June 26, 2012

Rewards for the Patient Gardener

For five years I barely tolerated Aruncus aesthifolia.  It is dwarf goatsbeard, and it really is very dwarf.  For years it was a tidy but tiny ball, about five inches high, of ferny green foliage.  There were some neutral looking fuzzy brown spikes when it bloomed.  Meh.

All of a sudden this June the dwarf goatsbeard has bulked up into a rich green mound, and is blooming in miniature arching white sprays.  Who knew it was ever going to look this good?

I dug up one of the clumps as it outgrew its space this spring.  I didn't know where to put it, so it went in a pot, and now I really like the round ferny mound, sitting in a corner of the porch.

It gets almost no sunshine inside, so it is not as floriferous as the outdoor goatsbeard, but the little sprays of white are nice.  The whole pot anchors an empty corner of the porch.

Another surprise this year has been the maturing drift of tiarella plants --- foamflower, which is still blooming, after 10 weeks.  These low mounds sent up a river of pinky white starry candles in April and amazingly they are still going strong, still foamy and full as we enter the last weeks of June.

As a stand of amsonia bulks up, the foamflowers have to assert themselves below it, but they are well established now, and they just keep on keeping on.  What a blooming machine.

I've been waiting for years for a native New Jersey Tea plant (Ceanothus americanus) to do something.  The deer ate it to the ground the first year, so it had to start over.  The branches are brittle and get snapped off in wind or heavy rain so that keeps setting it back.  But finally, this year I have a shrub full of small white pompoms that look like miniature lilac blooms.
The flowers are not spectacular -- kind of a muddy off white, but don't tell the bees that.  This plant hums and vibrates on a sunny day, with pollinators drunkenly bumbling all over it.  It's a nice shrubby shape.  It is still subject to stem breakage in the rain, but right now it is full and flowery and full of pollination frenzy.

The clematis I planted three years ago is a big spray of foliage and white flowers this year, and it completely covers its support pyramid.  It is a viticella clematis, called 'Alba Luxurians'.

I moved it in year two, and that set it back, but now, matured and settled in its new spot by the patio wall, it is a fine thing.  Each bloom is shaped like a limp handkerchief with a splash of green.  Interesting, but individual blooms are not big and are more droopy than showy.  But what a tower of flowers.

All these white flowered plants underwhelmed or got a slow start, and their small blooms will never wow you.  But each has been such a nice surprise this year, finally.

Am I a patient gardener or what?

June 22, 2012

A Garden Under The Maple Tree

The large garden that runs along the back line of my property has always been a challenge.  It is right at the edge of the unmowed meadow, so I have the multiple problems of weedy invaders, lack of a backdrop, and an ongoing identity crisis (is this garden bed an extension of the wild space?  A sharp demarcation between yard and meadow?  A transition area?  A mess?)

I made it more difficult by building this garden around and under a red maple.  It was easy at first --- the maple was small and I filled the area with shrubs and perennials and bulbs.  A doublefile viburnum anchors the left (west) end of the garden and a dwarf globe blue spruce holds the east end on the right.  A lot of stuff went in between and around the tree, including a large river birch behind it on the right.

But five years later I can't work with the maple's roots, and as it grows the garden gets shadier and darker and more impossible for the plants underneath, most of which were sun lovers when I started.  Why were these problems not obvious to me when I planted this area?  A mixed border under a massive maple tree?

I'm working on it.  I removed most of the daylilies, and took out the real sun lovers.  I have cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis) in there now, and turtlehead (Chelone) where the garden has the most moisture to the right.  Camass lilies do okay in that wet spot, in spring's bright sunlight before the maple leafs out.

In the densest drier shade directly under the maple I have a nice stand of barrenwort (Epimedium) going.

I'm making progress on getting the right plants in there.

But I still haven't solved the identity issue or determined how this garden should mark the end of the yard or the beginning of the meadow.

I'm finding small plants look dwarfed by the meadow and too clumpy.  Large plants with small leaves (a spirea is in there, and winterberry hollies) look messy with the weeds behind them.  Flowery things look way too fussy and out of place.

Strong, bold foliage might work with the chaos of the meadow and the size of the maple, but I haven't figured out which ones.  I think I need only a few big leaved shrubs, not the jumble of mixed plantings that I started with.

Somehow I thought that grasses would help, but this didn't work out at all.

I wove a short curving line of 'Karl Foerster' feather reed grasses (Calamagrostis acutiflora) between the maple and the right edge of the garden.  They were supposed to hide the decaying foliage of the camassias, which you can see flopped in front of the grasses.  That didn't work out very well.

They are lovely narrow grasses, full of motion, beautiful when they bloom and just a bit of sun catches the tips of their feathery plumes.  But they were not supposed to be this tall.

Every garden and gas station planting and mall parking lot has 'Karl Foerster' grasses, usually in forlorn single clumps, but the noticeable feature is how modest and tidy and neat they are.  They are low, small plants, especially compared to some of the really large ornamental grasses.

Mine are not.  They are big and tall in this garden under the maple tree.  They add a thin greenery that doesn't help things.  They are completely hiding the turtlehead and other plants behind them.  And it is probably too shady for them.

The grasses need to come out and I have to figure out a few bold shapes that could go in there --- plants that won't be too big to compete with the maple's roots and shade, but that add more foliage oomph than the thin grasses and muddle of mixed green plants there now.

A do over is in order.  Any ideas for a garden under a maple tree?


June 18, 2012

What, No Blooms?

Who needs June flowers?  There are plenty of pretty blooms in my garden as summer gets going, but sometimes it's the amazing foliage combinations that get me.  Here are a few I just love.

My new 'Forest Pansy' redbud (Cercis canadensis)

Weigela 'My Monet'

'Frosty Morn' Sedum and 'Chocolate' Joe Pye Weed

A trio of blue spruce, hybrid holly, and Yellowroot (Xanthorrhiza simplicissima)

Bright Hakonechloa 'Aurea' grass, and a patch of golden 'Angelina' sedum

And my colorful herb garden in a pot.

Smokebush, Cotinus coggyria 'Grace', and my new variegated sweetgum in the background.


June 14, 2012

New Trees

Planted anything new?  Why, yes, I have.

The wine colored redbud (Cercis canadensis 'Forest Pansy') that was decapitated in last autumn's heavy snow has been replaced with a new one. 

The leaves won't stay that dark.  They wash out in summer to an interesting greenish color tinged with wine, but in spring the deep hue looks great, especially with the blue globe spruce behind it.

I can't wait for the bright pink blooms next April, when redbuds burst out in vibrant color before their leaves emerge.  I never saw this tree's predecessor bloom, it was only in my garden a brief summer before it was broken in two by a storm.  I have such hopes for this one.

A new variegated sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua 'Silver King') was planted by the driveway to provide some shade on the driveway apron.  It came with a robin.

The leaves are pointy shaped like all sweetgums.  The white edges bordering dark green make them pop.

This sweetgum, like the species, will get huge.  It will tower over the garage and drop spiky dried gumballs all over the lawn and driveway.  But that is in the future, and it is understood that a civilization flourishes when people plant trees under whose shade they will not sit, and whose gumballs they will not have to rake up.

And the sourwood I moved?  It is looking better than ever.  I stewed all winter about whether to dig it up from the patio wall area, where it provided too little structure or shade, and move it somewhere else.

I thought moving it would kill this sensitive and somewhat difficult tree, and I thought it would be a job of work to get it out of the ground.  But it was easy, it moved without complaint, and I have never seen it so leafy and shaggy.  When the white lily of the valley blooms come out in a few weeks, I will be thrilled.  They look like this:

That's all that was planted?  No, of course not.

I am still reforesting the wild space behind the house.  I planted three tiny saplings of a dwarf tuliptree (oxymoronically, a dwarf giant tree does exist).  They are Liriodendron tulipifera 'Little Volunteer' and their miniature size in this case means they will be 30 foot tall trees at maturity (not 80 foot forest giants.)  I put all three in various spots in the weedy meadow, and I can only find two now.  I can't remember where the third one is, and the tall weeds aren't giving up the location.  I need to water it, but can't find where I put it, and it doesn't answer when I call.

Once again I planted sassafras saplings in the sixth year of my ongoing benighted quest to create a sassafras grove.  I put in two this time.  One has made it, the other did not.  Such is sassafras cultivation.

I found a male American holly (Ilex opaca 'Jersey Knight') to pollinate the female that was planted this spring, so there will be berries.  The female tree was a large specimen professionally planted.  The male is just a little twig I got from a catalog (mail order bridegroom?) and at only a foot tall and not much wider, it was covered in tiny white holly blooms a few weeks ago.  Just covered.  What a stud.

I moved a sugar maple seedling that was only six inches tall, and a silver maple seedling and gave them space out in the meadow.  It will be years before they peek up above the Queen Anne's Lace and ragweed out there, but my forest will emerge.

I am happiest when I am planting trees.

June 11, 2012

The Long and Short of June

Here are a few views of my garden in June, from up close and from a distance.

A mix of blowsy purple nepeta and bright leaved 'Worcester's Gold' caryopteris and some dark red dianthus make a nice combination in close.  I planted these randomly, and did not intend this effect, but here it is, and I like the complexity.

In this longer shot, the clumps of nepeta frame a little opening out into the sunny yard and the look is simplified and symmetrical.

My Cotinus coggyria 'Grace' is a young smokebush, trimmed back this spring so it will not flower.  No big smoky plumes of frothy flowers, I just wanted the foliage.  It has complex brown and maroon and iridescent shimmery leaves that are different colors at different times of day.

Here it is in the garden on an overcast day.  I love the contrast with the blue 'Montgomery" globe spruce.  Up close it is interesting, but from a distance in lower light it positively glows.

A little blob of red rose sits at the front of the big garden surrounded by the paper birches.  It is a 'Drift' dwarf rose, and it is remarkable for the mass of red flowers, but not all that interesting up close.  Just some red massed flowers, and they are a little bright.

Seen tucked in under the other plants, however, it is just the right note, a red punch and not too big.

And here is the longer shot of the big garden by the birches, with the Drift rose calling to us.

Close up and far away, the garden changes.  It changes in the different light from dawn to late evening.  It changes when the wind blows.  It is altered under a burden of dew or rain.

I love the complexity of seeing it in so many different ways.

June 8, 2012

Elfin Pink

They are decidedly not elfin. They are very pink, however. They are Penstemon barbatus 'Elfin Pink'.

When my gardens were big and empty and my plants were few and paltry, I desperately wanted lots and lots of big blowsy fillers everywhere.  Big shrubs in the center. Mounding plants all around.  More mounding plants, and spikes too. 

I put several Penstemon 'Elfin Pink' at the front edge of this large garden, thinking they would be small, dainty -- elfin, perhaps? -- and a good edger in front of other penstemons, notably the 'Husker's Red' dark leaved ones.

On the left the 'Elfin Pink' penstemon and the white flowered 'Husker's Red' duke it out from behind deep purple salvia.  A large white baptisia pendula arches above. From this angle it looked cottagey.

These pink bloomers were not edgers.  Instead, they took up some space and they flopped.  They hid the beautifully colored 'Husker's Red' penstemons which have dark maroon foliage and rosy tinted white spikes of flowers. 

I know, I could stake them, but at the front of the border stakes look intrusive.  This is just too crowded.

I could never make up my mind about the color.  Were they too pink or a nice pop with the more subdued plants in back?  I couldn't decide, but the basic problem of too much height and too much lankiness in front was evident.

This spring I moved them.  I immediately liked the cleaner look in front of the emerging 'Husker's Red' plants.  Most good garden design is simply editing.

In early spring, with the penstemons in front cleared out, I can see the reddish clumps of 'Husker's Red' and the garden looks so much neater.

Now, blooming pink and white spires of Husker's Red penstemon mingle with yellow coreopsis.
Up close the 'Husker's Red' penstemon flowers are delicate and pretty and I can see them now that they are no longer hidden.

Of course, the 'Elfin Pink' plants had been happy in the raised, quick draining edge slope of the original garden, and I moved them to a swale in a new bed where water collects coming down the lawn.  There's more room to fling themselves about and lay down, but they may not like the slower draining conditions.
'Elfin Pink' aren't as big and floppy so soon after transplant, but they have room now to fill out without crowding neighbors.

This newer, large garden still has empty space to cover. Hiding behind the pink penstemons is a very small new Rosa glauca, redleaf rose.  The blue green foliage of the rose turns out to be a perfect foil for the odd, hot pink of the penstemons.
This color pink is hard to use with any other colors in the garden.  It looks good, though, with dusty blue green leaves of a Rosa glauca.  Hot and cool work together.

In this new emptier garden my unkempt non-elfin penstemons will have to do the job once more, until they fill this space up and get too rangy as they did before.  When the rose grows to its six foot spread, I'll have to edit things again.

But until then, I hope 'Elfin Pink' goes all out, all pink, and all floppy in its new home.

June 4, 2012

What Happenend?

In my garden there were four butterfly bushes (Buddleias) that thrived for several years, and I can vouch for the fact that the butterflies adored them.

They were growing in four separate gardens, and were doing so happily.

This spring all four failed to return.

They lived in completely different parts of my garden, but this winter they got together, agreed on a plan, and all four departed.

In one single episode of plant rebellion, they left, and my garden now has not a single buddleia in it.  I feel like the clueless wife who never saw the divorce coming.  What happened?

There were four plants, but only two varieties, both of them unusual.

I had two of the Buddleia weyeriana 'Honeycomb', and two of the dwarf Lo and Behold 'Blue Chip'.

The Lo and Behold 'Blue Chip' were cute.  They really were tidy little butterfly bushes, not at all arching or wild as the big ones.  Only two feet high.  The color of the bloom spikes wasn't even close to blue, it was a purply pink magenta.

I absolutely loved looking out my bedroom window and seeing the magenta mixed with a small red rose and a pop of cool Dusty Miller.

I tried one year to grow this little buddleia in a pot, but it wasn't happy there, and let me know it by stretching awkwardly to get out of the container, so I set it free and planted the whole thing in a border where it was much more amiable and made a tidier low mound.

The yellow butterfly bushes were a gift from my niece Angela, and were as big as the normal species.  Although they were named 'Honeycomb' to me they were always 'Angela' shrubs and I loved their sweet delicate yellow color.  A little sprawly, but the unusual bright blooms were rich and honey colored and irresistible to butterflies.

Buddleia is very late to leaf out each spring so I'm always a little anxious waiting for their emergence.  But it is now early June, and there is not a single leaf bud showing on any of the four butterfly bushes.

How could all four disappear after years of success and pleasure in my garden?  They came back reliably for several years.  This past winter was mild, each was in a separate garden, each had been cut back as I had done every fall, and yet each one failed to return.

Where did they go?