Monthly Archives: March 2012

Living in a Lily Pulitzer Ad

It’s March 29, and nearly every azalea in the garden is in full bloom.  One variety is especially spectacular.  I wish I knew its name.  I promised myself that this year I’ll root cuttings – I want more of this flamboyantly neon fuchsia in the garden.


In 1991 I planted a pink dogwood in memory of our third child who was stillborn.  This was my first attempt at planting a tree, and It Did Not Go Well.  Within a year or two, the tree was dead.  My stepfather told me to cut it to the ground.  He might as well have said, “Cut off your arm,” but I did it.  Miraculously, the tree exploded into life the following year, and now it’s nearly 20 feet tall.  It’s not exactly a perfect specimen – a large white dogwood nearby overwhelmed it and pushed it out of plumb a bit – but each year it has more flowers.  This spring they are stunning.

We still call it the Chelsea Tree.

The Chinese snowball – a farmers market purchase 2 years ago – failed to bloom last year. This year it is gorgeous. Each day the snowballs are a bit brighter and a bit larger. Here’s a January snowball:


And from last weekend:


A week later:

Finally, one of my favorite hostas in springtime, ‘Dawn’s Early Light.’ Although it emerges a glowing, vivid chartreuse, by summer it will be a rather ordinary green:




Why aren’t desirable plants as hardy and prolific as the dreadful tree-of-heaven? (ailanthus altissima, also called Chinese sumac or stinking sumac)

A large, unattractive tree grew in the back of our garden. Until 5 years ago, I didn’t know its name and didn’t care. Our next door neighbor called it “railroad trash” and volunteered to cut it down in February of 2007. Seedlings from the tree were sprouting constantly in their back lawn, he said. I didn’t notice seedlings in our gardens, but I wasn’t paying much attention at the time.  We did find small saplings occasionally.  Bianca had told us they were black walnuts.  That might have been the only time she was wrong about a plant.  (Black walnut and tree-of-heaven are frequently mistaken for each other.)

Tree-of-heaven sucker (image from UMass).

Within weeks of Bob’s felling the tree, sticky little suckers began appearing everywhere, some as far as 50 feet from the stump. Who knew the tree would go into a defensive posture upon being harmed?

In just a few months, a thicket had grown around the stump of that tree, with saplings ranging in height from 6 inches to 8 feet. I pulled at the smaller ones, breaking off many of them just below the surface … they have long, stubborn tap roots. More suckers grew in their place. I sprayed them all with a powerful herbicide. Their leaves drooped, but they survived. Nearby mock orange shrubs weren’t so lucky.

Tree-of-heaven sapling (image from NCSU)

Thank goodness for Google. Typing the phrase “kill tree-of-heaven” revealed the best method for destroying it: hack-and-squirt. With an ax I made downward angled slashes about 2 feet off the ground into the cambium layer of the mother tree (well past the bark), leaving an inch between the marks, until the trunk was encircled. Wearing rubber gloves, I sprayed concentrated herbicide into the slashes.

It worked. Suckers began to die. New ones stopped appearing. Bob used his chainsaw to slice a disk off the stump, and I painted the fresh-cut surface immediately with the herbicide. I also hacked-and-squirted two smaller trees-of-heaven nearby, and they died quickly.

The stump of the Mother tree has since rotted.  One of the smaller trees fell a year or two ago, and the other just needs a good push away from the pine it’s leaning against. Then the trees-of-hell will be out of our garden forever. I hope.

Seeing them alongside a highway still makes me recoil.

Narcissus ‘Replete’

I’ve stopped planting tulips – they rarely bloom more than one season. When I want annuals, I plant flowers that bloom from April to October. But I do plant 25-50 daffodils each fall. Below is ‘Replete,’ a double variety my husband bought at Terra Ceia Farms in Eastern North Carolina. Images on the Internet show them as white with pink centers. They are not. But the colors and form are beautiful. Their heads tend to droop from the weight, so they’re especially lovely planted where they can be viewed from below, on a slope or atop a wall. And like most narcissus, each spring they produce more blossoms.

Narcissus 'Replete'

Early Spring

A mild 2011-12 winter meant early arrival of spring.  Today is March 11, and azaleas are beginning to flower.  Daffodils have been in bloom for more than a month.  Tulip foliage is up.  Viburnum and chinese snowball are budding.  Tips of hostas are poking out of the ground.  I should’ve finished spreading pine needles weeks ago – I fear stepping on new growth as I work in the gardens.

Below, the ‘Orange Dream’ Japanese maple is already beginning to leaf out. This is one of my favorites, an Ebay purchase from 2 years ago.  Although it has doubled in size since I planted it, it’s not even 3 feet tall, and its adult height will be only 9 feet or so.  If it survives until then, it will be a knockout in the garden.  Its leaves are spectacular – chartreuse bordered with orange in early spring, bright green in summer, and gold in fall.

'Orange Dream' Japanese maple

'Orange Dream' Japanese maple