Oh, this is the joy of the rose--that it blooms and goes.
- Willa Cather
Viewing entries tagged shade gardening
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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!
My Sedum 'Autumn Joy’ are talking to me. They are splayed flat, saying, “Divide me!” Many perennials behave this way. Every 3 to 5 years, they begin to develop a hole or fall away from the center, signaling that they need to be divided to be reinvigorated.
In the case of Autumn Joy, this would be a terrible time to dig them up. They are in spectacular bloom right now and would be very unwieldy to handle. I will make a note of which plants to divide in spring, when they are compact and will have plenty of time to recover before they bloom again at the end of the summer. Mums and ornamental grasses belong in the same category.
Tags: ornamental grasses, Paeonia, Peonies, soil knife, Hemerocallis, daylilies, transplanting, dividing plants, Lady's Mantle, Alchemilla mollis, chrysanthemum, Mums, Sedum 'Autumn Joy', gardening in the Northeast, CT gardening, shade gardening
Lady’s Mantle (Alchemilla mollis) and peonies (Paeonia) are good examples of perennials that are better divided now. And this is the ideal time to divide Daylilies (Hemerocallis species). Daylilies respond especially well to dividing and will reward you with multiple vigorous plants. (Peonies may bloom poorly or not at all the year after division, but they will thrive after that.) All of these plants have passed their peak for the season.
On a day that is mild—neither too hot nor too cold—I use a transplanting spade to dig up the chosen plant(s). I dig a ring several inches outside the edges of the plant, digging and lifting until I can feel the root ball is loose. Then I lift with spade or hands and tease the plant out of the soil. This is where my trusty soil knife is indispensable (see go-to gear). It has a serrated edge that helps cut through the root ball. I always try to leave at least 3 buds or stems with each new plant. Sometimes the plant will fall apart easily, forming its own divisions. It is not necessary to treat most perennials gently; they will tolerate fairly rough handling.
Then I dig a hole slightly broader than the root ball of the new plantlet and mix in some compost or manure. I spread out the roots, or in the case of daylilies, tubers, and cover with soil to the same level as the original plant. And water generously. It pays to listen to forecasts and do dividing and transplanting when rainy weather is expected. Nothing gets a plant off to a better start than a good rain to soak it in.
Having said all this, I have learned that most perennials and shrubs can be divided and transplanted any time during the growing season. The key is keeping them moist till they are established. The larger or older the plant, the longer it will take to settle in.
What fun it is to take one plant and make it three—or more. This is a great opportunity to develop large drifts of a particular plant or to share with gardening friends.
October 1 and the cold front has arrived. A real chill in the air after a week of punishing rain and humidity. It feels like Fall. It’s time to fill the birdfeeder again, after leaving the birds to their own devices all summer.
The mild weather makes it a good time for making renovations—to the garden, that is. Vita Sackville-West said, “A true gardener must be brutal, and imaginative for the future.” I take her meaning to justify the changes I am making in the yard.
(I admire her tremendously as a gardener. Her former home at Sissinghurst, in England, is one of the spectacular gardens of the world.)
I’ve just dug up a group of 5 Goatsbeard (Aruncus dioicus) from in front of the hemlocks. They’ve grown there for 4 or 5 years, but they do not get enough moisture to really thrive. Their blooms fade quickly and their foliage browns early in the season. In this condition they are not really enhancing the garden, so I’ll find them another home.
Goatsbeard can be a wonderful shade perennial in reliably moist soil. Their 6-foot height and creamy, fluffy panicles in late spring-early summer are very appealing and useful in the right place. I tried and learned I did not have them in the right place.
Next I managed to unearth the Fothergilla gardenii from the left side of the laurel arbor. It had grown too large for its space there and so was crowding and shading the Clematis ‘Ville de Lyon’ and becoming misshapen itself. This I moved to the far end of the lawn where it will have ample space. And in bloom, it should beckon us across the yard.
I can’t help but wonder if this Fothergilla was mislabeled. Of the two species, F. gardenii is also called “Dwarf Fothergilla,” because it is supposed to stay compact, say 3 feet tall. This is how the shrub I bought was marked. The other species, F. major grows to about 8 feet high. The one I transplanted is easily 7 feet tall.
Whichever one it is, it is still a beautiful plant. It gets white bottlebrush type flowers in the spring, and very soon it will develop its striking fall foliage—reds, yellows and oranges so intense they seem to be backlit. This fall color makes Fothergilla an excellent substitute for the invasive Burning Bush (Euonymus elatus).
Tags: shade gardening, perennials, shrubs, transplanting, Sissinghurst, Vita Sackville-West, Euonymus elatus, Burning Bush, Aruncus dioicus, Fothergilla gardenii, Fothergilla major
Only time will tell if my “brutality” is rewarded in the future!
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
Right here. Right now. The invaders are mounting their attack. Along the roadsides, in every uncultivated lot, on the edges of my own property, invasive plants are preparing to let loose their seeds. By the millions. Now is the time to act in defense. A quick swipe with a scythe or a pass with the weed whacker or mower—or, simple pulling—can nullify new generations of invasives like Black Swallowwort and Japanese Stilt Grass.
Both plants are bright, leafy green and noticeably vigorous. They both tolerate sun and shade and a wide range of soil types and outcompete the native plants around them.
Black Swallowwort (Cynanchum nigrum, a/k/a climbing milkweed), is a profuse twiner from Europe that entangles itself among other plants; keep an eye out for its curling stems. This vine has just formed its many long, narrow seed pods. When the seeds inside ripen and disperse, they float on silky tufts similar to those of Milkweed. Cut them off now, before this happens.
The Stilt Grass (Microstegium vimineum) from Japan spreads aggressively, and is about to set seed now in Southwestern Connecticut. The grass is noticeable because it occurs in surprisingly robust, healthy clumps. An annual, it is easy to pull in small patches. For large swaths, get out the machinery!
The time is now to assault the next generation.
Tags: invasive plants, shade gardening, organic gardening, Southwestern Connecticut, Microstegium vimineum, Cynanchum nigrum, Japanese Stilt Grass, Black Swallowwort
I woke up this morning to find the sweet potato vines (Ipomea) in my deck containers had been stripped of their leaves overnight. And the leaves were left lying there. What critter would want to do such gratuitous damage?
I read on a GardenWeb Shade Gardening forum (http://forums.gardenweb.com/forums/shade/?3143) that another gardener found the same damage to her Pulmonaria (Lungwort) plants. Does anyone know who would be doing this?
I suspect it is squirrels because they are very active in my yard, especially now, while they are preparing for the winter. Would they be collecting leaves to line their nests? But why leave so many on the ground? I'd love to hear from anyone who has a solution to this mystery.
UPDATE My latest theory is that the culprit is a cat. I haven't witnessed it in action, but I did see a neighborhood cat in the yard. And I know they like to "play" with plants. Anyone else have this problem?
Tags: shade gardening, organic gardening, Ipomea, Sweet potato vine, squirrel damage, GardenWeb, Pulmonaria, Lungwort
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
As a shade gardener, I’m always on the lookout for plants that are described as tolerating shade. Tolerate is the key word—most plants do best in sun with a small minority actually preferring shade. A majority of plants sold for sun to part shade do tolerate some shade—but that doesn’t mean they perform their best there. Plants grown in less sun than they require will be leggy, floppy and tend to bloom less—the density of growth and coverage of flowers will be diminished.
But we expect this to some extent. What we don’t expect is shade plants that aren’t used to shade. But that is exactly what we get when we buy shade-tolerant plants. The nurseries and other plant growers seem to raise everything in bright, full sun. This gives them fuller, denser plants in a minimum of time and promotes heavy budding. It’s understandable that they want to offer the thickest, greenest, most floriferous merchandise possible.
The problem comes when we get home and plant our new purchase in a shady location. It is labeled for shade; we bought it for shade; but this plant has never known shade. There will be an adjustment period during which the new plant will look unhappy and perhaps lose some fullness. New growth will not be as dense as previous growth.
With perennials, this adjustment is not too serious (with annuals, lack of adequate sun will lead to a speedy end). With shrubs and trees, however, the time it takes to adapt and flourish in a shady spot can be as much as several years. We need to have patience and expect a transition period before the tree or shrub truly settles into its shady home and begins to flourish.
I recently added a new Dogwood (Cornus florida ‘Cloud 9’) to four already growing in my yard. I was conscious of the new tree being heavily leafed, and the leaves, though green and healthy looking, were nearly folded in half.
I speculate that this is the tree’s way of coping with the full sun of its nursery life, compared to the understory light for which Dogwoods are intended. The leaves of my established Dogwoods are broadly open and ‘normal’ looking in their partially shaded locations.
Another shade-tolerant tree I grow is a Shadblow (Amelanchier laevis), which is native to our area. I bought this years ago for the graceful branching pattern and the early spring blossoms that pepper the woods’ edge. This is another understory tree, native to partially shaded woodlands. Not only had the specimen I bought been pruned into a lollypop form, eliminating its natural grace, but the tree was so used to growing in bright sun that it struggled for several years at the edge of my woods. At first it lost several branches and had a tendency to develop fungal spots on its leaves. After a few years, though, it began to look happier and put out substantial growth. In the early years it denied me the delicate flowers that are so appreciated after a long, dark winter. Now it flowers better each year and the fungal problems have subsided.
Tags: gardening in zone 6, Cornus florida, Amelanchier, Shadblow, Dogwood, organic gardening, shade gardening
What would this Shadblow tree have been like if it had been grown in its intended setting? Perhaps it would have had much less transplant shock. I’ll keep you posted on the progress of the new Dogwood. Meanwhile, I’d love to hear from other shade gardeners if they’ve had this experience and if they have any advice that eases the plant’s transition.
This black swallowtail butterfly couldn't get enough of my impatiens!
Tags: impatiens, organic gardening, shade gardening, Summer, Black Swallowtail butterfly