The Gardener's Apprentice

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Jacob’s ladder is beautiful, perennial, shade tolerant and less appealing to deer than many other ornamentals.  What more could a gardener ask for?


Spring can be overwhelming, with more urgent garden chores than any other season.  Relax, do what is most urgent and remember that the garden will slow down as you head into early summer.

May 22, 2017
by The Gardeners' Apprentice
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Jacob’s Ladder

The English are masters of gardening and garden writing, but they tend towards dramatic understatement.  The Royal Horticultural Society, for example, described perennial polemonium as a plant that “often seeds itself around rather freely.”  Generally a statement like that means that the plant is prolific to the point of invasiveness and is best planted by people who don’t mind a few—or a few hundred—“volunteer” offspring. It would be a shame if such a statement put people off polemonium, sometimes known as “Jacob’s ladder”, “sky pilot”, “American great valerian” and “charity”.  Most gardeners and plant vendors refer to it as “Jacob’s ladder” and I refer to it as a godsend for shady areas in need of ...

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May 15, 2017
by The Gardeners' Apprentice
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Heavenly Plants

I have always told people that there are no headaches in the garden.  There are also no social faux pas, ranting politicians or demanding bosses.  Some people, of course, bring those things into the garden because they refuse to be parted from their electronic devices.  I try to avoid co-mingling of digging and devices because it is better for my health. To me, my garden, no matter how weedy or bedraggled it looks at any given time, is a little piece of heaven.  Doing my daily garden tour last week, I walked by the patch of yellow archangel—Lamium galeobdolon—on the south side of the house.  I have no idea how it acquired that common name, but the heavenly association made me think of the large number of other plants with divine ...

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May 9, 2017
by The Gardeners' Apprentice
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For millennia gardens and gardening have been used as metaphors for life.  English author Edith Pargeter, who wrote under the name Ellis Peters, created a many-volume series from that metaphor when she wrote her Brother Cadfael mystery books.  Her sleuth/protagonist, Cadfael, tended his herb garden in the same intelligent, methodical and patient way that he ministered to the humans who needed his herbal medicines and solved the mysteries that arose at the twelfth century Benedictine monastery where he lived. I thought about metaphors last week as I approached the overwhelming number of garden tasks that screamed at me from my beds and borders.  We have had a long, cool, rainy spring this year, interrupted by a disastrous—at least to ...

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May 1, 2017
by The Gardeners' Apprentice
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Celandine Poppies

The proverb says, “Be careful what you wish for.”  For years I wished for more poppies—Papaver-- in my garden.  The crepe paper flowers are so bright and cheerful, the ferny foliage adds interest even after the flowers have faded and many poppies also boast interesting seed heads.  I have had great success with some members of the Papaveraceae family, like little California poppies or Eschscholzia californica.  In my front border I grow several large Oriental-type poppies—Papaver orientale--and over the years I have planted various annual types.  All succeeded for a time, but never gave me the massive, colorful show that I craved. Then I acquired a celandine poppy—Stylophorum diphyllum. The funny thing is, I don’t remember ...

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