The Handy Dandy Dibber

A dibber, also called a dibbler (the garden tool, not the small nocturnal marsupial),  has many uses in the garden and greenhouse.  It also offers the opportunity to announce your intentions of dibbing (or dibbling). I’m a huge fan.

For example: just planted the last of my fall bulb purchases.  One of packs remaining was Allium unifolium, left over from installing our Allium field trials. (28 species and cultivars – woo! Beats doing research on soybeans or something.)  These little bulbs are about the size of nickel – even the smallest hand spade is overkill. I think I’ll just grab the dibber!

dibsandalliumHSFor the uninitiated, a dibber or dibbler is simply a very sturdy, pokey thing, with a nice ergonomic handle.  To use, simply scatter bulbs (never, ever in rows)…  scatterandpokePoke and plop. Went about 5″ to 6″ deep for these wee bulbs. Goes really fast once you’ve honed your dibbing skills.

holesAs a bulb-planting strategy, I like to leave them all uncovered until I’ve got the whole batch situated.  Then make like a squirrel and cover the bulbs!

doneVoila.  Done in 60 seconds! Though I’ll probably forget where I planted them within 60 minutes (which does make for a pleasant surprise come spring time – “Oh look! Alliums!”)

 

 

A Resilient Citrus Tree Rebounds

Cit3Spring1

Sad Citrus

The last two winters have been pretty brutal on my citrus trees.  Their winter home is the enclosed, but unheated, south facing entrance foyer.  Usually, this is a perfect spot.  Sunny, and with temperatures usually in 45-60 degree range.  But when the polar vortex brought record cold to the Mid Atlantic region back in February, they were hit hard, and I had my doubts that this 13 year old specimen would survive.

Cit3Fall1

Happy Citrus

But it bounced back pretty well, after a season in the sun, so I figured it should be rewarded … I’d give it a new home, replacing its split container … and document the process here.

process1

Prep Area

drill

Drainage Holes Drilled

Process2

Whew! No Pebbles in the Bottom!

Parsley

Rescued Parsley

girdle1

Uh Oh, The Dreaded Circling Root.

girdlecut

Snip Snip

DoneChips

Wood Chip Mulch, of Course

DoneDone

Voila!  Ready to Move Inside

 

Mitchella repens … Partridge Berry … an Evergreen Native Groundcover for Shade

NaturalSetting1

Partridge Berry in its Natural Setting

One of the questions that came up regularly when I was working the hotline at the local county Extension office, is a recommendation for an evergreen ground cover for shady spots.  I had the same issue when I created my own shade garden … something that would have year round interest, but complement my desire to emphasize native species, although that was only one consideration.

The solution was literally right next to me, as a walk in my woods revealed with the lovely plant Partridge Berry, or Mitchella repens.

Not only is Partridge Berry (Mitchella repens ) beautiful, evergreen, shade-loving, and native to Eastern North America, but there’s also a fascinating aspect about its flowers and fruit, from a botanical, and evolutionary point of view.

According to the U.S. Forest Service Celebrating Wildflowers website, the “… genus name Mitchella was given to this plant by Linnaeus for his friend John Mitchell, a physician who developed a method of treating yellow fever. The species name repens refers to its trailing or creeping habit.”

Berry1

Here’s the part I found fascinating: The plant is dimorphous, meaning “occurring in two forms”:

In late spring, two beautiful white flowers (with one calyx) each open their four petals to entice insects to collect their nectar. Each blossom has one pistil and four stamens. The pistil in one is short and the stamens are long. In the other it is just the opposite. … Because of this no flower can fertilize itself–all flowers must be cross-pollinated by insects, and both flowers must be pollinated to get a single healthy berry. A berry will stay on the vine until after the blooms appear in the spring unless a hungry bird finds it nestled among the fallen winter leaves.

How cool is that?  The twin flowers produce, together, only one berry.

Berry2

Here’s a closeup, where you can see residual evidence of the fusion.  The berry is edible, and persists through the winter, assuming it is not consumed by “ruffed grouse, northern bobwhite, sharp-tailed grouse, and prairie chicken.

The fruit is also “frequently eaten by raccoons and red fox” and it has been reported that “partridgeberry made up 2.9 to 3.4 percent (dry weight) of the summer and fall diets of white-tailed deer.”

June2014Bloom1

Here’s a picture of the two flowers in bloom.

It’s easiest to spot the plant in its natural setting while hiking in late Fall, or early Winter before snowfall, or early Spring after snowmelt.

Back to the Forest Service article:

Some gardeners consider Partridge Berry a must for winter gardens. During the cold days of late winter Partridge Berry is a treat to the eyes with its deep, dark-green leaves and occasional scarlet berries. In a garden setting this evergreen prefers shade, accepting the morning sun. Partridge Berry is extremely difficult to propagate from seed.

The best way to introduce this native into your garden is through 1 year old cuttings or by division. In the garden situation they will form a thick, substantial ground cover. Once established they are relatively trouble free with the only required maintenance of keeping garden debris from covering the mats.

As always, do not wild collect plants from public lands and only from private lands when the landowner grants permission. Partridge Berry is a commonly available plant from native plant nurseries especially those who specialize in woodland plants.

I love the symmetrical variegation in the evergreen leaves, a bright, light yellow line bisecting each leaf, and the delicate, less visible veins.

It’s a great alternative to Vinca, an introduced species from Europe that appears on invasive species lists in our area.

A Google search will reveal many potential on-line sources for buying Partridge Berry plants, or check with a local nursery, or independent gardening center in the native plant section.

Confessions of a Lazy Gardener

NeglectedBed1

I admit it.  I can’t keep up … I’m not as industrious as most of my gardening friends are when it comes to the effort necessary to manage my 6 acre landscape.

It can get overwhelming, especially when there are previous beds that came with the property that had been neglected for 10 years or more by the elderly lady who owned the property before us, and where perennial weeds are well established.

I make a valiant effort in the Spring, with all the enthusiasm of the new season to clean them up … dig the perennial weeds … plant something new (usually a division, or a naturally layered specimen, from elsewhere, or one shared from friends), but by mid-July or so, I have to redirect my efforts to the places that I’ve created … the shade garden … the rock (mostly sedum) garden … mulching the new trees and shrubs, and of course my tomatoes, so these previous places don’t get the attention they deserve.

But then again, some surprisingly beautiful, and beneficial results can happen in spite of (because of?) the neglect …

NeglectedBed2

This is a “pre-me” bed of mostly Japanese Anemone stretching between two arbors, with Trumpet Vine (Campsis radicans) (pre-existing), and Climbing Hydrangeas (Hydrangea anomala) (me added), anchoring each end.

The Goldenrod (Solidago) and White Snakeroot (Ageratina altissima I think) now dominate, along with Sweet Autumn Clematis (C. terniflora), a non-native introduction that appears on watch lists as an invasive species in our area.

Syrphid1

Yet look at the insect life.  Scads of hoverflies (some species of Syrphid), who in addition to their role as pollinators as adults, are voracious consumers of aphids in their larval stage.

Scoliid

Scoliid wasp, predatory on Japanese Beetles.

Ailanthus Moth

An Ailanthus Webworm Moth (Atteva aurea), which uses the invasive Tree of Heaven (Ailanthus altissima) as its larval source for food.

Honeybee

And my, and most folks favorite these days, honeybees (Apis mellifera)

Hydrangea

And if I kept up the weeding of this neglected bed, would there be a self-seeded Hydrangea paniculata available to transplant elsewhere?

So, probably a rationalization to justify my laziness … but looking on the bright side, there can be beneficial results from my neglect.

Puya report!

For all five of you that might have paid attention to my posts on the genus Puya (which does in fact rhyme with booyah…thank you my west-coastie friends):

Here’s the update that you’ve been waiting for!

Puya is a horrifically spiny, painful, and hateful genus in the Bromeliad family. Native to the Andes, the fish-hook-like spines snare passing mammals; the rotting flesh provides nutrients to the exceptionally lean soil of the arid steppes on which it sort of grows/becomes grumpier.

Puya flowers once an eon, in a spectacular [but ill-earned] display that turned me to mush, based on a photo in an Annie’s Annuals catalog (see my “eternal gardening optimist” post). Autumn of 2012, I ordered and received one healthy Puya berteroniana in a 4” pot. Heckling commenced.  Overwinters in a 40 F greenhouse, where it was watered once or twice. Summers have been spent on our deck. Osmocote has hopefully provided required nutrients. Expected to kill her within months, as it is SO VERY not native to the verdant and humid Blue Ridge mountains of Southwest Virginia.

Happy and amazed to say Pootie [what was I going to name her? Bert??] is in her 3rd year – continuing to grow, and, AND, captured her very first mammal!

Pooyah!

Okay… so it’s a fluffy stuffed possum, and the dogs dropped it from the deck above. But snagged! You know Pootie got a thrill…

Observations regarding you-pick blueberries…

We just finished up with our 8th season of welcoming you-pickers to our back yard, which happens to include three acres of northern highbush blueberries. This has been an interesting venture – helps pay for our farm, obviously, but also presents an opportunity to connect with the “general public” outside of academia [that probably wouldn’t happen otherwise, considering we are both introverts]. Ninety-nine-point-nine percent of the folks that take the trouble to come to a you-pick are fabulous, functional human beings. We are very, very grateful for their patronage, especially since blueberries from Canada are on sale for $1.50/pint at the grocery store and take 5 seconds to plop in your cart.  We do, as you might expect, get some interesting questions and comments, and the “OMG! Nature!” thing has come up a few times.

bee berry farm

Here’s a selection of our [reasonably patient] responses to not-so-frequently-asked questions and comments that occur while handing out buckets and ringing up sales:

  • “No, we don’t have to plant them every year like potatoes. They are perennial shrubs.”
  • “The berries do indeed taste better if they are blue. Green and pink, not so much.”
  • “No, I cannot weigh you before and after picking to tell how many you’ve eaten in the field. Ha, ha, I’ve not heard that one before.”
  • “I’m sorry you saw a Japanese beetle.”
  • “Alas, we do not provide Wi-Fi out in the field.”
  • “I can’t go pick for you while you watch the sales stand. Sorry.”
  • “I know the picking season started one week earlier than last year, even though you were on vacation. It’s kind of a weather thing.”
  • “Nope, there will not be more berries ‘appearing’ later. This is sort of a one-shot deal, they flower in the spring, and that’s what you see here.”
  • “Yes, there may be some bees around. It’s a farm. We have bees. The name of our business is Bee Berry Farm.”
  • “No, we cannot put a net over three acres.” (People are very concerned as to how we are not overwhelmed with deer, birds, bears, etc.)
  • “I’m so sorry your child was stung while poking a stick in a yellow jacket’s nest.” (indeed very scary for all of us involved…especially the poor little guy with the stick.)
  • “We do not apply chemicals other than water and fertilizer. Pardon? Yes, water is a chemical.”
  • “Unfortunately, you cannot make your own bushes by planting these blueberries. And no, I’m not familiar with that website.”
  • “No ma’am, I do not know who placed excess zucchini in your unlocked car.”

Other observations made and behaviors noted:

  • Small children are usually not excited about roaming through a hot sunny field at 11:30 a.m. Though we salute the parents who think this might be a good experience for them.
  • Please do not send said hot and annoyed children to stand unattended under the sales tent, staring at the proprietor.
  • You would be amazed at how sound travels across a hillside; other pickers may or may not want to hear exactly what you think of your mother-in-law.
  • Please don’t park IN our perennial border.
  • It’s not fun to find a dirty diaper hiding in the bushes.

Back on the High Line again

Earlier this week I was in New York City and got to visit the High Line for the first time.  For those who aren’t familiar, the High Line is an urban park that was created along an abandoned elevated rail line on the Westside of Manhattan.  Linda posted about the High Line a couple of years ago.  Her visit was in late winter so my visit provided an opportunity to explore the park during the height of the growing season.

The High Line runs from West 14th St. to West 34th st.
The High Line runs from West 14th St. to West 34th st.

30 feet above the streets of New York City...

30 feet above the streets of New York City…

The High Line offers sweeping views of Manhattan to the east and the Hudson River on the west.  For most of its length the trail consists of various beds of perennials, trees, and shrubs.  Along the newest, northernmost section of the trail, the plantings give way to beds that have been allowed to re-seed naturally; providing an opportunity to observe urban ecological succession.

Perennial beds along the High Line
Perennial beds along the High Line

Quaking aspen

Quaking aspen

The High Line extends through the Chelsea section of Manhattan, which, according to locals, was a less than desirable location just a few years ago.  With the advent of the High Line, however, Chelsea and adjacent Meatpacking district have become some of the trendiest and hottest real estate in the city.  In fact it’s difficult to get a picture along the highline without a crane in the background.

The High Line near West 30th St.
The High Line near West 30th St.

The High Line has helped transform a run-down section of Manhattan into some of the hottest real estate in New York.

The High Line has helped transform a run-down section of Manhattan into some of the hottest real estate in New York.

Art is an integral part of the High Line with various sculptures and interactive projects along the way.  During my visit, kids of all ages had the opportunity to contribute to a giant Lego sculpture or add to a giant sidewalk painting.

Is is art ? Or just weeds?  This work is part of a 13-piece installation by Adrian Villar Rojas “…known for his large-scale, site specific sculptures that transform their environs into a vision of their own potential future.” It’s titled “The Evolution of God” aka “A Study in Lambsquarters”
Is is art ? Or just weeds? This work is part of a 13-piece installation by Adrian Villar Rojas “…known for his large-scale, site specific sculptures that transform their environs into a vision of their own potential future.” It’s titled “The Evolution of God” aka “A Study in Lambsquarters”

Interactive art. Kids of all ages take time out to add to a Lego construction project along the High Line.

Interactive art. Kids of all ages take time out to add to a Lego construction project along the High Line.

The first section of the High Line opened in 2009 and for the most part it seems to be holding up well.  Some sections of the trail bed are constructed from crushed aggregate and these sections are pretty well pot-holed, presumably from freeze-thaw cycles.  Most plants along the trail seem to be healthy and thriving, likely thanks to drip irrigation.  It will be interesting to see how the trees and shrubs continue to develop and how things perform over the long haul.

Sassafras
Sassafras
This sidewalk fountain provides a change to cool your heels on a warm and sticky New York afternoon.
This sidewalk fountain provides a change to cool your heels on a warm and sticky New York afternoon.

Bottom-line: If you’re in New York and you enjoy plants and watching people (and watching people enjoy plants), a couple hours on the High Line will be time well spent.

Hibiscus
Hibiscus