The lower half of the rear garden remains a disappointment. Someday, though not soon, it will return to its previous glory, or some approximation of it, I’m certain. The culprit responsible for the area’s decline was a doubling of our yearly rainfall a few years ago. The lower half of the garden is indeed also lower in elevation, with rainwater draining onto it from this and neighboring properties so that a part of the garden that was once advantageously damp became waterlogged enough to kill nearly every woody tree and shrub.
The variegated ‘Wolf Eyes’ Chinese dogwood (Cornus kousa ‘Wolf Eyes’, above) perished in ground that was raised above the dampness and relatively dry, or so I thought, but it turned persistently damp after the many inches of additional rainfall. After a decade or more the dogwood had grown only to eight feet tall and a bit wider with dense branching, as is the habit of this shrubby tree. Each year in late May it was covered in blooms, and certainly it was a heartbreaking loss.
While I don’t expect another deluge to match this, I’ve been careful in replanting to avoid moisture sensitive trees and shrubs, and in the near future (I hope) this will look less like a garden under construction. The jewel of the planting is a Sweetbay magnolia (Magnolia virginiana, above) that should thrive in constant dampness in the wettest area, and it is joined by sweetshrubs (Calycanthus) and chokeberries (Aronia) that should eventually fill the area.
In the drier area of the upper half of the rear garden, ‘Samaritan’ (Cornus kousa ‘Samaritan’, above), with similar variegation to ‘Wolf Eyes’, has a very dissimilar form, growing upright and tall, and though it is placed close to other small trees, it towers above. Unfortunately, flowers on lower, more shaded branches are scattered, and while ‘Samaritan’ does not flower as heavily as ‘Wolf Eyes’ there are plenty of blooms on upper branches in the sun.
Two green leafed Chinese dogwoods, one in shade, the other in nearly full sun, show the effect of sunlight on flowering. In shade there are few blooms, and in a sunnier spot leaves can hardly be seen through the abundant flowers (above).
In a long planned project, I have cleared out much of the area beneath variegated leaf redbuds (Cercis canadensis ‘Silver Cloud’, above) and fringetrees (Chionanthus virginicus) along the southern property line. An impractical path, reached only by carefully stepping between orchids and other perennials, is lined with native jack-in-the-pulpits, astilbes, and hostas, and was encouraged by the demise of a wide spreading ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Monlo’) and the wide void left following its removal. The shaded path leads to nowhere, but in addition to creating areas for shade planting it opens a lane to view the magnificent European beech (Fagus sylvatica ‘Pendula’) that had been hidden behind too many other trees and shrubs for too long.