Category Archives: Philadelphia

Pathetic Pink Dogwoods Anyone?

******If you have stumbled onto my site by googling “why won’t my dogwood bloom,” or something like that, welcome. My best guess, if you’re in the northeast or midatlantic, is TOO MUCH WATER. If that’s enough info, thanks for stopping by. If you want more of a story and some truly pathetic pictures, read on!*****

Four years ago, my husband, my realtor and I visited a house for sale outside of Philadelphia. You could barely see the house through the two huge trees in the small front yard. To get to the front door, we had to push our way through a hedge of overgrown yews and azaleas. (Don’t even get me started about what we saw when we managed to get into the house. Ever seen dalmation spotted shag carpet? Up the stairs? Not pretty). We bought the house.

I happily oversaw the yews being ripped out; I was a bit conflicted about the azaleas. But I could walk to my front door unimpeded. Both my realtor and contractor suggested that we cut down the trees in front and start our landscaping from scratch. A two story Japanese maple and a towering pink dogwood tree. I am seriously opposed to cutting down trees, especially two trees that had been on my wish list for years. My contractor preached doom and gloom regarding the dogwood. “Look at this bark. This tree’s got a fungus. It’s done for.” Hmmm….let me think. No thank you. The trees will stay.

So now, four years later, the garden is in, installed with the two lovely trees as key design elements. I have gloated every spring as my dogwood put on a fabulous show, loaded with blooms.

Those blooms were my assurance that I was right and my contractor was wrong, confirmation that mature trees do not mean sick trees. So imagine my horror this year when I realized that my beloved tree looked completely pathetic.

Where blooms cascaded last year, I count eight blossoms. Where hundreds of pink flowers waved in the breeze, I see only baby leaves. Argh!!! Was he right? Is it sick? What will happen to my garden design if I have to take it down???

I was slightly reassured when I began driving around my neighborhood spying on the state of my neighbor’s pink dogwoods. Theirs aren’t so great either. True, there are some that look pretty good, but for the most part, the pink dogwoods of Philadelphia are underwhelming at best. None are fully covered. Most have some blooms to show, but lots more foliage. The white ones are great, but the pink ones, not so much. If it isn’t just my tree, what’s going on?

I have no definitive answers, but here’s a list of reasons dogwoods don’t bloom:

1. Too much nitrogen. Trees planted in fertilized lawns suck up too much nitrogen which causes great leaf growth but isn’t good for flowers. Two strikes. My tree is not in the yard. My yard is not fertilized.
2. Too much or too little sunlight. Dogwoods were made to grow on the edges of forests where they get dappled shade. They don’t like full sun or deep shade. Strike. My front yard is the perfect example of dappled shade, with a shady maple next door and a house that blocks the afternoon sun.


3. Improper Pruning.
Prune dogwoods in late winter and you lop off the baby buds. Thus, no blooms. Strike. I’ve never pruned mine except to cut out dead wood. I love the abstract, japanesish shape they have on their own.
4. Lack of water. Not enough H2O inhibits blooms. Strike, strike, strike. During the second half of 2009, we received 31” of rain when we usually get only 17”. This winter’s 70” of snow buried our normal tally of around 20”. Too much water, maybe. But please. Not lack of water. Not this year.
5. Cold Snaps and Temperature. If you get some really cold temps in the early spring, that can zap your buds.  We had a though winter, but despite all the snow, the temperature was never ridiculously low. And spring came at the beginning of March with great temperatures in the 60s and 70s, way above normal.

So you tell me. What has caused this year’s anemic performance? I would really love to know. In the meantime, I’m going to give my dogwood the same stern talking to that my lilac got last spring when it gave me a meager 4 blooms. The lilac has shaped up significantly. All I ask is that you limit the doom and gloom and keep the dang chainsaws out of my garden.

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Bloom Day and 18th Century Herbal Remedies

My garden is looking a bit sparse for Garden Bloggers Bloom Day in March. I surely was hoping for more. I’m limited to not enough crocuses (never enough!) and some hopeful tulip foliage. I’ve been consoling myself by hacking away at an old stump with an axe. Excellent exercise and a great way to work out any frustration or tension you might be harboring.

So, with not much to report in the garden, I’ll tell you a little story. Last week I visited America’s very first hospital. Pennsylvania Hospital opened its doors in 1751 to much fanfare in Philadelphia. (4th grade field trip chaperone if you must know). Fascinating. And the hospital is still in business which is kind of cool.

The tour guide educated about colonial medical philosophies. Laxatives got a rise out of the kids. Folk remedies made them laugh. Leaches had them howling.  Conversation about herbal remedies bored the 4th graders but left me wishing I knew which plants healed what, what herbs to take for a headache, how to stew a rosemary stem until it was just right for making your stomach feel better. (Does stewed rosemary stem make your stomach feel better? See, I don’t even know!)  Colonists had recipe books for herbal remedies – many brought on their long voyage across the sea, many scribbled down from memories of mothers’ brews, many compiled from knowledge gathered from Native Americans. It is an art that has been lost to me, at least. Sure, there’s google, but somehow it’s not the same. Generations of women (and men, but mostly women) knew what to do when their family got sick. All I know is children’s Tylenol.

So there I was pining for a simpler time when we were in touch with the land, gardened for more than just our own pleasure, passed knowledge from one generation to the next. Clearly, I was missing the point. While herbal remedies had their place, they didn’t quite cover all the necessary medical treatments of the day. Echinacea and mint tea only went so far when you were facing something like, say, 18th century surgery. The three choices for anesthesia when the hospital opened were rum (lots and lots of rum), opium (which got you good and relaxed, but just until the scalpel hit), or a sharp tap on the skull with a wooden mallet (hard, but not too hard!). Oh, and you had to schedule your drunken, high, or major-head-injury surgery between the hours of 11am and 2pm because that’s when there was enough sunlight in the operating room. On sunny days.

But you’ve got to love a field trip that ends with your kid asking, “Can we plant lemon balm in our garden this year?” At the end, the tour guide had each of the children make a sachet of dried herbs like the ones 18th century Philadelphians held to their noses just to make their way through town. Apparently, colonial times stank. Bad. Buckets of lavender, lemon balm, rose petals, cloves, cinnamon, jasmine, and allspice turned into 23 little bags of yummy.

We rode home thankful for children’s Tylenol. And anesthesia. And surgeons who wash their hands BEFORE surgery. And delicious sachets that ignited the imagination and took the edge off of that school bus smell.

p.s. Thanks to Carol at May Dream’s Garden for hosting Garden Blogger Bloom Day!

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