Friday, January 24, 2014

Rant for Rant: About the "I" Word

The term "invasive" really steams me when improperly used, and I'll try to explain why.
This rant was triggered by "the Trouble with the Word Invasive" by Susan Harris in her Garden Rant.

I hardly got past Susan's fourth paragraph when I had to see for myself how the "I" word has been misused. You can tell this name calling is seriously out of hand when trust-worthy organizations like these send the wrong message. Just look at the logos linked to this exhausting if not exhaustive list of "invasive" plant species.

The trouble with lists like these--besides the fact that so many trusted groups have put their name on it--is that, unless you know the finer points of genus, species, and hardiness, you are very likely to misunderstand it. For example, two species of the genus Ornithogalum are on the list. The casual reader might understand it to say that all species of Ornithogalum are invasive, when that is not the case with O. magnum or many of the tropical species, one of which I wrote about recently. Absent from the list is poison ivy, or Toxicodendron radicans, a North American native that we settlers have been trying to eradicate since the first human suffered from its irritating oil.  

While I'm not a fan of qualifiers, the paragraph preceding the list (shown below), could have been made more correct by adding "some."
The following species have been reported to be invasive in some natural areas in the U.S. Species native to the U.S. are included when they are invasive in areas well outside their known natural ranges, as a result of human activities. For more information on each species, including the listing sources, images, and distribution maps, click on the species.


I shy away from the term "invasive" as if it were a four-letter word. I'll use "pushy," and usually follow that term up with, "in my garden." Did we forget that poison ivy is a native? Or witnessed a bee shying away from a flower because it's a hybrid from out of town?

As for deer: According to the National Park Service, deer were imported from Michigan into Indiana to make hunters happy. The white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) lives throughout Indiana, although historically, the deer population declined dramatically after the Europeans arrived, and by 1884, deer were becoming quite rare. Deer were reintroduced in Indiana in 1934 and, by 1966, were present in all counties in the state. So that clears (or muddies) things up from the Indiana standpoint.

One last thought before I take a breath and get on with my life. Members of the scientific community need to sit down and come up with a definition of the term before bandying it about so freely.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Shoes or Plants: The Debate Rages On

For a writer, it pays to be curious, but that curiosity can be costly. I like to think acquiring plants is on a higher plane than buying, say, shoes. Don't get me wrong. I love shoes for the same reason most women do--my feet have only grown half a size over the years. And if your feet aren't happy, the rest of you isn't either. Which is the limit of what I've learned from my shoes. Plants, however, have taught me a couple of books worth.
Magnolia seiboldii
Over the years, I've written about fragrant plants, plants that thrive in shade, options for partial sun, soil amendments for specific plants, and more than I'll ever remember. Each feature came with a price tag for a new batch of growing acquisitions, resulting in a garden filled with plants chosen out of curiosity.

When I wrote a story about Magnolias, I found myself in search of the Oyama magnolia, or Magnolia seiboldii, a variety said to be both fragrant and hardy, and that would bloom late enough in the season to avoid frost.

I found one, planted it where I thought it would thrive, and learned that it wasn't big on heat. I moved it into the woods where it grew into a spreading bush for several years until it finally bloomed in 2012.

Magnolia seiboldii turned out to be somewhat of a diva, requiring work and time before it performed to its beautiful potential. But still, it took less time than it would for a gorgeous but outdated pair of shoes to come back in style. 

Kniphofia 'Orange Vanilla Popsicle'
And then there are the plants that I'd read I couldn't grow--Kniphofia, lavender, the finicky Franklinia and the troublesome Hydrangea macrophylla. There is no one waiting in my driveway to see if I'm successful. I'm proving any accomplishments only to myself, and as a writer, offering up hopefully helpful insights.

On Kniphofia: It seems that the year after they grow large enough to bloom, they begin to increase to the point where they're in need of division. I can keep some varieties alive, but most aren't reliable bloomers, and they take up too much space to be acceptable in my limited garden space. The exception to that rule, so far, are Terra Nova's Popsicle Series. All of the three varieties in my seriously-raised bed have bloomed practically non-stop since I planted them in August, 2012. I realize they've only survived one winter so far, so the jury is, as they say, still out. But I don't recall ever having had such high hopes and anticipation for a pair of shoes.

My goal in growing lavender isn't necessarily to have masses of it flagrantly exuding fragrance on a rare day of Mediterranean-style weather. My goal is to have a plant or two or three just to see what they do. And if they thrive to the point that I'm able to harvest half an armload, I consider it a success.
Lavender 'Super'
The biggest success I've had so far has been with a hybrid variety called 'Super', which I planted in 2008 and pitched in 2013. Lavender becomes woody with age, and if you don't prune it properly, will lose its vigor, although a five-year run is much better than I'd expected.
Just one plant of Lavandula x intermedia 'Super' gave me the biggest bunches from 2009 through 2011, but continued to provide substantial amounts in 2012.

I buy good shoes, so they typically last several years if I don't wear them a lot. But I can't recall a time when a pair of shoes in my closet came up with a fresh pair of shoes each year.

If I had as many pairs of shoes as I do plants, they'd be calling me Imelda. Like a favorite pair of shoes, the best plants remain for as long as you continue to care for them. But plants certainly are, hands down, the better value.








Thursday, January 9, 2014

I Still Love Paper Plant Catalogs!

It's amazing how many catalogs I've received in the mail already. Although many online nurseries have curtailed the printing of a  paper version of their stock, even more have not. I think they realize the gardener's need for a tactile and totable booklet that can be perused over and over, and even saved for reference or posterity.

These companies also understand how most gardeners can't bring themselves to throw them away. Not only can I not bring myself to ditch them, I make sure they always are handy in case I have to know immediately where I can find a particular Salvia I just recalled.

One of the best learning tools I had in my early years of gardening were the catalogs from Wayside, White Flower Farm, Burpee, and Thompson & Morgan. After a few years, I graduated to non-picture volumes like Digging Dog Nursery, Greer Gardens, and Forest Farm. Some of these companies changed their focus, some no longer print catalogs, and some have catalogs available on request.

Another reason online nurseries don't bother with print catalogs is that it would cost a fortune to list everything they grow. This is something we shouldn't forget--just because we get a catalog in the mail doesn't mean we shouldn't take a close look at their website. Most nurseries carry more than what they mention in their catalogs.

After I took a snapshot of the catalogs, Poppy decided to check them out. She likes to lay between my back and the padded back of the chair while I browse the plant possibilities. Which brings me to another benefit of these catalogs: we can look at and learn about what we love without the weightiness of a book or laptop. They're "knowledge light," a portable glimpse into what growers have to offer; quicker than searching on a portable device, and with the accompanying (non-virtual) sound of flipping pages.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

You Can Grow That: Potted Ornithogalum

The predominant color here in northwest Indiana is white. There is about a foot of snow on the ground and it's still coming down. Breaking up the monotony inside are two beautiful bloomers that seem to be in it for the long haul.
I bought a potted and budded Ornithogalum (commonly known as star of Bethlehem) a week or so before Christmas, and it's been going strong ever since.  The first thing I noticed was that the bulbs had been jammed very tightly into the pot. Like many pot-grown bulbs, this one likes to be crowded.

Of course, I like to know what I'm growing, exactly, so I first looked on my heavily-laden garden book shelves.
One of the most in depth books on bulbs is  Buried Treasures: Finding and Growing the World's Choicest Bulbs by Latvian plantsman Janis Ruksans. Although he mentions and features photos of more than a dozen species of Ornithogalum, none resemble the plant I'm growing. With a little more digging, I learned that the plant in my pot originates from Africa, and Ruksans traveled Eastern Europe and Central Asia, finding several species in Turkey as well as on the Crimean peninsula, home to the rarest species of Cyclamen, C. kuznetzovii, which is perhaps a story for another time.

There are more than 100 species of Ornithogalum, but the one most American gardeners know about is a noxious weed. Ornithogalum umbellatum is indeed one you don't want in your garden, and is considered an invasive plant in 10 states. Its common names are not flattering and include "dove's dung" and "sleepy dick."  It spreads both by seed and by small offsets that form at the base of the main bulb. When they break off they form a new plant, which makes them nearly impossible to eradicate. But that doesn't mean the whole genus should be painted with the same brush.
O. umbellatum (Wikipedia)

I am really liking the long bloom of this Ornithogalum, which is likely a hybrid. My online search hit pay dirt on the website of the South African National Biodiversity Institute, which had a very detailed description of O. thyrsoides and O. conicum, both of which are used in the cut and potted flower trade. The plant I have resembles O. conicum more than O. thyrsoides because of its spike formation.

The three photos below show the sheer bloom power of my potted Ornithogalum, which shows no sign of slowing down. Of course, I'll try to get it to rebloom next winter, leading me to research this little plant even further. Look for your own pot of Ornithogalum at your supermarket, which is where I found mine. And enjoy it for at least a month.

I haven't written for awhile, but wanted to get back at it in honor of You Can Grow That! where bloggers from all over the world write about their experiences with growing plants, and the numerous perks and benefits to our health and sense of well-being.  (I feel better already.)