Oh, this is the joy of the rose--that it blooms and goes.
- Willa Cather
Viewing entries from Lynn
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This sparkling Fall day reminded me, in the aftermath of Sandy, to appreciate the colorful display that remains.
The Oakleaf Hydrangea (H.quercifolia) is presenting a better, stronger array of hues than it has in previous years. What a handsome, valuable shrub this is! Later, when the leaves are gone, its peeling bark and dried blossoms will provide winter interest. And even the Blue Wave lacecaps (Hydrangea macrophylla) offer a late season treat when their formerly blue blossoms age to bright pink.
A selection of native plants helps to explain the natural glory of a New England autumn. The graceful Witch Hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) has dropped its recently yellow leaves to expose branches studded with star-shaped golden blossoms. They resemble tiny sea creatures more than flowers fluttering in the breeze, and sprays of them float in the woods like yellow snowflakes against the cool gray bark.
Close by, clumps of Mapleleaf Viburnum (V. acerifolium) have fed the birds with their berries and now proceed to brighten the woods with multicolored leaves accented by now chartreuse veins. This carefree understory shrub sports pretty foliage, blossoms, berries, and finally fall color.
The daisy-like flowers of the native White Wood Asters (A. divaricatus) have now gone to seed, resulting in silvery heads of fluff. Each stalk resembles a fluffy bouquet.
And, not to be taken for granted are the Dogwoods (Cornus florida), with their rich wine tones.
A final, special treat for me are the mature seedheads on the Magnolia tree (M. grandiflora ‘Bracken’s Brown Beauty’), which was miraculously spared by a fallen oak. These seed heads look like exotic fuzzy pods filled with bright red beads. Another ornament on an already beautiful, flowering evergreen.
Surrounded by this wealth of cheery color, I feel as if the holiday season has begun and I've already received my gifts.
Tags: specimen shrub for shade, shade gardening, Viburnum acerifolium, Mapleleaf Viburnum, Cornus florida, Dogwood, Aster divaricatus, White Wood Aster, Oakleaf Hydrangea, Hydrangea macrophylla 'Blue Wave', Hydrangea macrophylla, Hydrangea quercifolia, Magnolia grandiflora 'Bracken's Brown Beauty', witch hazel, Hamamelis virginiana, Fall color, Fall, gardening in zone 6, gardening in the Northeast, Gardening in New England, CT gardening
After a long break, Hurricane Sandy has inspired me to blog again. At 2:30 in the afternoon on Monday, October 29, we heard a loud thud. My husband and I thought it might be a fallen tree. Sure enough, though the storm in full had not even reached us yet, a large oak had toppled from the hillside onto our main shrub border along the driveway. Its root ball had come out of the ground, exposing the rock it had grown around.
Miraculously, my beloved Magnolia was spared. The oak barely brushed past it as it landed across the smoke bush (Cotinus coggygria), then the Chamaecyparus, the Winterberry (Ilex verticillata), the iron arbor with Clematis and Rose vines, a new PJM Rhododendron and finally, the fabulous Limelight Hydrangea.
This was a shrub border I created from nothing along the edge of my driveway. After a dozen years, it was just maturing to the point that it held together, obscuring the view of the lawn beyond. Now, with the exception of a small Chamaecyparus and a Blue Mound Pine, it is history.
It is heart-wrenching. But I also realize how lucky I am. My home and my family are safe. I have this blog as a release for my frustration. And--after some serious clean-up--the devastated border presents a nearly blank canvas for replanting. Plus, the lost oak will open up my yard to a great deal more sunshine than it had before. I’ll have to watch the light and reevaluate what plantings will work in this location. It is a whole new opportunity for gardening, and I will document it here.
Tags: garden opportunity, Rhododendron PJM, Winterberry, Ilex verticillata, Cotinus Coggygria, Smokebush, Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Crippsii Aurea', shrub border, Oak tree, Hurricane Sandy
I’ve been pleased with how lush and healthy my Andromedas (Pieris japonica) are this season. I have three different groupings of them, and all have generous new growth and are draped profusely with the buds for next spring’s blooms. All except one, that is.
Suddenly, 3 or 4 days ago, I noticed a dead branch tip. On closer inspection, I found that the entire center of the shrub was droopy and beginning to yellow. When I walked around behind it, I could see a surprisingly large pile of what I can only identify as sawdust. This had to be the frass left behind by a borer. Ugh.
Borers are bad news. And why would they suddenly attack a bush that has been thriving all year? They are probably the larva of the Clearwing Moth (Synanthedon rhododendri) or Rhododendron Borer, which also attack Azaleas and Pieris.
I immediately bought a product from Bonide (www.bonide.com) called Borer-Miner Killer. Attaching a sprayer bottle to the hose and setting it to 1 tablespoon per gallon, I sprayed thoroughly—the tops and undersides of the leaves and stems, not only of the affected Pieris, but also the two on either side of it.
Tags: prune damaged wood, Bonide, Borer-Miner Killer, Synanthedon rhododendri, Azalea, Rhododendron Borer, Rhododendrons, Andromeda, Pieris japonica, Pieris
Although I was unable to see any entry holes, I pruned back to the base of the plant, removing all the branches that looked sick. This took the center out of the bush, but it is my only hope of putting a stop to the damage. When I examined the cut branch, it did not have a visible hole in it. But it did have an area of dark, dead wood at its base.
I’ll keep you posted on the Andromeda’s progress.
After years of perennial gardening, Pamela Page needed a new challenge. She wanted to learn what it would be like to live off the land, so she took up serious vegetable gardening on her 8 acre property in Bethel, CT. In beautifully laid-out symmetrical beds, enclosed in a rustic fence, she grows most of what she and her husband Igor eat—and gives generously to neighbors.
Page begins with a plan, a carefully thought out diagram of the plantings for each year. This is important, she says, so she can keep track of what grew where and rotate her crops to enrich the soil and discourage pests. Though the goal is to grow food, aesthetics are clearly an important factor in Page’s planning. Igor, her architect husband, designs and builds arches and arbors, tripods and trellises to support the plants and add to the charm.
Page selects flowers for beauty, to attract pollinators and repel pests. Magenta hibiscus echo the jewel tones of Swiss chard; marigolds surround Brussels sprouts; Kale mingles with Meadow Rue. In addition to the expected tomatoes and salad greens, squash, eggplant and herbs, Page includes some more exotic culinary choices. Kiwi berry vines drape the fence on one side; Chinese watermelon radishes add color to the menu.
If you have a vegetable garden, or are considering one, take the opportunity to visit Page’s 10,000 square foot garden at Ho Hum Hollow Farms on Sunday, September 16. It will be open to the public from 10 to 4 as part of the Garden Conservancy’s Open Days program. A sophisticated blend of the practical and the beautiful, Ho Hum Hollow Farms can be found at 200 Chestnut Ridge Road in Bethel.
Tags: organic gardening, gardening in the Northeast, Gardening in New England, gardening in zone 6, CT gardening, Open Days, Garden Conservancy, Pamela Page, Ho Hum Hollow Farms, vegetable gardening
What has happened to the Impatiens this year? Mine never flourished and filled out as well as they usually do. And after several drenching downpours two weeks ago, they lost most of their leaves and look as though they are done for the season. I know I’m not alone. My gardening friends Jill and Mia have both expressed concern about the poor performance of their Impatiens this summer.
I’m talking about the common Impatiens walleriana which I’ve grown every year since I can remember, and they are usually trouble-free and lush. They only require that you not let them dry out. I’ve been feeding and watering mine regularly, both in the ground and in several planters. I do notice that those in the planters have fared a bit better than those in the garden beds.
I do not see any evidence of insects or fungus, just leaves yellowing and dropping. I wondered if it could be the unusually hot summer season we’re having. But these are tropical plants, which should be used to more heat than we have in Connecticut. Then I thought the problem might be too much water, because my plants definitely declined immediately after a series of heavy rainstorms. Again, these are plants that prefer moist soil; they originate in the rainy tropics.
How are your Impatiens this season? Can you shed any light on their sorry state? Or are yours spectacular?!?! I’d love to know either way.
Tags: Summer, gardening in zone 6, Gardening in New England, gardening in the Northeast, CT gardening, Annuals, shade gardening, shade annuals, impatiens walleriana, impatiens
As great a fan as I am of our native plants, I can’t deny my gratitude for the beauties that have come from Asia. Since China and Japan share temperate climates similar to ours, we are able to grow many of their plants with great success. And what distinction they bring to the garden!
I have a particular fondness for some of the Japanese evergreens. They offer colors and textures we can’t find among North American natives and make a statement wherever they are planted.
After nursing an American Holly for many, many years in a shaded corner, I finally replaced it with a Japanese Cedar (Cryptomeria japonica). Within its first year, it has settled in easily and is producing extravagant new growth. The branches of this conifer are clothed in long, soft “branchlets” of gray-green needles creating a unique texture. It develops a natural conical shape but can be pruned as desired. This tree does well in shade, so it is a valuable alternative to the overused Hemlocks and Boxwood for evergreen coverage.
In a more open location, in a shrub border, I have a Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Crippsii Aurea.’ This false cypress has lacy, fern-like leaves in a bright lemon-lime color that makes it a wonderful focal point for Zones 4 -8. It is dramatic against a purple Smokebush (Cotinus cogyggria) and Coral Bells Heuchera ‘Palace Purple.’ I have noticed that the yellow is brighter with more sun, and the color tends to get subdued in the winter.
Another false cypress, Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Gracilis’ offers a distinct contrast. Its branches grow in circular whorl-like patterns, with the outer edges a brighter, lighter green than the deep forest green of the inner leaves. Like the Crippsii, it is a slow grower and well suited to a shrub border or a specimen planting. All of them are happy with neutral to slightly acidic, well-drained soil. They all tolerate some shade and have been trouble-free for me.
Tags: Chamaecyparis, false cypress, Japanese Cedar, Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Gracilis', Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Crippsii Aurea', Coral Bells, Heuchera, Heuchera 'Palace Purple', Smokebush, Cotinus Coggygria, Nana, Cryptomeria japonica, alternative to American Holly, alternative to Hemlock, Japanese evergreens, organic gardening, CT gardening, Gardening in New England, gardening in the Northeast, gardening in zone 6, shade gardening
Another benefit to these evergreens is that they are available in compact versions. If the scientific name includes the word, “Nana,” it means that it will grow slowly and remain a modest size for locations where space is limited.
My first move on awakening each morning is to open the blind and check the garden outside. It helps that the morning sun shines on my birdbath focal point in the back yard. But this little ritual is important to me; it gives me a sense of the day, the weather--dry or wet, bright or gray--and is my first opportunity to see the state of the garden. It is exciting to see a change—a new blossom or leaf, a plant that has perked up, a bird bathing. It is not unusual to see damage, too, the path of a mole, the remains of the woodchuck’s dinner, a tree limb down.
I’ve been looking out this window for years without considering it as a “view.” But it is precisely that, a perspective from which I see my garden frequently and one that should be appealing. It is a perspective that differs from the view at ground level and lets me assess the scene in a new way.
This idea was brought home to me recently when I visited the Bellamy-Ferriday House in Bethlehem, CT. A lovely historic house surrounded by beautiful formal gardens, the highlight of the tour was seeing the garden from Miss Ferriday’s second floor bedroom window.(My photo through that window doesn't begin to do it justice.)
All this is to say that we should try to enhance the views we actually see most often. In many cases those are what show through our windows. In winter, on rainy days, and now, on days that are too hot and humid to venture out, that is the view we often see.
Page Dickey has written a wonderful book called Inside Out, addressing just this subject. (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 2000.) In it, she acknowledges the fact that most of us began planting with no such ideas in mind. But it is never too late to take a look and make adjustments that will improve what is actually in view, rather than areas we pass by briefly.
The Bellamy-Ferriday House is well worth visiting, both for the gardens, the 18th century house and the story of the remarkable owner, Caroline Ferriday. For information, go to http://www.ctlandmarks.org/index.php?page=bellamy-ferriday-house-garden.
Tags: gardening in zone 6, gardening in the Northeast, Gardening in New England, organic gardening, CT gardening, garden design, Bellamy-Ferriday House, Inside Out, Page Dickey, garden view
Like a firework, it burst into my view so unexpectedly that I let out an exclamation. A blossom of the purest white, enhanced by being in a beam of morning sunlight, and intricate as a lotus blossom. My first magnolia flower!!
It is nestled (I have a new appreciation for this word!) in a bowl of glossy green leaves, like a bird in a nest. I have never seen a flower so perfect, each rounded petal flawless, forming a cup of pure pearly white. And in the center, a cluster of many pistils and stamens topped by curly golden stigmas.
Does the name magnolia come from the word magnificent? Words fail me to describe this flower. I never thought I, a mere mortal, could grow a flower this complex and beautiful. And if that weren't enough, it emits a subtle, sweet scent. (Actually, the plant was named after a French botanist named Pierre Magnol. I like my theory better.)
This flowering is the sweeter for the struggle my magnolia tree (Magnolia grandiflora 'Bracken's Beauty') has overcome. I planted it just about a year ago, and worried about its hardiness, though this cultivar is rated to Zone 6.Well, it made it through our unusually mild winter--it wasn't really put to the test. But by early spring it was sprinkled with fungal leaf spots.
I sprayed it carefully with a liquid copper fungicide from Bonide (for organic gardening www.bonide.com). The tree looked sad for about a week, the spray having dulled the usually shiny leaves. Then it began to perk up. A few of the most heavily infected leaves fell off, but new growth was emerging.
This spring the new growth has been generous, glossy and healthy. And my little tree has formed four urn-shaped, fuzzy flower buds. After plumping to about 3 inches, the first blossom dropped its furry cover to reveal a tight bud of creamy white.
Until now, when the open blossom caught me by surprise. So far it is the only one to open. I can't wait for each of the others.
Happy Fourth of July, and my apologies to Katy Perry.
Tags: Katy Perry, Pierre Magnol, liquid copper fungicide, Bonide, fungal leaf spot, fungus, Magnolia grandiflora 'Bracken's Beauty', Magnolia grandiflora
I’m definitely in my yellow period now. The blues and purples of Forget-me-nots and Phlox are memories; the pinks of Rhododendrons and Laurels have faded now, too. Every year in June I notice a pattern of yellows across the garden. It brings light and cheer to the yard and draws the eye along. Right now the Ladies’ Mantle (Alchemilla mollis) is at its peak, spilling lemon froth over the edges of the borders. I love this plant for both its rain-catching foliage and its ethereal flowers.
Next are the yellow Foxgloves (Digitalis ambigua), which are peppered around the garden and have been in flower for about three weeks. The Feverfew (Chrysanthemum parthenium) has opened early, and though its tiny, daisy-like flowers are white, their buttery centers pick up the theme. A sunny sprinkling of Loosetrife (Lysimachia punctata) and Sundrops (Oenothera fruticosa) beckons me further. Sedum acre sprawls across the rock garden and is just starting to become a sea of yellow.
These plants now in bloom tie in with the yellow Corydalis (Corydalis lutea) whose flowers are a given from April to October. And I haven’t even mentioned the golden foliage of the Japanese Forest Grass (Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’), some of the Hostas (H. 'Guacamole' is a favorite), the Golden Creeping Jenny (Lysimachia nummularia ‘Aurea’) and the golden Chamaecyparis that anchor the beds. One last and lesser known golden shrub is Forsythia 'Gold Leaf'. This cultivar doesn't bloom as generously as the traditional green plant, but its foliage makes up for that.
The yellows compliment the green background, of course, but they also look great with blue, as in the glaucus foliage of Hosta sieboldiana ‘Elegans’ and H. ‘Blue Angel’. And they bring drama to the burgundy of Heuchera micrantha ‘Palace Purple.’ They even flatter the hot pinks of Astilbes (A. arendsii ‘Rhythm and Blues’) and Impatiens. In fact, with yellow foliage, who needs flowers at all?
Tags: shade gardening, CT gardening, gardening in zone 6, gardening in the Northeast, Gardening in New England, organic gardening, Phlox divaricata, Myosotis sylvatica, Forget-Me-Not, Alchemilla mollis, Ladies' Mantle, Sedum acre, Sundrops, Oenothera fruticosa, Chrysanthemum parthenium, Feverfew, Chamaecyparis, Hakonechloa macra 'Aureola', Japanese Forest Grass, Corydalis lutea, Hosta 'Guacamole', Astilbe arendsii 'Rhythm and Blues', Astilbe arendsii, Astilbe, H. micrantha 'Palace purple', Heuchera micrantha, Hosta 'Blue Angel', Hosta sieboldiana 'Elegans', Hosta, Digitalis ambigua, perennial Foxglove, Foxglove, Golden Creeping Jenny, Loosestrife, Lysimachia punctata, Lysimachia nummularia 'Aurea', gold foliage, yellow
The honeymoon is over. Yes, that heavenly period in early spring when all around us produces bright, perfect new growth—glossy leaves, plump buds, flawless blossoms—is at an end. Now it’s time to collect our combat gear and prepare to do battle with the myriad forces that are determined to undermine the beauty of our gardens.
Insects, slugs, rodents, fungi…they’ve all come out to feast on the sweet, tender vegetation we have nurtured. Everyone I talk to has complaints. Jill’s crabapple (Malus species) has been decimated by the winter moth caterpillar (Operophtera brumata) that is prevalent this year. Pat is inundated with snails. Bonnie and I both have lungwort (Pulmonaria) that looks like Swiss cheese thanks to the slugs. A woodchuck is nipping the tops off my coneflowers, and a squirrel is dining on my sweet potato vine (Ipomea batata).
It happens every year, and I guess I hope every year that this time it won’t. It’s only when damage has been done that I take action. For me this year, the slugs have been the worst. With several weeks of off and on rain, they are plentiful and hungry. Besides the lungwort, they’ve chewed on my day lily foliage, lamium, hostas and phlox. So off I go with a large container of Slug Magic (www.bonide.com) to sprinkle on the ground around the bases of all these plants. This is just one brand name; the key ingredient to look for is iron phosphate. Iron phosphate should take care of the snails, too, though I haven’t had them in my garden—yet. One consolation is that the lungwort foliage can be cut back and will renew itself quickly with fresh new leaves.
Tags: Malus, crabapple, late winter, early spring, fungi, rodents, insects, snails, Operophtera brumata, winter moth caterpillar, Ipomea, Sweet potato vine, Lungwort, Slug Magic, Hostas, Lamium, day lily, iron phosphate, Phlox divaricata, Critter Ridder, woodchuck, squirrel damage, squirrels, Safer, Bonide, Globe thistle, Echinops ritro, Echinacea, Coneflower, Bacillus thuringiensis, Bt, Neem oil, Spinosad, slugs
Next, I head out with Critter Ridder (www.havahart.com) to sprinkle around the coneflowers (Echinacea) and other plants favored by the woodchucks and squirrels. The woodchuck seems to like fuzzy and prickly foliage, including Globe Thistle (Echinops ritro).
As for the winter moth caterpillar, according to Jill it can be sprayed with Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis), a biological insecticide available from Bonide, Safer and other companies) when it is newly hatched. Later, as the little “loopers” swing on their silken strands, Spinosad (from Monterey at www.montereylawngarden.com , Green Light at www.greenlightco.com and others) and Neem oil (from Monterey or from Garden Safe at www.Lowes.com) are organic options. The other approach would be to spray susceptible trees (such as crabapple, maple, oak and fruit trees) with dormant oil (from Bonide and more) in late winter to smother the eggs.
The main thing, I guess, is to accept that these challenges are business as usual in the garden and I should anticipate them every year. These remedies are effective and the key is to apply them promptly at the first sign of trouble. It's all part of nature’s plan, and gardening will never be about perfection!
What plant is more spectacular than a Clematis (KLEM’uh’tiss)? Oh, those gigantic stars glowing in the sun are hard to beat. Right now my Ville de Lyon (Clematis ‘Ville de Lyon’), which is a great and reliable performer, is covered with magenta blossoms the size of baseballs.
My newest one, Ernest Markham (C. ‘Ernest Markham’), already has three whopping flowers of cotton candy pink. My friend Lin gave it to me last spring and it has already climbed six feet up the iron arbor.
Tucked between a golden Chameocyparis and a purple Smokebush is Niobe (C. ‘Niobe’), dressed in deep ruby red.
Betty Corning (C. viticella ‘Betty Corning’) is just getting started, with five or six pale blue bells and dozens of buds. I have to admit this clematis does not stand out the way the others do. But this is a viticella variety, which means it resists Clematis wilt--not a small benefit. Betty also blooms June to September.
This year I am missing the glory of my Nelly Moser (C. ‘Nelly Moser’). For years, Nelly covered my cedar arbor with her striking mauve stars, marked in magenta. Her blossoms were 6 inches in diameter. But last year (a very wet summer), Nelly developed wilt and turned black. A heart wrenching sight.
I cut her back to the ground and in late winter I sprayed the ground with Actinovate, an organic fungicide.(www.naturalindustries.com) This spring was promising. She sent up vigorous green shoots early in the season. But by early May, the new growth was turning black as it did last year. I cut it back to the ground to prevent it from contaminating the other Clematis on the arbor. I guess what I have read is true: that once a Clematis has wilt, the only remedy is to remove the plant. Thus, the appeal of any Clematis viticella.
Sweet Autumn (Clematis terniflora) won’t bloom until August (as its name suggests). But it is well worth the wait! Tiny white stars by the hundreds will cover this vigorous vine and emit the sweetest of perfumes. I have planted it next to the deck to take advantage of its scent. I have never had any trouble with wilt or pests on this plant.
The varieties I have mentioned, from personal experience, are but a small fraction of the Clematis choices available. Look for one that appeals to you. The selection of colors, flower size and shape, height and bloom time is broad. And watch for the viticella strain to save yourself some heartache.
Follow the conventional wisdom, planting Clematis in sun* with their roots shaded and cool (plant a low perennial in front of it)--and provide support for their climbing. This year I am experimenting with bird netting on my arbors to provide more twining opportunities for the vines. So far, it is working well.
Note the name of the plant you have chosen so you will be able to look up the proper pruning directions. As with Hydrangeas, the variety you have will determine when it is appropriate to prune. It depends on whether the vine blooms on new growth, old growth or both. Keep it well fed and you will have a true star in your garden.
Tags: Hydrangea, Smokebush, Chameocyparis, Ernest Markham, Ville de Lyon, natural industries.com, Actinovate, fungicide, Clematis wilt, Clematis viticella, pruning, Clematis terniflora, Sweet Autumn, Niobe, Betty Corning, Nelly Moser, organic gardening, gardening in the Northeast, gardening in zone 6, CT gardening, Gardening in New England, flowering vines, Clematis
*You may know by now that my garden is in partial shade. So the varieties mentioned here all perform well in less than full sun. The Sweet Autumn is especially tolerant of part shade.
In a partially shaded but bright spot along a woodland path, I have what I believe to be native Columbine (Aquilegia vulgaris). They were there when I moved to this property (previously owned by non-gardeners) and have flourished with no real assistance ever since, nestled in the curve of rocky ledge. Their sky blue blossoms on erect stems are a lovely surprise among rock and laurel.
Even more surprising this spring is that they have produced both blue and white flowers for the first time in 17 years. Columbines are known to self-seed and hybridize easily; seedlings cannot be counted on to stay true to the parent plant. But I can’t help wonder what caused the variation this year after so many seasons of pure blue. This is the only Columbine I have.
The foliage of this North American native is very appealing, with rounded lobes and a blue-gray tinge. Mine stand about 2 feet high and bloom reliably in mid-May. If I deadhead before the seeds form, I can keep them flowering a good part of the summer.
Later in the summer, they are susceptible to powdery mildew (if the weather is rainy and humid) and leaf miners. Leaf miners are easy to detect; they leave behind squiggly, discolored pathways on the leaf surface. Removing affected leaves at the first sign of trouble and spraying the plant thoroughly with insecticidal soap (Safer is a good brand. www.saferbrand.com) is an effective remedy. I guess this time I should try the spraying in advance!
Tags: spring flowers, Spring, organic gardening, Safer insecticidal soap, self-seeding, hybridize, insecticidal soap, leaf miners, powdery mildew, shade gardening, native plants, Aquilegia vulgaris, Columbine
With great excitement last fall I bought and planted 50 Camassia (C. quamash) bulbs. This is a North American native I’ve wanted for years—one of the few bulbs besides narcissus that is said to like partial shade.
What a pleasure this spring to watch the decorative slivers of variegated foliage sprout up in the two locations I had selected! One group I planted at the edge of my driveway in front of a lacecap hydrangea which faces south but receives bright dappled sunlight through the trees. The other batch went in front of my bird bath, facing east but exposed to strong midday sun.
My anticipation swelled as I watched buds form. But by the time they began to develop flower heads, I knew I had a problem. The slender stems began to bow and bend under the weight. What I had now was the disappointment of floppy stems and blossoms lying on the ground. Not the display I had hoped for at all.
Tags: organic gardening, gardening in the Northeast, gardening in zone 6, CT gardening, Gardening in New England, Lewis & Clark, blue flowers, native plants, naturalizing, shade gardening, partial shade, bulbs, Camassia quamash, Camassia
Every bulb did grow and flower, and the blossoms are striking—stars of true, soft blue with dramatic yellow stamens for contrast. But the impact is lost when they are lying on the ground. The only possible explanation for the flimsy stems is a lack of sufficient sun. Yet another failure for the shade gardener. I don’t know why these bulbs are rated for partial sun. I will have to dig them up and likely give them away to the owner of a sunny patch.
If you have that sunny patch, Camassia is hardy in Zones 4 to 10 and likes moist, well-drained soil. It makes a statement in a mass and can be naturalized in the lawn. Native Americans used to cook and eat the bulbs, and the Lewis & Clark expedition depended on them for nutrition.
This time two years ago I was devastated by the view of my rhododendrons dying. Their leaves were curled, browning and entire branches were dying off. I cut off the dead material and consulted with the arborist who treats my trees and shrubs. He and I agreed that we had planted the native Rhododendron roseum shrubs in a suitable place—a partly shaded slope with well-drained, humus-rich woodland soil. I knew my soil was acidic, which rhododendrons prefer. I fed them spring and fall with Holly Tone, an organic food for acid-loving pants, and mulched them to insulate the roots.
Unable to find evidence of insects, we feared fungus or phytopthera root rot, but lab tests of sample branches came back negative. Finally, there was no avoiding a soil test. The results surprised me. Though my soil is acidic, 6.5 on the pH scale, the rhododendrons want a pH of 5.5. There also showed a deficit of nitrogen. The soil test report recommended adding an acidifier (Sulfur or ammonium sulfate) and dried blood for nitrogen.
I amended the soil with Espoma Soil Acidifier and Dried Blood. I also began adding gypsum to the soil twice a year to enhance its ability to retain water. And I watered the rhodos when rain was scarce.
Within weeks, the die-back stopped and the shrubs began to perk up. This spring, they are flush with new growth and have a respectable number of blossoms. There is no more dieback. Now the sight of my rhododendrons brings joy rather than heartbreak!
My conclusion is that the rhododendrons were stressed by a lack of nutrition caused by two things. First, the soil was not high enough in nitrogen. And, second, the soil was not acidic enough to enable the shrubs to take up the nutrients they needed.
The lesson I learned is that you cannot make assumptions about the all-important soil. If a plant is struggling, it is easy enough to collect samples and send them to the University of Connecticut for testing. There is a small fee ($8 for each sample). You can find a form and instructions online at www.cag.uconn.edu/plsc/soiltest/newsite/sampling.php. Click on the “PDF” link under “Home Grounds/Landscape. When you mail your labeled sample with the completed form and check, you will receive your answer within 7 to 10 days. Well worth the effort for the satisfaction of saving your plant!
Tags: organic gardening, gardening in zone 6, Gardening in New England, CT gardening, University of Connecticut, soil test, Ammonium sulfate, Sulfur, Soil Acidifier, Holly Tone, soil pH, Nitrogen, dried blood, acidifier, acidic soil, phytopthera root rot, fungus, Rhododendron roseum, Rhododendrons
At last! An opportunity to write about the plant I chose to decorate my home page—Solomon’s Seal or Polygonatum odoratum ‘Variegatum.’ This fragrant native perennial appeals to my love of subtlety. It doesn’t scream for attention, but, viewed in situ, nothing is lovelier. The stems arch gracefully, dangling small white bells along their length in late spring and early summer. The oval leaves are beautifully variegated with white brushstrokes which help light up a shady corner. Following the blossoms are spherical black berries, and finally, the foliage turns a creamy yellow in fall. Wonderful in a mass, it thrives even in dry shade!
As revealed in the home page photo, I have it growing among rocks and ledge in the shade. These conditions are about as harsh as it comes and very few plants can tolerate them. (Ostrich fern is one other.) Solomon’s Seal takes its time to get established, but once it has it will spread by rhizomes to fill an area. Then the repetition of the arching stems makes a statement. A wonderful companion to ferns and hostas and groundcovers such as Lamium or Lamiastrum, it can be susceptible to slugs, but mine are rarely bothered. No shade garden should be without it.
Tags: gardening in the Northeast, New England gardening, gardening in zone 6, Gardening in New England, easy care perennials, perennials, native plants, berries, fall foliage, Summer/Fall, spring flowers, groundcovers, Lamiastrum, Lamium, ferns, Hostas, Ostrich fern, Polygonatum odoratum, Solomon's Seal, dry shade garden, CT gardening
Part of my spring and fall routine has become the spreading of gypsum over some of my planting beds. I’ve just completed this task beneath my rhododendrons, hydrangeas and a few other moisture loving plants like the winterberry (Ilex verticillata). Since my soil is sandy loam and dries out quickly, I’ve been using the gypsum to improve the soil texture and make it more moisture retentive.
Tags: soil structure, Ilex verticillata, Winterberry, Hydrangea, Rhododendrons, Calcium sulfate, Gypsum
This practice does not seem to be widely mentioned and it is only in the last few seasons that I have found gypsum (calcium sulfate) easily available in garden centers. And it is usually recommended for compacted, clay soil. But my father-in-law, a professional in the landscaping industry for many years, suggested it first thing when he saw my property. (I did not follow his advice at the time.) With the bitter experience of our 2010 drought, I decided that more was needed than just adding organic matter.
Gypsum is very easy to use because it does not need to be worked into the soil. I can just spread it on the surface, and it doesn't affect the pH. Since I have been adding the gypsum (4 or 5 seasons), my moisture-loving plants are happier and I do believe the soil holds water better.
Have you tried gypsum in your garden? If so, for what purpose? And what were the results? I would love to hear about your experience.
I’d given up. At least 5 years ago (and probably longer) I was thrilled with the Kenilworth Ivy (Cymbalaria muralis) I saw at Wave Hill Gardens in the Bronx (wavehill.org). A tiny, delicate lobed leaf with an even tinier, orchid-like blossom. And it grows in the shade. At Wave Hill, it was enchanting as it softened a stone wall.
So, of course I bought it. And tucked its roots into a cavity in the east-facing stone wall above my driveway. I added soil to the hole and watered the little planting for weeks. Little by little, the ivy shrank and disappeared. Oh well. I took a shot and it didn’t pay off.
Suddenly this spring, I see the miniature frilled leaves poking out of the wall. Several clumps appear, from the base of the wall (which is black-topped driveway) to several separate niches in the stone, up to about 4 feet high. And now it is blooming! There is nothing growing in the original hole I planted, but after long consideration and slow travel, the Ivy has found what it needs and is thriving. With no help from me since the first few weeks.
Tags: Wave Hill, easy care perennials, flowering vines, shade gardening, CT gardening, Gardening in New England, gardening in zone 6, gardening in the Northeast, Cymbalaria muralis, Kenilworth Ivy, vines, groundcover
This is one of the many joys of gardening: The serendipitous appearance of a plant you’d long ago given up for dead. Patience is required, but the payoff is an unexpected thrill like this. Besides the surprising beauty, you enjoy renewed faith in your own gardening efforts!
Kenilworth Ivy produces impossibly intricate blossoms all season long in moderately moist, well-drained soil. And delicate as it looks, it is a survivor. It makes a lovely groundcover or climber in Zones 4-8, and can actually be used in the crevices of a patio or walkway. Wherever you want the lacy tracery and fine detail to contrast with rugged stone or broad leaves, this is an easy option.
What an enchanting little plant this is, the native yellow Celandine poppy (Stylophorum diphyllum)! My friend Jill gave it to me, saying it would bloom in the shade. And she was right. In its third year, it has tripled in size, going from one blossom the first season to 8 this spring and counting.
The contrast of the intense yellow flower petals against the grayed, fuzzy green foliage gives it a luminous quality. And it stands defiantly in a challenging, partly shaded dry spot among rocks. A member of the Papaver family, the Celandine poppy makes a charming, easy and less common addition to the woodland garden.
The plant is known for self-seeding and becoming “weedy.” But don’t confuse it with the very similar but invasive weed, Chelidonium majus, also known as Greater Celandine. The weed's flowers are smaller, and it is easy to identify by breaking a stem to reveal its bright orange sap.
Stylophorum diphyllum is supposed to bloom in late spring, continuing sporadically through the summer. Mine began flowering in early April—of course, this is no year by which to judge. It looks fresh and pretty among blue Forget-me-nots (Myosotis sylvatica), but would also be lovely with Virginia bluebells (Mertensia virginica), Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis), Foamflower (Tiarella cordifolia) and Creeping phlox (Phlox divaricata).
Tags: orange sap, Chelidonium majus, Greater Celandine, weeds, gardening in the Northeast, gardening in zone 6, Gardening in New England, CT gardening, easy care perennials, perennials, shade gardening, dry shade garden, Phlox divaricata, Creeping phlox, Tiarella cordifolia, Foamflower, Aquilegia canadensis, Columbine, Mertensia virginica, Virginia bluebells, Myosotis sylvatica, Forget-Me-Not, Celandine poppy, Stylophorum diphyllum
Of course one of the first things to sprout in springtime is the weeds. And I know from experience that these are best tackled as soon as they come up. So this month I have been experimenting with horticultural vinegar. This is much more acidic that culinary vinegars—20% as opposed to 7%. I ordered it from A.M. Leonard (www.gardenersedge.com) for $28.99 a gallon!
I filled a household sprayer bottle with the vinegar and toured the yard spritzing the young weeds at the edge of the driveway and in planting beds. I made sure the foliage was wet. By the next day I could see that these weeds had turned tan and dry. The vinegar works!
Tags: gardenersedge.com, AM Leonard, Garlic Mustard, Horticultural Vinegar, weeding, weeds
Spraying weeds meant I didn’t have to get down on my knees and get my hands dirty, but it is necessary to do some bending to aim the spray. And while the small, young weeds died, larger specimens were not thoroughly destroyed. Thicker, fleshier stalks and plants larger than about 3 inches in diameter were not wiped out completely. A second round or a heavier dose of spraying would probably do them in.
Considering the cost of the vinegar, I would say this is a good item to have on hand to quickly dispatch the occasional weed as it pops up. It is ideal for those interlopers that show up in pavement cracks or between stones. But I would not depend on it for large weeds or weed populations. (I was disappointed to see that even modest samples of the invasive Garlic Mustard, about 3 inches high, did not succumb to the vinegar.) Besides, I actually find getting down on the ground to pull weeds is a peaceful, relaxing activity. And mulching can prevent most large concentrations of unwanted vegetation.
This young growing season has already been a roller coaster ride. After a mild winter, the hyper-early spring seemed too good to be true. And it was. Two weeks of summerlike days in March ended abruptly when a powerful north wind blew in, bringing temperatures in the teens and a hard frost Monday night. I didn’t worry so much about the daffodils and the forsythia, the hellebores and the andromedas. Those are tough, early spring bloomers suited to the extremes of March.
Not so the Hyacinths that are already in full bloom and the Rose and Clematis vines that have burst out eagerly thanks to days in the high 70s. I feared their tender new growth couldn’t tolerate a real freeze. Which brought me out in the wind, hands stiff with cold, rigging tarps and burlap to insulate my babies. Those that were small enough I covered with empty buckets, weighed down with rock.
I was actually frightened. The wind gusts were banging trees together, branches clanking and groaning above me as I frantically tried to tie burlap around my newly sprouting clematis. It was a scene straight out of A Room with a View, where Lucy and Mrs. Honeychurch hustled to tie up the roses before a storm—only much less picturesque.
Did it work? It did help. The hyacinth and clematis beneath the buckets were unharmed. The rose and clematis that I wrapped with burlap came through fine. Only two clematis, over which I wrangled a tarp, suffered. The wind had ripped the tarp from beneath a large rock, exposing these vines to the wind and frost. In the morning, they had limp and broken tips. Overall, the damage was minor.
Hydrangea leaves (new baby ones) did show signs of frost in the morning. At first burnished with bronze, many have now shriveled and turned brown. Will this cause them to drop? Will the buds formed on last year’s wood be viable this summer? I will be watching anxiously.
The blooms which had already begun on the PJM rhododendrons will be short-lived, I expect, as will the Forsythia blossoms that weathered the extremes. The Andromedas (Pieris) and Hellebores are unfazed, but the daffodils seem to be hanging their heads. And hardy Geraniums which are fully leafed out have burned looking, crispy edges.
This is a first in my experience as a gardener. Never before have I seen plants so far along so early, followed by such a severe drop in temperature. Thursday, though it reached about 50 degrees, the sky darkened at midday. A sudden cloudburst was accompanied by thunder, and for a few moments the rain was mixed with hail! It’s a dramatic start to this gardening year—what will hit us next?
Tags: gardening in zone 6, Gardening in New England, gardening in the Northeast, frost, Hydrangea, Hydrangea macrophylla, Pieris, daffodils, hardy Geranium, Hyacinth, Rose, Clematis, forsythia, Andromedas, Hellebores, spring flowers, Spring