Oh, this is the joy of the rose--that it blooms and goes.
- Willa Cather
Viewing entries tagged Gardening in New England
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
As I sit watching the snow, yearning for the time when I can go outside and dig in the ground, it is a good opportunity to visualize my new gardening strategies. A new year always offers a fresh start. This time I think it will be more than just the renewed energy and inspiration of spring. The world of horticulture is entering a new era, and responsible gardeners need to adjust our thinking, habits and practices.
It’s a sea change, or earth change, if you will. Growing awareness of the complex interrelationships in nature demand that we treat Mother Earth with more respect, that we do all we can to protect her delicate balance and reverse what damage humans have already done to the environment.
In his pivotal book, Bringing Nature Home, Douglas Tallamy lays out step by step his case that our very survival depends on protecting the diversity of our native plants and wildlife. Every alien ornamental plant we grow takes the space of a native that would contribute to the ecosystem by providing food and/or shelter for insects, birds and so on up the food chain. He documents the fact that native wildlife tend not to eat or nest in alien plants, so the nutrients, energy and water they take up are not returned to the system. Tallamy demonstrates that many butterflies, moths and insects are specialists, unable to feed or reproduce on plants that are outside their evolutionary experience. The fewer native plants we grow, the fewer insects will be supported, which means less food for birds, animals, and eventually people.
In this blog I have written about many of the native plants in my garden as well as decorative alien plants from Asia, Europe and elsewhere. I am not going to rip out all the non-native shrubs and perennials that prosper here. But I will make it a priority to add more natives and protect those that exist.
I already get great pleasure watching the activity of bees, butterflies and birds enjoying the nectar, berries, seeds and shelter of my native trees, shrubs and perennials. Their activity is a major component of a healthy, appealing garden. The more native plants I support, the more I will benefit. And the bonus is that the natives will be easier to grow than exotics from around the world. These plants are already suited to the conditions in my yard; they will need minimal support from me. They will require little in the way of food or soil amendments or chemical remedies.
In a balanced landscape, insect damage should be within tolerable limits. Because most plant disease is a consequence of cultural deficiencies, natives should be largely disease resistant. The most devastating diseases, pests and invasives are those from other parts of the world (Dutch Elm Disease, Asian Longhorn Beetle, Japanese Bittersweet, etc.). Which brings up a whole other aspect to this picture. If we do not import alien plants, we are less likely to introduce alien pests, diseases and invasive plants.
The most cheering aspect of Bringing Nature Home is the author’s belief that we as gardeners can make a real difference. Since “untouched” habitat is rare, our suburban properties can have a significant impact on the future of the wildlife community. If we each make our own properties wildlife-friendly, we can help to preserve the essential diversity and balance of nature. And we can take pride and pleasure in doing so.
Tags: Spring, Winter, Ilex verticillata, Winterberry, environment, diversity, native plants, Dutch Elm Disease, Japanese Bittersweet, Asian Longhorn Beetle, organic gardening, CT gardening, Gardening in New England, gardening in the Northeast, gardening for wildlife, wildlife, bees, butterflies, insects, Bringing Nature Home, Douglas Tallamy
In this quiet season, I appreciate any signs of green life I find. Besides the obvious evergreens, I notice the rosettes of leaves left behind by the biennials. This group of plants seems to be largely neglected by garden writers. But they play an important role in the garden.
Biennials, like annuals, will only flower once, so they have an extended bloom time. And since they are mature in the second year, they can fill space more quickly than perennials. This makes them a good choice for gaps between new perennials and immature shrubs.
My theory is that gardeners resent biennials because they allow us even less control than other plants do. They travel. The first year, a biennial establishes itself, producing leaves but no flowers. Generally, it retains a rosette of green basal leaves through the winter, preparing for its maturity and flowering in the second and final spring or summer. The good news is that, where biennials are happy, they reseed themselves so that they will “perennially” be in our garden.
The bad news is that the self-sown progeny may show up yards away from the original planting site. This can frustrate our plans for a well-designed garden bed.
I find this is true especially of foxgloves (Digitalis purpurea). The second year after I introduced them to my yard, I was perplexed to find them sprinkled randomly. But they are so impressive, particularly in a shade garden, that I humored them. Now my strategy is to keep planting foxgloves periodically to ensure a generous selection each year. Then, when they pop up unexpectedly, I can move, remove or leave them be.
There is a perennial foxglove (D. ambigua) that stays put. These come in only one soft yellow and are lovely dangling their heads in late spring.
For the erect, architectural flowers in pinks, purples, and speckles, we have to look to the biennial “Common Foxglove.”
Lunaria, also known as Honesty or Money Plant, is another biennial that goes where it likes. With its delicate lavender blossoms, it makes a wonderful companion for Bleeding Hearts (Dicentra) and Virginia bluebells (Mertensia virginica) in April and May. When its flowers are done, it forms the disc-like seed pods that, when peeled, resemble silvery sheets of mica. Wonderful to collect and dry.
Evening primrose (Oenothera biennis) and Forget-Me-Nots (Myosotis sylvatica) tend to seed themselves in dense clusters that spread vigorously. Though these, too, can be found popping up in another part of the garden entirely. A drift of either flower can be an awesome sight in spring, and they continue blooming for long periods. The Forget-Me-Nots can provide a sea of blue for as much as six weeks, but be aware that they are actually considered invasive in some areas.
Unfortunately, once these biennials have set seed, their work is done. They fade away, leaving a hole in the planting bed for the rest of the season. In the case of the Forget-Me-Nots, their spent flower stems turn black and must be removed, leaving only the tiny seedlings that will flower next year. One way to avoid the holes is to plant latecomers like Hostas and ferns among the biennials. Another is to fill the gaps left behind with annuals.
All the biennials I have mentioned will bloom and prosper in sun to part shade, which enhances their value. Give them moist soil and they will return reliably, though only they know where. Make the most of their reseeding to let them naturalize and fill an area for impact. But remember, too, that one of the joys of gardening is the unexpected or happy accident. Some biennials will come up in places more striking and beautiful than we could ever plan.
Tags: gardening in zone 6, gardening in the Northeast, Gardening in New England, CT gardening, naturalizing, Digitalis purpurea, Digitalis ambigua, perennial Foxglove, Winter interest, spring flowers, dicentra, Bleeding Hearts, Mertensia virginica, Virginia bluebells, Annuals, shade gardening, self-seeding, Evening Primrose, Oenothera biennis, Honesty, Money Plant, Lunaria, Foxglove, Myosotis sylvatica, Forget-Me-Not, biennials
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
Where are all the acorns?
Tags: gardening in the Northeast, Gardening in New England, gardening in zone 6, WTNH, Boston Globe, Gardeners Edge, Pick Up Wizard, Nut Roller, mice, squirrels, Chipmunks, deer, bear, gypsy moths, oak trees, organic gardening, CT gardening, acorns
I have to admit, it’s all my fault. After 2 years of excessively heavy acorn crops, I bought a nut roller this spring. I’ve been eagerly awaiting the chance to use it for months. And now, even though my property is surrounded by oak trees, there isn’t an acorn to be found.
In the falls of 2009 and 2010, I couldn’t walk across the lawn without stumbling on the lumpy mat of acorns. Raking the leaves meant picking up bushels of acorns, too, which added a lot of weight. When I saw the nut roller in a catalog, I thought it was heaven sent. I’d never heard of this tool before. The Gardeners Edge catalog (www.GardenersEdge.com) calls it a Pick up Wizard. Now it’s gathering cobwebs in my garage.
WTNH in New Haven, CT, has reported on this year’s lack of acorns, so it’s not just my yard. Apparently no one knows exactly how the cycle of acorn production works, except that there tends to be a bumper crop every 2 to 7 years, with a small one following. According to the Boston Globe, there was a light acorn year like this in 2004 (exactly 7 years ago).
Since deer, squirrels, chipmunks, mice and bear all eat acorns, they are in for a difficult winter. That means that they will forage further and turn to alternatives such as our bulbs and the bark on trees. And there will probably be fewer of these critters next spring.
If next year brings a scarcity of mice, which eat gypsy moth pupae, we might find an excess of gypsy moths. Which means I’ll have to take the blame. But if local lore that says a heavy crop of acorns foretells a harsh winter proves true, then this winter should be mild. And I’ll be glad to take the credit for that.
Have you noticed the lack of acorns this fall?
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
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!