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

This past weekend has been a blur. We had a symposium on trees at Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens on Saturday and then a propagation workshop for most of the day on Monday. The highlight was having Dr. Michael Dirr in town to speak at the symposium and lead the propagation workshop for our guests. If you’ve had the good fortune to spend any time with Dr. Dirr and his wife, Bonnie, you know that you need to keep your ears open and be ready to absorb as much information as possible. The both love to read, travel, and share information about life and plants.

One plant in particular that Dr. Dirr kept bringing up time and time again was the tupelo tree or Nyssa sylvatica. Tupelo or black gum as it is also called, is native from Ontario down to Texas and Florida. We have a few plants that are native here on the CMBG property. It is thought that these might be the northeastern most trees in North America. We are trying to clone these trees in the hopes that they can provide some cold hardiness to the group. (By the way, did you know that Van Morrison’s song “Tupelo Honey,” refers to the honey that bees make after getting nectar from these trees?)

Nyssa fall color

Once established, Nyssa sylvatica will form a strongly pyramidal tree with an ultimate height of around 60′ tall and around half that distance in width. Well-grown trees are spectacular in form and remind me of what trees look like when my kids draw trees (other than the rounded, puff-ball shaped trees they sometimes draw). Tupelo should be grown in an acidic soil and will grow best in a low area with adequate moisture with well-drained soil. Nyssa has a strong taproot once established so it is best to move the trees when they are younger. Larger trees can be moved but require a larger rootball.

Of course, the most spectacular quality of the tupelo is its fall color. It is crimson red. The sight of a Nyssa in fall color on a bright cool day in autumn will make you fall in love with this tree.

Wildfire Nyssa

There are numerous cultivars coming onto the market with many already available for purchase. After hearing Dr. Dirr speak, there seem to be more cultivars in the works and possibly coming down the pike. Some of these cultivars include: ‘Autumn Cascades’ (weeping form), Red Rage (leaf spot resistant), ‘Sheri’s Cloud’ (variegated), ‘Wildfire’ (brilliant red new growth), and ‘Zydeco Twist’ (twisting, contorted growth).

Sheri's Cloud

Tupelo is a wonderful native tree for a landscape that has the room to let it grow and show off its form. The new cultivars add even more opportunity to try this plant in the landscape. Are you growing Nyssa sylvatica or any of these cultivars?

- Rodney


I am going to start out by admitting that I have never been impressed with serviceberry. The first serviceberry or shadblow (Amelanchier spp.) that I encountered was in Pennsylvania in 1996. I was told that it was an impressive, native tree that was being promoted as a replacement for the over-used Bradford pear. When it flowered, well, um, I actually forgot ever seeing it in flower. It was so underwhelming. Since that time, I have seen other serviceberry trees and written them off because of short flowering time or early leaf drop in the summer.

Cole's Select flowers

My view has changed this spring in Maine. I am not sure whether it is Maine’s climate or the particular selections we have at CMBG but the flowering this year has been outstanding. Planted along our education center are Amelanchier grandiflora ‘Cole’s Select.’ They started flowering a couple of weeks ago and are still going strong. The form is somewhat upright and the trees are around 20′ in height, making for a remarkable display of white flowers this May. Amelanchier grandiflora is a naturally occuring hybrid between the two east coast US native species: A. arborea  and A. laevis. The result is a small, upright, native, spring flowering, edible fruit producing, and brilliant fall colored tree. Our cultivar, ‘Cole’s Select’ has dark green leaves that turn a brilliant reddish-orange in the fall. The form is perfect for the small landscape, it reminds me of a small crepemyrtle or upright Japanese maple.

Cole's Select at the Bosarge Education Center

There are other cultivars of Amelanchiergrandiflora available including ‘Autumn Brilliance,’ ‘Princess Diana,’ ‘Robin Hill,’ and ‘Cumulus.’ We have ‘Autumn Brilliance’ and ‘Robin Hill’ planted in the gardens here in Boothbay and I would definitely like to add some more in the future based upon the performance this spring of ‘Cole’s Select.’

Do you have serviceberry planted in your garden? How is it growing for you?


Photos: Rodney Eason

First of all, last week was pretty awesome. The weather in Maine has been pretty good and then on Wednesday, we had our spring board meeting for CMBG in Chicago. It was in the mid-80′s when we landed in Chicago and tons of people were out running and biking along Lake Shore Drive. On Thursday and Friday, the temperatures plummeted into the 50′s but that did not stop our enthusiasm for touring the Chicago Botanic Garden and the Morton Arboretum. This was my first trip to Chicago, let alone either garden, which I had been wanting to see for years.

Both gardens are huge so our tours were quick and only covered part of each garden. I enjoyed seeing the different designs and plants that are used in Chicago. One plant in particular that caught my attention was Syringa pekinensis or the Peking lilac.

Syringa pekinensis China Snow'

The tree was just outside of the walled garden at the Chicago Botanic Garden. This individual was the cultivar ‘Morton’ which is trademarked as China Snow. The tree was just starting to leaf out and had yet to flower but what was striking was the beautiful exfoliating bark. The bark reminded me a bit of a paperbark maple. The tree is supposed to flower in June with creamy, white flowers. It is hardy to USDA zone 4 or 5 and can only take the heat of zone 7. Any zones warmer than this will cause the tree to languish. Syringa pekinensis matures at 25-30′ in height and 25′ in width.

China Snow lilac

China Snow lilac is a selection from the collections at the Morton Arboretum as a part of the Chicagoland Grows program. I cannot wait to add one to the gardens at Coastal Maine.

Morton close up