September 27, 2012

It's The Beginning

There is much melancholy now about the end of summer. It's a legacy from our British gardening origins, which still affects our mindset here in the US. Summer is over, and nostalgia for spring flowers and summer blooms sets in.

But here on the east coast of North America it is not the end at all.  There is such a sense of anticipation, almost greater than when the garden wakes up after a cold wet winter.

It's coming. . .  Autumn.  And it will be spectacular.

Allen Lacy in The Garden in Autumn writes about the difference between an English garden going into fall and a North American one.  Our heritage is to think of gardens as beautiful in spring and summer, and faded in autumn.  In England, with its cheery spring and summer climate, but damp and dark autumn, that is true.

London is not, as popularly thought, directly across from New York.  It is on a latitude similar to Labrador, and days get short very noticeably in September. It's rainy. There can be nice garden sights, and beautiful fall color, but autumn quickly brings chill and dark, more so than it does here.

In much of North America the days are not so short, the weather gets really nice, and the sense of a season beginning anew in September is wondrous.  In the midwest and on the east coast the hot, humid, horrid, rainless misery of summer is over, and we get welcome rain to refresh the garden, and cooler weather to enjoy it in.

Just as we get excited about the first daffodils in spring, there is excitement about the asters and those first tantalizing fall colors just emerging.

Look ---  it begins.
Asters abound.  They are everywhere in the meadow.
Let the season begin!

Fronds of staghorn sumacs on the hill and an oak sapling in the meadow
start to color, and will be completely ablaze soon.

This pair of red maples on the hill can't wait --- they're always ahead of the others.
They turn wine red in September, before all the others change.

The days are shorter now, but the light is clearer. The sun's rays look for willing subjects.

Purple and gold, clashing and crashing.

A potted blueberry turns mahogany red.
It didn't produce many blueberries this summer, but look at it now.

Iris 'Immortality' reblooms in September, so blindingly bright that the camera can't capture any detail in her crystalline white falls (I tried, I can't figure out any setting that will "see" anything but flat white).
Garnet red Itea stands behind Iris 'Immortality'.
This iris smells like high class grape soda.
I have no melancholy, no sense that the garden is ending, only excitement about all the new stuff going on out there in this season.

The hardy mums are filled with buds, and ready to open. The forested hillsides change colors, shifting the whole view. Berries on the hollies and chokeberries are turning red.

Each day brings new sights, new colors, emerging blooms, an interesting development in the garden, a changing landscape so much more dramatic than the slow changes our long, tentative spring brings us.

It's beginning and I can't wait.

Which way do we go?
Over here, over here.
No, this way, to the right. Follow us.

September 24, 2012

All Season Long

Are nasturtiums supposed to bloom profusely all spring, all summer and all fall? Do yours?

Mine never did before.

Nasturtiums are easy to grow from seed, and they look great in early summer until heat and humidity make them look ratty and sprawly, which is when the gardener takes them out and replaces them with something else.

They are cool weather annuals and they can be prone to aphids.

But this year, despite a very hot and very dry summer, the nasturtiums around the gravel garden have not missed a beat.

Here they are in summer, in 90 degree heat, even a few days at 100, and at the height of our almost totally rainless July.

And here they are on a cloudy day in August, never having slowed down at all.

And they are still fresh and vibrant in the third week of September, going strong at the foot of a shaggy, mop headed sourwood tree.

No aphids, few brown or curled leaves, and no let up in the flowering extravagance.

The orange ones are 'Gleam', and they trail and climb up the nearby inkberry hollies. Some of the flowers are apricot streaked with rust red, others are a solid hot orange. It's a great mix. I'd grow them again.

The yellow ones are 'Moonlight' and they also climb. I let one mound over on itself, and planted another to climb up a trellis by the side of the house.

All summer I snipped off a few of the peppery, tasty leaves for salads, but other than that they got no attention. Nasturtiums want no fertilizer, no care, and a lot of neglect, so I gave them all of that.

I am the best nasturtium grower in the world, I really am.

Next season they may disappoint, but this year they have made me look like a genius all season long.

September 21, 2012

I Made A List

I made a list of the plants I'd like to add to my garden.

I don't go to the garden center, spot a plant and bring it home. I shop the other way around.

I decide the exact form, shape and color needed to fill a particular spot or complete a design, then I make a list, and proceed to go around looking for exactly those items.

Frustration is my companion in this.

(There is always mail order.  You can find anything anywhere and have it shipped. Gardening in the time of the interweb is grand. But mail order plants can be expensive -- the shipping -- and very small, especially if the item you want is a forest tree.)

So, with the usual possibility of disappointment, I made a list this summer, and then I went around to the local garden centers.

            And I scored.  Big time.

First on my list
I wanted a red buckeye, Aesculus pavia, which is a tree that I saw on garden tours this spring. I saw it in May, in bloom, and knew that this small (to 20 feet tall) unusual tree would be in my yard soon.

But it was nowhere to be found, until I came across this specimen at Silver Spring Nursery right here in town.  (A couple miles from my house, after looking out of state and everywhere.) Now this red buckeye, already coloring up for fall, is in my garden.
Aesculus pavia will have red flowers in May, yellow foliage in fall, and 
it will remain a small and shapely tree in the gravel garden by the side of the house.

Second on my list
Hypericum inodorum 'Ignite Scarlet Red' is now filling the empty spot where tall grasses were inappropriately planted. I moved them, the area was then vacant and calling for a two foot high rounded shrub (with red berries if not too much to ask) and this cool St. Johnswort presented itself as the solution. I found it at a local nursery. Score.
A small, tidy St. Johnswort.  The flowers are sunshine yellow trumpets in summer,
and then these fine red berries dress it up for fall.

My third find
Caryopteris divaricata, which is related to the woody bluebeard that I already have in my garden (and love, as do the bees), was a find at Natureworks near my home. Score again!
Caryopteris divaricata 'Snow Fairy' has wonderfully clean, clear, white edged leaves, 
and the most incredible odor when touched!
It's a caryopteris, but an herbaceous one, not woody.  It has clear, bright variegated foliage, it's small and rounded upright, and it smells like green pepper, only sharper, when you touch the leaves. Love it, love the look, love the odd stinky smell of the foliage.

A fourth score
Opuntia is the only cactus that grows in New England (who knew? A prickly pear cactus here?) Not a potted plant to be coddled over winter, it grows outdoors in our acid, wet, cold, rocky soil, and it is native.  I had to have this, but it is not a commonly found plant.

Lee May has opuntia in his dry, rocky garden. And I found a nice one at a local nursery last week. It will go in my gravel garden. What a find.
Opuntia humifusa growing in Lee's Connecticut garden.

I also found sweet autumn clematis -- not rare, but out of fashion I think, as few nurseries carry it and it has a reputation for invasive or at least rampant growth further south. Here in northern Connecticut it is better behaved, but still a flashy, big, robust grower and I have a spot that could use an exclamation.  Found a nice sized one, inexpensive.
Even sitting in its pot waiting to be planted, this Clematis paniculata smells so sweet.

I scored a lovely native wildflower anemone, called thimbleweed, or Anemone virginiana that I have wanted.
Thimbleweed in my garden already. I moved and divided this tall anemone,
and now with the addition of the one I just found, I'll have a stand of them.

And I found a wonderful glossy abelia with chartreuse foliage and pretty pink flowers, very mardi gras looking. I have 'Edward Goucher' already, but this is Abelia x grandiflora 'Francis Mason' and it was a find -- just what I was looking for to plant under a young smokebush and drape over a small berm.
Abelia 'Francis Mason' fills an open spot under a smokebush Cotinus coggygria 'Grace'

My list still has plants on it that I think I need. But I found several already, I found them locally, I found them reasonably priced at the end of the season, and I am really happy with that.


September 16, 2012

The Bluestone Walk

The walkway that runs from our driveway to the back of the house is an area that I never think of as a garden.

It is utilitarian -- a way to get you from the front to the backyard. It was never meant to be a garden space.

But as I pass by the grasses and shrubs planted along the walk, I realize I am in a special place. It is green and cool, a quiet passage as I go back and forth busily between gardens.

Even though I know exactly what is around the bend in the walk, I love the perspective as it opens up at the curve.

This first shot is going from the garage toward the backyard.

I put in grasses and dwarf Alberta spruces to hide the A/C units. Not very imaginative, I just wanted to hide things.

Then one day I realized that the utilitarian screening was a beautiful mix of green textures and forms. I think this looks like a garden, intentional and designed, even though it was never planned as one:

I am no big fan of dwarf Alberta spruces, at least not the way they are used in most landscapes. They are too symmetrical, and look funereal, like they were made only to flank headstones in a graveyard. But you can't get a better dense evergreen screen for a very small area, and so I planted them around the utilities against the side of the house.

And they look wonderful now, mixed in among arching miscanthus and a couple dwarf fothergillas:

There was so much to hide at first. I just wanted to get from one end to the other without having to look at anything along the way. In the beginning, this is what I had to work with. This was six years ago:

And now, looking in the same direction toward the driveway and the house across the street, I am in no hurry to pass by. I stop and look around.

And in case you think it is my camera angles that disguise the A/C units, this shot shows that you can no longer see any utilities along the side of the house*:

In a few weeks the plants in this narrow strip will turn vivid colors as the fothergillas turn kaleidescope shades of orange. The hydrangeas will temper that with their soft rosy brown panicles. There's a blackhaw viburnum in the middle that becomes wine red.

I'll post pictures when that happens. Because, you know, this walkway is a real garden, worthy of a lingering stroll, deserving of some pictures, and just a nice way to get from here to there.

* the air-conditioning repair technician is not happy with this.

September 14, 2012

This is For You

If you have had a very busy summer, this is for you:
Heed the sign

If you think delicate pink is a spring color, this proves otherwise:
Fall blooming Anemone tomentosa 'Robustissima'

If you like your pinks stronger and more assertive, here's a pink you might like:
Zinnia friends forever.  Awww

If you thought cutting back your smokebush to the ground in spring would eliminate any plumy flowers, here's evidence that it doesn't.
Cotinus coggygria 'Grace'

If hot pink zinnias aren't enough for you, here is how to kick it up a little:
Lobelia 'Ruby Slippers' with 'Cut & Come Again' zinnias

If you think fall is still a way off, that it is only September, that there is still time . . .
       . . . . this is for you:
End of Summer 


September 10, 2012

Doctor, Doctor

Doctor, what is the problem with this paper birch?

Lateral branches sticking out on the right horizontally. Loppers. please.

Okay.  Better now.

Doctor, should this paper birch be pruned as well?  Yes, we need to remove that lateral sticky-out branch on the right lower side. Japanese pruning saw please.

That's much better.

My pruning is a clear enhancement, but the real improvement here is that these birches (Betula papyrifera) actually have leaves in September. In every year before this, they dropped their leaves in August.

We planted three paper birches in 2005 and they have grown well, become shade providers, and have added height and mass.  Lovely trees.

But every summer they defoliated in August. There was never any yellow fall foliage, which has been described as golden, twinkling and beautiful.  Not these trees.

Here they were last September, in 2011, early in the month.  They had looked this way since early August.  And they looked this way every year in late summer.

Betula papyrifera likes cool summers and isn't well suited to hot conditions or drought.  In my garden they were stressed during hot dry summers, and each year they got a leaf spot fungus and defoliated early. I could not bear to remove them, but they were really ugly in late summer and early fall.

So this year I had them treated with a fungicide in spring, the same spray that you would use to treat roses for black spot.  It has made all the difference.

The tree guy had never heard of birches needing a black spot fungicide, but the results show that mine benefitted immensely.

But I don't like the idea of spraying large shade trees. I don't want to doctor these big paper birches every year.  I have to say, though, that with the foliar spray this year they look wonderful, and I expect a show of bright yellow fall color in a month.

Doctor, doctor, what should I do?

Should I spray fungicide each year to keep these birches in leaf?


September 7, 2012

How to Solve Problems

Sometimes solutions to my problems just show up and I don't have to do anything.

Last evening I had a visit from Lee May of Lee May's Gardening Life and his wife Lyn.  They were delightful guests.  And into the bargain, I got two thorny issues solved for me, which had been bothering me for a while.

The first -- how to prune a young American holly (Ilex opaca) and whether or not to prune up a pretty Stewartia (S. pseudocamellia) to show off its bark.  No big deal, right?  Just get the pruners out.

But I had dithered over what to do all season.  The timid pruner is afraid that removed branches can't be stuck back on.  The uncertain gardener is convinced that pruning an expensive tree (the holly) is like cutting cash off the tree.  Each branch on that thing cost a fortune.  Each branch!

Here is how my problem was solved.  I didn't even have to do the work.
This is how to entertain guests in your garden.
The bark will become mottled and interesting as this Stewartia
ages, and now, limbed up, I can see it.
Originally I wanted an Ilex opaca branched all the way
 to the ground, but the specimen I got early last spring was missing
limbs below.  It looked awkward.
Instead of low branches, the curvy trunk of this Ilex opaca
is now its best feature, thanks to Lee's work with the saw.

The second problem -- what to plant in shade in a dampish spot in the back garden.  The camassias in that area die back as all spring bulbs do, and leave a mess of foliage, which I need to hide.

Then the trees above leaf out and create a lot of shade. The area needs a transition from low groundcovers to the taller shrubs behind, something about two feet tall in between.

I am bored to death with hostas and heucheras, and needed something different.  Once again I dithered all season over what to try there. Lee showed up with the perfect solution, a gift of a hardy begonia (Begonia grandis) from his garden.

I knew nothing about begonias and thought they were only houseplants.  But this lovely summer bloomer is hardy, it wakes up late in the spring, so the camassias can do their thing first, and it will be the right size -- a mound about two feet tall -- to fill the mid level between the low plants and the shrubs.  They thrive in shade, they like it damp, and they may naturalize in the space I have.  Perfect.

And it is simply a beautiful plant.
Look at those rich red-backed leaves.

So here is my advice to you when you are struggling with what to do in your garden:

Invite a fellow gardener over who grows interesting and unusual plants.

Get out the pruning saw.

Have the wine glasses ready.

Problems solved.