Landscape Renovation with PerennialGuru.com

IMG_5413 Allen Pyle, perrenialguru.com, is our dear friend and community cohort. Allen is a plant expert working nearly two decades as a professional horiculturist with a Master’s in entomology. Below is an installment he wrote about our Landscape Renovation project. Read for great garden ideas and plant info. If you’re not into reading about plants, at least scroll through for the beautiful pictures. What a Love affair!

Notes from the Designer: Foundation Plants at Two Fish Farms

I was fortunate enough to visit the property multiple times in 2012. I had advised that a full year of observation of a site is very helpful before initiating a design. It turned out that the lengthy process of purchasing the property gave us opportunity to visit the site in several seasons, before the remodel began.

Given my plant background, I made sure to spend time each visit observing and identifying plant material on-site, and went through several bundles of marking flags over the summer and fall. There are still some things I need to ID (particularly woody species, my weak spot), but we have an excellent idea of the plants already on site, and it is a good collection.

The previous owner was obviously an avid gardener, and left quite a collection of plant material in the yard, gardens, and orchard. Many are typical rural garden species that I often call “old lady plants” (OLPs). But I was surprised and impressed at some of the plants in the landscape. Because the property was so neglected, some of the surviving material will need TLC in 2013 to truly flourish, but anything that can survive neglect in a sandy soil is likely to be a good plant for Permaculture application. With every walk I took, more plants were flagged, and the yard and orchard area soon became multicolored with them.

We’ll start with the existing food crops at the farm.

Asparagus – there are several rows of asparagus with plants varying quite a bit in size. These will need some TLC in 2013, including weeding, but there is the potential for a small harvest, with much more to come in the following seasons.

Orchard – there is a diverse orchard of semi-dwarf fruit trees, including apple, peach, and plum. Only one label on a living tree was discovered, apple ‘Shay’ on Emla 26 rootstock. Hopefully we will find other labels for the existing tree. After some pruning of dead wood and removal of two trees that were complete losses, there were about two dozen surviving trees. They range from iffy to looking good, and should benefit from recycling some of the attic guano in the spring. The two SCS grafted apples were added to the orchard.

Behind the orchard, there are also two hardy northern pecan (Caraya illinoensis) trees. They are small, but seem happy. This is an excellent nut tree, and perhaps we’ll see some nuts in 15 or 20 years. Two are required for pollination, and they look to be planted at about the appropriate 40 feet apart. I would like to see more of these planted, as pecans are a wonderful treat.

Grapes – there are two areas with grapes planted, with trellises in various states of disrepair. These will be need heavy pruning in 2013 and new trellises. We have discussed making a grape arbor for the new trellis.

Corylus_hazlenut_lg_nut091012-2Hazlenut (Corylus) – there are several large specimens of hazlenuts that produce nice sized nuts, and a few clusters were produced even with the drought. Hazels are ideal, as plants can provide coppice wood for fuel or fence making as well as an edible crop. I hope to add additional hazles to hedgerows established on the property.

Herbaceous Landscape Ornamentals – The property has an interesting and eclectic collection of ornamentals. Species include:

Anise hyssop (Agastache foeniculum) – a hardy perennial herb which is a great tea plant and a fantastic bee plant which produces high sugar content nectar. Several plants under the porch and in the little bed next to the walkway. Well worth considering for some large plantings for bee fodder.

Crocus_fall_white_ls090912-3Whitefall crocus (Crocus species) –several plantings of an attractive, short white flowered form. Exact ID is troublesome, but these were a nice surprise when they popped up next to the dumpster during the remodel.

Colchicum_autumnale_flr091012-3Colchicum_autumnale_var_plenum_flr093012-2Autumn crocus(Colchicum autumnale) – several plantings of this attractive, fall-flowering bulb in both single and double (var. plenum) forms. Note that this species is poisonous.

Tickseed (Coreopsis lanceolata) – a North American native pereninal with attractive yellow flowers. There is a very large patch behind the orchard. A good butterfly plant.

Crocosmia or possiblyParandcanda, I’ve got to verify this one, which will be easy enough to do when the clump blooms. Why is it confusing? Well, Parandcanda (more properly xParandcanda) is an intergeneric cross between Crocosmia and Belamcanda. They are tender perennials with sprays of attractive flowers that bring in hummingbirds.

Datura (Datura inoxia, formerly D. meteloides) – annual to tender perennial happily growing in a small colony under the front porch. Definitely a good omen of welcome, as it’s a common species in Sikkim, India and John had asked me to order some seed for this species.

Blue fescue (Festuca) – a hardy ornamental grass with blue-green foliage. There are a few blue-foliage species, including some vegetative forms.

Blanket flower (Gaillardia x grandiflora) – hardy perennial with hairy, grey-green foliage an large, daisylike flowers with prominent central domes.

Heliopsis_helianthoides_flr090912Oxe-eye sunflower (Heliopsis helianthiodes) – a hardy native perennial with golden-yellow, daisy flowers. A good butterfly plant and makes a decent cut flower. Deadheading prolongs bloom. This species is extremely drought tolerant.

Hellebore (Helleborus species) – there are both white and pink flowering varieties. These are excellent, hardy, evergreen groundcovers and I was very pleased to see them. Many types are very early blooming. They are difficult togerminate from seed, unless the seed is harvested fresh and sown immediatedly.

Hemerocallis_hybrid_flr080412Day lily (Hemerocallis hybrids) – there are several day lily clumps, including an interesting bicolor and ‘Stella D’ Oro’, a dwarf everblooming variety with small flowers. Hopefully more will bloom next season. Day lily has edible flowerbuds, flowers, and tubers as well as being an attractive ornamental.

Garden Hibiscus (Hibiscus x hybrida) – unflagged as I didn’t have one in myback pocket when I found it. The garden ornamental types are generally hybrids between native species. Generally prefer wet soils, so it’s interesting to see one persisting in the dry sand.

Iris (Iris species) – there are probably many dozens of different varieties still surviving, and the tag graveyard includes many Iris labels. I really hope that there are some fragrant varieties included in the collection, as Iris can smell heavenly. Undoubtedly, like the daffodils, there will be a clashing of colors in the plantings, in true OLP tradition.

English lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) – a hardy perennial herb. There are several large lavender plants that are quite happy in the sandy soil. Wet soil in winter is typically the issue with overwintering lavender. Wonderfully scented foliage, and can be used as an culinary herb.

Daffodill (Narcissus species) – numerous plantings, all in straight rows of a wide range of varieties and colors. I have found the best way to use Narcissus is to plant them in clumps of 3 to 5 bulbs, and allow them to naturalize.

Nepeta_flr100112-2Catmint (Nepetaspecies – there is a catmint of some sort that I haven’t quite pinned down, growing along the front of the house. Fragrant foliage and attractive purple flowers that are attractive to bees and butterflies.

Oriental poppy (Papaver orientale) – hardy perennial with attractive flowers ususally in scarlet to red to pink shades. Dried seed capsules make an attractive dry flower. I am particularly fond of the white flowered forms. Note that this species is not used for the production of edible poppy seeds.

Peony (Paeonea species) in several plantings (again, straight lines in OLP fashion). An attractive ornamental with fragrant flowers usually in shades of pink or white. This will need consistent irrigation and some feeding next season. There are a number of interesting species, including tree peony, which is a medicinal herb, which I hope to introduce to the farm in the future. Ants are frequently found on peony buds and flowers, and garden folklore holds that the ants actually help the buds to open, though this is not correct.

Russian sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia) – hardy perennial with fragrant foliage and flowers attractive to bees and butterflies. I recently came across some references that indicate that it was sometimes used as an ingredient in smoking mixes.

Rudbeckia_hirta_flr080512Black eyed susan (Rudbeckia hirta) – a North American native annual to short-lived perennial that reseeds. The specimens I found have golden yellow flowers with red centeres. A good butterfly plant.

Periwinkle (Vinca major ‘Variegata’) — looks to have escaped from a holding area the previous owner had made. Another OLP. Often used in mixed containers and hanging baskets in cold climates, it can make a good groundcover as well. Some species are used medicinally. Vinca minor (common periwinkle) is a good option for

Yucca (Yucca filamentosa) – one of my favorite plants, it adds interesting texture to the garden with its long leaves. It’s multi-use, as its leaves can be used to make twine, and it has edible (and delicious) flowers. The roots can also be used to make soap.

Woody landscape ornamentals

Redbud (Cercis canadensis) – eary blooming, with edible rose pink flowers. A non-nitrogen fixing Legume family species.

Corkscrew or contorted hazlenut (Corylusavellana ‘Contorta’) – there is an attractive specimen overly close to the solar panels, until they were relocated. Interesting texture, particularly when leaves drop, thanks to its spiral, contorted stems. This is a sure attention grabber in the landscape.

Clematis_virginiana_virgins_bower_flr080412-2Virgin’s Bower (Clematis virginiana) – a native vine that produces many small, fragrant white flowers that become attractive seedheads. Can reach 10 to 20 feet with the proper structure. Growing next to the small greenhouse that has been moved, we will need to find a good spot to relocate this, in preparation for the new greenhouse.

Clestrus_bittersweet_with_grape_wreath091012Bittersweet (Clestrus species) – there is a large clump adjacent to the white shed near the edge of the woods. It is hopefully Clestrus scandens (American bittersweet), a native. It could also be Clestrus orbiculatus (Asian or Chinese bittersweet), which is considered aggressive to invasive or a hybrid between the two species. Fruit is eaten and spread by birds, but it poisonous to humans. Roots of American bittersweet have a history of medicinal use by various native tribes. Thetwining vines are used in craftmaking.

Purple smokebush (Cottynus coggygria) – a small specimen which will need to be relocated when the schoolhouse-attached greenhouse is created. Attractive purple foliage an seedheads. Should reach 10-15′ tall and wide when mature. Makes a nice landscape specimen plant.

Rose-of-Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus) – a hardy shrub with attractive, hibiscus-like flowers. Several forms are present, including semi-double rose pink and a lavender pink with red center. Flowers are edible and can be used in tea. An OLP, and a good one.

Hedge rose (Rosa rugosa) – there is a large patch of single-flowered roses with very spiny stems that are likely this species. It is noted for its large hips, and makes a good hedgerow species. There are a number of other hedge roses that will hopefully be added to the farm in the future. There are several other ornamental roses, including some in the future greenhouse area, that might be worth relocating.

Corkscrew willow (probably Salix matsudana ‘Tortuosa’) – an upright willow with corkscrew stems. Another interesting specimen. This should be quite easy to propagate.

Lilac (Syringia vulgaris) – a very fragrant flowering shrub which can be long-lived enough to become a small tree when given enough space. Traditionally planted near outhouses. There are several areas with multiple plants, many of which are producing lots of suckers, so there is plenty of opportunity to propagate and spread this species. Typically lavender flowered, but pink and white forms also exist.

Wildlife Plantings – there are several areas planted with an assortment of trees and shrubs with good wildlife attraction potential. I suspect that many of these were sourced from the local soil conservaton service. Species include:

Cornus_amomum_silky_dogwood_fruit090512Silky Dogwood (Cornus amomum ) – native shrub with blue berries on short red stems called pedicels

Grey Dogwood (Cornus racemosa) – Michigan native shrub. Produces white berries on short red pedicels.

Hazlenut (Corylus) small nut form, which makes it suitable for a range of wildlife as food

Robinia_pseudoacacia_black_locust_trunk091012Black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia) — nitrogen fixer, excellent fuel and cooking wood. Thorny!

Honey locust (Gleditsia) — a non-nodulating nitrogen fixer, not thorny

Ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius) – a fast growing shrub ideal for hedgerows. Reseeds readily. Some very attractive bronze-leaf forms have been developed.

Highbush cranberry (Viburnum trilobum) – produced attractive red fruit that is both insipid and bitter in flavor. Typically hangs on plants long into the winter, for added ornamental value. Birds eat the fruit. The taste is better after it frosts, but it is definitely an acquired taste. I have a fondness for them.

Mulberry (Morus) – looks to be sizeable enough to fruit soon, it’s probably black mulberry (Morus nigra), but there are also species with white fruit or red fruit. Considered weedy and undesirable by many, but the fruit can be quite tasty. Birds tend to spread the seed widely.

Poplar (Populus species) – fast growing x4

Weedy Species

I’m an equal opportunity plant person. Plants many consider “weedy” or “invasive” are present on the site. We will not approach them with eradication in mind. They are here, and as all plants do, they have their uses.

Spotted knapweed (Centaurea maculosa), aka star thistle – a hardy perennial weed which is an excellent bee plant, but considered invasive in the Lake Michigan dune habitats. Farm beehives will definitely be taking advantage of the abundance of this species in the future.

Autumn Olive (Elaeagnus umbellata)

A deciduous shrub, to 20 feet native to eastern Asia. Fruit is a red berry with silver spots and leaves have a silvery cast. A nitrogen fixer, it is very tolerant of poor soil. Fruit is edible which can be quite tasty. Fruit is high in lycopene and can be quite tasty. Fruit size and sweetness varies considerably among different plants. Fruit readily eaten by birds, which spread seed.

This is actually one of my favorite wild small fruits, and I browse on it regularly. There are some improved varieties of autumn olive available, and I would definitely consider planting some.

Fruit will ripen on cut branches, and we enjoyed foraging from some of the plants pruned out near the sceptic drainfield. Some large trunks were cut to rocket stove length so we can see how well it works as a fuel wood.

Quackgrass (Elymus repens)

Aka twitch grass, couch grass, witchgrass, dog grass. Older scientific names include Agropyron repens, Elytrigia repens, and Triticum repens. It’s native to Europe, Asia, and northwestern Africa and was introduced to the US initially as a forage grass and for erosion control. It’s now widely naturalized and considered weedy to invasive in many areas.

Grasses can be difficult to identify even for experienced plant people, and the use of common names doesn’t help matters. Even plant ID keys can be challenging when plants are not in flower. Quackgrass has a characteristic ligule that make it quite easy to identify. And it’s got that characteristic rhizome.

Quackgrass is the first invasive weed that I have had to consistently face in gardening. It can be an aggressive spreader, via underground rhizomes which are typically shallow (1-2 inches below the soil surface, but can reach 6 inches or more. I have seen these rhizomes pierce landscape fabric, plastic of varying thicknesses, cardboard, and even carpet. When dealing with it in areas with heavy soil, I have found that very deep mulching (at least 10 inches) is required to significantly slow its spread.

All that said, any grass that is happy growing in unirrigated sandy soil has its place. I expect this species to be less aggressive, and significantly easier to deal with, in sandy soil. It’s a good forage grass for horses and other livestock, and geese reportedly prefer to forage on quackgrass when possible. As geese are already planned for foraging in the garden, I will be excited to see how well they control it.

The problem will be how to prevent continued quack grass invasion into planted areas. It competes strongly with desired species, and probably has some allopathic effects, producing chemicals which inhibit the growth of other plants.

Digging a trenching around plantings can help slow the spread of rhizomes. I would also like to experiment with planting Nepeta as a border around garden areas, as I have seen this slow the spread of quakgrass into garden beds. Its seed is short lived and not dormant.

Quackgrass is a larval host plant for the many-lined wainscot moth (Leucania multilinea) and Long-Dash Skipper (Polites mystic). Its seed sometimes eaten by birds including pheasant.

It’s also an effective diuretic and has a history of being used as an incense in religious ceremonies when other types were not available.

The rhizome has also been used as a famine food.

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