2013 fall plant orders, part 1

Half of the plants from the order

I used to order plants via mail fairly frequently, but because of time and monetary constraints I slacked off for a while.

Until this fall.  It all started when I was looking for a replacement for my beloved Dirca palustris which had been broken by some careless tree trimmers who worked for the power company.  They didn’t actually kill it, but they broke it in half and opened up a perfect space underneath for my dog, Romeo.  On hot summer days Romeo would dig deep and curl into the exposed roots to keep himself cool.  However, I love Romeo and hate the tree trimmers, so I’m giving the tree trimmers full blame.

The original plant came from Woodlanders nursery in 2003, but their recent catalogs didn’t list leatherwood any more.  Until this fall, that is.  I was so excited to finally have a source again, but shipping was going to be expensive.  “I’d better order more plants since I have to pay pretty much the same shipping rate anyhow,” I rationalized.

I think every gardener who orders via mail has gone through this process to satisfy their plant lust.  There should be a support group.

Somehow I justified my way to twelve different items.  I upped the quantity to five for two of the plants, giving me twenty plants total:

  • Dirca palustris (to replace the murdered one)
  • Stewartia koreana (I’ve always wanted one)
  • Athyrium felix-femina var. felix-femina ‘Minutissimum’ (I have some of these ferns from Woodlanders and they’re great.  They stay 6″ high and are awesome with miniature hosta)
  • Clethra fargesii (why not?  It sounds interesting)
  • Clethra barbinervis (after hearing Dan Hinkley praise this plant so extensively, I had to try it in my own garden)
  • Salvia koyamae (I grew this with great success for several years, until the one year that Aegopodium made its way to that bed and strangled the poor Salvia in the night)
  • Zenobia pulverulenta ‘Woodlanders Blue’ (I tried this in 2003, but killed it pretty quickly.  I wanted to have another shot)
  • Franklinia alatamaha (I have always wanted to try this plant because of its rich and fascinating history)
  • Hosta yingeri (Mine from 2003 is flourishing, but lonely; I ordered five friends)
  • Oxydendrum arboreum (Another interesting plant that I really should be growing.  The only one in town was cut down)
  • Viburnum acerifolium (Another 2003 plant that was getting lonely; it now has a friend to shout across the garden to)
  • Viburnum sieboldii ‘Seneca’ (I don’t know why.  I got caught up in ordering, I think)

The other half of the order, mostly perennials.

I have places in mind for many of these, but not all.  My eyes were bigger than my stomach.  I mean yard.

So what am I going to do with them?  Since the plants came from South Carolina (which is considerably warmer than East Central Illinois), I hardened the plants in the garage at night and left them outside during the day.  Because it’s so late in the season I may not get a well-established root system before winter, so I’ll add a heavy layer of mulch after planting these bareroot beauties to help protect against frost heaving.

Once I figure out where they go, that is.

Reflections on the Dawes Arboretum


One of the many hollies in the Dawes collection

In late September I had to be in Columbus, Ohio for a meeting after 3pm.  We arrived late the night before, dogs in tow, planning to leave first thing in the morning to visit the Dawes Arboretum for a few hours before work.

I wasn’t really sure what to expect.  I had been to the Dawes before, but that was eight years ago.  I knew that I had taken a lot of pictures then, but I wasn’t sure of what.  I was sure I could find something new to photograph, though.

I did know that the Arboretum is huge — it covers over 1800 acres — although the formal collections are smaller.  They have an excellent holly collection (recognized by the Holly Society of America), a huge conifer garden, maples, crabapples, and a lot of other stuff.  I wasn’t sure how much we’d get to see in our brief visit.

One thing that I didn’t realize is how much smaller the operations are at the Dawes Arboretum than, say, the Morton Arboretum.  When we first arrived we were looking for a gatehouse or place to pay; our family membership at the Morton Arboretum is reciprocal, but they only give two membership cards and they were in my wife and son’s name.  We drove right past the visitor center because we were looking for a huge parking lot like we were used to, and it took us a little while to figure out that we had missed it (in hindsight, this is a good thing).

When we went into the visitor center we were shocked to discover that admission was free — lately it seems like everybody’s trying to stick their hand into my wallet.  Except, apparently, the Dawes Arboretum.  They’re funded by donors.  Although it’s just a drop in the bucket, I wanted to thank them by becoming a member.  And besides, my $30 membership was going to be reciprocal at other gardens, so now our Morton Arboretum membership woes were irrelevant.  We bought a cookie cutter in the gift shop, then toured the grounds with our two dogs.

Yes, dogs.  The Dawes allows leashed dogs!  The dogs were so excited and had to smell everything, and this pretty much ruined most photography attempts for the first hour.  Holding a 40-pound dog on a leash while trying to take a macro shot of holly berries is difficult at best.  I think he knew when I was about to release the shutter and would time his lunges just to mess me up.  After an hour of frustration my wife ended up keeping the dogs in the car while I walked around and took lots and lots of pictures.  She took one for the cause, and I was able to “do my thing.”


The cypress swamp at Dawes.

I can’t see the forest through the trees when I visit a garden for the first time.  I’m hyperfocused on the individual plant species and I run around excitedly from tree to shrub, snapping a photo of the label and then a few photos of the plant itself.  I don’t really have a sense of a garden’s overall design unless I make a conscious effort, and I didn’t really do that at the Dawes.

As a result, all I can tell you is that I got a great shot of Orixa japonica over by the Japanese gardens. The Liquidambar (sweetgums) were in fall color, the hollies were coming along (but many weren’t quite ready yet), the crabapples looked great, and I ran out of time photographing the conifer collection.



Conifers galore, some in letters!

We did climb to the top of the outpost tower at one point to get a better overall view, and we also saw the 2,400 foot-long hedge spelling out ‘Dawes Arboretum’ using arborvitae. My wife wanted to see salamanders, so we also peeked into the cypress swamp. Unfortunately it was a little too dry.

But for the most part my experience of the Arboretum was through a viewfinder with a camera stuck to my eye, lens trained on some rare find, hoping to preserve its character for others who weren’t able to see the plant in person. I may have taken 273 photos in two hours, but that was just a drop in the bucket compared to what I could have taken.  (However, I was thrilled to finally get a better shot of Ilex x attenuata  ‘Sunny Foster’ to replace my bad photos from the last visit).

So what’s the takeaway from this trip?  I had a great time.  I didn’t pay nearly as much attention to the Arboretum as I should have and I didn’t even have enough time to look at the plants the way I wanted to.  So we’re now planning a second five-hour drive out east (without the dogs), and hopefully we’ll get to take in a lot more of this Central Ohio gem.  The hollies should be brighter, the crabapples more visible, and the fall color will be a colorful mosaic of yellow, oranges, and reds by then.

But who am I kidding?  I’ll probably run out of time again and won’t see the forest through the trees. But that’s OK; I’ll just have to keep coming back until I do.