Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Student Post, Helleborus


Lenten Roses

Happy Helleborus, as I like to call them, are a fantastic genus group of beautifully flowering, evergreen perennials. Helleborus are very adaptable and will grow in many different situations making them a garden must have. Helleborus originally came to North America from both Europe and Asia, and they can now be found throughout the U.S. in almost any nursery. They bloom before or around Easter and can sometimes last for a month or more. They can be planted in zones 4-8, and they are deer proof!

The greatest feature of Lenten Roses is the wide range of flower color choices available. One thing to remember when purchasing is that they do not bloom sometimes in their first year, but will start blooming the second year so you may want to spend the extra money to get a larger, older plant.

They also come in double flowering varieties.

Almost an equally interesting feature of Lenten Roses is their foliage. They do not disappoint even when they are not flowering. They remain a vibrant groundcover throughout the rest of the year. Several different cultivars offer unique foliage combinations.

Helleborus are perfect for a shade garden, but I have also planted them in full sun and had them perform well. They will do best with afternoon shade. At times older leaves will need to be removed in the winter to keep them looking fresh. Another trick I learned from a long time gardener client was to add lime to the soil when you plant them. This will help them grow fast and strong. Give them small amounts of organic fertilizer, adequate water (but not to much they don’t like wet feet) and make sure to take lots of photos when they bloom and you will never have another garden without Helleborus!!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009


I pass a billboard at the corner of Houston & Lafayette each morning that displays the time and temp in the lower right hand corner. Each day, I check for the time and each day, I find myself visibly scowling as I see the temperature has yet to surpass 20° or 25°. February really is the cruelest month.

Anyway, while facing the cold over the weekend and performing all the regular Saturday errands that render most of us New Yorkers into pack mules (hauling bags back from Trader Joes, or Bed Bath & Beyond or wherever it is we need to buy something bulky and find ourselves wondering what would it be like to actually have a car), I noticed this bagworm hanging from a Hackberry (Celtis).

Bagworm is a common name for Thyridopteryx ephemeraeformis, a moth that overwinters in these descending 'bags' built by tiny silken hairs that wrap around twigs and leaves from the host tree. Bagworms are ubiquitous defoliators of junipers and other evergreens, but also afflict hackberries, honey locusts and other deciduous trees. If you encounter them in your garden you should pluck them off and dispose of them. As you can tell from the angle of the shots and the grainy quality of the photos, this particular chrysalis was far beyond my reach.

Despite their destructive habit, they are pretty amazing insects. If you see one up close, you would probably discount it as a tangle of leaves or a remnant of a bird's nest.

Here are some drawings from my alma mater that illustrate the bag itself and the larva constructing a new bag.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Garden "Statuary"

My aunt lives in Philadelphia and occasionally, when I am visiting, I will do some work in her garden. Usually this work is adding some perennials or planting bulbs, though sometimes I'll just make some small suggestions on improvements she can make.

More than twice I have hinted that perhaps she should remove the 2' high statue of St. Francis, the patron saint of animals, which is prominently displayed adjacent to her front door. When I say this, she rolls her eyes and explains to me (again) that she simply can't remove it (or even transplant it to a better location, like behind her yews). The statue was a gift from one of her younger grandchildren, he is very proud of the gift and even sited it himself, and he very much enjoys seeing it each time he visits. Eh, what can you do?

I suppose it's all relative, anyway -- after seeing this a few miles away, my aunt's garden art seems downright subtle.

Need a closer look?

Yes, that's right -- her halo has been fashioned from neon tubing. The neon used to be blue, but apparently it has been replaced with pink. Unfortunately I didn't have the nerve to come back for another photo at dusk, but I promise to share it with you as soon as I do.

Honestly, I admire the unabandoned flamboyance of this, though personally I'll continue to steer my aunt away from garden statuary!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Signs of Spring, Part 2: Witch Hazel

This is the time of year that I can't help but inspect planters in front of buildings and the mulched beds in parks. I'm eager to see further evidence that yes, winter is drawing to a close. (Honestly, I don't know how people can live in a climate any colder than NYC.)

At Jefferson Market Garden, I spied my first witch hazel of 2009, as well as a daffodil emerging from the ground.

I have posted a photo of the witch hazel (Hamamelis vernalis) blossom before, but had not spent much time discussing it. Hamamelis literally means "together with fruit" because this plant has its flower, fruit and next year's bud displayed on the stem all at the same time.

The specmens at the Jefferson Market garden are two popular cultivars of Hamamelis x. intermedia, though native species include vernalis and virginiana. The yellow-flowering shrub is called 'Arnold's Promise' and the red plant behind it is most likely 'Ruby Glow'.

The leaves and bark of witch hazel has long been used as an astringent, and still can be purchased at drug stores as a salve.

PS: The building in the background is the Jefferson Market branch of the New York Public Library. In the 19th century, the building was a courthouse and the garden now exists where a jail once was. In the 1930's the jail was demolished and a women's house of detention was built in its place. Apparently a favorite pastime of the women jailed there included hurling curses and obscenities at passersby on 6th Avenue. In 1974, the structure was demolished and the garden was built in its place.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Signs of Spring, Part 1: Snowdrops!

So, FINALLY, I saw a bulb peeking out of the ground this morning, at Liz Christy Garden. The garden was still closed, so I had to employ an early morning zoom, which as you may recall from previous posts, rarely delivers a great photo.

But still: who cares? Snowdrops were blooming!!

The botanical name for snowdrop is Galanthus nivalis and if you know your basic botanical Latin and Greek, it's a pretty direct translation of what we see below. Gala- is Greek for 'milk' and -anthus means flower (Chrysanthemum is another example using this suffix). Nivalis means growing in or near snow (or during winter). So we have a milk-colored flower that blooms in winter:

You can see that these bulbs create petite flowers -- they barely clear the Belgian block pavers and the plants can be easy to miss. But if you are walking past Liz Christy this weekend, be sure to appreciate the fact that the earth is warming and the days are getting longer, both signaling to plants that the growing season is beginning.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Jacaranda mimosifolia

It seems like everyone I know has been going to Argentina lately. Everyone except me (-sigh!-).

Some very good friends of mine were there prior to Thanksgiving. I believe it was the day or two after they landed in Buenos Aires when I got a text from them, asking about these magnificent trees with beautiful purple flowers.

It wasn't too hard to guess they were referring to Jacaranda (Jacaranda mimosifolia).

Though native to South America (in areas where there is rarely a frost) it is popular in Texas and Florida and is fairly recognizable to anyone who has ever driven around Beverly Hills in May.

Though the species name, mimosifolia, likens the Jacaranda's fernlike foliage to the genus Mimosa, this plant is more closely related to fellow Bignoniaceae family plants, Catalpa and Campsis. (More on Campsis, even if it's not in season, soon.)

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Weblog Awards

No, I am not nominated in this big online blog competition (voting on that I believe, ended yesterday), but I was called out in an article for top 100 botany blogs!

I have been remiss this month in posting. It's so very cold and I hate to post about things that aren't happening right now. But, this does motivate me to post more. I have some more photos from South America and am going to Puerto Rico soon, so I will have plenty of tropical plant posts in the next month or so.

And then, it won't be long for spring.