Thursday, February 20, 2014

Recommended Gardening Books

The last time I recommended gardening books, I looked back at my history with gardening and love for plants.  This time around the choices are more about specific plants and reference choices, rather than nostalgia.  Because I'm a packrat when it comes to books, I tend to collect all different kinds and some of the following choices are no longer in print.  Luckily, used bookstores, libraries and even internet sources will have them (no especially rare books here). 

Daylilies are some of my favorite perennials and I've collected a number of books that focus on them specifically.  There are two books I've come to refer to more than the others and I consider them important additions to any collection.

1.  The New Encyclopedia of Daylilies: More than 1700 Outstanding Selections, by Ted L. Petit and John P. Peat. The title tells it all, really, it's a massive collection of daylilies from species plants (the originals), to early hybrids, to more modern selections.  Chances are, if you're looking for information about a specific plant, you'll find some here.  Each description lists if the plant is evergreen, semievergreen, or dormant and also includes plant height, flower size, and bloom time.  Many pictures accompany the descriptions and they are fantastic.  I must say, many of the more modern hybrids are a bit too fluffy for my tastes (looking more like a hibiscus than a daylily).  Overall, it's one of my most commonly used resources.

2.  Daylilies: The Wild Species and Garden Clones, Both Old and New, of the Genus Hemerocallis, by A.B. Stout.  The copy I own is the 1986 reprint edition.  Although not nearly as impressive in scope as the first book I've listed, this book has proven valuable for the information it has on early hybrids.  There are a number of early plants that just aren't seen in the trade these days and being something of a plant preservationist, I'm interested in learning more about these older varieties.  Stout did a lot of early work on hybridizing daylilies and his work certainly paved the way for more modern hybridization.  Sadly, the book is out of print now, but not that difficult to track down.

Other Useful Titles: 
Hemerocallis: The Daylily, by R.W. Munson (Another important grower, more recent than Stout, his daylilies are known for their special eye zones and water marks).  Currently out of print, but easily obtainable online.
The Gardener's Guide to Growing Daylilies, by Diana Grenfell.  Excellent book.  Out of print, but easily obtainable online.
Daylilies: The Perfect Perennial, by Lewis and Nancy Hill.  Another excellent choice.  Currently in print.

Perennials are an especially important addition to the garden as they offer up colors and textures throughout the growing season (and sometimes even in winter).  Some are especially common now, while others rest by the wayside waiting to be rediscovered.  Other perennials are just difficult to grow in the average garden and need more tending than most are willing to provide.  So how do you choose which varieties to add to your garden (besides daylilies, of course)?

1.  The Well Tended Perennial Garden: Planting and Pruning Techniques, by Tracy DiSabato-Aust.  I just purchased this book in January of 2013 after seeing it as a recommended book in a copy of "Gardens Illustrated" magazine. Since then, I've read from it a number of times and consider it an essential addition to any gardening library.  The author discusses everything from planning out the garden, to revitalizing an existing garden, to general maintenance such as pruning and dividing.  There's also a lengthy plant encyclopedia at the back.  The book is in print and should be easy to obtain.

2.  Understanding Perennials: A New Look at an Old Favorite, by William Cullina. Unlike general purpose books on perennials, this one starts off focusing more on botany and explains the reasons why perennial plants are the way they are.  It also discusses plant pests, diseases, and has some excellent pictures of dividing perennials.  This book has the most in depth information I've come across that's written in a user friendly way.  It is still in print.

3.  The Explorer's Garden: Rare and Unusual Perennials, by Daniel J. Hinkley.  The author of this book focuses on specific plant families and the less common varieties within those families.  There's an especially interesting section on Epimedium (a fantastic plant for shade), and other entries of plants native to North America.  The book was originally published in 1999, so some of the plants mentioned aren't quite as rare as they once were.  The entries are enjoyable to read and there are many perennials listed that I'd like to add to my own collection at some point. This book is still in print.

Other Useful Titles:
Taylor's Guide to Perennials: More than 600 Flowering and Foliage Plants, Including Ferns and Ornamental Grasses, by Barbara Ellis.  An excellent book for beginners which includes great plant descriptions.  In print.

There was a time when I scoffed at the idea of using native plants.  There were just too many far more interesting plants out there.  Over time, my opinion changed; especially when I realized that many native plants are fantastic additions to the garden and will often grow where other plants will not.

1.  Wildflowers: A Guide to Growing and Propagating Native Flowers of North America, by William Cullina.  Sadly, this book is out of print.  However, if you're interested in native wildflowers it's an essential text.  It offers an encyclopedic list of plants that includes basic plant descriptions along with the best methods of propagation.  Sadly, some of our native wildflowers are especially difficult to propagate, but even those are included here.

2.  Native Plants of the Northeast: A Guide for Gardening and Conservation, by Donald J. Leopold.  This is an excellent overall guide to native plants of the northeast.  It focuses on all types of natives, from flowers to trees and provides information about growing conditions and even propagation.  Best of all are the lists at the back of the book which categorize plants by their preferences.  If you're looking for plants that grow in dry conditions, there's a thorough list.  This book is in print.

Other Useful Titles:
Orchids of New England and New York, by Tom Nelson and Eric Lamont.  My experience with native orchids was limited to our common lady slippers.  Then I found this book and discovered that New England has many different native orchids.  An excellent book for identifying these plants should you encounter them on a hike or walk.  This book is in print.

Trees and shrubs are the backbone of a landscape.  Luckily, there's one book that basically covers it all...

1.  Dirr's Encyclopedia of Trees and Shrubs, by Michael A. Dirr.  If there were just one book on trees and shrubs to collect, this would be it.  I've referred to various editions of this book an incredible number of times.  It is more expensive than some of the books I've recommended, but it is jam packed with information and color photographs.  It's also possible to still find copies of a previous edition, Dirr's Hardy Trees and Shrubs: An Illustrated Encyclopedia, which is also excellent.  He's also written the Manual of Woody Landscape Plants: Their Identification, Ornamental Characteristics, Culture, Propagation and Uses.  This is essentially his textbook on trees and shrubs.  It does not contain color photographs, but does have excellent descriptions.  For most gardeners, however, this manual is not required.  I still have my 1993 edition of the manual which I purchased back when in the nursery business and do refer to it from time to time.

There are many additional books to recommend, but I think this is where I'll stop for now.  These books should keep an intrepid gardener busy for quite some time.

Recommended Plant: Porteranthus trifoliatus.  Also known as Bowman's Root and formerly listed as Gillenia.  This native perennial creates a billowing mound of white, star shaped flowers.  Once it finishes flowering, the small seed heads offer visual interest and the foliage keeps well throughout the summer.  In fall, the leaves and stems turn yellow.  There is a pink flowering version of the plant as well, although I'm not certain it's a version that appears in the wild.  It prefers full sun or partial shade and average soil moisture. 

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Everyone's Favorite Poison--Poison Ivy

Winter is proving especially difficult this year.  The cold and relentless snow force thoughts of gardening, or even of being outside, far to the back burner.  Of course, there's one certain plant that will most likely thrive come spring, no matter how horrid the winter.  It might appear as a shrub, or vine, or small sapling, yet the rash it provides to many is frequently the same.  Poison ivy is decidedly unwelcome in any garden and probably in any yard.  Even the scientific name sounds like something you'd rather shoo away than find growing: Toxicodendron radicans.

I've seen this dastardly plant often enough so that it's easy to identify.  Unfortunately, it doesn't always follow the same growth pattern and it's possible to overlook the leaves until you're standing among them.  It produces clusters of 3 leaves, sometimes they are a bit jagged at the edge, and other times they are smooth.  New growth tends to have a deep reddish cast and the fall colors are remarkably striking at times; being a combination or yellow, orange, red, and burgundy all on the same plant.  The flowers are small, whitish green, and difficult to spot.  More often than not, the plant will not produce flowers unless it is able to vine upwards.  The fruits are favored by birds and start out pale green and slowly ripen to a pale milky greenish-white.  Alas, the plant also spreads via runners and can root into the soil wherever a stem touches down. 

Once the plant begins to climb, the overall appearance changes slightly.  The leaves are still in clusters of 3, but the way it vines about makes it appear to be a different plant.  Poison ivy is a tenacious climber and can easily reach the tops of trees or telephone poles.
How does it manage this expert climbing?  Well, it grows small aerial roots that cling to rough surfaces such as bark, wood, or stone. 
Here it is, happily climbing away.
When plants are young, or runners first start to appear in the spring, they look quite a bit like the saplings of trees.  They are especially dangerous at this point as you might not recognize them as poison ivy at all, particularly if they are in the reddish new growth stage.  I almost stepped into this patch without even noticing it was there. 

So, you have this fiend making an appearance at your party and what do you do?  How does one get rid of a rash inducing pest like this?  There are chemical controls, although I've found they have a mixed success rate.  Additionally, even if the plant is dead, the oils that cause the oh so lovely skin rashes do not degrade quickly.  It is still possible to find the oils on plants that are many years dead (I've read that it can be up to 25 years).  Chemical controls work best when leaves are out, but prior to them hardening off during summer--the leaves take on a more waxy appearance once the new growth has stopped growing.  Also, these products seem to work best when the plant also gets a fair amount of sunlight.  I've seen poison ivy in shady locations laugh off herbicides that worked fine on plants growing in sunnier spots.  Mechanical controls seem to be the better option as long as the gardener wears gloves and is willing to immediately wash clothing in extra hot water and soap.  Shoes will also carry the oils, so be careful.  Shovels, rakes, pitchforks, axes, and gas powered machinery are all possibilities.  Be aware, however, that lawnmowers or bush hogs can cut and spray the plant oils about.  Personally, I've found a mixture of herbicides and judicious use of a shovel to be the best method of control (don't think I've ever won the battle, but did manage to keep the plants under control).

Whatever you do, don't set fire to the plants.  The oil can become airborne and deposit itself into eyes, sinus passages, and lungs.

Goats are an excellent all natural control.  They aren't bothered by the oils and find the plants pretty tasty. In fact, a school in Reading, Vermont is using goats to control poison ivy that was creeping into their playground.

Other animals, however, can easily spread the oils.  If your dog or cat wanders into a patch of poison ivy, they might need an immediate bath in warm soapy water.  I remember being told a story about a woman and her beloved Jeep.  Unfortunately, while on a hike with her dog one day, the dog went rambling about through poison ivy.  The dog enjoyed the ride home and managed to deposit the oils all over the fabric seats of the Jeep.  Alas, the Jeep's owner kept contracting poison ivy and couldn't figure out why, until she finally remembered that summer walk.  Eventually, she had to scrub down the interior of the Jeep with hot soapy water and even then was unsure she'd gotten everything safe.  At the time I was told the story she was considering selling the Jeep but was feeling a bit leery about giving someone a special surprise.

So, no matter how cold and snowy or even dry and warm your winter may be, there's a certain unwelcome guest who doesn't mind what the weather throws and will appear reinvigorated come spring.

Recommended Plant:  Abutilon Common Name: Flowering Maple
Ok, I'm cheating a bit here since this is an indoor plant as opposed to tree/shrub/perennial.  But this annoying winter weather needs a bit of bright color to counteract the gloom.  Flowering maples are fairly easy to care for.  The leaves do look similar to a maple but the flower looks completely different.  They like a warm, sunny location and regular watering.  They will not tolerate drying out, but at the same time don't enjoy constantly wet feet.  Some varieties turn a bit gangly and need pruning on occasion while others grow more compactly.  There are many variations in flower color and growth habit.  It's an excellent houseplant addition.