The best day, again

If the garden was just right a few weeks ago, I cannot imagine that it is either better or worse today. But, it has changed, with one dogwood fading while another begins to flower, and so on so that the garden has changed considerably in the few weeks. I don’t suppose there are more or fewer flowers in the garden today, but without a doubt there are more leaves since earlier in spring, and with increased rainfall through this period foliage is large and lush. On a cloudy afternoon, the garden’s floral and foliage colors and textures stand out, and what better place to be?

Looking down onto the rear garden, in splendid color even if there were no flowers. The yellow leaf is the Golden Full Moon Japanese maple, with an Atlas cedar in the background. The red leaf is the dwarf ‘Shaina’ Japanese maple with terrestrial orchids growing in front.

I am slightly concerned that recent weeks of cool temperatures and rain have prompted growth that will be damaged with the first prolonged period of heat and drought. This happened a year ago, with yellow leafed ‘Citronelle’ coral bells (Heuchera ‘Citronelle’) melting almost overnight, and while the garden is expected to fade somewhat as temperatures rise, the change should not be so drastic. Probably, this is nothing to be concerned about, and I try not to be bothered by things that cannot be controlled.

Gold Cone juniper stands in front of Globosa spruce and Golden Full Moon Japanese maple.

I’ve mentioned the family of Northern Brown water snakes in the koi pond recently, and as sheltering spots between boulders have been plugged it is apparent that some or all are hanging out in the dense foliage of the pond’s filtration area. The largest of the clan has been spotted hanging out at the edge of a thick mass of sweetflag (Acorus calamus ‘Variegatus’). Yesterday, as I watched, the snake struck as one of the pond’s few goldfish ventured too near.

Sweetflag, pickerel weed, and yellow flag iris provide easy cover for our family of Northern Brown water snakes.

There was nothing I could do, and why do anything? I couldn’t help but feel guilty, but this is what snakes do, and if fish don’t fall prey to predators the pond will quickly overpopulate. After this disturbance, koi and the goldfish or two that remain kept to the deep parts of the pond.

Native blue flag irises grow at the edges of the koi pond, and in a small, spring fed wetland area in the rear garden.

If there is a month, or month and half when the garden is at its peak, the pond is at its best for two, maybe three weeks while one variety after another of Japanese iris (Iris ensata) is flowering. Today, yellow flag (Iris pseudoacorus) and blue flag irises (Iris versiclor, above) are beginning to fade, so it will be a few days before the progression of Japanese iris blooms begins. At the same time, Oaklaf hydrangeas (Hydrangea quercifolia), with stems that arch over the pond’s edge will flower, and I’ll wonder again how I could have created a scene so splendid.

Japanese irises and Oakleaf hydrangea will flower next week, but today there are yellow flag irises, baptisias, and Wolf Eyes dogwood flowering in the background. Good today, better next week.

Favorable conditions for flowering

In recent years, several Oakleaf hydrangeas (Hydrangea quercifolia, below) flowered sporadically with an increasing canopy of shade beneath tall maples and tulip poplars along the forest’s edge. In late summer last year, a limb of one maple that arched far over this side yard garden fell on a breezy afternoon, fortunately inflicting only minor damage on a Japanese maple and barely missing a pergola. This large limb, and another that certainly would be the next to fall, were removed, and though the change is imperceptible to my eye, the hydrangeas will flower again in another week or two.

In nearly full sun beside the koi pond, Oakleaf hydrangeas have begun to flower, and in sun and shade leaves are extraordinarily large this spring with recent weeks alternating between summer heat and deluges. Some heat injury has been seen on the yellow leafed ‘Little Honey’ (below), but green leafed types have a sturdier constitution.

I notice that mophead hydrangeas (Hydrangea macrophylla, below) are budded, having recovered quickly following freezing temperatures in mid March that injured newly emerging leaves. Many stem tips were pruned once the extent of damage became evident, but the injury is not as severe as a year ago when an April freeze killed stems to the ground. Reblooming (remontant) hydrangeas will flower on a slightly delayed timetable, while older varieties will not flower for another year.

Curiously, lacecap hydrangeas escaped injury both years. This spring, lacecaps were slower to leaf in unusually warm late winter temperatures. A year ago, it seems that woodier stems and more leathery leaves were less vulnerable to damage.

While unremarkable after flowering, there are few shrubs that compare in beauty to deutzias, that are not rare, but are planted far too seldom to my thinking. White flowered ‘Nikko’ and ‘Chardonnay Pearls’ (above) are exceptional in bloom, but I favor the pink flowers edged with white of ‘Magicien’ (Deutzia × hybrida ‘Magicien’). A year ago, ‘Magicien’ suffered in the April freeze, but to my delight it rebounded vigorously.

 

A beautiful day for getting outdoors

The sun is shining after several chilly, rainy days, and the weather has turned for the better. In the cool morning, deer and rabbits were seen at the edges of the garden. The koi pond is home to a variety of creatures, but until this afternoon I was unaware that there are now at least three turtles, and three or more Northern Brown water snakes. With a warming sun, all have come out to play.

In recent weeks I’ve plugged crevices between boulders that line the pond in hopes that the single snake would give up and possibly relocate to one of the neighboring wetlands. This was, of course, before others were seen this afternoon, and now I’m losing hope that I can discourage this growing family. The snakes are more a nuisance than a danger, though my wife disagrees.

In the short video, one of the smaller snakes moves across the pond, and then into the Pickerel weed, sweetflag, and yellow flag irises of the pond’s filtration area (below). The snake can be seen reacting to one of the large koi, but koi and the pond’s few large goldfish are not bothered at all by the snake’s presence. 

The filtration area has become a dense thicket, and yellow flag iris (Iris pseudoacorus, below) is invasive if allowed to escape, so I carefully monitor the overflow of the pond. In the koi pond the iris seeds into every damp nook and cranny, so it must be chopped out on occasion so that it does not overwhelm vigorous, but less aggressive Japanese irises (Iris ensata). In the gravel filled filtration area, Pickerel weed threatens the invasive yellow flowered iris, and I would not be terribly disappointed to see it disappear one day.

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.

 

The best day

My best recollection is that late May into the first week of June is the peak period for this garden, not for blooms alone, for there is no better period than when redbuds and dogwoods (below) flower in mid April, but there is a day when the gardener looks at his creation and considers that it cannot possibly be lovelier than on this afternoon. Probably, this is nonsense, a result of one particular day of cheerfulness and blue skies, and instead of a single day there are days, or weeks when the garden is at its best.

Rarely are flowers of the native dogwood unblemished when observed close up, but from a distance they appear pure white.

The cream bordered leaves of Shirazz (or Gwen’s Rose Delight) Japanese maple stand out above this yellow leafed caryopteris.

Is it possible the garden could be more lush, any green more brilliant, the red of a Japanese maple (above) more splendid than on this early May afternoon? Certainly, several weeks of growth are necessary before redbuds, dogwoods, Oakleaf and panicled hydrangeas are fully leafed to enclose the garden, so neighboring homes can still be seen, though barely.

The splendid variegation of Celestial Shadow dogwood fades by mid summer, but there is no better tree to brighten a dark corner.

Today, as the treasured blooms of native dogwoods (Cornus florida) fade after three splendid weeks, the flowering of hybrids ‘Stellar Pink’ , ‘Venus’, and ‘Celestial Shadow’ (above) overlap, and already flowers of the blush pink ‘Satomi’ and other Chinese dogwoods (Cornus kousa ‘Wolf Eyes’, below) are evident, though these will take a few weeks to turn from green to white and pink. There will be one dogwood or another flowering from early April until June, and who can complain that only the earliest are natives?

Flowers of the wide spreading Wolf Eyes dogwood are evident in early May, but will not become white for a until mid month or later.

The Red horsechestnut (Aesculus x carnea, below) was planted several years ago, at the time disappointingly smaller than the Seven Son tree (Heptacodium miconioides) that was snapped in a summer storm, but with marvelous blooms. This spring, substantial growth is encouraging, and now I need not make excuses for too much open space surrounding the tree. Yes, it will grow a bit too large, to cast wider shade than the Seven Son, but it should not conflict with two nearby Japanese maples.

Flowers of this Red horsechestnut are carried on low slung branches.

The gardener expects that many of the finest trees flower for short periods, and newcomers are often disappointed to learn that the color of redbuds and dogwoods lasts for no more than three weeks from bud to flowers fading. The flowering period for our native fringetree (Chionanthus virginicus, below) is even shorter, often only a week when the fringe-like blooms are a clear, creamy white. But, an exceptional week it is.  

The blooms of the Fringetree stand above orange and yellow Exbury azaleas.

Yellow, orange, and red Exbury azaleas grow tall in part sun, and are very fragrant.

 

It has been years since Cherokee Sunset dogwood has flowered, and leaves are often heavily effected by mildew, but the leaves are splendid in spring.

The flowers of Twist Encore azalea range from almost white, to white with purple stripes, to solid purple. This is the most dependable reblooming azalea in the garden.

The new growth of Katsura pieris hides leaves marked by lacebug damage.

Chardonnay Pearls deutzia has become a favorite with masses of white blooms and yellow foliage.

 

Where are the snakes?

Our snake is back. Two Northern Brown Water snakes terrorized the pond a year ago, or at least the two unsettled my wife, and made me watch every step along boulders that border the pond. The koi (and a few goldfish) seemed indifferent to the snakes. In this large pond, perhaps they are not a threat to fish, and feed only on frogs and other small creatures.

In late summer, the larger of the two met an accidental demise when struck by a stone I threw to shoo him away from the small boulder my wife stands on to feed the koi. Through my college days I was a pitcher with a pretty fair fastball, but never hit a thing I was aiming for, so I claim this as an accident. In any case, with one snake gone, the other disappeared for long stretches, and it was hoped he had moved on. Unfortunately not, but I have a plan to seal the voids beneath the boulders, and without this shelter our snake will either have to move on, or move beneath another boulder on the far side of the pond. There is hope for a peaceful resolution.

Irises, pickerel weed, and sweetflag are planted in the shallow filtration area of the koi pond. Japanese irises and rushes are planted in pockets between stones that line the pond’s edge. The pond attracts all sorts of wildlife,and the gardener has little choice in the matter.

A small turtle has been seen perched on stones at the far edge of the pond. Perhaps this is one from eggs that were laid just outside the pond in summer last year, though my wife and I checked regularly and did not see evidence of the newborns. Turtles are occasionally seen in the pond, and usually stay for a few days and move on. This one is welcome to take up permanent residence.

There are approximately 157,238 tadpoles in the pond, though my count could be off by a few. The koi seem to pay no attention, and what happens to so many, I don’t know, though if all survived the planet would quickly be overrun by amphibians. Certainly, Northern Brown snakes could have something to do with diminishing the numbers.

The edges of the koi pond are planted with a variety of Japanese irises.

Beginning late summer last year, the koi would rarely come up to feed, which I attribute to any of a number of potential predators that are regularly seen. Blue herons and smaller green herons are regular visitors, and hawks circle overhead constantly, on the lookout for the variety of prey that the garden attracts, I’m sure. Raccoons visit at night, often disturbing a sealed container of koi food, and I suppose that one or all of these pose a threat that would discourage koi from spending much time in shallow water.

The pond is four and five feet deep over most of it, and there are dozens, possibly over a hundred fish, so with the exception of a few koi with distinctive coloring, I would not miss one or many. I am pleased, however, that in recent weeks they have resumed greeting me as I approach the pond, knowing that a few handfuls of tasty pellets will be tossed out.