Thursday, December 27, 2007

“Luck is the Residue of Design”

Sometimes success in gardening results from luck, but gardeners can improve their luck through their gardening practices. For example, I tried a couple of different cultivars of the hybrid saxifrage often called mossy saxifrage or Saxifraga x arendsii but usually just called Saxifraga followed by one of a huge number of cultivar names such as, in my case, Purple Robe and Floral Carpet. I have noticed and read that they are subject to rot in anything but a very light soil. I hoped a crevice in a rock wall would give them proper drainage. They grew well the first growing season and the second, but alas it looked like I lost them over the second winter. But wait, as the third summer wore on I noticed that in the little moss covered clumps of soil that accumulated on top of the projecting rocks the little saxifrage leaves were emerging. So maybe the crevice didn't work out for them, but I did provide the general environment suitable for the plants and luckily some seeds found the right spot nearby.


Planted the previous year, this Saxafraga X arendsii hybrid is doing well the following spring (on 30 April). Unfortunately, this site will ultimately prove to be unsatifactory. Luckily the plant will find a better spot to grow nearby, as seen below the following year.
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While there are two saxifrages in this picture the one that I describe above as finding its own best spot in the garden is the one with the feather on it. (Click on the picture for a larger version.)
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Friday, December 14, 2007

The Pleasures of Coppicing

One of the pleasures of owning some open land is the challenge of managing the vegetation. Of my ten acres five was farmed until I bought it ten years ago. Now it is growing up into woodland with black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia) being the overwhelmingly dominant component of the trees colonizing this land. Those of you who know black locust know that it suckers freely, especially when cut down or when the roots have been cut. I have been cutting the black locust when it gets to be about fence post size. I use the posts in my garden and for firewood while the roots sucker into an interesting grove of uniformly sized trees, which I will cut again in about six years. This practice creates what is called a “coppice” which is a word that can be used as a verb to describe the process or as a noun to describe the forest that results. It is an ancient forest management practice for continuous production of useful wood products. The history and practice is fascinatingly described in a book called Ancient Woodland its history, vegetation and uses in England by Oliver Rackham.

I enjoy the look and feel of the coppice and the process appeals to the gardener in me. It also keeps me closely in touch with these five acres of land as I intimately watch and manage the development of the new woodland. This is one aspect of what I mean by life style gardening. I am doing something similar with a grove of willows I planted along a creek (a topic for another posting).

Winter work! This is the first cutting of young trees several years after the plowing stopped. Posts and firewood are harvested and the trees will quickly sucker to form an attractive grove (aka coppice).
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The young even aged trees make a nice grove to walk through. These will be cut in three or four more years and they will quickly regrow into a similar stand.
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Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Yellowroot - great fall color plus more attributes


When we worked together at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, Chris Turner used to tease me about my affection for Yellowroot (Xanthorhiza simplicissima). True, during the growing season it is rather plain, but it comes alive in the fall and is one of the very last plants around here in Ohio to lose its fall color. It also makes a very useful groundcover for heavy shade where it will grow almost two feet tall. This photograph is from my planting at the Indianapolis Museum of Art.
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Here are the very insignificant spring flowers of Yellowroot photographed in a woodland in North Carolina. Clearly the plant is not grown for its flower effect.
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This is my most recent picture of yellowroot (Xanthorhiza simplicissima) taken shortly before Thanksgiving (2007) outside my back door. I hope it comes through on the web that the leaves were not only brilliant yellow when most everything else had lost their leaves, but they were also very glossy.
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Friday, November 30, 2007

A shot at a "meadow" garden

I am fascinated with work that establishes a community of plants similar to a meadow although with selected ornamental plants. I recently started to create one of these and have a long way to go, but I have been pleased with the progress that the next three images represents.

I was a bit late in photographing the Amsonia in its best fall color, but here is the fall version of this new planting.
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In the summer this "meadow" planting looks like this.
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Here is the spring version so far.
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Tuesday, November 20, 2007

An Ohio Hardy Ginger

The curious fall flowers of Zingiber mioga.
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Glenna Sheaffer, a gardener at Kingwood Center in Mansfield, Ohio where I work has grown this ginger (Zingiber mioga) without winter protection for well over a decade. A few years ago she gave some to me and it has taken off in a rather shady spot. Growing over three feet tall it adds some hard to find bulk to the shade garden. It has the curious habit of flowering in the fall. See the picture below.
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Friday, November 16, 2007

How Did I Miss This Until Now?

Have you ever bumped into an unfamiliar plant and then suddenly seen other references to it? It makes me wonder how I missed it in the past. That happened to me recently with Melianthus major. First I saw the container in the accompanying picture at Kingwood Center where I am the Director. I was stopped in my tracks by the vivid blue foliage for which this photograph fails to do justice. Our head gardener (John Makley) told me what it was. (He is obviously one step ahead of me in this department.) Shortly thereafter I saw it mentioned in Helen Dillon's article in the magazine The English Garden. Then a few days later I saw in Horticulture magazine. An article by Alice McGowan listed it among the tender plants (zone 8) that can be overwintered dormant in a cool spot "...after frost kills the tops."

Suddenly I feel unfulfilled until I can get my hands on one of those.

A Little "Patio" for Plants

There is a quote floating around that if you garden long enough you will eventually become a rock gardener. That seems to be coming true for me. I discovered a source of wonderful sandstone and have been spending the last few years building various new rock related environments for my plants. One of the most gratifying is a little "patio" in the midst of a larger garden where I grow plants in crevices between rocks.

Plants I couldn't grow in other parts of the garden thrive here like the Lewisia 'George Henley' (the second image down). I love that plant for some reason. My plant "patio" also offers a great place for my fall blooming Crocus kotschyanus which can be seen pictured in bloom in the fall of 2007 next to a Dianthus and a big Japanese anemone flopping over next to it. The crocus is so easy to lose in mid summer after their leaves have died down and before their flowers emerge. My little patio offers them a safe refuge, and I get such a kick out of my annual surprise at seeing them each fall. And finally the top picture featuring the big blue clump of Dianthus gratianopolitanus 'Firewitch' shows the general texture of the planting that for some reason I particularly enjoy. I do have some trouble with annual weeds, but I think if I finally get all the crevices planted that should be less of a problem in the future.

Thursday, November 15, 2007


I am taking the approach that the way to learn how to blog is to jump in. So here I am with nothing prepared in advance, but lots of ideas and photographs. I am Chuck Gleaves, a gardener in north central Ohio. I have a master's degree in botany and I have been working in the public garden profession my entire career (about thirty years). While as the Director of a public garden (Kingwood Center) I now do precious little hands on gardening at work, but I am in the midst of gardens, garden information, gardeners, and garden issues all day long. And when I get home to my ten acres of land I head for my garden.

I expect to make new postings about once a week. I don't count this as a real posting so I will get busy and post some comments and supporting pictures.