Archives for March 2016

The Easter Rabbit

 

best-house-rabbit-breeds-on-the-planet-54d4f74d4d59f continental giant rabbit My first Easter with Buck produced a giant pink stuffed rabbit. It was an Easter gift to me. It was spectacularly big and fluffy, and would have made a quite charming addition to a nursery-a nursery of the baby human sort.  I was a little taken aback, but I did not want to appear ungrateful.  I casually asked him about it over our Easter dinner. He had plenty to say about them. Rabbits are the most non confrontational animals on the planet. They eat lettuce. They are squeaky clean vegan creatures. Even their poop is polite-little perfectly formed pellets. They are soft, cuddly, and have eyes that could melt a heart of stone. They are just plain cute.Buck built a rabbit condo in the mid 1980’s. He found two rabbits at a garage sale, and bought them. Luckily, both rabbits were the same sex. There would be no baby bunnies.  Of course the rabbits needed a house. The house was basically a large box, constructed from beveled cedar siding, with a hip roof structure on the back side. Half of the hutch was completely enclosed.  The hardware cloth floor was with covered with straw. A pair of  mouse hole shaped doorways permitted travel from the covered portion of the hutch, to the open air terrace. The roof was hinged, and could be raised up, so the straw layer could easily be replaced. All this for a pair of rabbits. au_pets.19535.1flemish giant blue bunny I have a client who had a pet rabbit for almost a decade. This rabbit had a name, and a house. He ran around inside, and as he got older, outside. He would take a carrot, or a lettuce leaf from my hand. He was a big warm furry and utterly peaceful beast who bore no one any ill will. He was perfectly content for me to hold him, just like the Flemish giant blue bunny pictured above.

Eastern_Cottontail_(Sylvilagus_floridanus)Rabbit species are many, and are indigenous to ecosystems world wide, one of which is the Eastern cottontail pictured above.Even my back yard. I spotted a rabbit of incredible size out of my bathroom window last week-I could not believe the size. Later that early morning, I spotted the damage to my early spring garden.  Crocus flowers were sliced off. That rabbit even sliced off hellebore flowers.  Astonishing, given that hellebores are poisonous. Deer, which will eat just about anything in the landscape, won’t touch them.  Rabbits (forgive me Buck) are rodents.  Their teeth are formidably adapted to slice through any stem. What was even more irritating was the fact that what was chomped off was still laying there on the ground.  As in the best and biggest big stem of a double white flowering hellebore I have been coaxing along for several years.

Brown_Hare444 from wikipediaI do have clients whose gardens are on Lake Saint Clair. She has a not a rabbit or two, but a population living in her yard.  She would do just about anything to keep rabbits out of her garden. They would keep her perennial gardens mowed down, if they had the chance.  Every day, from spring until fall, they are eating something. I have only seen a rabbit, and rabbit damage twice in my yard, in over 20 years. I consider myself lucky. Pictured above-a brown hare.

lop rabbit Netherland Dutch dwarf from skybirdsales.co.ukThe natural world does not come with any guidelines, suggestions, or guarantees. It is up to the individual gardener to craft a truce, or wage a war with the rabbits.  I did spray my crocus with the most foul smelling natural rabbit repellent I could find. I was not interested in letting the rabbits rob me of my enjoyment of the crocus. I have not seen any damage since. As for my stuffed toy Easter rabbits from Buck, I have many. 12 years worth. I am not complaining. The rabbits and bunnies from him do not have any bad habits. As for the lop Dutch dwarf rabbit from Sky Bird Sales in the UK pictured above, he looks completely benign.

maxresdefault big Flemish giant rabbitI suspect that if my client could arrange to have the rabbits to a sumptous dinner spread of her own making every day, in exchange for them leaving her garden be, she would do it. Gardeners are a dedicated lot. But so are the rabbits.

4544652960Freddie from sheffieldrabbits.co.ukWill I ever get used to the destruction rabbits do to the garden?  Not likely.  They slice stems off that they do not have the good manners to eat. This  is infuriating. But I did enjoy taking some time to read about rabbits.  They are a very diverse group. Pictured above is Freddie, from Sheffield Rabbits in the UK. To follow are more photographs of rabbits I encountered in my reading yesterday-all of them as cute as could be.

P4BzupWubunny buddhism

dsc01023mini rex doe castor

IMG_5continental giant rabbit from rossendale-giants.netContinental giant rabbit from Rossendale giants

mini-lop-rabbit-242mini lop rabbit

jack-rabbit-flickr-tinyfrogletjack rabbit

article-2573318-1C06A15800000578-776_964x641mad march hares dailymail.co.ukThe mad march hares, doing their spring dance.

Beautiful-White-New-Zealand-Rabbits-Wallpaperswhite New Zealand rabbits

Runt_and_Paxie flemish giant rabbit from wikipediaRunt and Paxie-can you tell who is who?

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Thinking Spring: The First Of The Small Flowering Bulbs

first crocusThe first spring flower in my garden is always a snowdrop, but the crocus are never far behind. This year, they are early. I suppose an unusually mild winter and a decent string of warmish days account for that. Last year, spring begrudging arrived in late April.  My crocus had barely been in bloom a day before one bitterly cold late April night knocked them to the ground. A gardener’s life is much about moments – some of which are very brief. I am more than a week into the crocus blooming-this is a good year for them. This first crocus is blooming through the remains of an old clump of lady’s mantle. I only do the most rudimentary of fall cleanups. I like a garden to have a winter blanket. Still, that crocus bloom pushing its way up through the matted mess of roots and decaying leaves, is a testament to the persistence of life.

FullSizeRender (5)My crocus do not seem mind the thicket of baltic ivy that covers the ground where they emerge every spring.  There is more to this than meets the eye.  Baltic ivy on the surface is a tangled mess of vines.  But underground the roots are stout and unbelievably thick. If you have ever tried to remove a patch of Baltic ivy, I am sure you threw aside your trowel for a sharp bladed trenching shovel. A mature stand of ivy slated for removal takes the sharpest and biggest tool, a steely amount of determination, and a will to overcome. Add to this a lot of sweat and time, and you will get the picture.  My crocus does not mind the ivy. They thrive, in spite of it.

IMG_0144They push through what is underground, and emerge above ground-effortlessly. Gracefully. They manage their life with equal parts of grace and tenacity. It could be that my most favorite part of the crocus blooming is how they make me get down on the ground to see them. Being close to ground level is an experience of nature like no other. Ground level in a garden is an experience of a living city that is thriving. That experience is what keeps me gardening.

FullSizeRender (3)The story of the earth, and all of the life teeming just below and just above the surface, is a tale that delights each and every gardener. I am sure that what makes gardeners such a close but equally diverse group is their respect for the miracle that is nature. Everyone experiences gardening differently. Those differences make for lots of stories that get passed around.  The respect that every gardener feels for that incredible force that we call nature is what glues us all together. On the flip side, I am just about unglued waiting for our winter to end. The crocus is making that easier to bear.

IMG_2853So my story, this 23rd of March, is that I have crocus in full bloom. Crocus are incredibly beautiful. They are a member of the iris family.  The white stripe at the center of the leaves is typical. Crocus bulbs are planted in the fall. The corms are small, and not very expensive. They take next to no effort to get them planted 3 inches below ground. Even on a cold November day, planting crocus is doable.

DApril-16a-2013SC_0040-9-620x416When they bloom, there is an explosion of color. The blooms are large and showy. They populate an area readily and without any intervention from me. I have never done anything to them, except plant and enjoy. I greatly admire how they shrug off the late winter weather. The coming of the crocus tell me that spring is on the way.

IMG_2856The beginning of spring is not always so easy to detect. One spring day, the birds start singing. That is my first sign. The dormant garden has nothing much to say, but for the crocus.  The crocus emerge and go on to bloom during that time when nature is not entirely sure it is ready to swing in to spring. If you are a gardener, transitional blooming early spring bulbs might jump start your spring.

crocusCrocus are not native to North America. The first species crocus bulbs reputedly made their way to the Netherlands in the mid 16th century from Turkey. This photograph of crocus tommasinianus blooming, via Wikipedia, provides ample evidence that the species crocus are just as lovely as the more readily available giant Dutch hybrids –  derived from the species crocus vernus. Crocus_longiflorus5 from wikipediaCrocus longiflorus, photograph from Wikipedia

crocus blue pearlCrocus chrysanthus Blue Pearl  blooming around a fence post, from Wikipedia. It is a gardening moment that stops me dead in my tracks. How enchanting is this? Happy spring to you.

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The Hellebore Festival

helleborus MerlinHellebores are the mainstay of the early spring garden in my zone. The plants themselves feature leathery foliage that may persist throughout a mild winter.  The flowers come first, on leafless stalks that emerge from the ground in late March and early April.  Once the flowers have matured, the new leaves sprout.  They range in height from 15″ to 20″, and appreciate a semi shady location in humus rich and friable soil.

helleborus corsicus IcebreakerI grow one group of hellebores in full sun, but I make sure they have sufficient water. Some clumps are going on 15 years old, and show no signs of any loss of vigor. The summer foliage is lush and glossy.  Deer don’t touch them. What appears to be the petals are actually modified leaves.  The small tubular lime green structures surrounding the center in the above picture are the actual flowers.  Those modified leaves will persist on the plant long into the summer.  This give the impression of a very long bloom time.

hellebore festivalMost hellebores are very willing to set seed. I see many seedlings surrounding my large plants this spring.  Given 3 or 4 years, they will grow on to blooming size. Some of the newer varieties of hellebores feature up or side facing flowers.  Older cultivars of helleborus orientalis feature nodding flowers.  Planting them at the top of a slope or wall will provide a better look at the flowers.  If you choose to cut them, do sear the bottom of the stem in boiling water before you condition them. They will last an amazingly long time floating in a bowl of water.

helleborus lividus Pink MarbleNew to us this year is helleborus lividus “Pink Marble”. The hellebore is shorter and more compact than most.  It grows about a foot tall, and 18″ wide.  The leaves have delicate white veins.  As this hellebore is a little more tender than most, I would plant it with some protection from winds.  A layer of leaves after the ground freezes will help protect it.

helleborus Frilly KittyFrilly Kitty features pink fully double flowers. Hellebore breeding has produced flowers in an astonishing range of colors and shapes.  It remains to be seem which will survive the test of time. Hellebores grown from seed will all be different. A hellebore selected for its flower color or vigor will be reproduced via tissue culture, which insures that all of the characteristics of the parent is repeated in the progeny.

helleborus ConnieHelleborus Spring Promise “Conny” is a white flowered hellebore with maroon spots.  The flowers are stunning.  I am sure this accounts for the fact that we are already sold out of this cultivar. It seems to be a fairly strong grower in my garden.  One clump that is year years old has a number of blooms this year.

helleborus SallySally is another member of the Spring Promise series. Spring Promise is a helleborus orientalis type, and bloom from late February into April.  They come in a wide range of forms and colors.  Sally has lovely greenish yellow flowers atop a very strong growing plant.

Helleborus IcebreakerHelleborus Icebreaker is a personal favorite.  The white flowers mature to a most beautiful shade of green.  Interested further in the green flowered types?  I wrote about them here:  green flowered hellebores  If you are not able to get by the shop today, don’t worry.  We have a great supply of many different cultivars. The best part of this year’s festival?  Mild March weather is making it possible to plant them in the ground  straight away.

 

Favorite Perennials: The Daisies

Bellis_perennis_dsc00906It is no accident that the subject of the painted floor at the shop is bellis perennis, or English daisy. Daisies are a favorite perennial plant of mine. Bellis is the original plant to which the name daisy was applied. This daisy spread throughout Europe and eventually made its appearance in North America. The yellow disc like center with a star of radiating petals is characteristic of all daisies. As you can see in this picture from Wikipedia, the flowers are the small yellow structures you can see at the edge of the yellow disk in the picture above. The flowers are surrounded by white bracts, radiating all around. Daisies are a member of the aster family. The word aster comes from the Greek word meaning “star”. The aster family is commonly known as the family of daisies.

oxeye daisiesThe aster family is reputed to make up almost 10% of all flowering plants.  That is a staggering number. Not every member of the aster family looks like a daisy.  Sunflowers and echinacea have that daisy look, but artichokes do not. The English daisy is a lawn weed for some that I greatly admire. In my garden it is charming, and not so much weedy.  Just as weedy is the perennial oxeye daisy. Leucanthemum vulgare acts just very much like its name.  It is a tall rangy grower that will eventually flop over if it does not have support from its neighbors. It is native to every state in the US, and all of Canada.  I would call that willing. This native roadside daisy is prohibited in some states-mostly for agricultural reasons. They can act as a host for viral diseases of crops. Cattle avoid eating them. That said, I have planted them. This loosely configured perennial garden on the lake features the oxeye daisy, as well as chasmathium latifolium in the shadier areas. The taller species asters are still quite short at this time of year. The amsonia “Blue Ice” is short, but scrappy.  The other perennials in this garden were chosen for their ability to withstand the advances of the daisies.

551 from monroviaI love our wild daisy. It is fresh, sunny spirited, and uncomplicated. Should you not require a plant that behaves in an adult like manner in an unmowed meadowy spot, they will persist. They may migrate, but any day with daisies blooming is a good day. It is hard to dislike them, even when they are a nuisance. I do not farm crops or raise cattle, so I do plant oxeye daisies-primarily the cultivar known as “May Queen”. Do not plant an oxeye daisy if you want order in the court.  If introducing a wild daisy with a long agenda to your garden makes you uneasy, the wild shasta daisy, leucanthemum maximum, is a better mannered choice. The first hybrid shasta daisy was bred by Luther Burbank, who spent 15 years crossing various wild daisies, in search of a worthy garden plant. They all feature big white star like flowers with yellow button centers. Not every gardener has the space or patience for wilding daisies.

July 23, 2013 (13)The shasta daisy “Becky” is a sturdy and persistently perennial improvement over the classic tall shasta “Alaska”.  I say improved, as I like the somewhat shorter height of Becky. In this garden, it is entirely companionable with the white tall phlox “David”. They make great cut flowers.  They don’t ask for much in the way of care.  White flowers in the perennial garden provide punctuation to the sentence “This is a garden”.  That white is visible from a great distance. The flowers are not fancy.

 

wayside gardensThis cultivar, chrysanthemum superbum “Real Neat” is available from Wayside Gardens, is a daisy whose breeding has gone over to the fancy side. The best part is that gardeners of all persuasions will be able to find a daisy to their liking.

chrysanthemum sheffield pinkChrysanthemums are in the aster family.  Certain varieties of chrysanthemums have a distinctly daisy-like appearance.  This variety, Sheffield Pink, is the latest perennial to bloom on my block. It was planted underneath a tree in my neighbor’s yard.  The tree died a few years ago, but this daisy mum still comes back and blooms in October, just like it has for at least 15 years.

October 29 2015 080Sheffield Pink is not only hardy, it is persistent. I do not see that it gets any special care, but for the fact that my neighbor mows carefully around it. It gets water from the sky, or maybe the hose on occasion. I never see any evidence of disease or ill health. Many daisies are like this.  Given a good start, a well grown stand of daisies is sure to come.

daisiesThis poster via Wikipedia illustrates the great range of flower forms and colors in the aster family. No matter the particulars, daisies thrive with a minimum of care and fuss, providing they are sited in decent soil, with reasonable water, good drainage, and in full sun.

photo by Jack DykingaThe persistence of the daisy could be no better evidenced than in this stunning photograph taken by Jack Dykinga recently in Death Valley. An El Nino that brought rare fall rains to the desert has resulted in a Death Valley super bloom.  Thousands of dormant seeds of geraea canescens, or desert gold plant, germinated following the rains. This annual daisy-like flowering plant is a member of the aster family, and is sometimes known as the desert sunflower. The article about the Death Valley super bloom is beautifully documented on the National Geographic website.   

photo by Jack DykingaThere are few flowers as buoyant, sunny natured, and persistent as a daisy.  See what I mean?