Saturday, April 23, 2011

Prehistoric Petasite and other native plants of Michigan

There's a prehistoric plant that always draws attention beginning the day it first pops a bright green head from the soil in early spring.  I 've encountered many the gardener perched at the end of our driveway, noses to the ground, curiously inspecting the these showstoppers like prize sows. 

Beginning with a pot purchased for a couple dollars at a local plant sale, the native plant legally known as petasite,  but affectionately known as dinofood is a low maintenance, hardy spreader that stands out from spring to fall.  Best planted in a shady area with access to regular moisture, the emerging plant shows up right after the thaw, followed by a unique chartreuse and white flower in early April. 

That's only the beginning--after the bloom, giant ear-like foliage erupts everywhere, filing out the bed, and creating a tropical effect in the yard. 

It's easy to imagine dinosaurs happily munching these plants.  Their size alone would fill up even a prehistoric belly.  

Spread by underground tubers, Petasite can become invasive, but is easily pulled out with a tug.  Bury the tuber in a semi-moist shady area, water, and the dinosaur(food) will be reborn.

Petasite foliage, early Spring

Sometimes the giant leaves wilt in great heat or are punctured by hail.  They bounce right back. These easy showstoppers attract attention from March until October. Then, they just fade away, no cutting back required.  How much easier can it get?   

Native plants are those which naturally are found here in Zone Five and a Half.  Centuries of test drives by nature make these hardy plants great bets for the garden. These plants are self reliant, there's no fertilizing or fuss in the forest. 

Delicate Bloodroot Flowers ready to unfurl (April)

Bloodroot, another tropical looking favorite is nearly ready to unfurl its tiny tulip-like flowers.  Soon, these notched-leafed slow spreaders will add structure to the rock garden.    Again, these purchases from a plant sale have become easy  regulars. 

Bloodroot in May
When looking for safe, but fun bets for the yard, look no further than local native plants.   It's nice to sit back, allowing nature do the hard work. 
Pushing the zone has its rewards, but sometimes, so does going with the flow. 

Thursday, April 14, 2011

To Hellebores and Back

The garden gives us gifts from time to time.  So does life.

He hasn't been sleeping well this week.  When I come down in the morning, he is dressed, watching the news and looking weary despite the evening's rest.  Bedtime comes early, but sleep does not appear to follow in step.

The family homestead of seventy five years stands vacant.  After she left in a blaze of sirens, he could not bear to go back. Life changes in an instant.   First Thanksgiving, then Christmas passed and all did their best to commemorate without celebration. 

She toughed it out for several months, and he never missed a day by her side, holding the hand that could no longer move on its own, and telling her how beautiful she was.  In the end he cradled her face in his hand and assured her it was okay to go, that he would be alright.  So she did. 

Now it's my turn.  A snazzy two bedroom condo in the park awaits.  Having tearfully sent two daughters off to college, this letting go is nothing new, but it doesn't seem to get any easier.

Saturday, the moving van arrives to transport the family heirlooms to his new high rise, a new life, a brand new beginning.  Too bad we all really liked the old life.  Time to move on. 

As sister Deborah says  "No crying in baseball."

He'll have a grand time.  The folks at the new place have already welcomed him openly.  The ladies are lovely, and the guys are sociable.  Hanging out with pup Ralph all day is pleasurable, but sometimes the comfort of Ralph and that blue bathrobe can get a little too easy.  I know. 

The garden gives gifts, especially in the spring.  Today it was a sudden bouquet of hellebores appearing from under a tangled mass of winter burned leaves.  Looks like they had a tough coupla months too.

Age and adversity bring about a childlike guile, unfamiliar in my strapping father, but poignant all the same.  It's this guy who's so hard to let go of. 

So I sent him off for his thirty thousand mile check up before he makes this long move one half mile away.

The beauty which emerges after particularly adverse conditions is especially distinctive and singular.  That bouquet of pale green lenten roses spilling out from between the rocks stands out against the newly thawed earth and amongst the more sedate blooms still carefully emerging. 

Hellebores remain above the ground all winter. They do not retreat into the safety of the earth, encapsulated in the layers of a bulb.  The
blooms arrive with a flourish. 

My father could have retreated to the isolation of his family home, or become a permanent guest in mine, (certainly no one would have faulted him) but he has chosen instead to take these shaky steps away from safety.

In doing so he continues to inspire and impress, just like those lovely chartreuse blooms.

More Articles of Personal Interest:

Father's Day -- The Mighty Acorn

Pushing the Zone -- USDA HARDINESS

Hens and Chicks -- Garden Bouquets are Cheep!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

How to Grow Flowers from Seeds -- Four O'Clocks and other Heirloom Plants from Seed

Heirloom plants are best grown from seed.  Successful seed starting isn't  as easy as poking a hole in the dirt--most times.  The best time to start summer seeds is just as the snow is softening up.
Along with the usual robin, early spring meant the happy return of other "snowbirds"--my grandparents Jack and Juanita.  Upon retiring the two spent winters on the west coast of Florida, gladly avoiding the northern bluster.  They always took orders for gifts upon their return.  My brother asked them to bring home an alligator one spring.  Expecting the real thing, we were fairly disappointed when they arrived with a stuffed version--but my mother was relieved.
 I'm sure my grandfather took some convincing to leave the live version behind.  Before the days of Spirit Airlines, there was no interim commuting, so the arrival of my lively relatives meant spring and summer, with all  attendant warmth was close behind.