Rain, rain, rain

Parts of this country have been deluged by rain in recent weeks, so a gardener must be pardoned for even the mildest complaint about too much rain. One storm after another has turned the rear garden into a swamp, which in recent years it has become for too many months of the year, but rarely in June. I suspect that a few local basements have flooded, and I suppose I should be ashamed to whine that a tall holly has finally succumbed to the dampness. Several shrubs and a Japanese maple planted years ago when this area was dry are not happy in the wet soil, though I figure that these will recover once the ground dries. Perhaps in July.

Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) thrives in standing water. Bees and butterflies flock to its flowers.

Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) thrives in standing water. Bees and butterflies flock to its flowers.

I am enthused that buttonbush and sweetshrubs planted at the margins of the worst of the wetness are thriving, and while I thought when this area was replanted a few years ago that I am too old to ever see it become full again, now I imagine that this is only a few years away. I expect to be around at least that long. With Japanese iris and Sensitive ferns planted in standing water and shrubs to the side, I think that perhaps the area could grow to be more pleasing than when a large ‘Arnold Promise’ witch hazel and the holly filled the space, though the fragrant blooms of the witch hazel are dearly missed in late winter.

Sweetshrub (Calycanthus florida) thrives in waterlogged soil (as well as in dry shade).

Sweetshrub (Calycanthus florida) thrives in waterlogged soil (as well as in dry shade).

With ample rainfall I have not had to top off the garden’s five ponds to compensate for evaporation. The oldest pond blew a plumbing fitting a few days ago to spew water, eroding loose soil from between hellebores and hostas planted beneath the stewartia that borders the pond. But, little damage was done. A few connectors, a short section of pipe, and glue took care of the problem in a few minutes, and a thunderstorm was forecast for the evening so I did not have to refill the one third empty pond.

The garden's original  has been updated several times. Today, an wide spreading Viridis Japanese maple hangs over the pond.

The garden’s original has been updated several times. Today, an wide spreading Viridis Japanese maple hangs over the pond.

Unrelated to rain, there are many more baby fish in the koi pond than I’ve ever seen. Of course, they will not be still to count, but I guess that there are a hundred or more. In recent years I’ve estimated there were seventy five medium and large koi in the pond, and though they were growing larger, the numbers did not seem to be rising substantially. Until this spring, and I have no explanation for the exploding population.

The koi pond in early summer

The koi pond in early summer

The pond is large (maybe 1,300 square feet), but I do not suppose that it can manage this doubling (or more) of the number of fish. I must rethink the pond’s simple filtration, and as many koi as I can catch will be moved to the other four ponds in the garden. I don’t expect this will be an easy process, and I’ve avoided keeping fish in the other ponds in recent years to protect them from herons that frequent the area. My wife hesitates to move the small koi to ponds that are not safe from predators, but I have no choice but to move them and then figure how to discourage the heron.

Waterlilies, yellow flag iris, and sweetflag grow in the koi pond's bog filter

Waterlilies, yellow flag iris, and sweetflag grow in the koi pond’s bog filter

Before the koi pond was constructed, herons nearly cleaned out one pond, but in the years since trees and shrubs have grown considerably to provide more cover, and possible to make a heron less comfortable that it can easily flee. There are a few other tricks to keep the herons away, which I’ve haven’t had to bother with since the koi pond is much deeper, but again I’ll need to watch out to protect the relatively defenseless fish.Koi in the swimming pond

A determined coneflower

I once planted a very nice, red flowered coneflower, ‘Tomato Soup’ (Echinacea ‘Tomato Soup’, below) that bloomed splendidly for several years, until one spring it was gone. Often, there are signs that a plant’s health is fading, but this coneflower simply did not return in the spring. Certainly, there are many more examples of this (if I could think of them), and often while browsing garden photos in a magazine, or walking through the garden I’ll recall a flower that is long gone.

A photo of 'Tomato Soup' coneflower before it faded and disappeared. In full sun this is exceptional, but it did not fare so well when it was more shaded.

A photo of ‘Tomato Soup’ coneflower before it faded and disappeared. In full sun this is exceptional, but it did not fare so well when it was more shaded.

Though I was quite pleased with ‘Tomato Soup’, I have no inclination to plant another. Its day has passed, and occasionally I understand that I cannot properly serve the needs of a plant. I’ve tried growing a variety of tickseeds (Coreopsis), that even the most casual gardener can grow without a care, but all have failed. I suspect that if I provided unhindered sunlight, coneflowers and tickseeds would likely flourish, but this is hard to come by in this garden.

'Coconut Lime' has refused to succumb to diminishing sunlight. It might grow a bit spindly in the shade, but it flowers as well as ever.

‘Coconut Lime’ has refused to succumb to diminishing sunlight. It might grow a bit spindly in the shade, but it flowers as well as ever.

On the other hand, the white flowered ‘Coconut Lime’ (above) has been neglected and given the worst possible circumstance. Possibly, when first planted it was given more space, but now it is overshadowed by a gold needled cypress and a shrubby crapemyrtle so that it receives a minimum of sunlight. Each spring I am surprised to see its return, but it does. While one coneflower performed splendidly for a few years until it wilted with minimal competition, ‘Coconut Lime’ survives against much greater odds. I am terribly pleased when it flowers in late spring.

Echinacea 'Magnus' is a sturdy and dependable performer, but it needs sun, so it finally faded in this garden.

Echinacea ‘Magnus’ is a sturdy and dependable performer, but it needs sun, so it finally faded in this garden.

Nandinas (Nandina domestica) are an unstoppable force in this garden, flourishing without a care through drought and freeze, and though they are common and possibly unremarkable to most gardeners, I revel in ones that are most ordinary. The gardener is warned that Heavenly bamboo grows too tall, and that it will quickly become an unwelcome nuisance. The clusters of small white flowers in late spring will soon become shiny red berries, and these are blamed to consider the shrub as invasive. This was concerning until I considered that the berries are toxic, and even in late winter when food is scarce they are avoided by all but an occasional robin that samples a berry or two.

Nandina domestica flowering in mid June.

Nandina domestica flowering in mid June.

Certainly, I would prefer that the garden’s berries be more appetizing to the neighborhood’s cardinals and jays, but this would spread the abundant seeds and nandinas could rightfully be called invasive. As is, seedlings never stray further than the seeds can drop and roll. Also, rhizomes rarely spread more than a few inches from the parent plant, but over a few decades the clumps grow into a very informal hedge that obscures one part of the garden from another as the tall stems sway in the breeze. Almost, as planned.Snow and nandina berries

When good sense is ignored

I have some good sense, but at least as far as the garden’s concerned, it’s displayed only on rare occasions. In an effort to cram as many delights as possible into the garden, sensible design is occasionally overlooked (or disregarded). I see no reason to excuse or apologize. I will gladly sacrifice proper design to add another treasure so long as the sacrifice is pushed off for a decade or longer. Troubles are seldom much of a bother.

The garden was never intended for show, though visitors still seem satisfied with the result. But, I advise, do not follow my lead if you are inclined to spending your weekends in leisure. There is much to keep up with.

Ferns and hostas flank this bluestone path

Ferns and hostas flank this bluestone path. The Ostrich ferns were transplanted from the forest at the border of the garden. The hostas encroach  too far across the path, just as I prefer but too far according to my wife.

My focus is often on the individual rather than the whole, though there are times I marvel that this haphazard plan has yielded a satisfactory outcome. If I avoid the panoramic view of the garden on these pages, it is that most often I revel in the form of the flower or foliage. And, just beyond view there is likely to be a pile of debris.

Today, I have cobbled together several wider views of the garden. Remarkably, there are few weeds. I hope that you will not see the messes in the background.

The view from the driveway to the back garden

The view from the driveway to the back garden. The yellow leaf Blue Mist shrub died back substantially over the winter, so it has not filled in as well as it should. Otherwise, I must selectively prune branches that flop over neighboring plants.

Looking across the koi pond to the stone patio and pavilion

Looking across the koi pond to the stone patio and pavilion. This view has changed in recent years as the Oakleaf hydrangea in the foreground has overwhelmed perennials. I must prune it annually to give several clumps of Japanese iris at the pond’s edge enough sunlight to flower. I’ve recently seen that there are dozens and possibly more than a hundred baby koi in the pond. Many will have to be relocated to one of the four other ponds.

My favorite spot in the garden. A stone path follows a stream with lined with moss covered stones, flanked by hostas, ferns, and Japanese Forest grass

My favorite spot in the garden. A stone path follows a stream lined with moss covered stones, flanked by hostas, ferns, and Japanese Forest grass.

This pond was the first of five constructed in the garden. It has been revised several times. A wide spreading 'Viridis' Japanese maple overhangs the pond.

This pond was the first of five constructed in the garden. It has been revised several times. A wide spreading ‘Viridis’ Japanese maple overhangs the pond.

The 'Viridis' Japanese maple encroaches further into this small patio each year. On the near side a dwarf spruce encroaches even further.

The ‘Viridis’ Japanese maple encroaches further into this small patio each year. On the near side a dwarf spruce encroaches even further. The ferns are Ostrich ferns transplanted from a damp area at the forest’s edge. The wood of the lichen covered chairs has not rotted, but I don’t trust the wooden dowels that hold it together, so I don’t set anything heavier than pruners on them.

The Oakleaf hydrangea must be pruned annually to leave space for the Pineapple lily. I've divided the lily a few times to plant around the garden.

The Oakleaf hydrangea must be pruned annually to leave space for the Pineapple lily. I’ve divided the lily a few times to plant around the garden.

'The dwarf 'Shaina' Japanese maple borders the patio beside the koi pond. In the foreground are Bletilla hardy orchids, and Oakleaf hydrangea beyond.

‘The dwarf ‘Shaina’ Japanese maple borders the patio beside the koi pond. In the foreground are Bletilla hardy orchids, ‘Globosa’ blue spruce, and ‘Silver Edge’ rhododendron. In back are ‘Silver Cloud’ redbud, and Oakleaf hydrangea. Smaller perennials are tucked between, but are not visible in this view.

A colorful jumble of foliage with dwarf spruce and Full Moon Japanese maple

A colorful jumble of foliage with ‘Ogon’ spirea, dwarf spruce, Red horse chestnut, and Golden Full Moon Japanese maple.

First shoots of the purple passion flower vine (Passiflora incarnata) pop up anywhere except where they’re supposed to. A steel obelisk stands above where the vine was planted, but the first sign of the passion flower in late spring is eight feet away, growing through gaps in the stone patio. These are plucked out, and then the vine appears growing in a clump of toad lily, and then through a bed of salvias where it is found twining up into the branches on ‘Eternal Fragrance’ daphne.Passionflower vine

The strays are pulled, since it is nonsensical to grow a vine without support in the middle of a patio. Just when I wonder if perhaps the crown has died and the passion flower will not grow, here it is. This game is played every spring, though occasionally the first growth does not appear until summer. Once the vine begins to grow in this correct spot it quickly twines up through the metal support, and suckers from the wide spreading roots no longer grow. By the start of August the vine will reach to the roof of the pavilion, where it will trail along on a wire cable for another ten feet before the end of summer.Yellow passionflower in early August

The yellow passion flower (Passiflora lutea) grows dependably from its crown, but it is mischievous in its own way. This vine was planted so that it climbs up and through a large Oakleaf hydrangea, and as its purple cousin is just getting started in mid June, the yellow flowered vine is already through the hydrangea and into the overhanging ‘Okame’ cherry. The fast growing vine is not substantial enough to injure the tree or shrub.

With increase growth this spring, it’s possible that the small flowers will be abundant enough to be seen from the patio across the pond as it was intended.

The many or the few

I suspect that many gardeners are hopeless collectors of plants. Recently, I wrote about the collection of Japanese maples (Acer palmatum) in the garden, and the many irises, but there are more. Possibly, too many.Satomi dogwood in late May - Virginia

There are a dozen or more dogwoods of various stripes in the garden. The native Eastern dogwood (Cornus florida) begins to flower by mid April in most years. Now, in mid June the flowers of Chinese dogwoods (Cornus kousa) have faded, except a scattered few on ‘Satomi’ (above), that begins and ends a bit later. By planting one native, a hybrid (such as ‘Stellar Pink’), and a Chinese dogwood the gardener is assured of six weeks of continuous dogwood blooms, and occasionally two full months. Planting four or five (or fifteen) is not a necessity, though there are many splendid choices with varying flower and foliage colors for a more spacious garden.

The Eastern native is the most difficult of the dogwoods, but there are several in this garden that have thrived for twenty-five years. I expect they will survive for as long as I do, though they are regularly plagued by minor traumas in the heat of summer.Sweetbay magnolia

Sweetbay magnolia (Magnolia virginiana, above) is the least conspicuous of the magnolias in the garden. It is planted along the forest’s edge, and its shrubby habit blends with the neighboring foliage. This is, of course, its native habitat, where it is obvious when flowering, and occasionally when its silver backed leaves flutter in a breeze. The flowers of Sweetbay magnolia are smaller and less abundant than on other magnolias, but they are sweetly scented.

In this dry shade, Sweetbay is a treasure. While it will tolerant damp soils, it shows no significant decline when the soil is baked hard and dry. Recent introductions are nearly evergreen, but this Sweetbay magnolia drops most if its leaves, whether the winter is cold or mild.Golden Rain tree

I’m thankful that I did not go whole hog to plant more than a single Golden Rain tree (Koelreuteria paniculata, above) when the garden was young. Many gardeners seem enthralled by this yellow flowered tree, but its brittle branches and prolific seedlings soured my enthusiasm for the tree long ago. I would not be terribly disappointed if a summer storm shattered what remains of the the Golden Rain (which is, unfortunately, most of it, though storms have broken several large branches). I suppose the tree could be managed if planted with only sod beneath it, but its thousands of  seeds spread through too much of the garden, and create far too much work for the gardener.Stewartia pseudocamellia

I have long considered planting a Mountain stewartia (Stewartia ovata), but have been unable to find a tree of adequate size to satisfy my impatience. Certainly, I waited long enough for a thin, six foot Stewartia pseudocamellia (above) to grow to make a show. Perhaps it is slightly quicker to get started than the purple leafed European beech (Fagus sylvatica) that hardly grew an inch for eight years (though now it is a magnificent fifty or sixty feet tall). While the stewartia is hemmed in by Japanese maples and dogwoods that towered over the young tree, today it rises above its neighbors.

Remarkably, there are as many flower buds on shaded lower branches as ones popping into the sun. These open to flower over several weeks in June, and then I wish that it was planted front and center in the garden so neighbors could enjoy it also. But, this would move a dogwood or two to a less prominent spot, so I quite satisfied with the way things are.

A month of irises

Japanese irisSeveral clumps of Japanese iris (Iris ensata, above) surrounding the koi pond have been invaded by yellow flag (Iris pseudacorus, below). These are pried from the tangle of roots with great difficulty, and with only limited success.  Yellow flag works splendidly to populate the gravel bog filtration area of the pond, but if left alone the vigorous iris will overwhelm the slightly less robust Japanese iris.Yellow flag iris in mid May

Several seedlings of Japanese iris (below) have sprouted in shallow water between stones at the pond’s edge, but also an exuberant seedling grows several paces outside the pond in dry ground. I suspect that irises are easily crossed, and that many hybrids are discarded by breeders as nothing very special. Probably, several that grow in this garden would not pass muster, but these are plenty good enough by this gardener’s low standards.Japanese iris

Each clump of iris flowers for just over a week, but if several cultivars are chosen it is likely that flowering will extend for several weeks or a month from start to finish. I would fib to boast that varieties were chosen with intent to extend blooming, and I suspect that if three were chosen randomly the gardener would enjoy three weeks of flowers. If five (or fifty) are planted there will be flowers for a month, and no longer.Japanese iris growing in a pond

I have tried, and failed, planting Japanese irises in drier ground with the exception of the tall, purple flowered seedling. This has grown into a thick clump, and I rejoice that I did not pluck it out as just another weed. It’s sword-like foliage stands above a low mounding cypress, a better design accent than I’m able to imagine.Variegated Japanese iris in early June

In shallow water, planted in one inch gravel, there is no secret to growing Japanese iris. Larger stones constrain the irises from spreading further, and after a year or two the clump will fill a square foot area. In damp, but less soggy soil growth is a bit slower, but irises planted fifteen inches apart will fill the space in three years. At least, this has been planned for a damp area of the rear garden that has become progressively more waterlogged in recent years.Japanese iris in ear;ly June

While only one cultivar has been planted, I expect others to be added to extend flowers from mid May into June.

Iris Lion King

Lion KIng Japanese iris is the latest to flower, often blooming after others have faded.

My wife has gotten in on the act, taking photos of irises while I was traveling last week. It is a crime to be away while the irises are flowering, but I have to pay the rent.

My wife has gotten in on the act, taking photos of irises while I was traveling last week. It is a crime to be away while the irises are flowering, but I have to pay the rent.

The Japanese iris that grows in dry ground beside the cypress has similar flowers to the variegated iris, but the foliage is much taller.

The Japanese iris that grows in dry ground beside the cypress has similar flowers to the variegated iris, but the foliage is much taller.

The variegated iris grows in shallow water at the pond's edge. This clump has been invaded by yellow flag iris (the green foliage).

The variegated iris grows in shallow water at the pond’s edge. This clump has been invaded by yellow flag iris (the green foliage).

Japanese irises grow in clumps between stones surrounding much of the koi pond.

Japanese irises grow in clumps between stones surrounding much of the koi pond. A few irises are lagging and have not flowered yet, so blooms will continue for a few weeks into June.

 

Japanese maples with a side of garden

My wife complains (again) that the ‘Crimson Queen’ Japanese maple (Acer palmatum dissectum ‘Crimson Queen’, below) planted beside the driveway is a problem. I believe this is the fourth year she has brought this to my attention, but possibly it is the seventh or eighth. In fact, the maple is not only beside the drive, but also growing into it, which would not be so bad except that a magnolia and cypress encroach from the far side onto the driveway. My common sense approach to this problem is that it’s fortunate my wife and I have small cars that are easily navigated between the trees. I cannot imagine pruning the naturally graceful branches of this maple.

Crimson Queen and other maples obscure the house and partially obstruct the driveway.

Crimson Queen and other maples obscure the house and partially obstruct the driveway.

Long ago, it was presumed by some in this household that there was a problem with two ‘Seriyu’ maples (below) planted to the inside of the front walk, probably too close to the house, but that was considered when they were planted and no harm has come of it. For a short while (only a few years), lower branches of the maples hung over to block the front bluestone walk when it rained, and there were continued allegations of poor planning.

'Seriyu' maple has finely dissected green foliage. The tree grows to nearly twenty feet wide, and I can attest that it will grow even wider.

‘Seriyu’ maple has finely dissected green foliage. The tree grows to nearly twenty feet tall, and I can attest that it will grow even wider.

But, this too was calculated when the small trees were planted, and few people ever used the front walk anyway. Today, the ‘Seriyu’ maples form a canopy over the length of the walk, just as designed. Along with a large, red leafed ‘Bloodgood’ maple (below), they almost completely hide the front of the house. But, no matter that the house is quite attractive, and despite my wife’s opinion on the matter, I prefer seeing trees rather than structures.

Bloodgood Japanese maple is a common upright growing tree with dark foliage.

Bloodgood Japanese maple is a common upright growing tree with dark foliage.

After growth in the spring, some pruning must be done to drooping branches to keep the front walk open, but this is nothing to be bothered about. The ‘Seriyu’ planted at the corner of the garage now grows far over the driveway, and though you walk (and drive) under it, delivery trucks long ago abandoned thoughts of pulling down the drive. Thankfully, the driveway is short, so the FedEx man is not too put out, and in fact we recently had a pleasant conversation where he asked for my recommendations.

Shirazz (Gwen's Rose Delight) attract the most attention in sthe spring from visitors. it's variegation and red foliage fades in the heat of summer, but the two months of spring make it worthwhile.

Shirazz (Gwen’s Rose Delight) attract the most attention in the spring from visitors. it’s variegation and red foliage fades in the heat of summer, but the two months of spring make it worthwhile.

It should be no surprise to you that Japanese  maples have the run of the place. If a maple spreads to encroach on the stone paths, the path is moved. When a maple grows to cover a waterfall that was a marvelous focal point, well, this adds to the garden’s mystery. As you can see, it is necessary for the gardener to have his priorities in order, and here it is very clear where the maples stand. Dogwoods and redbuds are also given high priority, but a peg below the Japanese maples.

Butterfly has green and white variegated foliage. Until summer there is more cream colored foliage, but this changes to a mottled green and white.

Butterfly has green and white variegated foliage. Until summer there is more cream colored foliage, but this changes to a mottled green and white.

The question is occasionally posed, which maple is best, and this was the inquiry from the local delivery man. He was, of course, unaware that there are any more than a few types of Japanese maple besides the weeping red ones. This is typical, I suppose, of many casual gardeners who are unaware of any but the most common. When I tell the dear FedEx man that there are twenty-five thousand named varieties of Japanese maple (or more), and he is standing under one (with another over there, and over there, and …..), then the conversation must end because there are deliveries to get to before this old windbag gets going.

There are several Linerilobum maples in the garden. These are uprights with deeply cut foliage.

There are several Japanese maples with deeply cut leaves in the garden. Scolopendrifolium atropurpureum is upright in form and it retains its color through the summer. There are several Linearilobum maples with similar foliage, a few that are even more deeply divided.

As I consider the inventory of maples in the garden (an actual count is never taken, so I only suppose there are twenty-four cultivars and thirty, or thirty-some maples in the garden), it is quickly obvious that there are more green leafed maples and fewer with pendulous branching. There are red leaves, and green, yellow, and several that are variegated with shades of cream, green, and occasionally pink.

Scolopendrifolium Japanese maple has green, deeply divided leaves.

Scolopendrifolium Japanese maple has green, deeply divided leaves.

As with many things in my life, I have an imprecise recollection of the garden two decades earlier, but the size of a handful of trees indicates that these Japanese maples were planted in the garden’s early days. ‘Bloodgood’ and ‘Burgundy Lace’ stand twenty feet tall and spread at least as wide. The ‘Crimson Queen’ and the green leafed weeper ‘Viridis’ (below) spread at least ten feet, and visitors are shocked and concerned that the lone Japanese maple in their garden will spread to obstruct their front walk. Probably, it will.

Viridis covers much of one of the garden's ponds and a portion of this patio.

Viridis covers much of one of the garden’s ponds and a portion of this patio.

The Golden Full Moon maple grows slowly in partial sun. It is recommended that it be given more shade, but I've had few problems with foliage in more sun.

The Golden Full Moon maple grows slowly in partial sun. It is recommended that it be given more shade, but I’ve had few problems with foliage in more sun.

Skeeter's Broom is a witches broom of Bloodgood maple. It retains  its red color through the summer better than many other maples.

Skeeter’s Broom is a witches broom of Bloodgood maple. It retains its red color through the summer better than many other maples.

The Fernleaf Japanese maple has larger leaves than typical. Aututumn foliage color is unsurpassed.

The Fernleaf Japanese maple has larger leaves than typical. Its autumn foliage color is unsurpassed.

I waited years to find a suitable Floating Cloud maple ('Ukigumo'), but now there are three.

I waited years to find a suitable Floating Cloud maple (‘Ukigumo’), but now there are three.