Perhaps enough

To hear my wife tell it, I am barely in control of my impulses when it comes to the garden. There was a time, not too many years ago, when she supposed that she had some influence, but I think this thought has been abandoned, and now she only hopes I will not make too big a mess of things. She threatens to prune any branch that strays over any of the garden’s paths (below), and hopes this threat is enough to deter me from going too far over the deep end.The path to enter the back garden

I insist that I am in full control, despite much evidence to the contrary. I am not compelled to plant one of everything, and in fact many purchases are greatly considered. It is true that collections in the garden are too numerous, but I swear that a time or two I’ve been known to stop short of collecting one of every possible available plant. There are only thirty, maybe thirty-five Japanese maples in the garden, out of hundreds that are possible. So what if the collection continues to grow with maples growing in pots on the patios.

Then there are grape hollies (Mahonia). Recently, I got the itch to add ‘Beijing Beauty’ after seeing a photo in a catalog. But, when I found a source for more money than seemed reasonable, I opted to hold off. How long I can manage without, we’ll see.Soft Caress mahonia flowering in early October

There are times when, instead of adding to a collection, the number actually goes down. Finally, I’ve given up on narrow leafed mahonias ‘Soft Caress’ (above) and ‘Narihira’ (Mahonia eurybracteata), that have regularly failed to survive both cold and mild winters. When ‘Soft Caress’ survived for a few years, much of the year was spent in recovery, and finally I was convinced that life is too short to tangle with plants that perform poorly.

Winter Sun mahonia grows with an upright form, quite different from the late sinter flowering leatherleaf mahonia.

Winter Sun mahonia grows with an upright form, quite different from the late winter flowering leatherleaf mahonia. Winter Sun flowers from late November through December, with blooms often persisting into early January.

Though late autumn flowering hybrid mahonias are not rated for greater cold hardiness than ‘Soft Caress’, I’ve had little problem with ‘Winter Sun’ and ‘Charity’ (Mahonia x media) in temperatures much colder. After success with these, and splendid late autumn flowers, I added the very similar ‘Underway’, which finally convinced me that there is so little difference that there is no reason to add ‘Lionel Fortescue’ or ‘Marvel’ (which I believe is incorrectly identified as M. eurybracteata, but appears to be another Mahonia x media hybrid). However, if someone puts in a good word, my mind could easily be changed.

Charity mahonia has been a bit slower to flower in full sun. Racemes are longer than ones on Winter Sun, but this could be due to site conditions.

Charity mahonia has been a bit slower to flower in full sun. Racemes are longer than ones on Winter Sun, but this could be due to site conditions.

I am somewhat disappointed that ‘Underway’ will fail to flower this year. It is in excellent health, but shows no sign of blooming while others are at their peak. As for distinguishing one hybrid mahonia from the others, I haven’t a clue. Differing lengths of flowering racemes seem most dependent on sunlight exposure, with racemes shorter with more shade. Perhaps one will grow taller (or wider) than others. Certainly, there are differences, but not big ones from what I’ve seen.

The late winter, early spring flowering leatherleaf mahonia (Mahonia bealei) is a keeper, sturdy and a dependable bloomer in mid March and sometimes earlier in a mild late winter. I cannot argue with those insisting it is potentially invasive. Yellow flowers are followed by small, grape-like fruits which are promptly plucked by birds as soon as they ripen. Certainly, seedlings don’t come up everywhere, so perhaps invasive is too strong a term, but several have been allowed to grow while others are regularly weeded out.

Mahonia bealei

Leatherleaf mahonia will often begin to show a glimpse in late January if temperatures are mild. With consistently cold weather, early March flowering is expected.

Though foliage of Leatherleaf and the Oregon grape (Mahonia aquifolium) have dissimilar foliage, their spreading habits are well suited to informal gardens. While autumn flowering hybrids grow more upright, these sprawl, requiring considerably more space. Other, low growing mahonias that are commonly available are not sufficiently cold hardy for the coldest Virginia winters, so for now, further collecting of mahonias is on hold until a reasonably priced ‘Beijing Beauty’ can be found.

Another leaf cleanup

In a burst of energy, leaves covering paths and patios were removed so holiday guests could wander the garden if weather permitted. The weather was splendid, and with the crowd inside I wished to get outdoors for more than a few moments to escape the heat of the kitchen, but duty prevailed. Lion's Head Japanese maple autumn foliage

A week later, paths and patios are covered again. If there was ever a question about the number of Japanese maples in the garden, there are enough that when leaves fall, the driveway, front walk and a few patios are covered. And, most of the maples dropped leaves a month ago, though ones that held leaves until late November are the largest. Leaves of Bloodgood, Seriyu, Lion’s Head (above), and others fell in a rush on the first rainy night in weeks.

With no visitors expected, leaves will wait. Certainly, another wave of motivation will sweep in again, and when that day arrives maple leaves will be cleared along with deep piles that cover hellebores. These must be removed so that low growing evergreen foliage does not trap leaves to delay development of flower buds.Oakleaf hydrangea in early November

In early December, only a few leaves remain on trees and shrubs. Oakleaf hydrangeas (Hydrangea quercifolia, above) typically hold leaves into January, though deer stripped lower leaves of several when I neglected to spray the repellent through early autumn. The yellow thread leafed spirea ‘Ogon’ (Spirea thunbergii ‘Ogon’, below) is early to flower in March, and leafs long before many shrubs, but it holds leaves long into autumn.Ogon spirea in December

Both flower and foliage of ‘Ogon’ are pleasant enough, though not remarkable in my book. I admit that I was pleasantly surprised to see the color change of foliage on this December afternoon, and a single white bloom. The flower is not at all unusual, and ‘Ogon’ will display scattered blooms in a spell of warm December temperatures. Even at this late date, wonders remain to distract the gardener from labor.

A berry shortage

Every day in the garden, there will be some matter of consequence, good or bad, and most hardly noticed. The observant gardener will note that, not only does he shiver in a mid April freeze, but this cold coincides precisely with hollies (Ilex) in flower. He stays indoors as much as he can get away with through this chilly week, and so do pollinating bees. There should be no wonder when there are fewer berries in autumn.

This Koehneana holly borders the driveway, so it receives enough sunlight to berry dependably. There are fewer berries this year due to the April freeze. Leaf damage seen in this photo will not result in long term damage.

This Koehneana holly borders the driveway, so it receives enough sunlight to berry dependably. There are fewer berries this year due to the April freeze. Leaf damage seen in this photo will not result in long term damage.

But, not all of the garden’s current berry deficit can be blamed on bees sheltering from the cold. Over years, several hollies have become more shaded. A katsura (Cercidiphyllum japonicum) and tall Japanese cedars (Cryptomeria japonica) have spread to block sunlight from ‘Christmas Jewel’ (below) and ‘Patriot’ hollies that border the northern edge of the garden. Both were dependable berry producers, but not in this dense shade.

Christmas Jewel holly once berried prolifically, but not in recent years once it became too shaded.

Christmas Jewel holly once berried prolifically, but not in recent years once it became too shaded.

Native hollies (Ilex opaca), with varied leaf configurations that are typical of seedlings, are spread along the wooded edges of the garden. Some are only a foot or two tall, and several are chopped out each year if they pop up too close to neighbors. A few that were not weeded out in the early days of the garden have grown taller than ten feet. None produces more than scattered berries, also due to shaded conditions, I suspect.

Scattered berries on a large American holly.

Scattered berries on a large American holly.

After talking about it for years, still I have not gotten around to planting a male holly to pollinate the winterberries (Ilex verticillata). Once, branches were cloaked by red berries, but this area also became too shaded, and a holly or two faded beneath tall hornbeams. Certainly, the male pollinator was lost, and in recent years berries have been few, with none this year. For unknown reasons, the hornbeams died, and were removed so that there is sufficient light to again plant a male holly, but this seems only to be high on my list of priorities when I notice there are few berries in autumn.

Berries on a friend's winterberry holly.

Berries on a friend’s winterberry holly.

By far, the most abundant berries in the garden are found on nandinas (Nandina domestica), with sufficient quantities that it is hardly noticed when large clusters are harvested for holiday decorating. Planted long before nandinas became reviled as invasive, the berries are avoided by all birds except small numbers of robins in early spring, and no seedlings have been observed besides a few within several feet of parent plants.

Nandina berries persist through the winter, and are rarely eaten by birds. By mid spring, berries turn brown and fall to the ground.

Nandina berries persist through the winter, and are rarely eaten by birds. By mid spring, berries turn brown and fall to the ground.

A marvelous display

Autumn flowering camellias are mostly planted to the northern, driveway side of the garden, so it is a simple matter to check each afternoon (for even with the time change it is dark when leaving for work in the morning) that the previous night’s freeze has not injured flowers. Spring flowering japonicas are planted at the garden’s more shaded southern edge, with sun that shines through the bare canopy of the forest through the winter, on the theory (unrealized) that this will be sufficient to encourage spring flowering.Camellia

No doubt, the night and the freeze will soon arrive to break this marvelous string of days when camellias have been at peak bloom, but until then each camellia will be visited daily to observe new arrivals. The blooms of the white flowering camellia, ‘Winter’s Snowman’ or ‘Snow Flurry’ (I forget which is which since they are planted beside one another, though one has glossy foliage and the other does not), have faded, though not from cold, and other buds swell that will flower in the next week so long as temperatures do not drop below the twenties at night.Snow Flurry camellia

The other white is one of several camellias that have not flowered to date, through buds of all show signs of color, and I am certain there will be at least some scattered flowers before winter temperatures are here to stay. A year ago, late autumn temperatures were not conducive to encouraging a simultaneous show of blooms, but with mild temperatures camellias flowered off and on through January. There is much reason for the gardener to be pleased by mild winters, but I prefer this all at once display to the scattered flowering that is more typical. Certainly, there is more to life than a grand display of camellia blooms in late November, but as the uncertainty of winter approaches, the gardener must be thankful for any small favor.img_0518

Today, I wish it wasn’t so, but I have neglected to track identities of various camellias, except for a few. ‘Winter’s Star’ is the most dependable bloomer, though one that borders the neighboring property flowers earlier and more prolifically than another that fronts the sunnier driveway. Both tall shrubs have abundant buds, but the neighbor’s view is enhanced by dozens of flowers while the camellia along the driveway often delays until mid December, or later, to display scattered flowers.Winter's Star camellia

With mixed results, conclusions as to the ideal sunlight exposure for camellias have eluded me, though I generally conclude that more sun, though not full sun, is best for developing flower buds. As mentioned earlier, autumn and spring flowering camellias in the shade of the forest on the garden’s southern border flower fitfully, though slightly better since a tall maple was toppled in an ice storm several years ago. Tempting as it is, I will not remove additional maples that shade the garden just to improve flowering of camellias.Winter's Joy camellia in early December

Fallen leaves

The driveway and stone paths have been cleared of leaves so that holiday visitors can make their way around the garden if weather allows. Leaves are shredded and distributed to cover bare soil, while most are left whole to decay by mid spring if they are not covering low growing shrubs. Oversized leaves from the Bigleaf magnolia and neighbors’ sycamores clog the shredder, so only those that accumulate in deep piles to cover the winter flowering hellebores will be removed.

Leaves of the Bigleaf magnolia grow to two feet long. The large leaves will decay by mid spring, but through the winter they remain in piles beneath the tree.

Leaves of the Bigleaf magnolia grow to two feet long, and with a stiff mid rib the leaves are not easily picked up by the shredder. The large leaves will decay by mid spring, but through the winter they remain in piles beneath the tree.

The maples and tulip poplars in the forest that borders the garden are nearly bare after several breezy days, and only a few Japanese maples (below), dogwoods, and witch hazels remain with autumn leaf color. These are trees that turn late in season, and often hold red or yellow foliage into mid December.

Leaves of Seriyu Japanese maple turn from green to burgundy in mid autumn, after many maples have gone bare.

Leaves of Seriyu Japanese maple turn from green to burgundy in mid autumn, after many of the garden’s Japanese maples have gone bare.

To my thinking, the roughly corrugated leaves of Oakleaf hydrangea should not be appetizing to deer, exp

Deep burgundy leaves of Oakleaf hydrangeas (above) persist into January, though a delay in spraying the deer repellent resulted in the loss of many lower branches of hydrangeas along the forest’s edge. No long term harm has been done, with this reminder that even when they are not seen, deer are ever present in the garden. Now, broadleaf evergreen camellias and Japanese aucubas have been treated with repellent to discourage deer foraging through the winter months.

Leaves of the Vernal witch hazel color to a buttery yellow late in the season.

Leaves of the Vernal witch hazel color to a buttery yellow late in the season.

Leaves of Satomi dogwood color late in the season and persist after the native dogwoods have shed.

While leaves of native dogwoods have fallen, leaves of Satomi dogwood color late in the season and persist after the native dogwoods have shed.

Leaves of Celestial Shadow dogwood persist long into the autumn, coloring late with burgundy outer leaves and mottled colors of burgundy and yellow on inner foliage.

Leaves of Celestial Shadow dogwood persist long into the autumn, coloring late with burgundy outer leaves and mottled colors of burgundy and yellow on inner foliage.

 

After the freeze, before another

Flowers of hydrangeas, azaleas, and toad lilies faded after several nights of freezing temperatures last week, but now autumn flowering camellias have opened into an impressive display not often seen in this garden. Certainly, all camellias flower dependably, but rarely do blooms coincide as they do today.

On a warm November, bees find flowers of this Winter's Star camellia as a cold front moves in.

On a warm November, bees find flowers of this Winter’s Star camellia as a cold front moves in.

While cold temperatures slow the camellias’ flowering cycle, I suspect warm autumn temperatures before and following the freeze have encouraged this show of blooms. Saturday was likely to be the last near seventy degree afternoon until spring, as bees supped on nectar of flowers of ‘Winter’s Star’ (above) and ‘Snow Flurry’ (below) while clouds from a cold front darkened the sky. In Sunday’s cold and howling winds, bees shelter for protection.Snow Flurry camelliia

With cold looming in the forecast, the progression of flowers is likely to be slowed, but blooms are not damaged until temperatures fall to twenty degrees or below. Each year, unopened buds remain in January, and several might flower in a short warm spell, though usually these are damaged by subsequent freezes.

Camellia flowering will be slowed by cold temperatures, but a bud or two will open with a few days without a freeze.

Camellia flowering will be slowed by cold temperatures, but a bud or two will open with a few days without a freeze.

Camellia

Camellia

 

Deer in the autumn garden

With a one acre garden chock full of flowers, berries, and leafy treasures, I am pleased to do my small part to feed the neighborhood wildlife. Like it or not, and I don’t, the koi pond should be mentioned for attracting a variety of herons and snakes looking to feast on frogs and small fish. While the gardener can plant to attract bees and butterflies, some wildlife is enticed to visit despite his best efforts, and in recent weeks there have been more than the usual visits from our local deer population.

Why? In the hot and dry late summer many of the garden’s hostas took a premature turn for the worse. So, in August I quit spraying the deer repellent that very successfully encourages them to go elsewhere to snack. The result has been predictable.

Halcyon hosta eaten by deer while Frances Williams has barely been touched. The last deer repellent was sprayed in early August, and with drought damage in late summer it did not seem worthwhile to spray again. Deer will eat their favored hostas, and all will be fine in the spring.

Halcyon hosta eaten by deer while Frances Williams was barely touched until a few weeks later. The last deer repellent was sprayed in late July, and with drought damage in late summer it did not seem worthwhile to spray again.

With the last repellent application in late July, it was about six or seven weeks before the first signs of grazing. First were small leafed hostas, while larger leafed Frances Williams and others were ignored. But, over several weeks deer became bolder, and perhaps less discriminating, munching on hostas along the front walk before moving on to larger leafed varieties. With winter dormancy imminent, this was not a bother, and the progression from one variety to another has been interesting. Until.

To my thinking, the roughly corrugated leaves of Oakleaf hydrangea should not be appetizing to deer, especially as they turn in autumn. Wrong again.

To my thinking, the roughly corrugated leaves of Oakleaf hydrangea should not be appetizing to deer, especially as they turn in autumn. Wrong again.

While there was no concern for the hostas this late in the season, one thing led to another, and a few nibbles of hydrangeas turned to defoliation of lower branches Oakleaf hydrangeas and azaleas. This will not matter much, but along with leaves a few too many branch tips have been chewed off, and spring flower buds of azaleas have been lost. The next thing, I’m certain, will be the aucubas and camellias,which are only bothered in mid winter if I’ve missed one in spraying. So finally, I was spurred to action.

The usual double dose of repellent was sprayed, and I suspect this will be the last of the problem until spring, when the decision must be made when to spray to catch new growth as it opens.