by Doug Tallamy in which he pointed out the dangers of this non-native monoculture to our native flora and fauna.  It is sobering to consider that we have planted 40 million acres of lawn in the U.S. and that every weekend we mow an area eight times the size of New Jersey.  According to the U.S. EPA, “Operating a typical gasoline-powered lawn mower for one hour produces the same amount of smog-forming hydrocarbons as driving an average car almost 200 miles under typical driving conditions.”  Mowing accounts for 5% of air pollution in the U.S (click here for more details).  In Bringing Nature Home, Tallamy explains quite eloquently how our home gardens are the last bastion of space where we can promote biodiversity through planting native plants.  My lawn just did not fit into this scheme.

Lawn veronica, Veronica filiformis, grows throughout my lawn.  It is so beautiful that I wish it would completely replace the lawn.

But now that I had eliminated all the lawn I could, what to do about the lawn that remains?  I still have a large grassy area  where my children play, which though not chemically treated is still a monoculture.  This is where the real horror starts: I let it go wild.  I let every “weed” that you are probably trying to remove from your lawn grow there.  And you know what?  It’s beautiful.  All spring, until we mow, it is filled with pretty “wildflowers” covered with bees, butterflies, and beetles, and visited by birds among other local fauna.  Then, when it’s mowed, it is a green expanse like a lawn “should be”.

The photos above and below show some of the “wildflowers” that grow in my lawn:

Common blue violets, Viola papilionacea (sororia)


Japanese painted fern, Athyrium niponicum ‘Pictum’


Wild strawberries, Fragaria species


Common snowdrop, Galanthus nivalis


Native PA white violets, Viola striata


Winter aconite, Eranthis hyemalis


Ground ivy, Glechoma hederacea: I consider this a noxious weed when it appears in my beds, but it is very pretty in the lawn.


Dandelion, Taraxacum officinale


Most of the plants in my lawn are not native.  I consider half of them weeds if they appear in garden beds.  But in the lawn they are beautiful.  You probably don’t see them this way–most people don’t.  I have retrained my eye.  When I see an expanse of weed-free bright green grass, I don’t think what a beautiful law, I think toxic wasteland.

Here is what my lawn looks like in early spring:

This next photo is not for the faint-of-heart:

Creating more “wildflowers” in my lawn.


And here is what the same area looks like once it is mowed:

This is all the lawn I need.  Though it is a large area, I think I would do the same thing if my lawn was smaller.

Carolyn

Notes: Every word that appears in orange on my blog is a link that you can click for more information.  If you want to return to my blog’s homepage to access the sidebar information (catalogues, previous articles, etc.), just click here.

Nursery Happenings: Look for Carolyn’s Shade Gardens at the Bryn Mawr Farmer’s Market on Saturday, May 7, from 9 am to 1 pm .  My next open house sale, featuring hostas, ferns, and hardy gernaiums is Saturday, May 14, from 10 am to 3 pm.

Supporting Sustainable Living: Part One

Posted in garden essay, green gardening, native plants, organic gardening with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 7, 2011 by Carolyn @ Carolyns Shade Gardens

Carolyn’s Shade Gardens is a retail nursery located in Bryn Mawr, PA, specializing in showy, colorful, and unusual plants for shade.  The only plants that we ship are snowdrops and miniature hostas.  For catalogues and announcements of events, please send your full name, location, and phone number (for back up use only) to carolyn@carolynsshadegardens.com.  Click here to get to the home page of our website for catalogues and information about our nursery and to subscribe to our blog.

PA native bloody butcher (attractive common name!), Trillium recurvatum, is just forming its buds now and will produce its beautiful flower shortly (photo on right Arrowhead Alpines).

All photos in this article are of plants native to Pennsylvania (PA) available at “Bulb and Native Wildflower Day” on April 9 at my nursery.  Single photos and the left photo in collages show the plants in my garden today.

Jan who writes the garden blog Thanks for Today is doing something wonderful, and  I want all my readers, subscribers, and customers to participate in Jan’s project.  Jan has started the Gardeners’ Sustainable Living Project, which celebrates Earth Day  by encouraging gardeners to get together and share the big and small things that they are doing anywhere in their lives to support sustainable living.  If you read my blog, you know that this is an important topic for me.

PA native rue-anemone, Anemonella thalictroides, is a dainty woodlander in full bloom right now.

To participate in the project, all you have to do is click on the Gardeners’ Sustainable Living Project link below and leave a comment describing a few of your own sustainable living practices.  If you are a garden blogger, you can write a post about your efforts, but Jan only requires a comment.  If you participate by April 15, you become eligible to receive all kinds of fun prizes.  I got so excited about the project, I decided to contribute a prize of my own: a snowdrop collection.  For prize details, click here.

The buds of PA native Celandine poppy, Stylophorum diphyllum, are just starting to show color, and the flowers will cover the plant for at least six weeks (photo on right Missouri Botanical Garden PlantFinder).

While you are leaving your comment, you can read all the posts written by garden bloggers telling you what they are doing to promote sustainability.  Donna at Gardens Eye View in her article  on “Trust” points out that we have been entrusted with the earth and we should leave it the way we found it.  She tells us about her efforts to do that.  Jean at Jean’s Garden explains how she has “come to understand how my plant choices can affect ecological systems and environmental balance.”

PA native twinleaf, Jeffersonia diphylla, is just pushing out of the ground in my garden (photo on right Missouri Botanical Gardens PlantFinder).

Pam at Pam’s English Cottage Garden was inspired by Barbara Kingsolver’s book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life to “be more mindful of my carbon footprint by eating locally grown foods that are in season, and by supporting local farmers.”  Allan at allanbecker.gardenguru describes a wide range of “respectful grass roots initiatives that influence both consumer behavior and the agendas of local officials” while  promoting sustainability.  You can get a lot of great ideas by reading these thoughtful articles and all the others linked there.

I love the early spring colors of emerging PA native coral-bell leaves.  Clockwise from upper left: Heuchera villosa ‘Caramel’, ‘Frosted Violet’, ‘Autumn Bride’, ‘Blackout’.

So what am I doing to promote sustainability?  For my whole gardening life, I have been organic, not using any herbicides, pesticides, or chemical fertilizers.  I don’t water except to establish new plants and, by following gardening practices like grinding my leaves (seeFall Clean-up and Leaves on the Lawn) and composting, I have restored the soil to its former pristine state.  I have gotten rid of almost an acre of lawn and replaced it with large areas of plants native to Pennsylvania.  In Maine, I founded and continue to run a community based invasive plant removal program whose goal is to eliminate all invasive plants from the small island where we vacation.

PA native Virginia bluebells, Mertensia virginica, is just about to come into full bloom in my garden.

Several years ago, though, I realized that I am uniquely placed to have an even larger impact in this area through my nursery.  As my customers ask me for advice and as I talk to the horticultural groups touring my display gardens, I emphasize sustainable practices and demonstrate how they work in my own gardens.  Instead of being lectured to in a darkened room, these gardeners are seeing  living proof that the sustainable methods I advocate have worked to create beautiful gardens.

PA native bloodroot, Sanguinaria canadensis, is in full bloom right now.  The rare double form ‘Multiplex’, pictured on the right, is much longer blooming.

Reading Doug Tallamy’s book Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants was a turning point for me.  I finally understood why planting native plants is not just a “good thing”, but absolutely crucial to our survival.  I wrote about this in My Thanksgiving Oak Forest,  and I hope you will read my article.  Now I give out a synopsis of the book to the hundreds of customers who attend events at my nursery each year in hopes that they too will be inspired.

My new yellow signs boldly demonstrate which plants are native in my woodland garden.

As a result of my new understanding, I increased my emphasis on native plants at the nursery.  Native plants appear in green print in my catalogue.  I purchased new signage for the garden and the nursery so natives could have their own special yellow signs (see photo above) while non-natives have white.  I am about to have my sixth annual native wildflower day on April 9 during which customers can shop for a wide assortment of almost 40 native perennials, not including the native ferns that will be offered at my fern sale.

The foliage of PA native dwarf Jacob’s ladder, Polemonium reptans ‘Blue Pearl’, is evergreen, and the plants are covered with buds right now.

My two acres of display gardens demonstrate how desirable non-native plants can be incorporated into the sweeps of native plants that dominate my landscape.  And I have used my blog with its 450 customer-subscribers and 26,000 views since November to promote the planting of natives (see, for example, My Thanksgiving Oak Forest, New Native Shade Perennials for 2011, and Woody Plants for Shade).

The early leaves of PA native wild columbine, Aquilegia canadensis, are a beautiful deep blue-green and are followed by lovely flowers in April and May.

So now, what do I want you to do?  Please go to http://thanksfor2day.blogspot.com/2011/03/gardeners-sustainable-living-2011-win.html and leave a comment describing a few of your own sustainable practices.  I know many of my customers are reading my blog because almost everyone who has visited this year has said “I love your blog”.  Now you can thank me by supporting Jan’s project and mentioning in your comment that you came from Carolyn’s Shade Gardens.

Carolyn

Notes: Every word that appears in orange on my blog is a link that you can click for more information.  If you want to return to my blog’s homepage to access the sidebar information (catalogues, previous articles, etc.), click here.

Nursery Happenings: My next nursery event is Bulb and Native Wildflower Day on Saturday, April 9, from 9 am to 3 pm.  My next open house sale features early spring-blooming shade plants and is Saturday, April 16, from 10 am to 3 pm.  For details and directions, click here.

The Joys and Sorrows of Snow

Posted in garden essay, Gardening Gone Wild Photo Contest, winter with tags , , , , on February 3, 2011 by Carolyn @ Carolyns Shade Gardens

Carolyn’s Shade Gardens is a retail nursery located in Bryn Mawr, PA, specializing in showy, colorful, and unusual plants for shade.  The only plants that we ship are snowdrops and miniature hostas.  For catalogues and announcements of events, please send your full name, location, and phone number (for back up use only) to carolyn@carolynsshadegardens.com.  Click here to get to the home page of our website for catalogues and information about our nursery and to subscribe to our blog.

My office, an historic carriage house, in winter

I love snow.  I am not sure that my garden is ever more beautiful than with a dusting of snow highlighting every branch and stem.  And to me there is really nothing uglier, in the garden anyway, than snowless frozen soil or mulch surrounded by the fences and houses that I can’t see when the leaves are on.

Snow on the branches of my 150-year-old London plane trees

My “signature” bird house in winter

Ice is very beautiful too (I can hear the groans, but if you can ignore the sounds of branches breaking and just stare at the ice, it is lovely.  On second thought, maybe you should only view ice from inside the house.)

My upright coral bark maple, Acer palmatum ‘Sango-kaku’: more vertical Japanese maples fare better in  snow and ice than weeping forms

White pine, Pinus strobus, is not suitable for ornamental landscapes as explained below

Winterberry holly, Ilex verticillata ‘Red Sprite’, looks beautiful encased in ice

Here in southeastern Pennsylvania, we had record snowfall during the winter of 2009-2010 with 70 inches.  The previous record was 1995-1996 with 66 inches, but over three feet came in one blizzard so there wasn’t consistent cover.  Before that you have to go back to 1898-1899 with 55″ inches.

My house, Wayside Cottage, the old estate gardener’s dwelling.

As the snow melts and temperatures warm, we get fog

During 2009-2010, the ground was covered with snow almost the whole winter, which hasn’t happened in quite a while here.  Snow cover is very important for plants, especially when the temperatures dip down into the single digits.  We are in USDA hardiness zone 6b with an average annual minimum temperature of 0 to -5 degrees F (-18 to -21 degrees C).  Snow insulates plant roots and keeps them at an even temperature, preventing the freezing and thawing that heaves them out of the ground.  Snow also provides much needed moisture over the winter and especially in the spring as it melts slowly and waters the emerging perennials.

My clump of yellow trillium doubled in size after a snowy winter

Cobra lily, Arisaema urashima, reached new heights

When my perennials came up in the spring of 2010 after the snowy winter, they were spectacular.  Struggling plants were suddenly big and glorious.  Newly planted areas looked well established.  Patches of slow growing woodland ephemerals doubled and tripled in size.  Asian jack-in-the-pulpits that hadn’t come up in years burst out of the ground and were twice their normal height.  I had given them up for dead.  Seeds of rare plants germinated and thrived in my woodland unaided.  I suddenly had a small hillside of the snow white jack-in-the-pulpit Arisaema sikokianum.  Trilliums, dogtooth-violets (Erythronium), and fumewort (Corydalis solida) proliferated in new combinations and colors.  The snow was very good to my perennials.

Serendipitous shades of self-sown fumewort, Corydalis solida

A new color form of dogtooth-violet, Erythronium, appeared in my woodland

I wish I could say the same for my shrubs and trees.  My very well established winter daphnes, Daphne odora, and my February daphne, Daphne mezereum, were bent to the ground by snow and falling limbs.  Although I righted them, they all suddenly wilted and died in the spring.  I think once the roots are damaged or disturbed, they are not resistant to pathogens and quickly succumb.  That may be the origin of what is known as sudden-daphne-dieback.

Damaged weeping Japanese maple, Acer palmatum dissectum: upright forms of Japanese maple fared better, they just bent to the ground and sprang back up

Voles, protected from my cats by the snow, ate my rare tree peony purchased from the old Heronswood many years ago.  I also lost my Chinese redbud, Cercis chinensis, both my white and my gold variegated Kousa dowoods, Cornus kousa ‘Wolf’s Eye’ and ‘Sunsplash’, my yellow rugosa rose, Rosa rugosa ‘Topaz Jewel’, and an old native rhododendron that came with the property in 1983.  My woody plants did not like the snow.

Split native ‘Forest Pansy’ redbud, Cercis canadensis ‘Forest Pansy’: it should probably be grown as a single trunk

You may be saying, wow she really should be growing native trees and shrubs, and she wouldn’t be having all these problems, but you would be wrong.  The winter of 2010-2011 is gearing up to exceed last year in snowfall with 50 inches already and more storms in the forecast.  During last week’s 18 inch storm, which included sleet, I lost a large specimen ‘Forest Pansy’ redbud, Cercis canadensis ‘Forest Pansy’ (photo above), an old flowering dogwood, Cornus florida, a red spruce, Picea rubens (photo below),  and a lot of my large white pine, Pinus strobus (photo below), all native plants.  Apple trees, a very old specimen weeping Japanese maple, Acer palmatum dissectum (photo above), and my Chinese wax shrub, Sinoclaycanthus chinensis, were also severely damaged.  Last night’s ice storm is only adding to the wreckage.

My red pine, Picea rubens, just snapped off

Branches rained down from my white pine, Pinus strobus: white pine is not a good tree for ornamental landscapes because it sheds its lower branches freely, damaging the understory plants

Once I would have mourned the loss of my prize plants.  Now I choose to be more philosophical, learn the lessons inherent in the process (which I have tried to pass on above), and look forward to what new miracles my perennials will present to me this spring—my jack-in-the-pulpits have already risen from the dead.  The glass will be determinedly half full.  As my good friend Kim remarked when I told her about the specimen redbud’s demise: “Think of the opportunities it has opened up for you in the garden!”  I don’t think I can go that far.  I intend to plant another redbud in the exact same spot.

Please tell me in a comment/reply what lessons you have learned from snowy winters.

Carolyn

Notes: Every word that appears in orange on my blog is a link that you can click for more information.  If you want to return to my blog’s homepage to access the sidebar information (catalogues, previous articles, etc.), just click here.

Nursery Happenings: I am currently accepting orders for snowdrops, including  mail orders.  For the catalogue and order information, click here.  I am also taking reservations for Charles Cresson’s Snowdrops and Other Winter Interest Plants Seminar.  For the brochure and registration information, click here.

%d bloggers like this: