Thursday, May 31, 2012


My wife says I have a way of using a made-up word sound real like 'Verticality', once used by your truly on a episode of HGTV Curb Appeal to describe a plants upright nature.  Now my latest creation is 'Phyto-crondriac', so good a word I'm thinking of submitting it to the New Oxford Dictionary for this coming edition.

An example of Rose rosette virus

What may you ask is a 'Phyto-crondriac', well simply put is a person who is over concerned with potential problems to a plant to the point of not growing it.  This was borne from a conversation I had with a customer who called to complain that his roses he brought contracted 'Rose Rosette Virus' after a few years of growing them in his garden.   Maybe this is a ongoing a rant from my 'Common Sense' posting a few weeks back but I fail to see how anyone else can be held responsible for something that happens in your own garden.

The claim is that we failed to communicate that the plant may be affected with something later in its life, which in turn makes us liable.  Of course, when the beginning of a conversation starts with the person telling you how many thousand of dollars his spent with you, you begin to get the feeling of how the rest of the phone will go and this one was a doosey!  One would question if anyone has told him of all the potential problems he could have growing a lawn or perhaps his decided to gravel the area to avoid issues later.  You can't hold back because of what might happen, sacrificing the beauty of a rose because one day it might get a disease, otherwise you'll have a garden full of nothing.  Another example, though extreme would be if wife gets sick, who will he blame then, the priest who married them or parents of the woman for not disclosing it could happen.  COMMON SENSE will tell you that anything that is living has the potential of contracting an aliment, that just life!  The irony is that they probably helped spread the virus by not sterilizing their pruners after dead heading or cutting back in early spring. I sometimes wonder how people became so rich and yet stay detached from reality, or, is having common sense whats holding me back?

So thank you to 'Mr. Thousand dollar, I live in Warrenton' blah blah blah, with luck 'Phyto-crondriac' will be included in the next edition of the the dictionary to honor your lack of common sense and reality about the living world around you.  Next we'll be suing McDonald's over a cup of hot coffee, oh wait......

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Damn good plants - Distylium myricoides

Rarely does a new plant appear in the market with a name that leaves you scratching your head.  All to often we get bombarded with the seemingly endless flood new cultivars claiming to out perform older versions but look just like a repackaged original.  So when a nursery sales rep half jokingly pointed out a curiosity on his availability list and called it a 'Rob Woodman plant', I jumped at the chance to bring it in.  The shrub in question is called the Blue Leafed Izu Tree or Distylium myricoides

Just a young one, planted - October 2011

One of the features that caught my eye was the structural herringbone arrangement of foliage along the arching stems.  The 'Blue Leaf' part of the name refers is a slight iridescent quality found on the glossy foliage.  I found the flowering to be pleasing yet moderately exciting, resulting in small ribbon-like petaled clusters of red blooms borne at the leaf axis of the stem.  Distyliums are closely related to Witch hazels but the crown for best flowering still remains firmly with its cousins.  Its mounding habit with graceful arching branches is quite exquisite making it a good choice for use as a foundation shrub.  I suspect it could be a good replacement for dwarf English Yew but I'm hopeful that its main role will be to compete with the over planted Otto Luykens Cherry laurel as a backdrop planting.

Due to the fact that the plant was sitting in obscurity until recently there’s very little reference information on it.  The Guru of all things woody, Michael Dirr only included it in his latest version of the 'Manual of Woody Trees and Shrubs'. Obviously his excited by its performance in the landscape to the point of hybridizing D. myricoides with D. racemosum to introduce some new cultivars through his partnership in Plant Introduction Inc.  It will probably a couple more years until we see the fruits of their labor being distributed widely into garden centers but exciting to know different forms are being worked on.  As yet, I tried the plants in a mixture of locations and found that they're tolerant of filtered to full blazing sun. Shade on the other hand makes them open up and loose their body.  I have a small planting out in front of the garden center in a very exposed situation, open to cold winter winds that have stood just fine. Growth rate is said to be slow but I have experienced good progression to the point of trimming one of mine back after 2 years to balance its habit.  To date, no pest or disease damage to be concerned with and that counts for deer and rabbit attacks.  Good amended acid soil is recommended but our Virginia clay doesn't seem to upset them.

So could this be the hot plant of the future?  Well we'll see but for my money well worth the venture, at least until the next new one comes along!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Damn good plants: Holly 'Cherry Bomb'

I don't often get excited over hollies, its pretty much a static plant until it produces berries so finding one that makes my eyes pop out and whistles blow is rare!  Last year I became aware of a Holly 'Cherry Bomb', released from Greenleaf Nurseries in North Carolina.  Very little information was given and web searches on the plant produced barely any thing that would tweak the average persons interest but I took a gamble and brought some in.  Unlike the lottery, this one seems to be paying off.

One of a few website I stumbled across reviewed it as 'Total Tenacious and Texas Tough' plant.  Cause for concern as it might not be tough enough for Virginia's winters.  Yeah, we kick butt too but without the big hats!  My concerns have been laid to rest this year as a planting done last fall at the front of the store not only survived the winter but showed no sign of leaf burn often seen on newly planted broadleaved evergreens.  In fact the plants has thrown out copious amounts of flowers that are developing into good berries for what promises to be a great show in the fall.  It may be good to mention here that the plants are self fruiting so no need for pairing partners by the hand (a Texas saying).

The foliage is smooth, dark green without thorns that would suggest it belongs with the holly family, almost taking on the appearance of a Otto Luyken Cherry Laurel.  According to the JC Raulstons Arboretum 'Connoisseur Plants - 2006' listing, it mentions that it was a home grown hybrid out of the National Arboretum in Washington DC.  The interesting part is when the parentage is discussed, crossed between  Ilex Nellie R. Stevens and I. intregra or Mochi tree native to Asia.  Both are somewhat large specimens in the landscape but  'Cherry bomb' is listed as reaching 3 to 4ft tall by 3ft wide and mounding, though is a slow grower.  This claim seems to be holding as none of the plants show signs of a loftier ambition. The rest of the literature gives the impression that sliced bread was the last best thing available to us before 'Cherry Bomb' showed up.  Sun-part shade, moist, well drained soils but tolerant of floods or drought, is there anything it doesn't like!

My hat comes off to this Holly, for the reason that it has gone out of its way to not look like a Holly except for its large red berries.  Even a taste test of sorts done with a colleague resulted with him mentioning how good that plant was for the following ten minutes.  I'm surprised he didn't light up a cigarette after his experience to gain his composure back.  Though one would not consider it terribly sexy, 'Cherry Bomb' does make quiet an sensation in the garden for a Holly!

Monday, May 14, 2012

Be careful of what you ask for

Have you ever wondered how some of these plants got there names, or been left dumbfounded by one? Whether its a common, variety or scientific name you start to wonder if it was done for humor or that all of the good ones have been used already.

One of my favorite, or is it least favorite I should say, is the Paniculed Hydrangea 'Pinky Winky'.  A nice plant with admirable traits but what male in their right mind would stroll into a garden center and ask for a 'Pinky Winky'.  Surely the marketing guys behind that one should of known that half of the demographic who shop garden centers (being men) wouldn't buy a 'Pinky Winky' even if it grew beer!  Now they got it right with Hydrangea 'Big Daddy'!

Roses can have 'tongue in cheek' names too leaving you hot under the collar and a little flustered.   'Sexy Rexy' and 'Easy does it' rely on sex appeal to get the eye.  However, rose names have also been used to memorialize famous people, 'Pope John Paul' and of course 'JFK'.  The problem arises when a rose has been name in honor of you but your not pushing up daisies yet, as seen with this years new release, 'Dick Clark'.  Does this mean that by having a rose named for you is really a curse - just a thought.

Now in the world of pure science you wouldn't think that humor enters into the logical process of descriptive naming.  Every now and then, it helps to step back and have others review your good intentions to prevent embarrassment as with the case of the white stemmed bramble, Rubus cockburnianus.  I have no problem with Rubus, but the last part gets a little tricky!  It always brings a little smile to my face when you read the 'very proper' British garden magazines recommending the virtues of planting R.cockburnianus around your garden for winter interest. Rumored to be named in honor of the Cockburn family contributions to plant exploration but instead will raise eyebrows with the title 'cockburnianus', how unfortunate. Couldn't we just use the guys first name like Rubus John for example, it doesn't have to be so literal.

Of course common names come out on top like 'Bleeding Heart' or 'Lady's in a Bath tub' for Dicentra or Corpse flower for Amorphophallus titanium, taking into account the rotting flesh aroma it puts off a when flowering.  We still need to use caution when using common names in the company of others as with the example of asking for 'Naked Ladies' (Amaryllis belladonna) .  One often doesn't  go looking for 'Mother-in-laws Tongue' too often either, a Sansevieria sp. unless you really have too.

Lastly, make sure what your asking for is actually a plant.  Too many times we've had people looking for Chlamydia!  Of course we're not that type of establishment to be offering Chlamydia as part of our services,  though one could be mistaken to think it was a Freudian slip perhaps?  In the end they tend to leave a little red faced but satisfied with a fine selection of Clematis for there garden.

Monday, May 7, 2012

In memory, Mr. Pearl

I sadly learned last week that my previous employer had died after a short fight with lung cancer that I understand had come on suddenly.  His name was Frank Pearl, for whom I worked as a Head Gardener on his private estate, Chancellors Rock farm in Rappahanock County, Va.  I know more about him in his passing then a I did while working for him but I always felt that the farm was his escape from prying eyes in Washington DC, so I choose not to inquire much unless given in conversations.

I admit that I was intimidated by his presence but held a great respect for him as he was a hugely successful, multi-million dollar investor with connections far bigger than I could comprehend.  He had a cool manner about him, like a poker player that was very unnerving but when brokering deals involving sums of money equal to lottery winnings, is a quality that's very desirable.  However, I never knew if the job I did met his standards and was left guessing by his quiet nature.  Many would say that no comment was actually a good comment.

One day the cool demeanor slipped as he took me by the arm and pointed out some orange tulips that had gotten mixed up in a box of what should of been white tulips.  He found the color very offencive for a garden, reminiscent of  'life jackets' and very unnatural.  However, I finally saw an emotion from which I could benchmark my work and a point where we connected.  It didn't last long though before that connection went back to a professional level but that was a trait I'd admired and respected from him.  Orange tulips became the equalizer that day between the powerful Washington DC elite and a dirt digging British gardener.

I have fond memories of my time and experiences on the farm that will be with me until I leave this place.  I can still picture him in my mind with his wife strolling up the unpaved road heading to the dining pavilion, pocket full of sweet treats for the Horses and followed by the farm dogs who have also since left us, Nudge, Lassie, Chubb and Tag.  Though he is gone his spirit will live on in those who spent time with him, for me orange tulips will bring a little smile to my face for the day I met the real Mr. Pearl.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Common sense gardening

I come to realize that what grinds my gears the most when working in retail is when customers fail to water their plants and then expect us to be held accountable.  All to often I have people marching up and demand a replacement because we sold them a dead plant to start with.  I'm a good salesman but I can't get someone to buy a dead plant. Ice to Eskimo's, now that's a different story!

Its really not a hard concept to grasp, all nurseries tend to their stock, watering, feeding and pruning on a regular basis and potting up to a larger container when needed.  Just the same as we would do with a baby growing through its years.

You can look at plants like people, they need food and water to survive, they even have sex!  So if we continue to draw that parallel, when the plant has reached its desired size, it flies the nest (being the nursery) to find its own way in life.  A garden center is a temporary stopping point, like a bar or night club where it can flaunt its stuff to get picked up for hopefully a long relationship.  Now that level of care and attention its been accustom to needs to be continued at the beginning as its still wet behind the ears.  Once you've weaned it from the bottle you should have a relatively problem free plant, only needing the occasional haircut to keep respectable.

However, if you take the plant that has been flirting with you at the nursery and just dump it in the garden without any thought of carrying on the romance then the love will die, along with the plant.  The 'treat it mean, keep it keen' won't work when it comes to plants!  As you can see plants are really just like us.

Losing plants is sadly part of the game and I get reminded of it frequently.  Mother nature constantly reminds us that she is in charge and will test our souls with droughts, freezing temperatures and plagues of beasts looking to use our gardens as an 'all you can eat buffet'.  So with that in mind we (the consumer) should do whatever we can to help that poor plant transition from a life of comfort to everyday living.

Checking the plant and watering it properly, meaning a good deep penetrating soak is all that it requires from you.  You don't have to find Himalayan mountain water bottled by a Tibetan monk and transported via yaks to carry out this simple task, tap water is just fine.  Oh, and don't think irrigation systems will fit the bill, we've seen more plants being returned because of that assumption but if you insist on using it go get a refund from the company that put it in for you!  'Set it and forget it' only works for rotisserie chickens.

Gardening takes work and we need to 'own' our mistakes and admit that our neglect resulted in a loss.  The difference is how we learn from our mistakes so that we can become better gardeners.  It wasn't the bartenders fault for you picking up a lousy partner, just the same way that it wasn't the garden centers fault that the plant you purchased died.