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Easter Blooms

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

Drove through campus this afternoon on my way grocery shopping, and couldn’t help but take some pictures of a couple of things in bloom. It’s 70 degrees as I write, low 80’s yesterday, so that certainly sped some flower buds up I thought were going to hold on for while.

Star Magnolia-Carr Hall

Star Magnolia-Carr Hall

This is a Star Magnolia, Magnolia stellata, in between Forest and Carr Hall on Route 125. Like many of the other magnolias on campus, this one is planted right on top of one of the steam lines that run from the service building to the rest of campus. It’s easy to see the steam lines, they melt snow all winter, and the grass is the first to green in the spring. Someone believed that the heat from the lines would protect what they thought was a marginally hardy plant from the harsh Vermont winters. Perfectly hardy, now the magnolias are in the way for construction. One was moved a couple of years ago from the Axinn Center up to near the tire sculpture near Hillcrest. It’s doing fine, although thinner than the others. The best Star Magnolia is out in the main quad, right behind Voter Hall, but the blooms on that one weren’t quite as open.

Star Magnolias are native to Japan. Other magnolias mimic their distribution like many conifers-some are native in southeast Asia, others native in the southeastern US and central America. Fossil Magnolias (one of the first angiosperms in the flowering fossil record) have been recorded in Europe and Greenland, suggesting that that they were widespread until the continents drifted apart, dying out in the middle of their range.

Corneliancherry Dogwood

Corneliancherry Dogwood

I’m cheating here-this is a picture from my house, although there is some near the Garden of the Seasons. Great yellow flowers right now, a week or so ahead of the forsythia (except for the one below). Large red fruit in the fall, edible but nasty sour. Very lustrous rich green leaves, nice and clean all season with no leaf spot. Not the first shrub I planted at my house, but I am glad I have one.

Crocus at Forest
Crocus at Forest
Crocus in Lawn
Crocus in Lawn

Some Crocus in random locations.

 
vtsun
This is Vermont Sun Forsythia- Forsythia mandschurica ‘Vermont Sun’. I wrote about this last year, and it was in bloom April 13. I took this picture on Friday while getting into my car to go home, so that makes it 11 days earlier this year than last.
 
 

A watched Spring never boils

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

The problem with watching the weather is the frustration. Even my years of experience in spring anticipation somehow still hasn’t prepared me for the wait, the fits and starts of the season. The landscape waits patiently, though, and the plants are right where they need to be.

Today in blooms? Well, it’s pretty mellow. The family Betulaceae is showing it’s stuff. On campus, that would the Birch, Hornbeam, and Hop Hornbeam trees, and in shrubs the Corylus, or Hazel, genus. Michael Dirr states, of birch flowers specifically, “the birches flower in April before or with the emerging leaves; they possess a hidden beauty which is lost to most people because they have never examined or considered the birches a flowering species…” After three days of a cold rain, I’ll consider any flower.

Look for large catkins hanging from birches. They hang in clusters of three from the ends of the branches, and have been there unobserved all winter. In Birch they are male and female-in Hazel, the female flowers arise from the leaf buds.

How would I describe the flowering catkins? Ask the Dutch. Catkin comes from the dutch word katje, meaning kitten, as the flowers resemble a kitten’s tail. I’d say I’ll get around to a picture but, well, the buds are swelling on the forsythia, and I swear I saw a couple of whitish blooms on a Magnolia in front of Forest, so I probably will once again ignore the catkins. Hidden beauty is all well and good until the Magnolias start popping.

Crocus poking up

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

After a week of pleasant weather, March has returned. Beware the Ides of March indeed-this is Vermont, and 50 degrees in March does not mean spring is upon us. Fortunately, the plants are right on time. This week in blooms, we’re seeing the first crocus coming up.

There isn’t a lot of crocus around campus. I remember planting some down by Dragone track, in the little bit of lawn surrounding a planting there. One or two are poking up out of the ground now-sped along by the surrounding warm black top. I planted a bagful of crocus in our extremely tiny front yard with my kids. I took handfuls of the bulbs, and scattered them on all sides of me. The kids walked the yard, found a bulb, and planted it pointy side up. Now they run in the house screaming when the first one appears every spring.

We have a good lawn for crocus, as we have a terrible lawn. I leave the grass lawn, and eschew weed killers not just from a deep abiding environmental standpoint but also from an overall cheapness. The crocus, after all, are weeds, at least compared to the monocot grass, and would perish under chemical applications. I read that people have a hard time growing crocus in lawns, but I disagree. Active lawn neglect gives time for the crocus to appear, flower, and let the leaves photosynthesize long enough to store sugars for the little bulb next year. Our lawn gets mown at about 3″, which is plenty of crocus leaf remaining as well. Any trace of the plant is usually gone by June.

The bulbs start appearing in garden centers in September, August if the garden center manager was really on top of his or her game. (That was very rarely me). The bulb shipments come by boat from Holland, and the first orders got on the first boat. Crocus collectors can expound on dozens of varieties, but locally you’ll probably only run into two types.

Blooming now are the smaller early Crocus tommasinianus. Later will come the larger (comparatively) Crocus vernus. These come in a broader range of cultivars, ranging from shades of blue, purple, mauve, and some strange but cool striped forms. At the Congregational church at the north end of Main Street in town are some spectacular yellow crocus, either Crocus flavus  or Crocus chyrsanthus. There are ways of telling them apart, but not at 30 mph.

The bulbs (corms, to be correct) are about the size of a quarter, and have a hairy coat, called a tunic, proving botanists do have a sense of humor, or at least of language. Most crocus are native to Central and Southern Europe, down through North Africa, and across through the Middle East into China. They are in the Iridaceae family, cousins with Iris and Gladiolus.   Crocus sativa is a fall blooming crocus, and the stigmas are the source of saffron. 3 stigmas per plant, so when you notice the outrageous price of saffron at the store you’ll understand. Crocus show some remarkable evolution, as seeds are developed in an ovary down below the ground, and only arise when ripened, thereby being protected from harsh weather and grazing beasts until ready for dispersal.

First Plant in Bloom-Spring?

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

Hopefully you’ll be suffering the vertigo as gladly as I-posting on snow removal last week, and on the first flower in bloom this spring the next.

Ozark Witch Hazel

Ozark Witch Hazel-click for close-up

We’re starting the year in blooms the same way we ended the year in blooms, with a Witch Hazel. This one is Ozark Witch Hazel, Hamamelis vernalis. A smaller witch hazel, this one should top out in the landscape at 8-10′ tall and wide. Like the others, spectacular fall colors in hues of yellow and golds. Native from Missouri to Louisiana and Oklahoma, the flowers open very early in the spring, a 4 calyx flower with the ability to close up and wait should the weather turn cold again. This can extend the blooming time for 4 weeks or more. Down south they suffer from an inability to drop their leaves, hiding the lovely flowers, but does not seem to be an issue this far north.

Many cultivars have been selected, most trending toward red. The cultivar I bought for my house (and saw blooming yesterday) is “Purpurea”, aptly named once you see the blooms. The foliage should have a purplish tint all season-I purchased it in the fall with a spectacular red purple color.

Purpurea Ozark Witch Hazel

Purpurea Ozark Witch Hazel-click for close-up

 On campus, the witch hazel is blooming just east of the Garden of the Seasons, as a cluster of three in the swale. They were only planted a couple of years ago, so, while well established, are just beginning to grow and fill out. A book I got for my birthday, Lives of the Trees, states the witch in Witch Hazel comes from wych, or wican, meaning flexible or springy, like the hazel. Furthermore, the latin Hamamelis comes from hama, meaning together, and melis, meaning apple, for their tendency to fruit and flower together. This happened on campus in the fall, but this spring we are only graced with the seed pods on the spring witch hazel scattered amongst the blooms. 

Am I making the call to say spring is here? Heck no. Am I hopeful? Yeah. Lots.

Plants of a (mis)Spent Youth

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

Friends ask me how I got into this line of work. How do can I explain it to a non-plant person? It’s all about the plants, after all, but how? What is it about the flowers, or the mulch, or the dirt? How did I get from playing Led Zeppelin on my eight track, painting my parent’s house white (again) to landscaping?

Lily of the Valleyis my earliest plant memory. lilyvalleyIncongruously, planted on the south side of the house, explaining the brown leaves all summer. My sister and I, 6 and 4 years old, picking little Dixie cups full of the white bells, and running next door on May Day, setting the flowers on the porch, ringing the door bell, and running like hell home. Forever linked in my head: the smell of Lily of the Valley, and the smell of band-aids for skinned knees.

Silver Maple-picking up sticks in the back yard in springtime. Lots of sticks. Lots and lots of sticks. So many sticks, I almost brought my kids to tears once, when I suggested we pick up sticks for their grandparents. My mom offered the kid across the street $50 to do it last year, and he said no. She never offered to pay me.

Sugar Maple. You have not truly lived until you have seen your dad peel all the wallpaper off the kitchen wall showing his son how maple syrup is made.

Bridalwreath Spirea, Spirea x vanhouttei. Did you know if you pick stems of flowers and put them in a vase with food dye, you can get the flowers to turn color? It’s a totally different flower in black.

So much for early childhood memory, short of a forsythia hedge moving 5′ north in our back yard (tips of the branches arching over and rooting in the ground), and some pleasant tree climbing memories (Norway maple, politically incorrect now, but has great branch spacing necessary for climbing). The epiphany came when I had the great fortune of starting work for a plant person.

Plant person? Yeah, I knew I was all in when we were driving to the next lawn to mow, and a tree service was topping some red maples in a yard along the way. Mark, my former boss, rolls down the window, slows down, and yells “Murderers!” at the top of his lungs. Maybe it was the heat,dianthus-alpinus but the house we went to had Cottage Pinks, Dianthus alwoodii, smelling of carnations, a close relative, stretched across 100′ of stone wall in the back yard, full bloom: the only landscaping in the yard, and utterly perfect.

Or Lacebark pine, driving 20 minutes out of our way to a job because I’d had the great misfortune of not having seen one yet? Have you? A pine with bark like a Sycamore. Don’t come and see the one I’ve planted in my backyard, it takes an older and wiser tree to know how to show off, and mine is only growing about 3″ a year for the last 8 years. (For those of you keeping track, yes, it is one of the first trees I planted) Likewise wait a while for the one I planted across from Emma Willard next to the Middlebury College sign.

Or driving through the Imperial Nurserieswholesale yard picking plants for a job. Now, I’d spent some time in garden centers, rest assured. Ever since I was about 12 or so customers would come up and ask me questions, regardless of where Iwas, just assuming I’d worked there. This yard, though, required driving, for it was measured in acres and miles. We needed a map to get to the exbury azaleas. (that’s another olfactive memory) Not so at another nursery, the lovely Summer Hill Nursery. We went there (presumably) just for a couple of plants. Looking back, it was probably more for the Bald Cypress planted there. (Yeah, I’ve got those planted too, right in my ditch. Hoping for the knees they for in native locales, although most springs I’m just happy when they finally break bud after winter-they’re very slow, and I worry.) (Yes, some at Middlebury too. Just planted last fall near the McCullough plaza. Ron was walking by, and asked if they were going to make it. An astute observation-the fall color is a dead rust color. For all intensive purposes in a couple of weeks every fall they look like they’ve kicked the bucket.)

Or my first design job, a small perennial garden (Mark was a dwarf conifer guy, hence letting the young whippersnapper do the perennials). Imagine, if you will, the heartbreak of doing a great job (so Mark said), then going back in 2 months to see the plants staked upright and tied with pantyhose. Just cause it’s in an organic gardening magazine doesn’t always mean it’s a good idea.

Or the guilt of being shown a rare variegated shoot on yew, then trimming all the yews around the church and forgetting about the shoot, whomping the next potential great plant into utter oblivion. It was about 100 degrees that day, but that’s really no excuse, right?

I haven’t explained the Led Zepplin, and if you have to ask what an eight track is you are on your own. And my parent’s house is no longer white, but cars once in a while slow down while driving in front, looking at theDSC00024Paperbark maple I planted in the front yard after painting all summer. One of those at Middlebury too, across from the field house. It’s the Class of 1942 tree. Go look at it, worth the walk, even in the cold.