Can you Dig Up Pink Lady’s Slippers?

One of the most beautiful wildflowers in New Hampshire is the pink lady’s slipper (Cypripedium acaule). It is so widely revered that it was declared the official state wildflower in 1991. It is also one of the few native wildflowers that most Granite Staters have heard of and get excited about seeing in the woods each spring.

Pink lady’s slippers are easily identified by their two opposite basal leaves with conspicuous parallel veins and large solitary pink flowers at the end of a long stalk. The plant gets its common name from the flower’s supposed resemblance to a woman’s shoe.
It is a long-standing myth that pink lady’s slippers are rare and that it is illegal to pick them, but this has been a very good thing for the species. Pink lady’s slippers grow in a narrow range of soil and climate conditions, making them very vulnerable to habitat destruction, climate change and over-picking.

They also do not transplant well or propagate from seed easily, and it can take a decade or longer for a plant to bloom for the first time. Though it is technically legal to dig up pink lady’s slippers on your own property and transplant them into your garden, such a practice is discouraged. Plants that are moved from one location to another often do not survive.

Pink lady’s slippers are a type of orchid and, like most other orchids, they rely on a specific fungus in the soil to germinate and grow. Pink lady’s slipper seeds do not have food stored within them like most other types of seeds. Instead, they require fungi to break them open and attach to them. The fungus passes on food and nutrients to the embryo within the seed, allowing it to germinate and develop into a plant.

As the lady’s slipper gets bigger and can produce most of its own food, the fungus will then take nutrients from the plant’s roots. This mutually beneficial “symbiotic” relationship is essential to the lady’s slipper’s survival. Plants that are dug up and transplanted are very unlikely to be successful, particularly in rich garden soils that bear no resemblance to the sandy, acid soils where pink lady’s slippers thrive in the wild. If the fungus is not present, then the orchid will fail to thrive and begin to decline or die, typically within a couple of years.

Additionally, if you ever see pink lady’s slippers for sale, it is pretty much a given that they were dug up from the wild. Propagating pink lady’s slippers is incredibly difficult and time-intensive, so they are rarely commercially propagated. If you would love to grow slipper orchids in your garden, choose a species that can be more easily cultivated, like greater yellow lady’s slipper (Cypripedium parviflorum var. pubescens) or showy lady’s slipper (Cypripedium reginae). Even these species are tricky to grow, and they come at a high price, typically $35 or more. Plants that sell for less were most likely collected from the wild.

For those interested in rare plants, the NH Natural Heritage Bureau maintains records on approximately 400 plant species determined to be endangered or threatened. This list includes several orchid species, such as small whorled pogonia (Isotria medeoloides) and dragon’s-mouth (Arethusa bulbosa).

— Emma Erler, UNH Extension Field Specialist, emma.erler at unh.edu

Talk About Plants to Talk About

Around the World in 80 Plants by Jonathan Drori will give you more than enough to talk about, think about, and research for the rest of the year. This will be a book to take its place beside any plant book you thought was your favorite – and should be alongside Drori’s Around the World in 80 Trees (previously reviewed here.)

The book is simultaneously a handbook for exotic and meaningful plants from cultures, countries, and world regions that we can learn a lot about plus a means to gain insight into the lives of people who live in the same places as those plants. As the review quote from Monty Don, excerpted on the cover, says, this book “informs and charms in equal measure.”
It’s informative in the way it shares information about plants and how they produce seeds, nectar, are pollinated, or how they grow as hemi-parasites, as in the case of France’s Mistletoe (Viscum album). There’s a key to the Latin name of the plant in the way it is propagated – that layer of viscin (“glutinous sticky stuff that adheres to bird beaks”) carries the single seeds as birds scrape the viscin off their beaks and in crevices of trees. We learn here that mistletoe favors apple, lime, and pear trees – and that once established, slowly over time the tree becomes more susceptible to disease and diminished fruit or timber quality. There are regulations in northwestern Europe requiring landowners who spot mistletoe on their trees to remove the young established plants immediately. The regulation is followed since there’s a demand for mistletoe by florists and people wanting to decorate reminiscent of early Druid festivities with this plant.

That’s only one example of what we learn about the plants included in this book. There are 79 other plants, along with lavish illustrations by Lucille Clerc, who was also the illustrator for Around the World in 80 Trees.

These two books, published by Laurence King, UK, are printed on high quality, ecologically sensible paper, which leads the way in conscientious publishing terms, perhaps a small point, but meaningful when we learn more about Jonathan Drori. He is a trustee of the Eden Project in Cornwall, England, which you should take time to Google and learn more about. If you have a sense of the Biosphere II in Arizona, the Eden Project will take that concept to another level and astound you with its design elements and botanical purposes. Check out the Eden Project! Drori is well-known to British and BBC television fans, as he’s been involved in many BBC series on science and nature. You may also recognize him from work he’s affiliated with for the World Wildlife Fund.

With such a fascinating life and fascination for researching plants, it’s no wonder this book is info-dense about each of the plants chosen to be included. You sure don’t have to read this cover to cover. It’s organized with most plants getting at least a double page spread, so you can thumb through and read about all the fruits first or all the prehistoric plants that have survived the ages and how they appear now. You could go through and read about the plants from places you have traveled, such as the Pineapple, chosen to represent Costa Rica. From this section of the book, I learned that the very word “pineapple” was once a slang word in the mid-eighteenth century, for things valued in high society, things decadent and highly sought after, but not readily attainable. Besides this type of historical reference, Drori includes a lot about the botany of this plant as he does with each of the 80 in the book. Forming compound fruit (syncarps) and pollinated primarily by hummingbirds, Costa Rica is a rich area for these plants since they require equal daylight and darkness which is just the way the tropics lie relative to the day and night, nearly year ’round.

That’s a magic quality in Drori’s work – he manages to bring in the facts with the colorful language and descriptions that make each plant vivid and memorable. I love coconut and the way he describes it, again, accurately as far as the development of the plant and the botanical interest in coconut palms alongside the details about the taste and textures we eat. But, reminding me that at one stage, “the milky, translucent layer, spoonable and delicious, except to those who squirm at gelatinous textures” it’s not descriptive of what I think of when I think of eating coconut. Yes, I like it fresh and shredded, but also all cared for and included in a Lindt bonbon!

There are a lot of linguistic facts included in the book besides the frequent references to the Latin names connected to our language or other languages. For instance, the coconut was called that by Portuguese sailors, from their word for “smiling” due to the facelike pattern of the three germination spores. Who hasn’t thought of the coconut as having a face? There’s so much to learn about each plant – the coconut is so rich in history, folklore, recipes and the coconut palm so valued as habitat and building material. Even with a medicinal link: coconut water is sterile and has sometimes been used to help medics in the field as an IV to help rehydrate wounded patients. I won’t share information about calcium carbonate sometimes found in coconuts. Read about that aspect of this fascinating plant when you get your copy of Around the World in 80 Plants.

Why is this book important for gardeners, landscapers, Master Gardeners looking to increase their skills and plant enthusiasts? At first you may say these plants are, for the most part, from parts of the world in completely different hardiness zones than we grow here, so why bother? I would suggest that if nothing else, it’s relaxing to learn about these plants and gain the benefits we have learned through the pandemic that gardening, talking about plants, and seeing plants brings us. But, to be more academic, it’s a great book to read and test your skills and memory about plants you may be familiar with and refresh skills as you read about their botany and things such as how they propagate or how they relate to other plants in the same over arching family which you may be more familiar with.

For whatever reason you choose, I hope you will check out this as well as Around the World in 80 Trees since each of these books will complement your book collection as well as engage you in new ways with the plant world.

This book includes an extensive list of Drori’s recommendations for books on related topics, all organized in categories for easy reference. From books on specific plant families to books on social and cultural history where plants are a focus, those references alone are a valid reason to take this book seriously or simply relax and take an arm chair vacation to distant places as you sit back, drink in hand, in your own backyard garden or patio oasis, where your own favorite plants beckon you now!

— by Cris Blackstone, NHCLP

Entrepreneurship Meets Adventure

1978 marked the first time Dave DeJohn visited Concord, NH. More interesting than that was how he got here – he was on the first of many, many trips hitchhiking across America. Dave knew a person in Concord, and after being on the road several months, his destination became a visit to that man, (and the longer I spoke to Dave, I wondered if that was the trip when he met his future wife, too?!)

DeJohn IMG 5723
David DeJohn

While here at that time, Dave explained that he felt “at home” and liked the vibe in New Hampshire. Having grown up in the San Francisco Bay Area, Dave was used to the pace there, although he had grown tired of it. Thought he connected at that time, the vibe wasn’t quite enough to keep him here, however. He set off again, on another hitchhiking trip across the US, headed for Arizona and New Mexico where he had enjoyed picking up some random landscape work.

Throughout his trips across the US, Dave found work when he needed it. He explains with a sense of nostalgia and a strong sense of sharing his work ethic, that he would often ask in a restaurant or diner if the proprietor would trade meals for pruning or other seasonal clean up work that could “spruce the place up.” While this might at first sound outlandish, in speaking with Dave, you get the sense that it’s his quiet confidence and strength of conviction that netted him those jobs as well as the jobs now, this many years in to DeJohn Landscaping!

Travel, trips, more miscellaneous jobs in landscape work in different parts of America led to Dave being back here, at a party, where he met Rick Rideout.

Many of the NHLA readership will have known Rick, as the founder of Three Seasons Landscaping and others may even know his work restoring the historic Henniker Train Station. It was Rick Rideout who made a job offer to Dave, though it wasn’t the permanent tether to NH that followed years later. Rideout and DeJohn had agreed that Dave could work seasonally, and while he loved the work, he also loved the adventure and lure of the open road. Taking months off, and before the spring and planting and maintenance contracts resumed, Dave frugally crisscrossed the states again. DeJohn confesses that at one point, Montana had the lore and lure he thought he was looking for. He thought for a brief time that he may settle there – but it was Rideout, Three Seasons Landscape and the way NH beckoned that won him over for six consecutive years.

While working with Three Seasons, Dave took every chance he could to “learn more.” From the things he picked up along the way and his own reading and research, he had amassed a lot of information and practical knowledge about plants, growth habits, and what plants seemed to work together better than others. Those who knew Rick Rideout knew Rick was an avid traveller also, so that may have linked Dave and Rick with that common understanding of what it meant to travel to new and unfamiliar places or to return to the places you’ve loved and want to go back to over the years.

A chance meeting one spring with employees of John Miller Landscaping showed Dave that there was another angle to the landscape business in which he felt he could really fit in. Through John Miller Landscaping, Dave was introduced to more specific work with hardscaping. Interviewing Dave, it was fascinating to hear his strength of conviction about “really loving to work.” While that might seem like a common phrase on landscapers’ minds, it’s really deeper with Dave. He said he has always loved hard, manual, physical labor AND one of his favorite things is the way he feels when he’s doing stone work. The lifting, moving, shaping, and using the stone creatively coupled with the hard work are his vitamins and energy all in one.

With this job, he was a bit more settled than he’d been in the past, and the trips across the states were not with the regularity or predictability as they had been in previous years. NH has been good to Dave; it was here he met his wife in 1986, and they bought a house on ten acres in Canterbury in 1996. Dave cites his wife’s patience and enthusiasm about his passion for travel and hard work as the spine of the success of his own company. His entrepreneurship is years in the making, from deciding to set up his own landscape company to establishing a repeat clientele and a way of supporting other landscapers when he can’t take on a client who responds to an ad or hears word-of-mouth about Dave, his plant designs or walls and patio work.

It’s almost relaxing to hear Dave talk about his travels, the early landscape jobs, and the genesis of his education coming from many Thompson School Courses and taking every professional development opportunity NHLA has offered since he joined in 1986. While he doesn’t have a formal degree in horticulture or another aspect of the Green Industry as you may expect seeing his portfolio, he has an old world approach to learning by doing and learning by watching and meeting experts.

“Relaxing” may not seem like the first adjective you’d think of during a conversation about his trips across the states, the extensive seasonal work he did, and the ways he accumulated knowledge to augment his firsthand experiences, but it’s the best word to use because of how engaging and enthusiastic he is while explaining that phase of his life.
Listening to Dave brought up several questions, such as when you were in a diner and proposed exchanging work for meals, how did you do that while on the road? What tools did you have with you to do that work? Dave says that he had his favorite pruners with him (sort of makes you think about the hitchhikers we would have seen in those years, traveling with a backpack and guitar case.

When asked what DeJohn Landscaping is doing these days, Dave replies that he has done years and years of landscape designs including plant and maintenance schedules as a part of client contracts. He went on to say that he has phased out some aspects of the maintenance (“No more mowing since about ten years ago,” he said with a sort of smile you could hear over the phone.)

Dave said the time he used to spend on landscape plant designs has now been nearly replaced with hardscape work, which is probably what many NHLA members will strongly associate with Dave. This winter, for instance, he was working on three stone walls – and in discussing those, he reiterates that he thrives on physical work and moreover, finds that winter work on walls makes an easy transition to the spring work on the clean ups and maintenance work for his clients. He said, “There’s less of a shock to my system when I have been busy all winter outdoors with the rocks and walls when it’s time to be involved with the traditional spring work.”

Now as president (again!) of the NHLA Dave is instrumental in the work for the Field Day, being planned for August this year, outdoors, at the McIntyre Ski Area. Dave tells of the ways he has learned best with hands on, real world experiences and hopes to capture those types of experiences and exposure during the various workshops and sessions by vendors where attendees can see, touch, and work with the materials on exhibit. Also, there are workshop sessions planned, including demonstrations and experiences offered on site, with pruning, building raised beds, learning more about correctly planting young plants and installation tricks and tips from experts who can readily tell attendees what works and what sure doesn’t!

Dave DeJohn’s flair and conviction about his own learning style comes through his appreciation of what NHLA has done for him and for what he thinks is his responsibility to “give back” to the organization. It was fascinating to hear how Dave got to NH, and how he settled, started his own company. Now he is beginning another run as the leader of NHLA, to which he can bring his flair for professional development and his passion for helping new hires in all companies as well as helping seasoned veterans feel some of the energy and enthusiasm Dave does when working with clients.

Thank you, Dave, for taking on the President’s role – and thank you for the ways you will share your expertise with your clients and members of this organization.

— by Cris Blackstone, NHCLP. Cris is the Education Coordinator for NHLA and is a member of Newmarket Conservation Commission; Supervisor on Rockingham Conservation District; Board Member for NH Association of Conservation Commissions; and member of Garden Communicators International Sustainability Committee. Her photos have been recognized by the Mass Horticulture Society in 2020’s Photography Competition, and are used frequently in the NHLA Newsletter.

Too Much Bark?

It’s been a couple of years since I bought bark mulch so I’m a bit out of touch with prices. I have looked at prices over the past few years, but I’ve never really sat down and figured out what it would cost me to mulch even a small foundation planting area on a square foot basis. Although not the cheapest prices available, I found two suppliers that both had prices around $55 per yard. (These are retail prices, so the costs to landscapers would probably be at least 20% less). Once I did my math and determined that at a minimum of 2 inches deep only about 160 sq. ft. would be covered. Two inches isn’t very heavy coverage, 160 sq. ft. is a pretty small area, but $55 seems pretty “spendy” for an area ten feet x sixteen feet! Needless to say, labor to haul the mulch (whether delivered or picked up) and spread it must be added on to the total installation price.

As the cost of bark mulch continues to rise, I often wonder if planting groundcovers is a more affordable option. Once established, groundcovers are permanent and don’t need to be refreshed every couple of years like bark does. Although the initial planting price sets you back a little, money may be saved in the long run. If plants like Pachysandra or Vinca are planted 6-8 inches on center, they will very quickly form a dense cover under trees or large shrubs and shade out most weeds. There are numerous great choices for ground cover plants. Obviously, if used as an understory planting, the groundcover needs to be fairly shade tolerant. Other than Pachysandra or Vinca, two of the most common and probably the fastest to fill in, plants like Bunchberry (Cornus canadensis), Paxistima, Bearberry or Wintergreen are great choices. I have also used some groundcovers in sloped areas where bark was constantly washing out in heavy rain storms.

Several shrubs, although usually not as shade tolerant, may be alternatives to the boring old bark. There are many low growing junipers not just the usual Blue Rug, but maybe Blue Star, or procumbens Nana, just to name a few. Although a bit taller and a bit aggressive, Stephanandra is a good groundcover for an area where it can sprawl. Cotoneaster is known as a “leafcatcher”and a major hassle to clean up in the spring, but I still like it for its red berries and habit. Microbiota is a great evergreen for shade.

Like deciduous shrubs used as groundcovers, perennials don’t offer year-round interest, but while in-season they are a great substitute for bark mulch and add a great blast of color. Possibilities are almost endless, and any that have spreading habits and stay fairly low are far under utilized.

I wonder if design people took the time to do a little math homework they might figure out that using more plant material and less bark would pay off? No, I don’t have the exact answer, but as groundcovers spread and less bark is required to cover open areas, it may be worth comparing the costs. Groundcovers aren’t foolproof and can get diseases or die, but it seems that if you were to figure on say a 20-year life span versus applying new bark every year or two, the cost comparison bight be surprising.

Maybe your next planting project is worth considering a few more plants and a little less bark mulch?

— by Phil Caldwell, a past president of NHLA (1989) who now lives and works in Maine.