January 27, 2011

A story about Peter Rabbit

Well, actually, this is a story about my reactions to Peter Rabbit—and thousands of his relatives who shall remain nameless. Rabbits are definitely an issue in my garden. They have caused so much death and destruction (to plants, of course) that I no longer consider them the cute, cuddly critters of my childhood.

I refuse to trap them or kill them. (I’m not that industrious or that mean.) But I've tried everything under the sun to repel them from my plants, including:

  • Hot pepper spray (don’t worry; I don’t use this anymore);
  • Shavings of scented soap (nope, I don’t try this much anymore either);
  • Human hair (yuck, this does seem to work, but it’s gross);
  • Used cat litter (again, this is disgusting); and
  • A list of many more organic, unharmful repellents that is too long to list here.

When it comes right down to it, none of these remedies works for very long because they either decompose quickly, wash away with the rain, or they're just too stinky and disgusting to continue for very long.

So, a few years back I realized the only humane and safe way to deal with rabbits was to erect strong chicken-wire fences with foundations deep under the soil. But who wants chicken wire around all the garden plants?

The best solution is to choose plants that rabbits don’t like, including:







Take that, Peter Rabbit and friends!

(The funny thing is, rabbits were visiting my front porch earlier today making their presence known…)

For more ideas on how to find great plants, visit Appalachian Feet.

January 23, 2011

Wild places and cultivated spaces

Most gardens include a mix of natives, non-natives, and annuals. When we first moved to this lot, more of it was cultivated and tended. By choice and chance, it has evolved into three distinct areas with unique blends of plants.

Area 1, surrounding the house, includes a mix of garden annuals, perennials, vegetables, and shrubs and trees. This is the neatest and most cultivated area of the garden.

Area 2, the middle of the lot behind the house, includes a mix of native and introduced perennials, shrubs, and trees. We don’t plant annuals here, and we clear away native weeds and non-native invasive plants.

Area 3, at the back of the lot, is now a native Oak forest. We don’t tend it or cultivate it, except to clear a path and destroy non-native invasives, including Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata) and Wild Parsnip (Pastinaca sativa).

The Chicago Botanic Garden's invasive plant policy lists these definitions:

  • Native (indigenous)—a species that was present in North America prior to European settlement or has arrived since, through natural means of dispersal.
  • Non-native (exotic, alien, introduced)—a species that was brought to North America by humans, either deliberately or accidentally.
  • Naturalized—a non-native species, or native species from another region of the country, that has become established in disturbed areas and/or native communities.
  • Weedy—a species that readily spreads, especially in disturbed areas, but generally does not pose a threat to the integrity of native plant communities.
  • Invasive—a species, usually non-native, that is able to establish itself within existing native plant communities and is posing a threat to the integrity of the community.

I’m finding my comfort zone with a mix of natives, annuals, and introduced plants. The Chicago Botanic Garden notes that nearly one-third of its 385 acres is devoted to native habitat areas. I figure a similar percentage on this little quarter-acre lot seems like a reasonable goal.

January 19, 2011

Nearly wordless Wednesday: laughing trees

In advance of the snowstorm...

Pachysandra seems to beg for a winter blanket of fresh snow.

A partially consumed apple offers more evidence of animal life.

Scallions -- still green -- poke through the crystalline crust.

During the snowstorm...

Huge, puffy snowflakes blanket bushes and trees.

Oak trees seem to laugh and toss snowballs back and forth.

Staghorn Sumac gets a new winter cap!

January 14, 2011

Gardeners are naturally persistent people

Gardeners have to be persistent. Without this quality, we’d have gardens full of weeds and tangled, wild messes of disparate plants. Let’s face it, we’ve all had successes and failures. And often the successes came after months and years of trial and error.

I’m coming clean and admitting these are plants with which I’ve had mixed or limited success. But I’m convinced I can continue growing them if I can just find the right spots. In no particular order:

Delphinium (Delphinium L). These beauties graced my garden for many years. Several gardening friends have told me they can’t seem to grow Delphiniums, so I’m grateful for the years I've been able to enjoy them. Last year, they died off. I don’t know if it was the previous hot summer, just their time to go, or some other reason. But Delphiniums are regal beauties, and I will try to re-establish them this summer.

Foxglove (Digitalis)I’ve pictured Foxglove in my garden for many years—growing stately and tall among the Pachysandra and Ferns. I’ve tried to establish it twice—three years ago, when it never really got going, and last season, when it seemed to take hold. Hopefully this elegant biennial will re-emerge and bloom this year.

Calla Lily (Zantedeschia aethiopica). I refuse to give up on this plant! Zantedeschia can overwinter in zones 7 to 10, so in zone 5 we have to either dig up the tubers, bring the plants inside, or discard them. In my shady garden, the plant didn’t bloom much. My friend, Rick, suggested planting Calla Lilies in a sunny, damp location like its natural habitat. I’m planning to plant Zantedeschia in pots on the west side of my house—the only sunny location I have. Calla Lilies are elegant focal points for floral arrangements.

Rhubarb (Rheum rhabarbarum). There’s nothing like fresh Rhubarb crisp on a breezy evening in early summer. Rhubarb thrived in my previous sunny/part shade garden at another location. But I haven’t found a good spot for it here. The deep shade areas are all wrong for Rhubarb, and the hot afternoon sun on the west side of the house seemed to burn it out. I have a dappled sunlit spot in mind for it this year.

Toad Lily (Tricyrtis hirta). My friend, Lee, gave me a couple of Toad Lily plants several years ago. They survived and bloomed reliably for about three years and then didn’t come back. I’m thinking maybe they were crowded out by the Lamium and Ferns. I don’t have a spot in mind for them, but I’m determined to grow Toad Lilies successfully again. They bloom in late summer and early fall, when few other plants do.

Poppy (Eschscholzia californica Cham.). Poppies are so cheery. Let’s face it: My garden is the wrong place for these sun-lovers. But maybe I can find just a wee spot with bright sunlight where they’ll thrive—in a pot or along a sunny border.

Astilbe (Astilbe japonica). This is another plant that grew almost like a weed in my previous sunny garden. Several were growing in this garden when we moved here—in a dappled sunlit area. So maybe I’ll try growing Astilbe there again. The feathery spikes add a dynamic line element to summer bouquets.

Persistence often pays off in the garden. When I’ve found success with various plants after multiple attempts, the rewards have been well worth every bit of toil and frustration. But I’ll save the successes for a future post…

January 08, 2011

Fertile fronds

I braved the elements today and snapped a few shots of Fiddlehead Fern fertile fronds. (That’s a tongue-twister!)

They look prehistoric, and I guess they are. Various sources list Fiddleheads as flourishing on earth 300 million years ago.

The fertile fronds look a little messy, but they’re interesting. So I leave them standing through the winter and usually clip them in the spring. They hold spores, which can be propagated for new plants. But I have enough ferns and don’t want them to spread, so I compost them in the woods.

Here are two excellent, very detailed articles about Fiddlehead Ferns:

January 04, 2011

Plant of the month: Fiddlehead Fern

It’s time for me to take a little break from the snowy pictures. This month’s plant, however, does boast winter interest. But this photo shows what it looks like in early May in my garden.

The Fiddlehead Fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris), also commonly called Ostrich Fern, is native to most of Canada and the Midwest, Mid-Atlantic, and Northeast U.S.

An aside: I’m back to work after a full week of vacation during the holidays. I mention this because, unfortunately, it’s still dark when I leave for work and the sun sets shortly after I get home. So, I haven’t had much time to snap photos the past couple of days. I’m planning to check out the Fiddleheads this weekend.

If you think I’m joking (considering it’s January in Wisconsin), I’m not. Fiddlehead Ferns are noteworthy in all four seasons:

  • Spring: The curled, emerging “fiddleheads” are fascinating to see. In their coiled state, they can be used for decoration or floral arrangements. They’re even edible. I don’t recommend eating them because I’ve never been brave enough to try them. But the Forager Press offers several ideas for preparing Fiddleheads for consumption.
  • Summer: Fiddlehead Ferns grow to about two to eight feet tall in summer. They're so easy to maintain in a shady Midwestern garden. In fact, I find I have to pull a few each year to make sure they don’t spread too much. I love the fact that they’re natives. And they form a tall, feathery frame at the back of perennial beds and along garden borders.
  • Fall: This is probably the messiest season for Fiddleheads. The “sterile” pluming fronds die back, and I usually trim them a bit before the first snowfall. The shorter “fertile” fronds turn brown and remain upright as the larger fronds collapse and begin to decompose.
  • Winter: The ferns’ cinnamon-colored fertile fronds retain winter interest as long as the snow doesn’t get too deep and bury them. Since we’ve had a bit of a January thaw, I can see the spore-producing fertile fronds out my back window during the day.

Fiddleheads are just one of thousands of varieties of Ferns. The Hardy Fern Foundation has a nifty web page full of tips for selecting the best Ferns for your garden. Ferns are excellent framing plants—usually not the focal point, but excellent foundation plants at the back of the garden.