Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Slow Decline

We're back to hot humid summer. The cool weather has gone, but not my rib wracking cough. And now an angry looking cold sore the shape of Illinois has formed above my lip. I suffer.

I fear I am watching a slow rolling catastrophe. . . . not my health, but rather the 'Bloodgood' Japanese maple by the deck may be in decline. It may take years to succumb, but every time I look at this pretty tree, I see a problem gradually unfolding in front of me.


It's no mystery. The tree has phytophthera canker, a fungal root rot. I noticed wet black weeping areas below the graft last year, and Bartlett has been treating it with a systemic soil drench several times a year now.

One side of the slender trunk is hollow sounding when tapped, a sign that there is a dead area under the bark. The affected part of the root flare has turned powdery, and there are now tiny orange fungal spores on the trunk, which is a sign of decayed material underneath.

The tree, helped by the soil drench, will either fight off the canker and heal itself around the dead areas, or it will not. But it will be a slow process before it's clear which will happen.

Although the canopy looks full and the color is rich red, I can see tip dieback on the upper twigs. That's a sign that enough of the roots have died off that the remaining roots are having trouble supporting new growth.


It looks wrong to me. Normally by mid summer the leaves darken to a mahogany color before returning to bright scarlet again in fall. This year they have stayed bright red well into the end of July. It's a beautiful color, but somehow it looks stressed to me, especially in full sunlight. Too bright, too red, too unseasonable.

Overall, it has a funny limp look that is not evident to a casual observer -- really, it looks fine, doesn't it? -- but to me it just doesn't look right.

I planted Acer palmatum 'Bloodgood' in fall 2008, and here it is in 2009 on the left, compared to what it looks like now, five years later in 2014.

What a gorgeous tree. I have every hope that it will fight off the canker and form protective scars around the dead parts. I have every expectation it will heal and carry on and become an even nicer tree. I do not want to watch it slowly decline.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

High Summer

I can't sleep. The tail end of my horrid cold keeps me up all night coughing. And what strange nights we are having in the height of summer -- cold, brisk nights that feel like the end of fall. The temperatures have been in the 50s overnight, and the daytime air is cool and damp.

These cool (really chilly) conditions would be perfect for me to be out in the garden doing the edging that I've wanted to get at for a while. Perfect weather for the work, which is not hard, but does require  a lot of up and down activity. But I'm too sick. So the camera does the gardening instead.

Monarch butterflies love onions, who knew? This one spent half an hour drunkenly flitting in and out of the Allium 'Millennium' blooms. At one point it chased Jim around, flitting right at his head until he moved away.


Crocosmia 'Lucifer' is brilliant scarlet red, positively satanic.

In contrast, plumbago auriculata is such a cool delicate blue, highlighted in front of the brick wall.

Tobacco has spread in the garden. This is Nicotiana alata, so delicate and pretty. It is fragrant on a warm humid night, but with our cold nights there has been little scent.

This is tobacco too. It's Nicotiana sylvestris, and is supposed to get 12 feet tall. So far, fully blooming in the middle of high summer, it's only about 4 feet tall, but a striking looking plant.

Summer's evening light spotlights what it wants me to notice.

 Nothing says high summer like big white daisies and a new garden bench under a tree.

Another sight that announces high summer is bottlebrush buckeyes in full riotous bloom. With the cold nights and cool days now, the Aesculus parviflora are not yet blooming. There are tall brown wands rising out of the foliage, but no white bottlebrush rockets exploding. My pictures from past years show all the spikes completely open by July 15. This year the show is still pending.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Gray Metal Bench

I like it.

I have a new bench, tucked into the leafy yellowroot along the berm.

It's in a shady spot in the morning, a great place to sit for a little bit under the birch tree. It went together easily, and sits level without any wobble. It is surprisingly sturdy for a lightweight metal bench.

I need to move the birdbath away from it a little more, though. The birds will decorate the bench and I don't want that.

It's gray metal. I simply cannot bring myself to buy painted accents for the garden, or put bright pillows on the chairs, or place colorful glazed containers around with plants in them.

Almost all my pots are neutral -- terra cotta or hypertufa or cement colored. All my outdoor furniture is naturally silvered teak or black powder coated metal. Accents in my garden include a gray cottonwood stump, a bleached natural wood birdhouse, oxidized brown cast iron tuteurs, a cement colored birdbath.

That iron birdbath in the picture above next to my new bench was a gift, and it was originally painted yellow, but the paint disappeared after the first year and I like it unpainted now.

The potting table and tool shed and the deck itself are weathered cedar. The patio is gray paver stones. A small sundial has a verdigris patina.

I see so many wonderful bright colors used as accents in the gardens I tour -- turquoise blue pots, red lacquered chairs, whimsical painted birdhouses, even a fence woven of shimmering purple ribbons that was fantastic.

I can't do it.

Garden style is personal, and while I love how gardeners use pops of color in the gardens I visit, I am most happy in my own garden with its repeated soothing neutrals that hide in the background.


I like my new gray bench.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Summer Blues

After so much dry weather, we are getting a little light rain -- a quarter inch Sunday night and another quarter inch Monday night and a gloomy wet day today (naturally, as we are going to the beach to visit friends today. Of course it's a yucky day).

The blues are upon us.

Feeling blue -- I have a summer head cold, not tolerating it well.

Enjoying blue -- a lovely hydrangea.

Blue all over -- tiers of lace caps.

Seeing blue -- actually blue eyes seeing me.

Swearing a blue streak -- at the birds who have discovered the blueberries this year.

They leave me only a couple ripe ones hidden below the leaves; all the rest they get. Last year the blueberries went undiscovered and I had the crop all to myself, despite not netting the bushes. This year they found them.

Planting blue -- at least planting a tree called "blue beech".

There is nothing blue about Carpinus caroliniana at all, but I guess the smooth gray rippled bark must read kind of bluish from afar. I got two small ones at Broken Arrow last week, to enhance the grouping in the meadow from three to five now. A grove of blue beeches.

We went to Broken Arrow because I was looking for a male Ilex opaca, to assure that we get berries on the female American holly we had installed on the east side. But they did not have a small one that I could plant myself. And, actually, the holly in our yard is covered with berries this summer, so it is being pollinated from somewhere. I guess I don't need a male after all (well, I do, but his name is Jim and he's not a holly.)

I also picked up another New Jersey Tea shrub to plant at the edge of the gravel garden.

And some more bright orange butterflyweed and another mukdenia rossii.

Despite my cold we went on two fantastic Garden Conservancy open tours this past weekend, right here in town. One was the Mann's garden, full of quirky art and imaginative designs. It was an acre of separate rooms, each with a distinctive personality and great use of plants. This garden entertained me!

The other was Cheryl's garden, with its open sweep down to the old farm pond, and the antique outbuildings surrounded by exuberant daylilies and mixed perennials. The shade walk under a massive canopy of trees was wonderful to wander in during the heat of the day. Her garden calmed and soothed me. Ommmm.

These two garden visits easily banished any feelings of the blues I may have had.  Still have the cold, though.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Green Peppers

Still warm and summery and no rain.

I really like this bushy perennial with its white and green leaves that smell like green peppers when you touch the foliage.

This is caryopteris divaricata 'Snow Fairy', not to be confused with the woody subshrub caryopteris clandonensis, which is called blue mist shrub. This herbaceous caryopteris is a totally different thing, somehow related, but I'd never guess it.

The flowers are insignificant -- I think it had little blue flowers earlier in the year, but I don't remember. It's grown for the foliage, and what a bright, clear, tidy look it provides along the west walk.

It has what people describe as stinky foliage, but I think it smells fresh, like a green pepper just sliced. Sharp but interesting.

Speaking of green peppers, my two container plants on the deck are popping out green peppers galore. I bought two bell pepper starts at Lowe's in spring, one green, one yellow. They are both green.
Look at that smiling face in profile on the middle pepper! Why do vegetables always look like funny people?

And I have carrots, but they are still little. I pull one every few days as I see the shoulders emerging from the soil in the pot, but there is just one pot with only a dozen carrots in it, and the more I pull that aren't ready yet, the fewer mature carrots I'll have.

The two pots of spicy basil have been overproducing and I now have so much pesto in the freezer I can host an Italian feast and have pesto for every dish and dessert too.

The lettuce is gone, I pulled that out. And I let the dill bolt, I like the yellow flower umbels more than the culinary use. The orange mint is going strong, the oregano and marjoram too. My container garden on the deck is a success.

But it's the green bell peppers that dominate right now. I smell the distinctive sharp aroma every time I walk by the pretty caryopteris and touch its leaves.

And I pick peppers for dinner every night.

How you want your burgers -- with sliced green peppers?



Thursday, July 10, 2014

A Whiff

It's still hot and sunny and dry, but this morning the air was a little fresher and nice for a walk around the yard. I do wish it would rain.

Twice this summer I have caught a scent from the sweetbay magnolia blossoms outside the bedroom window.

Once was on a humid night a week ago. The window was open and as I passed by there was a distinct perfume in the air. Not lemony, as the sweetbay's scent is advertised to be, but heavy and seductive and magnolia-like.

A couple nights ago I smelled it again as I walked around the curve of the pathway and under the magnolia. Again it was a humid night. It was just a hint in passing, but it smelled like expensive perfume.


I have ranted on and on about how my Magnolia virginiana has no fragrance. I planted it seven years ago and it bloomed early, but never smelled like anything. I wrote posts about it on my main blog, and have complained to anyone who would listen that plant breeders have taken all the fragrance out of new cultivars.

But there it was. Distinct, not at all light or lemony, and hard to detect again after the first whiff or two.

After all this time, what a tease.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Feels Like Winter

It's the time of year when I'm indoors all day, just like in winter. But it's the heat that keeps me inside now.

Over the weekend we got refreshing weather after the hurricane passed, but now it is hot and windy and uncomfortable. It feels stormy but nothing happens.

The rain we just got on the fourth of July is a distant memory as the dry turbulent air makes everything in the garden look heat stressed, wind blown and thirsty.

There is so much that needs tending in the garden, but I don't go outside. The Shasta daisies look fresh in the morning light, though.

Our neighbors have a home at the shore, on Long Island Sound. What a delight, to be able to get away to the ocean in summer, I say.

Naw, they say. There is no air conditioning at the beach house, so we don't go when it is hot. We stay here so we can be indoors in the a/c.

Even they had to laugh at the logic of having a house at the shore and staying home in summer because it's more comfortable.

It sure feels like it does all winter. I'm hunkered down inside, with zero interest in even peeking outside, and it's apparently even too hot to go to the beach.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Kindergarten Crayon Colors

Sunny and breezy and fresh. Hurricane Arthur passed by us, and we only got a quarter inch of rain, although it was wet and gloomy all day. After the storm, the air for the past two days has been cool and the sun is brilliant.

The Eastern prickly pear (Opuntia) is blooming now. Bright yellow! It's a native cactus in New England, which surprises everyone. Yes, there is a native cactus here.

It is nestled along the edge of the gravel garden, but even planted in the pebbles, it is not dry enough for it, really. Most of the year it looks like mush, and only perks up in summer for a while. The flowers are really happy looking, though.

The same yellow hue is blooming on the 'Blue Velvet' St. Johnswort. A real lemony kind of color.

Clematis 'Jackmanii' is flowering abundantly right now, completely covering the metal tower it is draped over. It actually climbed up to the top of the tower and then ran back down the other side and is now reaching along the ground below it.

It's definitely purple -- a velvety color that is hard to describe.

Butterfly weed (Asclepias) is in bloom. A deep orange milkweed that stays low and shrubby, unlike the tall wild milkweeds in the meadow.

The orange of the milkweed is exactly the same orange as the ditch lilies along the back of the yard and the hot punches of color echo each other from a distance.

There are softer colors in the garden -- some pink zinnias, and the standby whites of 'Becky' shasta daisies and the dangling white handkerchiefs on the clematis viticella. Some soft magenta irises by the creek bed are blooming and scattered lavender cranesbill too.

But it is the kindergarten crayon colors right now that catch my eye -- yellow! and purple! and orange!

Friday, July 4, 2014

Arthur and the Alliums

I can't remember having a hurricane so early in the season. Today, on the fourth of July, Hurricane Arthur is headed up the coast. We aren't directly in the path, but we'll get rain today as it passes by New England. Thunderstorms brought an inch of rain last night, and now Arthur will bring more.

We needed the rain badly.

I don't know if it was the ultra dry conditions for the past three weeks, but there are no drumstick alliums this year. The fine wispy foliage emerged, then turned to hay and laid down in the dirt.

I have allium sphaerocephalon planted in small sweeps all over in Meadow's Edge and in the gravel garden, and every single area has little piles of dry string instead of tall upright wands with purple pompoms on them.

This is how they are supposed to emerge -- last year in June they were tall and sturdy.

And when they open their drumstick flowers on top of straight stems, they are supposed to look like this, as they did last 4th of July.

But they are just totally gone this year in every spot where they had been.

The other alliums in my garden were fine this year. They bloomed earlier, so maybe the last three weeks of rainless weather did not affect them, but did affect the later blooming drumstick alliums.

Here were the pretty little allium 'Graceful' plants blooming in mid June by the patio wall.

And in early June the bright yellow little allium moly flowers opened nicely, although these alliums never spread about the way they were supposed to.

The big globe alliums were dramatic back in late May too.

I have summer blooming alliums 'Millennium' growing in a container, and they are doing very well, but of course they got watered every day when I watered the vegetables and herbs in my pot garden on the deck.

So is it just water and timing? The three week stretch of no water just at the time the drumsticks were getting going? The sprinklers ran, but was it not enough? And now too much?

Water and timing -- sigh. Hurricane Arthur brings us rain and we need it, but does it really have to be on the fourth of July? And my pretty drumstick alliums are getting rained on, but not at the right time apparently. They are lost for the season.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

They Were Right

So hot and dry -- it's been three weeks now without any rain and the lawns all over the neighborhood are looking patchy, ours included. We run the sprinklers, but the grass in spots is browning and the gardens are stressed despite the hours I spend trying to water the most vulnerable plants.

Not mine. It could have looked this way someday, though
I hate it when sources are discouraging about something I want to plant . . . like the people who said a pagoda dogwood was difficult to grow.

I had trouble finding a nursery that would sell Cornus alternifolia, and when I asked Bartlett they tried to discourage me. They said they don't do well, although they are native trees that grow wild in the woods. In landscapes for some reason, they perish.

I found a species pagoda dogwood at Broken Arrow in 2011 and put it by the dry creek bed, nestled among the pretty blue forget me nots. It got shade in the afternoon in summer. It did okay for two years, it flowered and the fall color was great, but it had some signs of stress.

This spring it died. It did not leaf out at all, not even one leaf. It did try to flower, with a lot of stunted, half formed blooms.

I took it out and will not put anything in that spot. Earlier this spring the bed of forget me nots by the creek looked a little forlorn without the pagoda dogwood there any more.

(Before the Cornus alternifolia there had been a small redbud in that same spot, a strongly variegated one called Silver Cloud that they said was difficult to keep alive and very prone to die. They were right. Mine died the first winter.)

They were right about the sensitivity of yellow flowered magnolias too, and last spring I lost my beautiful magnolia 'Elizabeth'.

I hate that they were right about clematis 'Henryi' and clematis wilt. Many large flowered clematis are prone to this incurable fungus, but 'Henryi' is often mentioned by name as a susceptible cultivar.

Of course they were right and my 'Henryi' got it. New shoots wilted at the top where the emerging blooms were, then the leaves blackened below, and last night I had to cut the whole thing down.

The big white clematis flowers were so striking. But they were right about its disease susceptibility and of course my pretty plant succumbed.

How I hate it when sources predict there might --- might -- be trouble with a plant, and then it always happens to mine.