Generally ignored except when flowering

While showy flowers of Indian pinks (Spigelia marilandica, below) catch the attention and favor of visitors, the clump forming native is rarely seen in garden stores. When found, the buying public generally, but inexplicably ignores it.Indian pink

The first planting of Indian pinks in the garden was disappointing, though not entirely unsuccessful. While planting, I imagined a quickly spreading clump, but a single plant did little more than survive. Perhaps the culprit was consecutive harsh winters, a bit too much sun, or insufficient moisture, but whatever, I was determined and a handful more were purchased when they appeared in the garden center. I am quite pleased to mention that these have grown marvelously, and within a few feet of the first clump that has also grown with vigor.Passionflower vine

The passionflower vine (Passiflora incarnata, above, and flowers, below) has spouted growth earlier than usual in this early summer. In recent years, and in any spring that follows winter temperatures that have dropped near zero, the vine emerges from its roots in late spring, often late enough into June that the gardener gives up and declares it is lost. For some unknown reason (and most reasons in the garden are unknown, it seems), growth has emerged from a single growth point in contrast to recent years when suckers first appeared several feet from the vine’s central crown. Stray sprouts are snapped off lest the vigorous vine be more difficult to manage, and finally the main stem appears and grows like a weed, as it’s said.Passionflower vine

But, this year only the main stem has grown, and with a mild winter and early spring the vine began growth earlier. Now, the vine is to the top of its support, and beginning to grow along the ceiling of the aluminum summerhouse. With an earlier start there is no reason to expect that it will not grow past the wire support at the far corner post that has been sufficient in prior years. At this point of growth, which is typically reached in mid July, the Japanese beetles have usually begun to feast on the lush foliage of the passionflower, but today the leaves are unmarked with beetles several weeks off.Yellow passionflower in early August

The yellow passionflower (Passiflora lutea, above) on the far side of the koi pond has grown far up into the early spring flowering ‘Okame’ cherry. A sprawling Oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia) has grown wide enough that it is nearly impossible to  get near the yellow flowering vine without risking a plunge into the pond. Unfortunately, the flowers are much smaller than the purple flowered passionflower, so they cannot be readily seen from a distance, and I’ve considered planting a second vine in a spot where it is more easily accessed.

While the purple flowered passionflower vine is started under a steel obelisk, the yellow version was planted to fend for itself, to clamber along the ground and up through low branches of the hydrangea. A year ago it grew in every direction, with stems that climbed into the cherry and others that crossed the front of the small waterfall of the koi pond. I do not see any stems in this direction, but only up into the cherry.Yellow passionflower in August

In the case of any passionflower, there is no need for it to be given a support structure as long as lower branches are available for tendrils to grab onto. The stems are lightweight, and since they die to the ground in winter there is no danger that the supporting plant will be injured. While flowers are most obvious on a structure, blooms are greatly appreciated in late July and August growing from some unremarkable evergreen that hosts the vine.

A few favored hostas

Visitors to the garden remark on the huge leaves of hostas, supposing that the gardener possesses some unique skill to make this so. Certainly, there must be some special fertilizer, or at the least annual applications of manure to grow leaves so large. In all modesty, and modesty is required when the gardener has done nothing at all, huge are mostly a matter of selection of varieties, with some slight praise due for locating hostas in soil and part shade that are ideal for growth.

Hostas and nandina

Instead of fertilizer or manure, the ground beneath hostas is annually dressed with a layer of shredded leaves from maples and tulip poplars that border the southern edge of the garden. This is more a matter of convenience to the gardener so that deep piles must not be hauled to a far off compost bin, but the result is that even in areas of dry shade the soil is chock full of earthworms, a sign (at least to this gardener) of healthy soil.Hosta, Ostrich fern, and dwarf Hemlock

With deer bedding down  during daylight hours in the dense thicket that borders the front garden, monthly spraying of a repellent is a requirement if hostas are to be grown. Once, lesser populations and two hounds (itching for an hours long chase) roamed the property, making preventative measures unnecessary. But, sadly, the hounds passed on, and the better judgment of the gardener and his wife prevented their replacement. Rather than abandoning plants that deer prefer, the repellent effectively encourages deer to move on to more tasty treats.Stream

The selection of hostas is a matter of individual taste, but the gardener can hardly go wrong with any choice. For my money, if the choice was limited to a handful, I would first recommend exceptional variegated hostas ‘Francee’ and ‘Frances Williams’, which are sturdy and tolerant of more sun than most hostas. Probably, these will look good no matter what the gardener does, as will most large, blue-green leafed hostas such as the old time favorite sieboldiana ‘Elegans’.Hosta and Japanese maple

Despite the acclaim in this garden for large leaves, two small leafed types round out the recommendations. ‘Gold Tiara’ and ‘Allen P. McConnell’ are vigorous enough to be used to fill spaces between taller perennials or shrubs, and to border stone paths without encroaching (as other ground covers are likely to do).Hosta

If there is sufficient shade, and if damage from deer can be prevented, should the gardener limit his choices to a handful of the best, or plant one of any hosta that catches his eye? This, of course, is a personal design decision, and no matter that hostas blend well together, the effect of too many differing sizes and colors can be jarring. I dare not claim that I have successfully blended many dozens of varieties, but so long as visitors are distracted by ones with huge leaves, I’ve heard no complaints.Siebold elegans hosta

A slow recovery

No doubt, gardeners get jittery at the mention of any number of weather events, constantly dreading freezes and droughts that might bring ruin to their treasures. Certainly, every gardener has suffered losses due to cold, snow or ice, wind, hail, or combinations of these within a single storm. Never, he proclaims, has he seen a winter (or summer) with such extremes, and if he lives another fifty years there will not be another like this one.

And, perhaps he is right. A period of prolonged rain might be followed by drought, unusual warmth will precede damaging cold, and any sequence of pleasurable and disastrous weather is unlikely to be duplicated in any other year. Every year is horrible, but also splendid. The gardener can only hope that the balance tips towards splendid, and usually it does.

Two weeks after the freeze most leaves of this Fernleaf Japanese maple have revived alongside leaves that were damaged.

Two weeks after the freeze most leaves of this Fernleaf Japanese maple have revived alongside leaves that were damaged.

After exceptionally warm March temperatures, two April nights with freezes in the mid twenties caused considerable damage in the garden.  Newly emerging leaves of Japanese maples, weeks early, were at their most vulnerable when the cold hit, and for several days after the leaves hung limp and lifeless (above). Fortunately, most perked up following a soaking rain and a few sunny days, and I was surprised and encouraged how little damage was evident two weeks later.

Mophead hydrangeas have revived from the damaging freeze, with flower buds beginning to set on this Penny Mac hydrangea.

Mophead hydrangeas have revived from the damaging freeze, with flower buds beginning to set on this Penny Mac hydrangea.

Bloomstruck hydrangea was damaged along with other mopheads, but it revived and set flower buds more quickly than others.

Bloomstruck hydrangea was damaged along with other mopheads, but it revived and set flower buds more quickly than others.

Hydrangeas took the freeze a bit harder. Mophead and lacecap hydrangeas (Hydrangea macrophylla, above) survived the meager cold of winter without a problem, but new leaves turned black overnight in the April freeze. There was no question that leaves would not survive, though there was also little doubt that the shrubs would eventually revive. Now, they have, with flowers buds developing a month late on reblooming types, and with the hydrangeas in good health that has finally covered stems that died back in the freeze.

Oakleaf hydrangeas were not damaged in the late freeze. In recent years the Oakleafs have begun to sprawl vigorously, requiring judiciouc pruning to protect neighboring plants.

Oakleaf hydrangeas were not damaged in the late freeze. In recent years the Oakleafs have begun to sprawl vigorously, requiring judicious pruning to protect neighboring plants.

Oakleaf (Hydrangea quercifolia, above) and paniculata varieties (Hydrangea paniculata, below) are later to leaf than mopheads, and these were unaffected by the cold. For whatever reason, and most often the gardener  is clueless about these things, the Oakleaf hydrangeas  are flowering more heavily than is typical. I am certain this has nothing to do with the late freeze, but could possibly be a result of the warmer winter temperatures. It is best, I think, for the gardener not to think too deeply about such things lest he injure himself.

This early flowering panicled hydrangea, probably Quick Fire, was not damaged in the freeze. This shrub is too shaded, and even though it does not grow with vigor it flowers acceptably.

This early flowering panicled hydrangea, probably Quick Fire, was not damaged in the freeze. This shrub is too shaded, and even though it does not grow with vigor it flowers acceptably.

A work in progress

Perhaps someday, the garden will be complete. After twenty-seven years, much of the property is covered by ponds (below) and plantings, but the gardener’s work is never done, it seems, and much remains to be done along the edges. If all goes well, in another decade the garden should be perfectly satisfactory, though setbacks are to be expected.

Plantings along the edges of the large koi pond have filled in nicely in recent years. Oakleaf hydrangeas that border the pond must be pruned so that Japanese irises are not crowded out.

Plantings along the edges of the large koi pond have filled in nicely in recent years. Oakleaf hydrangeas that border the pond must be pruned so that Japanese irises are not crowded out.

With small exceptions, if time could be stopped, I would take the garden as it is today, before the next summer squall or winter storm wreaks havoc. Over three decades, substantial trees have been lost to wind and ice, and a portion of the rear garden has seemingly sunk so that it is constantly damp. Though storm damage is always disappointing, the opportunity to add new plants was not such a bad thing, and I’m more pleased with the after than the before. But, I’m not anxious to undertake further renovations. Now, I’m content to piddle around the edges, and a few areas that were reworked need a bit of growing in before they’re just right.

Geraniums and toad lily fill open spaces to keep weeds down beside this stone aptio.

Geraniums, toad lily, and carex fill open spaces to keep weeds down beside this stone patio.

As the garden has matured, I find the areas I’m most pleased with require almost no care to maintain. These have small trees, often underplanted with shrubs or perennials, with the ground covered so that weeds (and weeding) are minimized. Not only is the look more complete, the areas require little labor. As I get older and lazier, this is more of a priority than it once was.

A variety of low growing shrubs and perennials have been planted in the area opened up when three hornbeams perished.

A variety of low growing shrubs and perennials have been planted in the area opened up when three hornbeams perished.

Beside the driveway three tall hornbeams have been lost in recent years. The replanting of this area (above) is nearly complete, but as trees have grown and much of the garden has become more shaded, the opportunity to plant in part sun has been welcomed. I’ve been conscious (for once) not to plant trees that will overgrow to shade this area, though now I’m considering a few small growing Japanese maples that will complete the picture as I envision it. Sedum and hostas

In the swampy area at the back corner of the rear garden, a large witch hazel and holly were lost, and the replanting is a few years from being where I’d like it. But, progress is in the works. Native buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis), Virginia sweetspire (Itea virginica), and chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa) are just getting started, but they’re happy in the constant dampness and beginning to fill in along with Japanese irises (Iris ensata) that have spread through the standing water from a spring that was once almost dry, but has rejuvenated in recent years. I’m still planting a bit of this and that to determine which plants will cover the ground to keep weeds down, while also avoiding ones that might get out of hand.

 

Memory lapses

Seemingly, I am incapable of recalling the dates of most events in my life without an unforgettable reference point. I’m quite certain I would not remember when I was married if it was not the year after I began to work full time after college (Egads! In the same place since 1976. It seems like yesterday).

I could go on, but I will not give my wife the satisfaction, and of course, most of the forgotten dates do not relate to the garden. I do recall that our family moved into our current residence in 1989, and the first pond was constructed in the garden within a few years. Additional ponds followed at random intervals, but always when my wife traveled with our boys to visit grandma, or some such journey that I was able to weasel my way out of. Without distractions, ponds were completed quickly.

The garden's first pond is obscured from view by a green leafed Japanese maple with wide spreading, pendulous branches.

The garden’s first pond is obscured from view by a green leafed Japanese maple with wide spreading, pendulous branches.

Ponds two and three were constructed to appear as if they were continuations of the first pond, though other ponds can only be heard and not seen through dense plantings. Stone bridges cross narrow parts of two ponds, and paths connect to a patio which is the only point where the three ponds can be seen at once.

The steam, bordered by ferns, hostas, Japanese Forest grass and sweetbox, winds to a small pond

The stream, bordered by ferns, hostas, Japanese Forest grass and sweetbox, winds to a small pond

A fourth pond was dug just off the front walk in the shade of a dogwood and ‘Seriyu’ Japanese maple, and for a period after there was no itch to build another. But then the timing becomes fuzzy, until by some chance inspiration I began to research swimming ponds, larger, naturalized ponds that one could swim in, or as I envisioned, float in. I can swim passably, but my goal was relaxation, not exercise. I could imagine reclining on some sort of floating lounger on a hot summer afternoon, and so the project was begun, though I’ve lost the reference to when.

After a few years irises and hydrangeas flowered at the pond's edge. In recent years the jungle has become more dense, though the pond is bordered by flowers through much of spring and summer.

After a few years irises and hydrangeas flowered at the pond’s edge. In recent years the jungle has become more dense, though the pond is bordered by flowers through much of spring and summer.

The pond moved from inspiration to planning within hours, and in a few days materials were ordered. As usual, I considered and ignored much of the advice from references, and decided that the pond must include fish. If it seems obvious that this is not particularly sanitary if you’re planning to swim (or float) about in a pond, you’re on the right track. But, I reasoned that people swim in farm ponds, so this couldn’t possibly be any worse.

The koi pond's b

The koi pond’s bog filter is planted with variegated sweetflag, yellow flag iris, pickerel weed, and water lilies.

And, this is how a swimming pond became a koi pond, as a handful of koi became a few dozen, and then a hundred or more. The koi are, of course, impossible to count or even to get a close estimate of the number as they swim excitedly as I approach, waiting to be fed. As you would expect, this far from sterile environment attracted frogs, then turtles, and finally, snakes, as well as a variety of predators, birds and dragonflies.

Today, hydrangeas, irises, and rushes fill voids between boulders that line the koi pond. Until a few years ago I could walk the entire edge of the pond, but now this is impossible.

Today, hydrangeas, irises, and rushes fill voids between boulders that line the koi pond. Until a few years ago I could walk the entire edge of the pond, but now this is impossible.

For several summers I drifted about on my inflatable lounger, with koi startling me from an afternoon nap as they brushed past. On occasion, one of the pond’s snakes would circle around, but this was a peaceful coexistence until the koi became so numerous that I could not rest undisturbed. So, the lounger was retired, replaced by a green recliner that sits high and dry at the pond’s edge.Oakleaf hydrangeas and Japanese irises border the koi pond.

As yellow flag and Japanese irises, sweetflag, waterlilies, and pickerel weed have grown to fill the pond’s filtration area and spaces between stones at the pond’s edge, more critters have found homes in this nearly wild habitat. This includes an unknown number of Northern Brown water snakes that are harmless enough, except that they lurk beneath boulders, and my wife has declared that they must go, or at least that they must be endlessly harassed. A groundhog has moved into the cavity beneath the shed beside the pond, and hawks circle overhead, waiting to dive for any unfortunate fish or frog that carelessly ventures into the open.

Though I cannot recall if the pond was constructed seven or eight, or twelve years ago, it was once a peaceful paradise. Today, it’s survival of the fittest.

A week away from the garden

A week ago, I left the garden in reasonably good order to travel to the west coast. Weeds were mostly under control, and I even fit in a bit of planting before leaving since a few afternoon storms were forecast. The storms faded, so the small perennials barely survived the week, but otherwise the garden was in fine shape when I returned. Still, there was some catching up to do before I can get back to my routine.Japanese maple

Many of the garden’s Japanese maples have been found on this annual journey to nurseries in Oregon, and again I’ve returned with plans to order a few. Now, I must figure out where they can be planted (Acer japonicum ‘Meigetsu’, above).

Until I’m back on track, here are a few photos taken upon my return.

Weeks after yellow, orange, and red deciduous azaleas have faded, this fragrant azalea has begun to flower.

Weeks after yellow, orange, and red deciduous azaleas have faded, this fragrant azalea has begun to flower. This azalea is part of a conglomeration, and with showier and brighter colored azaleas in the mass, I had forgotten about it. The fragrance helped me rediscover it.

Hosta medio variegata disappeared from garden centers years ago, replaced by better varieties, but it is well suited to this spot beside the bluestone walk that leads to the back deck.

Hosta medio variegata disappeared from garden centers years ago, replaced by better varieties, but it is well suited to this spot beside the bluestone walk that leads to the back deck. Surprisingly, the ivy planted long ago to cover bare spots does not cause much trouble besides requiring pruning a few times a year.

The bluestone path is flanked by hostas and ferns that must occasionally be pruned so the path does not disappear.

The bluestone path is flanked by hostas and ferns that must occasionally be pruned so the path does not disappear. The red leafed Japanese maple replaced a dwarf hemlock that died a few years ago, and the maple has struggled to rise above the tall Ostrich ferns. Some day branches of the Japanese maple will arch over the path.

Japanese irises and Oakleaf hydrangea spill over the edges of the koi pond.

Japanese irises and Oakleaf hydrangea spill over the edges of the koi pond.

 

 

Glimpses from the garden

While traveling to visit nurseries in Oregon, I offer random glimpses of the garden. With any good luck, I’ll find a treasure or two to add to the garden.

Hostas, Japanese Forest grass, ferns, and sweetbox border this shaded, constructed stream that meanders to a small pond.

Hostas, Japanese Forest grass, ferns, and sweetbox border this shaded, constructed stream that meanders to a small pond. Fading yellow flowers of the weeping Golden Chain tree can be seen on the upper right.

Gardeners who doubt the sturdiness of daphnes should give Eternal Fragrance a try. It is tough as nails and it flowers on and off from April into early autumn.

Gardeners who doubt the sturdiness of daphnes should give Eternal Fragrance a try. It is tough as nails and it flowers on and off from April into early autumn.

Indian pinks (Spigelia marilandica) are flowering after a weather related off year last spring.

Indian pinks (Spigelia marilandica) are flowering after a weather related off year last spring.

Itea 'Henry's Garnet' flowering in early June in damp soil in the lower garden.

Itea ‘Henry’s Garnet’ flowering in early June in damp soil in the lower garden.

 

The earliest of the Japanese irises are blooming at the edges of the koi pond. In another week other cultivars will flower, and others will bloom for another several weeks.

The earliest of the Japanese irises are blooming at the edges of the koi pond. In another week other cultivars will flower, and others will bloom for another several weeks.

Sprawling Oakleaf hydrangeas at the edge of the koi pond must be pruned so that neighboring shrubs and perennials are not overwhelmed.

Sprawling Oakleaf hydrangeas at the edge of the koi pond must be pruned so that neighboring shrubs and perennials are not overwhelmed.