Summer garden tour – July 2011

Most people with a lick of sense would not be inclined to tour a garden in the heat of July.  I will be in Mobile, Alabama next week, and I’m looking forward to revisiting Bellingrath Gardens (below), a beautiful residence and garden that have been opened to the public. I’ll be dripping sweat and fogging up the camera lens, but there’s no better place to be on a summer afternoon.

My garden is rather sad by comparison, but occasionally readers ask for wider angle photos so that they can see more of the garden, or inquire about visiting in person. Conveniently, I’ve done the hard work for you, all the walking and sweating, and I’ve condensed an hour long tour to a handful of photos on this page and a video that’s a few ticks short of seven minutes. You won’t see every inch of the garden, and certainly not every plant, but you’ll see most of what looks presentable in early summer. So, sit back with your iced tea and enjoy.

Today, the dogwoods and redbuds, magnolias, azaleas, and camellias are past bloom, and some of the hostas in full sun are fading a bit, but there’s been enough rain to keep most everything alive and happy. There are still plenty of blooms, though the crapemyrtles are running behind others in the neighborhood. The weeds are mostly under control (Ha!, at least you won’t see many), and I’ve avoided the scattered brush piles. There are a few links scattered about the page if you have the patience to sit through the six minute forty second video. Visit the video.

In early July there are only a few scattered hosta blooms at the entry to the rear garden (above), but ferns, hostas, toad lilies, and columbine have been crowded between a shrub-like dwarf hemlock and a Gold Cone juniper that shows barely a hint of yellow in the Virginia heat. I believe that the mostly white hosta is ‘Medio variegata’, one of three or four common hostas twenty five years ago when the choices were green or variegated. With the dark green ivy ground cover and hemlock as a back drop the distinct variegation is a welcome contrast.

Years ago a single, small clump of Ostrich fern was transplanted from a shady, wet spot at the forest’s edge to this dry, half sunny location. It has spread joyfully, with sprouts popping up between stones in the path, in the middle of other plants, and in nearby cracks in the driveway. When it becomes too exuberant the new shoots are easily culled, and the only issue I have with this splendid fern is that Japanese beetles prefer it to almost any other plant in the garden. Fortunately, I have few beetles, but the tips of ferns that pop out into the sun are often stripped of foliage by August. In the shade, they’re untouched.

Since I constructed the fifteen hundred square foot swimming pond a few years ago much of my planting efforts have been in the mounded soil that was excavated from digging the pond (above). The quality of the soil is only fair, but roots have spread readily in the uncompacted low berms, and plant growth has been exceptional. I have planted a mishmash of Japanese maples, shrubs, and evergreens with perennials jammed in between.

In a large garden (and I consider this garden large only because I take care of it with no assistance except for my wife’s occasional meddling) I’ve found that small trees and shrubs are essential space eaters. The mass of a single hydrangea or edgeworthia covers ground that would require a dozen smaller perennials. Thus, less expense is necessary, and the shrub’s thick foliage shades out weeds so that maintenance is lessened. To my eye, the garden’s design is enhanced by the variations in plant sizes and leaf textures and color. I’ve admired extensive perennial gardens without a shrub or evergreen in sight, but this is not my preference, and I’m confident that this garden is much easier to design to look good, and I’ve little doubt that with a sprinkling of evergreens with yellow and blue needles it looks better in the winter.

There are five ponds in the garden, but the swimming pond and nearby shade house are the focal points of the rear garden. Summer flowering Franklin and Seven Sons trees, hydrangeas, yellow and variegated leaf caryopteris with blue flowers in July and August, and assorted perennials are planted along the edges to be enjoyed as my wife and I lounge on the stone patio. The shallows of the pond are planted with a variety of Japanese irises, rushes, acorus, and a variegated cattail that has slowly spread as intended through the pond’s gravel filtration area. In early summer I plant tropical papyrus, elephant ears, and cannas in the pond’s gravel, and then these are dug and potted to spend the winter indoors in the basement (and what a mess that can be!).

I hope that you have a few moments to take a look at the video tour of the garden. It covers more ground, and the focus is much more broad than photos of a single grouping of shrubs. I wish that I was capable of holding the camera more steady, but there is often a reason that people are in one job or another, and I am not destined to become a professional videographer.

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