Friday, February 24, 2012

Jurassic Park Plants

Plant in a Jar
Not a people eating dinosaur, but a real-life resurrection of a Pleistocene era plant. Scientists in Russia were able to take tissue samples from a 30,000 year old fruit taken from the permafrost in Siberia and grow a fertile live specimen. Apparently a squirrel buried a fruit from a Sylene stenophylla or narrow-leafed Campion plant about 31,800 years ago, give or take, where it was frozen shortly thereafter and remained so until recently.

According to the article:
In their lab near Moscow, the scientists sought to grow plants from mature S. Stenophylla seeds, but when that failed, they turned to the plant's placental tissue, the fruit structure to which seeds attach, to successfully grow regenerated whole plants in pots under controlled light and temperature.
Here's a link to the peer reviewed study.  The technique "...using in vitro tissue culture and clonal micropropagation" sounds futuristic and difficult, but it's pretty much the same pedestrian technique used daily by the greenhouse growing industry to mass produce for the annual flower trade. The plants in the yearly trials at Landisville are produced this way, as well.  Here's a fact sheet on mass production of day lilies using in vitro propagation.  The technique allows for rapid introductions of newly created hybrid plant cultivars.  For example, the explosion in varieties of wave petunias at very reasonable prices, was made possible by test tube tissue propagation.

Although the plant resurrected in this case is a common one with a contemporary counterpart, the thawing of plant tissue after many thousands of years "demonstrates a role for permafrost as a depository for an ancient gene pool, i.e., preexisting life, which hypothetically has long since vanished from the earth's surface, a potential source of ancient germplasm, and a laboratory for the study of rates of microevolution."

New York Times article here.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Landscaping for Four Seasons of Interest

Is your idea of winter landscaping to put the holiday decorations out in December and then to take them down in January?  Does looking out your windows after the holidays give you the blahs?   Many gardeners neglect thinking about winter interest simply because their perception of the garden in winter is that it is dead. This notion is far from the truth; in fact, your garden in the winter is merely sleeping…or as I like to think of it, giving me a rest.

Your landscape should bring enjoyment year round and now is the perfect time to take inventory of your winter landscaping to be sure you have some winter interest in your garden for years to come.  That beautiful winter landscape is not as complicated as you may think.  You are really looking at just a few things to make your winter landscape as attractive in the snow as it is in the summer.

Betula nigra seen from my kitchen window
Focus on bark and structure.  In spring, summer, and fall we are drawn to ornamental trees and shrubs with flowers and leaf color to complement our landscaping.

Deciduous trees and shrubs lose their foliage in wintertime leaving nothing but bare branches and trunks; but that can be a good thing.  Many ornamental trees and shrubs have very interesting structure and/or bark--these traits are often overlooked when making a selection.  Why?  Well spring is the time when most of us visit nurseries and winter is the furthest thing from our minds.  Yet it is the interesting structure and bark that will add to your winter landscaping.  It is a rare tree or shrub that possesses every trait, but an interesting year-round landscape will contain a good mixture of these trees and shrubs.  Choices are endless, but some good examples are:

 Don't forget the berries.  Berries are winter’s jewelry.  Many trees, shrubs, and ground covers have berries they hold onto during fall and winter.  These berries can also provide food for colorful birds overwintering.  A few great shrubs with wintering berries are:
  • Viburnum trilobum, American cranberry bush
  • Aronia arbutifolia, chokeberries
  • Ilex verticillata, winterberry
  • Malus selections, crabapples
  • Cornus canadensis, bunchberry
  • Arrowwood (Viburnum dentatum)
  • Nandina domestica, heavenly bamboo
  • Mitchella repens, partridge berry 
Remember the evergreens.  Evergreen trees and shrubs are an important component of any planting plan because they provide structure and weight to your landscape all year long, especially in the winter when your beds would otherwise be empty or “just sticks.”  Often overlooked in the summer, evergreen trees and shrubs actually deliver a nice splash of color during the winter when we primarily see a landscape of browns and grays.  Evergreens are not just green; they're available in yellows,  blues, and all colors in between…choices are endless but may include:
  • Pinus strobus 'Pendula'
  • Picea pungens 'Montgomery'
  • Juniperus squamata 'Blue Star'
  • Picea pungens f. glauca
  • Chamaecyparis obtusa
Add some hardscape.  Winter is a good time to assess your landscape, figuring out where it's missing focal points. The solution to enhancing your winter landscaping might not be a plant at all.  A trellis, fence, bench, an arbor, or even a garden sculpture are easy hardscapes that can really add interest.

Yes, there are four-season perennials.  Some perennials have evergreen foliage--autumn fern, lavender, hellebore, snowdrops, rattlesnake plantain, even dianthus with its beautiful low-creeping foliage--making them great for winter landscaping.   In the summer, ornamental grasses add sweeping background to your other plants in your garden. In the winter, these same grasses can take center stage. Their cream colored stalks and frothy seed heads will remind an onlooker of fountains rising up into the air of the winter interest garden. 

I love hydrangeas in the winter landscape. While some people choose to cut back a dormant hydrangea, I keep most of mine intact, flowers and all. The faded flowers of a hydrangea look like oversize snowflakes, especially when covered with a sparkling frost.

Winter planter
Dress up your summertime containers.  Hanging pots, hardy containers, and window boxes can be adorned with winter sprigs and twigs or any other interesting plant material you may find.  Adding a colorful birdhouse can brighten any planter.

Winter may not be the most colorful time of year, but embrace it for the beauty it does have to offer you.  Strategic use of a few pieces of hardscape and plants that provide a burst of color or interesting texture can make your landscape really pop and stand out from the rest.  A few splashes of interest can be a reminder that spring is just around the corner, and that may be just what you need to help you endure winter.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Plants with Winter Interest Part 7 - Paperbark Maple

A Very “A-peeling” Tree - Jill Hudock

Paperbark Maple - Hudock Landscape
Acer griseum (Ay-sir griss-e- um) is one of the very few, elite trees that get rave reviews every time. The Paperbark Maple is always included in respected horticultural experts “Top Ten Must-Have Trees of All Time”. What’s all the fuss about?

The Paperbark Maple is a slow growing, small-sized (30’ tall and 25’ wide) specimen tree utilized as a focal point in the winter landscape due to its exfoliating bark. Its trunk and branches sport shaggy sections of curling bark in shades of cinnamon, cream and toast. In the winter’s landscape, the peelings stand out well against a snowy background. This is really its main claim to fame, hence its common name, Paperbark.

In spring the tri-foliate (three sectioned) leaves emerge bluish-green with a gray underside. (Griseum is Latin for gray.) In autumn the leaves color a brilliant red and are the last to fall from the tree. No two specimens are alike, according to Dr. Michael Dirr. For those unfamiliar with the celebrated horticultural educator, suffice it to say that his word is golden. Dr. Dirr is especially enamored with the paperbark, “No finer tree could be recommended.”

Paperbark Maple - Jill Hudock Landscape
It grows in well-drained soils, full sun to partial shade and isn’t picky about ph. It will adapt to most soil types but is not drought tolerant. So for all of you who like to plant and forget, this may not be your type of tree, especially since it is expensive.

Paperbark Maple - Hudock Landscape
Because it grows so slowly and is very difficult to propagate (to make more of), the Paperbark Maple is a rarity in the landscape. Its seeds don’t produce many viable offspring; therefore man must propagate this specimen through vegetative means. The gene pool is very small as at least 92% of its seeds are sterile. This requires most Acer griseums to be started from cuttings.

Native to central China, it was brought to the US in 1901 by famed plant hunter, E.H. Wilson. Since then it’s been wooing the hearts of all who see her. Well, almost…

Twenty years ago I planted a Paperbark Maple in very compacted, clay soil in a bed with roses, a sand cherry and lamb’s ear used as a groundcover. The maple was recommended by a landscape designer I trusted. While I wasn’t wild about it when I saw it the nursery, I thought it would be good to expand my horticultural knowledge and try something outside of my usual tastes. It was different. Maybe I’d learn to like it. Sort of like classical music…I know it’s supposed to be “good” but it’s really not my style.

Over the years, my Paperbark has allowed me to participate in some interesting conversations. Like the time my neighbor and I were chatting and she stopped mid-sentence. Staring aghast at the maple she asked, “Is your tree sick?” It was an honest assessment, I must admit. Even after I explained the virtues of said tree she remained skeptical at best.

Paperbark Maple - Hudock Landscape
 And then there was the guided tour of the beautiful grounds surrounding Vanderbilt Mansion in Asheville, NC. As the smug Master Gardener led our random group of 20 people up to a small Paperbark, she asked, “Does anyone know what this tree is? It’s very rare and hard to grow.” I had to raise my hand and burst her bubble. The look on her face was, as they say, “priceless”.

After the group meandered on to the next “rarity” I told her I bought mine at a local nursery in Chambersburg, PA, which brought another dumbfounded look to her face. How could I possibly have one? This rocked her world, “fer sure”, since I was obviously not a Vanderbilt.

And lastly, but certainly not “leastly” is my great brush with fame. It happened two springs ago, during a private tour with Ireland’s most celebrated gardener, Helen Dillon, in her famous Dublin garden. Helen greeted my Australian touring companion, our Irish driver and me at her front door. She told us to “help ourselves to the back” and she’d soon follow.

After pinching myself at my excellent fortune to be there with her, in her garden, I tried to relax and began to marvel at her plantings. Exquisite! As we walked around the garden with its famous canal, oohing and aahhing, Helen bounced back and forth to see if “we were still out there, since many don’t stay nearly as long”. I was incredulous at that statement. Who wouldn’t want to stay as long as she permitted? At that point I think she started to understand we were serious about her garden and she started to chat. Pinch me again!

There were many specimens I didn’t know…mostly tropical plants she was experimenting with. But when we entered the area of the only tree not planted along the perimeter walls, I knew exactly what it was. I stared at it, comparing it to mine. I don’t know why, I guess that’s what we gardeners do. Was it taller, healthier, better shaped? Not really. While I was assessing this, Helen mistook my staring. “Acer griseum, Paperbark Maple”, she chirped, “quite rare and unusual.” Umm, you know I had to. “Yes,” I replied, “I have one.”

This brought a whole new level of respect from Helen Dillon, after she got over the shock. And I believe that is what prompted her to ask, “Would you like to see the inside of my house?” OK, let me think about that for a nano-second!

So, as you can see, going out on a horticultural limb can sometimes have its advantages. Pun intended. Now I’m wondering… what classical music could do for me??

Friday, February 10, 2012

MG Videos Part 4 - Winter Sowing with Karen Brown

Master Gardener Karen Brown continues our collaboration with the Public Opinion with a video covering the topic of Winter Sowing.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Chestnuts and Woodlots

Master Gardener Lionel Lemery discusses Chestnuts and Woodlots at Master Gardener Nancy and Larry Miller's property off Warm Spring Road:

Update February 10th - News article from today's Public Opinion can be read here. That link will only be viable for a week or so. Here is a small excerpt:

Six years ago, Lionel Lemery, retired U.S. forester, set out to fulfill Larry Miller's dream of restoring 34 wooded acres in Hamilton Township.

"I love wood," said Miller, a founder of the Cumberland Valley Wood Turners. "I wanted to keep (the woodlot) somewhat pristine and keep it as natural as possible. Wood is a renewable resource, but you have to renew it on a regular basis."

The wooded oasis hugs a tiny tributary of the Conococheague Creek on the valley floor - past the $200,000 new homes and just over the crest of cropland. Mature hickory trees surround a three-acre pond noisy with Canada geese.

Woodpeckers rap on old snaps. Lemery said he's seen a bald eagle, an osprey, deer, turkeys and foxes. Bluebirds nest in the bird boxes he set out. Tires, trash, a migrant camp, utility poles and invasive plants were removed. More than 700 trees of 26 species, including American chestnut, were planted. Old timber was logged.

"Our hope is eventually to make it available to the public for walking and watching wildlife, maybe catch-and-release (fishing)," Miller said. "It takes a while to educate the public with what you're doing. We're trying to make it available in a gradual way so people will come to appreciate what's there. It's a long way to get it to where we want it to be."

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

2012 Perennial of the Year - Brunnera Macrophylla 'Jack Frost'

Brunnera macrophylla 'Jack Frost' - Jill Hudock Garden
Every year, the Perennial Plant Association names a plant Perennial of the Year.  For 2012 the plant is Brunnera macrophylla 'Jack Frost'.  Also called Siberian bugloss, Brunnera macrophylla forms a low-growing clump, reaching 18 inches tall and wide. Brunneras have lovely small blue spring flowers that look like forget-me-nots, hence another common name, False Forget Me Not. The cultivar 'Jack Frost' is particularly notable for its striking silver leaves and contrasting dark green veins and leaf edge, giving it season-long interest.

According to Dr. Leonard Perry of the University of Vermont,
...this cultivar was found early one morning 1999 in a flat of the cultivar 'Langtrees' at Walters Gardens in Zeeland, MI. Looking at the leaves they were reminded of the story of Jack Frost, hence the name. It really made its debut in 2002, being featured on the front of Walters (wholesale) catalog.

In Bloom with a White Bleeding Heart - Jill Hudock Garden
Brunneras prefer shade, but will tolerate morning sun.  The rough, hairy leaves are resistant to insects, disease, rabbits, and deer browse. Just an excellent plant for your shade garden.

Cindy Stead Specimen

The Perennial Plant Association selects a different perennial plant each year to promote throughout the nursery and gardening industry. Members of the PPA are invited to nominate plants based on several criteria, including low maintenance requirements, adaptability to a wide range of climates, pest and disease resistance, wide availability, multiple seasons of interest in the garden and ease of propagation. A PPA committee then narrows the field to 3-4 choices from which the members cast their votes.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

It's Groundhog Day!

Woodchuck (groundhog) from Purdue University
Photo by: Lesley Mattuchio,
It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense for me to like this holiday, given my gardener’s instinctual antipathy toward the bristly rodent, but I do. I like the fact that it represents a turning point toward Winter’s end. Sure, we’re still apt to get some last gasps of cold, bad, weather, but I always get the feeling this time of year that we’re on a downward slope toward Spring renewal, and I get warm fuzzies from the fact that, even in the worst case, if Phil sees his shadow, we only have six more weeks to go. So, here are some links, factoids, and other fun stuff celebrating the day.

Here’s a Website dedicated to Pennsylvania’s own, Punxsutawney Phil.

From Cornell, some factoids:
  • Woodchuck and groundhog are common terms for the same animal, the rodent with the scientific name of Marmota monax. Most closely related to squirrels, woodchucks actually can climb trees and also swim.
  • Celestially speaking, Groundhog Day on Feb. 2 is a "cross-quarter" day, about halfway between the winter solstice in December and the vernal equinox in March, and is celebrated in some cultures as the midpoint of winter. It's not far from the time many groundhogs end their hibernation anyway, around the second week of February.
  • Groundhogs go into profound hibernation, greatly reducing their metabolic rate, and their body temperature drops to just a few degrees above ambient temperature. Because their hibernaculum, the deepest portion of the burrow where they hibernate, is below frost line, that produces a body temperature as low as 39-40 degrees F.
  • The groundhog's internal clock is believed to be affected by annual changes in the amount of daylight. Hormonal responses to cyclic changes in production of melatonin, a sleep-related hormone, are thought by some to be the signal to wake up.
From the Missouri Folklore Society we learn:  

  • Groundhog's Day is a secularization of Candlmas, a Christian feast of the middle ages which in turn baptized such pre-Christian observances of the returning sun as Imbolc. Since the winter solstice, by Candlemas, the sun has gained one whole hour. In the Catholic tradition, Candlemas commemorates the purification of the Virgin Mary and the presentation of Jesus in the Temple at Jerusalem, and is named after the candlelight procession which precedes the mass. Candles are also blessed on this day.
  • The American traditions for this day come to us mainly by way of Germany. In the Black Forest the spinning wheel would now be put aside: "Lichtmess, Spinnen vergess, bei Tag zu Nacht ess" (Candlemas, forget spinning, eat supper by daylight).
  • Sunny weather in early February is a bad omen for the arrival of Spring and German sayings abound: "Wenn's an Lichtmess stürmt und schneit, ist der Frühling nicht mehr weit; ist es aber klar und hell, kommt der Lenz noch nicht so schnell" (When it storms and snows on Candlemas Day, Spring is not far away; if it's bright and clear, Spring is not yet near).
  • The groundhog forecast is based on a German tradition brought to Pennsylvania in 1887. "Wenn der Bär zu Lichtmess seinen Schatten sieht, so kriecht er wieder auf sechs Wochen ins Loch" (When the bear sees his shadow at Candlemas, he will crawl back into his hole for another six weeks.) The bear has been replaced by the badger (Dachs) or hedgehog (Igel) and in the U.S. by the groundhog.
More at the link. From this site, we learn
The name Punxsutawney comes from the Indian name for the location "ponksad-uteney" which means "the town of the sandflies."  The name woodchuck comes from the Indian legend of "Wojak, the groundhog" considered by them to be their ancestral grandfather. 
And a special link for the summer interns at Wilson's Fulton Farm.

Enjoy the day.  And by the way, he saw his shadow.

Update 4:50p.m.:  Some folks have a different point of view, of course:

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Winter Harvesting

Parsnips and Carrots from MG Mary Crooks' Garden
Master Gardener Mary Crooks sends these pictures from digging in the soil this morning. Writes Mary,
"I like root veggies best roasted with a little olive oil and greek oregano, keep it simple.  BTW, the carrots are sweeter than the same variety I grew last summer, still good raw." 

Parsnips and Carrots from MG Mary Crooks' Garden