The garden’s ponds in early autumn

I don’t write often about the garden’s ponds because nothing particularly exciting happens from month to month. Typically, there are a few dozen new hatchling fish in spring, irises and pickerel weeds that appear and begin to spread by late spring, and then sometime in autumn the ponds must be covered with nets so they are not filled with leaves blowing in from the garden and neighboring forest. In between, there is no significant maintenance, and rarely are there bothers worth mentioning. So, there are only a couple times each year when events regarding the ponds are worthy of mention, and none are newsworthy, or barely so.Waterfall and Japanese maple

If this implies that the ponds are not treasured, make no mistake, the ponds are the centerpiece of this garden. I suppose I am nuttier than most over plants, but I cannot imagine the garden without the ponds. There are five, four that range from a hundred to a couple hundred square feet, and the koi pond (below) that is somewhere around fourteen hundred square feet. It is bordered by a jungle of plants (of course), a stone patio, and a covered roof structure that for lack of a better term my wife and I call a summerhouse. It is nothing so grand as the name might imply, but it doesn’t fit my definition of a gazebo or a pavilion. No matter the name, it’s an excellent spot to get out of the summer sun for a few moments, or to wait out an occasional thunderstorm.Koi pond

There is every reason to be pleased that the ponds are not often worthy of mention. Besides ongoing troubles with a sometimes belligerent Northern Brown snake that resides beneath boulders at the edge of the koi pond, the lone event for this year is that instead of a dozen or two new fish, this spring there were more than could be counted. And, not just a few, but many dozens, and what could have caused this population explosion is beyond me. Now, I’m concerned for next year and what can be done with so many fish.Pickerel weed

As the number of fish in the koi pond has increased, growth of pickerel weeds (Pontederia cordata, above) and yellow flag iris (Iris pseudacorus, below) in the shallow filtration area has become correspondingly more robust. This is, I presume, a simple equation, with more and larger fish creating more waste, which then fertilizes the vigorous growth.Yellow flag iris

I haven’t a clue why the number of hatchlings increased so greatly this spring, and even with dozens being transferred to the garden’s other four ponds, several dozen remain in this large pond. These are added to the seventy-five or more koi and a few goldfish already inhabiting the pond, and now I fear that it might soon become overpopulated. Already, the pond’s simple filtration cannot keep pace, and for the first time since the pond was constructed the water is not clear. The cloudiness is a combination of silt stirred up from the pond’s bottom by koi, and algae, which has only occasionally been any kind of problem.Koi

The immediate issue with the ponds is that leaves are starting to fall, and the ponds must be covered in the next few weeks. I hold off as long as I can since this task signals the end of the garden season for me. There’s still much work to do, but with nets over the ponds and most plants headed into dormancy, it’s difficult to manage equal enthusiasm to times when there are blooms in every direction and birds and bees are buzzing through the garden .

The process to cover and anchor the nets takes only a few hours, but since I wait until the last possible date, usually the wind is howling and it’s cloudy and cold with leaves falling all around. This is not a day that I look forward to.

Sadness and late October flowers

This is a sad day. For several years I’ve anticipated the demise of the Franklin tree (Franklinia alatamaha, below), and finally this treasure has been cut down and chopped into pieces to be burned along with twigs and branches that have accumulated in piles through the year. The cause for the death is uncertain, though less than ideal drainage is suspected.Tiger swallowtail on Franklinia flower in August

Franklinia is a finicky and short lived tree, so I am pleased to have enjoyed it for most of two decades. I would happily replace the Franklinia if a plump eight or ten foot tree could be located, but I expect this will be hard to come by, and probably the cost would test my resolve.

In anticipation of this day, three years ago I planted a clump of three spindly Gordlinias (x Gordlinia grandiflora, below) that have grown into a fine small tree despite suffering through recent winters. Gordlinia is a hybrid of Franklinia and the southern shrub Gordonia, and its foliage and flowers are similar enough so that I’ll not be tempted to start over with a tiny tree, or resort to spending a fortune for a replacement.Gordlinia

The Gordlinia has surprised in recent weeks with several flowers, which promptly wilted in the freeze, but another few buds are opening and there will be a few more flowers if this mild weather continues. While Franklinia flowered beginning in early August, Gordlinia starts a week or two earlier, but this year it flowered for several weeks, rested through the dryness of September, then began to flower again after a soaking rain. I suspect this anomaly was a result of the late summer drought, though I would miss the Franklinia less if Gordlinia flowered August into November every year.

In full bloom, flowers of several Encore azaleas (below) were damaged in the recent freeze, but with warmer temperatures that followed there will be blooms until the next bout of cold. Several cultivars are typically late flowering in this northwestern Virginia garden, with buds swelling through early autumn, but not opening unless mild weather extends into November.  Encore azalea in late October

Years ago, there was reason for surprise to see a few scattered flowers on an azalea in late October. ‘Wachet’ and a few others would dependably flower in early autumn, and weather could trick a few scattered buds into bloom, but azaleas were generally expected to flower only in mid spring. No longer. Now, there are many bred to bloom in spring and again late summer into autumn.

With recent severe winters there have been no flowers on the Japanese camellias (Camellia japonica), but buds of the cold hardy hybrids (Camellia x ‘Winter’s Star’, below) develop after winter’s cold, so there are dependably flowers beginning in late October. Other hybrids planted with less sun exposure often do not flower until late November, and if winter weather cooperates there are occasional blooms into January. More rare are flowers in February, or even early March, though temperatures below ten degrees are likely to damage buds and put an end to further flowering.  Winter's Star camellia

The flowers of the hybrid camellias are damaged when temperatures drop into the teens, and December and January flowers routinely turn brown along the edges until a hard freeze does them in completely. As frost and freeze force most of the garden into dormancy, the gardener must be satisfied by these few flowers through November. Later, there will be mahonias, witch hazels (Hamamelis), and winter jasmines (Jasminum nudiflorum) to flower until snowdrops (Galanthus) and hellebores signal the approach of spring.

28 degrees

Damage from frost was slight in this garden. Caladiums and heliotrope shriveled in the cold (as the gardener should expect when these are left outdoors), but there was little injury to flowers of azaleas and hydrangeas. The freeze the next night was a different matter.

Flowers on mophead hydrangeas were brown along the edges after a night of frost, but turned almost completely brown at 28 degrees. There are more buds that will probably bloom in milder temperatures.

Flowers on mophead hydrangeas were brown along the edges after a night of frost, but turned almost completely brown at 28 degrees. There are more buds that will probably bloom in milder temperatures.

Flowers of Encore azaleas wilted, and blue hydrangeas (above) turned brown in twenty-eight degree overnight temperatures. Both have buds that are likely to flower in milder temperatures that are forecast, and I would not be surprised to see a few azalea blooms next week.

Toad lilies did not wilt in the freeze. I expected that flowers and foliage would fade, but only a few toad lilies show any ill effect.

Toad lilies did not wilt in the freeze. I expected that flowers and foliage would fade, but only a few toad lilies show any ill effect.

Surprisingly, toad lilies (Tricyrtis, above) and asters (Aster tataricus ‘Jindai’, below) show no evidence of the cold, and this afternoon the aster was swarming with butterflies (moths?) and bees. Curiously, most often I see abundant bumblebees on the asters in early autumn, but today there were none.

Jindai aster tolerates early freezes every autumn. This tall aster is often the last perennial standing, and it is regularly visited by bees and butterflies.

Jindai aster tolerates early freezes every autumn. This tall aster is often the last perennial standing, and it is regularly visited by bees and butterflies.

I read today that an El Nino weather pattern will bring mild temperatures for the next month, and after two miserably cold winters I would not be bothered if this pattern remained until March.

Frost and freeze

Gardening would be so much easier if the complications of everyday life did not intervene. Cold temperatures often come suddenly in autumn. Occasionally, I am surprised by a forecast of frost, and hours are spent one chilly evening lugging dirt covered pots of elephant ears and agaves into the basement.

Autumn flowering Encore azaleas are hardly bothered by frost and temperatures within a few degrees of freezing.

Autumn flowering Encore azaleas are hardly bothered by frost and temperatures within a few degrees of freezing.

Not this year. The forecast has been calling for tonight’s cold for several days, and with a sunny but cool Saturday this is as easy as this chore will ever be. But (and this is where life complicates matters), my wife has scheduled the carpet in the basement to be ripped out, to be replaced by new carpet and an area of tile by the double doors that open into the garden. Besides the expense of new flooring, which is more than I care to think about, the trouble is that the pots must be hauled indoors this afternoon, then they must be moved back out by mid week to make room for the tile people. And then, back in again before the next frost. I suppose I will survive, but it will not be without complaint.

Autumn crocus will tolerate frost, but not freezing temperatures.

Autumn crocus will tolerate frost, but not freezing temperatures.

This white flowered autumn crocus has just broken ground in mid October.

This white flowered autumn crocus has just broken ground in mid October.

More typically, if there is such a thing, frost eases in before temperatures drop below freezing, but this weekend frost and freeze will coincide. I suspect that this will be the end for the toad lilies (Tricyrtis), which still have buds that have not opened, and probably for the autumn crocuses (Colchicum, above), though the white variety has just broken ground. A mild frost would not kill these to the ground, but temperatures in the upper twenties are likely to put a stop to their flowering.

Reblooming mophead hydrangeas such as Endless Summer flower in late spring, rest in the heat of summer, then reset buds in cooler weather to flower until there is a hard freeze.

Reblooming mophead hydrangeas such as Endless Summer flower in late spring, rest in the heat of summer, then reset buds in cooler weather to flower until there is a hard freeze.

Autumn flowering azaleas, late blooming mophead hydrangeas (Hydrangea macrophylla, above), and ‘Narihira’ mahonia (Mahonia confusa ‘Narihira’, below) are unlikely to be bothered much by the cold, though it will not be surprising if some blooms turn brown after the freeze. If more moderate temperatures return, which is likely, buds will continue to open until flowering is finally called to halt by nights that drop into the low twenties.

Flowers of Narihira mahonia will tolerate frost and a mild freeze. Late autumn flowering hybrids such as Winter Sun will continue flowering through freezing temperatures into early January.

Flowers of Narihira mahonia will tolerate frost and a mild freeze. Late autumn flowering hybrids such as Winter Sun will continue flowering through freezing temperatures into early January.

I do not mention the autumn flowering camellias yet because the cold hardy hybrids bloom late in this garden. Rarely do any flower before mid November, and today none show signs of swelling buds to make me think they could flower any sooner. The cold will have no effect on the camellias, and even when flowering the blooms will tolerate a mild freeze.

 

 

Finally, a final update

Toad lilyI suspect that family and  friends (and readers?) possibly grow weary as this impassioned gardener prattles on about one plant collection or another. Certainly, others cannot be expected to share this enthusiasm, but with the garden moving into autumn, with frost soon approaching, the gardener is compelled to offer one final update on his assemblage of toad lilies (Tricyrtis). Weeks, then months go by, still they are flowering, and any poor soul who will listen must be preached to. If a gardener cares at all for autumn blooms, toad lilies cannot be lived without.Toad lily

First blooms of ‘Gilt Edge’ arrived by mid August, with others flowering close behind. As mid October approaches only a few have faded from bloom, and several are now at their peak with buds that will continue to open for weeks until frost calls an end to this procession. Autumn flowering azaleas and camellias are not likely to suffer in a light frost, but flowers and foliage of toad lilies decline overnight. If frost arrives in the next few days as predicted, this will be the last you will hear about them until late summer next year.Miyazaki toad lily

With a collection that numbers fifteen or twenty cultivars (I’ve lost track), I can state with assurance that ones commonly found in garden centers (if they are found at all) are the best, most floriferous, and with a form that is more compact and least likely to flop. ‘Sinonome’, ‘Empress’, ‘Blue Wonder’, and ‘Miyazaki’ (above) should be adequate choices to please any but those kooks who must have one of everything no matter that ones less common also have fewer outstanding qualities. It will surprise no one who reads these pages that I am overjoyed by ones not listed above, no matter that they flop, or that they grow tall and spindly. Each toad lily, common or not, is prized, and though I hesitate to recommend Tricyrtis latifolia ex. Sichuan 1735 (below), I marvel each time I see it (everyday).Tricyrtis latifolia ex. Sichuan #1735

Though they barely survived into a second year, and have yet to show signs that they will thrive, I rejoice that two yellow flowered toad lilies flowered several weeks ago after several prior failures. Other newcomers, planted a year ago and earlier this year, have managed nicely, and in another year I have little doubt I’ll be researching which is which so they can be featured as I wear patience thin once again.Toad lily

 

Yes, flowers in October

Well, of course there are flowers in the garden in October, though not a single mum. Also, no pansies, though I take no pride in their exclusion since the flowers are often marvelous. There are abundant choices to satisfy the most demanding gardener, despite a snobbish bias that they are too common. Jindai aster

There is only a single aster, though it has been divided several times and spread liberally around the garden. In the confusing and changing world of common plant names, the tall and rugged ‘Jindai’ aster (Aster tataricus ‘Jindai’, above) goes by Tatarian daisy. For most gardens this is likely to be the least favored choice of the splendid autumn flowering asters since its foliage is coarse and it grows far too tall (to four feet). In this garden its size assures its survival while more refined asters have been overwhelmed by exuberant neighbors. I have planted the splendid ‘Purple Dome’ and other fine asters in the past, and for my money these are superior flowers deserving of inclusion in any garden where autumn flowers are desired.

I am hopeful that Mahonia ‘Narihira’ (Mahonia confusa ‘Narihira’, below) proves tougher through winters than the marginal ‘Soft Caress’ (Mahonia eurybracteata ‘Soft Caress’) that has failed in two recent cold winters, but also failed to thrive following warmer winters. ‘Soft Caress’ was at the top of my just-got-to-have list for a few years, but I was first disappointed by its lack of vigor as it expended energy recovering from mild winter temperatures. Then, in cold winters, it died, twice. ‘Narihira’ is rated with the same cold hardiness, but I’m hoping that in the breeding ‘Soft Caress’ became more tender and that the similar ‘Narihira’ might survive.Narihira mahonia

Other mahonias, also considered cold hardy only to zero degrees, have suffered minimal damage with several winter nights to four and five degrees below zero. ‘Winter Sun’ and ‘Charity’ (Mahonia x media) will flower in late November, and often the blooms persist into January. The October flowers of ‘Narihira’ are smaller, and it is notable as much for its foliage as its blooms.Autumn crocus

After a slow start due to very dry conditions, the autumn crocuses (Colchicum, above and below) have sprouted from beneath shrubs in every corner of the garden. Some, I’d forgotten about, but these were welcomed after recent rains, and in cooler temperatures the flowers last much longer than early flowering ones that suffered in heat and sun baked clay a few weeks ago. Autumn crocus

I was surprised over the weekend to see flowers on the shrubby Gordlinia (x Gordlinia grandiflora, below). After giving it up for dead following the winter it has recovered nicely with many large white blooms in August. And this, I figured, was the end of it, since the flowers rarely persist long into September. But, now there are more, and several swelling buds that will assure more flowers in October. At least until frost, which can come any day now.Gordlinia

Too much of a good thing?

No doubt, there can be too much of a good thing, but following a late summer drought the gardener is unlikely to complain that he has not seen the sun for a week. Several times through the weekend I looked out the kitchen window, hoping for the next wave of dark clouds to bring more rain. But, if the rain continues into a second week, this is another matter, and the gardener will voice his discontent loudly and often.

The flowering of Encore Autumn Carnation azalea is as heavy as in spring. Other Encore azaleas flower more sporadically, but not Carnation, at least this year.

The flowering of Encore Autumn Carnation azalea is as heavy as in spring. Other Encore azaleas flower more sporadically, but not Carnation, at least this year.

After several days, and inches of rain, the garden has perked up considerably. Even the small sections of lawn have greened up, though clover and ground ivy threaten to crowd out the fescues. It would hardly bother me if the lawn died completely, and this could be a good excuse to turn the entire property to garden. But, I’m certain my wife wouldn’t agree, she complains that there is already too much garden.

Bloomstruck hydrangea flowered through the summer, but cooler temperatures promoted more buds that will flower until frost.

Bloomstruck hydrangea flowered through the summer, but cooler temperatures promoted more buds that will flower until frost.

In this part of the country, October is the time trees begin to turn, or if there has been an extended drought the leaves might drop without changing color at all. Despite the late dry summer, only the huge beech has dropped significant leaves, and this is not too unusual since it is often dry in late summer and leaves of the beech regularly cover the front garden in September.  It seems that the changing of foliage colors is coming along more slowly than usual, and despite annual forecasts that it will be a poor season for autumn foliage, the dogwoods and Japanese maples are quite dependable. Sooner or later they will turn, and they will be as splendid as any year.Satomi dogwood in November

Many perennials are beginning their decline into dormancy, though temperatures have not been cold enough for frost. I expect that some part of this is due to the dry conditions, and while the recent rains greened things up, it was most beneficial in relieving the stress that can cause problems if plants are too dry going into winter.