Nothing wrong with being a Pansy

knoxville-195.jpgIf the Junior High bully called you a Pansy, take heart, you could consider it a compliment. Pansies are colorful, entertaining, adaptable, healthy (they’re edible!) and very very tough. Sound like quite desirable characteristics to me. These colorful characters are ubiquitous in winter throughout the South. I took the picture above of pansies and pink tulips at an entrance to the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. Here in the North they can be planted in the fall and survive under the cover of snow. Pansies or Violas are great to plant in spring too when you’re itching to get out in the garden but the danger of frost hasn’t passed.

Pansies or Violas are basically the same thing. The pansy’s latin name is Viola X Wittrockiana. Today’s Pansies and Violas can thank an old friend in the landscape, Viola Tricolor or better known as “Johnny Jump Ups” as the main parents for their breeding. Today virtually any color from red to black and bi-colors are available due to the work of breeders over the past 10 years.

Do yourself a favor and plant some pansies early this spring. You’ll find pansies with clear faces and “blotched” faces. They’ll reward you with hundreds of colorful blooms and the satisfaction of knowing you were, and still are, much smarter than that bully.

Crunch Time! (April Madness in the landscape)

hydrangea-heaven.jpgBasketball “crunch time” refers to the last few minutes of playing time in a tight contest. We tend to see these “crunch time” moments during the madness of March. Crunch time also refers to a deadline, a completion date, a miss or hit on a timeline. It seems this phrase is not very old, with a number of potential origins. My favorite origin for the phrase, and I’ll choose to believe it because of my love for history, would be Winston Churchill. It seems Winston had been quoted in The Daily Telegraph upon occasion using the phrase during World War II. Regardless of whether Winston truly originated the phrase, it’s easy to picture him with a cigar in one hand, a Scotch in the other telling Roosevelt it’s “crunch time” for US involvement to help defeat the Nazi’s. As it turned out, the Japanese took care of any crunch time convincing Winston may have to do with their actions on December 7, 1941.

So when do we find out how well our hydrangeas are going to do this year? When is “crunch time” for blooming shrubs and trees subject to the unpredictable and variable weather of the north? Many people worry about winter weather and the damage it can do to some of our favorite landscape plants. Hardiness zones are developed to catagorize plants on their minimum temperature tolerance.

Most winter damage is due to rabbits, deer and salt damage. Cold weather is not usually a problem in the dead of winter because the plants are dormant, inactive. Provided they did not enter the winter season stressed out from poor care the previous summer and fall, they generally ride out the cold months of winter in a state of hibernation. Snow actually helps by providing insulation in winter and moisture in spring when it melts.

It’s “crunch time” in the landscape at the end of winter when some warm days begin to break the dormancy of a winter’s nap. If there is a quick warm up,buds swell followed by tender leaf emergence and flowering. Dormancy is a reversible stage (thank goodness for spring). If a cold snap or freezing temperatures hit after the early warm up, that’s when we see serious “winter” damage in the landscape.

The picture above is of me with a bed of Macrophylla Hydrangeas in August. These “mop” hydrangeas produce this season’s blooms on the previous year’s growth. This August display would not have happened if in April after a warm up the buds swelled only to be frozen (like April 2007).

If we see a gradual warm up in spring 2008, it’s healthier for the plants even though we are impatient and want it to be 75 degrees now! If the plants wake up gradually and we can avoid a deep freeze in April/May, it could be a good year for everything from Hydrangeas to Cherries! Stay tuned, you could say the next few weeks are “crunch time” in the landscape!

The green green grass of home……

green-turf.jpgThe dictionary lists the word conscious as being aware, awake to one’s surroundings. I have noted with special interest comments from those in our armed forces who have returned from Iraq commenting on the surroundings. Many note how much they missed “green grass” and how green grass is so much better than “dirt and rocks.” We’ve missed “green grass” here at home too for the past 5 months. Snow and ice have replaced turf, and grass is something many take for granted until it’s gone. At that point you realize the lawn is part of our culture, a way of life, our surroundings. When grass is missing for some during a tour of duty serving our country, or simply and less importantly covered by snow for 5 straight months, you’re conscious of how much you enjoy the green green grass of home.

We can thank the British for our consciousness of the lawn and for making it a way of life. Across England lawns were a focus of great gardens and for their “sport” like cricket, croquet, bowls and of course soccer and rugby. I know a fine young man from England who refers to my lawn as a “pitch.” It was green pitch that followed the English around the world, the Union Jack meant “lawn and order” to our surroundings. Fortunately when the upstart colonists threw their tea overboard in protest, they did not abandon their lawns in protest. Instead Americans embraced the love of the lawn and through the years traveled at the speed of “ground” in making lawns a loved part of our home turf. It was an Englishman who invented the helical bladed lawnmower from what I’ve read, again the British on the “cutting hedge.”  It was the British (Green coats, not Red coats) who “planted” the seed of conscious that lives today as the green green grass of home.

It’s hard to be punny, when it ain’t sunny

daffodils.jpgSo the Vernal Equinox has arrived after a long winter. Big deal. We all know the weather doesn’t follow the calendar the way we do. It seems logical that magically the weather would instantly be spring-like because we paid our dues this winter.

It’s not a “figleaf” of your imagination that I’m an eternal optimist and that I find gardening to be a “kick in the plants!” That said, it’s hard to be punny when it ain’t sunny and nature throws you a curve ball.

 Oh well, it will just make the nice days to come all that more sweet. Like they say, if everything is coming your way, you’re probably in the wrong lane!

Beauty is only skin deep

eab-damage.jpgThe phrase “Beauty is only skin deep” can be traced to the 1600’s as a proverb of shall we say “well rooted” advice. Today majestic and beautiful Ash trees that for years lined our streets have proven this proverb painfully true as their skin (bark) is peeled back. These stately giants of the Fraxinus genus like White Ash typically grow 50 to 80 feet tall with a spread of similar proportions. I’ve always liked the ash tree because it ages well both seasonally and over the course of it’s life. Seasonally, the tree saves the best for last. After providing shade in summer and a playground for squirrels, it closes out the season with reliably beautiful yellow fall color come football season. Over the course of it’s life, the tree becomes impressive in size and stature, with a very furrowed bark along it’s trunk, similar to the forehead of a wise old man.

Unfortunately, the emerald ash borer often does so much damage under the bark or skin of the tree, that by the time the problem is noticed, it’s too late. For those with time, heed the warning that beauty is only skin deep by insuring the interior is well with treatments protecting the tree. For those trees already ravaged by the larva of EAB (see picture) it’s owner can learn a valuable lesson.  When replacing this fallen giant, beauty comes from diversity. Take a walk through your neighborhood and make note of existing trees and which trees your neighbors will be planting. Get to know your neighbors. Then agree that diversity is better than a street lined with one type of tree. You plant a Ginkgo, your neighbor plants a Zelkova and your new friend across the street can plant a Maple.

Celebrate that we’re stronger and better when we’re diverse, and that beauty will always be skin deep.

Here are some acceptable “street trees” that might be a good alternative to ash……

Acer (Maple), Betula Nigra (Heritage Birch), Carpinus (Hornbeam), Celtis (Hackberry), Cercidiphyllum japonicum (Katsura tree), Cercis canadensis (Red bud tree), Cladrastis lutea (Yellowood), Cornus Kousa (Kousa dogwood), Crataegus (Hawthorn), Fagus (Beech), Ginkgo biloba, (Gingko tree), Gleditsia triacanthos (Locust), Liquidambar (Sweet Gum), Lirodendron tulipifera (Tulip tree), Malus (Flowering crab), Metasequoia glyptostrodoides (Dawn Redwood), Prunus (Kwanzan cherry or Ornamental Plum), Pyrus (Ornamental Pear), Quercus (Oak), Syringa (Tree Lilac), Tilia (Little leaf Linden), Ulmus (New disease resistant Elms), Zelkova (Japanese Zelkova).

There you have it, I’m not out on a limb when I say get together with your neighbors and branch out!