Tree Stump Planter

In March 2021 we had a very large, two-stump River Birch removed from our property. Its extended branches threatened our roof and deck.

When it was removed, I asked the tree removal service to leave the stump cut a little higher, as I had envisioned hollowing out the stump to serve as a plant container. That decision also saved us a couple of hundred dollars! We also kept behind three large stump cuttings, about 18” to 24” inches high.

On Instagram I saw a post from pshgardening that sprung me into action!

This was the post that reminded me to get up and get busy over the long holiday weekend!
This is what our tree stump looked like a couple of weeks after it was cut down. The large established roots of the River Birch pulled an extraordinary amount of sugar water which poured down the sides where it was cut. There was little we could do with this in 2021.

Thinking the stump would be significantly dried out in 15 months, we set about carving out one side of the stump. The cut area had hardened considerably and for quite a while it had stopped weeping.

My husband mapped out a circle and drilled holes in a circular pattern. We learned later, this was not the best method. We found the wood very dense and still moist.

We did our research after that difficult start. Advice: start research and watch videos before starting a project, not after! Live and learn!

This is not the drill bit to use for hollowing out a stump! It did however work well later for drainage holes.
My husband went to a big box store nearby and purchased a fortzner circular drill bit, which was a lot faster. The wood was tough to remove because it had not completely dried out yet, since it was connected to a very large root system. Here we’re about half way there at 3 inches deep.
Short video clip of using a Fortzner drill bit.

When we reached the desired depth of about six inches, we drilled drainage holes from the side as seen below. We tested with a hose and water flowed freely through the holes we made.

I lined the bowl with burlap and filled with a mixture of Miracle Gro Moisture Control Potting Mix and Black Kow compost. Because the stump is attached to a rooting system, it may still serve as a moisture source for the flowers. Time will tell.
One stump down, one to go in this permanent location. The completely severed stumps should be easier to work with!
In this full sun location I planted lantana, Proven Winners ”Blue My Mind” and some purple super bells. The latter two should trail nicely down the stump! I also pushed in some nasturtium seeds so we will see if they take!

This project took two to three hours. I am hoping the fully separated stump cuttings will be dryer, and easier to drill out. I love the look and it’s a different way to feature pretty annuals or as a focal point for a trailing perennial. I would assume the tree stump would provide winter insulation. I love using containers and have several terracotta, ceramic or stone types scattered about in my garden. While I have plastic and resin containers, they are made to look like pottery or stone. I am trying to cut down on any plastic in my garden. If you have a tree removed, consider repurposing the wood or the stump as natural and textural container in your garden.

Update! We completed the second stump!

Complete!

It will be fun to experiment with different plantings. I’ve seen some beautiful sedum/succulent stump gardens, as well as plantings with different greens, combining those with an upright and trailing growth habit!

My Blue Hen Garden

As a three-time graduate of the University of Delaware, a 23-year staff member, a parent of an alumna and a newly trained UD Master Gardener, one great way to show my school pride is to add the blue and gold to my garden.

True blue is a difficult color to obtain in the garden. Besides the reliable blue macrophylla hydrangea, I’ve been able to add blue cornflower, caryopteris (a shrub), delphinium and a few lobelias to the landscape.

Using plants and accents, I am slowly building my #BlueHensForever tribute!

These pillows from Lowes were a must-have. Most of my pots and containers are blue, yellow or some combination of blue white and yellow!
Containers are a good way to customize a color statement.
A yellow garden stool. Even a royal blue watering can!
Black-eyed Susies stretch out in front of a blue gazing ball
The blue cornflowers are hard to grow. Rabbits love them!
This hanging basket was made to order! I purchased it from East Coast Perennials in Millsboro, DE
Most of my hydrangea macrophyllas turn blue like this beautiful cerulean “Mathilda Gutges” I am now transplanting a rapidly spreading Rudbeckia “Goldstrum” under my blue hydrangeas. I won’t see the full effect of this until next year.
Vase on a stick? Rain gauge? I am not sure what the purpose of this is, but it was pretty and the right colors so I bought it from Home Goods. It’s something vertical that I can move around in a bare spot for that UD pop!
Little pots. I guess I should have put tiny yellow plants in the blue pot! What was I thinking?
Home Goods in Lewes is a 3-minute walk, though I seldom do because walking back with their great selection of garden pots and accessories would be difficult. I just had to get this one, though I am not sure it’s a good fit for this plant.
Color can be added by sweet little things like this birdseed trough. Are they little Blue Hens? I think so!
Spiderwort “Sweet Kate” in the shade garden
Another view of the pot, different blue and gold flowers!
Even inside, I intentionally choose blue and yellow pottery and accents. I have a whole UD corner I use for my Zoom meetings!
A yellow dragonfly pot holds a Chinese Evergreen

While other colors show off in my garden, tendrils of blue and gold are woven through with plants, containers, garden furniture and garden art, which I continue to incorporate into the landscape bit by bit —a little addition or two each year. All that’s missing was a UD Blue Hen garden flag! Most were very sport-oriented so I designed my own and found a company that will make them. I have 87 hydrangeas so I thought this was appropriate!

Rethinking how we landscape

At the University of Delaware, we are fortunate to call Doug Tallamy one of our own. I first heard him talk at a horticulture event I was covering. Doug is an entomologist and professor at the University of Delaware’s Department of Wildlife Ecology. His influence and expertise is respected worldwide. Thanks to his books, his articles and his generous appearances on Zoom, Doug Tallamy’s message is starting to get out. This is a recording of a recent appearance he gave to Ohio State University. I attended this for advanced training as a Master Gardener. His lecture beings at 3:50.

I have joined the Home Grown National Park effort that Tallamy has started. I planted my first oak tree, and hope to get many more. Increasingly I am adding native plants to encourage more caterpillar and insect activity.

Does this mean I will remove the many crape myrtles on my property? No. But, as beautiful as they are in late summer, I won’t plant any more. Will I still decorate my front porch steps with my favorite magenta geraniums? Yes I will. It is okay to grow and enjoy non-natives. But I am finding spots in my yard for native milkweed, echinacea, mountain mint, redbud and serviceberry trees. I challenge anyone who reads Doug Tallamay’s books or watches him lecture in person or on YouTube will be compelled (and urgently so) the way they landscape their homes.

Maine’s Botanical Garden

Drumstick Allium, Maine Botanical Gardens

Near Boothbay on Maine’s mid-coast is the fabulous Maine Botanical Garden. Having been to the town of Boothbay in 2017, which resulted in a day of extended shopping, my husband wasn’t too keen to return to the town in our 2019 visit. And while he loves our garden, I don’t place him in the garden tourist aficionado category. Nevertheless, I convinced him to accompany me on my first visit to this famed garden. We traveled down a lot of curvy roads to get there.

He loved it. He didn’t stop talking about it. It will be on our must-see list next time we visit, which we hope to do in 2022.

Yellow blur

In response to The Daily Post’s weekly photo challenge: “Yellow.”

Yellow

Yellow is a powerful accent color in my garden. It, and its close partner orange, are a perfect complement to my dominant blue-purple flower colors.

I think of yellow as a strong, intense pigment, but without washing it out or desaturating its intensity, in this photo the yellow is soft and ethereal.

I captured this photo of a False Sunflower last summer, 2014. It is one of my favorite flower “portraits” in my collection of botanicals. It is easy to take a flower photo straight on, dead center.

The petals of this off-centered blossom, blends into the background of its brethren in the garden. Hints of green lawn,blue sky and darker stems frame the image at the diagonal.

Not every image needs to be in focus. The dissolve of yellow in the background takes the viewer’s imagination off in another direction. A summer day in which to dream.

Find a garden — enjoy the linger!

Linger

Gardens are made for lingering. Color, aroma, and the cycle of life evolve right before my eyes — sometimes slowly and incrementally, other times annoyingly fast, like a pesky, hungry, hunter of a mosquito buzzing around my face with its proboscus set for my juicy upper arm.

Then I don’t linger.

SWAT!

Most of the time, the paths that I carved out and created in my not-quite-an-acre-world, command me to slow down. My garden asks me to pause, consider, drift, and linger.

And I do. With my body, with a camera, with my love.

A garden is the best lingering venue. Sitting. Kneeling, Digging, Weeding, Watering, Cleaning up.Thinking.

Lingering is also quite lovely with a glass of Pinot Grigio! Each sip is its own joyful linger of grape, citrus and sugar.

Benches are perfect lingering devices!

.bench

I plan when I linger.

I am continually surprised if I let myself linger long enough. Imagine what I almost missed.

A burst of color today that wasn’t there yesterday. Taking notice of a senior citizen shedding its petals, one slow drop at a time, on its way of decay to become soil.  Happy to have met you!

You can’t notice these things if you don’t linger.

20130902-153023.jpg

Or escape that, I too, am a part of it all. This mysterious revolutionary movement of nature.

Lingering in the garden grounds me. I am shedding petals also — bone mass, collagen, elasticity, once thick brunette hair at a time is turning a fine, thin grey. I am shedding!

And it is all okay. I certainly won’t malinger over it!

On my way to becoming something else. I am contributing to it now.

It is part of the natural movement forward — a contribution I am able to make — and keep making still!

Peace through reflective lingering. The gift of, and in, gardening.

Sharpen the senses. Rest the mind. Linger. Drift past the flowers that grow so incredibly high!

Mom and her hydrangeas

In Delaware, hydrangeas bloom in June, but I always think of hydrangeas in May because of Mother’s Day.

My mother did not have a green thumb. I never saw mom kneeling and weeding in a garden. I recall only a few occasions with fresh-cut flowers in a vase on a table or counter. Mom went for plastic, and later in the 1970s and 1980s, the silk arrangements that were oh so fashionable and given to her as gifts throughout the years, accumulated in our home as decor accents. Slightly faded fabric petals of pink, yellow and blue held their faux bloom (and quite a bit of dust if truth be told) until her death in 2001.

  

Mom had one saving grace with gardening. She knew how to hold and point a hose. As luck would have it, a summer cottage my parents bought in the 1960s in Brigantine, New Jersey came framed in hydrangea macrophyllas. Big, blue cooling balls would erupt along the sides of our modest white, one- story beach house and my mother succeeded in never killing them. In her mind, that made her a gardener. In the Brigantine summers, we had hamburgers, hot dogs and fresh hydrangeas on the table.

Vivid memories of her in a button down sleeveless shirt, madras plaid pedal pushers and rubber flip flops, watering hydrangeas, are etched in my mind as a standard, summer experience. Holding a green hose mom slowly made her way around the perimeter of the square cottage unloading healthy gulps of water upon the shrubs. I watched her push pennies into the soil with her fingers.

“They make the flowers turn blue,” she said of the practice I have since learned is an old wives’ tale.

Her one horticulture knack was being able to propagate the leaves in water. In the summer we’d have a few plastic cups filled halfway with water and some hydrangea leaves sprouting tiny and tender white roots. Mom would give these starters away. I tried to duplicate her success, but I did not inherit this particular talent. Though I try, I can only get so far with this technique.


When mom died in March, 2001, we adorned the church altar with her favorite flower. The hot house hydrangeas, ready for the Easter market, were big and showy and powerfully pink. They surrounded her casket as she recieved the priest’s blessings. I took one of these funeral bouquets home with me and I planted it in a new house we were building and where I thought it would thrive. I hoped some of the Holy Water, which had landed on the leaves, might give the shrub a splash of good luck.

We had planned on mom living with us and had a room ready for her. She never got to move in let alone see the house. Having that hydrangea grow symbolized she would be near.

The pink blooms faded away later that spring and did not return. The next year the plant grew to shrub size, but did not bloom.

That summer at work, I asked the horticultre Extension agent what was wrong.

“It might not ever bloom,” he said, “since it was raised in a hot house for the Easter market. You’ll just have to wait and see.”

Another summer went by and it grew big and luscious and green. But no blooms!

I didn’t push any pennies in the soil to help it along. By then I knew it was all about aluminum and pH and all that kind of stuff.  I planted other hydrangeas, one, Nikko Blue, a very old fashioned, powder blue, thrived on the other side of the house. It grew like bonkers. I kept adding different varieties – some oakleafs and lacecaps and limelights, which all did well. One way or another I was determined that some type of hydrangeas would grow on my property! These other hydrangeas showed off, pushing forth in panicles, round puff balls and dainty lacecaps. All except mom’s funeral hydrangea.

Geesh. Had I planted “mom’s” hydrangeas in the wrong spot?

My answer arrived in the third year, when mom’s gardening spirit and inspiration shouted in profuse young limes and teenage blues! Here’s a photo of mom’s original pink funeral flowers on its first rebloom, three years later.


Mom’s macrophylla is now the showiest hydrangeas on our property. This photo, the blooms are young. As they age they turn the most beautiful deep, purply blue.

Botanically speaking, Mother’s Day always arrives a month late in my house. Mom inspired my love of hydrangeas and all the hydrangeas varieties I’ve planted since. Through them, memories of her follow me both inside, in vases and jars, and outside as far as my hose will stretch. Their blooms remind me of those Sixties’ summers in Brigantine where I spent June, July and August around bumblebees, spigots and cool water from a green hose that splashed on crunchy green leaves and a little girl’s toes.  Happy Mother’s Day Urusla Walsh Dorsey!

Mom and I in Wilmington, Delaware. I don’t have any photos of her in New Jersey, but this was definitely her gardening (or hose watering ) outfit!
I like to bring my hydrangeas inside to enjoy!

Photo credit: Michele Walfred

2021 Update: Since writing this essay, the “mom’s hydrangea” planted along the east side of the house seemed vulnerable as it matured. In its location, without any taller trees to shade it, it received full sun until at least 1 p.m. Our summers began getting hotter. Because this wasn’t bred as a landscape cultivar, it doesn’t have the known characteristics that allow it to endure a late spring cold spell, or tolerate early June temperatures in the mid 90s as it was in 2021. In mid May I counted hundreds of blossoms on this shrub — it looked so promising! But the steamy first week of June fried the new blossoms to a crisp. It looked like a chocolate chip cookie bush, but not a very appetizing one.

So I decided to dig up this 20 year old shrub, or rather, get my husband to do the shovel work. It was easier than we thought — hydrangeas are not that deep rooted. When we pulled it up, a piece with roots broke off, and we also noticed that a lower branch had rooted itself — propagation by layering — so we had three pieces of this shrub. Three chances for a new location. I hoped that at least one would take.

We prepared a very large hole in a deeply shady area of our property — and where other macrophyllas and oakleafs do well. Inside the hole we backfilled with good garden soil and homemade compost. We did something similar with the smaller piece and the layering section. By fall it looked good and dead. By March I hadn’t seen any sign of life.

In mid April 2022, I saw the first green sprouts at the base. All three transplants are showing healthy growth and are going to survive!

This is the main section that we dug up. I took this photo on June 10, 2022

The older canes don’t appear to have any life to them. They easily snap off. But I am going to leave them just in case. The new growth is quite healthy and lush. I am thrilled. This got a light treatment of Holly Tone in mid March, something I do with all my hydrangeas. Later this summer, I will take out the remaining canes and give it another light fertilization. It gets regular water and follow up visits on its progress.

All I have to do now is be patient. Macrophyllas set their flower buds for next year around late July into August. This shrub may need an additional recovery year to acclimate to its new home. It may adhere to the sleep, creep then leap – a three year waiting period before it blooms again. It was a drastic move but one that was necessary with our changing climate.

Once it does bloom again, it should be spectacular! Now that it receives less sun, and is further away from our house, I will give this additional winter protection and be ready to cover it should a late spring cold spell come our way.

In it’s original spot, I selected and planted a ZinFin Doll panicle hydrangea, which is bred to do well in the sun and heat, and whose white panicle blossoms age to a reportedly stunning red. I see several flower buds and can’t wait until its first bloom.