Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day: June 2014

Carol at May Dreams Gardens hosts Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day on the 15th of each month. I’m a little bit behind.

It’s starting to get hot, but the yarrow, daylilies, helianthus, and salvias shrug it off.

summer border daylilies yarrow iris tiger lilies

Lilium tigrinum, Hemerocallis ‘Grand Opera’ and ‘Prince Redbird,’ Iris sibirica ‘Caesar’s Brother’ and Achillea filipendulina ‘Cloth of Gold’ embrace the heat

In a shadier section of the garden, Hemerocallis ‘Chicago Royal’ has found an attractive companion in rose campion, Lychnis coronaria.

Hemerocallis 'Chicago Royal' and rose campion (Lychnis coronaria).

Hemerocallis ‘Chicago Royal’ and rose campion (Lychnis coronaria).

Fat gardenia buds unfurl overnight and release their rich perfume during the day.

gardenia bloom

And the deer visit. The area of the garden just beyond the gardenia hedge has been decimated: daylilies, lilacs, and hostas have been nibbled to sad little stalks. I need to spray the deer repellant, but it’s rained at night lately. I need to find a solution to make it stick for a week or so. Any suggestions?


Grow Write Guild #7: Write about a plant currently blooming

Write about one plant that is currently in bloom.

One of my favorite plants in the world is blooming now: the gardenia.

gardenia flowers

When I walk into my garden, I smell them before I see them. Their scent is rich, redolent, sweet, but not overbearing. It invites me to take long, deep breaths, savoring the smell as I grow calmer and more relaxed. The flowers do not smell anything like a gardenia candle from a home store, or a gardenia soap or hand lotion; I don’t know if it’s possible to authentically replicate the scent of the flowers in the garden without somehow destroying that unexpected lightness that makes the scent so alluring.

My gardenia hedge started out in 2005 as tiny things in 8-inch pots, as I recall. My sister, knowing of my keen interest in gardening and my keen lack of disposable cash given the young and expensive child in the house (didn’t those shoes fit last week?) and another on the way, told me: I have got a plant source for you. It’s a wholesale nursery, see, and they’re out in the absolute middle of nowhere. It’s two counties away. They don’t have a website and you can try calling them, but no one answers the phone and their answering machine is completely unhelpful. They won’t call you back. Nothing they have is labeled, so you’d better know what that plant you’re looking for looks like. But they’re cheap!

It should be taken as a sign of my desperation that this seemed to me to be a worthwhile, even promising, venture. I drove an hour out into the countryside using vague directions provided by a friend of my sister’s (it is seldom advisable to embark on a journey for which your directions instruct you to turn left at the big rock). As promised, none of the plants were labeled. There were no helpful staff. I bought six gardenias and spent a whopping $18.

beginning gardenia bed apr 05

I did, however, plant them in $100 holes (give or take $90). I had prepared a bed 10 feet wide and about 50 feet long. I tested the soil, amended it accordingly, dug in loads of leaf mold and homemade compost, all before I went shopping (this has never happened since). I planted the little shrubs about 8 feet on center, watered, and mulched generously.

They took off like beagles on the scent of a rabbit. I recall getting flowers the next year, the buds so heavy they bent their branches to the ground like the ball on Charlie Brown’s real wooden Christmas tree.

The hedge is now about 6 feet high, and even though the site is in deep shade for most of the afternoon (and light shade in the morning), the plants have filled in so that there are no gaps between them. They provide a beautiful, rich lime-green wall all year round. And every June (and again in August if I am lucky), I discover new blossoms each day. Their petals are like heavy silk satin; the blooms are the size of the palm of my hand. I cut fistfuls of them to bring inside; their perfume fills the house.

A few of my favorite things

Latest plants sown include:

My gardening philosophy, if I have one, is of the pasta-pot variety: Throw it against the wall and see if it sticks. (This is not to be confused with seed bombing, which in my opinion is much more charming and probably more effective than what I do.) But in my bit of Arcadia, with its heavy, sticky clay, absurd summer heat and humidity, unpredictable water, and nutrient-sucking oak trees, I have been reduced to nine years of trial and error.

What’s worked for me? Here are just a few of my favorites, in no particular order:

white hellebore flowering

Flowers of Helleborus orientalis bloom in winter and early spring, and are deer-proof.

Helleborus orientalis: Passed along by my neighbor, these lovelies bloom when little else does (right now!), persevere under impossible conditions, require virtually nothing in theway of attention from me, and have bold evergreen foliage. They reseed generously but are not at all difficult to manage. I have successfully transplanted tiny seedlings by sticking my finger into the dirt, shoving the plant in, and walking away. I don’t even water them in. I will never willingly be without these plants again.

Gardenia jasminoides. I have a hedge of these that I planted in 2004 as quart-sized shrublets. Today, they’re well over 5′ tall and flower gorgeously in May and June, when they perfume the entire garden. Their foliage is glossy, their flowers voluptuous, and so far, I’ve not had any problems with insects or disease. Sometimes, if I’ve pruned intelligently, I can get a second flush of bloom in late August.

Iris tectorum 3

The bloom of Iris tectorum, Japanese roof iris.

Iris tectorum. Why did I wait so long to buy this plant? It’s 2 feet tall and bulletproof. It seems to be easy to propagate by seed. The clear, blue-purple flowers are charming and it blooms well in dry shade. Now that I think of it, it might make a nice combination with another favorite,

Epimedium x versicolor ‘Sulphureum.‘ Delicate-looking, but absolutely tough as nails (perhaps you are detecting a pattern in my affections by now).

epimedium in winter

Epimedium in winter

Its heart-shaped leaves are evergreen here, though they turn a rusty bronze in winter. It blooms for me for several weeks in spring, with dainty yellow flowers dangling on a wiry stem. I have a clump about 3′ in diameter sitting smack on top of the roots of an oak, and it never complains or looks puny.

winter honeysuckle flower

The blossoms of winter honeysuckle, Lonicera fragrantissima, are lemon-scented.

Lonicera fragrantissima. Fragrant winter honeysuckle grows as a large shrub or small tree. Mine copes happily with hot afternoon sun between (you guessed it) two large oaks, and smells heavenly when it blooms in late February or March (though with all the warm weather we’ve had lately, mine started blooming last week). I admit it looks a bit worn at the moment, but it’s suffered a bit of neglect this fall. In the spring after a light dressing of compost, it will fill out marvelously with abundant, rich green leaves. It would probably be even more glorious if I gave it a more sympathetic home, but it does what I ask of it, and earns my admiration in return.

Sissinghurst, on the cheap

I went to a class at Duke Gardens the other night. One of the presenters described how they were planning to install a new white garden, and felt it was imperative that they visit the famous white garden at Sissinghurst to see how to do it properly. So Duke sent them. We should all have such a boss.

I have been to Sissinghurst, actually–five years ago. It was miserable weather (unsurprising) on the day of our visit but it demonstrated perfectly why England has such glorious gardens and ours suffer by comparison. The cool, mild weather and perpetual rainfall make for easy growing conditions (oh, their ferns!).

Yet, apparently, even though it’s frequently moist the humidity doesn’t promote black spot and other diseases to the degree we have here. I suppose it’s because it’s humid but not hot (black spot prospers at temperatures between 75 and 90 degrees F, according to Wikipedia)?

At the time I wanted to see the famous white garden but didn’t particularly care about having one of my own. Seeing the white garden is probably on every gardener’s bucket list.  I wanted to experiment with color, and white was very far down on my list. It doesn’t play well with others; it draws the eye and dominates any scene.  At the time (and not much has changed since), I was obsessed with blue, as well as with hot colors. I’ll tell you some other time about the mouth-watering hot border at Hidcote.

Now, looking back at the photos, I’m reminded again of how truly gorgeous the white garden is and why it’s copied all over the world. The stubborn part of me wanted to avoid a white garden precisely because everyone else was (is) doing it. But that’s an absurd, not to mention snotty, attitude to take. Many times (though not always) people copy an idea because it’s brilliant and absolutely worth doing. And such is the case with the Sissinghurst white garden.

One of the things that attracted me to the property where we now live was that it was a gardening blank slate. I mentioned in a previous post how the widow who lived here liked the “natural look”: It had gone so natural that soon after we moved in, we unearthed pallets of shingles, left over from an addition to the house made 10 years prior, beneath sheets of English ivy and vinca.

Future site of the white garden, now in its blank slate form. The gardenia hedge is on the left.

Parts of the garden remain that blank slate. And I have been pondering too long what to do with them. I had hoped in an earlier phase of our time here to grow a nice, confined Zoysia turf for the kids to play on. Reflecting the not-so-heroic effort I put into it, the Zoysia has remainded rather stringy and unremarkable, most likely because it doesn’t get adequate sun (have I mentioned the oaks on the property?).  So I’m invading part of the area once earmarked for the lawn and creating a small white garden, playing off the very successful gardenia hedge growing near the back of the property. I’ll let you know how it goes.


Experiments in propagation

I bought a kit from Lee Valley Tools that purports to make air layering easy. Before now, I would never have bothered; it seemed entirely too daunting. But faced with the prospect of having to either buy tons of shrubs from the garden center or tend tiny cuttings for two or three years, I thought I’d invest $35 or so and give it a shot.

Yesterday I found two branches on the Magnolia grandiflora in the front yard–two branches that tend not to get climbed on by the kids–and applied the kit. I also tried it on a gardenia in the back.
It should take 4 to 8 weeks to see results. Stay tuned.