Garden log, 12.28.14

It’s surprisingly mild today. I went out intending to shred leaves before the forecasted rain arrived, but I found more entertaining chores to occupy me instead. The leaves will be there.

I raked out the new sunny bed and fed everything lightly with a slow-release nitrogen fertilizer. The bed contains some evergreens and some winter-blooming plants, and I learned recently that soils high in potassium, as this bed is, hinder uptake of some nutrients and trace minerals, including magnesium. Washington State University Extension recommends balancing out the potassium with nitrogen. So I did. The soybean meal (7-2-1) I applied will break down very slowly in cold weather, so I don’t expect it to stimulate much if any fresh green growth that would be susceptible to freeze damage in winter. I’ll test the soil again in the spring and see where things stand.

I also fed the camellias with soybean meal. The sasanquas are blooming now (particularly ‘Yuletide,’ appropriately), and the japonicas have nice fat buds on them.

I divided a Sarcococca hookeriana var. humilis from the rain garden. I took about seven small rooted pieces from the mother plant and you’d never know it had been touched at all. I transplanted these in the front yard, in a few tricky spots that have not been successful with much else. We’ll see how they fare.

I spent about two hours dividing the Festuca glauca ‘Elijah Blue’ near the road. These plants perform very well with utter neglect, but even fescues have their limits. They need to be divided about every other year in order to look their best, as they tend to get dense, congested crowns and will die out in the centers. They prefer to be divided and cut back in winter. I hacked mine apart with a pick-axe (exhilarating!), fed with soybean meal, and mulched with decomposed bark chips. I think about four more days of the same activity will have the rest of the plants tended and looking fresh for spring.

And finally, I cleaned leaves out from within and under my heath plants (Erica x darleyensis). I have been surprised at how well they’ve performed in my hot weather. They sit at the base of an oak tree at the top of a slope in my front yard, so they get dappled light for about 10 hours in spring through fall, and direct but weak winter sunlight. Fed them with soybean meal, mulched with decomposed wood chips.

As I cleared out the leaves, I found some rooted layers. I dug those up and transplanted them into a scree area I am renovating. I also cleaned out some pieces that had not rooted. I am trying to root those, although I’m not expecting great things given the time of the year.

A decent day’s work, I think. The leaves will be there tomorrow. Maybe some other chores will be, too.



Sasanqua season

It’s Camellia sasanqua season. Mine have just started to bloom.

Camellia sasanqua 'Chansonette'

These evergreen shrubs, which are hardy in USDA Zones 7-9, are less well known than their spring-blooming counterparts, Camellia japonica. Typically, sasanqua leaves are slightly smaller. They are less prone to many diseases than their japonica brothers and sisters. I’ve only ever seen camellia leaf gall on mine, and that disease is easily controlled by plucking off the swollen leaves. Never compost leaves infected with leaf gall, or the spores may overwinter and spread.

camellia sasanqua 'Chansonette' bud

In the way of care, Camellia sasanquas appreciate light pruning for shape, as they get leggy on their way to 6-10′ high and 5′ wide. Feed with an organic, slow-release fertilizer like cottonseed meal or a fertilizer indicated for azaleas, and mulch with compost a few times a year. They do require acid soil (a pH of 5.5 to 6.5 is recommended), and prefer light shade to direct sun exposure.

These lovely shrubs bloom throughout the fall and winter and into very early spring. To my mind, this makes them indispensable. If your winters are relatively mild (lows to 5 F or -15 C), Camellia sasanqua is well worth its space in the garden.

Camellia sasanqua 'Two Marthas'

Building the white garden

Work continues slowly on my white garden. Proceeding backwards to how one should, I am adding in the structural plantings after having put in a handful of perennials. A few weeks ago I planted 3-quart pots of Camellia sasanqua ‘Northern Lights’ and C. japonica ‘Morning Glow.’ ‘Northern Lights’ has a ribbon of pink around the edge of the petals, while ‘Morning Glow’ is pure white.

The tricky thing with single-color gardens is that they can become quite static. One way of avoiding this is implementing lots of interesting textures and forms in the plant material, but when plants enter winter dormancy, it’s possible to lose this dimension. So incorporating small tinges of color can help the primary flower color pop. I’m hopeful this will happen with the pink fringe to the petals; from a distance, it probably won’t register at all.

Still looking for some additional evergreen structure. In my winter sowing experiment, I’m going to try Magnolia grandiflora (or what I think is Magnolia grandiflora). My mother found the plant, about 24″ high, growing in the woods on the edge of her property and transplanted it into her garden, where it’s effectively doubled in size every year for the past four years. I’ve got a handful of its seed pods and I shall see what happens. Assuming it works, in order to actually install one in the garden I’m going to have to remove an oak tree that gives me the shivers every time I see it; although I’ve been assured it’s healthy, I’m convinced that it’s going to drop a giant limb in my neighbor’s yard. Have I mentioned it’s a very ugly shape as well?

Also thinking about Sciadopitys verticillata, or maybe a nice Podocarpus. I love yews, but I think I’d be asking for deer problems. Maybe once I get a fence put in (keeping with the theme of working backwards…).