Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Rambunctious Ragweed

It's been quite the hot and dry summer here in central Massachusetts.  Trees are starting to show signs of drought stress with leaves turning lighter green and/or showing fall colors early.  Thunderstorms roll through occasionally, but a sustained gentle rain is what is needed most.  Unfortunately a few less desirable plants have done quite well this summer including poison ivy (a topic for my next post) and ragweed (Ambrosia artemisiifolia).  Ragweed is the bane of summer allergy sufferers.  The pollen it produces it light and readily floats about in the air.  Goldenrod blooms at the same time, generally, and is sometimes blamed for the work of ragweed.  The showy yellow flowers must remind people that pollen and flowers go together.  In fact, if you go to Google Images and type in "ragweed" there are pictures of goldenrod mixed in.  Ragweed's flowers are greenish and insignificant.  In fact, the whole plant is camouflaged in green.  Unless you know what it looks like, it can sit lurking in the background unnoticed.
This extremely happy ragweed plant is about 3' tall and equally as wide.  It's growing outside my apartment building between pavement and a wooden deck.  The site gets a full dose of south facing sunlight.  It's pretty obvious that the plant absolutely loves this location.  I've known it was there but didn't pay all that much attention to it until today.  It's positively huge, in full flower, and looks ready to take on the world (I wish I had half of its ambitions).

Recommended Plant:
Campanula latifolia--the Large Bellflower or Great Bellflower, is a fantastic perennial for summer color.  The blue, bell shaped flowers appear as early as late June here in southern New England and the plant will send up flower stalks into September/early October depending on the season.  It grows best in full sun or part shade and will tolerate poorer soils once established.  Powdery mildew can be an issue and the plant spreads fairly readily if conditions are right becoming somewhat invasive.  Luckily, the plants are easy enough to remove and/or replant elsewhere.  This picture was taken in southern Vermont at the end of June.  Recently, on a day trip back to the same location, there were still plants sending up flower stalks; a pretty impressive flowering period.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Visiting Vermont

A vacation in Vermont happened recently and it affirmed a desire to move there and begin farming, gardening, and enjoying the scenery.  Gardens in Vermont often follow practical and decorative patterns.  There are lilacs near the house, roses along the fence, multiple apple trees, the herb garden, blueberry bushes, and tall garden phlox offers up major color.  Banks of daylilies drift between the apple and pear trees.  It's an almost pragmatic approach combining what the gardener needs (fruit, herbs, or vegetables) with what the gardener wants (flowers, scents, colors).  During my ramblings I came across a couple interesting daylilies at the Billings Farm Museum.  It's a fantastic place to visit, particularly if you are interested in farming or Vermont history.  Throughout the grounds there are multiple plantings and unfortunately, there were no identification labels.
This daylily, for example, was pretty interesting.  The colors were pastel pinks with some orange/yellow mixed in to the point where some of the petals almost seemed tan. 
This one, on the other hand, looked familiar, but I couldn't quite place it. 

All over the place there were stands of the native "Cup Plant" or Silphium perfoliatum.  I enjoy this plant quite a bit as it almost appears prehistoric when you get close to it.  The large leaves have cup like depressions where they meet the stem and these collect water.  The flowers tower over the landscape and the plant's growth is so thick it actually works as a screening plant.

Plymouth Notch, Vermont is a place my father absolutely adores.  Growing up I didn't quite understand this, but now that I've returned a number of times I totally agree.  The Calvin Coolidge museum is located here and there are a number of historically significant buildings.  Also, there's the Top of the Notch tea shop where Ms. Aldrich used to rent out small cabins and sell/serve tea.  My parents rented cabins here once, when I was little and I fondly remember Ms. Aldrich working outside with her roses.  The cabins are no longer rentable, but three of them still stand along with the gardens.
The tea house where Ms. Aldrich ran her tea room/gift shop.

The cabins.

Hostas and daylilies planted along the general store in Plymouth Notch.

Woodstock Vermont has one of the most photographed covered bridges in the state.  The entire town is quite scenic and even one alleyway in particular had window boxes filled with begonias.

There were also flowers planted in boxes on the railings of one of the bridges.
This next picture is a view into the side yard of a home about a block away from the main street.  The cast iron furniture just fit the scene perfectly.

So if the opportunity ever arises, I cannot recommend a visit to Vermont enough.  The summer gardens are fantastic, the scenery is amazing (in any season), and like me, you may be tempted to extend the vacation into a permanent visit.

Recommended Plant:  Monarda fistulosa or Wild Bergamot or Bee Balm.
This native plant grows throughout much of North America and is an excellent butterfly attractor.  Just like other plants in the mint family, it has square stems and spreads via runners beneath the ground.  Unlike some Monarda found in garden centers, the flower color is more pastel and subdued which lends itself to blending in well with other flowers. 

An Aside:  Last year Vermont suffered major damage from Hurricane Irene.  Flooding took out bridges, roads, homes, and businesses.  Historic covered bridges were damaged or torn away by the torrents of water.  Although much of the damage has been repaired, there is still work to be done.  If you're interested in helping, check out: