Viewing comments posted by jathton

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[ Northern Red Oak (Quercus rubra) | Posted on November 21, 2019 ]

Throughout my career I called myself a garden designer, But when I joined the staff of a terrific locally owned nursery in the 1990's I also became a "plant salesman." I became responsible for helping customers select as little as one new plant for their home landscape… and selling a tree to a customer became a special treat.
I say that because most tree customers were homeowners who were going to live in their house for 5-7 years before selling and moving on. Their biggest motivation when tree shopping was to add a tree or a few trees to the grounds around that home… in the hope that the trees they planted would add dollars to the re-sale value of their home.
A small percentage of those customers came into the nursery knowing what they wanted. Their tree needed to be attractively shaped and capable of rapid growth. They were looking for Silver Maples and Sycamores and Hackberries and Thornless Honeylocust. Bradford Pears had tremendous appeal because of their wonderfully balanced shape when young. Some of them even wanted Cottonwoods and Mimosas. In short, they had the names of fast growing trees down cold.
It very quickly became a mission of mine to steer these customers away from what I called "trash trees" [my opinion] and toward trees that had real quality.
One of the first trees I always pointed them toward was the Northern Red Oak [Quercus rubra.]
I described this tree as "majestic" and "noble" and "tremendously long lived"… that there were innumerable, beautiful Red Oaks in Oklahoma City that had been planted shortly after the city was formed in 1889. I told them these trees developed impressively thick trunks and stout branches that grew at right angles to the trunk… eventually forming full, rounded crowns. They learned, much to their surprise, a properly cared for Red Oak could grow to 16-20 feet in ten years. They found out Red Oaks were tolerant of many soil conditions, as long as the soil was well-drained. They discovered the leaves and the acorns contained tannic acid which helps to guard them from fungus and insects. They learned the beautifully lobed five to ten inch long leaves are dark green and smooth, sometimes shining above… and they turn rich shades of red in fall… in a city that has been overwhelmed by trees with yellow autumn color.
It has been twenty two years since I was a "tree salesman" associated with that nursery. These days I can drive through several neighborhoods in Oklahoma City and see large numbers of stout, beautifully shaped semi-mature Northern Red Oaks shading front lawns and streets and peeking over the roofs of homes… Red Oaks I sold to customers who came to the nursery looking for a Silver Maple. I'll always love Northern Red Oaks for their great character, their stature in a lawn setting, their beautiful fall color and their longevity.
Incidentally, the largest Northern Red Oak in America is 131 feet tall and has a spread of 118 feet. It lives in Washington County, VA.

[ Bermuda Grass (Cynodon dactylon) | Posted on November 19, 2019 ]

I'm sure there are plenty of gardeners and lawn professionals who will gladly extol the virtues of Bermuda grass. But I have spent my professional career designing and installing residential gardens in Oklahoma City... and my opinion of Bermuda grass falls far short of flattering. I rate the introduction of this grass to the United States right up there with the introduction of Kudzu Vine to the Deep South and Blackberry plants to the Pacific Northwest.
Please understand I am speaking as a designer of residential gardens. In that capacity I have watched, year after year, as Bermuda grass infiltrated and tried its best to take over any shrub or flower bed I've created. Granted, there are types of garden borders and edging that will temporarily stop this invasion. But time after time the Bermuda grass has eventually won… and the home gardener was faced with trying to eradicate it without killing the plants he wants to keep.
Bermuda grass, like Kudzu Vine and Blackberries, is amazingly tenacious and invasive. Wikipedia points out its root system "can grow to over 2 metres (6.6 ft) deep, though most of the root mass is less than 60 centimetres (24 in) under the surface. The grass creeps along the ground with its stolons rooting wherever a node touches the ground, forming a dense mat." And I can say from long experience that digging it out of a flower bed inevitably leaves some small root pieces that are more than capable of generating lots of new growth.
While taking a turf grass science class at Oklahoma State University I spent several class periods listening to the professor introduce us to all the known varieties of lawn grass. When he talked about Bermuda grass he pointed out that millions of dollars had been spent over the years bringing it to America from North Africa and hybridizing and improving it.
I raised my hand and asked why all that money had not been spent on Buffalo grass… an American native that is much better behaved and much easier to grow and maintain. He ducked answering my question, but after class he pulled me aside and told me he hated Bermuda grass and that the lawn at his home was Buffalo grass. He swore me to secrecy… threatening all manner of painful consequences if I let that story get out. I kept his secret… but in 34 years of designing gardens I never once used Bermuda as the lawn grass on projects.

[ Northern Lady Fern (Athyrium asplenioides var. angustum 'Lady in Red') | Posted on November 9, 2019 ]

The friend who gave me a clump pf Northern Lady Fern in spring, 2016 told me to pot it up for a while... then plant it in the garden. By mid-summer it had begun to crowd its original pot... so I moved it up to a 17 inch double-walled plastic pot. That fall it looked so good in the pot I decided to leave it there through the winter. [It is, after all, hardy to zone 2.] By summer, 2017 this fern had exploded into a huge, beautifully shaped fern that completely filled the larger pot.

That fall I dug it out of the large pot and divided the creeping rhizome into several sections and gave them to friends. The one section I kept was planted in my shade garden... but sadly did not survive that winter.

Now that I've found a reputable source for potted hardy ferns, I'll be getting another Northern Lady Fern next spring... I have just the place for it.

[ Pearlbush (Exochorda racemosa) | Posted on November 2, 2019 ]

Several friends, and a couple of professional horticulturists, have told me this shrub has a couple of weeks of flowering glory in spring... and otherwise it's just a big bush. Funny, I never hear them say anything derogatory about Forsythia, Quince, Azaleas, Wisteria or Lady Banks Rose... and they pretty much do the same thing.
A large, irregularly shaped Pearlbush in full bloom is a marvelous sight. And if you are fortunate enough to see this plant in full bloom on a night with a full moon you are in for a great, springtime treat.

[ Desert Bird of Paradise (Caesalpinia gilliesii) | Posted on November 1, 2019 ]

Both this plant database and the Missouri Botanical Garden PlantFinder database list this plant as hardy to zone 8. The MBG database does, however, say it might be hardy in zone 7 if planted in a protected location.

It should be pointed out that at least 5 specimens of this plant have been growing in Oklahoma City gardens for many years. They do, of course, die to the ground in winter... but they all return very vigorously each spring. The two I am most familiar with grow into 5x5 foot specimens each year and bloom prolifically.

All of the photos I have loaded to this location are of a plant growing in Oklahoma City [zone 7a.]

[ Cycad (Encephalartos horridus) | Posted on October 30, 2019 ]

Native to South Africa, Encephalartos horridus is an evergreen, slow-growing cycad that makes its home on rocky outcroppings, slopes and ridges in the Eastern Cape Province. It is a dioecious gymnosperm with cylindrical male cones and oval female cones. Fertilization takes place in summer.

If a gardener can find one in the trade, and if he is willing to handle a plant as prickly as this one, the 'Ferocious Blue Cycad' makes a striking container plant in the garden in summer. North of zone 10, however, it must be taken indoors for the winter... and there is the rub... or scratch.

Ice Blue Cycads in San Diego is a possible source for this plant.

[ Foster Holly (Ilex x attenuata 'Fosteri') | Posted on October 30, 2019 ]

Foster's Holly is nothing short of elegant and aristocratic... WHEN it is sited to best advantage. The trouble is most homeowners choose to locate this plant at the front corners of their home. They think a nice, tear-drop shaped plant at each corner will add a nice sense of symmetry to the front landscape. They completely ignore the mature size of this plant when making this decision... and a few years down the line they end up shearing the plant to keep it within bounds. Not only do they butcher the natural shape of the plant they end up shearing off all the berries that make it so attractive in fall and winter.
A far better solution is to locate this Holly somewhere in the lawn where it can be a stand-alone specimen plant. Let it develop without pruning until it attains a stature that really shows off all its qualities. The landscape will then have a beautiful, pyramidal plant with evergreen foliage and bright red berries in fall and winter.
And if you want to really show it off to best advantage plant a triangle of three plants. Don't get crazy and try to make them all the same size. Let them be different sizes. That will only add to the beauty of the grouping.
Remember: "The only symmetry in nature is the symmetry man imposes on it." Try hard to not be imposing.

[ Lacebark Pine (Pinus bungeana) | Posted on October 29, 2019 ]

Alexander von Bunge, a botanist from St. Petersburg, was the first westerner to "discover" Lacebark Pines. He saw them growing in and around Peking in 1831. The specimens he saw were very old trees whose trunks had turned completely white. The tree was first introduced in the Western world by Robert Fortune in 1846. The tree was formally named in honor of von Bunge in 1897.

This tree has several attributes that make it appealing to a gardener or garden designer. It is often multi-stemmed, with ascendant branches, and a round-topped form. Its good looking yellow-green needles are carried in bundles of three and are usually evenly spaced over the crown. The bark is the true focal point of the tree. It exfoliates in irregular peels... revealing apple green and lighter yellow green patches in the normally brownish gray bark.

I remember a friend and I getting pretty excited when Iseli Nursery began offering Lacebark Pines in the 1990's. Until then it had been virtually impossible to find them in the trade. The only reason we knew about this pine was because there was a very large specimen of one growing on the northwest corner of 19th and N. Pennsylvania in Oklahoma City for years and years. The homeowner had no idea what it was and we spent a long time identifying it in those historic days before the internet came into play.
It was a beautiful specimen and I took real pleasure in seeing it each time I drove up that street. Then, one day, it was gone... to the ground. I was so shocked I stopped, banged on the door, and asked what had happened. The home had been sold and the new owners felt it blocked their view. I turned around and looked at their new view... of an intersection with stop lights. There is just no accounting for some taste.

[ Weeping Alaska Cedar (Xanthocyparis nootkatensis 'Pendula') | Posted on October 28, 2019 ]

I'm not sure when this stately evergreen first appeared in the nursery trade in the 48 contiguous states... but I do know we were using it successfully on landscape projects in central Oklahoma by 1995.
As remarkable as it seems Weeping Alaskan Cedar seems just as happy growing on the Southern Great Plains as it does in its native habitats of Alaska and the Washington and Oregon coasts.
This conifer has a graceful, decidedly pendulous form that only improves with age. The foliage is medium to dark green and roughly resembles the foliage on oriental Arborvitae.
It grows 30 - 45 feet high and 15 - 20 feet wide in the wild... but its growth rate is considered slow... and it does not get that large under cultivation. Michael Dirr says the species grows best when atmospheric and soil moisture is abundant.

[ Lutea Hybrid Tree Peony (Paeonia 'Hesperus') | Posted on October 27, 2019 ]

I was walking the grounds of my favorite botanic garden on a beautiful spring morning in 2004 when I turned a corner and stopped dead in my tracks. Ten feet in front of me, backed up by a dark evergreen Holly hedge, was a mature specimen of Paeonia 'Hesperus' in full bloom.The sun was still low in the sky and the light had that magical quality the early morning permits... and it illuminated the enormous blooms from behind.
I have always had a soft spot for Peonies... waiting for the buds to finally open is a great exercise in patience... enjoying their beauty and fragrance for the short time they are fully opened is, for me, a time of pure pleasure... and watching them slowly fade is akin to a mourning period. Yes, I know that sounds melodramatic... but it is accurate.
Seeing 'Hesperus' in full bloom, however, made me feel I had never really seen a Peony before.
The blooms were enormous... and each petal, glowing in that early morning light, looked as though it had been cut from crepe paper or exceptionally sheer silk.
All these years later I still have trouble understanding why I only photographed one bloom. It must have seemed, at the time, that one bloom summed up the entire plant... that an image of the all the blooms would have somehow detracted from the beauty of each bloom.
I'm still trying, fifteen years later, to find a source for this Peony... and I'm beginning to wonder if I ever will. I know, however, I'll keep looking.

[ Norway Maple (Acer platanoides 'Crimson King') | Posted on October 26, 2019 ]

I have seen, over the years, some spectacular specimens of 'Crimson King' Maple in Little Rock, AR... in Muskogee and Tulsa and Bartlesville, OK... and in Lawrence, Kansas City and Leavenworth, KS.

But move west from any of these towns and cities and you move beyond the relative protection of the eastern deciduous forests... and into the harsher weather on the Southern Great Plains. A lot of varieties of trees perform beautifully in this harsher environment... 'Crimson King' Maple is definitely not one of them.

In this "farther-west" environment 'Crimson King' Maple will suffer regularly and sometimes extensively from leaf scorch. Trees under this kind of stress are also more susceptible to severe stem canker.

North and east of these demarcation lines 'Crimson King' should be planted and allowed to fulfill its potential as a stunningly beautiful shade tree.

[ Burning Bush (Euonymus alatus) | Posted on October 25, 2019 ]

There are evidently lots of reasons to NOT plant Burning Bush if you live in Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, NYC and other points east. But living on the Southern Great Plains often gives gardeners a perspective they would not otherwise have. Burning Bush out here on the plains:
... adapts to a wide range of soil conditions
... tolerates moist and dry sites
... has no serious insect and/or disease problems
... is easy to transplant
... tolerates our blazing hot full sun in summers
... and provides a degree of red fall color seldom seen on shrubs on the Great Plains.
So, while others will condemn it as largely valueless, I'll hold with Michael Dirr's opinion that Burning Bush is one of the great aesthetic and functional shrubs available for American gardens.
Oh yes, pruned up it makes a beautiful multi-stemmed small shrub or tree for containers.

[ Chinese Elm (Ulmus parvifolia 'Golden Rey') | Posted on October 25, 2019 ]

The Lacebark Elm , or true Chinese Elm, began to be grown and planted in the United States largely out of necessity. Dutch elm disease had laid waste to approximately 75% of the 77 million American Elms that stood along public streets and in lawns in 1930. Because it is highly resistant to Dutch Elm disease and the elm leaf beetle the Lacebark Elm was chosen as the natural successor of American Elm.
Many years later, in the late 1980's, an Oklahoma City nurseryman named Bruce Rey was monitoring the development of a controlled planting of Lacebark Elm seedlings. He noticed one of the seedlings leaves were a distinct light yellow color. Subsequent asexual propagation of root cuttings from this seedling resulted in a small population of new plants… all possessing light yellow foliage.
Additional asexual propagations of these new plants clearly demonstrated that "…distinguishing characteristics came true to form and are established and transmitted through succeeding propagations."
On March 3, 1989 a plant patent was applied for using the name Ulmus parvifolia 'Golden Rey'… and on June 5, 1990 Patent Number: Plant 7,240 Rey was issued to Bruce Rey and the Assignee: Preston Warren of Spencer, OK.
"The growth rate of the new variety is believed to be similar to the species which, under normal nursery conditions, is about two to three feet per growing season. Overall growth is upright when young but becoming more rounded with age so that the mature shape is a broad, rounded configuration with ends of the new growth being slightly pendulous. The estimated height at maturity is about 40-60 feet with a width of about one-half to two-thirds of the tree's height. The new variety tends to be more compact, with more branches, and of more upright form than the species at comparable maturity.
The bark on young trees of the new variety, i.e., up to 5-6 years of age, appears to be a uniform brownish grey. At approximately this age, the bark begins to exfoliate and develops splotches of light tan where portions of older bark have fallen away. This behavior is similar to that of the species.
Observed under field growing conditions, the disease resistance of the new variety seems to be equal to that of the species."

[ Persian Fritillary (Fritillaria persica 'Adiyaman') | Posted on October 24, 2019 ]

The cultivar 'Adiyaman' is generally taller and more free-flowering than the species.

Persian Fritillary is native to Iraq, Iran, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Palestine and southern Turkey.

Each plant may bear up to 30 bell-shaped flowers that hang straight down from the flower stalk.

Persian Fritillary should be planted as soon after receipt as possible. It will NOT store well in the packing container.

[ Pistachio (Pistacia chinensis) | Posted on October 23, 2019 ]

Pistacia chinensis (English: Chinese pistache;[2] Chinese: 黄連木; pinyin: huángliánmù)

Chinese Pistache was a very welcome addition to the horticultural plant palette in central Oklahoma. It just has so many qualities going for it that Oklahoma gardeners needed in a medium sized shade tree. It is:
... a reliable source for brilliant orange to red-orange fall color. It will develop good red fall color as far south as Orlando, FL and in the low-elevation deserts of Southern Arizona
... tolerant of a wide range of urban conditions
... very drought resistant once established
... very deep rooted
... very tolerant of extreme heat
... tolerant of low humidity and drying winds
... tolerant of transplant stress
... tolerant of full sun... intolerant of shade
... a good choice as a street tree
... nearly disease and insect free
... capable of an excellent growth rate when given good care
... a tree with very hard, durable and decay-resistant wood... so it is very wind and ice and vandal resistant

There is one very serious concern if the gardener happens to be a lawn fanatic who will spray anything necessary to maintain a perfect lawn. Chinese Pistache is exceptionally sensitive to triazine and sulfonylurea-type herbicides.

[ Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum 'Caddo') | Posted on October 23, 2019 ]

The Sugar Maple [Acer saccharum] is native to the hardwood forest of eastern Canada and northern portions of the Central and Eastern United States. It is the tree that gives rise to all the stories you hear and the photos you see of "fall in New England." It is the primary source of maple syrup.

The 'Caddo' Sugar Maple [Acer saccharum 'Caddo'] is a "naturally occurring southern ecotype or subspecies" that was found growing in the Wichita Mountains in Caddo County, Oklahoma. Its leaves, seeds, growth form and other features appear to be very similar to seedlings from northeastern states. The discovery and ultimate propagation of this subspecies has made it possible to successfully grow Sugar Maples on the Southern Great Plains.

'Caddo' Sugar Maple grows to be a beautiful oval to round-crowned tree with a dense foliage cover. It is easily distinguished from other Maples in the fall because foliage coloration begins at the top of the tree and gradually colors the tree from the top down until all the leaves are brilliant red-orange.

Two of the most iconic 'Caddo' Maples in Oklahoma City flank the east entrance to City Hall.

[ Blue Atlas Cedar (Cedrus atlantica 'Glauca') | Posted on October 22, 2019 ]

Blue Atlas Cedar is a striking and unique coniferous evergreen tree. It has become very popular in Oklahoma City in the past three decades for use on residential and commercial landscapes. On commercial projects it is usually planted in a large lawn area where it has the opportunity to grow and mature as it should. This means it will gradually change from a loosely pyramidal form to a more flat-topped form with long horizontal branches. It can also, albeit slowly, grow to its mature height of 40-60 feet.
In residential gardens it is all too often used as a temporarily dramatic vertical blue statement that quickly overgrows its site and must be removed or drastically pruned. The worst case scenarios use it as an accent for a chimney… where it is often planted within 6 feet of the chimney and home.
Proper placement of this majestic conifer would site it in a large space with deep, well-drained, acidic soil and full sun exposure. It should also be understood that zone 6 is definitely the northern limit of its hardiness range… and that some degree of protection from drying summer and winter winds is to its advantage.

[ Anisacanthus quadrifidus var. wrightii 'San Antonio Red' | Posted on October 21, 2019 ]

One plant database lists the common name for this plant as 'Firecracker Plant.' We learned the common name is 'Hummingbird Bush.' We prefer the latter title because this bush does indeed attract hummingbirds and butterflies. One day last summer we actually saw three hovering all over the bush at the same time.

That was one of those sights that always manages to remind me of a favorite quote by Annie Dillard, Pulitzer Prize winning author of Pilgrim at Tinkers Creek... a book anyone who loves nature would love to read. Anyway, she summed up the hummingbirds, and a lot else, when she said, "... beauty and grace are performed whether or not we will or sense them. The least we can do is try to be there."

Anisacanthus is a gangly, spreading deciduous shrub that usually matures at 5 feet by 4 feet. The leaves are lanceolate, with good green color. Bright red-orange tubular flowers are about 1.5 inches in length. They generally appear in large numbers after rains from spring long into summer.
Anisacanthus is hardy from zone 7A south into zone 10. In zone 7A this shrub performs best when planted close to a south facing wall. The reflected heat from this wall will protect the plant during the winter months... and will permit it to remain a shrub, instead of becoming a herbaceous perennial.

[ Hardy Geranium (Geranium x cantabrigiense 'Biokovo') | Posted on October 21, 2019 ]

Well, I was going to write my own comment but then I read TINPINS comment, made in 2013.
She said it all.
One of my favorite Cranesbills.

[ Amur Maple (Acer tataricum subsp. ginnala) | Posted on October 19, 2019 ]

One of the advantages of gardening on the southern Great Plains is that plants listed as invasive in many reference manuals are not invasive here. Such is the case with Amur Maple. Invasiveness for this tree is, according to the Early Detection and Distribution Mapping System, limited to Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and two New England states.
Having said that it can be said that Amur Maple is a superb small tree for Oklahoma gardens and landscapes. When properly trained the tree is limbed up to expose smooth gray bark and a multi-trunk form. The dense, rounded crown is clothed in distinctly three-lobed leaves that turn brilliant shades of red and yellow in fall. Fragrant greenish-white blooms are followed by one inch winged fruit [samaras] that are often brilliant red themselves.
Amur Maple is an excellent tree for smaller gardens. It can be used to create small areas of shade suitable for Hostas, Heucheras and other shade-loving perennials without shading an entire lawn area. Because it usually matures at about 20 feet in height it can be successfully planted under power lines. Once established it shows excellent tolerance to drought and alkaline soils.

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