Better every year?

I’m nearly certain I’ll be pleased with the progress made in the garden in the past year, though I have little recollection exactly what changes were made other than a few (or a lot of) things were added and plants are a year older. I’ll be more certain once ephemerals, bulbs, corms, and rhizomes that I’ve long forgotten about come up in spring. After so long, one year blends with the next, and it’s difficult to recall what happened, and when, but in any case I’m pleased that the garden continues heading in the right direction.

A variety of Solomon’s Seals, ferns, trilliums, and others were planted, though I must wait until spring to be reminded where.

This should not be taken for granted, I think. This spring will mark thirty years in this garden, which started with a blank slate except for the forest that edges the southeast border of the property. In recent weeks, I’ve been reminded by surveying stakes, with the neighboring farm being sold, how far I’ve strayed over the line, and when I look at what’s on the other side I know I’d be terribly disappointed to give it up if the new owners objected.

Of course, there’s no reason they should. My acre and a quarter is several hundreds yards from the farmhouse, with a rather large pond between that overflows into a narrow creek that borders the area that I’ve borrowed. Though I’ve seen strangers wondering about in the forest behind the house in recent weeks, there’s no reason they should care to do this regularly, and this relatively small piece of land that I’m planting on cannot be reached without veering around the pond and crossing the steeply banked creek.

Bottlebrush buckeye, Sweetbay magnolia and dozens of smaller plants and ferns are planted a bit over the property line.

As the garden has become more congested over the years, my wife has often suggested planting onto the neighbors’ properties rather than cramming more into this one. She has, I believe, an eye that appreciates more formal lines and organization, and simply, I do not, so while I’m all for planting onto this borrowed space, I’m not finished planting into the jumble that we own.

I say that a positive progression should not be taken for granted because there are so many mistakes that can be made without consequences in the garden’s first years and first decade, but as the years mount trees and shrubs continue to grow, so the chances that errors from long ago catch up with you are much greater. My wife is happy to point out branches from Japanese maples that screech against the house in a breeze, and stone paths that she keeps open by mercilessly chopping branches of viburnums and nandinas that stray. These are errors, I agree, but very minor in my view, and hardly worthy of discussion, I inform her.

The stone path through the side garden is covered by fallen blooms of Chinese Snowball viburnum.

At least two trees, a dogwood and a Japanese maple, both ten years in age or older, have perished due to flooding rains through much of the back end of last year. Both trees remain standing, so there’s a bit of work to be done before spring, but the bigger concern is what will go in to replace them. Ideas are floating around, but some day the answer will settle in, and in late January there’s no rush.

These are not the first trees to be lost over the years. Occasionally, losses are considered opportunities, and in the case of the perished ‘Oridono nishiki’ Japanese maple, it never lived up to expectations, with foliage that was unremarkably colored, so it will not be sorely missed. Whatever goes in its place is likely to be a change for the better. And, if there’s a delay finding something just right, well, I think there’s enough around that I’m the only one who’ll notice.

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8 Comments Add yours

  1. The English Gardener says:

    Dave, at what point in their growth do you plant out those Japanese Maples you purchased a while ago and kept in pots?
    I bought some unusual ones at the Little Washington nursery and put them directly into the ground. One died having been weed whacked by my son But the others are still quite healthy looking. However typically very slow growth.

    1. Dave says:

      I purchased maples that were called one year, and a few two year, which are equivalent to what I would find in a one gallon container. Some smaller growing types were a foot tall, while others were nearly twice this size. I prefer starting with much larger plants (five feet and taller) if I’m putting them in the ground since they are slow to get started after the transplant. Also, I am quite neglectful of new plantings of any type, and it’s a bit too costly to risk the loss of Japanese maples. Several of the maples have grown quickly in a container in part sun, but others are very slow.

  2. Linus says:

    I prefer older Japanese maples as I’ve had problems with verticillium wilt on young grafts. I’m starting to do more trees in pots as I’m running out of space with good light. My best area for light is my driveway… Shade tolerant Japanese maple recommendations welcome.

    Where are you getting your Japanese maples? Are you a member of the Japanese maple society?

    1. Dave says:

      I travel several weeks a year purchasing plants for the garden centers. Visiting growers in Oregon I’ve found a Golden Full Moon maple and other larger trees with minor damage or from growers going out of business when maples were in oversupply.

      I prefer maples as large as possible for survival, but also to match this relatively mature garden. Long ago I ran out of space, but ordering online I’ve been able to find less common cultivars to grow in pots on the patios. These are small, but the unusual ones are not available in larger sizes without spending a fortune. I’ve been growing variegated and ghost maples in full sun, where they grow more quickly but fade in the summer. This year, I’ll move these to shadier spots.

      1. Dave says:

        And no, I’m not in the maple society. My time and attention are consumed by work and the garden.

  3. tonytomeo says:

    I tell you what; I respect and admire my former employer (whom I intend to return to work for) very much, but even 132 acres is not big enough for the both of us!

    1. Dave says:

      I’m easy. I’d be happy the rest of my days with another half acre.

      1. tonytomeo says:

        For my own home garden, I could be happy with a quarter acre, and have done well with less. Our problem is that we both were growing horticultural commodities on the same land.

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