Every plant has its place

Certainly, every plant has its place. It is unfortunate that too often the gardener discovers one thing or the other that is planted where it doesn’t belong. A plant is too close to the house or walk, in too much or too little sun, or where its unruly habit detracts. With this experience, the gardener must then decide to move the offending plant, chop it out if it has grown too large, or live with it.Winter jasmine

The second half of winter is the period when Winter jasmine (Jasminum nudiflorum) is appreciated, when a profusion of yellow blooms brightens the gray landscape. If the mounding and wide spreading shrub is planted on a bank to prevent erosion there is reason to be thankful beyond this six week period, but the jasmine’s wildness should be considered prior to dropping it into a well mannered garden.

I make no claim that any part of this garden is well managed, so a bit of wildness is hardly noticed by visitors, but Winter jasmine pushes the boundaries. Not to make too big an issue of it since I don’t intend to do anything about it, but planting it in another spot would have been a better idea. The arching branches tumble down over a slope of boulders beside a waterfall in the koi pond, which sounds wonderful, but extensive pruning is required a few times each year to keep the falls visible.Winter jasmine

Perhaps there are a few things that I do well, but regular maintenance is not one of them, so the stems regularly cover the falls, and root into the stones so that it is a terrible mess once I get around to cleaning it up. Of course, this is entirely the result of a lack of foresight, and no fault of Winter jasmine, which is lovely in winter and utilitarian when used properly. Here, is not its best use.

Modest plans for spring

In this second week of January, several seed catalogs and a few from mail order plant suppliers have arrived in the mailbox. Once, the box was stuffed with catalogs after the start of the new year, but today it is the email bin that overflows.

It’s been a while since I’ve grown anything from seed (so seed catalogs are discarded), mostly a matter of laziness than for any other reason, since this can be quite cost effective for many perennials (and vegetables) that are easily raised. This should not discourage more energetic folks, and yes, not much effort is required, but for better or worse I’m better off planting well rooted containers that will tolerate a bit of neglect.

Occasionally, I will grab a few ripe blueberries as I walk the garden, but if my timing is slightly off birds will harvest every ripe berry.

Occasionally, I will grab a few ripe blueberries as I walk the garden, but if my timing is slightly off, birds will harvest every ripe berry.

Long ago, I gave up on tomatoes or other veggies, and grow no edibles besides blueberries as shade from the garden’s many Japanese maples and dogwoods make finding a sunny spot difficult. Certainly, there are more trees and shrubs here that are marginally considered as edibles, but if there are any berries on the serviceberries (Amelanchier canadensis), there are few enough not to be worth the effort to pick. Any berries, from any tree or shrub in this garden, go to the birds, even the blueberries for the most part which are quickly harvested as they ripen, with the few spoils going to Japanese beetles.

Flowers are plentiful, but berries scarce on the serviceberry.

Flowers are plentiful, but berries scarce on the serviceberry.

I’m considering the budget for a few additions to the garden, certainly a few small Japanese maples to add to the collection in pots that are arranged on the patios. With more than thirty maples planted in the garden, and room for no more, the collection in containers was begun last year. All are small now, so space is not yet a problem, and what I’ll do when the maples quickly grow to five and six, then some to eight feet tall, well, those details will be addressed when the time comes.

Orange Dream Japanese maple grew nicely last year in a container beside the koi pond. With maples grown in containers, the gardener can easily relocate the pots to best suit the needs of various maples.

Orange Dream Japanese maple grew nicely last year in a container in full sun on the patio beside the koi pond. With maples grown in containers, the gardener can easily relocate the pots to best suit the needs of various maples.

Recently, several large evergreens were removed that had become too shaded, and in the newly opened spaces there is an opportunity for planting several new hellebores and hostas, with varieties still to be determined as the mood strikes. Perhaps there will be enough sun to plant a few ground orchids (Bletilla striata), but if not in this space, there is some other spot that these can be shoehorned into.

Ground orchid in late May

Terrestrial orchids spread slowly, but dependably in sunny spots.

These are not ambitious plans, but with a garden in the works for three decades, there should be little to do besides adding a few goodies. No doubt, I’ll be further inspired by the first spring visits to the garden center.

The garden’s paths

Over the better part of three decades, a hodgepodge of stone paths has been constructed to wind through the garden. In some instances, paths preceded the planting of the garden, which was then planted after ready access was available.Bluestone path

None of the paths is artfully constructed, and even the more formal path to the front door is a combination of pockmarked Pennsylvania bluestones, bricks salvaged from some long forgotten project, and concrete ornaments that are now mostly obscured by moss. The flawed pieces of bluestone were once selected for their greater thickness and weathered appearance, instead of more perfect stones that might outshine the new garden.

While a small patio in the rear garden of thinner, but colorful flagging from India or China (their origin is unclear, but not American) suffers from several cracked stones, the bluestone path shows no more than a few chipped corners, and except for mossy joints, it appears as weathered today as twenty-seven years earlier.The path beside the stream

Besides the front walk, no paths adhere to landscape architectural standards that suggest width should accommodate two adults side by side, at least four feet and preferably five feet wide. At most, paths are three feet in width, and this is only a single path of two by three bluestones that leads from the driveway to the rear deck.

Bluestones for this path have fewer imperfections than ones on the front walk (though they are similarly thick), and while functional through most of the year, the heavily shaded path can be treacherous when damp. Stones follow the slightly sloping grade, and fortunately the path is short, with a side exit to a circular patio just before the slope becomes most hazardous.Stream

This is a route taken frequently with an armload of something (usually plants) headed into the rear garden, and is the path most often taken by visitors. Just below the round patio is a narrow crossing of a section of the two level pond that sits beneath the rear deck, and then stone steps descend to a lower patio (the colorful one with broken flagging). The steps are remnants of stone brought in from a Canadian source, and I figure that the nearly black, glossy stones are basalt. The five steps are the last of the stock, and with broken edges the stones were purchased for an excellent price, I recall. While the basalt stones do not match any others in color, the broken, but functional steps perfectly suit the look of the garden, where nothing is perfection.Stone steps

The narrow crossing of the pond is another story, a gap of no more than twelve inches that has caught the foot of many visitors who have not yet learned a critical lesson of this garden. Watch where you step. At one time, a light illuminated this cross over, but with few visitors (and fewer after dark) the light has not been repaired for years after the bulb went out, or the transformer has blown, or whatever the problem is.Hosta and nandina along a path

Other, more narrow paths, are laid with a single width of irregular (rather than cut) stones, and often are partially covered by arching hostas or yellow leafed Forest grasses. Liriopes and Mondo grasses, and in one spot rhizomatous stems of sweetbox grow between stones. All of this is disturbing to my wife, who prefers clean lines, and in some areas is fearful that a large leafed hosta might hide a large black snake. Certainly, this has happened a time or two, though I exaggerate for her benefit.

A path that winds from the front door, along the far side of the house, to the rear garden, tells the tale of the progression of the garden over decades. Here, are three separate paths, one added to the next with different stones as sections of the garden were added. The exact timing is foggy, but the newest path is now at least a decade old. All display slumping stones with ever expanding joints, and stones that settled and now are covered in silt, and by debris washed over in the latest rain storm.

Ivy, hosta, and ferns border this bluestone path.The ivy is regularly pruned by my wife to keep it from growing over the stones.

These are paths, not presumed to be walks, with only the requisite that they lead from one area to the next above the slop or mud or decaying leaves. Footing can be (and often is) uneven, and while visitors are forewarned, the stones permit the gardener access while dragging a minimum of debris into the kitchen. This is more trouble than snakes.

Deer in the autumn garden

With a one acre garden chock full of flowers, berries, and leafy treasures, I am pleased to do my small part to feed the neighborhood wildlife. Like it or not, and I don’t, the koi pond should be mentioned for attracting a variety of herons and snakes looking to feast on frogs and small fish. While the gardener can plant to attract bees and butterflies, some wildlife is enticed to visit despite his best efforts, and in recent weeks there have been more than the usual visits from our local deer population.

Why? In the hot and dry late summer many of the garden’s hostas took a premature turn for the worse. So, in August I quit spraying the deer repellent that very successfully encourages them to go elsewhere to snack. The result has been predictable.

Halcyon hosta eaten by deer while Frances Williams has barely been touched. The last deer repellent was sprayed in early August, and with drought damage in late summer it did not seem worthwhile to spray again. Deer will eat their favored hostas, and all will be fine in the spring.

Halcyon hosta eaten by deer while Frances Williams was barely touched until a few weeks later. The last deer repellent was sprayed in late July, and with drought damage in late summer it did not seem worthwhile to spray again.

With the last repellent application in late July, it was about six or seven weeks before the first signs of grazing. First were small leafed hostas, while larger leafed Frances Williams and others were ignored. But, over several weeks deer became bolder, and perhaps less discriminating, munching on hostas along the front walk before moving on to larger leafed varieties. With winter dormancy imminent, this was not a bother, and the progression from one variety to another has been interesting. Until.

To my thinking, the roughly corrugated leaves of Oakleaf hydrangea should not be appetizing to deer, especially as they turn in autumn. Wrong again.

To my thinking, the roughly corrugated leaves of Oakleaf hydrangea should not be appetizing to deer, especially as they turn in autumn. Wrong again.

While there was no concern for the hostas this late in the season, one thing led to another, and a few nibbles of hydrangeas turned to defoliation of lower branches Oakleaf hydrangeas and azaleas. This will not matter much, but along with leaves a few too many branch tips have been chewed off, and spring flower buds of azaleas have been lost. The next thing, I’m certain, will be the aucubas and camellias,which are only bothered in mid winter if I’ve missed one in spraying. So finally, I was spurred to action.

The usual double dose of repellent was sprayed, and I suspect this will be the last of the problem until spring, when the decision must be made when to spray to catch new growth as it opens.



A bit out of control

The edge of the koi pond is getting a bit out of control. Not all of it, but of one hundred twenty feet of stone partially submerged in the pond, a section of perhaps thirty feet of mixed irises has been infiltrated by Japanese silt grass and other annoying weeds.

Japanese irises and Oakleaf hydrangea spill over the edges of the koi pond.

Japanese irises and Oakleaf hydrangea spill over the edges of the koi pond.

Two circumstances contribute to this weediness. One, though my recovery from recent surgery is going remarkably well, it will be weeks (or months) before I am able to squat and bend while balancing precariously on boulders at the pond’s edge. The root of the problem, and the secondary difficulty is that this section of the pond is overgrown by Oakleaf hydrangea, a seedling panicled hydrangea, and Joe Pye weeds so that the weeds gained a foothold even while I was fully capable.The bog filter

A more minor concern is the Northern Brown water snake (or two) that has taken residence in in the pond recent years. Recently, the snake was caught red handed, dragging a small koi into the shallows, the first time that I’ve witnessed the snake(s) doing what I know full well that it’s been doing all along. In any case, I cannot figure a way to rid the pond of the snake, and there are so many koi that the natural predatory cycles are unlikely to make a dent in the population.

For the purposes of clearing the invasive weeds from the pond’s edge, my temporary infirmity is the greater challenge than my concern over a confrontation with the seven foot water snake. With consideration for my current limitations, I have decided to ignore the problem, thus far with limited success.

Painted fern growing in a mossy rock at the pond's edge.

Painted fern growing in a mossy rock at the pond’s edge.

I am pleased that I am able to keep up with the worst of the weeds in the remainder of the garden, so that it does not become a one acre weed patch. But, mostly I am overjoyed to be able to regularly stroll the garden, despite wretched heat that is extraordinary, even for August.

Returning to the garden

While traveling for a few weeks on business, my wife reported regular sightings of a blue heron by the garden’s smaller ponds. The large koi pond is too deep, but in the shallower ponds the heron can stand on the bottom to wait for fish to come out of hiding. I prefer to keep koi only in the deeper, larger pond, but there the numbers continue to increase so that some must be relocated.

Frog on a mossy rock

Moss on this pond side rock has browned a bit in the ninety-eight degree heat, but this frog basks in the sun until I approach.

After any prolonged absence, there is much work to do upon returning, but I’m encouraged, despite spending this ninety-eight degree afternoon pulling weeds and spraying deer repellent. It seems that in two weeks I’ve become acclimated by too many hours in air conditioning, but I survived the day and there’s only a bit remaining for tomorrow. Bumblebee on Swamp mikweed

Two weeks ago, there were few bees on developing flowers of Swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata, above) and Mountain mint (Pycnanthemum muticum, below), but today both are buzzing with activity. In recent years, the vigorous Mountain mint has spread to cover a few hundred square feet of damp ground ground in a mostly sunny spot between a tall blackgum (Nyssa sylvatica) and katsura (Cercidiphyllum japonicum), and the gardener is cautioned to place this native where is will not overwhelm smaller neighbors.  Mountain mint

Mountain mint is easily controlled if it begins to spread where it’s not wanted, but if the gardener is distracted by other projects this is one more thing that might be neglected. To keep the mint from invading a nearby low spreading spruce (Picea abies ‘Acrocona’) I grab and yank a handful once the stems are a foot or taller. The roots pull out cleanly, and my work is done until late next spring. Once it begins flowering in mid July, the mass of blooms will attract bees, wasps, and hoverflies late into the summer.

I find that the many stinging pollinators are too occupied gorging on the Mountain mint’s nectar to pay much attention to me, and rarely am I stung as I come too close and stay too long.

Hounds on the loose

A week ago, my wife and I enjoyed a visit with our loaner dog. On occasions far too rare, we welcome a visit from our son’s greyhound while he and his wife travel. The long legged hound carefully steps through the garden’s uneven stone paths, a remarkable contrast from the floppy eared sister hounds (Daisy and Minnie) who grew old in this garden, who bounded and tumbled as pups, dug until the garden was rid of moles, and who rested their weary old bones in our shady backyard stream.Greyhound in the garden

The two hounds roamed our at-the-time rural neighborhood (long before this was a crime), chased deer through the forest, and generally ignored our attempts at behavioral training. Headstrong and good natured, they were tolerated, and perhaps a wee bit enjoyed by neighbors. Too often, I suspect, the boisterous sisters became a nuisance by collecting treasures from neighborhood garages left open, and by inviting themselves whenever they smelled burgers on the grill.

Minnie cools off after running off to chase deer for a few hours.

Minnie cools off after running off to chase deer for a few hours.

Their passings, after long and joyful lives, were mourned, but now my wife and I are resigned to living dog-free the remainder of our years (with the exception of short visits). Keeping an orderly house, and a well-tended garden are easier without hounds, though I will argue that a bit of disorder is good for the soul.