Lost in the shuffle

Paperbush (Edgeworthia chrysanthus, below) seems to be well known among longtime gardeners in the southeast, though few seem to actually grow one in their own gardens. A handful of years ago, I hadn’t seen one in southern gardens, or in ones closer to my northwestern Virginia garden, but I was intrigued when I first read about paperbush and subsequently saw photographs of its exquisite late winter blooms. I researched a source and determined that it was at least marginally cold hardy, so I purchased five small shrubs several years back.Edgeworthia in early April

References were divided as to paperbush’s cold hardiness and ultimate size, but most claimed it would grow to a four by four foot mound, so I planted the five with this in mind and kept neighboring plants at an appropriate distance. Now, this is a bit unusual for me, I’ll admit. I’ve been know to regularly cram plants into spaces far too small with varying degrees of success. Sometimes it’s almost immediately obvious that one plant or the other must be moved, and other times I ignore the signs and leave the neighboring plants to fend for themselves. That all seems to work out for the best is more a testament to the forgiveness of plants than it is to my judgment.

But, the paperbushes were planted in the relatively open spaces surrounding the newly constructed koi pond in the rear garden, so there was little reason at the time to plant too closely. After two growing seasons the paperbushes were growing vigorously, and one was dug out and given to an enthusiastic co-worker who was developing his own rear garden. By the third spring the shrubs were nearing the mature dimensons promised by the references, and a few years later the shrubs are nearly six feet tall and more than twelve feet across.Black and Blue salvia in late June

And now, here is the problem. For the past few summers, it’s been clear that the ‘Black and Blue’ salvia (Salvia guaranitica ‘Black and Blue’, above) that grows at the edge of the pond and a stone patio is endangered by the paperbush’s spread. Other perennials and smaller shrubs have been overwhelmed by the three other paperbushes, but I treasure the salvia’s blooms each summer, and I’ve followed its efforts to peek out from between the dense foliage of the shrub. Some selective pruning has helped, and again this spring I surmised that I could put off transplanting the salvia for another year by removing a branch or two, though the semi woody stems now arched a few feet from the plant’s base.

‘Black and Blue’ saliva is not dependably cold hardy in my garden, but with warm recent winters it has gotten established, and often a plant with a three year root system will prove to be more cold hardy than expected. Partially for this reason, I was reluctant to transplant it, and unfortunately, after a month or so when I didn’t pay much attention, it’s gone. Not completely. It’s still there if I lift several of the paperbush’s branches, but there’s no way that the salvia has the strength to reach further for sunlight, so this could be the end. I’m evaluating my options, but the access under the paperbush to dig a proper root system is nearly impossible without mangling the shrub and the salvia.Cherry Dazzle crapemyrtle in mid-August

There is a similar circumstance only a few paces away along the patio’s edge. A ‘Cherry Dazzle’ dwarf crapemyrtle (Lagerstroemia ‘Gamad I’, above) has grown to its full size in only a few years, and now a clump of ‘Sparkling Burgundy’ pineapple lily (Eucomis comosa ‘Sparkling Burgundy’, below) and a variegated Blue Mist shrub are threatened. Oh yes, in addition to the crapemyrtle there are two hydrangeas, the white flowered mophead ‘Blushing Bride’ (Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Blushing Bride’, a disappointment) and a wide spreading Oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia). Though the Oakleaf hydrangea was planted more than five years ago, this spring it and the other Oakleafs in the garden decided that the spring weather was perfect for them to grow far in excess of past years, so I’ve been madly chopping branches to save this lovely conglomeration.Sparkling Burgundy pineapple lily, hydrangea, and Blue Mist shrub

I’ve divided ‘Sparkling Burgundy’ a few times over the years as the clump thickened, and the remaining bulbs could be rather easily moved at season’s end, but I prefer to keep this combination as is for a while longer. At some point, likely to be sooner than later, shrubs that are determined to continue growing far past the mature size that references state will get the best of me, and like the poor salvia, the pineapple lily and Blue Mist shrub will be lost.

Dragonflies

DragonflyBesides the seemingly ever more abundant population of snakes in the garden, my wife is most bothered by the small, but aggressive Tiger mosquitoes. I’m not nearly as troubled by them, though my wife is horrified, and constantly swatting them on my legs and back when we’re sitting together. I don’t know if I’ve become numb and immune to insect bites, or if I’m just too easily distracted to pay attention to these nasty little beasts.Dragonfly

Since I’m incapable of reporting on this, my wife confirms that the fewest of these pesky mosquitoes are in the neighborhood of the large koi pond, and it’s obvious to me that dragonflies are the reason. For whatever reason, the population of dragonflies has markedly increased this year. From a scattered few in most years, now there are dozens that zip across the pond, stopping only for a moment on a tall iris or cattail to survey their domain before speeding back across. Are they capturing mosquitoes in flight? I don’t know, but mosquitoes are a part of their diet, so this is my best guess.Dragonfly

In any case, I’m happy that there are fewer mosquitoes in the area of the garden where I spend the most time, and the colorful dragonflies are entertaining even if there was no other benefit to them.Dragonfly

A swallowtail convention

Joe Pye weed in JulyLate this afternoon was intermittently sunny, then cloudy as storms passed nearby. But, no matter, throngs of Tiger swallowtails (below) dropped by the garden to sip nectar from a variety of blooms. On cloudy days the number of bees and butterflies is far fewer, I suppose because sun brings out the flowers’ scent, but not today. This is more butterflies at once than I’ve seen before.  Today, there are only swallowtails and an assortment of various colored moths, and of course the usual assortment of bees, wasps, and hoverflies, but no other butterflies. The horde of pollinators is reason enough to be thankful that insecticides are not used in this garden.Butterfly on Mountain mint

The butterfly bushes (Buddleia) have recently perished in the waterlogged soil of the lower garden, and the swallowtails seemingly have no interest in Butterfly weeds (Asclepias tuberosa), but there are plenty of flowers that they seem quite excited about. Two compact growing Joe Pye weeds (Eutrochium dubium ‘Little Joe’, formerly Eupatorium) at the far edge of the large koi pond attract a dozen swallowtails, and along with numerous dragonflies darting across the pond there is a dizzying buzz of activity.Tiger swallowtails on Joe Pye weed

In several weeks, tall, native Joe Pye weeds (Euthrochium purpureum) growing in the swampy ground behind the garden will arch far over the cattails and brambles, but only this compact cultivar is flowering today. The blooms are not much smaller than the full size native’s, but the four foot size is much more manageable for most gardens. The dusky, lavender blooms of Joe Pye are not striking in the manner of other brightly colored summer flowers, but they have a subtle charm and butterflies undeniably prefer them.

While Joe Pye prefers a moist setting, this spot by the pond is dry, and perhaps more shaded by a wide spreading crapemyrtle than it would like. But, a half day of sunlight seems sufficient to make it happy, and even through the heat of August it shows no sign of stress. ‘Little Joe’ is perfectly suited to the back of a perennial border, where a medium height filler is needed between taller shrubs and trees, and particularly where butterflies are desired.Chaste tree in July

A few days earlier, I noticed a number of bees were attracted to the blooms of the Chaste tree (Vitex agnus-castus, above), but today there are a handful of swallowtails also. These go about their business without acknowledging the presence of the others, though occasionally the butterflies seem agitated if another swallowtail veers too close.Tiger swallowtail on Mountain mint

On a sunny afternoon, the mass of Mountain mint (Pycnanthemum virginianum,above) attracts hundreds of pollinators, mostly bees, wasps, and hoverflies, but also an occasional group of butterflies. I often approach the spreading native mint with caution so as not to disturb wasps, though they seem oblivious to my intrusion. The flowers of Mountain mint attract pollinators for a few months, while blooms of Joe Pye and Chaste tree are effective for a much shorter period.

By contrast to the sunny parts of the garden, the shaded areas seem more tranquil, with much less activity. Here, there will be an occasional bee, or a butterfly, usually on its way to visit the Joe Pye weed.

Surviving the heat of July

The stone path beneath the serviceberry (Amelanchier canadensis) is littered with a carpet of brown leaves. The neighbors ask if their trees are dying, but this is only a reaction to last week’s sudden heat wave. In summer, many trees drop at least a few leaves due to heat and dryness, and some, such as the native River birch (Betula nigra), drop substantial numbers. This year, with abundant rainfall and cooler than average temperatures it’s unsurprising to see trees drop so much foliage, and this should not be a concern.Munchkin hydrangea

I’ve reported that several butterfly bushes (Buddleia) have recently failed in the waterlogged soil that borders the lower garden, and I fear that two hydrangeas are also in danger. Hydrangeas will tolerate wet soils, but not for extended periods, and unfortunately, the end of this rainy weather is not in sight. Still, I am confident that a recently acquired ‘Munchkin’ Oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quericfolia ‘Munchkin’, above) will manage well in the spot soon to be vacated by the ‘Miss Ruby’ butterfly bush. I only need to dig out the dead buddleia and plant the hydrangea before it dies on the driveway.Chaste tree in late July

A Chaste tree (Vitex agnus-castus, above and below) sits just above the wettest area, and it shows no ill effect from the wetness. Other shrubs are planted at the edges, and in standing water, but these were selected for their tolerance, while the Chaste tree was not. I’ve seen Vitex pruned to a single trunk, but most often it is a multi-branched large shrub. This is planted in an area that is perhaps a bit too shaded, so that it flowers two weeks later than others, but it seems not to mind the lack of sun or the damp soil. Chaste tree

For several weeks in July when it’s blooming this is a splendid shrub, regularly visited by bees and butterflies, and even after flowering it is appreciated for its deeply divided leaves. At some point the Chaste tree will grow too large for this spot, but I was determined to fit it in somewhere, and with a bit of pruning it will work just fine.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

At the low end of the wet swale that borders the garden a seedling of Bottlebrush buckeye (Aesculus parviflora, above) grows under the overhanging branches of a River birch. This treasure appeared several years ago, sprouting in the muck, and now it has grown to a low, wide spreading shrub. Unfortunately, it is difficult to reach through the mud, made worse by deer that have worn a path through this area at the garden’s back edge. But, of course this does not deter butterflies from visiting its white, bottlebrush blooms for a few weeks in July.Aralia cordata in July

In this almost constant dampness, Japanese spikenard (Aralia cordata, above) grows tall and wide in one of the garden’s sunniest spots. In fact, I’ve never heard this Aralia referred to as spikenard, nor the vastly superior ‘Sun King’, as golden spikenard. The green leafed version flowers a month earlier than ‘Sun King’ but both are planted primarily for their foliage. In a shaded garden, the yellow leafed ‘Sun King’ is exceptional, while the green is unremarkable, but both green and yellow versions require a space four feet across. The flowers remind of the jacks that were a popular game when I was a kid, but are probably long forgotten today. I recall that jacks were mostly used for mischievous purposes rather than their intended use, but the Aralia’s flowers are not suitable for such childish pranks.Aralia cordata

After two weeks away

I’ve just returned from two weeks touring nurseries, and it should be no surprise that the garden doesn’t look the same as when I left. With inches of rain the grass has grown long, but this has been easily remedied. However, much work remains to clean up mulch and debris eroded by the downpours, and a few shrubs that were hanging by a thread in the lower garden have finally succumbed to the constant dampness.

I make no provisions for watering while I travel since I only irrigate in extreme droughts, and the garden seems to manage quite nicely without. With frequent storms in recent weeks, parts of the garden are muddy, and along the border of the lower garden there is standing water remaining from rain early in the week.Butterfly on Miss Ruby buddleia

Two ‘Blue Chip’ buddleias died earlier in the spring, and now the beautiful, deep pink ‘Miss Ruby’ (above) has expired. Butterfly bushes are typically vigorous to the point of weediness, and ‘Miss Ruby’ was an exuberant grower (though ‘Blue Chip’ was not). But, the roots of both are susceptible to excess dampness (while other buddleias are more tolerant), and this has done them in.

In the same damp area as ‘Miss Ruby’, a variegated dogwood (Cornus x ‘Celestial Shadow’, below) did not survive, and though the hybrid of Pacific (Cornus nutalli) and Chinese dogwoods (Cornus kousa) should have been more tolerant than our native (Cornus florida), I should have realized from the start that the wet soil in this spot would eventually spell its doom. Fortunately, there are two others of this delightful dogwood in drier parts of the garden.Celestial Shadow dogwood in late April

Not far away, a ‘Carol Mackie’ daphne (Daphne burkwoodi ‘Carol Mackie’, below) is struggling, though this area is slightly raised and not so damp. Again, I knew that ‘Carol Mackie’ was intolerant of wet conditions, but many years are not so damp, and the gardener sometimes presumes that the conditions on the day he is planting will last forever. Only a portion of the shrub has died, and if rainfall turns more moderate the daphne might survive.Carol Mackie daphne in late March

Surprisingly, the weeds are not too bad, given the abundance of moisture. A few days before returning I imagined that the weeds would be tall and lush, and that many hours would be required to clean things up. So, this was a pleasant discovery, and in this extreme heat after spending two weeks in the luxury of constant air conditioning, I will be overjoyed instead to spend the hours relaxing in the shade.

The planting beds are covered with coarse pine bark chips, and some only by shredded leaves, which decomposes quickly to leave a topdressing of rich soil. The bark nuggets are practical only in that they are long lasting, but they are easily washed onto the lawn in a downpour, so now these must be raked back into the beds. This isn’t a difficult task, but I would be much happier to have nothing at all to do upon returning.Oso Easy Paprika rose in late July

Several shrubs that were not flowering when I left are now blooming, and in the next week I’ll update these. The long flowering Knockout roses are in a rest period, but other roses are blooming, and a few are providing evidence that they are not as easy to care for as their name suggests. ‘Oso Easy Paprika’ (above) and the red ‘Homerun’ have little foliage, and what’s still there is spotted and yellowing, while the Knockouts, Drifts, and the splendid butter yellow ‘Julia Childs’ (below) show little sign of disease. The red Flower Carpet rose, that has typically  defoliated by this time in July, is doing better than usual, and perhaps I will not be forced to cut it back by half to rejuvenate it this summer.

Julia Childs rose in late July

Prior to traveling, the purple Passionflower vine (Passiflora incarnata, below) was flowering, the earliest that I can recall it being in bloom. A few years ago it did not send out any growth until June, and most often the first flowers are in August, but this year there were blooms at the start of July. So, I had no clue that Japanese beetles would find the flowers so attractive, and not a single bloom had a chance to open fully before the beetles ravaged it. A few weeks later, there are no blooms, but also no beetles, so the numerous buds that remain on the luxuriant vine will not be harmed.   Passionflower vine

Bumping through a North Carolina tree nursery

Redbuds in a NC fieldHumidity settles into the bottom lands of the North Carolina mountains early in the day. Even on this cooler than average July morning a considerable sweat is worked up on a short walk through a field of ‘Stellar Pink’ dogwoods (Cornus x ‘Rutgan’, below). Today, more walking than usual is required because recent heavy rains have turned much of the grass covered field to marshland.Stellar Pink dogwoods in North Carolina nursery

A typical tour of a tree growing nursery is jarring experience, with the pickup truck bouncing through every hole and tractor rut, but the bumpy ride is mandatory to see many acres of trees in fields that are scattered over too many miles. In other parts of the country nurseries are consolidated into larger fields, but these bottom lands are bordered by steep mountains, so spaces with workable grades are limited.

Slow growing hemlocks and spruce are grown on steep, but well drained slopes, where digging and balling trees is particularly laborious. But, steep grade or only gently sloping, raising and harvesting trees is hard work, made more difficult by the mud and thick air. By comparison, touring nurseries to select trees for the following spring is only a minor annoyance to a garden center and landscape buyer more accustomed to an air conditioned office than slogging through mud and tall grasses.Pinkheartbreaker and Ruby Falls redbuds

The benefits of growing trees in the bottom land are obvious. Well drained, rich, and mostly rock free soils promote fast growth, and nearly every field of trees is bordered by a large creek for irrigation. But, no supplemental watering has been needed this summer. Rather, flash floods are a greater concern, with rainwater gushing down the mountainsides to swell the creeks far beyond their banks. Small, homemade bridges are routinely washed downstream, but as quickly as the flood waters rise, they subside, and few trees are damaged.Forest Pansy redbuds

Weeds and tall grasses border neat rows of trees, and in a season of daily storms weeds are barely controlled by mowing and spraying herbicides. Walking through knee high (and sometimes waist high) grasses to see rows of redbuds (Cercis canadensis) and Black gums (Nyssa sylvatica) is an adventure in avoiding deep holes from trees dug in the spring, while being aware that this is a haven for snakes (which, fortunately are rarely encountered).

With abundant moisture and rich soil, foliage of dogwoods and redbuds grows large and thick, but in this rainy season powdery mildew is a concern that growers must continually address or growth will be stunted. The lush growth can disguise a sparsely branched tree, so foliage of many trees is pushed aside to examine the branching structure.  When the tree is dug and balled in burlap roots will be cut and leaves will be smaller than usual until the tree rebounds from the transplant, so the form and density of branching is critical to avoid spindly and poorly shaped trees.Rising Sun and Pink Heartbreaker redbuds

An average shade or flowering tree takes three to five years to grow to the size suitable for landscaping, so tree growers must assess the market to figure the quantities and varieties of trees to grow. Every year there are new varieties of trees, and others that lose their popularity, so the grower must understand these factors or suffer from trees that don’t sell, become overgrown, and must eventually be grubbed out by large equipment.

On today’s nursery tour the grower has begun growing handfuls of recently introduced redbuds. The yellow leafed ‘Rising Sun’ is a bit too small for digging until the following year, but weeping redbuds ‘Pink Heartbreaker’ and the the red leafed ‘Ruby Falls’ are substantial enough to dig in the spring. Their long branches nearly reach the ground, but these will be cut back and more growth will give the trees the necessary fullness.

I’ve been visiting this grower for thirty years, and there have been considerable changes through the years. Once, these fields were filled with Leyland cypresses and green leafed maples, dogwoods, and redbuds, but instead now there are acres of Green Giant arborvitae and red, yellow, and variegated leaf flowering trees.Green Giant arborvitae

The Green Giants in this field are a bit over six feet tall, but they will end the summer over eight feet. Green Giant arborvitae (Thuja standishii x plicata ‘Green Giant’) is a sturdy and fast growing evergreen that transplants readily and resists browsing by deer and damage from snow and wind that too often plagues Leyland cypress, and many acres are devoted to growing ones up to sixteen feet tall. While deciduous maples, dogwoods, and redbuds are usually dug only when dormant, the arborvitae can be dug through the summer, as long as there is adequate moisture in the ground, And, today there’s plenty of that.Green Giant arborvitae

Deer problems? Not in this garden.

I am continually dismayed to hear the numbers of gardeners who have problems with deer, and more than that, how many report poor success with deer repellents. In place of repellents they prescribe varied remedies, from ugly, tall fences to exotic, home brewed concoctions, to recommending planting nothing but deer resistant plants. At the risk of boring regular readers, a bit of background is necessary.Hosta growing beside stream - beneath weeping Golden Chain tree

At one time there were over a hundred varieties of hostas in the garden, along with many treasures that proved to be choice eating for deer as nearby farmland was developed into houses. The hostas took a beating, but for a few years I was determined to let the deer have their fair share as long as they left enough for me. It should be no surprise that the deer didn’t cooperate, and plants began disappearing at an alarming rate. Finally, my wife spurred me to action, saying if I didn’t do something she was going to buy a gun to take care of the deer herself.

I began spraying a repellent under the strict supervision of my wife. I’m not so good at keeping a regular routine, so my wife marked the first of each month on her calendar beginning in May to remind me to spray. After a year (or two) I was finally trained to do this without her reminders, in good part because I was encouraged by the success of the repellents in dissuading deer from nibbling on the hostas. Hostas beneath a nandina

The reward from spraying was easily recognizable. Many of the hostas returned, and only an occasional plant that was missed in spraying was bothered at all. My acre of garden takes only a half hour to spray each month, and the only problem I have (besides skipping over a plant or two) is with fast growing perennials in mid spring. Spiderworts are prime eating for deer, and from the first of the month to the middle they might grow eight or ten inches in May. The lower foliage is sprayed, but this isn’t enough to persuade deer not to eat the tops, so I keep a half filled sprayer to go around a second time when they’re growing fastest.Sweet Kate spiderwort in mid May

There’s no disputing that deer will eat just about anything if they’re hungry enough, but some plants are so bitter, distasteful, or even mildly poisonous that deer will go far out of their way not to eat them. There are enough of these to make a decent garden, but as much as I love hellebores and ferns, I need more than only deer resistant plants in my garden. Hellebore in mid March

Whenever I read that a gardener has had only temporary success with deer repellents, I’m confident enough due to my success to figure that they sprayed once, then didn’t follow up a month later. I read that the repellents wash off in the rain, but I’ve sprayed a week before hurricanes and tropical storms that dropped many inches of rain in a month, with no problems. And, if the repellent was washed off, I’d know it. There are not only deer in the neighborhood, but deer bed down in the brush and brambles that border my garden, and there are always deer tracks in the wet areas of the lower garden where grass has been worn to mud by the seeming stampede of deer rushing to visit other gardens for a meal.

On the chance that deer might become immune to the taste or scent of a single repellent I have alternated between two types. Commercial brands are produced with a sticker that prevents their washing off in the rain, and I’ve delayed as long as six weeks before seeing evidence that deer return. I suspect that home brewed concoctions lack these stickers, the reason for their temporary success.Dwarf hemlock, hosta, ferns, and ivy

With confidence that repellents will protect the garden I’m not concerned at all when I’m planting whether a plant is deer resistant or not. I don’t spray everything, since I know that plum yews, hellebores, euphorbias, ferns, and many more plants are dependably resistant, but it’s comforting that deer don’t dictate my plant selections.