Roots, Rocks, and Clay: Part 2

Read Part 1 here.

 

I love flowers. Who doesn’t? I picked several species for the front garden.

I feel I should warn you ahead of the time: the garden is currently ugly. That’s just how it is sometimes, especially if you’re starting out with plugs in the fall. I’m all right with it because I know it will grow into something special and awesome. The beautiful photos of the flowers themselves are taken from other sites, and credited appropriately.

 

Golden Coneflower (Rudbeckia fulgida-sullivante):  It’s a black-eyed susan with glossy foliage! Golden Coneflower can support 16 species of moths and butterflies, is beloved by bees and other pollinators, and birds can eat the seeds. It’s a longtime bloomer, and it tolerates average soil and full sun to partial shade.

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Photo credit: Uwe H. Friese

Blazing Star (Liatris spicata): This tall, spiky purple flower is among my favorites. It can only support 4 species of moths and butterflies, but many other native pollinators love it. I love the structural contrast it provides in the garden, and the brilliant color of the petals. It loves the sun and can tolerate most soils.

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Photo credit: Hedwig Storch

Common Yarrow (Achillea millefolium): I like these flowers for their flat tops – yet another structural element for the summer garden (and fall since once the blooms fade, the seed heads remain in place!). The foliage is fern-like. It supports 21 species of moths and butterflies, and just wait until you see all the other pollinators it attracts! A variety of wasps, native bees, ants, and flies will hang out on its lacy white blooms.

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Photo credit: Isidre Blanc

Nodding Onion (Allium cernuum): This is a new plant to me. I thought it was pretty, and that was that. It supports 20 species of moths and butterflies, and it attracts hummingbirds! It’s also edible in small amounts.

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Photo credit: Mark Vanaugh

Bluestar (Amsonia tabernaemontana): I love the mounding beauty of this plant, even as it yellows for fall. The flowers are delicate and lovely, and though they attract only one type of moth (the Snowberry Clearwing (Hemaris diffiniis) also known as the Hummingbird Moth), I decided to use it for a tricky part of the garden where I thought the fall foliage would add some interest against the planted evergreens of bearberry and Christmas fern, and beside the red twigs and leaves of red-twig dogwood. While this plant prefers moist soil, it is easily adaptable to drier, average soil, and it doesn’t mind full sun or partial shade.

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Photo credit: Kurt Stuber

Pink Obedient Plant (Physostegia virginica): Beautiful plant named for the tendency of its blooms to stay in the position you move it to on its axis. While loved by hummingbirds and butterflies, I couldn’t find information on how many species of Lepidoptera it attracts. It doesn’t mind full sun or average soil.

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Photo credit: Raffi Kojian

I purchased plugs of all these plants from Earth Tones Native Nursery in Woodbury, CT. I can’t wait to show pictures of next year’s flowers!

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Roots, Rocks, and Clay: Part 1

Every Connecticut gardener knows that the above three words largely comprise CT soil. It’s a testament to the tenacity of humans that we can get anything to grow in this stuff.

However, the big claim to fame for native plants is that many of them have evolved in this climate and geography. The bonus to going native is that there is very little needed amending of the soil.

Always get your soil tested. It will give you a better sense of what kind of soil you’re planting in, and therefore better able to choose the right plants for the site.

For the front of our house, we have a dry, mostly clay soil. There are roots from the nonnative shrubs and pachysandra that lived there, but very few. I hit rocks sometimes as I dig in it, but nothing insurmountable.

I’ve gone with a mix of grasses, shrubs, and flowers. I started with an order from Earth Tones, a native plant nursery in Woodbury, CT.

This is the plan:

2 evergreen shrubs: I went with inkberry (Ilex glabra), because it benefits 39 species of moths and butterflies, honeybees love its blooms, and birds eat the berries. Inkberry can tolerate full sun and average soil. I will plant two females in hopes there is a male nearby. If no berries appear, I will plant the male in place of the morrow honeysuckles on the edge of the lawn.

Image credits: Large photo is from My Garden Life, berry photo from Natural Landscapes Nursery Hollies, and flower photo from Pinelands Nursery.

A mix of grasses: Indiangrass (Sorghastrum nutans) (benefits 9 species of moths and butterflies), Little Bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium) (benefits 6 species of moths and butterflies), Switch Grass (Panicum virgatum) (benefits 25 species of moths and butterflies), and Northern Dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepis) (benefits 0 species of moths and butterflies, unfortunately, but does provide food for birds) were my first picks. Indiangrass is very tall and gorgeous in the sunlight, so it goes to the back. When Little Bluestem is lined up, it has a sort of serried soldier look about it that is quite striking. Switch Grass has a lovely, fluffy and ethereal seedhead, and the shorter Northern Dropseed forms a green clump that provides further variety in the textures of the garden. All of these grasses provide seeds for birds and mammals.

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The seasons of Little Bluestem. Photos from North Creek Nurseries.

3 deciduous shrubs: The front of our house is long. So along the side of our garage, I planted 3 red-twig dogwoods (Swida sericea). With mulch in this drier area, it can withstand partial shade (this part of the house gets some shade from tall oaks across the driveway), and it can support 118 species of moth and butterfly. The white berries provide a late fall source of food for birds, and bees also enjoy the flowers. The fall color is gorgeous, and the twigs stay a brilliant red throughout the winter, which adds interest to what can often be a drab time of year.

Image credit: Berries and red twigs from Gardenia.net, flower photo from thismia.com

More evergreens: I’ll also plant Christmas ferns (Polystichum acrostichoides), and bearberry (also called kinnikinnick) (Arcostaphylos uva-ursae). I want this to spread below the red-twig dogwoods – red and green for the winter season.

The ferns: I love the tall plumes of ostrich fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris). Since the red-twig dogwood shrubs are still very small, I have the ostrich ferns to provide beauty in the summer. Bonus: ostrich fern fiddleheads are edible.

Image credit: Mature plumes from Spring Hill Nursery, unfurling plumes from Pinterest (I would love it if the photographer reached out!), and the little fiddleheads from U of Maine.

Part Two to this post will be on the specific flowers that were planted.

The Sunny Serviceberry

The Japanese maple was planted inside a circular raised bed. Removing it left this wonderfully charming space for new plants!

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Raised bed = fun!

I love the green moss. I hope that too much sun won’t end up drying it out, but I suppose we shall see when the summer returns.

The pachysandra had spread from other places, and was just beginning to colonize the bed.

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Got rid of the pachysandra first. Easy to pull up!

I was super excited to begin planting this bed. I thought some taller plants that were well-loved by birds and pollinators would make it a hit. It is easily seen from the family room of the house, so I have placed birdfeeders in the circle for now. Once the plants begin blooming next year, you will also see the color as you make it up the driveway.

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The Japanese maple stump is still there, but I’m planting around it.

I wanted something that could help to anchor the space, so I chose something potentially awesome. I went with Eastern serviceberry (Amelanchier canadensis), which is a shrubby sort of tree that won’t grow larger than 20 feet. It also benefits 124 species of moths and butterflies, which is what attracted me to it, along with beautiful spring blooms, edible fruits, and the promise of interesting fall foliage. It also tolerates clay soils, which is what the planting site possesses. Serviceberry likes full sun and partial shade, so if the towering oaks in the area block its light for a short part of the day at some point in the year, it won’t suffer.

These are some photos of mature serviceberry in different seasons:

Berry photo from seedman.com, spring flower photo from Horticopia, Inc, and autumn photo from Echter’s Garden and Nursery.

Here’s my picture of my little guy. He’s settling into fall after a long summer drought, so he’s not at his best, and he’s small, but he’ll grow quickly and I will take good care of him so he can be at his best.

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Serviceberry can sometimes have insect or rust problems, but I’ll watch for that. I’m usually okay with “insect problems,” because I’m all right with some holes in my leaves – that’s how I know my wildlife-friendly plan is working! Unless of course, it’s the damage of a nonnative insect, which can happen. I’ll be ready with neem oil if the damage should go too far, or if the culprit is nonnative.

I’ll continue documenting what plants are going in with the serviceberry. I get the feeling that some things I plant will get moved to other place, but I’m excited about the evolution of this round garden.

The Japanese Maple Takedown

The Japanese maple is not listed as an invasive in Connecticut. However, I have seen many garden escapees on walks, and I have spied it along the brush-and-tree border between my neighbors’ property and mine. My mentor, a Master Gardener who specializes in identifying and removing invasives, believes they have become invasive. I believe that they are poised to become invasive as climate change occurs.

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Japanese maple trying to hide behind a Tulip tree sapling. Notice there’s a second little one in the foreground.
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There are three additional Japanese maple saplings on the hill. None of these were purposely planted. The blush of pink the lower left is winged euonymous, another invasive.

Here’s that funny photo with me making faces again, where you only see part of the JM.

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The Japanese maple, while pretty, is escaping gardens, and also shading my house and creating the environment for mildew and rot.

Why should I, or you, care?

Simply, the Japanese maple does not support our native pollinators, bird life, nor does it feed any mammals, reptiles, or amphibians. When native plants are displaced by nonnatives who do not provide the necessary fuel for our ecosystem, we lose out on ecosystem services. We lose out on the heritage of native forests.

Japanese maples are beautiful. I won’t deny that. Yet, I think I can add interest and beauty to the garden without risking the ecosystem services I have come to cherish.

So, here are my victorious photos of the Japanese Maple Takedown:

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A good start.
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Now, it’s like a piece of art.
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Death to the Japanese maple!

They came back and cut the stump. The next thing that happened was I planted a sweet little serviceberry.

Here’s a link to further discussion on the potential for Japanese maples to invade:

Japanese maple found spreading in an understory of a park in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 2011.

The Clearing

“The secret to so many artists living so long is that every painting is a new adventure. So, you see, they’re always looking ahead to something new and exciting. The secret is not to look back.”
Norman Rockwell

Exciting news: a relative of ours gifted us with two days worth of work from their trusted landscaper of twenty years. Mario, a tireless worker and all around friendly guy, worked with two other men in his employ to remove YEARS of growth from the neglected, fenced in garden, and took out all of the pachysandra, several nonnative shrubs, and a bunch of invasive species – including the Japanese maple (Acer palmatum) and Bradford pear (Pyrus callarya).

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Before the work was done.

As much as I had intended to do most of the work myself, I cannot help but be incredibly grateful for this boon.

I don’t believe I’ve talked about the vegetable garden before. When we were in the process of purchasing the house, we were in the guestroom when we saw a painting of the backyard on the wall. The painting depicted the yellow shed from the backyard, but there was also a tall fence around planted vegetables. Thinking it odd, I went back outside, rounded the gigantic Rose of Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus), and discovered in the entanglement of bittersweet, garlic mustard, and young black walnut that there indeed was a parcel of the property enclosed by a deer fence. It turns out that the previous owner’s husband was the gardener, and he had passed away 8 years earlier. The growth moved in, and was ignored for almost a decade.

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And yes, though I am a crusader for native plants, I am also an enthusiastic vegetable gardener. I could not have been more thrilled to discover a “secret garden.”

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They begin clearing:

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The first step was to take down the Chinese privet.
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Taking down the Chinese privet.
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It’s ready for some cultivating!
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Completely cleared! Now for thinning tree tops in the winter to let light in.

It’s so barren now, but then, what we’re really looking at is POTENTIAL. This is another new and exciting adventure.

The front garden of the house was entirely pachysandra and boxwoods. The below is a funny photo of me making a face about the nonnative plantings of the front, but you can see the boxwoods, pachysandra, and winged euonymous growing, as well as the trunk of the Japanese maple. Every single one of those plants is now gone.

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Goodbye to all those plants.

I have a working plan to fill in the empty space with a mix of natives: evergreen shrubs, deciduous shrubs, grasses, ferns, and wildflowers. Yet another new and exciting adventure. But that’s a blog post for another day!