Visit from the Tree Fairy(ies)

The Lot is located under 2 miles from the center of our little city. Our neighborhood is older than the Burbs, with our home being built in 1923. At some point the entire street was planted with norway and silver maples, all of which are at their mature height now.

Since we’ve lived on the Lot, we have had a norway maple in the easement at the South side of the house. The tree helped to shade the porch and home during the hot summer months. In the winter, its absence of leaves allowed the sunlight to help warm the south side. The maple would also keep a gardener cool when she wanted to work in the south bed midday. It was a pretty sweet deal.

However, also during the time we have lived here, a wound in the trunk of the tree has grown progressively worse. The best guess we can make is it was backed into by some past neighbor. We really, REALLY didn’t want to send in a request for its removal until it had to go. This spring was the season.

As all other trees on the street were leafing out this past spring, the norway maple on the front of the Lot was not. Also, the wound on the tree had be weakening the middle of the trunk and the tree was beginning to lean toward the house. All signs pointed to a phone call to the city and a request for the maple’s removal.

Monocultures in Urban Neighborhoods

During our time with the Urban Forest Project, the Other Half and I learned this approach of planting a street as a monoculture (a single type or family) is not the best idea. This became evident to city planners when Dutch Elm Disease in the 1950s and then Emerald Ash Borer in the early 2000s caused entire streets of those trees to be removed at a time.

The city now selects trees that can withstand the harsh urban conditions, chooses trees with the correct height as to not grow into power lines, and aims for a variety of species for the neighborhood. With a diverse population lining a street, the chances of a future tree disease or pest causing the removal of all the trees at once is slim.

A Gift of Gingko

The Other Half and I had been exchanging ideas for a replacement tree for the majority of the season. After removal, it would be another 18 months before the city would plant a new tree (with no charge to us) to replace the norway maple. However, I’m impatient, so we were going to offer to purchase and plant a replacement. We’d simply select a tree from the city’s list of approved trees.

But this morning the universe had a different plan as a Citizen Forester volunteer knocked on our door. A neighbor a block or two down had applied to and received a mini-grant to have trees planted in our neighborhood. There was a lone ginkgo which had been passed over by a neighbor who did not want trees in his/her property’s easement. The Citizen Forester had noticed the white mark on the dying maple (city code for “remove this tree”), and wondered if we wanted the ginkgo. Um, yes please!!

The Maidenhair Tree

Ginkgo biloba, or the Ginkgo, is the sole surviving genus of the order Ginkgoales and is considered a living fossil. This ancient order of plants, believed to have been present 150 million years ago, have characteristics of both ferns and conifers. The fan-shaped leaves of the Ginkgo resemble fronds of the plant genus Adiantum, or the maidenhair ferns. The leaves are also often in two lobes, which is how it picks up the “biloba” or “two-lobed” in its name. The tree was cultivated in China and Japan because of its religious significance, but no natural stands of Ginkgo are thought to exist.

The cultivar ‘Autumn Gold’ is the one now situated in the easement on the Lot. According to the Missouri Botanical Garden website, this ginkgo grows up to 40 or 50′ and makes a great shade tree. It will have green flowers (all current ginkgo cultivars are male) in the spring and gold leaves in the autumn. It requires full sun so the south side of the Lot is an excellent location for it. Due to the low maintenance required and the tree’s ability to tolerate air pollution, the Ginkgo makes a great tree for an urban environment.

Ginkgo Guardians

So now it is up to the Other Half and I to care for our new sapling. It was delivered as a ball and burlap tree, so I’ve already been out there a few times to fuss over untangling its branches. Those are often squished a bit from being bound against the leader with twine before being stacked on delivery trucks. This whole weekend we are supposed to finally get some seasonal rainfall, so the tree should get a good drink. The leader, or vertical stem on top of the trunk of the tree, is a bit crooked. However, the trunk is straight, and I’ve seen leaders straighten out over a few years once the tree is growing in its new location. Next year we’ll make sure it gets watered well throughout its first summer. I’m looking forward to helping it get settled and integrating it into the crazy garden that is the Lot.

WTF – Black Bindweed

I feel this garden season has been packed with plant identification. In no way am I complaining about this. Plant identification is a pretty enjoyable game to me. When a fellow gardener was telling me about a swift-growing vine with heart-shaped leaves in her home garden, I fought the urge to immediately hiss “bindweed” (Convolvulus arvensis). The weed is from the Morning Glory (Convolvulaceae) family and is a complete terror on the Lot. I agreed to make a visit to help with some pruning, so I pretty much had to find out if I was right or not.

Analyzing the Offender

When I arrived and was able to meet the vine in person, I realized it wasn’t bindweed. I would recognize my Nemesis anywhere, in any growing zone, and this wasn’t it. Yes, the vine was eating the porch alive and the leaves were heart-shaped. However, I immediately noticed what looked like white seed heads in large clusters all along the vine… not a trait of the bindweed we deal with on the Lot.

Black Bindweed covering Lantern

There aren’t many weedy vines in our state, so I started going through some weed ID sites looking for the vine that would be going to seed at this time of the season. Eventually I found a site for a project at the University of Michigan: Burnham, R.J. (2008-2014). “CLIMBERS: Censusing Lianas in Mesic Biomes of Eastern RegionS.” (September 6, 2017).  And that is where I found the name of the plant I was looking for: Black Bindweed (Fallopia convolvulus) of the Buckwheat (Polygonaceae) family.

Up Close and Personal

When ID’ing a plant, there are a lot of clues one can pick up by taking a thorough look at the specimen. Parts of the black bindweed helping me to ID it were:

  • alternate, simple, heart shaped leaves
  • vine, twining from right to left
  • glabrous (free from hair) ocrea (sheath around the stem)
  • roots are non-rhizomatous
  • branching of vine located more near base of plant
  • papery calyx (sepals of the flower)
  • flower understated with no petals

Black Bindweed on Railing

Evicting the Weed

I struggled to find a control method for black bindweed. It’s an  aggressive, annual weed introduced from Eurasia. The plant spreads by prolific reseeding. The seeds themselves are enclosed by a hard shell and can be viable for more than a single season in the soil. In fact, this was the reason my gardener friend inquired about the plant. She said though a crazy climber, the plant was kind of pretty (which it was). But then she saw all the flowers (future seeds) and thought “Oh sh*t.” Yeah, we’ve all done that before.

What we do have on our side when removing this vine is the fibrous root system and the small area of a home garden. Though fairly deep, the roots aren’t a rubbery, rhizomatous system that takes off underground like a berserker gopher. The plant was removed and burned. Next season, the gardener has to keep an eye open in the spring for any new seedlings and pull as needed.

Garden Bloggers Fling 2017

Garden Bloggers Fling 2017 BadgeSince 2014, excluding last year, I’ve been extremely fortunate enough to attend an annual get-together of garden bloggers from across the U.S. and from as far away as the UK and Spain. What started out as a modest gathering of gardeners in Austin during 2008, has grown into an amazing multiple day event known as the Garden Bloggers Fling. This year the Fling took place in the capital region, including all types of gardens from Maryland, Virginia, and of course Washington D.C.

It’s hard for me to describe the excitement and enthusiasm I feel leading up to and during the Fling. Speaking of it afterward to family and friends results in an odd combination of me wildly gesturing while giving myself goosebumps. Their polite nods and eventual glazed eyes only confirms something I’ve suspected since my first Fling. If you are a gardener on a Garden Blogger Fling, you are with your Tribe.

Garden Blog Flingers Group Photo
Photo by Wendy Niemi Kremer

I’m naturally more of an introvert. I enjoy being around people, but it often leaves me completely drained of energy. Also, I can be a bit anxious around those I don’t know. In no other situation have I felt so comfortable and happy in the company of people I may have just met for the first time. Our shared love of gardening links us all together over those days of the Fling.

Having attended a few Flings now, I’m beginning to see familiar faces of garden bloggers I met during previous years. There is often a lot of laughter and silliness, both of which I heartily approve. This year our knowledge of irises and craft beer was tested with a game called Beer, Iris, or Both. Though a craft beer fan, I was terrible at this game!

Flingers playing game at table

We explored many gardens of all shapes and sizes together. Excited chatter and “ooo’s and ahh’s” were quite common. At times all I’d have to do is point at a stunning display and a Flinger next to me would nod, mouthing the words “I know!” I had no fear of judgement when I asked fellow Flingers to identify any plants unknown to me. I was happy to return the favor.

Gardeners in the Woods

We were able to take breaks from the heat and share some delicious meals together. One day even brought a lunch and tasting at a winery.

Gardeners at Buffet

Armed with cameras of all sizes, we’d do our best to capture the garden we were visiting. Viewing the different unique styles and creative approaches to the gardens was inspiring. Everyone knew what it meant to get that one, last photo before getting back to the bus!

Gardener Photographing Plants

By the close of the Fling, everyone is exhausted. We’d spent three spectacular days galavanting about in hort heaven together. I usually am able to sail through on an adrenaline high and then crash on returning home.

Gardener in Hammock

Just as rewarding as the exploration of the gardens was getting to know and learn from all the garden bloggers. Heralding from different USDA growing zones, we have different plant palettes from which to work. Everyone has great stories of her or his adventures in gardening to share. We may have different areas of horticulture that interest us, but goodness we all like to grow plants. And who else but a fellow gardener will completely understand why you’d haul two banana trees onto the bus with you after visiting a nursery?

I hope the stars align and I am able to attend next year’s Fling in Austin! It’s in the planner. I already am excited to reunite with those garden bloggers I just left several days ago. Also, I can’t wait to chat with those I have yet to meet.