Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Summer Sparkler: Bottlebrush Buckeye

Although Independence Day has passed, I still have fireworks in the garden.  July is peak season for a number of perennials like monarda, hollyhocks, and daylilies, but one also one of my favorite shrubs. Bottlebrush buckeye (Aesculus parviflora) is a large shrub for part to full shade.  It is doing quite well under the spruces, which means it can handle the Evil Dry Shade of Doom despite Dirr and others saying otherwise. Thank God, something is happy there. It's a continual test labratory for pushing the tolerances of plants. I planted Carex pennsylvanica this year.  We'll see how it does, as it is one of our native sedges that supposedly can handle drier soils.

One big one and one small one

Bottlebrush buckeye is not for the small garden, really.  It wants to be at least ten feet high and it will form large suckering colonies. Introduced in 1785, it is native to South Carolina, Georgia, etc., although grows very happily in my zone 5 garden. William Bartram first noted the plant and it is still in his Philadelphia garden as of 1930. I can't remember if I saw it there when we visited a few years ago. John Fraser, though, was the first to introduce it to the British horticulturists and gardeners. I put it in the shrub border I'm building between us and the neighbors.  In winter, it's leggy habit is very see-through, but in full leaf, it is an impeneterable barrier.  Then it blooms. The soft white flower spikes on these beauties can be nearly 18 inches tall. The flowers can last a very long time, and I tend to leave them up.  Occasionally, you'll get a fruit. 

Aren't those flowers spectacular?

Purchasing this plant in a garden center can be an expensive endeavor. Bottlebrush buckeye is notorious for being difficult to propagate on a commercial basis. Why? It is tricky to cultivate from seed and cuttings. My little one is from a friend and the larger one was purchased at the Morton Arboretum's annual plant sale.  Both of them are suckers from larger plants and the first year I did water the hell out of them. Now they are cheerfully sending up their own suckers and filling the area slowly. Hooray! I'm looking forward to having many more years of dazzling blooms.

Friday, July 1, 2011

After the Affair: Storm Damage

When tornadoes blow through my town, many many trees come down. Unfortunately, the sirens didn't go off, so my husband and I being the weather geeks we are, watched the whole thing from the front windows. I knew it wasn't your typical thunderstorm when the hackberry out front started to literally twist in the wind.

This one split in two at a bad crotch where rot had set in.

We were very lucky. There were just a few branches down from the aforementioned hackberry and the ashes across the street.  Touring the neighborhoods, though, we saw huge limbs and whole trees down on top of houses and cars. My parents called to tell me half an elm tree went through the neighbor's kitchen.

An ash took out about half of the Kentucky coffeetree in the parkway.
We'll see if the village keeps the parkway tree, but I'm doubtful.

So, what to do now?  The village has hired a legion of tree companies to clean up the damage and it is slowly getting done. We'll see what the ongoing plan will be for trimming, removal, and replacement. Most of the downed branches seem to be from old ash, silver maple, and Norway maple. There's a smattering of black walnut, catalpa, linden, and one ancient oak tree that I've spotted, but mostly ash and maple. I am not surprised. The giant ash trees on my street drop branches if you sneeze on them and silver maple is a weak tree. We now have the opportunity to replace them with a broader palette of trees. I'm just thankful my baby beech made it through without a scratch.

The U of I put together a nice article on what to do with storm damage. Mother Nature is in charge, but if trained well when young, trees can survive an amazing amount of stress.