Can’t get around much anymore

Occasionally, I’ll return home in the evening to see the trash can filled to the brim with pruned clippings from nandinas, mahonias, or ferns, and I know that my wife has been out and about with her pruners. The stone paths that meander through the garden are partially obstructed by overhanging branches again, and she’s doing her duty to keep them open. The trimmings should more properly be tossed onto the compost pile, but that’s halfway to the rear of the property, and the paths are much nearer the house.

My wife has just completed studies for a midlife career change, so the past few years have been dedicated to studying. She has spent far less time in the garden wandering down the paths with her pruners at the ready. And the garden grows, the nandinas lean further, and rhizomes of Ostrich ferns creep ever closer to the paths and patios. Steps down from the lower deck have nearly been abandoned as branches of a tall nandina arch under the weight of the semi vigorous ‘Henryii’ clematis (above) so that I must bend over (way over) to get through. This is not a bother to me, but she wonders why there should be a path at all if it’s impassable. Clearly, there’s no arguing with this manner of thinking.

With abundant rainfall recently the garden is quite lush, and most notably in the upper portion of the rear garden the nandinas have grown full and fat. When the branches are wet they flop halfway over the narrow paths (or more), but several hours later I can brush past with ease. There are a number of nandina cultivars that are commonly available in garden centers, and I’ve planted several of many of them in one place or another in the garden. The ones along the paths are the full sized Nandina domestica (above), six feet tall and a few have grown even taller. With exuberant foliage, one part of the garden cannot be seen from another only a few paces apart.

The nandinas are just beginning to flower, but by late summer the branches begin to bend further under the weight of large clusters of shiny red berries (above). Then, my wife can fill a trash can or two.

I was hardly impressed by Deutzia ‘Magician’ (Deutzia x ‘Magician’, above) when it first flowered several years ago. It’s foliage was a light green that appeared in need of fertilizer, and the first year blooms were sparse and not much to get excited about. Somewhere over the past few years this once unremarkable shrub caught my eye, and I can’t imagine how I ever thought the blooms were not extraordinary.

The foliage of the deutzia is hardly exciting, but there are few shrubs that are noteworthy when they’re not flowering. The blooms of ‘Magician’ persist for several weeks, perhaps even a month from first flower to last, and there are few finer blooms in the garden.

The tall tree lilac (Syringa reticulata ‘Ivory Silk’, above) is in full flower in late May. Some blooms are still opening while others are just past their peak. Through most of the day the small white petals fall to cover the ground below like snow.

‘Ivory Silk’ is a tree, not at all a shrub, and certainly not the multi-caned shrub that most people know. Both shrub and tree have fragrant blooms, though the flower clusters of ‘Ivory Silk’ are huge by comparison. The tree will grow with a single thick trunk to thirty feet or more. The ‘Ivory Silk’ in my garden has been trouble free for years, though it has a number of dead branches from a few summers of drought. This year it has recovered with more vigor, so foliage is more dense and flowers more numerous.

I have questioned in past years whether the Golden Chain tree is worthwhile to grow. I have little doubt that the tree prefers cooler, damper conditions, and when young there were times when it looked quite pitiful in the heat of a Virginia summer. Two weeping golden chain trees (Laburnum x watereri ‘Pendulum, above) are planted in partial shade along side one of the garden’s ponds, and last year both took a definite turn for the better. They have grown a bit, though not vigorously, and they have flowered reasonably well despite the shade. I won’t go so far as to claim that they’re among my favorites, but no longer am I ready to chop them out.

The flowers persist for only a week, then fade quickly. The foliage is a pleasant enough green, but I can only recommend the weeping golden chain as a novelty for area gardens. For what it’s worth I have two, and I’ve not seen one in another garden.

Don’t mistake the golden chain for the golden rain tree (Koelreuteria paniculata, above), though the common names are too similar, and invite confusion. There is also a golden rain tree in the garden, and it is vigorous and ready to flower in a few weeks. Its flowers are longer lasting, though not as brightly colored, but the flowers are followed by large seedpods like Chinese lanterns. Every one of the large, round, black seeds inside the papery sacks germinates so that I spend many hours each year pulling and hoeing seedlings. If I could convince my wife to pull golden rain seedlings rather than prune nandinas, I’d be a happy man.

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