Silverbells

Carolina Silverbell (Halesia caroliniana, below) is native to much of the American southeast, though not to Virginia, so it can not correctly be called a native in my garden. No matter, I have trees from across the globe, and none lovelier in bloom than the silverbell. Unfortunately, the dangling blooms have a tissue papery substance, so typically they last for only a short period in the inordinately cold or warm days that are the standard in April. Happily, in this cool, but not cold April the flowers have persisted a week longer, with excellent prospects for at least several more days.Carolina silverbell in late April

The habitat of Carolina silverbell is similar to that of the native dogwood, and in my garden silverbell flourishes at the wood’s edge growing in the shade of towering swamp maples. In this mostly shaded setting its growth is slightly more upright, and branching less dense than is typical. But, in recent years the lower branches of the thirty foot tall tree have thickened, and flowering is much more evident nearer the ground. Like many flowering trees, Carolina silverbell is unobtrusive through much of the year, but glorious for ten days in April. Given the difficult, root filled soil where it’s planted, I imagine that silverbell is a tough, hardy choice, so long as there is space in the garden for a tree that climbs to forty feet or more.Carolina silverbell

Finding a Carolina silverbell in a garden center is another matter. There is no economic incentive for tree growers or garden centers to invest a few years growing lesser known trees without a market to sell them, and of course it is shame that fine trees are neglected. When I find such treasures I don’t hesitate to pluck one to add to the garden, and with a tree with such accommodating cultural requirements there is no reason (even in a garden that is fully planted) not to add one.Fothergilla flowering in early April

Growing (and flowering) nearby at the forest’s edge is the equally obliging fothergilla (Fothergilla gardenii, above), a witch hazel relative with pleasant blue-green foliage similar to Vernal witch hazel (Hamamelis vernalis).  It is fairly common in garden centers, but scarce in gardens.  This southeastern native grows with an open habit when planted as an understory shrub, though it will branch more densely with more sun. Its native habitat is swampy areas, but it seems to grow without a bother in dry shade as well. It has no pest problems, including deer, and I never give it a thought except to enjoy the April bottlebrush blooms and the lush blue green foliage. In autumn the foliage turns a lovely yellow to soft orange  to scarlet (below), and certainly there are few shrubs that compare.Fothergilla autumn foliage

For years there was only one fothergilla in the garden, planted on the outside edge of the property so that the neighbor could enjoy it, but in a spot that I don’t visit regularly. There are years when this has caused me to miss its blooms, or autumn foliage, when I was occupied by so many other treats. So, I’ve rectified this by a adding two smaller shrubs on the far side of the garden in the area where brush and brambles were cleared out in early winter. This area is a bit under done at the moment, which is quite a switch for me, but I’ve no doubt that everything will grow together in a few short years. There is nothing that will please this gardener more than seeing tall branches of the fothergilla arching for sunlight from beneath the Bigleaf magnolia and catalpa. Here, I’ll be certain not to miss these marvelous blooms.

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Catching up

In the spring there are so many blooms and so few hours to jot down the mindless drivel that fills these pages. So, today there  will be more photos, and less babbling. No purpose is served by me having these pictures stored on my computer and not sharing them. We’ll start with photos from a few weeks ago of plants that have now passed out of bloom (but are worth noting), and finish with ones from recent days in mid April.

Ogon spirea in April‘Ogon’ spirea (Spiraea thunbergii ‘Ogon’, above) is a pleasant enough shrub through most of the year, though its habit becomes a bit unruly if it is not sheared back into a tight ball after flowering. I rarely prune it (or anything), so it’s behavior leaves much to be desired. The narrow, yellow leaves are almost needle-like, and these are the main attraction of ‘Ogon’, but the flowers cover the shrub in a cloud of white and are quite nice also.Barrenwort

Many gardeners seem enamored by barrenworts (Epimedium x versicolor ‘Sulphureum, above, and Epimedium x rubrum, below). They are dependably deer resistant, and the arching blooms are exquisite for a week, but after flowering I forget about them for another year, so I suppose its safe to say they’re not one of my favorites. Nice, but not exceptional unless you’re fighting deer and don’t want to spray a repellent. Red barrenwort in mid April

A week ago I was prepared to write about the various spring flowering magnolias (Magnolia x ‘Jane’, below), but they passed a bit too quickly out of bloom and my enthusiasm waned. In any case, if you’d like, go back a year or two, or three, and I’m pretty certain you’ll find something on them each year. Jane magnolia

I liked the color and textural contrast of this seedling of the red leafed geranium ‘Espresso’ (Geranium maculatum ‘Espresso’) that popped up in Creeping Jenny (Lysimachia nummularia ‘Aurea’, below) that is at its brightest when it first emerges in the spring. I prefer the tough, though short flowering ‘Espresso’ to the floppy and sprawling ‘Rozanne’ that is short lived for me. ‘Espresso’ seeds itself about, though not wildly, and the seedlings are nearly as darkly colored as the parent plant.
Geranium seedling sprouting through Creeping Jenny

Blueberries (Vaccinium corymbosum, below) are touted these days as more than a fruit bearing shrub. The flowers are nice, as is the autumn foliage color, but if you’re not interested in eating the fruit (or feeding the birds) then there are more attractive shrubs. In years past I had ten large blueberry shrubs, and I enjoyed eating handfuls of warm fruits in early July while I wandered about the garden. But, the large blueberries declined (probably from some neglect on my part), and finally they were chopped out. The newly planted blueberries feed only the birds, who are enormously appreciative, I’m sure.

Blueberry flowering in mid April

I think that long in the past I planted this purple leafed violet (below), definitely not in this spot, but somewhere. As violets do, seedlings pop up everywhere, which is okay because they only move into open spaces, and nothing is crowded out. Other types of violets grow rampant in the lawn, then fade as temperatures turn hot. I don’t mind this either. Who could be bothered by flowers in the lawn?
Purple leafed violets

No sense

Fortunately, I still have a sense of humor, but I’m afraid even it’s fading fast. My common sense is debatable, and I’m so color blind I can hardly tell green from brown. My wife tells me I’m nearly stone deaf, and I can barely smell the most fragrant of flowers in the garden. This is not the place to discuss whether my deafness is a matter of convenience or not, but with these infirmities it seems a wonder I can survive from day to day, much less manage a garden.Arnold Promise witch hazel in mid February

Through the winter there are blooms that must be potently fragrant to attract the few pollinators that hang around in the cold, but the sun must be shining and the day completely still for me to catch a whiff of strongly scented witch hazels (Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Arnold Promise’ in February, above) and winter daphnes (Daphne odora ‘Aureo-marginata’, below). In late spring the stinking carrion flowers (such as Sauromatum venosum) attract flies by the dozens to their dung scented blooms, but I can’t smell sweet or sour, except for the sweet vanilla scented viburnums of mid April.Winter daphne flowering in early April

There are two fragrances unforgettably etched in my memory, the sickly sweet of hyacinths that I have smelled too often and for too long in close proximity while working at indoor garden shows in February, and the pleasantly fragrant viburnums, Koreanspice (Viburnum carlesii, below) and Burkwood (Viburnum x burkwoodii). To me, the blooms of the two viburnums are practically indistinguishable in scent and appearance, though Koreanspice flowers a week earlier in April and are perhaps a bit larger. Both are splendid plants, fragrant or not.Carlesi viburnum

Burkwood (below) is a tall, rangy shrub while Koreanspice is smaller and more compact, but in my garden both grow vigorously from the edge of the forest in no more than a half day’s sun. No care is needed for either, though Burkwood would likely be improved by periodic pruning to keep its branching more compact. For two weeks in April the fragrance in the rear garden is unmistakable, with the scent drawing the gardener for a closer sniff.Burkwood viburnum

Upset by the cold spring

After a cold early spring, typically gentle bumblebees are unusually irritable and aggressive when I poke my nose into their business. I’m not a complete idiot, and not unsympathetic to their business of collecting nectar. So, I back off until they are a bit calmer, then dive in again. Photographs must be taken, even at great personal risk.Redbud and bumblebee

There are mostly bumblebees in the garden and fewer honeybees, but as the days grow warmer there are many other small bees and hoverflies visiting the blooms of redbuds (Cercis canadensis, above) and pieris (Pieris japonica ‘Dorothy Wyckoff’, below). The native dogwoods do not attract bees until the true flowers (at the center of the white bracts) open, and most of the flowers of the native serviceberry are too high for me to see if there are bees, or not. There are rarely any fruits on the serviceberry, so perhaps the blooms are too high for the ground hugging bees and the flowers are not pollinated.Dorothy Wyckoff pieris in mid March

Serviceberry (Amelanchier canadensis, below) grows at the edge of the forest that borders the garden, wedged beneath towering maples and poplars. This habitat is nearly identical to the native environment where serviceberry grows along clearings where there is some protection from the afternoon sun, but not heavy shade. The shaded lower branches flower sparsely, but the sunnier canopy is covered in small white blooms in mid April.Serviceberry in mid April

Serviceberry (sometimes called shadbow) is an under appreciated tree for the garden, mostly ignored but now spotlighted by the edible movement for its small black fruits. If there are ever fruits on my tree the birds will discover them long before I do, so I include the serviceberry only because it is an exceptional tree. I find that with multiple insubstantial trunks it’s habit is a bit too informal for the center of the garden, but it is well suited to the border, and to the edge of a woodland.

The native dogwood (Cornus florida, above) is the most magnificent of trees with exceptional flowers, autumn foliage color, and red berries. Unfortunately, it also has its troubles, so this is worthy of some discussion before you rush out to the garden center to purchase a few for your garden. There are a few seedling dogwoods in my garden that poke out from beneath the forest’s maples, and I’ve planted a few of the white flowering types, a white flowered dogwood with pendulous branching, and one with variegated foliage (Cornus florida ‘Cherokee Sunset’, below). There are also handfuls of hybrids and Chinese dogwoods that we’ll get along to in a few moments.Cherokee Sunset dogwood

In wet springs the dogwoods (native seedlings and planted ones) regularly suffer from leaf spotting and often from mildew, and the oldest of the dogwoods I planted over twenty years ago has some large stem cankers that will eventually spell its doom. The problems are not the dreaded anthracnose (Discula destructiva) that kills dogwoods at higher elevations and in cooler regions, but they must be a consideration for the home gardener.

I have not regretted planting the native dogwoods, and twenty five years of sublime enjoyment (despite a few leaf spots) is reason enough to recommend this splendid tree. But, I have also planted hybrid dogwoods and Chinese dogwoods that extend the blooming season into early June. These are not substitutes for the native dogwood, but complements in a garden with dozens of small trees. Celestial Shadow dogwood in late April

For the gardener concerned by the problems of the native dogwood the hybrids are an excellent alternative. I’ve planted the Rutgers’ hybrids ‘Stellar Pink’ (Cornus x ‘Rutgan’), the large, white flowered ‘Venus’, and a variegated mutation of the white flowered ‘Celestial’ (Cornus x ‘Celestial Shadow’, above). All perform without any attention, and the leaves are not bothered by spotting, even in the wettest weather. The Rutgers’ hybrids begin to flower the week following the peak of the native dogwoods, and when the native looks bedraggled in late summer the hybrids are lush and vibrant.Satomi dogwood in late May

I’ve planted a number of Chinese dogwoods (Cornus kousa ‘Satomi’, above) in the garden with varying flower and leaf colors, and these perform admirably, also without demanding any care.The Chinese dogwoods tend to be more wide spreading (though there are more upright forms), and these continue the flowering of dogwoods through May and often into early June.

All of the dogwoods are exceptional trees. For gardeners inclined to planting native trees there is little reason to overlook the indigenous dogwood, as long as it is sited in well drained soil. It will grow in full sun if given adequate irrigation, and it will tolerate nearly full shade, though it prefers a situation between these extremes. Chinese and hybrid dogwoods ask for a bit more sun, but they are quite undemanding as long as they aren’t planted in waterlogged soil. I see no reason that every garden should not have a dogwood, or two.

More April blooms

In mid April pink and white blooms peek out from the forest that borders the highway. Though my morning drive to the office is in darkness, the evening commute is more cheerful with these ornaments as I head back into the country. I’m disappointed when the blooms fade to lush green foliage in May.Redbud blooming in mid April

The pink flowers are from the splendid native redbud (Cercis canadensis, above) that grows readily at the wood’s edge, stretching arching branches to the sunlight. Redbuds are well suited to the home garden, with a number of variations with red, yellow, or variegated foliage, and others with pendulous branching. Certainly one is suitable for every garden, and there are a few handfuls in my garden planted in part shade and full sun. The first redbud planted in the garden, a red leafed ‘Forest Pansy’ (below), has suffered considerably in recent years as heavy shade from overhanging maples in the forest has encroached. Now, it has only one long , arching trunk that forks into two branches. It has lost all aesthetic value, but I haven’t the heart to cut it out.Forest Pansy redbud new growth

Despite slight difficulties in transplanting (and intolerance of heavy shade) there’s no reason that redbud should not be considered a sturdy tree. It’s not bothered to a great extent by diseases or pests, though in recent years several trees in my garden have suffered from wind and snow damage. I don’t consider this especially noteworthy since lots of other trees have been damaged, but the two variegated ‘Silver Cloud’ redbuds (below) have suffered a number of broken limbs, and the top third of another ‘Forest Pansy’ is gone. Before you are dissuaded from planting a redbud I could threaten to disclose the long list of other trees that have suffered, but that might convince you not to bother planting trees at all.Silver Cloud redbud

And, this is an excellent time to get away from the negative and back to the beauty of the redbud, for there are few trees finer for spring flowers or their exquisite heart shaped foliage, whatever the color. Even with the plain green, native redbud, the foliage has exceptional substance so that it appears lush and vigorous through the heat of summer. The most recent redbud I’ve planted is the yellow leafed ‘Hearts of Gold’ (below). Yellow foliage often looks chlorotic and diseased (I think) but I’ve planted ‘Hearts of Gold’ with just a bit of shade from the late afternoon sun so that it doesn’t fade, and a new introduction, ‘Rising Sun’, promises not to fade at all (or at least very little).Hearts of Gold redbud in early May

Getting back to the drive along the highway, the white flowers scattered at the forest’s edge are a mix of native dogwoods (Cornus florida, below) and serviceberry (Amelanchier canadensis), and seedlings of flowering pears (Pyrus calleryana). The pears are prevalent in sunnier openings, and along fence rows where birds have deposited their seeds. A field not far from my garden is covered by many hundreds of pear seedlings surrounding a farm pond. In bloom this is a magnificent sight, if the gardener is willing to disregard knowledge that these invasive trees will set fruits that will spread many hundreds of additional trees.Dogwood in mid April

The flowering pears were once treasured by homeowners, but the tendency of fifteen year old trees to split apart in summer storms has tempered enthusiasm for ‘Bradford’ and other pears that once dominated suburban landscapes. Unfortunately, disease prone, but magnificent dogwoods have also diminished in popularity, and serviceberry (below) has never gained popular acceptance in home gardens. Both are superb small trees, and when I return in a few days we’ll figure out how we can squeeze one or two into your garden (they’re already in mine).Serviceberry in mid April

A new flower every day

After weeks of cool temperatures the weather suddenly turned past warm to hot, and even if this was only for a few days the soaring temperatures have had an immediate effect on the garden. Blooms that were delayed for weeks have popped out in quick succession, and each day brings new flowers. In fact, due to ninety degree temperatures, some flowers that typically bloom in the relative coolness of mid March have gone from bud to bloom, and then past their peak in only a few days.Dr. Merrill magnolia flowering in April

The early flowering magnolias were tardy by weeks, but last week they went from tight bud to full bloom within hours, it seemed. By the end of the week the flowers of ‘Dr. Merrill’ (Magnolia x loebneri ‘Dr. Merrill’, above) and ‘Royal Star’ (Magnolia stellata ‘Royal Star’, below) are fading quickly, and the later blooming ‘Jane’ (Magnolia x ‘Jane’) and ‘Elizabeth’ (Magnolia acuminata ‘Elizabeth’) are nearly at their peak.Royal Star magnolia in early April

There are two cherries in the garden, the early flowering ‘Okame’ (Prunus x incamp ‘Okame) and the common weeping pink (Prunus subhirtella ‘Pendula’, below) that grows so large that it overwhelms many suburban properties. Most weeping cherries are grafted onto a six foot trunk, and somehow this gives the illusion that the tree is more dwarf, but as the tree in my garden attests, it will grow to thirty feet tall and wide. Fortunately, I’ve had the benefit of witnessing this error in placement at least fourteen thousand times, and occasionally I pay attention so that I’ve gotten this one right.Weeping pink cherry in early April

The pink weeping cherry in my garden is not grafted, but grown on its own roots. The habit of this cherry is that upright arching branches mound upon one another, so when it is not grafted onto a straight trunk it must be staked to grow upright or it looks shrub-like at a young age. I suspect that without a graft it grows larger more quickly, but there is no doubt that the grafted ones grow just as tall and wide. The white weeping form ‘Snow Fountain’ (Prunus x ‘Snofozam’) grows half the height and width of the pink variety, so it is more appropriate for most properties. Both are lovely trees, but I think it shameful to have to butcher a tree so that it doesn’t overwhelm walks or driveways as the the pink so often does when misplaced.

The longest delayed flowers in the garden due to the cold are the hybrid camellias ‘Winter’s Star’ (below) and ‘Winter’s Interlude’ planted alongside the driveway. Others planted twenty feet away, but with a bit more sunlight, flowered splendidly beginning in November into December, and I recall that ‘Winter’s Star’ by the drive had a bloom or two before cold weather set it. With extreme warm winter temperatures a year ago, the hybrid camellias continued to flower through January. Most years a few buds will begin to open on warm days, but then the partially opened flowers are severely damaged by freeze. Some buds remain unopened, and usually prolonged freezing temperatures dry the buds so they are not viable once warm weather arrives in March.Winter's Star camellia flowering in April

But, today ‘Winter’s Star’ and ‘Winter’s Interlude’ are in full bloom, only five months late. In the next week I expect the spring blooming camellias (Camellia japonica) to begin flowering, that is, if deer have not nibbled the buds along with the tips of foliage that I neglected to spray with repellent in late November as I’m supposed to. By mid winter my neglect had turned into a science experiment, and now it is confirmed that if the repellent is not sprayed deer will find the unprotected plants. They will eat their preferred azaleas and aucubas first, then move on to the camellias, so that all of these must flush growth this spring to be recognizable as more than bare sticks. This is quite enough experimentation, nothing new was learned, and this episode only verifies that I am too often a lazy fool.White dogwood just before peak bloom

Now, I’ve wandered on too long, so I’ll close for the day, but with much more to talk about in the coming days. The redbuds and dogwoods (above) are coming out, and serviceberry is nearly at its peak. This long delayed blooming season will result in a marvelous April.

Spreading joy

I was surprised this afternoon to see that tiny Glory of the Snow (Chionodoxa luciliae, below) has spread from a handful of bulbs to scattered coverage over several hundred square feet. I recall that a year ago I marveled that it had spread to a dense carpet covering fifteen square feet, but now there are small clumps over a much larger area. The first bulbs were planted beneath two wide spreading Oakleaf hydrangeas (Hydrangea quercifolia), and over a period of eight or ten years the patch slowly expanded. For mysterious reasons, Glory of the Snow has now spread deeper into the woods that border the garden, and twenty feet down the slight slope, evidently from seeds that tumbled down the hill.Glory of the snow in early April

I can’t explain why the patch suddenly expanded, but it seems that rainfall must have coincided precisely at the time when the seed was ripe a year ago. The new plants are widely scattered, and it could be years before these areas thicken to match the spot under the hydrangeas. This area at the edge of the forest is root infested with exposed soil, but apparently the small bulbs don’t need much to get started. Though the flowers are effective for only a few weeks, the dense carpet of Glory of the Snow is quite splendid, and there’s promise for a more glorious show in a couple years.Iris bucharica in early April

One of the early dwarf irises (Iris bucharica, above) creeps from beneath a wide spreading paperbush (Edgeworthia chrysantha). The clump spreads slowly, and is apparently untroubled by the shade of the large shrub. Through winter and early spring the paperbush is bare except for its flowers, and this seems to be enough sunlight for the iris to thrive. The fragile blooms last for only a few days, and with inordinate heat they fade even more quickly, but there is not a flower in the garden more splendid. In fact, I’ve said this about the flowers of the paperbush also, and to enjoy one beneath the other is quite a treat.