“The optimist sees the rose and not its thorns; the pessimist stares at the thorns, oblivious to the rose.”

— Kahill Gibran

Pink Muhly Grass

The Garden Club of America has announced its 2012 Plant of the Year — Muhly Grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris). It is recognized as a “choice native plant which is under-utilized, but which possesses superior ornamental and ecological attributes.”

And so it is. I remember seeing drifts of it along highway median strips in the South years ago and marveling at its misty pink aura. I have wondered why we did not see it up here in Pennsylvania.

It is a fine-textured, bright green grass that grows in a fountain shape to 3 or 4 feet. It is showy from July to October when its stem color pales and its bright pink misty flowers develop tan or golden seed hairs. Since it is native from Massachusetts to the Gulf Coast, it should grow well here. Why not give this low maintenance, drought tolerant plant a try? It is available locally at Mostardi Nursery in Newtown Square.

Walls

Have you noticed? Walls are very “in” these days. Of course there are folks who like to climb them. And others who like to have them for safety and security. However, there is currently a huge interest in building them, as evidenced by the number of classes and how-to books are available on the topic. The focus is on either free-standing or bank holding dry (no mortar) walls. Because we live in a region blessed with wonderful stone and see stone houses and walls routinely, this wall enthusiasm is catching on here.

Wall building is not particularly complex or laborious work, and with the variety of stone we have access to, it is certainly more fun and interesting than to simply lay interlocking block in boring rows. The ultimate reward is a stunning feature for your yard which can also be a wonderful place to display ornamental plants. There are lots of flowering, foliage and edible plant choices that are suitable for rock walls.

Butterfly Houses

Many, many times I have been tempted to purchase one of the lovely wooden butterfly houses you see advertised in catalogs or on garden center shelves. I am concerned about the decline in the numbers and variety of butterflies that have hung out at Creek House each summer. They seem to be fewer and fewer each season despite my plantings of butterfly weed and other plants they are known to depend on as caterpillars or adults. I have been thinking that maybe providing them a house, as I do various bird species, might encourage them.

Well, none other than Rick Mikula, butterfly expert and author of The Family Butterfly Book, has verified the fact that butterflies do not actually use these charming wooden structures. He concedes he has several in his own garden, because mainly they are decorative and he has observed spiders really seem to like live in them. Since spiders are great predators of pest insects, he is happy to have them as tenants.

Rare Conifer

One of my favorite plants at Creek House is a large evergreen tree given to us by a friend who wanted more space to garden and invited us to dig it up and bring it to our yard. This conifer, called a Japanese umbrella pine (Sciadopitys verticillata) has rich dark green, glossy, smooth, curved needles that grow in whorls around the stems, resembling an umbrella.

This conifer species is a living fossil, estimated to have been around for 230 million years. A modern development is a rare dwarf version of this gorgeous tree. “Picola” takes upwards of 10 years to grow to 2 feet tall and 1 foot wide. It is cold hardy in zones 5 to 7 —right where we live.

Certainly, if your property could not accommodate a regular Japanese umbrella pine, this dwarf would be something that you might have room for. Let’s hope that it does not stay rare.

Direct your Yardening questions to Liz Ball at the Springfield Press: 1914 Parker Avenue, Holmes, PA 19043 or lizball@aol.com.

©2012 Liz Ball

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