October 30, 2010

Plant of the month: Lamium

My goal with this blog is to highlight one or two plants per month, and to add at least one blog entry per week.

I’m starting with a plant I can’t kill. Not that I’m trying or anything. It’s just that Lamium (L. maculatum and L. album), or dead nettle, is such an easy-care ground cover and it seems to thrive nine months out of the year. I’m not even sure it goes dormant during the winter. I’ve seen it growing under the snow. And right now, at the end of October here in zone 5, the Lamium is still green and growing while other plants have definitely started their winter naps.

Lamium can be invasive, but it’s one of those ground covers that is pretty easy to control with just a little effort. You might have to uproot it when it starts to spread a bit, but it lifts easily from the soil.

Lamium is an excellent ground cover for an area of transition from sun to shade. In my garden, it’s growing in a spot that’s hard to mow—along the sides of a path from my patio out to the larger part of the yard.

The genus Lamium contains approximately 50 species, according to the Chicago Botanic Garden. I have two or three growing in my garden; they make a nice tapestry with their variegated leaves and purple, pink, and white flowers. They tend to bloom from early spring to first frost.

In the fall, I leave a light blanket of Oak leaves as winter mulch for the Lamium. In springtime, it’s one of the first plants to bloom after snowmelt. I simply rake off the leaves and marvel at the colorful show.

October 27, 2010

My plants' habitat

A few thoughts about the garden I'm currently nurturing. We're located in Zone 5a, according to the USDA Hardiness Zone Map. Our habitat, though, seems firmly planted in Zone 5. We're a few blocks east of Lake Waubesa and at the foot of a glacial drumlin--both of which temper the climate a bit.

The lot is pie-shaped--about 1/4 acre, lined in the back by a small Oak forest. The Oak trees provide shade in summer, and because they lose their leaves, they allow the southern sun to warm the house in winter. Here's a view of the backyard in early summer:

As you can see, most of the lot is shady during the growing season, which limits the types of plants that will grow here. But I've been amazed at the variety of shade-loving plants that thrive in this spot. I've even been able to cheat a little in spots with dappled sunlight--nurturing plants that generally grow better in the sun. I have a very small sunny garden on the west side of the house. That's where I grow vegetables and a few sun-loving perennials. It's kind of overgrown in this picture, but you get the idea:

I inherited this beautiful oasis. Most of the perennials were planted by the previous owners, although I've added a few here and there. And I hope my tending has helped to at least maintain it. Every year this place looks different. Plants come and go. The dominance of ground covers and volunteer plants shifts. It's actually a pretty magical place.

October 25, 2010

All things botanical

I love plants. Scratch that. I'm fascinated by plants--by their rich variety of colors, forms, growth patterns...you name it. I procrastinated starting a blog because I figured there are so many more talented writers, photographers, and gardeners than myself. Then I read the initial post from this blog: ivebeenreadinglately.

I decided to take the plunge. My credentials: not impressive. In my spare time, I'm simply a backyard gardener with a membership in the local botanical society. I never tire of studying and nurturing plants.

I'm particularly fascinated by perennials that survive and thrive in northern climates. How do they do that? How do they suffer the brutal, 30-below temperatures under piles of snow, and then greet us in springtime with their cheerful, colorful nods...as if to say, "Happy to see you again! Welcome back to gardening season!"

Welcome to my blog! I look forward to sharing our mutual enthusiasm for the botanical wonders all around us.