Baby Jacks

Recently, I extolled the virtues of hellebores, and the profuse numbers of seedlings that require occasional thinning out, but also encourage sharing with other gardeners. Today, I’m pleased to report tiny seedlings that I am quite certain are from Jack-in-the-Pulpits (Arisaema triphyllum and others, below) planted in recent years. To protect the little treasures until they reach a stage where there are sufficient roots for transplant, I’ve dragged my wife over to show her the crevices between stones, to tell her not to pull seedlings that are not weeds as she relentlessly prunes and plucks to keep the garden’s paths clear.

While hellebores can occupy several square feet of space once mature, Jack-in-the-Pulpits grow more upright and take up very little space. In this jumbled garden, plants are expected to grow up through, and to flop over one another, so this is not only allowed, but encouraged. For the gardener intent on neatness, plants that spread aggressively or seed prolifically should be discouraged, but not in this garden.

A Jack-in-the-Pulpit has seeded into this clump of Tiarella. The tiarella slowly spreads, but there are numerous seedlings of Jack-in-the-Pulpit that will be transplanted as soon as they reach viable size.

I am delighted that the variegated Solomon’s Seals (Polygonatum odoratum var. pluriflorum ‘Variegatum’, below) have spread more than expected this spring. I’m not certain how these could possibly fit into a more formal garden, but there’s no formality here, and I’m intrigued to try other cultivars that look interesting in photos. Some can grow quite large, it appears, and these interest me in particular. Oddities such as these attract the gardener to specialty nurseries, many operated by plant explorers who have found these on some faraway mountain, and who could care less if there’s any commercial appeal to their finds.

Variegated Solomon’s Seal has filled in nicely this spring.

Native wood poppies (Stylophorum diphyllum, below) have continued to spread in the dry shade beneath towering maples and tulip poplars, with new plants appearing scattered by twenty paces. I’m uncertain how these manage to find their way uphill, but I’ve no complaint and if one should appear where it’s not wanted I suspect these are easily removed. While the flowers are short lived, the mounding foliage is interesting enough. These give the appearance of being well placed by the gardener in small areas of open ground, but their placement is purely a matter of natural opportunity. While wood poppies are ideally planted in damper soil, I suspect that maple and poplar leaves left to decay have greatly improved the top layer of soil in this area.

Certainly, Robb’s or Wood spurge (Euphorbia amygdaloides var. robbiae) is likely to be considered a weed by some, but I am continually impressed that it surges ahead through dense, shallow  roots to cover open ground. No doubt, some would consider this too aggressive, but in moderately dense, and undoubtedly dry shade, it has spread to cover a few hundred square feet, though it carefully winds around clumps of ferns and plum yews. On occasion when a stem appears between stones in the path, or elsewhere where it’s not wanted, these are easily snatched out.

Cypress spurge (Euphorbia cyparissias, below) is reviled as invasive, but planted alongside a stone patio by the koi pond it has been pushed to the side by seedlings of Espresso geranium (Geranium maculatum ‘Espresso’). Probably, no gardener would curse a lovely native such as the geranium, but this shows the relative nature of invasiveness. Here, the spurge is the victim, geranium the bully, and happily I transplanted a few small clumps several years ago or it could have been run out of the garden.

This cypress spurge claims to be a rampant grower, but now it grows only in gravel filled crevices of a stone patio. A vigorous, dark leafed geranium (Espresso) has pushed it to the margins.

Seedlings of Espresso geranium have overrun the aggressive Cypress spurge.




A year ago, flowers of the Silverbell (Halesia carolina, below) were ruined by an early April freeze that most notably damaged tender new leaves of Japanese maples and mophead hydrangeas. While damage to the Silverbell was minimal besides the lost floral display, damaged foliage on maples and hydrangeas was evident through the year, with some trees and shrubs not recovering fully until growth this spring.

The flowers of Silverbell are paper thin, and would be susceptible to annual freezes if these were a regular occurrence. Fortunately, freezes from mid April on are not typical, and this year the tall, open branched tree is back in full bloom. The gardener overly concerned by the potential for damage should be encouraged not to plant Silverbell, or magnolias, cherries, redbuds, or dogwoods. While these are occasionally injured in a freeze, none are damaged regularly, and it is clear that the risk of a freeze is diminished with each week moving from March into April.

Long ago, I quit trying to figure what makes one tree popular and another not, and it is a darn shame that this southeast American native is not more common. Even in the shade of much taller maples and tulip poplars, the small, bell-shaped flowers are borne in sufficient quantity to make a splendid show. In full sun, even better. In this garden, planted at the forest’s edge open to the north with no direct sunlight, Silverbell grows very upright, with open branching so that many flowers are far up into the tree, and with only a few arching lower branches. I suggest planting in a half day sun or more, and expect the gardener will be overjoyed with his choice.

A perfect day for planting

This Sunday was perfectly timed, a cool afternoon following a rainy Saturday, with more rain moving in this evening that is expected to linger for a few days. This was a perfect day for planting, cool enough that the afternoon sun barely raised a sweat, and with rain on the way to get new plantings off to a splendid start. I plant whenever the mood strikes, but when I can plant just before a substantial rain it’s likely that I’ll never have to water again.

Open spaces for planting are becoming slimmer each year. Mostly, I’m shoehorning plants that have caught my eye into small spaces, or planting ground orchids (above) and agapanthus (supposedly a cold hardy strain, we’ll see) right through a ground cover. Two clumps of orchids planted several years ago were dug and divided, and one clump was teased down to bare roots to extricate it from a small hosta that it had become tangled with. I suspect that an eye or two of hosta has been missed in the orchid clump, but I’ll figure that out in a few weeks. Too many times, I’ve lost a transplant that’s dried out after moving, but that should not be a problem this time.

Red buckeye is planted in part shade beneath tall swamp maples. A native witch hazel was planted just to the other side of the maple in the background.

Two witch hazels tagged as the native Hamamelis virginiana (but most likely vernalis) were planted just a bit outside the property line in land that I’ve appropriated on my side of the creek. There’s nothing on the other side except open field, but this small area of ground seems that it should be a part of my property, so why not put it to good use? Certainly, I can use the space, and there’s nothing on it except native spicebush (Lindera benzoin) and brambles.

A variety of Jack-in-the-pulpits have been planted in the seams between path stones. Numerous seedlings have popped up from one or the other, or both.

The emerging leaves of Little Honey Oakleaf hydrangea are brightly colored. While they fade slightly by late spring, the foliage remains colorful, though Little Honey offers only scattered blooms.

Planted in the shade of maples and serviceberry, Shasta viburnum still flowers heavily though it rarely displays the autumn foliage colors found on shrubs in full sun.

Celestial Shadow dogwood does not flower heavily in the shade of large cryptomerias, but its brightly variegated leaves stand out in the darkness.

Gold Star (Chrysogonum virginianum) has spread to both sides of a stone path in the shaded area beneath maples and tulip poplars.



More Japanese maples than necessary?

Yes, there are more Japanese maples (Acer palmatum) in this garden than necessary, but there is no need to count. There are thirty, or forty-some, but this is not a contest, and certainly there are gardens with finer and more numerous maples. With plants, I can get a little stupid, but my obsession with Japanese maples is most evident in this acre and a quarter garden.

Seriyu is a vigorous green, cut leafed maple. Branches of two Seriyu planted at the front of the house arch over the front walk.

The front of the house is mostly obscured by two green leafed ‘Seriyu’ maples and a red leafed ‘Bloodgood’, and it’s not possible to see more than twenty feet in any direction in the rear garden without the view being blocked by one maple or several. The driveway is partially obstructed by a wide spreading maple (‘Crimson Queen’) with pendulous branches, with another (‘Oridono nishiki’) overhanging the end of the drive. A green leafed, weeping Japanese maple (‘Viridis’, below) forms a wide spreading canopy over one of the garden’s ponds, and so it goes, one after another. Many maples have been here for twenty years or more, with a few newcomers each year.

The arching branches of Viridis maple form a canopy over this small pond and waterfall.

I hear that Japanese maples grow slowly, but most are vigorous in growth. Viridis maple has spread to more than ten feet wide, though only six feet tall.

None of the maples in the garden are rare, though many are ones that are not commonly found in garden centers, and a few recent additions can be found only from nurseries that specialize in growing small numbers of the hundreds of less common Japanese maples. Certainly, several are cultivars that would not catch the eye of most gardeners, with foliage that is unremarkable, and I suppose it could be argued that leaves of a few maples are out of the ordinary to the point that some might consider them ugly. I don’t.

The Golden Full Moon maple was found in the field of a grower in Oregon who left it behind because its trunk was damaged by rabbits. I was happy to plant the scarred tree. A year ago I planted ‘Autumn Moon’ which is similar and supposedly more sun tolerant.

There are Japanese maples that I’ve paid a small fortune to obtain, though I am notoriously thrifty, and a few that were rescued from trash heaps. For years, I lusted after Golden Full Moon (Acer shirasawanum ‘Aureum’, above) and Floating Cloud (Acer palmatum ‘Ukigumo’, below) maples, and once one of each of reasonable size was obtained, two others soon became available and were added to the garden. No doubt, this is not a matter of proper garden design, nor of good sense. I suspect that I’m not the only gardener who’s gone off the deep end for something, maybe on multiple somethings as I have.

Foliage color of the Floating Cloud maple changes through the year, from cream, green, and pink on new growth, to more green by mid summer. Trees with more sun exposure fade more to green.

The variegated foliage of Higasayama Japanese maple is striking, but it is also fast growing, which is unusual for variegated maples.

In early spring, I’m enthused as hellebores, witch hazels, and mahonias flower, followed by redbuds, serviceberries, dogwoods, and silverbells, but by mid April I must catch up on every Japanese maple in the garden, every day. With understated, but lovely blooms, and leaves that unfold over hours, or days, there is something to keep me entertained for weeks. Colors of emerging leaves are most intense, and while some maples open without much of a show, others stage a production as they slowly unfurl.

The dwarf Shaina suufered considerably in sub zero temperatures several years ago, but with recent growth the damage areas have been covered. Shaina grows to a low mound, and is not particularly distinctive, but it is unusual.

The Coral Bark maple (‘Sangu kaku’) is unremarkable except for red stems on new growth that are most noticeable when leaves have dropped. A year ago I planted the yellow stemmed ‘Bihou’.

In recent years open space for planting has run short, so now the patios are cluttered with pots of newly acquired maples. Today, most are only a few feet tall, and with an exception or two all are trees that will grow only to eight or ten feet tall. There’s a possibility these could remain in containers for years, but if a hole opens up, they’re ready to fill in. Below are a sampling of Japanese maples in the garden, though not all.

The Fern Leaf maple (Acer japonicum ‘Aconitifolium’) is a wide spreading upright Japanese maple with large leaves. It’s autumn foliage color is the best of all maples.

The finely cut leaves of Linearilobum maples are unusual.

Scolopendrifolium maple has deeply cut green leaves and graceful branching.

Bloodgood is the the standard for red leafed upright maples. It can be found anywhere that maples are sold. In front of the house, Bloodgood has grown twenty five feet tall and wide.

The Butterfly maple is variegated with cream and green, and in early spring some pink. Butterfly grows slowly, and after damage in a late freeze a year ago it has mostly recovered.

Shirazz , or Gwen’s Rose Delight, has cream edges. Variegation is spectacular in spring, but the tree fades in sun and summer color is not so wonderful.

This Trompenburg Japanese maple retains its red foliage even though it is shaded. A nearby Burgundy Lace maple fades more in similar conditions.

Orange Dream, one of the Japanese maples added a year ago. The still small tree will remain in a pot on the patio until a spot is found for it.

Crimson Queen Japanese maple is among the standards of weeping maples. It forms a dense, rounded canopy of finely dissected red leaves. One beside the driveway has topped out at ten feet tall and a little wider.



Strolling the garden with my wife

Yesterday, I accompanied my wife as she strolled through the garden, pruners in hand. Anyone who has followed these pages will be aware of her destructive tendencies, and thus I walked along to distract her and possibly to limit the damage. Along the stone paths, no branch or stray leaf is safe, and she takes particular pride in scalping trailing stems that creep an inch onto the stones. This is not my style of gardening, though admittedly, if she didn’t do the pruning some paths might have disappeared long ago.

Trees and shrubs that overhang the driveway have become a particular annoyance to her, and scars from her pruning are evident along this small section of the garden. I, on the other hand, am quite pleased that arching branches of a ‘Jane’ magnolia and ‘Seriyu’ Japanese maple will finally touch after spring growth across the widest part of the driveway. I am not bothered that local delivery trucks no longer venture down the drive, or that visitors must often make multiple tries to keep a perfectly straight line backing out to avoid a wide spreading, weeping Japanese maple that strays several feet over the asphalt.

My wife does her best (and most destructive) work when I’m not watching, so instead of pruning while on our little stroll, I was fortunate to hear her commentary about every little thing that concerns her about the garden. This is too tall, too wide, I can’t see the sky. Good sport and supportive spouse that I am, I was sympathetic to her suggestions, nodding in agreement (though often with crossed fingers) until we reached the driveway, when she pointed out the butchered growth of a Fernspray cypress and suggested that I remove it to clear a bit of the edge of the driveway, and if not, she’d find someone who would.

The cypress is butchered, of course, because of her attempts to keep the driveway more open, and with the Japanese maple directly across, she figured it safest to chop the heck out of the cypress rather than one of my treasured maples. Happily, my displeasure still counts for something, but of course, I told her there was no way I was doing anything with the cypress. And, with this final suggestion, she went back inside.

Now, let no one say that I don’t pay proper attention while my wife is speaking, or that I don’t consider her suggestions, no matter how impractical or wrongheaded I might tell her they are. Truth is, the misshapen cypress had been nagging at me for a while, and suddenly removing it seemed reasonable. Imagine her surprise when she came back out a few minutes later to see what all the ruckus was about. She caught me in mid cut with the chainsaw, with one of three trunks of the cypress tumbling onto the driveway. To her credit, my wife’s first concern was for my safety as I dodged large falling limbs. The last tree I removed left a large gash in my forehead, which dripped all over the kitchen floor, so I’m uncertain if she was concerned for my well being or her floor. There was, in fact, no danger, and in a short while the cypress was gone, with branches cut up and dragged off the driveway to be hauled off another day.

So, the cypress is gone, along with a dwarf fruiting peach just behind it that once was prized for its garish pink blooms (above), but for too long has been shaded by taller growing trees that surround it, until it finally faded. With the cypress and peach gone, I discovered a tall camellia in full flower that I had completely forgotten about, and the idea began to form on what to do with this new open space. My wife, who didn’t expect that the cypress would ever be removed, had not considered that something else would be planted, but it didn’t take long for her to get the idea. Already, she’s warning me not to plant anything that will touch the driveway. Like I’d ever do such a thing.

Seedlings for sons

Yes, I’ve prattled on for weeks about hellebores that began flowering early in February, and many of which remain in bloom the second week of April. Enough, or perhaps too much, but now seedlings of hellebores are readily identifiable, and again there are dozens, probably hundreds.

I’ve promised, but not yet delivered seedlings to my sons’ (and daughter-in-laws’) gardens. One son is a garden designer who could possibly be (but probably won’t be) too jaded by frilly hybrids instead of the plain by comparison  seedlings, but the other is a chemist who grew up with his brother slopping around in the mud and wading in the ponds in our garden. Gardeners have passed along spare plants for as long as there have been gardens, and no apology is necessary to explain the value of free plants, which are as good or better than ones that hard earned money is spent on. Hellebore seedlings are just as good as ones off the garden center shelf, but the price is better.

Many of first year seedlings (above) must be weeded out, for there is no sense trying to find spaces to transplant more hundreds when there are already hundreds in the garden. There is a danger in doing nothing and letting seedlings crowd one another, and there are several older clumps where seedlings have become indistinguishable from the parent.

Usually, I allow a small percentage of seedlings to remain near the parent plant for a few years, and then they’ll be transplanted, or maybe left for another year or two until I get around to moving them. For better or worse, there are no precise rules in this garden, and usually there’s little harm that comes from neglecting things for a year or two.

While most seedlings sprout in close proximity to the parent plant, some seeds are swept away by rainwater, and often these settle into convenient spots where they are left to grow, though one low spot beneath a Chinese dogwood (above) is becoming choked with dozens of four year old seedlings. These are the ones that will be dug out for the sons since they’ve started flowering and attained the appropriate size to be worthwhile to move.

Native trees for April flowers

Even with lengthening hours of daylight, my morning commute is driven in the dark, with few distractions besides the glare of headlights. At the work day’s end, snarled evening traffic often requires a more circuitous route home, and in early April the drive along winding roads is blessed with numerous redbuds, the occasional serviceberry, and dogwoods ready to burst into flower. Three weeks later, I will be mildly disappointed when the final dogwood blooms fade and the forest turns to lush green foliage.

Early spring flowers are often delayed for days in this cool, low lying garden, and while dogwoods approach peak bloom in the neighborhood, ones in this garden are a week behind. Redbuds are at their peak, and the top branches of the serviceberry that stretch into the sun are flowering, while lower branches are a few days off. Whatever the gardener’s opinion of native plants, and just as with non-natives there are good, poor, and unexceptional choices, there should be little argument that the three trees flowering along Virginia’s roadsides are splendid choices for the home garden.

Redbud (Cercis canadensis)

The native redbud is a wonderful tree, growing wider than tall, with delightful blooms in early spring and large, heart shaped leaves. Ideally, redbud will be planted with protection from the late afternoon sun, but trees will thrive in medium shade or full sun. Redbuds and dogwoods do not tolerate damp soils.

In recent years two long established, red leafed ‘Forest Pansy’ redbuds (above) in the garden have been lost, one to poor drainage and the other was crushed when a maple in the forest was toppled in a December ice storm. This spot was becoming too shaded, and though redbuds are an understory tree, they are found at the forest’s edge and prefer a part day sun. ‘Forest Pansy’ is a superb tree, but locating it with just the right degree of sunlight so it turns red, but doesn’t fade in summer’s heat, is a challenge.

There are green and red leafed weeping forms of redbud, which have the advantage of not consuming as much space as the typical wide spreading trees. The green leafed ‘Lavender Twist’ was a recent casualty of over planting, lost beneath a more vigorous purple leafed smoketree.

While fewer gardeners prefer yellow leafed trees, and many suspect that these will fade in the summer sun, ‘Hearts of Gold’ (above) and the more recent introduction ‘Rising Sun’ hold up well in the heat. Unfortunately, ‘Hearts of Gold’ has been overwhelmed by a neighbor’s Bald cypress, and though it survives it is hardly seen. The two redbuds that remain are the variegated ‘Silver Cloud’ (below), which is uncommon in garden centers, but much appreciated in this garden. 

Serviceberry (Amelanchier canadensis)

While redbud and dogwood have a typical, single trunk form, serviceberry (below) is often multi trunked, and even if maintained as a single trunk it will sucker, wanting to be a tall bush. To my eye, this moves it to the edges of the garden, and here it is planted to overhang a small pond at the forest’s edge where it receives a bit less sunlight than ideal. While serviceberry is included in lists for edible landscapes, I have never seen a fruit on this long established tree. Still, it is an excellent tree, perfectly suited to this informal garden.

Dogwood (Cornus florida)

While the native dogwood can fall victim to a variety of ailments, too much is made of this, I believe, for it is an exceptional, and usually long lived tree. Too often, a killing anthracnose (Discula destructiva) is credited for the demise of local dogwoods when the fungus is only a problem at mountain elevations. Certainly, leaf spotting, powdery mildew, and cankers are nagging problems, but dogwoods in this garden have annual bouts with each, and have survived for nearly three decades so far. New dogwood introductions promise spotting and mildew relief, though these varieties are new enough that they remain uncommon in the market.

For the gardener concerned by disease problems, hybrid dogwoods that flower two weeks later (‘Celestial Shadow’ dogwood, below, flowering late April to early May in this garden), and Chinese dogwoods (Cornus kousa, flowers in mid to late May) are resistant, and vigorous growers. The ideal planting, I think, is to plant one or more of each so that there are dogwoods, redbuds, and serviceberries flowering from early April into June.