Purple comes back for the holidays - DIY wreath

I have lots of boxwood in my garden, and many of them need a good pruning. So out I went with my pruners to snip some lengthy sprigs to create a wreath. I used a wire frame and attached the boxwood with wire. It made a good start but needed more texture. I cut some sprigs of Thuja 'Green Giant' and wired them in, finishing the greenery off with some stems of Chamaecyparis pisifera.

The result was okay, but a little sparse. I added more from the back to fill it out. At right is the first round of stem attachments.

A couple of weeks ago I'd visited Michael's and found some fancy glittery pieces to spruce up a plain wreath, but after working so hard with all the real greenery, I was concerned it would make it too gaudy. But it certainly needed something...

I wrapped the wreath with a string of 100 gold mini lights, which was just the right amount for the wreath, made from a frame no bigger than 16" diameter. And then I took out all the glittery stuff and inserted it here and there before making the bow. The theme I decided on at Michael's was bronze and purple, a color I was surprised to find so readily.

When I moved into my first apartment in 1973 and decorated my very first Christmas tree, I used lots of purple. But it was the '70s, and weird colors were the norm. All of a sudden, it seems, when I wasn't looking, purple has made a comeback. Not a traditional Christmas color to be sure, but I'm kind of liking it as much now as I did when I was 20.

What do you think?

Just because it's big doesn't mean it's better

Abbie turned vibro-dog and I knew the cause but could do nothing about it. We were moving our large tropical plants around the sunroom, into the sitting room and down the hall into one of the spare bedrooms. Our little Cairn terrier wasn’t keen on big things moving around the house that, in her simple doggie brain, belonged outside. First, she disappeared outside and into her “foxhole,” a wide but shallow retreat she’d dug near the dryer vent in the yard.

Just when she thought it was save to come back inside, I lopped the upper branches off of an old, 6+ foot-tall bougainvillea standard that hadn’t bloomed in six years. I knew my husband Dave wouldn’t like it. Which is why I did it when he was in the garage. He entered the house just as the thick, thorny branches fell. He didn’t take it well. There were raised voices and more than a little anguish in his voice.
“Why did you do it,” he wailed. “It took me years to get it going as a standard!”
“Yeah, but has it ever bloomed,” I asked in a calm voice as I carefully gathered the branches.
We have two bougainvillea standards, neither of which have sprouted more than one or two blossoms. Ever. I’ve tried feeding them and not feeding them. I’ve tried moving them to different locations in the garden and repotting them. My conclusion is that these are both varieties developed for in-ground use.
After seeing blooming specimens in hanging baskets at Ted’s Greenhouse, I hoped to discard the two thorny trees and, next spring, get varieties that would actually bloom in our lifetime. Oh well.
Meanwhile, back at Ted's (Remember I'd visited them a week ago to bring home an Echeveria?) I filmed him as he spoke about a fig he'd purchased and propagated, and later on a ponytail palm that seems to be one of a kind--variegated with not just a couple of stripes, but several on each leaf. At the end of the video are the bougainvilleas in hanging pots in one of Ted's greenhouses.

Dave saw these hanging pots, too. I hope he'll appreciate a blooming bougainvillea next spring. That is, unless he'd prefer to grow a thorn tree...

Ted's Greenhouse will banish the blues of a grey November day

When I found out Ted's Greenhouse in Tinley Park, IL had the rare Echeveria 'Raindrops', I headed out for a visit. Ted's never fails to amaze me, in large part because of Ted, an octogenarian who really knows his stuff. Where else can you learn about the science of tissue culture in less than five minutes? Anyway, Ted took us around on a private tour through the greenhouses, where I got to taste a fig for the first time, saw the rare Aloe polyphylla (shown briefly at the end of the video), and an awesome variegated ponytail palm (Beaucarnea recurvata), that I'll share in another post.

Of course, I came away with the Echeveria 'Raindrops'. An interesting site where you can learn more about Echeveria is Echeverias in Oz. Although it is based in Australia, there is information about all of the Dick Wright hybrids, including 'Raindrops'.

This hybrid starts out like any other blue-hued Echeveria, but as it matures, the little "raindrop" bumps form. I found a specimen with several plantlets, which I'll separate and pot up in the spring.
Ted's is in Tinley Park, IL and is open Monday through Friday from 9 am to 5 pm and Saturdays from 9 am to 3 pm. They are closed on Sundays through March.

All wrapped up

Tree peony 'Ariadne'
Three tree peonies and my only Japanese maple are wrapped up and ready for deer. The poor Japanese maple, 'Orange Dream', was moved a couple of years ago to the east side of the house where I could see it better. Apparently, the deer also could see it more clearly and clearly enjoyed its flavor. The deer nibbled at it in spring after the leaves unfurled, snacked on it occasionally throughout the summer, and in winter, used it as its personal chew toy. Needless to say, there isn't much left to it. If a second species name could be used for this Acer palmatum, it would be fastigiatus, (having erect branches growing close together; columnar; upright), because that's how it looks right now, having lost its horizontal branches to the snacking deer.
I hope the deer don't both Pinus strobus 'Squiggles', a dwarf white pine with curly needles. It's a cute little thing, in the front of the house near an Ilex verticillata. When it gets cold enough to kill the leaves of a couple of Hydrangea that aren't hardy, I'll cover them with leaves and white pine needles. Until then, I'll enjoy the leaves remaining on plants like sugar maples and Kerria japonica.

It's all just nuts

Whether you have a stand of oaks or the tree stands alone, you might have noticed the lack of acorns this year. Although it might be a bit early to determine whether this is true, I've definitely seen a distinct lack of activity in our resident squirrel population. Usually around this time they're scurrying around like crazy, transporting the acorns from our pin oaks to spots where they can dig them up later.
Causes for the scarcity of acorns in some years and bumper crops in other years still are uncertain. According to a 2005 article published in American Scientist, the reason for the ups and downs of acorn production is still a mystery. It could be a late frost killing the female flowers. Or lack of rain during the growing season, or heavy rainfall during the pollination period.
An interesting term associated with oak trees is “masting.” The term comes from the Old English word maest, which refers to the nuts of forest trees that have accumulated on the ground that were used for fattening swine. The phenomenon occurs in populations of oak trees that synchronize their reproductive activity. Although how it’s done is still unclear.
It could be that the trees had produced a bumper crop the previous year and has gone through a kind of recovery in the next season. An interesting site where you can learn more about acorns and oak trees is the Hastings Natural History Reservation of the University of California.
Acorn Facts:
* Oak trees can start producing acorns when they are 20 years old, but sometimes can go all the way to 50 years for the first production.
* By the time the tree is 70 to 80 years old it will produce thousands of acorns. When the tree reaches about 100 years of age, it starts slowing down until it reaches a yearly production of about 2,200 acorns per year.
* A variety of wildlife depend on acorns as a food source, including white-tailed deer, gray squirrels, fox squirrels, flying squirrels, mice, voles, rabbits, raccoons, opossums, gray foxes, red foxes, wild turkey, bobwhite quail, wood ducks, mallards, woodpeckers, crows, and jays.
* Acorns from white oaks, such as the common white, bur, and swamp white oaks, grow and fall to the ground every fall. Those from red oaks, including the northern and southern red, pin, shumard, shingle and water oaks, remain on the trees for more than a year, falling to the ground in their second autumn.

Put Some Gardens in Your Travel Plans

I don't know about you, but even if I have the latest portable web search gadget with me on a trip, I prefer to have a guide to possibilities in old-fashioned paper form. Whether you're like me and work your travel plans around an arboretum or like to find out where the closest public gardens are to your destination,  The Visitor's Guide to American Gardens should definitely be along for the ride.

Put this book on your gift list for yourself or a fellow gardener. It's the latest, greatly-illustrated glimpse into the best gardens to visit in the U.S. plus Canada. At just $19.99, it's the perfect gift exchange item for travelers and gardeners as well as garden travelers like me. Author Jo Ellen Sharp has done a great job packing it all into a portable paperback that will make you want to get on the road.

Not meant to be a detailed account of what you'll see at each garden, the book hits the highlights with succinct descriptions of the not-to-be-missed at each place. But if details are sought while you're in the car, most of the listings include a QR code that, when scanned with your smart phone's camera, takes you to the facility's website where you can get all the latest information.

As nerdy as I am about visiting public gardens, I of course counted up the ones I'd enjoyed over the years. (I think it's close to 60.) In early June, Nichols Arboretum is not to be missed for its lush, historical peony garden.

Come to northwest Indiana for the Porter County Master Gardeners Gardening Show January 21, 2012 for the story behind the peony garden and how it's being renovated.

David Michener, Associate Curator, University of Michigan, and Arboretum Horticulturist Carmen Leskoviansky will present a program on the rehabilitation of North America's largest collection of heirloom peonies.

Peony 'Duchess of Portland'
Peony 'L'Etincelante'
Two I haven't had much luck locating are 'Duchess of Portland' and  'L'Etincelante'.

So it's happened once again: I've turned to talk of peonies. But if you visit Nichols during peony bloom days, look for the middle-aged woman salivating and making sudden moves as she tries to soak it all in.