Thursday, May 31, 2012

Applied Leaf Bowls: Teaching a Workshop

Top to bottom,
American Beech/Deep Sienna Speckle,
Eastern Redbud/Lustrous Jade
American Chestnut/Iron Lustre
If you've made pretty decent preparations, teaching a pottery workshop can be a lot of fun. Decent preparations basically entails making sure you have all the necessary materials and equipment so you aren't having to wing it more than you can handle. It's good to realize that the unexpected is always going to occur so there are opportunities for improvisation built into the experience.

Communication and pacing are key. Communicate that everyone's piece is going to look different - and that that is a good thing. Communicate how long it's going to take to get through the process - so folks aren't burdening themselves with unreasonable expectations of their skills and the time available. Be attentive to the amount of time it's taking to get through the steps and encourage - positive messages are best but there are times a key negative word may be necessary. Let the students explore and let go of your expectations of how things are proceeding and how the students' artworks are evolving. I have found that there are always individuals who want to test the premises of a given situation; there is no better teacher than experience, and sometimes negative experiences ("Gee, I guess that really doesn't work, just like she said....") are the most memorable and instructive. I have observed teachers (and bosses) who seem to believe that humiliation, embarrassment and berating are effective teaching techniques; I have never seen that to be the case. Sharing your own mistakes serves to humanize the instructor, letting the students know it's OK to make mistakes and giving them the opportunity to learn from yours, which can contribute to the workshops overall success, as well as the success of each individual student.

Top to bottom,
Flowering Dogwood/Chun Plum,
American Elm/Textured Turquoise
Oakleaf Hydrangea/Dark Slate
Demonstrating techniques slowly and explaining each step - and the reasons for the specific way each step is executed - segues into letting the student explore each step with helpful supervision. As I prepare the clay to make a slab, I explain that it helps to do so such there is a thinner leading edge so the slab roller can "bite" into it more easily, which prevents the canvas from buckling. I explain that, after having rolled out the slab, pulling back the canvas, replacing it, flipping the entire "clay sandwich" over and repeating pulling back the canvas, releases the clay from the canvas, making it easier to manipulate. There are few steps that, if missed or not quite correctly executed, are fatal; most can be rectified or workarounds implemented. And, as clay is so very forgiving, you can always just wedge it all up and start over again (until it's been fired!)

I find that having fairly representative samples of the pieces to be made in the workshop really gets the excitement going - but be sure to communicate the caveat that their pieces are going to look quite different, a personal reflection of each individual artist. And make sure the students have choices - I show them what I might do for stain (on the leaves) and glaze (for the balance of the piece) combinations, but I leave the final decision up to each student - who sometimes come up with combinations that I might never have contemplated which I may then use in my own work going forward. When asked for a recommendation, I try to give two suggestions so the student retains a sense of independence even though they are, in many cases, pottery novices.

Be prepared for the unexpected, but also realize that, in this context, these are people who actually want to do this, not students required to take a class, and they want to have a good time - so you should, too. So take your time, let them take their time, and stay calm.

Oh - and have fun!

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Native Plants: Early Spring Woodies (Part 2)

Cornus florida (Flowering Dogwood)
 Despite my affection for all the native woody plants in my garden, I have to admit to some degree of favoritism. Perhaps its due to the challenges I've encountered with these trees - partly due to the choices I've made, partly due to conditions beyond my control. It's partly that, but it's also that these are, in my opinion, amongst the most exquisite of our native species.

Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida) is a beautifully architectural understory - what we call, in landscaping parlance, an ornamental - tree characterized by a candelabra-like branching structure which makes for a dramatic sculptural quality throughout the year. The tree bears showy bracts of either white or pink (what most people think are the flowers) surrounding a cluster of inconspicuous chartreuse green flowers which evolve into showy red fruit much like Spicebush (Lindera benzoin). I have up-lit my dogwood to great effect throughout the year, as it transitions from a cloud of white, to lush green foliage, through a dramatic burgundy color change in fall, accented by its red berries, to its sculptural zenith in winter.

As an understory species, Flowering Dogwood should not be planted in full sun. The introduction of exotic Kousa Dogwoods (Cornus kousa) carrying anthracnose (Discula spp.) pathogens to which our dogwoods have no resistance have wreaked havoc on  native populations. Unlike anthracnose in native Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis), which is primarily an aesthetic condition which causes the trees to defoliate prematurely (after which they put out new leaves), anthracnose in native dogwoods, once it becomes systemic (enters the tree's vascular system) is generally fatal. (Pink varieties seem to be more susceptible than white.) For this reason, I have planted my Dogwood in full sun, thereby minimizing the risk of fungal disorders (including anthracnose) and taken other steps to maximize the other aspects of its cultural circumstances.

Cercis canadensis (Eastern Redbud)
Perhaps another reason I favor the white Dogwood over the pink is that its bloom time overlaps that of our Eastern Redbud (Cercis canadensis), which generally blooms in a cool pink that doesn't seem to harmonize very well, to my artist's eye, with the more salmony pinks characteristic of Flowering Dogwood. (There are a few exceptions, but I'm not much of a pink person anyway!) Redbud is a member of the pea (Fabaceae) family and has characteristically pea-shaped flowers, usually pink but also white (Cercis canadensis 'Alba', a naturally-occurring variation), that emerge before the foliage; the fruit, when ripe, is a brown, flattish pod with a number of small pea-like seeds. The flowers are not just borne at the tips of the tree's twigs but also right on major limbs and the trunk. The beautiful heart-shaped leaves - which provide "baby blankets" for leaf-cutter bees - mature to a beautiful mid-green, burning almost butter yellow in the Fall. The tree's unique branching architecture assures its year-round interest, complemented by beautiful grayish bark.

My Redbud flowered for the first time this year, after many years in my garden, partly because of its exposure - the surrounding Silver Maples (Acer saccharinum) may be giving it a bit more shade than it really wants - and damage it has endured at the hands our intrepid DTE-affiliated tree pruners. (The Redbud itself is an excellent tree choice near electrical wires, as it does not get exceptionally tall; the problem is that those individuals pruning the surrounding maples, which are not good choices near wire, drop the maple limbs on my poor little Redbud.) Needless to say, I was delighted to see it put out two small flower clusters; I hope to see more in years to come.

Aronia melanocarpa (Black Chokeberry)
A less-commonly-seen shrub, Black Chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa) is a delightful highlight of my front garden. Not a particularly large plant, usually about 4 feet, which can sucker - but not particularly aggressively, in my experience.  A member of the Rosaceae family, the bush has typical white five-petaled flowers with distinctive pink anthers which darken as the flower ages. The flower buds look like little balls before they pop open and the flower clusters make a cheerful display in my front foundations. The fruits ripen to a deep blue-black but are not edible (although they are not toxic) for humans due to their astringency. (They can be used to make wine, jam, syrup and other cooked foods.) Birds feed on them freely, as they do not taste astringency, dispersing the seeds in their droppings. Fall color is in the red range and is quite lovely. Wintertime structure is "typical shrubby", making an excellent backdrop to the rest of my garden, which I do not cut down until Spring.

I understand that birds opt for more desirable fruits earlier in the season, utilizing less tasty fare as menu selection shrinks. Some fruits convert astringent starches into sugar with a good frost, after which the birds consume them with abandon. (It is in a bird's best interest to select the ripest fruit with the highest sugar content: birds require a lot of calories daily to sustain themselves; hence, the phrase "ate like the bird" is really not accurate in its common usage.) I have tried Black Chokeberry fruits, both before and after frost, and, as far as I can tell, they don't improve with age!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Home Again, Home Again, Jiggidy-Jig

Sunday started out pretty drearily. We had hoped to take a cruise to see the Pictured Rocks and then head out to Whitefish Point to sight-see, collect some cool rocks and eat some fresh fish. But the weather was grotty, which was a good thing for the firefighters up in Luce County but not so great for us "tourists". Theresa and I opted for the breakfast buffet at The Dogpatch (there isn't much else in Munising, as it turns out) and then, when the weather didn't improve but, in fact, worsened, began our journey home. Admittedly, I was anxious about the cats - I hadn't been away this long in a very long time - and the garden, not knowing it had rained at home on Saturday.

The drive was beautiful - the intermittent rain heightened the green of "all those trees" and we actually saw a couple pairs of Sandhill Cranes to the south fo the highway, feeding placidly in the gentle rain. We hit the Mackinac Bridge by about 11:00, stopping in Mackinaw City because Theresa wanted to get me some rain gear, which will be much appreciated, as I can't remember the last time I had a piece of attire actually designed and intended to keep me dry! Continuing south on I-75, we hit some seriously squally weather, only keeping going by maintaining a safe visual on the vehicles in front of us. We gassed up again and, just short of West Branch, Theresa took over the driving. Looking back to the North, we agreed it was a good thing we hadn't been able to see how bad the weather had really been and felt for the folks driving straight into the maelstrom.

Provisioned by leftover pasties, we were able to drive straight through to Roseville, getting Theresa home by 3:00 - we made the trop from Munising to the Detroit-metro area in about six hours. When I got home a short while later, Auntie Jeanne was hanging with the kids.

The trip was exhausting but worth while. Others are definitely in the future, so hopefully I'll be able to get back to the Pictured Rocks and have some fresh Lake Superior whitefish before the year is out! Stay tuned!

Announcements - Save the Date(s)

Aquilegia canadensis
(Eastern Columbine)
June 2, 2012 (Saturday), 10:00am-2:00pm: Annual Spring Garden Tour.  Cheryl's life-long love of Clematis and more recent obsession with native plants are both immediately apparent as you walk through her garden. Designed as a constantly-evolving teaching and learning space rather than a design show-stopper, her garden includes over 50 Clematis, representing over 10 species as well as large-flowering hybrids, and over 150 species of native plants, ranging from Spring ephemerals to large trees. Take advantage of this opportunity to become acquainted with some of the lesser-known small-flowering species Clematis varieties and the beauties of our native flora, including innovative cultural ideas for marginal species. Cheryl's garden was featured in the July 2009 issue of Michigan Gardener and she penned an article on native plants for the May 2012 issue of the same publication. The tour also features locally-created garden art and refreshments. The event is located at 3903 Grayton St., Detroit, MI 48224; call (313) 885-3385 or (313) 690-3385 or e-mail for more information. (If you or your group cannot make the scheduled tour dates, private tours can be arranged by appointment.)

Large Sunflower Leaf
June 9-10 (Saturday, 10a-7p, and Sunday 11a-5p): Royal Oak Clay, Glass & Metal Show. Check out 125 top-notch folks working in the "hot arts" - clay, glass and metal, in Royal Oak along Washington Ave. I'll be there - stop by and say, "Hey!" Great art, great music, great food and great atmosphere - what more can you ask for??? I'll have my usual display of garden-inspired art - Sunflowers (Original/Fancy/Deluxe, Mini/Tiny/Small/Medium/Large/Extra-Large/Ginormous), Daisies (Shasta/Gerbera/Black-eyed Susan, Baby, Small and Deluxe), Toadstools (Original/Deluxe), Toad Abodes (including Fairy Houses), Bird Bowls (Hanging or "standing"), as well as my newer creations, including Hot Pepper Tiles, Wildflower Tiles, Embossed and Applied Leaf Bowls and maybe a large Sunflower Leaf or two!

Phlox pilosa
(Downy or Prairie Phlox)
August 18, 2012 (Saturday), 10:00am-2:00pm: Annual Summer Garden Tour.  Cheryl's life-long love of Clematis and more recent obsession with native plants are both immediately apparent as you walk through her garden. Designed as a constantly-evolving teaching and learning space rather than a design show-stopper, her garden includes over 50 Clematis, representing over 10 species as well as large-flowering hybrids, and over 150 species of native plants, ranging from Spring ephemerals to large trees. Take advantage of this opportunity to become acquainted with some of the lesser-known small-flowering species Clematis varieties and the beauties of our native flora, including innovative cultural ideas for marginal species. Cheryl's garden was featured in the July 2009 issue of Michigan Gardener and she penned an article on native plants for the May 2012 issue of the same publication. The tour also features locally-created garden art and refreshments. The event is located at 3903 Grayton St., Detroit, MI 48224; call (313) 885-3385 or (313) 690-3385 or e-mail for more information. (If you or your group cannot make the scheduled tour dates, private tours can be arranged by appointment.)

Monday, May 28, 2012

There and Back Again

Day four of our trip started out in Houghton with clear skies and warm weather. After a quick breakfast at the Travelodge, Theresa headed the CR-V toward Calumet, just a few miles away. The gallery wasn't going to open until 11:00 but we thought we could wander the town for an hour or so until such time, familiarizing ourselves with the environs at leisure.

Historic Vertin Bros. Department Store, Calumet, MI
It didn't take us long to get to the gallery, arriving shortly after 10:00am. We parked the car on the street - noticing that the meters are located up close to the buildings, to allow for seasonal snow removal. (There are also signs posting no parking during snow season, 7p-2a, every day.) We noticed a jumble sale up the street, checking the contents out for possible future bird homes by our friend Tim Hanks. Thereafter, we wandered up 7th Street, over on Elm and then to 5th. The town was still pretty sleepy so we had plenty of opportunity to enjoy the architecture of this town that aspired to be the capitol of a separate state - and may still be...? We checked out a couple of shops, including the Ed Gray Gallery, finally coming back to the Vertin Gallery shortly after 11:00.

Vertin Gallery, Calumet, MI
Audrey, the Gallery Director, had not yet arrived, so I decided to wait while Theresa went in search of more Roseville Pottery and vintage head vases. Finally, Audrey arrived, having started her morning shipping a painting to a client. We got most of the pottery into the gallery and started unpacking, starting with the leaf pockets. When I assemble an inventory, especially for a new gallery, I create a document with "check boxes" so they can just select the pieces the want, making the whole inventory situation much easier. Well, Audrey liked everything I brought and actually wanted more. Theresa having arrived by this time, she showed Audrey the contents of the sample box while I hunted around for additional business cards, the result a list of additional work we could bring "any time" - including my lace buttons. (Audrey is, in addition to Gallery Director, a fiber artist.) We also shared the work of our artist friends, for most of whom Audrey took additional information, already bubbling with presentation ideas for Chris Hopp's hypertufa designs.

Charley Parker's Poster Design for
Isle Royale National Park
Finally taking our leave, Theresa drove on toward Copper Harbor. The drive was beautiful-woodsy and demanding - the road is series of tight twists and turns. We drove as far as we could toward the point, then back in town. We stopped at a couple of galleries, meeting Steve Brimm, a photographer who lives part of the year in North Carolina, and the Laughing Loon/Patchword Books, where I found some new titles about wildflowers (of course) and Charley Harper's poster commemorating Isle Royale. Wandering west on US-41, we found Gallery 41, a small gallery specializing in UP artists, again run by friendly folks from North Carolina, as well as their collection of German Shorthair Pointers.Steve had given us good directions to get to Brockway Mountain so we could get a good look-out over Lake Superior, although it was pretty hazy by the time we got up to the top. Theresa told me it's the same friendly German woman (and Golden Retriever) who tends the gift shop up there as she remembered from some years ago.

Beginning our trip home, we took M-26 west, stopping in the Keweenaw Shore Nature Sanctuary to collect some memory stones - mostly smooth red granite characteristic of the region. Driving on further, we came to the Poorrock Abbey, Society of St. John, where we stopped at the "Jam Pot" and selected some handmade breads and preserves, including choice Thimbleberry jam (which I will not be sharing, so don't even ask!) We carried on to just shy of Calumet, gassing up a few gallons until we could get to Baraga, where gas prices are about as low as they can be. From there, I got us to Munising, spotting a Bald Eagle perched high in a pine along the highway, as well as a Sandhill Crane and a small flock of Wild Turkeys.

Once we got settled in Munising, we headed to the Dogpatch for dinner (which was... OK - although our waitress, Kay, was very attentive) and DQ for a blizzard, at Theresa's request.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

To the Back of Beyond

Our third day on the road started out with trying to find someone who could fix a chip to our windshield that occurred on our way from Detroit to Dewitt. No one was available within a reasonable amount of time in the Petoskey area and as far as we could tell from the upper LP, no one in the UP ever gets one! After fruitless phone calls (by the indefatigable Theresa), we opted to head back to Traverse City to the nearest Belle Tire, as most of their locations provide this service. We got there around 10:00 am to learn that the Traverse City Belle Tire is one of the few that does not do chip repair but they could refer us to someone else. Who could give us an appointment in about three hours! Being the sort of person I am, I opted not to spend three hours waiting for a chip appointment and we headed back to Petoskey and points beyond.

Twisted Fish, Elk Rapids, MI
The good thing about all of this is that we were able to hit a few galleries in the Elk Rapids and Charlevoix area we had not been able to visit the day before because we were running so late after dropping off the pieces for the Art and the Garden Show at Art Center Traverse City. Our first stop was Twisted Fish Gallery, recommended to me by my friend and client, Lambro Niforos. This is an eclectic and sophisticated gallery featuring work in so many media, set within a property featuring a beautiful (sculpture) garden - Theresa and a I had a great time wandering around inside and out, taking in the beautiful weather and the unique art. The fact that those two pieces had been accepted to the Traverse City show seemed to pique Charlotte ("Charlie') Streit's interest, so you may see some of my work there yet! Look for the gallery near the Elk Rapids water tower, just off of US 31.
Pat Curran and Dan Reszka of
Blue Heron Gallery, Elk Rapids

Next we stopped at Blue Heron Gallery on Ames in Elk Rapids, where we met Pat Curran, one of the owners. Pat and I had a really great conversation about my work and my design agenda (flexibility and versatility over rigidity and control - really!) Pat led us around the gallery - which is much larger than the exterior suggests - and shared some of her favorite artists and pieces with us. She also let us see some of her husband, Dan Reszka's, beautifully spare landscape vignettes in watercolors and inks - still in progress, which is always a treat - there's nothing more interesting for me than to get a glimpse into another artist's process. We really enjoyed our visit with Pat and I'm hoping at least one or two of us - Don, Chris, Tim, Melanie or I - might be able to fit into their world.

Pushing onward, we stopped in at Bier Gallery, again, just off of US 31, in Charlevoix. We had the chance to visit with Ray Bier and see some of his son, Tyler's, beautiful functional pottery - really solid design complemented by superior glaze selections and techniques - so much so that Theresa purchased one of his pieces! We both had tours of the studio space, with four kilns - including a really huge four-foot oval; I was experiencing kiln envy!

Crooked Tree Arts Center, Petoskey
With Theresa still in the driver's seat, we headed back to Petoskey to visit the Crooked Tree Arts Center, fervently recommended to us by Sue Ann Round of Michigan Artists Gallery in Sutton's Bay. Having parked the car, we hoofed it to the Art Center, passing the Northern Michigan Artists Gallery (featuring only Northern Michigan Artists, most from around the Charlevoix/Petoskey area) on our way. Just approaching Crooked Tree is amazing - located in the old United Methodist Church, built in the late 19th century, the building has been lovingly converted to a multi-use space featuring both fine and performing arts, classes and other events. Their current show features Artists of Mackinac Island - Theresa and I both really liked the tapestry piece of birch trunks and leaves. There we met Lucy, who was both enthusiastic and helpful. She took my portfolio CD and gave me the Visual Arts Director/Curators card; while checking to make sure the CD worked, found herself eagerly scrolling through all the images, finally expressing the fact that she would certainly put a word in on my behalf. Finally, she performed the vital service of recommending a couple places to eat. We finally ended up at Roast and Toast (we had wanted to go to the Twisted Olive but they had closed for the day) for soup and sandwiches. Look for the portraits hung high up on the wall - they depict the restaurant's staff!

Trotting back up the hill to the car, I took over the driving. Holiday weekend tourists had, by then (4:00) started accumulating so getting out of town was a slow business; once we got over the Mackinac Bridge, we made good time. I wasn't sure I'd be able to do the rest of the drive, but wanted to try as Theresa had put in a good six hours (broken up by our stops, but still). A small handful of dark-chocolate-covered cherries mad the difference and we pulled into the Travelodge in Houghton shortly after 9:00. Dinner at the Ambassador Restaurant - artisan pizzas, great beers (including selections from the only microbrewery in the UP (Keewenaw Brewing Company) and a unique interior made for a great end to the day.

Today we carry on to Calumet and the Vertin Gallery, thence to Copper Harbor. We'll probably start our way back home across the top of the UP as well. Have a great day and stay tuned!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Into the Wild Blue Yonder

Chelsea Martin, Chef Extraorinaire
Well, today is actually the second day in our (my friend Theresa Dearhamer and I) little whirlwind tour of the Northern Lower Peninsula and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. We left the Detroit Area yesterday morning around 9:15 to head up to Dewitt so I could deliver a program on Viburnums sponsored by the Dewitt Millenium Garden Club, which was a great success, not least because of the delicious potluck lunch we had afterwards. (I have to say, I've seldom met a gardener who is no also an excellent cook!)

Having finished, we trundled over the Summertime Cement to visit with our friend, Chris Hopp of Farmbrook Designs to see new hypertufa projects and shoot the breeze before heading over to the home of our good friends, Gar and Gerry Martin, where we were fed an amazing meal of Green Bean Salad, Tomato and House-made (believe it!) Mozzarella Cheese Salad and Chicken and Pasta Bake prepared by Gar and Gerry's daughter/Chris's girlfriend, Chelsea Martin. (This was after she kept us going with homemade smoked salmon dip and cheddar cheese.) After catching up on new products and ideas after dinner, we spent a restful night with only the occasional solicitous visit from Sammy (the Cat).

This morning, after some discussion between Chris, Chelsea, Theresa and I regarding our route and additional destinations, we set out on the next leg of our journey: Crystal Gardens in Frankfort; The Secret Garden in Empire; Ruth Conklin Gallery and Forest Gallery in Glen Arbor; Michigan Artists Gallery in Sutton's Bay; and Artcenter Traverse City (actually located in Acme).

Ruth Saddow of Ruth Conklin Gallery
We made an impressively brief yet productive stop at Crystal Gardens to find some more cool rocks that Gar Martin could make into candleholders for me (Cheryl) and one that was just darned cool for Theresa, after I saw a similar piece at Chris's workshop yesterday afternoon. While checking things out at The Secret Garden, we ran into our good friend Joyce Janicki, who was so generous as to invite us to see her lovely vacation spot, where we also met two bunnies, her dog, her mouse, and several monarch butterfly larvae munching contentedly on Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca). We had an impressively efficient visit with Ruth Saddow of Ruth Conklin Gallery, not only dropping of lots of new daisies and Sunflowers, but LP Stepping Stones and luminaries for Chris Hopp/Farmbrook Designs. Beth at Forest Gallery loved our friend Melanie Boyle's (of Cleverlotus Designs) notecards - which are a perfect fit for the gallery's Arts and Crafts sensibilities.

Michigan Artists Gallery in Suttons Bay is
celebrating its 15 year Anniversary May 26, 2012!
We made a new fast friend in Sue Ann Round at Michigan Artists Gallery. Check out the upcoming Miniatures Show, opening this Saturday, with almost 500 unique works of art, all less than seven inches square and $150 in price. When we arrived, no less than four women were trying to figure out how to get the computer to print out specially-formated price tags. I was able to - sit down in the chair - and get the job done while Sue Ann brought out a delicious smorgasbord of fresh fruit, cheese, crackers, peanut butter, cookies and fresh water. Good thing we hadn't squeezed in lunch! While I worked away at the computer, Theresa shared my box of samples, with the result that you'll be seeing some of my work in Suttons Bay later this year. I'm going to send Sue Ann links for work by my friends Chris Hopp, Donald Schulte, Tim Hanks and Melanie Boyle - so maybe you'll see some of their creations as well!

Heading over to Traverse City, we ran into a snag when it turned out that the address for the Artcenter had not been updated on the web. Kathryn was good enough to stay late until we finally found the new location to drop off the two pieces juried in for the upcoming Art and the Garden exhibit, opening June 6 - it should be a great show so, if you can make it, be sure to check it out!

Whitney's of Charlevoix,
where Annie took very good care of us!
Finally, having met all of our business, social and technical obligations for the day, we headed to Whitney's of Charlevoix, recommended to us by friends/clients John and Dianne O'brien (friends of the owners) for some much-deserved down-time, assisted by glasses of wine (whine???), as well as an appetizer, dinner and dessert.

Here we are, now, in Petoskey's Holiday Inn Express. A come down? Perhaps - but we'll definitely get a great breakfast before we head on up to the UP tomorrow!

Stay tuned as our Northern Michigan adventure continues!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012


Short and sweet, wanted to share the fact that the two pieces I submitted for the Art and the Garden show at Artcenter Traverse City both got in!!! I submitted my largest sunflower leaf as well as my cottonwood basin - wanted to share pictures.
Large Sunflower Leaf
Cottonwood Basin
Now I just have to figure out how to get them up there!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Native Plants: Early Spring Woodies (Part I)

Lindera benzoin (Spicebush)
Although I have an appreciation for all native plants, my favorites are definitely the woodies - trees, shrubs and vines. I'm not sure why that is; maybe it's akin to my preference for hardcover books as opposed to paperbacks - something about their hardiness and persistence, their presence for the long term, through even the worst of the season. The Spring woodies are some of my most beloved plants, probably because they're true harbingers of the new (gardening) year. They are also some of the most familiar of plants, even for the non-gardener.

One longtime favorite is Lindera benzoin, or Spicebush. Named for the bracing, spicy scent released by the plant's wood and roots when wounded, this is beautiful, vase-shaped shrub of some size that tolerates vernal pooling (spring flooding). Spicebush is covered with tiny yellow flowers early in the season, followed by glowing, patent-leather red berries in Fall, complementing lovely yellow late-season foliage. Like holly (Ilex spp.),  Kentucky Coffeetree (Gymnocladus dioicus) and Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba), Spicebush is "dioecious", meaning that male and female flowers on borne on separate plants and are noticeably different for the educated botanist. ("Monoecious" plants have male and female flowers on the same plant.) If you want to get fruit, therefore, you need to have both male and female plants. Unfortunately, unlike Ilex spp., most growers do not sex their Spicebush plants so it's difficult to tell, unless you shop in the Fall: if a plant has fruit on it, it is definitely female; if not, it may be male. Another plus is that Spicebush, along with Sassafras (Sassafras albidum) is a host plant for the beautiful Spicebush Swallowtail Butterfly.

Amelanchier arborea (Downy Serviceberry)
Serviceberry (Amelanchier spp.) is just one name for a diverse group of plants, most of which are native to North America. (Two Amelanchier species are native to Asia; another to Europe.) At least one species is native to every U.S. State, with the exception of Hawaii, and the common names - Shadwood, Shadblow and Shadbush (blooming when the Shad run), Serviceberry or Sarvisberry (the service for the dead who passed during the winter could be held when the plant flowered, as the ground was no longer frozen) and Juneberry (the plant bears early in the season, in June typically) - reflect their diversity. Another four-season performer, Serviceberry flowers early in the season, followed by early fruit set, a critical food source for many native birds. Fall foliage is dramatic, in yellow-orange to burnt orange hues. The delicately-striated bark shows to best advantage in this erect shrub of small tree during the winter. The tree is an important host plant for numerous native insects, including Red-spotted Purple and White Admiral butterflies. The fruits are also edible - and often delectable - for humans; make sure to pick the very darkest, ripest, sweetest of the fruit - best a handful at a time!

Salix discolor (Pussy Willow)
Probably the best known and most beloved of our early season shrubs is the Pussy Willow (Salix discolor), a classic harbinger of Spring often included in traditional Easter celebrations and used for cut flowers. (A new plant can often be started by simply pushing a newly-cut twig into the ground so several nodes are below grade.) Like many members of the Salix family, Pussy Willow as adapted to wetland conditions but will thrive in drier circumstances as well. It is a sizable plant, up to about 20 feet, and can get a bit leggy. The plant is named for the the soft, silky, silver-gray catkins borne on the plant before it leafs out, so they show to very best advantage. Like Spicebush, Pussy Willow is dioecious, with male and female plants. The male flowers turn yellow with pollen before fading; the fruit (borne only on the female shrubs) consists of a small capsule with tiny seeds embedded in a cottony down. Fall color is nondescript, with the leaves dropping early in the season and breaking down quickly into the soil The shrub's form is not exceptional but it does add some decent bones to the garden during the off season.

And, as everyone knows, my garden would not be complete without a Pussy Willow, although my cats' toes are much softer!