The Bride and Blooms…

When friends and family got involved in the plans for my daughter’s wedding this weekend, I could breathe a sigh of relief. The bride and groom wanted a small church wedding with a home reception in the gardens. My duties were very clear…. to make sure the gardens were healthy, weed free, edged and well-mulched. With the help of Jerry, my new yard helper, and mister gardener, and the garden hose, that feat was accomplished.

And with the generosity from friends from my garden club who shared the bounty of their gardens and those who generously shared their talents and arranged bouquets, boutonnières and table decorations and those who arranged the church flowers, the weekend was an enchanted garden of blooms. The bride’s preference for natural collections of flowers with hydrangeas, roses and herbs in a light and loose presentation gave friends the opportunity to share what was in bloom from their gardens. Queen Anne’s Lace gathered from fields added a touch of delicate lightness.

From the Crab Crack in a rainstorm beneath the big tent on Friday eve, all witnessed the rainbow that followed and brightened the evening skies giving the couple a positive sign that their wedding day would be a good one.


And thanks to all those who helped, it certainly was!

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester


Happy First Day of Summer

Sunrise over the North River

Happy Summer Solstice, Happy Midsummer, Happy St. John’s Day or Happy First Day of Summer as the sun rises a tad north of due East today. The word ‘solstice’ derives from the Latin words for “sun” and “to stop,” as the sun seems to stop overhead at its most northern point at noon today to give us more sunlight in the Northern Hemisphere than any other day of the year and the longest day of the year. From this point on, the days will begin to be shorter…. and hotter!  Whether you celebrate with bonfires, feasts, or trips to the beach today, take time to appreciate this celestial event.

Check out today’s Google Doodle welcoming the Summer Solstice with the floral doodle called the “First Day of Summer” by Japanese artist Takashi Murakami.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

What Grows Under Your Walnut Tree?

I’ve discovered through trial and error what thrives and what dies beneath my black walnut tree (Juglans nigra L.). The black walnut is a species of flowering tree in the hickory family that is native to eastern North America and can be poisonous to plants, to humans and to horses if the wood shavings are used in stalls! It grows from Maine to Michigan and south to Texas and northern Florida.  It’s a grand old tree, a specimen of which grew in my back yard as a child, a tree whose nuts stained my hands and clothes brown as I played beneath it where the nuts fell or climbed up the branches to pick nuts. Matter of fact, the hull of the nut does such a good job of staining that early pioneers used it to dye cloth brown.

We knew about the poison way back in Roman times when Pliny wrote about the effect of walnut trees on plants. We now know the specific chemical involved, juglone, a toxin that occurs naturally in the leaves, bark, nut, buds, wood but especially in the roots of the walnut tree. It is not a water-soluble chemical so the poison does not travel too far from the area of the tree and its roots. Plants grown under or fairly close to black walnut trees may exhibit yellowing, wilting, then death.

By monitoring the tree, many plants have been listed as either sensitive or tolerant to black walnuts. Here are five that are said to be intolerant of growing within 50′ according to Ohio State University:

Eastern White Pine, Pinus strobus

Privet, Ligustrum species

Most Rhododendrons and Azaleas

Baptisia australis

Hydrangea species

But nobody told this to my white pine, my azaleas or Baptisia that all grow very close by and are perfectly healthy. The spring blooms of the azalea are breathtaking. Baptisa blooms are plump and healthy just beyond the shade of the tree. And privet? If I ignored the area, it would be a jungle of privet beneath the tree. But the most exciting shrub that has been growing well around the tree for the past 4 years is the hydrangea macrophylla. Fast growing in the dappled and moist shade of the white pine and walnut tree, pinks and blues grow side by side filling in an area that was once colorless and bare.

Following the success of the hydrangea, I am experimenting with other plants. The ferns I planted in early spring love growing in the moist, shaded soil beneath black walnut. Viburnum and euonymus have been planted along a pathway beneath the boughs of the tree and are not affected by toxins a bit. Dogwood trees are doing well as is the native magnolia growing nearby.

My only frustration is with the pesky squirrels who, instead of eating the nuts, bury them in the fall in every one of my flower borders  and promptly forget them. Each spring, along with the crabgrass and chickweed, I must pull out far too many walnut tree saplings from the borders!

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

Our (Late) Chinese Chestnut Tree

When my mother paid her first visit to our new home, she preferred to walk the property rather than tour the home. First things first for an avid gardener. Overgrown and neglected is all we could see. Honeysuckle, grape vines and blackberry vines choked every living tree and shrub but my mother could see hidden beauty. The only blooms anywhere were dandelion and buttercups that turned the grass a bright sea of yellow, but she saw numerous treasures like the mature Styrax japonica that we could stand beneath and gaze upward into hundreds, no thousands of lovely bell-shaped blooms, old dogwood trees so covered in grape vines that they leaned at a 45 degree angles searching for a small ray of sunshine, but the discovery that delighted her most was the Chinese chestnut tree (Castanea mollissima).  Her eyes were wide with excitement. She waded into the forest of vines and separated enough to show me there was a tree beneath the tangle.

How the tree lived, I do not know. The next visit my mother made to our home was to give us the expertise of her yard man. At 7 a.m. he began to free the Chinese chestnut.  When darkness fell, he was not finished but we could see the form of a tree beginning to emerge. And eventually the tree was released from bondage and beneath this old tree I designed my first garden…. azalea, oakleaf hydrangea, epimedium, solomon’s seal, helebores… all things shaded by the boughs of a wide Chinese chestnut tree flourished for years.

That was then and this is now. Sadly the Chinese chestnut tree has been removed. For the past three years it has been dying in feet and yards and each spring we would trim the unsightly dead limbs from the tree. But this year so little was living, we decided to remove the old friend. The plants beneath, once shaded, are now left exposed to the sun and are sunburned and brown.  They await the arduous undertaking of reassignment to a shady area of the garden.

I did collect a few nuts that the squirrels missed. You can be sure that the nuts will be planted this fall in hopes that someone in the future will be able to enjoy these beautiful trees.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester


After a lifetime of being the only ornamental gardener in this family, buying, planting, weeding, pruning, dividing, watering, I have been forced to scream “Uncle!” at the top of my lungs.  I have a 2-week wedding deadline to get these gardens in top form. I thought I could do it. Following a badly timed three-week trip with my sisters, I have toiled for one week of long days, edging and weeding, watering and clipping but I’m letting other things on the list slide.  I finally broke down and hired my first ever yard help.

Two days ago, Jerry appeared early one morning for an interview. Was I nervous about this? Yes, very. I wasn’t about to release him into my precious borders armed with clippers, rakes, hoes without my proper supervision and instruction. Together we toured the yard, me talking way too much and Jerry nodding and asking way too little, I thought.

Afterwards he told me he needed some things. I raised the pencil and paper I was carrying.

“I’ll need a wheelbarrow and two truckloads of mulch,” he said.

I lowered my pencil and paper and just stared at him.

He climbed into his truck and was gone. Several days later, Jerry appeared for his first day of work armed with his favorite tools, a hatchet-like instrument and a pair of long-handled clippers. Before I could get out the door, he had rounded the house and was crawling beneath the cotoneaster hedge that surrounds our pond. He had already dug up the errant black walnut tree that I cut at the base each year, taken out the honeysuckle vine that plagues me annually and was not afraid to eradicate a little poison ivy he found trailing across the ground. As I approached, he was holding up a long branch of the cotoneaster shrub.

“This needs trimmed,” he advised.

“I never cut that,” I replied emphatically. I was extremely territorial and possessive but Jerry stood his ground.

“I can see you’ve never trimmed it. That’s a mistake.”

He walked slowly around the bed holding up branch after branch. “This needs cut. This, too. If you cut here, this hole will fill in next year.”

By this time he finished, my heart was racing and my mouth was dry but I knew I’d lost the first battle. “Well, cut a little. Remember… I have an event here in a couple of weeks.”

My gosh, the cotoneaster looks fabulous! And the rest of the yard is shaping up. His edging tool, the hatchet, is fabulous, too. I’ve totally given my gardens over to Jerry.  He knows more than I do and he’s smart enough to find me and ask about seedling if he’s not sure if they’re weeds or not.

I’m thinking Jerry might become permanent around here BUT if we have a big standoff, I may have to tell him about the really, really big Northern Water snake that lived beneath the cotoneaster last summer….

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

More Friends in the Garden

If you have a sunny spot in your garden with flowerpots or rocks or logs, perhaps you have seen this little lizard, the Eastern Fence Lizard (Sceloporus undalutas) basking in the sun. This mid-Atlantic reptile is easily identified by the gray or brown rough ridged (keeled) scales and dark crossbars. Bright blue markings are found under the chins and sides on males during breeding season (April-August). The territorial males emphasize these bright patches by bobbing up and down to attract females.

As a child, I caught my fair share of fence lizards, however it can be a little tricky. No matter where you may see one, the lizard’s escape tactic is to circling the pot or tree staying just out of sight and out of reach. It can be a dizzying experience. The adult lizard isn’t afraid to bite if caught… although it quite harmless and the bite is only to scare. It does not break the skin.

These days I leave the little fellas alone because if you aren’t adept in trapping lizards on the body but trap the tail instead, they will allow the vertebra in the tail to separate and break off  (caudal autonomy) in self-defense. The tail continues to wiggle to distract a predator. In several weeks, it will regenerate with cartilage, not bone, but the new appendage is never as normal looking as the original tail.

Why is the fence lizard a friend in the garden? Its diet consists of spiders and insects, some quite harmful to humans, like ticks. If you would like to attract the fence lizard to your garden, provide a sunny spot with a pile of rocks for basking or pots of flowers and for an escape from predators. The main predator of the fence lizard is the snake… and I have an abundance of them this spring!

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester