I often wonder why anyone should take a few precious moments from their day to read about my troubles, and it wouldn’t be surprising for a reader to request that I stop whining and enjoy the garden. I hope to keep the complaining to a minimum, and though I might occasionally prattle on that I can’t grow this or that, the phlox is failing, and the cryptomerias are nearly ruined, I include these minor tragedies so that other gardeners will know that they aren’t alone.
I believe that many gardeners are convinced that they’re the only ones bothered by aphids and lacebugs, hydrangeas that wilt in the afternoon sun, and coneflowers that refuse to bloom. Magazine gardens never suffer a brown leaf, much less camellias that turn brown and die after a few dry weeks, but not a week passes that some disaster or another doesn’t strike in most gardens.
The Franklin Tree (Franklinia alatamaha, above) transplants poorly, so it is rarely found in gardens. Though native to river banks of the Alatamaha River in Georgia, the tree has disappeared from its native habitat, and is said to resent moist soils. In my garden the Franklin tree is planted near the origin of a small spring (that starts immediately beneath the garden shed, which has undermined the shed’s footings and provided a wonderful, though damp apartment for a groundhog for several years). The clay soil drains slowly, and stays damp enough that I would figure the site to be poorly chosen for the tree.
Who woulda’ thunk it? But the tree has grown marvelously well, and in doing so has further exposed some flaws that I feel certain are present in every Franklinia. The branches emanate from the trunk at nearly a right angle, and then turn upwards so that an abnormal amount of stress is placed on the curve. With adequate moisture the branches have grown long and tall without the necessary girth to withstand their own weight, so that several major limbs have suffered structural fractures that have required attention.
I considered bolting and bracing the branches with a scaffolding until they regained their strength, but in the end decided that two large branches must be pruned off. The tree’s shape changed instantly from broad to slightly upright in form. There are no other branches of serious immediate concern, but every tree and I suppose every plant has its pro’s and con’s, and I can live with having to do a bit of tree surgery from time to time to keep this magnificent tree.
A few weeks ago I mentioned that the crapemyrtles in the garden have flowered more sparsely than in previous years, and I’m very certain that every gardener has a list of something’s that have not flowered as well as they did last year, or for the past twenty. Much of this is probably the gardener’s imagining the worst, but each year is hotter or drier (or not), or shade is beginning to encroach (as is the case with several of the crapemyrtles) so that growing conditions change constantly. The wonder would be (and what a bore) if everything stayed the same.
The one crapemyrtle that is growing in unchallenged sunlight is blooming exceptionally well, undeterred by either one hundred degree temperatures or weeks long drought. Still, there is a problem, but this one of the gardener’s making. The dwarf Cherry Dazzle (above) grows to only three to four feet tall, and usually I would suspect a shrub to grow roughly the same in width. Today, the crapemyrtle is in full bloom, and splendid, but at least seven feet across, overwhelming a stone seating bench, and reaching nearly into the fire pit. Of course it was planted far too close to both, and with proper planning I would have less to complain about, but there is less adventure in getting things right from the start (I tell myself).
I frequently experiment with plants that are newly introduced (or ones that are supposedly not cold hardy for the region) to determine their garden worthiness under extreme neglect. I’m afraid that I’ve never properly cared for a plant, and if one survives in my garden I’m quite certain that it will thrive anywhere.
A year ago I planted a new mondo grass, “Crystal Falls’ (Ophiopogon jaburon ‘Crystal Falls’, above) with long arching, dark foliage and extended panicles of white blooms in mid summer. It appears to be a jumbo sized green leafed liriope, but with more prominent blooms, and like all the liriopes in my garden it needed a trim early in the spring since the leaf tips were in tatters. All was fine until the other liriopes began to grow, then the dwarf mondos that need only a bit of tipping to prune where they’ve become shaggy. Crystal Falls was a still life, alive but frozen in its butchered glory.
Until July. Then, leaf tips emerged, followed almost immediately by the flowering stalks, and by mid August Crystal Falls has recovered almost completely. But, that won’t work. I want plants to begin looking good in the spring, not halfway through the summer. Next spring, I’ll try not to cut the mondo grass back, but perhaps this one is better suited for deeper into the south.
I have no doubt that I’m not the only gardener with troubles. Perhaps more of mine can be traced to my failings in lack of care or in planning, but my issues are quickly forgotten or gardening would be a miserable experience. I am at my happiest in the garden, surrounded by foliage and blooms, and disasters at every turn.