It’s a beauty(berry)

BeautyberryThe native beautyberry (Callicarpa americana) is only occasionally available in garden centers, though it is readily available through mail order suppliers. Asian imports (Callicarpa dichotoma, above) are showier, I suppose, and in a long established garden I avoid small, mail order sized shrubs and tree unless there is absolutely no alternative. The Asian beautyberry is quite acceptable, and native or not, birds could care less, just bring on the berries.

Beautyberries of any sort are only half woody, and much like blue mist shrubs (Caryopteris), soft wooded stems must be cut back a foot or two each spring. Interestingly, after a colder than typical winter, less pruning was required this spring, though the beautyberries leafed considerably later than usual. Go figure. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

With numerous winter related problems in the garden this spring I thought for a short while that the beautyberries might be dead, but once they began to leaf it was soon apparent there was no damage. I suspect that considerable effort would be required to kill them, and no matter how severe, winter temperatures in this garden will never be a threat..

The white berried ‘Albifructus’ (Callicarpa dichotoma ‘Albifructus’, above) is planted in a half sunny spot where a constant trickle of water from a spring flows over its roots so that soil remains saturated, and while other sturdy shrubs have perished in the dampness, beautyberry shows no ill effect. Purple beautyberries on the far side of the garden flourish without any direct sunlight in bone dry ground beneath towering tulip poplars, so it seems safe to recommend beautyberry over a wide range of conditions.Duet beautyberry

The variegated leaf beautyberry ‘Duet’ (Callicarpa dichitoma ‘Duet’, above) has been planted most recently in damp, but not wet ground, and here I expect it will work wonderfully. The berries on this young shrub are scarce this year, but the variegation is striking, and I suppose that this will be a delightful addition to the garden.



Autumn flowering azaleas

Encore Carnation azalea in late SeptemberAfter a winter of prolonged cold (with a handful of nights that dropped below zero), many azaleas fared poorly and bloomed only sporadically in the spring. Only the old dependable Delaware Valley White flowered normally in this garden (though three weeks late in mid May), and a few varieties of the repeat blooming Encore azaleas had no blooms or only a few scattered flowers.Twist Encore azalea in early autumn

In early August, the most dependable of the Encores in my garden, ‘Autumn Twist’ began to flower and it hasn’t slowed down through late September. Now, other Encores are flowering and others with plump buds promise flowers in coming weeks. Of course, this is what I expected, but it’s comforting nonetheless. Autumn flowering for many of the Encore azaleas will be interrupted by frost in a few weeks, but a few varieties will continue to bloom with any period of a few days of warm temperatures long into October and early November. Autumn Amethyst Encore azalea in October

‘Autumn Amethyst’ has exceptional foliage and the flowers are a pleasant color, but it blooms sporadically in the best circumstances. However, almost without fail it flowers in late autumn, often surprisingly when temperatures seem much too chilly. ‘Amethyst’ shows no signs of imminent blooms, but with slightly warmer than average temperatures after Thanksgiving it’s not too unusual to see a few flowers into early December.

A few September flowers

Liriope and Chocolate Joe PyeUnsurprisingly, after being eaten to a nub by tiny caterpillars a few weeks ago, violets (Viola labradorica) growing beneath liriope (Liriope muscari ‘Variegata’) and ‘Chocolate’ Joe Pye weed (Eupatorium rugosum ‘Chocolate’, below) have recovered to fill in quickly. My wife complains that the violets grow into every crack in the driveway, which is true, though as far as I can see this harms nothing. After dealing for years with bamboo that created its own cracks in the pavement, the tiny violets are hardly a concern.Chocolate Joe Pye weed

Both violets and Joe Pye are seedlings from plants that started nearby, and once identified they were encouraged to grow. Again, an accidental composition is at least the equal of anything the gardener has planned. ‘Chocolate’ Joe Pye does not attract the abundance of pollinators that are found on the native Joe Pye that grows in the nearby wetlands (and cultivars I’ve planted), but it is moderately attractive in foliage and flower while not growing as tall as even the most compact native selections. Unwanted seedlings of violets and Joe Pye are easily weeded out, and occasionally transplanted.

Scattered leaves of the purple Passionflower vine (Passiflora incarnata, below) were damaged by caterpillars through August, but this summer its growth has been prolific enough that I’ve been tempted to trim stems that trail over neighboring nandinas, and ones that hang low from a wire support along the roof line of the small summer house. Some years the vine barely makes it to the top of the support, but this year it has grown another eight feet, and delightfully with many more blooms.Purple passionflower in late September

The yellow passionflower (Passiflora lutea) flowers for a much shorter period than the purple, though it has also grown vigorously this summer, and now it climbs from the Oakleaf hydrangea into the ‘Okame’ cherry that somewhat overhangs the koi pond. Both yellow and purple are marvelous vines, and I could not recommend one over the other, though the purple flowers are considerably larger and persist for a longer period. The more common purple passionflower is more readily available, but it also has a troublesome habit of sometimes waiting until early June to appear, which could be of concern to gardeners who are unaware. White Surprise blue mist shrub

The early flowering Blue Mist shrubs are past bloom now, but ‘White Surprise’ (Caryopteris x clandonensis ‘White Surprise’, above) is at its peak in mid and late September. Bumblebees, in particular, feast on its nectar, and if I had a doubt earlier in the summer that bumblebees were as numerous as in past years, that question has now been satisfied. They’re everywhere. ‘White Surprise’ is a heavy bloomer, with more abundant flowers and variegated foliage that has more substance and more distinct variegation than ‘Snow Fairy’ blue mist (Caryopteris divaricata ‘Snow Fairy’).Toad Lily

All toad lilies (Tricyrtis, above and below) are flowering now, though several have just begun, and these will flower long into October. I am confounded that these have not gained greater appeal, but I suppose they are more a gardener’s plant to be enjoyed close up, rather than one that it intended to improve the residence’s curb appeal viewed from the highway. This garden looks acceptable enough from the road, but it is oriented towards the house, and to be enjoyed walking the garden’s paths without much regard for the neighbors’ view.Miyazaki toad lily in late September

Just today, three new toad lily cultivars were planted, and I will be anxious to see their flowers in late summer next year. Their pollen coated anthers are similar in structure to the passionflower, and I’m often amused by the contortions of larger bees in gathering nectar from these flowers.Autumn crocus in late September

The autumn crocus (Colchicum, above) have filled in wonderfully, and I’ve declared in recent weeks that I must be reminded to purchase more when they are available to plant in the spring. Today, a spring bulb order for snowdrops, alliums, fritillarias, and dog tooth lilies was placed, and since it seems that I am incapable of making proper notes, my reminder to order the autumn crocus will be to order just as the snowdrops are fading in early March. I’ve recently noted a phone gadget that gives verbal reminders to pick up groceries on the way home from work and such, and I wonder if this could possibly nag me to remember such an important task in early spring.

Mysterious disappearances

This is hardly surprising, or disturbing, but very little seems to go exactly as planned in the garden. Perhaps this is why the gardener is so pleased when one thing or another goes right, which fortunately occurs with some regularity. On occasion, a perennial or bulb disappears from one year to the next, and I’m clueless about its absence until my memory is jogged by an old photo, or sometimes when I look at some spot and wonder “what’s missing?” Last evening, this was the case with the double flowered Autumn crocus ‘Waterlily’ (Colchicum ‘Waterlily’, below) that should be as sturdy as any plant in the garden, but mysteriously disappeared, probably a few years ago though I had not given it a thought until yesterday.Colchicum Waterlily

The reminder this time was another Autumn crocus (below) that has spread to fill the space on each side of the vigorous, low growing ‘Allan P. McConnell’ hosta, so that the gap was never noticed. As is usual, I haven’t a clue why ‘Waterlily’ failed, but this has ended well enough that there are no regrets, except that I must plant the delightful ‘Waterlily’ again in some other spot. Of course, the time is past to plant Autumn crocus for this year since these are ordered and planted in the spring to flower in late summer. So, that will have to wait, and certainly it would be worthwhile if I could develop a system to remind of such things since this is likely to be the last I think of it until this time next year.Autumn crocus

Recently, once the late summer flowering Red Hot Pokers (Kniphofia uvaria ‘Ember Glow’, below) began to bloom,  it occurred to me that one large clump that typically flowers in spring has been lost beneath an Oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia) that has grown this year with exceptional vigor. When reminded, I looked to see if the clump could be salvaged to move to a sunny spot, but the thick foliage of the hydrangea has shaded the Red Hot Poker so that it’s too weak to expect to save. Fortunately, in prior years this clump had been split and transplanted, so it’s not a complete loss. In the short while since the new Kniphofia cultivars have been planted, I’ve been pleased that new flowers appear continuously over a few months, and hummingbirds (below) have become much more regular visitors.Hummingbird on Red Hot Poker

In any case, something must be done about the Oakleafs since it is not only the Red Hot Poker that has been lost. On the far side of the koi pond, branches of another hydrangea have grown to cover Japanese irises (Iris ensata) planted between boulders in shallow water. The hydrangea was pruned once earlier in the summer, but this will need to be done again, and probably a few times each year for ever more. When the pruning is managed correctly, the upright foliage of the iris looks marvelous jutting up through the large hydrangea leaves, but I’m troubled that when I’m overextended in the spring this could be one more thing that gets neglected, and the iris might also be lost.


Fruits and berries

I’ve been known to sample just about any fruit or berry that I find in the garden or the neighboring woods that looks good enough to eat, so long as I’m confident it won’t kill me. I steer clear of pokeweed (below) and others that suspiciously look like they might be poisonous, but others must be okay or they’ve been consumed in small enough doses that I’m still here. Of course, your mother warned about dimwits like me, so you’re advised to obey her and not to follow my lead.Pokeweed

I’ve plucked more than a few mulberries and blackberries from the dense thicket that borders the garden, and I don’t expect anyone would argue that there’s any harm in this. In recent years I’ve been forced to chop out a small grove of weedy mulberry trees that arched too far over into the garden, bridging the gap so that an invasive Oriental bittersweet vine (below) became tangled in the uppermost branches of the lovely ‘Elizabeth’ magnolia. Plenty of smaller mulberries remain, but these are too shaded for now to produce fruit.Oriental bittersweet

The bittersweet was chopped out, and though it didn’t give up without a fight, suckers from the roots have been controlled so that it appears I’m winning the battle to eradicate it from the thicket. Now, a week ago, I noticed fruit on one of the many grapevines that have spread through the brambles and seedling trees. And, once I paid more attention, the vine had spread to cover several small trees at the corner by the street. I’m afraid that I can’t identify a native grapevine from one of the invasives, but from cursory research I’ve decided this is a native and it will stay. In fact, the vine is not on my property, and at the moment it’s far enough on the other side of the thicket that the magnolia is in no danger.

Like the bittersweet, the the trunk of the grapevine (below) becomes thick enough, and the vine is anchored sufficiently into the upper limbs of trees that it is nearly impossible to remove. The bittersweet was removed almost completely from the tree canopy because it was hopelessly tangled into the five or six mulberries that were taken down. The mulberries and the thick trunked vine were cut, and the entire mess tumbled down. Since I’m doing nothing with the grapevine, I suspect it will overwhelm a few trees in its path, but these aren’t my trees, and I’m not nearly as concerned as with the bittersweet that it will become a neighborhood pest.Riverbank grape

Since this was the first time that I’ve seen fruit on any of the grapevines, of course I had to sample one, and incredibly I chomped on a small fruit without considering for a moment that it would not be seedless. So, the hard seed came as a shock. And then the fruit was bitter, which was not such a surprise, but I questioned whether the one I sampled was sufficiently ripe, so another and another were tried. Yes, I decided, the fruit is bitter, and with a big seed in a small fruit there’s hardly any reason to go back for more.

At one time I planted a purple leafed grape to climb up into one of the garden’s arbors, but that was a while ago, and I suspect it was too shady, so the vine didn’t last. I don’t think it ever made it to the point where the grape had fruit, though pretty much every time I recall such a story my wife corrects me and points out that my memory is failing miserably and the truth is completely the opposite of what I’ve claimed. In fact, I don’t think my memory (or attention to detail) was ever very good, but I know for certain that the grape is long gone, and I doubt she knows I ever planted one, so on this story I think I’m in the clear.Passion flower fruit in early September

Another semi edible fruit is on the way in the garden. I say semi edible because it’s difficult for me to determine when the egg shaped fruit of the passionflower vine (above) is ripe, and a year or two ago I waited and waited until it began to turn soft, and one day it was gone. I don’t know if it was ripe or if it became too heavy and fell off, but I don’t think it just fell and rolled away. I suspect it fell and one of the overnight visitors to the garden made off with it. Perhaps I’ll keep an closer eye on this one.

Foolish speculation

Years ago I realized the folly in speculating about natural cycles. I am continually amused that folks presume to forecast a winter’s cold or a dry summer, or that as a result of some weather event there will certainly be fewer mosquitoes, ticks, or whatever in the next season. If a scorecard were kept, perhaps this would finally put an end to this nonsense.

Tiger swallowtail on verbena

Tiger swallowtail on verbena

I wonder for a moment why there are fewer swalllowtail butterflies in the garden today, when last year they were so numerous that I congratulated that finally I had gotten this gardening thing figured out.  Of course, I had not discovered anything at all. Most certainly, the suddenly increased swallowtail population was not the result of anything I planted or any action on my part, but were a quirk of some combination of natural occurrences far too complex for my understanding.

Now that the butterfly issue has been left behind as irresolvable, the next dilemma is to determine whatever happened to the dragonflies. Again, a year again there were hoards buzzing about the large koi pond. And, earlier this summer the numbers were equally abundant. But, today there are few by comparison. Still, there are plenty of dragonflies in the garden as a whole, but the number patrolling the territory over this pond is greatly diminished. The result of fewer dragonflies is that the number of Tiger mosquitoes is greatly increased, and this, rather than fewer dragonflies, is the more notable issue.Dragonfly

While our homegrown mosquitoes are rarely a bother to me, the imported Tiger mosquitoes are a considerable nuisance. Their bite seems more painful, and there are more of them, particularly when there are fewer dragonflies. If I could figure a way to get the dragonflies back, the issue around the pond would be resolved to my satisfaction, even if other parts of the garden remained a problem.Asian-tiger-mosquito

I recall in the midst of the winter there were numerous forecasts that beetles and particularly stink bug populations would be greatly diminished after the long spells of freezing temperatures. In fact, I haven’t a clue about stink bugs or how they fared because we have few on our property. I suppose that birds or bats, or whatever it is that eats these bugs are the reason. I hear less about them, so perhaps the number is fewer.

Japanese beetles are never much of a problem in this garden, and perhaps this is due to our abundance of birds. Assuredly, I have done nothing to prevent beetles or any other bug, but it seems reasonable that a garden with food, water, and shelter for a variety of beasts will achieve somewhat of a natural balance. That is, until some entirely inexplicable event results in hoards of something or another.

Late summer blooms

Bumblebee on toad lilyThe flowers of several cultivars of toad lilies (Tricyrtis) are too narrow for bumblebees to fit to sample the nectar that is protected beneath pollen laden anthers. So, the bee simply chews a hole near the base of the flower (above), and takes its fill. The bee’s shortcut undermines the toad lily’s natural mechanism designed to ensure pollination, but I suppose smaller pollinators take care of this. Tricyrtis formosana var. grandiflora 'W-Ho-ping Toad'

Several cultivars of toad lily are flowering in the garden at the start of September, with others scheduled to bloom later in the month. Ones planted in more shade will be delayed a few weeks longer than those in sunnier spots. In areas that have become more shaded so that there is no direct sunlight through the day, there will be few or no blooms, and these must be transplanted with cooler temperatures in late summer. Toad lily in early September

Toad lilies are fascinating flowers for the late summer garden, with flowers on several cultivars persisting until frost. I continue to add to my collection, and today I’m expecting delivery of a few new ones from a mail order outfit that specializes in less common plants. I will be trying a few yellow and white flowered toad lilies (below), again, and unfortunately the last group of these more unusual varieties were planted where shade was too deep and too dry, and I paid too little attention for them to survive the dryness of summer. Otherwise, these are as care free as any plant in the garden, and with remarkable blooms there is no reason not to plant at least several of the ones most readily available. Then, once you are hooked, you can order ones that are more difficult and costly.  If I can manage to keep these alive, which should not be too great a challenge, the slight investment will be very much worthwhile.  Tricyrtis Maya White in late September

Unfortunately, this is perhaps the last hurrah for the Franklin tree (Franklinia alatamaha, below). For years, the slight spring that originates beneath the garden shed (beside which the Franklinia is planted) ran only through the spring and in wet weather, but now the surrounding soil has remained almost constantly damp for several years. Despite the Franklin tree being native to the banks of the Altamaha River in Georgia, it will not tolerate persistent wet soil, so each year the tree has fewer leaves and more dead branches as it declines .Franklinia flower in late August

For lack of a suitable replacement for the long suffering Franklinia, I’ve planted two shrubby Gordlinias (x Gordlinia grandlifora,  below), an intergeneric hybrid of Franklinia and the southeastern native Loblolly Bay (Gordonia lasianthus). Today, both Franklin tree and Gordlinia are flowering, I suspect for the last time together. The foliage and blooms of tree and shrub are similar, though the flowers of Gordlinia are somewhat larger. This upright growing shrub rebounded vigorously from winter damage that defoliated the evergreen, and in drier ground I expect that it will be sturdier and longer lived than the Franklin tree.     Gordlinia in early September

There has been no shortage of blooms in the garden through the summer, but with cooler temperatures there will be many more flowers through September. The long delayed blooms of the mophead hydrangeas (Hydrangea macrophylla) are coming on quickly, and only recently I’ve seen the first small flowers from the unusually colored ‘Pistachio’ (below). With the hydrangeas’ recovery from the winter nearly complete, the late summer garden should be delightful.Pistachio hydrangea in early September