July 27, 2012

Katsura and its Catastrophes

This tree will not survive.

It is a katsura tree (Cercidiphyllum japonicum) that I planted in spring, 2009. It is a wonderful, fast growing tree with heart shaped leaves (like cercis, or redbud, hence the name "cercis-leaved") that are reddish when they come out in spring, and that smell like cotton candy when they turn bright orange in fall. It's a burnt sugar smell, and delightful on a sunny autumn day.  I love this tree.

It becomes a large spreading shade tree in maturity, and I had hopes for mine.

But from the beginning this sapling attracted catastrophe.

In 2009 it looked good when first planted. Perhaps a bit stranded out in the open lawn, but it would grow.

In 2010 deer found it, and that fall a buck rubbed his antlers on the slender trunks and shredded most of the bark.  All the lower branches came off, but the upper limbs remained.  It looked wrecked, but it did continue to grow.

In 2011 it had added some size, when an early snowstorm tore off upper branches.  Now it looked even more wrecked, but lived on.

Katsuras grow fast, so I hoped my little catastrophe-prone stick with no lower branches and only half its upper canopy would still recover and fill in and become a decent tree, give or take twenty years. An old specimen at Arnold Arboretum in Boston showed me what I could expect.

The specimen at the arboretum has kept its multiple trunks.  The low, wide branches make this inviting rather than stately.  This is a climbing tree, and wants a tree fort.

My little specimen had already lost its multiple stems and lower branches, but a single-trunk katsura would still spread out above, and provide shade in summer and burnt sugar fragrance in fall --- assuming it could avoid any further accidents, lightning strikes, floods or earthquakes.

But it was not to be.

In 2012 the bark completely separated from the trunk all around, even where it still cradles the back side.  This is fatal.  Maybe not immediately, and perhaps there will be leaves next year, but it will not live.

Fall color of the heart shaped leaves
(from UConn)
I thought it was such a survivor after deer attacks and snowstorm carnage, but with this last assault it has stopping growing heartily.

I will replace it. Shade is needed in the open lawn area where this was planted.

I feel really bad about the fate of this accident prone sapling.

July 25, 2012

I've Been Hit by Purple Rain

A sprinkle, some dew, and brooding dark foliage have the song running through my head.

No, not that purple rain, not Prince --- I'm older than you think.

America.  Ventura Highway.  Alligator lizards in the air.

Wishing on a falling star,
Waiting for the early train.
Sorry boy,
I've been hit by purple rain.

July 22, 2012


I am going to show you two perversities in my garden. Plants behaving independently and against all plans.

The first is a follow up to my last post, where I got all excited about the hedge of bottlebrush buckeyes (Aesculus parviflora) growing along the back line of my property. They are blooming recklessly now, in big bottlebrush shaped spikes.

All except one.  There are five plants in this row. For three years now, consistently, the second one from the left blooms a full two weeks after the others.

In fact, the candles of the other four shrubs will have extinguished and begun to form their buckeye nuts just as the second one from the left opens its blooms. This has happened every year.

Okay, it extends the bloom period into August, with that last shrub showing off by itself for weeks after the others are gone. But this is a hedge --- a row of all one kind of plant. It is all supposed to be in bloom at once.

Nothing looks different about the tardy one, but I think it may be a special cultivar --- var. serotina, or a named variety, 'Rogers'. Those are reputed to bloom two to three weeks later than the species. It's possible that's what got mixed in with my mail order shipment from Nature Hills when these were sent to me in 2007.

One of these is not like the others, even though they all look alike. I think I got four species plants and one later blooming cultivar. It could be a supplier mistake, but it might just be plant mischief.

The second perversity involves the simple annual, Nicotiana alata, or flowering tobacco. I bought flats this year of these pretty, fragrant flowers, in shades of soft pink, and they all died. They all got a disease and did not thrive. All were removed and disposed of in the trash so the disease would not spread.

Then, this morning, on a trip to the compost pile, I noticed a stand of white flowering tobacco, happily growing by the grass clippings.

Is that perverse, or what? I try to grow something and have no success, but wildings pop up wherever they want to.

I transplanted the clump from the compost pile into my garden, in front of the patio wall where I can smell it up close in the evening.

It will probably get all funny on me and refuse to live anywhere else but the grass clipping heap. Already it has closed its trumpets in protest over the transplant.

The late flowering buckeye and the wild flowering tobacco are reminders that I am not in control in my own garden. The plants are.

At least I know it.


July 18, 2012

Exploding Rockets

A crazy explosion has ignited at the back of my garden.

The bottlebrush buckeye blooms have shot out and up. Big white rockets aim for the meadow, the yard, the house.  Kapow.  Incoming.

These rangy big shrubs are Aesculus parviflora, just now blooming in the heat of mid July. They are still immature, and will get much, much larger.

I planted several in fall 2007, in a line along the edge of the meadow. The idea was to make a large hedge to screen our yard from the wild area beyond.

For the first three years they just looked goofy.  Silly.

By 2011 they were putting on size, and I was thrilled when candles bloomed for the first time.

Those flowers became the characteristic nuts that look like the eye of a deer (I guess) and give these shrubs, and their tall tree cousins, the name buckeye.  I was amazed when I first saw the heavy nuts on my spindly shrubs.

In spring 2012, getting ready to bloom, they looked like a real hedge. When I stood next to them, I realized they are now as tall as I am. They will become 12 foot high monsters and soon, I think.

When the candles open they are creamy white --- not a showy color in the full-on glare of midsummer light, but they stick out every which way in reckless array. They really do look like straight bottlebrushes, very tubular.

A little more info about growing Aesculus parviflora ---

It is a woodland shrub that wants a shady, moist location. I planted them in full sun, not having any shade to speak of. They have rewarded me with fast growth and much more exuberant flowering than they would have produced in shade, but the big leaves do scorch in summer. And I have to water them if we don't get weekly rain. Which we haven't had this year.

The leaves are big floppy palmate leaves that look just like horse chestnut foliage, and they turn a brilliant clear yellow in fall.

Bottlebrush buckeye will become very big.  If you grow it, make room. I had space out in the open between the mowed yard and the umowed grassy area, but at a mature 12 x 12 and spreading even bigger by suckering, each of these five buckeyes is going to cover an awful lot of ground.

They are explosions of blooming candles now as young rangy bushes.  What will they look like when they are as big as a fleet of tour buses out there?

July 16, 2012


Dear Lord, it's been a pretty good day so far, and I am thankful for it, even though it is far too dry in my garden.

I am grateful that I haven't dragged the hose over the tall phlox today and flattened them to the ground.

I did not swear or curse or make a scene yet about untangling hideously stubborn kinks, and I have not complained about the leaks. All the leaks.

I have not dislodged the blueberries with an errant spray on jet setting, and that is a small miracle.

I did not try to disconnect two lengths of hose while holding both in front of my face with the water still on, even though my glasses need cleaning.

I am feeling good today and thank you for your mercies.

There is no puddle of water in my left garden shoe and no slimy clump of damp mud in my right one.

I did not leave a black hose coiled in the hot sun, and then turn on the faucet to water the containers with 185 degree solar heated hot water. Not even once today.

I am at peace with the toils of watering in this season of too little rain and too hot weather. I can handle this.  It is a good day.

Lord, I am going to get up now and make the coffee, and go out into the garden to water, and then I am going to need all the help I can get.

July 13, 2012

Hot and Dry -- Pink and Orange

Guess who likes it hot and dry.

Bright pink gaura and hot pink sedum.  Wandflower and stonecrop.

Gaura lindheimeri 'Siskiyou Pink'
Sedum spurium 'Red Carpet'
I did not think the gauras would come back this spring but they did.

Last year I put two wandflower plants along the dry, south facing, impossibly hot and sunny front walk, and they were pretty there all last summer.

Unbelievably, they came back this year. For years guaras performed like annuals for me. I got one season of blooms, and never saw the plants the following year. So I would re-buy and plant anew each spring.

Last year was the first time I tried them in this narrow, sandy, dry, hot strip along the garage wall, and this year is the first time I have seen them return from winter.

They like it here.

The sedum does too. It's a groundcover spreading sedum and I planted it for the deep wine colored foliage. I did not know it would flower profusely in a saturated hot pink at the same time as the pink guara above it. It likes the hot white cement walk, and spreads itself over it with glee.

The delicate wand flowers fall on top of a green bun of heath (Erica) below them, and it makes it appear as though the heath has tiny pink blooms. But those are just the fallen flower petals from above. When it blooms in March, heath actually has little pink flowers for real, and they look just like this. I did a double take when I saw what I thought were heath flowers in mid summer.
Erica darleyensis 'Ghost Hills' with spent gaura blossoms

I have to say I love the complexity of this combination of pink and green and wine red that welcomes you along the walk to the front door. It's actually serene as early evening ends a hot summer day.

Guess who else likes it hot and dry.

Orange nasturtiums are doing well. These are spreaders, and long tendrils have climbed up into the inkberry hollies nearby.

Tropaeolum majus 'Gleam'
Orange trumpets peek out from the dark green holly foliage.  I never expected that effect, and I did another double take when I first saw flashy flowers blooming on holly bushes.

The flowers emerge a soft apricot streaked with orange markings, then deepen to a hot salsa color.

In the past I have grown 'Empress of India' which is a deep red nasturtium, and I have had 'Alaska Mix' which is multi colored with variegated cream-streaked leaves.

I even have a pale yellow climbing nasturtium called 'Moonlight' that is subtle, if that can ever be said about a nasturtium.

They all have big round leaves that are tasty in a salad -- peppery and slightly spicy.

Hot and dry, pink and orange.

These plants are happy in my summer-stressed garden.

They are doing their best to get me through the miserable days of drought and high temperatures.


July 10, 2012


I am growing a few plants of 'Mara des Bois' everbearing strawberries.  The few berries I pick are not enough for a shortcake dessert, but sometimes I get enough to put on my breakfast cereal.

Sometimes I don't get any, and here is why.

The brazen chipmunk that lives in my garden has the nerve not only to eat my strawberries, but he then climbs up on a rock in the gravel garden and arranges his leavings as a bold taunt.

Look, I ate your strawberries.  I did.  And I will again.

I'm thinking of changing my breakfast menu from cold cereal with strawberries to fried chipmunk with gravy.


July 7, 2012

The Light in the Meadow

I have a love hate relationship with the area behind our property.  At times I think it is a weedy mess, full of deer ticks, and unattractive.  We don't own the land there.  It is unmanaged, unmowed, overrun by invasive plants and home to diseased rodents.  It is not a meadow or a field, it is just open junk space.

Then, at times, it dazzles.

Right now the timothy grass shines in the late day sun, black eyed susans nod in a breeze, and milkweed is blooming pink and bold in upright towers.  Lacy white feverfew sweeps about the whole scene.

At these times I call it a meadow.  I even call it "my" meadow, although I don't plant it or own it or claim anything other than the pure enjoyment of watching it quiver with butterflies on a sunny afternoon.

The noise and rustle of the meadow is soothing, offset by the cacophony of bird calls out there.  Hawks patrol from overhead and when they do, the crows let everyone know.  Yellow finches wait patiently for the big spiky thistles to bloom and ripen.

The homeowner's association we belong to owns the land in common, but no one in the neighborhood can even see it.  It is viewable only from our back yard.  The association does not do anything to maintain it.  On his own, Jim mows some paths through the dense foliage all summer, and we can walk out there.

Sometimes I don't even see the wildlife or the plants, I only notice the light in the meadow, and how it is so changeable. 

On hot nights in early July, the whole area flashes and twinkles with fireflies.

I really wish you could see that.

Some views of the meadow over time:

July 3, 2012

This is for Lee

In response to my last post I got great suggestions on what to do with a large resin container that was such a ridiculous purchase.  There were good ideas about what to plant in my cauldron, or even to repaint it, but the comment that captured my attention was this, from Lee May of Lee May's Gardening Life:
"I want it placed (empty) in the middle of a field of weeds or grasses or wildflowers so it looks both intentional and surprising.

Do not let it retain a place of prominence. Do not put any plant in it."

So, Lee . . . .  this is for you. 

First, sit with me on the patio and look out across the dry creekbed into the meadow.  Do you see it there at the bend of the path?

Walk over the bridge and come with me down the path.

There it is, dark and unsettling in the deep shade of slightly ominous tall weeds.

Jim has mowed a winding labyrinth of paths throughout the meadow, and the weeds have reached a good five or six feet tall now.  They hide anyone who braves the ticks and sleeping fawns out there to walk among the grasses.

As you come around one of the curves from the other direction, it startles.

With one short suggestion from a fellow blogger, I went from hating this pot, making fun of it, lamenting what to do with it, and regretting that I even owned it, to loving its dark, mysterious, weighty form out in the meadow.
Lee, I owe you.


July 1, 2012

You Were Right

In February I posted about an expensive resin Umbrian pot I got from Pottery Barn that I thought would be just the thing to dress up a problem area along my front walk.

Did you say to yourself "ehhh, that's gonna be a Garden Oops.  Besides being pretentious, it just looks too big, it's a funny color, and it is wrong for that narrow front garden in front of a brick wall."

Did you say that?  Noooo, you said nice things in the comments section of that post. But you were thinking otherwise.

 You were right.

It's the first of the month, when Joene sponsors Garden Oops, or GOOPs We post about our mistakes.  You can go to her blog to read more.

This was a mistake.  First of all, the ridiculous cost.  Was the household financial controller completely asleep?  When I placed it in front of the brick wall fronting my house, I had immediate misgivings, financial and aesthetic.  Mainly financial.  Largely aesthetic.  Both.

It was too big.  It was too Tuscan looking for a strip of garden in front of a brick wall with black shutters. 

The fake resin composite immediately faded in the weak winter sunlight, and within three weeks the side facing outward was pink.  Not terra cotta.  Pink.

I rotated it, and the other side turned pink.

Not terra cotta.  Pink.

So. . .  I painted it a nice neutral taupe color that turned out to be mottled steely black.

Now I own a large black cooking cauldron that looks like chickens should be sacrificed in it on Sundays.

I put a begonia in it, but the poor thing looks frightened.

I went to Home Depot, bought a shiny plastic urn for $26 and put it in front of the brick wall along the front walk.  So much better.  So much cheaper.

You were right.  The original expensive urn had '"oops" written all over it.

You were all just too nice to say so.