Friday, September 30, 2016


Recently rediscovered blueberry and asparagus in my garden

So I guess I should probably start with the fact that I never knew my grandfather. I'd like to think I got glimpses of him whenever I'd talk with my grandmother, or my mum, but truthfully I'd never spoken about him much with either. But despite this, even though I never knew him, I feel like he probably had just as much of an impact on my life (if not more) than anyone alive who I am close to.

I suppose I should back up just a bit. My parents were fortunate enough to inherit 2 properties from my grandparents, and it is on one of these where I do pretty much all of my gardening these days. Even now, after exploring the property for well over ten years, I still stumble across things my grandfather planted decades before. Granted there are the standard functional plants like blueberries, asparagus, pears, grapes, quince & apples, (a house isn't a home till it has at least a few good clumps of asparagus and blueberry bushes) along with your standard non-functional flowers (daffodils, anemone, forsythia, and lilacs). But even back long before "native" became part of the common lexicon he planted things like trillium and tamarack. I have no idea where he would have gotten these plants or how he would even have known to plant them but he seemed to have managed to do both.

So while I don't think I'm going to able to definitely prove there is a plant dork gene any time soon, if there is I'm pretty sure I know where mine came from. And so in honor of my grandfather, this month I give you 2 of his plants along with a 2 I'm pretty sure he would have been fans of if he had grown them. Functional (aka edible), beautiful, and underappreciated in the landscape. I think he would approve.

Asparagus officinalis - Asparagus
Zones (3)4-8
Maybe a bit hard to accomodate outside of the vegetable garden, but this classy vegetable is even classier plant. Delicate ferny foliage, adabtable, amazing fall color. Don't know why we don't use it more in the landscape. An alternative to some of the more ubiquitous ornamental grasses. Usually dioecious. Grown around the world. Many selections have been made... check it out.
Purchase from: Seed Savers Exchange, Johnny's Selected Seeds, Stark Bro's, Gurnery's, Jung Seed, Harvest Nursery, Oikos Tree Crops

Cydonia oblonga syn. Cydonia vulgaris - Quince
Zones 5-7(8)
This plant is probably as nostalgic as it gets for me (as it probably has been for generations of people as its been grown and cultivated for thousands of years). There was (and still is) a small quince hedgerow (courtesy of my grandfather) that bordered the property at my grandmothers place. I've always thought of them as the apple's richer cousin, showier in all aspects, but somehow still more refined. They develop a beautiful tortured character with time, with twisted muscular looking branches, and an irregular crown. And then of course there's the fruit, which is a whole thing in itself. Typically it needs to be cooked first before its eaten (fruit is typically very dense and hard), but there are selections that have been made that do have fruit that can be eaten right of the tree (including 'Aromatnaya,' 'Kuganskaya,' and 'Pineapple'). There is a closely related species, Pseudocydonia sinensis or Chinese Quince, that, while not as hardy (z6) has bark that can rival pretty much any ornamental available.
Purchase from: Forest Farm, Harvest Nursery, Jung Seed, Stark Bro's, Oikos Tree Crops

Passiflora incarnata - Maypop or Wild Passion Flower
Zones (5)6-9
The (or one of the, with maybe P. lutea coming in first) cold hardiest members of the genus. If there were ever an exotic looking plant this is it. An aggressive runner where it's hardy spreading in a similar manner to Hedge Bindweed (Calystegia sepium) but maybe with a little less wanderlust. This is one of those plants with fruit that is at its best when it looks its worse. Dull off-yellowish, slightly shriveled, and dimpled when ripe. Native to the mid-atlantic and south. Fruit with a similar structure to a pomegranate.
Purchase from: Prairie Moon, Almost Eden, Brushwood Nursery, Companion Plants, Everwilde Farms, Lazy S'S Farm, Logee's, Niche Gardens, Rare Exotic Seeds, Smart Seeds, Sunlight Gardens

Vaccinium macrocarpon - Cranberry
Zones 2-6(7)
When I say "cranberry" you say "bog." Cranberry!.. Bog!.., Cranberry!.. Bog!.. WRONG!!! You don't need a bog to grow this trailing ericaceous evergreen. Happy to adapt to average garden soils as long as they're not too droughty. An underused and undervalued plant in the industry.
Purchase from: Harvest Nursery, Seed Saver's Exchange, Stark Bro's, Jung Seed, Dancing Oaks Nursery, Gurney's, Forest Farm

IMAGE SOURCES: A. officinalis (LEFT, RIGHT), C. oblonga, (LEFT, RIGHT), P. incarnata, (LEFT, RIGHT), V. macrocarpon (LEFT, RIGHT)

Wednesday, August 31, 2016


Does anyone know of a way to purge 50% of your genetics, preferably from the side that may (and in all likelihood will) be voting for Trump come this fall? Seriously though, I'm worried my genes might be seriously defective. Like REALLY REALLY defective.

Anyway, until I can cut out every last strand of my paternal genetics I'm stuck in the realm of the attainable (dealing in reality really sucks sometimes). So while my dad may be, at least at the moment, a complete and utter disappointment and overall terrible human being, I believe the reasonable part of him that actually does listen to numbers, logic and substantiated, reasoned arguments will eventually come through for me... one can hope anyway. So to cut to the chase, my Dad does believes that global warming is an actual thing, and while using any one specific instance/season to support global warming is more than a bit silly, it certainly doesn't hurt my cause (my cause being getting him to vote for anyone but Trump) that we have had one of the worst summers on record.


Just to give some context, the general Boston area is AHS heat zone 4 with an average of between 14-30 days above 85 degrees/year. This summer (as of the 30th of August) after a very brief look, we've already had 43 days above 85 degrees, and we still have a few weeks left to go. Couple what is now the sixth hottest summer on record (as of August 25), with what is likely to be THE driest summer on record and you have a gardener's worst nightmare. The tiny bit of rain we got has been spread out in small little bursts where things get just wet enough into fooling you that the plants are actually getting water. Our local forests probably haven't seen rain since June (as most of the rain that fell never made it through the canopy. And while our native flora and fauna is resilient, all things have their limits and if we haven't passed those already for many species, I'm sure we're getting very very close to the point where they may not be able to recover.

While one exceptionally bad summer is by no means a predictor of summers to come, if this is any indication of what's ahead I've probably missed my window on growing many of my favorite plants that I've lusted after from the cool cold climes of the northern hemisphere. I've always thought of USDA zone 6/AHS heat zone 4 to be the unofficial southern limit of being able to successfully grow boreal species, and as those 2 delineations move gradually (or not so gradually) northward, so to does the region where these species can be grown well. Even if in an alternate universe I had somehow managed to obtain and grow some of these plants prior to this year, with the summer we just had, whatever wasn't done in by the drought would have succumbed to the heat, or vice versa. So to reach some sort of closure I thought I'd honor a few of these plants and try to come to terms with the fact that I may never get to grow them (at least in the Boston area). All 4 of these species have a (more or less) circumboreal distribution, so if you live in an area where these plants already grow and are looking to buy some, please select regionally sourced plants as you could be buying a plant that may be from genetic stock on the other side of the continent or another continent all together. Also, ideally I would have listed the heat zones for these plants as well, for it is excessive heat, rather than lack of extreme cold that will ultimately do these plants in. Unfortunately for me, AHS heat zones haven't become mainstream yet so are very rarely listed in the literature, and until this becomes standard make sure you do your research!

Cornus canadensis (recently changed to Chamaepericlymenum canadense) - Bunch Berry
Zones 2-6(7)
I grew up at the very southern end of this guys range (at least at lower altitudes) so I occasionally would happen across patches of this ground cover in the woods where conditions were just right. So like every plant that we associate with childhood (or at least the ones we don't have to eat) I'm particularly fond of this flowering dogwood relative and have always wanted to have a nice big patch of it someday for my very own... and I suppose I still can, just not where I live currently :-/ Its foliage flushes with beautiful burgundy tones in the fall. This, coupled with it's red berries make for quite a show. Apparently, when its happy, it can spread aggressively.
Purchase from: Far Reaches Farm, Forest Farm, Heritage Flower Farm, Lazy S'S Farm, Perennial Farm Marketplace, Prides Corner

Epilobium angustifolium (recently changed to Chamerion angustifolium) - Fireweed or Willowherb
Zones 2-6(7)
If you think cold and big exuberant plants are mutually exclusive think again. In it's native range this plant is a pioneering colonizer that is one of the first to take hold after a major disturbance event, like a fire for instance (hence the fire in fireweed). It's enemies are shade and competition, but in lieu of these it will otherwise spread and seed around rather aggressively when happy. Pictures of the white form still give me goosebumps.
Purchase from: American Meadows, Annie's Annuals, Everwilde Farms, Forest Farm, J. L. Hudson, Morning Sky Greenery, Prairie Nursery, Prairie Moon, Smart Seeds, Terroir Seeds

Linnaea borealis - Twinflower
Zones 2-6
What this diminutive little evergreen creeper lacks in height it more than makes up for with its elfin beauty. All the pictures I've seen make me drool. Have yet to see it in the wild.
Purchase from: Far Reaches Farm, Fraser's Thimble Farms, Tripple Brook Farm

Vaccinium vitis-idaea - Mountain Cranberry or Lingonberry
Zones 3-6(8)
If a blueberry and cranberry got frisky pretty sure the baby would look something like this species. I've only seen the native form of this evergreen (V. vitis-idaea var. minus) in New England growing in alpine and sub-alpine environments as a diminutive prostrate creeper. European forms seem to be much more robust and shrubby as well as more heat tolerant. Edible (have had a berry or 2 myself... not bad). The european form is widely available, so I only included links to our "native" north american form, (V. vitis-idaea var. minus).
Purchase from: Bay State Perennials, Bovees Nursery, Gossler Farms, Youngblood Nursery

IMAGE SOURCES: Trump Thought Diagram, C. canadense, C. angustifolium (LEFT, RIGHT), L. borealis, V. vitis-idea

Sunday, July 31, 2016


"I'm a lot more drunk than I think I am." 

These insightful words were courtesy of a distinguished young lady outside the garden center where I take my lunch breaks. I wish I could say it was later in the day, but this was a little before noon and and she had just purchased [more] alcohol and was sidewalk drinking with a friend. Thanks to upstanding young people like this woman, along with the booze soaked culture of the many lofty academic institutions that litter the area, the garden center that is my daily treat to myself (Pemberton Farms) will be losing 90% of their real estate to... I'm sure you might be able to guess at this point... alcohol sales. So to all you wonderful speech slurring, vomit covered, barely able to walk students and Cambridge hipsters out there, I'd like to say F#######@K you. Thanks for taking away one of the few pleasures I have during my work day. 

Anyway getting back to the plant portion of this rant, while I would like to put all the blame squarely on the drunken populus, the reality is I have to accept some too. As a self-proclaimed plant geek, I should have done my horticultural duty (aka a lot less lunch strolling and bit more actual buying of plants). It is my failure to do so that has contributed to this sad state of affairs. After all, the main reason the plant section is being reduced is they simply aren't selling enough product. My point being when we, as discriminating plant dorks, find businesses we like, we need to make an effort to support them cause as soon as you take them for granted, poof! they're gone.

I've admired way too many great businesses from afar (Seneca Hill Perennials, Shooting Star Nursery, Munchkin Nursery, etc.) only to find they've closed when I finally go to purchase something. Ultimately the people who own and operate these businesses do it cause they love it, but unfortunately love doesn't pay the bills. Do your part to make sure they can keep selling the amazing plants we love and buy some stuff already!!!

So before my little refuge is reduced to a few tables of sad 6 pack petunias and marigolds I thought I'd take a break from highlighting plants and celebrate a few retail mail order businesses I've come across in the last few years that have really blown me away, whether it be breadth and variety, quality of plant, or just plain old good service. CHECK THESE PLACES OUT!!!!