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'

New project: Pathway garden

Gardeners are always being made to cope with some disaster or another. If it isn’t rain, such as we have had virtually nonstop since March, then it’s impossible drought or hailstorms or drying winds or plagues of locusts. Weather happens; we must get on with it.

So, despite a brief rain on Sunday (see previous comments about not working the soil when it’s wet), I made progress on my pathway garden. As before, I cleared the area–perhaps another 10 or 12 feet in length alongside the property-line fence–and hauled in soil amendments. This time, I treated the area to some moldering sawdust from the tree we removed in early May (in preparation for the house addition that it has been too damp to build), then a generous layer of the manure-grit mixture. A careful till and smooth-over with the rake, laying and leveling the brick edging, and I was ready to plant.

The plants

I installed another Hydrangea paniculata ‘Snowflake,’ a variegated Fatshedera lizei ‘Aureosomething’ (the tag, of course, is in the shed), perhaps two dozen or so displaced crocus and daffodil bulbs, and three Disporopsis perneyi, or Asian fairy bells. The Disporopsis were an impulse buy, a kind of horticultural checkout counter Toblerone. The evergreen foliage looks like that of Tricyrtis, another shade plant I love but which my voles apparently love more. I hope the Disporopsis‘s stiff vertical form will contrast nicely with the floppy, broad foliage of the hydrangea, and perhaps blend gracefully with the Fatshedera which I intend to cover the fence.  As I mentioned before, in my mind it looks fantastic.

pathway garden phase 2 planted

And, hoping that very late is better than never, I transplanted some winter-sown seedlings of Anemone virginiana and Mitella diphylla. The pathway may prove too damp and shaded for the anemones but I expect this site is marginally better than the milk carton in which they were growing sitting. If they do want more direct light than they’ll get here, I’ll move them to the white garden, but that bed expansion is further down on the to-do list. The mosquitoes back there are the size of hummingbirds, I swear.

Azalea chlorosis

Or, Why Are My Azalea Leaves Turning Yellow?

Most of the subjects of the Great Azalea Migration have settled in well. I pruned them directly after this year’s flowering to give them more shape. Waiting too long to prune risks cutting off next year’s flowers.

This one, however, is showing signs of displeasure.

chlorotic azaleas yellow leaes green veins

Notice how the leaves are more yellow than green, but the veins remain dark green? This is a sign of chlorosis, a condition in which the leaves don’t produce adequate chlorophyll. The source of the problem lies in the soil’s pH; if the pH is not appropriate for the plant, that is, if the pH is too low (acid) or too high (alkaline), the plant’s roots cannot take up the nutrients (in this case, iron) in the soil. The solution to such a problem, therefore, is not to dump fertilizer on the plant, but to test the soil’s pH to confirm the diagnosis and then adjust it accordingly.

Azalea Growing Conditions

Azaleas like acid soil, typically in the pH range of 4.5 to 6. My soil falls within this range naturally. But it is possible that when this shrub was transplanted, some lime got mixed into the compost by accident; or it might have happened when I planted some smaller perennials at its base. Azaleas also want a shady location, or one that receives some morning sun. The light exposure is not the problem here.

This condition is interesting to me, because as you can see the older foliage is perfectly green. I would have thought the problem would be more evenly distributed on the plant.

So I will try to get a soil test for this patch of ground in the coming week or so. And if you are very good, I will show you the results and the remedy.

Last-minute chores

Wednesday’s weather was gorgeous. After sitting and sketching for my prospective rain garden, I did a few other chores I’ve been meaning to attend to:

variegated solomon's seal

I dug up and moved the variegated Solomon’s seal, Polygonatum odoratum ‘Variegatum’. This is one terrific plant; absolutely resilient in my acid clay soil and deep shade. It had been located close to the azaleas I’m moving, but since that zone of the garden is being totally revised, I chose to move the Solomon’s seal to the under-construction white garden. Imagine the thrill I felt when I discovered the plant I bought in a 4-inch pot two years ago was now about 24 inches wide. It divided rather neatly into about eight clumps, which I planted near the Korean spice viburnum (Viburnum carlesii)

Giddy from this accomplishment, I turned to the Acanthus mollis, sometimes known (but by whom, I am unsure) as bear’s breeches. This is a plant that I like in theory. I cannot say for certain whether I like it in practice, because for me it has never lived up to its billing. It has always been sited in what I consider to be part shade, getting afternoon sun (I’m sure it would prefer morning sun, like all other plants on the planet, but we cannot always have what we want). Instead of the 3′ clumps of spectacular evergreen foliage it is supposed to yield, I have 8″ clusters of spectacular leaves, if small, few in number, and in fact deciduous. It has never flowered.

I made a last-ditch attempt to make it happy, transplanting it (in three pieces) to the edge between the white garden and the pink-purple-yellow garden, where it may receive, if not morning sun, then somewhat-earlier-in-the-day sun. I will consider it successful if it produces a larger clump of promising foliage. I will forgive its reticence to flower.

I have heard that it is best to make the commitment to Acanthus at the nursery, because once you bring it home, you will never fully be rid of it. Not that it grows rampantly (clearly!), but the roots are rather brittle and will break easily. If a partial root remains behind, the plant will regenerate from it. I don’t normally show this much faith in a plant, but the leaves are truly irresistible.