Edible?

Numerous plants that are included on lists of edibles seem hardly worth the effort. Sure, I enjoy peaches and apples, but is it reasonable to put forth the considerable effort to attempt to grow my own? In fact, I have grown a dwarf peach (below) for two decades with marvelous pink blooms and attractive foliage. Until it became too shade by taller neighbors it fruited abundantly, but not once have I been tempted to sample what I figure must be worm riddled fruits.

Dwarf peach in bloom

Dwarf peach in bloom

More than once I’ve seen daylilies listed as an edible, and of course this is correct that the flowers of daylilies can be eaten. In fact, the petals are textured somewhat like lettuce, with a taste that is slightly, but pleasantly sweet. For the shock of it I’m fond of plucking a flower or two to chew on while strolling through the garden with unknowing visitors, but the effort to collect sufficient flowers to prepare even a small salad seems preposterous. Unquestionably, daylilies are worthwhile additions to the garden, but as an edible, I think not.

Pardon Me daylily in June

Pardon Me daylily in June

The serviceberry (Amelanchier canadensis, below) is a marvelous edge of the woodland tree, and also it is frequently featured as a native edible. Though too many gardeners are unprepared for its entirely informal habit for it to be as highly recommended for ornamental or edible purposes, I have no doubt that its fruits must be delicious. Except that my tree of two decades has never borne a single fruit, at least not one that I’ve seen. There seems no reason for this, at least not one that I can figure.

Serviceberry flowering in mid April

Serviceberry flowering in mid April

There are no native serviceberries in very close proximity, but wait until early spring and you will notice abundant trees peeking out from the forests along every highway in Virginia. This garden is not far enough away from the closest highway to justify how a bee or two might not wander from one of those to my serviceberry for pollination. But, no fruits, and I will testify on a stack of Henry Mitchell’s books that I have watched carefully just in the case that birds might be scavenging them before I get a chance to see them. While a fine flowering tree planted at the wood’s edge as I have, serviceberry could hardly be considered an edible, to my thinking.

I have grown blueberries for years, and occasionally I have even eaten the fruits from these shrubs. Once, I grew several varieties from large bushes that were rescued from a berry farm that was developed into something else. While strolling through the garden in late June I often feasted on a handful of ripe berries, and when I finished plucking a few weeds and admiring the irises I would make another round past the blueberries for another handful or two. Few berries ever made it back to the house, and if the wife wanted any she was welcome to walk back through the garden to get them for herself.

Blueberries ripening in late May

Blueberries ripening in late May

In any case, over a period of years the blueberries slowly declined from snow and ice damage, and from the many routine things that make favored plants eventually go away. Finally, they were cut out to make space for the large koi pond that has become the treasured spot of this garden, and between their poor health and enthusiasm for the new pond the blueberries were chopped out without much regret.

After a delay of several years when there were no blueberries, several were planted a few years ago. Admittedly, the spots where they were planted are not ideal. There is a bit too little sunlight, and one shrub has been completely overwhelmed by a vigorous blackgum. This shrub bears fruit at all, but the others offer modest amounts early in July.

Blueberry flowering in late April

Blueberry flowering in late April

But, I rarely eat a single berry. Yes, blueberries are edible, but in this garden, only by birds. Perhaps one day the shrubs will be large enough to the feed the birds, with a few for me, but for now there are not enough to go around. Fortunately, I can hop into the car for a short trip to the local grocer to purchase my fill of berries. Which I do with frequency.

Any person, gardener or not, can grow tomatoes, I think, and this seems as simple an entry into the grow your own movement as is possible. Once, maybe for a few years I grew some, but not in years since the garden has become more shaded. In one spot in the garden there is still adequate sun, but this is one of the few areas of lawn that my wife has forbidden me to encroach further into.

Undoubtedly, I could figure some way to grow a few in containers on one of the patios or deck, but this would involve some care in watering that I’m not prepared for. So, at this point in the garden’s life I’ll grow enough flowers and foliage to keep myself entertained, and I’ll provide enough berries and fruits for the birds, but I’ll pick my blueberries from the local grocer.

Garden show – day three

Daffodils are placed between granite boulders

Daffodils are placed between granite boulders

This is it. We’re done. With a half day Wednesday we’ve spent close to two full days constructing the garden. I think that it’s turned out mostly as I envisioned it.

Only clean up left to do

Only clean up left to do

There were a few bumps in the road. Several plants ordered to be delivered from Oregon were cancelled a week ago when temperatures turned dangerously cold. On Monday morning we discovered that daffodils being forced for the show were not going to make it. Fortunately, after a bit of scrambling we found an alternate source, and they’ve turned out to be perfect. So, all is well, and with hardly any panic.

Finished for day 3

Finished for day 3

After a winter that has dragged on far too long, it’s wonderful to see daffodils in bloom. I’ve been waiting for hellbores to come into flower in my garden, but while mine are buried under snow, these are flowering, with a few even slightly past their peak. On Thursday I’ll visit to be certain that everything’s set to go, but there’s nothing else to be done until the show opens on Friday morning. Then, the fun begins, and it appears that the weather will cooperate. Cold, but no snow, a perfect weekend to be at the garden show.

I’m hopeful that when I come out of the building on Monday morning the snow will be gone, and it will be sunny and warm. Probably not, but a weekend smelling the hyacinths will bring spring a bit closer.

Garden show – day two

Cleverly, I wait to take photos until managers have hands in their pockets. They claim that they do some physical labor to justify their paycheck, but no evidence is to be found. I have the excuse that my picture is never taken since someone must take the photographs. You must take my word that I work up quite a sweat when not photographing.

Early on day 2 - boulders are ready to be set

Early on day 2 – boulders are ready to be set and the inset in the patio is cut in.

A simple fact of design of a garden show space is that objects are usually much larger in person than they appear on paper. Often the reverse seems true in planting a new landscape around a home. A simple six by eight foot structure nearly overwhelms a garden show space of six hundred square feet, and it could not possibly have been designed another foot larger without wiping out hundreds of blooms that visitors attend to see.

The form for the small pond is laid out.

The form for the small pond is laid out.

Two large Colorado spruce and several Hinoki cypresses are more mass than a small garden would ever allow, but here we are looking to create a mature garden, not a realistic one. The densely branched evergreens conceal the curtains and products of neighboring displays, and I beg forgiveness for a design that I hope is pleasing while it is unquestionably a horticultural abomination.

At the end of Day 2 - a short day - the garden begins to take shape.

At the end of Day 2 – a short day – the garden begins to take shape. Tomorrow we will finish in a short day.

Along with the spruce are five hundred forced daffodils, tulips, and hyacinths, and a hundred hellebores. Certainly, this is an adequate number for a garden five times the size, but if these were spaced to a reasonable distance apart I doubt that you would find it pleasing, and most definitely I would not. This is a land of instant gardens that are built by Thursday, and gone by Monday.

The garden show – day one

Today, construction begins on the display for our annual garden show. Certainly, few people see anything but the final result of the week’s work, so I’ll stop at intervals to document the garden as it’s put together. I have plenty of time for photo taking since I’m here to supervise. I’m a bit over the hill to be moving boulders and large trees, though I most definitely will not admit this to the fellows doing the heavy lifting. I’m certain to chip in occasionally, at least enough to get in the way.

Set up for the garden begins with a bare concrete floor and an empty building

Set up for the garden begins with a bare concrete floor and an empty building

In fact, construction began a few weeks ago in the large garage area of our Landscape office. While trucks are repaired and readied for spring nearby, a stone columned structure was built by carpenters. The small building was then broken into pieces to be moved and rebuilt at the garden show site.

While the design for the show was prepared a few months ago, the particulars of the final design remain in question. Spring flowering bulbs and perennials have been ordered from a local greenhouse, but evergreens that have been purchased from Oregon that were scheduled for arrival late last week have been nixed due to the recent chilly temperatures.

The corners of the garden structure are set and entry steps are placed

The corners of the garden structure are set and entry steps are placed

I wouldn’t be happy traveling across this country in the back of an unheated truck in February, and neither would the spruces and cypresses planned for the garden. So, alternatives will have to do. I expect that I will be perfectly satisfied with the changes.

The design of a garden show is one part inspiration, one part marketing to give visitors a late winter taste of spring, and another part considering what can be constructed in a limited time period. The garden for this show is relatively small, and many times smaller compared to gardens we’ve constructed in the past.

The corners and roof of the structure are set, and part of the patio is built by the end of the first half day

The corners and roof of the structure are set, and part of the patio is built by the end of the first half day

There have been times when twenty-five of our best people worked long hours for four days to get this thing completed on time, but this week we’ll finish in a couple easy days with half as many folks. While the construction is great fun, and a wonderful excuse to break the daily routine, the best will come this weekend when the show opens.

As the construction of the display moves along I’ll add more photos at the end of each day until it’s complete. Then, if you live nearby, it would be great if you’d stop in over the weekend to say hello. There’s hardly a thing that’s more enjoyable than talking gardening with people, and I’ll be there through the weekend to talk until I lose my voice.

Mid February snow

This was inevitable, I suppose. I’ve been dismayed in recent weeks that hellebores were poised to flower with only another few days of slightly less frigid temperatures. A single day of relative warmth last week was not enough, and now they will be buried by snow with little chance that it will melt for another week.

This hefty hellebores pokes through the recently fallen snow

Hellebore pokes through the recently fallen snow

Not that this doesn’t happen frequently, and in fact hellebores were buried a year ago, and a few years before that by much deeper snow than this. Fortunately, this only delays seeing the blooms, which eventually emerge unscathed through the melting snow. Then, perhaps as a reward for the gardener’s patience, hellebores will typically begin flowering within a day or two due to the bright sun or warmer temperatures that melted the snow.

One consequence of this snow is that the foliage of hellebores is not likely to be trimmed off prior to flowering. The blooms are more evident once the leathery leaves are removed since flowers are generally nestled near the base of the clump. With the spell of cold that is coming in it’s probable that the old leaves will take a beating, and already they are looking a bit shabby. So, it will be best to remove them, and it is easiest to cut them before the flowers open and are in the way with the spring leaves just below.

A snow covered nandina

A snow covered nandina

Oh well, it’s not as if I was running out to cut the foliage and was suddenly stopped by the snow. I’ve put this chore off since early winter, and it can wait until the snow melts. Or, perhaps even until the hellebores are in full bloom. This is how it goes more often than not.

I am not feeling particularly patient at the moment, so I’ll whine about this snowfall for a few days and hope it goes away more quickly than expected. Besides clearing a path to the top of the driveway, I have no plans to do anything at all about the garden.

With cold temperatures, the snow is light and not very deep, and certainly it is not a problem. With more extreme cold expected in the next few days it will insulate to protect roots, so there is some useful purpose for the snow after all.

Bluejays vie for position on the feeder

Bluejays vie for position on the feeder

After clearing the drive, and in a fit of energy, also the front walk, I’ll gaze out the kitchen window as bluejays and cardinals contest for position at the birdfeeder. Chickadees clean up the scraps that fall beneath the feeder, and probably the possum that as been a frequent visitor in recent weeks will return to scare off the ground feeding birds.

The possum seems little concerned by my presence, and even as we occasionally stumble upon each other as I make my rounds, the beast ambles away without a trace of urgency. I was at first concerned by the appearance in daylight hours of this nocturnal creature, but my wife assures me after a quick Google search that this is not unusual.

Periwinkle flowering in early spring

Periwinkle flowering in early spring

With heavy feeding at and beneath the feeder this winter, the foliage of the periwinkle ground cover has been stripped bare. I cleverly planned when the feeder was placed that the low evergreen would disguise the fallen seeds, and that perhaps it would deter the thousands of seedlings that result as a consequence. Seedlings have not been so big a problem in recent years since the feeder was placed in this lilac tree, but now the foliage is more sparse and I expect a bit more trouble in the spring.

With the flowering of hellebores now on hold, there are no greater concerns.

Deer and aucubas

Earlier this morning, sipping a second cup of coffee I watched through the kitchen window as seven young deer trotted past the garden. In recent weeks I’ve seen much more of this group, though usually only one or two at a time.

There’s not so much to eat in the garden in February with deciduous shrubs bare and the top growth of perennials dormant. There are plenty of evergreens, but many are needled or thorny plants that deer avoid, and others are protected by a deer repellent.

Gold Dust Aucuba in the snow

Gold Dust Aucuba in the snow

I do not protect the liriopes, and now most have been nibbled to the ground, which is convenient so that cutting them back isn’t added to my list of chores to be accomplished in March. I noticed this afternoon that foliage of one of the Japanese aucubas has been nearly stripped bare, with a few leaves left on a second, and a bit eaten from two others.

This is disappointing since I tried something a little different in autumn. Instead of spraying the regular repellent, I experimented with a tablet form of capsaicin that is taken up through the roots, and purportedly would protect for as long as a year. This worked fine from September until last week, which is about the timing when deer become the hungriest in every winter. Perhaps the aucuba leaves were a bit spicier than usual, but apparently this was not a deterrent.

Now, I wonder if I should run out to spray the other aucubas and camellias, and with temperatures barely reaching freezing, will it even stick? The choice is to let them be, which is likely to result in the remaining aucubas being stripped, or to try the spray.

Winter's Joy camellia in early December

Winter’s Joy camellia in early December

A time or two in recent years I either neglected the November repellent application or forgot one plant or another, so this will not be the first time the aucubas have been eaten. Recovery is slow through the spring, and it’s not until the second year they look right again.

The last time I looked, Japanese aucubas were not on the list of plants highly susceptible to deer browsing, but in winter deer are not quite so picky. The same with camellias. Later in the afternoon the seven returned, and this time they stopped for a bite. When I opened the window to shoo them off, the largest of the group dropped a camellia leaf he was munching on. He picked it up, then bounded away with the rest of his buddies. Certainly they’ll be back, so if I’m going to spray the repellent I’d better do it tonight before dark.

A case of cold

After a single day a week ago when temperatures rose above fifty and a start was made on the long list of chores that must be accomplished by spring, the current spell of cold is even more an annoyance. February is often a month of extremes, one day teasing that spring is imminent, and the next causing dread that temperatures might not warm again for weeks.

Tightly bundled flowers of Diane witch hazel

Tightly bundled flowers of Diane witch hazel

This week will be the most prolonged period of cold through this winter, and though overnight temperatures will near zero each night, this is not inordinate cold. There should be no damage to witch hazels (Hamamelis x intermedia) that are just beginning to flower, though the ribbon like petals will retract into a tight ball for the duration. Buds of hellebores are poised to open with another day or two of milder temperatures, so these will be delayed a bit.

Snow on Winter's Joy camellia

Snow on Winter’s Joy camellia

Temperatures this week might not rise above freezing, and they could dip below zero for a few nights. If so, flower buds of paperbushes (Edgeworthia chrysantha) and spring flowering camellias (Camellia japonica) might be injured. I do not even try to protect these since I’ve rarely witnessed success from these efforts, and a year or two without blooms on one plant or another is hardly a catastrophe.Edgeworthia blooms in the late March snow

Paperbushes suffered considerably a year ago after a handful of nights below zero. Shrubs that had spread more than ten feet required drastic pruning to a third of their size, but after initial concern that they would not survive I was relieved that only pruning was necessary. The bare and butchered shrubs look a bit awkward without a canopy of foliage, but they revived nicely in summer last year and I looked forward to seeing the flowers in a few weeks. Today, I’m hopeful.

The sprawling Winter jasmine (Jasminum nudiflorum) shows only the barest glimpse of yellow, though it often is in full bloom by late in January, and occasionally flowers early in the month. Late in autumn the jasmine was chopped back so that it does not grow to cover the waterfall of the koi pond, and hard pruning is required another time or two through the year for this vigorous shrub.

Winter jasmine flowering in January in a warmer winter

Winter jasmine flowering in January in a warmer winter

Now, I am missing the large ‘Arnold Promise’witch hazel that died a year ago, not from winter injury, but from increasingly damp soil that also threatens a tall holly. The drainage issue could not be corrected, and in mid February the bright yellow blooms are fondly recalled. Last year, of course, there were no flowers, and the previous year was when damage from the saturated soil first became evident with sparse blooms.

I am considering planting another, though I’m uncertain that I have the patience for it to grow again to a large shrub. Also, where one could be planted with sufficient sun without carving out additional sections of lawn, I don’t know. I’ve been warned by the wife not to expand the garden further, but I’ve ignored these instructions in the past without stirring too much conflict, so I’ll wait on a final decision until the day I’m face to face with an ‘Arnold’ of reasonable size. Certainly, I’ll  be tempted.

Arnold Promise in mid February

Arnold Promise in mid February

There is no problem with the other late winter flowering witch hazels, ‘Diane’ and ‘Jelena’. Both flower dependably, though both were planted into a bit too much shade so that blooms are more sparse than if they were properly located. With my color blindness, red and rust do not show as well as the bright yellow of ‘Arnold Promise’, so this is the root of this potential quarrel with my wife.

Today, the wind is howling and the day’s high will not reach twenty degrees. A week ago I was outdoors working, and by midday had stripped to short sleeves, but today I’m not tempted to go out for any reason. The jays have nearly emptied the feeder of sunflower seeds, but they’ll have to make do until tomorrow when temperatures warm by a few degrees and the snow has melted to make the stone paths less treacherous. If I venture out, it will be for a few short minutes. Later tomorrow the most substantial snow of the winter is forecast, but that is a story for another day.