Oh, this is the joy of the rose--that it blooms and goes.
- Willa Cather
Blog entries categorized under what's wowing me now
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 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
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
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
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
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
It stands to reason that in a capitalist society like ours, change takes effect when someone can make a profit on it. It's taken long enough, but the "Green" movement has finally become marketable. I, for one, applaud anyone promoting green products, habits or policies.
In keeping with the movement toward planting natives, some companies are marketing native plants that are desirable but have been largely neglected till now. For gardeners trying to support wildlife and a healthy planet, here’s a company that makes it easy. American Beauties, LLC, has produced a line of plants native to the Northeast that belong in our gardens and provide food and shelter for our wildlife.* Even better, purchases of these plants actually help support the National Wildlife Federation’s conservation and education programs.
Many of their plants are familiar, like Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) and Pussy Willow (Salix discolor), but others, like Prairie dropseed (Sporobulus heterolepis) and Button Bush (Cephalanthus occidentalis), are under-used by gardeners. American Beauties has a beautifully designed website (www.abnativeplants.com) to help us find the right plants for our sites and goals. By clicking various criteria (size, color, type of plant, etc.) we can pull up an illustrated list of their plants that match.
Prairie dropseed (above) is a lovely native grass, and Button bush (below) produces fascinating spherical blossoms.
American Beauties has also designed a series of specific gardens—one for attracting butterflies and another for birds. Two more gardens are planned for the challenging conditions of moist sun and dry shade. Each landscape plan has a list of the plants that will work in that garden, and there are even layout suggestions that include trees, shrubs, perennials, grasses and vines. The American Beauties website will be a great first stop before doing any planting this spring, and we can support the planet by looking for their labels when plant shopping. It's a win-win.
Tags: native plants, native shrubs, garden for birds, garden for butterflies, moist sun garden, dry shade garden, Prairie dropseed, Sporobulus heterolepis, Button Bush, Cephalanthus occidentalis, Salix discolor, Pussy Willow, Echinacea, Echinacea purpurea, Coneflower, CT gardening, Gardening in New England, gardening in the Northeast, easy-care gardens, gardening in zone 6, gardening for wildlife, National Wildlife Federation, organic gardening, Spring, American Beauties LLC
*As time goes on, the company plans to offer product lines tailored to each climate region in the country.
Though I’ve enjoyed tending houseplants for 40 years now, it is only recently that I’ve found the ideal one. Ideal because it prefers exactly the conditions offered by our homes. Usually plants grown indoors are from humid tropical climates, and they suffer in the dry air of our homes, particularly when the winter heat is on. This wonder hails from eastern Africa, so it actually prefers to be dry. Even better, it does not like direct sunlight. What could be easier to supply than indirect brightness and infrequent water?
Besides being easy, it is also exotically beautiful. Its stems arch gracefully, flaunting plump, glossy leaves which make it resemble a succulent. Yet, there is something fernlike in its form. It grows as tall as three feet out of a fleshy rhizome that stores water for arid periods, so it likes to dry out between waterings. Too much sun will scorch its leaves, and too much water will lead to rot. All it requires, besides the occasional watering, is a periodic dusting to refresh the shine of the leaves.
Mine has yet to flower, which is fine because the foliage is gorgeous. And the flowers sprout out of the base of the plant where their impact is limited. New stems erupt out of the soil like ripe spears and are a pleasure to watch as they develop.
This beautiful houseplant has only two drawbacks. First is its impossible name, Zamioculcas zamiifolia, often referred to as simply “ZZ palm” or “Zanzibar Gem.” And second, the entire plant is poisonous. (Keep it out of reach of children and pets.)
Bottom line: The ZZ plant gives more than it takes. Sit it in a bright spot and enjoy it from afar.
Tags: poisonous plant, Zamioculcas zamiifolia, Zanzibar Gem, ZZ palm, houseplants
The uncharacteristically warm and sunny days of this November have allowed me more time to appreciate the last flush of autumn beauty. The trees are bare now—and the leaves raked, thankfully—but my shrubs still shine brightly.
The native witch hazel of which I grow fonder each year is still holding onto its delicate blossoms. They twinkle like little yellow stars against the gray wooded backdrop.
And the Hydrangeas are unexpected luminaries. With the exception of the Oakleaf (H. quercifolia), I’ve never heard or read about the fall foliage value of Hydrangeas.
My macrophyllas (both ‘Nikko Blue’ and the lacecap ‘Blue Wave’) have transformed themselves into an array of rich pinks, burgundies and golds, even in this disappointing year. Another bonus from an already indispensable shrub. While the ‘Limelight’ (H. paniculata) has lost its leaves, it still holds high its abundant blooms, now drying to a soft tan.
Finally, I am surprised by the luscious yellows and tangerines mixed with still bright greens on my azaleas! These shrubs are bejeweled with leaves that, in the shining sun, remind me of the brights of a candy counter.
I do my best to savor these last vestiges of cheer before the gloom of grey winter to come.
Tags: gardening in zone 6, gardening in the Northeast, Gardening in New England, CT gardening, organic gardening, fall foliage, Fall color, Fall, witch hazel, Azalea, Hydrangea, Hydrangea quercifolia, Hydrangea Limelight, Hydrangea macrophylla
I didn’t get a chance to crow about my Japanese Hydrangea vine (Schizophragma hydrangeoides ‘Moonlight’) when it was in bloom this summer. I was head over heels because I planted it next to a tree in my back yard EIGHT years ago thinking the white flowers would glow in the evening when we sat on the deck. This was the first time it bloomed. And how beautiful it was.
I’m telling you about it now because it is wowing me again with its fall color. Against the now gray background it looks like a tower of gold. An Asian native, Japanese Hydrangea vine has a strong resemblance to the familiar Hydrangea petiolaris, which I also grow. And it likes similar conditions—rich, moist but well-drained soil in sun or partial shade.
The growth habit is similar too, a woody vine with aerial roots that cling to bark, wood and fences. This one can grow to 40 feet! It helps in the beginning to tie several shoots to the support you want it to grow on. Once established, it clings well on its own. It is also trouble-free.
The cultivar I grow, Moonlight, distinguishes itself with heart-shaped leaves coated in a silver veil that highlights the veins. Then in early summer, it is showered with large lacecap-type white blossoms that last a month or more. Finally, the last hurrah before shedding its leaves for the winter: bright yellow foliage that lights up the garden.
Why did mine take eight years to bloom? I know that Hydrangea petiolaris takes its sweet time, too. First it must develop lateral branches on which the blooms will appear, and in my experience it’s about 7 years before this happens. The Japanese version has not produced laterals, but perhaps it needed to mature.
Do you grow this, and what has your experience been? I certainly hope I don’t have to wait another eight years for flowers!
Tags: Hydrangea petiolaris, Japanese Hydrangea vine, Schizophragma hydrangeoides, shade gardening, vines, CT gardening, gardening in the Northeast, gardening in zone 6, Gardening in New England, organic gardening, flowering vines
One shrub that was mercifully spared by the recent Nor’easter is my Disanthus cercidifolius, or Hazel redbud. This is a great plant in shade, with many appealing features, and yet I don’t know anyone else who grows it.
Originating in Asia, Disanthus resembles two of our natives, which explains its common name. Its heart-shaped leaves and multi-stemmed, vase-like habit are similar to those of the Eastern Redbud (Cercis canadensis). (Here is a good example of how helpful and easy latin names can be: “cercidi” from Cercis, plus “folius” meaning leaves or foliage equals “Redbud-like leaves.”)
It is also like our Witch Hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) in its small, spidery blossoms which are out now, just before the leaves fall. It turns out that Disanthus is actually part of the Hamamelis family. The Witch Hazel’s blossoms are yellow; Hazel Redbud has blood red flowers. But they are unimportant compared to the foliage.
Disanthus leaves start in spring a matte blue-gray color that is subtly beautiful. The branches spread gracefully, bearing the leaves like small platters that catch the raindrops. In June, unusual green, heart-shaped nuts or berries appear along the stems. And now, in fall, the leaves change to red, yellow, and purple, creating the effect of stained glass with its array of jewel tones.
Tags: shade gardening, Disanthus cercidifolius, Hazel redbud, Fall, Fall color, fall foliage, witch hazel, Hamamelis virginiana, Eastern Redbud, Cercis canadensis, specimen shrub for shade, gardening in zone 6, CT gardening, Japanese Barberry, Berberis thunbergii, Burning Bush, Euonymus elatus
A great candidate for a specimen shrub or for a shrub border in Zones 5 -8, Disanthus likes rich, well-drained acidic soil in part shade to sun. I have found it to be trouble-free—pests and disease seem to leave it alone. Any pruning would be optional for shape and size.
With its spectacular fall colors, Disanthus cercidifolius affords another great alternative to the invasive Japanese Barberry (Berberis thunbergii) and Burning Bush (Euonymus elatus).
Now is the time to appreciate all grasses, but especially the few that thrive in the shade. While other perennials and deciduous trees and shrubs are in fall decline, grasses shine now, with their mature seed heads and ripe fall color. In my shade garden I am enjoying Japanese Forest Grass (Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’), Northern Sea Oats (Chasmanthium latifolium) and Carex ‘Ice Dance.’
Japanese Forest Grass is a minor miracle, bringing lime-light to dark corners. Its blades are striped with chartreuse and green, forming elegant arches about a foot above the ground. A good cluster of this grass mimics the flow of water in a stream. That’s during the spring and summer. Now it enhances the show with its whispery seed heads and a tinge of pink to accent the surrounding season.
Japanese Forest Grass will tolerate moderate shade but does demand some moisture. Otherwise, it is carefree and pest resistant in Zones 5-9. Of course, it gets along beautifully with hostas. I also like it with Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’—very complementary right now—and Corydalis lutea. No shade garden should be without it. (The one drawback is that it tends to be expensive. This is understandable since it takes time to establish before it begins to spread.)
Whoever named ‘Ice Dance’ knew what they were talking about! Another gracefully arching groundcover, this sedge grass features strappy leaf-green blades with cool white margins. When the tufts rustle together in the wind, it truly is a dance. Because grasses in the Carex family have a course edge to their blades, they are resistant to deer and other threats. And Ice Dance is easy to please. Plant it, water it until it’s established its roots, and cut back the spent foliage before the new blades come up in spring. Otherwise ignore it—except for when you want to treat your eyes to a robust, healthy, unperturbed plant. Right now it looks as crisp and fresh as an October day.
The one pest that I have seen damage both Ice Dance and Japanese Forest Grass is the vole, attacking from below. This grass recovers more quickly. In fact, it is quick to spread, but is not intrusive. And
There is even a tall grass for shade, and it is a delight. Chasmanthium latifolia reaches 3 feet tall, bowing to dangle its spangly seedheads in the merest whisp of a breeze. The oat-like seedheads are the stars here. Right now they have matured to a golden tan, and the normally green leaves are turning yellow.
Tags: Zones 5-9, gardening in the Northeast, CT gardening, Gardening in New England, Corydalis lutea, Sedum 'Autumn Joy', voles, Winter interest, Fall, Fall color, seedheads, easy care perennials, shade grasses, Japanese Forest Grass, Hakonechloa macra 'Aureola', Northern Sea Oats, Chasmanthium latifolia, ornamental grasses, grasses, shade gardening
Northern Sea Oats is as easy as the others I’ve mentioned, happy in moderate soil and part shade in Zones 5-9. I’ve never seen it suffer from pests or disease. It does tend to seed itself, but is no trouble to control. And what a treat it is to see above the snow!
Southern Magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora) has long been an object of my desire, simply for its glossy green leaves with velvety brown undersides.
Then I saw an amazing specimen at Sissinghurst (nationaltrust.org.uk/sissinghurst/), Vita Sackville-West’s famous garden in Kent, in southeast England. She had trained her magnolia to cover a large section of antique brick wall. The leaves were so shiny they almost looked artificial. I simply couldn’t get over it.
This is not a plant we generally see in Connecticut. I had daydreamed about getting a Southern Magnolia for my yard, but thought it was not possible in our Hardiness Zone 6. Then I saw it at Broken Arrow Nursery (brokenarrownursery.com). Bright and perky, Magnolia grandiflora ‘Bracken’s Brown Beauty’ was labeled as being hardy to Zone 6. There was no resisting; this beauty had to go home with me.
Finally, after at least 8 years of yearning, I have a magnolia to call my own. What a plant! Not only is it evergreen, but all year long the leaves look too good to be real. It even tolerates partial shade! The nursery says it prefers rich, well-drained soil, slightly acidic, and should be protected from winter winds. In Summer, M. grandiflora lives up to its name with large white, fragrant blossoms. In Winter, the leaves make spectacular wreaths and other décor. What more could one ask from a plant?
(Yet, again, when I look up this tree in my A-Z Encyclopedia of Garden Plants from the American Horticultural Society (AHS.org), I find it is one of the 75 best plants for American Gardens. I'm developing quite a collection!)
Only that it thrive in my yard. I haven’t had it long enough to know how well it will do here. I’ve planted it in a prime location in good soil with a bit less than full sun. I will spray it with an anti-dessicant to protect it from the harshness of our winters and hope that my magnolia loves me as much as I love it.
Have you grown this excellent tree in Zone 6? Have you had success? Do you have any suggestions to keep it happy? I’m so crazy about this plant that I am eager for advice.
Tags: Magnolia grandiflora, SouthernMagnolia, antidessicant, gardening in zone 6, evergreen, tree, Vita Sackville-West, Sissinghurst, Broken Arrow Nursery, Bracken's Brown Beauty, organic gardening, gardening in the Northeast, Gardening in New England
Talk about easy care, this plant thrives on neglect! I’m describing Plumbago (Ceratostigma plumbaginoides), which shines as summer turns to fall. Against the developing Autumn hues, Plumbago’s electric blue blossoms offer a refreshing contrast. The five-lobed flowers closely resemble the tropical Plumbago so popular down South, but this is a perennial hardy in Zones 6 to 9.
Though it’s not a native (it hails from Africa and Asia), it certainly is adaptable. Originally found in dry, open spaces, C. plumbaginoides thrives unattended on my partly shaded slope. Its one requirement is well-drained soil. For me, any plant that tolerates some shade AND dry soil is a miracle.
Plumbago spreads by rhizomes to form a lovely groundcover 1 to 1-1/2 feet high. With its pretty green, spoon shaped leaves, it is a great candidate for rock gardens. And, as the weather cools, the leaves turn bright red or burgundy even while the blue flowers continue. Three seasons of beauty, plus it needs no pruning, no dead-heading, no staking—just about the perfect plant. I’ve also never seen any problems with insects or disease, though it can be susceptible to powdery mildew. So err on the side of dry soil when planting.
As I write this, I notice that this is another selection by the American Horticultural Society as a “great plant for American gardens.” I can see why they chose it, and I’m kind of proud of myself to find how many of their choices are already part of my garden.
Tags: New England gardening, organic gardening, North East, shade gardening, rock gardens, groundcover, fall foliage, Fall color, easy care perennials, easy-care gardens, Ceratostigma plumbaginoides, Plumbago, 75 great plants for American gardens, American Horticultural Society
Just when I think it’s all over for summer color, my Anemones come into flower, prolonging my joy in gardening. What distinctive, beautiful blossoms they have—and at a time when they are especially needed. The crisply incised, grass green leaves are lovely, too, forming neat clumps about a foot high. The foliage develops attractively all season. Then, in late August, up come the flower stalks, strong and wiry, lifting clusters of perfectly spherical buds.
On Anemome vitifolia ‘Robustissima' (bubble gum pink with sunny yellow centers) and A.x hybrida ‘Honorine Jobert’ (pure white with yellow stamens surrounding chartreuse centers) the stalks rise 3 or more feet above the foliage. This creates drama, and, at the same time, an airy, floating effect similar to that of Verbena bonariensis.
Yet, unlike the Verbenas, Anemones perform beautifully in part shade. (Some of mine bloom well with only morning sun or only filtered, dappled light.) They like a moist soil, rich in organics and slightly acidic, and don’t respond well to dryness. In my garden, A. Robustissima and A. hupehensis thrive and multiply. Anemone hupehensis is almost identical to A. Robustissima, except that it reaches only 2 to 3 feet high, a good choice where you want a more compact presentation.
There’s something magical about the clean, crisp white of Honorine Jobert--an extraordinary flower. Unfortunately, in my garden it does not spread the way the pink ones do. It is worth purchasing a group of them to start.
All the anemones seem remarkably easy care and pest and disease resistant. They do not require deadheading because the flower petals drop and leave wonderful round seed heads that are interesting to dry for accents in flower arrangements. One disappointment with the anemones is that the blossoms do not make good cut flowers. Because each stalk’s buds open in succession, there are always petals dropping. Well, I guess we can’t have everything!
Tags: Anemone, Summer/Fall, alternative to Verbena bonariensis, shade gardening, Anemone hupehensis, Anemone vitifolia 'Robustissima', Anemone x Honorine Jobert
Four O'Clocks (Mirabilis jalapa, "Marvel of Peru") are my new favorite annual to grow from seed. They were popular in Grandmothers’ gardens, so I guess that is appropriate for this grandmother!
The flowers are trumpet-shaped (think hummers, and sphinx moths) and can be solid, splashed, or striated in a myriad of colors. I got my Burpee seeds through the University of Rhode Island (URI) Master Gardeners and was so pleasantly surprised that I decided to share my experience.
Tags: starting from seed, Annuals, Four O'Clocks, Summer
They bloom for a long time from early summer into fall. You need a sunny place for them and they will do the rest—giving you gorgeous colors and a lovely fragrance for the afternoon, when the rest of your flowers are packing it in after a long day of blooming. They are bushy, and grow about 2-3' high with a tuberous root.
In warmer areas the tubers overwinter, but it is suggested to lift them like dahlias in the north, if you want to save particular ones. Give it a whirl! I think I will try it, too
Some sites on the web have said that they are a magnet for Japanese beetles and that you should plant Four o'Clocks near your roses and veggies to draw attention away from the roses and veggies. I have not seen any Japanese Beetles on mine as yet, but will handpick and squeeze them into eternity with any plant they are chewing up in my garden.
Four o'Clock seeds and other plant parts are poisonous (deer-resistant!). The flowers are used in making food coloring. Great news for our gardens looking ahead climate-wise, they are both heat and drought tolerant.
Burpee (Burpee.com) had several choices: " Marbles," which comes in a mix, or yellow/white, red/yellow or red/white; "Kaleidoscope," a great variety of striated blooms, or "High Tea," which is pink and white. Park Seeds (parkseed.com) also carries Four o'Clock seeds; "Broken Colors" is their offering.
Think ahead for next summer and snap up a packet or two. You will not be disappointed....Then, next year, you can save the seeds you collect at the end of the season. Just let them ripen to black before harvesting and carefully keep them in a safe place where they cannot be eaten by pets or kids.