The amazing Snowberry Clearwing

… and other garden marvels.

Some evenings in late August are too intolerable to get excited about rambling through the garden, too hot, too humid, and I’m happy enough to lounge about indoors. But the past several weeks have been different. P1012352

I admit to a fascination with the masses of Swallowtail butterflies and bumblebees that are swarming the Franklinia and Seven Sons Tree, and I’m compelled to visit regularly. ‘Worchester Gold’ and ‘Jason’ (above) yellow-leafed caryopteris hosted many bumblebees at their peak bloom, but far short of the hundreds foraging the Seven Sons.

The two trees are perhaps thirty feet apart, and stand twelve to fifteen feet tall and wide. Both border the swimming pond, a stone patio, and an aluminum garden pavilion (which somehow seems less grand than a gazebo). The surrounding garden has adequate cover for groundhogs, snakes, frogs, birds, and of course butterflies and bumblebees.  P1012347

The bluish flowers of the yellow-leafed caryopteris on the lower edge of the pond, above a dry stacked stone wall, are beginning to fade, though they will continue in color for several weeks. P1012346The green and white variegated leaf caryopteris ‘Snow Fairy’ (above, and flower, left) sited on the far side of the patio has begun to bloom, and I noticed that bumblebees were tasting its nectar.

In a moment, a peculiar movement caught my eye, quite like a hummingbird (which are not unusual in the garden), but looking more like a bumblebee. The unusual bee (bird?) was unconcerned by my presence, and went about its business gathering nectar, darting from flower to flower.P1012391a

I grabbed the camera to snap a few photos, then dashed indoors to research this odd creature. I assumed this was a type of bumblebee, but my search was anticipated by a website that referred to “similar to bumblebees”. Pictures confirmed that this was not bird nor bee, but the Snowberry Clearwing, a hummingbird moth (above).

Now, I’m certain that I’ve seen this moth before, but on days when I wasn’t so curious, and probably without a camera close at hand. There are many wonders in the garden, but often we aren’t attentive enough to notice. P1012367

We should pay notice to the several varieties of Toad Lily (Tricyrtis, above) planted at the edge of the stone patio. The small, speckled flowers are quite nice, though not too showy, but on closer inspection your curiousity is rewarded. Later in the week we’ll explore more of the amazing toad lilies, and other marvels of the late Summer garden.

Nearly enough excitement to brave the Summer heat.


A bumblebee’s paradise

Bumblebees are everywhere!

The sad, troubled story of the honeybee has been well documented. Their absence was noted in mid-March when they failed to appear with the blooms of Pieris japonica, and through the year I have spotted a few only occasionally. But there’s no shortage of bumblebees, more than ever in my garden.P1012117

A stroll down the stone paths on this late August afternoon finds them foraging tree to tree, flower to flower. Unlike honeybees, there’s no sense of danger from being stung as you pass in close proximity and poke your nose into a fragrant blossom.P1012161

On the Franklin Tree (Franklinia alatamaha, above) and Seven Sons Tree (Heptacodium miconioides, below) bumblebees, Swallowtail butterflies, and hummingbirds cross paths, but never share a blossom. They seem unaware of the others’ presence.P1012337

P1012101The yellow-leaf caryopteris (the old ‘Worcester Gold’ , above, and improved ‘Jason’) that bumblebees favored in July are nearly past bloom, but the green and white variegated leaf variety ‘Snow Fairy’ is just beginning. The stems of this caryopteris are less woody and tend to die back further over the Winter, but they spring back to full size by mid-July. It is rarely found in garden centers, though I prefer it over the more popular green and yellow leafed versions. The variegation is crisp and striking, even in late Summer when other leaf colors fade.P1012289

Another favored flower, Salvia (above), has passed its peak, and  bumblebees have abandoned it for other nectar-filled blooms. Coneflowers (Echinacea, below) are reblooming after deadheading and commonly a favorite of bees and butterflies, but the Franklin and Seven Sons trees are more floriferous, and so the coneflowers are admired by the gardener, ignored by the bumblebees.P1012291

At pond’s edge

As a visitor wanders down the stone paths in this garden they are greeted by the splash of fleeing frogs into the stream and shady ponds. In the water, perched on a lily pad or mossy stone they are less fearful. Here, they are comfortable enough to pose for photos.


Of six ponds in the garden the largest, the swimming pond, has the fewest  frogs. Why, I can’t explain, but then it hosts much other wildlife.

Twelve koi and two goldfish multiplied to several dozen in the Spring, joining dragonflies, water skimmers, a red eared turtle who visited for several weeks, an occasional small snake, and a groundhog who lived under the nearby shed for years but has since departed. But few frogs.P1012204

While other parts of the garden are more than twenty years old, the swimming pond was constructed only three years ago, so the plantings in this area haven’t yet overgrown into a jungle. Another year should do it.  P1012238

In late August there are many flowers blooming in the pond, tucked between rocks in the shallows, and tumbling over the pond’s edge. In the swimming pond a shallow area five by twenty feet is heavily planted with perennials and tropicals to assist with filtration.P1012269

Elephant ears (Colocasia thrive in shallow water, Alocasia prefer damp only. Above the flower of Colocasia “Illustris’), papyrus, bananas, and cannas (Canna ‘Wyoming’ below) have been slow to develop with the cool early Summer, and are unlikely to reach the height of previous years. P1012273

In the boggy space between two partially submerged granite boulders a red pitcher plant (Sarracenia, below) is almost hidden.

Nearby, Sweetflag and Japanese iris, a dwarf lotus that has been reluctant to grow thus far, floating heart, water lilies, and variegated cattail provide plenty of cover. Ready for frogs to move in.P1012326

Late Summer blooms

By mid-August many northern Virginia gardens are worn out and lifeless from the heat. Not this garden! On this warm Summer’s evening the garden is alive with butterflies and bumblebees drifting from one blossom to the next.

P1012117Too much space in this journal has been allotted to crapemyrtles, hydrangeas, and Franklinia (ignore the flower to the left and focus on the bumblebee so we can properly ignore it) over past weeks, not that they aren’t delightful small trees, but there is much else to go on about.

I have paid scant attention to the many perennials that flourish in the late Summer sun. I suppose that everyone has a garden full of these long blooming plants that brave the worst the season can offer without complaint. At minimum they are deserving of some small recognition.P1011992

The coneflowers (Echinacea) have been flowering for weeks, first noted in early July, but ‘Coconut Lime’ (above) was blooming weeks earlier. I was delinquent in deadheading the spent blooms, then decided to transplant them to a more hospitable location, into the blazing sun.

At least I delayed until the two days of mid-nineties had passed. In any case, they survived the transplant with no coddling, though we must note the stupidity of the gardener who digs a plant from a nice, shady spot (although too shady long term for the coneflower) to move it to full sun in the heat of Summer. (Note the use of third person to prevent the writer from getting unduly aggravated.)P1012292

Coneflowers have been widely hybridized in recent years, with wonderful results. I have grown ‘Magnus’ for years, but added ‘Kim’s Knee High’ (above), and then very recently ‘Tomato Soup’, with red flowers, but so recent that its buds have not yet opened. I can’t help myself, there are several others that will undoubtedly find a home in this garden before too long. P1012298

Another tough-as-nails perennial that succeeds exceedingly well in the heat is sedum, this one ‘Vera Jameson’, cascading over the edge of a dry stacked stone wall. Though the wall supports the edge of the large swimming pond, the soil is thin and stays quite dry from the heat of the stone. ‘Vera Jameson’ seems quite happy with her lot.P1012289

I confess to negligence in carrying out many tasks that “good” gardeners must consider routine. I am a planter, sometimes a transplanter, occasionally a weeder, but rarely a deadheader, so it is with conspicuous pride that I point out the salvia (above) in a second flush of bloom. Perhaps I’m not too old to change my wicked ways.  P1010713

I have learned that without regular pinching in July the Toad Lilies (Tricyrtis, above) will be impossibly leggy, and flop about. Pinching probably is best accomplished with pruners, but finger pinching as I see the need passing through seems to do no harm. The flowers are not large and showy, but small and orchid-like. I have more than a handful, but haven’t a clue the names of any. Pick any you find, they are a treasure for the shady late Summer garden, though one planted in nearly full sun with reflected heat from a nearby stone patio has never objected.P1012276

In sun or shade liriope (Liriope muscari, the selection ‘Cleopatra’ above) is a delightful groundcover. The variegated form is more widely planted, and there are a few in the garden, but I prefer the solid green, usually Big Blue. This clumping grass-like variety is preferable to the spreading spicata types that are less mannerly (and a favorite for my wife to whine about their uncivilized ways).

And now I have gone on far too long and have two late Summer blooming favorites still to cover, both preferring shade.P1012283

Ligularia ‘Othello’ (above) has medium-large, rounded leaves that fade quickly if exposed to sun, and yellow daisy-like flowers that are coarse on first inspection, but look closer to appreciate what a gem they are.P1012290

This evening will close with Japanese Anemone, this one the selection ‘Whirlwind’ with a flower similar to the Franklinia that we begged to avoid this day. The long stemmed flowers bob in the breeze, a joyous reminder how colorful and full of life the late Summer garden can be.

Beauty by accident – August ’09

In such a large garden as this (one acre plus) half a dozen blooming crapemyrtles are sufficient to elicit cries from passersby of “how beautiful” and admiration for the gardener’s grand design. Nonsense! The trees are splendid, the gardener fortunate this day to have placed them for all the world to see. P1012123

P1012300In this garden there are ponds, a simple pavilion, stone walls and paths, and beautiful trees and shrubs scattered about, underplanted with all manner of ground covers and perennials. The garden design has some merit, but for every crapemyrtle that shines, there is a dismal dwarf cypress overwhelmed by an oakleaf hydrangea that insists on flopping about, a golden tansy baked and leafless, and similar tragedies.

So long as we focus on the crapemyrtles we’ll be satisfied that all is right, the design a delight.P1012136

Perhaps there are a few more successes than failures on this day. The Franklinia (above) by the garden shed followed the later blooming crapemyrtles by only a few days, and will continue well into September, often until the scarlet Fall color makes a wonderful background for the large white flowers. P1012294

Across the path, next to the small pavilion by the swimming pond, the Seven Son tree (Heptacodium miconioides, above)  is blooming. The large clusters of small white flower are not significant, more restrained than crapemyrtles, but quite nice for several weeks, and followed by fuchsia calyxes that persist weeks longer. P1012196

Sandwiched between Seven Son and Franklinia is a Blue Atlas Cedar (above, with seed cones lined upright along the branches), a scruffy specimen with a gently curving trunk when planted, but beginning to fill in so the crook is barely noticed. The garden is full of “projects” rescued from discard piles, nurtured back to good health. I am only slightly confident that the neighboring trees won’t invade the cedar’s space.P1012308

Across the patio, above a seating wall curved to match the circular stone fire pit (used for burning stray sticks and branches more than for romantic fires) the Cherry Dazzle dwarf crapemyrtle has opened nearly a quarter of its blooms, with thousands remaining to bloom over the next month.

A marvelous design.

Steak and potatoes

One look and there’s no doubt, I’m a steak guy. I’ve earned my two-fifty plus. And hard times or not, I haven’t been tempted to grow my own.

The challenges of an ornamental garden are difficult enough for me without growing edibles. With my dogwoods, Japanese maples, hydrangeas, viburnums, mahonias, and perennials I can manage the creatures without spraying poisons to and fro, but I find it hard to imagine the same growing fruits and veggies.  P1012161

I’m in the garden center and landscaping business, so I’m all for the edible “craze”, but I’m just as certain that a few years from now wormy apples and rotten tomatoes will dissuade all but the most motivated to give in to their realistic side and abandon their sustainable dreams.

I grow blueberries and blackberries, and serviceberry, which I’m told is a fruiting edible, but haven’t harvested a berry in years. The birds are fat and happy (just like me) and the bugs aren’t a bother.P1011966

I’ve created a wildlife friendly garden and remain proudly lazy, letting the aphids and caterpillars have their nibble or two, but I understand my limitations, and there’s little doubt I’d resort to whatever evil means were necessary to keep the birds from the cherries and the beetles out of the cukes. I’d be no friend to the planet, and I’m betting there are a bunch of new edible gardeners who’ll discover the same.

I’m as happy to sell a tomato as an echinacea, and happier still if you’re willing to give both an effort, but I’ll remain satisfied to let the farmer raise my beef and veggies. The economists assure me that soon enough there’ll be enough coin in the cookie jar to afford them again.

Floating is better than weeding

When I built the swimming pond I anticipated spending lazy hours floating that could have been wasted on more productive pursuits. Today was such a day. I’m certain there were worthwhile tasks desperately needing attention, but none came to mind. (An excellent reason for avoiding written to-do lists. Then, I would have to misplace the list.)P1012211

P1012260The swimming pond is the largest of six ponds I have built in the garden, and “swimming” is a misnomer because swimming involves effort, and once the pond was complete I was determined to avoid anything feeling like work. In my inflatable lounge chair I can float away the hours, enjoying the birds, the bees, dragonflies darting to and fro, frogs, toads, an occasional turtle (and every now and then a small snake), and the dazzling colors of koi and goldfish.P1012207

I built the swimming pond three years ago, and started the first Spring with twelve koi, the number that remained until adding two goldfish P1012243(transferred from another of the ponds) earlier this Spring. I’ve had problems with herons feeding in the smaller, shallower ponds, but this one is too deep for them, except for an area for filtration (and jammed full of aquatic plants) that the fish are too cautious to remain in unless they’re chasing a stray food nugget.

From fourteen in April (twelve koi and two goldfish) we’ve experienced a population explosion, with more fish than I can count, but at least thirty, probably fifty or more. It’s getting difficult to float without them bumping into you every minute. Next year some will have to be relocated to the smaller ponds.P1012227

Thankfully, the swimming pond has escaped any problems with string algae this year, but the small pond with the long stream has suffered more than is usual. Still, I spend no more than an hour a month on maintenance for the combined ponds once the one-time-a-year Spring cleaning is completed. I derive no joy from cleaning, weeding, and tasks of this sort.

P1012231The two-tiered pond below the deck that appears to feed the stream (but isn’t connected), is covered in growth from waterlilies, floating heart (Nymphoides), green-white and yellow-green variegated acorus, Japanese iris, and a hosta seedling (a volunteer) that grows in the shallows above one of the small waterfalls. Water is barely visible, but the sound of the falls alerts you to the pond’s presence. This pond, and the stream, are quite shady, and numerous frogs flee whenever you wander down one of the paths.P1012238

Stone paths lead from steps on either side of the deck, over large slabs that traverse the stream, to two small slate patios that overlook the ponds. From one spot on the lower patio, set into the slope and bordered by boulders, three small ponds can be seen, but barely, through the nandinas, hollies, mahonias, Japanese maples, and various this and that.P1012258

The upper ponds (and the front yard pond) have no fish, but will probably be stocked with the overflow from the swimming pond next year. I don’t think that heron will be a problem again since there’s no clear flight path (or escape route) from these older ponds that are surrounded by overhanging trees. When we get more koi than the ponds can handle, my son suggested offering free fish on Craigslist.

You catch ’em, you keep ’em, I’ll be out back floating.