Down to business

Today we’ll get right down to business without any chitchat, no woe-is-me tales or memories from long ago. There are, of course, more blooms in the garden in early May than can be covered in one day, but if the foolishness is kept to a minimum then we’ll be able to get to the meat of it. Today we’ll cover trees and shrubs, and in a few days perennials and some of the delightful mid spring blooming bulbs.

Though the native dogwoods have passed from bloom, the Rutgers hybrids (Cornus x ‘Rutgan’ ‘Stellar Pink’, above) are now coming into bloom, and the Chinese dogwoods are not far from full flower. By week’s end I will feature the hybrids, so there is no need to waste words today, except to say that they are vigorous in growth and bloom.

Before it passes out of bloom the native fringetree (Chionanthus viriginicus, above) must be mentioned. The long, ribbon-like flowers do not last for longer than a week, and less if temperatures are warmer than typical. This year the weather is just right, so the blooms have persisted a bit longer. A non-native, Chinese fringetree is often recommended, but the native is quite a lovely tree for small properties, even with its brief blooms. When flowering, there is no mistaking the fringetree, and though it is unremarkable at other times of the year, it should be more common in gardens.

The cultivars of Deutzia (Deutzia gracilis ‘Nikko’, above) should also be used more extensively. Shrub forms and the low growing ‘Nikko’ begin to show colorful buds late in April, and in early May they are covered in bright, white blooms. In my garden both have been dependable and prolific bloomers, and they require no care at all.

The variegated drooping leucothoe (Leucothoe fontanesiana ‘Rainbow’, above) requires little attention, though I have not found sufficient reason to develop much of a liking for it. I have not given it enough space to spread, so I keep it pruned so that it does not droop over a nearby stone path. In a previous garden it was given a wide berth, and apparently I was impressed enough to plant it again, and now I can’t imagine why. ‘Rainbow’ is not a bad shrub, but to my thinking there are many that are superior. Today, the blooms are nice, however.

Late April and early May are the prime time for azaleas blooming in the mid Atlantic, and in the garden the mid season Encore Azaleas are now flowering. Years ago I gave up growing azaleas because they were plagued so frequently by lacebug and poorly drained soils. Only a few vigorous Delaware White’s remain from a dozen or so varieties that were planted twenty years ago, but when Encore azaleas were introduced I began to plant more to test their behavior at the northern edge of their hardiness.

The Encores have not disappointed, blooming as any other azalea in the spring, but then following with a second period of bloom in September and October. The autumn flowering extends over a much longer period than in the spring, with flowers for eight to ten weeks rather than spring’s two weeks. Also, the Encores have proven to be resistant to lacebugs, and the winter hardiness of both the shrubs and flower buds is ideally suited to this climate.

Walking through the garden over the weekend I was drawn to the sweetly scented deciduous azaleas that are hidden behind a redbud and grouping of three low branched fringetrees. It’s shameful that the tall Exbury azaleas (above) with brightly colored orange and yellow blooms can be enjoyed only after enduring scratches and scrapes, but this where I planted them, so there’s no good to come from complaining. I have tried to plant Exbury’s in the dry shade along the garden’s southern border, but they refuse to survive without additional irrigation. However, the ones behind the redbud require no care and are not bothered by lacebugs or other pests, so the lesson is that plants must be properly sited, otherwise failure and disappointment will often follow.

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