Early summer and heat’s on the way

Few daylilies remain from days when dozens were scattered through sunny parts of the garden. I fondly recall a large, white flowered variety, but not its name, or why I let a dozen cultivars fade and disappear. I now regret the lack of attention.

Certainly, other plants have come and gone as the garden has matured over three decades from mostly sunny, to only a few spots where the sun peaks in. With most, there was an opportunity over several years to rescue them to move to sunnier environs, but there were either few spaces available, or the plants lacked the favor to motivate transplanting.

The old standard ‘Pardon Me’ is the most exciting daylily remaining in the garden.

The wonderful thing about the garden is that few tasks must absolutely be done today, and some must not be accomplished this year, or even next. But, for every task that has been set aside without an issue, there’s another that hasn’t worked out so well. I don’t know that I’ve gained any urgency as I’ve become more experienced (older), but there are more regrets over lost opportunities that were hardly given a thought years ago. Today, I see a splendid, tall stemmed daylily in the garden center, or in a catalog, and I’m discouraged thinking back over ones that I neglected and lost. So, now there are a few handfuls remaining of the most basic daylilies, and the more exceptional individuals are gone with no plans for additions.

Mophead hydrangeas (Hydrangea macrophylla, above) are at their best today, aided considerably by our late spring deluges. Mopheads have been disappointing in recent years due to fluctuations in late winter temperatures that encouraged new growth, then damaged it with blasts of cold. Slightly less showy lacecap (below) and Oakleaf hydrangeas (Hydrangea quercifolia) clearly have a sturdier constitution, so these have not suffered noticeably as temperatures change from seventy to twenty degrees in early spring. 

Overly lush Mophead hydrangeas are likely to wilt over the next week as summer temperatures rise into the mid-nineties. Adequate soil moisture remains, but soft wooded hydrangeas are prone to afternoon wilting, which is worrying, but rarely amounts to anything.


Wrong timing, but it will probably work out

I can’t believe that I transplanted a division of ‘Sun King’ aralia (Aralia cordata ‘Sun King’, below) to the shady side garden in late June. A decent sized ball of roots was dug, but I would never recommend to anyone to transplant anything in early summer. Plants purchased from the garden center with a ball of soil, or in a container, have a decent chance with proper care, but digging things out of the garden to move is risky, at best. With heat and periods of drought inevitable, the chances for survival are slim, and slimmer for a tall, fleshy stemmed perennial like this aralia.

But, I had a hankering for a large yellow something in this very shady spot, and after seeing that ‘Sun King’ in the garden center was a bit more costly than expected, digging part of the large clump from the front garden seemed a reasonable alternative. Of course, an inch of rain was forecast for the weekend, and at least double that amount actually fell, so some thought went into this wrong season transplant.

So far (after two days), so good, and though I typically plant and forget, I’ll watch out for this one over the next few weeks. The spot is quite shady, with decent ground that is reasonably moist and covered by a layer of shredded leaves, so that’s as good as I can do. At least, if it fails, I’ve lost nothing. The difference in the clump out front is barely noticeable.

One of the storms that passed through over the weekend was a gusher that washed out areas that haven’t in the twenty-nine years we’ve been here. I spent a few hours yesterday picking up leaves, sticks, and debris (I don’t know if several antique beer cans were tossed into the border planting by my kids, or by the neighbors’ that came fifteen years later.) that washed out onto the lawn, and hope never to have to do this again. Not all the debris could be cleaned up without raking, and I’d done as much as I cared to do at the that point, so it will take the mower a time or two to get rid of the rest of it.

As often happens, the debris path in a deluge shows the natural flow of water, and the small area where one of the new Afghan figs (Ficus afghanistanica ‘Silver Lyre’, above) was planted barely avoided being washed away. A bit of loose soil was relocated onto the stone patio beside the koi pond, but it could have been worse, and this was tidied up quickly. As expected, the figs and a few other smaller things planted last week have had no problem, and of course I expected no issues since these were planted in another of a string of rainy weeks.

Several of the Oriental lilies have come into bloom and faded. It seems that the coming and going was quicker than usual, and several are barely seen now as plantings around the koi pond have grown up. I planted several new lilies earlier in the spring, and while one with distinctive markings (above) didn’t seem to last until the flowers were fully open. another is flowering now (below), ten days after others. Since the lilies are here for such a short period, they’re planted with lots of neighbors, and occasionally they’re lost in the jumble if the variety is one with shorter stems.

Snakes, again and forever?

My wife warns that it is incorrect to kill snakes that have taken residence along the margins of our koi pond, but still she wants to be rid of them, by violence or persuasion, she doesn’t care. I remain conflicted. The Northern Brown water snakes are a bit of a nuisance, causing me to be overly cautious weeding stilt grass that invades clumps of irises where the snakes reside. Certainly, there’s no issue with the occasional fish they snatch since there are another hundred or more, but there is an uneasiness around the pond that is less than ideal.

The Northern Brown water snake is sunning on the step down into the pond where we feed the koi.

Generally, I prefer to let nature take its course with minimal interference. This constructed garden attracts diverse wildlife, which is appreciated, so if Japanese beetles or caterpillars munch a few leaves, there are plenty more. While no pesticides are sprayed, I spray a repellent to discourage deer, though this harms no creature except deer burn a few additional calories moving on to the next property.

Japanese stilt grass can be seen growing at the water’s edge. If there is a better habitat for snakes, I don’t know where.

Eventually, I’ll get around to pulling the stilt grass, but probably long after it’s dropped seeds for the next crop. I’ll do some stomping around before I do much reaching into the iris clumps, so perhaps this will be enough of a warning that the snakes will go off to the other side of the pond. If I was as brave as I claim, I’d snatch them up and relocate them down the road, but that’s a bit much for me. Mostly, I fear being startled and falling head first into the pond. Not that there’s much danger involved, but I’d prefer to stay upright and dry.


While considered, no decision has been made whether the purple (pink-purple, my wife tells me) flowered coneflower seedling will be permitted to remain, intertwined as it is with ‘Pow Wow White’ (Echinacea purpurea ‘Pow Wow White’), though I lean towards doing nothing (as usual). The white coneflower seems vigorous enough to stand the competition, and into its second year the combination shows no signs of decline.

I should not suppose that it is common knowledge that seedlings often do not replicate parent plants, and here is clear evidence. The white coneflower is a variation of the typically purple flowered Echinacea, and while a seedling of ‘Pow Wow White’ might occasionally be white, most will be purple. I’ve seen purple flowered seedlings from the red flowered coneflower ‘Tomato Soup’, which unfortunately faded and disappeared along with seedlings as the garden became shadier. A second white coneflower, ‘Coconut Lime’, pokes out from beneath a gold needled cypress so that seeds fall onto a stone patio, where they fail to germinate. Other purple flowered seedlings have popped up in spots where they are welcomed.

The combined white and purple flowers look slightly unnatural, somewhat similar to the horticultural havoc created when dissimilar stems are grafted onto a single tree. I’m not above such things. In fact, I’ve espaliered a three-in-one apple to the wall of the garden shed, regardless that such certain-to-pollinate combinations seem a crime against the randomness of nature. The coneflower combination though, is a perfectly natural combination that could, and probably does occur somewhere in the wild.

Strawberry begonia (Saxifraga stolonifera has spread to grow in a narrow area of gravel and soil on the other side of the shady creek. I would have figured that nothing would survive this location, so this is a particular bonus.

I’m very much in favor of plants that spread from seed, or in the case of ferns, from spores. So long, that is, that seedlings are not inclined to take over, and I suppose there have been a few of these through the years. But, most seedlings are easily controlled, and several have spread into spots where I couldn’t have chosen a better plant. And, they’re free.

Sporelings of Japanese Painted and Sensitive ferns appear throughout the garden. Here Sensitive fern is growing between stones in gravel at the edge of this constructed stream.

I do dread the annual invasion of seedlings from red maples from the forest that borders the garden, but the only other real nuisance seedlings in the garden are from the Golden Rain tree (Koelreuteria paniculata, below). I can’t figure how the seeds are spread so far through the garden. I’m certain that thousands are plucked every year, with most in close proximity to the tree, but others on the far side of the house. I can live with any number of coneflower seedlings, but the Rain tree is just a weed.

Heat in the forecast

I think, I hope, there has been sufficient time between our many inches of rain two weeks ago and the heat that is forecast for early in the week. It is June, and heat is expected, but much of the garden was pumped up on a water high, and in sunny spots this could be a problem. Fortunately, and I say this regardless of the current conditions, much of this garden is shaded, so there is not too much to be concerned about.

Flowers are dropping sooner on Stewartia in the recent spell of warm and dry weather.

Certainly, there should be no concern that the garden will transform from lush to dead, but a time or two I’ve seen wilting foliage when the weather turns from wet to dry and hot. If the warm spell drags on, things could go downhill in a hurry, but it’s likely the worst that happens is that plants look a bit haggard. Except new plantings, that is, and here there is a bigger risk that things can go seriously wrong. So, I’ll have to remind myself what I’ve planted this spring and keep a watchful eye over the next week or two.

The last of the Japanese irises to flower around the koi pond is Lion KIng. With a variety of Japanese irises, there are flowers for a month even though individual blooms last only a few days.

No matter how high temperatures soar, this weekend I will be planting a few shrubs picked up on my visit to Oregon, and I must spray the deer repellent. With rain forecast for just about every day I’ve been in town and available to spray, it’s been six and half weeks since the last spray. This is pushing it a bit far, and particularly since at least some of the repellent has likely been washed off by rain.

Flowering of Oakleaf hydrangeas is heavy in mid June, and leaves are plump targets, sure to attract neighborhood deer.

As for planting, it’s not ideal with ninety-six degrees in the forecast, but I’ve done worse. I would not plant small pots, but Afghan fig (Ficus afghanistanica ‘Silver Lyre’) and ‘Janed Gold’ arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis ‘Janed Gold’) in larger containers should be as forgiving as possible, and there’s enough soil moisture in the lower rear garden that there’s no danger these will dry out.

The hybrid daphnes (Daphne transatlantica), ‘Eternal Fragrance’ (above) and ‘Summer Ice’ (below) are back to peak flowering, the second wave of blooms this spring. The first flowers were delayed by a few weeks in the chilly early spring, and between periods of heavier flowering there are always a few scattered blooms. Three daphnes planted this spring have had a bit of a difficult start with continued deluges, but I expect they’ll come around once summer dries things out.

Mad for medio

There is little doubt that my wife favors the old time mediovariegata hosta. Otherwise, how can her tolerance for this mostly white leafed hosta that strays considerably onto the bluestone path be explained? Any and every other offending leaf or stem in the garden is chopped mercilessly, but not mediovariegata, which is in a most conspicuous spot, so it could not possibly be overlooked.

Clearly, favorites are given allowances not considered for others, and it is abundantly clear that my wife makes few exceptions. Just mediovariegata, I’m quite certain.

Of no great surprise, I will overlook foliage and branches that stray across, or even obstruct a path, arguing in defense that these soften the hardscape. I don’t want clean lines, not in my garden. If that path is obstructed, we can get to the door by going the long way around.

By contrast, I have many favorites, having planted the garden’s many treasures, but my wife and I share affection for this hosta that was once so common, and now is mostly neglected in favor of hundreds of newer introductions. I haven’t seen one for sale in a decade, at least, and this one was planted twenty-five years ago. Back then, it was common to see mediovariegata scorch in the sun in gardens, and probably this was the impetus that spurred development of hostas with stiffer constitutions.

In this spot, mediovariegata has bright enough light, but no direct sun with the shade of overhanging Ostrich ferns, and before the ferns were here there was a wide spreading, pollarded Paulownia. The Paulownia is a nuisance tree, and with pruning new growth and flower buds in pollarding its ability to propagate itself was taken away. So, there was no problem with seedlings, but the darn thing grows like a weed. And with pollarding, there was a full root system and a bunch of saved up energy, so there was way more work involved than the tree was worth. It pains me to say it, but I was overjoyed after I finally dug it out, and fortunately mediovarigata was not harmed in the process.

A splendid place to garden

The sheltering effect of shade is readily apparent in the garden following a dry week after a particularly rainy period. Fortunately, temperatures in this rain-free week remained mild, and again we are headed into a rainy spell (hopefully, a short one). The lack of extreme heat should preclude damage to plants that are pumped up due to excessive moisture, but already ones in sunny spots have faded slightly.

The Japanese garden at Bloedel Reserve

I have just returned from a week in the northwest, two days touring gardens on the Kitsap Peninsula and Bainbridge Island west of Seattle, then business in the Portland area. The weather was delightful, and the gardens splendid despite an unusually dry period that stressed some full sun plantings despite irrigation that is necessary through typically dry summers in this region.

Gardeners are constantly aggravated by weather, and certain that another region must be superior. While I am quite content with my Virginia garden, I admit envy that several treasures that struggle in our heat thrive in the relative coolness of the northwest.

But also, I realize a difference in the shade of towering firs and the shallow rooted maples and tulip poplars that crowd the margins of this garden. In many spots along this forested border, a planting hole can be difficult to carve out between roots.

Paris polyphyllum

While mayapples (Podophyllum) and Jack-in-the-Pulpits (Arisaema) grow natively at the edge of this garden, none grow as plump as ones in the garden of Bloedel Reserve on Bainbridge Island. Waxy bells (Kirengeshoma palmata, below, and K. koreana) thrive, but I have struggled growing Paris polyphylla and Rodgersia (above), which are robust in these gardens. I find small solace that Bigleaf magnolia (Magnolia macrophylla) grows with more vigor in this Virginia garden, and while Chinese dogwoods (Cornus kousa) thrive on both coasts, our native dogwood (Cornus florida) is dependent on the heat of the east. No doubt, there are others that prefer our climate and year around rainfall, and probably some share of northwest gardeners would like to escape damp, gray winters.

A visit to exceptional gardens is inspiring, though I am uncertain whether to redouble or abandon efforts to plant southeast Asian natives that fill these gardens. Perhaps a few more mayapples and trilliums will find their way into the garden, and I must expand the selection of Solomon’s Seals (Polygonatum, below). While I am fortunate to have discovered (after considerable trial and error) plants that tolerate this shallow rooted, dry shade, I must probe for shaded areas with deeper soils to plant more treasures.