July 27, 2013

Reasons for Concern

We have had plenty of rain this summer, with record amounts in spring, and enough as July came on.

An inch fell the other night, and when I went out the next morning, I was concerned to see the river birch (Betula nigra) with so many yellow leaves.

The ground is damp, there is enough moisture in the soil and then some. But it is shedding leaves all over.

The round blue spruce beneath the birch is catching the discarded leaves and holding them like little treasures.

Should I be concerned?

Next to the birch is a small pagoda dogwood (Cornus alternifolia) and it has yellow leaves all over. It's hard to photograph because it is so spindly yet, but here it is, looking very yellow.

Should I be concerned about this too?

The river birch has lots of new green leaves in addition to all the yellow, and I think it will be fine. It put on so much growth when there was too much rain, and then had to shed the excess when July temperatures got so hot for so long. It has enough moisture, it just doesn't want all those leaves right now in the middle of summer.

The pagoda dogwood does not have any good green leaves on it. I am more worried about its skinny self. Should I be so uneasy?

While I sat on the patio stewing over these two trees, the hummingbird dive bombed me. His feeder is on a pole next to where I sit, and he buzzed my face and zipped by, asking "what are you doing there? Should I be concerned? What's going on?"

Earlier in the summer the pole is covered by a clematis that hides the sugar feeder from anyone sitting nearby. It is clematis viticella 'Alba Luxurians', and it really is luxuriant in full bloom. The hummingbirds always know I am there, but never mind as long as they can hide from me.

But when the blooms go by the clematis gets ratty looking, so I cut it down, and by late summer it completely regrows and is once again just as flowery and luxuriant. The individual flowers are white with green streaks.

Right now, though, with the foliage gone, the hummer lets me know there is reason to be agitated.

And I am concerned too. Those yellow leaves. I'm worried.

* * (the male ruby throated hummingbird is aggressive and won't be photographed. The female will hold still for a shot sometimes like the one above. They are very expressive birds. The male communicates with me, hovering in my face at times, deliberately buzzing too near my head, and once dipping his wings in delight and looking straight at me as he played in the spray from my garden hose.)

July 23, 2013

Fixing a Good Thing

When we put in a gravel seating area next to the house, I liked the improvement right away. It was exactly what I wanted. And then I set out to fix it.

Here is what we started with, the "before" pictures. A small snaky border out in the yard hemmed in a strip of grass bisected by tiny stepping stones.
In September, 2011 we hired a crew to dig up the grass, install steel edging and fill the area with pea gravel. I added some plants to the borders that ringed it, and by early October the area was absolutely what I had envisioned. Perfect. I could not have been happier.
Perfect until I started making changes, that is.

First revision: those chairs. The low slung plastic chairs blew over in every breeze and were cheap looking. Here's what I replaced them with. Much nicer. An umbrella and a found stump for a side table were added.

Second change: I added rocks. Yes, I went to the rock store and bought rocks. I can't believe I did that. Here are a few of them artfully strewn about the edges of the area, just as a retreating glacier would have left them. Work with me on this.

I bought two twig towers for vines to climb, and put them next to clumps of inkberry hollies. I added a metal moongate and arbor and eventually a kiwi vine will drape over that.

(I haven't actually found the vines I want for the twig towers. Blue flowered plumbago was nice one summer, and trailing nasturtiums are ok this summer, but I'm still experimenting.)

I found cool looking containers and put them around. Found a couple more cut logs for side tables as well.

I moved a small Oxydendrum (Sourwood, or sorrel tree) to a spot in the border, and the tree has never looked better. It loves its new spot. This was last summer when the sky blue plumbagos climbed the twig towers and nasturtiums spread below.

In fall I added some green canvas director's chairs to the space so entire parties of four could sit around and admire the place.

But wait! Not done yet.

Notice five small round 'Tide Hill' boxwoods in an angled line transecting the edge of the gravel. I love the look, but need to move the strawberry plants away from the boxwoods. The line has a strong clean look, but the sprawling strawberries crowd it. The funny shrubs on either side are young fothergillas (Mt. Airy) that will get too big and they also take away from the clean architecture of the transecting line, so they will be moved.

More revisions. I can't stop.

Opuntia was added to the gravel, and despite my fears that it did not survive a wet cold winter, it did. I was pretty surprised to see the mess of soggy prickly pear cactus this spring turn into a healthy plant this summer. It even bloomed briefly in early summer.

I added a beautiful red buckeye tree, Aesculus pavia at one edge. A small white-flowered styrax tree was planted this spring on the other side. These small trees, along with the sourwood, a paperbark maple and a stewartia that were already planted along the edges will get large enough to enclose the area and shade it a little in a few years.

The sourwood blooms in July.

The inkberry hollies loved our wet spring this year and are really filling in.

A caryopteris divaricata 'Snow Fairy' offers variegated foliage along the edge.

This gravel sitting spot is the one area that I constantly tinker with in my garden. I need to wait for the plants to catch up -- there is a smokebush 'Grace' near the paperbark maple that needs to develop a nice form, and the small trees all around need to bulk up. I'm waiting for the kiwi vine to climb the moongate arbor.

Often I am dissatisfied with how a garden looks, and tinker with it incessantly to get it looking the way I want, adding, editing, moving things around and still not happy. But not this area.

For some reason every iteration, every change, every modification to this area pleases me completely and I think it is just perfect. Then I change it.

July 19, 2013

Red Hot July

Crocosmia 'Lucifer' posing. I planted dozens of corms, but I only ever get a few bloomers to come back after winter. They're worth it, though. They are such a saturated red, and it shows off nicely against the bright white of the lamppost.

Berries forming on the doublefile viburnum 'Shasta'. They look like candy, like they would be chewy.

Chocolate cosmos. I like these a lot and will plant more next year. They are low, small plants with intensely red little flowers. But the chocolate scent is difficult to pick up. I got a whiff one still evening, but normally I can't detect any chocolate fragrance.

Drumstick alliums, Allium sphaerocephalum, leaning over in front of a smokebush, Cotinus cogyggria 'Grace'. They start out as deep wine red drumstick heads, then open magenta.

A pretty daylily. I have no idea what cultivar, and I normally like the simple orange ones, but this is nice in a frilly, not really red way.

Himalyan fleeceflower, Persicaria officinis 'Dimity'. It's a groundcover, with clean green narrow leaves and fuzzy pipecleaners of pink and rusty red. This low spreader blooms all summer long.

Cardinal flower, Lobelia cardinalis. This is the red of July, the brightest, reddest, clearest firecracker red you can imagine. Pow.

It's July, it's hot, and the humidity is 90%. The temperature lately has been in the high 90s F / 36 C, the heat index (how it feels) even higher.

There are nice things out here in the garden, and lots of them are pretty reds, but I'm going in now. See you later.


Red. Hot. July. 
My garden is under the zero
in the 106 degree heat index label over Hartford.

July 15, 2013

One of These Is Not Like The Others

When I posted earlier about the bottlebrush buckeyes (Aesculus parviflora) looking so full and big this season, several of you were kind enough to ask for updates to show how they look in bloom.

Well, here they are. In early July they send skinny fingers skyward.

Soon the spikes start to look like candles as individual tiny white flowers light up along the stalks.

And then they explode. The candles go off like rockets, pointing every which way.

The show goes on for a couple weeks as older candles snuff out and newer ones light up.

But there is a rogue bottlebrush buckeye in this line -- the shrub second from the left in this hedge.

You can see that the left-most plant still has unopened candles waiting to bloom and all the shrubs on the right side are opening. But the second from the left has no flower spikes yet and won't until late in July.

I ordered all of these plants from the same place and they all looked alike. Only after five years did it become apparent that one of these was not like the others.

The one blooms a full two weeks later, after the others have stopped flowering, and it is just as nice, but out of sync by weeks. I believe a different cultivar was mixed in with the species plants and who could tell when they were small?

I believe it is Aesculus parviflora var. serotina, which is known to bloom much later and is supposed to get much larger than the straight species, eventually maturing to 20 feet tall rather than 12 feet. Eeek. How is that going to work in this hedge?

For now they are the same general size, and I can live with the staggered flowering times.

But at some point the whole hedge idea may implode as the rogue cultivar overtakes the others.

Below is a picture of a bottlebrush buckeye we saw at Chanticleer Gardens, appropriately sited in shade and showcasing its nice shape as a single plant.

I like how this individual specimen looks so stately and nicely formed. Someday I may have to edit my hedge of buckeyes. They are in too much sun, and although they seem to thrive there, the big leaves do scorch in summer. And one is not like the others, which is going to be a real problem.

But for now the oddity coexists with the others and I am enjoying the show.

July 12, 2013

These is Kaput

such small trees then . . . such big hopes
Failures happen in the garden. Rabbits eat annuals and deer browse shrubs. Bugs damage perennials. Fungus is among us. In a mixed garden it is not a catastrophe. You replant some things, you move on.

But with a tree it kind of is a catastrophe. Even small ones are expensive investments. Trees take years to grow, and when I lose one, I am losing years of planning and hopes.

This year was particularly hard --- I lost two special trees that had been growing beautifully for several years. They were specimen trees in places of prominence in the yard, still small but filling out.

These two went kaput and have left a big gap in my garden:

Cercidiphyllum japonicum - Katsura tree
A tree that was to become a big shade tree on the east side of the house. I planted it in 2009 and it grew fast. But antler rub scarred the trunk badly in 2010 and a snowstorm in 2011 tore off branches and the trunk eventually opened up and split right at the base. It healed, but left no more than a quarter of the bark covering the trunk.

You can see its sorry history here.

It leafed out this spring, but with three quarters of its bark gone, it could not carry water or nutrients when summer came, and it began dying off branch by branch.

By early July I saw so many dry leaves at its base and empty branches. It isn't going to make it.

I will replant, but I am discouraged about planting another small tree that will take another half decade to reach the same size as this one.

Should I plant another katsura? If I do, I promise to wrap the trunk to protect against the deer this time. I can't promise anything about rogue autumn snowstorms, though.

Magnolia 'Elizabeth' - (hybrid cross of cucumber magnolia and Yulan magnolia)
This is a beautiful yellow flowering magnolia. I planted one in 2010. It bloomed at a young age and was destined to be a real eye catcher.

It suffered the same indignities as the katsura tree. Male deer rubbed some of the bark off one winter, the same freaky snowstorm damaged branches, and those two assaults led to bark cracking the following year.

You can see what a pretty tree it was going to become here.

Elizabeth bloomed this spring, and I was hopeful. But the tree did not leaf out. The bark damage doesn't look like much, but the crack left the bark completely separate from the core all the way around.

Should I plant another yellow magnolia? My research now informs me that yellow flowered magnolias are particularly susceptible to splitting bark, either from winter sunscald or damage to the tree's structure. So, no.

I can be patient, and I know most of my garden successes will be someone else's to enjoy -- I am not that young. But losing these trees after putting in the waiting and tending for several years is just crummy.

Replacing failed plants can be fun, everyone loves to go plant shopping and try growing new things. An open space in the garden is an opportunity. I'm just not feeling it with these two losses, though. These is kaput and so is some of my hope.