A change of seasons

Remnants of Hurricane Michael were hardly to be concerned about in this part of northwestern Virginia (except for another two inches of rain while areas nearby received three times this amount), but a breezy night as the storm exited was enough to dislodge many loosely attached leaves (and innumerable branches) of trees bordering the garden. Nothing that wasn’t nearly bare has gone bare, but today there are mounds of leaves where there were none a day ago.

Fothergilla colors dependably in autumn, the reason this one was transplanted in late winter from a far corner of the garden where it was seen infrequently.

With a chilly week ahead, and the first threat of frost, it’s likely that leaves will be turning or falling soon, and it appears that this will be a disappointing autumn for leaf watchers. The best coloring on trees in this garden are several Japanese maples that turn late, and though I am not a big fan of the end of the gardening year, I expect some brilliant colors despite our unusual weather.

The tall growing ‘Woodland’ toad lily is the last to flower this year. Though stems are tall, they have not flopped in rain or wind.

Depending on how far temperatures drop into the thirties, this could be the end for many of the flowers in the garden. Blooming of toad lilies, azaleas, and hydrangeas is brought to a close with temperatures nearing freezing, though the Encore azalea ‘Autumn Amethyst’ (below) has been known for a few stray flowers in a mild December.

Hybrid daphnes ‘Eternal Fragrance’ and ‘Summer Ice’ display sparse flowers in mid-October, and perhaps the last for the season if cold temperatures stay around. ‘Jim’s Pride’ (Daphne x transatlantica ‘Jim’s Pride’, below) is at peak bloom now, certainly a consequence of more sunlight exposure, though three daphnes are only fifteen feet apart. Like other hybrid x transatlantica daphnes, ‘Jim’s Pride’ has grown vigorously when given an area of dry ground and part sunlight. I am encouraged to try other similar daphnes with varied variegations, even if they must be purchased in small sizes from specialty mail order growers.

The first blooms of the autumn flowering camelia ‘Winter’s Star’ (below) have arrived. Flowers will continue for weeks, and another ‘Winter’s Star’ and ‘Winter’s Interlude’ in part shade will begin flowering no sooner than late December, though sometimes first blooms stray into January when they are often damaged by freezes.

Flowers of Canyon Creek abelia faded in late summer, but now there is a second flush of blooms to end its flowering season.


A forgotten treasure

Yesterday, ten substantial divisions were taken from a clump of Japanese Sacred lily (Rohdea japonica, below). Ten more could be taken without noticing that the original clump is diminished.

Sections of the dense clump were undercut, but the inch and a half thick rhizome could not be pulled loose by hand. Admittedly, I am often hesitant to use excessive force since I tend to break things, so instead, a spade sliced through easily. The substance of the divisions reassures that they are likely to survive without any care, and while we’ve been in a period of unusual early autumn heat, an inch of rain will assure a good start, though ground moisture remains high even in dry shade.

I gave no thought to transplanting Sacred lilies until seeing handsome gallon pots in the garden center a few days ago. Berries were prominently displayed, and though I’ve never seen flowers or berries in the garden, I’m certain they’re there if only I looked at the right time. So, this barely acknowledged evergreen has now become a treasure. Maybe. At least there will be an opportunity to appreciate it more, now that ten are spread through the garden instead of only one thick clump beneath the dogwood.

One of ten divisions of Sacred lily taken in early October.

Without a doubt, it is an unusual evergreen, looking roughly like a dark green, leathery leafed hosta with an upright habit. And so, I caught the bug (mildly), checking prices of variegated types online an hour after transplanting, which is clearly ridiculous (also sad, but telling of how things go in this garden and why there are too many of too many different plants) that a nearly forgotten about plant is suddenly a favorite. Thankfully, before I got too carried away, exorbitant prices quickly ended any thoughts of adding variegated types that are most interesting, but evidently highly prized and priced to reflect it.

Maybe someday I’ll be enthusiastic enough that this price will seem reasonable, but not today. Perhaps I can arrange a swap if there’s someone out there with a clump of a fine looking variegated type that’s grown too large. I can’t trade off the children since they’re long gone, but how about five large divisions of the green Sacred lily in trade for one skimpy variegated clump?

Summer rain, for better and worse

While several shrubs have perished in saturated soil after a summer of flooding rains, some plants on higher ground have grown with unusual and notable vigor. Two variegated ‘Silver Cloud’ redbuds (Cercis canadensis ‘Silver Cloud’) and an Oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia) have grown to engulf a Hinoki cypress (Hinoki gracillis ‘Compacta’).

I am not noted for attention to detail, but today I noticed the cypress, almost completely hidden. I’ve given little thought to it in recent years, though for a time the sprawling Oakleaf hydrangea was ruthlessly chopped to preserve the neighboring cypress. The plan from the start was something about the the textural contrast of a needled evergreen growing up through the broad leaves of the hydrangea, which worked, even if I paid little attention, until the redbud grew a few feet over the top.

The hydrangea will manage just fine with a few snips of the redbud, but the cypress will be lost in a few years if a few larger branches are not removed. Too often, I’m guilty of letting nature takes it course when it is my, not nature’s doing that has caused the complication. I suppose that other gardeners can be equally short sighted, but I’m ceaselessly exposed to my blunders.

Leaves of Munckin Oakleaf hydrangeas in damp ground have had autumn coloring for weeks.

While several Oakleaf hydrangeas in damp ground are stressed, showing autumn leaf coloring long before others, ones in drier ground have grown taller and wider than expected. Even in more typical summers the Oakleafs grow rampantly, requiring selective pruning every other year so neighboring shrubs are not overwhelmed.

Three Oakleaf hydrangeas in dry shade struggled for several years until gaining a foothold, and now with constant dampness, despite competing with maples and tulip poplars for moisture, they are thriving, as if this difficult situation was ideal. Part of this, I suspect, is the typical vigor of Oakleafs, and no credit should be given to the gardener who dug through thick roots to plant the hydrangeas. Occasionally, there are successes despite the gardener’s blunders. The three hydrangeas are still a bit sparse in flowering in shade that is too deep, and branching is less dense than in more sun, but the few scattered blooms and large leaves are perfectly suited to this part of the garden.

Finally, remontant mophead hydrangeas (Hydrangea macrophylla, flowering on new and old wood) are setting flower buds, that most often begins in September and occasionally in late August. Temperatures in the eighties are continuing, and if the setting of buds doesn’t hurry along flowers might be damaged by cold that is usually expected before the start of November.

The colors of autumn, before leaves turn

While leaves are slow to turn with summer temperatures extending into October, the garden remains colorful with abundant blooms. Without a doubt, cold weather and colorful leaves will be here soon, but I’m in no rush to be rid of this unusual warmth. 

While the pink blooms of Encore azalea ‘Carnation’ (above) are hardly my favorite, the azalea is the most dependable for flowering in late summer and early autumn, and blooms persist for weeks. Flowers of another dependable autumn bloomer, ‘Twist’ are just beginning, much later than usual. Flowers of other Encore azaleas are more scattered in autumn, with some flowering through November if temperatures are not too cold.

Toad lilies (Tricyrtis formosana var. grandiflora ‘W-Ho-ping Toad’, above) are at peak bloom in early October. Flowers will persist through light frosts, but fade quickly following a hard frost or freeze.

The tall, coarse leafed clump of Tatarian daisy (Aster tataricus ‘Jindai’, above) was rescued as a wide spreading paperbush (Edgeworthia chrysantha) crowded it. The transplant of the tall growing aster was easy, but the location beside a second paperbush is only temporary until a better spot can be found.  

Seedlings of ‘Chocolate’ Joe Pye Weed (Eupatorium rugosum ‘Chocolate’, above) rise through a clump of variegated liriope (Liriope muscari ‘Variegata’). Foliage of seedlings is not as dark as the parent plant, which is long gone as far as I’m aware. 

Flowers of Autumn crocus (Colchicum, above) have been short lived in this early autumn. The white colchicum lasted only a few days in warm temperatures.

Berries of ‘Duet’ beautyberry (Callicarpa dichotoma ‘Duet’, above) are smaller than other beautyberries, but while other beautyberries are unremarkable through spring and summer, the variegated foliage is an added attraction.

A clump of several ‘Winterberry’ hollies (Ilex verticillata ‘Winterberry’, above) is loaded with berries. While leaves will drop soon, berries will persist into early winter.

While leaves of native dogwoods (Cornus florida, above) are scarred by black spot, and autumn coloring is late, trees are loaded with berries and buds for spring’s flowers. Another dogwood in the neighborhood is changing (below), but it has no berries, and no flower buds are evident. Berries are nearly ripe, so trees will soon be stripped bare by birds.

With plentiful rainfall through the summer, the ‘Orange Dream’ Japanese maple (Acer palmatum ‘Orange Dream’, below) in a container on the patio beside the koi pond has grown substantially in late summer. While foliage fades to green in summer, new growth is more colorful. Japanese maples display some of the most colorful autumn foliage, but this is the color of new growth, not leaves fading into winter.


Unseen blooms

Flowers of the hardy ginger (Zingiber mioga ‘Dancing Crane’, below) are not particularly ornamental, even when they can be seen, which is only when the arching stems are lifted and the gardener bends nose down from his knees. The flowers are perhaps an inch above the soil, not seen without effort, and who would know when they are in bloom except by chance, or by keeping a calendar of such events. I fall into the “by chance” category, though I was somewhat aware that flowering was somewhere around this time.

Presumably, there is some mechanism for pollinators to find the flowers. For the gardener, this is a rather insignificant curiosity, though the foliage has a tropical appeal and the ginger’s slow spread beneath the ground affords a moderate number of transplants to spread around the garden, or to share with acquaintances.

The variegated foliage of ‘Dancing Crane’ (below) is reason enough to grow this ginger without regard for flowers, and even occasional stems with only green leaves are attractive, though I would not have been tempted to make the initial purchase if not for the variegation. I recall my skepticism at first that this ginger could possibly be cold hardy, and it is very late to break ground in the spring. But, after winters when temperatures have dropped to five and six below zero, I am now confident that ‘Dancing Crane’ will return annually.

I presume that the area where it is planted would be classified as part shade, and now I have split several transplants into sunnier and shadier spots to put the ginger to the test. I suspect it will survive in all exposures. I’ve avoided areas of the driest shade where roots run along the surface, so in deeper soils I look forward to new clumps that will allow additional sharing. Certainly, I should have no problem finding takers, despite the lack of obvious flowers.

It suddenly occurs to me that despite temperatures in the mid eighties this week, there could be frost and even a freeze any time now that we’re into October, though recent history tells us that it is more likely in early November. Four variegated fatsias (Fatsia japonica ‘Spider’s Web’, below) were planted in early spring with the intention that two would be left outdoors for the winter to test their hardiness, and two would be dug to bring indoors so that at least I have something if winter temperatures are severe. I’ve long presumed fatsia to be a plant that must be brought indoors for the winter, and I’ll be surprised if it holds up like it’s supposed to.

Fatsias are rated as cold hardy to zero, but I’ve heard this song before, with plants predictably dead before the coldest days of our winters. In recent years, every cold hardy gardenia in the garden perished, so I have little faith in published hardiness ratings, But, I hear reports of success with fatsias in areas slightly colder than here, so there’s hope. Still, I am leaning in the direction of chickening out to fill a cage of rabbit wire with leaves for cold protection. This defeats the purpose of the trial, but the objective is to have live plants come spring.

Mostly minor problems

Among many, but mostly minor issues related to this year’s summer deluge is that Alstroemeria ‘Tangerine Tango’ barely grew, and only a few flowers were seen in early summer. In fact, I cannot be certain that the problem is not an overhanging Distylium instead, but shade from the evergreen seems not far different from a year ago, while rain is up substantially. I can’t stop the rain, but I can cut the Distylium back to give a bit more sunlight to ‘Tangerine Tango’. So, this is the plan for spring since it is too late for this year, though it is likely I will have forgotten by then.

While dogwoods in drier areas of the garden show no ill effect, perhaps not even more leaf spotting and mildew than is typical, native (Cornus florida ‘Cherokee Sunset’), Chinese (Cornus kousa ‘Wolf Eyes’), and hybrid dogwoods (Cornus ‘Celestial Shadow’) in the damp, lower garden have dropped all leaves much earlier than is typical. I expect no long term effect, assuming against recent evidence that drier weather patterns will return and that the lower garden will eventually dry out.

Two cherries on higher ground have also defoliated, though this is not so unusual since cherries are quite sensitive to excess moisture. Again, all should revive in spring.

Autumn coloring of leaves should begin soon, while foliage of Oakleaf hydrangeas (Hydrangea quercilfolia ‘Munchkin’) in damp soil turned weeks ago. I presume that constant dampness is a stress factor that accelerates the effects of autumn dormancy since leaves of Oakleafs in dry ground remain green. Cold temperatures to push foliage color changes must be just around the corner, though the current forecast is quite warm for early October.

Two peonies and daphnes were lost in the summer’s wetness, but here I should accept at least part of the blame for planting in conditions that were marginal, summer flooding or not. I’ll know better next time, and while another twenty inch increase in rainfall is unlikely, I now know from experience that these will not tolerate the dampness of the lower garden. A third newly planted daphne, in its second year and planted on a dry slope, also displays its displeasure, though it will survive.

Summer Ice daphne is planted in dry ground where it grows and flowers vigorously.

Mountain hydrangeas (Hydrangea serrata) were planted in place of two daphnes, and certainly these will not thrive if the lower garden remains a swamp. But, I expect it will dry out, and even with occasions when damp ground persists for weeks the hydrangeas are better suited to this area.

A lack of self control, who me?

I must start today by denying the obvious. I insist that I am able to control a seeming compulsion to purchase one of too many plants, and collections of far too many. There is meager evidence to support my claim, I understand, but I must point to a recent decision to halt further collecting of toad lilies (Tricyrtis).

I haven’t a clue how many varying toad lilies are here (all are marvelous), with part of the reason that several are practically indistinguishable from one another. And also, there are dozens of seedlings……or perhaps some were purchases that are too similar in appearance, I’m not certain. No matter what my wife says, and she says it frequently, I am not completely oblivious. Yes, there are other things in life besides over filling the garden with anything that captures my attention, and yes, I know that the furnace filters must be changed.

Tricyrtis formosana var. grandiflora ‘W-Ho-ping Toad’ is tall growing, and somewhat gangly. With sparse branching there are fewer flowers than other toad lilies.

An important ingredient in proper collecting, I think, is to be able to identify items in the collection. Admittedly, I am negligent in record keeping, and plants in the garden are never labelled. So, beyond several toad lilies, common and not, that are somehow indelibly imprinted upon my poor, feeble brain, I’ve no clue of the identity of others.

The foliage of ‘Miyazaki’ is noticeably less glossy with a hairier surface than other toad lilies. In more sun the foliage browns along the edges, but flowering is increased. Tricyrtis hirta cultivars are the most floriferous, though flowers are often tightly bunched and are held less gracefully than others. Still a favorite in this garden, which has provided starter plants for many others. It is likely that some toad lilies I call ‘Miyazaki’ are in fact Tricyrtis hirta ‘Moonlight’ that was planted some time, I think.

This yellow flowered toad lily was flooded in late spring, and it almost disappeared before it was rescued and transplanted. I’ve had a notable lack of success with yellow toad lilies, mostly I think, because they were planted into this area of damp soil. The new location will be better suited to toad lilies, and I expect better growth and flowering next year.

In recent years I’ve purchased a new toad lily, that grows nicely and flowers, but then it looks identical to one over there, and maybe one over there also. It could be the same cultivar, or maybe it’s just similar, but if it’s too similar to tell apart, what’s the purpose in my spending twenty bucks for it? So finally, I’ve realized this.

‘Lightning Strike’ is planted in more sun than other toad lilies. Growth and flowering are effected to a slight degree. In contrast to the other prominent Tricyrtis hirta cultivar, ‘Miyazaki’, I see no seedlings from this variegated leaf toad lily.

‘Gilt Edge’ is the earliest of the toad lilies in this garden. It’s stems tend to flop a bit, and flowers have slightly less substance so the display does not stand out as much.

And, I’ve moved on, not in my high regard for toad lilies that bring delight to every late summer day, but it is probable that I will purchase no more. Unless, and this distinction must be stated, I become aware of one that is noticeably different and excellent. Then, an exception must be made, and perhaps it is best if we don’t tell my wife.

‘Empress’, I think, is perhaps the best performer with numerous clusters of flowers and a dense, shrubby growth habit. In multiple locations, ‘Empress’ performs best with more sun. In the shade of a low branched redbud, stems flop and flowering is weak. This is my pick for the best if only one toad lily can fit into the garden. It will encourage you to try more.

Note – there are many more toad lilies in the garden than are shown here. ‘Gilt Edge’, above, begins flowering in early August, and is almost finished now. Others are just starting to flower. Judge for yourself if the flowers shown here vary significantly. I see variations in flowers and the growth habit of all of this group, but with some others the differences are minimal.