The last dogwoods of the season

A gardener questions that his hydrangeas are not flowering this year, and perhaps they never will again. Possibly, they’re dying, he thinks. But, of course, the hydrangeas are fine, and only delayed a bit because they were nipped by April freezes, then constant rain and cloudy skies have slowed regrowth.Cherokee Sunset dogwood

Perhaps the problem is not the hydrangeas (which it is not in this garden), but dogwoods. ‘Cherokee Sunset’ dogwood (Cornus florida ‘Cherokee Sunset’, above) should have splendid red flowers followed by bright yellow and green variegated foliage, but the small tree in this garden has failed to flower for years. Yes, years. I know, when someone tells this tale to me I roll my eyes (not so the storyteller can see). I know that the dogwood has probably flowered all along, but this fellow has not spent enough time in his garden in April to see it.

Sadly, the problem is not a lack of observation, but some combination of factors that denies blooms to this dogwood. Though its foliage is splendid today (in late May), it will not be long until powdery mildew twists and curls the leaves, and then it is not splendid at all. How this adversely effects the development of flower buds, I’m not quite certain, because many other dogwoods set buds more heavily when trees are stressed. So, I don’t know, but I am fairly certain that when a neighboring hornbeam with pendulous branches overtakes the dogwood, I will make no effort to save it.Kousa dogwood

Yesterday I noticed that a Chinese dogwood (Cornus kousa) planted in deep shade has a few scattered flowers, for the first time. There are several other Chinese dogwoods in the garden, and all are planted in enough sun that there are at least some flowers. Ones in nearly full sun are covered in blooms, with ones that are partially shaded not so much, but still some flowers. This dogwood was a lost soul, rescued from a trash pile even though I knew there was no proper place to plant it. But, for five or six years it has grown, long ago surviving its broken burlap root ball, and its short time on the trash heap. And now, there are some flowers, which I figured I’d never see.

In part sun, flowering is much heavier on this Kousa dogwood

In part sun, flowering is much heavier on this Kousa dogwood

The other Chinese dogwoods are flowering nicely, even the the vigorously growing, variegated ‘Samaritan’ that is shaded a bit too much, and only blooms off and on. The wide spreading ‘Wolf Eyes’ (below) is planted very near ‘Cherokee Sunset’, and it appears that this will be an off year for its flowering. In recent years it has had some issues in late summer, so perhaps this has caused a bit of a problem, but it appears healthy, and some branches are covered in flowers. I don’t think this is anything to be bothered about.Wolf Eyes dogwood

The pink flowered ‘Satomi’ (below) is rarely very pink, most often white with a slight pink tint. Now, the flowers are more pink than usual, a consequence, I suspect, of the prolonged gray skies of recent weeks. This happens once every ten or twelve years in this garden. The gardener only needs to be around long enough to witness such things.Satomi dogwwood

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A preference for informality

Only a single plant in this garden is regularly sheared to keep its shape, and this is by necessity, not for aesthetic purposes. For reasons that are unclear after many years, a spiral pruned Common box (Buxus sempervirens) was once planted beside the bluestone path that leads from the driveway to the deck in back of the house. I much prefer plants in their natural form, and the difficulty in maintaining this formal shape quickly became apparent. After several years, efforts to maintain the spiral were abandoned and the box was allowed to go natural. For awhile.Common boxwood

In its unpruned form, the boxwood grew in height and width, and soon began to encroach on the stone path. My wife, who delights in pointing out the errors of my ways, insisted that something must be done. I proposed that if the encroaching boxwood was a bother, she could take the path that winds through the other side of the garden. This would only detour her route to the deck by several hundred feet. Of course, she thought this was ridiculous.

Eventually, I came to appreciate her argument, as I seemingly always do. So, the boxwood was sheared into a tall pencil point, which I do not prefer, but the path is now unobstructed (at least by the box). I grudgingly admit satisfaction that the boxwood has been rescued, and the result is not so bad after all, though there are no plans to begin shearing other plants.Diabolo ninebark

While references can inform the gardener about the mature height and width of plants (and sometimes these are even accurate), too often there are surprises. An arching habit can betray the gardener’s careful placement, but too often the gardener has planted without considering the form or mature size of a plant. A cute, dark leafed ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Diabolo’, above) purchased in a small container from the garden center cannot possibly grow into an unruly behemoth in a few short years, can it?Venus dogwood

And, of course, it does, and what is to be done with it? Fortunately, the ninebark in this garden was planted to the rear of smaller plantings, and well off the stone patio that borders the koi pond. Still, it laps over to invade space intended for a ‘Venus’ dogwood (Cornus (kousa x nuttallii) x kousa, above) that does not seem too bothered by the encroachment, though I’d prefer if it had a bit more space to spread to enjoy the huge flowers on lower branches.Little devil ninebark

A more suitable ninebark for planting closer to a patio or walk is ‘Little Devil’ (Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Little Devil’, above), with a mature size as well as flowers and foliage that are scaled down from the full sized version. Perhaps its smaller flowers are not as prominent against a background of foliage that is not as darkly colored as ‘Diabolo’, but it will fit into more spaces without requiring drastic annual pruning.

The spring garden tour

Collector’s gardens are frowned upon by designers, most likely because the parts are of greater importance than the sum, and that is true to some degree in this garden. Sacrifices, most very minor (I think), have been made to cram in another Japanese maple, or any of a dozen (or more) other small collections. Hopefully, I have not thrown in the towel completely on design, but I cannot dispute that there is a bit of a hodgepodginess to the garden. In any case, I could not imagine changing a thing to suit somebody else’s idea of proper design.

To satisfy curiosity that there is at least some aesthetic appeal, I will occasionally take photos of random corners of the garden for a more overall view, rather than only of individual plants. And, what better time for photos than late May when the growth and blooms are most lush and abundant.

the garden

The view down the slope to the rear garden will be more obstructed in a few weeks as the Silver Cloud redbud fills in. Alliums are most evident in the foreground of this photo, but there are also toad lilies, black mondo, Blue mist shrub, roses, Graham Blandy columnar box, Francis Williams hosta, and Chardonnay Pearls deutzia. There are a number of toad lilies and hostas in other parts of the garden, and at least a handful of various redbuds with colored and variegated foliage.

The front of the house is hidden behind Japanese maples and dogwoods. A purple leafed beech off the left corner of the house has become huge.

In this older photo, the front of the house is obscured by Japanese maples and dogwoods. Today, less of the house is visible from the street. The stone path to the front door is overhung by branches of two Seriyu Japanese maples. A purple leafed beech off the left corner of the house (just out of view) dominates the front lawn. With deep shade and the beech’s shallow roots, the lawn thinned each year until the sparse grass was removed and replaced by hostas, epimediums, and native carex.

Koi pond

Looking across the koi pond to the stone patio and fire pit. Shallows of the pond are planted with yellow flag and Japanese irises, rushes, and sweetflag. The yellowish upright on the left is Golden fernspray cypress. The juniper to the right is Gold Cone, which is striking in the low humidity of the west coast, and in Virginia in May, but then it fades to green by mid June.

This blue hosta is tucked between stones that border the patio and beneath a golden Fernspray cypress. By mid summer this spot is a bit too sunny and the hosta fades.

This blue leafed hosta is tucked between small granite boulders that border the patio, and beneath a golden Fernspray cypress. By mid summer this spot is a bit too sunny and the hosta fades slightly. Then, a white flowered coneflower snakes from beneath the hosta’s wide spreading leaves. In the foreground are Creeping Jenny and a small leafed, variegated sedum.

Snow damaged branches of the Gold Cone juniper must be pruned sometime soon. The geraniums in the foreground are seedlings from Espresso, a dark leafed selection of the native wild geranium.

Snow damaged branches of the Gold Cone juniper must be pruned sometime soon. The geraniums in the foreground are seedlings of Espresso, a dark leafed selection of the native wild geranium. The tree behind the gold juniper is red Horse chestnut, and to the left side, behind the wagon wheel bench is the Golden Full Moon maple.

The green leafed Viridis Japanese maple has grown ten or twelve feet across, at least. It is difficult to measure its spread since a third of the tree protrudes over this small pond. The pond is the first of five that were constructed, this one more than twenty years ago.

The green leafed Viridis Japanese maple has grown ten or twelve feet across, at least. It is difficult to measure its spread since a third of the tree protrudes over this small pond. The pond is the first of five that were constructed, this one more than twenty years ago.

Stone steps lead from a lower patio, with a step across a part of a pond to the upper patio beside the house.

Stone steps lead from a lower patio, with a step across a part of a pond to the upper patio beside the house. Toad lilies and hostas will continue to grow through spring to fill this area, and soon Ostrich ferns will arch over this path. Several of the stones are local fieldstone, with the lower stones from a Canadian quarry. The lack of continuity in the stone steps does not bother me at all.

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This pond, just below the deck, has become partially obscured by a seedling hosta that sprouted in a small island between two waterfalls. The hosta’s roots grow in shallow water and are completely exposed through the winter, with no ill effect. Another small hosta has seeded to the rear in this photo, along with Leatherleaf mahonias that will be weeded out since they will grow too large.

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A narrow stream begins beneath this stone slab, then winds past Carol Mackie daphne and sweetbox to a small pond. Three of the garden’s five ponds, including this one, were constructed while my wife was away for long weekends visiting family.

Cinnamon ferns and prostrate plum yews

Cinnamon ferns, prostrate plum yews, and Robb’s euphorbia are deer resistant, and grow lush in this dry shade.

 

Transplants, seedlings, and sporophytes

For the penurious gardener, there is joy in discovering seedlings of treasured plants, and a double measure when seedlings are found in just the right spot so they can be left to grow, undisturbed. In this garden there are many dozens, possibly hundreds of hellebore seedlings. Handfuls have been transplanted around, though only so many can be kept. Few of the hundreds of Japanese maples that sprout annually are keepers, and beginning a year ago, toad lily (Tricyrtis) seedlings popped up everywhere, it seems. These appear to be all of similar foliage and form (though all are too young yet for flowers that will determine if any are keepers), and all were in spots where they must be plucked out and replanted. While not a nuisance, the thrill is somewhat diminished when there are more seedlings than you can count.

Sensitive fern growing in damp gravel and muck beside a constructed stream.

Sensitive fern growing in damp gravel and muck, through the base of a heron statue, beside a constructed stream.

Occasionally, in damp, shaded areas I find a shallow rooted fern seedling (Sporophyte, from spores, not seed, as you probably already are aware) growing in leaf compost, most often the native Sensitive fern (Onoclea sensibilis, above), but also Japanese Painted ferns (Athyrium niponicum var. ‘Pictum’, below).  These do not grow in quantity, but along a constructed steam in the garden both ferns grow on moss covered stones beneath a canopy of serviceberry (Amelanchier) and Japanese maples.

A Painted fern sporophyte growing in dry, cool ground beside the stream.

A Painted fern growing in dry, cool ground beside the stream.

The form and coloration of the young Painted fern sporophyte (below) growing in the stream is not certain at this point, so it could possibly be offspring of the more upright growing ‘Ghost’ fern (Athyrium ‘Ghost’) instead. Whatever, I’ll be delighted, and I continually marvel when any seedling sprouts from moss or a crevice with little or no soil. I’m astonished when these survive through a winter, or for years, as they often do.

This sporophyte is growing in moss on this small stone.

This sporophyte is growing in moss on this small stone that remains constantly damp in this stream. As the fern grows it might be more easily identified as Japanese Painted, or Ghost fern.

While I do not recommend digging plants from the forest, and certainly this can be illegal as well as destructive, I once transplanted several divisions from a vigorous colony of Ostrich ferns (Matteuccia struthiopteris) that is growing in spring fed, damp shade at the forest’s edge that borders the garden (property I own). These were moved to an area much drier and sunnier (below), but here they have thrived despite the lack of shade, and additional divisions from this transplanted patch have been moved to an area of relatively dry shade. While it is early to tell if these will thrive, the ferns appear content and have grown to their full height this spring.

A few Ostrich ferns have spread to fill this two hundred square foot area, though they are easily controlled when they spread too far.

A few Ostrich ferns have spread to fill this two hundred square foot area, though they are easily controlled when they spread too far.

Ostrich fern is the tallest of the ferns in the garden, and curiously, while ferns are not eaten by deer or other wildlife, ones located in the sun are feasted upon by Japanese beetles. The most prominent ferns on this sunny patio are skeletonized by mid summer, though this does no harm except to their appearance. While the various ferns require little maintenance, Ostrich ferns beside this sunny patio must be regularly pruned, and plants that pop up between stones in the patio must be yanked out.  While the initial planting of Painted ferns was purchased, as were Cinnamon, Tassel (below), and East Indian ferns, ones obtained at no cost are, of course, most treasured, and a bit of maintenance is not minded. Tassel fern

The same, but different

A lack of space has dictated that no significant changes have been made to the garden in recent years. While hardly noticeable, dozens of low growing perennials have been planted to cover open ground beneath trees and shrubs to help prevent weeds that require too much time to keep up with. This has been moderately successful in the short term, and greater rewards are expected. If an inventory was taken, it’s likely that handfuls of shrubs have been planted in this period, but there have been no new ponds or patios, and for every shrub that was added, one was probably removed.Red Horse chestnut

Storm damage has mandated several changes, though these would hardly be recognized if one was not a regular visitor to the garden. A Seven Son tree (Heptacodium miconioides) snapped in a summer storm, and when it did not send sucker growth from the roots as expected, it was replaced by a red Horse chestnut (Aesculus × carnea, above). The decision was second guessed more than a few times, but I’ve come to regard this as a superb addition to the garden, and possibly more valued than the exceptional Seven Son. One day, I expect, the horse chestnut could grow too large for the spot, but with multiple trunks the fast growing Seven Son had spread too far in only a few years, while the more upright growing horse chestnut is unlikely to become a problem until I’m dead and gone.

Stream with ferns and hosta

Stream with sweetbox, ferns, Carol Mackie daphne, and hosta. Flowers of a Goldenchain tree dangle from above.

Parts of the garden continue to mature, and often small areas go unnoticed until an afternoon when the gardener turns his head, and hey, where did that come from? Without grabbing earlier attention, ferns and hostas have spread just as envisioned when they were planted, and a small space is now just right. A corner of the long stream is shaded perfectly so that textures and colors of moss covered stones, evergreen sweetbox (Sarcococca hookeriana var. humilis) and golden Forest grass (Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’) blend better than could be imagined.

Sweetflag, yellowflag, water lilies, and pickerelweed along the pond's edge

Variegated sweetflag (Acorus), yellow flag (Iris), water lilies, and pickerelweed in the koi pond’s filtration area along the pond’s edge

Irises that surround the koi pond have filled to cover every open space between boulders, though not enough to close gaps that offer refuge to a pair of Northern Brown water snakes that endlessly irritate my wife. The dozens of koi seem unperturbed by the snakes’ presence, but my wife is not easily deterred once her ire is aroused. I have lived so long by carefully avoiding her wrath. The snakes, I suspect, will not be so fortunate, whether they are a threat, or not.

Yellow flag iris in mid May

Admittedly, I must be cautious of what lurks beneath boulders as I weed out stray Yellow flag irises (Iris pseudacorus, above) that pop up in every clump of more valued Japanese iris (Iris ensata, below). The yellow flags serve their purpose filtering contaminants in the large pond, and I am vigilant watching that none escape into the nearby wetlands. A hundred feet of wetlands that is maintained with moisture tolerant shrubs and perennials remain clear of the invasive yellow flags, so I am confident that none have escaped into the wild area below. This is fortunate since there is no method that could possibly eradicate the irises in the koi pond short of draining it.Japanese iris in early June

Two weeks of rain

After two weeks of rain there is no part of the garden that isn’t saturated. Even the dry shade of the side garden is soggy, though this will dry quickly once the rain stops. I presume it will.

The yellow leafed Gold Heart bleeding heart brightens a dark corner. Foliage and flowers were damaged in the mid April freezes, but the bleeding heart recovered quickly.

The yellow leafed Gold Heart bleeding heart brightens a dark corner. Foliage and flowers were damaged in the mid April freezes, but the bleeding heart recovered quickly.

Other areas of the garden will not dry for weeks, and it’s likely that ankle deep mud will remain in the low lying rear garden for another month. Besides problems getting around without leaving deep footprints in the mud, there has not been much downside that I’ve seen. In the soft light of the nearly constant mist and fog, green and red foliage appears more lush than ever, and flowers persist days longer in the coolness.

In the filtered light the foliage of Floating Cloud maple shows no sign of fading, though there is less pink to the leaves with gray skies.

In the filtered light the foliage of Floating Cloud maple shows no sign of fading, though there is less pink to the leaves with gray skies.

Once the rain stops and the sun comes out, I expect that weeds will quickly become a problem. No doubt, this will be troubling over the next several weeks. But, with the ground too damp to attempt any serious labor, I’ve enjoyed evening strolls through the garden when it isn’t pouring rain.

Pieris is prone to root damage in damp soils, but ones in the garden have been planted where it's high and dry. Katsura is more tolerant of clay soil than some other pieris varieties, and even in persistent cloudiness its new growth is exceptional.

Pieris is prone to root damage in damp soils, but ones in the garden have been planted where it’s high and dry. Katsura is more tolerant of clay soil than some other pieris varieties, and even in persistent cloudiness its new growth is exceptional.

Lumber for a pergola to be constructed to attach to the house over the back deck has been stacked on the driveway for a few weeks, and someday when it looks like I can get a full day in I’ll get started on this. The old, wobbly pergola was removed before the rain started, and at least I had the foresight to seal the opening above the windows so that the den isn’t flooded. As I recall, the demolition was on the last dry, sunny day, and I’ve had good excuses why the project was dropped halfway through.

Fruits of leatherleaf mahonia have been slow to ripen, but once they do, birds will quickly strip them.

Fruits of leatherleaf mahonia have been slow to ripen without sun direct, but once they do, birds will quickly strip them.

Once the pergola is done pots of tropicals will be brought up onto the deck, and two new dark leafed dahlias will be potted up. When the tropicals were brought out of winter storage, they were set on a deeply shaded patio just outside the basement door until they acclimated. Now, they’re ready to go out into the sun once the pergola is completed, though its best if the first few days are partly cloudy so leaves are not burned.

With less sun and heat stress, the flowers of the Stellar Pink hybrid dogwoods display more pink than usual. Still, not very pink, but not completely white.

With less sun and heat stress, the flowers of the Stellar Pink hybrid dogwoods display more pink than usual. Still, not very pink, but not completely white. I am anxious to see in the next two weeks how much pink shows in the pink flowered Chinese dogwood, Satomi, which is also usually white with just a hint of pink.

Close enough to perfection

There is a day, and if the gardener is fortunate enough, a week when the garden nears perfection, at least to the gardener’s mind. This does not imply that there is not a weed, or that pruning of the nandinas cannot wait another day or the paths will become impassable. That is an impossible standard in this garden, so I readily overlook these minor faults, and am able to find joy while paying little attention to maintenance chores that will wait for another day.Fringetree in mid May

Is today the garden’s peak? Perhaps, though ‘Venus’ dogwoods and fringetrees (Chionanthus virginicus) are not quite in full flower, and the dark leafed crapemyrtles are just beginning to leaf so that there are voids in the garden’s foliage. Next week might be it, but this depends on the azaleas persisting since there is a distinct drop in color and scent when the deciduous azaleas pass from bloom.

Autumn Encore Twist will have flowers that are solid purple scattered amongst bicolor blooms.

Autumn Encore Twist will have flowers that are solid purple scattered amongst bicolor blooms.

There is no doubt that evergreen azaleas are substantially more popular than deciduous types, and I will admit that with Encore azaleas that flower in spring and again in late summer, I have overcome a considerable bias against the common azalea. But, with Encores (Autumn Encore Twist, above) and deciduous azaleas scattered through the garden, all flowering in early May, I wonder how the tall and sweetly scented deciduous azaleas with bright yellow (below) and orange flowers cannot be more favored.

Many of the deciduous azaleas are brightly colored and very fragrant.

Many of the deciduous azaleas are brightly colored and very fragrant.

While fragrant viburnums passed out of flower weeks ago, ‘Maresi’ (Viburnum plicatum f. tomentosum ‘Mariesii’, below) has no fragrance, but abundant pure white flowers. As shrubs are wont to do, they too often grow a bit larger than is expected. When planting, the gardener imagines a six foot, possibly an eight foot tall and spreading shrub, but after a decade ‘Maresi’ is several feet wider and a corner of the patio has disappeared beneath the wide spreading branches.Maresi viburnum

A neighbor solved this dilemma by hacking his unfortunate viburnum down to size (three feet tall and wide). I have made similar errors, but ‘Maresi’ has plenty of space in this garden. Unfortunately, the large viburnum is partially concealed behind a bushy serviceberry (Amelanchier canadensis), but still,the flowers shine through, though the shade does inhibit the shrub’s splendid autumn foliage color.