Flowering as June ends

The flowers of native Indian pinks (Spigelia marilandica, below) are not big and bold, but they are unmistakable and unusual so that even a casual visitor to the garden will be attracted to notice them. Blooms open over the period of three weeks beginning in early June in my garden, and I was disappointed a week ago when I discovered that they had faded. Some flowers bloom for months so that they’re taken for granted, and one flower after another becomes unremarkable, but Indian pinks and Japanese iris (Iris ensata) flower magnificently for a short period, and the gardener visits as frequently as possible to enjoy them while he can.Spigelia in early June

The Japanese irises in and around the large koi pond have faded, with the exception of ‘Lion King’ (Iris ensata ‘Lion King’, below) that only begins to bloom when the others are past. Even when ‘Lion King’ is past flowering the upright foliage of irises planted in gravel between submerged boulders gives the look of thick blades of cattails, which naturalizes the outside edge of the pond. Planted in shallow water, the iris foliage doesn’t fade until late autumn.Lion King Japanese iris

I noticed yesterday that deer have chewed most of the flowering tips of the Peruvian lily (Alstroemeria ‘Tangerine Tango’, below), but a few tips are safely out of chewing range for me to enjoy. I’ve planted several of the cold hardy varieties, and though I’m warned that they might be a bit aggressive, they’ve had some difficulty getting established until now. The three or four varieties were planted from tiny pots purchased through mail order, and while these nurseries have their place in supplying plants that aren’t commonly available, I often have trouble getting them established. The ideal situation is to immediately plant into a transplant bed where their growth can be monitored for the first year, and then move them into the garden once a larger root system has developed. I’ve considered this for twenty years, but haven’t gotten around to it, and probably never will, so I have to consider just how desperate I am for a plant before I order it through the mail.Alstroemeria Tangerine Tango in mid June

But, back to the Peruvian lily. The flowers of the cold hardy types are not quite as well formed as the less hardy ones whose flowers are often used in cut flower arrangements, but they’re close enough. Now that at least one plant has begun to grow vigorously, I’ll see for myself if these are aggressive bullies, or not. Where it’s planted it can hardly bother a wide spreading Oakleaf hydrangea on one side and dwarf ‘Shaina’ Japanese maple on the other, and I’ll be happy if ‘Tangerine Tango’ grows enough to smother the couple skimpy ‘May Night’ salvias in the same open space.Butterfly weed in late June

A few seedlings of the native Butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa, above) have been tranplanted onto the dry slope on the lower side of the koi pond. Here, butterfly weed grows more dependably than in the damp area where the seedlings were harvested, but a bit slower without regular moisture.  Oddly, though there are a variety of butterflies in the garden, I rarely see them visiting the butterfly weed. Perhaps they shy away because of the proximity to the pond and the abundance of dragonflies darting about.Becky Shasta daisy in late June

The Shasta daisy ‘Becky’ (Leucanthemum x superbum ‘Becky’, above) continues to spread into any uncovered ground on the upper side of the pond, and by chance it is the exact height to work in harmony with its neighbors. Asiatic lilies (below) stand just above the daisies’ blooms, and these are hemmed in by larger shrubs and evergreens. The mass of daisies and lilies has made it impossible to access the pond’s edge from this side, but the daisies are delightful for a month (or longer), and stepping around them is not too great a sacrifice.Asiatic lily in late June

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Blooming in June – trees and shrubs

Despite my best efforts to spread flowers into other months, there’s no question that the garden’s most abundant blooms are in April and May. In June, instead of the glorious riot of mid spring, the garden is calmer, more sedate, but still flowering profusely, and lush and vibrant before being worn by the heat of summer.Stewartia in mid June

The blooms of Chinese dogwoods (Cornus kousa) and tree lilac (Syringa reticulata ‘Ivory Silk’) slipped away in the first week of June, though in many years their flowers will persist into mid month. Now, Japanese stewartia (Stewartia pseudocamellia, above) and Golden Raintree (Koelreuteria paniculata, below) are the only trees flowering in the garden along with several shrubs, and perennials that will be updated on this page in the next week. The yellow, panicled blooms of golden raintree are showy for ten days before fading, and these are followed by papery seed shells and dark, round seeds that readily germinate to become a considerable nuisance.Golden Raintree in mid June

I’ve recently warned against planting golden raintree due to my experience with its overabundance of seedlings that must be regularly plucked from every open space within a hundred feet of the tree, and sometimes further. How the seeds are transported, I can’t imagine, though they are round and hard and capable of rolling for a considerable distance. Perhaps birds pick the fallen seeds, then discard them in the farthest spots when they find that they are not so appetizing.

The buds of Japanese stewartia open over several weeks, so there is never a time when the white, yellow centered flowers cover the tree. The stewartia is partially shaded beside one of the garden’s ponds, but this seems not to diminish the number of blooms at all, and certainly the shade does not dissuade bumblebees from buzzing about to gather nectar. Stewartia is prized in the horticulture trade for its late spring flowers and showy autumn foliage color, and though it is slow growing in its early years, it eventually picks up some steam and grows into a fine small tree. Even when stewartia is barely more than a sapling it will flower heavily, and on a tree ten feet tall there will be hundreds of blooms, though never more than a third at one time.Black Lace elderberry in mid June

‘Black Lace’ elderberry (Sambucus nigra ‘Eva’, above) began flowering late in May, and several weeks later some blooms remain. The deeply divided foliage of ‘Black Lace’ is the darkest of any purple in the garden, and it’s no wonder that it’s used as a substitute where Japanese maples are not sufficiently cold hardy. By mid summer there are clusters of dark berries, though these are less abundant without a pollinator. I’ve planted ‘Black Lace’ on the back side of my koi pond, where the pond’s pump must be occasionally accessed, and after successfully managing its growth for several years to keep the area open it’s now to the point that it must be left alone or chopped radically. If allowed to grow, the lowest branches will arch over the access point for the pump and over the pond’s edge, which will look wonderful, but will be a bit of pain to crawl under when the pump needs attention.Huge leaves and blooms on Oakleaf hydrangea in mid June

Only a few feet away, one Oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia, above) and another across the pond have grown exceptionally this spring, which is usually a good thing, but the new growth has threatened to overwhelm a few of the neighbors. The offending branches were easily pruned out, but this will be a regular chore every spring if all are to live happily side-by-side. I dislike having to keep up with such tasks, mostly because I’m negligent and lazy and smaller plants are too often lost.Penny Mac hydrangea

Recently, I’ve talked with other gardeners enthused that their hydrangeas are flowering exceptionally well in this late spring, early summer period, and my wife confirms the heavy blooming. I’m not so certain. I think they flower this way every year, but I’m willing to agree just to get along, and there’s certainly no harm in being enthused by an abundance of hydrangea blooms. The mopheads (Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Penny Mac’, above) in particular are at their peak in late June, with little green foliage appearing between the billowing blue flowers.

There have been a few recent hot afternoons when the foliage wilts in the afternoon sun, and for hydrangeas in more sun this will occur frequently over the summer months. At sun down (and after a rain shower) the foliage perks back up, but certainly there is no need to run out for the watering hose every time they droop. When planting hydrangeas they are ideally sited where they will be shaded from the late afternoon sun, but this isn’t always possible and they work out just fine even when they wilt every day for a few months.Lacecap hydrangea

I’m not quite as pleased with the blooming of the lacecap hydrangeas as I am with the mopheads. A few seem not like the recent heavy rains, with flowers that are not as well formed as I expect, but this is likely to be my imagination, and I’m sure that it’s not a problem at all. Hydrangeas will typically tolerate moist soils, but one ‘Twist n’ Shout’ (Hydrangea macrophylls ‘Twist n’ Shout ‘, above) has reached the limits of dampness and shows signs of decline. A few other shrubs in this area of the lower garden share similar troubles, and my hope is that as summer progresses the soil will dry and they’ll grow out of it. This happens occasionally, but more often plants cling to life and are killed in a winter freeze.Lady in Red hydrangea in early June

In the first years after planting I was unhappy with the red stemmed lacecap ‘Lady in Red’ (Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Lady in Red’, above), that bloomed sparsely, and why would I bother with a hydrangea only for red stems and so few flowers? It was heavily promoted, and I’ve grown to be a skeptic that any endorsement from the large branding breeders is likely to be overblown hype. Anyway, ‘Lady in Red’ failed to catch on, and many hydrangeas growers dropped it, just in time for mine to bloom gloriously, so I take back every horrible thing I said about it.

Great Expectations

At one time there were over a hundred varieties of hosta in the garden, but a few years of neglect when deer began to ravage the garden diminished the number by at least a third. A few varieties were lost to competition from the thirsty roots of maples and tulip poplars (though hostas will mostly tolerate the worst of dry shade), and a few treasures were lost when the new growth on a clump reverted to green (or blue) and I lazily failed to cut out the reversions.Siebold elegans hosta

In the garden there are small collections of dogwoods, magnolias, Japanese maples, and various other shrubs and trees. But, no assortment is as grand as the hostas, mostly because a single hosta is considerably less costly than a dogwood (unless the gardener is foolishly enticed to purchase the newest introductions from breeders). Since I’ve begun to protect the hostas with a deer repellent, many clumps that had faded badly have revived, and I now have faith (but little room) to add more.Hostas and Japanese Forest grass arch over a stone path

Hostas come in an assortment of colors and sizes, and in the garden there are a few dwarfs, many big leafed hostas, and some in the middle. There are blues and yellows, green leafed types, and many with variegated foliage. A few are old timers that are long forgotten by today’s hosta brokers looking for the latest and greatest. I recall when the choices of hostas were quite limited, with the green ‘Royal Standard’, and variegated ‘Medio-variegata’ (Hosta undulata ‘Medio-variegata, below) being the two mostly widely distributed.Medio-variegata hosta

‘Medio-variegata’ has stable variegation, rarely sporting to green, and the clump that thrives beneath a dwarf hemlock is perfectly sited so that it does not stress and fade in the heat of summer as this type is prone to do. This hosta has not been divided (or touched) in twenty years with no ill effect, and with dark green ivy and the hemlock as a backdrop, the variegation stands out boldly along the flagstone path.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Another old timer was nearly lost a year ago, but fortunately I recognized that ‘Great Expectations’ (Hosta sieboldiana ‘Great Expectations’, above) was in danger of being overwhelmed by a neighboring holly just in time. The hosta was planted on the back side of the holly when the plants in this area were much smaller, and it had been years since it was visible without pushing through shrubs. I suppose the plan at the time was to eventually move it, but this was a simple task that I never got around to, until it was almost too late.Hosta flowering in early June

I didn’t expect much in the first year after it was transplanted to a new spot much more in the open, where two large hornbeams and a grove of bamboo were removed a year ago. Transplanted hostas usually take a year to adjust, with smaller leaves the first year, but ‘Great Expectations’ shows little sign of the move and I expect it will flourish with more space.Hostas and nandina

‘Medio-variegata’ has been supplanted by variegated hostas more tolerant of sun, and perhaps the same is true for ‘Great Expectations’ since it is rarely seen today in garden centers. But, these antique hostas seem more resistant to reversion than newer varieties, and an old time gardener takes pleasure recalling a time when these were new and fresh, and in high demand.

Trees and shade

The inevitable result of planting lots of trees on a property is that the garden becomes increasingly shady. When carried to an extreme (which I have) the exposure of the garden changes radically over time so that sun loving plants are plunged into darkness. Many shrubs are forgiving of the encroaching shade, but some are not, and perennials are less tolerant of the transition and often begin to fade and finally disappear with diminished sunlight.Serviceberry in mid April

Twenty five years ago most of this property was open, with only tall swamp maples and tulip poplars along the southern border to obstruct the sun. The front garden was sunny in the morning and the rear garden in the afternoon. And, then I started to plant. A few dogwoods at first, then a beech, and redbuds. Then came a few Japanese maples, and magnolias, serviceberry, silver bells, fringetrees, and the list goes on. I didn’t stop planting until …. well, I haven’t stopped yet, and there’s barely an inch of the garden that’s not under the canopy of one tree or another.Stellar Pink dogwood in early May

I’ve gotten caught up in collecting dogwoods, redbuds, magnolias, and Japanese maples so that I’m always on the lookout for just one more, regardless if there’s adequate space for it. Now is an appropriate time to suggest that this is not the proper way to go about designing a garden. I’ll concede that there are occasional problems with one thing or another being too close, but it’s my garden, and if I don’t want to be bothered with details, so be it. In fact, only a few evergreens and stray perennials have been lost, and trees that grow into one another are mostly not a problem. I prefer one tree blending into the other, without defined lines between, as long as the character and form of each remains evident.Seriyu Japanese maple

Most of the trees are small, sort of, but some that you’d think to be small are not quite so. Two ‘Seriyu’ Japanese maples were planted close to the house, inside the front walk. More or less, I understood how large these trees grow, and the intention was to eventually walk under the branches. But, when the book says thirty feet, the mind imagines twenty, so the tree grows a bit taller and a lot wider than you expected. So, now you walk down the front path in the splendid filtered shade of the two maples, but the driveway is impassable to anything larger than my wife’s Honda Civic.Crimson Queen Japanese maple

The same thing happened, more or less, to a magnificent ‘Crimson Queen’ Japanese maple planted a bit further up the driveway. This tree was initially planted beside the front walk, but it began to spread too wide so I was forced to transplant it, though transplant is perhaps not the proper term. I began to dig the tree, but grew tired halfway through, so I grabbed a tow strap, circled the roots and attached it to the back of my Miata. The wheels spun for a moment, and then, out it popped. This is a long ways from the proper way to move a tree, but fortunately the maple quickly recovered.

The ‘Crimson Queen’ was fairly large when I planted it, then it grew a bit larger by the walk, and when I moved it to a spot along the driveway I was careful to give it adequate space. But, apparently I wasn’t careful enough. Now, it has grown a foot into the driveway. I suppose my thought process at the time I planted it was, yes, I’ve seen ‘Crimson Queen’ grow to ten feet across, but it won’t get to that until long after I’m dead and gone. Well, I’m still here, and it’s ten feet across and still growing. My wife suggests we either prune the maple or rebuild the driveway on the far side of the house, on the opposite side of the garage. I’m fairly certain she’s being sarcastic, but I’m considering the idea.Japanese Umbrella pine

Along the northern boundary of the property a Japanese Umbrella pine melds into a ‘Jane’ magnolia, which is partially overhung by a Golden Rain tree. A sourwood is mostly engulfed by the rain tree and on the other side by the last remaining of three hornbeams, with a huge pink weeping cherry to the low side. The cherry ends where a massive ‘Nellie Stevens’ holly begins, which is then overhung by a massive weeping beech and a fastigiate form of Southern magnolia. Below this are a dogwood, ‘Okame’ cherry, three gold tipped ‘Sekkan Sugi’ cryptomerias, a katsura, then three ‘Yoshino’ cryptomerias. No, we’re not done yet. There’s another Southern magnolia, the cold hardy ‘Bracken’s Brown Beauty, then ‘Hearts of Gold’ yellow leafed redbud, a Paperbark maple, and finally, a river birch.Hearts of Gold redbud in early May

This is the longest stretch of property line, but there’s barely an inch of space that is not under the canopy of one tree or several. All grow in relative harmony, though I wish I had given more space to the weeping beech, which would be quite magnificent if only it could be seen. The neighbor has a grand view of it from his side.Scolopendrifolium Japanese maple in late April

The southern border of the property is wooded by native maples and tulip poplars, with a stray black gum and dogwoods, and a sprinkling of oaks. Between the borders there are plenty of trees, but these are mostly Japanese maples that are smaller and slower types so that the sun actually peaks through in some spotsSweetbay magnolia

I’ve been convinced by my wife that there’s no more space for trees in the garden, back or front, but in recent years a few trees have been toppled in severe storms, so I’ve been able to plant a few new ones. And, in late autumn I decided to push into the brush and brambles that bordered the garden at the front corner, so a new area was opened up where a catalpa and sweetbay magnolia were planted. It’s not exactly on my property, but it’s close enough to claim, and all I want to do is plant a few trees on it, not build a house. Before I cut out mulberries, brambles, and a tangle of vines there was little sun in this area, but now it’s opened up a bit. Not for long.

A mini derecho?

This morning I saw that a large limb from the top of the Golden Raintree (Koelreuteria paniculata, below) was damaged in one of the severe storms that passed through yesterday. It crashed to the ground, barely avoiding a ‘Winter Star’ camellia and a clump of ‘Winter Red’ hollies. Damage was minimal, but the tragedy is that the entire tree was not uprooted, shattered into pieces to roll down the hill into a neat stack beside the firepit where I could be rid of it for good. Anything short of this is unsatisfactory. I’m forever spouting off that this or that is my favorite, but Golden Rain is my least favorite tree, without a doubt.Goldenrain tree

I’ve considered chopping the Golden Raintree out many times, usually when I’m on hands and knees plucking any of two hundred thousand seedlings that germinate annually. The only time of the year that the tree is worth a hoot is this week and next, when it’s flowering, but even then the blooms are a reminder that seed pods looking like miniature Japanese lanterns are next, full of round black seeds that end up sprouting in all parts of the garden.Golden Raintree seed pods

A weather guy claimed the damage was done by a “mini derecho”, a reminder of the real thing last summer when numerous trees were beaten and battered, and my garden suffered considerably. The term “derecho” has been worn out by overuse, and just when I thought that it was dead and gone ….. here ‘s a miniature version. This storm was much less a problem in my garden, with the busted limb on the Golden Raintree the only damage I’ve seen so far.Stewartia flowering in mid June

Now, enough of this negativity. The blooms of the Golden Rain are nice for about a week, and then you are fortunate to forget about it for the remainder of the year. Japanese stewartia (Stewartia pseudocamellia, above) is flowering at the same time, and the only negative comment I have for it is that it took several years after planting before it decided to get growing.

Some tree are like that. Some get to growing the day they’re put in the ground, but the huge purple leafed European beech in the front sat still for eight years before it grew at all. I almost gave up on it, but then it started, and the next thing you know it’s thirty feet tall and sucking every ounce of moisture out of the surrounding few hundred square feet. This is only a negative if you’re looking to grow something, anything under the tree, but the tree is so magnificent that this tiny flaw is tolerable.

The stewartia has no such obvious flaws, and now it has grown into a fine small tree, though I’ve done it no favors by planting where a bit of effort is required to see its splendid, camellia-like white blooms. If I could somehow resort the garden to move this here and that there without regard to how large it’s grown, to place the best and most beautiful where they are most readily appreciated, the stewartia would be situated where every passerby could see its late spring blooms and superb autumn foliage colors (below).Stewartia autumn foliage

This is nonsense, and of course I can’t move trees around like chess pieces, but if you have some open space where such a delightful tree can be planted you have my full recommendation to plant a stewartia. But, do not be fooled into planting a raintree.

Damp, then damper

In the past week there has been one storm after the other, and the forecast is for more of the same in the next few days. The lower part of the garden is saturated, and mostly the plants in this area are well adapted to damp soil, so there is little harm to be done by areas of standing water for a few more days.Celestial Shadow dogwood in late April

A variegated hybrid dogwood (Cornus x ‘Celestial Shadow’, above) recently succumbed to the constant moisture, and I blame myself for poor judgement in planting where I should have known it was too wet. My reasoning is not important at this point, but I planted the dogwood in late summer a few years ago when the area was far drier, and I planted it high in a raised bed to allow for some additional drainage. It survived a year, but it grew weakly, and it would have been better to transplant the dogwood to a drier spot before the problem reached this point. But, you say that things happen for a reason, and I know why this occured; I’m lazy and sometimes I give plants credit for being tougher than they really are. Oh well, another lesson learned, and fortunately I planted two others in more suitable spots.Eskimo Sunset maple in late April

A variegated Sycamore maple (Acer pseudoplatanus ‘Eskimo Sunset’, above) and a few evergreens barely tolerate the dampness, and eventually I’m likely to replace these with something else, though I don’t know where I’d transplant the maple to. Now, the small tree is in the middle of a small section of lawn in the lowest area of the garden behind the large koi pond. When I planted it, there seemed nowhere else with suitable space or sunlight, so it’s stuck where it’s in the way of the mower, and if it would happen to eventually take off and start growing it will block foot traffic also. I incorrectly figured that a maple would better tolerate the moisture, but somehow I didn’t consider that the tree would be so much in the way.Spigelia in early June

The death of the dogwood is clearly a failure on my part, and the maple a disappointment, but other plants thrive in the moist soil. Native Indian pinks (Spigelia marilandica, above) are quite happy in damp ground, though one clump is at the edge of a spot that suffers a bit of erosion in a deluge, so I must watch to make certain that it isn’t uprooted and washed away. In a drier location the pinks grow slightly taller, and the stems are less supple so that they flop a bit, but not so much as to be a problem. The trumpet shaped flowers are red on the outside, and the contrast with the flared yellow tips is striking, though Indian pinks will never be noticed from more than a few paces away. Not every plant must be obvious in bloom to automobiles speeding down the highway, and most exceptional plants are not.Pink wood sorrel in early June

Wood sorrel (Oxalis crasippes, above) is thriving in damp or dry spots, and I’ve discovered there is no need for the caution I exercised in not planting it for too many years, fearing it would spread rampantly and be too aggressive. This variety is a pleasant clumper, and it blooms from late spring through autumn in sun or part shade with hardly a break. On hot afternoons it wilts a bit in dry ground, but it quickly springs back and looks perfectly content the next morning. In damp soil (though not standing water), it is overjoyed.

Save the irises

This weekend I saw that one clump of Japanese iris (Iris ensata, below) close beside the waterfall of the large koi pond was dangerously crowded by overhanging branches of an exuberant Oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia). On the other side of the falls a rambunctious Winter jasmine (Jasminum nudiflorum) has invaded another clump, and both shrubs required immediate attention to be certain that the irises were not overwhelmed. The pruning was accomplished without much effort, but in the future I must be vigilant to monitor the shrubs’ growth so the irises aren’t lost.Japanese iris along the pond's edge

Just outside the pond, a clump of iris with large, dark purple flowers has sprouted from seed (below) between the columnar, red leafed ‘Helmond Pillar’ barberry, a low, mounding cypress, and yellow leafed seedlings of ‘Golden Jubilee’ agastache. As often happens, this accidental grouping is a superior combination to anything I’ve planned, so of course the irises will be kept, and encouraged. A year ago this iris was barely there, and I could have easily plucked it out as a weed if I was inclined to keeping the garden more tidy. Now, the challenge will be to keep the iris growing in ground that is drier than it would prefer.Seedling iris

In the shallow water of the pond, named cultivars (though I’ve forgotten most of the names) grow vigorously, flourishing with their roots constantly wet. Outside the pond, Japanese irises require a constantly damp soil to thrive, but wedged between small boulders and planted in only gravel in the pond the irises spread to fill as far as the boulders will allow. I’ve read that Japanese irises require only constant moisture, and dividing once every few years, but the roots of the pond’s irises are spread through gravel and under boulders so that lifting them would be troublesome, so they are likely never to be split.Variegated Japanese iris in early June

The green and white variegated iris (Iris ensata ‘Variegata’, above) is the shortest growing of the cultivars, and in some years it has seemed less vigorous so that I considered pulling the clump out to divide it despite the hardship. But, as often happens, if a garden project is delayed long enough the problem is resolved by doing nothing at all, and today the variegated iris appears to be in perfect health. The dark purple flowers are splashed with a slight streak of yellow, and in scale with the shorter foliage, the blooms are smaller than other varieties.Iris Lion King

‘Lion King’ (above) is the latest flowering of the irises in the pond, and it seems to be the least vigorous with the clump barely increasing over several years. The flowers are quite marvelous, but I wonder if the sturdiness of other Japanese irises was left out in the breeding process. But, it survives, and I look forward to the blooms that arrive just as other varieties are fading the third week of June.Japanese iris in early June

From start to last bloom Japanese irises flower for about a month surrounding my koi pond in mostly full sun. In prior years I planted them in damp soil with what I thought was just enough sun, with only brief success. For two years they bloomed fine, but it was clear they weren’t happy and after another year they disappeared completely. At the edges of the pond they’re planted and enjoyed with no care except to cut off the overwintered foliage in early spring before they begin to grow.Japanese iris in ear;ly June