A turn to summer

The garden has survived with minimal issues after a sudden turn to summer temperatures following recent cool and rainy weeks. I have not fared so well, reserving my daily garden strolls for late evening when the sun is setting, though I suppose I will also survive.

A year ago, yellow leafed coral bells (Heuchera ‘Electric Lime’) faded quickly in a dry spell in June after a damp May, but now there is just enough moisture in the ground and more moderate temperatures are forecast. Still, the change from spring to summer is evident, with a few brown edges to leaves of ‘Autumn Moon’ Japanese maple (Acer shirasawanum ‘Autumn Moon’, below) and others that would be better sited in a shadier spot.  Mophead hydrangeas and a few perennials wilt in the afternoon sun, reviving after sunset, and several hostas in a bit too much sun have begun to fade. If the garden was irrigated summer fading would be lessened, but it’s not so bad, and I’m happy to have a garden able to fend for itself instead of requiring constant attention. If any plant requires more than the rain that fall through the summer, it won’t last long in this garden.

After a slow start, and minor damage from freezing temperatures in March when growth was beginning a few weeks too early, mophead hydrangeas (Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Dear Dolores’, below) have rebounded and are doing splendidly. A year ago, more severe damage required cutting many stems to the ground, and mopheads were slow to recover, flowering sparsely through the late spring and summer. 

Lacecap and Oakleaf hydrangeas (Hydrangea quercifolia, below) are more tolerant of cold, and Oakleafs are particularly robust this spring. Leaves are larger than usual, and flowers are as good as ever. In several areas of the garden, select branches of Oakleaf hydrangeas must be pruned annually so that neighboring plants are not overwhelmed. There are more compact forms, but branches of larger growing Oakleafs sprawl in every direction, up and over smaller neighbors. I try to keep up with such things, but not everything that should be done gets done. 

The yellow leafed Oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia ‘Little Honey’, below) suffered a bit in a brief spell of hot weather in May, with several leaves scorched. It is, however, flowering more abundantly than in previous years, though flowers are considerably smaller than on other Oakleafs. Probably, ‘Little Honey’ would fare better in a shadier spot, but it’s growing vigorously, and it’s far from a favorite, so I’m hardly motivated to move it. At best, the yellow foliage is a novelty, though I’m also not considering chopping it out.

The hybrid daphnes ‘Summer Ice’ (Daphne x transatlantica ‘Summer Ice’,above) and ‘Eternal Fragrance’ (Daphne x transatlantica ‘Eternal Frangrance’, below) are into their third cycle of blooms since the first flowers a few days after freezes passed in mid March. The foliage of ‘Summer Ice’ is superior, but ‘Eternal Fragrance’ flowers more heavily and with greater frequency. Both are marvelous daphnes, and much easier than Winter daphne (Daphne odora) and ‘Carol Mackie’, which are wonderful plants but a little more particular about their circumstances. I’ve found that in this garden daphnes prefer part sun for best flowering through the heat of summer, but flowering is stunted in a bit too much shade.

Funny business

It’s spring, late spring and heating up, but romance is in the air. The newest arrivals have been seen in the koi pond, both fish and Northern Brown water snakes (below). There are concerns about both. 

The pond is home to many dozens of koi and a few goldfish, probably over a hundred not counting the tiny new arrivals, and while the pond is quite large it can hold only so many. A year ago some small koi were moved to the smaller ponds in the garden, and most likely I’ll have to net and transfer more later this year. This is a relatively simple process, but it spooks the remaining fish for a few weeks, so they’re reluctant to surface to feed.

The pond snakes are a bit more of a problem, lurking as they do under boulders at the pond’s edge. I suppose they’re mostly harmless, except to smaller fish that stray too close to the dense thicket of irises and sweetflag in the pond’s filtration area (above), but my wife and I must be cautious with every step around the pond not to encroach of their space.

With the abundance of wildlife in the garden, it’s not surprising that there should be garter and black snakes, but rarely are these seen. Until yesterday, that is, when my wife witnessed two mating on the concrete slab outside our basement door. She was not pleased with the prospect of more snakes, but they keep to themselves and certainly do more good than harm. While I’ve had a few accidental run ins with the pond snakes, there have been no black snake incidents other than one that somehow got into our kitchen a few years ago. 

And of course, there’s more going on than just fish and snakes. The bees are busy doing their thing. In recent weeks I’ve seen far more honeybees than in recent years, and there are always abundant bumblebees. The result of their pollination efforts should be bunches of red berries on hollies in a few months.


The gardener understands that most blooms are fleeting, flowering only for days or a few short weeks. When Japanese irises (Iris ensata, below) flower beside the koi pond from mid May into June, this is accomplished with a succession of cultivars, and so it is with daylilies (Hemerocallis) and other ornaments in our gardens. Changes are most notable when the gardener is gone for a period, and even after an absence of five days the difference is considerable.

Fading of flowers of the Bigleaf magnolia (Magnolia macrophylla) and Chinese dogwoods (Cornus kousa) was expected in the second week of June, with blooms remaining only on a partially shaded ‘Satomi’ dogwood (below). In the heat of the typical Virginia spring, ‘Satomi’ and the hybrid ‘Stellar Pink’ rarely display any more than a slight blush of pink. ‘Stellar’ barely showed the slightest pink blush in late April into May, while ‘Satomi’ is more pink than usual, though not the color of the pink flowered native dogwood (Cornus florida ‘Rubra’).

The Bigleaf magnolia (below) is treasured, though it is coarsely branched with outsized leaves and flowers to match. I once pleached a Paulownia (until it became an unbearable nuisance), which curbed its flowering, but resulted in leaves two feet or more in length. The Bigleaf magnolia requires no such treatment, with leaves nearly to two feet and typical magnolia flowers at least a foot across. Unfortunately, as ‘Satomi’ and ‘Stellar Pink’ dogwoods have grown, and under its own dense canopy, lower branches of the magnolia have become shaded, and flowers are moving too high in the tree to be appreciated close up. In any case, the remaining flowers faded while I was traveling for several days. As a not so small consolation, flowers from upper most branches litter the stone path beneath the tall Stewartia (Stewartia pseudocamellia, below), and soon marble sized flower buds on more shaded lower branches will open. 

Stewartia is a slow starter, requiring a good decade before it becomes much of a tree. While I am most impatient, it is fortunate that other treasures occupied my attention while this marvelous tree developed. As with too many other favorites, I wish now that it was given a more prominent position, but the gardener must balance joy and disappointment.

A day in the garden

Occasionally, business travel allows me to escape the office, and today my workday ended early and in the vicinity of the Oregon Garden in Silverton, on the other side of the country from my Virginia home. I’ve visited the Garden several times since its early days, but it’s been a few too many years in between and it’s come a long way.

Visiting other people’s gardens, or public gardens, gets me to thinking, and as I strolled, I thought that it’s a good thing I didn’t buy that house with ten acres twenty eight years ago. No doubt, I’d have gone broke years ago trying to fill every inch.

If I had the space, an unlimited budget, and a bunch of folks to help with maintenance, this is what I’d do. I’d plant lots of Japanese maples (which I have), one of every conifer I could find, flowering trees and ones with pendulous branching, and I’d fill the spaces between with flowering shrubs and perennials. Certainly, my efforts would not be so tastefully put together as this fine garden.

Japanese maples are scattered through the garden. I’ve noted a few that are missing from my garden that I must have.

While I’m thankful that some sunny spots in my garden permit planting of Japanese Umbrella pines, Alaskan cedars, and a variety of spruces, the Oregon Garden recalls my regret that shade from tall maples and tulip poplars limits conifers to a small section of the garden.

With a later spring, Styrax is flowering several weeks later than in Virginia.

Deutzia Magicien has just faded from bloom in my garden, so I was happy to see it here.

I try to be thankful for what I have, but this garden reminds me that there are so many treasures I’m missing, and if there was space enough and sunlight enough, I could plant just a few more. This garden is a place to enjoy usual and unusual plants, and to get one to dreaming about what could be.

I am easily seduced by oversized leaves, such as this gigantic butterbur.


The ‘Sparkelberry’ hollies are flowering, which is not a showy event, but a necessity if there are to be bunches of red berries in autumn. A dozen paces down the hill a newly planted male counterpart ‘Apollo’ is also in bloom.

With a male counterpart close by, there should be berries on ‘Sparkleberry’ hollies (below) this autumn. I will be disappointed if not.

For several years, sparse berries have made the absence of a male pollinator obvious. Once, branches of the hollies arched under the weight of red berries, and what happened to the male, I don’t know. After talking about it, but doing nothing for too long, I finally got around to planting a pollinator this spring. Now, the only problem should be linking the male and females, but that is up to the bees. I trust they’ll make it work.

Other hollies in the garden flower earlier, and several already have green berries that will slowly ripen to red through the summer. It is often unclear to me which hollies require a separate male for pollination, and what other holly is the pollinator, but there is no doubt that ‘Sparkleberry’ and other deciduous hollies require male and females that flower at the same time.

For whatever reason, there have never been so many hosta and fern seedlings (sporelings for ferns) in the garden. No doubt, damp conditions this spring have something to do with this. Some seedlings will remain, but others are growing too close to paths, and these will be weeded out.

One seedling hosta that I’ve kept is an unremarkable, somewhat sickly looking yellow with narrow leaves. It is far from beautiful, but most of the seedlings are large leafed and green or blue-green, so the yellow leafed hosta earned its place for being different. Some of the hostas have been around long enough that I don’t recall which ones were planted from ones that are seedlings.

Peacock spikemoss spreads slowly in damp, part sun.

Recently, I transplanted a few small patches of a spike moss that has spread vigorously and evidently found a happy home. These do not have a typical root system, so the transplant process is only a matter of lifting the stems without injuring them, and anchoring them in the new location so they’re not blown out of the soil. After a few weeks, the transplants appear to be doing fine, but it will be months before I know if the new environment is conducive to growth.

A glorious spring

Each spring is unique, but to comment that one weather phenomena or another has never happened before is rarely correct. The gardener should not get too worked up about late freezes or fluctuations from frost to ninety degrees within a week. This year, late winter drought was followed in mid spring by weeks of heavy rain alternating with summer heat, and through it all, the garden is as good as ever, probably at its best, though I could be guilty of saying that every year.

Japanese iris at the margins of the koi pond begin to flower in late May, with one variety after the other blooming for a month.

Short of catastrophic damage by tornado, flood, or earthquake, the garden is more resilient than the gardener expects. This is not the first time that frost and freeze have arrived late in April, and the gardener should barely be surprised if ninety degree temperatures arrive to meet the magnolias blooming in March. Parched ground or floods are to be expected, perhaps on alternating weeks. No matter how the gardener whines that this month or that has never been worse, it has.

This cold hardy terrestrial orchid (Bletilla striata) has spread steadily, and flowers persist for several weeks through May and early June.

An ill timed freeze in March damaged blooms of magnolias and early flowering cherries, but several weeks later the gardener was consoled by mild temperatures and extended blooming of redbuds and dogwoods. One thing after another, the gardener is beset by inconveniences, but the garden muddles through. One week he moans that spring has been ruined, but the next Carolina silverbells are blooming, and soon, miseries are long forgotten.

Indian pinks (Spigelia marilandica) are beginning to flower. I’ve transplanted several of this clumping perennials around to find a suitable exposure, and a few vigorous clumps have justified the move into a bit more sun.

At the start of June there is little doubt that the garden’s peak will be short lived. Soon, summer heat will take its toll, particularly in a garden without irrigation. Plants will survive, but the luster of spring will be lost in the heat.

Happily, this clump of milkweed has spread this spring. It remains a bit difficult to get to, so no Monarchs, though there are abundant swallowtails throughout the garden.



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.