Frost weed, Verbesina virginica

I am giddy today. Not only is it 65 degrees outside (I opened the windows in the house!), but I have been given a packet of seeds of frost weed, Verbesina virginica, from Gail at Clay and Limestone.

I can’t wait to try these. Gail promises it is a pollinator magnet. They’ll get a spot in my under-construction white garden, and I look forward to watching them this summer and fall. But perhaps their most remarkable effects are seen after a warm winter day and a cold winter night, when they create their astonishing frost blossoms. Gail’s photos will take your breath away.

Thanks, Gail!

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…).


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.