A difficult late summer

September was difficult, not unusually so, but relatively hot and dry after a mild and wet earlier summer. Leaves of neighborhood sycamores are withered and brown, and though stress is less evident on other trees, continued dry weather could result in poor coloring of foliage in weeks to come.

While hostas and other perennials show stress from the late summer drought, Chocolate Joe Pye weed is at its peak.

Perhaps cooler temperatures will ease effects of the current dryness, and of course, there could be a turn back to regular rainfall. Dry or not, this should be of little concern for well established plants that will soon be headed into dormancy. There is some small concern, however premature, that some broadleaf evergreens must be hydrated going into winter to prevent injury if there should be prolonged periods of freezing temperatures. There will be greater concern if dry weather continues through October.

One of two new toad lilies (Tricyrtis flava) planted in this spell of dry weather.

I have planted several azaleas and mahonias, a few toad lilies (above), and a fragile looking pot of Paris polyphylla (below) in recent weeks, and it is only the new plantings that I will watch until our next soaking rain. My penchant for neglect of new plantings has lost too many treasures, and I am determined to do better this time with Paris and a yellow flowered toad lily that have been disappointing failures in prior years.

Unusual flowers make Paris polyphylla worth trying after repeated failures. I suspect previous locations were too dry and sunny.

A sip of water a few times a week until the next rain should keep everything growing, and I’ve left a five gallon bucket on the patio by the koi pond as a reminder. A half bucket twice a week will be enough for the toad lilies and Paris, and I don’t expect the few shrubs will need anything at all. A few potted Japanese maples on the patios are looking pretty dry, so a half bucket for each will also be necessary. I’m not good at remembering to do such things, so I hope for rain.

There will be no colorful autumn leaves on the Golden Full Moon Japanese maples. Few leaves remain on the tree in early October.

While not too unusual, serviceberry, river birches, and the purple leafed European beech have dropped most leaves already, and several Japanese maples are nearly bare. The Golden Full Moon maple often displays exceptional autumn foliage color, but this year there will be no leaves, so no color. In similar conditions, the fernleaf Japanese maple has hardly dropped a leaf. In several weeks, its foliage will be delightfully colored, despite the difficult late summer weather.

Autumn colors of the Fernleaf Japanese maple are the best in the garden. The tree shows little sign of the recent dry weather except a few scorched leaves, so this should not effect the splendid autumn colors.

Advertisements

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 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.

 

Baby Jacks

Recently, I extolled the virtues of hellebores, and the profuse numbers of seedlings that require occasional thinning out, but also encourage sharing with other gardeners. Today, I’m pleased to report tiny seedlings that I am quite certain are from Jack-in-the-Pulpits (Arisaema triphyllum and others, below) planted in recent years. To protect the little treasures until they reach a stage where there are sufficient roots for transplant, I’ve dragged my wife over to show her the crevices between stones, to tell her not to pull seedlings that are not weeds as she relentlessly prunes and plucks to keep the garden’s paths clear.

While hellebores can occupy several square feet of space once mature, Jack-in-the-Pulpits grow more upright and take up very little space. In this jumbled garden, plants are expected to grow up through, and to flop over one another, so this is not only allowed, but encouraged. For the gardener intent on neatness, plants that spread aggressively or seed prolifically should be discouraged, but not in this garden.

A Jack-in-the-Pulpit has seeded into this clump of Tiarella. The tiarella slowly spreads, but there are numerous seedlings of Jack-in-the-Pulpit that will be transplanted as soon as they reach viable size.

I am delighted that the variegated Solomon’s Seals (Polygonatum odoratum var. pluriflorum ‘Variegatum’, below) have spread more than expected this spring. I’m not certain how these could possibly fit into a more formal garden, but there’s no formality here, and I’m intrigued to try other cultivars that look interesting in photos. Some can grow quite large, it appears, and these interest me in particular. Oddities such as these attract the gardener to specialty nurseries, many operated by plant explorers who have found these on some faraway mountain, and who could care less if there’s any commercial appeal to their finds.

Variegated Solomon’s Seal has filled in nicely this spring.

Native wood poppies (Stylophorum diphyllum, below) have continued to spread in the dry shade beneath towering maples and tulip poplars, with new plants appearing scattered by twenty paces. I’m uncertain how these manage to find their way uphill, but I’ve no complaint and if one should appear where it’s not wanted I suspect these are easily removed. While the flowers are short lived, the mounding foliage is interesting enough. These give the appearance of being well placed by the gardener in small areas of open ground, but their placement is purely a matter of natural opportunity. While wood poppies are ideally planted in damper soil, I suspect that maple and poplar leaves left to decay have greatly improved the top layer of soil in this area.

Certainly, Robb’s or Wood spurge (Euphorbia amygdaloides var. robbiae) is likely to be considered a weed by some, but I am continually impressed that it surges ahead through dense, shallow  roots to cover open ground. No doubt, some would consider this too aggressive, but in moderately dense, and undoubtedly dry shade, it has spread to cover a few hundred square feet, though it carefully winds around clumps of ferns and plum yews. On occasion when a stem appears between stones in the path, or elsewhere where it’s not wanted, these are easily snatched out.

Cypress spurge (Euphorbia cyparissias, below) is reviled as invasive, but planted alongside a stone patio by the koi pond it has been pushed to the side by seedlings of Espresso geranium (Geranium maculatum ‘Espresso’). Probably, no gardener would curse a lovely native such as the geranium, but this shows the relative nature of invasiveness. Here, the spurge is the victim, geranium the bully, and happily I transplanted a few small clumps several years ago or it could have been run out of the garden.

This cypress spurge claims to be a rampant grower, but now it grows only in gravel filled crevices of a stone patio. A vigorous, dark leafed geranium (Espresso) has pushed it to the margins.

Seedlings of Espresso geranium have overrun the aggressive Cypress spurge.

 

Silverbell

A year ago, flowers of the Silverbell (Halesia carolina, below) were ruined by an early April freeze that most notably damaged tender new leaves of Japanese maples and mophead hydrangeas. While damage to the Silverbell was minimal besides the lost floral display, damaged foliage on maples and hydrangeas was evident through the year, with some trees and shrubs not recovering fully until growth this spring.

The flowers of Silverbell are paper thin, and would be susceptible to annual freezes if these were a regular occurrence. Fortunately, freezes from mid April on are not typical, and this year the tall, open branched tree is back in full bloom. The gardener overly concerned by the potential for damage should be encouraged not to plant Silverbell, or magnolias, cherries, redbuds, or dogwoods. While these are occasionally injured in a freeze, none are damaged regularly, and it is clear that the risk of a freeze is diminished with each week moving from March into April.

Long ago, I quit trying to figure what makes one tree popular and another not, and it is a darn shame that this southeast American native is not more common. Even in the shade of much taller maples and tulip poplars, the small, bell-shaped flowers are borne in sufficient quantity to make a splendid show. In full sun, even better. In this garden, planted at the forest’s edge open to the north with no direct sunlight, Silverbell grows very upright, with open branching so that many flowers are far up into the tree, and with only a few arching lower branches. I suggest planting in a half day sun or more, and expect the gardener will be overjoyed with his choice.

More Japanese maples than necessary?

Yes, there are more Japanese maples (Acer palmatum) in this garden than necessary, but there is no need to count. There are thirty, or forty-some, but this is not a contest, and certainly there are gardens with finer and more numerous maples. With plants, I can get a little stupid, but my obsession with Japanese maples is most evident in this acre and a quarter garden.

Seriyu is a vigorous green, cut leafed maple. Branches of two Seriyu planted at the front of the house arch over the front walk.

The front of the house is mostly obscured by two green leafed ‘Seriyu’ maples and a red leafed ‘Bloodgood’, and it’s not possible to see more than twenty feet in any direction in the rear garden without the view being blocked by one maple or several. The driveway is partially obstructed by a wide spreading maple (‘Crimson Queen’) with pendulous branches, with another (‘Oridono nishiki’) overhanging the end of the drive. A green leafed, weeping Japanese maple (‘Viridis’, below) forms a wide spreading canopy over one of the garden’s ponds, and so it goes, one after another. Many maples have been here for twenty years or more, with a few newcomers each year.

The arching branches of Viridis maple form a canopy over this small pond and waterfall.

I hear that Japanese maples grow slowly, but most are vigorous in growth. Viridis maple has spread to more than ten feet wide, though only six feet tall.

None of the maples in the garden are rare, though many are ones that are not commonly found in garden centers, and a few recent additions can be found only from nurseries that specialize in growing small numbers of the hundreds of less common Japanese maples. Certainly, several are cultivars that would not catch the eye of most gardeners, with foliage that is unremarkable, and I suppose it could be argued that leaves of a few maples are out of the ordinary to the point that some might consider them ugly. I don’t.

The Golden Full Moon maple was found in the field of a grower in Oregon who left it behind because its trunk was damaged by rabbits. I was happy to plant the scarred tree. A year ago I planted ‘Autumn Moon’ which is similar and supposedly more sun tolerant.

There are Japanese maples that I’ve paid a small fortune to obtain, though I am notoriously thrifty, and a few that were rescued from trash heaps. For years, I lusted after Golden Full Moon (Acer shirasawanum ‘Aureum’, above) and Floating Cloud (Acer palmatum ‘Ukigumo’, below) maples, and once one of each of reasonable size was obtained, two others soon became available and were added to the garden. No doubt, this is not a matter of proper garden design, nor of good sense. I suspect that I’m not the only gardener who’s gone off the deep end for something, maybe on multiple somethings as I have.

Foliage color of the Floating Cloud maple changes through the year, from cream, green, and pink on new growth, to more green by mid summer. Trees with more sun exposure fade more to green.

The variegated foliage of Higasayama Japanese maple is striking, but it is also fast growing, which is unusual for variegated maples.

In early spring, I’m enthused as hellebores, witch hazels, and mahonias flower, followed by redbuds, serviceberries, dogwoods, and silverbells, but by mid April I must catch up on every Japanese maple in the garden, every day. With understated, but lovely blooms, and leaves that unfold over hours, or days, there is something to keep me entertained for weeks. Colors of emerging leaves are most intense, and while some maples open without much of a show, others stage a production as they slowly unfurl.

The dwarf Shaina suufered considerably in sub zero temperatures several years ago, but with recent growth the damage areas have been covered. Shaina grows to a low mound, and is not particularly distinctive, but it is unusual.

The Coral Bark maple (‘Sangu kaku’) is unremarkable except for red stems on new growth that are most noticeable when leaves have dropped. A year ago I planted the yellow stemmed ‘Bihou’.

In recent years open space for planting has run short, so now the patios are cluttered with pots of newly acquired maples. Today, most are only a few feet tall, and with an exception or two all are trees that will grow only to eight or ten feet tall. There’s a possibility these could remain in containers for years, but if a hole opens up, they’re ready to fill in. Below are a sampling of Japanese maples in the garden, though not all.

The Fern Leaf maple (Acer japonicum ‘Aconitifolium’) is a wide spreading upright Japanese maple with large leaves. It’s autumn foliage color is the best of all maples.

The finely cut leaves of Linearilobum maples are unusual.

Scolopendrifolium maple has deeply cut green leaves and graceful branching.

Bloodgood is the the standard for red leafed upright maples. It can be found anywhere that maples are sold. In front of the house, Bloodgood has grown twenty five feet tall and wide.

The Butterfly maple is variegated with cream and green, and in early spring some pink. Butterfly grows slowly, and after damage in a late freeze a year ago it has mostly recovered.

Shirazz , or Gwen’s Rose Delight, has cream edges. Variegation is spectacular in spring, but the tree fades in sun and summer color is not so wonderful.

This Trompenburg Japanese maple retains its red foliage even though it is shaded. A nearby Burgundy Lace maple fades more in similar conditions.

Orange Dream, one of the Japanese maples added a year ago. The still small tree will remain in a pot on the patio until a spot is found for it.

Crimson Queen Japanese maple is among the standards of weeping maples. It forms a dense, rounded canopy of finely dissected red leaves. One beside the driveway has topped out at ten feet tall and a little wider.