A garden with perennials, but not a perennial garden

I regularly admire gardens chock full of perennials, and occasionally wonder if I could possibly duplicate these fabulous results. No, not a chance.

Venus dogwoood, with abundant blooms as large as your hand

Venus dogwoood, with abundant blooms as large as your hand

First, this garden is dominated by trees, and now so much of it is too shaded to hope to grow many perennials. Yes, there are hostas and irises, assorted coral bells, daylilies, and dozens of odds and ends, but at first glance a view from any point reveals dozens of trees to erase any doubt that this could possibly be considered a perennial garden.

Ground orchids spread dependably if give a bit of sunlight and well drained soil

Ground orchids spread dependably if give a bit of sunlight and well drained soil

Besides my preference for trees, it is out of the question that I could put in the effort to properly prepare the soil for best results. This requires digging, and probably loads of compost, and weeding to minimize competition for perennials to perform at their best. And, the perennial garden is likely to require regular irrigation. Plants that thrive in this garden are mostly ones that could survive if left on the asphalt driveway without care through the heat of  July.

Chardonnay Pearls deutzia

Chardonnay Pearls deutzia

Instead, a visitor is likely to consider this a garden of trees, under planted with shrubs and evergreens, and with a sprinkling of perennials to fill the empty spaces between. In these gaps amidst Japanese maples, dogwoods, redbuds, fringetrees, and so on are an assortment of shrubs, with massive panicled hydrangeas, lilacs, and viburnums, as well as more petite spireas, deutzias, and sweetbox. Many shrubs offer the advantage of occupying wide spaces, and being simple to grow, so that there is a minimum of maintenance for a lone gardener who was never very energetic to begin with, and now is growing older by the minute and could be easily overwhelmed.

Athens sweetshrub flowers in full sun or part shade

Athens sweetshrub flowers in full sun or part shade

With varying degrees of shade from one year to the next as trees grow, and as others are lost to winter storms and summer squalls, the garden changes, sometimes for the better, and at other times for the worse. After this past horrid winter, my first inclination is that there is no doubt that the turn has been to the poorer, but each day as I stroll through the garden there are surprises that soften this hard edge.

Deciduous azaleas flowering in mid May

Deciduous azaleas flowering in mid May

Where wide spreading trees have vanished there is more sun, not that the spaces are now sunny, but deciduous azaleas display their approval with more abundant and vibrant blooms. Even hostas appear more robust with a bit more sunlight, and a few Japanese maples that were easing disapprovingly into shade are growing with more density, and with improved foliage color.

Chinese snowball viburnum in early May

Chinese snowball viburnum in early May

Massive paperbushes (Edgeworthia chrysantha) were injured severely by the winter, and now have been cut from ten or twelve feet wide to only three. For a few years, pruning was on the agenda (but never accomplished) as the paperbushes began to overwhelm neighbors, but this spring the dead stems required drastic action. Growth is now sprouting from the base, and even towards the tips of some of the severely pruned branches, but the reduction in size has left wide open spaces. Some gaps are filling as once crowded neighbors now have room to grow, and a few perennials have been plugged in as temporary fillers until the paperbushes get going again.

Diablo ninebark in late May

Diablo ninebark in late May

The thick leaves of the paperbushes cast oppressive shade over spireas and tall asters that are now beginning to rebound, and for a few years these will thrive with more space. But, I’ll be overjoyed when the paperbushes regain a substantial measure of their former width, and if the perennials must be transplanted (or left in place to fade and die), I’ll do so without complaint.

Camassia growing through Sun King aralia

Camassia growing through Sun King aralia

 

 

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Azaleas and iris

Azaleas in mid MayThe garden’s evergreen azaleas (above) have managed a few more flowers than expected, though their arrival is several weeks late and after I had given up hope that there would be more than a few scattered blooms this spring. After the severe winter most azaleas defoliated (some almost completely), and in late April when there were no blooms I wrongly assumed that the buds had been damaged by the cold. In fact, many were, and there are many fewer flowers than usual. But, all but a couple azaleas are recovering nicely with new growth quickly filling the bare stems, and the scattered blooms add to the garden’s riot of color in mid May.Azalea in mid May

The deciduous azaleas (above and below) were not troubled at all by the cold, and these seem particularly floriferous this spring. By contrast to the pink, white, and purple of the evergreen azaleas, these are tall and open branched, and the flowers are in bright and bold red, yellow, and orange. And, the flowers of many are sweetly fragrant.Azaleas in mid May

In recent years, storm damaged trees have been removed to open up areas that were once densely shaded, and with a bit more sunlight the azaleas have flourished. Noting the improvement, I planted a few more along the forest’s edge, and on the opposite side of the garden in the partially shaded area where a grove of bamboo was removed a few years ago. This is the first year that the dividend of flowers has been fully realized, and even my wife is pleased. She prefers the red, I like the more garish yellow and orange that shine like a beacon from across the garden.Tennessee White iris in early May

The lower section of the rear garden has been a source of consternation for several years, and this year particularly when the long standing problems with excess moisture have resulted in the loss of several old shrubs. But, a few plants thrive despite the constant wetness. Low growing ‘Tennessee White’ irises (Iris cristata ‘Tennessee White’, above) continue to spread slowly over the damp ground, and to bloom delightfully, while the purple flowered Iris reticulata (below) has managed well, but spreads very little.Iris reticulata in early May

Yellow flag iris (Iris pseudacorus, below) is flowering in the shallows of the large koi pond, and in recent years it has substantiated to me why yellow flag should be grown in a lined pond where its growth can be confined. I monitor the overflow where a trickle of a spring keeps soil damp throughout the year, and where seedlings from the iris would be likely to sprout. Within the pond, seedlings have sprouted between stones that are partially submerged, in the nook between boulders on the pond’s waterfall, and any place where the water is shallow that seeds can gain a foothold.Yellow flag iris in mid May

In this closed system seedlings are fairly easy to control, though occasionally they become entangled with the more favored Japanese irises (Iris ensata, below) that flower several weeks later. The surgery to extricate the yellow flag from the Japanese iris too often requires blunt force that extricates the yellow flag, but sets the more lovely Japanese iris back by a year or two. But, if left to the survival of the fittest, I have little doubt that yellow flag would quickly overwhelm the Japanese iris.Japanese iris

So, in recent years I must tug and dig yellow flag out of the tangled clumps before the roots become hopelessly bound together. Then, the entire clump must be dug out and the roots separated, and if this sounds like too much work, it certainly does to me. Today, there are only a few stray fans of yellow flag that must be dug out, and of course this vigorous nature is the reason why its escape into the wild must be prevented. The simpler solution, and likely the recommended course for most, is to avoid yellow flag completely. But, it is unquestionably lovely, and it was planted in the gravel in the filtration area of this large pond where its aggressive nature is an asset. I am obligated to be certain it stays put.

 

More trees

After a brief shower (and minutes before the arrival of a storm that dumped several inches of rain overnight), the mix of  dark clouds and streaming sunlight cast a glow as I strolled through the garden, hoping to catch a glimpse of a few blooms before the impending storm blew them to the heavens. The Fringetree (Chionanthus virginicus, below) is most vulnerable to the wind and rain, and after long hours at the office earlier in the week I was determined not to miss the blooms. The delicate flowers last only for a week, and it would be shameful to miss them completely.Fringetree in mid May

For whatever reason, the fringetree is not particularly common, and I’m delighted and surprised when I see one in a neighborhood garden. I suspect it’s not more popular because it flowers in mid May when it seems every other plant is in bloom, and the flowers are relatively short lived. But, it seems unquestionable that the fringetree is as lovely as any tree, and it deserves greater attention. I’ve planted three, two that are multi trunk clumps, and one that was managed into a single trunk (though each year it grows suckers from the roots, obviously trying to revert to its natural multi trunked state).

Occasionally, I see the Chinese fringetree (Chionanthus retusus) recommended, and I have no doubt that it is a fine tree, but I wonder how this could possibly be an improvement over the exceptional native. I have no bias against non-natives or hybrids, but it seems when two trees are equally splendid, the native should earn the nod. Now, with three native fringetrees in the garden, I’d be happy to plant the Chinese version to be able to compare the two. Since fingetrees are relatively small, it’s possible I could squeeze one in (so long as my wife is not informed in advance).Dogwood in early May

With winter temperatures extending into early April, the flowers of the native dogwoods (Cornus florida, above) were several weeks late, and now the hybrid crosses between the native American and Chinese dogwood (Cornus kousa) are also a few weeks later than usual. While the native dogwood is plagued by cankers and leaf spotting, the hybrids were bred for resistance to these maladies. Without the bothers of mildew and spotted foliage, ‘Stellar Pink’ (Cornus x ‘Rutgan’, below) grows vigorously.Stellar Pink dogwood in mid May

I will admit a bias towards the native dogwood, and despite disease and mildew problems I have little doubt that no tree is their superior. Early on, when I first planted the hybrids I was content in my disappointment that ‘Stellar Pink’ flowered sparsely, and that the flowers were hardly what I would call pink. But, as the tree has grown my attitude has been adjusted. After ten years, the blooms remain white with only a blush of pink, but the tree now displays an abundance of unblemished flowers against a backdrop of fresh green, spotless leaves. Rather than a disappointment, ‘Stellar Pink’ is treasured, and for any gardener who is concerned by the varied maladies that afflict dogwoods, this is a splendid alternative.

In my garden ‘Stellar Pink’ was planted, not instead of the native dogwood, but in addition to. For the garden with adequate space, the hybrids and Chinese dogwoods allow a sequencing of flowers that begins in mid April with the native, and just as these are fading in early May ‘Stellar Pink’ comes into flower. As the hybrids fade by the third week of May, the various Chinese dogwoods come into bloom. So, by planting one native, a hybrid, and a Chinese dogwood there are likely to be uninterrupted blooms for nearly two months.Venus dogwood in early May

In addition to ‘Stellar Pink’, I’ve planted the large flowered ‘Venus’ (Cornus x ‘KN30-8’ P.P.# 16,309, above), a hybrid between the Chinese and Pacific dogwoods (Cornus nuttalii), and ‘Celestial Shadow’ (Cornus x ‘Celestial Shadow’, below). The variegated leafed ‘Celestial Shadow’ was a chance mutation from the white flowered hybrid ‘Celestial’, and it has proven to be much more vigorous than the variegated native dogwood with similar leaf coloration ‘Cherokee Sunset’, which is annually plagued by powdery mildew. The hybrid dogwoods grow with a more upright form than native dogwoods, and leaves form before the blooms, so they are not exactly a direct substitute, but they have proved to be exceptional trees.Celestial Shadow dogwood in mid May

So, this completes the list of trees that are flowering in the garden, in May. In another week the Chinese dogwoods will flower, and there are four or five of these to consider. Then, before the dogwoods fade the wonderful Japanese Stewartia flowers, followed by the various crapemyrtles, and certainly I’ve forgotten one or two that bloom in between these and when Franklinia and Gordlinia begin to flower in late summer. If only there was more space.

A tree centered garden

There is little doubt that there are more exceptional trees than can be fit into a one acre garden, no matter how hard I might wish to include more. By complete accident, the design of this garden is now dominated by Japanese maples and flowering trees, with a few larger trees fit in along the edges. I claim that the over planting of trees was accidental, but perhaps unintentional is the better description, since the planting of the trees was not an accident. Certainly, I did not intend from the start to have a shaded garden dominated by small trees, but now there are only a few spots of sunlight remaining, and these will get smaller as the trees continue to grow.Tree lilac in late May

One year I foolishly planted the beautiful, yellow leafed cultivar of the native Black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia ‘Frisia’) in the rear garden. The mistake was not in selecting the locust, but in planting it much too close to an already established tree lilac (Syringa reticulata ‘Ivory Silk’, above). The locust quickly took to the spot, and before long branches of the two trees were entwined so that it was obvious that one or the other had to go. The locust was the smaller of the two, which proved to be the determining factor, since both are equally stunning trees. My consolation is that a few black locusts arch from the thicket that borders the garden, and the fragrant white, wisteria-like flowers (below) grace the neighborhood for a few weeks in May. So, I continue to enjoy blooms from both the lilac and black locusts.Black locust in bloom

As is usual in the garden, planting one thing or another is often dictated by circumstances that are beyond the gardener’s control, and several trees have been planted as another has suffered from some catastrophe. In the past five years trees have been damaged by wind, ice, and snow, and selecting a replacement tree to fit into a nearly mature garden is even more of a challenge than planting with a blank slate. And, I’m not getting any younger, so I’m not likely to start with a bare twig of a tree with the hope that it will grow to fill the space before I’m dead and gone. I’m not patient, at least not when it involves trees. I’ve met gardeners who can point to the hundred foot fir in the backyard and recall when they planted it sixty years earlier. I don’t have that much time.Seven Son Tree in early October

A few years ago a splendid multi trunked Seven Son Tree (Heptacodium miconioides, above) toppled over in a summer storm, snapped off at the ground in what’s called a down burst, but seems much like a small tornado when you’re watching out the back window as the garden is being torn to shreds. Since, I’ve lamented this favored tree often, and certainly I expected that this vigorous tree would immediately sprout a dozen new shoots. With undisturbed and extensive roots, I was confident that suckers would grow quickly, and my first thought was that the tree would be as good as new in a year, and by the second year I’d be pruning to keep it in bounds. But, there were no root suckers, not one, and very soon I had to consider alternatives. After much deliberation, I settled on the Red Horsechestnut (Aesculus x carnea, below), which I considered a satisfactory choice, but not ideal.

Red horsechestnut

Was I wrong. The horsechestnut is a superb tree, at least the equal of any tree I could have possibly selected. The Seven Son was treasured for its late summer clusters of white flowers, and for colorful pink-purple bracts that followed the blooms into early autumn. Now, I’m hedging that the new tree might have a slight edge. The horsechestnut will grow a bit large for the area, particularly by comparison to the fifteen foot size of the Seven Son. But, the foliage of the horsechestnut is superior, and the flowers are marvelous. Though the tree is several feet short of making the impact for the space its in, I can imagine that my appreciation for it will only grow. But, with its larger size will come more shade in one of the few areas where sun loving perennials have thrived. Oh well, these choices must be made.

Next time – more catastrophes and more flowering trees.

Red Horsechestnut in early May

 

 

 

 

24 (or 25) and counting

Coral Bark Japanese maple

Coral Bark Japanese maple

After a harsh winter there is small consolation that the garden’s Japanese maples (Acer palmatum) have suffered little by comparison to the long established dwarf hemlock and Hinoki cypress that have been cut out and discarded. Evergreen magnolias could be the next to go, and I await the verdict on several crapemyrtles that are tardy in leafing. A number of smaller tragedies will require months and years to rejuvenate.

Shaina Japanese maple

Shaina Japanese maple

The top two-thirds of the dwarf Japanese maple ‘Shaina’ (above) died inexplicably, though the lower third is as healthy as ever. It pained me terribly to saw the thick limbs of the maple to remove the dead, but I was pleasantly surprised by foliage growing inside the dense canopy that will perhaps fill the void of the missing top sooner than expected. Still, this is not a one year project, though now I have hope that with growth next spring the shrubby tree will not appear so awkward. I’m willing to allow some leeway to provide a prized Japanese maple the opportunity to recover. Other trees might not be so fortunate.

Crimson Queen Japanese maple

Crimson Queen Japanese maple

The massive, pendulous ‘Crimson Queen’ maple (above)  along the drive gave me a scare. Much in the manner of ‘Shaina’, the top was delayed in leafing, and though the branches were green beneath the bark, I feared that some root or stem damage would severely diminish this treasured tree. Slowly, the bare branches have leafed, though when all is settled in a few weeks I’m certain that a round of minor surgery will be required to clean out some dead.

Green leafed Scolopendrifolium Japanese maple

Green leafed Scolopendrifolium Japanese maple

Burgundy lace Japanese maple

Burgundy lace Japanese maple

In any case, damage will be minimal to this Japanese maple that has suffered enough for one tree’s lifetime. Twenty-five years ago the ‘Crimson Queen’ was planted along the front walk, but in my haste to fill the young garden, the maple was planted much too close, and soon it grew too far into the flagstone path. Finally, I realized the error of my ways, and determined to salvage this valued maple, I decided it must be transplanted.

Butterfly Japanese maple

Butterfly Japanese maple

Okushimo Japanese maple

Okushimo Japanese maple

But, by now the tree had grown too large and spread too wide for one person to manage the transplant, so I did what any desperate gardener would do. I hooked a chain to the frame of my little convertible, wrapped the other end around the partially dug out rootball, and jerked it out. Worked like a charm! After a year the Japanese maple made a complete recovery, and now it grows into the driveway by several feet to deter any delivery drivers from venturing down to the garage.

Bloodgood Japanese maple

Bloodgood Japanese maple

Gwen's Rose Delight Japanese maple

Gwen’s Rose Delight Japanese maple

My collection of Japanese maples began innocently enough. Through the years, a few Japanese maples planted in this acre and a quarter garden became a handful, and as the budget for trees was disregarded, others were added as the garden increased significantly in size. There have been no checklists, and certainly there is no grand design that dictated that any number of Japanese maples be planted. It just happened, innocently or not, and the question is, if one or several are good, are twenty-four varieties better?

Skeeter's Broom Japanese maple

Skeeter’s Broom Japanese maple

We will not ask my wife, who demanded that I stop after the first two or three maples were planted. There is little doubt where she stands, though I hold faint hope that this is a game to her, and she secretly looks forward to my next purchase. In any case, there are many worse vices, and she forgives quickly enough that I’m not discouraged when another fabulous maple catches my eye. Certainly, I do not ask for her approval prior to a purchase, and often a new maple just appears in the driveway. Yes, she squawks, but that’s harmless enough not deter my important work.

Golden Full Moon Japanese maple

Golden Full Moon Japanese maple

Tompenberg Japanese maple

Trompenberg Japanese maple

Certainly, there are many gardeners with no desire for such a collection, and in recent years some have declared Japanese maples to be invasive, and planting even one is criticized. In fact, the maples seed prolifically in any average, moist garden soil, and I spend considerable time plucking out hundreds of seedlings. But, the seedlings don’t stray far, and I’ve never seen one growing in the forest that borders the garden, or in the fields beyond, so I will happily grow my Japanese maples without fear that they will invade the native flora.

New leaves and flowers on Fern Leaf Japanese maple

New leaves and flowers on Fern Leaf Japanese maple

There are a few hundred Japanese maple cultivars in commerce, but only a handful or two are very common. None in my garden are rare, though a few are a bit out of the ordinary. I am most pleased that many of the maples have grown to become robust and wide spreading trees that shade paths or overhang ponds, and it’s bothers me very little that the shade has drastically cut down on the garden’s few spots of sun. A few fading perennials are a small price to pay for such magnificence.

Viridis Japanese maple

Viridis Japanese maple

Of course, there is nothing confounding about growing Japanese maples. These are simple trees to grow, demanding nothing more than a bit of sun, and soil that is not waterlogged. Even in damp soils, where a variety of shrubs continually fail, Japanese maples thrive so long as the ground dries out every now and again.

Lion's Head Japanese maple

Lion’s Head Japanese maple

Occasionally, I hear non-gardeners (I presume) proclaim that Japanese maples are difficult to grow, and more frequently that they are slow growing. Certainly, I expected that the crinkled leaf Lion’s Head maple (Shishigashira’, above) would take forever to reach head high when I planted a waist high tree, but after a slow first few years one tree jumped quickly, and a second planted a year later in more sun passed it and now tops ten feet. This is not a notable tree to many, but I am overjoyed to include the two charming maples in the garden.

Red leafed Scolopendrifolium Japanese maple

Red leafed Scolopendrifolium Japanese maple

Unfortunately, space in this garden is running short, but when an aged hemlock is killed in the winter, it is quickly replaced with a long lobed Scolopendrifolium maple (above). The Hinoki cypress that perished is chopped out, and a few feet away a second Floating Cloud maple (‘Ukigumo’, below) is planted. Some joy has finally come from this season’s calamities.

Floating Cloud Japanese maple

Floating Cloud Japanese maple

The most splendid season

I’ve made a considerable effort in recent years to add to the garden so that there is something flowering at all times, and even through this dreadful winter that has thankfully finally ended there were mahonias (Mahonia x media ‘Winter Sun’, below) or witch hazels in bloom every day through January and February. In fact, this is not very much of an accomplishment, and certainly no testimony to a gardener’s skill, but only a matter of having the space and budget to allow the planting of a few shrubs and trees that any idiot can grow.Winter Sun mahonia in late November

Summer storms have done in some of the best of the summer bloomers, and now this roller coaster winter of alternating mild temperatures and freezes has devastated paperbushes (Edgeworthia chrysantha, below) that are favored for their splendid late winter flowers. Fortunately, the shrubs have sprouted a few leaves from the base, so not all is lost, though the paperbushes’ ten foot width has now been reduced to three. I’m hoping and expecting that these will grow sufficiently to cover the now bare stems, and to flower next February.Edgeworthia blooms in the late March snow

In any case, no matter that I am very satisfied in creating this garden with flowers of some sort every day, there is no time when the garden is as splendid as in May. If it takes no particular skill to develop a garden that flowers in every month, it is even simpler to create a paradise in mid spring. While a bit of research is required to find flowers to fill the off spring months, everything else flowers in May, and despite a bias to claim that any other month might be its equal, there is no doubt that the garden is now at its most delightful.Delaware Valley White azalea in late April

The blooms of evergreen azaleas (‘Delaware Valley White’, above), or at least most of them are missing this year, victims of the freezes that defoliated most and injured the buds. It has been a number of years since this has occurred, and though I am not a huge fan of azaleas, the absent flowers of perhaps three dozen shrubs is noted with some sadness. Only two azaleas have perished, and others are growing vigorously, but of course the flower buds will not form again for months.Exbury azalea

The deciduous azaleas are within days of their May glory, and in fact I prefer these fragrant and striking blooms rather than the less extravagant and scentless (or barely scented) flowers of the evergreen azaleas. These grow to be large shrubs that are ideal for underplanting in a wooded area with just enough sunlight to keep things blooming, and if the spot grows too shaded flowers and the shrub will fade within a few years.Fothergilla in early May

Also, at forest’s edge is the wondrous Fothergilla (Fothergilla ‘Mt. Airy’, above), which is not rare at all, but also is not commonly found in gardens despite its spring beauty and pleasant foliage. This shrub also grows large and without the compact form that is preferred by many gardeners, so that it is best suited for a wooded border with a half day of sunlight. Fothergilla survives with less sun, but flowers are less abundant, just as with the deciduous azaleas.Red buckeye in early May

I think that the list of plants that prefer a similar position includes dogwoods and redbuds, and other spring flowering trees and shrubs that benefit from the bareness of the forest canopy through winter. The red flowered Buckeye (Aesculus pavia, above) grows with a more open habit in the deeper shade of overhanging tulip poplars and a low branched blackgum, but sunlight filters through bare branches in winter so that flowering is  not inhibited.Sweetshrub in early May

Sweetshrub (Calycanthus floridus, above) enjoys a similar position nearby, and this open branched shrub also flowers without the need for more sunlight. The red-brown blooms are unusual,and certainly ill suited to the garden where marigolds and pansies are most appreciated. The flowers are nearly as fragrant as the best of the deciduous azaleas, and on a stroll on stone paths along the forest’s edge there is no better place, or time to be in the garden.

Problems, problems

There will be few blooms on the azaleas this spring. A few young azaleas have died, and most have suffered considerable damage to their foliage so that they are mostly bare stems with only a few leaves. Unfortunately, I think that this is the good news.Encore azalea in October

At least most of the azaleas are alive, and though there will be few flowers, they will live to bloom another day. I toggled back and forth in early spring between brave faced optimism that damage from the cold would be less than expected, and what I’m now seeing as the realistic view that there are more problems than expected. Many more, I’m afraid.Lacecap hydrangea

Yes, this winter was cold, but not so cold that long established mophead hydrangeas (Hydrangea macrophylla) and even a few roses have been killed to the ground. Now, there are a few leaves sprouting from the base, but ten year old, four feet tall shrubs must be cut back nearly to the roots.  After a cold winter I expect some dieback, but more like a few inches rather than feet. The hydrangeas and roses will be fine in the end, I suppose, but unfortunately, this is only where the trouble begins.Linearilobum maple

Last weekend I was forced to cut out a dwarf hemlock (Tsuga canadenis ‘Lewis’) that was planted twenty years ago, but suddenly turned brown and died as winter turned to spring. I scratched every part of the tree’s bark to see if there was any chance of life remaining, but there was none. The dead needles were shaken loose, and the thick trunk was cut at the ground. This spot as you enter the rear garden was in dire need of something, so a long lobed, red leafed Japanese maple was planted, though this will cause some complications as it eventually grows a bit too large for the space. It’s disappointing, and hard to figure what could have killed the hemlock. Certainly, temperatures were not that cold, but I suspect a more complicated formula of varying between extreme cold and not so cold.Shaina Japanese maple

The top two-thirds of the dwarf witch’s broom Japanese maple ‘Shaina’ (Acer palmatum ‘Shaina’ above) has died. Again, the bark was scratched and no life was found, and what would kill the top of the dormant tree is hard to figure. Now that the top has been cut out, the shrubby maple looks quite odd, and since it will require at least several years to fill in adequately, I must decide if the small tree is worth keeping. I’ve kept plants around in the past that were chopped and disfigured, but these were faster growing trees, and the plan was that they would fill in within months, not years.Edgeworthia in early April

The paperbushes (Edgeworthia chrysantha, above) are severely damaged. The flower buds are injured whenever temperatures drop near zero, but several nights below zero have killed flowers and branches have died back nearly to the ground. Now, there are leaf buds near the base, and like the hydrangeas, the shrubs must be cut back nearly to the ground. At least the paperbushes are not dead, as I feared. When I planted them I was aware that they were only marginally cold hardy for the area, but in recent years it seems that more have been planted and there was evidence that they were more cold tolerant. Until this winter, though the problem with all the damaged plants is not as simple as just cold damage.Brackens magnolia in late June

In early May, there are more problems than I care to list, and the final word on two of the garden’s evergreen magnolias is not likely to be decided for another month. Both trees appeared undamaged in early March, then suddenly the long established Bracken’s magnolia turned almost completely brown. Then, to add to the mystery, the ‘Alta’ magnolia went completely brown two weeks later. There’s still some green on both trees, but it’s not looking good, and I expect both large trees will end up having to be removed.

There’s not really any way to verify, but I suspect the problem has to do with fluctuations in temperatures through the winter, particularly in February and March. My recollection is probably similar to everyone else’s, that were no warm days this winter, but in fact after every episode of snow, ice, or sub-zero temperatures there were a few day when temperatures were not so bad. Often, the ground was snow covered during the not-so-cold days, so the days didn’t seem so pleasant, but the fluctuating temperatures in late winter cause more damage than the cold alone.Dogwood in early May

Now, the garden is not exactly a disaster, but it’s quite disappointing when long established trees and shrubs perish, or are severely damaged so that they must be hacked back to a fraction of their size. In fact, the paperbushes were due for radical pruning as they were thoughtlessly encroaching on neighboring shrubs, but I dithered and delayed and would probably have avoided this for another year or two. I certainly would  not have chopped three feet off the ends of the shrub, but now this is done, and spring is here, so the time is right to move along.