Friday, October 4, 2013

Heptacodium miconiodes: A Great But Hard To Find Ornamental Tree.

15' specimen as the rosy sepals are starting to emerge after the
flowers.  A 'second' flowering.  ©2013 BDG
While driving through my neighborhood a few weeks ago I came across a tree not often seen in the landscape.  It caught my eye as there are very few trees flowering in September and, knowing the family living in the house, I was confident that I wouldn't be shot for stepping on the lawn for a closer look.  The tree was Heptacodium miconiodes or Seven Son Flower.

This is an unusual and somewhat rare tree in the garden and apparently it is even rarer in its natural habitat in China.  It was first brought to the United States at the turn of the twentieth century, but it is believed that the first major introduction came in 1980 when a team of Botanists, several from Arnold Arboretum here in Boston, travelled to China and came back with seeds.  An article from 1986 in Arnoldia covers many of the details of the expedition and the ensuing process to propagate for distribution.

A small tree in flower. ©Morton Arboretum
Seven Son Flower is a medium sized tree that is estimated to mature in the 15-25' range and almost as broad,  and is hardy from zones 5-8 but seems to do best in the cooler climates of southern New England.  In its native habitat it is a woodland tree and tends to be open, and awkward in its branching.  In greater sunlight it tends to be a little more dense.  The best specimens I have seen benefit from some pruning to accentuate the awkwardness, keeping the branches that want to spread from getting too weak and not able to support snow and ice in New England.  

Every indication is that it is not a particularly drought-tolerant tree, so some shade, organic matter in an acid soil with good moisture will ensure a tree that thrives throughout the season.

The flowers and follow-up display provide interest from late summer and through October.  Only a few trees that I know in New England flower late in the year: Oxydendrum(Sourwood), Maackia(Amur Maackia) and Prunus autumnalis (fall flowering Cherry).

The flowers finishing and the rosy sepals starting in
late September.  ©2013 BDG
The flowers come in groups of six with a seventh flower coming at the end, hence the name 'hepta' and on a happy specimen they cover the tree and carry a wonderful fragrance.  As part of the family, Caprifoliaceae or Honeysuckle Family, it is no surprise that they are fragrant, and as you look closely at the image you can see six flower buds that open into long narrow tubular flowers, similar to honeysuckle.  Other plants in this family are Weigela, Abelia, Honeysuckle and Viburnum.

The rosy sepals emerging from the ripening fruit
in October. ©2013 BDG
The show is just starting with flowers which can last through September.  Once the flowers are mostly finished, another part of the flower called the sepal which usually goes unnoticed, starts to grow and form a beautiful rosy-red, "flower-like display".  It appears that the tree actually has two distinctly different flowering events.  The colored sepals carry into the fall when leaves on trees start to change.  

The leaves in spring come out a beautiful green and mature to a dark green.  The peeling bark is another beautiful trait of the tree as it is a light brown and peels in long strips and provides  great winter interest.
Very cool peeling bark. ©2013 BDG

The only part of this tree that does not exceed expectations is the lack of fall color on the leaves.  They tend to wither and sometimes get a little yellow color, but there is nothing exceptional to compete with our fantastic New England leaf color display.

When I think of some of the best ornamental trees like Stewartia pseudocamellia, Flowering Dogwoods and Japanese Maples, Heptacodium should be in this group.  Unfortunately, the tree is not readily available in the trade.  Years ago while on a field trip with a company, we went to Haskell Nursery down in New Bedford and I remember seeing many Heptacodium for sale.  Allen Haskell was one of the growers who was integral in starting the distribution of this plant in the 1980s.

This spring while at Stonegate Gardens in Lincoln, MA I saw several wonderful 8-10' B&B specimens for sale.  They are not expensive as they are easy to propagate from cuttings and grow quickly.  

A Beautiful 8-10' specimen for sale at
Stonegate Gardens in Lincoln, MA
in June.  ©2013 BDG
I think this tree can carry itself as a stand alone specimen with some proper pruning, or it can be used in the border or on the edge of a foundation.  Since it is a fall flowering tree, it is critical not to prune during the growing season while it is producing its flower buds.  This is a late fall and winter pruning tree.  If you read my recent post on the Franklinia tree that was pruned every summer by a mow and blow crew, then you understand how important it is to know when AND how to prune your trees.  This client of mine who had this beautiful Franklinia for several years had no idea that it flowered because the flower buds were pruned off every summer before they opened.

If you are looking for something different and a boost of color and interest in your late summer and fall garden, then Heptacodium may be a cool and different choice.

Another perspective on the peeling bark.
©2013 BDG

The sepals fully emerged in October.  ©2013 BDG.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Christmas Already?! How About Some Other Fall New England Traditions First.

Merry Christmas in September?  Are you freaking
kidding me!  ©2013 BDG
I have always tried to cover interesting topics in a positive way, with the exception of an occasional rant within the context of a post, but I have started to see and hear 'Christmas' over the past several weeks and I cannot contain myself.

Don't get me wrong, I love Christmas and the whole holiday season, but that means wood fires at home, snow on the ground and leaves off the trees.  The fact that our local nursery is setting up its Christmas merchandise or a local farmstand is advertising 'Christmas Trees Coming Soon' makes me think that someone is pulling a massive joke in SEPTEMBER.  I should have been looking for hidden cameras. 

Maybe, before purchasing a Christmas tree two months in advance, we should go to a local farm for some apple picking or hit a pumpkin patch.  Here are some great places to hit, some not so local.

Apple Picking at Old Frog Pond Farm.
Old Frog Pond Farm in Harvard, MA
Organic farm that has pick your own apples and raspberries and sells other organic produce.  Has a very cool sculpture walk that includes a 10' Giraffe by a Winchester artist, Madi Lord, who I recently wrote about in a post:  More At Created From Junk Metal.

Wonderful farm out in central MA to get away from the crowds.  Went several years ago and still remember the warm apple dumplings and other wonderful goodies.  The trip just for the dumplings is worth it!

A nice family friendly farm in Stow with hay rides and other stuff for kids.

Christmas at Mahoneys Garden
Center in Winchester. ©2013 BDG
Having the pressure of Christmas, just reminds me of all the work that has to be done in the garden before the ground freezes, not to mention some of the items I have delayed on over the late summer.  Fall is not my favorite time as it means the end of the season and a lot of messy cold work to set the gardens up for next spring.  Spring is always easy for me as work brings the promise of things to come.

I almost caused a car accident when I saw the sign saying that trees are coming soon.  The earliest conceivable time for trees, considering they need to actually last through Christmas would be the middle of November.  That's two months away, yet they are apparently coming soon.  I wonder why this farm stand isn't preparing for Halloween or Thanksgiving, both considerable holidays for gourds, pumpkins, cornstalks and other high margin goods.

As I am writing this, I wonder if maybe this sign advertising Christmas trees is in fact a brilliant marketing strategy.  I am certainly not going to forget that they will be selling trees and they are the first on my mind.

However, this year, instead of buying a Christmas tree from a local nursery that ships them in from some distance, how about going out and cutting your own.  Here are a few local places to go if you want to spend a little family time and have some fun.


Greenwood Tree Farm in Billerica, MA

I write about these destinations to provide ideas for people to get out and connect with local farms and also as a suggestion to myself to head out with the family and friends and spend a few fall days enjoying some old New England Traditions.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Wright-Locke Farm: Our Own Organic Working Farm in Winchester, MA

Quite a crew of people out picking on Tuesday morning.  ©2013BDG

Wright-Locke Farm is a working farm that grows vegetables and fruit, raises egg-laying chickens, raises sheep, keeps bees, teaches kids and adults, and provides a wonderful space to explore, have parties and get involved.  All of this within our town of Winchester, just 13 miles from busy Boston.  We are so lucky that the housing development fell through several years ago and a group of passionate people were able to save this historic farm.  Very few farms like this exist so close to any big city with land values increasing so drastically in recent decades.

Chickens out at their second home as the coop is getting cleaned.  I
didn't say all the jobs on the farm are glamorous. ©2013 BDG

The success of this farm comes from the collective expertise of local residents who manage most aspects of the farm operation.  An Executive Director, Farmer and Education Coordinator are a few positions at the farm, but most of the work is performed by volunteers from the community.

This past week they held their 3rd Annual Harvest Dinner where they enjoyed produce from the farm and other local venues.  I wrote an article for the Winchester Star covering the event and, with over 80 people in attendance, it was a roaring success -- continuing to reinforce the town's support of this amazing and historic resource.

Big line at the farmstand.  ©2013 BDG

I hope my local readers find a chance to drop by and meet some of the people and see what is going on during the day or weekend.  Right now is a great time as raspberries are ripe and you can come and pick your own.  I spent a few minutes last week with a bucket and camera around my neck picking a few berries.  I didn't have to move to pick several handfuls of raspberries, that I must confess never made it to the home after I paid for them.

Raspberry picking and farmstand hours are on their site, if you scroll through the images on the homepage you will see a button for more information on both.

Picking Hours:

-Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday - 9am-noon
-Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 1pm-4pm
-Closed Monday

The lambs lazing in the shade of their portable cover.
They have to be moved regularly as they graze the
grass so heavily.  ©2013 BDG

After picking, I had to go down and visit the young lambs that I help corral earlier in the season.  They are a tremendous hit with the kids that visit the farm.  While I was talking with the Chef at the Harvest Dinner, I learned that he is hoping to have a workshop where he will show people how they butcher a lamb.  Apparently, this has made some people around the farm queasy, but why do we need to hide our connection to our food.  I think it will be fascinating and look forward to the event.

This week there is a stargazing event with telescopes, and in the coming weeks there are workshops on beekeeping and raising chickens.  Over the past year I have spoken with Archie McIntyre(Executive Director), Sally Quinn (Education Director), Rebekah Carter(Education Coordinator) and many others on a number of occasions, and they all have such a passion for the farm and are looking for people and families who want to come and get involved.

Kids have named the laying chickens. ©2013 BDG

Just recently they announced an initiative to raise $4 million to purchase some adjoining land from the town and make improvements on some existing structures.  The support has been amazing with two people each offering $1 million in challenge grants, but they need a lot more support to reach their goals.

Please come by and visit (78 Ridge St at High St), buy some fresh eggs or bring the family to pick some raspberries.  It is a great place to let the kids run free and enjoy a resource we are lucky to have in our town, and with the weather getting nice come and hike some of the trails on the farm.  Ask about opportunities to get involved, there is plenty of work for individuals and families, and what better way to show your children the source of their food.

Very active beehive mean lots of honey. ©2013 BDG

I have seen it on the farm and in working with Vittorio Ettore at his Seed to Plate Garden, when you have children harvest their own food, they will try anything.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Madeleine Lord: More Art Created From Junk Metal!

Ballerina with fan blade cover for dress, gives
 the illusion of movement.  ©2013 BDG
This past week I visited Madeleine Lord, of Madeleine Lord Metal Art, to see what was growing in her driveway.  Madeleine is a very talented artist here in Winchester, who in recent years has focussed her artistic talents on creating art and sculptures out of recycled junk metal.  For more background on her and her process you can read my post from last year.

I called her to see if she had any interesting projects, as she collects her metal in piles and creates her work on her long driveway.  Little did I know that she was in the final stages of creating a 10' tall Giraffe for display at a sculpture walk.

The Giraffe was transported the next day to a sculpture walk and apple event that will be held at the Old Frog Pond Farm, 38 Eldridge Road Harvard MA (near 495, RTE 111) from 1-5pm Sunday on September 15th. Madeleine and her co-creator, Bob Hesse, will be there.

Along with the massive Giraffe, she has many smaller, new sculptures from 2' to 6' high, all of which are for sale.  What I love most about her work is what she sees in an individual piece of metal, and from that comes the final sculpture.  There is a bent, silver fan blade cover that she uses as a swirling dress for a ballerina.  An old forged pitchfork, with a little bending becomes the wings of an angel.  An odd metal piece with a flange becomes the head and hat for 'Mr Bojangles'.  One of the neatest and most subtle, a dented and twisted piece of square metal reveals a face with eyes, nose and mouth from a certain angle.
Some assorted flowers.  ©2013 BDG

All of these pieces of metal we would overlook, but she sees something and when it is put in place the pieces make absolute sense.  You don't see the the individual pieces of scrap metal as the sculpture comes to life, you see the intended form appear before you.  Its almost like crossing your eyes to see hidden images in those geometric pictures.  If you just lose focus a little, the sculpture comes to life and often just one or two pieces of the sculpture carry it.  Then when you see it and look at the individual elements you are surprised to see all the little scraps and odd castaways that have been used.

I hope you enjoy these images, as they really don't do justice to seeing them in full dimension.  These sculptures are mean't to be kept outside and in the garden and can add a wonderful element for year round interest.  To see Madeleine's images of some recent creations, click HERE.

Mr Bojangles.  ©2013 BDG
Angel with pitchfork wings. ©2013 BDG
Mom with baby. ©2013 BDG
Giraffe being supported.  ©2013 BDG
Pipe holders on neck form the mane. ©2013 BDG
Can you see the face in this simple piece of metal.  ©2013 BDG
The Juggler.  ©2013 BDG
Man and Woman (with anatomical parts). ©2013 BDG

Amazing how the bent piece of metal forms
the praying hands. ©2013 BDG

Friday, September 6, 2013

Franklinia alatamaha: A Rare And Beautiful Find

In my heart more than any other aspect of my professional work, I love plants.  Plants are the center from which everything else radiates -- they are my true passion.

Beautiful, fragrant flowers in September. ©2013 BDG
This summer while working on a significant project, there was a tree along the driveway that had been lollipop pruned by the previous maintenance contractor.  In mid to late summer each year the contractor would come and prune all the shrubs and small trees, resulting in poor flowering or non flowering  plants the following season.  I may have to rant on this topic in a subsequent post.

The related Stewartia flower.
Upon initial inspection, this poor tree appeared to be a Sweetbay Magnolia (Magnolia virginiana).  I knew the contractor who installed the initial landscape and knew that it was one of his favorites, and with the hard pruning there were no flower buds or old seed heads to help in identifying.  The leaf seemed to be close and, with the cessation of  summer pruning, I would wait until later in the year for flower buds develop to confirm the plant's identification.

Nice 10' plant that is starting to grow out of
its heavily pruned form.  ©2013 BDG
As we were finishing the installation of the job, I started to notice clusters of round flower buds forming at the ends of the branches.  This was no Magnolia.  After going back to my books, I believed that it may be a Franklinia (Ben Franklin Tree), a rare tree often not seen in the trade.  Two weeks ago it was confirmed as the first flowers opened to reveal beautifully fragrant white flowers with a bright yellow center.

I have seen a few small specimens over the years and I have seen even fewer for sale at local nurseries.  A neighbor, who is a plant collector,  had a poor specimen for that finally passed a few years ago.  Typically a collectors plant like this is for sale online in small sizes (Rare Find Nursery).    Because it is a hard plant to establish and can succumb to root diseases it is rarely found in retail or wholesale nurseries. The final nail in the coffin for this plant is that it is believed to be extinct in the wild, with the last confirmed sighting of the plant in Georgia in the late 1700's.

The flower is very similar to the Stewartia flower, a close relative that flowers in late spring, and both are reminiscent of Camellia flowers.  These similarities exist because they are all part of the Tea family of plants:  Theaceae.

Interesting bark coloration and
fissuring that will improve with
age.  ©2013 BDG
The tree was first found by John Bartram, a botanist and horticulturist from Philadelphia, who while trekking through Georgia found a grove of plants in 1765 by the Altamaha River.  They are the only plants to have been found in the wild and it is believed that all plants today descend from these original plants.  He named it Franklinia after his good friend in Philadelphia, Benjamin Franklin, and the species name of alatamaha after the river by which it was found.  Bartram's Garden is a National Landmark Historic House and Garden just outside of Philadelphia and the Franklinia is its signature tree. For more details read this article on the history of Bartram and the Franklinia Tree.

Michael Dirr states that the tree in maturity can get to 30', though often they tend to succumb to disease before that time.  He also says it is hardy from zones 5-9, but it seems to do best in the cooler, northern zones. The fragrant flowers come in late summer and can continue into the fall, which makes it valuable for providing color in a typically quiet season.  Like its relative, Stewartia, it has wonderful orange/red fall color, and requires moist, low pH(acid) soil with lots of organic matter.  The bark has white striations or fissures that add to its interest.

Fall color. ©Lucy M Rowland
This specimen has been mechanically pruned over recent years and may take a season or two to open up with some proper pruning, but I am hoping this client will get many years of enjoyment from a one of a kind plant.  In the garden in back, I just installed a Stewartia, so they now can enjoy two of the finest ornamental trees, that happen to be from the same botanical family.

While doing some research, I found that there have been attempts to make longer lived hybrids of Franklinia.  With no native distribution and a narrow gene pool, attempts have been made to cross it with other related plants.  One such by plant is a new hybrid tree called Schimilinia floribunda, a cross of Franklinia and Schimia argentea, but I am unable to find any recent mention of the plant other than a passing reference by Michael Dirr.

Who knows why this 'hard to grow' plant has thrived while being attacked each year with gas pruners, but I am glad to have found it and hope it will continue to thrive for many years.  

©2013 BDG

Large clusters of flower buds. ©2013 BDG

Pollinator checking out this unusual find. ©2013 BDG

Friday, August 30, 2013

Evidence Of Drought Stress Is Everywhere Around Boston

Dogwood with classic drought stress symptoms with
crispy tips and edges to leaves.  ©2013BDG
We have have had an interesting summer in New England as far as rain and temperature goes, but it seems as though every year is interesting -- just in different ways.

The predominant issue coming into the fall is that we are low on precipitation, and it is worse than the numbers reveal because most of our rain has come in quick dumps or large sustained events.  

According to the Blue Hill Observatory, just south of Boston, we are 1" below the 30 year average for August, and all but a trace of this month's rain came in a storm in early August that dumped over 2" in a few hours.  These quick and hard rains almost never infiltrate to the plant roots as it tends to runoff faster than the soil can absorb it.  July was also below the 30 year average for rainfall. So, for the last two months our gardens have not been getting the water they need.

I am not making a political statement but it is hard to
dispute that man and the industrial age has had an
effect upon our climate.  ©Blue Hill Observatory
June was a statistical aberration coming in 8" above the 30 year average, yet over 10" of the 12" that fell in June came between June 9th and June 19th.  Then, as we all remember, came the brutal two week heat wave that stressed everything.  We had the 4th wettest June on record followed by the 3rd hottest July on record, and now that August is finishing we will have a warm weather month where the average temperature is below the 30 year average for the first time in the past three years.

So what does this all mean in the garden.  

Japanese Maple with crispy tips.  ©2013BDG
It means that our bigger plants and trees, that don't benefit from irrigation, are thirsty.  Many of the images here show plants with varying degrees of stress.  Burn't leaf edges, early leaf drop, contorted or sagging leaves are some of the clues.  Evergreen plants and trees do not show their stress until it is too late, so make sure you water them as well.

Irrigation systems are great for lawns, perennials and small shrubs.  They are designed to deliver water for plants and lawn that live in the top foot of the soil.  Our bigger plants and trees require water deeper in the soil and when it doesn't get replenished by deep soaking rains they suffer and it often doesn't show until subsequent seasons in large trees.  The only downfall to irrigation systems is that people can lose touch with their gardens.  Sure you don't have to go out and move the sprinkler every couple of hours, but with a system, people often assume everything is OK.

Birches are plants from the riparian
zone and need lots of water.  They
are often the first to show drought
stress.  ©2013BDG
I have been out in my garden over the past weeks and I am telling clients and friends to put a hose at the base of their ornamental trees and bigger plants and let water trickle into the root zone for a few hours(depending upon the size of the plant).  Turn the hose on so it flows well, but not very strongly, and place it a foot or two away from the trunk of your shrub or tree.  Let the water flow for an hour or two.   A big (15-20') Dogwood or Japanese Maple would love 2-3 hours and move the hose around once or twice during the time so a broad area of the root zone gets moisture.  Younger and smaller plants only need an hour or so to replenish moisture in the root zone.  Set a kitchen timer to remind yourself to move the hose.

So what plants really need watering.  All of your ornamental trees (evergreen and deciduous) will benefit as well as any tree that was planted less than five years ago.  Large shrubs that may get limited or no irrigation like Lilacs, Viburnum or Holly as examples.

Leaf litter is a sure sign that something is stressed.  Look
up to find out what is happening.  ©2013BDG
Standing with a hose and watering for a minute or two will cause more harm than good as it will force the roots to grow close to the surface for water making them worse off during times of drought.  A great rule of thumb for all watering (including the lawn) is to water deeply and less often.  If your irrigation system comes on every day you should talk to someone knowledgeable about adjusting it (and saving money).

A lot of people talk about using native plants in gardens as they are better adapted to our local temperature and precipitation patterns, among many other good reasons, but when you have significant variations in weather, even natives are not immune to drought.  A plant that is native in New England still needs an inch of water a week to be happy.

Lawn without irrigation is not doing well.  It has gone
dormant and will come back in the fall, but some water
will make sure it doesn't die.  ©2013 BDG
So get out there and give your ornamentals a drink.  Don't let them go into the fall and winter stressed from lack of moisture or they will not perform well or die in subsequent years.  One good soak over the next week or two will set them up well for the fall provided we get back on track with rainfall.

Rhododendrons are shallow-rooted and stress easily.
This will look great two hours after being
watered. ©2013 BDG

Thursday, August 22, 2013

"Plants In Containers Do Not Properly Represent Their Mature Size!"

Do you remember the phrase on your side view mirrors:  "Objects in mirror are closer than they appear?"

Bruce MacDowell, owner of Stonegate does amazing
stonework, and this is an example at the nursery
 with a weeping Hemlock and Japanese Maple by
a waterfall.  ©2013 BDG
Well, with plants it would be appropriate to say, "plants in your garden will be larger than the plant tag or nursery promised." How often have you bought a cute little specimen evergreen to find it overwhelming the space in several years.  Those wonderful 2' Weeping Japanese Maples want to be big broad beasts over time and their beauty only increases with their size, but if you want to place it on the edge of your front walk or driveway, be prepared to move it in short order.

Tags on plants in retail nurseries are great guides, but often the sizes they are referring to are sizes in five or ten years.  Recently I heard a story where a contractor told a customer she would love the plant he was installing in five years, but what he didn't tell her was that she would hate it in ten years as the plant would outgrow the space requiring constant pruning and decreased flowering.

A 5' specimen of a "Nana Gracilis'
 dwarf Hinoki Cypress.  Very old, very
expensive and a big old root
ball. ©2013 BDG
Maybe I wasn't paying attention before, but it seems as though the new marketing trend on tags is to provide a plant size in five to ten years.  Well that's great, but how about twenty or thirty years.  Do growers expect people will tire of their plants and change them out in ten years... maybe they're right.  I know that I am always looking to add new plants and try out cool new introductions.

When designing with plants, especially on foundations or in tight places, I always spend the effort to try and choose the right plant.  One of the best resources for understanding plants and their true sizes is the Manual of Woody Landscape Plants, by Michael Dirr.  When you spend the effort to specify and plant the right plant for a given location, less work is needed to keep it and other plants to their design intent.

A favorite nursery of mine in Lincoln, Stonegate Gardens Nursery, has  excellent large specimens of so many plants.  Often people don't get a chance to see some of these plants in their glory, let alone be able to purchase and plant them.  The images are of a few interesting finds last we during a visit.

Pinus parviflora 'Bergmanii' - A dwarf Japanese White Pine with
multiple leaders and a broad, open form.  This one is 6' tall and wide.
Wonderful specimen with some space.  ©2013 BDG
Tsuga canadensis 'Pendula' - Weeping Hemlock.  This beautiful specimen
is 5' tall and wide.  It can be pruned to accentuate the layered
branching.  Great by a terrace or over a wall.
Cercidiphyllum japonicum 'Pendula' - Weeping Katsura.  This slow
grower is already 8-10' tall and wide and will double in size.
Katsura's heart shaped leaves go through many color changes
and have a great apricot fall color.  ©2013 BDG
Seven Son Flower- Heptacodium miconoides
I have never liked this plant as it can have
such an awkward form, but this beautiful
10' specimen may just change my mind.
Great late summer/fall flowers and cool seed
heads.  ©2013 BDG