Avant Gardening

Avant Gardening & Landscaping

Archive: March 2016

Plantaholics Anonymous: Vernal Witchhazel

Vernal Witchhazel is a small, horizontally spreading tree or large shrub depending on who you ask! The unusual features of the witch hazel family make it an excellent choice for adventurous gardeners. Witch hazel offers yellow and red fragrant flowers blooming at unconventional times. Most species are hardy, low-maintenance, and generally ignored by most garden pests.Hamamelis vernalis flower

Scientific Name: Hamamelis vernalis.    Common Name: Vernal or Ozark Witchhazel

Fun Fact: In 1753, Linnaeus observed leaves, flowers, and the prior year’s fruit all at once on a single native witch hazel, thus choosing hama– “at same time” and –melon “apple or fruit” for its name.

Many people know of the Common Witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) and appreciate its late fall bloom and shade tolerance, but for an even more unique choice – read on!

The Vernal or Ozark Witch hazel is a superior winter-flowering plant, native to the Ozark Plateau which extends from southern Missouri through northwestern Arkansas to eastern Oklahoma. It is one of the earliest shrubs to flower in spring, the flowers are typically clustered and range from yellow to orangey-red in color. Its most interesting feature – each flower has four strap-like petals that curl inward on chilly days, this is actually an adaptive mechanism to protect them from freezing. These flowers can persist for 3-4 weeks with snow on the ground and when little else is of interest in your landscape!Hamamelis vernalis flowers

In fall, the attractive oval-shaped leaves turn a golden yellow and the woody fruit capsules split in half to disperse the seeds. Another impressive spectacle, if you are lucky enough to witness it – the seeds are forced or shot-out of the seed pod to a distance of 30 feet! The seeds are happily eaten by turkeys and grouse.


Zone: 4-8

Height: 6-10’ Spread: 8-12’

Bloom Time: Late Winter-Early Spring (depending on weather)

Sun Requirements: Full Sun to Part Shade

This Spring Let Us Do The Switcheroo!

Native Alternatives to Invasive Plants

Many of the once ‘beloved’ ornamental horticulture plants are beginning to take advantage of our admiration for them… Recent studies have found that these plants are escaping from our well-manicured flower beds and reverting to their rebellious ways, scattering themselves throughout our natural ecosystems and displacing our native species.

The next couple blog posts will discuss plants that are currently on the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Non-Restricted or Caution lists. According to the WI-DNR “Non-Restricted” means that the species ‘…may have some beneficial uses as well as negative impacts on the environment but are already integrated into Wisconsin’s ecosystems so that control or eradication is not practical or feasible. Not proposed to be regulated at this time.’

Some of these plants are grown commercial and thus would cause economic hardship to those who sell it – as you can imagine this makes ‘blanket’ regulating more challenging, for instance proposed regulation allows for a phasing period in which their current stocks can be diminished. The plants listed below are still readily available and sold in nurseries, both as wholesale products to landscapers and in retail settings to the general public – BUT think twice before you buy!Amelanchier 'Coles Select'Serviceberry (Amelanchier x grandiflora) vs. Callery Pear (Pyrus calleryana)

Surprisingly, Callery Pear has actually been imported multiple times to the U.S. starting in 1909 to the Arnold Arboretum. The U.S. Department of Agriculture used it for the development of a fire blight resistant common pear and it was widely planted as a rootstock originally. Around 1950, the ornamental value and urban tolerance of Callery Pear was recognized and lead to the creation of the widely planted cultivar ‘Bradford’.

Nps.gov summaries the potential threat best, ‘While some genotypes are self-incompatible, meaning they require cross pollination from another genotype in order to set seed, others can pollinate themselves. Different genotypes growing near each other (e.g., within about 300 ft.) can cross-pollinate and produce fruit with viable seed. Also, cultivars are often grafted onto seed-grown rootstocks with varying genotypes; if the plant produces shoots from the rootstock (which it often does), then these shoots and the graft can pollinate one another. Thus, the Bradford pear cultivar is one of several cultivars (varieties) of Callery pear capable of spreading and being invasive.’

In Illinois, it isn’t hard to find Callery Pear escapees in lawns, fencerows, and disturbed wooded areas. Wisconsin is a little more protected from this species invasion because the plant was originally borderline hardy, but since cold hardy cultivars have been developed the threat is on our doorstep. Not to mention our changing climate and increasingly less harsh Wisconsin winters…20160323_083820

Serviceberry is an EXCELLENT native alternative! The cultivar ‘Autumn Brilliance’ can be purchased as a single stem small ornamental tree in the same height range as Callery Pear, but with better branching structure. Observations of Amelanchier spp. phenology can provide valuable information. For example, they are some of the first trees to break bud in springtime, which reflects warming soil temperatures and possible times for planting. They can also be a good indicator species of drought, when it becomes too dry their leaves begin to curl inward.

During springtime there is a profusion of white flowers, that give way to edible blueberry-sized, red/purple berries that are delicious! Some people describe them as a mix between an apple/raspberry/blueberry! Great red-orange fall color later in the season rounds out this multi-seasonal beauty.

Stay tuned for more easy plant switcheroo’s in the upcoming weeks!

Avant Gardening & Landscaping’s Favorite Spring Plant Pick


This clump-forming, late winter blooming perennial are true “pick-me-ups” with their early bloom when Wisconsin gardeners need it most! Hellebore or Lenten Rose grows best in rich, humus-y, well-drained soil and can be a little finicky about their location, but once established are pretty low-maintenance.

Scientific Name: Helleborus orientalis.  Common Name: Lenten Rose, Hellebore

Believed to come from the Greek term ‘ellos/hellos’ meaning Fawn and ‘bora’ meaning Food = Food for A Fawn. An alternative meaning is that the first syllable is from ‘hele’ meaning to Take Away, translating to ‘take way food’ which likely refers to the emetic nature of the plant. ‘Orientalis’ means From the East which describes the first discovery of this species.Hellebore

Did You Know: Leaves, stems and roots of Helleborus spp. are poisonous?

So, DO NOT try to eat it!

The roots are strongly emetic and potentially fatal. In fact historically, it was sometimes used to cause vomiting after poisoning, which is now known to be harmful. Until the 18th century, this plant may have also been responsible for many childhood deaths. Some varieties were used to treat stomach worms in children, with the idea that the induced vomiting would expel the worms and when it failed the dose would often be increased or repeated.  According to American Medicinal Plants, Charles F. Millspaugh says, all hellebores share the same effects on the body but he ranks the different species in terms of the ‘strength’ of their poisonous effects. He mentions H. niger and H. foetidus as the most suitable for medicinal use (being the least poisonous) and H. orientalis not being used medicinally, because it is the strongest.2008 CLIENTS 134
The Lenten Rose’s unique and large “petals” (which are actually sepals that shelter the tiny true flower nestled inside) are its most interesting feature. These petal-like sepals remain on the plant for 8-10 weeks, giving it the illusion of an extremely long bloom-time! The “flowers” are rose-like (hinting towards its common name) and point downward in a “nodding” fashion. The hybrid cultivars have an extremely variable color range, from white to green, even light pink, purple or burgundy.

Its leathery foliage would be a great addition to any shade garden. The palmate, glossy dark-green leaves (7-9 leaflets) – almost give this plant a tropical look!2008 CLIENTS 136


Zone: 4-9

Height & Spread: 1ft-2ft

Bloom Time: Late Winter/Early Spring, January to April

Sun Requirements: Part Shade to Full Shade


Site in a location that can be seen from a kitchen window or near a front entry, or patio space where their early bloom will be noticed and enjoyed. I always suggest planting in groups to increase the impact of the bloom and foliage texture. Enjoy!

Spectacular Spring Ephemerals In Landscapes Around Madison, Wisconsin

Spectacular Spring Ephemerals

These wondrous spring wildflowers pop-up­ at the start of spring, and are truly a sight to behold. But you have to act fast since once trees and shrubs leaf out, they’ll block these delicate perennials light and then they’re gone just like that!

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Spring Ephemerals in the Woodland Garden at Olbrich Botanical Gardens in Madison, Wisconsin.

Lately, we’ve noticed Snowdrops blooming in public gardens and client’s landscapes… with the warmer weather we’ve had I wouldn’t be surprised if all of our spring-blooming plants came a little earlier than normal. Be sure to keep an eye out for these unique plants! Usually, a good rule-of-thumb is to look for ephemerals when bulbs are beginning to bloom (late April through May in Wisconsin), though a precise time will depend on the weather.

Common Species in Madison, Wisconsin:


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Spring Ephemeral – Bellwort at Olbrich Botanical Gardens in Madison, Wisconsin.



Jacob’s Ladder

Marsh Marigold


Solomon’s Seal


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Spring Ephemeral – Large Flowered Trillium at Olbrich Botanical Gardens in Madison, Wisconsin.

Trout Lily

Virginia Bluebell

Wild Geranium

Wild Ginger

Wood Violet

These beauties put on quite a display in their short life-span… so run, don’t walk, to your nearest woodland area!