Autumn leaf? Or is it?

It’s that time of year – leaves are turning all shades of yellow, orange, and red – so I thought I’d use this leaf for today’s puzzle:

I had to photoshop this extensively so it’s a little rough looking.  But it does have a toothed margin.

So – is this an example of autumnal coloration?  Or something else?  Extra bonus points if you can identify the genus of this plant.

Answers and another photo on Monday!

What’s In A Name

Marketing is important if you want to sell something, but I have always been amazed at the different names that chemical companies have come up with for pesticides.  Way back when, in the early 1900s and late 1800s insecticides were given soft, gentile names.  Paris Green, London Purple, Bordeaux mix – really beautiful names that hint of worldly knowledge (for the most part they just indicate where the product was originally produced).  In the mid-1900s names were more matter of fact: DDT, 2,4 D, 2,4,5 T — These names were indicative of the chemistry of the product being sold.  Then professional marketers got a hold of pesticides and the fun started.  If you’ve never farmed then you may never have seen some of these names, but to a farmer who uses commercial pesticides many of these names will sound familiar.  My favorite name for a pesticide is Scythe.  I don’t know why, it just strikes me as amusing that a chemical is being compared to a hand tool.  Maybe Shovel, Rake, or Tweezers is next.

Here are a few names for various insecticides which include the same active ingredient, cypermethrin – a relatively dangerous insecticide —  along with some of the emotions which you may feel while considering what insecticide to buy – in other words, feelings that marketers may use to drive you to select one product rather than another:

If you feel like attacking the insects: Ammo

If you’re feeling like the insects are closing in on you:  Barricade

If you’re feeling like insects are closing in on you AND you’re a Civil War buff: Stockade

If you’re feeling like bailing out of the farming business altogether: Ripcord

If you want a pesticide that sounds safer than it is: Super

If you feel tough because you just watched the governor of California in an ‘80s sci fi flick:  Cymperator

If you’re feeling mad as hell at those nasty insects: Demon

Okay –  all of these products aren’t used for the same things, but dang….how many names can you have for one active ingredient?

Time for another WOW (Why oh why)!

During my nursery visits this summer I came across Taxodium distichum ‘Peve Minaret’, a dwarf cultivar of bald cypress.  I hate it:

Why? Because it’s a crummy specimen. If it’s not quite clear, here is a close up of the double leader:

I’ve ranted a couple of times about the production nursery practice of topping young trees to create fuller crowns (you can see those posts here and here). I’m constantly taken to task for this, with comments along these lines:

1) There’s nothing wrong with it. Customers like the look.

2) After topping the production nursery selects a new leader.

3) If the production nursery doesn’t select a new leader, then the retail nursery should.

4) If the retail nursery doesn’t, then it’s the customer’s job to do it.

5) If the customer doesn’t, then an arborist should catch it.

Somehow it’s always someone else’s responsibility to do the corrective pruning needed to prevent future problems. Yet I have not seen a cogent argument about why this practice is necessary (and “customers like the look” doesn’t count). In fact, a recent email told me I’m approaching this all wrong:

“I think it would be better for you to attack this problem by teaching the maintenance industry on how to remove a few poor branch angles, and make a profit on this, then to tell the consumer that they don’t know what looks good to them.”

Aha. So we get unsuspecting customer to buy a problem tree, then charge them again to fix it!

It’s not like I have to look very hard to find these trees in nurseries. Believe me, they’re everywhere, at least in this part of the country.

So…proponents of this practice. Convince me (1) that there is a valid, evidence-based reason for this practice, and (2) it’s okay for trees like this bald cypress to end up in retail nurseries.

When You Gotta Go, Go Green

Here’s a bit of the fact-filled, intrepid reporting we at Garden Professors are pleased to provide.

Just back from a visit/droolfest to Pennsylvania’s "Golden Triangle" of horticulture: Swarthmore’s Scott Arboretum, Chanticleer, and Longwood Gardens. 

At closing time on Saturday, I was wandering through the cavernous halls of the Longwood conservatory, looking for either my travel companion John Greenlee (Mr. American Meadow Garden), or the restroom.  Found one, then followed the signs to the other…


And it keeps going, way on around the bend.

Unveiled just a week prior, the green wall system was designed by GSky Plant Systems. At a little over 4,000 square feet with 47,000 plants, it’s now the largest green wall in North America. 

The modular panel system is very clever:

Plants are held in place by a geotextile surrounding a fiber substrate. Computer-controlled drip irrigation is woven throughout the entire structure.

Except for the glass ceiling, the corridor is subterranean. Perhaps because it was closing time and mostly empty, we found it just a tiny bit unsettling. John flailed about, muttering something like "Soylent Green is people!" 

Anyhoo, it was very grand and inspiring. In case you’re wondering what was behind all those shiny steel doors: 


Folks, you can’t get this kind of in-depth information on just ANY garden blog…

A lawn alternative we can support: Conifers!

As many of the blog readers are aware, I do a lot of writing about conifers.  In the process I mingle with members of the American Conifer Society or ‘ACS’ for short -although some wag has suggested that ACS actually stands for Addicted Conifer Syndrome, such is the devotion of these enthusiasts for their beloved conifers.  A couple weekends ago I was privileged to attend the first ever ACS ‘Illinois Conifer Rendezvous’ hosted by Rich and Susan Eyre, owners of Foxwillow Pines nursery in Woodstock, IL.  Rich and Susan are a wonderful, enthusiastic couple and conifer addicts of the first degree.  Their nursery boasts one of the largest assemblages of rare and unusual conifers anywhere in the country.  The program for the ‘Conifer rendezvous’ included speakers and tour of the nursery.  The highlight for me, however, was the tour of a couple of local homes featuring outstanding conifer gardens; including the home of Rich’s 92-year-old mother Margaret Eyre.  Margaret is an incredibly energetic woman with a passion for hostas and philanthropy (see the Heifer International link on the Foxwillow Pine website  Margaret decided years ago to dispose of her lawnmower – no small feat since her house sits among homes with vast expanses of lawn typical of the sprawling suburbia that radiates from Chicago.  What to do without a lawnmower? Plant plastic turf?  Margaret had other another idea…

Margaret Eyre’s conifer haven sits like an oasis in the Chicagoland suburban sprawl

I didn’t get an exact count, but I’d estimate Margaret has about 80 to 100 specimens tucked away on a standard-sized city lot.  Most are dwarf or unusual conifers, though several are full sized trees.  No need for a lawn mower here.

Pseudolarix amabilis Golden larch

Abies lasiocarpa Subalpine fir off of Margaret Eyre’s back deck

Mixing forms, textures, and colors provides a study in contrasts

In addition Margaret Eyre’s place we toured the home of John and Margaret Havlis.  The Havlis’ landscape is quite large – a couple acres – and shows what conifers and a little creativity can accomplish.

Conifer border around the Havlis backyard.  Note the winter deer protection for new specimens.

Recurved needles on Abies koreana ‘Silberlocke’

Microbiota decussata Russian cypress.  Conifers in this part of the garden are set of by hardscaping that imitates a dry creek-bed.

Big time Friday quiz

Got bogged down with various and sundry items earlier this week and missed my regular post.  I’ll do my penance by taking Linda’s spot on the Friday quiz while she heads out for a cross country meet (her son’s, not hers). 

The photo below was sent to me this week by a homeowner in Grosse Pointe, MI.  Two part question: 1) What is it? (not that hard)  2) How did it get so freakin’ big?

Dig it up and give it another chance!

Too often I’ve come across relatively young trees, shrubs, and vines that are surviving, but not thriving.  Every year they struggle gamely to put on a few new leaves, grow a few more inches, but something’s fishy and it’s not fertilizer.   Today I’m going to try to convince you to give these languishing woody species a second lease on life.

Long-time readers of this blog will remember some of the root horrors I’ve (literally) uncovered in containerized and balled-and-burlapped plants.  Poor root quality, improperly amended soil, roots swaddled in multiple layers of materials, and root crowns sunk far below grade are some of the most common reasons why roots fail to establish after transplanting.

Fall can be a great time to correct these problems.  For deciduous species, it’s best to wait until the leaves have fallen so that water needs are reduced.  You can find basic instructions on how to install and care for woody plants on my web page.

There are other reasons that plants might not establish, too.  You might remember my long-suffering Clematis, two which had been planted in an area with a perched water table. The lack of oxygen both retarded root growth and created an iron toxicity problem.  I dug them up and transplanted them into containers (during which I had even more fun with overmixing the soil with water and then allowing the undersides of the leaves to sunburn).  They were pretty sorry looking back in July – most of the leaves fell off after being burnt – but here they are just two months later:

So while you’re out putting your landscape to bed for the winter, take a close look for stragglers.  Give their roots another shot at survival – you’ll be glad you did.

Pssst…over here…trees got nothing on us…

We usually look up to the trees for the spectacle of fall foliage color but there’s plenty happening down low.  Ornamental grasses in autumn are, of course, amazing – I think I’ll give them a post of their own.  But there are a few perennials that consistently deliver good fall color instead of turning to brown, crunchy paper.

For the shade to part-shade garden, Polygonatum odoratumthen ‘Variegatum’ is a plant for three seasons. Arching stems
spring forth in, well, Spring, with fresh green and white variegated
foliage. Pairs of little creamy bell-like flowers dangle from each leaf
node.  The foliage looks terrific all summer long, and
you get a shot of golden yellow for fall.

More reliable than a tulip poplar!  Newport, VA, October 10.

I know I’ve mentioned Amsonia hubrichtii in some past posts, but I just can’t help it.  Finally, finally named “Perennial Plant of the Year ” for 2011 by the Perennial Plant Association.  Not sure what took so long.  Exhibits the best boofy habit of all perennials (somewhat like “floofy”, but rounder).  Native to southern/central U.S. and totally drought tolerant.  The pale blue star-shaped flowers in late Spring are fairly underwhelming, especially given all the other stuff going on at the time. The fine, needle-like foliage adds a wonderful soft texture throughout the summer.  As the days shorten and the nights cool down, it begins to glow…first a soft gold, and then adds bronze and apricot to the mix – basically a color twin of Sporobolis heterolepis (Prairie Dropseed, previously described in a GP post).

The first flush of gold, just getting going in our garden last week…

In full glory. Late fall at Chanticleer (Radnor, PA).

Some cultivars of Hosta, such as ‘Sum & Substance’,  reliably produce gold fall color, as do some ferns.  Any others you’d like to add to list?

Mystery shoot identified (no big surprise, apparently)

Readers were too smart this week!  Yes indeed, this is a coconut, improbably found at a Home Depot in Seattle:

Unfortunately, in our climate this can only be an indoors plant, and even a McMansion won’t be able to contain it for long.

Gold stars to Ed, Deb, John, Jess, Jimbo and Ginny!