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.


A glorious spring

Each spring is unique, but to comment that one weather phenomena or another has never happened before is rarely correct. The gardener should not get too worked up about late freezes or fluctuations from frost to ninety degrees within a week. This year, late winter drought was followed in mid spring by weeks of heavy rain alternating with summer heat, and through it all, the garden is as good as ever, probably at its best, though I could be guilty of saying that every year.

Japanese iris at the margins of the koi pond begin to flower in late May, with one variety after the other blooming for a month.

Short of catastrophic damage by tornado, flood, or earthquake, the garden is more resilient than the gardener expects. This is not the first time that frost and freeze have arrived late in April, and the gardener should barely be surprised if ninety degree temperatures arrive to meet the magnolias blooming in March. Parched ground or floods are to be expected, perhaps on alternating weeks. No matter how the gardener whines that this month or that has never been worse, it has.

This cold hardy terrestrial orchid (Bletilla striata) has spread steadily, and flowers persist for several weeks through May and early June.

An ill timed freeze in March damaged blooms of magnolias and early flowering cherries, but several weeks later the gardener was consoled by mild temperatures and extended blooming of redbuds and dogwoods. One thing after another, the gardener is beset by inconveniences, but the garden muddles through. One week he moans that spring has been ruined, but the next Carolina silverbells are blooming, and soon, miseries are long forgotten.

Indian pinks (Spigelia marilandica) are beginning to flower. I’ve transplanted several of this clumping perennials around to find a suitable exposure, and a few vigorous clumps have justified the move into a bit more sun.

At the start of June there is little doubt that the garden’s peak will be short lived. Soon, summer heat will take its toll, particularly in a garden without irrigation. Plants will survive, but the luster of spring will be lost in the heat.

Happily, this clump of milkweed has spread this spring. It remains a bit difficult to get to, so no Monarchs, though there are abundant swallowtails throughout the garden.



Nearly three months of dogwood blooms

For better or worse, this is a garden oriented around trees, and of collections of too many plants that have captured my favor. There are nearly forty Japanese maples, with a few small ones in containers placed on patios, but most nearly mature trees that have been planted over three decades. There are a dozen or more dogwoods, and there would be more maples and dogwoods if space allowed. My wife complains that when she looks out the windows she can’t see the sky, and somewhere out there is a lovely view of the Blue Ridge mountains, but I’m happy to see dogwood blooms instead.

In late May, we are nearing the end of a progression of dogwoods flowering that began with the Cornelian cherry (really a dogwood, Cornus mas ‘Variegata’, above) in early March.  After a two week gap, the native dogwoods (Cornus florida, below) flowered in early April, followed by several hybrids, and now there are a few weeks before flowers of late blooming Chinese dogwoods (Cornus kousa) fade completely in mid June (or later). By planting as few as three well chosen dogwoods there can easily be flowers for two months, and there are few trees to compare in beauty.

The Cornelian dogwood is unremarkable, except that it flowers in late winter, which could be late February or mid March depending on late winter temperatures. While some late winter flowers are damaged by cold, the dogwood’s have not been injured by temperatures in the teens, and lower. With wide white margins, the variegated leaf version of Cornus mas appears almost white from a distance.

There are several versions of the native American dogwood in the garden that begin flowering in early to mid April, with several seedlings growing at the forest’s edge, and ‘Cherokee Princess’, a vigorous selection of the white flowered dogwood. Another white dogwood might be ‘Princess’ or not, since long ago it was incorrectly tagged as pink, but flowered white. A white dogwood with pendulous branching (Cornus florida ‘Pendula’) hardly makes a show, and if there is a single tree in the garden that could be done without, this is clearly the one. There are many better choices.

I hesitate to recommend against the red flowered, variegated dogwood ‘Cherokee Sunset’ (above), though it has not flowered in the past decade. I suspect it is in damper ground than it would prefer, and though it survives, it barely grows. This, I attribute to a failing on my part, though in the best circumstance it is less vigorous than other dogwoods. Still, its foliage is lovely, and when I’ve seen ‘Sunset’ flowering it is well worth planting.

While the native dogwood is prone to a variety of mildews, cankers, and foliage diseases, ones in this garden have survived with only minor issues for twenty years and longer. Powdery mildew and leaf spotting are regular occurrences in the heat of summer, but other dogwoods cannot match the autumn foliage color and clusters of red berries of the native.

Just as the native dogwood begins to fade, hybrid dogwoods come into flower. ‘Celestial Shadow’ (above, top) and ‘Stellar Pink’ (above) are hybrids that combine the best traits of our native and Chinese dogwoods. Flowers arrive at about the same time that leaves begin to emerge, so flowers have a green backdrop, or in the case of the variegated ‘Celestial Shadow’, a background of green and yellow. ‘Venus’ (below) is a hybrid of the Chinese and Pacific dogwood (Cornus nutallii) that has a similar upright habit to ‘Celestial Shadow’ and Stellar Pink’, but is distinguished by unusually large white flowers.

More than just filling the time period after the native dogwood stops blooming (late April), the hybrids are the most vigorous of dogwoods, and most disease resistant, though Chinese dogwoods (Cornus kousa) are also very tough. As always, I caution that ‘Stellar Pink’ is rarely pink in my Virginia garden. One in ten years, flowers will be more than a slight blush of pink, but it flowers heavily and this slight failing is no reason for it to be avoided. 

The end of the dogwood flowering season is filled by Chinese dogwoods that overlap with the blooms of the hybrids in mid to late May, with flowers often persisting for several weeks into June in the garden. There are several green leafed Kousas in the garden, with white flowers (‘Galilean’, above) and the blush pink ‘Satomi’ (below) that is slightly more dependable for color than ‘Stellar Pink’. Chinese dogwoods take a variety of forms from tall and upright to spreading habits.

The variegated ‘Wolf Eyes’ (below) is more shrub than tree, and after fifteen years it is barely taller than eight feet, though it is half again as wide. The leaves of ‘Wolf Eyes’ are curled, so variegation is not displayed as prominently as on ‘Samaritan’ (below, bottom), which is also much more upright and vigorous, though it is planted so that its lower branches are shaded so it flowers only on its upper third.


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.