Wild About Fungi

Am I a shaggy mane?You can’t help stopping to admire mushrooms this year.  A wet and humid season has them growing in a variety of habitats in all shapes, colors and types.  Some grow alone, some in rings, and some in clusters.  Interesting to look at, beautiful to photograph, but because they are very tricky to identify, harvesting a wild mushroom for food should be left to the experts.  I have read that only ten percent of mushrooms are tasty and edible and five to ten percent are toxic to humans. The rest simply taste bad.

Although they were abundant in the spring and summer, when the leaves begin to turn colors in autumn is a great time to take a mushroom pilgrimage in a woods near you. Mushrooms are all spore-producing structures of fungi and nearly all are beneficial as they break down organic matter that is necessary for plant growth.  They can decompose wood, leaves, and dead grass.  Fungi can form beneficial partnerships with trees while some can be pathogenic and others are merely benign.

My knowledge of fungi is scant. Yes, someday I’d like to broaden my fungal horizon and learn how to identify these beautiful mushrooms but I’ll never bet my life on which ones I can eat.  There are no hard and fast rules or tests to distinguish edible from deadly.  The old adage, “There are old mushroom hunters and there are bold mushroom hunters, but there are no old, bold mushroom hunters” is one that runs through my head.

Simply notice them or photograph them on your next woodland walk and you will be amazed at the abundance in Virginia.  A good standard reference to stick in your back pocket is Peterson’s A Field Guide to Mushrooms:North America, where you will find mushrooms identified by names like sponge, inkycaps, waxycaps, jelly or smut fungi.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester


The Yellows Have It!

After days of warm, dry weather, a cold front moved into Virginia over the weekend, dropping temperatures to the 50’s and bringing us a trace of rain.  We woke this morning to a landscape filled with attention grabbing golds and yellows. Here’s what I saw on my walk today:

It won't be long before the ginkgos leaves drop

It won’t be long before the ginkgo leaves turn lemon yellow, then all fall in a day’s time to cover the ground like melted butter.

Crepe Myrtles frame mr. gardener's fence in yellows and golds

Crape myrtles frame mr. gardener’s winter vegetable garden in yellows and golds.

Yellows from maples, poplars, and hickories greet you on the lane.

Yellows from maples, poplars, and hickories greet us on the lane.

Old maples carpet the lawn.

Old maples carpet the lawn.

Young maples vie for space

Young maples vie for space

A young sassafras gets in on the act.

A young sassafras gets in on the act.


Netted chain fern (woodwardia areolata) yellows beneath evergreen holly.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

The Longleaf Pine

I’ve got a thing for pine trees.  The very first trees I put in the ground in Gloucester were loblollies My longleaf pine in the Secret Gardenthat are now sixty feet tall and limbed up not to interfere with our view of the river.  Ten years ago, I found a small longleaf pine (Pinus palustris) at a local nursery and snatched it for our yard.  It now stands 25-feet tall, on its way to 100-feet, and I am infatuated with it.

I buy needles from North Carolina’s longleaf pines for garden mulch and the remarkable needles are over a foot long.  My longleaf pine stands in the middle of my new Secret Garden and I love to walk under it and be awed by its carpet of fallen needles at this time of year.

At one time, longleaf pine forests dominated the southern landscape from Virginia south through nine states and covered over 90 million acres.  It is what the first Europeans witnessed in discovering the new world. In today’s fragmented environment of developments, highways, farms and cities, it’s hard to imagine seeing these pine forests that often stood alone as the only species.  Amazingly, the tree’s survival depended on fire.  longleaf and loblolly needleFrequent fires in dryer areas moved quickly through southeast forests where longleaf pines over ten feet tall survived and thrived. Where there was fire, you could find a longleaf pine forest.

Sadly, in the last 150 years, the longleaf pine forest has been transformed from a forest that dominated the southern landscape to protected pockets of forests in most of the nine states.  Used for lumber, turpentine, pitch, tar, cleared for development or agriculture, 97% of the original longleaf pine forests have disappeared.

Today the tree is being seen for sale more often at nurseries in the Tidewater area.  I bought one last Great prices for 10' longleaf pine!year and two more this fall at great prices for 10’ trees.  My purchases won’t restore the longleaf pine forest in Virginia but perhaps we will see an effort to re-establish the forests on large tracks of private lands in Virginia. If more is not done, it is possible that we see the demise of the remaining forests and the unique habitat that depends on them.

To protect those forests and educate the public, the Longleaf Alliance (LLA) was established in 1995. The group coordinates partnerships between private landowners, forest industries, state and federal agencies, conservation groups, researchers, and other enthusiasts interested in managing and restoring longleaf pine forests for their ecological and economic benefits.  Learn more here.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester


Indestructable Creeping Charlie

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/18/Warming-Skudbygning-Fig9-Glechoma-hederacea.jpgUnless you live in a Rocky Mountain State, you probably have seen a certain evergreen ground perennial running in all directions through your grass this summer.  Best known as Creeping Charlie (Glechoma hederacea), but sometimes called Ground Ivy, it is an aromatic member of the mint family.  It thrives in cool, moist, shady soil and the Commonwealth has provided perfect conditions for Creeping Charlie to take hold this summer.  And once it does take hold, watch out. It spreads quickly by sending out runners and putting down new roots every few inches. It also reproduces by seed and by rhizomes.

I left a pair of clippers at the edge of a new border where Charlie Clippers lost beneath Charlie for two wet weekswas prolific. They disappeared in Kudzu-like fashion in no time.  It took me two weeks to find those clippers and only with a weed trimmer did they reappear.

Recently I walked with a friend through her yard while she pointed to the bane of her existence. Crowding out almost half of her shady yard of new grass was Creeping Charlie.  As we walked, she shared her tales of struggle against it. Her story is not unique.  I have Creeping Charlieseen folks fight for years to control Charlie.  Often gardeners give up the war and manage to just keep it somewhat tamed.  Of course, if you happen to rid your property of it, that doesn’t mean the neighbors won’t share their healthy Creeping Charlie.

Landscapers consider the invasive plant a weed and as a last resort will use a glyphosate-based herbicide like Roundup to kill everything, then begin again with grass seed or sod. Homeowners often use a post-emergent broadleaf herbicide twice in the fall and twice again in the spring for several years to have any success.  Others, like me, simply weed it by hand knowing that the fix is temporary.

According to Peterson’s Field Guide, Edible Wild Plants, the plant has culinary uses.  It makes a robust tea, and herbalists around the world hail the perennial for its medicinal benefits.  However, common sense tells us to educate ourselves before ingesting the plant or using it for medical purposes.

Whether you like Creeping Charlie or not, swift success in controlling it is highly unlikely.  Either prepare your battle plan or think of Charlie as a lovely evergreen ground cover.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester


Know Your Chickweed

There are a number of weeds that germinate in the fall, both grasses and broadleaf.  They are called winter annuals because they can germinate in October and November, then over-winter as small plants until warmer weather in March triggers growth, followed by flowers, then seeds.  By summer the plants often die back October chickweed in Ann's gardenor go fibrous.

One of these winter annual broadleaf weeds is common chickweed, Stellaria media, sometimes called starweed or tongue grass.  It is a low-growing, succulent plant that can form large mats over the ground in the spring.  The branched stems, with rows of hairs, trail along the ground and can root at each of the swollen nodes.  The oval, paired leaves are cool and smooth to the touch and the showy deeply cut white spring flowers can be solitary or clustered at the tips of the stems.  Tiny flat seeds are formed in oval, one-celled capsules and can germinate at just above 32 degrees F.  Seedlings can survive the severest frost and can stay green under snow.

A native to Europe, the leaves, stems and flowers have long been used as herbal folk medicine for skin conditions, however contact dermatitis may develop in those with allergies so caution is indicated.  Records show it was sold by street vendors in Victorian London as food for pet birds and it is consumed by many animals including wild birds, sheep, rabbits, horses, cows, geese, pigs and, of course, chickens, thus the name ‘chickweed.’

As a plant it can serve a purpose, but for most gardeners and farmers, it is a weed. The battle with chickweed can never be won in North America but fortunately it’s not a hard fought battle for me. One interesting fact about chickweed is that it is found growing in rich, moist, fertile soils and does not tolerate poor soil or dry soil or hot sunny spots.  So sadly, chickweed is quite well behaved in my yard, which means my soil needs work.

chickweed leavesTo weed by hand, I simply pull the tender succulent in the cool spring while still in flower and before it sets its seeds.  The roots are very fragile and quite shallow and compact and the plant pulls up easily. If you use chemicals, pre-emergents are the best way to control these weeds.  Use them now before you see the weeds as they work on the germinating seeds.  Post-emergent herbicides for broadleaf weeds are not as effective in the fall since winter annuals are beginning their dormant stage.  Use these in the spring when weeds are actively growing.

Although it can be a pest in our gardens, it’s nice to think of weeds as part of the tapestry of nature.  They can make life interesting and it’s worth knowing a bit about them before we yank them from the ground.

Do you know your Creeping Charlie?  Click here.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester


The Ginger Lily, a Gift That Gives and Gives

Gardening is a joyous thing. Getting your hands in the earth, watching plants sprout, and nurturing them to maturity are amazing feelings. Also sharing your plants with friends, neighbors, new gardeners and old gardeners are gifts that continue to give, not only to the recipients, ornamental gingerbut also to the giver, leaving all of us with a sense of community. Gardeners like to share. Over the years I have had generous gifts from friends, family, neighbors, and clubs. Master gardeners bring in cuttings, bulbs, and plants to share at meetings and the Garden Club of Gloucester holds an annual plant exchange, a well-attended meeting where we save the best of our gardens for each other.

Three years ago, a horticulturist neighbor appeared at our door bearing gifts from his garden, rhizomes of the butterfly ginger lily, or simply the ginger lily, a tropical perennial in our area and a cousin of culinary ginger with a white bloom that sweetens the air.  Plant it I did and I waited. The first year green growth broke through the ground late in the summer but it seemed to be vertically challenged and died back in the winter. The second summer, the ginger lily gave us a few blooms from mid-summer to fall.  This summer there is an explosion of the long clusters of wonderfully fragrant white flowers that resemble butterflies.

The Ginger Lily, Hedychium coronarium, is a native of India and is a popular landscape plant throughout the Gulf Coast, California, and subtropical areas worldwide.  In moderate climates of North America and Europe, it is tropical perennial where it dies back in the winter but re-emerges each year. It is grown in full sun to dappled shade and moderately moist soil. Leaves are lance-shaped and the plant grows to a height of 4′ feet in my garden, but can grow up to 6′ tall. Propagate by cutting the rhizome into 8″ pieces and replant or gift to another gardener.

As we sit by the pond on cool autumn evenings, drifts of the heavenly gardenia-like fragrances are carried not only from our own ginger, but also from our neighbors’ gardens for it is also known as the “Pass-along” plant, one that has been shared with neighbors living along the shoreline in our small community.  How divine!

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester