Did you know that the word “dog” in “dogwood” has no connection with dogs? Historically, the dogwood was found to be particularly useful in making tools because of its hardwood properties. “Dog” comes from the word “dag” which referred to a sharp tool, e.g. dagger. The Latin name for dogwood is Cornus, taken from the root word meaning horn.
The dogwood is a four season shrub and the red twig dogwood is chosen in particular for its bright red bark color, easily seen in the winter. The red twig dogwood is a broadleaf, deciduous, flowering shrub that bears white berries once the flowers pass.
Red twig dogwood is appreciated when planted en masse or as a transition woodland shrub in a wet area. They do best in full sun but will tolerate partial shade. The widely spreading root system of these shrubs make them an effective plant choice for erosion control.
The color of the branches tend to fade as the shrub ages and so pruning is the best way to keep the shrub a vibrant red. Prune up to a third of the oldest branches on the dogwood annually, it is best to prune in late winter however I have pruned in early winter and used the stems in seasonal displays for some bright color through the winter months.
There are many different species of dogwood to choose from such as yellow twig, variegated many varieties of red twig, trees as well as a ground cover. Keep this shrub in mind when thinking of winter color in your landscape and the cornus genus in mind when thinking of great examples of trees and shrubs that offer season long interest.
Ilex verticillata, or winterberry, is quite noticeable this time of year. It is a species of holly, “Ilex” in Latin, and is native to eastern North America. Ilex verticillata is a deciduous shrub (it loses its leaves) and is happiest in wet areas. Not only does its hardiness and resistance to disease and pests make it an ideal shrub for the landscape but it also creates a visual and physical impact when planted en masse. This shrub is slow growing and will reach 8’-10′ both in width and height. It has a rounded shape and does best in full sun.
Winterberry is beautiful when planted as a background to perennials and ornamental grasses. The small leaves turn a chartreuse green, a striking contrast to the red berries, before falling to the ground, leaving the berries to carry a visual show as the season progresses. Winterberry, which was once used medicinally by Native Americans, attracts birds and is deer resistant.
This holly, as other hollies, can be pruned in the winter, making it a perfect specimen to be used in seasonal winter arrangements. When cutting the bush in the wild take note to leave enough of it so that it can replenish and so that birds can feed on it. I have found that once cut, the branches seem to hold the berries longer if they are first put in water for a few hours.
Winterberry may bring you luck, as it did to me during a snow storm in January years ago, as I was visited by a flock of Blue Birds.
“As the snow continued to fall the Blue Birds feasted on the berries. I, in turn, feasted on the sight of these deep azure-blue Blue Birds, as they lighted on my arrangement, and the contrast of the white powder that continued to swirl around them.” Journal entry, January 26, 1999.
I notice the grasses as I walk through my gardens, making a mental list of all that I still have to do to prepare them for winter. I remember that I was first drawn to switch grass, also known as Panicum virgatum, because of the sound it made when the wind would blow. This grass is more of an upright grass, has vertical leaves and grows in columnar clumps. I suggested this grass to a friend who planted it on a corner of her house under a window. We have enjoyed the sound of this grass for many years as it has grown and filled its space quite nicely.
As I move on in my garden I debate as to whether I will cut back my grasses or let them stay until the snow falls. I know that, architecturally, grasses can provide winter interest but some of mine seem to flop as soon as the snow falls. However, there are a few that seem to hold up well and so I will wait until the last moment to cut them back. One, in particular, is a Japanese silver grass, or Maiden grass, Miscanthus sinensis ‘Little Kitten’. This grass has an upright, arching habit and grows to be about 3′. Little Kitten is perfect when a shorter grass is needed to compliment a shrub or is mixed in with perennials. Another Maiden grass I favor is ‘Gracillimus’, a 4-8′ tall specimen that is ideal in a border with larger trees and shrubs. A smaller version of this is ‘Graziella’, a 4-6′ specimen. Both of these grasses have beautiful inflorescences (flowers) that bloom in August. I cut some of these before they have fully opened and use them in dry arrangements.
I continue on in my garden and come across another switch grass, Panicum virgatum, ‘Heavy Metal’. This grass features metallic, blue leaves that turn yellow in the fall. It grows to about 3′ and is topped by pink-tinged, branched flower panicles that hover like an airy cloud. I love this grass and have found it to be a perfect companion when planted with hydrangea ‘Twist n Shout’.
Last but not least is a dwarf, fountain grass, Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Hameln’. This grass is about 2′ tall and is topped by a pinkish flower spike. I favor it in my many perennial plantings as edging or mass planted in a bed for impact.
As I finish this writing I am observing a mass planting, along the top of a stone wall, of ‘Little Kitten’ blow in the wind, creating a sheet of fluffiness that moves like a cloud over the wall.
I recently attended a lecture on fungi at the Mass Horticulture Society in Wellesley MA titled “The Hidden Forest” thinking that this would be a conversation about identifying and hunting the desired, edible mushrooms in which many of us are interested. Instead I was surprised and delighted to learn of the global impact that fungi have in supporting the well being of most plant life. It turns out that fungal filaments form an indefinitely large network that protect our crops from pathogens and insects. All mushrooms are fungi and fungi are divided into three categories;
Saprophytic fungi is the largest group of fungi and with the help of enzymes compost dead complex organic material into usable minerals and gases making them available to the living plant material.
Parasitic fungi is the second largest group and in fact prefer a living host, often attacking and killing the host.
Mycorrhizal fungi form a partnership with living plants that helps both to survive. It turns out that the fungi is the fruiting body of an underground system of mycelia, the mass of threadlike hyphae that make up the roots, if you will. The mycelium colonize with the roots of the plant making up what is called the “wood wide network” [WWN]. Simply stated this mutual relationship allows the fungi to receive carbohydrates from the plant and which, in turn, helps the plant absorb nutrients, including nitrogen, phosphorus and water. The WWN also facilitates interplant communication that provides an early warning system to ward off pathogens and insects by channeling signaling molecules via the mycelia.
Acer palmatum dissectum ‘Verde’ is a species of Japanese Maple that I would highly recommend for anyone looking for a small accent, or specimen, tree. This Japanese maple is a green version of the highly recognizable red Japanese maple. Its height and spread is about 6-8’ and because it grows slowly it is perfect for a smaller space as it is easy to manage. What is really special about this tree is its fall color. My tree turned a yellow, orange-red color that is hard to describe but it was breathtaking. Every time I would see this tree I had to make a comment about how much I loved it and how I wanted to include it in every design. Enough said, a picture is worth a thousand words so here it is.
Winter is not an easy season for evergreen trees and shrubs. The harsh, cold and sometimes long dry spells, fluctuations in temperature and the fact that the ground is frozen makes it difficult for evergreens to take up adequate amounts of moisture. In fact through a process called transpiration evergreens lose moisture through their needles and leaves and become dehydrated or desiccated. We are all too familiar with the symptoms of desiccation in evergreens, think of the brown shriveled foliage of the rhododendrons we see after a cold and windy winter.
Any easy way to help mitigate winter burn and browning on susceptible evergreens is to apply an anti-desiccant. Applications are easy and can be made in late fall and early winter. Do not apply if rain is predicted. Apply when temperatures are above freezing and there is adequate time to dry before temperatures drop to below 32 degrees.
Read the directions on the label since some trees should not be sprayed such as Arborvitae or Spruce. Broadleaf evergreens that could benefit from an application are rhododendrons, mountain laurels, leucothoe, and boxwood, to name a few in my zone 5 location.
Anti-desiccants are organic and so a second application can be made if there is a winter thaw or in late winter.
Anti-desiccants such as Wilt Pruf or Vapor Guard can be found in local nurseries, garden centers and sometimes in your local hardware store.
Also remember to water your plant materials adequately until the ground freezes. Hydrated evergreens will have a much better start to the winter and will fare much better as the season grows colder.
Thanks to the Nashua River Watershed Association, (NRWA), I was able to partake in a “Wild Edibles Woodland Walk “ that they had organized with Environmentalist Russ Cohen last week. Russ introduced us to about a dozen wild edible plants that we all pass each day and don’t realize that at different stages of the season they offer a tasty treat.
Before we started our walk Russ shared with us a few items he had already collected. His basket was full of Black Walnuts, Shagbark Hickory nuts (his favorite), Concord grapes, a large mushroom called Hen of the woods and a “fruit leather” he had made using the berries from the Autumn Olive tree.
Before our walk began we received some basic rules about foraging:
The risk of getting sick in New England is rare and most poisonous plants (with the notable exception of mushrooms) taste bad. “Don’t ignore that danger sign your taste buds are trying to send you,” Cohen says.
” Be responsible when foraging and leave some for the wildlife and for the seasons to come”.
Russ’ passion was visible as you could see his excitement when he would tell us about invasive species that we could eat. One example is the Japanese knotweed. It is that bamboo like stand that we see growing alongside the roads we travel. The spring shoots on this invasive species can be harvested in early spring and used much like rhubarb and makes for a delicious pie, compote or his “go anywhere knotweed squares”. A bonus: knotweed is the commercial source of the antioxidant resveratrol.
Some other surprising things I learned were that the maple tree can be tapped for syrup anytime of the year, spring sap just flows more quickly, and that Birch trees can be tapped also. If water sources are in question the Birch sap (mostly made up of water) can be a safe drinking source. Last but not least is the fact that the common milkweed, known mainly as a food source for the monarch butterfly, has 4 stages in its growth that are edible to humans.
If these little tidbits have piqued your interest, Russ has a website you can visit, and a guide book “Wild Plants I have Known…and Eaten” that is invaluable for anyone who wants to give wild harvesting a try. All proceeds for Russ’ book go directly to Greenbelt, Essex County’s Land Trust, where he has advised them to “Buy More Land”. The links below will take you to his web site and his biography.
Anemone comes from the Greek language and means wind flower. Although the genus anemone consists of 120 species, one perennial flower well worth planting is the Fall anemone. This anemone is known as Anemone hupehensis, Chinese anemone or Japanese anemone or most commonly known as the wind flower.
Anemone are flowers that can spread and become invasive if planted in the wrong space. But oh to have something this beautiful be so abundant makes one almost want to look the other way. Anemones do well in partial shade along a woodland edge and also do very well in full sun with the correct amount of moisture.
Anemones, with names like ‘September Charm’, ‘Party Dress’ and ‘Robustissima’ are light pink to a dark pink and start to bloom in late summer. ‘Honorine Jobert’ and ‘Whirl Wind’, a personal favorite, are white with yellow centers and bloom in early to mid fall.
Keep Anemone in mind when planning for next year’s garden and when thinking of some of the last flowers of the season.
I have been wandering through my garden of late inspecting the progress and condition of my plantings. This summer’s rain fall certainly contributed to the quality and size of many of my plantings. The grasses are full and in bloom, the Echinacea put on quite a show this year and the Anemone ‘Whirl Wind’ is also blooming with many weeks of buds to go. The Rudbeckia, also known as Black Eyed Susan’s, showed the deepest yellow I have ever seen. They seemed so bright that one almost needed sunglasses to keep from turning away.
My hydrangeas, ‘Twist n Shout’ and ‘Red Ember’; continue to please me as they are putting on quite a show with new flowers every week. Planted only three years ago I am also pleased to see how well my H. macrophylla ‘Blushing Bride’ is doing. Last of all but not least my dependable Pee Gee hydrangea is ready to be harvested. I love to use these blooms both fresh and dried throughout my house to provide pops of color and as the medium for many of my fall wreathes and arrangements.
With each new year, the garden promises something new. An annual combination I have been excited to watch has been of Verbena bonariensis, or Tall Verbena, and Cleome hasslerana, also known as the Spider flower. The Verbena makes an architectural statement with slender, tall willowy stems that do not need staking. They branch out near the top where rich, lilac-purple flower clusters stand alone. Cleome is a beautiful annual known for its very long seed pods that develop below the flowers as they progressively bloom upward giving the flowers a spidery look. Planted together, this combination makes for a very striking and colorful cottage garden statement. The Cleome’s range in color from white, salmon-pink and rose.
Be advised that these two annuals do self-sow prolifically and so caution should be taken when choosing the area in which you wish to plant them. You will not have to plant these the next season. I planted mine in the spring of 2012 and this season hundreds of seedlings from the Verbena emerged without any help. In fact, thinning them out was the only chore that needed to be done as the season progressed. So too, the cleome emerged, although not as prolifically as the Verbena, but certainly enough to make for a full and dramatic contribution to the planting.
Oh, I love it when I find combinations and/or just good reliable plants that I can count on year after year.
Keep these two easily grown annuals in mind when planning your garden for next year.
“One of the keys to successful gardening is observation”, so says The Old Farmer’s Almanac.
An excellent way to garden is by using a method called companion planting. That is, plant combinations of herbs, vegetables and flowers that help each other to grow and/or act as deterrents to many common pests. It is widely know that if one plants all of the same crop be they veggies, ornamental shrubs, trees, herbs or flowers it is much easier for pests and disease to spread and damage or kill the entire planting. To interplay and spread out a crop makes more sense if one wishes to mitigate the possibilities of damage, as some plants act as insect traps; nasturtiums for example are so favored by aphids that they flock to them instead of other plants. Some plants feed other plants and others improve growth and flavor when planted next to one another.
The following is a list of some common herb and vegetable combinations:
Beans, Cabbage, Tomato
Carrot, Grape, Parsley, Tomato
Cabbage, Lettuce, Onion
Carrot, Rose, Tomato
Cabbage, Plants in general
Asparagus, Carrot, Chive, Tomato
Bean, Cabbage, Carrot
Cabbage, Carrot, Strawberry, Tomato
Plants in general
Cabbage, Plants in general
As indicated in the Poor Companion column, not all plants like or help one another.
There are many more examples of Companion Planting, Incompatible Plantings and Strange Pairings.
See these links, for more detail. [fancy_link color="black" link="http://www.almanac.com/content/plant-companions-friend-or-foe"]http://www.almanac.com/content/plant-companions-friend-or-foe[/fancy_link] [fancy_link color="black" link="http://www.almanac.com/content/plant-companions-list-ten-common-vegetables"]http://www.almanac.com/content/plant-companions-list-ten-common-vegetables[/fancy_link]