Living With Limitations: Wintergreen
Gaultheria procumbens, Wintergreen
Shade Solutions Blog has been infrequent to missing lately. I have excuses. My book “A Gardener Grounded: Life’s Challenges Post Diagnosis” is in final edit for publication. Until publication date let’s talk plants.
I received an early birthday present from Bobbie Winters, manager at Adamson We Grow Nursery. She had become aware of a new cultivar of Gaultheria procumbens, creeping wintergreen, and purchased one for herself, another for me. I have long sung the praises of Creeping wintergreen, tops among my favorite native groundcovers. To learn of, then receive a plant, fired me up to search the web, to see if any additional new cultivars existed.
Gaultheria procumbens, (Z 3-8), commonly known as creeping wintergreen, is a rhododendron relative with need of the same low pH soil. Loose organic mulch or duff assists roots in forming a groundcover. Given shade, space to travel, it will form an open mat of polished, thick, leathery leaves. The deep green carpet matures four to six inches in height reaching an eventual three to four feet in spread. In spring flushes of new growth appear in shiny copper-red. In June white urn-shaped blooms will add a couple more inches to overall height. Wintergreen is my favorite for a fall and winter show. Some bronzing will occur in foliage with the onset of cold weather. The green and bronze forms a complementary back-ground for brilliant scarlet-red berries that grow in abundance. Frost and freeze only enhances the show.
Gaultheria Winter Splash Briggs Nursery
Bobbie’s gift to me was a container of Winter Splash wintergreen. It is the only variegated gaultheria procumbens currently on the market. Evergreen, same as the species, forms the same spread as a groundcover, but has the added beauty of green, white and pink leaves. All those colors become enhanced during winter when rosy-bronze colors are added.
A week after she gave me Winter Splash I was at Trader Joes’ and saw racks of Gaultheria procumbens with large berries in numbers I had never seen before. The label did not specify a cultivar name but it sure resembled the new Berry Cascade from Briggs Nursery. On this cultivar the berries grow all along the stem creating a cascading effect. More berries would indicate more blooms as well. Orange-red new growth in spring, Burgundy foliage in winter. Two pots made the trip home with me.
More is Better
While all excited and ready to do some searching I will mention a couple more named cultivars at Briggs Nursery I am interested in for my garden. Cherry Berries has extra-large scarlet berries with all the other benefits. I have also located Winter Fiesta with white berries carrying a pinkish cast. Redwood creeping wintergreen, along with Peppermint Pear, a wintergreen with icy white berries are available through other sources.
Give wintergreen a container, place in plenty of light, but not full sun; feed with a slow release acidic fertilizer and you will not believe the transformation. Creeping stems will circle the inside of a container forming a dense mat of foliage reaching well over six to eight inches in height. Berries can reach grape-size when heavily fed. In a decorative container the bright waxy red berries over the bronze–green foliage certainly says Thanksgiving and Christmas decorations.
Next up, where and how I will be using my new collection of Gaultheria procumben cultivars. This one is gone to be fun.
See you in Madison Wisconsin February 8th and 9th at Landscape and Garden Expo. Two talks.
Living With Limitations: Containers
Native Pachysandra with Maidenhair Fern
I am doing my best to contain myself over container gardening this spring (There. I actually said that). I made myself a promise last year to begin this season exploring container gardening for several reasons. One is my lack of energy and strength to continue gardening as usual. A lack of oxygen due to damaged lungs will not allow the physical activities I once took for granted. Or, certainly not to the extent of my past gardening activities. Another reason is container gardening has always fascinated me, but I have never been good at designing containers satisfying my eye.
Cinnamon Fern, Osmunda cinnamom
There are times when events come together in a flow, such as when I watched a talk by Deborah Trickett of The Captured Garden on container design. The concepts and execution flowed from her fingertips as each came into being as if by magic. Such knowledge and confidence could only come from experience and success. Simply put, she was good at what she did; she not only held my attention, but I actually I took notes.
Later I visited Anderson Japanese Gardens in Rockford, IL and Rotary Gardens Janesville, WI. Both were using containers in a way that held my attention, especially where ferns were used. Large ferns as single features in containers and artful arrangements of several containers. Then there were the multiple species of ferns used in and on driftwood and stone.
Ella Square Container
Campaign for Containers
I placed my notes and my photos in a folder and began my concepts for ferns in containers. The search was on for something different in affordable containers, plants I could divide and use from my garden, and a list of sure-would-like-to-haves. Again, things began to flow as I made a rare stop at Adamson We-Grow Nursery, a local garden center. There were my containers; Ella Square containers in the preferred color of teak; something besides the usual round shape. Ella containers were also were of heavy substance being constructed of stone and resin, and had a built in reservoir system to prevent overwatering. I purchased two 16 inch and place an order for a tall 19 inch. They also had large healthy ferns in 3 gallon size for reasonable prices so two of those came home with me as well. Some shopping remains, but enough is here to begin the project.
A container medium is not to be mistaken for a spiritualist in a bottle (from the Fozzie Bear School of Comedy. Waka, waka). Since I am concentrating on growing ferns as features in containers I want the container medium to be long lasting, so I will mixing my own. I will be using soil conditioner which consists of very small chips of wood, usually pine bark. I will then add about one-third by volume of vermiculite and a touch of coarse sand. While mixing I will toss in some slow release fertilizer. My measurements are by eye and what looks “just right”. This will make for a coarse mix that provides a loose root run with plenty of oxygen, and beneath every grain of sand, every piece of wood or vermiculite there will be a drop of moisture held, but remain free flowing. And all remains lightweight making the containers easier to move around as desired during the seasons.
Ghost Fern, European yellow Corydalis
I won’t go into the individual names of all the ferns both already on hand and on my list to purchase for I will be returning to this topic later on as the seasons progress. Some of my concepts for containers will be a pairing of fern and wild ginger (Asarum). Another concept is ferns and hosta, and/or fern with Lungwort (Pulmonaria), preferably with solid green leaves or solid silver. Nothing wrong with simply one fern in a container, or a fern(s) with stone or weathered stump and moss. As you can see I am going for green, centered on textures and outline, all of which will work together and not become too busy. If I were to place a label it all, I would use the single word Serenity.
Have You seen native Indiana yet? Lets go hiking together.
Living With Limitations: Rituals of Renewal
Helleborus thibetanus, Thibetan Hellebore buds emerging
It’s That Time
Once more it is that time of the year for gardeners to begin the ritual of renewal. It may vary from one regional hardiness zone to another in timing, but we gardeners have internal clocks making calendars redundant. Just as a daffodil begins pushing up new growth in the dead of winter anticipating another spring, I am out there performing my own version, and neither of us can be held back by weather.
After a walk in my garden this past week I returned to the garage for my all powerful wand shaped like a dove-tailed weeder. Winter weeds were forming a carpet of fresh green in the paths and between where perennials were last year. Any spot without adequate mulch had these mats of trouble. In the last week of February I was able to wear a light jacket and, while kneeling on a pad, weave my wand beneath the root system of chickweed, crating satisfying piles. The sense of power, the feeling of grand poohbah of the garden, was intoxicating with its sense might; the lifting up over another (including the root system).
Spring bulbs pushing up
The second day was even warmer with almost no breeze and there was no way I could remain inside once I had touched my wand of power. I returned not once, but twice, during that day of spring preview. This time with a rake handle in my hand to clean the leaf litter and broken limbs of winter, clearing paths to work my rituals. Now all those unsightly debris are in organized piles blocking paths and waiting to be carried out to the compost pile. But, they are signs of my long-handled magic, and not so large they cannot be stepped over.
Erythronium, Trout Lilies emerging from the leaf littler
Real Magic Ritual
The real magic remain hidden until I begin my annual spring ritual of renewal; the close inspection of leaf litter. I am seeking the first appearance of native ephemerals shoving aside decaying leaves and revealing themselves. At this time it does require one to slow down and pay attention, bring back memories of last late winter. Just where did I see those fill-in-the-blanks last year? This week I see leaf after single leaf of mottled bronze-green and brown piercing the middle of leaves and pushing aside clumps of others. Trout Lilies (Erythronium americanum) are already two inches of rustic beauty with a waxed sheen. Upon the hill where there is more sunlight shinning upon the paths Spring Beauties (Claytonia virginica) show themselves as slender blades of dark beet-bronze soaking up available sun. Not to be outdone, European Spring Anemones (Anemone nemorosa) have miniature green noses that are now exposed after removing the chickweed. I also see clumps of leaves forming domes rising above the remaining blankets of fallen leaves, so I know there is more to come.
Once that ritual has begun, nothing, including the return to winter, can hold back the natives or the Grand Poohbah of Gardening.
Come Visit. I have a pair of gloves and rake handle customized just for you.
Living With Limitations: Thinking
Helleborus niger, H. niger Sunset Strain
I lay there half-awake listening to wind howl around the corner of my bedroom with yesterday, tonight and tomorrow doing little dances in and out of my mind in no particular order. It is the last of February and we have fast moving fronts with temperatures running up and down the gauge like scales on piano keys. I have watched and listened to thunder, with accompanying lightening, seemingly unending rain, sleet and snow this month. Not much gardening going on in that kind of weather, but then, in February active gardening is not an expected activity. I did get to snap a few photos in between rain storms.
“Black” Lenten Rose (Hellebore x garden hybrid) opening.
I have kept records of photos in my garden for twenty plus years. I watch TV weather forecasts and see changes not only for me, but also the rest of the planet I live upon. Without getting into the politics and arguments in either direction, I will simply relate my concerns as I lay there in the path of a summertime weather system in mid-winter. I suppose I am like most human beings in that as long as it does not directly affect me, whatever it is cannot be of too much importance. If it is not an intimate threat then it can get in line and wait for attention after my immediate needs and wants.
In the past few years the weather has caught my attention like never before. Being a gardener I have been, and still do, pay attention to weather and how it affects my plants. But, now what was once the domain of others less fortunate has come home to roost. I have become one of the not so fortunate ones with a life that demands I pay attention to the world I live in. I can no longer take in sufficient oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide to keep my body active and healthy.
Helleborus X Garden Hybrid, Slate Bloom
I thought I lived in the country, but when I hear a local alert from the nearest city on weather channel warning of pollution, of taking precautions and not going out, I pay attention. If the humidity is high then the extra water in the air makes it harder to breathe. Below zero temperatures robs me of the ability to get sufficient oxygen. Weather changes finally got my attention on a personal level. If I want to breathe I find myself not only paying attention to my immediate world, but also find I am being affected by the actions of people I do not know. At times those strangers are at the other end of the state I live in, or smoke drifts in from forest fires in California, an oil spill in the local river, perhaps pollution from the smoke stacks that bring me electricity running the machine that creates the extra oxygen I need. The list goes on and on, including the auto I use to keep a doctor’s appointment, or radiation for cancer treatment.
There was a time when we did not know the damage we were doing to ourselves, how we were fowling our own nest. Now we really do know and are finding out each day the consequences of our past, and unfortunately, the actions of our present. So, I ask myself what I can do to breathe better and live longer. The list that comes to mind is so long I find it best to choose what I will actually do day to day.
Laying there thinking I wondered what I would do if I saw an auto accident with people were hurt, one remaining beneath the auto suffering, EMS having not arrived. There is no way I could move the car by myself. But if I stop and wave to others then another person stops; then perhaps two or three more because someone was helping you get attention. One person waving could be enough power to upright the auto and save a life.
My upcoming book will be on honest to goodness real paper.
Living With Limitations: Trickster
Hellebore niger, Christmas rose, freezing its little petals off
For the past few years Coyotes have been making a comeback to this area, especially along the nearby river bottoms. On occasion I have heard a call from them that sounds as though it is nearby. I have reason to believe they have been on my property, even inside my garden, pretty sure they have come at night to get a drink from my waterfall. If they are, indeed, that close to us then they are probably on the front porch as well, making sure the enticement of cat food was not left out. I never get to actually see one, but hear them and realize just how intelligent they are in figuring us humans and our habits out.
Monsters under the Bed
I am beginning to think the old American Indiana tale of Trickster Coyote is true. What else could account for me finding plant catalogs under my bed? Surely I would not do that to myself. Surely I would not plant such obvious temptation so near as I rest for a few minutes before going hooking up to my sleep apnea mask. It has to be that wily old coyote playing tricks on me. He is stealing incoming catalogs from the mailbox and placing them where I cannot help but see the cover as I slip into bed. That is downright evil to place such temptation before a gardener who swore off garden catalogs and discarded all his old treasured catalogs only late last fall.
Cover of Plant Delights Nursery
The first colorful temptation was a hardcopy spring catalog from Plant Delights Nursery, laying with enough cover sticking out that I had to pick it up if only to discard it to the trash can. In the motion of tossing the catalog I happened to open a page. It truly just happened and was not a conscious act. The catalog opened and I found myself scanning the pages, only to get hit solidly between the eyes with absolute-must-have-plants. There went ever resolve I had made to wean myself from purchasing any more perennials for my garden. On page 39 there was a hardy Mum, Chrysanthemum ‘Matchsticks’ (Matchsticks Hardy Garden Mum) with straw-yellow and red tipped petals. Toward the end of the catalog was a Little Bluestem grass named ‘Twilight Zone” for its powder blue new growth that ages to lavender. In between those two were several other plants that called to me, but these two drew me in like a giant magnet of garden lust.
Cover of Rare Find Nursery Catalog
In week two the sabotage was repeated. I was beginning to wonder about the security of my home. How was this coyote getting into my home? The sanctity of my bedroom? There beside my Plant Delights catalog was an aching pull into the depths of temptation. Rare Find Nursery was the final straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back. My intention was to purchase a few shrubs this year and here was a catalog specializing in trees and shrubs. Featured on the front page was a new Calycanthus. This species of native shrubs has a special place in my heart and garden. I have several cultivars and hybrids and am always on the lookout for the next rare Carolina All Spice. There it was, Calycanthus floridus var purpureus “Burgundy Spice’ with its chocolate brown foliage that does not fade as summer heat comes on. Oh, how my heart and wallet ached, longing to order this one gallon size shrub.
I have reached the conclusion that Trickster Coyote is not only intelligent and crafty, but a lover of gardens as well, and will not, cannot allow, me to suffer the stress of not ordering plants when spring peeks around the corner.
First edit on my forthcoming book is rambling along toward its completion.
Life With Limitations: Stirring
Standing at the window looking out through the February gloom, the rain coming down day after day, it would be easy to let that gray overcast creep into my attitude. There may not have been a light shining outside, but I am a gardener and I know where to find my source of SAD mood-altering light (Seasonal Affective Depression), along with the treatments for symptoms of early onset cabin fever. I grabbed an umbrella and headed for the greenhouse.
I rolled back the door, stepped inside, closed the door behind me, and there I stood in another world. It was so quiet you could hear a mouse peeing on a wool rug, only the sound of misting rain on the roof. I stood there surrounded by the quiet and the aloneness. Not even a cat had followed me to the greenhouse needing attention. I do have to carry my phone in case of an emergency, but sound is turned off. I turned the furnace up, turned the overhead lights, paused and took a deep breath. This was waking up in another world.
There were containers of all sizes on the floor beneath the benches that I had moved in late last fall. The intent was to give them some extra time to put on a bit more growth, then awaken early after dormancy giving me a head start with container arrangements. A few containers were the original nursery pots waiting for transplanting to new containers and possible companions. Most were larger, beginning with 12 inch clay and moving up to 24 inch composite in size. Lots of possibilities to play.
While taking a close look I saw that my plan was working. There were green noses in the clump of Trillium nivale, two of the clematis were showing new leaves. That was just what I needed to get all excited, ready to spring into action. Then I realized there were some new rules to follow. With COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, emphysema) there are restrictions to carrying and dragging heavy containers around. This all has to be organized and thought through before jumping into action. First up, if I am going to move those containers up on to a bench to receive more light they have to be moved before I water. If I do water no walking back and forth with watering cans; get the hose out and turn on the water. Some containers I can move, but not all at one time. The larger ones I will need to leave alone and get help in moving. Pulling and pushing weight is about the same as carrying.
The stopping and thinking took a bit of wind from my sails, but I reminded myself that I had spent the past two years coming to grips with the reality of having this disease. Now was the time to put head work into practice if I was to take care of my health and continue to garden in my new world of limitations.
As it turned out, my body took care of how much I accomplished. I found I did not have the energy nor strength to lift all the containers up on to the bench. What remained would wait until another day; after all, there was no deadline on completion of the task. I could complete that tomorrow and water with the hose. The rest of the project, the large containers, can wait until my wife is in the greenhouse with me. I will say there are times when patience, asking for help, is more difficult than the doing. Then I have to continually remind myself that being hard-headed has consequences.
My latest book is in first edit now. Stay Tuned.