Editor’s Note: The following are bonus photos from a profile of Shane Eason and Jac Blanco’s garden featured in the June 2022 issue of Michigan Gardener. To read the full story, pick up a copy of Michigan Gardener in stores or see it in our Digital Edition, which you can read for free by clicking on “Digital Edition” in the upper right corner.
by Christine Jamieson
Every Saturday morning from May to October, and sometimes during the week, I plunge into a pool of color at the farmers market. In an instant, the world changes from green grass, gray roads and blue sky to vivid technicolor, with sheets of bright annuals—red, yellow, pink, purple, and silver. There are gorgeous perennials and mounds of vegetables in every shape imaginable, a feast for all the senses. Pick up cool, firm green asparagus, feel the hot, sun-ripened smoothness of tomatoes and peppers, the soft downy skin of a tawny peach, the gentle roughness of potatoes and carrots. The whole world is here!
And where did all these people come from at six o’clock in the morning, and all enjoying themselves? It’s as though a film director has gathered everyone together for a crowd scene: the elderly, the young, the middle aged, toddlers stooping to pick up fallen flowers, babies in strollers, dogs tripping up people and barking, geese honking overhead. It’s a summer fashion parade too: exotic hats, shorts, pretty dresses, as well as the more normal jeans, T-shirts and sweats.
Market season begins with the flower growers. In the first few weeks you can buy Michigan wildflowers, early spring-blooming perennials, marigolds, petunias, begonias and more unusual annuals, as well as cut bunches of daffodils, tulips and pussy willow with its furry white paws. The earliest produce includes spinach, asparagus and rhubarb. Sometimes there is a bag of dandelion leaves for salad—a wonderful system toner and tonic. In France, asparagus and artichoke salads rest on a bed of greens, which includes dandelion leaves as well as melt-in-the-mouth goat cheese tartlets, all garnished with sprigs of myrtle, rosemary and violet flowers—a delight to the eye as well as the palate.
Every week at market there is something new, as strawberries are followed by cherries, raspberries and blueberries. Then in the height of summer, the nectarines, apricots and peaches, and eventually the best-tasting apples you will ever find in the state. There are some unusual varieties, ones grown by Thomas Jefferson and George Washington, as well as the more usual Golden Delicious, McIntosh and Granny Smith. If you get the opportunity to sample a russet, Winesap, or an Arkansas Black, go for it. And try the yellow and white cherries in addition to the more traditional black. Occasionally someone will have gooseberries, but if you can’t find them, grow some yourself—one of the best is Poorman: a juicy, fat, red berry which is delicious in pies and crumbles.
Vegetables come and go, English and sugar snap peas, green and purple runner beans, tomatoes, corn, peppers and various brassicas with the last delight of the season, Brussels sprouts, always better after a touch of frost. If you look carefully, there are fingerling potatoes for salads, and sometimes lovely fresh laid eggs.
The perennials are different from week to week. There is a great selection of hardy geraniums and campanulas, unusual hellebores (H. foetidus and argutifolius, as well as orientalis and niger), burnets (Sanguisorba) with flowers like miniature bottlebrushes, and fern-leaf peonies. I searched for years for the potentilla ‘Primrose Beauty,’ a delicate creamy yellow color, and eventually found it, along with a variegated kerria.
Markets have been around as long as man has lived in towns and cities, farmers bringing in their produce to the agora in Greece or the forum in Rome. In Europe, meat, fish and cheese are available as well as produce. In colonial America too, markets were commonplace. When the state capital of Virginia moved from Williamsburg to Richmond in 1779, an ordinance was passed for the establishment of a ‘publick market.’ We are particularly fortunate to have so many in Michigan.
Many of the vendors are professionals, but there are some who have become so passionate about their hobby that they want to share it with others and make a little money while they are at it. The markets attract the young also. I talked to one young man selling strawberries and raspberries who was studying philosophy in college, and to another young couple who enjoyed the market so much that it became their livelihood. There are vendors turning sun-ripened olive oil and the essences of lavender and rose petals into soap; others displaying beautiful photographs of flowers; still others making wonderful dried flower wreaths and arrangements.
There are specialist growers also. At one market, small perennials are sold by an amateur enthusiast who wants to share the exciting plants he has grown from seed. There are people specializing in heirloom roses, Japanese maples, dahlias so perfect you cannot believe they are real, hard-to-find shrubs, and wonderful herbs.
So go to them all—the big markets as well as the smaller ones. Each has its own unique character and soon you will find your favorite. It’s the best way I know to spend Saturday morning.
Christine Jamieson is a Michigan gardener and writer.
by George Papadelis
Many good gardeners have fallen prey to the notion that all perennials are low maintenance, long-lived, and long-blooming. Many of these same gardeners became familiar with perennials by buying those plants that were more common and readily available. These often included forget-me-not, delphinium, columbine, hollyhock, and sweet William. These are all beautiful, easy-to-grow plants. However, they are either biennials or short-lived. For the new perennial gardener, this may be the kind of experience that makes perennials “too hard to grow” and can discourage them from ever trying perennials again.
Many perennials are, in fact, long-lived as well as long-blooming and low maintenance. Sea thrift or sea pink (Armeria) is all of these and much more.
The genus Armeria includes many varieties that vary in height, flower color and size, and leaf shape. All of these have narrow grass-like foliage, and globe-shaped blossoms that range from rosy-red to pink to white. Heights can vary from 2 to 18 inches. The individual flowers last for three weeks beginning in May, but will continue to be produced through July into August if the spent blossoms are removed. One of the unique features of sea thrift is its ability to produce so many showy flowers from a relatively small clump of grassy foliage.
Sea thrift is native to many parts of the northern hemisphere, where the soil tends to be less fertile and well-drained. The rocky, sandy, unamended soil that sea thrift prefers can usually be attained in your garden by incorporating gritty sand and small gravel into the existing soil. Sea thrift also prefers dry soil and sun. With minimal water, soil preparation, and fertilization, it is a very durable, yet rewarding perennial.
One of my favorite species is the tiny Spanish thrift (Armeria juniperifolia). This one has a very tight tuft of needle-like foliage that only stands 1 to 2 inches tall. It is covered with 3/4-inch lavender pink flowers on short stems only one inch above the foliage. After 1 or 2 years, the mound may grow to become only 4 to 6 inches wide. This little gem is outstanding for small rock gardens, miniature gardens, or trough gardens (rustic-looking containers made from a concrete-like material and planted with small rock garden plants). Also look for this one in a white form called ‘Alba.’
The most common sea thrift is ‘Splendens’ (Armeria maritima ‘Splendens’). Its species name “maritima” is derived from its tolerance to salt, which enables it to grow along coastlines where few plants can survive. It reaches a larger height of 6 to 10 inches and grows about 10 inches wide. The dark pink flowers are 1 to 1-1/2 inches wide and rise well above the foliage for a more noticeable display from a distance. Use this variety in the front of the perennial border or in a rock wall for compact and showy splashes of color. The variety ‘Bees’ Ruby’ displays even darker pink flowers above 18-inch stems. A selection known as ‘Formosa hybrids’ has wider, longer leaves and produces flowers in a range of colors. All of these are easy to grow and have a long season of color.
Sea thrifts make great companions to other spring bloomers in full sun. Use their pink flowers in contrast with the blue flowers of other perennials like creeping phlox, dwarf crested iris, or ajuga. Take advantage of their early bloom season by incorporating spring-blooming bulbs such as yellow daffodils or blue grape hyacinths. Don’t forget to include some silver foliage with these pink and blue flowers. Try an artemisia or the non-blooming form of lamb’s ears (Stachys byzantina ‘Silver Carpet’). All of these make great, long-lasting additions to a showy spring perennial border or rock garden.
Armeria promises to provide years of color from plants that ask very little in return. So, if you’re ready to grow some plants that fulfill your original perception of the perennial gardening experience, try the low maintenance, long-lived, and long-blooming sea thrift.
Botanical name: Armeria (are-MARE-ee-ah)
Plant type: Perennial
Plant size: Height and width: 2-18 inches, depending on species
Habit: Clump-forming; flower stems rise above foliage mats/clumps
Hardiness: Zone 4/5, depending on species
Flower color: Light pink, deep pink, white
Flower size: 3/4 to 1-1/2 inches wide
Bloom period: May
Leaf color: Green
Leaf size: Grass or strap-like, 1 to 8 inches long, depending on species
Light: Full sun
Soil: Well-drained, infertile and dry
Uses: Rock garden, front of perennial border, trough garden, stone wall “pockets”
Companion plants: Perennials: creeping phlox, dwarf crested iris, ajuga, lamb’s ears, artemisia. Bulbs: yellow daffodils, blue grape hyacinths.
Remarks: Low maintenance. Bloom time can be extended by removing spent blossoms.
George Papadelis is the owner of Telly’s Greenhouse in Troy and Shelby Township, MI.