September 14, 2010

Gone for a While

I'll be back in early October.

See ya!

September 12, 2010

Glossy Abelia

It's supposed to bloom all summer, starting in May.  It has clear pink tiny blossoms to complement the spring and early summer garden.

Did it bloom in May?  No.  It did not bloom in June.  Nor July.  Not in August.

But it did in September just as the Autumn Joy sedum started to get rosy and the stalks of blackberry lily dried up, their shiny black seedpods long gone:

It burst out just as the Itea's leaves above it began to turn rusty red:

This mounding arching shrub with the pink flowers is Abelia grandiflora 'Edward Goucher', called glossy abelia because of its small glistening leaves.  It has been the slowest, tardiest plant to get going in my garden.

I planted Edward Goucher in 2007, but lost the first one over the winter in 2008.  Kevin at Farmington Valley Nursery, where I had bought it, replaced it for me at no cost, no questions asked. The second one came back in 2009, but barely, and remained a rather empty hole in the garden although it did survive.  This year, in 2010, it slowly filled in, but I had given up on any blooms after the entire summer had passed.

But then it took off in late summer, and by September it was a show to behold!

To be fair, abelia is not hardy here.  It's a zone 6 plant, and I am growing it in my zone 5 New England garden.  So it dies back to the ground each year, and that sets it back quite a bit.  That's a good thing because it won't ever get wildly large and rangy as abelias in the south can.  But it does delay the flowers by months.

I have been looking at an empty space in the garden since 2007, and was none too pleased with puny Edward.  But patience has been rewarded, and after four years this beautiful 2 foot high filler with its glossy leaves, arching stems and late season display is a now keeper.

September 10, 2010

Endless Sunshine

All summer long we have suffered here in my part of the world with too little rain.  It was the hottest summer on record in this state.  It was dry... we got an inch and a half for all of July, and an inch and a half fell once in all of August.  We normally get 3 to 4 inches a month here.

Yet each time I tune in to our local weather on TV, the breathless weatherboy is excitedly telling us "great news Keesha: no rain in the forecast, a glorious weekend coming up."

The chirpy news chickie (sorry, the newswoman) then squeaks: "oooh, Garrett, I hope there's no rain in the long term forecast either to ruin any outdoor plans.  Can you guarantee that?"

And the goofy meteorologist then giggles, "hee hee,  I'll see what I can do"

What?!  Is absolutely everyone in southern New England a beach volleyball player?  Is it that important to have constant sunny perfection for perpetual outdoor entertainment?  Should we just be done with it and import some palm trees?

Does no one garden or tend the earth here?  Some sensitivity, please.  I'm dying here, parched and suffering.  Where is the news about the gardener's and farmer's real and serious issues?

30 years ago it was no different.  In her classic 1981 collection of essays "Green Thoughts"  Eleanor Perenyi complained about Connecticut meteorologists hyping the weather with no connection to its effect on the earth or on the plants and crops that grow on it.

Her assessment was that Americans (more so than Europeans) need to dominate their natural surroundings, including any variability in weather.  And Americans have lost touch with nature, learning to fear anything that does not mimic our well controlled indoor environments.  That was true in her day and it's even more true in today's climate controlled homes, buildings and cars.

There's a whole month's worth of posts that could be written about Americans' relationship to nature and the outdoors.  You could read Last Child in the Woods about nature deficit disorder, or you could follow our state's No Child Left Inside programs that reconnect children with the outdoors (we need structured programs to get kids outside??)

Or you could stop watching the weather entertainment on TV.  It is simply chatter about how much fun everyone will have if only it doesn't rain and the sun just shines. 

If you are outdoors all day you don't need to hear a weather forecast.  As Eleanor Perenyi writes, the gardener knows "rain really is imminent when the leaves turn their backs to the wind, smoke goes to ground and the earthworms rise to the surface."

Rain.  My idea of a fun weekend.

September 8, 2010

Dainty Dimity

I love this fleeceflower.  It's Persicaria affinis 'Dimity', also synonymous with Polygonom affine 'Superba'.  I like the name Dimity better... it sounds dainty and that describes this little groundcover with its cute pipecleaner spires.

It is knotweed, yes, a member of that awful horrid family.  But it is a little low grower, six inches high, a mat of clean green foliage tinged with red, and it spreads but is very well behaved.  It sits in front of its fat glossy neighbor Bergenia 'Rosi Klose' and they seem to like each other.

Cyndy at Gardening Asylum did a post on 3 kinds of knotweeds earlier this summer, and I loved her big giant polymorpha.  That one is going to be in my garden just as soon as I completely redesign my beds to provide enough room for it.

Meanwhile, I'm enjoying the little one, the dainty Dimity, as it spreads nicely to cover the bare spots in the front of my garden.

This patch of garden has Dimity fleeceflower and a small amsonia 'Blue Ice' planted together.  You can see the amsonia's foliage at the top of this photo. They are both low plants with medium green lance shaped leaves, which would normally be too similar to look very good in combination.  But the fleeceflower is sturdy and stiff, with upright spikes, and the amsonia is loose and waves in a breeze.  They look great together, in this case because of contrasting movement rather than form or color.

You should see Dimity in fall, when the leaves turn rich maroon, contrasting with the clear yellow fall foliage of the amsonia next to it, and the flaming colors of a big maple above.  Then, in winter, the fleeceflower's foliage hangs on, making a dark rusty red streak that peeks out of the snow before it gets too deep.

It amazes me how persicarias can come in such widely different sizes and forms.  And how some of the cousins in the family can be so thuggish and others so cute and sweet.

September 6, 2010

Lost in a Maze

The goldenrod in the meadow is 6 feet tall and it's everywhere, in solid stands, a massive monoculture of stiff stalks and plumy golden tassels.

How can this be an ornamental?  I know there are smaller solidago cultivars, and I know it's widely planted in European gardens, but really, I wouldn't have it in mine.  Actually I do have it, because it self sows from the meadow into my adjacent gardens and lawn all summer and I weed, weed, weed it.

I'm thinking of cutting paths in the meadow and charging families a dollar for the scary treat of taking their children through my goldenrod maze.  But I'm afraid some would get lost and their parents would abandon them, and then I'd have ..... children.  In the meadow.

Corn mazes appear around the state in summer, and Lyman Orchards has a sunflower maze in a 3 acre field near their apple orchards.  Check out the designs in the link, they're quite creative! 

They have viewing platforms that rise above the sunflowers so you can view the design from above --- I thought they were lifeguard stations to rescue anyone hopelessly lost in the maze.

Flickr: Lynn Gardner
But why plant sunflowers or corn, when every year a dense field of goldenrod takes over the meadow and I just need to mow some paths? 

I have tree saplings planted throughout the meadow and on the steep hill behind it.  Eventually the trees will create a forest of shade to discourage all the sun-loving goldenrod, but right now the goldenrod towers above all else, reaching up into the canopy of the bigger trees, and simply overwhelming the littlest saplings.

I do not try to move about in the meadow in summer. Too many ticks, too hot and sunny, and late in the summer trying to get through the stands of goldenrod requires the skill of a jungle trekker with a machete.  But this year I needed to get water to the thirsting saplings, so I hauled hoses and watering cans out there every other week or so.  I was out there yesterday.

What an ordeal!  I had to hack and chop my way through to the trees, and I had to know where they were by instinct, since the goldenrod baffled and engulfed and disoriented me.  It was truly like being in a maze, but I had to create my own paths.  I really need some viewing platforms out there.

Goldenrod does not cause the hayfever allergy that plagues so many sufferers this month.  That would be ragweed, which uses air pollination to reproduce, a ridiculous strategy that requires billions and billions of pollen particles to be released into the air in the hopes that the wind will randomly carry a few to a female flower.

Instead, goldenrod is insect pollinated, so it doesn't spew pollen into the air.  As a true insect attractor, it has very showy, bright flowers to lure them.  And I have to admit they are beautiful plumes.

I have to go back out into the field today.  Yesterday I left a watering can out there by mistake.  It's bright blue plastic and is easy to spot.  Easy, that is, if it weren't lying at the bottom of a vast canyon of goldenrod towers. 

If I don't come back in shortly, come out and call me.  I'll be lost in the labyrinth of a wild goldenrod maze.  I think I could navigate back in from the sound of your voice.

September 4, 2010

Earl? Earl?

The weather event of the summer in New England completely missed us.  Hurricane Earl slid by to the east (my little patch of earth is just above the a in Hartford on the map).

Although we were within 10 miles of the edge of the hurricane we got not a drop of rain, not a whisper of a breeze.  You could see the heavy burdened clouds lumbering just to our east.  You could smell the rain in the air.  You could almost hear the pelting sound of driving rain hitting the hard earth just over the ridge beyond.  But here, nothing at all.
No wind was a relief, of course.  But it hasn't rained nearly enough all summer and I have been daunted trying to get any water out to the back hill and meadow where I have dozens of little saplings struggling in the heat and drought.  I've been daunted trying to water the gardens and new transplants in my yard, and even the established trees look sad.  I've even been overwhelmed trying to water the unhappy containers baking on the patio every day.

Rain in the forecast was welcome, so I held off on the watering chores, expecting several inches of heavy collateral precipitation from the edge of the hurricane.  You couldn't help hearing about it all week.... Earl's coming!  Rain is coming!  I watched its track up the east coast with eager obsession all week.  It's coming!

It didn't.
I need to drag the hose out into the meadow

September 2, 2010

To the East, to the West

The east side of my house and yard is rarely visited or seen.  There's no reason to be over on that side.  No walk, no path, no garden (well, there are foundation plantings, but bleah).  And there, sitting quietly with no notice and no expectation of constant admiration, is this beauty:
She is a Rose of Sharon, Hibiscus syriacus 'White Chiffon'.  She is late to emerge in spring when I am all taken up by flashier, earlier sprouting shrubs and flowers.  Kind of a heap of twigs in winter, she doesn't add much to the snowy landscape.  And as an old garden standby in everybody's yard, Rose of Sharon suffers from being way too common.

But then one summer day I saw her peeking into the dining room window.
And there she was, so pretty, blooming constantly in the heat of August.  White, pristine, lovely.
She is about 5 feet tall, but will get larger, maybe to 7 or 8 feet.  And when she does, the blooms will then fill the dining room window, calling attention to the view out the east window, and making herself noticed with a little "ooh" as we look up from dinner.
'White Chiffon' is sterile, so invasive Rose of Sharon seedlings all over the garden are not an issue.  She's just well behaved, more compact than others, quiet, self effacing and pretty much unnoticed until you take a look one day.  Then she delights.

The west side of my house is where all the action is.  The walk, the gardens, the plantings are all there and I pass them every day.  Roses, daylilies, grasses, shrubs and some new trees vie for attention.  Then, in August, the caryopteris blooms, exploding with vibrant color.
The color is unclassifiable.  Not blue, even though the common name of this guy is Bluebeard.  Not purple either.  Amethyst perhaps.
Bluebeard has a quality that the camera won't capture.  It's a bright sparkle that makes these flowers look like jewels in all light levels.  The cool grayish foliage helps to set off the intensity of the flowers.
The west side of my yard is full of foliage and bloom and structure and interest, so it takes a pretty bold fellow to get noticed.  Caryotperis has that quality in abundance.  In the late summer garden he shows off, demanding attention. He holds up sparkly gems to entice the bees and me, and I am captivated by his shameless charms.

September 1, 2010

Mahonia: What an Oops

First of the month, time to show you a Gardening Oops.  Visit  Joene's Garden for more.

Mahonia aquifolium 'Compactum'
When I began landscaping our new lot in 2005 I knew nothing about plants or gardening.  But I'm a great researcher and student, and I had no fear.  None.  It was just a matter of reading up.

My first challenge was to fill the empty space next to our front stoop.  The yard drops away 3 feet to the right of the open front porch, and it needed something to keep the UPS guy from feeling he might fall off the side of the porch getting to the front door. There wasn't really any danger of that, but the front porch just felt oddly unbalanced on that side.
After much research and reading and internet searching, I came up with:
Mahonia aquifolium, called Oregon Grapeholly.

Gardener, don't ask.  I don't know.  Because its foliage was shiny green with mahogany winter color.  Because it kept its glossy leaves all winter.  Because it had spiky edged leaves.  Because no one else had one; it was a different choice than all the tired rhododendrons used as foundation plantings in Connecticut.

Never mind that it was unavailable in nurseries here and I had to mail order it.  Never mind that it's a native of Oregon's wet climate, not New England's winters.  It was beautiful, it was (minimally) hardy for me, it was unusual here, and I wanted it.
photo from MoBot's files
One caution in the shrub literature: "protect from winter dessication".  But that was okay, the site faces east, protected from the west by the brick wall of the stoop.  And the north-south winter winds that race up the swale where our house sits between two ridges wouldn't affect them, I was absolutely sure, and who wants to wrap evergreen shrubs in protection every winter anyway.  It defeats the whole purpose.  So in the fall of 2005 I put in 3 tiny mail order Oregon Grapehollies (from Forestfarm in Oregon! how authentic!), and waited for spring to see my new glossy-leaved hedge fill in.

In spring 2006 this is what I had:

A close up:

They all came out. 

That same spring I planted 4 little redtwig dogwoods (Cornus sericea 'Isanti'):

Here are the redtwigs two years later:

And when the redtwig's leaves are down, the scarlet branches shine from the front door:

My first plant love affair quickly became my first gardening oops when I planted mahonia.  Like adolescence, a first garden is a learning experience, complete with spurned loves, disappointments, starting over, and hard won wisdom.  And I thought I was old enough to be over that.

Mahonia aquifolium:
Debbie at Garden of Possibilities is in Connecticut and she says good things about mahonia complete with lovely photos.  But it's important to note that she gardens in the southern part of our state, closer to warming ocean waters and one zone higher.  Actually it was the drying winter winds that did mine in.  Wrong plant, wrong place.  Oops.