Category Archives: Landscaping

Featured Plant: Witch Hazel

It’s noon, and it’s 12 degrees, but it’s sunny with no wind… so I went out to the garden to look for signs of spring….crazy, I know. I stepped in a snowbank over my knees but then was able to walk on top of the two or so feet of frozen snow on the ground. I wanted to look at the ‘Arnold Promise’ witch hazel over by the gazebo. It has skinny little yellow flowers with a light fragrance, and like all the witch hazels, blooms very early. Today I saw just the tiniest bit of yellow peeking out from between the scales of the flower buds. That’s a good sign! From the sidewalk on Upper College Road I looked closely at the ‘Jelena’ witch hazel , another very early bloomer. It is at the same stage as ‘Arnold Promise’, with about a millimeter of orange petal showing. Our third witch hazel is the native Ozark witch hazel, with slightly smaller flowers but much more fragrance. I did not see any sign that it is waking from it’s long winter’s nap just yet.

arnold promise witch hazel

‘Arnold Promise’, Hamamelis x intermedia, March 25, 2014

Hamamelis , the genus of witch hazels, are hardy, low maintenance plants with few pest problems. Whether you think of them as small trees or large shrubs, they are a manageable size at 10 to 15 feet, with some spreading forms nearly as wide. They have smooth, rather plain brown-to-gray bark and heavily textured oval leaves, which turn mostly yellow in fall. And then there’s the reason we love them: spidery, strappy little flowers with long, crinkly petals, all along the branches, when almost nothing else is blooming.

witch hazel jelena

‘Jelena’, Hamamelis x intermedia, February 28, 2011

Hamamelis virginiana, native to eastern North America, blooms around November, and is the plant used for the witch hazel extract you can buy at your local drugstore.

Hamamelis vernalis is native to stream banks of the south-central US. It is the earliest shrub to flower in spring, and its small, yellow-red blooms open  from late February to early April, depending on the weather. It can form dense, multi-stemmed colonies  by sending out suckers. The medium green leaves turn golden yellow in fall. Our Ozark witch hazel is H. vernalis, and when it blooms it smells like springtime!

Hamamelis x intermedia are vigorous hybrid witch hazels, crosses of the Japanese and Chinese species. Blooming from late February to March, their yellow-red petals unfurl on warm days but curl up tightly during chilly nights. The fall foliage is an attractive yellow-orange. Our ‘Arnold Promise’ and ‘Jelena’ are both H. x intermedia. They are sure signs that spring is on it’s way. Take a walk through the Botanical Gardens in the next few weeks (wear your boots) and you’ll find the earliest flowers on the witch hazel, a treat for the winter-weary and anyone ready longer, warmer days.

ozark witch hazel

H. vernalis, February 22, 2012

Not Ready!

 

first snowWell, a little bit ready for winter, as in: prepared. The gardens are mostly cut back, although the Dahlias still need to be dug up and packed away. There’s plenty of wood in the wood shed. Pulled out my winter coat, hat, and mittens. But ready for a couple more months of cold and dark? No.

leaf in snowsnow on sedumsnow on rosesWhat are you doing to get ready for winter?

 

Why We Love Rhododendrons

rhododendronAn early explorer of Narragansett Bay, Giovanni da Verrazzano, saw the islands covered with Rhododendrons and was reminded of the Mediterranean Isle of Rhodes… or so goes one of our beloved mythologies of how our little state came to be named Rhode Island. Another story says that Adrian Block, a Dutch explorer for whom Block Island is named, referred to a “red island” in Narragansett Bay, Roodt Eylant in Dutch. Either way, we love Rhododendrons.

rhododendronThere are native Rhododendrons, R. maximum, in the understory of wooded areas all over the state. Tales are told that these groves of Rhododendrons were so big in colonial times that a person could become lost in them! The Ell and Long Pond area in Hopkinton has huge Rhodies which give a hint of this possibility.

rhododendron

Photo by Lauren Weeks

The cultivated Rhododendrons are also very much at home in our maritime climate. They thrive here, for the most part, and are widely planted as ornamentals. Their incredible tropical flowers are a big part of the late spring/early summer landscape, and I love seeing them as we approach the longest days of the year.

rhododendronRhodies come in a wide spectrum of colors. There are probably thousands of different pinks, along with whites of every variety, and purples from light to dark and approaching blue. There are some warm tones, like the deep red ‘Francesca’, and even orange and yellow, which are not often seen around here. Sometimes Rhododendron flower buds are a different color than the open flower. All have a splotch or eye which is sometimes highly contrasting with the flower color and sometimes barely visible.

rhododendron

Photo by Lauren Weeks

rhododendron

Photo by Lauren Weeks

Shallow-rooted, Rhodies like moist soil but not “wet feet”. They like a little bit of shade, being an understory plant. They will grow in full shade but flower more with some sun. They prefer acid soil, with good organic matter, and don’t like to dry out. They are mostly evergreen, with leathery long deep green leaves (although this varies from one species to another). Like other evergreens, they are susceptible to “winter kill” leaf damage when the ground is frozen. Planting in an area protected from strong winter winds helps prevent this.

rhododendron

Photo by Lauren Weeks

Being well adapted to our climate (zone 6-6A), many Rhodies grow fast. And what many home gardeners don’t realize is that they can be cut back hard. How hard? Down to little stumps! I love to tell bore students with the story of how my first job at East Farm was to cut down the Rhododendrons along the fence leading to the gate. I was horrified but they came back better than ever. So if they are covering the first floor windows of your house, don’t be afraid to cut back, AFTER they flower.

rhododendronThere are thousands of Rhododendron species around the world, native to environments  from the tropics to the Himalayas. There are a multitude of hybrids and cultivars, especially if you count Azaleas, which are Rhododendrons (that’s another post). Most likely there is one you can grow at your house! The best way to find the right Rhododendron for your climate would be to visit your local nursery or greenhouse.

rhododendron

Photo by Lauren Weeks

 

 

 

 

May Time

There are very few blog entries for May in the archives. There is so much to do it makes my head spin, but the garden is positively enchanting at this time of year! Here’s a look at what is happening right now:

ericaceous garden

Azaleas and Rhododendrons blooming together.

Ruth May Azalea

‘Ruth May’ Azalea –interesting color…

Geisha azalea

‘Geisha’ Azalea, one of my favorites, just because.

Davidia involucrata

The flowers of the Dove Tree / Davidia involucrata.

Pieris

Bright red new growth on Pieris japonica ‘Mountain Fire’.

Calycanthus floridus

Woody flowers of Carolina Allspice / Calycanthus floridus.

May 22 2014 059

Cold-hardy banana (Musa basjoo) survived the winter!

opuntia

Also looking good after a very tough winter: Opuntia humifusa, the Eastern Prickly Pear, native to RI.

shady side

Shade garden…Solomon’s Seal and more coming up through a carpet of Sweet Woodruff / Galium odoratum.

Catching Up

plants in greenhouseWe started early Friday morning, loading plants into the stake body truck borrowed from Agronomy (as well as two pickups). Off to East Farm! (it’s only a mile.)

plants in greenhouseLauren on truckIt rained a little (of course). Two large loads in the stake body and two loads in each pick up, then we set it all up and went home. Saturday started bright and early again, with a hundred or more people lined up before the gate opened at 9 am! We talked plants nonstop all day and sold most of them. Brought the leftovers back in one pickup and now we are catching up in the Botanical Garden for Commencement this weekend!

virginia bluebellsazalea

At the End of the Year

For the last blog of the year here are a few favorite pictures from 2013. Some of them are of beautiful things and some of them just make me smile, like the picture of all the seedlings coming up for the plant sale.  Happy New Year!

Jan 24 2013 012

January 24th 2013, frost patterns on the glass inside the Conservatory. Temperature outside was -3 F.

blizzard 2013

February 8th, 2013, the Blizzard left about 18 inches (?) of snow in South County and damaged many, many trees

hamamelis/witch hazel

March , signs of spring!

seedlings in greenhouse

April, seedlings for plant sale.

solomon seal

azaleas

May is glorious!

June, midsummer, green.

June, midsummer, green.

July, full of colors.

July, full of colors.

August

August.

August 8 2013-012

sedum 'Autumn Joy'

September

PLS 351

October–fall is the best time to plant!

dahlia tubers

November, putting away the dahlias for the winter.

holly

December.