Scary Plants: Part II

What we do with them and to them…

Steinberg Garden hand Montreal PPA 7-18-06 crop 2

By Debra Knapke

While some plants have scary attributes and uses (see Michael’s post on Scary Plants from October 15th) we often add to the scariness of plants by how we use and abuse them.

Sometimes plants are the backdrop for a scary moment. While on a garden tour at an artist’s home I turned a corner and saw this chilling vignette. You know the feeling: your heart stops for a moment – then you realize it isn’t real… or is it?

But the scariest moments are when I see plants that we have massacred Freddy Krueger style a la the endless Nightmare on Elm Street series.

Below is a variegated English oak that is in my garden. I made the initial mistake of planting it too close to overhead wires. As a result of assuming what I was told was true (this tree only will grow to 15’ tall, max!), it became one of the casualties of a line clearance crew. One day, I came home to see the dreaded blue dot on the trunk. If I had had warning, I would have called in my arborist, but the crew came the next day. After briefly mourning the loss of my tree, I asked the crew to cut down the tree. It is now sprouting from the stump, and I have a variegated English oak shrub.

topped English oak 4-14-15

A topped variegated English oak

Why is poor pruning scary? It stresses a plant, and this increases the probability that insects and disease will be able to get past a plant’s defense mechanisms. A very real consequence of poor pruning is the creation of a “hazard” tree. In some cases, the structure of poorly pruned tree is so compromised that the first windstorm will tear it apart. No one wants to see a large limb fall on a car or a person!

Exhibit B: the pruning of a line of honey locusts at a shopping center in Columbus, Ohio.

Improper pruning

Improper pruning

A close-up look shows us what should never happen to a tree: stub cuts, shredded wood and bark, and topping. I took these pictures in 2003. None of these trees survived.

Kroger frayed stub

Close up of improper pruning

While walking in Cincinnati on a sunny Saturday afternoon, I documented what happens when a homeowner plants a “shrub” that grows 35-40’ tall and wide in its native habitat.  Yews (Taxus species and hybrids) have long been pruned into shape by gardeners who wish to screen or decorate with plants.  In this case, the yews outgrew their space, and the only option was to remove most of their understories. Too bad the stub cuts were left behind.

taxus Cincy 5-1-15 resize

This shouldn’t happen to a yew!

One last picture of scary pruning, this time in my neighbor’s yard: line clearance done without proper clean-up. Lower branches, which had been supported by the branches that had been removed to clear the line, were hanging over the lower wires. Look at the wires just left of the blue spruce. I can only think that this was the last job of the day and last job in our subdivision as there were no trucks to be seen in the neighborhood. After a call to the electric company, the line clearance company sent in a crew to finish what they had started.

Do not stand under this accident waiting to happen; this is a “widow-maker” tree.

Do not stand under this accident waiting to happen; this is a “widow-maker” tree.

So on this Halloween, and all through the year, be on the look-out for scary plants; whimsical and real.

For your viewing pleasure only: an inspired cactus chair and ottoman at the Franklin Park Conservatory in 2008.

For your viewing pleasure only: an inspired cactus chair and ottoman at the Franklin Park Conservatory in 2008.



Favorite Edibles

It’s an Apple Wonderland.

By Debra Knapke

Early morning apple picking is a tradition in our family. This morning it’s Winesap (more properly Staymen Winesap) harvest-time. I am convinced that the poisoned apple in Walt Disney’s Snow White was modeled after the beautiful red and shapely Winesap.

Winesaps, Cortlands and Macs (MacIntosh) are the apples of my youth. Memories surface while I am in the orchard: picking apples with the neighbors, and running up and down the rows – to the dismay of our moms, making pies and applesauce… this falls under the heading of the “good ‘ole days.’

A 'Winesap' that will not be going in the pie

A ‘Winesap’ that will not be going in the pie

As my husband, Tony, and I were driving out to Lynd’s to pick, I jokingly said, “I wonder what I will learn today about apples.”

As it turns out, a lot. First, there were some new cultivars to try. Below is ‘Crimson Crisp’, a beautiful apple that tastes similar to a Jonathan with underlying complex flavors. Interesting…

'Crimson Crisp'

‘Crimson Crisp’

But the apple that blew my socks off was ‘Trail Delite’, a hybrid developed by Mitch Lynd and named last night. Imagine a blast of pear that settles into tart apple with hint of sweetness that lingers in your mouth. This is not a pretty apple; it is quite russeted. Important point: russet apples tend to be more resistant to pests and diseases and if I have to choose between pretty and natural disease

'Trail Delite' -- a trail blazer in flavor

‘Trail Delite’ — a trail blazer in flavor

resistance, I will go with the latter every time.

We were lucky to find Mitch Lynd and I started asking questions about both hybrids and was treated to a wealth of apple history and lore. At the checkout, we were able to talk with Dick Lynd, and I asked more questions. Tony and I discussed what they told us all the way home.

One point that I kept hearing in my head: you have no idea what we have here in our orchards — amazing flavors and textures. I can’t wait…

Young trees at Lynd's Fruit Farm in Pataskala, OH

Young trees at Lynd’s Fruit Farm in Pataskala, OH

Note from Debra:  I did not correctly identify one of my apple muses: Dick WANDER (not Lynd) is in charge of apple production at Lynd Fruit Farm and to paraphrase Mitch Lynd, “he is among the most competent apple growers I have known.”





Scary Plants

IMG_6689 swamp resize  (2)Needles, poisons and creepy shapes make some plants scary

By Michael Leach

My earliest memories of plants are a mixture of mostly delight and a modicum of dread. Fragrant flowers, tasty vegetables and juicy windfall apples were early favorites and remain so.

My first exposure to cactus also left a lasting impression — stickers in a tiny, curious fingertip. I instantly learned to exercise considerable caution when approaching plants armed with prickles, thorns and bristles. 20151013_130054

As language skills increased a vocabulary of dangerous flora was introduced. Poison ivy and poison oak are obviously plants to give an even wider berth than that cute, little potted cactus. Others have scary sounding names: deadnettle, Virginia creeper and Miss Wilmott’s ghost, to cite a few.Virginia creeper Poison ivy

Sometimes perfectly innocent plants assume sinister attributes. Even at noon a creepy twilight  fills  ancient cypress swamps. The upthrusting “knees” conjure thoughts of deformed hands of zombies. Their gnarled fingers reaching up to seize an unsuspecting ankle and pull the victim into the inky water like an alligator grabbing prey.IMG_7968

Winsome sugar maples and apple trees may also menace without intending to. Skeletal shadows of branches silently clawing on a bedroom wall or softly tapping on the window in a storm are standard props in Grade-B Hollywood horror movies. The branches of a big apple and old maples occasionally haunted my childhood bedroom, too.

Live oaks strung with long strands of the tattered lace of Spanish moss and glossy green Southern magnolia are two favorite trees, but even these have their dark side (literally). An old cemetery in Fernandina Beach, FL has stones and monuments that wear a faint patina of orangish lichen, as I recall. Unforgettable is the disquieting effect this has in the malevolent shade of a giant live oak and equally massive Southern magnolia. The hairs on the back of my neck almost rose, despite the sunny-bright spring day awaiting beyond the gloom.Spanish moss Middleton Place 9-14-11

And consider corn. For those who find it difficult to navigate up and down rows in an autumn maze, the sight of towering corn plants becomes a source of frustration. Should the way out remain elusive, those stalks may inspire anger. For me, the corn maze, indeed corn fields in general, are places I shun. After seeing the movie Signs, I stay well away from corn fields lest the slithery fingers of greenish aliens snatch and drag me off to their silvery saucer.signs-2002-shyamalan

Autumn Jewels II

Aut Flw Tricyrtis hirta Sinonome10-6-15By Debra Knapke

I’ve often heard the complaint that autumn is dull, and all we have is mums and pumpkins.  Well, I recently went searching for jewels in my autumn garden and found not only jewels, but a plentiful array of flowers.  Below is a glimpse of these treasures.

Aut FlwTricyrtis macrantha close 10-6-15 resize Aut FlwTricyrtis macrantha plant 10-6-15 resizeThis weeping toadlily, Tricyrtus micrantha, is a rare jewel in a Central Ohio garden. In my garden since 2007, it has been a shy bloomer. But my patience was rewarded this year with this gorgeous display of 1 ½” golden bells.

Aut Flw Tricyrtis hirta Sinonome 2 10-6-15The more typical flower form of a toadlily is an open six-pointed star with six stamens (male reproductive structures) fused to a six-lobed pistil (female reproductive structure). If you look closely at the buds and stems you can see how Tricyrtis hirta became known as the hairy toadlily.

Aut Flw Tropaeolum majus Alaska Mix 10-6-15Aut Flw borage 10-6-15I do not have Michael’s zinnias, but this nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus ‘Alaska Mix’) offers a zing of orange which contrasts beautifully with its variegated leaves. An added bonus: the flower petals and leaves are edible. Borage (Borago officinalis) offers another edible flower; imagine a cool whisper of cucumber flavor. The blue flower is also a complimentary color to the orange nasturtium flower. I often plant them together as I find it to be a pleasing color combination.

Aut Flw Aster laevis Bluebird bumble 10-6-15The smooth aster (Symphyotrichum laeve ‘Bluebird’) is one of many asters in my garden. Asters supply food to bees, butterflies and later, birds. Two asters I can’t show you, since they don’t bloom until late October.  Perhaps, a last drink for pollinators?

Aut Flw Heuchera villosa Bronze Wave 10-6-15Our beautiful native Heuchera villosa and its cultivars (above is ‘Bronze Wave’) have become one of my favorite shade to part shade plants. Tolerant of dry shade once it is established, it offers a bold foliage effect and long-lasting flowers that bloom in August until frost. The inflorescences are so heavy that they gracefully bend and intermingle with other plants. Watch for hummers when heucheras are in bloom.

Aut Flw Chrysanthemum Mei Kyo 10-6-15Last, but certainly not least, are the hardy mums. This is an old hybrid, Chrysanthemum ‘Mei Kyo’, which has graced my garden for 20 years. Its flowers are just starting to open. I will have flowers to bring inside until a hard frost sends this mum “to bed”.

Aut Flw anaemone 10-7-15Where are the beautiful hybrid anemones that often grace an autumn garden? Well, in my garden the buds and flowers have become choice edibles for my herd of deer. I did not protect the flowers so I have beautiful leaves and naked stems adorned with a few seedheads of flowers that got away.

‘Wishing you a beautiful and creative fall!

Autumn Jewels

Late Season Gifts from Nature

Autumn Jewels callicarpa 10-2-15Debra Knapke

Teresa, Michael and I meet periodically to talk about the blog: its direction and ideas for posts. We always take a walk in the garden before we sit with our coffee (Michael and Teresa) and tea (me) and plan. This time I couldn’t resist taking quick pics of what I think of as “jewel-moments” in the garden. Yes, winter is coming, but fall is my favorite time of the year, and I revel in what the garden has to offer as it moves toward sleep.

Anyone who has seen beautyberry (Callicarpa americana) seldom forgets it. The bright purple fruit clusters truly look like jewels as they float above the branches.

Michael’s has several crabapples (Malus) in his garden. Here are two that not only offer a visual treat, but feed the birds as well. Professor Sprenger crabapple (left) is covered in orange-red fruits. Candied Apple (right) crabapple has a weeping form. The branches of glossy red fruits are suspended between other plants.  Imagine beautiful streamers of soft pink to white flowers in the spring.

I have always loved the seedheads of Queen Anne’s lace (Daucus carota). Here goldenrod (Solidago canadensis) provides a lovely contrasting background. I have recreated this combination in my home for fall arrangements.  Add some purple asters and the effect is stunning.

Autumn Jewels Queen Annes lace 10-2-15


Northern sea oats (Chasmanthium latifolium) is a native grass that loves to self-seed all over the garden. It, too, is a good addition to fall arrangements. Be forewarned: they are short-lived in dried arrangements as the “oats” shatter in 2-4 weeks when in a warm home.Autumn Jewels sea oats 10-2-15

This heirloom seed strain zinnia is a jewel left over from summer.  This week’s cold spell may end their reign in the garden. As a native of Mexico, zinnias quickly decline when temperatures go below 40°F.Autumn Jewels zinnia 10-2-15

Brown is a beautiful color when contrasted with the sagey-green leaves of false blue indigo (Baptisia australis). The seedpods develop in July and persist into mid-fall.  An added bonus: they softly rattle on windy days and add an auditory experience to a garden. Cherry tomatoes are another last jewel of the summer.  The cooler temperatures have already slowed fruit maturation and tomato flowers are only a memory.

My blogmates discussing how Michael’s garden is senescing and what may change for next year’s garden. As autumn develops and I watch my own garden, I hear the echo of the famous line from Gone with the Wind: “Tomorrow is another day.”

Autumn Jewels Teresa Michael 10-2-15


Garden Topics

%d bloggers like this: