A succession of dogwood blooms

Finally, flowers of our native dogwoods (Cornus florida, below) are fading as new leaves emerge. This end date of early May is very typical, but the start date for flowering was pushed forward by a week (or ten days) with the warm temperatures of March. The coolness of early April, and two late freezes did no harm, but resulted in a marvelous and extended season for flowers that persisted at least ten longer than redbuds that began blooming only a few days earlier than the dogwoods.White dogwood

While hybrid dogwoods ‘Stellar Pink’ and ‘Venus’ are on target to begin flowering as is typical this first week of May, the variegated ‘Celestial Shadow’ (Cornus ‘Celestial Shadow’, below) has been blooming for a week, overlapping with a nearby white flowered native. Similar to ‘Stellar Pink’, with disappointingly sparse flowers in its early years, ‘Celestial Shadow’ has increased numbers of flowers each year, and now the variegated foliage is largely covered by white blooms.Celestial Shadow dogwood

If there is one small regret, it is that when ‘Celestial Shadow’ was planted, prime spaces were taken, and the small tree was shoehorned behind the koi pond between large gold tipped cryptomerias (Cryptomeria japonica ‘Sekkan-sugi’) and the summer flowering ‘Tardiva’ hydrangea (Hydrangea paniculata ‘Tardiva’). Fortunately, this position allows for adequate sunlight, but such a splendid tree deserves a spot where it can be more readily enjoyed. Oh well, such are the gardener’s miseries dealing with an overabundance of treasures.Stellar Pink dogwood in early May

An unfortunate consequence of areas of overly crowded planting is that branches of ‘Stellar Pink’ (above) become more elevated each year. Now, only a few branches remain at eye level, so flowering must be enjoyed from a distance. Newly emerging flowers this spring have fairly large blotches of pink, though I suspect these will fade to the more typical slight blush of pink as the flowers grow larger.

Satomi dogwood in late May - VirginiaI have seen flowers of ‘Stellar Pink’ and the pink flowered Chinese dogwood ‘Satomi’ (above, in my Virginia garden) in the relative coolness of coastal Oregon (below), and here both exhibit true pink flowers, whereas in Virginia there is only a trace on the otherwise white blooms. While the pink flowered native dogwood (Cornus florida ‘Rubra’) displays its color accurately, the hybrid and Chinese dogwood are slightly disappointing by their lack of pinkness. However, both are vigorous in growth and resistant to the numerous diseases that plague our native dogwoods.Satomi dogwood in late May

As I do each year, I recommend planting at least one of each. Our exceptional native dogwood should not be overlooked, but by planting the native along with several hybrids and Chinese dogwoods, flowering might extend from early April until June.

From a muddy mess, flowers

The only downside of black chokeberry is that it must be protected from deer. To do this I must wade through ankle deep muck , and so deer nip the flowers and the few black berries.

The only downside of black chokeberry is that it must be protected from deer. To spray the repellent I must wade through ankle deep muck , which I rarely get around to, so deer nip the flowers and there are few black berries, which the deer also get to before I do.

In recent years more locally native shrubs and perennials have been added to the garden, not so much for propriety as by necessity. Doubtless, planting natives is the thing to do, but that was not my intent. As a portion along the southern edge of the rear garden has become much wetter, long established hollies (Ilex) and witch hazels (Hamamelis x intermedia) finally succumbed, and I searched for plants best suited to the constant dampness. Inspiration was found in a nearby wetland at the low point of a hiking trail my wife and I occasionally visit, and now the damp border of the garden is planted with buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis), sweetshrub (Calycanthus floridus), and black chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa, above).

Buttonbush in early July

Buttonbush in early July

Truth be told, only a clump of buttonbush (above) is growing in this small wetland, which was noticed as hordes of bees buzzed between the globe shaped flowers. But, it was this splendidly flowering buttonbush that got the ball rolling, and references for local natives identified other potential shrubs that would tolerate the saturated soil. Joe Pye weed (Eupatorium maculatum) and Blue flag iris (Iris versicolor) are beginning to spread through areas of shallow standing water, and though the swampy area is still a few years away from suiting my eye, I’m pleased with the start from the shrubs and wetland perennials I’ve planted into the slop.

Blue Flag iris in mid May

Blue Flag iris in mid May

Monarch butterfly on Joe Pye weed

Monarch butterfly on Joe Pye weed

Red and yellow flowered sweetshrubs (Calycanthus, below) have been planted into both damp and dry areas, in sun and shade, and while I expect ones in sun will branch more compactly, there are no complaints about the shaded shrubs. The fragrant flowers are oddly shaped, and not brightly colored in the manner that grabs greater attention, so that they are not likely to become more common. But, they are interesting shrubs with long lived and fragrant blooms, and foliage that is pleasant enough even when they are not flowering.

Athens sweetshrub in mid April

Athens sweetshrub in mid April

 

Sweetshrub in mid April

Sweetshrub in mid April

Woe is me

Woe is me. And, probably every gardener at some, or multiple points through the year. We don’t have to try very hard to find some disappointment, or catastrophe, for certainly there is some weed that has tangled between the irises that will be next to impossible to extricate. Or whatever, and it could hardly be worse.

A week ago the new leaves of Viridis Japanese maple were hanging limply. Today, a few brown leaves must be removed, but the tree shows little sign of the cold injury.

A week ago the new leaves of Viridis Japanese maple were hanging limply. Today, a few brown leaves must be removed, but the tree shows little sign of the cold injury.

In recent weeks, two nights with temperatures falling into the low twenties damaged new leaves of many of the garden’s Japanese maples (Acer palmatum). With dozens of maples in the garden (twenty some varieties, and thirty some plants) this was a big concern. For several days I feared the worst, that some might not survive, or that they might not recover for months. After a few days, I was slightly encouraged that this was not the end of the world, but still I was disheartened by wilting and browning leaves.

Several Japanese maples were at a stage of growth where leaves were not effected by the freeze at all.

Several Japanese maples were at a stage of growth where leaves were not effected by the freeze at all.

Of course, a week later problems are not nearly as bad as they once seemed, which should surprise no one. In fact, some damage was done by the freeze, so my worries had some justification, but several weeks from now I suspect the freeze and any injury from it will be long forgotten. Except, I think, for two small maples that were potted with plans to hold them on the patio for a few years. Both are alive, but barely so. When such a small tree loses every leaf there’s good reason not to be optimistic, and I’m not.

Leaves of the Golden Full Moon maple had just begun to emerge, so they were npt damaged at all.

Leaves of the Golden Full Moon maple had just begun to emerge, so they were npt damaged at all.

So, there is some small reason to remain disappointed, and perhaps there is some joy when the garden falls just short of paradise.

Not so fragile daphnes

If the gardener stays in one place long enough, annoyances will come and go so that one day he’s in paradise, the next he’s convinced the only solution is to sell the place. Twenty-seven years ago, this lot was purchased for practical reasons; it’s driveway was short, so shoveling snow would be less of a chore compared to other neighboring properties, and, the front yard was rather small with most space for a garden in the rear.

Less considered was the swath of forest that parallels the southern property line, thirty or forty feet from the house at its closest point, and of course this has been worrying in recent years with the potential for tall maples and tulip poplars crashing into the house. This became a more real possibility when a tree fell in an ice storm a few years ago, and though it only brushed the house, it crushed a few Oakleaf hydrangeas that have mostly recovered by now. A gashed forehead as the tree was removed was the worst that came from it, but that’s long healed over except for a small scar and conveniently, an excuse for short term memory loss.

Carol Mackie daphne

Carol Mackie daphne in mid April

Large branches of several swamp red maples (Acer rubrum) arch over the garden, closing the distance between the forest and the house, and the garden on this side is heavily shaded through much of the year. I’ve been tempted (more than a few times) to chop out a few errant branches to bring in a bit more sun, but the time I tried, things didn’t go exactly as planned. As my son cut one long, overhanging branch I tugged with a rope to guide it to fall into a narrow opening between Japanese maples and a variety of small shrubs. It missed by that much, which was really not so bad, but the branch crashed onto a somewhat aged and wonderfully full ‘Carol Mackie’ daphne (Daphne × burkwoodii ‘Carol Mackie’, above).

Once the thick branch was cut into smaller pieces and moved, the damage was not as bad as expected, but several branches of the daphne were broken. What was once a nice, rounded plant, now had a doughnut hole in the center. Which, turned out not to be much of a problem since the sweetbox (Sarcococca hookeriana ‘Humilis’) growing beneath ‘Carol’ had begun to grow with vigor, and the result looks almost planned. Once again, the best features of this garden are by complete accident.

The long winded point I’m getting around to is that daphnes are considered to be fragile, but a ton of tree branch squashed this one, with hardly a problem. There are several other daphnes in the garden, and though none have been abused as much as ‘Carol Mackie’, all are trouble free despite a general reputation for being troublesome. Perhaps the main bother with daphnes is in getting the drainage right, and I’m pretty certain that years ago I lost one that was planted in questionably damp soil. Otherwise, ‘Carol Mackie’ was transplanted once, and has made it for most of two decades.

Rock daphne in mid April

Rock daphne in mid April

Other daphnes seem even easier, with the exception of the persnickety rock daphne (Daphne cneorum, above) that survives, but perpetually struggles. Winter daphne (Daphne odora ‘Aureomarginata’, below), which is the least cold hardy of the bunch, has taken a beating a few times in the recent cold winters, but it bounces back and I don’t think it’s possible to kill it at this point (short of the next ice age). Remarkably, the flexible stems of winter daphne spring back immediately after being buried for several weeks under four feet of snow.

Winter daphne

Variegated winter daphne in early March

Eternal Fragrance daphne

Eternal Fragrance daphne

In the past few years I’ve discovered hybrid daphnes ‘Eternal Fragrance'(above), that flowers in April, then sporadically through October (sometimes into November), and ‘Summer Ice’ (Daphne x transatlantica ‘Summer Ice’, below) with variegated foliage that is a nice addition tot eh long flowering daphnes. Both are as sweetly fragrant as other daphnes, and apparently sturdier since they are much more cold tolerant. I don’t think I’m confident enough in the toughness of any of the daphnes to begin digging and transplanting them around the garden, but if one is planted in a well drained spot with part sun, it’s possible it could be around for as long as ‘Carol Mackie’.

Daphne Summer Ice in mid March

Daphne Summer Ice in mid March

An occasional weed

The dangling blooms of Carolina silverbell (Halesia carolina, below) are of delicate constitution, so with unfortunate timing all flowers were injured in the recent freeze. While disappointing, this should not discourage the gardener from considering this splendid tree for a spot at the edge of his wooded lot. I cannot claim that silverbell is superior to dogwoods, redbuds, and serviceberry planted nearby, but it is equally exceptional, and certainly less common if that matters to the gardener.

Carolina silverbell

Carolina silverbell in better times. While flowers have been ruined by the recent freeze, this was our coldest April night in a decade, so there is no reason to expect damage again for at least another decade.

Perhaps, I have planted silverbell a bit too far into the forest’s understory, so that it grows a bit too tall and has less compact branching than if it had more sun. But, the tree is perfectly content growing here, and unlike dogwoods that hardly flower in shade, the wooded setting does not diminish its abundant flowers. One year out of twenty (or fifty) the flowers will be damaged by freezing temperatures, which is discouraging, but hardly a concern and no reason to exclude it from a garden.

Elizabeth magnolia in late March

Flowers of all magnolias are susceptible to frost and freeze damage, but nine out of ten years the later blooming Elizabeth has no problem. This year’s injury will be quickly forgotten, and I expect all will go splendidly a year from now.

A week earlier, the flowers of the pale yellow ‘Elizabeth’ magnolia (above) were also damaged by cold. A poorly timed frost browned the edges of flowers as they first opened, then the first of two recent freezes turned the blooms to brown mush. For two days the fragrance of the flowers was enjoyed, but a twenty-two degree night quickly put an end to this. Simply, if the gardener is to enjoy early spring flowers, one thing or another will be damaged every year, and the best that can be managed is to plant nothing, or such a variety that while one is ruined, others are superb.

Redbud flowers are densely clustered where branches were pruned from storm damage years ago.

Redbud flowers are densely clustered where branches were pruned from storm damage years ago.

Predictably, I have overreacted in my pessimism over damage from the recent freezes. Certainly, a few Japanese maples and several perennials will require a period to recover, but with cooler temperatures in recent weeks, flowers of redbuds, dogwoods, and serviceberry have persisted longer than usual. These were not been harmed at all by the cold. So, there is a trade off, and yes, there is good reason to be disappointed by the damaged flowers of magnolia and silverbell, but the gardener must expect an occasional weed in his paradise.

More sun for more flowers

Of two hybrid ‘Venus’ dogwoods (below) planted several years ago, one has flourished while the other does no more than survive. The vigorously growing (and flowering) dogwood is tucked between taller, more established trees, but it is located so that it is shaded only from the late evening sun. Here, the positioning emulates the understory environment where our native dogwood (Cornus florida) is most successful.Venus dogwood in early May

Though native dogwoods are often found growing beneath a tall canopy of maples and tulip poplars, trees that are deeply shaded are thinly branched and flower sparsely. Healthy, flowering dogwoods are found as an understory at the forest’s edge, where more sunlight is available. A simple observation of two sides of a forest lined highway in mid April will show flowering dogwoods on the sunny side, and few or none on the other.Redbud

This observation will also demonstrate that redbuds (Cercis canadensis, above) are less particular about the amount of sunlight, so there will be purple-pink flowers on both sides of the highway, though twenty feet into the forest, flowering is also sporadic. The serviceberry (Amelanchier canadensis, below), our other April flowering native understory tree, is seen in fewer numbers, but it also flowers at the wood’s edge.Serviceberry

The lesson for the gardener, as verified by experience in this garden, is that dogwoods (below) and other understory flowering trees require more sun, part sun rather than part shade. The result of the grand idea to scatter dogwoods and redbuds through the wooded backyard is usually disappointing, as I witness in this garden with ‘Venus’ and a shaded Chinese dogwood that rarely flowers.Dogwood in early May

Dogwoods, redbuds, and serviceberry in this garden are planted against taller trees, and all flower on the sunnier side, with few or no blooms on the more shaded side. So (and this should be obvious at this point), flowering trees should be planted with as much exposure to the sun as possible. If it is possible to shade trees from the late afternoon summer sun, all the better.

Garden chores

A few chilly nights have bruised my enthusiasm for spring, but much of the garden has made it through recent freezes without damage. I am overjoyed to have completed the worst of the garden’s clean up, which often lingers into mid April, but was completed a few weeks early thanks to the warm early spring. With temperatures in the sixties and seventies I was less inclined to invent excuses to delay beginning on chores, and for me starting is the problem, not finishing.

Ogon winter hazel has become established in a spot that I figured would be too damp. It might prefer a drier circumstance, but it shows no ill effect from saturated soil.

Ogon winter hazel has become established in a spot that I figured would be too damp. It might prefer a drier circumstance, but it shows no ill effect from saturated soil.

I suspect that the standard for a finished clean up is much different than ten and twenty years ago. Now, I’m content to allow piles of magnolia and sycamore leaves to decay in place as long as they’re cleared from immediately around plants. Years ago I would shred these, and shredded leaves look neater and decay much more quickly. But, in the wooded side garden with mountains of leaves, that’s a good deal more effort, and I’m not up to it any longer. By late May, maybe June, it all works out the same. I don’t want to give in to getting older, but it sneaks in anyway.

Seedlings of the dark leafed Espresso geranium combine with Creeping Jenny.

Seedlings of the dark leafed Espresso geranium combine with Creeping Jenny.

There seem to be an inordinate number of twigs and branches littering the garden this spring, I suspect a result of breezy weather in recent weeks. As I wander about I break these into smaller pieces and toss them back since there are already large piles of brush at the edges of the garden that I didn’t get around to disposing of over the winter. The brush will still be there next winter, and certainly the piles will be larger from branches that come crashing down in summer storms.Wood poppy

In recent years I’ve planted a variety of ground covers between larger shrubs to keep weeds down, and several are coming along quite well. Wood poppies (Stylophorum diphyllum, above) are spreading, I think from seed since clumps are spread widely, and these appear to be happy in the dry shade. In autumn I planted a hundred bareroot sprigs of Partridge berry (Mitchella repens) in a somewhat open area between Oakleaf hydrangeas (Hydrangea quercifolia). They were planted just before leaves dropped, so they’ve been buried, and I was a bit concerned the small plants might not make their way into the sunlight. At least some have, and I’m hopeful these will take hold this year.Robb's spurge

If the plan works out, the low growing plants will cover bare ground to keep weeds down, and of course it’s also nice to have a variety of plants. It is curious that the seemingly aggressive Robb’s spurge (Euphorbia robbiae, above) stops at the point where other plants start, while a clump of wood poppy will pop up right in the middle. I don’t mind a little aggression if weeds are crowded out, though I had enough of the Chameleon plant (Houttuynia cordata ‘Chameleon’), and these were finally grubbed out last year. There is no sense in doing any more than is necessary.