Berries?

The ‘Sparkelberry’ hollies are flowering, which is not a showy event, but a necessity if there are to be bunches of red berries in autumn. A dozen paces down the hill a newly planted male counterpart ‘Apollo’ is also in bloom.

With a male counterpart close by, there should be berries on ‘Sparkleberry’ hollies (below) this autumn. I will be disappointed if not.

For several years, sparse berries have made the absence of a male pollinator obvious. Once, branches of the hollies arched under the weight of red berries, and what happened to the male, I don’t know. After talking about it, but doing nothing for too long, I finally got around to planting a pollinator this spring. Now, the only problem should be linking the male and females, but that is up to the bees. I trust they’ll make it work.

Other hollies in the garden flower earlier, and several already have green berries that will slowly ripen to red through the summer. It is often unclear to me which hollies require a separate male for pollination, and what other holly is the pollinator, but there is no doubt that ‘Sparkleberry’ and other deciduous hollies require male and females that flower at the same time.

For whatever reason, there have never been so many hosta and fern seedlings (sporelings for ferns) in the garden. No doubt, damp conditions this spring have something to do with this. Some seedlings will remain, but others are growing too close to paths, and these will be weeded out.

One seedling hosta that I’ve kept is an unremarkable, somewhat sickly looking yellow with narrow leaves. It is far from beautiful, but most of the seedlings are large leafed and green or blue-green, so the yellow leafed hosta earned its place for being different. Some of the hostas have been around long enough that I don’t recall which ones were planted from ones that are seedlings.

Peacock spikemoss spreads slowly in damp, part sun.

Recently, I transplanted a few small patches of a spike moss that has spread vigorously and evidently found a happy home. These do not have a typical root system, so the transplant process is only a matter of lifting the stems without injuring them, and anchoring them in the new location so they’re not blown out of the soil. After a few weeks, the transplants appear to be doing fine, but it will be months before I know if the new environment is conducive to growth.

Perfect for shade

For better or worse, this has become a shade garden, at least parts that border a strip of forest along the southern edge of the property, in front, and along the northern border where dozens of trees I’ve planted over three decades have grown in. This leaves only an area in the center of the rear garden where there’s a spot of sun, which is mostly occupied by the large koi pond. Otherwise, only a few small areas receive any more than a few hours of direct sun. And, it’s not so bad. In fact, I think I might prefer the shade rather than a sun baked garden.

Wood spurge requires a bit of pruning to keep the spreading perennial from invading the spreading evergreen Plum yews.

Certainly, there are limitations. Finding enough soil to plant in between maple roots can be a challenge, but an aggressive wood spurge (Euphorbia robbiae) has spread through the worst of the driest shade, and hostas and ferns have managed to make the rest of it look presentable without too much effort on my part.

Gold star (Chrysogonum virginianum) slowly grows to form a mat of foliage, even in root filled soil in the shade of maples and tulip poplars.

In shade, flowers are a bit more limited, but then the gardener must learn to appreciate varying textures and shades of green. Which, I do.

Large leafed hostas with corrugated leaves resist browsing by deer.

Sporelings of Sensitive fern appear throughout the garden. Here it is growing between stones in gravel at the edge of this constructed stream. The hosta was transplanted , but blueish-green hostas seedlings regularly sprout in shaded parts of the garden.

Japanese Forest grass is slow to become established, but after a few years it grows vigorously. It is a splendid addition to the shade garden, and a wonderful complement to hostas and other broad leafed plants.

There are two distinct flowers on Twist Encore azaleas, this light colored flower which occasionally has a purple stripe, and a solid purple flower. Like colors are usually clustered on separate branches.

Twist Encore azalea is a sport of Royalty, with flowers that range from almost white to the solid purple of Royalty. Twist is the most dependable reblooming azalea in my northwest Virginia garden.

In part sun or shade, flowers of Stellar Pink dogwood rarely show any more than a trace of pink. As a younger tree Stellar Pink had disappointingly sparse blooms, but after a few years it flowered heavily. Once every ten years some mysterious combination of weather results in flowers that display more pink.

Medio variegata hosta beneath Ostrich ferns

Arrowwood viburnum at the forest’s edge.

 

The best of the garden

Too many parts of the garden disappoint when photographed. The gardener’s eye compresses the view, while the camera minimizes plants, making only the most congested scenes appear worthy. Yes, there are sheds to crop out of the photograph, along with weeds, broken pots, piles of branches, and shovels left to be picked up another day. But fortunately, there are areas where plants tumble over one another, where lush ferns, hostas, and Forest grass fill gaps, so that a few wider angles of the garden can be shared.

This bluestone path is bordered by Dorothy Wycoff pieris, Ostrich ferns, and a variety of hostas. A tall boxwood stands at the intersection of two paths. Instead of being chopped out when it encroached on the path, it was pruned into a tall cone.

This is not an orderly garden. There is no formality besides a single boxwood that has long been too close to the intersection of two paths. Several years ago it was pruned into a tall, narrow cone (above), and what will happen (very soon) when it grows out of reach to maintain this shape, I don’t know. Otherwise, no pruning is done except for stems of ivies, periwinkle, hostas, and nandinas that stray onto the stone paths. I’m not certain if my wife prunes these to be helpful, or if she’s trying to keep me in my place.

Moss covered stones line the edges of the stream with sweetbox, hostas, ferns, and Japanese Forest grass.

Much of the garden has become shaded after three decades of planting, and I’m pleased that this environment encourages seedlings of hellebores, Jack-in-the-pulpit, ferns, and hostas, many of which are regularly transplanted. Logically, there should be little space available for new planting, but my wife is annually astounded as spots are found for new truckloads.

Sweetbox, Japanese Forest grass, and hostas border moss covered rocks that line the stream. In a few weeks, ferns will arch over the stream. Flowers of hostas and sweetbox are minor attractions to this area, but lush greens and contrasting textures make this my favorite spot in the garden.

A Viridis Japanese maple and Ostrich ferns border this bluestone patio. My wife insists that she occasionally sits on the lichen covered chairs, but I fear the joints have rotted and they’ll collapse under my weight. A few branches have been carved out of the maple’s wide spreading canopy so that the chair is not pushed to the center of this small aptio.

Stone steps curve through hostas, ferns, and periwinkle. The few upper steps are fieldstone, with the lower four black basalt that can be slick when wet.

Acrocona spruce tumbles over a stone wall that retains the lower edge of the koi pond. While the spruce will eventually grow to fifteen feet tall, after a decade it has barely reached three feet, though it has spread much wider.

Seedling geraniums have established at the edge of this stone patio. Gold Cone juniper rises behind it, though in the heat of Virginia its color never reaches the brightness that I see in the lower humidity of the west coast. The pot contains a young Japanese maple planted earlier in the spring.

The color of Gold Fernspray cypress is at its peak in winter and early spring, and it fades slightly in the heat of summer. This blue and yellow variegated hosta fades in a bit too much sun for its liking.

Branches of a wide spreading Viridis Japanese maple arch over the oldest of the garden’s five ponds. It must be pruned every few years so that the pond is not lost beneath its cascading branches.

Irises, pickerel weed, and sweetflag are planted in the shallow filtration area of the large koi pond (about 1400 square feet). Japanese irises and rushes are planted in pockets between stones that line the pond’s edge.

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

Hostas and Ostrich ferns have grown to nearly block this path that crosses a narrow section of one of the garden’s ponds. This is a prime target for my wife’s pruners, so I’ll enjoy it while I can.

An accidental triumph of plants that have spread or seeded from their origins. The seedling geranium grows in a gap between stones along with Creeping Jenny.

Silver Edge rhododendron and terrestrial orchids flower in front of Shaina Japanese maple.

A stone frog rests contentedly in this bed of sedum.

 

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.

 

 

The best ….. and the worst of it

Leaves have fallen, flowers faded, and now the gardener will reflect on the year past, and consider the year to come. Each year brings shares of joy and disaster to the garden in unequal measure, and again I am pleased that the balance decidedly favors the positive. Perhaps there has been a year or two in nearly three decades when the outlook has not been so sunny, but the garden grows, and setbacks due to snow or ice, winter freezes, or summer squalls are usually made over more quickly than the gardener expects.

Through the past year, disaster lurked around every corner, from a thirty inch blizzard in January, to April freezes, then a late summer drought. While the gardener trembles at the storm’s approach, these were weathered with surprisingly minor damage. And by the end, only a few scars remain. All will be healed over by spring.Ferns and hostas along a path

The assistant gardener (my wife) has been remarkably inconspicuous this year. Still, she talks a good game, but now is resigned that she cannot put a stop to perceived excesses of the garden (I think). After occasional contentious moments in the past, she is mostly helpful in keeping hostas and ivies from taking over the stone paths (above). Certainly, stray stems of nandinas sometimes fall unnecessarily due to her efforts, but this is a minor concession to maintaining harmony.

On a second personal note, recovery from mid summer back surgery has progressed at least as well as expected, which is to say that I quickly was back to doing things that are best not mentioned to the surgeon. Though I made do, I now can roam the garden, bend, and lift with only minor caution. I’m able to do anything I could before (and more), and best of all, this is an indisputable excuse to shirk chores as I please.

Edgeworthia blooms in a late March snow

After a two year wait, paperbushes (Edgeworthia chrysantha, above) have completely recovered from consecutive frigid winters that caused severe injury, requiring pruning ten feet wide shrubs to a third of their size. By late spring following the freezes, growth mostly obscured the worst of chopped branches, but the dome shape of shrubs was contorted, and open space was slow to be filled by neighboring shrubs. Now, the paperbushes are back to where they were, and perhaps a bit more, crowding neighbors so that I must judiciously prune to keep everybody happy.

Red horsechestnut in late April

In recent years, beloved Franklinia and Seven Son trees have been lost, the Franklin tree’s slow demise due to increasingly poor drainage in the lower rear garden, and the Seven Son to a summer storm that snapped the trunk in a moment. There is no getting over the loss of such treasures, but efforts to rejigger the swampy area, and to replace the Seven Son with a Red Horse chestnut (above) have been mostly satisfactory. In another year, the Horse chestnut will completely fill the space, and I favor its flowers to the relatively unremarkable white blooms of the Seven Son, though there is little doubt that bees prefer the Seven Son and there is no topping purple-pink bracts (below) that follow its flowers into autumn.Drupes of Seven Son tree

I curse foolish acquaintances who believe that everything happens for a reason, and what possible purpose could there be for the year long sad performance of mophead hydrangeas? These were first injured by late freezes that ruined early foliage and the first go round of blooms. Reblooming types recovered to flower, but late, and the cycle was thrown off so that no more than scattered flowers were seen again.Fern leaf maple

The worst was expected when newly emerging leaves of Japanese maples (above) were injured in the April freezes. After a few days when survival was in doubt, most recovered in weeks. Others suffered more, and remain a bit thin, but all will be good by spring. The gardener does not expect perfection, and so he is little disappointed when all is not peaches and cream.

So, why not be overjoyed? Tragedies were avoided in every season, with daily joy between short bouts of worry. Certainly, a few tweaks are in order, but plans have been made, with little doubt that the new year will be a good one.

Sporelings in odd places

While I would not for a moment describe it as invasive, or even aggressive, sporelings (baby ferns) of Japanese Painted fern (Athyrium niponicum var. ‘Pictum’, below) are common in the garden. These often pop up in odd places, though always in shade. Along the narrow, constructed stream that flows between two of the garden’s ponds, sporelings grow on moss covered stones with no soil. How long these survive, through winter freezes, and with few roots to anchor against stiff breezes, will be of interest. Other Painted ferns sporelings are well placed in soil, and often in a protected spot beneath a shrub or taller perennial so that they are hardly visible until they grow on for a year or two.Painted fern sporeling

Sporelings of the native Sensitive fern (Onoclea sensibilis, below) are most common in the garden, but this fern is very touchy about dry soil, and often it disappears as quickly as it starts. A few small stands of Sensitive fern have caught on, but these are in very damp soil, and everywhere else it doesn’t appear they’ll amount to anything.Sensitive fern

In a damp area where I’m planning for a fern to spread to cover ground so I can stop weeding, I’ve transplanted a few Hay Scented ferns that were divided, and it’s likely I’ll plant a few more. This spot has proved too sunny for Sensitive fern, but Hay Scented has survived worse circumstances. I plant with a degree of caution since this fern will spread quickly in the right conditions, and this area should be just right, but spreading too far, too quickly is of little concern for this spot.ostrich ferns

In a spring fed damp area twenty feet into the forest understory, Ostrich ferns (Matteuccia struthiopteris, above) have spread, but a few transplants to a drier area of the garden have spread to densely cover a hundred square foot area. Probably, they would have spread farther, but a patio and walk, and the dense shade of a large spruce limit growth in each direction. This does not stop Ostrich fern from growing through cracks between flagstones, which sounds worse than it is since the rhizomes are easily snapped off. In a sunnier and drier spot, Ostrich fern has spread, though more slowly, and in no way would I describe the growth of any of the ferns to be aggressive or difficult to manage.

The gardener must choose which fern suits his situation, a clumping fern such as Japanese Painted, or one of the spreading ferns. Though many ferns are adaptable over a range of conditions, the gardener is advised to research to pick the fern best suited to the sun or shade and soil dampness of the area. Sporelings in odd places are a bonus.