Bluebeard and early summer blooms

The yellow leaves of ‘Worcester Gold’ bluebeard (Caryopteris clandonensis Worcester Gold’, below) fade in summer’s heat, though they remain brightly colored in late June. Despite the inevitable heat of July, the contrast between the foliage and early blue flowers will remain delightful.Improved versions of ‘Worcester Gold’ have been introduced, but I’ve not been overly impressed that ‘Sunshine Blue’ or others are significantly better. The color of the coarse leafed caryopteris ‘Hint of Gold’ holds up better through the summer, it flowers several weeks later, and probably any gardener will be satisfied to have one or more of each. I’ve planted single plants, but have been impressed with mass plantings of green or yellow leafed caryopteris. 

Peruvian lilies (Alstroemeria ‘Tangerine Tango’, above) are best know as fillers in cut flower arrangements, but cold hardy varieties flower for extended periods in full sun. I’ve experienced poor results in part sun and more shade, with no flowers and weak growth, though even in sun its stems are floppy. I was surprised a few years ago that deer pushed through furniture on a slate patio to nibble a few flowering stems that were not treated with a repellent, but otherwise the lilies are sturdy and dependable bloomers.

The variegated blooms of ‘Pistachio’ (Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Pistachio’, above) are unquestionably out of the ordinary in a world of blue flowered mophead hydrangeas. Probably, I’ve located ‘Pistachio’ in a less than ideal exposure, so it grows more slowly and flowers more sparsely than other mopheads. 

As with too many plants in this garden, I do not recall the variety of this splendid pink deciduous azalea. It flowers several weeks after other azaleas have faded, and is more fragrant than yellow, orange, and red azaleas that bloom earlier. The tall clump of azaleas has grown together so that one shrub is indistinguishable from the other, but this does not adversely effect flowering.

A white flowered coneflower (Echinacea) has grown vigorously since it was moved from beneath a taller shrub into a sunnier spot. Before, it was a bit disappointing, but the problem was where I planted it, not the plant. Certainly, this happens frequently, with one plant or another taking the blame rather than the gardener who planted it. Unfortunately, I’ve forgotten the cultivar, which is not unusual for me. Another white, ‘Coconut Lime’ (below) is planted beneath a low branched shrub beside the koi pond, and miraculously it survives and flowers dependably. But, this is a different and more typical coneflower bloom. Maybe ‘White Swan’, though that doesn’t ring a bell. I really should keep better records.

There are handfuls of daylilies (Hemerocallis ‘Pardon Me’, above) in the garden, all very standard varieties, and not ones that I take great pride in collecting. All are long blooming types, which was the intention for fillers at the edges of planting areas. I am occasionally tempted to plant ones with tall flowering stalks, but the mood passes quickly.

The tall growing Swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata, above) attracts more bees than butterflies, though the abundant local population of swallowtails are frequent visitors. A year ago, aphids covered seedpods that followed flowering, and though I suspected the milkweeds would survive the invasion, I was uncertain. I won’t be surprised when aphids arrive this year, or when beetles follow to feed on them. Certainly, this is evidence that natives are no more or less susceptible to injury from pests than non-natives. Bugs must eat.


Trees in the early summer garden

In recent weeks, the stone path beneath the Japanese stewartia (Stewartia pseudocamellia, below) has been littered with white flowers. The tree is situated between evergreens and a wide spreading Japanese maple so that the top third is in full sun, while the lower portions are shaded. The effect is that the sunny parts begin to flower ten days earlier than parts in shade, with flowering extending through much of June.

Stewartia is slow to become established, though not nearly as slow as several European beech (Fagus sylvatica) that seemingly stood still for five years before growing. After a few decades, a purple leafed beech and a green leafed version with pendulous branches have grown huge. While stewartia is a smaller tree, it has also grown to maturity. Unfortunately, it is crowded by neighbors so that it cannot be fully appreciated for its blooms, or its autumn foliage color and attractive bark.

Less appreciated is the Goldenrain tree (Koelreuteria paniculata, above) with a more prominent position along the driveway. Goldenrain’s foliage is pleasant enough, though lacking in significant autumn color, and flowers are quite nice if the gardener is not aware that each is pollinated to develop a seed that is guaranteed to germinate. Perhaps if the goldenrain was planted with lawn beneath, it might not be such a pest, but with fertile soil the gardener must pull many thousands of seedlings. I’ve been tempted many times, usually while plucking a few hundred seedlings, to chop it out and be rid of it, but it is the rare gardener willing to part with a mature tree.

The foliage of ‘Celestial Shadow’ dogwood (Cornus x ‘Celestial Shadow’) is distinctly variegated through the spring, but this begins to fade in the first summer heat. The yellow-green variegation of ‘Cherokee Sunset’ (Cornus florida ‘Cherokee Sunset’, above) is similar, and this color holds better if the foliage remains clear of powdery mildew, which is rarely the case. With one of each in the garden, the easy choice is ‘Celestial Shadow’, which is a more dependable bloomer and not troubled by the various maladies that afflict our native dogwoods.

The Chinese dogwoods (Cornus kousa) faded from bloom earlier in June, but two with variegated leaves, ‘Samaritan’ and ‘Wolf Eyes’ (above) stand out in the garden. Probably, variegated trees (as well as shrubs and perennials) can be overdone, but to my eye that point has not been crossed, no matter what anyone else might think.

I am equally enchanted with two variegated ‘Silver Cloud’ redbuds (Cercis canadensis ‘Silver Cloud’, above) which have managed through multiple minor surgeries following snow and ice damage. Pendulous branching hides these defects, and along with the dogwoods the variegated foliage stands out even if there was not a single flower in the garden through the summer. Improved cultivars of the redbud feature more colorful foliage, and I would be tempted by a recent introduction, ‘Carolina Sweetheart’, if a spot opened in the garden.



Six weeks of irises

One iris or another has been flowering since early in May, first Yellow flag (Iris pseudacorus) and Blue flag (Iris versicolor), then a succession of Japanese irises with the last blooms of the splendid ‘Lion King’ (Iris ensata ‘Lion King’, below) fading in this third week of June. 

A sturdy Japanese iris seedling appeared earlier in spring in a dense clump of rushes at the edge of the koi pond. In recent days there have been two flowers (below), one opening as the other faded. The flowers are not fancy in coloration compared to ‘Lion King’, but I’m happy it’s here and hope that it survives the competition of the rushes.

Certainly, it is near impossibility to extricate the iris from the tangle of rushes. The mass is planted into small river gravel placed between small boulders in several inches of water at the pond’s edge, and beyond the precarious positioning at the edge of the pond there is the family of Northern Brown water snakes to consider. And, if the probability of capsizing into the pond and being attacked by snakes is overlooked, the tangle of roots is likely to be too thick to successfully tease apart to extract the iris. It must fend for itself.

The Yellow flags have become too vigorous in parts of the pond, partially displacing several clumps of more desirable Japanese irises. In another year the less robust Japanese iris might not survive, and the same complications apply in separating one iris from the other. I will try to cut foliage off the Yellow flags, but many of the thick clumps are cover for our expanding family of snakes, so I make no promises.  

In the gravel filled filtration area of the pond, another favored snake habitat, vigorous Yellow flag irises are losing in competition with even more vigorous Pickerel weed (Pontederia cordata, above). But, Pickerel weed does not wander to the far reaches of the pond, so I’m not concerned at all that some or all of the Yellow flags will be lost in the process.

A turn to summer

The garden has survived with minimal issues after a sudden turn to summer temperatures following recent cool and rainy weeks. I have not fared so well, reserving my daily garden strolls for late evening when the sun is setting, though I suppose I will also survive.

A year ago, yellow leafed coral bells (Heuchera ‘Electric Lime’) faded quickly in a dry spell in June after a damp May, but now there is just enough moisture in the ground and more moderate temperatures are forecast. Still, the change from spring to summer is evident, with a few brown edges to leaves of ‘Autumn Moon’ Japanese maple (Acer shirasawanum ‘Autumn Moon’, below) and others that would be better sited in a shadier spot.  Mophead hydrangeas and a few perennials wilt in the afternoon sun, reviving after sunset, and several hostas in a bit too much sun have begun to fade. If the garden was irrigated summer fading would be lessened, but it’s not so bad, and I’m happy to have a garden able to fend for itself instead of requiring constant attention. If any plant requires more than the rain that fall through the summer, it won’t last long in this garden.

After a slow start, and minor damage from freezing temperatures in March when growth was beginning a few weeks too early, mophead hydrangeas (Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Dear Dolores’, below) have rebounded and are doing splendidly. A year ago, more severe damage required cutting many stems to the ground, and mopheads were slow to recover, flowering sparsely through the late spring and summer. 

Lacecap and Oakleaf hydrangeas (Hydrangea quercifolia, below) are more tolerant of cold, and Oakleafs are particularly robust this spring. Leaves are larger than usual, and flowers are as good as ever. In several areas of the garden, select branches of Oakleaf hydrangeas must be pruned annually so that neighboring plants are not overwhelmed. There are more compact forms, but branches of larger growing Oakleafs sprawl in every direction, up and over smaller neighbors. I try to keep up with such things, but not everything that should be done gets done. 

The yellow leafed Oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia ‘Little Honey’, below) suffered a bit in a brief spell of hot weather in May, with several leaves scorched. It is, however, flowering more abundantly than in previous years, though flowers are considerably smaller than on other Oakleafs. Probably, ‘Little Honey’ would fare better in a shadier spot, but it’s growing vigorously, and it’s far from a favorite, so I’m hardly motivated to move it. At best, the yellow foliage is a novelty, though I’m also not considering chopping it out.

The hybrid daphnes ‘Summer Ice’ (Daphne x transatlantica ‘Summer Ice’,above) and ‘Eternal Fragrance’ (Daphne x transatlantica ‘Eternal Frangrance’, below) are into their third cycle of blooms since the first flowers a few days after freezes passed in mid March. The foliage of ‘Summer Ice’ is superior, but ‘Eternal Fragrance’ flowers more heavily and with greater frequency. Both are marvelous daphnes, and much easier than Winter daphne (Daphne odora) and ‘Carol Mackie’, which are wonderful plants but a little more particular about their circumstances. I’ve found that in this garden daphnes prefer part sun for best flowering through the heat of summer, but flowering is stunted in a bit too much shade.

Funny business

It’s spring, late spring and heating up, but romance is in the air. The newest arrivals have been seen in the koi pond, both fish and Northern Brown water snakes (below). There are concerns about both. 

The pond is home to many dozens of koi and a few goldfish, probably over a hundred not counting the tiny new arrivals, and while the pond is quite large it can hold only so many. A year ago some small koi were moved to the smaller ponds in the garden, and most likely I’ll have to net and transfer more later this year. This is a relatively simple process, but it spooks the remaining fish for a few weeks, so they’re reluctant to surface to feed.

The pond snakes are a bit more of a problem, lurking as they do under boulders at the pond’s edge. I suppose they’re mostly harmless, except to smaller fish that stray too close to the dense thicket of irises and sweetflag in the pond’s filtration area (above), but my wife and I must be cautious with every step around the pond not to encroach of their space.

With the abundance of wildlife in the garden, it’s not surprising that there should be garter and black snakes, but rarely are these seen. Until yesterday, that is, when my wife witnessed two mating on the concrete slab outside our basement door. She was not pleased with the prospect of more snakes, but they keep to themselves and certainly do more good than harm. While I’ve had a few accidental run ins with the pond snakes, there have been no black snake incidents other than one that somehow got into our kitchen a few years ago. 

And of course, there’s more going on than just fish and snakes. The bees are busy doing their thing. In recent weeks I’ve seen far more honeybees than in recent years, and there are always abundant bumblebees. The result of their pollination efforts should be bunches of red berries on hollies in a few months.


The gardener understands that most blooms are fleeting, flowering only for days or a few short weeks. When Japanese irises (Iris ensata, below) flower beside the koi pond from mid May into June, this is accomplished with a succession of cultivars, and so it is with daylilies (Hemerocallis) and other ornaments in our gardens. Changes are most notable when the gardener is gone for a period, and even after an absence of five days the difference is considerable.

Fading of flowers of the Bigleaf magnolia (Magnolia macrophylla) and Chinese dogwoods (Cornus kousa) was expected in the second week of June, with blooms remaining only on a partially shaded ‘Satomi’ dogwood (below). In the heat of the typical Virginia spring, ‘Satomi’ and the hybrid ‘Stellar Pink’ rarely display any more than a slight blush of pink. ‘Stellar’ barely showed the slightest pink blush in late April into May, while ‘Satomi’ is more pink than usual, though not the color of the pink flowered native dogwood (Cornus florida ‘Rubra’).

The Bigleaf magnolia (below) is treasured, though it is coarsely branched with outsized leaves and flowers to match. I once pleached a Paulownia (until it became an unbearable nuisance), which curbed its flowering, but resulted in leaves two feet or more in length. The Bigleaf magnolia requires no such treatment, with leaves nearly to two feet and typical magnolia flowers at least a foot across. Unfortunately, as ‘Satomi’ and ‘Stellar Pink’ dogwoods have grown, and under its own dense canopy, lower branches of the magnolia have become shaded, and flowers are moving too high in the tree to be appreciated close up. In any case, the remaining flowers faded while I was traveling for several days. As a not so small consolation, flowers from upper most branches litter the stone path beneath the tall Stewartia (Stewartia pseudocamellia, below), and soon marble sized flower buds on more shaded lower branches will open. 

Stewartia is a slow starter, requiring a good decade before it becomes much of a tree. While I am most impatient, it is fortunate that other treasures occupied my attention while this marvelous tree developed. As with too many other favorites, I wish now that it was given a more prominent position, but the gardener must balance joy and disappointment.

A day in the garden

Occasionally, business travel allows me to escape the office, and today my workday ended early and in the vicinity of the Oregon Garden in Silverton, on the other side of the country from my Virginia home. I’ve visited the Garden several times since its early days, but it’s been a few too many years in between and it’s come a long way.

Visiting other people’s gardens, or public gardens, gets me to thinking, and as I strolled, I thought that it’s a good thing I didn’t buy that house with ten acres twenty eight years ago. No doubt, I’d have gone broke years ago trying to fill every inch.

If I had the space, an unlimited budget, and a bunch of folks to help with maintenance, this is what I’d do. I’d plant lots of Japanese maples (which I have), one of every conifer I could find, flowering trees and ones with pendulous branching, and I’d fill the spaces between with flowering shrubs and perennials. Certainly, my efforts would not be so tastefully put together as this fine garden.

Japanese maples are scattered through the garden. I’ve noted a few that are missing from my garden that I must have.

While I’m thankful that some sunny spots in my garden permit planting of Japanese Umbrella pines, Alaskan cedars, and a variety of spruces, the Oregon Garden recalls my regret that shade from tall maples and tulip poplars limits conifers to a small section of the garden.

With a later spring, Styrax is flowering several weeks later than in Virginia.

Deutzia Magicien has just faded from bloom in my garden, so I was happy to see it here.

I try to be thankful for what I have, but this garden reminds me that there are so many treasures I’m missing, and if there was space enough and sunlight enough, I could plant just a few more. This garden is a place to enjoy usual and unusual plants, and to get one to dreaming about what could be.

I am easily seduced by oversized leaves, such as this gigantic butterbur.