An autumn update

After a warm and dry late summer, a week of cooler temperatures was greeted enthusiastically. But, this lasted only a few days until unusual heat returned. As folks often say, it’s not the heat but the humidity, and certainly both have been abnormally high for October. At least the dry spell has ended, though rainfall has fallen short of forecasts and the gardener hopes for a bit more before cold moves in.

Monarch butterflies are regularly seen in early autumn, though rarely at other times when mostly Tiger swallowtails are present. Here, a Monarch visits a purple flowered seedling of a white flowered coneflower (Echinacea purpurea ‘Powwow White’) flowering in mid October.

None of this is particularly unusual, but the gardener is ever hopeful. For what? Rain that falls overnight several times each week, but waking to bright sunshine that cuts the chill of early autumn. We’re not there yet, and who can tell what rainfall is to come, though we are assured that cooler temperatures must soon be on the way.

Stems of Peruvian lily wind through low hanging branches of an Oakleaf hydrangea. Flopping stems and foliage of this Peruvian lily are unremarkable, but it has been in flower since mid spring.

There is some advantage that cold has been delayed. There are more blooms in the garden, with toad lilies and Peruvian lilies (Alstroemeria, above) continuing to flower, and camellias (Camellia ‘Winter’s Star’, below) and the coarse leafed Tatarian aster coming into bloom. Several toad lilies have flowered since early in August, and others will continue for several weeks, or until the first hard frost.

Winter’s Star camellia was off cycle a year ago, so there were few flowers until January. This autumn, flowers are weeks earlier than expected with first blooms usually delayed until November,

Summer Ice daphne has flowered continuously since late March. In its second year in the garden, Summer Ice shows impressive growth and flowering. Summer Ice and Eternal Fragrance are changing my opinion that daphnes are finicky. Both thrive in part sun, with reports that they manage well in full sun.

The hybrid daphnes, ‘Eternal Fragrance’ and ‘Summer Ice’ have been in flower to varying degrees since late March, and these will continue through early freezes. There are times in mid winter that the gardener will swear that buds will open if only a short period of mild temperatures stretches another day or two, and with the first mild spring weather the daphnes are not without flowers until November, and sometimes early December.  

This has been an exceptional season for the reblooming Encore azaleas (above), though the usually dependable ‘Twist’ flowered early and then faded in the heat of late August. Other Encores have flowered for weeks, with the pink ‘Carnation’ in solid bloom for two months and still going. In truth, I’m ready for its bubblegum pink flowers to fade, but there are no complaints otherwise.

Berries of red chokeberry are very glossy. Deer are a constant problem nibbling foliage, and occasionally I miss spraying them with repellent, so shrubs are tall and narrow.

I notice that berries are coming along nicely. Beautyberries (Callicarpa) have been in color for a month, and now dogwood and red chokeberry (Aronia arbutifolia, above) berries are fully ripe. Several hollies have red berries, but others will not turn for several weeks.

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A purple coneflower

There are no purple flowered coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea) in the garden. Or not. Correctly, I’ve not planted any, but there it is, a tall seedling with a large purple bloom (below) standing tall above a compact clump of white flowered coneflowers (‘Powwow White’). Nearby, flowers of a second seedling appear more pink.

It is clear to me that the purple coneflower is a seedling of the white (below), but some explanation is required since it might not be so clear to all how a purple flowered seedling derives from a white flowered parent. My wife insists I planted the purple, refusing to believe my explanation that this is a seedling of a coneflower that does not grow identically to its parent. The native coneflower is purple, and the white is the variation, probably found as a chance seedling.

In recent years I’ve transplanted a number of seedlings of ‘Miyazaki’ toad lily (below), and all appear identical to the parent plant. I had hopes that one early flower this years was significantly larger, in hopes that some remarkable seedling would be discovered, but subsequent blooms have been similar in size.

In the next few weeks I will transplant the purple and pink flowered coneflowers since these could prove to be more vigorous and crowd out the white. ‘Powwow’ has been a excellent grower, now into its second flowering cycle, and no good can come from leaving the parent and seedlings to compete in the same space.

 

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.

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.

 

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.

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.

 

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.