Saturday, July 30, 2016

Time to Give In

Jim did a great job keeping the pots on the patio watered while I was in California. We had a lot of heat and dry wind and no rain while I was gone, and the fact that he kept the containers looking good is impressive.

I came home to a flowering plumbago. It loved all the heat, and Jim's twice-daily watering. Apparently butterflies adore plumbago, because the plant vibrates with them.

But the rest of the garden has now succumbed to a rainless summer, and it is finally time to give in. I can no longer keep some things alive, much less looking good. I am gone again for a week, and Jim is coming, and I don't want to continue to squander expensive water on a hopeless cause.

I'll toss all the containers and start over again at Labor Day when I'll go shopping for mums for a few containers. That will have to do for patio decor this season.

Our absence in August won't affect what is gone already. The six blueberries I laboriously transplanted are gone, and I have now lost the second 'Mt. Airy' fothergilla, the oakleaf hydrangea, and even a 'Gro-Low' fragrant sumac, which is supposed to tolerate dry conditions.

The six transplanted blueberry bushes all look like this now

Astilbes by the patio wall disappeared in brown dust, although I hope the roots survive for next year. An entire flat of alyssum plugs never took at all, despite constant watering. They all have to come out.

The perennials I planted new this year -- purple coneflowers, some cute 'Biokovo' geraniums, alchemillas, and blackeyed susans, which were already curled and crisp even with all my watering, will all have to be sacrificed along with the container plants. I'm hoping they at least got enough roots going so that they will live to come back another season.

The established stands of pink turtlehead and frilly white obedient plant just shriveled and show no signs of flowering.

I don't want to lose an expensive new stewartia, but despite hand watering, it has brown, curled leaves. The dwarf winterhazel I moved struggled after transplant and now has almost no leaves at all. The new little blue beeches in the meadow and the parrotia by the driveway are young prized trees I will have trouble replacing.

A young blue beech (Carpinus caroliniana) has burnt up

And there are others . . . .

Older, mature favorites, like the katsura tree and bottlebrush buckeyes, look terrible. They have established root systems, and should be okay, but will simply look awful as they scorch, wilt or withhold flowering.
Bottlebrush buckeyes should have flowered in July. Leaves are wilted and scorched, and flower spikes won't open his year.

Spider mites have attacked a big 'Twilite Prairieblues' baptisia. Baptisias tolerate dry conditions and have lovely, trouble-free clean foliage, but this one is a mass of diseased gray leaves and bare stems. I'll have to completely cut it down and clean up the infected litter. That will leave a big empty spot and a crown of ugly cut stems but it's better than seeing the diseased foliage.

Some rain is falling as I pack for our trip tomorrow, but it's been mostly effective at wetting the chair cushions and not much else.

Given the effort of watering, and the expense, and the fact that most plants are now not responding to supplemental water anyway, I think my best option when I get back from our trip in mid August is to toss all the containers, pull the dead blueberries and oakleaf hydrangea and fothergilla out, chop down the diseased baptisia, cut back the shriveled perennials, close my eyes to the defoliating trees and shrubs, and give in. I can't save this season.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Gardens in Different Climates

I spent some time lounging in California gardens while I was away --- at my nephew's home where I stayed, at the home of the hostess of the bridal shower, and even touring a home under construction that my nephew is renovating. All were lovely large houses in nice communities, and all had similar elements that are so very different from the garden I have.

Last winter I read a lot about Islamic gardens, and that really helped me understand the elements of southern California spaces.
Char Bagh Islamic garden concept

They use the principles of enclosure, water and stone that Islamic gardens are built around. There is no front to the house, it's just a wall -- or in the case of southern California, it's a set of garage doors almost right on the street.

You enter that forbidding facade through a front door next to the garage doors, and come into the beautiful space that opens up. The hot dry world outside is effectively shut behind you. There is no garden that faces the street. It's all inside and behind.

Once inside, the houses blend from inside space into the back yard. And there is literally no yard (no grassy lawn). Each home I was in had an immense stone patio. Stonework covered every inch of the space behind the houses, and plantings surrounded the big patios thickly so that the immediate neighbors were not even visible.

These are totally private spaces. The houses are only feet apart, but high walls, tall bamboo, banana plants, palms and other trees hide the neighboring structures completely. Enclosure and privacy are absolute.
A typical California enclosed patio garden

The water feature of an Islamic garden is a fountain where four water channels cross. The water feature of a California garden is the swimming pool. The ones I saw were all beautifully constructed, with bubbling falls, stone steps, and curving walls.
This is the kind of water feature that is both pool to play in and fountain to enjoy

It's all so different from gardens in the northeast, where we don't want enclosure or refuge from the sunny outside world, we want to open up the forest to let sunshine in. Our gardens are carved out of woods and vines and grasses, and we mow, weed, prune and chop to keep a garden from being overtaken. Open lawn or sunny flower borders are prized.

When I first read about Islamic gardens I thought they were fascinating, but nothing that would appeal to me to live in. But having spent time in California gardens that mimic Islamic designs, I find I really like the spareness of stone, the sense of enclosure and the privacy of being hidden from the outside world. I liked the flow in and out of the house as one space. I liked the stark visual contrast of stone and plants and the constant sound of falling water.

But I didn't like how quiet it was in that dry climate -- no incessant bird calls, no crescendo of chirring insects that announces a summer afternoon.

And I didn't like the smell of nearby wildfire smoke in the air.

Thursday, July 21, 2016


I'm going to take some time off. Sometimes you need a break, and this summer I am getting tired.

There has been no rain -- a passing thunderstorm a few days ago produced a 30 second burst of raindrops as it sped past, but not enough to even register in the rain gauge.

We've had no real rain for too long, and there is no rain in the forecast, and I just can't with the hoses anymore or the persistently limp perennials or the birch trees shedding their yellow leaves now. We stopped watering the grass.

I'm going away. I've been enticed away by the promise of a shower. Not a rain downpour, but even better . . . . a bridal shower.

I'm out to California for a party for my daughter in law to be. Yes, I'm leaving a too-dry garden to go to a drought stricken state for an event we call a shower!

I'll come back in a little while refreshed.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Falling Stars

The 'Lucifer' crocosmias look brilliantly red this summer.

It's funny -- the botanical name is crocosmia, which is a little hard to say or to spell, but the common name is even more awkward: montbretia, after a French botanist named de Montbret.

A little used common name that's much easier is coppertips -- these plants often have yellow orange blooms. Or falling stars, which is descriptive and quite beautiful and should be used all the time.

But mostly you have to wrap your tongue around crocosmia or montbretia if you want to talk about these.

Or Lucifer if you have the satanic red ones.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Bluebird and Amethyst

Mostly the hydrangeas in my garden are doing well enough, despite the very dry season. The panicle hydrangeas are a little limp but seem to be all right.  A small 'Preziosa' macrophylla hydrangea by the patio is not too wilted -- it gets extra water every time I fill the birdbath.

And the climbing hydrangea on the pergola over the garage actually looks very good.

It flowered along the top this year. Climbing hydrangea blooms are never very spectacular, but it was nice to see it flowering well. It's a subtle showing, though.

But how lush and big this woody climber has gotten, and how beautifully it has followed my plan to rise up at the side of the garage door and then run out along the pergola. It took some doing to get that to happen, and it was never that pleased about being in full sun with a west exposure, but now, ten years on, it's doing exactly what I had envisioned.

A hydrangea that is not doing what I pictured, though, is H. serrata 'Bluebird'. The plant is fine. It's round and leafy. It's there. But that's all I can say about it.

I had envisioned deep blue lacecap flowers all over it, and had seen similar 'Bluebird' hydrangeas just billowing with blue flowers at Chanticleer, but in all the years this one has been in my garden it has barely flowered. It just sits there every year, all green, then turns an odd purple in fall.

Spring frost always nips the buds so that only one or two survive on the interior of the plant.

Or erratic winters kill all the buds outright. It just never blooms. The shrub is healthy enough, it's a rounded filler at this end of the garden, but I think I want to replace 'Bluebird' with something else that would make me happier. This is not the bluebird of happiness for me at all.

The other hydrangea that is exasperating me is an oakleaf hydrangea 'Amethyst'. It has taken several years to get any size, finally did last year, and it looked wonderful when it turned deep garnet red in late fall.

But this summer it is dying, a branch at a time. Since spring I have been cutting off one wilted stem after another, until now I have lost over half the shrub. Oof, this looks bad.

It's not lack of water. I have been making sure it gets water, and the ground is damp enough. But week after week, since May, it has wilted and lost branches. Soon nothing will be left. You can see the empty base where I have been cutting it down.

Like 'Bluebird', 'Amethyst' did not bloom this year. Oakleaf hydrangeas have some of the most spectacular flower cones, but not this plant. It's actually never bloomed for me.

This hydrangea may have to be taken out too. I don't know why it is declining so precipitously, but it is maddening. This was just becoming a great shrub accent at the front of this garden.

So, while the other hydrangeas here carry on, 'Bluebird' and 'Amethyst' are on borrowed time in my garden. One because it is full and leafy but a big disappointment, and the other because I think I have killed it. 

I have some digging to do this fall.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Skinny Bobcat

Saw the bobcat this week.

It came right up on the patio, a few feet from where I sat on the screened porch one dry, breezy afternoon, lured perhaps by the scent of chipmunks, or the gray mouse that lives in my potting shed.

It looked up when I called Jim to come look. It didn't bound away, just looked up at me rather dolefully, made eye contact, then wandered off.

Ten minutes later the bobcat ambled back through the yard, with something large and furry dangling from its mouth. A rabbit, I think.

I went to get the camera, but the bobcat had disappeared into the weeds at the edge of the yard by then.

It looked very skinny. Its haunches were bony. How could that be with this season's infestation of chipmunks and rabbits? It easily caught a big dinner rabbit within ten minutes of the visit to my patio.

But it seemed very thin. And sad.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Mugs of Roses

As the mother of the groom, my responsibility in September will be to host the rehearsal dinner. It's all set up for the night before the wedding, at a nice Italian restaurant. We'll be in a rustic stone terrace room, covered but open on the sides to the outside. There will be about 30 people.

There will be a long table and a head table. On the tables I will have mugs of roses spelling LOVE. Four spread out facing one way and then four more also spelling LOVE facing the other way.

Then two at the head table, with the bride and groom's initials. I've ordered the monogram mugs from Anthropologie (they're $8 apiece), and I contacted a florist in the town where the dinner will be, and she'll fill them with nosegays.

The nosegays will be small bunches of spray roses in different colors as shown in the photo above, all in soft pale tones. The bride's overall colors for the ceremony and for her wedding flowers are neutrals -- white and cream and blush pink.

I initially wanted big fat blush garden roses in the mugs -- one big rose to a mug with some greenery.

But the florist told me that garden roses open too quickly, so the trick is to use bunched spray roses, which are smaller, but which hold up when cut much better. A gardener's roses and a florist's roses are two different things, I have learned.

I think the mixed nosegays in the chunky mugs will be really sweet and simple, and low key enough for a dinner on a rustic stone terrace the night before the big event.

Monday, July 11, 2016

In a Deficit

We've had too little rain all spring and summer. The deficit is now more than 5 inches over the last 90 days. That's 5 inches of normal rainfall that never arrived. What did fall came in such tiny amounts here and there, that it never really soaked the ground.

We got about 2 tenths of an inch over the weekend, and it left drops on the leaves, but the ground is still too dry. Shallow rooted perennials and new transplants struggle. It hasn't been hot, though, so that's been helping the plants limp along without the stress of high heat.

The lawn liked the little bit of rain, and the wet, humid air made things perk up a bit. Nothing has up and died yet, although purple coneflowers I planted earlier this spring are kind of keeling over and I did lose one of those. But everything else lives. Not all that happily, though.

And so summer continues on.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Turkey Stroll

Hello? Hello?

Who's that behind the irises? Aww, you brought your baby to visit. How nice. 

Oh. Not staying after all? Okay.

Bye, then. Glad you could visit.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016


Sometimes I just can't see the forest for the trees. Or the honeysuckle vine for the bittersweet. That's actually what happened on the trellis at the front of the house.

I complained this spring that my 'Kintzley's Ghost' honeysuckle never flowered and seemed to be a mass of plain green leaves. All I had was a lot of foliage growing taller and being cut back and growing tall again. The leaves didn't look round the way they had in previous years and the vine had these stringy, twining ends at the top that looked strange.

But I watered it, and kept cutting the long skinny lengths back, all the while remaining vaguely unsettled that it seemed so unattractive this year. What had happened to it?

             Well, duh.

Chris was here today and he looked at it, then pronounced: lady, you are growing Oriental bittersweet on this trellis.

We both looked at the base and saw there were two vines growing side by side: the original honeysuckle I had planted and the wild bittersweet that had seeded itself next to the honeysuckle.

The ends of bittersweet -- Celastrus orbiculatus -- have a characteristic twisted, skinny look as they search for ever higher structures to strangle, as seen clearly in this shot near water (and in the photo of my vine above!) That should have been a tip-off right there.

Chris pulled it out by the roots (another characteristic is their orange roots). Then I laboriously cut the woody vines off the trellis rungs they had tightly wrapped around.

Once the bittersweet was removed, I could see the rounded, slightly glaucous leaves of the 'Kintzley's Ghost' honeysuckle underneath. It's a pretty vine, although I may not get the silvery bracts this year that give it its name. Freed from strangulation by its aggressive companion, it's lovely.

Like all gardeners around here I pull bittersweet seedlings every single day of the year from my gardens, and I chop the growing vines down in the woods, and I battle to keep the rampant vine at bay. And here a seedling had escaped my notice, saw a nice trellis to climb, and promptly took over the space, right under my nose.

How could I have missed it?  Not only missed the seedling, but allowed it to grow and smother my pretty honeysuckle and keep going?  I fancy myself an informed, observant gardener, and yet.

By the way, this is what the honeysuckle looked like last year, blooming, and untroubled by an unchecked invasive and a neglectful gardener.

Chris was nice about it. They look alike, he offered consolingly.

No they don't.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

The Size of Connecticut

I live just to the west of that star,
which represents the state capital
I live in a small state -- third smallest (by area) of all 50.

It peeves me to hear so many references to things that are the same size as we are -- a forest fire out west is "the size of Connecticut", a ranch in Texas spans acreage equal to the total acreage of Connecticut.

The radius of a hurricane at sea is "as big as Connecticut".

Things are always compared to the size of our state. You'd be surprised how often Connecticut is the default for comparison in the news.

You can drive the width and breadth of this small state in a day. In an afternoon, really. The state is pretty much a little rectangle, so it's easy to visualize I guess.

The state covers 5,500 square miles. Why can't news stories say something is "5,500 square miles", rather than declare that it is "the size of Connecticut"?

No matter. Even though forest fires and ranches and tropical storms are all as big as the entire state I live in, we are a state rich in history and sights to see.

And so, I bring you a great blog about our state: The Size of Connecticut. Check it out.

There are interesting posts about every single town and about our state parks and other observations. Nothing deep, just some sightseeing and pictures. Some great gardens are featured, like this post on Hollister House.