High Summer

433FB91F-737E-4E55-BC3A-616E1C61CFAE_1_105_cIt is high summer in the garden right now. July is the dry month in RI and the sprinklers are going, the sun is shining and it is a hot 80F at 8:00 AM. Gardening is regional and even within a small state such as RI the coastal gardens move along a bit differently than those in the high (a relative term since the highest point in RI is only 811 feet)western part of the state. My garden is about 568 feet in elevation which may be high enough to avoid a tsunami but it is also high enough to produce winter temperatures which are five to ten degrees below the state average. I garden here in Zone 6a with a maximum low of -10 F. It doesn't happen often but it happens and is particularly damaging when there is no snow cover and when the temperature drops quickly. 

5613C938-89D9-40AE-8FDA-78C8C65908AE_1_105_cDaylilies are blooming and the hydrangeas, depending on variety, are in various stages of bud and bloom. Last year I planted a crescent of Hydrangea arborescens 'Incrediball'.  The smooth hydrangeas are much more dependable bloomers in my garden than the big leaf blue hydrangeas. The smooth hydrangeas bloom reliably every year since they bloom on new wood. My blue hydrangeas, Hydrangea macrophylla 'Endless Summer' are often a disappointment. There are no blooms or buds on these plants yet. It may happen but since the flower buds are much more sensitive to cold they can fail to bloom in my high altitude - ha- garden. We did have a quick drop in temperature this past winter which could have caused flower bud kill. I will note here that I do not prune this cultivar until new growth begins and I prune only dead wood above new growth since hard pruning cuts off the flower buds which are formed on old wood.  The white Incrediball hydrangeas should be pruned in the spring. I prune about a third of the growth to shape them and encourage new branching. The Incrediball has a sturdier stem than the cultivar 'Annabelle'. I have yet to find a source for the straight Hydrangea arborescens which is perfectly fine in the garden having smaller but abundant flowers with sturdy stems. Marketing and trademarking have made it a less than profitable shrub. The best way to acquire this species plant is to find a friend who has an old planting of them.

310E3799-915B-44A0-8A5B-9AED18F026D5_1_105_cHigh summer is a relatively easy time for the gardener. Tasks include deadheading flowers, cutting back wild growth, re-edging those borders and water, water, water. Containers are full and happy but annuals do require frequent fertilization to keep flowering and to look their best. It is a good time to take stock of blooms and blanks in the garden and to plan on fill ins or divisions for later in the summer when rain is more plentiful. 87296571-AFA0-43A4-947D-1BAB38134345_1_105_c
High summer is the best time to take advantage of the patio, garden bench or lawn chaise and just enjoy the bonus of blooms from spring's hard labor. Today, in the heat, I am going to sit, enjoy, and relish the warm summer evening.


Sweet Peas On My Mind

Sweet pea collage
The fragrance of  sweet peas, as distinct a fragrance as that of Lily of the Valley or Viola odorata, wafts in and out of my January garden dreams. In New England, it is the dreams of the next season's garden which keep the mind active while the gardener's hands are somewhat idle. The only exercise the hands are getting these days is in the turning of plant catalog pages and searching for information on the internet to improve the success of the next garden. Revisiting the photos of those gardens which I have visited in the past also provides inspiration for Garden 2021. I have been fortunate to travel to the gardening capitol of the world, the UK. Yes, I stand firm on this point. Gardening in the UK is a national past time and the proof is in the publication of the National Garden Scheme Handbook which lists over 3,700 gardens, both public and private, within the UK which are open for visits during specific times during the year. Our comparable organization, The Garden Conservancy, is close to having the same amount of featured gardens in our country which is 40 times larger with 11 out of 50 states that are bigger than the UK. I digress, back to sweet peas. Sweet peas in early MayI did grow them in 2019 with some success. Sweet peas are a cool annual, vining flowering plant, Lathyrus odoratus. Brought to serious cultivation in the UK in the early 1700's after their discovery on an island in the Mediterranean, I can only imagine it was the fragrance which captivated the plant explorer who happened upon them. You can read more about the history of the development and breeding of sweet peas here on Sarah Raven's blog if you so choose. Many of the large private gardens which I have visited in England grow sweet peas  as we here in the US grow zucchini. One would never complain about an abundance of sweet peas. When I grew them I planted them along the fence on poles attached to a top support. They grew fairly well and I did have an abundance of flowers but this year I have ordered my seeds from Owl's Acre who offer exhibition Spencer varieties-yes the very Spencer family of the famous Princess Diana. These varieties have longer stems which are easier to cut and make a better bouquet. They do come in a wide range of delicious colors. From chardonnay through merlot, the allure of the sweet pea is hard to resist. Sweet peas require a fertile, well drained soil and with hardening off, will tolerate frost. They need attention to watering through dry spells and they are heavy feeders although nitrogen should be the more limited element in a complete fertilizer. I will use Fish/Seaweed fertilizer for a liquid feed. I planted the sweet peas out at the end of April in 2019 but this year, I will aim for an earlier planting date. Planting any early crop is very weather dependent here in New England as there can still be a bit of snow on the ground or frost in the ground. Instead of the single angled support, I will adopt this tee pee shaped support. Training the peasIt is attractive as well as functional and gives the gardener access to cutting and viewing from both sides.  Sweet peas can also be grown on tripods which are freestanding in the garden or you could put a tripod in a large container on your patio for an up close scentsational experience. Tutuer and sweet peasHey, that is a good idea and one which I will employ if I don't forget. I have seen sweet peas for sale in pots at garden centers in the spring so if you are not willing or don't have the time and space for growing plants from seed, you can  buy the plants and pot them up yourself for a wonderfully fragrant addition to the patio or back door step. I will start my seeds around the first of March on heat mats and under lights in the basement. Sweet peas have a thick seed coat and many experts advise soaking the seeds or nicking them with an emery board or file. I find that less is more and even soaking is not required. They have germinated quite well without that added step. There is much instruction to be found on line for the growing of sweet peas but I did find this little gem written by George Ball in the 1900's on growing sweet peas for production.  If you are truly enthusiastic and want to have an abundance of sweet peas, you will find great information in this publication which can also be purchased here on Amazon. 

A Riot of sweet peas
Sweet peas are on my mind, in my heart and with luck, in the garden growing this coming season. There is no more perfect garden than the one in the imagination.


January 2021

SumacThis year this first week of January has a gentle grip on my garden. Last night Mother Nature delivered the perfect amount of snow. Barely an inch covers the ground. Trees, shrubs and perennials are outlined in clear white and the muted browns and grays are now in sharp contrast. The ground has a slightly soft yield to the step--different from the hard, cold, solid ground of just two days ago. January in my garden is a chameleon. Some days, it has an icy tongue and other days it softly surrounds the trees, branches and ground. Rhododendron and boxwoodJanuary is an excellent time for garden assessment. A light snow shows texture in the garden. The coarseness of the sumac contrasts with the delicate tracery of the branching of the dogwoods.  Rhododendrons are frosted with snow. Perennial epimediums hold their foliage through the winter and they catch the snow with their small but broad leaves held on wiry stems creating a 'dance of the sugar fairy' effect albeit in miniature.  Snowfall shows that the back garden clearly would benefit from an evergreen backbone. The Virginia red cedars aka junipers have declined over the years from deer browse and the encroaching shade from surrounding woodland trees. This leaves an undefined ending to the back garden. Deer are always a problem here. Don't fight the site is one of the basic rules of landscape gardening and that includes the wildlife which share this habitat. I will plant some upright boxwood along with some winterberry, red and yellow twig dogwood and perhaps some hydrangeas...the deer do love hydrangeas so a bit of fishing line will be employed to deter them. I am thinking of planting several Hydrangea arborescens 'Incrediball'. I truly wish I could find the straight species, Hydrangea arborescens, which grew beautifully in my grandfather's garden. They have smaller flower heads on them but don't flop over in a heavy rain. I never see these for sale at my local garden centers so will settle for this new cultivar which is purported to hold its large, white flower clusters high on strong stems.

Epimedium jan 21Epimedium
January is a time of dreams and rest for this gardener. No garden is as beautiful as that which the mind envisions during the gray, cold and often icy days of January in New England. This month I will dream and plan. February will bring lengthening days and many seed catalogs but for now, there are dreams of a new border and the blooms of the coming season.