Mysterious disappearances

This is hardly surprising, or disturbing, but very little seems to go exactly as planned in the garden. Perhaps this is why the gardener is so pleased when one thing or another goes right, which fortunately occurs with some regularity. On occasion, a perennial or bulb disappears from one year to the next, and I’m clueless about its absence until my memory is jogged by an old photo, or sometimes when I look at some spot and wonder “what’s missing?” Last evening, this was the case with the double flowered Autumn crocus ‘Waterlily’ (Colchicum ‘Waterlily’, below) that should be as sturdy as any plant in the garden, but mysteriously disappeared, probably a few years ago though I had not given it a thought until yesterday.Colchicum Waterlily

The reminder this time was another Autumn crocus (below) that has spread to fill the space on each side of the vigorous, low growing ‘Allan P. McConnell’ hosta, so that the gap was never noticed. As is usual, I haven’t a clue why ‘Waterlily’ failed, but this has ended well enough that there are no regrets, except that I must plant the delightful ‘Waterlily’ again in some other spot. Of course, the time is past to plant Autumn crocus for this year since these are ordered and planted in the spring to flower in late summer. So, that will have to wait, and certainly it would be worthwhile if I could develop a system to remind of such things since this is likely to be the last I think of it until this time next year.Autumn crocus

Recently, once the late summer flowering Red Hot Pokers (Kniphofia uvaria ‘Ember Glow’, below) began to bloom,  it occurred to me that one large clump that typically flowers in spring has been lost beneath an Oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia) that has grown this year with exceptional vigor. When reminded, I looked to see if the clump could be salvaged to move to a sunny spot, but the thick foliage of the hydrangea has shaded the Red Hot Poker so that it’s too weak to expect to save. Fortunately, in prior years this clump had been split and transplanted, so it’s not a complete loss. In the short while since the new Kniphofia cultivars have been planted, I’ve been pleased that new flowers appear continuously over a few months, and hummingbirds (below) have become much more regular visitors.Hummingbird on Red Hot Poker

In any case, something must be done about the Oakleafs since it is not only the Red Hot Poker that has been lost. On the far side of the koi pond, branches of another hydrangea have grown to cover Japanese irises (Iris ensata) planted between boulders in shallow water. The hydrangea was pruned once earlier in the summer, but this will need to be done again, and probably a few times each year for ever more. When the pruning is managed correctly, the upright foliage of the iris looks marvelous jutting up through the large hydrangea leaves, but I’m troubled that when I’m overextended in the spring this could be one more thing that gets neglected, and the iris might also be lost.


Fruits and berries

I’ve been known to sample just about any fruit or berry that I find in the garden or the neighboring woods that looks good enough to eat, so long as I’m confident it won’t kill me. I steer clear of pokeweed (below) and others that suspiciously look like they might be poisonous, but others must be okay or they’ve been consumed in small enough doses that I’m still here. Of course, your mother warned about dimwits like me, so you’re advised to obey her and not to follow my lead.Pokeweed

I’ve plucked more than a few mulberries and blackberries from the dense thicket that borders the garden, and I don’t expect anyone would argue that there’s any harm in this. In recent years I’ve been forced to chop out a small grove of weedy mulberry trees that arched too far over into the garden, bridging the gap so that an invasive Oriental bittersweet vine (below) became tangled in the uppermost branches of the lovely ‘Elizabeth’ magnolia. Plenty of smaller mulberries remain, but these are too shaded for now to produce fruit.Oriental bittersweet

The bittersweet was chopped out, and though it didn’t give up without a fight, suckers from the roots have been controlled so that it appears I’m winning the battle to eradicate it from the thicket. Now, a week ago, I noticed fruit on one of the many grapevines that have spread through the brambles and seedling trees. And, once I paid more attention, the vine had spread to cover several small trees at the corner by the street. I’m afraid that I can’t identify a native grapevine from one of the invasives, but from cursory research I’ve decided this is a native and it will stay. In fact, the vine is not on my property, and at the moment it’s far enough on the other side of the thicket that the magnolia is in no danger.

Like the bittersweet, the the trunk of the grapevine (below) becomes thick enough, and the vine is anchored sufficiently into the upper limbs of trees that it is nearly impossible to remove. The bittersweet was removed almost completely from the tree canopy because it was hopelessly tangled into the five or six mulberries that were taken down. The mulberries and the thick trunked vine were cut, and the entire mess tumbled down. Since I’m doing nothing with the grapevine, I suspect it will overwhelm a few trees in its path, but these aren’t my trees, and I’m not nearly as concerned as with the bittersweet that it will become a neighborhood pest.Riverbank grape

Since this was the first time that I’ve seen fruit on any of the grapevines, of course I had to sample one, and incredibly I chomped on a small fruit without considering for a moment that it would not be seedless. So, the hard seed came as a shock. And then the fruit was bitter, which was not such a surprise, but I questioned whether the one I sampled was sufficiently ripe, so another and another were tried. Yes, I decided, the fruit is bitter, and with a big seed in a small fruit there’s hardly any reason to go back for more.

At one time I planted a purple leafed grape to climb up into one of the garden’s arbors, but that was a while ago, and I suspect it was too shady, so the vine didn’t last. I don’t think it ever made it to the point where the grape had fruit, though pretty much every time I recall such a story my wife corrects me and points out that my memory is failing miserably and the truth is completely the opposite of what I’ve claimed. In fact, I don’t think my memory (or attention to detail) was ever very good, but I know for certain that the grape is long gone, and I doubt she knows I ever planted one, so on this story I think I’m in the clear.Passion flower fruit in early September

Another semi edible fruit is on the way in the garden. I say semi edible because it’s difficult for me to determine when the egg shaped fruit of the passionflower vine (above) is ripe, and a year or two ago I waited and waited until it began to turn soft, and one day it was gone. I don’t know if it was ripe or if it became too heavy and fell off, but I don’t think it just fell and rolled away. I suspect it fell and one of the overnight visitors to the garden made off with it. Perhaps I’ll keep an closer eye on this one.

Foolish speculation

Years ago I realized the folly in speculating about natural cycles. I am continually amused that folks presume to forecast a winter’s cold or a dry summer, or that as a result of some weather event there will certainly be fewer mosquitoes, ticks, or whatever in the next season. If a scorecard were kept, perhaps this would finally put an end to this nonsense.

Tiger swallowtail on verbena

Tiger swallowtail on verbena

I wonder for a moment why there are fewer swalllowtail butterflies in the garden today, when last year they were so numerous that I congratulated that finally I had gotten this gardening thing figured out.  Of course, I had not discovered anything at all. Most certainly, the suddenly increased swallowtail population was not the result of anything I planted or any action on my part, but were a quirk of some combination of natural occurrences far too complex for my understanding.

Now that the butterfly issue has been left behind as irresolvable, the next dilemma is to determine whatever happened to the dragonflies. Again, a year again there were hoards buzzing about the large koi pond. And, earlier this summer the numbers were equally abundant. But, today there are few by comparison. Still, there are plenty of dragonflies in the garden as a whole, but the number patrolling the territory over this pond is greatly diminished. The result of fewer dragonflies is that the number of Tiger mosquitoes is greatly increased, and this, rather than fewer dragonflies, is the more notable issue.Dragonfly

While our homegrown mosquitoes are rarely a bother to me, the imported Tiger mosquitoes are a considerable nuisance. Their bite seems more painful, and there are more of them, particularly when there are fewer dragonflies. If I could figure a way to get the dragonflies back, the issue around the pond would be resolved to my satisfaction, even if other parts of the garden remained a problem.Asian-tiger-mosquito

I recall in the midst of the winter there were numerous forecasts that beetles and particularly stink bug populations would be greatly diminished after the long spells of freezing temperatures. In fact, I haven’t a clue about stink bugs or how they fared because we have few on our property. I suppose that birds or bats, or whatever it is that eats these bugs are the reason. I hear less about them, so perhaps the number is fewer.

Japanese beetles are never much of a problem in this garden, and perhaps this is due to our abundance of birds. Assuredly, I have done nothing to prevent beetles or any other bug, but it seems reasonable that a garden with food, water, and shelter for a variety of beasts will achieve somewhat of a natural balance. That is, until some entirely inexplicable event results in hoards of something or another.

Late summer blooms

Bumblebee on toad lilyThe flowers of several cultivars of toad lilies (Tricyrtis) are too narrow for bumblebees to fit to sample the nectar that is protected beneath pollen laden anthers. So, the bee simply chews a hole near the base of the flower (above), and takes its fill. The bee’s shortcut undermines the toad lily’s natural mechanism designed to ensure pollination, but I suppose smaller pollinators take care of this. Tricyrtis formosana var. grandiflora 'W-Ho-ping Toad'

Several cultivars of toad lily are flowering in the garden at the start of September, with others scheduled to bloom later in the month. Ones planted in more shade will be delayed a few weeks longer than those in sunnier spots. In areas that have become more shaded so that there is no direct sunlight through the day, there will be few or no blooms, and these must be transplanted with cooler temperatures in late summer. Toad lily in early September

Toad lilies are fascinating flowers for the late summer garden, with flowers on several cultivars persisting until frost. I continue to add to my collection, and today I’m expecting delivery of a few new ones from a mail order outfit that specializes in less common plants. I will be trying a few yellow and white flowered toad lilies (below), again, and unfortunately the last group of these more unusual varieties were planted where shade was too deep and too dry, and I paid too little attention for them to survive the dryness of summer. Otherwise, these are as care free as any plant in the garden, and with remarkable blooms there is no reason not to plant at least several of the ones most readily available. Then, once you are hooked, you can order ones that are more difficult and costly.  If I can manage to keep these alive, which should not be too great a challenge, the slight investment will be very much worthwhile.  Tricyrtis Maya White in late September

Unfortunately, this is perhaps the last hurrah for the Franklin tree (Franklinia alatamaha, below). For years, the slight spring that originates beneath the garden shed (beside which the Franklinia is planted) ran only through the spring and in wet weather, but now the surrounding soil has remained almost constantly damp for several years. Despite the Franklin tree being native to the banks of the Altamaha River in Georgia, it will not tolerate persistent wet soil, so each year the tree has fewer leaves and more dead branches as it declines .Franklinia flower in late August

For lack of a suitable replacement for the long suffering Franklinia, I’ve planted two shrubby Gordlinias (x Gordlinia grandlifora,  below), an intergeneric hybrid of Franklinia and the southeastern native Loblolly Bay (Gordonia lasianthus). Today, both Franklin tree and Gordlinia are flowering, I suspect for the last time together. The foliage and blooms of tree and shrub are similar, though the flowers of Gordlinia are somewhat larger. This upright growing shrub rebounded vigorously from winter damage that defoliated the evergreen, and in drier ground I expect that it will be sturdier and longer lived than the Franklin tree.     Gordlinia in early September

There has been no shortage of blooms in the garden through the summer, but with cooler temperatures there will be many more flowers through September. The long delayed blooms of the mophead hydrangeas (Hydrangea macrophylla) are coming on quickly, and only recently I’ve seen the first small flowers from the unusually colored ‘Pistachio’ (below). With the hydrangeas’ recovery from the winter nearly complete, the late summer garden should be delightful.Pistachio hydrangea in early September

Swallowtail butterflies on Joe PyeWhile Tiger swallowtails (above) have reappeared in the garden after a notable absence earlier in summer, their numbers are not nearly as abundant as a year ago when I was astounded to see a dozen or more on one Joe Pye weed ((Eutrochium purpureum). More typical is to see a few at a time, and still I think that numbers today are smaller than usual. But, not to worry, these things fluctuate, and whether the diminished numbers are a result of the harsh winter or some other phenomenon, there is no reason to be concerned.Hummingbird and red hot poker

The hummingbird (above) has returned, though it seems reasonable to believe that while I’m seeing one at a time but there could be more. Regardless, there are few in this garden, and as I consider their scarcity it seems clear that I have planted few flowers that particularly attract them. Today, it seems that it is the late flowering Red Hot pokers (Kniphofia) that they are drawn to, and these will flower for another month, or longer if there is not an early frost. Being skittish sorts, the hummingbird checks out Blue Mist shrubs (Caryopteris x cladonensis ‘Hint of Gold’, below) and St. Johns wort (Hypericum) while in the vicinity, but these don’t hold its interest for long, and off it goes, probably to a neighbors’ sugar water feeder.Hint of Gold blue mist shrub in early September

I don’t suppose that a garden can attract every sort of beast, just as one of everything cannot possibly be planted, and of course these things are very much interrelated. I feel certain that if I hung a sugar water feeder, or planted flowers specifically suited to hummingbirds, there would be more. Or, at least this one would visit more frequently. But, there’s only so much space, and my attention can go only in so many directions, so I’ll be content with robins and cardinals, bees, and swallowtails, now that they’ve returned.Shoal creek vitex in August

There is no shortage of flowers in the garden at the start of September, with many blooms from early in August persisting for weeks, and some that will continue flowering into early October. The Chaste tree (Vitex agnus-castus ‘Shoal Creek’, above) is finally fading, having made a nice recovery from the winter when it died to the ground. Even with no growth evident into early May I suspected that the woody shrub would survive, and now it has grown nearly as large as it was a year ago. As with the nearby Joe Pye, many fewer butterfies have visited to sample its nectar, though bumblebees seem as plentiful as ever.Canyon Creek abelia in late August

I was surprised that various abelias (Abelia x grandiflora ‘Canyon Creek’, above) suffered through the winter, and in late summer a few have not completely revived. This is typically a sturdy shrub with moderately attractive foliage and modest, summer long blooms, but it will take another year for these to fully recover, I think. ‘Canyon Creek’ had fewer issues with the cold, and now there is barely any evidence of earlier troubles, but its yellow foliage annually fades in the heat and its open habit requires some regular pruning to keep a compact form.Mophead hydrangea in early September

With cooler temperatures through much of August, the reblooming varieties of mophead hydrangeas (Hydrangea macrophylla, above) set flower buds, and now there are a few scattered blooms. Most of the mopheads did not flower at all in late spring, instead devoting considerable energy to recovering from winter injury. All are back to their full size, though a few are not as densely branched, which is hardly a surprise. With cooler temperatures in coming weeks, I expect more flower buds will develop, but often the season runs short and frost prevents these from turning to full sized blooms. Next spring there’s no reason to expect that the hydrangeas will not return to their typical flowering cycle.Twist Encore azalea in early autumn

The reblooming azaleas (Azalea Autumn Encore Twist, above) struggled to display any more than a few scattered flowers in early April, but now all have recovered fully and several are beginning their typical late summer flowering cycle. Some varieties begin flowering late in August, while other hold off until the coolness of early autumn. After a disappointing spring, the garden appears to be back on track.

A stinging rebuke

I noticed recently that something was eating the redbuds (Cercis canadensis), both the red leafed ‘Forest Pansy’ and variegated ‘Silver Cloud’. First, I saw the webs, which I figured were the work of Fall webworms that are occasionally present in the garden, but rarely much of a problem. If I’m in the mood at the time, I might break open the web and displace the small caterpillars with a stream of water, but the redbuds are a bit too distant from the house without connecting multiple hoses, so I didn’t bother.Caterpillar web on Silver Cloud redbud

A few weeks later, I discovered that these were not webworms while mowing beneath the redbuds. As branches brushed my sleeveless shoulders I felt a sting, and when I reached to brush away what I supposed was a bee, I was stung again, and again. I’ve been stung before (and certainly will be again) by one beast or another, so I thought little of this until a few days later when I noticed bare spots and partially eaten leaves on the ‘Silver Cloud’ redbuds. As I leaned for a closer look I brushed another branch and was stung again. This time the culprit was identified.

The webs were now empty, with the caterpillars migrating throughout the sunny side of the trees (where nutrients levels are higher in foliage). Here, there were dozens, maybe hundreds of greenish-yellow caterpillars with a black stripe, and many fine hairs that deliver the sting. I’ve been stung by caterpillars before, so this was not shocking, but the stinging caterpillars I’d seen before were prominently marked and their stinging spines were more obvious. These were common looking caterpillars which were quickly identified after a short computer search as larvae of the White Flannel moth.White Flannel moth caterpillar

In fact, identification of caterpillars is simplified by researching the plant that they are chewing, rather than the caterpillars’ physical appearance. The White Flannel moth (above) feeds on only two trees, redbud and hackberry (Celtis occidentalis), but identification was important only as a matter of interest since I had and have no plans to spray a pesticide to be rid of them.Japanese beetles on Gordlinia flower

With any sign that a plant is being eaten or injured, the gardener must first identify the cause, then decide if the severity dictates that action be taken. Despite an annual infestation of Japanese beetles, I’ve decided that the damage done is more a nuisance than a problem, and that the controls necessary are too harsh, or laborious, to justify the treatment. Instead of pesticides, I’ve been advised that Japanese beetles can be picked and dropped into soapy water, but the minor injury caused by the small numbers of beetles does not justify this much work on my part, so I do nothing.

Several years ago, when the garden’s hostas began to disappear at an alarming rate, it was immediately clear that deer were the cause, and after delaying too long I decided to adopt a regular regimen of spraying a deer repellent. The repellent is harmless to deer, and to any other living creature, though after spraying one that stinks of rotten eggs my wife is hesitant to let me into the house for several hours. In this instance, I justify the solution as one that achieves its goal without harmful effect, and deer are readily able to find sustenance down the street instead of eating my garden’s treasures.
Gulf fritillary butterfly caterpillar on Passionflower vine

More or less, I’ve concluded the same with the White Flannel moth caterpillars, and with Gulf Fritillary caterpillars (above) that are chewing on the foliage of the Passion Flower vine (Passiflora incarnata). In past years the Golden Chain trees have been nearly defoliated by caterpillars, and earlier in the summer the Catalpa was stripped bare. All have recovered, and I expect the redbuds will manage as well.Caterpillar on Golden Chain tree

There is less risk of damage late in the summer than with spring’s tent caterpillars that can quickly strip a tree’s new foliage. In a short period in late spring, the caterpillar of the Catalpa Sphinx moth did not leave a single whole leaf on the catalpa, which fortunately shows no signs of stress as it has grown nearly a full set of new leaves. Despite prodigious numbers of Sawfly larvae, little damage was done to a River birch (Betula nigra, below) a few years back.Sawfly larvae on river birch leaves

Insects have damaged parts of Oakleaf hydrangeas (Hydrangea quercifolia, below), and other trees and shrubs to varying degrees. But, these are rarely more than cosmetic issues that gardener must decide to tolerate, or take actions that might effect other life in the garden. My decision not to spray pesticides is made in deference to the bees and birds that add immeasurably to my enjoyment of the garden, and if a few leaves are damaged, that is a small price to pay. But, I must be a bit more careful to avoid being stung.Insect eating leaves of Oakleaf hydrangea

The small section of lawn at the back of the rear garden has been lost to nutgrass, though the loss is not exactly heartbreaking since I hardly care at all about the lawn. Certainly, the nutgrass is green, and perhaps it’s better than crabgrass. The only downside I see is that both weedy grasses seed into the planting beds, so this has become a nuisance.

Crabgrass can be a bit of a pain to pull if it’s neglected for a few weeks as the stems root at every node. Nutgrass is more difficult to yank out, and if any root is left behind you have accomplished almost nothing. No doubt, there is some chemical marvel that will wipe out the nutgrass without killing the few blades of fescue that remain, but this area stays damp for long periods, so the weedy grass is likely to return no matter what I do. And, nutgrass grows dense, and very green, so in this back area it works out just fine as far as I’m concerned.Sweetshrub

The fact is well established that I’m not a stickler for routine garden maintenance, but in recent weeks I’ve exerted a bit more effort to clean up weeds that were becoming more of a bother. The damp area in the rear garden has been a particular problem. Here, a long established witch hazel died, and until the chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa) and sweetshrubs (Calycanthus floridus) grow to fill the now sunny space the weeds will be a pain.  I expect these native shrubs to not only tolerate, but to thrive in this dampness, and perhaps it will take only a year or two until I’m questioning whether they were planted too closely.Geranium seedling sprouting through Creeping Jenny

To cover the damp ground beneath the shrubs I’ve planted Creeping Jenny (Lysimachia nummularia ‘Aurea’), which I’ve found is an inexact science. In the proper combination of just enough sun and adequate moisture it grows vigorously, but in too much sun, and a bit too dry, Creeping Jenny fades miserably by mid summer. But, so far, so good. There are no other low growing neighbors, so if Jenny really takes off, no harm will be done. The yellow can be a little too bright for my taste, but I’ll live with it if it grows well enough to dress the area up. On the downside, where it’s growing, it isn’t doing a thing to keep the weeds down, and whenever I pull a tuft of nutgrass a chunk of Creeping Jenny comes along with it.

If I live long enough, some day I’ll figure this thing out.