Sunday, August 28, 2016

Change of MInd

I changed my mind. Because I can.

Example of 'Valley Valentine' in bloom in early spring
Instead of the rooted anemone cutting in the open space where the baptisia had been, I decided I'd rather substitute an andromeda.

Andromeda, anemone, keep them straight.

I got a nice sized end of season container of Pieris japonica 'Valley Valentine' at Moscarillo's.

This variety of pieris gets 4 feet tall and 4 feet wide, exactly the size of the area where the baptisia had been.

It's an evergreen shrub, and it will take the half-shade, half-sun north side of the house.

Flowers are jewel pink and profuse
The rooted anemone cutting I had just planted there had the advantage of being free -- I dug it up from the pink 'Robustissima' plant already by the patio wall. It would also fill the space, and take the half-shade conditions. The flowers are tall and airy and quite pretty.

But the anemone is a perennial, and is cut to the ground each year, and I already have a pretty specimen by the patio. I really wanted something different, and more substantial and something to look at in winter in this spot.

I had a small 'Valley Valentine' pieris a couple years ago, but it did not do well. I had it on the east side of the house, but it baked there. The east side gets reflection off the house siding and full sun for more than six hours before the house starts to shade the area. I think that was too much bright sun for this plant.

So that little one wound up in the cooler, shadier patio garden at my sister's condo, where it is doing much better, although still quite small.

Now I want to try it again, in what I hope is a more favorable location.

Pieris is a slow grower, but it will eventually fill that open area

The anemone cutting will now go in another spot in the garden where I need to fill an open space and where it will be okay if it is cut to the ground in winter.

I do have a few concerns. Pieris can be subject to mites and phytophthora, although 'Valley Valentine' is supposed to be disease resistant. I've had phytophthora on the other side of the patio (my lovely Japanese maple succumbed), and of course the reason I have an open spot to fill here is that the baptisia got such a case of spider mites.

Leaves are a little yellow from being in a pot all summer,
but they will green up after some time in the soil.

Am I going to have those issues with 'Valley Valentine'? Right now I think that this pieris is the perfect size, structure, flowery interest and evergreen look for the open area I want to fill, but I'll change my mind (again) if mites or other problems show up.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Bye Bye Baptisia

Removing a mature baptisia is difficult. They have deeply entrenched tap roots and it's really hard to dig one up. The effort requires an axe, a sharp spade, a crowbar, a shovel, and a young man.

On a cool breezy August day after a couple inches of needed rain, I removed the 'Twilite Prairieblues' false indigo that I planted in 2008. I managed to do it without the young man, and I used the claw end of a hammer instead of a crowbar. Oof.

'Twilite Prairieblues' in bloom -- for all of three days in May it looks like this.

Two years in a row this large baptisia has become very badly infested with spider mites and the foliage is simply stripped. Partially bare stems and stippled gray leaves are all that remain in summer, with a pool of dropped dry leaves at its feet.

It can be treated with horticultural oil, but you need to get it early and often, and this baptisia does not have enough redeeming features for me to fuss with it.

Baptisias are supposed to be totally trouble free and easy, and they are long lived in the garden. You can read the results of the trials of baptisias that Mt. Cuba Center did here:

pdf file

It's an extensive review, and beautifully illustrated with great photographs of many varieties, so check out the pdf file. They have some clear top performers, and they do mention the 'Twilite' baptisias as being good ones, although slightly lower rated.

But nowhere do they mention infestations of spider mites as a problem. My plant has become so troublesome. On top of that, I never really did warm to the flower display on this variety.

Foliage is normally quite clean and bright looking.

The blooms are very brief in May and oddly colored. For years I've complained that they are rust-gray, if such a color can be imagined. In the right light and close up (or in a vase indoors) they are a very pretty purple, but from a distance -- even just sitting a few feet away on the patio -- they look a grim industrial rust color.

So I didn't grow this for its flowers. I keep it for its foliage and to anchor the open spot in this garden by the house.

Now not only do the flowers disappoint, but the foliage disappoints when it gets so diseased looking in summer from the spider mites. Baptisia leaves are normally a nice medium green and after the brief flowering is done, the plant is a good bushy filler all season.

Foliage looks good until the spider mites invade.

I couldn't stand to look at my diseased baptisia any more this summer. I cut it to the ground and then I dug up what I could.

After I got the incredibly tough stone solid rootball mostly hacked up and chopped out, I put in a small rooted cutting of an existing 'Robustissima' fall anemone that anchors one end of the patio wall.

If you have an empty spot in the garden put a bunch of pots in it.

It sends out runners everywhere and needs a lot of attention to keep it from overtaking the lawn and everything nearby. But the good news is that I easily dug up one of the rooted runners, and planted it where the baptisia had been, and it will fill the area and echo the other anemone with pretty pink flowers in late summer.

The existing Anemone tomentosa 'Robustissima' by the patio wall.

As lovely as baptisias can be, mine was not. So bye bye!

I just wish I'd had a crowbar and a young man to get the cussed thing out. What a job it was.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Water Falling Out of the Sky

It rained 2.25 inches overnight. A soft, soaking, gentle rain, followed by a cool, sparkly morning. Everything is wet. Rain clings to the screens on the porch as the sun comes up.

I could not keep up with watering everything this summer and so my garden suffered. Badly. But there were some areas I did faithfully water and yet those well watered plants struggled, diminished, limped along and looked awful even though the soil was plenty damp.

And now, with the magic of a soaking overnight rain and cool temperatures, those strugglers look refreshed. 

I've often marveled that hand watering the gardens repeatedly with a hose never produces the effect that water falling out of the sky does. 

Friday, August 19, 2016

Feeling Better

Well, this is how I feel right now -- oddly unkempt, brightly hopeful, a little derelict and surprisingly upright.

Lobelia cardinalis - cardinal flower

I'm better now than I was in the last post. The oppressive humidity has dropped, and the days are summery and nicer. A day trip to the shore yesterday with my garden group was delightful, a real restorative.

I love that one cardinal flower trying to escape his companions

I'm still discovering trees I have lost this summer. The large pagoda dogwood that I carefully planted in shade near the woods is completely gone now. Like the blue beeches and the hemlock and blueberries, it dropped all its leaves and has either gone into total dormancy or is dead.

But I'm better. We're watering a lot more now and parts of the lawn are quite green, although they are mostly clover. A little bit of the stressed 'Dimity' Himalayan fleeceflower is blooming now where the sprinklers consistently hit it.

The lawn is mostly clover now. The rabbits approve of that.

I had started dahlias from seed in pots earlier in the summer, and I planted those out in some of the open bare spots of the garden where I had to take out things. A rabbit ate three of them to the ground, but the others are okay. I'm not even sure what color or kind of dahlia blooms they'll be, but when they flower there will be some color.

I cut down the big diseased baptisia under the bedroom window, leaving a large open spot that I filled by plunking a container of cosmos over the cut stumps. I trimmed all the frazzled epimedium foliage to the ground. It looks bare but spare under the maple now.

I've been cutting off dead branches (a huge section of the star magnolia had to come off) and all this cleaning up of dead stuff has made me feel better.

The Birch Garden has gone into its summer mode, where purple reigns.
Garden phlox 'Nicky' is an ungodly shade of purple,
but it's tall, it's colorful, and it's what is there.

In close up the garden looks fine, surrounded by its frame of green lawn. But if I step back, the lawn looks pretty bad.  So I don't look, I just squint to keep the garden in my frame of vision and not the lawn.


You know what looks good despite the dry summer? The panicle hydrangea is blooming its head off.

'Tardiva' hydrangea paniculata.

It is bungee-corded all through the interior to keep the floppy branches from arching out and splaying open, and so far that is working to keep this hydrangea a nice shape.

Another surprise is that the delicate little flowers of the hardy geraniums have finally come out -- they are quite late this year, but pretty and profuse. The plants themselves are looking thin especially beyond this one patch, but they are flowering nicely.

Geranium wlassovianum

I thought I had killed the woody caryopteris 'Sonw Fairy' when I dug it up this spring. It really was about as gone as could be after I found I could not dig it up whole or move it. It got separated into brittle chunks of woody root and was gone.

Here it is now, looking good despite having been hacked to pieces and despite the harsh dry summer.

Caryopteris divaricata 'Snow Fairy'

The walkway at the side of the house looks surprisingly refreshing. The Japanese forest grasses look like golden waterfalls. I can almost hear water burbling as I walk by.

Hakonechloa grasses, the 'Snow Fairy' caryopteris, and a blue leaved
St. Johnswort look lush despite the dry summer

My mood is better. There are lovely things to see in the garden as long as I don't look at the trees I've lost, the empty spots where perennials were cut down, or areas of the lawn that browned out.

There are refreshing spots to walk through, and some color in places. The Rose of Sharon by the dining room window is thin looking and a little stressed, but its big white flowers make me smile each time I see them framed in the window.

Rose of Sharon 'White Chiffon' outside the dining room window.

So, I'm not as despairing as my last post. Still unnerved by an awful summer and too many losses, but better. Still looking at property out west, but that's a decision long in the making involving grown children, possible grandchildren and lifestyle changes for the future. That's another post.

Right now, I'm good.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

The Color Brown

We've been getting brief thunderstorms that drop a quarter inch of rain now and again, but it's too little too late after a completely rainless summer. And now August temperatures are scorching.

We've spent a fortune watering all summer, and that extravagance combined with the brief storms has left some tufts of lurid green holding on around the dry spots, but it mostly looks ratty.

In addition to losing all six of the transplanted blueberries, and the young blue beeches in the meadow, which are dead leafless sticks now, I have lost the pretty hemlock I planted in 2008.

The birds nest spruces that had been transplanted on the berm last year are now gone. Both have to be taken out.

A rabbit cut the stems of the sweet autumn clematis by the new deck. The vines were not eaten or stripped, just cut at ground level and left there dangling. I removed the severed parts, leaving the two skimpy remaining vine stems. Last night the second stem was cut and now only one remains.

That's a loss. The roots are probably okay, but after nurturing this vine through the deck construction damage this spring and watering it faithfully all summer, it's discouraging to lose its sweetly scented flowers this fall.

Things that are supposed to handle dry conditions well, like epimediums and comptonia, now look brown and crispy. I'll cut off the dried foliage of these Epimedium rubrum plants, and they'll probably come back next spring.

Along with all the astilbes, the dwarf goatsbeard has dried up and left some brown debris in its place. Are the roots of this pretty foliage plant still alive? Will they resprout next spring?

The local garden club is supposed to come after Labor Day to tour my garden, but I have nothing to show. What isn't dead is scorched  -- ravaged bottlebrush buckeye foliage, curled brown leaves on the yellowroot, shriveled viburnums, droopy dogwood leaves, a dead hemlock and other expired things. I have little blooming besides black eyed susans.

I did start some dahlias in pots on the potting bench -- I'll plant those and they might bloom in time for Labor Day. And I'll buy colorful mums and put them about, but I don't think the garden club is coming to see potted mums really.

Out west the treeless brown landscape is spacious and wide and expansive. The dry air and dry land and dry brown colors look natural and right. Refreshing, actually.

Here in my eastern woodland garden the tufty hay colored patches of lawn and dead sticks of plants look so sick. What hasn't up and died looks diminished, even the things I water faithfully. Branches of 'Gro Low' fragrant sumac, which loves dry conditions, are browning one at a time as the plants slowly commit suicide.

I thought I'd come back from Wyoming feeling revitalized, but I'm down. I'm looking at real estate ads for western communities and Jim is researching auction sites to sell his power tools and John Deere lawnmower.

One bad season is only one bad season -- much will recover next year I hope. But there it is.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

My Next Home

My next garden is going to be in a dry climate. 
Cold wet winters, damp soggy springs and summers too humid to garden or even sit outside are wearing on me. I will learn xeriscaping and I will have flowers and foliage and color and shade, but I don't want to be confined to such a limited window to enjoy it.

My next house is going to have tile floors and radiant heat in the floors. 
I like winter, I'm not one who has to flee south for the duration. But how cozy would warm floors be?  

My next yard will have much more hardscape and very little lawn.
It's a challenge to keep a decent lawn for all the reasons that the environmentalists charge, and my attempts here at narrow stone paths, skinny walkways and a smallish patio and gravel sitting area have only been stabs at true hardscape. I want a big stone terrace that IS the back yard, large gravel areas, arbors and pergolas and all sorts of boulders and stone walls. Lots of it. No grass except maybe an oval spot somewhere surrounded by stonework.

My next home will not have a cranky dehumidifier that needs emptying every day in summer just to keep mold away.
In a dry climate they use humidifiers to ADD humidity to the house. Go figure. I'm tired of running our dehumidifier and lugging pails of water up the stairs each day.

My next house will have solar panels.
This house has solar panels too, but I just thought I'd specify that. It's something I don't want to give up. 

My next garden is going to be smaller. 
What I have here is too much to take care of. Especially since it is never going to mature. Every winter I lose so much and have to redesign and replant, and now this difficult summer I'm losing more that I have to take out and replant. I'm always starting over. Change and loss is part of gardening, so I will always be replanting, but I want much, much less of it. 

My next house will not have tacky coasters scattered around on every table surface.
I won't need them. Drink glasses don't sweat all over everything making puddles on tabletops in a dry climate.

My next garden borders will have drip irrigation installed.
Maybe even on a timer.

My next house is going to be a condo.
Out west.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

New Paver Walkway

When we were gone last week, our contractor came and installed our front walk. He took up the narrow straight concrete walk and installed pavers in a curved shape.

He did all the messy work of tearing out concrete, digging, hauling it away, cutting stone, and laying the pavers while we were gone, so that was a real convenience for us. By the time we got home, it was done.

But I was a little surprised -- the layout was a bit different than what we had talked about before we left. It looks great, though, and I have no complaints.

No complaints. But. . . .

I wanted the apron leading to the driveway to be a little bigger, wider, and more of an invitation to enter.

The space to the right of the entrance under the dogwood was filled with epimediums, which I removed before we left so he could extend the width of the apron to that side, but instead the walk entrance is narrower, and he put in mulch where I had removed the groundcover.

But no issues. It's curvier and narrower than I expected, but the work is great, the pavers are a real upgrade, and it's fine.

I thought the walk would come closer to the light post as it curves toward the front steps, but it makes the turn short of the light post.

That's okay. But now I need to cut the border to meet the curve and add some plantings under the post. I hadn't expected that -- I thought the stonework would curve out and around up to the foot of the post.

So I have some work to do at this curve. Not an issue, though. The walk is a little narrower and smaller than what I thought the result would be, but I'll add some plants. Plants are always the solution.

It's all good. It's a major improvement. I wasn't here, so the decisions on width, curves, and shape were made by the contractor, and he did a good job. Workmanship, clean up and final results are great.

I like it.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Feels Like Home

This is not my garden. Not even close.

But when I come here it always feels like home.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Time to Give In

Jim did a great job keeping the pots on the patio watered while I was in California. We had a lot of heat and dry wind and no rain while I was gone, and the fact that he kept the containers looking good is impressive.

I came home to a flowering plumbago. It loved all the heat, and Jim's twice-daily watering. Apparently butterflies adore plumbago, because the plant vibrates with them.

But the rest of the garden has now succumbed to a rainless summer, and it is finally time to give in. I can no longer keep some things alive, much less looking good. I am gone again for a week, and Jim is coming, and I don't want to continue to squander expensive water on a hopeless cause.

I'll toss all the containers and start over again at Labor Day when I'll go shopping for mums for a few containers. That will have to do for patio decor this season.

Our absence in August won't affect what is gone already. The six blueberries I laboriously transplanted are gone, and I have now lost the second 'Mt. Airy' fothergilla, the oakleaf hydrangea, and even a 'Gro-Low' fragrant sumac, which is supposed to tolerate dry conditions.

The six transplanted blueberry bushes all look like this now

Astilbes by the patio wall disappeared in brown dust, although I hope the roots survive for next year. An entire flat of alyssum plugs never took at all, despite constant watering. They all have to come out.

The perennials I planted new this year -- purple coneflowers, some cute 'Biokovo' geraniums, alchemillas, and blackeyed susans, which were already curled and crisp even with all my watering, will all have to be sacrificed along with the container plants. I'm hoping they at least got enough roots going so that they will live to come back another season.

The established stands of pink turtlehead and frilly white obedient plant just shriveled and show no signs of flowering.

I don't want to lose an expensive new stewartia, but despite hand watering, it has brown, curled leaves. The dwarf winterhazel I moved struggled after transplant and now has almost no leaves at all. The new little blue beeches in the meadow and the parrotia by the driveway are young prized trees I will have trouble replacing.

A young blue beech (Carpinus caroliniana) has burnt up

And there are others . . . .

Older, mature favorites, like the katsura tree and bottlebrush buckeyes, look terrible. They have established root systems, and should be okay, but will simply look awful as they scorch, wilt or withhold flowering.
Bottlebrush buckeyes should have flowered in July. Leaves are wilted and scorched, and flower spikes won't open his year.

Spider mites have attacked a big 'Twilite Prairieblues' baptisia. Baptisias tolerate dry conditions and have lovely, trouble-free clean foliage, but this one is a mass of diseased gray leaves and bare stems. I'll have to completely cut it down and clean up the infected litter. That will leave a big empty spot and a crown of ugly cut stems but it's better than seeing the diseased foliage.

Some rain is falling as I pack for our trip tomorrow, but it's been mostly effective at wetting the chair cushions and not much else.

Given the effort of watering, and the expense, and the fact that most plants are now not responding to supplemental water anyway, I think my best option when I get back from our trip in mid August is to toss all the containers, pull the dead blueberries and oakleaf hydrangea and fothergilla out, chop down the diseased baptisia, cut back the shriveled perennials, close my eyes to the defoliating trees and shrubs, and give in. I can't save this season.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Gardens in Different Climates

I spent some time lounging in California gardens while I was away --- at my nephew's home where I stayed, at the home of the hostess of the bridal shower, and even touring a home under construction that my nephew is renovating. All were lovely large houses in nice communities, and all had similar elements that are so very different from the garden I have.

Last winter I read a lot about Islamic gardens, and that really helped me understand the elements of southern California spaces.
Char Bagh Islamic garden concept
They use the principles of enclosure, water and stone that Islamic gardens are built around. There is no front to the house, it's just a wall -- or in the case of southern California, it's a set of garage doors almost right on the street.

You enter that forbidding facade through a front door next to the garage doors, and come into the beautiful space that opens up. The hot dry world outside is effectively shut behind you. There is no garden that faces the street. It's all inside and behind.

Once inside, the houses blend from inside space into the back yard. And there is literally no yard (no grassy lawn). Each home I was in had an immense stone patio. Stonework covered every inch of the space behind the houses, and plantings surrounded the big patios thickly so that the immediate neighbors were not even visible.

These are totally private spaces. The houses are only feet apart, but high walls, tall bamboo, banana plants, palms and other trees hide the neighboring structures completely. Enclosure and privacy are absolute.
A typical California enclosed patio garden
The water feature of an Islamic garden is a fountain where four water channels cross. The water feature of a California garden is the swimming pool. The ones I saw were all beautifully constructed, with bubbling falls, stone steps, and curving walls.
This is the kind of water feature that is both pool to play in and fountain to enjoy
It's all so different from gardens in the northeast, where we don't want enclosure or refuge from the sunny outside world, we want to open up the forest to let sunshine in. Our gardens are carved out of woods and vines and grasses, and we mow, weed, prune and chop to keep a garden from being overtaken. Open lawn or sunny flower borders are prized.

When I first read about Islamic gardens I thought they were fascinating, but nothing that would appeal to me to live in. But having spent time in California gardens that mimic Islamic designs, I  find I really like the spareness of stone, the sense of enclosure and the privacy of being hidden from the outside world. I liked the flow in and out of the house as one space. I liked the stark visual contrast of stone and plants and the constant sound of falling water.

But I didn't like how quiet it was in that dry climate -- no incessant bird calls, no crescendo of chirring insects that announces a summer afternoon.

And I didn't like the smell of nearby wildfire smoke in the air.