June 27, 2013

Walk By and Gasp

Stewartia is a showy, unusual tree that I have somehow managed to plant in areas where they don't get noticed. In fact I have two, and neither one stands out as it should.

Stewartia pseudocamellia is the more popular variety, if you can say that about a plant hardly anyone knows about and rarely plants. But if you see a stewartia it is usually this Japanese variety, known for incredibly mottled bark and big white flowers in late June.
from Fine Gardening
Mine is young, and just beginning to show the strange patterns on its skinny trunk.

But even at a young age it flowers like crazy. The blooms are so big and heavy they fall to the ground after opening, but I like how the shattered blooms look at the feet of the tree, and there are so many more buds and flowers still opening that the show goes on.

The big white camellia-like flowers with their yellow centers look like fried eggs to me, and the cinnamon and cream colored bark looks like a swirly coffee drink --- this tree looks like breakfast at a fancy cafe.

In autumn is turns fire engine red, looking like this one year, but turning a deeper scarlet in most years.

Really, it is a spectacular tree that should be used in a place where it would get noticed.

I planted mine next to the front door, but it turns out that it just doesn't get seen there. It is perhaps too far over to the side, and the big redtwig dogwoods flanking the front porch are almost as tall, and hide it.

I have to walk around to the side of the house to see my stewartia at all, and the house siding and hose connection are not the best backdrops for such a pretty tree.

Of course with some size it will start to dominate the shrubs and take on some presence. It's a slow grower, although when I planted it seven years ago it looked like this, so there has been progress!

I also have a Stewartia monadelpha, a different variety that has smaller leaves, fewer, smaller flowers and also manages to hide in my garden despite being a lovely tree. The bark is a nice orangey color but not mottled.

It is planted at the edge of a seating area, but blends quietly into its surroundings and is unnoticed, even though I walk by it and sit under it frequently.

The flowers are demure. You have to look for them.

Like its cousin, it turns burning red in autumn. That skinny column of red is the young stewartia monadelpha the year after it was planted.

With everything going for both these stewartias in all seasons, people should walk into my garden and gasp. I should walk by and do the same.

But I have to remember to look, I have to make a point of going out to see them.

They are perhaps still too small. Maybe both needed more prominent placement, rather than up against the house or mixed in a border along the walk.

Perhaps with age they will have more dramatic presence and draw your eye, rather than just being interesting enough isolated in a photograph.

But until that happens, when you come to visit you will have to remind me to show you the two stewartias that grow in my garden. You won't notice them otherwise.

June 24, 2013

Peggy Martin

The survivor rose, Peggy Martin, is famous for spending two weeks completely submerged under sea water after Hurricane Katrina. It lived and grew again. That's a rose with staying power.

In a friend's garden in June a Peggy Martin rose flowers with abundance. Hers is just six years old and looks as if it has been there forever. It is huge.

It's a difficult pink to use with other colors in a mixed border, and it's a rampant climber that needs room. By itself, draped over a big structure, with a view of the blue hills of Connecticut in the far distance, this survivor rose is a stunner.

The rose is breathtaking, but it is the pergola I really want you to notice.

Her husband built it for her 25 years ago. This fall they will celebrate 50 years of marriage with a trip to France, back to the place where they first met.

A marriage of great constancy and a pergola built halfway through the journey, bearing a rose famous for its endurance.



June 20, 2013

More on Rosa Glauca

In an earlier post this month I mentioned the oddity of my Rosa glauca, redleaf rose. Several commenters said they really loved this unusual rose, or wanted one, or had liked seeing one in someone's garden.

I too admired redleaf roses before putting one in last year. But I am struggling with how to use it effectively in my own garden.

Rosa glauca is a tall, leggy shrub that needs something solid near it, under it, or behind it, partly to bulk up its sparse form and partly to contrast with its wispy, smoky colored foliage. Here are several ways I have seen it used well:
Love this -- it arches gracefully over a rustic fence, but is anchored by a very large bird condo nearby,
and there is complexity in the different levels of greenery behind it to showcase the form and fine foliage.
I saw this on a local garden tour.

This one leans over. It contrasts with the red maple behind and the bold hosta
foliage below and some big rocks to the right. The leaves are not so gray-green in this light.
This was seen at a garden tour in a nearby town.

The massive rock wall gives this leggy rose some visual oomph below, and the barn adds
some solid structure in the distance behind. Again, in this light the foliage was greener.
This is another example from the local garden tour in town.

Industrial railroad ties running below this fuller, rangier rosa glauca give it some weight.
I saw this one growing on the High Line in Manhattan.

The examples I saw all had hardscape around them and complex plantings behind them. My Rosa glauca is unfortunately sitting in a garden border at the edge of the lawn. There is no harsdcape or structure nearby. It's not working.
Mine is young and funny shaped and very blue. 
There is nothing nearby to contrast with or to give it any bulk.

Rosa glauca is a chameleon of a plant. Some days it is gray, other days it is greener, as you can see in the variability of the several photos above. In evening light it can look positively blue. There are very red tints to the leaves, which accounts for its name "redleaf rose".

The flowers are small and pink and only last very briefly in June. They are single and simple and pretty in a stark way, but you don't plant this for roses, you plant it for the odd, variable, changing leaves.

I thought this would be an eye-catching specimen at the edge of a border, but when I look at the examples that I admired, I can see now that I need something nearby. A rock, a wall, more complex companion plantings.

I really like this plant, I just don't like the way it looks in my garden. I got some redesigning to do.

A question for those of you who grow Rosa glauca -- Do you coppice it to the ground each year? Does that help keep it a nicer form? I know it still gets leggy, but can you keep it from looking so rangy by cutting it back? Or do you just let it go?

June 16, 2013

Firsts in My Garden

There are several firsts this year in my garden.

The most exciting is that for the first time ever I cannot walk between the individual bottlebrush buckeye shrubs (Aesculus parviflora) lined up along the back of the property. They have finally grown into each other, making a big hedge that I can't pass through.
in 2013 the shrubs are finally growing together into a hedge

They were planted six years ago, and even in 2009 I thought they would never (ever) grow to a point where the branches touched. Ever. But they did.
in 2009, two years after planting, they were such separate blobs

Another first in my garden is the fact that I can now sit on my patio late in the day. There is finally a little bit of shade on the rockers.

This is a big deal. The patio faces northwest, and in the late afternoon, exactly the time when I am done with chores and want to sit and admire the scene, the sun beats down brutally on the sitting area.

I had a sourwood tree planted by the patio wall, but it was small and was growing so slowly that shade was just a dream for years to come. I moved the sourwood a year ago, put in a fast growing river birch last season (Betula nigra), and much to my delight there is enough shade for one person with one glass of wine to sit in one of the rockers without frying.

River birch is such a fast grower that I'll be able to have two people sit there next year, and a party after that.  River birch is messy (it drops a lot of twigs) and is probably too big for this space, but . . .  there is shade!

This year for the first time ever I am growing dahlias. They are in pots, sitting on the patio wall, just under the river birch. This is Black Beauty, a low mounder, the perfect size for a shallow pot, and it's a dazzling, dark, sultry bloomer.

It's a first -- I have not experimented with dahlias before, and these smaller pot-grown ones are winning me over. The bees are nuts about them too. They will be easy to winter over; I'll just bring the pot in.

This year for the first time I made pesto. I have grown basil before, always in a container on the deck, but I just used it for garnishing dishes, a leaf here, a fresh sprig there. Mmmm. This year Jim and I bought a Mediterranean cookbook, and he has been experimenting with wonderful light dishes, and I have been making pesto. You have no idea how good it is. I had no idea.

And, can this be? Is it possible that after three failed attempts I am finally growing an Indian Pink --Spigelia marilandica? It looks like it will bloom. It looks to be alive and thriving.

Tammy at Casa Mariposa and Phillip Oliver at Dirt Therapy have shown beautiful examples of the Spigelias that they grow, much to my envy. I've seen stands growing wild in the woods. After losing all the others I planted, I may actually have one this year, and that will be a first!

Every year there is something different, and something novel in even the most established garden. I am delighted by the fact that I can be surprised anew each season.


June 12, 2013

June is for Roses

Simple red carpet roses in June. Nothing better. I thought they were low ground cover roses ("carpet"?) and planted them under taller things, but they are three feet high and wanting to grow bigger.

Oddly colored redleaf rose (Rosa glauca). The foliage is blue, or gray, and the form is spindly. It needs something around it rather than sitting alone as such a strange specimen.

Knockout rose 'Blushing Pink'. Carefree, easy, and it's even fragrant in a very delicate, surprising way. It is right by the front door. You can't miss it when you come to see me.

Finally, a Red Drift rose makes a little pop of color at the edge of the garden. It stays low and tidy and kind of bun shaped. Despite its little size, you just can't miss it from afar.

These are all the roses I have. I am no rose grower. None of mine make any fuss or take any care or even get noticed by me for most of the year. I'm no fan. But when June comes they make even a non rose grower like me stop and appreciate their whole reason for being.

June is for roses.

June 8, 2013

A Small Tree

This is a small tree I really like, a Cornus mas, or corneliancherry. Isn't this one a dapper shape and elegant, small size?

Now look at the same tree, with me posing under it. I don't usually post pictures with me in them, it's about the plants, just the plants, after all. But this is one where I need to show the scale of this mature corneliancherry.

It's a dogwood tree, but an unusual one that blooms in earliest spring with a haze of yellow flowers. These photos were taken in mid May.

Like a lot of small trees, it can be multi stemmed and shrubby. The one I am standing under at the Berkshire Botanical Garden has multiple trunks but it has been pruned over many years to limb it up and to make it tree shaped.

It is over 20 feet tall, and I am dwarfed under it. That's small by forest standards, but when you think of an ornamental tree for a small yard, few people really picture something 20 to 25 feet tall.

Last year a friend asked for recommendations to replace an old pee gee hydrangea that had died. It had been in her tiny city front yard, directly in front of the house.  I suggested another hydrangea or some other pretty shrubs.

No, no, she said, I definitely want a tree there this time. A small tree. Some shade, some height, a trunk form.

But every tree I suggested, including a Cornus mas, was met with rejection. Too big! Not 20 feet tall. That will swamp the house.

After going back and forth with suggestions, it finally became clear that a small tree to her would be something that grew to about 8 or 10 feet tall.

Well, that's just not a tree, really.

There are small Japanese maples that will top out at 10 or 12 feet, and many can be pruned artfully to look smaller. You can get dwarf oddities of big trees, like witch's brooms of a ginkgo tree. I had one, called Spring Grove, but it looked like a shrub.

In the end she decided to plant nothing. Her small yard is now a sunny open spot, and that suits.

It's a challenge to find a small, elegant tree when you want something 10 feet tall. That's why standards of willows are so popular and you see them everywhere. They look like tiny little trees, and can be kept to 8 feet.
from Miller Nursery
But any small tree that will provide shade and the look of a real tree is going to be 20 feet tall.

I suffer from the same conflict - I want small trees to be much littler than they will eventually be. Here is my own Cornus mas, which is some day going to fill that whole space between the birch and the pine. Think of the pictures at the top of this post and then imagine that planted here.

There will be room enough, I think.

I'm turning a shrubby viburnum into a small tree. This is Viburnum prunifolium, or blackhaw.  I'm removing all the suckers and the lower branches to get a small tree form. This is a good example of "small tree" delusions -- as a shrub form it will grow to about 12 or 15 feet high, a perfect size. Pruned to a tree form it can reach 20 or 30 feet tall.

I think I have room for a 20 foot tree here, but that certainly is not what most of us think of as a small tree. (note that this pretty viburnum is blooming, in May, but only at the bottom. Frost nipped the upper branches earlier in the spring.)

I am doing the same thing with another Viburnum prunifolium planted at the side of the house, which is being pruned into a single trunk.

Here I may have a problem with a 20 foot tree so near the house. (note to Heather at Girl with a Hammer -- or to anyone else -- how would you hide those A/C units?)

We ask so much of our landscape plants. We want height to provide shade but a low profile to fit the space. We want flowers and fruit but no mess. We want density to screen things (like A/C units), but openness for air circulation or a view.

So keep one thing in mind as you design your spaces for all those conflicting landscape needs: a small tree is not as small as you think it is!

June 4, 2013

This Year . .

For four years the 'Mara des Bois' strawberries I planted have been disappointing. But not this year.

This year I have a bumper crop. I bring a bowlful like this in every morning.

I started these in 2009 in clay strawberry jars, and that didn't work out. I moved them to a long plastic container trough where they were too crowded. There were slugs, springs brought poor conditions for fruiting, they languished, I lost many plants, divided others, planted them out in the garden one year, and then dug them up and re-planted them along the gravel garden in 2011.

Finally in the gravel garden border they spread and sent out runners in 2012, and even produced a few berries that the chipmunk ate. I got about a half dozen strawberries over the summer. He got the rest.

But this year they are wondrous! The chipmunk is nowhere to be seen. What lush, vigorous plants. They taste the way strawberries tasted in my youth, nothing like supermarket strawberries. They are big, although 'Mara des Bois' is supposed to have very small fruit. I am beside myself with delight, but cannot explain the incredible bounty this year.

This year a random iris appeared in the middle of a garden where I had not planted irises. I don't know what kind it is or where it came from. I am pleased it popped up and I think it is so pretty, but I can't tell you how it got there.

This year the slender deutzia, Deutzia gracilis 'Nikko' has bloomed like never before. This one plant is more upright and exploding than the others I have. Although they are all the same cultivar, the others form low, ground hugging carpets, covered in white blooms. This one plant stands right up and shoots out in all directions, about two feet high.

I tried pruning off the shooting upper branches to make it lower profile, and more like the other deutzia gracilis plants nearby, but it was having none of that. The plant just sent out replacement shoots in exactly the same explosion array. I cannot explain why this one plant is such a different shape and style.

This year the dappled willows (Salix integra 'Hakuro-nishiki') are the pinkest and billowiest ever. I dithered over pruning them, coppicing them, or what to do. I'd had less than happy results when they were left alone to grow into wild lumps in past years. And I had less than great results the year I coppiced them and they regrew awkwardly, without the salmon pink edged coloration.

But I did nothing this spring and now they have formed beautiful huge arching shapes, with leaves strongly tinged in pink and white. They bounce in the breeze. I can't tell you why this year they are finally such a beautiful shape and color.

This year the Blushing Pink knockout rose by the front door is covered in roses, with more buds to open. It has bloomed before, but not so hugely. I don't know why it took off this year so exuberantly.

The three visitors by the front door don't seem to know what's been happening this year either. They appear dismayed at all the unexpected turns of events this spring.

Like them, I can't explain it all, but unlike them, I am more delighted than alarmed.