Progress with new plantings

A considerable number of plants were transplanted in late winter. Expanded planting beds in the rear garden, and cutting into the already small section of lawn irked my wife, though I believe that now she approves of the new plantings (of course, she refuses to admit it). All plants that were moved are doing well, or well enough, though leaves of the Persian ironwood (Parrotia persica, below) have been red for weeks.

This is a bit concerning, certainly a sign of stress, though it is encouraging that no leaves are dropping. Perhaps the stress is related to the deluge of rainfall through May and June, and less to do with the transplant that was accomplished in early February with a five inch deep freeze in the ground. The giant ice cube (the tree) was moved from a spot that was far too shady, where it was once planted for lack of a better place, into an area of nearly full sun that should be more ideal, with the additional purpose that it would soon shade an Autumn Full Moon Japanese maple that has struggled and would never thrive in the summer sun.

A tree peony, catmints, and native carex were planted on the side of the ironwood that will turn eventually from full sun to part shade, and a small, red flowered paperbush (Edgeworthia chrysantha ‘Akebono’) was planted on the side that will remain sunny. I’ve been tempted to fill open spaces beside the paperbush (with another peony?), but I know well from several yellow flowered paperbushes (above) in the garden how quickly the shrub will grow. So, for now a few dark leafed heucheras are planted in the bare ground that can easily be moved some day. Pieces of vigorously growing sedums have been transplanted in recent weeks to cover the edges of the planting beds, and a week of severe heat has not done them in as I feared was inevitable.

With most of the garden mature, it takes a little getting used to having to wait a few years for things to fill in. This will test my patience, but I figure if I can hold off planting through next spring there should be enough progress to keep me satisfied.


For better and worse

In a diverse garden where no insecticides are used, the interconnections of every level of wildlife become more apparent. Or at least, I presume that interactions occur, and why wouldn’t they? There is no doubt that the number of birds has increased over the years as the density of trees and shrubs has increased, and Japanese beetles (below) and various chewing caterpillars seem fewer. I suppose the two must be related.

Every summer, Japanese beetles chew Ostrich ferns in part sun while other ferns, and ones that are more shaded are not bothered at all.

I notice that the caterpillars have not defoliated the Catalpa (Catalpa speciosa) this year. Each of the past few years the tree has nearly been stripped of foliage, but no caterpillars were seen this year, which is probably a good thing since the leaves of the tree are noticeably smaller. I presume that a vigorous tree like the Catalpa can be stripped of leaves annually and not suffer, but this can’t be so. It’s likely that caterpillars will be back some time in the future, so this year is the one when the Catalpa can regain its vigor.

It’s been a few years since the redbuds (Cercis canadensis ‘Silver Cloud’, below) have been partially defoliated, which typically begins in mid summer (now), but today I see no sign of the tiny tent caterpillars. The first few times the caterpillars appeared I was concerned, but the defoliation didn’t get too far along until mid September, a few weeks before leaves would be dropping anyway. So, I concluded this was not a big deal. 

I am not observant, or patient enough to witness birds eating caterpillars or beetles, but of course they do to some extent. A necessary part of this equation is that the gardener must be willing to suffer through some damage from insects, and in this large garden there’s always another tree or another flower to distract from the few that are less than perfect. Here, the trade off is an easy one.

The swamp milkweeds (Asclepias incarnata, above) are in full bloom, so an infestation of aphids (below) is not far off. I have little doubt that aphids will not have an off year. As long as there are milkweeds, aphids will be here to cover stems. A few years ago, a beetle appeared that made a small dent in the population, but there were far too many and a few weeks later the damage was done. Certainly, there are non lethal methods of getting rid of aphids, but I’m not going to pick them off or drag hoses a couple hundred feet to knock them off the milkweeds, that are past bloom, and why bother? Probably, I should chop the stems and toss them in the compost pile before they turn brown, but it doesn’t hinder the milkweeds’ growth for next year, so I’ll observe, and maybe the beetles will be back again.

Rough around the edges

As expected following a wet spring that promoted overly lush growth, the recent spell of heat (and no rain) has caused more than a few problems in the garden. None too drastic, but in sunny areas the look of summer has set in to stay. Most days, I’m certain I look a little ragged, as well.

This is the time, of course, when shade is most appreciated, for the garden’s residents (fauna and flora) as well as a place for the gardener to escape. While hostas (above) and hydrangeas in a bit too much sun have taken their typical turn for the worse (fading, not failing), ones in shade, and even dry shade show no ill effect. The garden is not irrigated, so an extended drought is likely to result in a few brown leaves, even in the shade, but the only plants requiring attention are ones most recently planted.

Earlier in the spring I planted two Korean wax bells (Kirengeshoma koreana) from densely rooted one gallon pots near the more common yellow wax bell (Kirengeshoma palmata, above). Many soft wooded perennials are subject to wilting in the heat, and particularly after a wet period, but wax bells will collapse in a hurry, so I must watch these and dump a bucket of water if storms don’t arrive first.

I also notice that tiarellas (above) and several heucheras are wilting in the heat. With no rain in the forecast for another week, a sip of water or two will be necessary.

Small numbers of Japanese beetles have been spotted. Some leaves of the pussy willow with pendulous branches have been chewed, but today there are no beetles to be seen. Since the pussy willow is a beetle favorite I am encouraged that damage to the thick clump of Ostrich ferns (below) along the path from the driveway to the deck might be minimized if there are fewer than usual.

In any case, beetles are never a problem in the garden, with only minor damage to a few plants. Since no insecticides are sprayed, I attribute this to clean living and hard work, though I suspect birds are more likely to be responsible.

Attention deficit

I am, at least, partially aware of my weaknesses, and others are frequently pointed out by my wife. One that I am particularly conscious of is poor attentiveness. If I’m not constantly reminded, I’m likely to forget what’s planted where, so bulbs are in constant peril of damage as I enthusiastically fill a gap that’s already been filled, though not with foliage at the moment.

A month ago, I noticed a strange speckled growth in the mound beside the summerhouse, nearly in the spot where a poorly performing dwarf spruce was cut out over the winter. It seemed unlikely it could be something that remained long dormant in the spruce’s shade, but I couldn’t recall planting anything, and why would I plant here anyway? The area is already overgrown, thus the reason for the spruce doing poorly.

Whatever this was, it was clearly planted, and it took a few weeks before it became clear that this was a pineapple lily (Eucomis bicolor, above), and another week later, a second. I checked back on my January order, and three were planted, though I have no clue where the third is. Maybe the three were planted together and one didn’t make it. In any case, this pineapple lily is growing just tall enough to rise above the jumble of low foliage, and it appears that this location might be a good one.

Sparkling Burgundy pineapple lily and Oakleaf hydrangea

If so, this will be the only pineapple lily that’s growing without overhanging foliage that encourages spindly growth and spotty flowering. Several ‘Sparkling Burgundy’ (above) were rescued, I hope not too late, from beneath low arching branches of an Oakleaf hydrangea for about the tenth straight year. Perhaps I’ll learn someday to keep the lower branches pruned back early in the year, but probably I won’t.

A plume poppy (Macleaya cordata, below) once filled the space of a hundred square feet or more between yellow tipped cryptomerias (Cryptomeria japonica ‘Sekkan-sugi’) along the property line in the rear garden. As many plants with yellow foliage do in this area, the color on new growth is evident only for a short period before it fades in our summer heat, but over a few decades the cryptomerias have grown considerably to crowd out all but a small area of the plume poppy, which is practically a weed. Weed or not, it can’t take the competition from a large evergreen, so here are the remnants, poking from under one cryptomeria, but behind a shrub (Deutzia) so that it is seen only if you’re looking for it.

Perhaps I’ll transplant part of this clump later in the year. There are a few spots that might work if they’re not too wet. Otherwise, it won’t be more than another year or two before it’s gone, so moving it is worth the risk. If I remember.

Patience is a necessity

I can be patient, when there is no alternative and there are plentiful distractions.

The vigorous Dutchman’s Pipe vine (Aristolochia macrophylla, below) winds through lower branches of ‘Ivory Silk’ lilac, but there are no pipes, no flowers. The foliage is pleasant enough, and I expect that someday, some part of the vine will reach that ideal sunlight exposure to bring flowers. There is no choice but to wait. I cannot figure anything to help it along.

Nearby, deeper into the shade, the ‘Moonlight’ Japanese hydrangea (Schizophragma hydrangeoides ‘Moonlight’, below) climbs onto an arbor, but with no flowers. Perhaps this shade is too deep, though several overhanging branches were removed a few years ago so that the space is brighter, if not sunny. In any case, the foliage is splendid. ‘Moonlight’ is not a true hydrangea, but it is difficult to tell it apart from other climbing hydrangeas.

A climbing hydrangea with variegated foliage (Hydrangea petiolaris ‘Miranda’, below) was planted in spring to climb a large blackgum, and if it never flowers the colorful foliage will be enough. Still, I’ll be happier if any of the vines flowered, if only to give the satisfaction that they’re doing what they’re supposed to do. I wait, patiently, and fortunately, most of the garden’s plants perform as expected to keep me occupied and not bothered by these failings.

After a chilly first half of spring, the passion flower vine (Passiflora incarnata, below) finally showed signs of growth a few weeks ago, but today I see that this has withered and died. I presume that it is dead, and not, as I promise non gardening acquaintances, growing every other year. As my wife cautions, no wonder no one believes anything I say.

This spot, beside the open sided summerhouse, is ideal for a vine. By late July, after a typically slow start, the passion flower vine latches onto the cable to trail along the lower edge of the roof. Flowers follow in August, and occasionally these are followed by fruits. I expect I will plant another, and certainly another of the small yellow flowered ‘Lutea’ (below) that disappeared after becoming overly shaded a few years ago. This should not wait another day.

Early summer and heat’s on the way

Few daylilies remain from days when dozens were scattered through sunny parts of the garden. I fondly recall a large, white flowered variety, but not its name, or why I let a dozen cultivars fade and disappear. I now regret the lack of attention.

Certainly, other plants have come and gone as the garden has matured over three decades from mostly sunny, to only a few spots where the sun peaks in. With most, there was an opportunity over several years to rescue them to move to sunnier environs, but there were either few spaces available, or the plants lacked the favor to motivate transplanting.

The old standard ‘Pardon Me’ is the most exciting daylily remaining in the garden.

The wonderful thing about the garden is that few tasks must absolutely be done today, and some must not be accomplished this year, or even next. But, for every task that has been set aside without an issue, there’s another that hasn’t worked out so well. I don’t know that I’ve gained any urgency as I’ve become more experienced (older), but there are more regrets over lost opportunities that were hardly given a thought years ago. Today, I see a splendid, tall stemmed daylily in the garden center, or in a catalog, and I’m discouraged thinking back over ones that I neglected and lost. So, now there are a few handfuls remaining of the most basic daylilies, and the more exceptional individuals are gone with no plans for additions.

Mophead hydrangeas (Hydrangea macrophylla, above) are at their best today, aided considerably by our late spring deluges. Mopheads have been disappointing in recent years due to fluctuations in late winter temperatures that encouraged new growth, then damaged it with blasts of cold. Slightly less showy lacecap (below) and Oakleaf hydrangeas (Hydrangea quercifolia) clearly have a sturdier constitution, so these have not suffered noticeably as temperatures change from seventy to twenty degrees in early spring. 

Overly lush Mophead hydrangeas are likely to wilt over the next week as summer temperatures rise into the mid-nineties. Adequate soil moisture remains, but soft wooded hydrangeas are prone to afternoon wilting, which is worrying, but rarely amounts to anything.

Wrong timing, but it will probably work out

I can’t believe that I transplanted a division of ‘Sun King’ aralia (Aralia cordata ‘Sun King’, below) to the shady side garden in late June. A decent sized ball of roots was dug, but I would never recommend to anyone to transplant anything in early summer. Plants purchased from the garden center with a ball of soil, or in a container, have a decent chance with proper care, but digging things out of the garden to move is risky, at best. With heat and periods of drought inevitable, the chances for survival are slim, and slimmer for a tall, fleshy stemmed perennial like this aralia.

But, I had a hankering for a large yellow something in this very shady spot, and after seeing that ‘Sun King’ in the garden center was a bit more costly than expected, digging part of the large clump from the front garden seemed a reasonable alternative. Of course, an inch of rain was forecast for the weekend, and at least double that amount actually fell, so some thought went into this wrong season transplant.

So far (after two days), so good, and though I typically plant and forget, I’ll watch out for this one over the next few weeks. The spot is quite shady, with decent ground that is reasonably moist and covered by a layer of shredded leaves, so that’s as good as I can do. At least, if it fails, I’ve lost nothing. The difference in the clump out front is barely noticeable.

One of the storms that passed through over the weekend was a gusher that washed out areas that haven’t in the twenty-nine years we’ve been here. I spent a few hours yesterday picking up leaves, sticks, and debris (I don’t know if several antique beer cans were tossed into the border planting by my kids, or by the neighbors’ that came fifteen years later.) that washed out onto the lawn, and hope never to have to do this again. Not all the debris could be cleaned up without raking, and I’d done as much as I cared to do at the that point, so it will take the mower a time or two to get rid of the rest of it.

As often happens, the debris path in a deluge shows the natural flow of water, and the small area where one of the new Afghan figs (Ficus afghanistanica ‘Silver Lyre’, above) was planted barely avoided being washed away. A bit of loose soil was relocated onto the stone patio beside the koi pond, but it could have been worse, and this was tidied up quickly. As expected, the figs and a few other smaller things planted last week have had no problem, and of course I expected no issues since these were planted in another of a string of rainy weeks.

Several of the Oriental lilies have come into bloom and faded. It seems that the coming and going was quicker than usual, and several are barely seen now as plantings around the koi pond have grown up. I planted several new lilies earlier in the spring, and while one with distinctive markings (above) didn’t seem to last until the flowers were fully open. another is flowering now (below), ten days after others. Since the lilies are here for such a short period, they’re planted with lots of neighbors, and occasionally they’re lost in the jumble if the variety is one with shorter stems.