Walk in the Kaul Wildflower Garden

Take an evening stroll with me through the Kaul Wildflower Garden, one of more than two dozen gardens at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens.

(c) Terri Robertson, T's Southern Garden Blog, 2018
Red columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) stands almost as tall as the longleaf pine sapling behind it.

Alabama’s state tree is the longleaf pine (Pinus palustris), and many young specimens grow along the Kaul Wildflower Garden’s trails. This strong native tree is resistant to both disease and hurricane-force storms compared to other pines in the Southeastern US. I must also say that the young trees look a bit like Cousin Itt from The Addams Family.

(c) Terri Robertson, T's Southern Garden, 2018
A young longleaf pine–does it look like Cousine Itt, or is it just me?

There’s lots of lush greenery to admire. I especially love the shady areas, where ferns and bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis), with its distinctive leaf shape, thrive. 

(c) Terri Robertson, T's Southern Garden, 2018
A new fern frond unfurls.
(c) Terri Robertson, T's Southern Garden, 2018
Look for bloodroot growing along the path–and sometimes on the path!

A special mid-April treat for me was the mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia) on the cusp of full bloom. The light was a bit low for a photo, but the end result looks like a pink firework against a night sky.

(c) Terri Robertson, T's Southern Garden, 2018
Mountain laurel about to bloom

If you have an opportunity to visit the Kaul Wildflower Garden, you’ll find many plants growing in abundance, but I encourage you to keep an eye out for the oddballs, such as the drawf crested iris (Iris cristata) below. You won’t have any trouble recognizing it as an iris; it’s just smaller. It’s endemic to the eastern United States, which means you won’t find it anywhere else.

(c) Terri Robertson, T's Southern Garden, 2018
Dwarf crested iris is truly petite!

Another rare sighting on my walk was the red flower below, which I believe is a scarlet catchfly (Silene subciliata). I spotted this plant only once in the garden, but it was close to the trail.

(c) Terri Robertson, T's Southern Garden, 2018
Suggested ID: scarlet catchfly (Silene subciliata)

There are also habitat-specific plants, such as the statuesque pitcher plants and stonecrop in the next two photos. Stonecrop is so named for good reason. Here it makes a home on a small boulder.

(c) Terri Robertson, T's Southern Garden, 2018
Suggested ID: White pitcher plant (Sarracenia leucophyll)
(c) Terri Robertson, T's Southern Garden, 2018
Stonecrop, also known as sedum (unidentified species)

I’ve only scratched the surface of what there is to see at Kaul Wildflower Garden, much less the Birmingham Botanical Gardens. And of course, its offerings depend on the time of year. For now I will close with the masses of yellow flowers blooming in the bog and surrounding area.  Based on the leaf shape, I believe the plants are butterweed (Packera glabella), but I am not positive.

(c) Terri Robertson, T's Southern Garden, 2018
Fallen tree in the bog
(c) Terri Robertson, T's Southern Garden, 2018
Suggested ID: Butterweed (Packera glabella)

As usual, I used inaturalist.org software to help me identify plants to the best of my ability. If the iNaturalist community of citizen scientists corrects any of these IDs, I will update this post.

Thanks for stopping by!

Wednesday Walk

To capture April in Alabama I’m venturing beyond my garden. I took these snapshots during a recent neighborhood walk in Birmingham.


(c) Terri Robertson, T's Southern Garden, 2018
This oak-lined street is a piece of Americana perfection.

When oak trees first leaf out, their young green leaves shine in the sun as if golden. It always makes me think of Robert Frost’s poem “Nothing Gold Can Stay,” which begins “Nature’s first green is gold.” I love the sight of a huge oak five times the size of the house it grows beside.

(c) Terri Robertson, T's Southern Garden, 2018
A tree-lover’s ideal tree-to-house ratio
(c) Terri Robertson, T's Southern Garden, 2018
Oak tree canopy against a blue sky

The wildflowers (or weeds, if you rather) are out.

The flattering name of this plant is, wait for it, Philadelphia fleabane. I saw this member of the daisy family today blooming along nonresidential roadsides and in natural areas. It may look a little weedy, but it’s native to North America. (In Europe and Asia, where it has been introduced, it’s considered invasive.)

(c) Terri Robertson, T's Southern Garden, 2018
Suggested ID: Philadelphia fleabane (Erigeron philadelphicus)

A friend once told me dogwood trees should look like clouds in the landscape.

I have to agree. This dogwood in bloom looks exactly like a cirrus cloud floating in the sky.

(c) Terri Robertson, T's Southern Garden, 2018
Dogwood tree in April
(c) Terri Robertson, T's Southern Garden, 2018
Dogwood blooms

Japanese maples offer vibrant color at a time of year when most everything is green, white or pastel.

I recently wrote about my Shaina Japanese maple, which is a dwarf variety. On today’s walk I encountered medium and large varieties.

(c) Terri Robertson, T's Southern Garden, 2018
Japanese maple with tall sculptural trunk
(c) Terri Robertson, T's Southern Garden, 2018
Japanese maple
(c) Terri Robertson, T's Southern Garden, 2018
Maple, sidewalk understory view, in April

Magnolias bloom in the summer, but their dark, glossy leaves and massive trunks are beautiful all year.

The low-hanging branches of the magnolia below are so inviting. I will be sure to revisit this tree in the summertime when it is in bloom.

(c) Terri Robertson, T's Southern Garden, 2018
Magnolia tree
(c) Terri Robertson, T's Southern Garden, 2018
Another example of a tree-lover’s ideal tree-to-house ratio (magnolia edition)
(c) Terri Robertson, T's Southern Garden, 2018
My mom carried a bouquet of magnolias at my parents’ June wedding decades ago. This photo, taken this April, shows a bud in progress.

I believe I encountered an azalea that is native to Alabama!

If my ID is correct, this azalea is a pinkster flower (Rhododendron periclymenoides). If I get another ID from the iNaturalist community, I will update this post. I spotted this small shrub growing wedged in a tall, groomed evergreen hedge. It seemed out of place in the best way possible. 

(c) Terri Robertson, T's Southern Garden, 2018
Suggested ID: pinkster flower (Rhododendron periclymenoides)

The topography of Birmingham can vary fairly dramatically within a small radius.

My neighborhood is all steep hills. The area I walked today (the adjacent neighborhood) is flat and carved with natural creeks and urban waterways.

(c) Terri Robertson, T's Southern Garden, 2018
Urbanized creek bed
(c) Terri Robertson, T's Southern Garden, 2018
This creek bed is nearly dry, but it must carry a lot of water during storms.
(c) Terri Robertson, T's Southern Garden, 2018
What if this were your driveway?
(c) Terri Robertson, T's Southern Garden, 2018
A rocky outcropping and babbling creek belie the residential setting (see the street view below).
(c) Terri Robertson, T's Southern Garden, 2018
Can you spot the hidden creek? (Hint: It’s to the left of the sidewalk. I drove on this road for years without noticing it.)

Thanks for visiting. I’d love to see what spring looks like in your neighborhood, wherever that may be.

 

In a Vase on Monday: Foxglove, Rosemary and Heuchera

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Manny (“Best Kitty Ever”) photobombed this week’s In a Vase on Monday post.

Don’t worry, I took the vase way before he had a chance to eat anything and make himself sick. In our house, the arrangements travel with me so they are always in my sight, or I close them up in the guest room where the cats can’t get to them. [Update: A vet friend reached out to me to let me know foxglove is cardio toxic for kitties. To reiterate, Manny nosed in during the photo shoot, but he was NOT allowed to chew on the plants. Please be always careful with your fur babies and what plants you allow them around.]

(c) Terri Robertson, T's Southern Garden, 2018
Camelot lavender foxglove, rosemary and heuchera ‘Mocha’ (coral bells)

This post is part of a weekly meme hosted by Cathy on her blog Rambling in the Garden.  Give her a visit to see what she and other gardeners around the world have put in a vase today. But first, here’s what’s in my vase on Monday, April 9, 2018:

Camelot Lavender Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea): This is my first time planting foxglove. When the creamy white blooms first started coming in, I did not believe the color would be purple, as advertised. But as you can see in the lower blooms, the purple develops after the blooms open.

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Close-up of Camelot Lavender Foxglove

Rosemary: A long stem of rosemary is sturdy enough to stand upright alongside the foxglove. I have a couple of rosemary bushes. They are reliable providers of greenery all year long, and I love running my hand over them to release their smell.

Heuchera ‘Mocha’: Also known as coral bells, heuchera is primarily grown for its beautiful foliage. Its blooms are not much to talk about. However, both the foliage and the flower stems contribute to this arrangement. The broad, dark leaves provide an anchor that calls attention to the fully open foxglove blooms at the bottom. The  spindly burgundy flower stems, which match the height of the rosemary and foxglove, bring in complementary color and texture.

Repurposed glass Evian bottle (vase): I drink tap water most of the time, and I can’t remember the exact occasion when I drank Evian. But the bottle was definitely worth saving as a vase.

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Overhead view

I will close with one last picture of sweet Manny getting a good whiff (before he was removed for his own safety)!

(c) Terri Robertson, T's Southern Garden, 2018
Manny loves to take in outdoor smells, but I whisked this vase away before he could start eating the flowers. Foxglove is toxic for cats, so always watch your fur babies around plants.

Native Woodland Garden (Part 1)

I love the urban wilderness of our backyard, but the truth is it’s filled with non-native, invasive plants that have been left to their own devices for decades.

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My woodland garden against the backdrop of an urban wilderness

Close to the city, shaded by trees, private. There are many reasons I am fond of our little chunk of paradise. Thickets of Chinese privet, blankets of English ivy and roving wisteria vines are not among them. (These plants are pretty, of course; they’re just not so great in a foreign land where they compete fiercely and choke out everything else.)

The journey to restoring the back section of our property to something resembling a native Alabama woodland will be a long one. I have a lot to learn and even more to do. For the time being, I am doing the only thing I can—starting small. The tiny patch you see in the photo at the top of this post has been one year in the making. It’s a humble beginning, but I hope it will be the first of many chapters in this story.

Before I tell you about the plants, I’d like to point out two events where you can purchase native plants, for shade or sun, if you live in or near Birmingham, Alabama.

To date, I’ve planted the following native Alabama perennials in my woodland garden.

(c) Terri Robertson, T's Southern Garden, 2018
Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum biflorum)

Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum biflorum): This was my first purchase for the woodland garden last spring, and I’m happy to see it back and thriving this year. You can see flower buds hanging from the largest stem. I can’t wait to show it again when it’s in bloom.

  • Light requirements: shade/part shade
  • Soil requirements: moist
  • Size: 1-3 feet
  • Flowers: white, April-May
  • Rhizomes
  • Attracts birds and butterflies
(c) Terri Robertson, T's Southern Garden, 2018
Purple trillium (Trillium cuneatum)

Purple trillium (Trillium cuneatum): I have long observed and admired this plant along nature trails, and I’m a little giddy about having one. Plus, it has cute nicknames, including little sweet Betsy, toadshade and whip-poor-will flower. I just purchased it, so I missed bloom season this year.

  • Light requirements: shade
  • Soil requirements: moist, woodsy humus
  • Size: 10 inches
  • Flowers: maroon, March
  • Rhizomes

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Bleeding heart (Dicentra eximia)The blooms are small, but so pretty. The foliage is delicate and feathery. I accidentally broke off a stem during planting, and I am now attempting to root it.

  • Light requirements: shade
  • Soil requirements: moist, rich woodlands humus
  • Size: 18 inches
  • Flowers: pink, spring-summer
(c) Terri Robertson, T's Southern Garden, 2018
Alabama phlox (Phlox pulchra)

Alabama phlox (Phlox pulchra): I purchased three of these when I found out they are rare in the wild. This species will have a little haven in my yard.

  • Light requirements: shade
  • Soil requirements: average
  • Size: 12 to 14 inches
  • Flowers: pink, April-May
  • Rare in wild
(c) Terri Robertson, T's Southern Garden, 2018
Bottlebrush buckeye (Aesculus parviflora)

Bottlebrush buckeye (Aesculus parviflora): I planted this shrub off to the side of the garden since it will grow quite large in the years to come. It’s in the sun at the moment, but won’t be once the oak tree above it leafs out.

  • Light requirements: part/full shade
  • Soil requirements: average, humus rich
  • Size: 8-10 feet
  • Flowers: white
  • Deciduous multistem shrub
  • Attracts butterflies
(c) Terri Robertson, T's Southern Garden, 2018
Suggested ID: Resurrection Fern (Pleopeltis polypodioides)

Resurrection fern (Pleopeltis polypodioides): This is the one plant I did not buy. It fell, along with the branch, from an oak tree in the yard about a year ago. I actually have a few such branches, and I placed the two largest on either side of the woodland garden as a border. This fern shrivels in dry weather and bounces back after a good rain. I feel pretty confident about this ID, but I will update this post if the iNaturalist community produces another ID.

I hope the plants I’ve introduced to my woodland garden thrive and multiply as I continue to clear invasive species and bring in more native plants little by little. What native plants do you have in your gardens at home?

 

In a Vase on Monday: Azalea Buds

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Azalea buds in March in a vintage apothecary bottle

Today’s “In a Vase on Monday” features pink azalea buds clipped from one my drought survivors.

During the 2016-17 drought in the Southeastern U.S., I felt sure the beautifully green city of Birmingham, and perhaps the whole state of Alabama, was on its way to becoming a dust bowl. Everything, even the most established trees, looked parched. When there was the slightest hint of a storm brewing, all we got was clouds, wind, a few drops of rain, and whirls and whirls of dust.

Like many people, we lost quite a bit of landscaping, including all the azaleas across the front of our house. (They were planted there by the previous owner, and it was an ill-advised location. Too much sun.)

However, spring 2017 graced us with lots and lots of rain, helping our trees and shrubs recover. But during that first year, the drought’s toll was still apparent.

Azalea bloom in March
One lone bloom near the ground has opened. I can’t wait till the whole bush is in full bloom for the first time in two years.

Though we lost all the azaleas in our front yard, the three in our backyard, protected by plenty of shade, survived. However, they did not bloom in spring 2017 when the rain returned. Similarly, my holly bushes did not put out berries in fall 2016. Everything was in survival and recovery mode.

Happily, fall 2017 saw the return of holly berries to feed the birds and squirrels, and spring 2018 has brought the return of azalea buds to our backyard. I can’t wait until the bushes explode with flowers.

The vase at the top of this post is a vintage apothecary bottle from my hometown of Augusta, Georgia. The writing on the bottle reads, “744 Broad St., Cabaniss Drug Co., Augusta, GA.” (Speaking of Augusta, if you want to see some stunning azaleas, even if you’re not a golf fan, tune in to the upcoming Master’s Golf Tournament!)

Thanks to Cathy and her blog, Rambling in the Garden, for starting the IAVOM meme. It’s helped me connect to other garden bloggers and makes blogging much more enjoyable. Be sure to visit her blog and see all the comments below her post to get a peek at what gardeners around the world have put in a vase on Monday.

Nature Walk at Jemison Park

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Lesser Celandine (“Ficaria verna”)

Jemison Park Nature Trail is one of my favorite local spots. This greenway follows Shades Creek and meanders through Mountain Brook. It’s just a hop, skip and jump away from central Birmingham.

I’ve written about iNaturalist on this blog before, and I’m featuring it again in this post about my recent nature walk through Jemison Park. If you’re in the Birmingham area and want to learn about iNaturalist from an expert, I recommend “Introduction to iNaturalist,” presented by Dr. John Friel of the Alabama Museum of Natural History on May 6, 2018, 1-3:30 p.m., at Ruffner Mountain.

I’ve been using the iNaturalist app since attending one of Dr. Friel’s presentations last year. I find it helps me better observe and appreciate the intricacies of nature, which makes spending time outdoors all the more rewarding. I also like recording and identifying plants in natural areas because my hope is to gradually transform our privet-filled wooded backyard into a woodland garden.

Here is what I observed on my walk through Jemison Park:

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Lesser Celandine (“Ficaria verna”)

I believe this ground cover (also pictured at the top of this post) is lesser Celandine (“Ficaria verna”). iNaturalist’s photo identification software suggested this ID. I carefully compared the database’s photos against mine. I think it’s a match, but the ID needs confirmation from the iNaturalist online community of citizen scientists. This plant is definitely going on my woodland garden wish list. [Update: I have since found out that Lesser Celandine is considered invasive in America, where it is not a native species. So it is off the wish list!]

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Next is Italian Arum (“Arum italicum”). Once again, iNaturalist software helped me venture a guess on the ID. A fellow user, who happens to be pursuing a doctorate in marine ecology and phycology, agreed. That moved my ID up to research grade. It will stay that way as long as two-thirds of iNaturalist users concur.

I also learned that some gardeners underplant Italian Acum with hostas. When hostas die back in winter, Italian Acum will maintain an attractive ground cover. I already have hostas, so I am definitely going to try this!

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Beaked Trout-Lily (“Erythronium rostratum”)

The identification of the Beaked Trout-Lily (“Erythronium rostratum”) above illustrates the combined power of software and collective human brainpower in making sense of the vast numbers of observations uploaded to iNaturalist.

After looking through the software’s suggestions, my best guess at an ID was a Yellow Trout Lily (“Erythronium americanum”). However, another citizen scientist, self-described as a “hobbyist botanist, reasonably well-read on trillium and solidago,” countered that the plant I observed was in fact a Beaked Trout-Lily. His argument: “prominent auricles at the base of the tepals which encircle filaments; tepals not streaked with purple; flower not nodding; petals not sharply reflexed.”

This is a good time to mention another tip about using iNaturalist. Even if you are an amateur, do your best to research and identify your observations starting with kingdom at a minimum, and narrowing down the taxonomy as much as you can. The iNaturalist software and other references can help you do this, as long as you employ common sense and pay attention to the details. The more you can help narrow it down, the more likely someone who actually knows their stuff will look at what you’ve posted. They can then confirm your ID, further narrow it down or correct it if needed.

I’ll close this post with a few more iNaturalist observations from Jemison Park Nature Trail.

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Red Buckeye (“Aesculus pavia”)

 

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Little Sweet Betsy (“Trillium cuneatum”), also known as toadshade

 

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My suggested ID, unconfirmed: Common Blue Violet (“Viola sororia”)