Sunday, March 29, 2015

Alarming Sights

It spit snow all day yesterday -- a constant, unrelenting shower of white that did not accumulate.

Today is sunny, and I went out to see if snowdrops had appeared in the warm corner of the front walk where the snowpack is finally gone. Why yes, some clumps have popped up.

But I was immediately distracted from their pretty faces by two alarming developments in the area:

1. The Japanese maple 'Crimson Queen' splits in two every winter. Zeno's Paradox gives me less and less of a tree each year, diminishing itself by half, then half of half the next year, then half again the next winter. Once again I saw the dangling branch pulling away from the trunk.

It's always the largest branch that cracks and separates. One year Jim and I put a stainless steel bolt through the trunk to hold the two sections of main stem together, and that is still holding. The bolt is still there, with new bark grown over it.

But this latest crackup could not be clamped back on. So I cut it off, and when I was done, fully half of the tree was once again gone.

Last summer 'Crimson Queen' looked small but not unshapely. I am hoping the tree that is left will look artistic and graceful and open this summer, and not like the slowly sell-amputating disaster that it is.

And I have to admit I don't care about the shape or size of the tree when it colors up in fall -- just the rich intensity of its garnet red foliage is enough to justify it, even as it gets smaller and smaller each year.

2. The second alarming sight was a patch of kinnikinnik under the Japanese maple that is silvery white and does not look right. At first I thought it was an area that was frost coated, but it's not. I think this is a fungal issue.

Arctostaphylos uva ursi is described as trouble free and I could find nothing online about susceptibility to powdery mildew, but that's what this really looks like.

I've never seen powdery mildew as a winter problem. But low light and high humidity are the usual culprits for powdery mildew, and spending an entire winter packed solidly under three feet of snow might count as too dark and too wet.

This low groundcover wants hot and dry and lean conditions, but this cultivar -- 'Massachusetts' -- will take winter wet. I think the winter wet we had was too much even for this variety however.

The snowdrops sure aren't much to see yet. They're cute but clumps are isolated and sparse . . . I keep telling myself they will spread and make a nice show, popping out of the green kinnikinnik some day.

They'd be a lot more interesting if I didn't get so alarmed at the state of the maple and the condition of the kinnikinnik, though.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Open Conservancy - to tour

There is a garden in Glastonbury I would like to visit. It is at exit 10 right off Rte 2, the same exit as Pam's former house. Easy to get to. Sounds interesting:

It is open June 27 and 28 and then again September 12 and 13.

The Murray Gardens

The Murray Gardens

Glastonbury, CT
Open Days, Water feature

Our property is a colorful collection of gardens carved out of a woodland setting, punctuated by unusual and native trees. The two-acre landscaped property features three long-blooming perennial borders and a hydrangea bed in the front. As you enter the garden through the stone gates you are greeted by a small pond with a copper weeping maple sculpture that gently rains all day. A journey down the front walk leads you to a weeping camperdown elm, and beyond, a larch and a Cornus controversa that extends over a rock pointing to a bank of carpetflower roses with daylily garden above. Next, cross the lawn past the red buckeye and bottlebrush buckeye and enter into a naturalized woodland setting with a twisting stone path, where you can enjoy a myriad of shade and woodland plants and garden sculpture surprises with soft music in the background. Walking through the garden gate into the back yard, you will find shade gardens built into the pool deck and a formal triangle garden containing ‘Knock Out’ roses and oriental lilies inside a boxwood border. Beyond is another daylily bed running along an old stone wall and a garden patio with curved steps ascending to a fifty-foot rose bed. Amble into the Japanese garden over the footbridge, beneath which a waterfall runs from the little upper pond to the fish pond below. There you will see a spectacular Heptacodium and several large Japanese maples surrounding the pond. Descending four more steps, you will enter into the dry stream bed bordered by perennials, a sweet bay magnolia, and a weeping hemlock.

Open Conservancy tour June 21

On June 21 there is a garden in the Berkshires, in Stockbridge, that I would like to see. It's an easy day drive. It's only open that Sunday, Father's Day -- so that might be a problem.

Apple Hill

Apple Hill
Photo credit: Rich Pomerantz.

West Stockbridge, MA
Open Days

This magical writer’s retreat was once an apple farm and many old apple trees still grow here. It is a place of quiet trees; a forest of silver birches flows into drifts of orchards, amid the tranquil green of white pines. There is a harmonious unity between the house and its setting. A cobblestone terrace at the back is set with drifts of ferns and blurs the division between indoors and outdoors, as does the wisteria-draped pergola. A harp-shaped grass garden along the driveway leads to the lovely curving rhododendron plantings, and these in turn connect to the long garden, which runs the length of the houses and beyond, set with evergreen and deciduous shrubs, roses, irises, peonies, delphiniums, and other perennials. The long garden culminates in a rock garden and a meditation bed that the children call “The Secret Garden.” A series of smaller ponds flows down the hillside to the main pond, which is set about with willows, planted with water lilies, and flanked by a borrowed landscape of blue hills. An arbor walk featuring a fish pool links the house with the writing studios. Woodland beds among the birches are planted with hosta, maidenhair, and ostrich fern. Come discover the gardens that Tina Packer has described as “among the most beautiful and inviting I’ve ever seen.”

Open Conservancy June 20

On June 20 there are several gardens on tour in Litchfield County, but the one I am most interested in is the Garden of Buddy & Monika Nixon. Rare trees and shrubs are the draw, and I would love to see this garden!

Garden of Buddy & Monika Nixon

Garden of Buddy & Monika Nixon

Kent, CT
Plant Collection, Open Days, Plant Sale

Inspired by a strong interest in collecting specimen trees and shrubs, and by studies at the New York Botanical Gardens, the owners have developed this garden over the past thirty years into an expression of their personal development as landscape designer and horticulturist. The massive stone columns at the entrance to the property set the stage for the extensive stonework that gives structure to the landscape. The owner has taken a complete hands-on approach to development of the garden, as all stone work, planting, pruning and sourcing of plants have been done by him. After retiring from his corporate career in New York City, he has also selectively done design, consultation and plant sourcing on request for other projects.

The garden contains one of the largest private collections of rare, distinctive and hard to find trees in the Northeast. Crossing a terrace with stunning views of Lake Waramaug and beyond, visitors will come upon a large Koi pond, waterfalls and an entirely unexpected cast bronze fountain. The core purpose of the garden is education, allowing visitors to identify new plants for their own gardens. Plants are identified by plant markers, and a plant list and map are made available. The garden reflects the owners’ quest for unique trees that are not only hardy and disease resistant, but also have the form, texture and foliage that can amaze and please year round. Also highlighted will be collection of trees from the late Dennis Dodge, noted grafter and grower of rare trees.

This year, the first phase of expanding the garden by 27 acres has started. It involves design, a wood road to access the property, marking trails, exposing views, pruning specimen trees, and highlighting an old stone quarry with massive, 50’-60’ high stone outcroppings. This will be a 3 to 4 year project with additional trails and plantings to follow. The wood road will be open for the tour, for visitors to witness the first phase of this new garden expansion.

Broken Arrow Nursery will hold a rare plant sale, which will include many trees one can see in the garden.

>> Then, in the same area, there are two others we could visit the same day:

     The Jones' Garden
The Jones' Garden

Cornwall Bridge, CT
Edibles, Open Days

The Jones' garden is a haven for people, birds, and pollinators. The garden is located behind a classic Greek Revival-style house which dates back to the early 1800s when Colonel Pierce built it to mimic the White House in Washington D.C. The current garden replaces a very small garden that was completely shaded by tall Norway spruces that were destroyed in the devastating tornado of 1989. When the Joneses bought the house in 2000, the garden space was a tangle of overgrown multiflora rose, tree stumps, and scrub trees. Each new cleared space brought inspiration and new ideas to the current garden: meandering paths paved with stones collected from the adjoining fields, peony beds, old rose arches intertwined with clematis and old fashioned perennials. A crabapple allee was planted as well as two long nepeta beds loaded with narcissi in the spring. Look carefully and find a whimsical barberry topiary—a "barberrian" alligator. There is a small kitchen garden near the back door that is planted with spring tulips each year followed by a riot of summer annuals. Across the street, attached to a carriage barn, is a little vegetable garden enclosed by a picket fence. The owners once overheard someone in their garden say he would describe it in only three words: "work, work, work." True, but as with all gardens, this garden brings birds, bees, peace and hope for the future.

>> And another for the same day:

Brush Hill Gardens—Charles Raskob Robinson & Barbara Paul Robinson

Brush Hill Gardens—Charles Raskob Robinson & Barbara Paul Robinson

Washington, CT
Open Days

Take a virtual tour of Brush Hill Gardens on for a preview of many different areas, including the Moon Garden planted in yellows and purples, the Rose Walk, the Peony and Wheelbarrow Borders, the Serpentine Garden with its garden folly, and up through the Arch into the Woodland Walk with its series of cascading pools and rills. Each area is adorned with structures designed and built by Charles. The garden has been featured in many articles and books, including Rosemary Verey's book, The Secret Garden, and HGTV's "A Gardener's Diary". Barbara's biography, Rosemary Verey: The Life and Lessons of a Legendary Gardener, will be available.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015


One of spring's earliest chores is to do reconnaissance -- take a walk around outside and see how plants fared during the winter, then come in and make a long list of What To Do About It.

I tried to do that yesterday. It was sunny, I needed to get out, and it is nearing the end of March already.

But a stiff breeze and temperatures in the 20s made my tour short. I slipped around on the hard snow, and didn't even realize what was so odd about my trek out to the meadow.

(What was so odd was the complete absence of the curved footbridge. I walked right over it and didn't realize it was even there, under the snow somewhere. It's there, right? The bobcat didn't make off with it last January?)

In my short walk around I found the usual winter damage: where the snow on the front lawn has melted back a bit I see voles have excavated a city of tunnels, with mounds of earth piled up all over.

The heaths that are supposed to bloom in March got winter burned badly again, and the boxwoods have broken bones and misshaped forms from icy snow loads. Some branches snapped off completely.

I have to seriously rethink how to store tools in winter. The potting bench and shed are on the north side of the house, and if I ever get a day when some clean up and pruning can be attempted, I'll need to reach my tools. But this area won't melt yet for weeks, and certainly won't melt while spring temperatures are in the 20s.

Next winter I need to remember to empty the shed in fall, bring everything into the garage and stage my equipment from there.

The witch hazels, those great discouragements of my gardening life, do have the teensiest of bitty brown blooms clinging to the topmost stems, but they are not about to open. The rest of the shrub is covered in dead dry leaves. For a winter flowering shrub, Hamamelis 'Diane' has been a big disappointment.

I couldn't get far enough out in to the yard to see if the Cornus mas flowers were getting ready to open, but I assume they were bundled tight. They are supposed to bloom in late March. In some part of the world.

The retreating glacier at the top of the driveway still makes an obstacle to any foray into the back yard. To get out back I had to slip-slide around the other side of the house over crusted snow that was flatter.

My clipboard list of What To Do About Winter Damage has only one task on it after my initial spring reconnaissance tour:

At least a few more weeks.


Friday, March 20, 2015

Corn Confusion

It is the first day of spring. It is snowing, coming down steadily, accumulating.

It has been well below freezing all afternoon (27 degrees F).

I don't really care; I feel too bad to mind.

Since our return from the tropics earlier this week, I have been under the weather (really sick), so it is appropriate that the weather I am under is so awful. I am staying inside with tea and a book.

The book I am reading is about medieval gardens, and even in my slightly fevered loopiness I was confused by references to gardens in Britain in the 1200s growing corn. That can't be.

Cornfields of monastic gardens and ancient royal castles make no sense. Didn't Columbus discover the new world, and the crops in it, in 1492? The period I am reading about predates that by centuries.

As I get older I increasingly distrust what I thought I knew. Most of my formal education has been overturned or thrown out by living for so many years. But corn growing in medieval Europe can't be right.

The Google quickly tells me it's simply a language issue (you know, England and the US -- two peoples separated by a common language.)

It turns out corn in England means a hard seed.
Definition: (British) the grain of a cereal grass that is the primary crop of a region (as wheat in Britain and oats in Scotland and Ireland)
When they refer to the yellow corn we know, Zea mays, it's called Indian corn. Otherwise "corn" is simply grain. Well, that clears it up.

But now I am distracted, thinking about the other times I have thought "that can't be corn".

In Santa Fe, New Mexico I first saw big stalks of corn growing in decorative containers on sidewalks in town. It was the first time I had seen corn -- real Zea mays -- grown as an ornamental, and I was amazed at what a pretty (and appropriate) plant it was on a southwestern street corner.

Even though it looked just like the field crop I know as corn, I didn't think it could be. An ornamental? It took me a few days of seeing it planted all over town to realize what it was.

It must have been a variety called 'Field of Dreams', which is stately and has pink and white striped leaves. The pots were large municipal containers that suited these big stalks beautifully.

Then visiting Chanticleer Garden in Pennsylvania, I saw this grand shock of striped leaves rising out of a perennial border and I immediately thought: that isn't corn, is it? It's beautiful, light catching and dramatic.

I saw it planted in several spots at Chanticleer and was so impressed that they used corn as a bright punctuation to traditional daylilies and alliums and dark smokebush foliage. What a combination. But that can't really be corn, or could it?

It's not. It is giant reed grass, Arundo donax. Not corn. My mistake.

I researched it, thinking I really do need something big and structural for the back of my own garden. My friend Becky has it in hers, and says it does spread about (she keeps after it, cutting back runners). I haven't yet decided to plant it, though.

There is another plant that always makes me say "is that really corn?" but I have only seen pictures of it. I have never grown it. 'Glass Gem' corn is real Zea mays, bred for colorful kernels, and it's beautiful. You can buy seeds online and grow it.

It doesn't look real but it is. It's flint corn, which means kernels have a hard casing, so you don't eat it off the cob. You can pop it, but the popcorn is white, not gem colored : (

Enough distraction. I need to get back to my book.

It's still snowing, I'm still sick, but now I am no longer confused by Europeans growing corn in the 13th century. Whew.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Panama Canal

We got back from 11 days in the Caribbean to find the snow had melted somewhat here at home, but it still covers the ground a foot or more deep in most places.

I still can't get to my tools in the half-shed. Winter pruning is going to have to wait until May. Maybe June.

At least we found on our return that our solar panels are clear. All the snow melted from them and we are once again producing power. If the sun would shine.

We had plenty of sun in Panama, but it was very windy on the entire cruise. Gale force winds some days, near-gale strength other days.

At least the day we spent going through the Panama Canal was calm.

Despite the wind most days it was sunny all week, and we were far from the cares of winter pruning or snowed in sheds.

The canal was a great experience, as we expected it would be. Antique technology (the original 100 year old gates and locks are still in use) was interesting to see, and the size of the ships going through these small channels beggared belief.

We got some good history explained through our transit (you don't go through the locks, you transit them.) And we touched the sides of the locks -- the ship is only inches from the walls as it rises 85 feet above sea level and then descends again. Something I have always wanted to see.

An unexpected highlight was a day's trip to a bio research station in the rainforest of Costa Rica. That was a great, very wet day.

And then there was the cruising stuff -- delicious food, a sunset sail on a small boat off Aruba, horseback riding on a sandy beach. No e-mails, no schedules.

It was everything I expected and then some.

And as expected, I came home with a bad head cold. It happens every time I travel.

Worth it, though.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Clematis in my Garden

I never wanted any kind of clematis in my garden. They seemed too fussy, not my style. Too flowery. Too big.

They seemed difficult, what with the pruning categories and the wilt problems. And so many cultivars -- who could pick a few to grow? So I sniffed and said "nope".

Right. Despite my original huffiness, seven different clematis types have somehow been planted in my garden. Here they are:

C. viticella 'Alba Luxurians'
C. 'Jackmanii Superba'
C. 'Henryi'
C. 'Niobe'
C. 'Samaritan Jo'
C. 'Bee's Jubilee' (but I took this one out)

And C. terniflora, sweet autumn clematis. That was a vine I resolutely stayed away from, convinced it would get too big. (It's not invasive here, but it is elsewhere.) It too was planted.

Surprisingly, I like clematis. Mostly.

Except for 'Bee's Jubilee' which was a sweet candy lavender pink that got washed out in bright sun and didn't do much for me. It was supposed to grow to 6 feet tall, and it was a group 2 pruning category, but it never got much height or needed any pruning before I took it out. This one did not make me a fan of big flowered clematis at first.

But the small flowered viticella clematis that I planted did please me. I got a white flowered one with green streaks called 'Alba Luxurians'. It has been nothing but luxurious, every year. Big, prolific and flowery, it is quite delicate and refined up close by the patio wall.

It is a group 3 pruning category, which means I cut it to the ground and it regrows. In fact I cut it to the ground in summer after blooming, and by September I get fantastic rebloom on a fully regrown vine that stays fresh into late October. Then I cut it down again in winter.

'Alba Luxurians' just keeps going. Trouble free, pretty and a performer. The green streaks would be more pronounced if it was in more shade, but the delicate colors I get in full sun are nice. The flowers at first open downward, giving it a dangling handkerchief effect.

I tried some more of the large flowered varieties after 'Bee's Jubilee', but went for more intense colors. One was the rich red clematis 'Niobe', which I planted under a pine tree to scramble up through the pine boughs.

'Niobe' is still little -- I only planted it two years ago. It is supposed to be one of the truest red clematis you can get, but it's not red at all in my eyes. It's magenta. It needs some time to show me what it will do.

'Niobe' blooms in summer and is pruning group 3 so when it gets bigger, I'll cut it to the ground in winter.

If you don't cut down a group 3 clematis, the vine gets leggy. It will have bare areas below and blooms only toward the top -- that might actually be a plus for 'Niobe' here, since I want it to disappear below and then appear well up into the branches of the pine. I'll need to experiment.

The velvety purple 'Jackmanii Superba' has been much quicker to bulk up and show me why I should have clematis in my garden. I have it on a metal tower at the end of a bed in full sun.

The purple of the big flashy blooms doesn't go with the wine red foliage of the nearby 'Forest Pansy' redbud, but the clematis is a stunner.

It looks a little stranded at the far end of the bed, but I have since expanded that area late last year, and there is a tiny twig of a gray dogwood (Cornus racemosa) growing right next to it that will (gracefully I hope, with pruning) create some height at that end.

Maybe some day 'Jackmanii's' purple flowers will scramble over and up into the branches of the dogwood and mingle with the dogwood's white flowers. This clematis gets 10 or 12 feet long, so let's plan on that.

In various lights the purple hue changes.

'Jackmanii' is a summer bloomer and it's group 3 for pruning, so I cut it back to the ground in late winter. Easy care.

I planted 'Henryi' in the front to climb a trellis between the two garage windows. It's another large flowered clematis, and its pure white is dramatic against the brick. Even in its first year, with very little foliage yet, it bloomed, first in early summer, and then again in fall. It will grow 6 to 7 feet tall, not too big for this slender trellis.

But in its second year, just as the flowers were at their biggest and best, it got clematis wilt. It was very sudden and very obvious. I cut it to the ground. Only after I had bought and planted this, did I learn that 'Henryi' is a cultivar that is susceptible to wilt.

It did send up a long skinny tendril in October. Clematis wilt is rarely fatal, and plants that have been in the ground for five years with a good root system seem to fend it off. So, patience.

'Henryi' is in one of those tricky groups for pruning -- group 2, where you have to untangle the stems and selectively prune somewhat after spring flowering but before it blooms again in fall.

In the early years it doesn't matter what pruning group clematis you have. All new clematis plants need to be cut back to 18 inches, regardless. Young clematis plants have to get their roots going before they can support all the long vining growth, and a good root system helps ward off wilt apparently. You sacrifice flowers for a couple years but you get a better plant.

By pruning them all to a low point for the first two or three years, it encourages more branching at the bottom and a nicer, fuller look.  If my white large flowered group 2 'Henryi' gets wilt each year and needs to be cut back, I apparently will be right on track with the recommended pruning approach.

In 2014 I got another clematis, 'Samaritan Jo', which will climb to only about 4 or 5 feet.

I'm not sure why I ordered it. I think I was considering it to replace the 'Henryi' that I thought I'd need to take out, but it wants some shade to keep its purple tinged silvery color.

So it will go on the blue obelisk in Meadow's Edge in the shade of the maple instead.

But because it will never succeed in competition with the maple's roots, I'll put it in a pot inside the obelisk.

It is pruning group 3, needing only to be cut back each year. Here's hoping you can grow smaller clematis varieties in a container.

Finally, there is the big rambunctious sweet autumn clematis growing up the railing of the deck. What a heady scent in September just as I step outside the back door and onto the deck.

I cut this back to the ground each winter, but I don't know how long I'll be able to do that if it gets as big as I fear it might. But right now it is tidy and shapely and I can't imagine not having it.

In Connecticut this Asian sweet autumn clematis is not invasive -- but it is an invasive plant that has escaped cultivation in other parts of the country.*

For someone who sniffed at growing clematis, I have been been humbled.

The pruning isn't so bad, although it takes some work each year to trim everything as it should be. And yes, I have had to experiment with controlling wilt. And the colors aren't always exactly what I thought they'd be. I'm still working on siting and how to get them to climb trees or hang on to the right structure.

But surprisingly, I am enjoying them in my garden. I might even get more. I have my eye on a texensis clematis called 'Gravetye Beauty' that is supposed to be red (not you, Niobe), and there are so many many more . . .
                               . . . Brushwood Nursery - Vines and Climbers

*  Is Sweet Autumn Clematis Invasive Here?
The Connecticut Invasive Plant Working Group, says Sweet Autumn Clematis (Clematis terniflora or Clematis paniculata) is not on Connecticut's list of invasive plants.  
To be listed as either potentially invasive or invasive in Connecticut, a non-native plant must meet a set of scientific criteria (see 

Sunday, March 1, 2015


A report from here on the beginning of March.

Normally by March first there would be a faint hint of spring in the air. With the brighter mornings and a little more light longer into the late afternoon, the air would have some dampness and the snow would be mushy. I'd be checking for the appearance of snowdrops in the warm protected corner of the front walk.
Report: Not this year. It was 0 degrees when I got up Saturday and single digits this morning. Snow is on the way tonight. The air is sharply cold and the snowpack deep and mighty. Thank goodness for that -- at least all the tender plants under three feet tall are well protected from night after night of sub freezing temperatures.

Normally by March first I would be deep in catalogs and spreadsheets, writing up my plans for spring. What to order, where to put stuff, lists of ideas I probably wouldn't implement and pages of sources for the plants I want. It's a part of gardening that I love -- the planning.
Report: Not yet this year. I just haven't gotten to it. I will.

Normally by March first solar panels facing into the strengthening sun would be totally clear, even if there is snow on the ground. The early March sun is intensifying and easily melts roof snow.
Report: Aaarrggh . .  . it just won't melt. There are 25 panels up there and only the top right two are open. All winter we have been without solar power. Snow has covered them since the first snowfall in December and it never melted. The panels we see around town on other people's homes are clear the day after each storm. Ours have never been clear all winter, and it's March already. 

Normally by the beginning of March I would be getting seed packs ready to start some seeds indoors. Each year I have started annuals inside. I have two light stands and the fun of seed starting is the endless tending and watching and misting and seeing little green shoots come up in March.
Report: Not this year. We will be away later in March for almost two weeks, so it doesn't make sense to start them now. And my seed starting hasn't been all that successful. They do come up great, but then I don't really get any advantage when transplanting -- the transplants and the seeds I sow directly outdoors in May do about the same. Indoor seed starting seems messy and labor intensive for the same result as outdoor sowing.

Normally by the first of March sap buckets appear on the sugar maples along Duncaster Road and the red haze of early flower buds on the red maples start to color the early March sky.
Report: Not so much this year. You need consistent days above freezing and nights below in order to create the push and pull and freeze and thaw that makes the sap run. It's been too cold. And the red maples are in bud and will surely flower, but they're holding tight right now.

There you go. That's the report from here.

Up to March 1 it has been a little on the chilly side, and by "chilly" I mean "coldest February on record in Connecticut".