21 November 2013

Growing (real) mandrakes!

If you are a Harry Potter fan, or just interested in folklore, you may know the mythical mandrake, a plant with roots that are supposed to scream when you pull them up, a scream that will kill anyone who hears it. Another myth has it that mandrakes only grow where the semen of a hanged man hits the ground.


Luckily for us, cultivation of the actual factual mandrake is a great deal less difficult and dangerous. In fact it is fairly easy to grow, and they are looking lush and lovely at the nursery right now.
 It is only hardy to zone 6, so needs a sheltered spot to survive here in mid-Michigan, but otherwise the only trick is understanding how it grows. Mandrake is a winter grower -- plants are just putting up lush and beautiful leaves now, leaves which will stay up all winter, followed by rather pretty flowers and fruit in the spring, and then it goes totally dormant in the summer. This makes it pretty much impossible to sell at a regular nursery, because any time people are shopping, it looks like it is dead. But come fall, up it pops again, without fail.

Frustrating as this backwards growth cycle is for us a nursery, it makes it a terrific garden plant. Because it grows in the winter, it does beautifully under deciduous trees, soaking up the sun while the leaves are down, and it is terrific interplanted with normal perennials like hostas, because right when the hostas are going down for the fall, leaving the garden barren, up pops the mandrake to look beautiful all winter. Pretty magical.
And, of course, you can show it to all your Harry Potter obsessed friends and make them horribly jealous, which is pretty magical as well.
We've got a few for sale: http://www.arrowheadalpines.com/shop/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=65_182&products_id=7026

07 November 2013

Delosperma update: The field narrows

Back in May, I posted about my experiments with trying to kill delospermas. I planted out entire collection out during the summer of 2012, in our native sandy soil, but no special conditions like raised beds or anything else. My goal was to see what THRIVES here in Michigan with no extra effort, so I just plopped two plant of each variety in the ground and waited to see what happened.

In May, I reported that 11 species had come through the winter just fine -- over half of what I had planted out to begin with. Which was more than I expected. I was surprised to find that over the summer many more bit the dust. We're now down to just 5. We had a summer that was slightly on the rainy and cool side, but nothing extreme. I never would have guessed it would kill so many delospermas. But it has, leaving me with a narrowing field of the very best delospermas for the Michigan garden. Here are the survivors, with pictures of what they look like today, with my comments:

Delosperma 'Firespinner'
This CLEARLY wins the vigor contest. This was a little, MAYBE 2 inch across plant just one year ago, and now the patch has spread to nearly two feet across. Way to large and aggressive for a rock garden or other small garden, but if you want a vigorous tough ground covering delosperma, this is the one I'd recommend. The flowers are stunning red-orange bicolor. (Sorry, we don't have this listed in the catalog yet, but should have some ready for sale by spring. If not, you shouldn't have trouble finding it for sale... everyone is growing this beauty.)

Delosperma ecklonis v. latifolia
Coming in a close second on the vigor department, this one has gone from two inches to a foot and half in just one year. Typical bright magenta flowers, heavy blooming in the early summer, with quite decent rebloom. As you can see, it hasn't quite given up flowering now, in NOVEMBER, despite quite a dose of freezing weather.

Delosperma deleeuwiae (possibly actually D. neill)

Delosperma 'Broncoensis'

Delosperma 'Lesotho Pink'
Not much practical difference between these three... all spread from their original ~2 inches to 6 or 8 inches, intense magenta flowers. Most of the plants in the garden suffered some die back in the centers of the clump, which gives them a bit of a patchy look. 'Broncoensis' is probably the best looking plant of the bunch (Note: we don't have this in the catalog at the moment. Stand by, we should have some ready to list soon.) and better for a small space than 'Firespinner' or D. ecklonis.

Delosperma nubigenum (this name may be incorrect...)

This is one of my favorites. The plant stayed quite small and tight, barely getting to 4 inches from the original 2 inch plant, which means this would be terrific in a rock garden or container garden. Yellow flowers, which is always a nice change from the typical delosperma magenta, and the foliage is taking on this lovely red flush as we're getting into fall. Apparently turning red in the fall is normal for most delospermas in sunnier climes like Denver, but here, where fall is cloudy and rainy, it is the only one really worth looking at.

29 May 2013

Report from the trial beds: Erodium!

Erodium is one of those genera that I had vaguely heard of but didn't really know anything about before I started working at Arrowhead. They're closely related to Pelargoniums, and I'd always sort of assumed they wouldn't be very winter hardy. But they're proved me wrong on the hardiness front, and now, the more I see of them, the more I like them. The ones we grow all bloom continuously starting now in late spring and continuing on without a pause well into the fall. The flowering is never super heavy – these aren't plants that smother themselves with flower – but that is more than compensated for (at least in my mind) by the intricate beauty of the flowers and the absolutely terrific ferny foliage. Also a huge plus, so far the deer and rabbits haven't shown any interest in them (though I'm making no guarantees... if your critters are hungry enough they'll eat almost anything) and they absolutely laugh at drought, heat AND our cold, cold winters.
Erodium chelianthifolium

Erodium glandulosum
Erodium glandulosum and E. chelianthifolium are two of my favorites, and I'm totally geeked that they sailed through our solidly zone 5 winter without missing a beat. Both form compact, tidy mounds (at one year in, they're 3-4 inches tall, and maybe 6 inches wide) of beautiful silver, finely cute fern-like foliage and have delicate round pale pink (in the case of ) or white (in the case of ) flowers with a pansy-like eye of darker purple that dance above the leaves on slender stems.
Erodium glandulosum

Erodium chelianthifolium
The two species are quite similar, with E. glandulosum somewhat larger in all its parts and proving to be marginally more vigorous and heavily blooming in the garden, though I think E chelianthifolium. has somewhat prettier (though smaller) blooms, and a stronger silver to the foliage.

Erodium chrysanthum
E. chrysanthum has the best foliage I've seen in this genus, a brilliant silver of the sort people usually resort to annuals like dusty miller to get (though it doesn't show up well in this photo...), on a tidy compact plant that stays under 6 inches tall and slowly spreads to a foot or more in width.
Erodium chrysanthum
 The flowers look white in this photo, but are actually a delicate shade of the palest possible yellow. They're beautiful and produced continuously during the summer, but in all honesty are best described as sparse. This plant is all about the foliage, and the flowers are just a sprinkling of extra goodness.

Erodium carvifolium

Erodium circutarium

Erodium mannescovii
E. carvifolium, E. cirvutarium, and E. mannescovii look so similar that at first I wondered if they were different plants at all... but comparing the three side-by-side, they are distinct, and in the garden their growth habits are noticably different as well. 
All have large, dark green very ferny leaves that form an almost flat mat, only a few inches tall, but one year in, are already over a foot across, and all three are intense when it comes to flower production, blooming heavily all summer long with big masses of brilliant see-them-on-the-other-side-of-the-garden magenta flowers. 
Erodium carvifolium
I'm not usually a magenta fan, but these I like. A lot. They are loud and unabashed and cheerful. Comparing the three in the trial bed, my clear favorite is E. carvifolium Bigger leaves and flowers than the other two, it is also clearly the most vigorous and heathy of the three, and is blooming the heaviest. I do however also like E. circutarium, which holds its flowers more upright than the other two.

I did also put two other species of Erodium in the trial beds, E. chamaedryoides and E. richardii, neither of which made it through the winter... which came as no surprise. If you live somewhere warmer (zone 7 maybe 6) they're well worth growing, tiny, cute, adorable little things. But I think I'll stick with the hardy ones.

05 May 2013

Report from the trial beds: Delosperma overwintering

Last summer, I took an unused section of the nursery and turned it into what we're calling the trial beds. The idea is to set out big sections of our collection side-by-side so visitors to the nursery can easily see what they look like in the ground, compare different species and cultivars, and get an instant education on groups of cool plants they might not have ever heard of.

Here is what they looked like just getting started last summer. The first bed has our entire collections of dracocephalum, scutellaria, teucrium (about a dozen species of each), along with some dwarf gypsophila and onosmas. The second bed is our entire collection of Penstemon (clocking in at no fewer than 45 different species and varieties... Yeah. That is a lot.) and the third, not finished in this photo, has asperula, erodiums, and delospermas. Three more beds will hopefully get planted up this summer. (Got a genus or group of plants you'd be curious to see grown out this way? Let me know in the comments and I might be persuaded to put them in for you.)

If you are local, I hope you'll come by and check them out over the course of the summer -- I think they're going to be pretty darn cool. But, since most of you AREN'T local, I'm going to try and give regular reports on what I'm seeing in the trial beds here on the blog.
First up, Delosperma overwintering. Most of the varieties of delosperma we grow are supposed to be hardy. And most of them ARE, provided they are kept nice and dry. Cold doesn't usually kill them, but winter wet certainly does. So I was interested to see what could actually make it through our wet Michigan winter. We do have very sandy soil at Arrowhead, which helps enormously (don't expect this sort of overwintering success if you have heavy clay) but as you can see, these aren't raised beds or rock gardens to give extra good drainage.

So, here are the survivors:

Delosperma eckolonis v. latifolia
D. cooperi 'Dwarf' (Note that the normal D. cooperi did NOT survive)
D. 'Firespinner' (so excited about this one... gorgeous in flower. I'll share later once they start blooming)
D. sphalmanthoides
D. basuticum
D. aff. nubigeanum (If you are unfamiliar with "aff." if basically means that is the name the plant came with, but we're not sure that is really what it is. Honestly we could probably put that on almost ALL the delospermas... Notoriously mixed up in the trade, and hard to figure out if you are not an expert in the genus. Which I'm not.)
D. aff. congestum
D. 'Broncoensis'
D. congestum 'Gold Nugget'
D. deleeuwiae
D. 'Lesoto Pink'

This is, honestly, a much longer list than I was expecting, over half of the plants I put in the ground! It is only data from one winter, of course, but it was a fairly cold winter. Temperatures dropped to -10 F and STAYED there for a few days, with almost no snow cover, in the process killing more than a few plants that had been hardy in the garden for years. Arrowhead sits just on the edge of zone 5 and zone 6 on the new USDA hardiness map, which means that around -10F has been our average winter low for the past 30 years, so this was a fairly representative winter, though of course we can get much colder... there was the year of -26 F, but hopefully we won't see that again for a long time.

I took pictures of all the surviving plants, but honestly they all pretty much look like this one of 'Gold Nugget'

Not much to see at the moment. But I'll follow up with pictures of each of the survivors once they start flowering, and hopefully keep tabs on them on and off through the summer so you can see how they spread, and which ones rebloom.

17 April 2013

Here, there, and everywhere

It is a running-around-like-crazy sort of week, giving a talk to a garden club in Harland MI this evening, and then on to Pittsburgh this weekend for two more talks and a round of plant selling (read more about it here: http://www.post-gazette.com/stories/life/garden/alpines-are-for-gardeners-who-are-thinking-fairy-small-683260/)

Meanwhile, I had a LOVELY time at Detroit Garden Works last weekend, and met a lot of great people, including Susan, who wrote this great post about the event on her blog: http://www.allaboutmygarden.com/2013/04/spring-fair-at-detroit-garden-works/

And... warm weather! Feels like spring is finally here! Need to make time to plant some peas...

10 April 2013

Spring Fair at Detroit Garden Works!

 People in the Detroit area, I'm going to be at Detroit Garden Works this weekend (the 13th and 14th) for their Spring Fair, selling cool plants. I'm totally geeked... I've been wanting to get over to Detroit Garden Works ever since I discovered owner Deborah Silver's beautiful blog, so I'm really looking forward to meeting her and seeing all the lovely things she has there for sale.
Hope to see you there!
Oh, and before you ask, no I WON'T have my book there for sale... because I'm a disorganized person who didn't order them from Timber soon enough. Blame it on spring as a nurseryman. Time isn't something I've got a great deal of at the moment!

06 April 2013

On the radio...

Hey, check it out, the one and only Ken Druse interviewed me for his show this week! We chatted about my book and plant breeding, and a little about the nursery. Fun times as always. Thanks for having me, Ken!


25 March 2013

Fun things to read (and listen to) until spring arrives. If it ever does...

This and that from around the web:
Spring is STILL refusing to show up here in Michigan. Since I can't get out into the garden, I'm bumming around on-line. Here's some stuff I've been finding:

Cityscapes and Garden Gates
If you've read my blog for a while, you know I'm passionate about communicating scientific knowledge about plants and gardening for every day gardeners. Which is why I'm excited that my friend Rachel has started a blog. She's a plant pathologist by training (along with other things...) and she's blogging good solid information on understanding and controlling diseases in your garden. Which is awesome. There is a LOT of scientific knowledge about how plant diseases work, but rarely is it presented for the home gardener. Until now.

Radiolab: Colors
This isn't really gardening or plant related, but it is amazing and mind bending and spectacular. Radiolab is flat out brilliant, and this episode, talking about colors is one of their best. You'll come away thinking differently about the colors you see in your garden each year. And it features a mantis shrimp hallelujah chorus. How can you resist THAT? You can't. So go listen and be happy.

This is a crazy cool site I stumbled on a couple years ago, I think... It is all tomatoes, all the time, and it is amazing. If you are into this most popular of vegetables you'll find everything from advice on growing them to massive collaborative breeding projects to create a whole new class of tomatoes perfect for the home gardener.

The concept of winter sowing -- starting seeds in containers outside in the winter so they'll graduate in the spring -- has been floating around the internet for quite a while, I first heard about it 10 years ago. It is an incredibly simple technique, and I think the perfect way for most home gardeners to start the vast majority of their seeds. Forgot fussing with lights and damping off and hardening off... just start things outside and let nature do most of the work. It is a great concept, that, as so many things end up doing on the web, has been floating around mostly with attribution. But attribution is due, and as far as I've been able to figure out, it is due to a woman named Trudi Davidoff who coined the term "winter sow" and first articulated the technique. So, this is her website. Check it out, give her the credit for terrific idea, and look through the great information she's got there.

Black Walnut Dispatch
I think I've recommended Mary's blog before, but I was reading it today and couldn't get over just how FREAKING AWESOME it is. I mean... in her latest post she imagines James Joyce as a landscape contractor in the very first paragraph and then goes on to compare (poorly drawn) illustrations of crape myrtles to medieval maces or possible unexploded mines. Erudite, silly, plant humor. Is there anything better?

10 March 2013

Spring Preview

We've had a cold, slow start to spring here in Michigan, which honestly, I'm trying not to complain, it is better than last year when we hit 80 in March and then everything froze and got destroyed. But, I still get impatient. Luckily, we have greenhouses. We keep the cool, but warm enough to get a few weeks jump start on spring, and OH is that ever nice! I love all the things flowering right now... sadly, because we're not open for retail this time of year, customers rarely get to see them. So, I'll share them with you now.

I'm currently NUTS about the allionii primrose group. They're gorgeous, TINY little primroses that bloom super early. Like their close kin (and another of my favorites), the xpubescens group, they like good drainage and full sun. The allioniis aren't quite as bullet proof as the xpubescens, but they're still very growable and insanely gorgeous.
Primula minima... frilled, lavender flowers, and a slight sweet scent. Adore.
Primula allionii 'Viscountess Byng' Does it GET any cuter?
Primula 'Lismore Yellow' Great color and a vigorous grower, eventually forming big clumps
Helleborus are, of course, a wonderful early-spring bloomer. I love the massive flowers and bright colors of the newest hybrids, but I'm also really enjoying the more delicate, refined beauty of the wild species helleborus. 
Helleborus odorus Green, almost yellow flowers. To me they are quite fragrant, but about half the people I've told that too don't detect a scent at all.
Helleborus purpurascens Perfectly refined, elegant flowers,  and a lovely shade of bright green on the inside.
 Corydalis solida is another favorite... It is a little bulb that should be as common as crocuses. It seeds around like wild, but who CARES when it gives you jaunty, delicate bright blooms about the same time as crocuses, and then goes dormant so fast it never competes with other plants?

The hoop petticoat group of daffodils is usually represented in catalogs by Narcissus bulbocodium. Which is a shame since it is just about the least beautiful of the group. Here, Narcissus romieuxii shows us how it is REALLY done. Stunning plant, and very vigorous for us, though it needs a sheltered spot to overwinter reliably in zone 5.

Hepatica is one of my favorite wildflowers... So early, so delicate looking and yet so tough! This is our selection of H. nobilis we just call 'Dark Magenta' For obvious reasons. Usually I'm not a fan of this color, but this one REALLY does it for me. Just gorgeous.

Finally what would spring be without the anticipation of more? SEEDLINGS!!! Pure happiness.

04 March 2013

Thoughts on being a nurseryman, one year in

Roughly a year ago, I took my current position as Nursery Manager at Arrowhead Alpines. It has been quite an experience – a wonderful, exciting, mind-expanding experience. Here are some of the things I've learned:

1. I don't know anything about plants
Or rather, I don't know even a tiny percentage of what I wish I knew. As a home gardener, all I really needed to know was how different plants performed in my garden. Just one climate, one soil type. And from an aesthetic point of view, all I needed to know was if I thought a plant was pretty. In the mail order nursery business, I need to know how a plant grows in the ground, how it grows in a pot, how well is ships, how it can be propagated, and how it will perform anywhere in the contiguous United States. I find myself saying “I don't know” a lot more these days. Will this grow in deep south? Is this hardy in zone 3? I don't know! I've only gardened in zone 5! I'm also learning a huge amount, and wonderfully, often when I have to say “I don't know” to people, they go off, find the answer, and then send me an e-mail sharing what they have learned. Which brings me to the next lesson:

2. Most people are awesome
We've got a lot of great customers. I love checking my e-mail and finding notes from people who are happy with the plants they got or sharing information we can use, offering to give us a bit of something super cool and rare. People recommend us to their friends, write about us on their blogs, want to know how Brigitta is coping with Bob's death, and want to help. It is amazing. I love you people. That being said, however....

3. A few people are CRAZY
There was the guy last spring who drove through the nursery and off past all the buildings into the middle of the back field looking for the main office, who then, when Brigitta chased him down and got him back to the actual nursery, accused us of false advertising because we didn't carry all the plants mentioned in some random article in Fine Gardening magazine that we did not write. O_o Or the folks that order the miniature rock garden plants we specialize in and then complain that they too small (sort of the point, people...) It can be a little maddening. But mostly, I just have to laugh. And luckily, 99% of our customers are, as I said, absolutely wonderful.

4. I still like plants. And gardening.
There is always that fear that when your hobby becomes your job, it will suck the joy out of it. I'm very happy to say that hasn't happened. Quite the contrary, I think I'm even more plant obsessed than I was before, if that is possible.

Those are the things that come to mind... Anything you are wondering about the life of a nursery person? Ask in the comments and I'll try to give you an answer.

26 February 2013

So much good news it is a little surreal feeling.

So... It has been a pretty stunning month or so.

Let's start with this:
That is my book. Multiple copies of it. Sitting in a box. On my desk. Excuse me while I run around screaming. This means that if you pre-ordered it on Amazon, it should be arriving soon. If you haven't yet, you can go do it here: http://www.amazon.com/Plant-Breeding-Home-Gardener-Vegetables/dp/1604693649/

Okay. That is a lot. But there is also this:
That is Organic Gardening magazine, and that is a picture of me. Which is pretty insane. Not an article by me in organic gardening, which would be cool in its own right, but an article about me and five other young plant people. I'm kinda in shock. I also really, really wish my Grandma Tychonievich was alive to see it. One of her proudest accomplishments was publishing an article in Organic Gardening about growing asparagus. She'd be very happy to see her grandson gracing the same pages.

Moving on, how about this? http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/07/garden/trees-that-make-the-best-neighbors.html
A great article recommending Arrowhead as a source for cool trees and shrubs, in The New York Times. Not too shabby.

Closer to home, we just finished hosting the annual Winter Sucks Party here at Arrowhead
Normally this space is full of plants and dirt and pots. This is what it looked like halfway through decorating. The next day, that counter where we usually box up plants for shipping was COVERED with amazing food, and the tables full of plant friends and customers. The weather was decent, and we had a great time. If you live fairly nearby, you can plan to come next year -- it is always the last Saturday in February, and of course we also have the Summer Rocks party in July.

And on top of all that good news, perhaps the best is this:
Cyclamen coum is flowering and SPRING IS COMING!!!!

16 January 2013

Can you think of another way to say “has pink flowers”?

Phew... So, I've not been writing much here lately because I've been busy writing plant descriptions and other text for the 2013 Arrowhead Alpines online catalog. Which, along with a whole redesign of the website and catalog and a new logo and all sorts of other fun new stuff went live this morning. There is still a bit to do actually, more descriptions to update and photos to add, but we've gotten a LOT done, and pretty proud of how it is coming together.
I am, however, pretty darn tired of describing plants. I like writing, and I like plants, I like writing about plants. But after a few hours, it can get a bit maddening. There are a lot of plants in the world with pink flowers. And we grow a lot of tiny rock garden things. And I only have so many synonyms for those traits at my disposal. After a while, one gets slap happy, and the descriptions get increasingly bizarre...
That being said, there are a quite a few new things in the catalog this year that I'm really excited about. Excited enough to link to them here, but not enough to write more than pretty minimal descriptions here... follow the link to what I say in the catalog if you are intrigued.
A crazy rare, beautiful, highly endangered native plant. With shrinking habitat to grow on in the wild, it could really use a safe haven in your garden.
I'm SO stoked about this... the first ever variety I've bred to actually be for sale! Yes, it is a crazy version of a weed that no sane gardener would really grow, but hey, don't burst my bubble. And it IS kinda cool looking.
More and more daphnes! You may have noticed that I've gotten bit by the daphne bug in a BIG way since starting at Arrowhead. I love the things without any hint of moderation. They make my heart go pitter-patter We've gotten some new things from Brigitta's collection propagated and in the catalog, some for the first time ever, and more will be on the way later this year. I'm also scheming to start breeding the things when the come into bloom this spring. Going to be EPIC.

A bunch of spiny stuff...
Keep this up and we're going to end up as Danger Garden East... We've got some really nice agaves, and I really love the Escobaria cacti we grew from seed this year. They're incredibly cute, hardy, AND not as obnoxiously vicious as those darn opuntias. I'm officially going on record as loathing opuntias. Yes, they are cool looking, but not cool enough to make up for their bad temper.

So. That is that. Happy 2013 shopping season everyone! I'm going to be busy taking cuttings a lot for the next little while, which leaves lots of time to think up blog posts, so stand by for more content here in the near future. Maybe. Brigitta said something about putting together another list of descriptions that need writing, so we'll see.