Wednesday, November 30, 2016


We all have moments when we feel like the darker parts of our subconscious seep out to infiltrate our reality, even if just for a moment. It might happen a bit more often than I'd like, but I normally just brush it off and blame it on my over-active imagination and some combination of stress, exhaustion, and coincidence... but this past weekend was a bit exceptional.

I've been pretty desperate the past few weekends (and by "few" I mean since April) trying to get everything prepped and planted before the ground freezes... So I found myself the night after thanksgiving hacking away at the remains of a gravel road with an uncomfortably large number of winter moths fluttering past my head lamp, moving in and out of the cold fog that kept me from seeing much past the end of my pickaxe. Add this to the occasional muffled sound of howling coyotes, faint church bells, and the distant whirring of a passing train and I think any sane person would begin to question if they had wandered into a dream, or at the very least lost their grip on reality...

Getting to my point (I do have them occasionally) this odd out of body experience made me reflect on (not only my own sanity) but if the thing I was doing was really necessary at all. Given that nearly every bit of my free time has been consumed by my pursuit to "finish" the gardens I've started nearly 5 years ago I've been doing my best to try to be more efficient, or at the very least making sure the gardens don't consume me entirely. So while taking a pickaxe to the edge of a road may not have fallen under the category of completely necessary, with the complete lack of soil in certain areas and extreme compaction in others, I don't feel I was (completely) crazy for tearing it all up. BUT the reality is there are more than a handful of plants that are well equipped to deal with barely there heavily compacted "soils" that are a byproduct of current construction practices (a byproduct that at some point nearly every gardener has had to deal with). So if you would rather not rip up a road or that horrible corner of your yard where nothing will grow, consider these amazingly resilient plants that seem to bask in the compacted, clay-ey, gravel-ey poor excuse for soil that is an unfortunate and often overlooked cost of modern living.

Juncus tenuis - Poverty Rush or Path Rush
Zones 3-9
Find any old road in the northeast and this little guy is probably close by. An awkward little fella, but cute and mostly evergreen. Always a few darker shades green than the plants around it. I'm going to attempt to use it as a ground cover on the remainder of the old road I was hacking to pieces. Hopefully it works out.
Purchase from: (RETAIL) - Agrecol, Everwilde Farms, Ion Exchange, Niche Gardens, Morning Sky Greenery, Toadshade Wildflower Farm, Prairie Moon (WHOLESALE) - Northcreek Nursery, Midwest Groundcovers, New Moon Nursery

Ruellia humilis - Wild Petunia
Zones 4-8
By all accounts tough as nails and indifferent to soil. Planted a few during our drought this summer. Barely watered it. Didn't skip a beat. So far hasn't been browsed.
Purchase from: (RETAIL) - American Meadows, Agrecol, Butterfly Gardens to Go, Everwilde Farms, Heritage Flower Farm, High Country Gardens, Ion Exchange, J.L. Hudson, Seedman's, Lazy S'S Farm Nursery, Morning Sky Greenery, Prairie Nursery, Rare Find Nursery, Sunshine Farms and Gardens, Toadshade Wildflower Farm, Wildflower Farm (WHOLESALE) - Midwest Groundcovers, Northcreek Nurseries, New Moon Nurseries, Van Berkum Nursery

Symphyotrichum cordifolium - Blue Wood Aster
Zones 3-8
Other than being deer candy I have no complaints about this one. Its powder blue flowers are best appreciated in mass (and a great re-seeder so if you leave it to its own devices you'll have plenty in time). All sources list it as browse resistant, the local deer population says otherwise. Closely related a similarly adaptable species include S. drummondii S. ciliolatum, S. shortii, S. sagittifolium, and S. oolentangiense.
Purchase from: (RETAIL) - Amanda's Native Plants, Prairie Nursery, Prairie Moon Nursery (WHOLESALE) - Northcreek Nursery, New Moon Nursery, Van Berkum Nursery

Symphyotrichum novae-angliae - New England Aster
Zones 3-8
Always a bit obsessed with any species that seem to have a ridiculous (and seemingly pointless) level of diversity. All the populations I've come across have purples, light pinks, magentas, and everything in between. Its height is dependent on soil fertility. Gets a bit over rambunctious and floppy in overly rich ones.
Purchase from: (RETAIL) - Agrecol, Amanda's Garden, American Meadows, Everwilde Farms, Grimm's Gardens, High Country Gardens, Ion Exchange, Morning Sky Greenery, Prairie Nursery, Prairie Moon Nursery, Toadshade Wildflower Farm (WHOLESALE) - Midwest Groundcovers, New Moon Nursery, North Creek Nursery

Symphyotrichum pilosum - Frost Aster
Zones 3-8
I know this plant from my bike rides to work, growing happily in what looks like concrete alongside the railroad tracks. This plant will look like crap if you give it good soil, crappy soils of low fertility produce the best plants. Mainly white, but have come across light pink variants as well.
Purchase from: (RETAIL) - Agrecol, Ion Exchange, Prairie Moon Nursery, Plant Delights Nursery, Prairie Nursery, Toadshade Wildflower Farm (WHOLESALE) - New Moon Nursery

Scutellaria incana - Hoary or Downy Skullcap
Zones 4 (although I've seen a few 3 and 5)-9 (a few 8s too)
I'm a sucker for blue, and if it wasn't for the deer I would have given this guy a try. I've seen what they've done to deer resistant plants, can only imagine what they'd do to a plant without the resistance. Supposedly a fan of clays so extra bummer for me.
Purchase from: (RETAIL) - Easy Wildflowers, Everwilde Farms, Gardens in the Wood of Grassy Creek, Lazy S'S
Farm Nursery
, Niche Gardens, Odyssey Perennials, Prairie Moon Nursery (WHOLESALE) - Forrest Keeling, Northcreek Nursery, New Moon Nursery

IMAGE SOURCES: J. tenuis (LEFT, RIGHT); R. humilis; S. incana (LEFT, RIGHT)

Monday, October 31, 2016


The pseudo-branches of T. radicans in full fall splendor using adjacent trees as a scaffold.

So with the unavoidable ascendancy of the evil pumpkin king (aka the Trump) and the coming nuclear Trump-ocolypse® I thought I'd pay homage to one of the plants that will surely thrive after the nuclear holocaust and eventually usurp the great Trumpkin on its path to world domination. Toxicodendron radicans aka Poison Ivy aka our future plant overlord aka the current bane of my existence is quite ubiquitous 'round my neck of the woods (literally... its f***ing everywhere in the woods) and like many gardeners in the northeast I have gone to battle many times with this plant and always come back the loser.

Despite the ongoing war, my respect for this wondrous creature remains constant. It is the only plant I know of that can be found in both highly disturbed successionary as well as pristine climax plant communities (and everything in between). Sun, shade, dry, wet, vertical, horizontal; this plant's fine tuned genetics give it a level of phenotypic plasticity that is unparalleled in the plant world (or at least in the northeast anyway). It's an outlier in habitat succession & evolution in its ability to persist in whatever conditions it finds itself in, and simply adapts in place. Add this steel like constitution with the ability to cause one of the most uncomfortable and nasty looking allergic reactions around (and potentially disfiguring/life threatening if the reaction is severe enough) and you start to think that its super villain name-sake is actually no match for the actual plant... suck it Uma. So to go along with this super toxic, super adaptable plant I give you few other resolute toxic beauties east of the rockies that are a bit more people friendly (unless you eat them... but now you know better... so don't). Anyway if you like to live dangerously and more traditional plants just aren't cutting it, give one of these guys a try.

Aconitum uncinatum - Climbing Monkshood, Southern Blue Monkshood
Zones 5-8
The lore surrounding this genus's use as a potent poison dates back to about as long as people have had written language. As toxic as it is beautiful, A. uncinatum is no exception and one of the best garden subjects of the handful of species that call North America home. At its best when it has a few sturdy neighbors to ramble through and shade it during the hottest times of the day and like every other member of the genus not a fan of drought (or even moderately dry soil for that matter).
Purchase from: Enchanter's Garden, Far Reaches Farm

Eupatorium rugosum syn. Ageratina altissima - White Snakeroot
Zones 4-9
Despite my darndest attempt to stay strong, I've given in to temptation and left this plant in the garden which I'm sure I will more than regret as I pull up hundreds upon hundreds of seedlings that will inevitably pop up on every square inch of bare soil within shooting distance. Aggressive self seeders to say the least and also as far as I can tell, super toxic. One of the few plants that I have never seen get even a nibble. The cause of milk sickness, which was attributed to thousands of deaths of early European settlers in the east until someone had the foresight to ask the people who had lived here for thousands upon thousands of years prior. We thanked them by stealing their land and forgetting the name of the Shawnee woman who may have prevented thousands more from being poisoned.
Purchase from: Morning Sky Greenery, Prairie Moon Nursery, American Meadows, White Flower Farm, Niche Gardens, Forest Farm, Lazy S'S Farm, New Garden Plants, Secret Garden Growers

Euphorbia corollata - Flowering Spurge
Zones 3-9
I do my best to try to look at my clay soils as an asset, and while I do a pretty good job most of the time this is one of the plants that sends me a bit off course. But, if you are blessed with sterile freely draining soil you owe it to yourself to grow this plant. It shares the milky irritating latex typical of the genus that oozes from any part of the plant if cut, torn, or otherwise munched on. Unlike the other members its the actual petals rather than bracts that are the showy part of the inflorescence. Spectacular fall color, perhaps one of the best of any native herbaceous perennial in our flora.
Purchase from: Prairie Moon, Avant Gardens, Everwilde Farms, Heritage Flower Farm, Lazy S'S Farm, Niche Gardens, Plant Delights, Midwest Groundcovers, Ion Exchange, Rare Find Nursery, Agrecol

Oxytropis lambertii - Purple Locoweed
Zones 3-8
So named for the behavioral effect it has on livestock after it causes irreversible neurological damage once consumed. However the active toxin (swainsonine) is only produced in association with a symbiotic fungus. Ranchers once offered bounties for this plant and its relatives in the range lands of the west, but so long as cattle aren't an issue, and you have a dry sunny bit of land to keep this guy happy, a very worthy long lived garden subject.
Purchase from: Everwilde Farms, Prairie Moon

Toxicodendron radicans - Poison Ivy
Zones 4-10
See overly elaborate description at the top of the page.
Purchase from: WHY?!!!

Veratrum viride - Green False Hellebore
Zones 3-8
It and its brother from another mother (Symplocarpus foetidus) are quite the pair. Both emerge early and herald the triumphant return of spring with lush bold foliage that gives northeastern forests a tropical, almost primordial feel early in the season. The only problem with springing to life when there's not much other green around is your an easy target so V. viride employs a toxic alkaloid that makes it a little less appealing to voracious winter starved herbivores.
Purchase from: Could only find one western source :/ Far Reaches Farm

IMAGE SOURCES: A. uncinatum (LEFT, RIGHT); E. corollata (LEFT, RIGHT, BOTTOM); O. lambertii (LEFT, RIGHT); V. viride (LEFT, RIGHT)

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)