July has arrived and the long borders are glorious after a cool and rainy spring. Summer is here and while the tended gardens are beautiful, I have a confession. It is not the the glorious flowers of astilbe, bee balm, phlox or even the majestic delphiniums which have caught my attention this summer. No, it is a lowly native plant patch which beacons me and Gibbs, each day, down into the lower back field. Sometimes it is in the morning with a cup of coffee. Other times it is in the glare of the mid day sun. Often it is late in the day. Halfway down between the barn and the lower field, the scent pulls me forward. It is heavy and sweet and as identifiable, once experienced, as that of lily of the valley or lilac. The milkweed patch, Asclepias syriaca, common milkweed, has taken root in the well composted horse manure pile of the back field. As unromantic a start as can be had. In the morning, the flower heads of the milkweed are thick with dew, in mid-afternoon the patch hums with life and in evening the scent seems the sweetest. To stand at the edge, or even in the midst of a patch of milkweed is a revelation. There are moths, bumblebees, honeybees and milkweed beetles meeting for some afternoon delight. A visceral experience of sight, sound and scent. At the recent Fourth of July party, a good part of the afternoon involved several trips down to the milkweed patch. All who traveled there seemed amazed. I have to believe they were being more than polite and the surprise and appreciation at the life in and scent of the milkweed patch was genuine. There are many interesting facts about our native milkweed. It was named for the Greek God of medicine, Asclepius and as expected it has many medicinal uses. The latex like substance exuded from the plant when it is cut or damaged has been used to treat warts. The milkweed plant contains cardioactive glycosides which gives protection from predators to those insects who ingest it. Good news for the monarch caterpillar and butterfly which feed exclusively on Asclepias species. The silky parachute of the milkweed seed is six times more buoyant than cork and five times warmer than wool. The floret of the milkweed has the ability to trap the leg of an insect seeking nectar. A structure called the corpusculum does the trick. This helps ensure pollination as pollen is dispersed as the insect struggles for freedom. The coarse fibers of the stalk have been used by Native Americans to make twine. You can read much more about this plant from the experts but there is no substitute for standing near the milkweed patch where you can hear, smell and see all the life which it supports. I would not recommend this species plant for the manicured border but there are other garden worthy species available such as A. tuberosa, Butterflyweed. Common milkweed is coarse and can be invasive as it spreads from both seed and runners but if you have a sunny field area it would make a great addition to your landscape. I look forward to visiting the flowering patch which will last another week or two but I know, in mid-October, the milkweed will again please the senses as the seeds ripen, the plush parachutes open to catch the breeze and they lift and float to fields unknown.
I missed Bloom Day in July due to challenging gardening conditions. Pests, drought, pests. No bother, the season moves along at its own pace. August has, so far, been a month of high humidity, heat and at least some rain. Welcome rain. Every plant looks better with moisture. Weeds included. The warmth brings out the butterflies and today's Bloom Day is sunny, dry and a bit more comfortable with humidity levels down from 90%. Deer do eat hydrangeas but they left me a few blooms on the H. paniculata 'Vanilla Strawberry' and H. paniculata 'Limelight'. Both have unique qualities. The Vanilla Strawberry has dark stems and is shown here with coneflower. The 'Limelight' is incredibly floriferous. The true blue of Ceratostigma is cool relief for these hot days and this butterfly finds it palatable as well. In August, it is usually the annuals which take center stage. Here, the dahlias are beginning to bloom. This one is 'Cafe au Lait' and it is quite popular. I find it adequate, preferring bright colors to its bland, cream tone. Portulaca provides a brilliant crown for 'Athena' who hangs on the garden gate. Cannas are also blooming and add a tropical look to this summer garden. There is more in bloom but tasks await. Thank you for visiting. A big thank you to Carol at May Dreams for hosting yet another Bloom Day. I hope to visit gardens around the country via her Bloom Day Blog list.
Bloom Day has arrived clear and cool. The end of summer has been quite dry and the gardens are showing a bit of wear and tear. Helianthus 'Lemon Queen' is blooming at seven feet tall. It will grow taller but I pinched it in late June to keep it from falling over. The bees do love it. While I was sleeping the colchicums appeared in the garden. They are a sweet surprise. Lilac is usually a spring color but it is a welcome addition to the late summer garden. Aster 'Alma Potschke' is wearing her bright magenta sweater. She needs it as it is a bit chilly this morning. Unlike mid-summer when there are large drifts of color in the garden, the late summer garden has bright spots and lots of texture. This annual verbena has reseeded throughout the garden and it shines this time of year. Each flower is small, just an inch or two across but they wave in the breeze and add a very whimsical look to the borders and vegetable garden. Flowers are wonderful, they feed the spirit but this Berkeley Tie Die tomato is beautiful and also makes a great BLT. I find the flavor full with bright acidity and a hint of the earth. It is one of my new favorites. I hope that this Bloom Day finds your garden full and lush. Many thanks to Carol of May Dreams for another day of flowers.
Summer is busy. The gardens have gone from lush to munched. The deer have taken liberties and the gardener has been lax with the spray program. Still, there is beauty to be found in the shortening summer days. Shadows are lengthening and the late flowering shrubs and perennials are starting to bloom. Above, the Caryopteris is attracting bees. I think this one is Caryopteris x cladonensis 'Bluebeard'. The honeysuckle has both berries and blooms right now. This one sits by the fishpond along with a Heuchera 'Caramel' which is languishing in the hot sun. The butterflies don't seem to mind the scorched leaves. I have moved this Heuchera to a better site just this week. The real star of the garden at this time of year is the Hydrangea 'Limelight'. This 'Limelight' sits in a back corner of the garden behind the house. I really must add a few more to more visible areas. It lights up the garden at dawn and dusk and this hydrangea will never let you down. It blooms easily and heavily in my Zone 5b garden. Yes, I need to get a few more.
I cannot say that this is an original term, 'A Plague of Alliums'. It is one I heard last year on a garden tour from a gardener who was bemoaning the fact that her alliums had reseeded in her garden. The effect was magical. Much more magical than the dire statement. I remember being envious. Globe allium bulbs are not cheap and they have never reseeded for me. Never say never. While I don't have a 'plague' this year I do have many more than I planted. They have seeded in at the feet of the parents and I am quite enjoying the 'Alice in Wonderland' effect of so many perfect spheres. They are no trouble. Should I wish to remove them I could do so with a soil knife. It would be easy to lift and throw the unwanted right into the compost tub or move them to another spot. I would do so if I found them to be a problem. I cannot imagine that happening but editing the garden is a constant, brutal and necessary task. If left undone, Mother Nature will gain control. She can have the woodlands, pastures, meadows and wetlands. I would love to control her as far as rain, wind and temperature go but my only real control is in the editing. So, edit I will. The garden looks very serene in early June. The perennials have filled out and are plump, fresh and full. The burgeoning health of the youthful garden in late spring is glorious. I have to remind myself to take time to just enjoy it.
I have been busy in the garden as many of you are as well but I have found time to lie prone with my nose buried in this patch of Viola odorata. Really, if you haven't had the pleasure of this fragrance let me tell you that it is as heady as that of the lilac or lily of the valley but it is unique. I picked many Mother's Day bouquets of common violet and always wondered about that fragrance in bottles of violet perfume. Where did that come from? The common violet had no fragrance. It seems to me that violet perfume was the rage many years ago just as violet nosegays were the rage in Victorian times. I cannot imagine the time it would take to pick enough of these very short stemmed beauties to make a nosegay. If violets were as ubiquitous as people with no jobs then I guess it was all profit but how much could one charge for this bouquet? I could not put a price on this scent. It is now, for me, one of the treats of spring. Viola odorata is native to Europe and Asia. It is a perennial, hardy to Zone 5. It prefers rich soil in partial shade although it will grow in sun where the soil is not dry. It is pollinated by bees but I do think I have done a bit of pollination myself with my nose stuck in those flowers. The common violet can be a nuisance in the garden but not Viola odorata. It will spread but it is certainly not as vigorous as the common violet, Viola sororia, which happens to be the state flower of RI. All parts of both species of violet are edible. I long to have enough violets to make this cake. What about you? Have you experienced the scent of Viola odorata? Mine came from Logee's Greenhouse and they also have a pretty pink variety for sale. It is a small and dainty plant but its fragrance will follow you forever.
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?
No, not the town in New York, the little cartoon bird who skates on frozen ponds. That time has arrived here as on many mornings this past week the little birdbath in the back garden has offered up a solid surface. It is somewhat sad to see but inevitable. The magnolia tree, Magnolia macrophylla, has lost its very large leaves and the hosta leaves have either turned to mush or skeletelized as the season progresses. Little remains of the summer garden and fall has packed up and left even though the calendar gives us another month. Mother Nature rarely looks at the calender though. This year the witch hazel has put on quite a show. This was planted as a Hamamelis 'Arnold's Promise' but most retail witch hazels are grafted to more sturdy rootstock and this graft failed. It has reverted to that rootstock, the native Hamamelis virginiana which blooms in fall rather than spring. H. 'Arnold's Promise' would be the first tree to bloom here in the spring but the H. virginiana is the last to bloom here and it is as welcome a sight. There are other bits and pieces of color if one takes the time to really look. The hellebore is poised to bloom. It sits in suspended animation now and will stay at this stage during the cruelest days of winter. If the snow recedes these lime green buds are visible and a reminder and a promise of future blooms. For now, this little viola sits shivering in the cold. It would be overlooked if it were blooming when blooms abound but now, in the low light of late fall, it glows in the crack of the walkway. It seems to me to be a miracle in miniature.
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?
In May, the question is not 'what is blooming' but 'what is not' which seems more appropriate. It has been a very cool spring which has been easy on the flowers. They last much longer with cool temperatures and while many plants are blooming a bit later, there is more overlap of bloom and more time to appreciate those blooms. The crabapples are blooming and none is prettier than this 'Prairie Fire' above. I love the lipstick magenta color along with the subtle scent of the flowers. The Carolina Silverbell is blooming as well. Its white bells light up the garden it is shading. Fothergilla has a curious flower, don't you think? Lime green shows in the buds and they mature to a soft creamy white. Moving to ground, the bleeding hearts are off and running. I moved several white ones from the woods where there were seedlings growing. Borne on the wind or carried by creatures, these seeds germinated twenty feet or so from the garden bed of their parents. They seem happy next to the forget-me-nots which were gifted to me by my neighbors, The Dynamic Duo. Camassia are showing their blue in the 'Stonehenge' garden. They have been inundated with other perennials and a bit of cleanup will soon be necessary. The tulips and daffodils are fading but with such an abundance of bloom they will be remembered fondly. Thank you to Carol of May Dreams for hosting another Bloom Day. I do hope to visit your garden via her links. Do you have a favorite bloom for Bloom Day in May?