Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Growing Home Orchards in North Carolina

With the proper conditions, home gardeners in North Carolina can also grow certain types of cultivar fruits.
Growing tree fruit in the home garden or yard can be a rewarding pastime. However, careful planning, preparation, and care of the trees are essential for success. This publication tells you what to consider before planting, how to plant your trees, and how to take care of them to ensure many seasons of enjoyment.
Fruit Selection
Selecting the type of fruit to grow is the first step in tree fruit production. To begin, you need to know which tree fruit can be grown in North Carolina.
Your region's climate determines the type of fruit you can grow successfully. The climate must be compatible with the growing requirements of the selected fruit crop. To take an extreme example, a tropical fruit such as the banana simply cannot survive in North Carolina. Bananas require a warmer climate and a longer growing season. Other tree fruit that may look promising in the glossy pages of mail order catalogs are also destined to fail if grown in incompatible climates. Climatic conditions vary greatly from one region to another in North Carolina, so make sure that the fruit you choose can grow successfully in your area.

Table 1. Potential tree fruit crops for North Carolina.
Varietal Considerations
Throughout North Carolina
Most varieties will grow in North Carolina
Asian Pears
Throughout North Carolina
Plant fire blight-resistant varieties only
Throughout North Carolina
Chinese and Chinese-American hybrids
Eastern North Carolina and southern piedmont
Select varieties that set fruit without pollination
Throughout North Carolina except at higher elevations
Select varieties that require at least 750 hours of chilling
Very high
Throughout North Carolina except at higher elevations
Select varieties that require at least 750 hours of chilling
Throughout North Carolina
Plant fire blight-resistant varieties only
Eastern North Carolina and southern piedmont
Select varieties suitable for North Carolina conditions
Eastern North Carolina and southern piedmont
American and Oriental are suitable
Throughout North Carolina
Use late-blooming varieties

Fruit crops that can be grown in North Carolina are listed above in Table 1, along with additional information that will help to ensure success. Tree fruits that are not included in the list may grow in North Carolina, but few consistently produce quality fruit. For example, apricot and cherry trees can grow in certain areas where the climate is favorable, but they must be carefully managed and usually do not bear fruit consistently.
Note also that different crops require different levels of management. Low-management crops such as pecans, figs, and persimmons require little attention to training, fertility, or insect and disease control. On the other hand, peaches and plums require intensive management.
Site Selection
Selecting a good site for your fruit trees is crucial to their success. A number of factors should be considered (Figure 1a and Figure 1b).
Soil Type and Drainage
Plant fruit trees in well-drained and fairly fertile soil. Avoid poorly drained soils. A tree's root system grows throughout the year. Water that remains standing in the root zone (18 to 24 inches deep) at any time during the year can drown the tree. During the growing season, standing water can drown some types of fruit trees in just three days. Poorly drained soils also promote the growth of root rot organisms.
When poorly drained soils cannot be avoided, problems may be alleviated by planting the trees in raised beds (Figure 3). The beds are formed by shaping well-drained topsoil into beds 18 to 24 inches high and 4 to 5 feet wide. Raised beds have been used successfully in both backyard and commercial orchards. Trees grown in raised beds must be irrigated more frequently during the growing season because the beds present a larger exposed surface area from which water can evaporate.
Soil Fertility
It is also important to consider soil fertility and acidity. Ideally, the soil pH should be around 6.5, but North Carolina soils are more typically acidic. Acidic soils reduce the amount of nutrients available to the trees. When this happens, fertilization does not benefit the trees but results in runoff or leaching. To alleviate the problem, it will be necessary to add lime to the soil to reduce the soil pH.
Before planting, collect soil samples for analysis. Soil samples should be taken from two depths; the first from the top 8 inches of soil and the second from the 9- to 16-inch depth.
Soil fertility analyses are free in North Carolina. Contact your county Cooperative Extension agent for instructions on collecting and submitting soil samples and for the necessary forms and sample boxes. Test results will be returned to you with recommendations for fertilization and liming. Once the test results have been received, the soil should be amended with the recommended materials, which should be worked into the soil before trees are planted.
Air Drainage
Adequate air drainage is as important as proper water drainage. In North Carolina, spring frosts and freezes are common, and a small difference in elevation can mean the difference between a full crop and no crop at all. Remember that cold air is heavier than warm air and settles in low areas, so choose a site that allows cold air to flow downhill away from the trees. Select higher sites with an unobstructed, gradual slope. Avoid low sites, which are commonly known as frost pockets.
Plant fruit trees in areas that receive full sunlight. Avoid areas shaded by taller trees, houses, or buildings (Figure 1a).
Most fruit tree buds require 30 percent sunlight to produce high-quality fruit. Although the exterior of a tree may receive full sun, sunlight can be reduced by one-half just 12 inches inside the canopy of the tree. Eighteen inches into the tree canopy, light may be reduced nearly 75 percent, which is below the level needed for successful fruit production. Partially shaded trees can also have increased disease problems.
Nematodes are microscopic worms that live in the soil. Several types of fruit trees, including peach, plum, and figs, can be damaged or destroyed by nematodes.
An inexpensive soil test can be conducted to check for nematodes. For information, contact your county Cooperative Extension agent. The test results will be returned with recommendations for your crop. Avoid soils with high nematode populations. Soils with unacceptable nematode populations can be treated with a soil fumigant. However, most fumigants must be applied by a licensed pesticide applicator and can be costly. Contact your county Cooperative Extension agent for specific recommendations.

Figure 1a
Figure 1a: Poor site selection. Fruit trees should
 not be planted in areas shaded by houses, buildings,
 or other trees. They also should not be planted
 near fences or hedges, as these keep
cold air trapped around young trees. Nickola Dudley
Figure 1b
Figure 1b: Well-selected site. All fruit trees are
planted away from barriers and in areas
 that receive sufficient light. Nickola Dudley

Variety Selection
After selecting the fruit and the planting site, you must choose the variety of fruit to plant. Novice growers often try to plant the same varieties that they see at their local grocery stores. Many times, however, these fruit are produced in areas with different climatic conditions from those in North Carolina. The result, at best, is fruit that looks much different than expected. At worst, the variety will fail to produce a crop. Plant varieties that are known to grow well in your region. Check temperature requirements and chilling factors before purchasing your trees. Table 2 lists some of the fruit varieties recommended for North Carolina.

Table 2. Variety recommendations for North Carolina.
Recommended Varieties
Pollination Notes
Disease Notes
Other Considerations
Gala, Ginger Gold, Jonagold, Empire, Red Delicious, Golden Delicious, Crispin (Mutsu), Stayman, Rome, Fuji
Requirements vary. Some varieties are self-fruitful. Others require pollination (see note 1).
Summer rots are the most serious disease problems and can destroy an entire crop. No varieties are resistant. Some varieties are resistant to apple scab, powdery mildew, cedar apple rust, or fireblight. These include Redfree, Prima, Priscilla, Jonafree, and Liberty.
In warmer regions, red varieties may not color well.
Asian Pears
Twentieth Century (Nijisseiki), Nititaka (pollen source), Shinseiki (New Century), Chojuro.
At least two varieties are needed to ensure adequate pollination.
Fire blight is the biggest concern.
Asian pears are very crisp and juicy.
Chinese: Nanking, Meiling, Kuling, Abundance, Crane
Chinese-American Hybrid: Revival, Carolina, Willamette
All require pollination from another variety. Plant at least two varieties of the same type to assure optimal nut size and production.
Most Chinese and hybrid chestnuts are highly resistant to the chestnut blight fungus.
Many people prefer the hybrid chestnut varieties, citing superior quality over the Chinese varieties.
Celeste, Brown Turkey, Brunswick/Magnolia (for preserves), Greenish, Marseille.
Only varieties that do not require pollination can be grown in North Carolina.
No serious disease problems except nematodes.
Fruit may drop prematurely as a result of drought or excessive shade, moisture, or fertilization.
Summer Beaut, Sunglo, Redgold, Flavortop, Fantasia, Carolina Red (see note 2).
Self-fruitful. Do not require pollination by other varieties.
Nectarines should be planted only on Lovell or Halford rootstocks to avoid premature death. The lack of hair on nectarines makes the fruit more susceptible to diseases than peaches, and a multipurpose fungicide and insecticide spray program will be required.
Many varieties were developed in California and may not do well in North Carolina.
Redhaven, Norman, Carolina Belle (white-fleshed), Winblo, Contender, Summer Pearl (white-fleshed), Cresthaven, Encore, Legend. (Many varieties are the result of a peach breeding program at NCSU and have been developed for North Carolina (see note 2)).
Self-fruitful. Do not require pollination by other varieties.
A multipurpose fungicide and insecticide spray program will be needed during the growing season.
Only varieties that require 750 hours of chilling are recommended.
Moonglow, Magness (not a pollen source], Kieffer, Harrow Delight, Harrow Sweet, Harvest Queen, Seckel.
At least two varieties are recommended to ensure adequate pollination.
Plant only fire blight-resistant varieties.
Pears bloom earlier than apples and should be planted on higher sites.
Type I: Cape Fear and Pawnee.
Type II: Stuart, Forkert, Sumner, Kiowa, Gloria Grande
Pollination by another variety is essential. One variety from each of the two groups must be used for pollination.
Scab is the most serious disease in North Carolina. However, a fungicide spray program is usually not practical.
Careful variety selection is essential to avoid frost or freeze problems and to allow a long enough season for maturation.
Fuyu, Jiro, Hanagosho (very good pollen source). (Only large-fruited Oriental persimmons are recommended for North Carolina.)
Pollination is not required for fruit set but is recommended.
No serious disease problems.
If nonastringent varieties are planted, fruit may not be suitable for eating until they are fully mature and their flesh is soft.
Japanese: Methley (self-fruitful), Byrongold, Burbank, Ozark Premier (may bloom early).
European: Bluefre, Stanley, Shrophire (Damson) (see note 2)
Some varieties are self-fruitful, but planting two varieties is recommended.
A multipurpose fungicide-insecticide spray program will be needed during the growing season.
Later blooming varieties should be selected to avoid damaging spring temperatures.
Note 1. Pollination requirements for apples vary with variety. For varieties requiring cross-pollination, it is recommended that at least two varieties with overlapping bloom periods be planted together. For self-fruitful varieties, pollination by another variety will increase yield and quality.

Note 2. To break bud and grow properly in the spring, peaches, nectarines, and plums must be exposed to temperatures in the 40°F range for a required number of hours during the dormant season. This period is referred to as the chilling requirement. In North Carolina, varieties with chilling requirements of at least 750 hours are recommended to prevent trees from blossoming too early in the spring, which increases the risk of freeze damage and resultant crop loss.

Rootstock Selection and Tree Spacing
Almost all commercially available fruit trees have been budded or grafted; that is, the top portion, or scion, of the desired fruit variety is attached to the root system, or rootstock, of a different variety. Trees are grown this way because some popular varieties grow and crop better on rootstocks other than their own. In some cases, the rootstock is more resistant to certain troublesome diseases. In the case of apple trees, the rootstock can be chosen to limit growth, producing trees that crop well and are easier to manage than full-sized trees. The choice of rootstock is very important for some fruits, such as apples, but not of much consequence for others.
Apple trees are grown on a wide variety of rootstocks. These are called size-controlling rootstocks because they control the size of the tree; however fruit size is not reduced (Figure 2). In general, the smaller the tree, the sooner it will bear fruit after planting. Table 3 lists the rootstocks commonly used for apple trees and indicates their effect on tree size, using the "seedling" or standard rootstock as the basis of comparison. Thus, for example, the M.9 rootstock will produce a nonspur-type tree that is only 35 percent as large as it would be if grown on a seedling rootstock. The table also lists the time required for the trees to reach bearing age and the degree of rootstock resistance to two important diseases.

Table 3. Commercially available apple rootstocks and their characteristics.
Percentage of Seedling
Tree Size as Percentage of Seedling (Spur)a
Fruit Bearing Age (Years)
Resistance to Crown Rot
Resistance to Fire Blight
Very Low
Very Low

Two categories of growth habit are included in the table: spur and nonspur. Trees with a spur-type growth habit bear the majority of their fruit on very short branches called spurs. Nonspur varieties produce fruit on longer branches. Since spur-type varieties have fewer long branches, the trees are more compact.
Because the choice of rootstock affects the size of the trees, it also affects the optimum spacing between the trees. Table 4 gives the recommended distance between trees for both spur and nonspur varieties. Note that very vigorous varieties should be spaced farther apart.

Table 4. Recommended planting distances for apple trees grown on size-controlling rootstocks.
Distance Between Trees (feet)
Nonspur Varieties
Spur Varietiesa
Very Vigorous Varietiesb
a For spur-type varieties such as Redchief Red Delicious, Starkrimson Red Delicious, Lawspur Rome, and Oregon Spur.
b For very vigorous varieties such as Rome Beauty, Granny Smith, and Jonagold.

Apple trees on rootstocks of a size class smaller than M.7a bear fruit while they are still very young. They should be supported by stakes to promote optimum growth and to help support the fruit load in the early years. Use 10-foot stakes and drive them 2 feet into the ground. Stakes are commonly made from 1-inch-diameter aluminum electrical conduit or 3-inch-diameter wooden posts. Tie the tree loosely to the above-ground portion of the stake. Strips of plastic or heavy-duty canvas or cloth can be used as ties. Do not use materials that will restrict tree growth or girdle the tree.
Peaches, nectarines, and plums are also affected by choice of rootstock. In the Southeast, trees are susceptible to peach tree short life (PTSL), a condition that causes sudden death of the tree after only four or five years of growth. With proper rootstock selection, nematode suppression, and cultural practices, the threat of this condition can be minimized. At present, only trees grown on Lovell or Halford rootstock are recommended for use in North Carolina. Trees grown on these rootstocks should be spaced 20 feet apart. Spacing recommendations for other fruit trees are given in Table 5.

Table 5. Spacing requirements for other tree fruits.
Fruit Crop
Minimum Spacing Between Trees (feet)
Asian Pears
a At maturity, approximately 20 years

Figure 2
Figure 2. Tree size shown as a percentage of the size the tree would reach if grown on a seedling, or standard, rootstock. Nickola Dudley
The best planting time in North Carolina is late fall or early winter. The roots will then be able to grow through the winter, resulting in greater tree growth during the first season, which ultimately leads to larger trees. Young fruit trees are commonly shipped "bare root" with the exposed roots wrapped in moist sawdust. Plant the trees as soon as possible after purchase.
To plant a tree, dig a hole twice the size of the root system. The sides of the hole should be loose, not packed down by the force of the shovel. Cut off damaged roots at the point of injury. Shorten roots that are especially long and will not fit in the hole. Roots that are not shortened will wrap around the tree hole and eventually girdle the root system, reducing tree growth in later years (Figure 3).
In Figure 3, the figure on the left shows an improperly planted fruit tree. The hole is too narrow and shallow, forcing the roots to be wrapped in the hole, which may eventually girdle the tree. The graft union is also planted below the soil surface, which will negate the effect of the rootstock. The raised bed is not wide enough or deep enough to be of much benefit. The figure on the right shows the correct way to plant fruit trees.
When planting a grafted tree, be sure that the graft union is 2 inches above the soil. If the graft union is below the soil surface, the top portion or scion will grow roots and negate the effect of the grafted root system.
After the tree is in place, fill the hole with native soil, not potting soil. Adding organic matter or mulch to the soil can promote growth if these materials are mixed well with the soil. NEVER add fertilizer to the planting hole. Fertilizers are very caustic and can burn and kill the roots of young trees. After you have filled the hole, be sure to water the area well.
During shipping, handling, and planting, roots are damaged. After planting young trees, prune the top of each tree. Pruning the tree top balances the root system and promotes vigorous growth in the spring. When working with unbranched trees, cut the tree off approximately 32 inches above the ground. For larger trees, remove 13 of the top of the tree.
Figure 3
Figure 3. Nickola Dudley
Weeds or grass growing between or under fruit trees compete for soil nutrients and moisture, reducing tree growth.
Keep all vegetation under the trees controlled up to the drip line (the circle formed by the outermost branches of the tree). Avoid using mechanical cultivation to eliminate weeds because tree roots near the surface will be destroyed in the process. Weed whips are especially harmful. If the cutting line strikes the bark of the tree, it can crush layers of cells under the bark and girdle the tree without any visible signs, such as broken tree bark.
Herbicides are an effective alternative, but be careful to follow the label directions and keep the herbicides off the tree.
Another alternative is to mulch around the tree. A layer of mulch 4 to 6 inches deep will control weeds and conserve soil moisture. Note, however, that mulch can provide cover for voles or mice. These rodents burrow under the mulch and frequently gnaw tree trunks or roots, girdling the tree and killing it or impeding its growth. When using mulch, check for rodent pests. Prevent problems by placing guards around the base of the trees or use traps to control these pests. It may also be beneficial to pull the mulch back 1 foot around the tree trunk in the early fall.
Insects and Disease Control
Unless properly managed, insects and diseases can seriously damage fruit trees and their crops.
Pests can be controlled with commercial pesticides, and moderate control may be achieved using organic controls. Garden centers offer many materials, including multipurpose insect and disease control products. Treatment must be started before problems become severe, causing serious damage or crop loss. It is important to identify pests and diseases accurately so an effective treatment can be selected. Contact your county Cooperative Extension agent for assistance in identifying pests and for recommended control measures. Pest problems can also be reduced through proper sanitation. Remove and burn or bury dead, diseased, and damaged wood and fruit as soon as possible. Also, remove the leaves after they have fallen in autumn. Do not use the leaves as mulch. The infected leaves, wood, and fruit can provide a habitat in which insects and disease-causing organisms can overwinter. By taking time to maintain orchard sanitation, you can reduce insect and disease problems significantly. For additional information on disease and insect control, contact your county Cooperative Extension agent.
Tree fertility requires attention throughout the life of the tree, not just at planting time. However, applying fertilizer routinely without knowing whether it is needed can result in poor fruit quality and excessive tree growth. It can also waste money and contribute to environmental pollution. Annual soil analyses can keep you informed about the nutrients in the soil and the soil acidity. In addition to soil analyses, simple observation of the amount of vegetative growth can help in managing soil fertility. Trees with less than 10 inches of current season's growth on lateral branches may need fertilizer. On the other hand, trees with greater than 18 inches of growth may not need fertilizer for several years. Excessive tree growth can promote some pest problems.
If you must fertilize without benefit of a soil test or other information, a useful rule of thumb is to apply 34 to 1 pound of 10-10-10 fertilizer for each year of tree age. When fertilizer is used, it is usually applied in late winter. Fertilizer should be broadcast on the soil surface both inside and outside the drip line of the tree. Keep fertilizer at least 6 inches away from the trunks of young trees.
Fruit Thinning
Apples, nectarines, peaches, pears, and Asian pears must be thinned early in the season to prevent overproduction, which can result in smaller fruit, increased tree breakage, and in-creased insect and disease problems. A heavy crop also reduces the chances for an adequate crop the following year.
Fruit should be thinned when they are about the size of a nickel. Remove enough fruit so that the remaining ones are spaced about 4 to 6 inches apart along the branch (Figure 4). Even though it may look like very few fruit remain, the increased fruit size at harvest plus reduced risk of tree breakage and improved prospects for next year's crop will more than compensate for the reduced number of fruit.
Figure 4
Figure 4. Fruit thinning. Top drawing: unthinned apple branch. Apples, pears, peaches, nectarines, and Asian pears should be thinned so that they are approximately 4 to 6 inches apart, as shown in the lower drawing. Nickola Dudley    
Training and Pruning
To ensure abundant harvests, you will need to train and prune your fruit trees regularly. For additional information on cultural practices, see Cooperative Extension Service publication AG-29, Training and Pruning Fruit Trees in North Carolina.
If you follow the suggestions in this publication and monitor your trees carefully, you will find that growing tree fruit can be a rewarding experience. As with any activity, experience will give you confidence to prune, train, and thin fruit trees properly. Remember that fruit trees, if properly cared for, will last and produce quality fruit for many years. Proper care is especially important during the first five to six years when the trees are not bearing fruit but the tree structure is developing.
Additional Sources of Information
The following materials may be purchased by writing to the address listed below each publication.
Peach Production Handbook
Published by
Agricultural Business Office
Conner Hall, Room 215
The University of Georgia
Athens, GA 30602
For sale only ($20).
Pecan Production in the Southeast; A Guide for Growers
Published by
Head, Information Services
Alabama Cooperative Extension Service
Auburn University, AL 36849-5623
For sale only ($31).

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

BOOKS: Ancient Oaks in the English Landscape

Ancient Oaks in the English Landscape 
Author: Aljos Farjon
Hardcover: 348 pages
Publisher: Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew (October 15, 2017)
ISBN-10: 1842466402
ISBN-13: 978-1842466407

The ancient native oaks of England are a national treasure, beautiful and beloved. And England has more of them than the rest of Europe combined. How did that happen? How, as Europe was deforested over the course of centuries, did England manage to preserve so many ancient trees?

Ancient Oaks in the English Landscape tells that story. It begins with the Norman Conquest in 1066. The Normans, and the nobility they put in place, created Royal Forests, chases, and deer parks where only the nobility could hunt or keep deer—and where, to protect that game, it was forbidden to cut trees. Thus, centuries before the modern conservation movement, the trees were preserved.

Other historical and social factors enabled that preservation to continue long after the decline of royalty. Private ownership of thousands of parks and estates, the ready availability of timber from overseas, and, crucially, the absence of major wars and their accompanying destruction brought the ancient forests into our era. By the time modern forestry truly took hold in England after World War I, it was too late to destroy the now worthless old and hollow oaks.

Bringing together history and science, Aljos Farjon tells this compelling story, illustrating it with stunning photographs and maps. The result is a beautiful, fitting celebration of England’s ancient oaks and the biodiversity they represent and foster.


Monday, November 13, 2017

Garden Spotlight: Five Spectacular Gardens on Italy’s Lake Como

Villa Monastero, Lake Como, Italy. Stillman Rogers Photography.

By Barbara Radcliffe Rogers
Ever since the ancient Romans escaped the summer heat in villas overlooking Lake Como, travelers have loved this scenic Italian lake. With the craggy Alps for a backdrop, a unique microclimate where topical plants thrive, and a long history of lavish summer estates, Lake Como is surrounded by some of Italy’s most beautiful gardens. Lush foliage and brilliant flowers frame views across the lake to peaks that stay snow-capped well into summer. The shore rises steeply, so gardens cascade above the water, and descend in terraces decorated by statues and fountains.
Villa Carlotta
The climate is especially mild on the central western shore, known as the Tremezzo Riviera. Here in the late 17th century, a marquis from Milan built a villa, now called Villa Carlotta, surrounding it with a terraced garden typical of the Italian style. You can recognize its geometric symmetry studded with fountains and statues. Also close to the villa you’ll find the oldest and rarest of Villa Carlotta’s famed camellias.

The gardens were later extended into the park you can stroll through today, redolent of the Romantic era, with sweeping vistas, woodland paths and venerable cedars and sequoias. In 1843 Princess Carlotta of Prussia added long alleys of azalea and rhododendron. Today Villa Carlotta’s gardens are most famous for these. As many as 150 different varieties of azalea, bloom in April and May against a backdrop of towering Rhododendron arboretum, native to the Himalayas.

Just as you think you’ve seen them all, another of the villa’s gardens appears – a bamboo forest, a rock garden of succulents (even in this mild micro-climate these winter in a greenhouse), a valley of ferns, and artfully placed viewpoints over the lake. Inside the villa is a collection of sculpture that includes several of Canova’s best known works. Within walking distance along a shore promenade is the Grand Hotel Tremezzo, with a lush terraced garden of its own.
Villa Balbianello
The baroque Villa Balbianello, built for a 18th-century cardinal, crowns a high, narrow point to the south. The shape of the land and its steep shoreline made it impossible to surround the villa with Italianate or English-style gardens, but this unusual terrain was turned to advantage. Instead of concentrating on the plants as focal points, its designers used the scenery as the focus, creating gardens to frame it from every angle.

Visitors arrive by boat from Lenno, and climb a winding path through immaculately groomed grounds planted with sycamore, pine and ilex. On a terrace below the villa, life-sized statues and giant flower-filled urns top a stone balustrade, framing views of the lake, the wooded shores, distant mountains and surrounding villages. From late April through mid-June azaleas and rhododendrons are in full bloom. Movie-goers may recognize the villa’s loggia as the scene of Queen Amidala’s wedding in Star Wars or from the James Bond film, Casino Royale.

The attraction of Villa Balbianello is not so much its horticulture as the way plantings are combined with sculpture and architectural features to adorn the precipitous point and to perfectly spotlight scenery that unfolds in a constant progression. No matter where you stand the view is click-worthy.
Villa Serbelloni
Across the lake from Tremezzo (a ferry shuttles between them) is Bellagio, on the promontory that separates the two arms of the Y-shaped lake. Water almost surrounds the town, which climbs up the hill along steep lanes that turn into staircases. Above, Villa Serbelloni sits surrounded by 19th-century Italianate landscaping that gives perspective to the long vistas on three sides. Unlike Villa Balbianello’s more intimate views of nearby wooded shores and villages, Villa Serbelloni’s are distant and expansive. Instead of framing them, the successive garden terraces give them depth, highlighting their grandeur.

More than 10 miles of paths and avenues lead through terraced beds and borders of rare and exotic plants. The lower slope is an informal garden park, and above the villa a wooded hill rises to a scenic belvedere. Between are curving terraces of formal beds, pruned shrubs and English rose gardens bordered by boxwood.

Unfortunately, you cannot wander at leisure to enjoy the gardens. Access is only by tours, reserved at the Promobellagio office in Bellagio. The 90-minute tours are largely spent in the steep climb to the viewpoint at the top, leaving little time to smell the roses in the gardens below.
Villa Melzi d’Eril
In the town, a quite different garden stretches along a rare level spot of Como’s shore. The elegant and manicured grounds of Villa Melzi d’Eril seem designed for leisurely strolls, more for pleasure and less for horticultural show. Their botanical interest is in the wide variety of trees – more than 50 different species – planted in an uncluttered arrangement with paths winding among them. Maps of the garden include a detailed numbered list of the trees with common and botanic names.

Designed in 1808, the gardens are open and uncluttered, decorated with occasional statues that include one of the goddess Pacht brought back from Egypt by Napoleon, who was a friend of the owner. Hidden among the trees are a Japanese garden and a water garden. A Moorish-style pavilion overlooks the lake, surrounded by cypresses, Michoacan pine (Pinus devoniana) and dwarf palms (Chamaerops humilis).

At the far end stands a neoclassical villa with a chapel and an orangerie, where there are often art exhibits. Although flowers are not the specialty here, like other nearby gardens, these are beautiful in the spring when azaleas and rhododendron are in bloom.
Villa Monastero
The fifth notable garden overlooking Lake Como couldn’t be more different from Villa Melzi’s gentle green landscape. Farther north, on the eastern shore, the village of Varenna clings to a steep mountainside, and the 16th-century Villa Monastero lies directly below the narrow main street. The almost vertical garden beside it, planted in the 20th-century, stretches in narrow terraces along more than a mile of steep shore. The plants are a mix of native and exotic, and architectural elements range from a neo-Moorish pavilion to an Italian Renaissance-style loggia.

Rows of cypresses, evergreen hedges and cedars of Lebanon (Cedrus libani) keep the narrow flower beds in line, while more ethereal shapes, such as the fan-like Mexican blue palm (Brahea armata) soften the effect. Among these and the citrus trees grows a remarkable collection of roses, while wisteria creates lavender cascades. Where Villa Melzi’s garden is in shades of green, Villa Monastero’s is a riot of color that changes through the growing season.

Gardens are not the only attractions on Lake Como. You’ll find art, walking trails, historic sites from the Romans to World War II, even a natural chasm where a river has carved a swath of fantastic shapes out of solid stone. Pastel villages are filled with restaurants and cafes with lakeside terraces, and many of the fine villas are now hotels. Bellagio is a good base at the lake’s center.

Lodging options there range from the opulent Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni, not to be confused with the gardens, to cozy family-owned guest houses. Dozens of boats a day shuttle between towns, making any point on the lake an easy and inexpensive day trip.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

2017 Durham VA Poinsettia Project to Honor Veterans

Honor a US Veteran by sponsoring a poinsettia for the Durham VA Chapel!
Mail your order form to the Forest Hills Garden Club before Nov. 18 and gift a holiday poinsettia
to a patient at the VA Medical Center.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Documentary: 'Deeply Rooted: John Coykendall’s Journey To Save Our Seeds and Stories'

John Coykendall's work to preserve heirloom seeds is the subject of the documentary "Deeply Rooted"
and can be viewed in its entirety for a short time on Lousiana PBS.

For nearly four decades, John Coykendall’s passion has been preserving the farm heritage – the seeds and stories - of a small, farming culture in Southeastern Louisiana and this work is the subject of a new documentary from Louisiana Public Broadcasting.
John Coykendall is a renowned heirloom seed saver, a classically trained artist, and Master Gardener at Tennessee's Blackberry Farm, one of America’s top farm-to-table resorts. Since 1973, he has made an annual pilgrimage to Louisiana, where he has recorded the oral histories, growing techniques, recipes and folktales of Louisiana farmers and backyard gardeners in more than 80 beautifully illustrated journals. He has saved and safeguarded rare varieties of the crops they once grew, and handed them back to the communities where they came from.
"Seeds carry with them more than the potential to sustain people as food, they are living history of the people who cared and tended to them and cultivated them and passed them down. I feel 100-percent total obligation, I am the caretaker," believes Coykendall. "This is what we’re working to save, this history, the heritage, the way of life, the way of farming, way of cuisine, everything to do needs to be preserved while its still here to be preserved."

Pages from John's journals of the oral histories from farmers in the Washington Parish, Louisiana.

This documentary is nominated for two 2017 Suncoast Emmy Awards and is being nationally distributed by American Public Television. Contact your local PBS station for broadcast information.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Pest Spotlight: Eutypella Canker on Maple Trees

Eutypella Canker
Eutypella Canker On Maple. Insects boring into pine trees often result in pitch
or sap seen on the bole or branches. Photo by University of Georgia.
By Rebecca Koetter and Michelle Grabowski
S. Schimek, MN Dept. of Agriculture
Eutypella canker is common on maple trees (Acer spp.) in landscape plantings and in natural areas. Cankers often form on the main trunk or major branches of the tree. Small trees that are less than 4 inches in diameter are commonly killed when the canker girdles the main trunk. On older trees a perennial canker forms. This is a very slow growing disease that trees will battle for decades before decay turns the tree into a hazard that requires the tree to be removed.
Pathogen and susceptible plants
Eutypella canker is a fungal disease caused by Eutypella parasitica. All trees in the genus Acer are susceptible to this disease (Table 1) including all maples that grow in Minnesota, box elder and sycamore trees. No species, or cultivars of the genus Acer (maples) have resistance to Eutypella canker, but no other shade trees are commonly affected by the disease.
Table 1. Maples affected by Eutypella canker
Common name
Scientific name
Black maple
Acer nigrum
Box elder
 Acer negundo
Norway maple
Acer platanoides
Red maple
Acer rubrum
Silver maple
Acer saccharinum
Sugar maple
Acer saccarum

  • Cankers are typically within 9 feet of the ground, centered on branch stubs or wounds.
  • Young cankers are round to elliptical, slightly sunken or flattened and hidden behind bark.
  • Bark near the center of cankers that are 6 to 8 years old are darkened by black fungal fruiting bodies.
  • When bark is removed from the edge of the canker chalky white to tan colored mycelia (mats of fungal cells) can be seen.
  • On some tree species, canker edges are raised or appear swollen with a flattened or sunken center.
  • Bark falls off the face of old cankers, revealing a target shaped pattern of annual rings of cork wood.
  • Cankers can grow up to 5 feet long with age.
white coloring on tree trunk
Cream colored fungal mycelia at the edge of the canker.
Photo by M.Grabowski, UMN Extension

During rainy weather spores are ejected into the air from infected wood and can travel more than 75 feet on the wind. The fungus infects recently wounded or newly pruned small branches. Once in the tree, the fungus makes itself at home underneath the bark where it will penetrate into the wood and expand outward up to 1 inch per year. It kills the phloem (vascular cells that transport sugars from the leaves throughout the tree), the cambium (undeveloped cells that grow into new vascular cells) and can even invade and decay the sapwood of the tree. This decay can extend up to a foot into the tree and many trees infected with Eutypella canker break during strong storms and in high winds.
Each year during the growing season the tree will try to defend itself by creating a layer of wound wood around the edge of the canker. When the tree goes dormant for the season, the fungus breaks into this barrier and continues its progress. This back and forth growth can continue for decades. In very old cankers where the bark has finally sloughed off, rings of growth can be seen that reflect this annual battle between fungus and tree.
close up of deformed tree trunk
 Black spore producing structures on the face of an old canker.
Photo by M.Grabowski, UMN Extension 
  • Avoid wounding the trunk or branches of susceptible hosts.
  • When pruning maples or other Acer spp. it is necessary to make the cut correctly. Avoid wounding the main trunk. Never leave a branch stub. For details on how to make correct pruning cuts visit here.
  • If a branch is infected, it should be pruned out and destroyed. Infected wood can be buried or burned (the fungus can produce spores even on dead wood).
  • Cankers on trunks cannot be pruned out but should be monitored. Because Eutypella parasitica is capable of causing wood decay, severely affected trees may be weakened and pose a risk of breaking and falling on property or people.
  • Contact a certified arborist to determine the stability of infected trees.
  • If healthy maples or other Acer spp. are located near a tree infected with Eutypella canker, it may be worthwhile to remove the infected tree to reduce the chances of pathogen spread. Spores of Eutypella parasitica are released from existing cankers and carried short distances by wind to infect new trees.