Wednesday, July 26, 2017

And We Are Gone

My garden is sending me off with a fabulous salute and a show.

I am leaving it -- all of it, all I have created and all I have botched and everything I have learned here. The moving van has arrived.

The bottlebrush buckeyes have mounted a farewell that can't be rivaled.

And so we leave. Our journey to New Mexico and to our new home in the west begins.

I couldn't ask for a better sight on my last day in my garden. And just as vivid in my mind is the memory of these bottlebrush buckeyes just two years after transplant. They looked like this back then:

How they have grown and thrived. Will two New Englanders transplanted out west thrive too?

The next chapter starts in August when we close on a house in Santa Fe. 

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Father's Day 2017

My Dad.

Willis L. E. Funk

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Six Summers Ago

I used to keep a different garden blog than this journal. One July six years ago I put up a post on that blog just in fun -- I didn't think it would ever come true, but I amused myself with a little humor at the time

Now it is coming true.

You can re-read it here: A Letter to the New Homeowners (written July 28, 2011)

Exactly six years later I could now write a real version of that letter to real people who are closing on this house August 2. We have buyers for our home, and the deal is inked. We're moving.

While it will be hard to leave this garden I created, in many ways I look at it as my lab. When I started in 2005, I knew nothing whatsoever about horticulture and I experimented on this blank lot, making many errors and learning so much.

Am I walking away from my mistakes? Yes, a little -- there are things here I wouldn't do now that I know more. Some can be adjusted, like plant crowding or bad siting, but major things, like poor mechanical design of the dry creekbed or the unworkability of a garden under a maple tree can't be changed.

There are other problems, and every garden has them. If I was staying maybe I'd tackle some of the issues, but really, I'm no longer up for rehab projects. My experiments have been rewarding -- really, richly rewarding -- but I'm ready to be done messing around, and let someone else figure out how this garden could be edited, or perhaps professionally managed, or I guess even . . . . um, . . . eliminated?

These are no longer my decisions. Meanwhile for the remainder of the summer here, I am thoroughly enjoying my favorite plants, all my successes, and every inch of this laboratory of rookie garden design -- what a glorious place it turned out to be, mistakes and all.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Funny Faces

I think 'Kintzley's Ghost' is so silly looking. It's a honeysuckle (Lonicera reticulata) but it looks like something a kindergarten class came up with when the teacher said "draw a flower on a vine." They drew green circles and put faces on them, and made them sunny yellow, then added shaggy stuff because you should.

It's a fabulous vision of what a flowering vine should be. It makes me laugh.

Later in the season those round green bracts are supposed to turn papery silver. This is the first year this vine has flowered like this for me, so it will be interesting to see.

I'll need to keep it trimmed a bit. The flimsy metal trellis isn't big enough.

What fun to see these flowers as I come down the front walk. I swear I can hear five year olds giggling.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Pruning in the Gloom

Wow, it's been incredibly gloomy, dark, overcast, cold and rainy this May. A nice day here and there and then more gray.

I've been doing some pruning out in the gloom of day.

Every winter I cut back the big rangy smokebush above the stone wall at the top of the driveway. I cut it back to a stump just a foot above the ground, and it comes back by the end of May all full and leafy.

Cotinus coggygria 'Grace'

But by summer it's always a monster, with long, arching, out of control stems. Gardeners advise doing a second cut back in late May, right when it is the size mine is now. They advise cutting each new stem back by a third, and that will help the plant send up more vertical shoots, and perhaps somewhat shorter branches.

This is the first year I've taken that advice. I went out on a damp dark day and snipped each new shoot back by a third. After cutting back, it didn't really look any smaller, but maybe a bit tidier. By cutting off the new tips I lost the translucent look of the foliage, which is a feature of 'Grace' smokebush. We'll see now if this effort keeps it more upright and shorter in summer.

It doesn't look much different after snipping back.

I'm getting help with pruning from the deer. All the garden phlox has been snipped off, every last stem. Those white dots in the greenery show the damage to each stem.

Chomped and chomped.

Between the deer damage and the gray skies, it gets discouraging. Jim listened to me wail about it, then started googling "land mines for home use" and "venison recipes." His efforts do help.

Should I cut out all the dead parts of this poor shrub? Rose of Sharon is very late to leaf out, but there are shoots coming up nice and leafy from below, yet a lot of dieback all through the canopy.

Hibiscus syriacus 'White Chiffon'

There are no buds ready to open at all in those browned branches. With the shoots coming up lower on the shrub, I think I can severely lop off everything that's not leafing out and let the new shoots take over. I don't think you can kill a Rose of Sharon.

That will be my next gloomy pruning job to do.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Away From Here

Some of my plants don't like me and beg to go live somewhere else. I offer as proof the fact a red honeysuckle I gave to my sister two springs ago is now a glorious flowering vine at her place.

It wound up as freebie to her because it didn't like me. I had ordered a different honeysuckle several years ago from High Country Gardens, and this came (mismarked) instead. So we hit it off poorly to start.

I moved it a couple times, I potted it, it sulked and we just never got along. Now, climbing the fence near her pool, it is finally happy. I do love red flowers. And I do love that it found a better place to live than with me.

My other sister has some plants from my garden that I took over to her small patio space a few years ago. The Bergenia I gave her was never content in my garden, and the few I have remaining still look awful. But at her place pigsqueak thrives, with huge glossy leaves and a real presence.

Some plants just want to be away from here. That's okay. They found their homes in other places.

Thursday, May 25, 2017


Some things I thought would have survived last summer's drought really well have come in this spring looking stressed, and some plants that are water lovers sailed through and look great this spring.

The hedge of bottlebrush buckeyes looks fantastic this spring.
Aesculus parviflora, all green and full

To the left of the full shrubs there is the open space where we had one plant taken out (it was a different cultivar and looked odd). In that open space suckers from the original plants are filling in nicely.

Bottlebrush buckeyes want shade and water. They get neither in my full sun site, and they struggled mightily in the dry summer last year, refusing to flower at all and spending the season with browned leaves.

But here they are this spring, no worse for wear and looking lush.

The other buckeye in my garden is a red-flowered Aesculus pavia, a small tree with scarlet firecracker flowers.
It's a young tree, and this is the first year it has flowered well.

This little buckeye tree is also a water lover, but it came through the dry summer and looks the best it ever has. It's new and little, and this is the first year I've seen such a nice flower display.
Love the red spikes.

Both stewartias look really good this spring. They aren't the water lovers that the buckeyes tend to be, but they can be easily stressed in any hard conditions. The stewartias had no issues with the drought.

But other plants that like dry conditions and are tough as nails have come back this spring looking awfully miserable.

Comptonia, a tough suckering plant that likes dry and lean soil, has dieback throughout. I have already cut out some dead branches, but it looks terrible this year. Here it is in another year, looking great, but this spring it is too bare and open to even photograph.
Comptonia (Sweetfern) in prior years, full and lush

Another surprise is caryopteris, which is also supposed to like dry and lean soil. The woody caryopteris plants are slowly emerging this spring, so they survive, but the three I have are small and a little stunted looking so far.

And the herbaceous caryopteris, 'Snow Fairy' is barely emerging at all. There are a few wobbly looking shoots coming up. It emerges late, but this is the end of May, and there is almost nothing to see of this plant.
Stubs of 'Snow Fairy' caryopteris, with only a curled leaf or two emerging.

It's right under the thriving red buckeye. Did the thirsty buckeye manage to take all the water that was available last summer and starve the plant beneath it?

In summer this caryopteris is a full, shrubby plant, with white edged variegated leaves. It lives this spring, but looks like it is barely hanging on.
'Snow Fairy' caryopteris last summer, with its pretty variegated leaves

Another plant having a tough comeback this spring is my Rose of Sharon, despite being a tough, reliable plant. Hibiscus syriacus is always the last of the last to leaf out in spring, but never quite this late. It's slow, but you can usually see some tight budding getting ready to break when it's finally ready.

This year I'm seeing almost nothing. It may be fine, just delayed beyond its normal slow schedule, but it looks sort of dead right now.

This winter was mild, and we've had plenty of rain this spring, but last summer seems to have hit the dry loving tough-as-nails plants the hardest.

And there are other stresses right now. Our house is for sale, and we had a handful of lookers the first few days it was on the market, but no showings this week, and none scheduled.

Feedback from the few lookers we had was unhelpfully neutral -- "priced just right", "shows well", "not interested".

I'm a little stressed but trying to relax about it.

Monday, May 22, 2017


It's our wedding anniversary today. The doublefile viburnum marks the occasion every year by blooming perfectly and profusely and prettily, without fail.

It suffered in last summer's drought, but came back this spring as if nothing happened. Over the years harsh winters or heavy ice loads have done their damage, but the next year this doublefile viburnum blooms beautifully. It carries on, despite everything, and flowers reliably at the same time each spring.

There's a metaphor in there for how marriages work or something, but without belaboring the obvious, we are going out to enjoy a nice dinner and will come home to see this pretty shrub flowering as it always does to celebrate our anniversary.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Sunday, May 14, 2017

The Top of the Drive

I am pleased to see this spot at the top of the driveway finally come together. For the first time since I "designed" (a loose term) this view, it looks just right.

As you come up the driveway, you are greeted by a stately paperbark maple, and you see the little stone wall I built to mark where the parking area pavers edge the gravel garden. To the right is the walkway to the back yard, anchored by that asymmetrical blue spruce. It was supposed to be a dwarf mounded conifer, but it isn't. I actually pruned off about a quarter this spring to get this size and shape. I like it now.

To the left is a metal arbor and gate leading into the gravel seating area. I planted a male kiwi vine to cover it, and it's taken a while to start arching over the arbor. Finally, it's doing that. I'm still waiting for the pink coloration on the tips of the leaves. That takes a few years to show. But I do like this view now.

Fragrant creeping thyme has grown around the stepping stone at the entrance and is spreading into the gravel. And those are big, glossy, full inkberry hollies bordering the gravel area. They provide dense screening and a sense of privacy from the rest of the yard as you enter.

What I'm really pleased about at the top of the driveway is that the creeping phlox 'Fort Hill' has finally shown up. I had a hard time over the past three years getting it to take. I planted a line of them to drape over the wall and they disappeared. I bought more and replanted, and they still did nothing for a couple years.

This spring they are wonderful. They're finally colorful and spreading all along the wall. They aren't draping over the edge of the stones yet, but they promise to.

What you don't see in this area is the smokebush, which is at the top of the wall in the middle. It's still a cut-back stump right now, allowing the low creeping phlox and daffodils to take the stage. Later in summer there will be a large shrubby smokebush there, but by then the daffodils and the phlox will have gone by.

A few years ago I stuck a broken stem of sedum into the crack between some stones in the wall, and now it spills out abundantly, growing, apparently, on just grains of sand in the wall.

It has taken a while, and I got discouraged about ever having a nice spring view at the top of the drive, but now, finally, it looks great.