Gardeners and non-gardeners ask, “what happened to our summer?” And, it’s true that we’ve experienced little of the heat and humidity that so often encourages local residents to head for higher (and cooler) ground in July and August. My garden has both profited and suffered from the unusual weather, but as the season nears its close the garden shows little of the stress that is typical for this time of the year.
Instead, evergreens and shrubs in low areas are distressed from overly damp soil that has had little opportunity to dry out this summer. I suspect that all will survive, but it seems odd to complain that the summer is too wet. Drought is too often the issue, but in late August hostas and ferns in the dry shade are flourishing. Fortunately, only the lower third of the rear garden is much bothered by excessively soggy soil, and so most of the garden has enjoyed the regular rainfall and break from extreme heat.
Hydrangeas have grown exceptionally, both mopheads (Hydrangea macrophylla, above) and Oakleaf varieties (Hydrangea quercifolia). In fact, several have grown with such exuberance that late season pruning was required to prevent them from overwhelming less vigorous neighbors. The mopheads have suffered some leaf spotting, which is not unusual in wet or humid summers, but with cooler August temperatures the remontant (reblooming) varieties are budding sooner than is typical.
‘Endless Summer’ and ‘Penny Mac’ will flower until frost, as will Encore azalea cultivars that are bred to bloom in spring and again in late summer. ‘Autumn Twist’ (Azalea x ‘Conlep’, above) is the most dependable bloomer in my garden, both in spring and late summer, with flowers that often extend into early November. Every azalea in the garden was damaged by deer when I failed to spray the repellent in early winter last year, with foliage and flower buds nibbled back to bare stems. There were few spring flowers, but as expected, the azaleas rebounded with lush growth and there should be abundant blooms in late September and October.
Blue Mist shrubs (Caryopteris x incana ‘Hint of Gold’, above) in the low, wet rear garden have been stunted by the damp soil, but in drier ground they grow and flower dependably. A mass planting of any of the blue mists is an extraordinary sight, but even a single shrub is delightful in late summer. A handful of cultivars begin flowering within a few week period in August in my garden, and it would difficult to favor one over the others.
A few weeks ago, the last live branch of a pendulous Blue Atlas cedar (Cedrus atlantica ‘Glauca Pendula’) that arched over the pond just below the deck was chopped out. The pond had become shaded over the years by a large tree lilac (Syringa reticulata) and a Japanese maple (Acer palmatum ‘Atrolineare’), and it slowly declined so that one large branch was cut out annually. Now, the last had gone bare, so it was removed, but with a bit more sunlight ‘Othello’ ligularia (Ligularia dentata ‘Othello’, above) has become more robust to soften the blow of the missing cedar.
‘Othello’ is planted just above the pond, but with a rubber liner separating the soil from the water the soil is quite dry. I’m certain that the ligularia would prefer more moisture, but the large, rounded, dark colored leaves are ideally suited to the pond’s edge.
Beneath the wide spreading ‘Seriyu’ Japanese maple (Acer palmatum’Seriyu’) in the front garden, ‘Sun King’ aralia (Aralia cordata ‘Sun King’, above) shines in dense shade. One part of the grouping of aralias peaks out into the late afternoon sun so that it is often scorched a bit, but in the shade of the maple the yellow foliage is most vivid. The aralia’s unusual blooms are a matter of interest, but the primary attribute of this extraordinary large perennial is its foliage. The green leafed aralia in the rear garden pales by comparison.