Monday, July 27, 2015

The Contrarian

For late July, it's been pleasant. We've had cool nights in the high 50s! Several days have been sunny and comfortable and dry. Very nice weather for summer.

Late July means the bottlebrush buckeyes (Aesculus parviflora) open their rocket blooms.


The show is amazing, butterflies love the spikes, and the light always catches the bottlebrushes and illuminates them beautifully.


I love the way this hedge looks. It is lush and big enough now to make a definitive boundary between my garden and the meadow beyond.

But every year I go nuts about the one lone bottlebrush shrub that is not like the others. There was a mislabeled plant among the batch of A. parviflora that I got mail order in 2007. It looked like the others as a baby plant, but once they all started growing, it was clear that one was different.


It's that lighter one second from the left -- it won't bloom for another two weeks, it is a different leaf color, and the form is different. The darker green shrub to its left is about to bloom and the others flanking it on the right are already in bloom, but they are all the same species plants and all open up their flowers about the same time. The middle one is very different.

It's still Aesculus parviflora, but it is a named cultivar that is known for its larger size, and two week later bloom period. And apparently the foliage color is not the deep dark green of the species. And it has a droopier habit.


I've written about this before, every year in fact. Because every year it gets more obvious.

Jim likes it. It's the contrarian in him that enjoys the way one lone individual can fight the masses. Politically this hedge pleases him. Horticulturally it drives me batty.

He's willing to help me take the offending shrub out -- we could cut it down and let the species plants on either side continue to sucker and fill in the gap, which might happen quickly now that the hedge is mature. But he thinks we should leave it as is.

I've gone back to photos of my original planting to see if it was obvious when I put this hedge in that one plant was different. But they all looked alike in the beginning.


The circled one is the bad boy. I guess it showed its droopier habit even then, but who could really tell?  They all looked like leafy blobs at that stage.

It would be sort of drastic to take out that big shrub at this point. I'm trying to adopt Jim's untroubled view that it gives the hedge personality, it's a quirky bit of garden mishap, it celebrates diversity, and we should enjoy the contrarian disruption to the uniform line of the hedge.

Can I accept that?

Friday, July 24, 2015

A Nap and a Drink

Sometimes on a nice summer day, you have to just lie down and take a nap.

And sometimes you just get so thirsty out there you need to dip in for a long drink.

And sometimes you need to stand very still and not move, especially if you are supporting someone's livelihood and moving would destroy their work.

It's a warm July day. Let's all go lie down now on a cool slab of stone, or maybe on the porch.

Yes, let's.

Monday, July 20, 2015

A Proper Wall

Hot and humid. We've had some cool days and some chilly nights, but more typical July weather has finally arrived I think.

The stonemason who put in our bluestone steppers in the grass around the Blueberry Garden came back last week and built me a wall.

It borders the strip of plantings on the east side of the house which has always been a problem. That side of the house is a flat, wide expanse. No one ever goes around to this part of the yard, and my only intent here was to hide the black waterproofing line that ran along the concrete foundation just above the soil line.


My first attempt was a line of dwarf forsythias that did not work out at all. They came out. My second attempt was a low line of dwarf groundcover willows, Salix yezoalpina, which were striking plants but never flourished and they came out.

Then I tried mixed plantings and finally settled on dwarf deutzia 'Nikko' to hide the waterproofing line, and some taller plants for vertical contrast -- a 'Dawn' viburnum, a Rose of Sharon, some boxwoods for density. It looks better now.

But it never looked finished or even intentional. The plantings bled into the lawn along a raggy edge. All the other foundation plantings around the house are bounded by walkways or the patio, so there's a finished edge to where the house meets the lawn.

This strip of foundation plantings needed a similar defined transition from the long side of the house to the lawn. So when I had extra fieldstones left over from a low wall I built in 2013, I used the extras to edge the strip. But there weren't nearly enough and you can see how paltry that looked below:

I finally decided to do it right, and hired someone to bring in an entire pallet of stones and build me a proper wall. A professional job with an adequate amount of material. What an improvement when it is done right.


It's hardly a wall at all, only a few courses high, just enough to define the edge of this strip along the house.

Now the plants need to do their job to complement this new stone wall. The dwarf deutzias were all rooted cuttings I took from my original plants and they need a year or two to fill in.

I planted a golden Japanese plum yew this spring for some bold foliage color and vertical height, but it is only a funny stick so far, standing among the still small deutzia cuttings.

And the bane of my gardening existence, the wildly out of control 'Dawn' viburnum, has to do something other than flail about looking deranged and spastic. I've pruned it severely and this is what I got.

This viburnum is supposed to be narrow, upright and vase shaped, reaching maybe 10 feet tall. Elegant and vertical. Lovely in all seasons. Does this eruption of exploded shrubbery fit that description in any way?

With a proper stone wall dressing up the scene, the plants in here now need to step up their game.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

I See Improvements

Today was a lovely day -- dry and sunny and cool. Perfection.

I was pleased on my tour of the garden this morning to see some improvements in plants that had disappointed me in the past.

Like the 'Bluebird' hydrangea serrata that has never bloomed well. In past years the buds were either frost nipped or deer nibbled, reducing the flowers to one or two hidden deep inside the shrub. What did bloom was pinkish purpley. This year I am seeing pretty lace caps of clear blue.

There still aren't very many, and they are peeking out from under leaves, but it's a big improvement. Some day I hope my plant will bloom like the 'Bluebird' hydrangea we saw at Chanticleer two years ago, with flowers above the leaves, carpeting the whole shrub in deepest blue.

The 'Henryi' clematis that got clematis wilt last year has come back. That's an improvement. It has climbed the little metal structure and there are several big white blooms at the top. It is nowhere near as full and robust as it should be by now, and there are only just those few flowers, but it did come back.

Like the 'Bluebird' hydrangea, this plant should be carpeted in flowers and perhaps it will be some day. In its year of recovery from wilt, though, it looks promising.

Crocosmia 'Lucifer' has disappointed me for years. It has a hard time surviving winters, and no matter how many corms I plant, only a few come back. But I was pleased to see what did show up this year. Two clumps came in and they look nice next to the lamp post.

The shocking red is so intense that it actually looks better with only these few stalks arching next to the white post rather than the big stand I had intended.

I was surprised to see that the 'Becky' Shasta daisies were still so fresh looking. They are never a disappointment, but they do start to brown in mid July and don't rebloom reliably as they are advertised to do. They only look good for one show, but happily the show is still going on this year.

Garden phlox 'Nicky' is mildew free. That's an improvement over some years. The color, though, is a shade of magenta that does not rest easy on my eyes. I try to like it but I can't. But it brightens the middle of the Birch Garden in summer.

Every year I lose daylily flowers to the deer. The buds form and the deer eat them. This year is a big improvement with all the different colored daylilies open now and blooming in several spots around the garden. The deer left them alone this summer!

In addition there are reliable standbys that never fail -- sweet pink roses are still opening, and the perfumed white nicotiana is still in flower. A starry yellow dahlia with red stripes is happy looking.

As of mid July we've had hot days and humidity but no lasting heat wave. There has been enough rain, although we could use a little more soon. Plants that have struggled for me in other years look better now, and the garden looks great.

So far summer has been gentle.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Snacks

We were away for five days. Before we left I had been bringing in big bowls of blueberries every day, but I took the netting off while we were gone to let the birds have their share.

When we got back there was not a berry left on any of the four shrubs. We obviously had some happy birds while we were gone. I also saw the chipmunk sitting on the tree stump that is near the blueberries -- he probably had something to do with stripping the bushes.

I had harbored some fears that the black bear would discover the blueberries, but there was no evidence of a big berry eater anywhere, so I think it was just a bonanza for the birds and some good snacking for the chipmunk.

I'm glad they enjoyed them when we couldn't.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Sweet Birch

Typical July -- we swing between hot sticky weather and cool damp conditions, with a pelting three minute rainstorm in between.

Two weeks ago I noticed a that the skinny sweet birch sapling in the meadow looked wilted all over. We've had plenty of rain, but I watered it and waited.

A week later it looked even wiltier and most leaves had browned.

I have had trouble for many years getting Betula lenta to grow. All the original saplings I planted in the beginning are gone, mostly due to poor siting and my lack of any horticultural knowledge at first.

I tried again with three new saplings in 2013. One died the first year, and of the two surviving, this one out in the open meadow is now looking bad.

I thought it might have verticillium wilt, a fungus that infects the sapwood and prevents water transport in the trunk. Leaves show marked droopiness, then brown, and then the tree dies.

It's common in many hardwood trees. Diagnosis is confirmed when you cut open the trunk and see telltale brown rings.

The trunk of my little sweet birch is only the width of a pencil, and the branches are even smaller. I didn't want to sacrifice the whole sapling by cutting open the stem, so I just snipped off a couple thin twigs to see if any brown rings were evident.

It was hard to tell on such small branches, but they looked clear. There was no evidence inside the slender twigs of any discoloration.

The problem may not show up in the side branches, though -- it may be limited to the trunk, but if the trunk can't carry water the upper branches die. You can cut a scar on the side of the trunk to see any damage without having to saw it in half, but there just isn't enough size to this thing to slice open the side of the trunk to see anything.

So should I cut down the sapling? Verticillium wilt is fatal. The fungus persists for a long time in the soil, so you can't replant the area with any other tree that is susceptible; the new planting will soon be infected.

My tree isn't completely dead yet, so I'll wait. But if I have to take it down, it will be an easy bit of work. One snip with the pruners will do it, and I can then see if verticillium wilt is showing in the trunk.

I guess I'm done trying to grow Betula lenta. One lone twiggy sapling survives, but my track record getting sweet birch saplings to grow is poor.

I really liked it as an addition in the woods-becoming-forest behind our house. It's native, it has a nice form and rich yellow fall color. The bark is shiny and interesting, and when scratched it smells and tastes of wintergreen.  How I wish I could grow a sweet birch here.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Garden Gate

Humid and gray today, but not hot.

I have a small gated arbor that forms the entrance to the gravel seating area. I like the way it is starting to look now.

In spring of 2013 I planted a hardy kiwi vine on one side. It is Actinidia kolomikta, which is grown for its pink tipped foliage, not for kiwi fruits.

The male vine is supposed to have the strongest splashes of color on the leaves, but it takes several years before it shows up. This plant is growing well in its third year here, but hasn't shown variegation yet.

Several years ago I had both a male and a female hardy kiwi and they did have some splashes of white and pink. Here were my original plants, just starting to show some paint splashes on some leaves.

The female plant also had fruits -- little tiny grape sized kiwis that looked like gooseberries. Sweet and yummy, but not really like the brown fuzzy skinned kiwis we know.

I took the original kiwis out, because I just did not have a good sunny spot for them where they could climb. Now, the new kiwi vine has an arch to climb up and it seems happy at the entrance to the gravel area. It will get to about 15 or 20 feet, and grows vigorously, but it can take hard pruning, which of course I will need to do to keep it from swamping the small arbor structure.

As you walk through the gate you step on fragrant thyme. It is Thymus serpyllum 'Albus'. It has tiny white flowers that bloom forever. Thyme hasn't done well for me. It browns out in our humid summers and looks patchy, but right now it seems to like being near gravel and stone steps and a rock wall.

The pink leaved dwarf weigela next to the gate is looking pretty good too. It is 'My Monet', with very strongly variegated pink, cream, and green leaves. I did not actually plan to have this pink tipped shrub next to a gate covered by pink tipped kiwi foliage, but there it is.

Once the kiwi starts to color up in a few years it might be a nice repetition to have two pink variegated plants paired up. The things I don't even think of turn out to be the best combinations in my garden sometimes.

The little weigela brightens up the dark smokebush at the top of the stone wall.

In earliest spring the gate is flanked by a star magnolia.

And in fall fragrant aster, 'Raydon's Favorite', takes over the job of welcoming you into the gravel garden.

At Christmas the gate doors are closed, the seating area furniture is put away, and the arch becomes the perfect place for a wreath.

The metal arbor structure is inexpensive and not very sturdy.

It is powder coated aluminum, so lightweight that a small animal could push the whole thing over. The gate doors are out of kilter and latch awkwardly. I got it on Amazon, assembled it myself, and the legs are simply pushed into the dirt to stand it up.

I'm not sure it will hold up to a big woody kiwi vine climbing over it, or whether it will even last another season or two before the legs give out or frost heaves pitch it askew.

The area around the entrance is finally coming together with pleasing plant combinations and a nice welcoming look. I really wish I had invested in a strongly built, permanently anchored arbor. Is it too late to replace it with something sturdier, now that the kiwi vine is draped over it?

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!