A short hiatus while repairs are made

Many things can be put off. Weeding, for example, can be delayed for weeks without dire consequences, though the longer the delay the greater the likelihood that thousands of seeds will be spread about. The garden demands constant evaluation, when to plant, to weed, or prune for maximum benefit, or often times to minimize troubles.

Ruby Spice clethra flowers sporadically in this dry shaded spot. Certainly, it would prefer moister ground and a bit more sun.

Ruby Spice clethra flowers sporadically in this dry shaded spot. Certainly, it would prefer moister ground and a bit more sun.

Finally, I can no longer ignore the slow creep of advancing age. The surgeon’s knife dictates a brief  interruption (hopefully) to my summer gardening schedule. I am warned that simple tasks, bending to pluck a weed, will be difficult for months. What will become of the garden while I recover? Certainly, that should be the least of my worries. I boast that I will return stronger and more able, but will I, and when?

Joe Pye weed

A Tiger swallowtail feasts on nectar of Joe Pye weed at the edge of the koi pond.

Today, I update photos of the garden in late July, and expect that after a short hiatus I will be back at it, if only to document the garden’s progress through summer into early autumn.

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A seedling of Joe Pye weed grows in shallows of the koi pond. As I prepared this photo, one of our resident Northern Brown water snakes splashed below me as it struggled to capture a small fish. Alas, I was too slow to focus, and quickly the snake moved into a dense clump of Pickerel weed in the bog filter area of the pond.

Two Bottlebrush buckeyes inhabit the garden. The first was a seedling that appeared in swampy ground at the rear of the garden. This buckeye was planted in the drier front garden.

Two Bottlebrush buckeyes inhabit the garden. The first was a seedling that appeared in swampy ground at the rear of the garden. This buckeye was planted in the drier front garden.

Worcester Gold caryopteris flowers earlier in this garden than other Blue Mist shrubs. There is no obvious difference between Worcester Gold and improved cultivars.

Worcester Gold caryopteris flowers earlier in this garden than other Blue Mist shrubs. There is no obvious difference between Worcester Gold and improved cultivars.

Gilt Edge is the earliest of toad lilies to flower in this garden. Most others will begin in late August or into September.

Gilt Edge is the earliest of toad lilies to flower in this garden. Most others will begin in late August or into September and continue into October.

One of many crocosmias in the garden.

One of many crocosmias in the garden.

While Tardiva hydrangea is not as floriferous as newer panicled hydrangea introductions, it is sturdy and dependable through freeze and summer drought.

While Tardiva hydrangea is not as floriferous as newer panicled hydrangea introductions, it is sturdy and dependable through freeze and summer drought.

 

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Returning to the garden

While traveling for a few weeks on business, my wife reported regular sightings of a blue heron by the garden’s smaller ponds. The large koi pond is too deep, but in the shallower ponds the heron can stand on the bottom to wait for fish to come out of hiding. I prefer to keep koi only in the deeper, larger pond, but there the numbers continue to increase so that some must be relocated.

Frog on a mossy rock

Moss on this pond side rock has browned a bit in the ninety-eight degree heat, but this frog basks in the sun until I approach.

After any prolonged absence, there is much work to do upon returning, but I’m encouraged, despite spending this ninety-eight degree afternoon pulling weeds and spraying deer repellent. It seems that in two weeks I’ve become acclimated by too many hours in air conditioning, but I survived the day and there’s only a bit remaining for tomorrow. Bumblebee on Swamp mikweed

Two weeks ago, there were few bees on developing flowers of Swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata, above) and Mountain mint (Pycnanthemum muticum, below), but today both are buzzing with activity. In recent years, the vigorous Mountain mint has spread to cover a few hundred square feet of damp ground ground in a mostly sunny spot between a tall blackgum (Nyssa sylvatica) and katsura (Cercidiphyllum japonicum), and the gardener is cautioned to place this native where is will not overwhelm smaller neighbors.  Mountain mint

Mountain mint is easily controlled if it begins to spread where it’s not wanted, but if the gardener is distracted by other projects this is one more thing that might be neglected. To keep the mint from invading a nearby low spreading spruce (Picea abies ‘Acrocona’) I grab and yank a handful once the stems are a foot or taller. The roots pull out cleanly, and my work is done until late next spring. Once it begins flowering in mid July, the mass of blooms will attract bees, wasps, and hoverflies late into the summer.

I find that the many stinging pollinators are too occupied gorging on the Mountain mint’s nectar to pay much attention to me, and rarely am I stung as I come too close and stay too long.

A misguided (?) preference for variegated foliage

Perhaps the balance of too many variegated plants has been tipped beyond the point of distraction, but I suspect that jarring foliage contrasts are the least of problems a design purist would diagnose in this garden. In any case, my eye is easily pleased, regardless that cardinal rules of landscape design might be trampled into dust.

More recent introductions of variegated redbuds such as 'Alley Cat' are possible improvements of 'Silver Cloud' (above). Arguably, there is no reason to improve upon the basic redbud, but some folks must tinker with perfection.

More recent introductions of variegated redbuds such as ‘Alley Cat’ are possible improvements of ‘Silver Cloud’ (above). Arguably, there is no reason to improve upon the basic redbud, but some folks must tinker with perfection.

I expect that, with the exception of hostas, few gardeners share my overzealous enthusiasm for variegated foliage. Perhaps there is a simple explanation, that the simple minded gardener is attracted to any plant with huge or variegated foliage, while the more sophisticated eye is drawn to more subtle contrasts. Guilty, I am.variegated Cornelian cherry

There is no more elaborate explanation to the design of this garden then plant what I like, and try to make the best of it. If there is no better place for the variegated Cornelian cherry (Cornus mas ‘Variegata’, above) than immediately beside a variegated yellowtwig dogwood (Cornus sericea ‘Silver and Gold’), so be it, though this is done with at least some measure of reluctance. But, no apologies.

Growth of the variegated English holly is slowed by heat and humidity in this Virginia garden. A pollinated female would be preferred, but the foliage alone is reason enough to plant this fine evergreen.

Growth of the variegated English holly is slowed by heat and humidity in this Virginia garden. A pollinated female with red berries would be preferred, but the foliage alone is reason enough to plant this fine evergreen.

A young Silver Edge rhododendron flowers sparsely, with hopes that one day purple flowers will cover the variegated leaves for a few weeks in late spring.

A young Silver Edge rhododendron flowers sparsely, with hopes that one day purple flowers will cover the variegated leaves for a few weeks in late spring.

Of two variegated Chinese dogwoods, 'Samaritan' grows more vigorously and upright than the wide spreading 'Wolf Eyes'.

Of two variegated Chinese dogwoods, ‘Samaritan’ grows more vigorously and upright than the wide spreading ‘Wolf Eyes’.

Duet beautyberry

The variegated ‘Duet’ beautyberry would be more splendid if the white fruits were the more typical purple.

Flowers of 'Carol Mackie' daphne are delightfully fragrant, but its variegated foliage also attracts attention.

Flowers of ‘Carol Mackie’ daphne are delightfully fragrant, but its variegated foliage also attracts attention.

In this unusual year (isn't every year unusual?), the variegated foliage of 'Cherokee Sunset' dogwood is unblemished by powdery mildew, a puzzle after an abnormally rainy May.

In this unusual year (isn’t every year unusual?), the variegated foliage of ‘Cherokee Sunset’ dogwood is unblemished by powdery mildew, a puzzle after an abnormally rainy May.

The variegated pieris 'Little Heath' is a compact grower and less susceptible to lacebugs that plague other pieris varieties.

The variegated pieris ‘Little Heath’ is a compact grower and less susceptible to lacebugs that plague other pieris varieties.

 

 

Hounds on the loose

A week ago, my wife and I enjoyed a visit with our loaner dog. On occasions far too rare, we welcome a visit from our son’s greyhound while he and his wife travel. The long legged hound carefully steps through the garden’s uneven stone paths, a remarkable contrast from the floppy eared sister hounds (Daisy and Minnie) who grew old in this garden, who bounded and tumbled as pups, dug until the garden was rid of moles, and who rested their weary old bones in our shady backyard stream.Greyhound in the garden

The two hounds roamed our at-the-time rural neighborhood (long before this was a crime), chased deer through the forest, and generally ignored our attempts at behavioral training. Headstrong and good natured, they were tolerated, and perhaps a wee bit enjoyed by neighbors. Too often, I suspect, the boisterous sisters became a nuisance by collecting treasures from neighborhood garages left open, and by inviting themselves whenever they smelled burgers on the grill.

Minnie cools off after running off to chase deer for a few hours.

Minnie cools off after running off to chase deer for a few hours.

Their passings, after long and joyful lives, were mourned, but now my wife and I are resigned to living dog-free the remainder of our years (with the exception of short visits). Keeping an orderly house, and a well-tended garden are easier without hounds, though I will argue that a bit of disorder is good for the soul.

Two weeks away from the garden

While traveling on business (again) I am pleased to show photos of the garden that  have not been featured in recent weeks. As always, there will be plenty of work to do when I return.

While other coneflowers faded with less than ideal sunlight, Coconut Lime returns dependably despite being shade by a low branched evergreen.

While other coneflowers faded with less than ideal sunlight, Coconut Lime returns dependably despite being shade by a low branched evergreen.

This once variegated loosestrife has reverted to green. Beneath a dogwood and wide spreading Japanese maple it receives little sunlight, which limits it aggressive growth.

This once variegated loosestrife has reverted to green. Beneath a dogwood and wide spreading Japanese maple it receives little sunlight, which limits it aggressive growth.

This jumble of lilies and daisies inhabits a hidden corner beside the koi pond that can only be seen by pushing through Japanese maples and holly.

This jumble of lilies and daisies inhabits a hidden corner beside the koi pond that can only be seen by pushing through Japanese maples and holly.

Little Princess spirea is a pleasant shrub to fill spaces.

Little Princess spirea is a pleasant shrub to fill spaces.

Lion King is the latest blooming of the Japanese irises in the garden, flowering two weeks after others have faded.

Lion King is the latest blooming of the Japanese irises in the garden, flowering two weeks after others have faded.

This red daylily, probably Pardon Me, grows vigorously and flowers dependably despite more shade than I suppose that a daylily would prefer.

This red daylily, probably Pardon Me, grows vigorously and flowers dependably despite more shade than I suppose that a daylily would prefer.

The flower spike of pineapple lily is just beginning. In a few weeks it should be flowering just as I return.

The flower spike of pineapple lily is just beginning. In a few weeks it should be flowering just as I return.

Mountain mint is just beginning to flower, but too soon for pollinators to visit.

Mountain mint is just beginning to flower, but too soon for pollinators to visit.

Eternal Fragrance daphne is into its third (maybe fourth) flush of flowers. This will continue into early autumn.

Eternal Fragrance daphne is into its third (maybe fourth) flush of flowers. This will continue into early autumn.

Not quite a weedy mess

Clumps of Japanese iris (Iris ensata) at the pond’s edge have been infiltrated by stilt grass, seedlings of Joe Pye weed (Eutrochium purpureum, which, for now are tolerated because they mature long after the irises have faded), and a jumble of other weeds that cannot be identified. Difficulties in access to remove weeds along the pond’s edge are complicated by the presence of Northern Brown water snakes that are known to frequent these spots. Though the snakes are not poisonous, there is hesitation by the gardener in invading the lair of any beast that might react defensively.Iris clumps at pond's edge

Long ago, as the garden grew in dimension, the idea of a weed free, or even a low maintenance garden was abandoned, and despite efforts to cover every square inch of ground with one plant or another, regular labor is required or the garden will be quickly overrun. By plucking a weed here and there on strolls through the garden, there is rarely a need for long hours spent doing nothing but weeding, but there is never a time the gardener is pleased that this task is under control.Daphne and hosta

Some gardeners write that weeding is a part of the process, and claim they enjoy every moment. I do not, and cannot imagine they are truthful. I only hope to reach a point, someday, where maintenance is manageable without always feeling that I am three weeks behind. After three decades in this garden, much work remains to be done before it is completely satisfactory, and probably, this will never be accomplished.Japanese forest grass and sweetbox

The best chance to minimize labor, as I’ve experienced, is to increase the percentage of the garden that is in shade. While there are downsides to this, I am certain I could be content with a garden completely shaded by Japanese maples, dogwoods, and redbuds. Compared to ten and twenty years ago, there has been significant progress in this direction.Hydrangea and ferns

There are varying degrees of shade in the garden, and a range from moderately damp to a large area of dry shade. There is no formula I’ve discovered except experience to determine which plants will thrive in, or tolerate the varied conditions. A plant that grows contentedly in one spot of shade might struggle a few feet further into the deeper shade or part sun, or with more or less competition from roots of maples and tulip poplars.Ferns and hosta

While I hesitate to recommend plants that might not suit a particular spot, the gardener looking to decrease maintenance should first consider ones that fill spaces rather than leaving open areas that will be filled by opportunists (weeds). This can be plants that grow along the ground, or shrubs that shade the ground. The gardener will note that in either circumstance there will be fewer weeds, and with low growing plants the yearly task of adding a layer of new mulch can possibly be eliminated. Every minute of labor saved in this garden is cherished.

A few magnolias

Among collections in the garden, space considerations allow a relative few magnolias. Besides the shrub-like form of the Star magnolia (Magnolia stellata ‘Royal Star’, below), most grow to substantial proportions, and so the gardener is encouraged to choose wisely. Make no mistake, many small magnolias will grow to the size of a one car garage, and larger ones will occupy double this space. Royal Star magnolia in early April

There are evergreen and deciduous magnolias in the garden, with deciduous types the earliest flowering trees in the garden. ‘Dr. Merrill’ and ‘Royal Star’ often flower early in March in this Virginia garden, and flowers are occasionally damaged by freezes that are common in late winter. While planting early flowering magnolias is avoided by some for this reason, I would become impossibly anxious without flowers in late winter.Elizabeth magnolia in mid April

The purple flowered ‘Jane’, and yellow ‘Elizabeth’ (above) are safer choices, flowering weeks later, and usually after the worst of winter freezes, though ‘Elizabeth’ reached its peak flowering exactly on the day of a night that dropped into the low twenties this spring. Flowers went from pale yellow to black overnight, and so much much for the safer alternative. The blooms of ‘Jane’ were also damaged, but it flowers over a week rather than all flowers maturing at once, so many escaped injury.Bigleaf magnolia

The only magnolia in the garden that is not common is the mid spring flowering Big Leaf magnolia, which is appropriately named with leaves that measure up to two feet from end to end. The flowers of Big Leaf are similar in appearance and fragrance to the evergreen Southern magnolias’, but proportionately larger. This magnolia grows to the size of maples and tulip poplars, so it is not appropriate for many properties. It is a prized tree in this garden, with the only bother being that the huge leaves will blanket anything beneath it when they fall in autumn.Brackens magnolia

There are two evergreen, Southern magnolias in the garden. ‘Bracken’s Brown Beauty’ is the cold hardiest of the evergreens, though one of two was damaged by cold in consecutive winters. Still, ‘Brackens’ is a sturdy tree with dark leaves and plentiful summer blooms. The second evergreen magnolia is not as common, and supposedly is not dependably cold hardy in this area. However, ‘Greenback’ survived the cold winters without a problem, and it shows minimal damage from an ice storm a few years earlier than caused damage to other magnolias as well.