Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Birch Garden

We didn't get much snow from the big blizzard that crippled the midAtlantic, but we got some, and the ground is covered in white. It looks more like what January should look like here. I've been inside going through old photos, and here are some of the Birch Garden.

I call it the Birch Garden because it is a mixed planting in the middle of three white paper birches that had originally been stranded in an open patch of lawn.


We did not dig out a garden, we simply had some dirt brought in and dumped in a sloping mound on top of the lawn. That was in 2007. Two years later, in 2009, the dirt mound was mostly mulch, dotted with some struggling perennials and tiny shrubs.


But I had a vision, sort of, of what it could be, and over the years that vision has emerged.

Many plants have been lost, others have been moved and taken out. Annuals have been added, new plants put in. Each year the garden is different, but it keeps the sloping shape I had intended, with tall green plants in back and mixed flowering things in front.


Jim calls it the Butterfly Garden because I originally put in things that would attract butterflies.

We had two unusual yellow butterfly bushes ('Honeycomb'), and an agastache plant that drew them in swarms. The butterfly bushes are gone, and the agastache is gone too, and other plants have taken their places, but he still calls it the Butterfly Garden. I call it the Birch Garden. We speak different languages and communicate fitfully on most subjects.

I think I like the Birch Garden best in fall, when Sweetspire iteas in the center turn deep red but the whole effect is a muted, soft one, with all of the plants at their fullest.

Earlier in the season it is more colorful and more chaotic looking as various annuals and perennials bloom. It wants to be a purple garden, and I counter that with red flowering tobacco and a dwarf red rose, and some yellow sundrops that bloom briefly in summer. But left on its own, purple would dominate.

I need a piece of hardscape in the front, where there is a gap at the point in front where the garden is lower. All the billowy small leaved, small flowered plants need something solid among them for contrast. Something visually weighty. What could I put there? Winter is a good time to shop.

This jumble of a garden changes all the time, but here is what was growing in the Birch Garden last year:

Shrub layer

Itea virginica - Sweetspire - anchors the middle
Aronia arbutifolia 'Brillantissima' rising just above the iteas
Acer palmatum 'Orange Dream' at the very back
Two dwarf white pines that you can't even see, they've been overtaken
Abelia grandiflora 'Edward Goucher' also unseen below the chaos, needs to be moved
Buddleia 'Blue Chip', three small dwarf butterfly bushes
Caryopteris 'Worcester's Gold'


Baptisia pendula 'Alba' filling up the left side, it's huge
Paeonia 'Blaze' peony
Rose 'Red Drift' - a tidy low dwarf
Salvia 'May Night'
Nepeta faassenii 'Dropmore'
Aquilegia - various columbine cultivars but they all went to purple except 'Black Barlow'
Oenothera - yellow sundrops and pink evening primroses
Aruncus - two kinds of goatsbeard, a large billowy one and a ground cover dwarf one
Pardancanda - candy lilies, self seeding all over now
Digitalis 'Milk Chocolate'
Heuchera mostly 'Sparkling Burgundy' coral bells, but a few other red leaved ones too
Sedum 'Autumn Joy' I took it out and it just came back anyway
Garden Phlox 'Nicky' - hot magenta colored
Nipponanthemum - Montauk daisy
Dianthus - red Sweet William from a wildflower mix, and a dark red one called 'Sooty'

And a big tall self seeded volunteer purple aster


Iris 'Immortality' (white) and "Beverley Sills' (peach)
Scilla - mixed colors but all my woodland hyacinths turned purple
Colchicum - one single pink one that blooms in fall
Ornithogalum - Stars of Bethlehem scattered throughout


Nicotiana - I plant the tall sylvestris, and sweet smelling alatas in white and in red
Coreopsis 'Jethro Tull' - I treat coreopsis as an annual, it rarely comes back for me

Good grief, this is all too much now that I see it listed out. And I'm not even listing what has been taken out, like a lot of field coreopsis and Siberian irises and other things that keep popping back up here and there. Of course the bulbs and perennials bloom at different times, but no wonder it all looks so chaotic at times.

Yellow 'Honeycomb' butterfly bush and 'Purple Haze' agastache, seen here in 2011, are both gone now.
They looked not just chaotic, but rangy . . .  but they were beloved by butterflies.

Now that I am reviewing everything planted in this garden, I think 2016 will see some serious editing. And a piece of hardscape for the middle front.


  1. I am so noting this post! You have such an outstanding variety in your beautiful bed up there and I love your birch trees! Happy day friend! Nicole

    1. Thanks so much. I do like the variety, but not the chaos!