Saturday, July 4, 2015

Celebration in Orange

We've had some lovely weather, dry and sunny. Cool, with warm afternoons in the 80s and crisp mornings in the 60s, although today, Independence Day, it is overcast and damp.

My blueberry netting system, held up by skinny poles and flowerpots, is working. I brought in a colander full of blueberries this morning.

It's no problem getting in under the netting to pick, although the stooped posture needed to get at the berries is back stiffening.

But yum. They are sharp (not really tart) and sweet, but don't really have the deep rich taste of some blueberries. Maybe I'm picking them too soon and they need to stay on the bush longer? There are so many out there I can experiment with picking at different stages.

Fourth of July means orange ditch lilies are in bloom.

They are everywhere, all up and down the local roads, literally lining roadside ditches.

More than red white and blue, orange is the color of Independence Day for me.

Hemerocallis fulva is the common daylily that spreads and forms big stands in the wild. We always called them tiger lilies because they are orange with brown and black spots inside the flower.

They are tough and vigorous and very common. They are nowhere near as refined as daylily hybrids and they don't bloom for very long. They are weeds and you either love their happy color or hate their aggressive habits.

My gardening friends could not believe I wanted to plant these tall weedy orange lilies, but they make me so happy I decided I needed to have some in my garden.

I put them in a line on either side of the furthest white birch, angled out on either side, like wings flanking the birch. Because the strip is mowed on all sides, the daylilies will be kept in check.

The orange lilies are behind the Birch Garden and they pop in the far distance.

I actually had wanted to put a big line of tiger lilies in a more prominent spot, all along the front of the bottlebrush buckeye hedge. Their hot orange against the big green leaves of the buckeyes would have made a nice layering effect.

Wouldn't a long row of tiger lilies look great anchoring the foot of this buckeye hedge? Mounding foliage at the bottom, tall orange spires in front and then the big green leaves of the buckeyes behind?

But ditch lilies only bloom for a brief time in July and their foliage after that is icky. Better to enjoy them at the back of the garden where they are tall enough and bright enough in bloom to be seen, but can then hide behind the Birch Garden at the back of the property when they go by.

They really do mean summer is underway, even if temperatures are cool.

The other happy looking flower that blooms for Fourth of July is the Shasta daisy, "Becky'. They have the cleanest, freshest look. They just seem friendly.

All is forgiven now after this uneasy, unsettling spring. Everything looks glorious. In May I was unhappy about the winter losses and extended dry spell and the slow awakening from a harsh season. Even in early June I was still taking out dead plants, cutting off winterkill and fussing over no-shows.

But it's July now and the iteas that I had to cut back so hard are full and beautiful. The 'Forest Pansy' redbud lives after all, and leafed out. The Stewartia pseudocameallia is not lost, and has deep green leaves and even a few flowers on the lower branches. After cutting off the top third of the branch structure it looks okay.

The sassafras that lost all its lower branches has a young new sassafras growing in front of its tall naked trunk now.

Like all the other trees and shrubs in my garden, the new sassafras trees loved the frequent rain we had in June followed by sunny days, and has put out lots of new growth.

Everything looks leafy and happy. Bee balm is blooming. Nasturtiums are filling out, clematis is exuberant, little low dahlias in the front of the house are flowering in bright colors.

Irises are blooming by the bridge over the dry creekbed; they are an unusual lavender-magenta color.

The carpet roses I moved last year are blooming bright red, and a soft orange coreposis is in flower too. Butterfly weed is deep orange and eye catching. All the plants in my garden look happy right now, and out in the meadow stands of swamp milkweed are opening their mauve flowers.

Astilbes are lushly blooming. White 'Bridal Veil' astilbe is overwhelming the deep red one -- I had planned this area to be half red and half white.

The red and white astilbes and my dark blue blueberries all say Fourth of July in a red white and blue kind of way. But it's really bright orange that celebrates the holiday when the ditch lilies stand up tall and open.

Happy Fourth of July!

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Flimsy Netting

It rained an inch and a quarter on Sunday. Of course we were hosting a big neighborhood cookout Sunday to welcome our new neighbors who are moving in this week.

I had planned to be outdoors in the garden (yes, I admit I wanted to show it off). Instead we were forced inside -- we had a lovely time and the new neighbors are very nice, but no one got to enjoy being outside at all.


And now after all that rain and some sun everything looks even better.

I gave up on the strawberries this year. They did not produce and I didn't do much to encourage, prune or trim them. The chipmunk ate his fill of what was there, and I let him have them.

But the blueberries look really promising, and I do want to pick a crop this year. They are ripening now.

So I needed to rig up some bird netting. You can't just drape it over the bushes, it snags and tangles on the branches. You need a frame to hold the netting off the shrubs. Here's what I came up with -- some flimsy poles stuck in the ground, draped with netting that I then clipped in place.

You need a cap on the bamboo stakes or the netting just slides down it. Tennis balls cut in half and stuck over the top of the poles are one solution, but the only things I had around that seemed useful were upside down plastic flowerpots. That worked.

But they look for all the world like a bunch of garden ladies with hats and veils on, standing in the garden clucking over the state of things. The birds may simply laugh themselves to death and leave the blueberries alone.

Stepping back you can see that in addition to a gaggle of garden ladies with flowerpot hats on, I have a color clash that should scare away not just birds but any garden visitor. That purple 'Jackmanii' clematis does not go with the wine red Cercis 'Forest Pansy'. Eek.

The clematis is beautiful in its own right, but not next to the redbud. And I have it growing on an iron tower that is too small, forcing it into a dense blob of intense color and form. This needs a rethink. 'Jackmanii' wants to scramble and ramble and I need to move it somewhere else.

The other clematis nearby is also growing on an iron tower that forces it into a dense vertical blob, but the delicate white flowers work much better. This is a viticella clematis called 'Alba Luxurians' and it does well clinging to its support by the patio wall.

Where should I move the purple clematis that would be a better location? How can I support its vining, rambling size? Will my flimsy poles with wobbly flowerpots on them keep the birds away from the blueberries?

Will I be able to get in under the netting to pick a crop without bringing the rickety poles and pots down? Will the blueberries be tart this year?

And what I really want to know --- why did it rain on my party?

Sunday, June 28, 2015

As I Weed

Earlier this week I was out in the yard weeding at about 9:30 in the morning, when a black bear ambled through the yard in front of the hedge of bottlebrush buckeyes. He went right out into the lawn, not 50 feet from where I was.

As I quietly backed away toward the house he walked between the gravel garden and the birch garden and then over to the new crabapples the neighbors planted between our two yards.

I was inside by now, and watched him stand up and shake a tree. He shook it hard, sniffed the leaves, then dropped back down and lumbered over to the neighbor's patio out of sight.

I think it was a juvenile. There were no ear tags and no collar, and although he seemed smaller than the average bear, he looked immense and black and glossy so close up. And standing up shaking the tree he (she?) looked powerful.

This encounter was too close.

Black bears are not aggressive. There have been no reports of human-bear mishaps around here. But a juvenile or a startled bear might react unpredictably coming so close to to a gardener with her rump in the air and her nose in the dirt.

I'm not frightened, but I am now hyper aware of everything around me outside. No more zen hours of weeding, which is a favorite thing to do on a cool morning after a rain has softened the earth. Just kneel and tug, step and pull, tuned out to everything but breeze and birdsong.

When I weed I don't look around me, I simply laser in on the next weed, the errant leaf and the out of place stalk, until the moment when I gently rip out a tall leafy thing only to find out it is the spicebush seedling I just paid a fortune for and planted this spring. Argh. I'm an idiot.

When I am not ripping out cherished seedlings, though, I drift off thinking of nothing and unaware of anything as I pull up weed after weed.

Not any more. Now I am acutely aware of everything around me. When I walk out to the meadow or the woods with brush to dispose of, I clap and whistle (not really, I can't whistle. But I make squeaky noises). I don't want to catch a bear unaware.

Jim wants me to carry an air horn to scare a bear if I come upon one, but it would only wind up lying in the dirt someplace where the trowel and the pruners and all good garden tools end up when I am outside working. I would never have it at hand when needed.

I am not scared. But I am edgily aware and unable to enjoy the long periods of zoned out calm I used to have in my garden.

I miss those zen weeding moments.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Step This Way

I like how this came out.

We bought a pallet of irregular bluestone stepper stones and placed them between the two back gardens leading to the bridge over the dry creek bed.

Well, we didn't place them. We hired a strong young stonemason to install them. There was some very heavy lifting of some of the largest slabs.

He's coming back to actually dig out the space for each stone and set them in stone dust to make this a walkable path.

But even now, with the steppers just laid on the grass to see the spacing, I like it.

It flows. It moors two separate islands of gardens that seemed to be swimming in the lawn before. It ties them together.

The stone path draws you from the open lawn down between the two gardens, then curves around toward the front again.

It's still visually part of the lawn -- the turf will remain in between the steppers and it will have to be mowed. Jim has assured me that's no problem.

I like that it is an extension of the lawn, not an abrupt change to a paved walkway that you enter. It's just the lawn itself turning into a path that directs you between the two gardens, under the trees and back around.

It's a simple addition, but it transforms this narrow strip.

I wasn't sure about the light color of the bluestones, but the contrast with the grass is nice, and I even like how the stones pick up the slate blue of the bench in the distance. A little bit of color repetition.

When the trees that line this area grow up a little more (and god help me if the purple leaved redbud doesn't die back any more each winter) it will be an arbor of cool shade that draws you down the path. Nice.

In the first years of creating gardens on our empty half acre I struggled with tying isolated beds and features together. Everything seemed to float alone in a sea of lawn. I'm getting there with this composition I think.

Step this way, please.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Truth in Tags

In my last post I was so excited to find a 'Seiryu' Japanese maple at an affordable price and a small enough container size that I could plant myself.

And I found it unexpectedly at Lowe's.

This was truly a scoop. If local nurseries or box stores around here carry a dissected green Japanese maple it is always 'Viridis', a common weeping variety. It's very common; I have found it everywhere I have looked at Japanese maples.

But to find an upright green dissected one was surprising so I snapped it up.

Yesterday I planted it in a spot by the creek bed and took the tag off and only then did I look a little closer.

Yep, it says Acer palmatum dissectum 'Seiryu'. Thank god for botanical Latin. But down at the bottom it lists its features, including "cascading" tree. Cascading?

Is this really 'Viridis', the very common and easily found weeping maple that every store around here sells?

Or is it really 'Seiryu' and the lazy people making label descriptions just lifted stock language from dissected maples in general?

The incised leaves of 'Viridis' and 'Seiryu' look the same; it's the form and habit that are completely different.

The back of the tag says it needs afternoon shade, and it will spread to 15 feet wide, which is the size of a giant mounding weeper, not the spread of the narrow, slender 'Seiryu'.

There is a reference number to look up at the bottom of the tag, so I went online but no such reference exists on the site. There are other Japanese maples with other code numbers, but not L1173.

Enough of useless tags. Let's go out and look at the tree I planted. Is it growing upright or mounding over?

Ummm, I can't tell.

It's impossible to see in the photo -- the slender twigs and lacy leaves don't show up against the complex background of rocks and dirt. But even looking at it in real life I can't tell.

It looks upright overall but the bendable branches flop out and down. The ones in the middle go up straight, the ones to the side and at the bottom arch over.

So I don't know. This tree looks like a combination of upright and arching. It's both.

What nags at me is knowing that 'Viridis' is commonly sold here, 'Seiryu' is not. Their leaves look alike. 'Viridis' needs afternoon shade (the tag says grow this in morning sun only), but my research tells me a 'Seiryu' maple can take full sun.

I'm hoping this tag just lifted wording about dissected-leaf trees in general -- that they need shade, they cascade, they spread to 15 feet wide -- even though this unusual tree is supposed to take sun, grows upright and will be no more than 8 feet wide and vase shaped.

What really bothers me most is that finding 'Seiryu' at Lowe's seemed too good to be true. You think?
Which one have I actually planted?

I'll grow this tree and see what develops. If it gets huge and cascading, I will know it was mislabeled and it will come out. If not, I'll know the label was right but the description and care instructions were woefully generic and useless and wrong.

(And yes, I'll let the store know the plant tag has a mismatched label and description. I've given feedback to Lowe's before about their nursery operations and gotten an acknowledgement back, so there's that.)

Friday, June 19, 2015

Blue Green Dragon

After the rain at the beginning of the week it has been damp and overcast. Humid, but not really hot.

There have been moments of sun and with all the moisture in the ground, everything looks great, even pots on the deck.

Clematis are blooming, nicotianas are becoming huge, big creamy flowers are opening on the sweetbay magnolia.

June is busting out all over.

I spent the morning chasing a deer out of the meadow.

Each time I shooed it away it came back. I flapped my arms and moved toward it and it trotted away. But then it came back.

The deer kept returning and just stood there, posing. Perhaps there were fawns nearby lying on the ground in the tall grass -- I did not go out to investigate.

Finally I went in and got the camera and as soon as I came back out to take its picture it bounded away and hasn't been back.

Apparently a digital SLR with a zoom lens works pretty well as a deer deterrent.

Yesterday I brought a dragon home. It is Acer palmatum var. dissectum 'Seiryu', which means "blue green dragon". Because of the name I assumed the leaves had a blue cast, but they don't.
It is a small cutleaf Japanese maple with medium green dissected leaves, that will get to about 10 or 15 feet tall. Fall color is brilliant as with most Japanese maples. Its small size and deeply incised leaves give it a lacy elegance.

It is the only dissectum Japanese maple that grows upright. The dissectum group of Japanese maples are weeping trees, like 'Crimson Queen', which I have in front of the house. They are small trees that cascade over into mounds of fringy looking foliage.
'Crimson Queen' has the typical cascading dissectum form

Every year I prune off about a third of 'Crimson Queen' to open up the congested canopy and give this tree some form, but it wants to tumble down and grow like a haystack.

'Seiryu' on the other hand, grows vase shaped and upright.
image found here

I have wanted one for the longest time, but never saw one offered locally, even at Broken Arrow Nursery, nearby in Hamden, which is a treasure house of special trees and shrubs.

I could get it mail order, but I stopped buying trees through mail order a few years ago. In general I've had good experience with mail order trees, but you have to buy them very small, and they have to be narrow, lightly branched specimens to survive shipping. And shipping costs for a tree are way expensive.

But yesterday, walking through Lowe's to buy a bag of potting soil, I spotted a whole display of 'Seiryu' Japanese maples. I was surprised. Lowe's, of all places.

They were big and leafy but just the right container size to fit in my trunk and to be planted by me without help. And the price was right.

Michaela at The Gardener's Eden in Vermont has a beautiful specimen that she has often featured on her blog, especially in its fall color.
The Gardener's Eden

Larry Conrad in Wisconsin had one that he showed on his blog Conrad Art Glass and Gardens, but I think he lost it to a disease a while back.
Conrad Art Glass and Gardens

Here's hoping I have not bought another tree I may have problems with. Several forum discussions about growing 'Seiryu' mention it hates hot wind in the summer and perhaps wants some winter protection. It is hardy to zone 5 but in the odd climate of my garden, zone hardiness is more or less random. It wants more shade than I can give it.

The only afternoon-shady spot I can put it in is near the dry creek bed where I lost two other trees; a variegated redbud and a native pagoda dogwood both refused to spend even one winter in that spot.

For those reasons, and because I never found one locally, I had decided not to plant 'Seiryu' even though I admired it so on other gardeners' blogs.

But then Lowe's.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Mid June Before the Rain

It poured down rain yesterday. Two inches!

That much rain is wonderful for all the plants in my garden, but it did knock down a lot of blooming things. Here's what was flowering before the rain came.

The iteas that I cut back so severely because of winterkill look good. They did leaf back out where the stems were live, and they even bloomed a little bit at the bottom.

They look fine and leafy, filling the middle of the garden with green mass. Honestly, they look better now after such hard pruning, and maybe that's a lesson to prune this tangled mass of shrubs every other year.

Goatsbeard (Aruncus dioicus) has never looked better. It took years (and several moves) for this to establish.

By the way, the little white nicotiana visible just below the goatsbeard is lovely N. alata, but it is not what I thought I planted -- it was supposed to be N. sylvestris, the great big tall tobacco that is a statement plant at six feet tall. Oops. The seeds got mixed up and I didn't know because the seedling leaves look the same.

The white baptisia (B. alba pendula) has also never looked better.

It starts with upright white rockets of flowers, but then arches over. The rain has knocked it down a lot, but before the rain it was draping over nicely, true to its name 'pendula'. And check out the climbing hydrangea in the distance, scampering over the pergola above the garage doors.

The other baptisia, 'Twilite Prairieblues', was done blooming a week ago, but while it flowered it was lovely. Still weird, and impossible to photograph, but nice. The flower spikes are always such an odd grayish smoky purple color.

Yellow sundrops are blooming now in front of the iteas. There are red pops in this garden from the Nicotiana 'Baby Bella' and from the cutest little bun of a red rose.

It's a 'Drift' rose that stays small and tidy. I love its size, shape and the tiny, deep red June roses.

Fleeceflower (Persicaria affinis 'Dimity') is in flower now and I always love the pink fuzzy pipe cleaners sticking up above the mat of groundcover foliage.

Spirea 'Goldflame' is blooming bright pink against its chartreuse foliage. This was a plant I took out when it was growing by the front door. Too big for that spot, too neon garish in bloom when it was in full sun and seen up close. But in partial shade tucked into the woodland part of the garden, I like it better. It offers a pop of color and bright form back there, rather than an assault on the eyes at the front door.

'Husker's Red' penstemons have popped open in front of the patio wall. They are pretty and frilly and I like seeing them up close now. They were moved from the back of the Birch Garden where it was hard to see their detail.

Amsonia 'Blue Ice' keeps going and going with deep royal blue flowers. It blooms later and for a much longer time than the traditional blue stars, A. tabernamontan or hubrichtii.

I have 'Blue Ice' repeated around the patio too, where it is nice to see their little stars up close.

This year even the tabernamontana amsonia still has a few starry blooms in mid June. It was really a good year for them. And the tiarellas are still blooming their little hearts out. They always go on forever.

If all this rain doesn't keel the drumstick alliums over, there will be pretty purple pompoms opening on these tall wands, to complement the orange butterfly weed just opening. So far it looks like the drumstick stems have stood up to the drenching rainfall.

  Mid June.


                  Blooms gone by and flowers to come.