HORT travels

Exploring the horticultural beauty in every adventure.

The Small Things

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Ahh the Ladybug...Everyone's Favorite carnivorous Beetle

Ahh the Ladybug…Everyone’s Favorite Carnivorous Beetle

Over the past couple of weeks I have been noticing the insect life on the plants near me. So many times I interact with people interested in gardening for the beauty of the flowers and the value of vegetables for their dinner table. Little do they think about the value of the fruits of our garden to the smallest residents, the insects. Rarely, when they consider their newest plant for their garden do they consider the beauty of the bloom or the fragrance of the flower is meant to attract insects, and just happens to be appealing to us as well.

People get frustrated when caterpillars chew holes in leaves, when bees surround the flowers planted near walkways. But that is the purpose of the flowers. They are just doing their job! The same can be said for the insects. I run into students when I am teaching expressing grave concern regarding the bugs in their yard, asking what they can do to get rid of them. “Pave your yard“, is my internal answer. Not much thrives on asphalt. Being an educator, my actual answer is an explanation of the insect/plant connection and ultimately the insect/human connection. You know, how without insects, our lives would be much much harder. Really, you can’t have beautiful flowers without the bugs that go along with them.

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Oakleaf Hydrangea

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Oakleaf Hydrangea Flowers

Oakleaf Hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia) Flowers

One of my favorite plants is flowering in my yard right now. I love this plant. It is bold, in your face and it passes the multiple seasons of interest test.  Every time I see this bloom I am taken back to a forest in Mississippi. My sister and I were on our way back from a road trip to Louisiana, camping the whole time. We stopped in a state park along the Natchez Trace Parkway to take in the sights and stretch our legs following a short hiking trail that seemed made for just such a purpose. We stuck our heads through holes in large trees taking ‘selfies’ before it was the thing to do, watched new-to-us very large spiders make their way along handrails we dared not touch. Suddenly I stop and utter a “do you see that?!” from under the hand clasped over my mouth. I am that person. I get so excited when I see plants I have only known in landscapes thriving in the wild, where they have not been planted where they just ARE because they belong there. Sort of like the experience I had in Greece with the Bear’s Breeches.

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Waterfalls and Wildflowers

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IMG_8057

When I was young nearly EVERY vacation we went on had to involve a Scenic Railroad in order to happen. In other words, no train- we weren’t going there. I think the only reason we went to Disney (AKA “Ratland” by my train-loving dad) was because of the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. (This incident left me in tears and fearful of roller coasters until my senior year in high school when we HAD to ride roller coasters in order to complete physics experiments at Great Adventure’s Physics Day. My so-called friends convinced me to not only get on a roller coaster, but to get on the one that had a loop and went backwards. Now I’ll ride nearly any roller-coaster. I guess they were good friends after all.) As my dad feels about trains, I feel about waterfalls. Wherever my adventures take me I seek out the waterfalls nearby. Over the past couple of weekends I was lucky enough to be near quite a few falls, and the timing was perfect to see a great variety of wildflowers as well.

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Orchids

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Lady Slipper in the morning  mist.

Lady Slipper in the morning mist.

‘Tis the season. I am getting beautiful pictures sent to my email and phone. The orchids are blooming! Friends share their finds with me regularly and each one excites me. These are not the run-of-the-mill tropical orchids you can now find in row after row at the big box stores. Though they are lovely in their own test-tube-propagated way. These are the wild, native, I-can’t-believe-I-just-found-an-orchid, orchids that make even the most grueling, mosquito ridden, tick infested, poison ivy covered hike worth the effort. May through October, I hike with one eye on the trail and one eye in the woods looking for bright spots of color that would indicate an orchid.

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Bladdernut

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Bladdernut Flowers

Bladdernut Flowers

Bladdernut. I am convinced this plant has not made it into the landscape trade and into more backyards because of its name. Who wants to ask the garden center professional for Bladdernut? Who wants to answer when their friend asks “what is that interesting flowering shrub?”, “Oh that? It’s Bladdernut”. Other plants with less than pretty common names have made it into plant catalogs by sporting tags with their {{gasp}} scientific names or a new less offensive common name. Think of Tradescantia. Many catalogs market the Spiderwort as Tradescantia or have even created an entirely new common name with more marketing power: Spider Lily.  Similar stories abound. Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa) has become the gardener-friendly sounding Butterfly Flower or Butterfly Milkweed. One of my favorite spring blooms, the Liverwort, is more commonly available as its scientific name Hepatica. (Wort, you may be interested to know, is the old English term for plant. Often plants were names for the problems they would solve – Liverwort = Liver problems, Spiderwort = curing spider bite.) I think it’s time for a name make-over for the Bladdernut. What can we call it to get it into more backyards?

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Violets

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One of the many violet color variations.

Once again I find myself on my local rail-trail. I am trying to get my heart-rate up so this meander will count as some form of exercise, but I keep stopping to look very closely at tiny little wildflowers blooming everywhere. It is truly like I stepped into a jewelry box. Virginia Bluebells coat the hillside in blues and pinks. White saxifrage, rue anemone and Dutchman’s britches dot the trailsides like scattered pearls. Various shades of jade and emerald are starting to appear on gray branches. The creek along the trail, very high after all these rains, slithers through the color like a gold chain. I should just go to a boring track, who can focus on fitness with all this beauty around?  Each time I squat down to investigate, that’s a rep…right? Today I am enamored by the violet. If I am going to take the jewelry box analogy just a little too far…these are the amethysts.

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American Plum

American Plum after last night's heavy rains. The sweet fragrance is still evident on the wet blooms.

American Plum after last night’s heavy rains. The sweet fragrance is still evident on the wet blooms.

As I have mentioned before I don’t really have the space for plants offering only 1 season of interest. As with any rule, there are exceptions. The exceptions to my “must have more than 1 season of interest”  are 1) if it is a spring ephemeral, it may stay and 2) if it is edible I will consider a place for it in my landscape.  The American Plum fits into the second category. This native (Prunus americana) small understory tree flowers the same time as Bradford Pears.  Unlike Bradford Pears, the blooms of American Plum smell sweet and wonderful.  Like the Bradford Pear, this tree can be found along roadsides, medians and in fallow fields. Unlike the Bradford Pear, it is supposed to be there. As I walked around my yard a couple of days ago, the scent of the flowers drew me in and I stood for quite awhile with my nose tucked into the white flowers.  Continue reading

Spicebush

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Spicebush brightens up an early spring forest.

Spicebush brightens up an early spring forest.

If I had 100 acres of my very own to garden in any way I wanted…I might plant a forsythia. I dabble in cut flower arrangements and there is something so hopeful and encouraging about a pretty vase with a tall forced branch or two of forsythia in full bloom in February on your toilet tank. (Yes, toilet tank. My first floral design teacher told me nothing says “class” like flowers in the bathroom and that has stuck with me through the years). But I would only plant forsythia if I had that much space. And I don’t. Forsythia has a characteristic that I do not tolerate in my gardens; 1 season of interest. There’s no room in my yard for a plant that is only interesting for a couple weeks.

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Beech

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Buds of the young beech tree protected by leaves hanging on through the winter.

Buds of the young beech tree protected by leaves hanging on through the winter.

Once again I am searching for signs of Spring. It is a rainy day and I am hiking in a park close to home. Like a lot of you, I’m sure, I am a sucker for woodland wildflowers. I get so excited when I find them. I am constantly on high alert for tiny spots of yellow, purple and even white breaking up the monotony of the leafy forest floor. But on this dreary day, there are no bright spots. Not one! The last of the snow hasn’t cleared from the shady spots and ice is still on the reservoir. So I lift my gaze from the ground to take a closer look at what is right in front of me.

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Witch Hazels

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Hamamelis x intermedia 'Rubin' Seed Capsule and Flowers

Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Rubin’ Seed Capsule and Flowers

Some of the most fascinating things you learn by accident. That is how I became aware of the forces of the Witch Hazel. I was taking a botanical illustration class at the Morris Arboretum of the University of Pennsylvania and had an assignment to collect some botanical materials to draw in the next class. Being fall, I collected crunchy leaves, seed pods and acorns. I placed everything in a small cardboard box on top of the TV where they would stay, and I wouldn’t lose them, until next class. A couple evenings later I am settling in for the night, curled up in a chair watching what my dad calls “the idiot box”. During a lull in the program I hear a noise. A faint tap. What in the world?

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