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!


  1. This was really lovely reading! You live in such a magnificent surrounding. Beautiful trees and shrubs everywhere, and I am fond of the picture of the horse and the van. The crape myrtle has a beautiful bark, never seen before. It is wonderful how you have grown your own apricot tree from a fruit picked off the ground, be careful with this tree and make some cuttings for sure and sow some fruits.
    Happy Gardening!

  2. What state are you in? BEAUTUFUL TREES!

  3. Wow, what a busy post. I think I have a lot to take care of. Ha.

    I really love your place and you inspire me with your wonderful photos and talking about what you are doing.

    Have a lovely Christmas and a wonderful 2014.


  4. The apricot has a very sweet flower, I can see why it is one of your favorites. I miss New England's colorful fall sugar maples too. I was born and grew up and lived there for over 50 years, and unfortunately, took their great fall color for granted. I love the mottling of crape myrtles too, but there are only a couple I think that grow well here in the PNW. You are quite a prolific propagator, and the amount of land you have must be huge. Happy Holidays to you too.

  5. You have done so much and sounds like you plan to do so much more! In my opinion it wouldn't be 'necessary' because it already looks amazing...but if it makes YOU happy, I agree you should do what you like! I added calycanthus, serviceberry, redbud, fothergilla and fringe tree just this past year...after clearing out some lawn space. I don't have nearly the amount of land that you do. I can just picture you, trying to plan for and fill in every inch...depending on your mood. Other times saying, Oh the heck with it! Anyway, hope you have a Merry Christmas!

  6. The blossom are lovely, a pretty color. Wonderful series of images.

    Wishing you and your family a very merry Christmas!

  7. Dear Sweetbay, I so understand the amount of work you have there and the angst of dealing with ticks! It truly does put a damper on things. Our Sugar Maples are in trouble here due to the warming trends but this year they did put on quite a show. Lovely images of Prince, your landscape and details of bark. Wishing you the happiest of holidays and blessings in the New Year. Carol

  8. I did get to the end of the novel, and truly enjoyed it. I'm amazed at your success in growing trees from seed. I am curious - how long did it take your flowering apricot to bloom from seed?

    1. I don't remember exactly how old the tree was when it started blooming, but I know that it grew fast and was blooming by year 3. My tree hasn't bore any fruit, unfortunately. It probably needs another one for cross pollination.

  9. You are so good at growing plants from seed. :o) When my son was very young, he bit into an apple and discovered the seeds had germinated inside the core. We planted them in a pot and forgot about them. Two seedlings developed into trees and we watched them grow until we moved. I don't think you have a garden as much as you have the entire arboretum!

  10. You are a true gardener- the gardening year is not yet over and you are already making changes and planning additions for next year. I am sure things like thorny blackberry brambles, deer and ticks are a deterrent from working in the garden, but having a Japanese Apricot already in flower must be very encouraging. Happy holidays and all the best to you and your garden for the new year!

  11. I am impressed with how many trees you are growing from seed -- even picking up the apricot's seeds from the ground at the arboretum. You are growing a lot of what I have put in up here, but I get plants from Forestfarm and have only started a few trees from seeds (a tulip poplar and red maples, all easily grown from seed.) My experience with sassafras is like yours, very very hard to start. But I do have five growing now (out of about 30 tries). I love reading all these rambling thoughts about trees and shrubs and how they do for you in your area -- wish I had your space!

  12. Makes me wonder if my apricot got tricked into blooming too. I will go check tomorrow morning, the Christmas tree is blocking the view of mine, so I haven't seen it much the last few weeks - too busy to go outside!

  13. Dear sweetbay, reading your 'novel' and having got to the end I saw you have a lot of 'room to plant' ! And you have a lot of plans to do! I've seen a Christmas cactus on your photo, did it bloom this year?
    Have a wonderful holidays!

    1. Yes it did bloom this year! Usually it waits until January, but this time it was in bloom for Christmas for the first time since I got it.

  14. Sweetbay, I am so impressed with your ability to raise trees from seeds, even seeds you picked up off the ground! Your Japanese apricot is gorgeous! I think your vision of a woodland edge coved in pink froth will come true sooner than you expect! I also have an American smoke tree. I planted it in early summer last year. I was glad that at least it survived, but there was no fall color at all. I am looking forward to seeing what it will do in 2014. I wish you the very best for the New year. Happy gardening!

  15. Even though you've had a few disapointments like others I'm quite impressed with the number of trees you've grown from seed. Trees are difficult to start from seed and you've certainly mastered the knack of it. How I would love to grow some of the trees you've mentioned. I've eyed up yellowwood in the catalogues but not sure it would survive this far north. Such a gorgeous tree though.


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