April 29, 2012

Fairy Wings and Bubblegum

The tiny bright yellow fairy wings open in April.  They are delicate as spun gold.
The fairies wear ballgowns of rich red and green brocade.

But who invited them to a ball where the decorations are bubblegum pink?

This is what happens when you go from close up to long shot.  Aack.

I can't get used to the bronzy gold and yellow Epimedium perralchicum 'Frohnleiten' paired with the hot pink flowering dogwood.  They bloom at the same time. This was not intended.

I keep thinking about moving the epidmediums.  Should I?  

It's only a small patch, spreading very slowly from right to left down the slope.  The rust and golden tones are tempered by some green things at ground level that you can see in the longer shot.  There is daylily foliage, a low birds nest spruce, some emerging hostas.  Green lawn helps mitigate the effect I suppose.

Really, this planting doesn't work together.  So don't focus on the long view.  Enjoy the fairy wing epimediums up close, as they should be seen, and then squint when you step back.

April 26, 2012

After the Rain

After a much needed soaking this weekend, the sun came out.  We took a walk around to see if the gardens liked all that rain.  They did.

I checked on some plants that I was worried about.
The weeping Japanese maple 'Crimson Queen' was shining in the morning light as I rounded the corner of the front walk.  This tree split apart in winter snow, and I surgically bolted it back together.  You can't tell.

The 'Hakuro-nishiki' dappled willow shrubs were cut to the ground in March, and I panicked, seeing the bare stubs of branches.  Everyone said don't worry, they'll grow back lustily.  Everyone was right.

A long line of yellowroot (Xanthorrhiza simplicissima) was crowding the lower branches of the big spruces, so we moved all of them forward 3 feet in March.  Dug them up, wrestled them rudely, and manhandled them all around, but they are none the worse for it, and are even sending up hazy maroon flowers.

I moved the 'Northblue' blueberry bushes.  They had been getting overtopped by big plants behind them each summer, and were not doing well in the shade of their companions.  They look good out in the open now, and are blooming.  (Although, they bloomed well last year but produced no fruits.  If it happens again this year we'll have to have The Pollination Talk.)

The sourwood tree (Oxydendrum arboreum) that I moved last month, despite the fact that it positively hates root disturbance, is leafing out.  I am keeping my fingers crossed.

Last year I planted a Pagoda dogwood (Cornus alternifolia) against the advice of most nurseries around here, who thought this woodland tree would not do well in an open landscape.  The first winter is always a nail biter, but look --- pleated leaves and fat buds.

And in other breaking news --- this is the first year I have blooms on the sassafras I planted in 2006.  It is the first year I have flowers on the Blackhaw viburnum (V. prunifolium) I planted that year too.  Nothing to oooh over, and pictures don't show enough to post here, but to me, after six seasons, it's a thrill.

After the rain, it's all growing and it's all good.


April 23, 2012

Six Years Later

When I retired, my staff gave me a large, beautiful climbing hydrangea (Hydrangea anomela ssp. petiolaris) as a goodbye gift.  I planted it in spring 2006.  I put it inside a cedar tower to help it stay upright until it could reach the pergola frame above the garage doors.

Here it was the following year, in spring, 2007, large and leafy and healthy:

It is on the west side of the house, in too much direct sun, right up against the asphalt driveway and smack in front of the dryer vent.  It has forgiven me for putting it in such a horrid site.  It thrives, but in the way of climbing hydrangeas, which is slowly and cautiously.

After six years it is ready to start its seventh year aiming for the pergola.  This is the year it finally might make it. 

In May of 2010 it was full and glossy green and bottom heavy.  It just didn't want to reach for that pergola, it wanted to fill out below and go over to see what was happening under the guest room window to the left.  It was not interested in climbing up to the top of the garage doors.

This winter, in 2012, I pruned it severely, lopping off a lot of the woody stems below.

It was very hard to prune.  After six years, the stems are brittle and woody and won't bend.  Most of its growth was headed left.  I wanted stems to go to the right and up.

But do you see it now, in April?

Do you see that tentative reach for the edge of the pergola?

It still doesn't want to go there --- I had to tie the topmost branches to the pergola frame and a few branches still wistfully stretch to the left, and the whole thing sags down in the middle. 

Artistic?  Sinuous and elegant?  Or twisted and bent looking?

This is what I am after.  I photographed this at a home that was on our local garden tour last year.  How beautifully the climbing hydrangea scrambles across the top of the garage doors.  And in bloom, too.

At this home the woody stems were limbed up and are quite bare until the leafy mass reaches the top of the frame.  See, it can be done.

Mine will get there.  It's been six years (have I really been retired that long?) and this is the year the branches are actually resting on a few inches of the top of the pergola.

That's something.


April 20, 2012

The Missing Middle

It doesn't look too bad. The pink dogwood is blooming at the corner of our driveway and it looks good.  Not bad at all, from this angle.  Beautifully shaped and elegant, as Cornus florida can be.  A perfect small tree.

From another angle you can see it is missing its middle.

The inner canopy of this tree was pruned out by a heavy snowstorm last fall, when the leaves were still on all the trees, and the weight of wet, early season snow was too much to bear.

The dogwood looked like this after the storm.

But my friend Becky said "just wait.  It won't look so bad next spring."  I wasn't buying it, the damage was right before my eyes and it was too awful.  I thought she was just trying to comfort me.

She was right.  The trees and shrubs that weren't outright decapitated or uprooted (I had several of those) do not look so bad this spring.  With some leaves on, or some flowers obscuring the wounds, it's okay.

Sunlight will get to the open middle now, new leaves will sprout, and the canopy will recover.  It may never have the dense, full shapely form it had, but it will look great, especially when hot pink flowers cover it, and especially from one side, where the damage to its shape is not visible.

This is where the gardener says "flaws and breaks and deformities add character to my garden."

Trees earn their places in our gardens year after year, documenting in their enduring, anchored forms the calamities, the struggles, the memorable occasions (I won't forget that freaky snowstorm) and the ongoing joys of watching the unpredictable unfold.


April 17, 2012

Well Hello Holly

not mine
I told you about Ilex opaca, our native American holly, back in December.   You can read about it here, and see the absolutely stunning specimen I photographed at Connecticut College Arboretum.

I told you then that I wanted one in my garden.

I spent all winter thinking about it.  I discussed it with other bloggers and with my garden bookgroup.  I looked at specimens in gardens, at the park and at landscape companies.  I mulled it over.

In early April I bought one large enough that I could not move or plant it myself, so I had to have a landscaper put it in.  It went in the spot vacated by the demise of the Bradford pear tree that broke apart in last year's heavy snowstorm.

Here she is.  Hello, Holly. 

It's a female.  As you know, hollies have male and female flowers on separate plants and only the females produce the Christmasy red berries.
There is a lot I like about the tree I bought.

It has a strong central leader, a nice shape and it was field grown, so it came with a huge root system.  Field grown means there was no constricting container or wire cage, it simply grew in the soil, and was dug up to move it and plant it.

It is taller than I am, about 7 feet high, and it took three men to plant it.  I'm not going to take a picture of me standing next to it for your reference, so imagine.

It was grown in the next town over --- not only native, but local, and winter-tested in our climate.  It has healthy leaves.

There are some things I do not like about the tree I bought. 

It grew in a field next to some pine trees, so the back side was shaded and is sparse.  In her new home in full sun, this holly should fill out in back with age.  (Like we all do.  Fill out in back with age.)

Also, I wanted a tree branched to the ground like the arboretum specimen in the photo at the top of this post, and the grower assured me this one was.  There is one little branch part way down the bare trunk --- is that his definition of branching to the ground?

But I like seeing the curvy trunk, and Jim needs to mow around it without getting stabbed by the severely spiny leaves, so I am ok with this holly being limbed up.  I think that lowest little branch should be pruned off.

I actually broke off a branch fussing with it trying to spread the bottom out a bit.  So in addition to being bare below, it's also noticeably lopsided at the base.  Mmph.  Holly has brittle wood.  It just snapped off without much provocation. 

I need to give my holly time to settle in, fill out a bit in this sunnier site, and see how her shape develops.  Patience.  American holly is a slow grower.  Some day she will tower over the side of the house, reaching 40 feet.  I won't be here then.

I need to get holly a boyfriend.  There are no other Ilex opacas around to pollinate this female, and the jury is out as to whether my meserve hybrid hollies or even the winterberry ilex verticallata nearby will do the job.

So now I'm looking for a small 'Jersey Knight' Ilex opaca for a male companion to plant in the same general area.


April 13, 2012

Orange Dreams

It has been far too dry in southern New England this spring. No snow cover this winter meant no soaking drench for the awakening garden. And it has not rained other than 2 tenths of an inch since February 29.  I create dust puffs when I weed.

I am watering in early spring, in a climate that is normally known for its dreary boot-sucking mud season at this time of year.

Where is my mud?  Where is my normal?  Where is my soaker hose, the one that I stored and can't find now.  Why does the faucet leak geysers at the house connection?

The magnolias got blasted a few weeks ago with a hard overnight freeze, and many early bloomers are now mush displays.  The Japanese maples are braving it out though, and I love seeing my Acer palmatum 'Orange Dream' glow in the far garden in April.

The leaves are just starting to unfurl, and they have little brown edges, either from near freezes or from the dry.  I need to water deeply.

It's a curious Japanese maple that stays a shrubby form rather than big and graceful.  The leaves emerge orange, but turn chartreuse in summer.  They scorch a little in the sun when the middle of summer hits.  I am waiting for some larger trees behind this maple to grow up and provide the shade 'Orange Dream' needs in summertime.

The bark is green.  The photo below is from last May, and you can see the trunk has an army tank gray-green tint.  At times it is actually quite green and looks like someone dyed the smooth bark.  Odd, and completely unnecessary with the orange leaves.

In autumn the leaves become a deeper gold color, but not like most Japanese maples, which have shocking fall foliage.  Orange Dream's season to be noticed is really spring when the beautiful leaves are copper orange, and then summer when they turn sulphur yellow and bright green.  Yow.

This is a young tree.  I planted it in 2010, and it struggled in that unusually hot summer.  Now this dry, dry spring.

It's at the farthest point in the yard that my tangled system of hoses can reach, but I really need to find a connection that doesn't spurt fountains in all directions, and get this guy a drink.


April 11, 2012

Is It Over?

Is it over yet?  Easter?  Winter?  Are we done?

Can we plant the tender things or will it freeze at night again?

Are the jelly beans gone?  All of them?

Are we ready to plant yet?


April 8, 2012

Hills of Daffodils

In early April we visited a private farm in Northfield Connecticut where there were daffodils.  A lot of them.  There were many green clumps still waiting to bloom, but oh my, what had opened was delightful, even on a chilly day.

I felt as if they were mine.  All mine.
Stately maples, just budding out, keep stern watch over the emerging narcissi.

 Some daffodils feel safer on an island in the pond, where visitors can't tromp on them.

 The daffodil troll lives in this cave.

In 1941 Remy and Virginia Morosani planted 10,000 daffodil bulbs on a rocky slope across the road from their farmhouse at Laurel Ridge Farm in northwest Connecticut.

It was too steep to cultivate, but in the wild stony pasture that sloped down to a pond with an island in it, they began planting and dividing and tending two acres of daffodils, and kept at it each year from the 1940s until the 1960s.

The daffodils spread, the Morosanis kept digging and adding more, and eventually there were 15 acres covering the hills in every variety of narcissus.  People began to drive from afar every April to see the show.

Remy and Virginia's descendants eventually formed a foundation to preserve the daffodil fields, but it is still a private farm.  In April visitors are welcome to wander all over and admire the sunny daffodils, but it is not a park.  There are no facilities, no entrance, no picnic areas, not even any parking. 

You can stop on the road and you can get out of your car and walk around, and the feeling that you are in a pristine, unspoiled place is striking.  It looks like a farm.  It is a farm.  But the bulbs have exploded all over the hillside and wandered far from any planned planting.

Narcissus is such a stiff looking clump of a plant, even when you try to naturalize them in masses.  But here, over decades, they have gone awry in a delightfully random way, with clumps and bare spots and tufts and escapees going every which way.

Virginia lived to be 93.  She died at home, in the house right across the road from the daffodil hills, just eight years ago. 


April 5, 2012

On A Whim

On a whim last spring I bought two plumbago plants, Plumbago auriculata (synonymous with capensis), that were vining up small bamboo teepees, too tippy in small pots when I got them, already in bloom.

I don't usually do that.  I rarely buy on a whim.  I research what I want for a particular spot, and shop around to find exactly the cultivar and size I want.

I don't succumb to buying perennials already in flower, which means they have been forced too early, overfed, and are already past prime.  I'm just not a see-it-and-want-it shopper.  But.

This was a total impulse buy .  .  .  and I got two of them.  Non-hardy in my zone, not even close, plumbago is a zone 8 plant.  Tropical.  Cape Leadworts from South Africa.

I do not know why they ended up in my cart, and I didn't know what to do with them when I got them home.

They turned out to be stars in my garden.

They literally bloomed all summer and right into fall, with phlox-like blooms all over in a clear sky blue color.  They quickly overtook the flimsy bamboo teepees.  They just went on and on gracing my garden and even trying to arch together to make a framed entry into the yard.

They worked out so well as a spontaneous addition to the garden, and I really want them again.

I invested in real pyramids for them to climb on this year.  I love these twig tuteurs even without any plants on them.

And I overwintered the plumbagos in pots all winter in a 40 degree garage.  I cut them to the ground last fall, dug them up, put them in pots in the garage.  I watered them occasionally, just to keep them from completely drying out for too long.  I waited all winter.

Now, in April, I should be seeing some sprouts, right?  A few basal green leaves at the woody crown?  Nothing yet.

When it was a whim, an unplanned addition to the garden, they grew with abandon.  Now that I desperately want towers of blue plumbago flowers, I can't get them to come back.

I'll have to do my usual --- research where to find Plumbago auriculata, go to some lengths to buy new plants, and put them in with intent, with a design and effect in mind.  No sticking an impulse buy in the ground this time, and being so pleasantly surprised.

Isn't that always the way?