Friday, May 30, 2014

My Noisy Oasis

Since Memorial Day we have had a hot humid day in the 80s, a cold overcast gloomy day well below 60 degrees, and some pleasant sparkling sun. How's that for changeable weather?

This morning is pleasant and I like nothing better than a cup of coffee in the early morning in my garden. It's cool, the sun is warm and everything looks so nice.

But the noise!

We live in a suburban development of 60+ homes. There are lawns. They need to be mowed. The landscapers come with their giant machines and they roar.  The weedwhackers and blowers have a high whine that drones.

I truly cannot sit out in the garden while this goes on.

(This is not passing any judgement on lawns . . . a fraught topic . . . Jim mows our lawn and that makes noise too, although nothing like the roar of the commercial behemoths.)

Add to the lawnmower noise the busy road behind us, with school buses, garbage trucks, cars on the way to work, landscaping trailers, delivery trucks.

It's a narrow country road, twisty and hilly, but it carries a lot of neighborhood traffic and a lot of through traffic going to other neighborhoods. I had no idea when we moved in it would be so busy.

My reforestation plan to screen the back of our property with trees has worked really well, and now, going on 10 years later, when the leaves are out I can't see the road. But I hear it.

I really love the green, enclosed oasis of my garden. Although we are in a neighborhood, our house is situated so we don't have houses directly to either side, and with the trees becoming forest behind us, we have no houses in back.

But the noise!

A few updates:
> no strawberries yet. Last year at this time I was bringing in bowls of them. This cold spring they are late. There are lots of white berries ripening, none ready yet.

> the red peony has opened, the white Henryi clematis has a big bloom (and puckered leaves, not good), and the morning glory vine has a couple flowers although it is still small. The flowers are pink! Pink morning glories --- I wanted clear blue, but oh well.

> the new styrax looks terrible. Limp leaves, bare branches. I am despairing.

> in contrast with the styrax, the Forest Pansy redbud looks okay after my initial despair. It leafed out and there is some branch dieback but nothing too bad.

> planted mixed jewel color nasturtium seeds in some empty spots around the garden on Memorial Day. Not sure the ones I planted around the gravel garden are going to play well with pink morning glories.

> the lettuce in the herb bowl is not doing much. It's a cool weather crop, but doesn't seem to like so much cold. It's fine, just not bulking up at all. One plant keeled over, roots in the air, but the rest of the lettuce is just sitting there not growing much.

> amsonias are blooming, and the flowering dwarf deautzias are the prettiest ever.

> and the Kintzley's Ghost honeysuckle is blooming. What an interesting one this is. Later the round bracts will turn silver. A little focus trouble, but these blooms were down at the bottom, on the ground and hard to see, much less photograph.

> the Orange Dream Japanese maple has never stayed this bright orange this far into the season. The color has stayed intense with the cold nights all spring.

So much is happening, this is only a partial update of things I observe as I cruise the garden in the morning, coffee cup in hand, cursing the noise all around me.

Monday, May 26, 2014


It's overcast and humid today, Memorial Day, but the weekend was that rare moment of balance when everything is just right. The air was dry and cool and 72 degrees.

The meadow has greened up but is not yet a jungle of goldenrod and ragweed.

The lawn is green velvet, not burned out yet, not yet overrun with clover.

Plants are still small and perfect, just opening, just blooming. Doublefile viburnum 'Shasta' is graceful and perfectly formed.

The Birch Garden has frilly hyacinths in front, tall white aronia blooming in the center, and white irises. Everything is still small and tidy.

The itea in the middle layer is starting to leaf out. I was worried about it.

Columbines stand up tall and sturdy.

The dappled willows are right at their blowzy fullest and the white and pink tinged leaves are their most colorful, making them almost look like they are blooming.

Globe alliums stand sentry among the still small hydrangeas in the driveway garden.

Weigela My Monet is blooming and looks better than before. I moved it from its crowded spot in Northern Exposure, and it is still a little misshapen from years of shading in that space. But now it has some sun and an open spot and it looks better.

The redtwig dogwoods by the creek bed are blooming profusely, but the wild shrubs have not yet encroached on everything. The redtwigs by the front steps are also blooming heavily.

It's all in such perfect equipoise right now -- the size of the newly emerging plants, the tininess of leaves and flowers, the balance of sun and air and humidity, the intensity of colors.

Nothing has yet overgrown or run wild or encroached on anything else, and in fact I'm still waiting for some things to show up or leaf out. The long cold spring has kept everything in check.

For now.

Friday, May 23, 2014


aerial view
We stayed in Weekapaug at the head of Quonochontaug pond, just  a few miles past Misquamicut beach.

We drove down, passing through the town of Pawcatuck to get to Wawaloam Road on our way to find the inn.

I ate tautog (blackfish) and we watched men in chest high waders clamming for quahogs.

Place names and foods all up and down the Rhode Island coast are constant reminders of the Niantic Indians whose lands these were.

Now it's inns and beaches and restaurants, clam shacks and boat slips and the tasteful shingled summer homes of people who live somewhere else. We stayed at the old Weekapaug Inn, newly restored after 70 years.

We had the beach to ourselves. It was late May at the shore in Rhode Island, so of course it was cold and wet. It always is.

Beach plums were in abundant bloom all over. It is amazing what grows in pure sand. Storm Sandy picked up most of the sand on the ocean side and washed it into the salt ponds behind the beach in 2012. The grasses and beach roses and plums and poison ivy simply moved over and started growing where the sand got deposited.

The walk to the beach disorients --the sky and the sea are indistinguishable. Borders dissolve, the horizon wobbles. The air is fresh. There is always a salt tang to ocean air in New England that no other beach in the world has. Not Maui, not any Pacific beach, not Florida. Nothing smells as salty and sharp anywhere else.

We had a truly warm and lovely stay despite the brooding skies and cold damp.

Quonochontaug -- it's easier to say than it looks, even with a mouthful of fried quahogs and Narragansett beer.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Can't Shake the Unease

Sourwood just leafing out -- seems slow this year
Beautiful days lately, in the 60s or low 70s and pleasant, wonderful days for just sitting on the patio or in the gravel garden. It's still very cold at night, in the 40s.

I can't shake a funny feeling of unease as I wander around the garden. It's late May and I know the cold spring has delayed many plants. Others have bloomed or leafed out right on schedule and there is a lot of spring beauty going on.

But some things are more sensitive to the conditions and are slow to get going. And some just don't look good this spring.

I keep thinking "wait, be patient, we're a week or two behind". But as Memorial Day weekend approaches, I am feeling unsettled about waiting much longer.

In addition to what I already mentioned that died or struggled this winter, I know I lost the dwarf abelias (Fairy Dance) at the top of the stone wall. Abelias leaf out late, so I have been patiently watching, but there is nothing at all.

The Albury Purple St. Johnswort has been such a great plant for me along the west walk, but I can only find one or two leaves at the base this year. St. Johnswort can be a short lived plant. I think this one is gone.

I can see a little bit of red unfurling on the Forest Pansy redbud that I feared was lost. But it is skimpy and only on a couple branches, and by late May the tree should be full of tiny red heart shaped leaves opening up all over.

I know the smokebush will take off soon, but in late May, after being coppiced this winter, it is slowly putting out just a few stubby red leaves at a time. Last year I coppiced it as well, and it was really leafy and brightly colored by this time, and growing fast.

Dogwoods all over town look gorgeous right now, and our pink one looked bright and lovely until today, when it turned muddy. It's the effect of the emerging green leaves now hiding some of the flowers, and the blooms are fading.

The iteas, as I mentioned earlier this week, are bare stemmed with dead branches in a lot of places, and have just tiny leaves opening now. They have looked better in other years but I am waiting for them to fill in and see if they will be all right.

The bayberry (Myrica) in Meadow's Edge is always a pile of sticks until Memorial Day, and no different this spring. The doublefile viburnum in front of it is starting to bloom beautifully -- that's always going to be an unfortunate pairing, though, with the pretty white blooms on the viburnum and the bare twiggy plant behind it.  I blame the garden designer for that.

The persicaria affinis (fleeceflower) still looks awfully brown and ratty, and I am waiting for it to green up. I think it will -- it took a while last year too. There will be a few brown spots that I can dig out when it does fill in, but it seems like it takes forever to start looking ok.

Orange milkweed (Butterflyweed) is just now poking through the soil, its tiny shoots peeking up as if to say "is it Memorial Day yet? No? Still too soon?"

Most things are okay. Some plants I lost. But this waiting and waiting for things to improve is making me so uneasy.

I'm going to get my coffee now and go sit in the dappled shade on the patio and wait some more.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

I Have Immortality

It has been sunny and beautiful, but quite cool for a couple days now. The temperatures have been in the 60s and it's been cold at night, in the 40s.

All of the little seedlings I planted (the veggies in pots, the Black Beauty dahlias, nicotianas, the red salvias) are suffering. It just isn't warm enough for them, especially at night, and they are limp and small.

I have already lost half the Black Beauty dahlia seedlings -- they want hot weather to thrive. Sigh. I need to remember next year that they must stay inside in their pots until it's really really hot.

But there are other plants here that are happy in the cold nights and cool days.

'Immortality' irises are in bloom. They are sugary white and ruffled. They have spread and I now have about a dozen of them in a small stand. Yes, I have achieved immortality. In my garden.

The iteas seem to have a lot of dead stems this spring, and are leafing out slowly. Against the dead brown itea branches the Immortality irises look a little incongruent.

Orange Dream Japanese maple is living up to its name as it puts on its chartreuse and bronze leaves.

See how that little maple creates such a big pop of color in the distance. In this long shot you can barely see the tall white Immortality irises looking like pom poms in front of the brown mass of bare itea branches.

Camassias have opened up. I love their dark green strappy foliage and delicate blue starry spikes. They are pale, and the flowers are delicate, but the plants are massing well now and making a big full stand.

The dogwood is blooming. It still has an open gap in the crown from the 2011 storm, but it's filling in a little more each year.

Viburnums are starting to bloom. The blackhaws (V. prunifolium) are both in full bloom, but for some reason neither Jim's camera nor mine can capture them at all. They are subtle, flat, cream colored flowers that recede into the foliage on camera, but look lovely in real life.

The viburnum in the Blueberry Garden only has flowers on the bottom half. The top doesn't bloom, and it was the same last year too. It's weird. I can't get a good photo showing that. The one by the house has its subtle flat flowers all over.

Can you see any flowers on this nice little tree? Look close, they are all at the bottom.

Fortunately the doublefile viburnum's flowers do show up nicely on camera. The flowers are a clearer white and they just photograph better, even only partly open and still tinged with green.

Chocolate Chip ajuga is a purple carpet along the walk in back.

Despite having Immortality in my garden, the whole spring scene is actually quite fleeting. It looks like this only briefly!

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Officially Worried

Two inches of rain overnight, sparkling sunshine this morning. It rained hard. Everything looks wonderful now and the morning air is cool and fresh.

I saw a red fox for the first time. He trotted right through the back yard this morning on urgent business. I was surprised how big he was.

This is the first year I have not bought bags of bark mulch or ordered a big pile of it delivered. Instead, I have been spreading the unfinished compost I have.

Leaves and grass clippings and a lot of woody branches have been mouldering behind the berm for several years and since I have been turning it by hand, it is getting looser.

If I crumble it up, I can get a lot of rough, chopped material that works beautifully as a mulch around the gardens.

It looks better than the wood chips, darker and more woodsy and natural. There are sticks and whole leaves still in it.

The pine bark mulch I got last year from Envirocycle (rather than the dark spruce mulch) formed impenetrable mats and pieces of bark bleached out and got shiny. I hope my crumbled rough compost will stay fluffy and dark.

It probably has weed seeds in it -- that's a worry since this is not cooked, finished material.  And it may disappear quickly, which is a great amendment for the soil but I'll lose the moisture holding mulch effect. It's hard to get a photo of crumbled leaf litter, but here it is spread in the garden. Nice stuff. Free stuff.

Now that mid May has passed and we are entering late spring, I am officially worried about a couple plants.

The Forest Pansy redbud looks like it is struggling. There were just a few rosy flowers which Jim captured a week ago by going in very close for the shot.

But they were so few, and none were visible from more than10 feet away. Even silhouetted against a stormy sky before the rain came, you could not see the flowers.

The rain knocked the tiny flowers off and now, in the sunshine, I can see that there are a few --- a very few --- little leaves emerging. But not on all the branches.

I have had poor luck with redbuds. My beautiful 'Oklahoma' redbud was a stunner until it broke apart in the 2011 storm. This 'Forest Pansy' is the second one in this location and I don't think it's going to thrive. I won't replant if it goes too.

I am also officially worried about one of the blue beeches, Carpinus caroliniana, out in the meadow. Two of the trio (my attempt at a "grove") look good and leafy, like this one.

The third does not. It has a couple tentative leaves unfurling, but it's not good, and I'll probably need to take this out.

I'm also officially worried about one of the sassafras saplings. It's the odd one that has differently shaped darker, curled leaves than the others, and although it has buds, they don't look like they want to open, and some look dry.

It's a different sassafras, unlike the others, so maybe it's just very late to open. It doesn't look good, though.

The persimmons are late openers too, but I do see hints of leaves. A little more waiting before I get officially worried about them. The largest one is taking its time, but I do think it's ok.

Finally the sourwood is opening its buds, and the sweetgums. No worries there, just impatience on my part.

And the worry is over for a few things I lost, they are gone. My cherished spigelia marilandica, the pretty red flowered woodland plant that forms stands in part shade, won't grow for me and my one plant did not come back.

I lost both the dwarf potted Jelly Bean blueberries, one this winter, and the last one is not leafing out now.

But how can I stew and worry on such a clean, fresh, sunny day after a rainstorm in spring? How can I worry about a few losses when the ajuga is in full purple bloom, and the tiarella's spiky stars are open?

The woodland hyacinths have opened too, not very showy in the Birch Garden, but fragrant and cute. They are all a moody pale purple or cream, and hard to notice, but I love to see them.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014


Return to cool weather, in the 60s.

I am thinking about taking out the smokebush at the top of the driveway. It is Cotinus 'Grace', and it is beautiful in form as a mature shrub and lovely in leaf as it fills out. I still want one, but not here.

It gets cut back each winter to a few stubs, and then regrows beautifully and quickly in late May with nice foliage. But the problem is that it leaves a big empty spot until it regrows, and the table and chairs in the gravel garden are the things I most want screened from the street, especially in the early openness of spring.

This is as of May 13 and you can't even see the bare stubs. It isn't doing anything to define the seating area or shield it from the street and driveway, even as the landscape greens up and the weather becomes nice enough to sit there.

It is definitely ready to leaf out. I can see the bright red leaf buds forming. When it does start, it is quick, but this is mid May already.

The other problem is that in fall it is gorgeous, but its big upright form and complex wine purple color competes with the coppery paperbark maple next to it. I think some lower profile shrubs to the left of the maple would screen the area without overwhelming the paperbark so much.

My inspiration for putting a smokebush here came from a couple sources. One was Berkshire Botanical Garden, which had them in a mixed border along the side of the old house, with a low stone wall in front. See the sparkling red spires on the right --- I love everything about this composition.

The photo of this house at Berkshire Botanical was taken on July 25, at the height of summer. The smokebush is small, upright and almost tidy looking. Mine gets huge and ungainly by summer.

Another inspiration came from David and Sharon Mann's garden here in town. Their smokebush was such a nice undulating form with glistening purple foliage. Mine hasn't achieved that full rounded form yet. This photo was in mid June. Because it has the smoky plumes of flowers, I am assuming it does not get cut back.

At Chanticleer at the very end of June there were smokebush shrubs ringing a parking lot. A parking lot! But how beautiful those wine and green upright forms were.

'Grace' has a particularly luminescent look to its young leaves that is changeable with the light and variable at different times of the season.

Where could I put 'Grace' that she would shine like these examples? Where would it matter less that cotinus is late to fill out in spring and grows so upright and big?

I can't dig this big smokebush up, and sawing it to the ground stimulates regrowth -- I'll have to figure out how to keep it from regrowing if I do cut it down and replace it.

Replace it ---- ideas?

Maybe a couple 'Ogon' spirea shrubs would be tall enough, full enough and pretty enough to do what I want, but would stay well below the level of the maple. 'Ogon' spirea flowers early, leafs out early, and then holds its leaves and color far into December. No empty seasonal gaps.

The one in Meadow's Edge is nice, even on a windy day in very early May, being blown about.

Those wavy flowering branches would offer some early screening at the top of the driveway, and 'Ogon' gets much larger; this one is still young.

I really like the idea of big billowy spireas with fine, narrow leaves in the spot at the top of the driveway. They would screen, they would be pretty, and they would work better with the paperbark maple.

Cotinus 'Grace' may have to be sacrificed in this spot.

Why is everything in my yard planted in the wrong place?