Everyday Gardeners

Plant. Grow. Live.

November 2009

Photography for garden stories often needs to take place a year in advance of publication. That’s different than with many other categories, where 6 months (often much less) is a more typical lead time. With gardens, however, if I decide, “Hey, I want to produce a story on fall foliage this October,”  and it’s, say, April, that creates a problem! (I know what you’re thinking, and no, we don’t travel to the Southern Hemisphere to shoot stories.)

So, even though I’m currently writing and editing early 2010 BHG stories, we are also trying to  produce stories that may appear in print this time, next year. Because if we miss our shooting window, we’re up the proverbial creek. Some things, like a fall landscape, simply cannot be recreated.

That’s why I was doing this a couple of weeks ago, out in our test garden.  I was carving a gourd to be photographed for a possible story and cover next year. It was cold and blustery that day, and the photographer and designer were shivering, waiting for me to finish. So there’s your insider’s look at a BHG garden photo shoot. Glamorous, isn’t it?

Master carver at work

Master carver at work

I knew when I bought my Arts & Crafts bungalow in a turn-of-the-previous-century neighborhood that I was inheriting stewardship of a handful of the most majestic of forest trees. What I did not anticipate was the total inundation of the property with their progeny. We’re talking acorns here, and lots of them. My property has been showered with a bumper crop of White and Bur Oak acorns. Not only do these seeds smart when they bean you on the head, they also leave behind their calling cards as annoying little dings on the cars parked in the driveway.

Eager to learn more about the differences between the White and the Bur Oak, I turned to Our Native Trees

(copyright 1900) by Harriet L. Keeler. Here she is on the acorns themselves: “The acorn is the only seed I can think of which is left by nature to take care of itself. It matures without protection, falls heavily and helplessly to the ground to be eaten and trodden on by animals, yet the few which escape and those which are trodden under are well able to compete in the race for life. While the elm and maple seeds are drying up on the surface, the hickories and walnuts waiting to be cracked, the acorn is at work with its coat off.” Don’t you love that?

Turns out the oak in my front yard is a White Oak. “Although called the White Oak it is very unusual to find an individual with an absolutely white bark, the usual color is an ashen gray,” writes Keeler. “All in all, this is the most valuable as well as the most stately and beautiful of our oaks. In the forest it reaches a magnificent height, in the open it develops into a massive broad-topped tree with great limbs striking out at wide angles and carrying the idea of rugged strength to the very tips of their branches.”

And only one of the oaks in my backyard is a Bur Oak, the Iowa State Tree. “Three marked characteristics distinguish the Bur Oak,” explains Keeler. “Its leaves have a peculiar though variable outline which is unmistakable, rarely if ever are two alike, yet all bear so marked a resemblance that there is no difficulty in distinguishing them….In the spring they are yellow green as they burst from the bud and do not like so many others take on a stain of red….[and] the acorns are peculiar, but the cup is the most noticeable thing about them. The scales are so large and free that they make the cup look mossy. The rim is beautifully fringed.”

Tell us about the trees in your yard.

Samba amaryllis

Now that we’re well into November, I guess I have to face the fact that the holidays are coming. (There’s a part of me that really doesn’t want to think about Christmas until December starts.)

But amaryllis help me overcome my curmudgeon instincts. I delight in their ease of growth and rich colors.

Happily, there are more amaryllis than ever on the market — from the traditional reds and whites to pinks, oranges, and multicolors.

To show off the wide world of amaryllis, I’ve put up a slideshow here on BHG.com displaying 23 different varieties and links to be able to purchase many of them right now so you can enjoy their beautiful blooms at your holiday gatherings.

If you take a look, I’d love to hear which your favorites are! (My top two are ‘Benfica’, slide 6, and ‘Santos’, slide 17.)

Brandywine viburnum (Viburnum nudum 'Bulk') has glossy red leaves in autumn.

Brandywine viburnum (Viburnum nudum 'Bulk') has glossy red leaves in autumn.

Viburnums truly are plants for all seasons. I’ve added half a dozen different kinds to my yard because I love their pink or white flowers in the spring, their pink, red, blue, or black berries summer through early winter, and outstanding fall color. Brandywine viburnum, pictured above is a type of possumhaw viburnum (I love that common name!). Those with more refined tastes may refer to it by its alternate common name, smooth witherod. This particular variety is known for its spectacular display of pink and blue berries. Mine is only in its second year, so hasn’t bloomed and fruited yet, but the fall color this year has been gorgeous. I’m hoping that by next year it will have some of its fragrant white flower clusters, and produce some berries. But I’d grow it for the fall color alone.

American highbush cranberry viburnum (Viburnum trilobum)

American highbush cranberry viburnum (Viburnum trilobum)

The American highbush cranberry viburnum (left) has white flowers in spring and red cranberry-like fruits from mid-summer into winter. Berries are tart, but edible, similar to its namesake fruit. Unless you’re a lover of pucker-producing fruits, it’s not likely to become your favorite, but the flavor is acceptable. Birds usually leave the berries alone until the fruits have frozen a few times. I’ve been told that winged wildlife like them best fermented on the shrub. This time of year, the rich red, three-lobed leaves set off the ripe fruits nicely.

Compact Korean spice viburnum (Viburnum carlesii 'Compactum')

Compact Korean spice viburnum (Viburnum carlesii 'Compactum')

Another viburnum with great fall color is the compact Korean spice viburnum (right). It kicks off the spring season with extremely fragrant clusters of pinkish white blooms that develop into red fruits which ripen black. Fall color is bright red with touches of yellow and orange, creating a warm glow from within the center of the shrub.

The doublefile viburnum (below) is sometimes mistaken for dogwood in the springtime with its large white blooms on horizontal branches. The flowers develop into red berries that ripen black. This time of year, it puts on another display in fiery hues. Because its leaves are covered in fine hairs, it lacks the glossy showiness of the Korean spice or possumhaw viburnums, but it puts on a nice show nonetheless.

Doublefile viburnum (Viburnum plicatum tomentosum)

Doublefile viburnum (Viburnum plicatum tomentosum)

Other viburnums in my yard are less showy this time of year. Leaves of Blue Muffin arrowwood viburnum (Viburnum dentatum), for example, turn subdued yellowish brown. Others, such as the lantanaphyllum viburnum (Viburnum X rhytidophylloides) are semi-evergreen, keeping their green color until their leaves drop.

I’ll keep on the lookout for other viburnums to add to the landscape. Although there’s not a lot of space left, I’ll find a way to cram in a few more of these showy shrubs because they are so attractive in several seasons, are easy to grow, and virtually trouble-free.

IMGP1651aThis is the time of year when curbsides are “decorated” with brown paper bags filled with fallen leaves. They’re awaiting pick-up by the city, which will compost the lot and sell the rich, crumbly results a year or two from now.

That’s all fine and well, but anyone who does their own composting would be advised to hold a few of those bags in reserve. Dead leaves are the perfect complement to salad greens and other kitchen scraps when you’re making your own compost. So if you hold a few of those bags in reserve now, you’ll be able to “cut” the green material (high in nitrogen) with brown material (high in carbon) throughout the winter, spring, and summer, when dead leaves are less abundant. The balance between nitrogen- and carbon-rich materials speeds up decomposition.

Eric mentions the ease of mowing over your leaves because it puts the kibitz on raking. I do this myself, but I often bag the remains so I can topdress my garden beds. The shredded leaves are a GREAT winter mulch, protecting plants from frost-heaving. Come spring, you simply scratch the mulch aside, do your planting, and brush the mulch back in place. Voila! A soil-strengthening, weed-dampening, moisture-holding wonder mulch that costs you (drum roll, please) ZILCH!

Happy mulching!

IMG_7937A quick trip to St. Louis last weekend to check in with my parents reminded me of the late-season natural treasures of the Show-Me State with which I grew up. In order of appearance (during an afternoon hike last Sunday with my great friend Lisa and my good dogs Scout and Finch through the nearby neighboring suburban parkland known locally as Queeny Park) : gooey-sweet native persimmons, armloads of red-and-orange bittersweet, and as many chartreuse osage oranges as I could possibly tote home to my undownable Mother. Each of our discoveries were treasures particular to the state of Missouri at precisely this very point in time. Around the muddy bases of the dozen or so fruit-laden persimmon trees we found the eager tracks of deer and raccoon. The invasive bittersweet was nearly out-of-arm’s-reach as it was slowly and systematically strangling the upper reaches of the native oaks and hickories and black walnuts that dominated our walk. And the softball-sized brainlike osage oranges seemed to litter our path with their refreshingly fragrant and curious fruit that caused us to pause and inhale a particularly clean and heavenly scent specific to this season. I like to think of it as a Midwestern eucalyptus. I’m back home in Iowa now but the scent of osage oranges fills my home.

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