Mildly disappointing

The garden does not always go as planned. Each year there will be disappointments, or worse. One thing or another will fail to flower, or to survive, and in this one acre garden there are likely to be more than a few things that don’t go as expected. There’s always next year.

St. John's wort

St. John’s wort flowering in late October

Despite a late summer of severe heat and drought, the garden came through without too many troubles. Through early autumn, there are more pleasant than disappointing surprises. Certainly, there are more brown leaves than usual, and a few hostas in a bit too much sun have suffered, but these are temporary bothers. All will be fine by spring.

Autumn Amethyst begins flowering in early November. In a mild December with few severe freezes there might be flowers into mid month.

Autumn Amethyst begins flowering in early November. In a mild December with few severe freezes there might be flowers into mid month.

In fact, the autumn flowering of Encore azaleas has been better than the average, with several still blooming in early November, and ‘Autumn Amethyst’ just beginning to flower. Most unusual of the Encores, this is about average for ‘Amethyst’ that will often display scattered flowers through frosts and minor freezes in November and occasionally long into December if temperatures don’t drop too cold.Encore azalea

The first of the autumn flowering camellias (Camellia x ‘Winter’s Star’, below) has just begun to bloom, and the others could start at any moment. Slight degrees of sun exposure make flowering of camellias within several feet of each other a mystery to predict, so while one ‘Winter’s Star’ flowers today, others might not until mid December.Winter's Star camellia

If there’s been a recent predicament worthy of mention, it’s the lack of autumn foliage color. There’s some, but not much so far, and of course November is a bit late to get started. The typically colorful leaves of the Fernleaf Japanese maple (Acer japonicum ‘Aconitifolium’, below) have just begun to turn, but they’re also mottled with brown. The Golden Full Moon maple (Acer shirasawanum ‘Aureum’), that is occasionally splendid, but consistently excellent in October, dropped all leaves with hardly a change. This is disappointing, but it’s not like anything is keeling over dead.Fernleaf maple in late October

Besides the Fernleaf maple, the most dependable trees in the garden for autumn foliage color are the native dogwoods (Cornus florida), in particular one along the front walk. It’s substantial crop of red berries ripened, then were gone in a day as cardinals discovered them, and only now am I starting to see a slight change in leaf color. The change to crimson leaves usually begins by late September, but this year, the dogwoods are mostly green the first week of November. Probably, next year will be better, but with only a light frost so far there are plenty of flowers in the garden, so there will be no complaints from me.

Another close call

I should have given greater consideration to the proximity of the towering swamp maples and tulip poplars to the house (and less to its suitability for a garden) when this lot was selected twenty-eight years ago. Shade from the forest that borders the southeastern property line was desirable, while the remainder of the property was in full sun (that is, until dozens of dogwoods, redbuds, and Japanese maples that I planted grew to cover most of the rear garden).

On any breezy day the maples and tulip poplars sway, creaking, and with an occasional snap as a limb comes crashing from the treetops. After a windy Saturday, this afternoon numerous branches littered this part of the garden. Smaller branches were carefully removed from hydrangeas and camellias with only minor damage, and larger limbs were tossed onto brush piles that edge the garden. Several hostas were flattened, but these were within days or weeks of dormancy as the first frost approaches, and no harm was done.

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The tree limb hanging between the pergola and Alaskan cedar was much more impressive before side branches were cut off. If the limb had fallen three feet to one side or the other there would have been extensive damage, but this was my lucky day.

As I picked up small branches along the stone path that borders a pond and stream, I heard distinctive cracking that must be from a major limb. I stood back, unable to locate the source, but cautious to remain out from under a crashing limb. The limbs of one maple hang precariously over the garden, brushing the house in a breeze, and after a series of cracks one large branch shook, then crashed to the ground.

Fortunately, I could not have guided its path any better, as the limb fell beside a pergola, but just to the side of an Alaskan cedar. The branch did not break free from the tree’s trunk, so it hangs, perfectly arched just above a Japanese maple. The arc of this falling limb took it further from the house, so there is no damage to speak of. Yet.

A few years ago, another maple came down in a December ice storm, and this also barely brushed the house with little damage except for a few broken hydrangea branches. However, as I cut up debris a limb sprung to hit me in the forehead. As my wife mopped up blood, I recall that she commented how lucky I was that the blow was to my head. Yeah, yeah, I get the joke. In any case, a trip to the emergency room was required, where the gash was closed with several staples.

Maple damaged in ice storm

The tree that came down in a December ice storm was larger than the large limb that came down this year, but it was also perfectly placed to do the least damage possible. If you look closely your can see the broken trunk of a Forest Pansy redbud that it fell on, but the plan was to remove the sad looking redbud before spring, so this made the job easier. The main damage from the tree falling was to the idiot who was cutting the tree, me.

I might be hard headed, and my wife might not agree, but I am not foolish enough to make this exact mistake again. I carefully removed smaller leafy branches to get a better look (which was safe enough), then gave an unsuccessful try or two to rocking the limb to see if I could guide it to the ground without destroying the Japanese maple (this was potentially very stupid, as my wife watched nearby in disbelief). No, it couldn’t be done, and this time, instead of being an idiot, I’ll apply the hospital deductible to hiring a tree service to remove the limb.

While they’re at it, I’ll have them remove two other limbs that arch over the garden that inevitably will suffer the same fate one day. I’ve considered this project for years, and once considered doing it with my son’s assistance. But then the pergola was built, and the path for the limbs was complicated. Now, the broken limb must be removed, and once it and the neighboring branches are removed there will be a bit more sun for the cedar and the Japanese maple. And, I won’t be as concerned that one day a branch will come crashing through the kitchen window.

Finally ripe

On Saturday, the number of cardinals harvesting berries from the dogwood (Cornus florida, below) makes clear that the red berries are finally ripe. On this breezy afternoon branches sway and shake with birds swooping in for a meal, then moving on to the safety of taller, neighboring trees. By Sunday morning, berries are gone, and cardinals have moved on.

Dogwood berries

Berries of dogwoods were there on Saturday, gone Sunday. Note very little color change on leaves in late October.

Leaves have turned color only slightly, and in this unusual autumn it appears that dogwoods and perhaps swamp red maples (Acer rubrum) will drop leaves without any significant changing of colors. Several Japanese maples (Acer palmatum) are most dependable in this garden for autumn foliage colors, but these have barely turned, and only the hybrid witch hazels (Hamamelis x intermedia, below) have colored enough to notice. Unfortunately, the witch hazel leaves are also streaked with brown from the late summer drought.Witch hazel in late October

Berries of native and Asian beautyberries are not as abundant as in most years, with the exception of the vigorous white berried Callicarpa dichotoma ‘Albifructus’ (below) that flourishes in swampy ground. White berries on the variegated beautyberry (Callicarpa dichotoma f. albifructa ‘Duet’) are more sparse than usual, and at its best it produces limited numbers. Berries are slow to ripen on all beautyberries, which often persist into early winter.White beautyberry

Duet beautyberry

Many branches of Duet have no berries at all. The variegated foliage is excellent even if berries are sparse.

Purple beautyberry

Berries on purple beautyberries are fewer than typical, I think, but the shrubs still make a show.


 

 

At it again

Unsurprisingly, I’m at it again. Planting, though if you take the word of my wife the garden’s been full for years, and another plant could not possibly be wedged in. Which is, of course, nonsense. Certainly, she understands the futility of putting a halt to new planting, and now she just groans when she spots a truckload of whatevers in the driveway.

The latest project is a small one, actually two, with planting in a small area in front where a few laurels did not fare well with a bit too much moisture, and possibly more shade than they would prefer. The other spot is an open space between the driveway and the neighbor’s house that was replanted after a large hornbeam was removed a few years ago. The space was filled with a variety of shrubs and perennials, but something was missing. An upright something was needed, not so much as a focal point as that there needed to be a bigger, taller something.diospyros_virginiana_jpg1c

The fall back in this garden is to plant a Japanese maple whenever there’s an open space, since there’s no way you can go too far wrong, and there are hundreds and thousands of maples that would be ideal to add to the thirty or more already in the garden. But, the right tree didn’t come around before I was tempted by a weeping version of the native American persimmon (Diospyros virginiana ‘Magic Fountain’, above). It’s not much to look at right now, but I think the tall, relatively narrow habit of the tree will work nicely for the spot.

The tree I selected was way overgrown for its container, a perfect example of a rootbound tree that garden writers warn to be on the lookout for, and not to plant. Large roots that had escaped through the bottom drain holes in the container had been chopped off, and so many circling roots jammed the plastic pot that it had to be cut off. Perfect, a fifty dollar tree in a twenty dollar pot, which was not a concern at all for me once I pried loose the tangled mass of roots. This was a bargain, and I’m overjoyed to put in a bit more effort to plant a tree that’s twice the size it should be for the money. Probably, I should warn that your results might not work out so well, but this is not the first, and hopefully won’t be the last time I’ll find a bargain that most gardeners wouldn’t or shouldn’t consider.

The only question with the persimmon is that I don’t expect there to be a nearby male pollinator, and there’s no space in the garden to plant one. I don’t believe I’ve ever eaten a persimmon, and without a pollinator it’s likely I’ll have to make due without fruit.

To make space for the tree a few shrubs had to be moved, but this was the simplest part of the planting. Moving the overgrown tree was the first and most awkward test of my surgically repaired back, and happily I report that I am back to lifting things that would make my surgeon (or my wife) cringe. Yes, there’s a time to ask for assistance, or to let someone else do the work, but I made it through without complications, so I guess this wasn’t one of those times. Now, I’m okay to move on to even stupider things.Arborvitae fern

The planting in the front was no challenge at all, other than figuring plants large enough for the front of the house, and with the few considerations of damp soil and shade. A few azaleas and a variegated aucuba (Aucuba japonica ‘Picturata’) filled the area, with a few arborvitae ferns (Selaginella braunii, above) thrown in to cover the open spaces. I ran into roots of a few hostas that had declined in recent years, that faded badly in the late summer heat and drought. I expect there will be a few small conflicts next spring. But, these should be easily corrected and nothing to be too concerned about. By the time hostas pop up in the middle of the ferns it’s likely I’ll be planting something else.

A temporary reprieve

Summer-like temperatures forecast for the middle of October offer a temporary reprieve for flowers threatened by the first frost. A week ago, this killing cold seemed imminent, with overnight lows dipping into the thirties. But, with great relief, the critical degree or two colder was not reached, and now there will be toad lilies and asters for another week or two, and possibly into early November.

Toad lilies continue to flower into mid October, with many unopened buds still to flower if warm temperatures continue.

Toad lilies continue to flower into mid October, with many unopened buds still to flower if warm temperatures continue.

Certainly, frost is not such a dreadful conclusion to the gardening season. Though autumn foliage colors have been late in coming, Japanese maples and blackgums will soon show their brilliant displays. Some flowers will survive the early cold, and even following a freeze there will be blooms on late autumn flowering camellias and mahonias.

The tall, coarse Jindai aster is a transplant from the far side of the koi pond where the initial planting was overwhelmed by wide spreading hydrangeas.

The tall, coarse Jindai aster is a transplant from the far side of the koi pond where the initial planting was overwhelmed by wide spreading hydrangeas.

Heavy rains from a recent tropical storm and hurricane split east and west, mostly bypassing the garden, but at least ending the worst of the late summer drought. While the garden has suffered little, the lawn will require some attention so that it does not continue as the laughing stock of the neighborhood.

A year ago flowering of Encore azaleas was halted by an early freeze, but several continue at peak bloom.

A year ago flowering of Encore azaleas was halted by an early freeze, but several continue at peak bloom.

Flowers of Canyon Creek abelia show signs of fading after flowering for months.

Flowers of Canyon Creek abelia show signs of fading after flowering for months.

The peak flowering of Gordlinia was in early September, but a few strays continue to bloom.

The peak flowering of Gordlinia was in early September, but a few strays continue to bloom.

Mophead hydrangeas in part sun continue to bud. There will be flowers until the first killing frost.

Mophead hydrangeas in part sun continue to bud. There will be flowers until the first killing frost.

Glorybower

By far, Rose glorybower (Clerodendrun bungei) is not a favorite in this garden, though its October flowers are quite nice and it has proved to be indestructible in a bit of a difficult spot. This glorybower spreads by rhizomes, with occasional stems appearing eight or ten feet away, and several popping up in the lawn. These are easily removed, so this is of little concern, but in a shaded spot beneath a katsura tree (Cercidiphyllum japonicum) the lanky stems pop up in an oddly scattered arrangement that is more weedy than ornamental (until it flowers).Clerodendrun bungei

While a bit hard to describe, stems or foliage that are handled emit an unpleasant scent that brings to mind peanut butter that’s been left in the sun too long. For the occasions when stems must be touched, I suggest gloves, but I’ve planted the more pleasant Mountain mint (Pycnanthemum muticum) nearby, which is sufficient to neutralize the rotten scent.Clerodendron bungei

‘Eternal Fragrance’ daphne (Daphne x transatlantica ‘Blafra’, below) has become a garden favorite. Its fragrance is milder than the almost disgusting Glorybower, or the pleasant Mountain mint, but it flowers off and on from April until frost, and as daphnes go, it seems as rugged as anything in the garden in part sun or shade. Daphne Eternal Fragrance

While the foliage of ‘Eternal Fragrance’ is dull and unremarkable, its close cousin ‘Summer Ice’ (Daphne × transatlantica ‘Summer Ice’, below) improves on this with little sacrifice in toughness. In less than ideal spots with too much shade I’ve lost a few small shrubs, but in part sun I’ve been pleased with its growth. Both daphnes are flowering in mid October, certainly the last flush of blooms until spring. Daphne Summer Ice

The cool nights of mid October

Mounds of brown leaves of the purple leafed European beech (Fagus sylvatica ‘Atropunicea’) cover the stone path, an early and mostly unwelcome sign that autumn has arrived and frost is near. Recent rainfall has ended the late summer drought, and after weeks of ninety degree temperatures, I can hardly complain about the cool and breezy days of early autumn. While frost is not unusual by mid October, the gardener is in no rush to see the season end. There will be flowers in this garden through the winter, but still it is disappointing to awaken one morning to blackened foliage from a frost or freeze.

Toad lily

The gardener expects flowers to survive a mild frost, but often the first frost blackens foliage and flowers turn limp and lifeless.

While red berries are abundant on hollies and native dogwoods, leaves are just beginning to show autumn coloring. Of course, after an extended summer it seems too early for cold, but temperatures dropped into the thirties last night, and it cannot be long before the flowering season of toad lilies (Tricyrtis, above) is ended. On a cool and sunny afternoon, few bees are seen on Blue Mist shrubs (Caryopteris, below) or Mountain mint (Pycnanthemum muticum), and the few are sluggish as their time runs short.

Bumblebee on Blue Mist shrub

A sluggish bumblebee on the Blue Mist shrub. Days ago there were dozens of bees, but after a few chilly nights, today only a few.

Soon, leaves of maples and tulip poplars will fall to cover the garden that borders the forest, with leaves of the Bigleaf magnolia (Magnolia macrophylla) and neighbors’ sycamores too large, clogging the vacuum that shreds leaves that are spread through the garden. That can wait. Until frost, the gardener must enjoy these last days (hopefully weeks) of flowers.

The last remaining flowers of Gordlinia, that has flowered since early August.

The last remaining flowers of Gordlinia, that has flowered since early August.

Summer Ice and Eternal Fragrance daphnes flower through early frosts.

Summer Ice and Eternal Fragrance daphnes flower through early frosts.