The native dogwood

Forget this foolishness you read that native plants are hardier, sturdier, or more drought resistant than non-natives. Yes, some are, but others require regular irrigation, or are difficult to maintain in a garden. Some are even aggressive (or invasive), while many non-natives are completely care free and well behaved in the garden. Generalizations about native and non-native plants are most likely to be wrong, and there is every reason to question the motives or knowledge of the writer. Of course, there are excellent reasons to plant natives, but not for sturdiness, ease of maintenance, or to save water. These goals can easily be achieved by selecting appropriate natives or non-natives.

Dogwood flowering in late April

Dogwood flowering in late April

To my thinking, there is no superior tree to our native Eastern dogwood (Cornus florida, above). It’s flowers are abundant, and without the interference of leaves in mid and late April the blooms stand out all the more. The foliage is pleasant until early autumn, when it turns to a magnificent burgundy that holds through much of the season. As leaves begin to drop, clusters of red berries (below) become more effective, and birds quickly pluck them as they ripen.

Dogwood berries in early November

Dogwood berries in early November

With many splendid attributes there seems no reason why a dogwood should not be planted in every garden. Except (and these are large exceptions), the native dogwood transplants reluctantly, and is susceptible to diseases that disfigure and can cause the tree to be short lived. There are cankers, borers, mildew, and anthracnose, and please watch the drainage. Don’t plant the tree a smidgen too low or you will count the dogwood’s lifetime in weeks, not years.

Now that you have been dissuaded from ever planting a dogwood, I must add that I planted the first in this garden twenty five years ago, then a second and a third over the next ten years. All survive to this day, though the trees suffer a variety of maladies that might eventually result in their demise. But, none of the diseases and mildews are much of a concern to me through much of the year, and generally I regard the trees as healthy. As the case of the dogwood shows, you are advised to disregard any nonsense you read that natives are more resilient or resistant to bugs, fungus, or disease. The dogwood can have them all, sometimes simultaneously.

Redbud flowering in late April

Redbud flowering in late April

The native redbud (Cercis canadensis, above) is another marvelous native, and it is slightly more accepting of transplanting and in general less of a problem. It is a relatively disease free tree, though it is also intolerant of damp soils. Its large, heart shaped leaves are superb, and while its autumn color is unremarkable, redbud is an exceptional tree and particularly lovely in early to mid April when it typically begins to flower. In most years the redbuds and dogwoods overlap a bit in flower, but this spring their blooms have closely coincided so that gardens and the outer edges of forests are quite magnificent. When the flowers drop in another week and the forest turns to a lush green, it is a tremendous let down.

Carolina silverbell flowering in late April

Carolina silverbell flowering in late April

Years ago I planted Carolina silverbell (Halesia carolina, above and below) at the edge of the garden beneath towering swamp maples (Acer rubrum) in a spot that would be typical for planting redbuds or dogwoods. In the early years the tree was a bit of a disappointment. It flowered sparsely, which I excused by blaming a setting that could be too shaded, and the tree failed to display much vigor. After paying little attention, one day a few years ago I was astonished to see this tree rocketing into the tree canopy, with flowers dangling from each branch. Fortunately, there were a few branches low enough for me to enjoy close up.

Carolina silverbell

Carolina silverbell

Now, I wonder how why this wonderful tree is not more widely planted. Silverbell is every bit the equal of dogwood and redbud, and I would not be without any of the three in my garden.

The scent of spring

If I can smell it, anyone can. It seems a shame that a gardener is not able to enjoy the scents, as well as the sights of the garden, but if you ask my wife my hearing is not so good either.  So, I’m challenged in many ways.

Eternal Fragrance is in full bloom. It will flower sporadically through November.

Eternal Fragrance daphne is in full bloom. It will flower sporadically through November.

On this bright and breezy afternoon I managed to stay in the garden finding one thing or the other to keep myself occupied for hours, and there was just enough warmth that I was able to catch a nap on the stone patio beside the koi pond (a late spring and summer tradition). While awake I found a few spare stones to lengthen a path on the low side of the pond to extend past an area that has become increasingly muddy from the pond’s overflow. Through the winter deer churned the sod into a sloppy mess, but now there are enough stones in the path to extend past the worst of it.

Carol Mackie daphne lost its leaves in the cold winter, but a few weeks later it is in full leaf, and in a few days will be in full bloom.

Carol Mackie daphne lost its leaves in the cold winter, but a few weeks later it is in full leaf, and in a few days will be in full bloom.

Now that the hostas are up I was able to plant most of the hellebores that were waiting for open spaces. I’ve seen one that was planted a few weeks ago that is a bit too close to a low growing hosta that I had forgotten about, so the hellebore will probably need to be moved in the next few weeks. The other hellebores were given good, shady homes in soil that is not too dry, so the wait was worthwhile though a few are barely hanging on after sitting on the driveway through a cold March.

The flowers of Sweetshrub are fragrant, but I can enjoy the scent only on rare occasions on a still evening.

The flowers of Sweetshrub are fragrant, but I can enjoy the scent only on rare occasions on a still evening.

I’m surprised by the number of hellebore seedlings this spring. Instead of the typical dozens, now there are hundreds. Some are two years old and ready to be moved, and I’ve offered my sons, just beginning their gardens in new homes, that they are welcome to as many as they please. One son has asked about splitting some hostas, and of course the divisions will hardly be missed. I am very pleased that this next generation shares my appreciation for the garden, though perhaps they will not be so fanatical.

Vernal witch hazel in January

Vernal witch hazel in January

Today, I planted three native witch hazels (Hamamelis virginiana), or at least ones that are labelled as such. I’ve been through this before with a large shrub that turned out to be the Vernal witch hazel (Hamamelis vernalis, above) instead, and if the ones I planted at the forest’s edge today are correctly labelled I’ll be happy to have witch hazels flowering from November into March. While I cannot always smell the fragrant flowers of the witch hazels, on a still, sunny winter day the scent can fill the lower garden.

Burkwood viburnum is tall and lanky, and perfectly suited for placement along the forest's edge where its open habit is not so obvious.

Burkwood viburnum is tall and lanky, and perfectly suited for placement along the forest’s edge where its open habit is not so obvious.

Certainly, I can smell the viburnums this afternoon, despite the breeze. Korean spice and Burkwood viburnums are flowering, with the tall, lanky Burkwood just coming into full bloom. The semi evergreen ‘Pragense’ will flower in a few days, and while its blooms are larger, they are not fragrant.

Elizabeth is a tall growing hybrid with the native Cucumber magnolia. Though its flowers are a pale yellow, the tree is splendid in bloom.

Elizabeth is a tall growing hybrid with the native Cucumber magnolia. Though its flowers are a pale yellow, the tree is splendid in bloom.

The early flowering magnolias were delayed by weeks with the late cold so that ‘Dr. Merrill’ and ‘Royal Star’ overlapped with the start of the creamy yellow flowered ‘Elizabeth’ (above) and purple ‘Jane’. ‘Elizabeth’ is particularly fragrant, and it is an annual disappointment when its flowers are knocked off prematurely by a thunderstorm. This afternoon, the ground is littered with blooms shattered in last night’s storm.

Caught up? Probably never

Finally, I have caught up, in the garden and on these pages. Today’s update will cover just about everything that’s been blooming over the past week or two, and then in coming days there will be viburnums, redbuds, and dogwoods, and the buds of azaleas are swelling noticeably. So, there will be plenty to talk about. As for the status of my spring garden clean up, I’m calling it quits. Any messes that have been left will be covered over by hostas and shrubs that will be leafing soon. At least, that’s the plan, as it is every year.

With a garden that is a tad too large for one person to manage (and particularly one who prefers to avoid as much work as is possible), choices must be made, and I’ve avoided the same chores for enough years that I’m certain I won’t be bothered by something or other that has been neglected. My only concern right away is the winter weeds that waited until late March to pop up, and I’ve had a devil of a time keeping up. I’m nearly done with them, but more pop up each day. Of course, if I fall behind and they go to seed, as they do every other year, there will be an even larger crop next year. I do my best not to worry about tomorrow.

Three boxes of bulbs, vines, and assorted perennials that arrived last week by mail order were planted over the weekend. Though there were no plans ahead of time where anything would be planted, I think that all have found good spots where they’ll be happy. The bulbs and vines are easiest since they require little space, and sun or shade is not so much of a concern. The perennials, hardy orchids and toad lilies, required a bit more thought (for which I was completely unprepared), but I’m satisfied with how everything ended up. Now, I’ll be able to relax a bit, though there’s never a time in the garden when absolutely nothing needs to be done.

Dogtooth violet

I knew I had planted more in autumn than only snowdrops. Now, I’m discovering what else. There are only a dozen or so Dogtooth violets, but this small number puts on quite a show.

Bleeding hearts

The gold leafed Bleeding heart (Dicentra spectabalis ‘Gold Heart’) has survived shade and shallow roots of the yellow flowered Elizabeth magnolia where other perennials have failed. I suspect the flowers and brightly color foliage combination is not for everyone, but it works well for me. One bleeding heart is in a bit more sun, and it fades more than the other in mid summer, but all bleeding hearts fade in the summer, so this is not a surprise.

 

Wood poppy

I’m encouraged that Wood poppy (Stylophorum diphyllum) has begun to spread through the dry shade in the side garden. I’m pleased that many perennials have been successful in this dreadful ground, with the challenge to carve out a planting space between roots of maples and tulip poplars.

Muscari and sedum

A few muscari somehow found their way into this planting of sedum and Hens and Chicks. I most certainly didn’t plant them here. I’m forgetful, but not that forgetful. I don’t know if this is a color combination I’d plan, but it wakes you up when you pass nearby.

 

Robb's euphorbia

A year ago Robb’s euphorbia suffered after the severe winter. It barely flowered and looked sad through the year. I suspected the same fate or worse this year, but this tough perennial surprised me. Even in horrid dry shade it grows vigorously and spreads. It is easy to control if it heads in the wrong direction.

Iris bucharica

The flowers of Iris bucharica last only a week, but it’s a welcome sight. The clump is planted beneath paperbushes that leaf just as the irises are fading. A few rhizomes have spread nicely.

 

Eternal Fragrance daphne appeared ready to flower at any spell of warmth through the severe winter. Now, it will flower from April into November, maybe December. Only one of four daphnes failed to thrive. It was trampled by deer.

Eternal Fragrance daphne appeared ready to flower at any spell of warmth through the severe winter. Now, it will flower from April into November, maybe December. Only one of four daphnes failed to thrive. It was trampled by deer. While Winter daphne has been injured by recent winters. Eternal Fragrance has had no problems.

 

A wonderful spring

After a winter that was too long and cold, the spring has been joyful. There has hardly been a day to complain about, and certainly the gardener must enjoy the few cool and rainy days that have made the ground ideal for planting. Many early bloomers were pushed a week or two late by the cold, but recent temperatures have been warm and most flowers are now on target.

Late frosts seem inevitable in most years, but this spring there have been no cold nights since mid March to threaten magnolia blooms or tender leaves emerging on Japanese maples.

Serviceberry flowers along the wood's edge in my garden. The lower branches receive little sunlight, so I nearly missed the blooms until I looked out from the kitchen window. I mistook the mass of white flowers initially for Dr, Merrill magnolia that is a bit further down, but a second glance took me outdoors to enjoy the serviceberrry's flowers as they rained down to the stream and pond below.

Serviceberry flowers along the wood’s edge in my garden. The lower branches receive little sunlight, so I nearly missed the blooms until I looked out from the kitchen window. I mistook the mass of white flowers initially for Dr. Merrill magnolia’s that is a bit further down, but a second glance took me outdoors to enjoy the serviceberrry’s flowers as they rained down to the stream and pond below.

Damage from winter’s cold is now becoming evident. Hydrangeas require drastic pruning, though not to the ground for most as was necessary a year ago. A few young Japanese maples have suffered, and one that was planted and stressed by neglect through last summer must be replaced, but this is not much to whine about. No doubt, the damage could have been worse.

Servceberry flowers litter the creek and moss covered stones

Servceberry flowers litter the creek and moss covered stones

Again today, I will keep the script brief, and we’ll get right to the garden since there is too much to keep up with if everything is to be covered. Today we’ll cover a few of the garden’s trees, though we’ll hold off on the dogwoods and redbuds until next week. In a few days we’ll get back around to smaller flowers.

Red Horsechestnut

The Red Horse chestnut unfurls leaves from large buds. Tucked into some leaf buds are the spring blooms.

 

The flower bud can be seen a few days after the foliage has opened.

The flower bud  of the Red Horse chestnut can be seen a few days after the foliage has opened.

Fernleaf Japanese maple

The Fernleaf Japanese maple leafs before other maples, and its flowers are more conspicuous than on other maples.

 

Lion's Head Japanese maple

The foliage of Lion’s Head Japanese maple is artfully layered along the branches.

The green leafed Viridis has just come into leaf in mid April

The green leafed Viridis has just come into leaf in mid April

The foliage of red buckeye  opens with the flower spikes already evident

The foliage of red buckeye opens with the flower spikes already evident

Elizabeth magnolia

The flowers of Elizabeth magnolia are a creamy yellow. A year ago the flowers were wrecked a night after reaching full bloom by a late freeze.

 

Jane magnolia

Jane magnolia is at its best in early April, but it flowers sporadically through the summer.

 

White flowers at the forest’s edge

What strange bedfellows this odd spring has arranged. After early cold, one flower is weeks late, while another arrives on schedule in the warmth of more recent days. And so, along roadsides in mid April are splendid white flowers that must be closely observed to discern if they are invasives, or natives.

Hundreds of Callery pears seedlings line this fence row in rural northern Virginia.

Hundreds of Callery pears seedlings line this fence row in rural northern Virginia.

First, in late March came the pears (Pyrus calleryana, above and below), seedlings of the ubiquitous ‘Bradford’ mostly, but also from ‘Chanticleers’ and ‘Aristocrats’, I suspect. Planting in local landscapes of the lovely, but vigorously invasive flowering tree has subsided, but the progeny live on, spreading along fence rows and highways, and in unmanaged meadows.

Flower of the Callery pear

Flower of the Callery pear

More recently, pears have been joined in flower at the forest’s edge by our native serviceberries (Amelanchier canadensis, below), which are equally beautiful but not so abundant. In this area of northwestern Virginia, pear seedlings greatly outnumber the serviceberries, which are not scarce, but are in no danger of being labelled invasive.

Serviceberry flowering in mid April

Serviceberry flowering in mid April

While the blooms are similar in appearance, the reliable test to identify pear and serviceberry is symmetry. The pear has it, the serviceberry doesn’t. If the tree’s branching is compact, it is a pear. Even at the wood’s edge the symmetry of the pear is apparent, which was a good part of its consumer appeal.

Serviceberry blooms along the wood's edge in my garden.

Serviceberry blooms along the wood’s edge in my garden.

I can be grudging stubborn to jump on bandwagons, but I am on board with this one. While the branching of serviceberry is perhaps too unmannerly for some situations, it is a much more responsible choice for the garden. Perhaps a dogwood will be more appealing (the native, hybrids, or Chinese) or a redbud. The answer is not native or non-native to my thinking, but a good choice rather than a poor one.

Spring garden tour – day 2

With flowering of early magnolias and cherries delayed by the frigid late winter, today, in mid April everything is blooming. Well, not everything, but enough to salve the soul of the harried gardener. With a poor start to the spring clean up, messes that should have been taken care of weeks ago have been tidied up only recently. This garden is a challenge even in a good year, but finally, the end is in sight and I’m more into the puttering stage where nothing must be done this minute. This is what I do best, work a bit at a time with long naps in between.

Already, there have been too many troubles in the garden this spring, though none as heartbreaking as the losses a year ago. Mophead hydrangeas have been injured by cold, again. ‘Endless Summer’ and other blue remontant (reblooming on new wood) hydrangeas have died back substantially, though not to the roots as happened last year. Lacecap and Oakleaf hydrangeas suffered no injury at all, just as a year ago. While newly planted gardenias have died again, paperbushes (Edgeworthia chrysantha, below) have fared better this spring, though there will be only a single flower when there should hundreds.

Of seven large shrubs, only one partial flower has survived the winter. Typically, there would be hundreds.

Of seven large shrubs, only one partial flower has survived the winter. Typically, there would be hundreds. Compare to the full flower, below.

Edgeworthia beginning to bloom in mid-March

I think that I will be completely over these troubles in another week as Japanese maples leaf out and large leaf hostas cover over the few piles of leaves that remain. There are likely to be a few more dead branches to prune than is typical, but I don’t anticipate any big problems. Today, and again a few days from now, we’ll not be bothered by these troubles. We’ll just enjoy the blooms, and worry some other day.

Sulfureum euphorbia

The spring flowering epimediums are splendid for a few weeks, and then they become sturdy plants with pleasant, but not exceptional foliage. They don’t seem to mind the extreme dry shade of the side garden.

 

Glory of the Snow

Glory of the Snow (Chionodoxa) has spread down the hillside. A few handfuls of the small bulbs have become hundreds. These don’t interfere with anything, so I’m not complaining.

 

Ogon spirea

The foliage and flowers of Ogon spirea are delightful, but it grows an ill mannered form to the point that annually I consider cutting it out. In a far back corner this unruly shrub is well suited. At the front, not so much.

 

Fritillaria

I am now discovering some of the bulbs that were planted last autumn that I had completely forgotten about. I’m overjoyed that one was this group of fritillarias.

 

Grecian windflower

There are many fewer windflowers than there would be if I did not constantly mistake them for weeds after they are finished flowering. Despite my worst efforts, these continue to spread, just not as densely as they would if I left them alone.

 

Beyond words

There are days in spring when a garden’s beauty is nearly beyond description. But, not this garden, which typically in early April is somewhere between disaster and paradise. One part can be lovely, the next an eyesore, and so it is for another few weeks until the messes are cleaned up and enough foliage has grown to disguise what I don’t get around to. Then, it is not so bad.

Another lovely hellebore in early April

Another lovely hellebore in early April

With warmer temperatures and longer days of sunlight, the garden has suddenly burst into spring. Today, there is no other story to tell, no lessons to be taught, and perhaps the narrative will be somewhat less wordy. There are too many flowers and too little time to update all, so today we’ll let the pictures do the talking. Certainly, there will be too little space and time to complete our journey through the garden today, so the completion will wait until another day.

Enjoy. There is no better time to be in the garden.

Dorothy Wycoff is the most vigorous pieris in the garden. It is planted at the intersection of the driveway and path to the rear garden so that bees must be avoided in early spring.

Dorothy Wycoff is the most vigorous pieris in the garden. It is planted at the intersection of the driveway and path to the rear garden so that bees must be avoided in early spring. I often recommend against planting Pieris beside a walk or drive because of the hordes of ravenous bees in early spring, but here it is. For a few weeks I’ll detour the long way around.

With dark red new growth Katsura is bound to be a favorite. So far it appears tolerant of clay soils.

With dark red new growth Katsura is bound to be a favorite. The flowers are also exceptional, and so far it appears vigorous and tolerant of clay soils.

 

The variegated Little Heath

The variegated Little Heath is more touchy than others. Without exceptional drainage and just the right sun exposure it can struggle. But, it’s a wonderful small pieris.

Brouwer's Beauty is a hybrid of the Japanese and native American pieris. It is sturdy, but slightly less floriferous and blooms are not as pendulous as other pieris varieties.

Brouwer’s Beauty is a hybrid of the Japanese and native American pieris. It is sturdy, but slightly less floriferous and blooms are not as pendulous as other pieris varieties.

Snowdrift pieris is exceptional in bloom, ordinary after flowering

Snowdrift pieris is exceptional in bloom, ordinary after flowering with unremarkable foliage compared to others. One Snowdrift has declined in health starting in autumn, and it’s unlikely to survive the spring.  Pieris as a whole are not ideally suited to heavy clay soils, though they can be planted to encourage drainage with good results. I suggest Dorothy Wycoff, Katsura (based upon limited experience), and the compact growing Cavatine in areas with clay soils, though these must not be planted where soil stays damp.

 

FebruaryGold occasionally flowers in February, but rarely in April

February Gold occasionally flowers in February, but rarely in April. Usually, it is a week or two earlier than larger daffodils, but this spring it began flowering only a day or two earlier. The smaller daffodils spread more quickly than larger types, and the smaller bulbs are less costly, so February Gold and Tete a Tete are great to get started adding early spring color.

One Winter daphne suffered injury to uppermost flower buds, while a second escaped injury. Both are flowering in early April when late February or early March is more typical.

One Winter daphne suffered injury to uppermost flower buds, while a second escaped injury. Both are flowering in early April when late February or early March is more typical.

Leatherleaf mahonia often flowers in February, but more commonly in early March.

Leatherleaf mahonia often flowers in February, but more commonly in early March. In recent years I have enjoyed the winter flowering ‘Winter Sun, and ‘Charity’, but leatherleaf remains a marvelous plant. The winter flowering mahonias are less likely to be pollinated be bees, so there are fewer of the grape-like fruits. But, this makes leatherleaf more likely to sprout seeds elsewhere.

Ogon winter hazel (Corylopsis spicata 'Ogon')  flowering in early April

Ogon winter hazel (Corylopsis spicata ‘Ogon’) flowering in early April. In my garden Ogon is more floriferous than Buttercup winter hazel (Corylopsis pauciflora)

Okame cherry is the earliest to flower

Okame cherry is the earliest to flower, often blooming several weeks before the more common Yoshino and Kwanzan cherries.