September 11, 2011

They're Not Cooperating

Some plants in my garden are just not cooperating with my vision for them.  I have such plans.  But they don't do what I want.

Despite the fact that everything I have planted is getting way too big and engulfing the house and neighboring plants, my beautiful Rose of Sharon is not reaching upward to grace the window of my dining room.  Instead, she is getting wider and fuller.  Just not taller.
Hibiscus syriacus 'White Chiffon' blooms and grows fuller
But after 3 years she still barely reaches the window
I dream of a vase shaped, tall Rose of Sharon filling half the view here.  I got a shrubby round ball instead that lurks just under the window.

Then there's the trio of paper birch trees (Betula papyrifera) that define our property.  They have never looked good.  In the wild they are iconic New England woodland trees, graceful, glowing yellow in fall, and startling in their white barked nakedness in winter.

But in my yard they don't cooperate.  Because they are growing in nice garden soil and not rocky woodlands, mine put on too much foliage in spring.  They leaf out, look good, and then when warm summer temps hit, they can't support all those leaves.

In spring they grow too many leaves to support in summer
So they self prune to conserve water.  They are also getting a leaf spot problem that is browning the leaves and making them drop prematurely in August.

By Labor Day they become denuded without coloring up for fall.  Not at all what I was planning for the fall garden.
This is how sad they looked in August
The birches at Labor Day.  This is not what I want to see for fall color

I wish I had planted a trio of river birches (Betula nigra) instead of the paper birches.  I do have several river birches in other spots, and they are just as beautiful --- the bark is shaggy and peeling, not white.  They grow fast, stay lovely all summer and cooperate so much better than the paper birches do.  A very accommodating tree.
One of the thriving river birches.  Much better choice.

My black and blue sage (Salvia guaranitica) was completely uncooperative, in fact stubborn to a fault this year.  Drove me batty.  It wintered over in a pot on my unheated porch, and this spring it leafed back out and grew beautifully, but completely refused to bloom all summer.  Refused.  Just didn't put out a single bud, just lots and lots of green foliage.
Do you see any buds?
Last week I ditched it and bought a great big blooming new one at Lowe's.
New Salvia guaranitica.  Blooming.  So there.
There's a clematis that flowered very sparsely this year and didn't even bother to put out much foliage and never clothed the black steel pyramid next to the sages.  That was not my plan, why did the clematis think it was?  So all summer I simply had an empty metal pyramid by the patio wall.  Structural interest, okay, but not my original design.

Really, the entire garden in early September is looking great.  I shouldn't complain.  In fact, I'm pleased overall.  But I had plans for a couple of these trees and shrubs and perennials that they just didn't seem to understand.

There's always one or two in every group I guess.


  1. I love the birch trees, but I do think the river birches are hardier. They are also messier, and create a lot of work. You have a beautiful garden, and I always love to read your blog.

  2. The salvia may just have needed more time. Mine sulked all summer after a spring showing, then all of a sudden all six plants started blooming like crazy. They were just waiting for cooler nights I think.

  3. That's the story of my gardening life ... plants not doing what I was hoping! I have to say though your garden is looking fantastic despite the few disappointments you've had.

    I can see why you would be unhappy with the Paper Birches and your River Birch is definitely a looker!

    My Black and Blue Salvia has a schedule I just haven't figured out yet. It hasn't bloomed for quite some time now and that doesn't tally up with what was happening with it this time last year! So you're not alone in the non-blooming B&B Salvia department.

  4. Laurrie, your garden looks really beautiful. The bark on the river birches is stunning! If all our plants did exactly what we planned, we'd know exactly how the garden would look in the future, and where's the fun in that? Although, I wish my French lavenders would get with the programme...

  5. You should have more patience with the Rose of Sharon Weed Hopper. It takes a few years for it to become tree-like. As to the birch, rip it out if you don't like it. Those logs would look nice stacked up ready to burn in a fire place. The b&b salvia waits all summer before it starts to bloom here too. I figured it got too much shade at my place. Right now though the hummers are keeping at it. Best of luck with your charges. I hope they behave better in the furture.

  6. Jim, the river birches are messy, but in a relaxed kind of way that suits my garden I think. I am often reminded when I read your blog, that someday when I am gone someone will be standing in my yard bemoaning "Laurrie's garden" just as you do with Barbara's garden! It will happen I am afraid.

    Donna, my other salvias (coccinea, others) bloomed their heads off all summer. What is up with these delayed bloomers? I did have a pineapple sage one year that is always a very late bloomer, and it didn't bloom until the day before our first hard frost.

    Bernie, you too have trouble with these balky sages! It's good to know I am not alone in this, but they certainly frustrated me all summer.

    Lyn, you are much more sanguine than I am about the non-performers in the garden. I have a hard time with the ones that don't look the way I expect!

    Lisa, I had exactly the same thought about stacking up some nice birch log firewood. Those white trunks would look better on my porch than the trees look out in the yard right now.

  7. Your river birches are beautiful, Laurrie! I love the peeling bark. I've been frustrated with a few plants, too. The new 'Ruby Spice' clethra I planted this spring hasn't looked happy at all and never did bloom. The same with a new viburnum. Now I'm just hoping they survive the winter and do better next year. I've never tried overwintering Salvia 'Black and Blue,' and thought I'd try this year. But if it won't bloom next year, I don't know if it's worth the effort. You mention pineapple sage in a comment--this is the first year I didn't get one planted. I love that plant, but last year I waited all fall for it to bloom, but when it finally did--bam! we got hit by a frost and that was it.

    I think there are disappointments every year, just as there are some unexpected surprises. Your garden looks beautiful even if not everything has met your expectations.

  8. Your September garden is very lovely. No, you shouldn't complain! But I know well the frustration of a plant that disappoints! I like that you finally bought a new blooming salvia guaranitica. i think sometimes I cling too long to an old plant, or to an old vision, that doesn't work.

  9. Hey Laurie,
    That paper birch is such a disappointment. I'm a big fan of river birches for the Midwest. I love the peeling bark for winter interest. The only drawback is they are so popular they're almost overused.
    But there is an aspen discovered in Nebraska named 'Prairie Gold' that maybe of interest to you. Sure it doesn't get as gold as the Rockies but it stands the heat of the lowlands here in Kansas.

  10. Cut down the paper birches, be patient with the Rose of Sharon, and try this for the clematis: enough compost to drown an elephant mixed in with some Holly-tone since they like to be a bit acidic (pH test first with a little cheapo probe you can get at Lowe's), deeply dug soil, and steady moisture. They often like afternoon shade. They can also be slow the first season or two since they develop massive root systems. Make sure it's not planted too deeply and then be patient. They're worth the wait!

  11. Plants are like children ... they do not grow up to the vision we have for them. Instead, they grow to their individual vision. It's what makes gardening and parenting so damn interesting.

  12. Rose, plants like clethra and birches seem to be much happier in their wild environment and not in our gardens. My 'Ruby Spice' does bloom, but it doesn't look as lush and full as the wild ones do. Try the b&b sage in a pot over winter this year and let me know if yours blooms next summer!

    Deborah, that's how I feel about the birches --- I am clinging to a vision of what they should do in my garden and they just never have.

    Patrick, I do love seeing a vast stand of aspens out west. The look wouldn't work here, but that more tolerant Prairie Gold variety sounds interesting as a specimen. Love the river birches, though. They are overused here too, but for a good reason!

    Tammy, I have to admit something I did not put in the post about the clematis: I moved it this season. It had bloomed beautifully last year, but after the move this year it didn't do much. I know they don't like to have their roots touched, so it was entirely my fault. I'm still annoyed at it even though I did the damage myself. I had such plans with the move.

    Joene, you are so right, I do feel like I am raising a bunch of balky, independent, uncooperative but highly rewarding children in my yard : )

  13. Glad I read Tammy's comment because I'm having the same trouble with a clematis that just won't grow. Perhaps the trick is to not have any expectations and then whatever happens will always be positive? Makes it awful hard to plan a garden though.


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