... with a Little Help from Our Friends

Friends. You gotta love 'em. Where would we be without them. They motivate, enervate, celebrate and aggravate us, all in keeping within the bounds of what we expect, by definition. Within the past weeks I have been blissed (mis-spelled intentionally) with a flood of things to do, simply because I love to do these kinds of things, so, I'm led to believe.

My friends know I enjoy a challenge and have a leaning towards problem solving. They also know I love plants. Well, I now have some new ones; not friends, but problems to solve and plants to get into the ground.

The genesis of this column has come via friends. I hope what I have to say is helpful to anyone who shares my interest and curiosity about plants and nature in general.

Jean of Claryville sent me a cutting of a local plant for I.D.. A seed pod from Martha of Jeffersonville was presented to me for possible I.D.. Some seeds of an antique flowering plant better known for another quality are sent to me from Lynn of Milses for germination: "Patience is not my virtue", she writes. And, lastly, a couple of flats of plants lovingly grown from seed by Evelyn of Liberty. She's held them for me since late April.

When you come across a plant of overwhelming interest note the conditions it is found in: sun or shade, wet or dry soils, size of plant (l+w+h), flower color, size, shape (form), time of year, fruit color and size, old or new. Back in the house cut the fruit open: note the number and formation of seeds. After a follow up phone call I surmise it's a European fly-honeysuckle, Jean. I'd still like to see the fruit when it's ripe.

A friend gives one a hard shelled seed pod measuring some 2 plus inches in width by three inches in length, gray/brown in color without a branch or a leaf and asks do you know what it is or where it's from. What can you tell me about it? If it looks totally foreign, it often is. Martha, I'm sorry but I went through Exotica and the trees of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands to no avail. Can you call the source for more information. The fruits inside this very hard thick shell are single-winged; they spiral to the ground helicopter fashion. Tightly packed in their 1/4" thick shell they resemble our evergreen cones like pine and spruce.

When Lynn e-mailed me asking if she could send me some seeds of Dictamnus, gasplant, dittany, little did I expect what was in store for me. Sure, I said. I'll give it a try. Can you send me any hints on germination? Yeah, sure. There right here on the seed pack. Friends. They are wonderful and help to keep one humble. Are you ready for the germination instructions from the package?: Three weeks at 60-65 degrees F, then ten weeks at 35-40 degrees F, then return to 60-65 degrees. If no germination occurs, return to cold. And she said, "Patience is not my virtue". God bless you, Lynn.

I remember Evelyn told me when I last saw her in April to come by to pick up some plants for home when I thought it was time. So, I got in touch and stopped by Friday, May 30th. Six different tomatoes, agastache, stock (the memory of fragrance alone convinced me to grow some at home), a new foxglove (I think she said "Peppermint"), and balsam (a mutual favorite, the "other" impatiens), some wave petunias, and some "Jewels of Opar". I just can't say "no" to a free plant, and no one grows plants from seed as well as Evelyn. Come to think of it, I should have suggested Lynn send her seeds to Evelyn. These four all know one another as active Master Gardener volunteers with CCE or M.G. Emeritus.

All of this leads me to a few things I thought might be helpful. For plant identification here are a few books that I find very useful: Manual of Vascular Plants (of Northeastern U.S. and Adjacent Canada), Gleason and Cronquist (Arthur Cronquist was a teacher of mine at NYBG); Newcomb's Wildflower Guide; The Peterson Field Guide Series is still invaluable.

Still feeling in a helpful mood, let me suggest a few things to consider when planning to put in a sizable ornamental plant or two. This is investment protection. Get a note pad and look closely at the planned planting site(s). Stand where you plan the plant to be situated. Look up for overhead wires, limbs and branches (now or in the future), building overhangs.

What is the available light. Gauge from full sun to deep shade. Any reflected light? Look about you. What is the potential for deer damage? How about drying winds? Look down. Would roots or precipitation in any way be restricted by compacted soils, driveway, sidewalk, anything below ground? Are deicing salts to be applied anywhere near this site?

Sample the soil from a depth of four to six inches. Is it light, dry, sandy? Is it heavy or clayey? Is it loamy? Is the site wet or poorly drained? Moist to slightly moist? Dry or drought prone? What's growing there now? Grassy, weedy, bare ground?

Finally, when the sample you took is dry, have a pH test done to determine the acidity or alkalinity of the soil site. Then, and only then, begin exploring for a plant that you like that is suitable to the site. Remember, suit the plant to the site, never vice versa. There are plenty to choose from for every site.

Once you've narrowed your selection, then investigate pest and disease resistant varieties and cultivars. There are even categories known as stress resistant trees and shrubs. It's your investment. Why not make the best of it for years to come?

As I close this chapter in my garden, I promise to update you with some recent horticultural news next time. Until then, remember, a palmful of your garden's soil is home to more living organisms than there are people on our planet. They are all potential friends. Cherish them. Their well being is not just the well being of your garden, but the well being of our world.


From The Garden of Ed. Submitted for publication in The Towne Crier on July 2, 2003

© 2003 Ed Mues. All Rights Reserved.