Home sweet home

I’m overjoyed to be home again. I’ve just returned from two weeks on the road visiting nurseries, a three thousand mile trek looking at plants that sounds like bunches of fun, but after thirty some years on the road the thrill is gone, long gone. Seeing old friends and discovering new plants is never tiresome, but the miles between are wearisome.

The morning after returning home I wandered around the garden, and was amazed that weeds had jumped up everywhere. I’d cleaned up the day before I left, so the garden was about as weed free as it ever gets, but with plenty of sun and a few heavy thunderstorms the weeds have grown tall and thick. I spent several hours of the weekend getting things back into some semblance of order, but as usual I was sidetracked to appreciate the many flowers.

There are several clumps of Pineapple lilies (Eucomis comosa ‘Sparkling Burgundy’, above, and the similar ‘Oakhurst’) in the garden. The original clump has been divided several times, and it remains the fattest and fullest. Unfortunately, it flowered while I was traveling, but the more recently planted ones are a bit later and now in nearly peak bloom. Pineapple lilies were labelled as marginally cold hardy for northwestern Virginia until recent years, and some wonderful varieties are still too soft, but the dark leafed ‘Sparkling Burgundy’ has done just fine in my garden with temperatures down to zero a few years ago.

Pineapple lilies are not aggressive growers, so I must resist over planting near them or they’ll quickly disappear. The original clump is planted beside a variegated blue mist shrub (Caryopteris divaricata ‘Snow Fairy’, above) that must be cut back each spring and once in early summer so that it doesn’t overwhelm the pineapple lily. The splendid contrast of the burgundy leaves of ‘Sparkling Burgundy’ and the green and white caryopteris is reason enough not to move one or the other to give a bit more space.

Over the past few years the Franklin tree (Franklinia alatamaha, below) has suffered considerable damage from winter snow and summer storms. The branching habit of the tree encourages top heavy growth that weighs on the soft wood, and several large branches have been fractured so that they required removal. So, now the tree is a bit skimpy, but at least I can walk down the stone path beneath the Franklinia without having to stoop low like I did for several years.

There are more blooms on the Franklin tree this year (though I’ve recently pledged not to make such absolute pronouncements). I don’t know if this is due to the warm winter, or that there is more stored energy in the tree with fewer branches, but in any case, I’m enjoying the abundant blooms. The path under the tree is covered with white flowers, and there’s a constant buzz of bees and butterflies (and Japanese beetles which seem to prefer the flowers to almost anything else in the garden). In most years there will be flowers into late September or early October, and occasionally a few flowers will hang on long enough to accompany the leaves turning to red in early autumn. This year the flowers have arrived early, and I suspect that there will be no blooms by September.

Franklinia is rarely found in nurseries, and on the occasion it’s found it’s likely to be only a few feet tall in a container. I planted a fine, eight foot tree ten or more years ago, and I’ve witnessed that this is not a tree for everyone. It does not grow with the full, symmetrical canopy that is the preference of most tree buyers, and I can attest that it is difficult to transplant. Of twenty trees originally purchased by the garden center, only a few were transplanted successfully. Besides these difficulties, damage from snow, wind, and the minor nuisance of Japanese beetles, the Franklinia has been completely trouble free.

I’ve been so pleased with the Franklin tree that I’m considering planting a Gordlinia (x Gordlinia grandiflora) that I spotted on my travels. It’s a shrubby hybrid of Franklinia and the equally uncommon Gordonia, and quite similar except that the blooms are larger and supposedly more abundant. There is a small matter of where it will fit, but I’ve not let that bother me much in the past.

I contemplated planting a Chaste tree (Vitex agnus-castus, above) for a number of years, but could never figure a space large enough until a few years ago when I cleared something else (I forget what). Of course, it is a large shrub and not a tree, though I’ve seen it grown as a wide spreading multi trunk tree with lower foliage removed. The light green, palmate foliage is somewhat interesting, but the erect panicles of lavender blooms are most attractive. Chaste tree is undemanding and quite trouble free, though the gardener should provide a substantial space for it to grow fifteen feet wide and tall. I’m not sure I’ve given it quite this much room, but it will work for a while, and until it begins to cause problems I’ll enjoy its summer blooms.

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3 thoughts on “Home sweet home

  1. Thanks for the vitex info. I didn’t realize they grew so large so I’ll be digging mine up in a few weeks for a roomier spot.

    • Yes, vitex grows to be quite a large bush. When people ask me if a shrub can be pruned to maintain a certain size I tell them it can, but don’t bet that you’ll keep up with it. Sooner or later you’ll skip a season and it will be out of control. It is, of course, better to plant the right plant in the right place, though I regularly ignore this rule.

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