Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Along the wood's edge

The Japanese apricot at the top of the driveway has begun to bloom.

The tree is covered in buds that are opening in the warm temperatures. So sweet-smelling, and sweet-looking. I love this tree.

At some point soon I want to add another apricot; this one is around 10 years old and who knows how much longer it will live. Could be 15 years, or it could be 2. I see telltale evidence of borers from beads of sap glistening along the branches. I grew this one, and the 3 in my MIL's yard, from fruits that I picked up off the ground at the JC Raulston Arboretum. I figured the fruits were basically trash or compost anyway. Dirr says this species is easy to root from softwood cuttings in June, so I plan to try that next summer.

Heading down the driveway towards the house, it is apparent that the woods' edge next to the drive up top needs work. Chinese privet has grown up and on top of that tangles of greenbriar. I've been working with the loppers to clear the vines and the small trees so that DH can get to the bigger ones with the chainsaw. The birds are loving the the brush piles; they have been poking around in them looking for insects and use them for cover as they dart between the Bidens field to the right and the woods to the left. I'm going to leave those piles there for a while, to let them dry out, and then haul them down to one of the floodway fields. There's a corner we devote to brush. Yesterday while we were walking the horses I saw a doe lying down in the brush in the floodway field near the path. She didn't move and I hope she wasn't injured, but she may have stayed put because as I have said, the wild animals here don't pay as much attention to us when I am either on or leading one of the horses. She was looking right at me though, and certainly looked bright-eyed.

Those piles are just going to get bigger. There's still quite a bit of mess to clear as you can see. My plan is to create a dry woodland edge, but there can only be a narrow strip of it; quite quickly the land drops down 2 or more feet into an area filled with springs. A dancing tree (Ostrya virginiana) would be perfect to add here. It's a dryland cousin to the Caprinus caroliniana . Both are in the birch family and both go by the common name of Ironwood. Ostrya virginiana is also known by the whimsical name Hop Hornbeam since the fruit resembles hops. I plan to order one from Forestfarm.

The hay in the pictures surround redbuds from seed or the National Arbor Day Foundation. The redbud in the hay circle in the foreground is still literally the size of a thimble although most of the rest are taller than me now.

I'd love to plant sassafras up here, but seeing my success in growing sassafras is about .1 (not a typo) to at least 4 in the win/loss column, I'll settle for Smooth Sumac for now. I have one sassafras that I've had for several years that has stubbornly remained the size of a nickel. On the other hand I have a Smooth sumac that I grew from seed (from the NC Botanical Garden) that's about 2 feet tall in its second year. It had a beautiful red color this fall and will have some room to sucker. I am always looking to add more fall color to the garden.

We have fall color but still, this is not New England. I am envious of NE's sugar maples. Sugar maples can grow here ~ in fact nearby Benson has sugar maples as their street tree ~ but they are not common. I planted a sugar maple up here, set back slightly from the wood's edge. It's about 5-6 feet tall now and finally showed some color this fall. I grew it from seed from some sugar maples that grow in a parking lot at NCSU. I figure if they can grow in a parking lot in Raleigh they can grow here. I have another that's not even a foot tall yet, also grown from seed from the parking lot maples.

There isn't a whole lot of room up here for another big tree, but I think a hickory would fit, as it is tall and narrow. I've always wanted a pignut hickory, as they have the most beautiful color of all of the hickories according to Michael Dirr. I'll probably have to grow it from seed though, if I can get my hands on any.

There's one wild blueberry bush at the wood's edge, so I planted another near the Japanese apricot.

I may add other shrubs that can take half shady dry conditions. I made a list on another post concerning another area (next to the apricot maple near the neighbor's fence) that would apply here: Alabama azalea, pinxterflower (Rhododendron periclymenoides), Rusty Blackhaw (Viburnum rufidulum) and sparkleberry (Vaccinium arboreum). With the rusty blackhaw, sparkleberry, blueberries, sumac, and dancing tree, there should be some good fall color up here. This area needs some bright spots of color in the fall, as the crape myrtles as I have said are a bust in that regard. I like the bark of the crape myrtles, though, especially in winter. I think the smoothness and subtle shading of the bark is very nice, and it gets a little more color every year.

My American smoketree is a fall bust too, a tree is supposed to be a bonanza of fall color.
A few times it has turned a burnished gold color, but mostly the leaves just fall off. Very underwhelming.

It makes up for its fall fizzle by being uniquely beautiful in spring and summer.

We lost one of our dwarf apple trees, and so are down to one. I had bought two apple trees and a pear tree a year or two ago and they died immediately, even though we planted them in the fall. Next time I buy an apple tree I plan to get keep potted up until it has a really good root system.

I'd grow apple trees just for the bark.

Heading round the curve, there's still room to plant to the left of the driveway. It's a bit of a difficult spot, as the roots from the tulip poplar run into there; very dry in dry times and yet very wet in wet times. There are two prairie roses, a Carolina rose and an indigoifera at the top of the curve. In the middle there is an Alabama snow-wreath from Phillip (Thanks Phillip!), as well as a pair of 'Hartlage Wine' Calycanthus. Fanning across the area near the screenings pile are three volunteer wax myrtles. The Calycanthus provide fall interest, turning a rich shade of golden yellow, and I would like to add more fall color.

Every fall I mourn the fact that both the mapleleaf viburnum from my FIL's yard and the NC Botanical died. I'd like to try more in a few spots and since this place is shaded from the hot afternoon sun it's a good place to try. The wild viburnums in my FIL's yard are pink and grape purple. Scout's honor, they really are those colors. I really should get some more, even if I have to grow some in a pot. They are special.

The wood's edge continues to the south of the paddock, and then west of the house and down to the old house site. I've planted some understory trees along the treeline to try to mitigate the raw spindly look that occurred when those trees went from being in the middle of the woods to the edge (we had to clear a lot of trees when the house was moved). Meanwhile the edge is filling in by itself, with all sorts of things: shining sumac, wax myrtles, loblolly pines, sweetgums, red maples, tons of tulip poplar seedlings and blackberry brambles, and the dreaded Chinese privet.

Privet next to wood's edge, November

Most of all that new growth needs to be cleared out at least once a year. Not that it always is. The wax myrtles are fine but I want flowering trees. Under no circumstances can the pine trees remain! I do not want them blocking the western sun in winter. So far I've put in 3 dogwoods and 3 redbuds, (from the Arbor Day Foundation), a sorrel tree, a swamp cyrilla, a snowbell and a hawthorn (grown from seed) over the past few years. Some are as tall as a very tall person and some are only about a foot high. There's still room for more to go in; I also have several serviceberry babies that I found and potted up last year and a yellowwood seedling that can go in the ground next fall. I also very much want wild crabapples, if I can propagate any. We collected about a dozen crabapples and I've potted them up, but in previous years never had any success in sprouting them. I need to try cuttings too. I also stuck a Florida azalea in there 7 years ago that's now taller than I am, and has bloomed beautifully the last couple of years, so I'd love to add more azaleas.

Baby Yellowwood

Young serviceberries

I confess to being a little disappointed in the fall color of the serviceberries here. Some years the leaves turn a beautiful golden orange and bronze, but more often not rust or leaf spot (maybe both) causes the leaves to fall before coloring. Perhaps these seedlings will be more immune but I'm not holding my breath. Likely cultivars have more resistance. I will have to do some research and will try 'Autumn Brilliance' at the least. Especially after seeing them on Jason's gardeninacity blog. Wowza!

I would love to have some southern sugar maples (Acer barbatum) along the woods too. I've seen a few really beautiful southern sugar maples around, but have been a little scared off from buying them since I've read that their color isn't always inherited very reliably. I can't really get seeds from the spectacular ones roadside since they are in private yards. There is a huge, really beautiful specimen on the way to the feed store. At first I thought it was a regular sugar maple until I saw the smaller, more rounded leaves. I look forward to seeing it every year. But, guess what?! I found a small southern sugar maple in the corner of one of the floodway fields. Naturally it has a much more bigger red maple looming right behind it, which will require some care to get down without squashing the sugar maple. I spotted the golden leaves while riding Prince through the field last month.

Southern sugar maple

My interest in maintaining the woodland edge west of the house and paddock waxes and wanes. During the summer I just say to hell with it and let the honeysuckle and blackberries and everything else go crazy. The indigo buntings love the brambles anyway. The last two years the ticks have been TERRIBLE due to the mild winters so spring and fall were out too. I can handle working in the garden but overgrown areas, forget it. Last spring we did do some clearing (even DH got roped into it), so that we could plant the 2 bald cypress that I rescued from the deer and the floodway field where they were languishing the year before, and then sized up in pots for a growing season. I hope the deer won't mangle them in their new home. If they do snowbells will look good there.

So I have been clearing this winter and have been pleasantly surprised by the size of some of the trees. I even found a redbud buried under a mountain of blackberry brambles. Perhaps it won't be too many years before there's a pink and white froth of flowering trees along the wood's edge.

If you have gotten to the end of this novel, congratulations! And Happy Holidays!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Prairie rose

As described in an earlier post, I spend a lot of time in winter trying to rein in weeds, including Japanese honeysuckle, cutting it down and yanking it out whenever possible. I honestly never want to eradicate honeysuckle, as I cannot imagine late spring/ early summer in NC without its divine fragrance. But there can definitely be too much of a good thing. If you listened to the link from this post, you heard one of the twin sisters of Chapel Hill Sisters' Garden fame talk about honeysuckle. The sisters grew up in Arizona and grew a honeysuckle as a prized specimen, watering it with dishwater. The vine grew to the third storey of their house. Bernice Wade described how excited she was to see all of the honeysuckle in her yard when she moved to Chapel Hill in 1944. With laughter in her voice she said "I was in seventh heaven. I'm still fighting it however."

Honeysuckle can smother a lot of things since it grows so rampantly here. One of the things that needs rescuing is the giant prairie rose (Rosa setigera) beside the driveway. It started out as two young plants that I grew from seed. Once established they grew by leaps and bounds and by 2011 they had formed a mound that was over 8 yards in width and about 6 feet high. This rose is insane. It has cast itself another 10+ feet outward since then, over a ditch towards the neighbor's fence and up the driveway. The only thing that could stop it would be the honeysuckle, or that horrible thing called RRD.

As you can imagine trying to get honeysuckle out of the middle of a rose isn't the most fun of garden chores. There is repeated impalement by thorns. R. setigera has sturdy hooked thorns that go right through jeans and sweatshirts. There is cursing. But the pain and blood drawn is worth it.

Pictures from May:

This rose doesn't have any fragrance, but it has so many beautiful flowers and attracts so many bees I don't miss it. I've planted two more beside the drive further up the hill and two across the drive from that. There's also room between the drive and the neighbor's pasture and I've planted half a dozen there too. All grown from seed. If they all stay healthy one day there will be a lot of space filled with prairie roses.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Bloom Day December 2013

"Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower." ~ Albert Camus

Late fall is like a reverse spring, where those last spots of color is searched out, photographed, and cherished as much as the first buds of spring.

I keep thinking that pretty much everything is done except for the swamp cyrilla and oakleaf hydrangea, and then I go outside and see there's more. Blueberry color seems to stretch into infinity in the fall.

On the slope below the apricot maple there is a gathering of wild sorrel trees, and a half dozen blueberries.

Nov. 17th.

Less than a month ago ~ so much green!

The sorrel trees were not the magnificent specimens that some are in the fall; I'm thinking of the ones such as Laurrie pictured in her blog, or the ones I saw off highway 40 near the airport: perfect ruby red Christmas-type trees set off by the spent ivory flower panicles. Mine are still small and typically try to color early, sometimes as early as September, but not too successfully. Too much leaf spot. Yet, late in the year, they managed to produce a few perfectly crimson leaves.

Ignore all of that jessamine. It's since been cut off at ground level. I cut back the jessamine, honeysuckle and tree seedlings twice a year and throw some compost at it, but otherwise this area is allowed to grow wild.

Three of the blueberries are wild volunteers and 3 others were started from cuttings from wild blueberries. The latter are are still small, ranging from 6 inches to 3 feet in height, and even the former are not close to their mature size. I love the blueberries for their fall color. The best ones just turn a beautiful jewel-like ruby red, or begin as wine-colored and lighten to pure red. Not every last of the wild blueberries here have such stellar color from start to finish, although many of them do. Even the ones that start out a dark muddy brick red or a sort of pallid mixture of colors eventually turn red.


I have mentioned that I think we have both Highbush Blueberries (Vaccinium corymbosum) and Black Highbush Blueberry (Vaccinium fuscatum) here; next year, if we have a good year and I can get to them before the birds and the deer, I'm going to tag the bushes and see if there is any difference in fall color.

Those blueberries are bare now, but when I was out in the garden on last Friday I noticed that the blueberries grown from cuttings have really brightened up. They started out as a dark wine color.

Dec. 6th

One is still really tiny. The pink tags are to protect them from being accidently mowed or cut down.

The species roses are often colorful late in the year too.

Rosa virginiana Nov. 25th
Neither of my Virginia roses, at least not as yet, are shrubs covered by brilliantly colored leaves. Rather, they are a few canes with brilliantly colored leaves. lol They still stand out though.

Dec. 6th

Rosa setigera Nov. 23rd

I had thought the rugosas were done, but they are not entirely.

The Hammock Sweet Azalea has been in the ground here about 15 years and I never really noticed any fall color. Look at it this year. I mean, the leaves are red.

Nov. 22nd

I noticed the Piedmont azaleas had a little bit of color too, as they often do.

Nov. 22nd

They were even more colorful Dec. 6th!

Even today they still held onto a few red leaves.

Swamp cyrilla and blueberry Nov. 18th

A week later

A few leaves left today. The brown stuff is spent flower panicles.

Oakleaf hydrangea is the latest to keep its color.

'Dayspring' Dec. 6th


Already the witch hazel is in full bloom. I forgot to get a picture but that's OK as it's also full of crunchy brown leaves. The Japanese apricot is full of buds and has already opened about half a dozen flowers, and the winter honeysuckle is budding up too.


Guess what I saw on Friday night? A whole flock of turkeys! We were hand walking the horses because it's been so wet and no time to tack up before dark. Just as we got to the creek I heard a huge racket above in the trees. At least a dozen turkeys took off from the trees, some quite ponderously and crashing through many small branches. I can completely believe they weigh 10 to 20 lbs. The last one to take off was only about 30 feet away. I couldn't tell if the birds were a flock of males or of family groups (hens and poults) -- it was near dark and we were practically making our way down the path by Braille -- but they were unmistakeably turkeys. The horses were impressed too! Prince is convinced that great blue herons are pterodactyls and after scaring one up at the pond keeps looking for another one.

A few days before that I saw a barred owl fly down one of the woodland paths in front of us, and as we were on our way back to the paddock passed one of the red-shouldered hawks on the martin house. I've noticed that the hawks are much less wary when I am with the horses. Since I was on horseback and more than five feet higher than usual I got an even closer look at the hawk. It looked much smaller than the barred owl we had seen earlier, so my guess is that hawk is a male. Barred owls and red-shouldered hawks are similar in size, and female raptors are usually bigger than males.

We've seen a few accipiters around, probably Cooper's or sharp-shinned, as well as a red-tailed hawk. We usually see harriers here during the winter too.

For more bloom days join Carol at May Dreams Gardens.

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