Ripening fruit

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Fruits of cranberry bush viburnum, V. trilobum, are just beginning to show color. Soon they will be bright, shiny red, but the birds won’t eat them until winter.

If you’ve read this blog for a while, you’ve probably realized that I’m obsessed with fruit. I noticed today that two of the many fruiting shrubs in my garden are “in that delightful state, when farther beauty is known to be at hand, and when, while much is actually given to the sight, more yet remains for the imagination.” Jane Austen always said everything best.

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Look carefully amongst the leaves–fruits of black chokeberry, Aronia melanocarpa, turn reddish before they turn black. As soon as they’re ripe, birds will devour them.

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A bright winter day

Last week, on a lovely but warm winter day, we took a lot of pictures of the garden in winter, and I thought they cheer you up on this very dark, wet day.

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Last summer Eupatorium purpureum, or sweet joe pye weed, grew 8 feet tall in my garden–scroll down through this post to see it in bloom. This winter the seedheads tower over the perennial border.

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The native perennials are brimming with seeds for birds, some that remain on the plants and some that fill to the ground. All winter, we watch the mixed-species foraging flocks come to feed.

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Little bluestem is beautiful in all seasons. In winter, it’s silver and gold. In summer, it really is blue.

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Hazelnut catkins–the male flowers that will bloom in very early spring–hand from the slender stems like decorations.

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Spicebush will be the first native shrub to bloom (I hope it holds off until spring). All winter long you can see the round green buds.

Warm reds

It’s cold and windy outside, but the garden is enlivened by many remaining leaves, fruits, and even flowers in lovely shades of orange and red.

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Chokecherry (Prunus virginiana)

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Sundrops (Oenothera fruticosa)

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Native honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervivens, unknown cultivar)

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American hazelnut (Corylus americana)

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Chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa)

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Viburnum trilobum (cranberrybush)

Choosing plants

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Part of a sunny border at the end of June, including long-established and new plants, all very attractive to pollinators. From left to right: yellow sundrops (Oenothera fruticosa), purple beebalm (Monarda fistulosa), white dotted mint (Monarda punctata), orange butterflyweed (Asclepias tuberosa), more sundrops and butterflyweed, and white new jersey tea (Ceanothus americanus), plus grasses and taller perennials that will bloom later in the season.

I have a mental checklist that I use to choose plants for my garden. It goes like this:

1. Is it pretty? If I like the plant’s looks, I go on to:

2. Is it native to this area? There are many definitions of “native plant.” I mean, according to good authorities, was it growing here, in northern New Jersey, before European settlement? If it most likely was, the next question is:

3. Is it a pure species? I greatly prefer species to hybrids or cultivars or varieties. Species are fertile, and I want to be able to collect seeds. Species were designed by nature, not by plant growers or scientists, so they are likely to produce flowers in colors that pollinators can recognize and that are not so big the stems can’t support them. If I can find a pure species, the next question is:

4. Is it adapted to the specific site? No matter how pretty or how native, there’s no point in planting something that can’t survive in the specific soil, water, and light conditions; there’s no point in planting a large tree in a small bed or groundcover where you need a shrub or a wetland plant in dry soil. If it is adapted to the site, I ask:

5. It is useful to wildlife? I plant for the birds and the butterflies and the myriad pollinators too small to notice or to name. I check reference books and field guides to find out what the critters want to eat. Chokecherry yes, redbud no. Space is limited, and one is useful to a wider variety of species than the other. If it’s a good wildlife plant, I ask:

6. Is it common in the area? There are few plants more useful to a wider range of animal species than oaks, but there are already lots of oaks (there are also lots of redbuds, because people plant them as front-lawn specimens). So I’ll plant something else, equally useful, that used to be common but is now missing–like serviceberry and elderberry. Once I decide on that rarer plant, I need to ask:

7. Can I find a commercial source? This is usually the problem. I choose plants for clients for a living, so I’ve developed a fairly wide range of sources, but I often wind up substituting a different species after a fruitless search. Sometimes the plant I want finally appears on the market, sometimes it never does. I would like a local source but will settle for a midwestern one. If I can find a source, the final question is:

8. How was the plant grown? I want healthy plants, and I particularly want plants that were grown in a nursery, not collected from the wild. I would prefer to inspect the plants myself, but I’ll settle for mail order from a reputable grower if absolutely necessary.

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Chokeberries (Aronia melanocarpa) at the end of July. The birds devour them the second they are fully ripe.

Buds of spring

All the early bloomers are late–when was the last time that forsythia hadn’t bloomed by April 10? But buds are perceptively swelling every day. Here’s what two of my favorite spring-blooming shrubs looked like this evening.

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Spicebush (Lindera benzoin) and

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serviceberry (Amelanchier, probably sanguinea; I planted it almost 20 years ago)

My husband takes most of the pictures on this blog; certainly he takes all the beautiful ones. We’re going to do a day-by-day series of photos so you can see how the flowers on these lovely shrubs unfurl.

Winter woes

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OK, it’s not pretty anymore. It’s just boring and annoying and frustrating and COLD, and another storm is expected on Monday. And according to the National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center, we have an above-average chance of below-average temperatures (isn’t that a great phrase?) for the next month.

The sun is now so strong that even on a day when the temperature doesn’t go above the mid-twenties, the water remains liquid in the puddles. If we weren’t still buried under almost a foot of frozen snow, the snowdrops, winter aconites, and crocuses would be blooming, the daffodil foliage would be up, and I’d be thinking about sowing seeds for cool-season greens this weekend. And checking the hazelnut and spicebush shrubs for the first signs of bloom.

But still, spring is bound to come, right? Have a good weekend, and stay warm.