A splendid place to garden

The sheltering effect of shade is readily apparent in the garden following a dry week after a particularly rainy period. Fortunately, temperatures in this rain-free week remained mild, and again we are headed into a rainy spell (hopefully, a short one). The lack of extreme heat should preclude damage to plants that are pumped up due to excessive moisture, but already ones in sunny spots have faded slightly.

The Japanese garden at Bloedel Reserve

I have just returned from a week in the northwest, two days touring gardens on the Kitsap Peninsula and Bainbridge Island west of Seattle, then business in the Portland area. The weather was delightful, and the gardens splendid despite an unusually dry period that stressed some full sun plantings despite irrigation that is necessary through typically dry summers in this region.

Gardeners are constantly aggravated by weather, and certain that another region must be superior. While I am quite content with my Virginia garden, I admit envy that several treasures that struggle in our heat thrive in the relative coolness of the northwest.

But also, I realize a difference in the shade of towering firs and the shallow rooted maples and tulip poplars that crowd the margins of this garden. In many spots along this forested border, a planting hole can be difficult to carve out between roots.

Paris polyphyllum

While mayapples (Podophyllum) and Jack-in-the-Pulpits (Arisaema) grow natively at the edge of this garden, none grow as plump as ones in the garden of Bloedel Reserve on Bainbridge Island. Waxy bells (Kirengeshoma palmata, below, and K. koreana) thrive, but I have struggled growing Paris polyphylla and Rodgersia (above), which are robust in these gardens. I find small solace that Bigleaf magnolia (Magnolia macrophylla) grows with more vigor in this Virginia garden, and while Chinese dogwoods (Cornus kousa) thrive on both coasts, our native dogwood (Cornus florida) is dependent on the heat of the east. No doubt, there are others that prefer our climate and year around rainfall, and probably some share of northwest gardeners would like to escape damp, gray winters.

A visit to exceptional gardens is inspiring, though I am uncertain whether to redouble or abandon efforts to plant southeast Asian natives that fill these gardens. Perhaps a few more mayapples and trilliums will find their way into the garden, and I must expand the selection of Solomon’s Seals (Polygonatum, below). While I am fortunate to have discovered (after considerable trial and error) plants that tolerate this shallow rooted, dry shade, I must probe for shaded areas with deeper soils to plant more treasures.

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Unauthorized clean up

The assistant gardener (my wife) has been home this week for spring break, and fortunately it’s been rainy until today when I came home to a trash can filled with a variety of clippings. I don’t dare dig deeper to see what’s beneath the ivies and periwinkle that she is always welcome to snip away at. In fact, I should not label her a gardener of any sort, assistant or otherwise, though I suppose she’s trying to be helpful.

Grecian windflowers (Anemone blanda) are scattered due to weeding that often mistakes them after flowers have faded.

No doubt, the vines strayed over paths since my wife last got around to this, and if pruning ivy off the stones is the worst she gets into, I’ll be relieved. Wandering through the garden I see little evidence of her butchery, which is rarely the case, so perhaps she wasn’t out for long, and did no serious damage on this seventy degree afternoon.

It should be no surprise that two people have differing visions of what the garden should be, and we do. I prefer a relaxed look with hostas and whatever else flopping over path stones, she does not. I prune nothing unless it’s dead, and don’t mind stepping over or around branches that stray. She prefers tidiness, I want flopping and straying.

Dorothy Wycoff pieris has grown over the edge of the walkway to the back deck. I must prune this carefully so my wife doesn’t. Select branches are pruned rather than sheared to maintain the natural form of the shrub.

My wife informs me that the new planting in the rear garden is horrible. I’ve removed too much lawn, and never mind that lawn isn’t much to look at, though it does make a nice contrast to planted areas. Truthfully, I’d remove all the lawn in this area below the koi pond except I’d have to lug stones down to make a path through the plantings. Grass is an inexpensive path, but besides the larger area over the septic field, I don’t see much use for it now that the kids are long gone. There are no ballgames, or hide and seek. And yes, my wife’s opinion does count, at least a little, so this is likely to be as far as I cut into this smaller area of lawn.

Too close to winter

I’ve just returned from a delightful week along the Gulf Coast with daytime temperatures around eighty and few signs of autumn anywhere, much less of winter. I have nothing against winter, except that I’d rather it not be winter, though the cold is clearly necessary to grow the plants I treasure.

I stepped off the plane as the sun set, with temperatures dropping into the low twenties, and already spoiled by my week of tropical temperatures.  A few minutes after I returned home, I was out  on the back patio in the dark and cold dragging pots of agaves and elephant ears into the basement. The sharp spines and heavy, waterlogged pots are the reason this was not done weeks sooner, at our first frost, but with this cold night it was fortunate that I returned home and not a day later.

A week ago, foliage of this lacecap hydrangea was beautifully colored. After two nights in the low and mid twenties, brown leaves hang limply (above).

There was a significant change to the garden after a single night that dropped into the low twenties, but after a second the garden has clearly moved into its winter phase. Leaves of several Japanese maples that typically turn late, instead changed from green to brown overnight. Hydrangeas were green, with some small flowers and a several buds a week ago, but now leaves and flowers have blackened.

While much of the garden is covered by a blanket of fallen leaves, foliage remains on scattered trees and shrubs. Leaves of Oakleaf hydrangeas (Hydrangea quercifolia, above) are late to turn, and more shaded shrubs remain green while ones in part sun have begun to change. The colorful leaves often remain into January.

A week ago, I mentioned the varying colors of leaves of witch hazels, and now, after freezing temperatures, the Vernal witch hazel (Hamamelis vernalis, above) has turned to a splendid, rich yellow, with scattered branches of red. While the nearby ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba, below) has recently dropped all leaves, as it does almost overnight, colorful foliage that does remain is particularly appreciated. 

After the freeze

A single twenty degree night changes the garden. A day before, coneflowers (below), azaleas, camellias (2nd photo, below), and toad lilies were flowering despite repeated frosts and a light freeze a few weeks ago. After this freeze, flowers remain, but in an altered state that shows effects of the cold.

This coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) seedling began flowering in early November. Predictably, the bloom is short lived after a typically cold November night.

The garden’s camellias were in full bloom until this freeze. It is likely that flowers will continue through the next month, or longer, with blooms damaging on very cold nights and buds opening after a few mild days.

While some extol the beauties of seedheads and browned grasses, I prefer leaves and flowers to the dormancy of winter. The silhouettes of Japanese maples (below), and particularly of Harry Lauder’s walking stick (Corylus avellana ‘Contorta’), can be quite marvelous, and colorful berries attract bluejays and cardinals, but these are small consolation.

With recent cold, leaves of the Fernleaf Japanese maple (Acer japonicum ‘Aconitifolium’) have turned mottled colors ranging from yellows to reds.

Paperbush (Edgeworthia chrysantha) holds its deciduous leaves until the first hard freeze. After a twenty degree night, leaves hang limply, and these will soon drop.

Though damaged blooms will not recover, unopened buds of camellias (below) will continue to flower for at least another month, and there could be additional blooms on Encore azaleas. Flowers of ‘Eternal Fragrance’ daphne are slightly damaged in the cold, but there are likely to be more blooms if mild temperatures return.

Though flowers of camellias remain colorful, damaged blooms will fade quickly to brown.

Numerous unopened buds remain on camellias that will flower through periods of mild temperatures.

‘Winter Sun’ mahonia began flowering in late October. Other hybrid mahonias are following, and most will flower into the the new year.

Flowers of hybrid mahonias are not damaged by cold. ‘Winter Sun’ (Mahonia x media ‘Winter Sun’, above) began flowering several weeks ago, and ‘Charity’, ‘Underway’, and the newly planted ‘Marvel’ (below) will follow and are likely to flower through repeated spells of cold into the new year.

‘Marvel’ mahonia is a new and welcome addition to the garden. One in part sun begins to flower while another in shade is just starting to bud.

Foliage and flowers of early November

After a lengthy delay through an unusually mild October, leaves of swamp maples (Acer rubrum, below) in the forest that borders the garden have turned to their typical yellow. Selections of this same tree, then called red maple, are preferred by local homeowners for red autumn foliage, but leaf color of most native trees is not so desirable. On a breezy afternoon, leaves fall from the towering trees, and with glowing yellow leaves of thickets of spicebush (Lindera benzoin) also dropping, nearby houses are visible that have not been seen for months.

Following recent frosts and a single freeze, the Fernleaf Japanese maple (Acer japonicum ‘Aconitifloium’, above) is beginning to show color that will intensify in the next few weeks. While other Japanese maples are often splendid in autumn, the Fernleaf is consistently extraordinary.

Seriyu Japanese maple is green leafed until early November.

Viridis Japanese holds its yellow autumn foliage for weeks.

While foliage colors of a variety of witch hazels are usually short lived, this first week of November is their peak. Hybrid witch hazels ‘Arnold Promise’ and ‘Jelena’ (Hamamelis x intermedia) display shades of red and orange, and portions of the vernal witch hazel (Hamamelis vernalis) turn yellow one large stem after the other until the shrubby tree has turned completely.

There are a surprising number of flowers in the garden for November, many of which have been featured recently on this page. As often happens, there are few strays out of season. The threadleaf spirea ‘Ogon’ (Spiraea thunbergii ‘Ogon’, below) flowers in early spring, but a few November flowers are not unusual. 

The autumn flowering hybrid camellias are at peak bloom, which is rare since flowers times are typically spread over weeks, and sometimes months. A year ago, flowering was particularly disappointing until the unusually warm January and February.

In mild temperatures, Encore azaleas continue to flower. A cold night will ruin flowers, but buds will continue to open with warmer days.

Leaves of Ruby Spice clethra turn to yellow in mid autumn.

Bluestar (Amsonia hubrichtii) makes an exceptional show in mid autumn,

 

Autumn foliage – better late than never

There is general acknowledgment that coloring of autumn leaves is tardy, and living just off the route taken by many thousands of leaf watchers, I hope that their experiences visiting the nearby Blue Ridge have not been disappointing. Foliage in the garden is also late in turning, and as in every year there are disappointments, though there are sufficient numbers of triumphs to satisfy the gardener.

In past years the Golden Full Moon maple has displayed superior autumn foliage color. This year, none, as leaves dropped early after a dry late summer.

The Golden Full Moon Japanese maple (Acer shirasawanum ‘Aureum’, above) is often splendid, but most leaves fell early in October with no discernible change in color on one, while a second has been covered by powdery mildew in recent months. Its foliage remains a notable white that catches the eye, but unnaturally so.

Also, several native dogwoods (Cornus florida) have turned much later than usual, and with less intense color, though from the distance of the road I see others in the neighborhood that were also tardy, but more splendidly colored. I’ve recently noted that the red flowering, variegated leafed ‘Cherokee Sunset’, has developed flower buds for the first time in years, and while this event is months into the future it is a worthwhile exchange for slightly disappointing autumn leaf color.

For whatever lacking with the native, the hybrid ‘Celestial Shadow’ (above) colors consistently, though a few weeks later. Chinese (Cornus kousa) and other hybrid dogwoods have not begun to turn, but with recent chilly temperatures that is likely soon to change.

While the Golden Full Moon maple was a disappointment, other Japanese maples are proceeding on schedule. The Fernleaf maple (Acer japonicum ‘Aconitifolium’, above), most remarkable of all in autumn to my thinking, is just beginning to display its mottled combination of colors from yellow to deep burgundy, and Lion’s Head (Acer palmatum ‘Shishigashira’) and several other Japanese maples are typically slow, with their prime season in mid November still to come.

Oridono Nishiki is a variegated leaf Japanese maple, though this particular tree shows little variegation on green leaves through spring and summer. It’s autumn color is excellent.

This laceleaf Japanese maple had faded through the summer, but it regains its color in autumn.

While reds and oranges are most celebrated, yellow autumn foliage colors range from drab and distressed, to vibrant. Swamp maples (Acer rubrum) of the forest that borders the garden are rarely better in color than a faded yellow, but ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba, below) and Bottlebrush buckeye (Aesculus parviflora, below) are exceptional, glowing yellows.

Fortunately, much of the understory of this forest is covered in spicebush (Lindera benzoin, below) rather than multiflora rose and other invasives, and though red berries have long ago been consumed by wildlife, yellow foliage is a pleasant backdrop to the garden. There will be much more color in this garden through November, much of it a few weeks tardier than usual, but today there is color enough not to be tempted to venture onto crowded highways into the mountains.

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.