The Gardener's Apprentice

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Ligularia is a shade-loving member of the daisy family that shines at summer’s end.


In much of the U.S., gardeners still have time for fall planting.  Snap up some bargain perennials and get them in the ground promptly for a jump-start on next season.

September 18, 2017
by The Gardeners' Apprentice
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I have a space in a shady part of the garden where nothing succeeds except hellebores, and a “volunteer” privet shrub that is the offspring of the line of privets that bounds the front of the garden.  This semi-dead zone is probably semi-dead because of its proximity to a middle-aged maple tree that sucks up most of the moisture and nutrients in the soil.  Every autumn the area is inundated with fallen maple leaves, and the rest of the time it is afflicted with tiny maple seedlings.  I spend hours raking up the leaves, grubbing out the seedlings and meditating on why plants collapse and die at the mere sight of this difficult spot. What is the answer to this dead zone conundrum?  It might be more hellebores, which are tough, deer ...

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September 11, 2017
by The Gardeners' Apprentice
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Looks Like Hops

People generally ignore trees.  This is because most of the time trees quietly present us with gifts like shade, cleaner air, erosion protection and beauty while asking little in return.  On the rare occasions when trees break the surface of our consciousness, we generally criticize them for shedding branches in storms, dropping leaves and/or litter in autumn, or otherwise interrupting our lives.  If trees thought like humans, they would complain about being unappreciated. Sometimes though, some feature of one tree or another makes people take notice.  This is the case of Ostrya virginiana, better known as American hophornbeam.  In the last month or so, at least three different people have pointed to a hophornbeam and said, “What ...

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September 4, 2017
by The Gardeners' Apprentice
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An old French fairy tale recounts the heinous exploits of Blue Beard, a nobleman with an imposing castle and a penchant for murdering his wives.  Outwitted by his final wife and dispatched by members of her family, Blue Beard lived and died by the sword.  Clearly, they don’t make fairy tales like they used to. Blue Beard’s namesake plant, known in Latin as Caryopteris, has no violent tendencies.  It is a small, graceful, deciduous shrub with “beards” that are actually terminal clusters of tiny, intensely blue or blue-purple flowers.  As befits such a beautiful plant, it has other, more benign nicknames, including “blue mist shrub” and “blue spirea”.  It offers up those blue flowers at the end of summer, right alongside ...

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August 28, 2017
by The Gardeners' Apprentice
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Good Grooming

When the majority of people and gardens are young, they can get by on natural beauty and freshness.  Nothing matches the dewy allure of humans in their twenties and perennials in their first few years.  But when maturity sets in, good grooming makes all the difference.  My grandmother and lots of other grandmothers have said so, and, like so many other pieces of grandmotherly wisdom, it is true. I thought of this a few weeks ago when I visited an absolutely exquisite mature garden.  It was less flower-filled and considerably more formal than mine, stocked with well-grown shrubs, trees and plants, all separated by rivers of finely crushed stone.  Everything in sight was well disciplined and clipped or pruned to perfection.  Even ...

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