Beds and borders
April Bloom Day has arrived with April showers which is just as it should be. It is time to reap the rewards of past fall bulb plantings along with celebrating the earliest bloomers. The snowdrops have lost their pretty white flowers but there is much of interest to take their place in the gardens which are still being uncovered. Most of you know of Iris 'Katherine Hodgkin'. She is tiny and her color is pale but satisfying. These clumps are a testimony to her happiness and mine. What is spring without some smiling pansies? I have planted the containers by the back door with this little seasonal annual and while the plants need to fill out a bit, the cheery faces of the pansies and the bright spots of color lift the spirits. Other blooming bulbs include daffodils, purple and white crocus which are naturalizing in the front entry bed and Scilla siberica which also fills in and reseeds in the garden. Some call it invasive but this little ground cover provides early nectar and intense bright blue flashes of color. I prefer to call it a 'naturalizer' since it would be easy to eradicate and doesn't take the place of any low growing native. It is worth noting that this little flower has a sweet and unique fragrance which is best experienced lying prone on the ground with one's nose in the flowers. Beware, you may come out of this looking a bit smurf like since the pollen is blue and may show up on the tip of your nose. Kids love this little demonstration. Another great naturalizer is the Glory of the Snow, Chionodoxa forbesii. It faithfully blooms every year on Patriot's Day and it contrasts well with the yellow of daffodils or as a skirt around the witch hazels. One other little bulb, this Tulipa Hearts a Fire, is not yet in bloom but with foliage this dramatic, who needs blooms? In the borders the hellebores are blooming. Hellebores are available in a wide range of flower colors and species and they are deer resistant. I did witness a bit of chomping on the Helleborus foetidus flowers. They were nibbled off and left for litter on the ground right next to the plant. No matter, H. foetidus is really valuable for the fine fingered foliage while these others have lovely flowers and foliage which is less dramatic but still a wonderful texture. The earliest blooming shrub in my garden is witch hazel, Hamamelis x intermedia 'Arnold's Promise'. This is still a small shrub having been planted just two years ago. Since this is its third year in the ground I am expecting leaps of growth this year. There is a frenzy of activity in the garden this time of year. Much of it is taking place underground as roots stretch, grow and absorb life giving nutrients but this gardener is keeping busy as well with cleanup, fertilizing, spreading compost, planting and, soon, dividing. Does anyone need any bee balm? It seems to be taking over the central garden bed. It is not difficult to keep busy this time of year. I look forward to seeing what is blooming in your garden and thank Carol of May Dreams, once again, for hosting another Bloom Day.
I have been on vacation. That is one excuse for not posting for three weeks. The other is the flu. Good reasons right? Well, vacation is over and the flu is gone and while there is still a bit of chunky ice here and there along the drive, spring cleanup has begun. I started with a bit of pruning. The Hydrangea paniculatas get a heavy haircut this time of year. This keeps them looking a bit neater while controlling the size as well as forcing some new and vigorous growth. They flower profusely when pruned in early spring.
The borders need tidying. The leaves must be raked out of the gardens and since I have mostly oak trees, leaves continue to drop most of the winter. Even now there are a few leaf stragglers still clinging to the trees waiting for a bit of bud push to drop them to the ground. The ornamental grasses stand alone by the fish pond and cutting them back is a big job. Lighting them is so much easier and quite entertaining. Within three minutes the fire consumes the old growth leaving ash to sweeten the soil. I know, some of you are gasping but fire has been used to manage grasslands for centuries. Should you wish to burn your grasses, make sure to check your local fire ordinances and burn only if your grasses are off by themselves. One year I burned the grasses and some of the heaths which were in close proximity. Live and learn. The leaves have been raked, fertilizer has been spread and a thin layer of compost added to the entry bed. I usually clean the southerly facing gardens first and work my way around to those which face north. There is a very visible difference in plant growth in these beds. The long border is the last to be cleaned and I often find a bit of snow hidden in the decaying leaves as I clean it. It will take weeks to get everything in order but for one who loves to garden, cleaning is a welcome if sometimes overwhelming chore. Three gardens done, seven to go. One bed at a time is this gardener's motto.
I am seeing the first daffodils and leucojum, or spring snowflakes as they are commonly called, on blogs from other parts of the country. My friend, Leslie from Growing a Garden in Davis, has her first along with hellebore flowers, camellias and ladybugs. You can see those by clicking on the highlighted text above. Here the only things growing are the icicles hanging from the roof. They seem to get longer and thicker every day even on these days when the temperatures stay well below freezing. The trellis supports a few while casting an interesting shadow. The west side of the house has the biggest spears. It gets the afternoon sun here and the icicles are almost touching the ground. They really are pretty although I would rather see crocus or snowdrops. Thank goodness for the blog world. The long border currently has only the orange globe for major winter interest. February always seems to drag by for me but there are things to do. Today I ordered raspberry plants for spring delivery along with tomato seeds for starting in late March. Someone here was bored enough to shovel a long path to the barn. I, on the other hand, strapped on the cross country skiis and headed out for some fresh air. I do hope you are surviving this long winter. It won't be long now. In a month the calendar says it will be spring and I sure hope Mother Nature is paying attention.
Leaving one's New England garden in the winter is very different from leaving it for a few days, a week or more during the other seasons. I am reminded of this Robert Goulet song which, I know, dates me but Camelot is still one of my favorite plays. Listen here if you wish. Ten days is an eternity in spring, summer or fall but in winter the frozen mass of a garden resists change. There might be more snow or less in the winter when one leaves and then returns but the garden is either covered with snow or uncovered and dormant. I visited Titusville, Florida recently. They were having a cold spell. Frost even appeared one morning in Florida but cold spells are relative and the 57F high one day seemed fine to me. It was 10F here at home. There were exciting adventures. I did play golf with my Mom. She is 90. She trounced me. Short and straight. That is how she hits them and while a long drive is showy, one always putts for the dough. There are obstacles on the golf course which one never sees here in RI. It was warm on this golf day, in the 70's. While I was visiting, NASA launched a communications rocket which was a thrill. Titusville is a shadow of its former self since the elimination of the shuttle program. The cost to this part of the country was high. Jobs were lost and many tourist related businesses are closed. You can read about the losses here. There still are launches and they are very exciting. I just had my small hand held camera and little time for careful composition but I did step out the front door of the house to see the rocket light the night sky. If you have never seen this sight, it is impressive. Mom and I also went to see the manatees but the manatees had left for warmer waters. The birds were still around though. I have left Florida and I have returned to the garden. I can never really leave it for long - even in winter. When I left, there was little snow on the ground. I returned to bits and pieces of snow which has now been replaced by a full layer with more due today. But in my absence it seems there has been a change. The snowdrops are showing a little bit of promise. I also noticed that the sun was quite warm on my face yesterday. Today we are back to winter. It is, once again, snowing here. This seems to be the never ending white winter. I will just have to remember the sight of the green shoots of snowdrops. They are covered once again.
The recent snow has receded and on Sunday the winds blew strong after Saturday's heavy rain. It felt more like March than mid-January. In the garden there are a few standing grasses, the ever present evergreen shrubs and trees and there are a multitude of seed heads. The variety of seed heads in the garden is quite amazing.
From the stiff and prickly coneflowers all the way to this gnarly seed head from the Sinocalycanthus chinensis or Chinese Wax Shrub. There is a world of shapes and sizes well in between these two dried garden offerings. The Chinese wax shrub is relatively new to North America. I bought my plant from a local wholesale grower in CT and according to their information it has only been in cultivation since 1980. The nursery first received a plant from the Brooklyn Botanic Garden and they have been propagating and selling it since. Chinese wax shrub is a lovely shrub with shiny green leaves and delicately pink flowers. There really are not tons of flowers on this shrub but it is showy with its elegant leaves. The flowers are just a bonus. They are fairly large. Two to three inches in diameter and they do look quite waxy giving credibility to the common name. I will enjoy the memory of them until they next appear. Small gardening chores can be done here when the weather permits. I have gotten rid of that pile of leaves on the left side of the top picture. There are more to rake if time and weather allows although everything was quite muddy on Sunday. It sounded like winter but felt like the winds of March. Winter is not even a month old but winter gets old very quickly. It is over two months until actual spring arrives. There are lots of catalogs to read and orders for seeds must be placed. The chores of summer and fall are a distant memory along with the muscle aches those chores generate and the feeling that there is never enough time in the day to get them all done. Now, I am itching to get back into the garden. I will have to settle for a visit to a greenhouse full of lush plants and heavy, moist air. Any suggestions?
Here it is mid-November and there are many garden tasks still needing attention. I have been ignoring them I will admit. There has been cleaning and painting inside the house this past week or so and before that the days were nice enough to play golf. I love the perfect lawn of a golf course and that is just where it should stay. Here I embrace the 'freedom lawn' which is currently covered with leaves. I do have to get them removed before heavy snow. Yet another task. Today Mother Nature has thrown a curve ball. Or, perhaps a snow ball. Temperatures dropped and rain turned to the first snow. There really isn't much accumulation and the weather will warm a bit before winter's cold, cruel fingers fully grip the garden so I have time for more garden chores. The snow this early does highlight the texture of many plants but soon they will flatten and tatter. There is just one spot of color left in the garden. The Colchicum 'Waterlily' is still in bloom. I had planned to cut many of the standing perennials down mainly to reduce the amount of spring work which has to be done but this snow has caused me to rethink cutting some of them. The sedum is always left to stand with snow caps during the winter and the grasses provide a good amount of interest to the winter garden as well. I was thinking of cutting this Helianthus 'Lemon Queen' which is standing a good seven feet tall. It turned black this week. It is dramatic and I now think I will have to leave it. Who can resist this drama? Drama is so much better in the garden than in life. What do you think? Should I cut it or leave it?
Mother Nature has saved the brightest of all of the fall colors for last. Many trees have dropped their leaves but the Japanese maples seem to be among the last to put on their fall robes. Brilliant red, bright yellow and a mix of both colors are visible in many of the Japanese maples in the gardens and woodlands. The above red Japanese maple was planted many years ago and its name is long forgotten. This time of year it screams for attention. Behind it is the golden yellow of an Acer palmatum 'Omurayama' which was planted the same year. The full moon maple, Acer japonicum aconitifolium, blends its reds and yellow. The result is a leaf which glows as bright as any ember. The lime green of the Hakonechloa macra 'Aureola' has morphed to brilliant yellow which sits pretty right in front of the red cut leaf Japanese maple. Oak leaves are littering the ground and the time for chopping them and adding them to the garden beds is at hand. There are many chores to be attended to in the gardens. Some perennials will be cut mainly to reduce the chores of springtime. Others are left to feed the birds and add winter interest to the garden. The garlic needs to be planted quite soon and in the rest of the vegetable garden the arugula and kale are still being harvested. Brussel sprouts and carrots don't mind the cold at all. Their flavor is heightened by cool temperatures. There is nothing sweeter than a carrot pulled from the ground after a few frosts. November is a rather gray month in my garden. It is a transition from the brilliant decline of October to the dormant state of December. The first days though, are brilliant this year. What is shining in your garden at the beginning of this month?
I have a native wildflower blooming this late in the garden. I think it is the bushy American aster, Symphyotrichum dumosum, although it could be S. racemosum. It is hard to tell them apart. The flowers are arranged more loosely in the S. dumosum species and it would appear the same as the plant which has volunteered its cheerful autumn blooms in my garden. The foliage is light and airy. I often wonder how the volunteers arrive in the garden. Do they travel on the breeze or are they dropped by a passing bird who enjoyed this seed? The flowers do mature to small puffs so the obvious answer would be that they arrived on a breeze. I never saw it happen. There are no asters in the field but, nonetheless, this plant has seeded in the front of the border. No matter. It is a see through plant and one that I now enjoy. Despite intensive gardening Mother Nature often has her own ideas on what should be growing in the borders. The ragweed gets weeded out as do many of the Queen Anne's Lace seedlings since they have a tendency to take right over. This plant I leave. It is well behaved and I think you will agree, quite lovely. This is really my first Wildflower Wednesday post and thanks go to Gail at Clay and Limestone for hosting and helping to make us all aware of the natural wonders of our own specific areas.
As a gardener and in life, my focus is sometimes a bit catawampus. I completely ignored the tomato plants once they were planted in spite of all the work of starting them from seed, hardening them off and setting them out in the ground. June was cool and moist and not the best weather for tomatoes but it was good for travel. I traveled, to England on a garden tour and to San Francisco for the Garden Bloggers Fling. At home I focused on the borders which are less work than staking and weeding tomatoes which are out of sight anyway. Now that tomato season is here I am bemoaning the fact that I didn't stake them and they are lying in heaps on the ground fighting for space with weeds. Still, I am gathering tomatoes and no, I am not going to show you the ugly plants. I am going to resolve to do better with tomatoes next year. Next year's tomatoes will be perfect. I will adjust my focus a bit next year. Right now the Conoclinium coelestinum formerly known as Eupatorium coelestinium is in bloom right in front of the Persicaria amplexicaulis 'Golden Arrow'. I am not sure which of these to focus on as they are both very pretty late summer bloomers. Oh well, the focus must shift now and then both in the garden and in life. One sees more that way don't you think?