“I am not drinking (expletive) Merlot!” – Miles from the movie Sideways

This past weekend, a group of friends and I were running in a relay race across the Adirondack mountains. When you are not running, you are spending hours in a van following the next member of your team. With all of these hours, you go through so many different conversations, including relaying the storyline to the movie Sideways to one of our team members who had yet to see this classic movie about friends discovering themselves in wine country. I guess you could say that the irony in this situation was that we may have been discovering ourselves while running in this 200 mile relay by talking about men discovering themselves. But maybe not. My running club in not the first place I think of for self-help junkies and wine drinkers. They are more the suck it up and pass me a beer kind of friends, which I need.

Cercis Merlot tree

I came back to work today feeling aware and refreshed as if I had been at a spiritual retreat. I guess if you call riding in a van with a bunch of smelly guys and running over 23 miles at various periods oner 24 hours meditation, then so be it. As I was making my way through the gardens, I walked by one of my favorite trees, the Merlot redbud, Cercis x ‘Merlot.’ In a film noir moment, I immediately replayed the conversation from the weekend along with the mental clip of Miles stating in Sideways that he hoped his blind date would not drink merlot. You are probably now thinking that is a strange and ironic story or that I am a strange person and feeling the utmost sympathy for my wife because she has to put up with these kinds of streams of consciousness constantly. If you are thinking the latter, you are welcome to mail her a bottle of merlot in order to cope with my ramblings.


Ok, let’s put a fine point on this story. Whether you like merlot or not, add a Merlot redbud to give your garden a refined taste. Why, you might ask? Because it is one of the most fantastic, dark-leaved, small flowering trees in cultivation. Dr. Dennis Werner from North Carolina State University crossed a dark-leaved redbud, Cercis canadensis ‘Forest Pansy’ with an ecotype from Texas and Mexico know as Cercis canadensis var. texensis. Dr. Werner selected one seedling from this lot because of its dark leaf color (from Forest Pansy) and thick glossy leaves (from its Texas cousin). The Merlot redbud matures at 12 to 15′ in height and width so it will make the perfect small tree for the residential landscape. As most redbuds, it has bright pink flowers on all parts of the stems before the leaves emerge. Redbuds are one of the few trees that even flower along the main trunk. After flowering, the deep burgundy, well, I guess you could say merlot colored leaves emerge. The foliage color is held throughout the summer until the leaves drop in the fall. The trees are reportedly hardy to USDA zone 6 but I have a sneaking suspicion that they may be a bit hardier than the literature states.

– Rodney

Images: NC State Department of Horticulture, Mail Order Trees


tree sketches by rochelle greayer www.studiogblog.comAUGUST UPDATE:  I can tell you a bit more – This has to do with the Launch of PITH + VIGOR.  Your  tree drawing (along with the other submissions) will be used to create something beautiful for the our launch.  We hope you will join in this fun community art event!

Hey! – I need some help with a project.

It is secret, but I can tell you this….it will be big, it will be beautiful, lots of people will see it and and it will be very, very cool.  I can also tell you that I will eventually reveal what this is all about (a few months from now).

So do you want to be part of a big, beautiful, wide-spead, cool thing?

I need you send in pictures of trees (illustrative not photographic).  You can take a picture of your drawing and instagram it (if you do this tag it with #studiogtree) or you can send  your drawing (or painting or sketch or doodle or whatever medium you choose) via email to me at with the word studiogtree in the subject.

Let’s see your rendition of your favorite tree in your favorite season, or maybe its just the tree right outside your window, or the tree you just planted….whatever it is lets see it.

All the submissions that come in before June 15th will be shared here with links back to your site, but some of them will additionally be used in that other big, beautiful, wide-spread, cool secret project.


x – Rochelle



This time of year is such a treat.  It is so full of beautiful flowering trees and shrubs that it is hard to take it all in and really feel like you have enjoyed it before it fades into the green of summer.

My own garden boasts a Cercis canadensis (Eastern Red bud) that is just about to burst open with flowers, a Heptacodium miconioides (Seven Sons Tree), a gorgeous burgundy blooming crabapple of unknown variety, a hand full of voluptuous Pierus (andromeda) and a few “flowering weepers” (so-called by the previous owner who insisted that this was their proper name when I tried to get the bottom of their actual variety). It’s a nice mix, but I’m a connoisseur of the out of the ordinary and special – I believe there are quite enough Bradford pears in my corner of the world and that I am doing no one any favors by planting more.  Rather, I like to surprise and experiment and with that in mind I have a lot of lists with a lot of constantly evolving plant ideas.

halesia tree by rochelle greayer www.studiogblog.comAt the top of my ‘Spring flowering Tree List’ are the following….should I happen across one of these in the nursery at a good price it will surely find its way home with me….

Halesia is such a delicate tree that reminds me the handkerchief tree (Davidia involucrata) (which I am similarly obsessed with). Halesia’s flowers are bell-shaped and it likes my naturally acidic soil.  I’d honestly take any variety (there are some that have larger flowers, some that are tinged pink and other interesting varieties) as all I really care about is being able to stand beneath it and look up into the warren of pretty dangling flowers.

crataegus laevigata paul's scarlet (creative commons  by A. Barra.)Crataegus laevigata ‘Paul’s Scarlet’ was a tree I fell in love with back in my London Days.  I lived in a Street called Greencroft Gardens in West Hampstead and on the way to the tube station was a huge hawthorn across from a similarly large Ceanothus.  The two were such focal points for the whole road, my husband and I couldn’t help but remark about them daily.  At the time I was unfamiliar with the Hawthorn and had no idea what it was – I called the giant mini rose tree (as the clustered flowers are just like roses and literally cover the tree).  I’ve never seen one here in New England I’d consider it quite a find to discover one. 

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Instead of writing about a particular plant or plant group, this week I thought I would talk about one of my favorite horticultural pruning techniques. The first time someone mentioned to me an “aerial hedge,” I envisioned puffy clouds of boxwoods floating through the air. But that would be weird and strange (like this week’s episode of Mad Men – yes, I am a big fan). Then, on a trip to Hampton Court, I saw a screen made from a quadruple cordon of hornbeam trees. A cordon is literally “cable” or “line” in French. It is also a horticultural term for a horizontal line of a topiary. As for these trees at Hampton Court, the hornbeam trees were growing out of a hedgerow of Taxus. The hornbeams were trained into four cordons and then tied together to make a big screen around the parking lot. It was beautiful and precise. Right then and there, I fell in love with the concept.

aerial hedge versailles

Years later, on a visit to France, a group of us visited Versailles. It was there that I saw miles of trees pruned into hedges. In some spots, the trees were limbed up from the ground so you could see across the plane but the tree canopies were pruned into long rectangles. Aha! This was the infamous aerial hedge. If you look at the competition gardens at the Chelsea flower show, one designer always goes for the aerial hedge. Maybe it is a European thing (like the man-purse) but aerial hedges never seem to catch on here in the US. I, for one, really dig aerial hedges (and messenger bags but not man-purses) and wish that more gardens would include them. Yes, they take time and someone has to work for years to prune and shape them but the resulting form is fun and really defines a garden. I can count on one hand, the gardens that I have seen in the United States that feature aerial hedges:

– Longwood Gardens (Tilia or little leaf linden)

– Dumbarton Oaks (Carpinus or hornbeam)

– Old Westbury (Tsuga or hemlock)

– Lotusland (Pittosporum)

– Heronswood (a really awesome, arching display of trained hornbeams)


There have to be other gardens that I have missed. Are there aerial hedges that you recall seeing here in the States? Why do you think that they have not caught on here as they have in Europe? If ever given the chance to design a Chelsea garden, I would design a satirical garden featuring an assortment of aerial hedges using plants that one would never expect to see grown this way.


Images: The Creative FluxJan Henry, Garden Drum

This past Sunday, I had the honor to attend Maine’s TED conference, TEDxDirigo. In case you do not know, TED is a movement started in California to bring together some of culture’s thought leaders and innovators together in one room to share their ideas. The talks have exploded and now go viral via the internet. Thankfully, the TED brand can be used on the local level so a local non-profit, The Treehouse Institute, organizes one for our state. Dirigo is the state motto for Maine, which simply means – “I lead.” This year’s conference was held in Brunswick, Maine inside of a gorgeous former mill.

As a newcomer to Maine, I am still learning the dynamics of our new home state. Maine is regarded by some as having one of the oldest populations in the nation. A major concern is about the future of Maine as youth move away for college, jobs, and money. This so-called “brain drain of Maine” is a major concern for our state. The leaders of the conference want to catalyze a movement to generate action in order to bring restoration to Maine.


The speakers were from all different occupations: a geneticist, farmers, dancers, students, an advertising executive, and even an awesome beatboxer. One presenter that I want to single out in this week’s post in David Buchanan. David is an entrepreneurial farmer. He and his wife have started an apple orchard near Freeport, Maine (home of LL Bean). Their orchard is founded on the goal to preserve and re-introduce more apple varieties to the Maine apple eater. Many of the varieties that David grows were nearly lost in cultivation, proverbially cast to the compost pile in favor of apples that are uniform and ship well like Granny Smith, Golden Delicious, and everybody’s favorite target of the apple world, the shiny Red Delicious. Many of these varieties would be lost forever were it not for folks like David who wanted to make sure that these apples, at one time preferred for a specific purpose like cooking or cider making, were saved. One variety David spoke about was tracked down and thought to be extinct until they found one old, lone tree in someone’s backyard in New Jersey. They were able to obtain scion wood from the tree and grow it on in the new orchard.

The reason that this of real interest to me (other than the fact that I love apples) is because we are about to expand the gardens of Coastal Maine. One of our future gardens is a vegetable and fruit garden, large enough to produce food that will be used in our cafe. The area where this garden might be located even has an old apple tree where there was once a farmstead. One of my favorite childhood memories was of my grandfather taking me to an orchard in the fall and picking up several crates of apples. I think they were Macouns. It has been years but I think that was my grandfather’s favorite apple. Or maybe they were Northern Spy. I think it would be really cool if my kids could experience a similar memory right here in our town in Maine.


Buchanan mentioned that a fellow apple enthusiast and historian, Dan Bussey, is releasing an Encyclopedia of The American Apple. In this book, Bussey describes the almost 20,000 apple varieties that once grew in the United States. Selections that you have probably never seen in the grocery store like Harrison and Fletcher’s Sweet. Buchanan is growing these historic selections among many others. He even has plans to release a line of hard cider. As he describes it, not the sweet, fizzy drink you might have gotten out of a bottle or from a bar, but something altogether different. A beverage that is deep and rich and meant to be savored and enjoyed. I hope to visit David Buchanan’s farm soon. I also hope that once we get our vegetable and fruit garden growing, we will be able to select some of Buchanan’s heirloom varieties.

A quick check on-line shows that Stark Brothers and Fedco Trees have a good selection of young apple trees to purchase and grow. Do you know of other nurseries that offer new and unusual apple tree varieties for sale?


Images: Mother Jones, Harmonious Belly

Cercidiphyllum leaf

If you have ever been up close and personal with a katsura tree (Cercidiphyllum japonicum) then you already knew what I was going to talk about by the title of today’s post. Yes, as the leaves are changing color in autumn, standing underneath a katsura tree, you get the aroma of cotton candy or caramelized sugar. That is not the only reason to grow Cercidiphyllum but it is one of the best. This tree is happiest in a bright location, preferably almost all day sun. Having a bright location allows the tree to become dense in its growth habit and truly enriches its fall color. I have always been told that katsura tree needs a damp yet well drained location until established. Otherwise, it will drop its leaves in late August or early September, especially if there has been a dry summer. I have observed this happen in the south and along the mid-Atlantic but I have to add an asterisk to this assumption. This is not true here in coastal Maine. We have several trees planted around the gardens here at CMBG and they are real aristocrats all summer and into fall. The fall color for our trees started this year in early October and is just wrapping up this week. I realize that this has been a remarkable autumn in New England but our trees are in what I would consider relatively dry locations. Maybe it is the cooler summer temperatures that they prefer. Regardless, these are some of the finest trees that you can grow.

Katsura fall

The leaves are round and spring green, the bark is slightly exfoliating, and the tree form is upright and slightly pyramidal. It is, in many respects, the perfect tree for the New England garden. Sure, it is not native and it does not have a showy flower, but with a great form and leaves that smell of cotton candy in the fall, more folks should be including it into their landscape. As for the cultural specifics, it is hardy from USDA zones 4 to 8 and will ultimately reach a mature landscape size of 40-60 feet in height. There are numerous cultivars available in commerce. We added ‘Tidal Wave’ (a weeping form) and ‘Rotfuchs’ (or ‘Red Fox’ a red leaved form) this spring to the garden. I am hoping to add ‘Heronswood Globe’ in the near future. It is a smaller, compact and rounded head form selected from the former Heronswood gardens of Dan Hinkley and Robert Jones in Washington state.

This winter, while shopping for plants, I will be looking for new and interesting selections of katsura tree. Are there some fantastic cultivars that you are growing that you think we should add?


Images: Oregon State, Thompson and Morgan


This is one of those crazy weeks and for some reason I feel compelled to pile it on.  Today I have an exciting lunch meeting to plan some fall classes in the barn (more to come on that). Then later tonight, I’ll be laughing til I’m sick with David Sedaris.  Tomorrow I’m hosting a little gathering in my kitchen with Lowes to preview some holiday decorating ideas.  I rather insanely decided I needed to repaint the kitchen in advance of this as well as decorate for the holidays (a little early but it is all for you to see pretty holiday inspiration).  (It is 6am and my awesome daughter is sitting next to me as I write this, she is taping the 70 window panes in my breakfast area off so I can paint – she rocks.)

So much to do!

Thursday, I’ll be cleaning up one party and prepping for another.  On Friday, I’m taking a couple carloads of kids to the largest corn maze in the world (which happens to be down the road from us) for my daughters birthday. My kids love my homemade birthday cakes and for this birthday I will be trying my hand at re-creating this.

Wish me luck.

Saturday is the last farmers market of the season and on Sunday, hopefully I will be able to rest…..and maybe make some sloe gin.

Have you ever made sloe gin?  I have always loved this liquor and have had my eye peeled for the last few weeks for someone locally who has Prunus spinosa (Blackthorn) trees growing where I might forage for ingredients.  This is the season for Sloes and I am hoping to make some lovely bottled Christmas presents.

Having struck out (so far) on the local foraging I am thinking I might need to place an order for fresh sloes to be sent from England.   And I am also researching trees to add to my garden for another year’s harvest.  Fresh Sloes can be bought from this Etsy seller. And the trees (which are actually quite shrubby) are available from Oikos Tree Crops.  I think these blackthorns will be a fine ‘edge of the woods’ sort of thing to grow – but I am hoping they won’t attract the local bear. Do you grow them?  What do you know?

What sort of craziness are you up to? October always is nuts for me…is it the same for you?

Images #1, #2, # 3, #by Leo Michels. Usage: Public Domain