Monthly Archives: November 2015

Perennials that won’t tolerate leaf mulches by Thomas Christopher of Garden Rant

GARDENOPOLIS Cleveland thanks Thomas Christopher and Garden Rant for this interesting and relevant article.

Perennials that won’t tolerate leaf mulches by Thomas Christopher

In a recent post, Evelyn Hadden shared some very useful tips on how fall’s leaves can be used in the garden.   As a perennial enthusiast, I’d like to add a couple of caveats – a mulch of autumn leaves can be fatal to certain kinds of perennials.

A mulch of freshly fallen leaves applied an inch or two thick, or even just a heavy leaf fall from nearby trees, tends to keep the ground beneath it damp, especially if the leaves are large and you don’t shred them before applying them (I always recommend shredding leaves with a dedicated leaf shredder or a lawn mower when using them as mulch).

Because they keep the ground damp, leaf mulches of any kind, shredded or otherwise, are not beneficial for silvery, woolly-leaved plants such as lamb’s ears (Stachys byzantina) or lavenders (Lavandula spp.).  These plants are adapted to dry sites — their silver hue and hairy surface are adaptions to protect them against dehydration and drought – and they will rot if  kept consistently damp.


Gray, hairy plants like this lamb’s ear won’t tolerate leaf mulches 

Other perennials that won’t tolerate prolonged dampness include many culinary herbs such as thyme, oregano, and sage, all of which are native to the dry, rocky soils found around the Mediterranean. In fact, Mediterranean plants as a whole generally do not flourish when swaddled with leaves.

Succulents likewise will rot if kept damp; keep leaf mulches away from your sedums.  Alpine plants are also vulnerable to damp, especially in wintertime – do not use leaf mulches in the rock garden (a gravel mulch is far better there).

Finally, as Dale Hendricks emphasized in a recent email, leaf mulches are also problematic for herbaceous evergreens such as heucheras and hellebores.  If the mulch is applied simply by raking or blowing leaves onto the garden bed, then it is likely to bury the perennials’ foliage and interfere with their wintertime photosynthesis (a heavy leaf fall from nearby trees can achieve the same thing if left undisturbed).  When used around evergreens, I recommend shredding the leaves thoroughly and then tucking the mulch in by hand so as not to bury the foliage.


Care must be used in mulching evergreens like these coral bells

Photos by Susan Harris.

Perennials that won’t tolerate leaf mulches originally appeared on Garden Rant on November 28, 2015.

Origami — Why Did She Do It?

by Elsa Johnson

Origami – in a snit of pique – swept

the table clean of the red and clear

yellow she had been working on –

nothing was right – and they drifted

down to the white below.

Or…   Work complete

she lay aside the scissors

and cleared the table off.

The leavings drifted

to the white below.

Or…   Cupboard so full

that she must edit – only

the best remain.  The rest

drift    to white below.

Perhaps   benevolent

she chose to share…

and they drifted down

to the white below.

Or – mistress of her craft – Origami

gold with joy   clothed in her best

white dress   fills her arms with

glowing red and yellow    spinning

throws them…     Slowly swirling

they drift down

to the white


GARDENOPOLIS Cleveland Plans Pollinator Pocket Project!!!

News from the trenches: GARDENOPOLIS Cleveland proposes planting Pollinator Pockets around the city!


The need to establish habitats for pollinating insects has been much in the news lately. Many homeowners have been inspired to do their part and we are inspired to help them to do so. Our grand goal is to facilitate the planting of a series of carefully curated 5’x5’ pollinator pockets throughout the Cleveland urban area. According to a number of sources these small plots are enough habitat to nurture and sustain a variety of pollinators, including bees, butterflies, moths and other needed insects.

butterfly on coneflower 2

We think this is a great idea—a manageable  and incremental way for each of us to do our part. And, just think how beautiful it would be if each block had a series of such plantings!

Right now we are preparing the soil of 7 sample plots around Shaker and Cleveland Heights using the lasagna mulching technique (layers of newspaper, straw, leaves, manure, compost and wood chips.)

jane lasagna mulch

In the spring we will install  pollinator plants for all-season bloom and deer-resistance. We will provide participating homeowners with an instruction manual for the maintenance of the chosen plants. You will be able to identify our Pollinator Pockets by the yard signs posted near the pollinator pockets. Sound appealing? Next year you may yearn for one of your own. We will keep you posted as to pollinator plot progress and how you may sign-up.

Watch for our sign: 


The Peril of Plant-Lust

“You Will Regret It.” I have said that at times to my more willful landscape clients – and even on occasion to myself — when they or I have succumbed to an ill-advised plant-lust. Live and learn, with the emphasis on the latter.

We have written in Gardenopolis about akebia, the vine that’s willing to take over the world of your back yard and your neighbor’s too; …and we have also heard a rebuttal argument that through the practice — the firm hand — of good husbandry, akebia can be made to behave appropriately and thus be enjoyed. Good husbandry in this context means being a responsible gardener, which means understanding any potential negative long term consequences of planting specific invasive plants, and either undertaking the maintenance needed to contain them, as with akebia, or deciding that perhaps it would be better not to plant it at all: after all, you may control your akebia, but should you move, will the next owner of your house? 

Some other plants that also fall into this category are most barberries, multiflora rose, and many non-native honeysuckles (lonicera). The problem with these plants is that their fruits are eaten by birds, the seeds are ingested, and then released elsewhere, perhaps miles away. So, for example, barberry can now be found deep in the pristine woodlands of Holden Arboretum, or closer to home, in our secret jewel, Forest Hill Park, where multiflora rose has volunteered itself, as well as the barberry. When I go to visit my son in Connecticut I sometimes walk a power-line nature trail near his house that is completely overrun with multiflora rose. No one planted them.

In some states the nursery trade is discouraged from stocking certain barberry, while a few other barberries, such as ‘Crimson Pigmy’ or ‘Helmond Pillar’ are allowed as they are considered less invasive.  I have a ‘Helmond Pillar’ in my own yard and I watch it closely. This year it is loaded with berries (most years berries are sparse). My own theory for why it may not be invasive is that because of its very tight, upright growth habit birds just don’t use it; I never see birds landing on or roosting in this plant.

Helmond Pillar

For years I had an ordinary green barberry that grew right under a window. It came with the house when I bought it. I kept it for its deterrent value, but cut it back hard several times each year (well gauntleted). The birds loved this barberry and roosted in it all year, but especially in winter, with a nice layer of snow on top.  This year I ripped it out.  I will plant something else for the birds– maybe next week. I’d like to get something in before the snow flies; my cats like to sit on a cushion in the window and watch the birds. Since they are indoor cats I allow them this indulgence.

More on other invasive plants another time.

Nature at Night

by Tom Gibson

Like my colleague, I respond to the beauty of Manet’s and Monet’s gardens, but perhaps a little less enthusiastically. I like my Nature more “tooth and claw.”  I was fascinated this summer, for example, when I saw a wasp stumbling across the ground of my garden carrying paralyzed prey on its back and looking for its burial hole (and egg-laying site). Something like this…

Digger Wasp

So it should come as no surprise that my favorite artistic renditions of nature lean more to Bartok.  He was enthralled by the sounds of “Nature at Night” and kept returning to that theme again and again.

Here’s a typical movement from a Bartok piano piece entitled “Out of Doors.”  Go to minute 6:38:


Here’s an even more ominous version of Nature at Night , the Bartok #5 string quartet played by the Takacs Quartet.  Go to minute 9:13:

CMA Garden Exhibit Review: Did He Really Paint in the Garden in His Summer Whites?

by Elsa Johnson


Wednesday I went back to the garden exhibit at the Cleveland Museum of Art for the third time. I like just wandering through, letting my eyes pull me to what attracts them….and every time it is when I come to the ‘international’ second half of the show, that the picture of Louis Comfort Tiffany by Joaquin Sorolla, reaches out, grabs me, and stops me in my tracks. There Louis Comfort Tiffany sits, handsome,  posed in front of his easel, brush in hand, reaching out in the act of touching paint to canvas, in his summer whites, surrounded by symphonies of flowers, a glimpse of the Long Island shore and a bit of blue sea or sound over his right shoulder. 

Wait. Back up. Did I say summer whites? I did.

These are not just any summer whites (did he really paint in his summer whites?) … no – these are dazzling summer whites, vibrating summer whites, summer whites made up of deft touches of many colors — never too much; always just enough – an intricate game of using dabs of color in folds and shadows to make what is hit by sunlight highlighted, heightened, and even brighter, making this sun drenched 1911 portrait of Tiffany so much more than just a portrait. Despite all the flowers surrounding him and Tiffany’s own pleasant face, it is the subtle unsubtle suit that keeps drawing one’s eyes back. 

Both Sorolla and Tiffany were immensely talented and hard-working and both achieved great success. One feels – or imagines – that between the artist Sorolla and his subject, Tiffany,  also an artist, that there is an ongoing conversation comprised of an intimacy of understanding the job, and shared humor at the joke (surely they didn’t paint in their summer whites). As we look at the painting, we are standing where Sorolla stood. That vibratingly white, light obsessed suit is the medium of discourse.

There are two other paintings by Sorolla on either side of the Louis Comfort Tiffany picture. Both, pictures of Sorolla’s home in Spain, are also light-filled, but it is a softer light, more diffused, luminous and shimmery, and the handling of the paint and thus the effect so different from Monet’s more visceral application — and this exhibit is really, when all is said and done, about Monet. But, still, it can be very nice to stray from the main course.

Should you find yourself as the result of the exhibit — or this small tidbit — interested in the Spanish artist Joaquin Sorolla, you can go to www.joaquin-sorolla-y-bastida where you will find a biography and a file of more than 300 images of this very prolific artist’s work. (I mean, really – would you paint in your summer whites?)   


by Elsa Johnson



Not susurration   this present wind   That would

be a softer stirring  …the trees’ leaves tendering

whispers of intimate rubbings – touch – green leaf

to green leaf    in quiet communication …but

this wind is a boil  …seethe of leaves whipped — 

funneled to furious    yet not destructive : a

life-full sound and so  …sustaining    Eyes closed   

this seethe could be sound of a strong tide

running on a blind night… sea swirled and churned

to froth and foam    spume and fume also wind

driven    The moment? – immersive :  sight nothing   

sound everything   Solace…  when time stops

(or seems to) …eyes closed   ears open   hear

this roaring sibilance born   not of rage

It Ain’t Over (Don’t start Persephone’s Lament, just yet)

by Ann McCulloh

This ecstatically blue and gold November day, with temperatures in the 70s and honeybees buzzing happily in the purple aster blossoms, gives ample support to my passionate assertion: “The season’s not over, everybody!”

allyssum and parsley

I resist with every fibre of my being the common idea that gardening in Cleveland begins on Memorial Day and whimpers to a close around Labor Day. End the calendar’s tyranny! Don’t go inside before the snow flies! Everywhere you look there’s evidence of abiding life. It’s in the late blooming asters, monkshood and mistflower. Witness the fresh blossoms of borage, calendula, allysum and roses that spring forth with new vigor now the nights are cooler and the rains more abundant.

allyssum and parsley

My zucchini and summer squash are putting out new fruits.

zucchini in november

Fresh rosettes of tasty foliage emerge at the base of all my herbs: parsley, mint, oregano and lemon balm – just in time for me to cut and dry for the onset of winter. One of my favorite salad greens, mache (aka corn salad, and Rapunzel salad) scattered its seeds in May, to lie dormant all summer. Look at it popping up through the straw everywhere!

corn salad

This is a tender little rosette like miniature Boston lettuce, which can be harvested from now through March from under a covering of straw and snow. Kale, collards, chard and tatsoi are other cold-hardy greens that won’t quit for just a few frosts.


All this and more tell me there’s always plenty going on both above and below ground (where the growing never really stops.) I may retreat indoors for a month or two. But come January there’s “winter sowing” of hardy perennials and cold-loving annuals (more on that in a future post), branches to cut and force indoors, and the flowers of witchhazel, Lenten rose and snowdrops to call me back outside.

–Permaculture Recipe– Red Currant Pie

by Tom Gibson

red currant

Currants–red, black, pink, etc.–are something of a mystery to Americans.  Faced with a bush brimming with ripe berries, even Americans with broader-than-average taste palettes will look, admire….and then walk right by. That was my experience this last summer, at least, in a community garden with eight or so free-to-member bushes. I’d pick several pounds of bright red berries, wait an interval of several days for others to take their turn, and the bushes would remain almost as full as before. Why the lack of interest?

For the perennial/permaculture gardener that is no idle question.  For currants happen to be easy to grow, fruit prolifically in both shade and sun, and are virtually immune to deer pressure. And they’re a staple of European cuisine–from the UK through to Russia. So what’s the problem?

black currant II

First, they’re sour. You can’t just pick and eat.  So that means, second, that they require processing. Europeans juice them and serve with breakfast. If that’s too bracing, one could mix them into smoothies with blander fruit like bananas or pawpaws. My wife and I used the latter, and the results are tasty.

Third, Americans don’t have a tradition of cooking with them, so we don’t have much choice of currant recipes for more complicated cooking.

Through the miracle of the Internet, however, those recipes are now at our fingertips. But–and this is the fourth barrier–those recipes are often in a foreign language. That creates a real mental barrier, to be sure, but one that can be easily surmounted with a fool-proof search strategy and a simple right click.

Here’s a take-home-exercise–the first, I believe, in Gardenopolis Cleveland history. First, pick an ingredient, in this case “red currants” and the word “recipe” and then “translation” and the European language of your choice. Second, inspect the foreign language recipes and their pictures. Click on one you think might be interesting and then right click for an instant translation into English.

Here’s an example. Having followed step one for German, we get “Rote Johannisbeeren” and “Rezept”. After inspecting our many choices, we click on the following link: Now right click and then click on “Translate into English.” Voila! A delicious, yet simple, way to serve both red and black currants.


Finally, here’s link to a recipe (in English!) for red currant pie that we have made several times and that has proven a big hit with company. The lemon in the crust plays nicely off the red currants in the filling. My wife advises that, if you have too much difficulty rolling out the sticky dough, just add a little more flour and “pat” (rather than “roll”) the dough into place. The only other change to the recipe my wife makes is to drizzle the top with melted semi-sweet chocolate.  Without that, the resulting pink filling looks too much to us like Pepto Bismol.


Poem: The Buck

 by Elsa Johnson

The buck

Came trotting up my sidewalk


nose to the ground

nostrils        wuffling


just before the porch steps

– at the top of which

I was standing –

glanced up

and back down


as if to say:


   at this moment

   you are not remotely

   important to my life’

and hustled on

too obsessed

to be flag-ish 

One track mind

ten point sex


The nose knows

what counts