Disappointment and joy

A recurring theme in the garden (and in life, I suppose), is that things do not always turn out as you want, or expect. My best guess is that more works out for the better than the worse, and often the bad is not so horrible, just disappointing.

Unhappily, the weedy yellow flag iris (Iris pseudacrous, above) has invaded further into spaces between boulders in the koi pond to crowd out less vigorous, but highly regarded Japanese irises (Iris ensata, below). The aggressive, yellow flowered irises were planted in a bluestone gravel filtration area of the pond, which seemed like a good idea at the time, but long ago was acknowledged as folly. Fortunately, the invasive iris is safely enclosed in the koi pond’s closed system, so it does not escape into surrounding wetlands, but it has become a lovely nuisance.

The flowers are a delight, but I figured it would spread from rhizomes, which it does, and these could be successfully managed. While it didn’t happen overnight, I failed to anticipate that yellow flag would also spread its seed to every spot of soil or gravel in shallow water, and particularly that it would inflict harm upon the more colorful and treasured Japanese irises. If the project was feasible, yellow flag would be long gone, but I’ve given up hope that it’s possible to extricate the good from the bad irises without more effort than I’m capable of.

Interestingly, on dry ground in the garden, more than once I’ve seen innocent, ordinary plants crowd out ones reputed to be overly aggressive. Seedlings of ‘Espresso’ geranium (Geranium maculatum ‘Espresso’, above) have overwhelmed what had been a spreading patch of Cypress spurge (Euphorbia cyparissias), and in the koi pond variegated Sweetflag (Acorus calamus ‘Variegatus’, below) has pushed yellow flag into a corner, half the space it occupied a few years ago. This is of no help to Japanese irises on the far side of the pond, but at the least there will not be only yellow flags surrounding the pond.

There’s thinking too little, which I am often guilty of (if you ask my wife), but also too much, and while I did not think through the planting of yellow flag to filter the koi pond, I delayed planting Chinese ground orchids (Bletilla striata, below) for too many years, overthinking, presuming it would be too delicate for my often negligent care. In fact, a few failed to thrive in damp or shaded spots, but where they’ve taken, they’re far from delicate. In one area, a gold leafed carex flops onto the thriving clump of orchids that has spread from a few tiny plants to several dozen in only a few years. I like the carex, but not that much, and there’s no doubt that orchids are favored if it comes down to one or the other. And, unlike the yellow flags, I can get at the grass to dig it out. 


The rear garden in May

Several readers have asked, so here it is. At the bottom of this page is a lengthy video of the rear garden, taken with the assistance of a marvelous gadget called a gimbal stablilizer, that allowed me to walk without the video jumping up and down. I can’t hold the camera still standing still, much less walking and going up and down steps. Going from one pond to another I step several feet down on boulders. I can hardly tell.

The video was edited a bit to cut out some of the dead spots, but I couldn’t figure a way to make this shorter and show everything. So, if you’re properly motivated to watch for ten minutes, you’ll see most of what I see when I’m rambling through the garden.

I decided against background music. but you’ll hear plenty of noise from water and birds. The video was taken just before a downpour, so there are no sounds from neighborhood lawnmowers in the background, and only a short session of a dog barking. You will notice the variety of birds. When dogs aren’t barking and lawnmowers roaring, this is what we hear.

I’m not able to see the video on my phone without going to YouTube, for some reason, so I hope you can. I can see it on my desktop just fine. This is the link to the YouTube page just in case https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=INNdt8Oo838

A vigorous vine

While many clematis are slow to get started, Clematis montana ‘Rubens’ (below) has been vigorous from the start. To my recollection, this is the third (and best) try for a vine to cover the railing of the deck outside the kitchen window. I’m a bit foggy what the the first was, but the second will not be forgotten.

The Chocolate vine (Akebia quinata, below) is lovely, but a thug disguised in handsome foliage. For several years, varied excuses were made until the vigorous vine had covered one side of deck, and sent numerous stems twenty feet under the deck to cover the far side railing. And, of course, it didn’t stop there. Finally, enough was determined to be too much, and the vine was dug out. But, like a wisteria that returned each spring long after it was dug out, scattered Chocolate vines reappear somewhere each April. Fortunately, these are easily removed, and they remind that a wisteria or Chocolate vine can be beautiful, but a painful experience.

But back to the clematis, which is small flowered in comparison to several others in the garden, but serves the purpose of covering the deck railing superbly. A few years ago the dense foliage hid a small snake that appeared occasionally to sun itself, but cold winters damaged the vine so today it’s not quite as full. The pale pink flowers are unremarkable compared to other boldly colored clematis, but Clematis montana ‘Rubens’ serves a purpose, and serves it well.


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.


The garden’s inventory gets longer as my memory gets shorter, I fear. Perhaps it’s just today, but I can hardly recall what’s planted where if it’s not up and growing. As I add new plantings this is likely to result in conflicts, and with planting a few Japanese maples last week it occurs to me that this collection is getting larger, and already there are more than a few cultivar names that I’ve forgotten.

An unidentified pink camellia has minor freeze damage. Other buds opening later are unblemished.

Don’t feel sorry for me. Despite being color blind, half deaf (the half that can’t hear my wife), scent challenged, and with a variety of parts that are fused, busted, or worn out, I’m getting along just fine. In a spark of motivation (or boredom), the spring clean up of the worst of the mess that I plan to get around to was finished up by mid-March. Other parts just won’t get done, as usual, but once leaves are out most of this won’t be seen as long as you don’t look too hard. As the prerogative of the gardener, I apologize for nothing.

The worst of the debris has been cleaned from the garden’s ponds. Raindrops ripple along one pond’s edge.

Hopefully, the eye (at least mine) is distracted by lovely blooms and fine foliage, and that’s what the garden is about. Most definitely, I don’t care much for chores that others claim are a part of the garden’s joy. Not mine. There are lots of necessary evils in the garden. Who can possibly enjoy weeding? But, it must be done. Occasionally, and as little as possible.

With mild temperatures forecast for this week, flower buds of Dr. Merrill magnolia are ready, with a minimum of freeze damage.

After twenty-nine years in this garden the goal continues to be to cram in as many beauties as possible, and someday, cover every inch with something so that not a weed can grow. I’m working hard on the beauties, but the weed free part will probably never happen. But, every year it gets a bit closer. And, if I cannot possibly reach this point, at the least I can add more distractions.

Winter jasmine

Better judgment, too rarely exercised in this garden, recommends that I not photograph yellow blooms of Winter jasmine that arch over the edge of the koi pond.

A wide growing paperbush along side of the pond makes viewing of the Winter jasmine (Jasminum nudiflorum) ever more treacherous, with the route over slick boulders at the pond’s edge narrowing each year. In fact, there is little reason to view the jasmine’s blooms close up since they are unremarkable and scentless, but every flower in winter is treasured, so I’m compelled to get as near as possible.

Inarguably, the unruly Winter jasmine is an excellent choice to stabilize hillsides, and it can be charming as it tumbles over stone walls. But, at pond’s edge I question its value, never mind that it harbors a Northern Brown water snake that has become a considerable nuisance. The jasmine is here to stay, I suspect, since it can be removed only with great difficulty, and with a constant threat of tumbling into the pond.

A winter wildlife update

Squirrels are less frequently seen at the birdfeeder after applying a pepper sauce to sunflower seeds. A year ago, a recommended switch to safflower seed achieved a similar result, but purchasing fifty pound bags of sunflower seeds and the pepper sauce is considerably cheaper. Birds, from my observation, prefer the sunflower seeds.

As is typical when conflicts arise between man and beast, my wife is quite ruthless, and would happily rid the planet of any snake or squirrel that becomes a nuisance. In fairness, squirrels became a considerable problem in our attic for several years, and my wife has had several unpleasant confrontations with a variety of snakes in the garden and by the koi pond. Repeatedly, I advise her that it is probably best that she remain indoors.

I will state for the record that I am the more kind hearted of the two of us, but perhaps it could be argued that I am more likely than my wife to ignore a problem. It is a fact that I will end up being the one who must resolve a squirrel or snake problem, so most vanish into the wild before action is taken.

After failing to spray the late autumn deer repellent a year ago until after significant damage was done, the double winter dose was applied right on schedule in November. Though evidence of deer tracking through the garden is common, I see no damage, and expect none until the initial spring application in April.

I hear gardeners claim that repellents are ineffective, but I’ve found that alternating two types of repellent, or mixing the hot pepper sauce into the repellent every other month, works dependably. The proof, from my experience, is that it’s not unusual for me to miss a plant or two when I spray each month from April to November. When the last application wears off (usually at 5-6 weeks, depending on rainfall), deer find the ones I missed, and don’t bother the rest.

There is a bit of problem down the road, and occasionally in the forest behind the garden, with a flock of buzzards. I know what brings them around, but it seems that they just watch and wait. They’re far enough outside the garden that they’re no more than a curiosity, and even more intriguing are red tailed hawks that perch on the tree lilac branch that holds the birdfeeder. That keeps the squirrels away.

I wonder also, why geese that congregate by the hundreds on neighboring lawns, don’t encroach on our property? There’s not much to the front lawn, and the dogs are long gone, so maybe there’s not enough to bother with. Certainly, I’m not complaining. Perhaps the geese have been alerted to my wife’s reputation.