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.

 

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.

 

 

Three decades in the garden

For one reason or the other, few gardeners will be around a single garden for three decades. Staying put for so long is no accomplishment, but there is a benefit in witnessing Japanese maples grow into middle age, to budget a modest expenditure each year that grows to fill a property so that no part feels incomplete. A purple leafed European beech, that grew agonizingly slow for years, finally takes hold, and one day the gardener looks up and admires that it now towers over the house.

The long sought after Golden Full Moon is one of an ever growing collection of thirty five or more cultivars of Japanese maple.

Many plants reach a mature size quickly, and the gardener sees some that come and go. Deer have whittled a hundred hosta varieties to half that number, but the gardener’s failings are responsible for many more losses. A lack of care, of preparation, or planning has imperiled too many treasures, and over a period the gardener learns what will grow (or not) given his soil, sun exposure, and quality of care. The result, I suspect, is a happier balance than in a younger garden, and certainly the gardener’s disposition is improved as maturing trees and shrubs cover more ground and ease his maintenance.

Large and small leafed hostas line this stream and stone paths that wind through the garden.

The garden is ever changing, as a Katsura and other trees shade areas that were once mostly sunny, and roots spread to sap moisture. Some changes cannot be explained, so a corner of the property becomes soggier by the year, finally killing long established witch hazel and holly. The now swampy area must be recreated as a bog garden, and while starting over is painful, there are new plants to discover, and cherish.

Colorful bracts follow the abundant white flowers of Seven Son tree in late summer. This tree was snapped off by a summer storm, and replaced by a Red horsechestnut. A small, recently purchased Seven Son will someday find a spot in the garden. For now, it will grow in a container on the patio beside the koi pond.

The garden (and the gardener) weathers natural catastrophes, wind and hail, ice, and snow that break branches, or fell a favored Seven Son tree. Damage can be done in severe cold or mild winters, and also through summer droughts, though injuries are most often far less serious than the gardener first presumes. Several long time favorites have been lost, but the gardener plants a Red horsechesnut after much consideration, and after a few years the sting is nearly forgotten.

While the loss of the Seven Son was disappointing, the Red horsechestnut planted in its place has quickly become a favorite.

The gardener learns that native does not mean low maintenance, or resistance to pests and diseases. Many are treasured, but a few require regular attention to ward off hungry deer. For years, dogwoods have been plagued by leaf spotting and cankers, but optimism returns each year in April with a fresh set of blooms. A dogwood labeled as pink, but flowering white, was bothersome for a decade, but the flurry of spring blooms slowly erased the disappointment.

Jane magnolia flowers a few weeks later than Royal Star and Dr. Merrill, with blooms less susceptible to late freezes.

Flowers of magnolias are occasionally damaged by late freezes, and the gardener who will be around for a short period is severely discouraged, but this injury is only occasional, and often after the trees have flowered for ten days. If the blooms are short lived this year, they might not suffer again for five, and in twenty of thirty years this has not been a worry.

The front of the house is hidden behind Japanese maples and dogwoods. A purple leafed beech off the left corner of the house has become huge.

The gardener’s interest never wanes. While appearing to be overflowing by mid spring, there are small gaps in the garden to be filled. For the gardener who must collect one of everything that captures his fancy, somehow a space is found for each new acquisition, though no room is to be found to expand the Japanese maple collection, so these must now be kept in containers on the patios. The challenge, as the completion of the third decade nears, is to eliminate maintenance, an absurdly impossible goal, but one that seems within reach as low growing shrubs and perennials are shoehorned to cover every open space.

The gardener learns the rhythm of the property, when labor must be accomplished, and when there is time to enjoy. As weeds are crowded out by maturing trees and shrubs, the period required to maintain this garden grows shorter, and time to enjoy becomes longer. Certainly, this is a benefit of three decades in one place.

A chilly week in March

Following a chilly week in March when temperatures regularly dropped into the teens, damage to flowers and emerging leaves was expected. The gardener’s question was, how much damage, and would injury to new leaves do harm as a late freeze stunted mophead hydrangea growth a year ago?

Flowers of Winter’s Star camellia were at their peak a week ago. Now (below), all are a golden brown, but with more pink buds opening.

The answer remains unclear as temperatures begin to turn warmer, with pink flowers on camellias beginning to open alongside ones that turned golden brown (above) earlier in the week. The loss of blooms of magnolias and camellias was anticipated, but damage to flowers of spireas (Spirea thunbergii ‘Ogon’, below) was somewhat surprising, though there was little history of such warm temperatures followed by freezes to go by. Injury to flowers of local weeping cherry varieties has been seen, and to the numerous flowering pears in the neighborhood and along fence rows of old farms where birds have deposited seeds for years.

Flowers of Ogon spirea a week ago, and after several nights when temperatures dropped into the teens (below). Emerging leaves of this yellow leafed spirea were not damaged.

Flowers of hellebores, mahonias, paperbushes, and the last of ‘Arnold Promise’ witch hazel survived intact, while blooms of Winter daphne were lost. The few stray flowers of ‘Summer Ice’ and ‘Eternal Fragrance’ daphnes were unharmed, with plump buds that should begin to bloom after a few mild days.

Of most concern going into the freeze were leaves of lilacs and hydrangeas that emerged too early after very mild temperatures through late February and the first week of March. New growth of the tree lilac (Syringa reticulata ‘Ivory Silk’, above) suffered slight damage, but less than anticipated, while small leaves of hydrangeas have been lost. While an April freeze damaged stems and early growth of mophead hydrangeas a year ago, it is too early to determine the extent of injury.

While no damage has been seen on new growth of daylilies (except by deer), some cold injury to early growth of hostas and toad lilies has been seen, though this is not expected to be significant.

March weather is variable, for better and worse

Though the gardener barks at the chilly breezes, he is aware that weather is variable, particularly in March when there might be temperatures in the seventies and teens, sometimes within the same week. Still, he has been spoiled by the mild temperatures of late winter, and now he pouts over a period of cold. Flowers of magnolias and camellias have spoiled in the freeze, which is hardly unusual. and the gardener is anxious to again feel the warming sun on his back. Perhaps next week.

Leatherleaf mahonia (Mahonia bealei) began to flower in late February. it has weathered the cold without a problem, but now is just past its peak. If temperatures warm up, bees will pollinate flowers so that blooms are followed by grape like fruits. Be warned that birds will spread seeds, with seedlings that are not prolific, but often must be weeded out.

Despite temperature swings that encouraged, then damaged early growth, the garden is ready for spring. Many flowers have weathered the cold, and while the fate of emerging leaves is still in question, the results have not been disastrous. All that is required for a satisfactory result is a change from this miserable cold.

Often, I lose track of which hellebores are planted hybrids, and which are seedlings from the hundreds that germinate each year. This one, a seedling that is oddly appealing, has been transplanted after growing for two years near its parent plant.

While double flowered hellebores attract attention, this simple single flowered hybrid is as splendid as any. Hellebores have not been effected by the recent cold.

Paperbush (Edgeworthia chrysantha) is a favorite in this garden. This late winter flowering shrub is not common for unknown reasons since it is a wonderful bloomer, and a pleasant shrub after flowering.

Buds of spring blooming daphnes are ready to flower with a short period of warmth.

Flowers of the Cornelian dogwood don’t make the show of larger dogwood blooms, but this late winter bloomer is appreciated.