Sunday, June 29, 2014

The Cassidy Tree

Hot and sunny for several days, but the evenings have been cool and refreshing. Boy do we need rain.

Foliage before planting, still in its pot
A week ago some good friends came for dinner, and they brought thoughtful gifts -- seedlings from trees that grew in their yard. The perfect gesture for a tree planter like me!

One was a Japanese maple, a volunteer from the large old Acer palmatum that grew at their place.

It was a good size sapling in a little pot. It had medium green leaves tinged in wine red at the edges. Our guests said the original had been a 'Bloodgood' tree, but I kind of doubted that, as this sapling didn't have the deep red foliage of 'Bloodgood'.

This elegant green leaved variety, whatever its official cultivar, was perfect for the spot where I need a shade tree by the gravel garden.

I put the little pot where the now deceased Styrax had been. Jim took a picture of the green and wine tipped leaves while it was still in the pot trying out its new location. Nice.

The next morning I planted it.

By late that same afternoon, the green Acer palmatum had completely morphed into a stunningly red, deeply colored jewel of a tree. It is, in fact, a deep red Japanese maple.
The foliage only hours after planting, completely transformed 

I know plants in containers are stressed and don't always look like they will when they eventually grow in the ground. But this transformation was incredible and rapid.

Really, it glows. From this angle the sun lights it up with crimson and fire. From the other side it looks more wine purple, exactly like the mature 'Bloodgood' I have by the back deck.
This photo is not retouched.
It really is that red from this side, with the sun in front

It is in fact an Acer palmatum 'Bloodgood', despite my initial thoughts when I saw its green leaves.

But it will forever be known in my garden as Acer palmatum 'Cassidy'.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Too Blue

Muggy today, in the 80s. We need rain badly, but the big drench that came through New England last night missed us, and we got only a sprinkle. Less than a quarter inch of rain for my thirsty garden.

I like blue conifers. What an impact they can have. I have several:
A bright blue accent at the corner of the walk, growing in an interesting shape.

A low punch of blue at the front of Meadow's Edge Garden. The combination with the wine colored redbud is nice.

At times these big Colorado Blue spruces lined up on the berm are more green than blue

But one blue spruce that I planted has not worked out at all.

Originally, in 2007, I put a 'Fat Albert' spruce in the back yard, in a spot that would eventually become a garden around it. From the beginning this was a mistake.
July 2007, before Meadow's Edge Garden was dug all around it.

I quickly learned that the description "dwarf blue spruce" did not mean low or small or rounded. It meant 20 feet tall rather than the 30 or 40 feet that a blue spruce normally reaches. It clearly did not belong at the front of the garden.

And it was always oddly shaped. This was not a well formed specimen from the start. The selling point of 'Fat Albert' is its dense habit, but this one just didn't have any branches on the back side at all. I planted it with its bare side to the back.

In 2009 I took it out, but unwilling to sacrifice a tree I had bought and planted, I moved it out to the meadow. In the meadow it stayed awkwardly shaped and the bare side didn't do any better with the shade from behind.

But the biggest problem was how steely blue it looked out there, totally inappropriate for the New England woodland and meadow look I was going for.
Hellooo, boys. Ovah heah!

Too blue! It stood out among the greenery of the hillside, brazenly attention-grabbing.

Last week I got out the Japanese pruning saw and sawed it off at the base. I took out a healthy growing tree and disposed of it in the woods. I have wanted to do that for ages -- it bothered me how my eye was always drawn to that bright blue blob out there and how out of place it was.
Too blue

It was hard to muster the courage to take down a living tree that I had planted, that had grown so much in seven years, but it's gone now.

Big improvement. There are enough blue conifer accents in my garden, and the hillside in the distance looks so much more natural now without that blue spruce.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Ladybugs and Gypsy Moths

Had a visitor the other day.


This is a ladybug. Or it will be -- this is the larva stage.

My picture shows the little visitor bunched up, but it really looks like a tiny narrow fuzzy caterpillar. I have to resort to The Google to show what it actually looks like.

The big holes in this oak leaf were not chewed by the ladybug hatchling.  Ladybugs and their larvae eat aphids. The mother lays her eggs where aphids are plentiful, and when the larvae emerge they have food to eat.  So earlier in spring there must have been aphids around here. There are not any visible now, so the ladybugs did good work.

The aphids didn't make those big holes in the leaf before they were gobbled up by the ladybugs and the ladybugs only eat soft critters like aphids, so who is making Swiss cheese of the oak tree?

Ugh -- those holes are from gypsy moth caterpillars. Gypsy moth infestations are awful. On the garden tour earlier in June we saw them on some plants. Ugh.

Now here they are, or at least evidence of them. They particularly like white oaks like this young tree I planted a few years ago. It's becoming a handsome, leafy thing.

Please don't let this be an infestation year for gypsy moths. Lady bugs -- fine. Gypsy moths -- ugh.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Ten Years Ago

June 21, 2004. Ten years ago today we closed on this house.

As the garden has matured, the house has aged. We have had to replace the water heater, painting needs to be done, and the carpets are worn. Builder grade appliances will soon need to be replaced. Inside it is no longer our new house after ten years.

But outside has improved and keeps getting better.
Then.  June 2004

The builder put in sod squares in the front that looked like a badly laid carpet, but the lawn did come in nicely eventually. They put in four azalea blobs along the front of the garage, a terrible location for azaleas, facing south in full sun.

Two gangly lilacs were planted in front of the windows by the front door, where they quickly grew too tall. Not visible, because they were still small, were three gold-leaved spireas that very quickly took over the walk by the front door.

All of the builder's plants were taken out in the first three years. 

Today there is a complex mix of plants in front. It still needs work, but it's getting there, ten years later.
Now.  2014

Ten years ago I was overwhelmed with the openness of our lot. Too much sun. So much sky. Open area all around us. So little privacy from the road behind. So hot in summer, baking in the sun with no trees for shade.

The windows were too big, the sun too bright and the lack of any greenery or shade or enclosure was awful. We were exposed to the elements and exposed to the traffic on the road in back.

In spring of 2005, a year after closing, we had two big maples and some paper birches and a berm of spruces professionally planted by a landscaper. And then I started to plant up the place on my own -- gardens, borders, paths, flowers, trees, shrubs. Over ten years I have planted, moved, taken out and replanted.

I began creating a forest on the back hill where it had been scraped bare. I have put in 60 or more trees, lost about 20 of them, but what has remained now screens us from the road, provides a leafy buffer and creates a backdrop for the gardens in the yard.
This was 2007, two years after I started reforesting. The bare maple in the foreground is one we had installed in 2005.

And now, in 2014 the same maple is surrounded by gardens.

And ten years later the houses and road behind us are not visible.
I'm still putting in new trees all the time.

The row of spruces helped screen us from the road, although initially they looked so dinky.
The berm in 2006, a year after it was installed. 

Now it does provide privacy, in winter, fall, and any season

For a long time the patio we installed in 2006 was too open and sunny, with no shade on a hot day.
the patio in 2007

the patio in 2014

There is finally shade to sit in.

Big changes came after many years -- it was just in 2011 that we installed the gravel garden on the west side of the house and put in the long strip along the driveway. And two years after that when I built the stone wall at the top of the driveway.
In June 2004 the top of the driveway looked like this.

Now, ten years later it looks like this.

I always liked this photo from June 2004 of Jim surveying what we had just bought.
Ten years ago the house looked like such a square block sitting in the middle of nothing.

It's been a good place to live and build a garden.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Plant By Plant

Summery. Blue sky, 80s, some clouds, some breeze, some humidity.

This past weekend we went to a Garden Conservancy event here in town, to see the garden of some local friends.

It's a beautiful and well designed place, with deep, layered gardens full of interesting plants and wonderful structures -- a rustic pergola, a big barn, huge rocks, stone paths and patios, a bridge. It's a busy space, but the hardscape and structures help tame it.

They built it all themselves and it evolved over 15 years. It's a very personal garden.

We actually visited twice, once in the middle of the day during the tour hours, and then again for the after party in the early evening when the tour was over. Seeing it in two completely different lights was a great contrast. Touring it at first trying to see everything was very different than wandering around in it with a glass of wine at the end of the day, chatting with people.


It got me thinking about how we experience a garden and how we typically tour a garden.


"Come see my garden" usually means I take you around my yard to look at each plant.

I garden that way -- plant by plant, tending each, noting how each one does, and it is natural that I want to show you each one. Each has a story, each one was chosen, planted, moved, moved again, and admired by me. I'll even point out where the problem plants are and where all the ones I killed were.


I do step back when I am in my own garden to see how the whole effect works, and I love to sit on the patio and view it all, but mostly I spend time looking at plants individually or how they are grouped.

The tendency is to tour another garden that way too, looking down, checking out each plant sequentially, making sure to get to all the areas to see each growing thing. It takes some discipline to stop doing that and just sit on a bench while other visitors walk by, or stand on a path in the middle for a long time and look around while everyone else squeezes past.


A garden is made plant by plant, but it is really enjoyed as a whole experience of sounds, the heat of the air, the feel of the breeze, often the fragrances, the sight of forms and colors all meshed together, the punctuation of structures, and the surprise of an odd bit here and there.

When I visit anyone's garden I have to remember to see and feel and smell and hear it that way, and not look at it as a curated list of individual things that grow or bloom. And when you come to my garden I have to stand back and let you do the same, rather than guide you around to see each plant.

Just follow the path, wander away, and enjoy.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Yes Persimmons

I may have persimmons this fall.

There are three persimmon trees planted on the back hill, all species Diospyros virginiana, not the heavy fruiting Japanese cultivars.

Apparently the species is variable, because all three look different.

The oldest, the one planted on the left side of the hill, was planted in 2007.  It is becoming a nicely shaped tree with pretty leaves and gorgeous fall color.

For the first time in seven years I can see two clusters of three little buds on one of the branches. Will there be fruit?

The newest persimmon tree was planted in 2012, but moved the following year and is now in the middle of the sunny meadow. It's small, and it was set back by the move, and needs a while to settle in. It has very small leaves. I have yet to see any flowering on that tree.

The one planted in 2011 is in some shade amid the taller maples along the middle of the hill. It has grown rampantly, bending over from the weight of its leaves, and those leaves are huge. Way different than the tidier small leaves and stiffer structure of the other two trees. It almost looks tropical.

And after only three years, the middle persimmon is covered in blossoms this year! Many are opening and there are tiny little flowers and tight little buds lining the branches.

Yes, I may get persimmon fruits this year. Wouldn't that be cool. I'll be out there checking every day till I see orange globes forming.

Here is a full view of the shaggy, droopy shape of the big-leaved middle persimmon. You can't see all the little flower buds unless you are up close.


Thursday, June 12, 2014

A Soapy Scent

Overcast and damp today, in the low 60s. After I came in for lunch it started to drizzle.

Before lunch, I went outside and did what I love most: I puttered. No plan, no list of chores, I just wandered around pulling weeds, pruning a bit, stomping on some weeds in the meadow.

As I contemplated what to do with the brown sticks of clethra on the spruce berm, I was vaguely aware of a soapy scent. It smelled like some guy nearby taking a shower, you know, a men's bodywash scent. Sharp, spicy, soapy.

I didn't really pay attention, but there it was again. Had I washed my gardening clothes in Jim's bath soap by mistake?

I wandered off, then came back to the berm and once again it stopped me. I could smell a very tangy soap smell.

It turns out it was the spicebush shrubs behind the berm. Lindera benzoin. I have known that you can crush the leaves and produce a spicy smell, but I had never smelled it so strong and compelling on the air. I had never before experienced it wafting about. That was a surprise.

Spicebush is not much to look at in summer, when it is just a large, rangy shrub with medium green leaves. In fall it drips with lemon lime color.

There are a couple other shrubs I grow that have a soapy smell.

Comptonia peregrina is a woody shrub with leaves that look like ferns. It's called sweetfern. If you just brush the leaves you get a fresh sudsy smell, and on a hot summer day it does fill the air. It's a sweeter smell than the spicebushes, not as sharp, with a hint of detergent.

Fragrant aster, Aster oblongifolius (symphyotrichon now) 'Raydon's Favorite' also has a soapy scent when you crush the leaves. It's a heavier smell, a fragrance that reminds me of something old fashioned. Here it is blooming in fall, but it's the foliage, not the flowers that smell.

They all smell like soap, but the spicebush is tangy and masculine, the sweetfern smells like kids scrubbed clean in the bath, and the fragrant aster smells like washed antique linens in an old lady's attic.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

No Snowbell

Cool and damp today. It hasn't gotten out of the 70s, but the high humidity feels oppressive. Rain has threatened all day, and we could really use it, but instead humid sunshine broke out. The weather is all over the place, very unsettled.

This was unsettling too: I had to remove the new snowbell, Styrax japonica, from the border around the gravel garden. It did not make it -- all the new leaves shriveled and died this spring and it never flowered.

This is what I had in mind -- a beautiful flowering snowbell I saw at Wave Hill Garden in mid May a few years ago. So very pretty.

This is what the flowers look like close up. I planted my little snowbell where I could look up into it and see those bell like flowers. It did bloom last year just after I planted it, but not this year.

Should I replace it? I do need a small tree for afternoon shade on that side of the gravel garden. I don't know what to do with that spot now.

On to less unsettling things.

'Blue Ice' amsonia is so different from the pale blue billowy amsonia hubrichtii or tabernaemontana. 'Blue Ice' is almost purple, stays very low and blooms when the big amsonias are finishing their brief flowering. (By the way, all my worry about the wine colored 'Forest Pansy' redbud was for naught.)

I divided my original 'Blue Ice' plant and put it in several places, and the repetition is great now. When I sit in the rockers on the patio I see waves of royal blue, first under the birdbath, then in the middle distance under the blueberries, and then in the far distance under the doublefile viburnum. This totally works.

Rosa glauca seems happy in its new home by the dry creek bed, if you can say such a gray, moody plant looks happy.

It's spindly, and the pink blooms are sparse, but this very odd rose has a calming effect. Its dark foliage, open habit and cool restrained color is a contrast with the riot of meadow behind and everything going on around it. I don't know why, but I like this strange rose.

But if you want a more classic, pretty, fragrant and flowery rose, Knockout Blushing Pink by the front steps is all of that. Boom.

By the way, I like the dark red Shaker bench placed along the brick wall near the door. I wasn't sure it fit the style of the house, but there it is.

I can not believe how neon yellow the Japanese forest grass Hakonechloa 'Aurea' is. And it has stayed bright yellow for weeks now. I like it with the gray stones, the cool blue dwarf spruce and the pretty white flowering dwarf deutzias on the opposite side of the walk. Whoever designed this (it was me, it was me!!) did a great job.