A new flower every day

After weeks of cool temperatures the weather suddenly turned past warm to hot, and even if this was only for a few days the soaring temperatures have had an immediate effect on the garden. Blooms that were delayed for weeks have popped out in quick succession, and each day brings new flowers. In fact, due to ninety degree temperatures, some flowers that typically bloom in the relative coolness of mid March have gone from bud to bloom, and then past their peak in only a few days.Dr. Merrill magnolia flowering in April

The early flowering magnolias were tardy by weeks, but last week they went from tight bud to full bloom within hours, it seemed. By the end of the week the flowers of ‘Dr. Merrill’ (Magnolia x loebneri ‘Dr. Merrill’, above) and ‘Royal Star’ (Magnolia stellata ‘Royal Star’, below) are fading quickly, and the later blooming ‘Jane’ (Magnolia x ‘Jane’) and ‘Elizabeth’ (Magnolia acuminata ‘Elizabeth’) are nearly at their peak.Royal Star magnolia in early April

There are two cherries in the garden, the early flowering ‘Okame’ (Prunus x incamp ‘Okame) and the common weeping pink (Prunus subhirtella ‘Pendula’, below) that grows so large that it overwhelms many suburban properties. Most weeping cherries are grafted onto a six foot trunk, and somehow this gives the illusion that the tree is more dwarf, but as the tree in my garden attests, it will grow to thirty feet tall and wide. Fortunately, I’ve had the benefit of witnessing this error in placement at least fourteen thousand times, and occasionally I pay attention so that I’ve gotten this one right.Weeping pink cherry in early April

The pink weeping cherry in my garden is not grafted, but grown on its own roots. The habit of this cherry is that upright arching branches mound upon one another, so when it is not grafted onto a straight trunk it must be staked to grow upright or it looks shrub-like at a young age. I suspect that without a graft it grows larger more quickly, but there is no doubt that the grafted ones grow just as tall and wide. The white weeping form ‘Snow Fountain’ (Prunus x ‘Snofozam’) grows half the height and width of the pink variety, so it is more appropriate for most properties. Both are lovely trees, but I think it shameful to have to butcher a tree so that it doesn’t overwhelm walks or driveways as the the pink so often does when misplaced.

The longest delayed flowers in the garden due to the cold are the hybrid camellias ‘Winter’s Star’ (below) and ‘Winter’s Interlude’ planted alongside the driveway. Others planted twenty feet away, but with a bit more sunlight, flowered splendidly beginning in November into December, and I recall that ‘Winter’s Star’ by the drive had a bloom or two before cold weather set it. With extreme warm winter temperatures a year ago, the hybrid camellias continued to flower through January. Most years a few buds will begin to open on warm days, but then the partially opened flowers are severely damaged by freeze. Some buds remain unopened, and usually prolonged freezing temperatures dry the buds so they are not viable once warm weather arrives in March.Winter's Star camellia flowering in April

But, today ‘Winter’s Star’ and ‘Winter’s Interlude’ are in full bloom, only five months late. In the next week I expect the spring blooming camellias (Camellia japonica) to begin flowering, that is, if deer have not nibbled the buds along with the tips of foliage that I neglected to spray with repellent in late November as I’m supposed to. By mid winter my neglect had turned into a science experiment, and now it is confirmed that if the repellent is not sprayed deer will find the unprotected plants. They will eat their preferred azaleas and aucubas first, then move on to the camellias, so that all of these must flush growth this spring to be recognizable as more than bare sticks. This is quite enough experimentation, nothing new was learned, and this episode only verifies that I am too often a lazy fool.White dogwood just before peak bloom

Now, I’ve wandered on too long, so I’ll close for the day, but with much more to talk about in the coming days. The redbuds and dogwoods (above) are coming out, and serviceberry is nearly at its peak. This long delayed blooming season will result in a marvelous April.


The magnolia watch – when will they flower?

In past years ‘Royal Star’ (Magnolia stellata ‘Royal Star’) and ‘Dr. Merrill’ (Magnolia x loebneri ‘Dr. Merrill’) magnolias have flowered in early March in my garden, or sometimes nearer the end of the month. And, occasionally the blooms will arrive in late February or slip to early April, so there’s no early or late flowering time that could be considered surprising. Flowering of the magnolias is most dependent on temperatures, and with cooler weather over the past six weeks they are behind a bit.  There’s no reason to be disturbed by this, but I’ve become impatient with the persistent cold of this early spring. In years when the magnolias flower early the blooms are threatened by frost and freeze, with heavy frost turning the edges to brown, and a freeze transforming the flowers to brown mush.Star magnolia breaking bud

But not this year, at least not yet, and certainly not in my garden. The garden is at the bottom of foothills that nestle closely to the eastern edge of the Blue Ridge mountains, and cold air settles into the bottom land so that the garden is a bit colder than surrounding properties. There is an advantage in that the howling winter breezes blow right over the garden, but anything that flowers in the spring blooms much later than areas closer to the city and often several days or a week later than in gardens right up the street. When you see it here, it’s not news. It’s more like a replay unless you’re a state or two to the north.Dr. Merrill magnolia

In any case, it’s the last week of March and the magnolias aren’t flowering yet. With cooler than average temperatures over the past month I expect that flowering of many trees and shrubs will be delayed. Several years ago, a similar weather pattern delayed many flowers into April, so that magnolias bloomed with redbuds and dogwoods. I don’t recall that I was any more patient in waiting for spring’s arrival, but the delay resulted in a most delightful April with double the typical blooms.Royal Star magnolia

‘Dr. Merrill’ was severely damaged in the straight line windstorm last summer. Magnolias often grow as low branched or multi-trunked trees, and ‘Dr. Merrill’ had forked into two main trunks. The weak spot for such branching is the joint of the two trunks, but instead the tree was shattered fifteen feet higher. So, now one trunk rises twenty some feet through a clump of viburnums at the wood’s edge, and the other trunk ends abruptly ten feet below.

The point where the trunk snapped grew some feeble branches in late summer, but since the tree backs up to the forest I have a bit of leeway not to have to worry too much about pruning the broken trunk. I expect that enough foliage will grow after flowering to disguise the break, and everything will blend in with the low branched maples of the forest so that it will barely be noticed in another month. Still, I’m anxious for some flowers.

Men are inclined to collect?

A few days ago I was reading a story about Colchicums in the English gardening magazine Gardens Illustrated (my favorite magazine, with superb writing, though the gardens hardly translate to the much warmer and more humid mid Atlantic region of America). The author related that he, like many men, has a tendency to collect. I was struck by this comment. Certainly, in my garden I’m an inveterate collector, but is this an attribute (or curse) of men in general, I wondered? It had not occurred to me that I could be following a genetic impulse rather than a personal inclination, so further investigation was required.Autumn crocus in early November

I Googled for the answer. There must be studies to confirm this. Or, perhaps this is a long observed fact, and only I have missed out and it is widely taken for granted. But, I found nothing, not even a mention. Now, it occurs to me that collecting could be confined only to male gardeners, though this again seems a bit too broad. Is it plausible, and how could I have missed it?Royal Star magnolia in early March

You, dear reader, are likely to be reading and shaking your head at my cluelessness. But, I see no reason to apologize, and in fact it seems somehow noble to desire to plant every magnolia or every recognized Japanese maple. Why, you ask? Simply, if the gardener falls madly in love with the early spring flowering ‘Royal Star’ magnolia, is there not a likelihood that he will be similarly smitten by ‘Dr. Merrill’ or the pale yellow ‘Elizabeth’? Of course, yes.Elizabeth magnolia in late March

I’ve read that there are at least twenty-five thousand distinct varieties of Japanese maples in cultivation, and though it seems ridiculous to aspire to planting them all (unless one has a garden of substantial size), a minor collection of twenty-five or so seems quite reasonable. With this relatively small number the gardener can experience trees of nearly every color, shape, and size without undo repetition. Why plant a flowering plum or pear when there are infinitely more interesting choices (with the exception of the gardener who finds these extraordinary, and in this case a collection of plums and pears is unquestionably appropriate)?Shaina Japanese maple

And, it’s not that the garden is only Japanese maples and magnolias. There are other, smaller collections of dogwoods and redbuds, nandinas, azaleas, mahonias, and more. Also, there are probably a few one-of’s out there. I’ve planted this garden to please only me, and I don’t care much if anyone has to say that it’s only a compilation of collections. If that’s not truly a garden, it’s not a bother to me.

Golden Full Moon Japanese maple in mid April

If you’ve followed these pages for long, no doubt you’re aware that much of what I do in the garden displeases my wife (who prefers more open space, and even lawn), so if I can tolerate her barbs not much else is likely to disturb me. If I want to plant one of every cold hardy passionflower vine, or another magnolia (or five), that’s what I’ll do, and it’s no matter that this is more evidence to substantiate the generalization that men are collectors. Perhaps it’s a fact, and if so, good for us.Passion vine blooming in late August

Early spring flowering magnolias

A few days ago I was wandering about the garden, and noticed that the flower buds on ‘Jane’ magnolia (Magnolia x ‘Jane’, on Monday and further below, Wednesday) were beginning to break, but that the buds on ‘Dr. Merrill’ and ‘Royal Star’ were still closed. ‘Jane’ usually flowers later than the others, but it is planted just off the driveway and with more heat and sunnier days in March the reflected heat has forced it into bloom a little earlier. At the time I suspected that the other early spring blooming magnolias would not flower for at least a week, but after three days with temperatures in the mid-seventies they are beginning to pop.

It’s not unusual for the magnolias to flower in early March, nor is it uncommon for the blooms to be injured by frost and freezes that occur with regularity through the month, and even into early April. With the recent warm days, and more forecast over the next two weeks, it’s unlikely that the flowers will be injured by cold, though they will probably fade a bit more quickly in the heat.

‘Jane’ is the most dependable of the spring blooming magnolias in my garden, and it will often flower sporadically through the summer into early autumn. In most years it flowers two weeks later than the other magnolias, and the blooms have more substance so that it is more tolerant of cold. I read varying reports on the eventual size of ‘Jane’, with most sources saying ten feet tall and wide, but in my garden it’s pushed a few feet taller and several wider so that it is now crammed into a space between a dwarf peach and a Goldenrain tree. The arching, wide spreading branches often require pruning to keep the driveway clear, but ‘Jane’ is a wonderful tree where there is adequate space.

The spring flowering magnolias tend to be shrub like rather than single trunk trees, so an established tree occupies a considerable space with low slung branches that prohibit walking under the tree. Beneath ‘Jane’ I’ve planted drifts of ‘February Gold’ daffodils that usually fade by the time the purple-pink flowers arrive, but not this year, so in a few days I expect quite a clash of colors. Oh well, plans in the garden rarely work exactly as expected, and often the accidents work out splendidly. We’ll see.

‘Royal Star’ (Magnolia stellata ‘Royal Star’ above) is more shrub than tree-like, and its growth is slower and more compact than ‘Jane’ (though references state otherwise). Its flowers are more delicate and susceptible to frost injury, and in some years it will flower in late February, though it has never done so in my cold natured garden.

I consider the flowers of ‘Royal Star’ to be superior to ‘Jane’, though for no particular reason. Otherwise, I prefer the larger size and more vigorous habit of ‘Jane’. There are years when ‘Royal Star’ flowers early in March when frost turns the blooms to brown mush after only a few days, but even then the early color is welcomed.

‘Dr. Merrill’ magnolia (Magnolia x loebneri ‘Dr. Merrill’ or sometimes ‘Merrill’, above) often flowers in my garden just before ‘Royal Star’, though the blooms are more resistant to cold damage. It is a multi-trunked tree, but its form is much more upright and taller than the other early flowering magnolias. ‘Dr. Merrill’s’ flowers are similar, but slightly broader than the star magnolia’s, and with ascending rather than more horizontal branching the flowers are often far up into the tree. For whatever reason, ‘Dr. Merrill’ has not gained popularity and is rarely found in garden centers, but I find it to be quite satisfactory.

After a few more weeks the pale yellow ‘Elizabeth’ (Magnolia acuminata ‘Elizabeth’) will bloom, and of course as soon as it does you’ll see it. Its growth is similar to ‘Dr. Merrill’, but the later bloom time rarely results in damage to flowers. I’ve seen the similar ‘Yellow Bird’ and prefer its brighter yellow, but I haven’t space for another magnolia so I’ll have to admire it in other gardens.