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Most Beautiful Parking Lot, Ever.

Categories: Landscape, Trees

Is there a contest out there for most beautiful parking lot? I can’t seem to google one, but if one turns up, I’m nominating the the Mahaney Center for the Arts parking lot-the big one off of Porter Field Road. Monocultures are verboten in the arboricultural world, but this singular planting of ‘Snowdrift’ crabapple transforms a blacktop wasteland with nice views of the Green Mountains to something totally magical for a week or so in the spring.

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Snowdrift Crabapples have a great shape, with almost no variation in the population, making it predictable, and therefore enjoyed by landscape architects who don’t trust their plantings to trees that may take any old shape they want. The cultivar gets a nice dull gold fall color, and reddish orange fruit that birds wait and eat in the spring (at least in my yard, returning Robins mostly). While the name may have come from the flowers on the tree, I prefer to think it was named for the petals as they fall on the ground, all at once, blowing against the curbs and tires.

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Spring Ephemerals

Categories: Blooms

I had dreams of guest posting on the great Middlebury Trailrunner, inspired by his post on Snake Mountain (the wildflower in his post is a Hepatica, by the way) . I was going to go for a run up the back side of Snake Mountain, the side where our house is located, taking pictures the whole way of plant life.

Well, I’m not that much of a runner.  My reason for running is simply running away from middle age, and besides, the plant life is too distracting, and I’m not sure I want to share the less popular trail up Snake Mountain with everyone. So, the run I was thinking about turned into a much needed and great hike with Nancy and Molly the stillhyperpuppyeventhoughshe’salmostayearold. While not on campus, I still feel like I should share what we saw, though, as this is one of my favorite times of year in the plant world, the quick flash in the pan of the spring ephemerals.

Spring Ephemerals are plants that complete an entire life cycle early in the spring, before the upper tree canopy leafs out. An unknown Wikipedia author writes about “excess light” in the early spring, but after a long Vermont winter we know better. Light can be held in dearth, but the glorious spring rays are to be cherished, not called out as vain and excessive. Imagine the evolutionary trick-sprouting, flowering, reproducing, and storing of energy for the next year all within the light and cold of early spring. What a strategy.

springbeauty This is Spring Beauty, Claytonia virginica -an apt way to start some pictures. Grows from an underground tuber like a potato, and was used as a food source by native Americans and early settlers.

wildoatsWild Oats, or Sessile-leaved Bellwort, Uvularia sessilifolia . A common bellwort, and maybe not technically ephemeral, but pretty nonetheless.

lrgflwbellwortAnother Bellwort, the Large Flowered, Uvularia grandiflora .

hepaticaHepatica, Hepatica americana , named for the supposed resemblance of the leaves to the shape of the liver. Can be seen in blue, white, or pink flowers.

lrgtrilliumOne of the grand queens in the spring ephemeral world, the Large Flowered Trillium, Trillium grandiflorum .

wakerobin

Personal favorite here, Wake Robin, or Purple Trillium, Trillium erectum. Probably the most common trillium in the northeast, and known for it’s foul scent, which it uses to attract carrion flies for pollination. The smell is such that early herbalists used the plant to treat gangrene, since plants were used to cure the ailments they resembled.

troutlilyTrout Lily, Erythronium americanum. Very common in the woods lately, and named for the leaf pattern resembling the fish.

dutchmansbreechesDutchman’s Breeches (best name ever), Dicentra cucullaria. Perennial gardeners will quickly see the resemblance to Bleeding Heart, another Dicentra. Flowers are pollinated by early bumblebees, as honeybees don’t have a long enough proboscis to gather nectar.

bloodrootBloodroot, Sanguinaria canadensis. So early blooming, the flowers are self pollinating, just to be on the safe side. The name comes from a dye that can be made from the roots, and was probably the ink used for the Scarlet “A” on the forehead of adulterers. There are some great patches of this in Ridgeline. The plant is myrmecochorous, ant-dependent, as it’s seeds attract the insect which then moves them around and buries them.

earlymeadowrueEarly Meadow Rue, Thalictrum dioicum.

wildgingerSome Wild Ginger I found in a tree stump, Asarum canadense. Strange and kinda ugly brown flowers thankfully hidden beneath the foliage-ant pollinated.

mouseearchickweed

Mouse Ear Chickweed, Cerastium vulgatum. This was on the top of the mountain by the concrete platform, which makes sense seeing as it is an escaped European plant. Now a lawn weed, but reportedly edible leaves once boiled like other greens.

amflyhoneysuckleAmerican Fly Honeysuckle, Lonicera canadensis. Not an ephemeral, but a woody plant along the trail edge.

bluetsBluets, Houstonia caerulea. Another plant found up by the concrete platform, native to fields and open woods.

earlysaxifrageEarly Saxifrage, Saxifraga virginiensis. Feel free to let me know if I’ve mis-identifed this one-I hadn’t brought the wildflower book with me on the hike, and have been identifying from pictures. violarotundifoliaThis was a great find, and a bear to identify. Round Leafed Yellow Violet, Viola rotundifolia. the only stemless yellow violet, with flowers and leaves on separate stalks.

 

Daffodils are Blooming

Categories: Blooms

daffodil`

The blue Nymph, Liriope, gave birth to a son, destined to become a mighty hero. His fate was sealed after being granted his good looks by the very gods themselves, and given immortality. Like all gifts from the gods, however, immortality came with a catch. He could remain immortal, as long as he didn’t know his own reflection.

Echo was a nubile Oread, a mountain nymph. Zeus liked the mountain nymphs, in a ballroom dancing in the old movies sort of way, and Echo would distract Zeus’ wife Hera during the indiscretions. Beware a spurned goddess, especially the wife of the almighty Zeus, who, catching wind of the plan, punished the lovely Echo by taking her voice, only allowing her to echo others.

Our hero in this story grew tall, handsome, and vain. Ironic, given that he was not allowed to view himself. Surronding yourself with admirers does present difficulties, however. One day, while hunting in the woods, the lovely Echo fell in love with our young hero, and followed from a distance. Hearing this, our boy shouts “Who’s there?”-only to hear “Who’s there?”, quieter, and a little further away. This goes on longer than you can imagine, until the hero gets angry, and leaves, spurning the unrequited love.

Echo and Narcissus, Oil Painting, 1903-John William Waterhouse

Echo pines away, weeping and wailing, consumed by her love for the boy. Finally, all that was left was her voice, which childern can still hear deep in the woods, or boorish tourists in the canyons. As she dies, she offers a prayer to Venus, the goddess of love, for punishment to the vain youth.

Nemesis, “she who ruins the proud”, hears and intercepts the prayer. She lures our hero into the woods, and takes him to a still pool of water. He gazes below his feet, and seeing his reflection, the divine penalty takes effect. He promptly falls in love, and stares into the water until he fades away. As he fades, a flower arises from the ground from where he sat entranced. The Narcissus, or Daffodil, bears his name to this day.

More Early Spring Blooms

Categories: Blooms

Early Tulips and Grape Hyacinth by Pearsons

Early Tulips and Grape Hyacinth by Pearsons

I wish I could claim credit for this combination, the pale yellow early tulips go great with the intense blue of the grape hyacinth, but, while horticulture has a grand tradition of theft, I’ll state for the record someone else planted this years ago.

Azalea in Bloom by Ross Dining

Azalea in Bloom by Ross Dining

Somewhere in my files I have the name of this cultivar of early deciduous azalea, but I’m at home. I’m normally not much for pink flowers, but in the early spring I’ll even let that go.  Azaleas are a great understory planting-they bloom before the leaves appear, and then sit and gladly suffer the shade all summer.

Forsythia by Stewart Hall

Forsythia by Stewart Hall

One of the better clumps of Forsythia at Middlebury, this one is a pretty reliable bloomer. Unknown cultivar, but being in a protected spot such as this certainly helps.

Cherry Tree in Main Quad

Cherry Tree in Main Quad

The main quad has two cherry trees, probably Prunus sargentti , but I am not totally sure. I wrote above I wasn’t much for pink flowers, but pale pink doesn’t count. Ornamental cherry trees are rare in Vermont, so I suggest a short walk at lunch hour to go check them out would be in order. Look at the pretty bark while you are admiring the blooms.

Easter Blooms

Categories: Blooms

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: Blooms, Trees

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: Blooms

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. More

First Plant in Bloom-Spring?

Categories: Blooms

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: Random Thoughts

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? More