Heat in the forecast

I think, I hope, there has been sufficient time between our many inches of rain two weeks ago and the heat that is forecast for early in the week. It is June, and heat is expected, but much of the garden was pumped up on a water high, and in sunny spots this could be a problem. Fortunately, and I say this regardless of the current conditions, much of this garden is shaded, so there is not too much to be concerned about.

Flowers are dropping sooner on Stewartia in the recent spell of warm and dry weather.

Certainly, there should be no concern that the garden will transform from lush to dead, but a time or two I’ve seen wilting foliage when the weather turns from wet to dry and hot. If the warm spell drags on, things could go downhill in a hurry, but it’s likely the worst that happens is that plants look a bit haggard. Except new plantings, that is, and here there is a bigger risk that things can go seriously wrong. So, I’ll have to remind myself what I’ve planted this spring and keep a watchful eye over the next week or two.

The last of the Japanese irises to flower around the koi pond is Lion KIng. With a variety of Japanese irises, there are flowers for a month even though individual blooms last only a few days.

No matter how high temperatures soar, this weekend I will be planting a few shrubs picked up on my visit to Oregon, and I must spray the deer repellent. With rain forecast for just about every day I’ve been in town and available to spray, it’s been six and half weeks since the last spray. This is pushing it a bit far, and particularly since at least some of the repellent has likely been washed off by rain.

Flowering of Oakleaf hydrangeas is heavy in mid June, and leaves are plump targets, sure to attract neighborhood deer.

As for planting, it’s not ideal with ninety-six degrees in the forecast, but I’ve done worse. I would not plant small pots, but Afghan fig (Ficus afghanistanica ‘Silver Lyre’) and ‘Janed Gold’ arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis ‘Janed Gold’) in larger containers should be as forgiving as possible, and there’s enough soil moisture in the lower rear garden that there’s no danger these will dry out.

The hybrid daphnes (Daphne transatlantica), ‘Eternal Fragrance’ (above) and ‘Summer Ice’ (below) are back to peak flowering, the second wave of blooms this spring. The first flowers were delayed by a few weeks in the chilly early spring, and between periods of heavier flowering there are always a few scattered blooms. Three daphnes planted this spring have had a bit of a difficult start with continued deluges, but I expect they’ll come around once summer dries things out.

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Mad for medio

There is little doubt that my wife favors the old time mediovariegata hosta. Otherwise, how can her tolerance for this mostly white leafed hosta that strays considerably onto the bluestone path be explained? Any and every other offending leaf or stem in the garden is chopped mercilessly, but not mediovariegata, which is in a most conspicuous spot, so it could not possibly be overlooked.

Clearly, favorites are given allowances not considered for others, and it is abundantly clear that my wife makes few exceptions. Just mediovariegata, I’m quite certain.

Of no great surprise, I will overlook foliage and branches that stray across, or even obstruct a path, arguing in defense that these soften the hardscape. I don’t want clean lines, not in my garden. If that path is obstructed, we can get to the door by going the long way around.

By contrast, I have many favorites, having planted the garden’s many treasures, but my wife and I share affection for this hosta that was once so common, and now is mostly neglected in favor of hundreds of newer introductions. I haven’t seen one for sale in a decade, at least, and this one was planted twenty-five years ago. Back then, it was common to see mediovariegata scorch in the sun in gardens, and probably this was the impetus that spurred development of hostas with stiffer constitutions.

In this spot, mediovariegata has bright enough light, but no direct sun with the shade of overhanging Ostrich ferns, and before the ferns were here there was a wide spreading, pollarded Paulownia. The Paulownia is a nuisance tree, and with pruning new growth and flower buds in pollarding its ability to propagate itself was taken away. So, there was no problem with seedlings, but the darn thing grows like a weed. And with pollarding, there was a full root system and a bunch of saved up energy, so there was way more work involved than the tree was worth. It pains me to say it, but I was overjoyed after I finally dug it out, and fortunately mediovarigata was not harmed in the process.

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.

Kneel, don’t bend

A code word given by nurses following back surgery nearly two years ago was supposedly an easy to remember warning to lift appropriately, to bend at the knees, not at the waist. I’m afraid I’m not a good student, and besides, who else is there on the premises to bend to pluck the many hundreds, thousands of tiny weeds that pop up each week?

Indian pinks (Spigelia marilandica) have settled in to grow vigorously.

And, while I’m overjoyed by the regular rainfall this late spring, there is likely to be a formula for some quantity of weeds per inch of rain. However many thousands it is, it’s now times ten in the past few weeks, with another few inches expected. I’m astounded that the garden is not a soggier mess than it is, but surprisingly I can get around to most of it without sinking up to my ankles.

An unknown rose cultivar has revived after being hidden under a wide spreading cypress that was removed a year ago.

The tiny Tiger mosquitoes are out in full force, and dragonflies are working overtime to patrol their territories by the koi pond. There have been frequent snake sightings in recent days. One or more Northern Brown water snakes are seen whenever the sun is shining. A week ago, two youngsters, not the big one that has not been seen for a while, were seen in the shallows of the pond doing that thing that results in the next generation of Northern Browns in this pond. I don’t know if I should apologize for snooping, but I was quickly discovered hiding behind the ‘Butterfly’ Japanese maple. The session ended in a hurry.

As the weather warms, the koi are becoming more trusting, I suppose more due to hunger than overcoming wariness over lurking predators. Several years ago, dozens of koi would flop onto the rocks at the pond’s edge as I approached, but blue and green herons and the snakes have made them more cautious. Long ago, it became impossible to count the number of koi (and a handful of goldfish), but there must be a hundred or more, and I haven’t seen this year’s newcomers, though certainly they’re on the way.

Japanese iris have been crowded by Yellow Flag irises, but several remain at the edge of the koi pond.

At some point there will be too many koi for this fourteen hundred square foot pond, and late in autumn I was forced to upgrade the filtration. It pained me to spend the money, but today I’m pleased that the water is clearing.

The key to maintaining this acre and a quarter garden is, a little at a time. At times, the task seems overwhelming, and the garden a near disaster, though I’m comforted knowing that there are others that are worse. There is no help, unless you agree that my wife’s meddling with her pruners is helpful. Come on, bend at the knees, pull those weeds.

New planting

In recent years, the Autumn Full Moon Japanese maple (Acer shirasawanum ‘Autumn Moon’, below) has suffered in a bit too much sun. Leaves scorched slightly, several small branches died off, and if I wasn’t aware that this was a questionable spot from the start I would have been concerned. At first, I figured I’d wait it out. Occasionally, a tree or shrub will become more tolerant of less than optimal conditions the longer it’s in the ground (more often it will continue to sulk, or worse). It’s possible this could have worked, but I decided to go another route, and from early results, I’m glad I did.

Much to the consternation of my wife, I added to planting areas in the lowest part of the rear garden. I’ve been warned that not another blade of grass is to be removed anywhere on the property, but this really needed to be done and I figured she would never notice this minor addition. However, occasionally she reads these pages to see what rotten things I’ve said about her, and this time I was caught.

Two Itea ‘Henry’s Garnet’ are planted at the edge of the new planting area, where it is wettest. The one in damper soil is flowering, the other barely.

Fortunately, grass had already been removed, and several plants that were struggling in too much shade were moved to get the area started. I learned long ago to take action before I open my big mouth, rather than blabbing what I’m going to do and then having to hear what consequences are to come if I follow through. If the grass is already gone and plants already moved, what’s to be done?

Catmint is an exceptional perennial to cover sunny spaces between shrubs and taller perennials.

Now, she won’t admit it, but I think my wife might actually approve of the planting. This channeled runoff from this perpetually damp area, which seems to have dried it out, at least a little, and after eight or ten inches of rain have turned much of the area to swamp. The Japanese maple is only partially shaded at this point by a Persian ironwood (Parrotia persica) that was sulking in too much shade, and really needed to be moved. The ironwood now shades the maple in late afternoon, at least a bit, and as it grows it should do a better job of protecting ‘Autumn Full Moon’ from summer heat.

Last week’s photo of Magician deutzia did not catch its color at it best. As the shrub has reached its spring peak, the color is exceptional.

The rest of the garden is managing nicely after the recent rainfall. Leaves and flowers are puffed up from the excess moisture, though there is danger that a sudden onset of summer heat could make a mess of things. The forecast for the next few weeks is relatively mild, so I expect a splendid late spring.

Yellow and blue flowered baptisias are great fillers between shrubs and behind lower growing perennials. I use it, and Amsonia as fillers.

Where is the passion (vine)?

I fear that two passion flower vines (Passiflora incarnata, below) have not survived, though I have shared similar thoughts in prior years and been surprised to see growth beginning late in June. 

A year ago, root suckers began poking up through gaps in the stone patio early in May, late for most plants but typical for this vine. If it is dead, and I hold out the slightest hope it is not, the culprit is this year’s most unusual winter. Dryness through late autumn and early winter was followed by three weeks of breezy cold that was not cold enough to kill on its own, but has killed more than far colder winters.

Despite the suspected fate of the passion flower vines, this garden suffered very little, with a few dead branch tips on paperbushes (Edgeworthis chrysantha) that were easily snipped off, but hardly a thing compared to dead crapemyrtles, and surprisingly, Japanese maples that I see locally. Several hydrangeas were killed to the ground in the garden, again, but unlike recent years when mopheads (Hydrangea macrophylla, above and below) flowered weakly as they recovered, prospects are bright for flowering in the next few weeks.

Many hydrangeas in the garden were pruned to the ground in early April. All have grown back nearly to full size, and all are loaded with flower buds.

Here, it must be noted that traditional favorite hydrangeas (such as ‘Nikko Blue’) that flower on old wood will not flower, and rarely do in this area as flower buds are regularly injured by cold. Introductions such as Endless Summer (and many others) flower on old wood, and new growth. So, when dead wood is cut to the ground in April, there will be flowers in early June. Remontant hydrangeas (flowering on new and old wood) also eliminate the question about when hydrangeas should be pruned. If flower buds are pruned off, the next round of buds will soon be along.

Lacecap and Oakleaf hydrangeas (Hydrangea quercifolia, above) were not injured by the cold, and again this spring it appears that foliage and flowering will be robust. The size of leaves of Oakleaf hydrangeas varies somewhat with the amount of rain, of which there has been a surplus in recent weeks.

Late May

Two Chinese dogwoods (Cornus kousa) with variegated foliage are flowering sparsely. ‘Samaritan’ is shaded on all sides, and in recent years it has flowered only on uppermost branches that peek into sunlight above a holly, two Japanese maples, and a much taller ‘Ivory Silk’ lilac. The wide spreading ‘Wolf Eyes’ (below) often flowers heavily, but there are fewer this spring. 

Weather is almost certainly not the cause of the diminished flowering since other Chinese dogwoods are more floriferous in late May. ‘National’ (below) is a vigorous dogwood with an upright form, and large flowers almost cover its green foliage.

The yellow leafed ‘Little Honey’ Oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia ‘Little Honey’, below), planted several years ago, has been a mild disappointment with few flowers and foliage color that by early summer appears more sickly yellow than vibrant. This spring, there will be more blooms, but fewer than other Oakleaf hydrangeas in the garden.  

‘Nikko’ and ‘Chardonnay Pearls’ deutzias are exceptional, compact flowering shrubs. ‘Magician’ is taller growing, with exceptional flowers that begin as other deutzias are fading.

The Japanese hydrangea vine (Schizophragma hydrangeoides ‘Moonlight’, below) has not flowered in this shady spot, but its foliage is exceptional.

New growth of ‘Katsura’ pieris (Pieris japonica ‘Katsura’, below) is much darker than other pieris in the garden. ‘Katsura’ is moderately susceptible to lacebugs that feed on the undersides of leaves.