Two Years ago my wife noted with increasing emphasis that the Norway Maple was shading out and dominating our front yard. After my normal reluctance to change anything (particularly a tree which we had grown from a little stick) I succumbed to the literature which describes this as an invasive species. I was concerned about the lack of privacy and the length of time it would take to grow anything else in its stead. However, once persuaded to the idea we began to plan the conversion of this spot to a new front-yard perennial garden with SUN (an increasing rarity in the yard around the house).
We hired a local fellow handy with a chain saw and by early spring we had a level playing field with only the problem of what to do with the remaining stump.
The initial idea was to just cover it with earth and hope for the best. But we do have the advantage of a good sized tractor and a posthole digger. When I applied the posthole digger to the area around the stump I was able to get pretty close with only a modest number of roots getting in the way. So before we applied topsoil over the area we were able to dig down 24″, creating a whole new approach to the English concept of “double-digging”.
We then ordered in some beautiful topsoil and used the tractor to spread it over the area. And we used the garden tiller to mix the hell out of it with lots of good peat as well.
Now the next step was to take this from just a circular perennial garden to something with more of a rock garden feel to it (but still with mostly perennials to give some splash from a distance). So we went prospecting for rocks. Since I once had the experience of picking up a rock beside the road and discovering that I could lift more than I could hold (nothing like seeing a hole in your leg with the bone peeking out), I am acutely conscious of the weight of rocks. We looked around the property and couldn’t seen anything attractive that was movable without a stick of dynamite. That led us to the local rock store where they bring nice rocks down from Pennsylvania by the truckload. We looked at getting a big pallet of great big rocks but decided that we might have some trouble moving them around at our end. Finally we compromised on one really pretty rock to sit over the stump and some supporting cast members.
Then the fun part began! Starting from scratch with a sunny well-tilled spot and choosing/planting a host of little plants. Some from mail order and some local.
By mid-June the garden had already taken on a very pleasing form and we were checking it every time we walked outside. The hose was never far away so I think this planting benefited from a lot of extra water.
The Gaura, Liatris, and Sage were very quick to strut their stuff.
And by mid-summer the Black-eyed Susans, Shasta Daisies, Yarrow, and Gaillardia were the main show. Altogether this was a lot more rewarding that the Norway Maple had been. Congrats to Beth for pushing me in this direction.
Bad Dreams and Garden Seeds
I don’t know how many of you have ever had the classic bad dream where you are sitting down to take your final exam and you realize that you forgot to go to any of the classes. Well I just had the horticultural equivalent last night. I dreamt that it was July (wishful thinking in the cold of January) and I had forgotten to plant the corn and tomatoes. Oh-my-God, what a bad thought that was. What had I done with all those months that made me forget to plant those key elements in the vegetable garden?
Anyway, I took that as a sign and today I dug through the pile of catalogs on the floor, found all the ones related to seeds, and ordered many of the same things I regularly get from Harris and Stokes (standard veggies, some experiments like the new Emerite Pole Bean and Discovery Chard from Stokes, and cutting flowers in quantity for the vegetable? garden). So I’ve covered the basics now and should be able to sleep more calmly tonight. And at the same time, I’m now free to look at some of the other seed companies with more leisure. In particular, I’m very taken with Diane’s Flower Seeds which has both of the grasses I was looking at for this — the Mexican Feather Grass (Nassella tenuissima) and the Northern Sea Oats (Chasmanthium latifolium). And then there’s the American Horticultural Society’s Annual Seed Exchange. And we’ll see what else occurs to me over the next couple of weeks.
Cat’s Whiskers & Orchids
On another cold January day we took off on a museum outing in DC that included a side trip to the U.S. Botanic Garden. It’s lovely to have this collection of plants from various temperature and climate zones so close to the halls of Congress. When first walking in the door one of the plants that greeted my eye was the Cat’s Whiskers (Orthosiphon stamineus) with it’s elongated white flowers. This is a medicinal herb in the mint family that is used for making Java tea.
After this initial distraction we headed immediately over to the Orchid collection. They always have a fairly diverse and interesting set on display and today was no exception. The following are some of the plants that struck my camera’s fancy.
Holly Tree Pruning
Actually this entry is more about how our lovely American Holly (Ilex opaca) got pruned and what to do about it. Over 30 years ago we planted two female and one male American Hollies in our yard for year round interest and those special berries in the wintertime. The male tree has been kind of a non-entity in comparison with the female trees but they have been wonderful landscape elements. Every year Beth harvests cuttings for Christmas greens.
Last year, as I’ve mention previously, we had a major shearing wind rip out many of our old trees and major branches. Probably the biggest loss was a 30 year-old seedling apple tree that was uprooted and fell across the back fence.
However, not only did we lose this major apple tree but it came down on top of one of the American Hollies. By the time we were able to get the weight of the apple tree off the holly the tree had been sheared off leaving a 6 ft high stump. Within a few weeks I noticed buds springing out of the trunk and by the end of the growing season there were branches of holly coming in to play.
So the question for this year is will this ever begin to resemble the tree that it once was. And if so how long shall I give it. My partner here is already coveting the extra sun that is now coming down on the garden bed, but I always liked that holly just as it was…
Three Plants to Treasure
Today Shirls Gardenwatch offered up a query that went something like what three plants would take to a desert island (where anything could grow). Well, it was hard to turn down the challenge though in truth there is no one answer to such a question. I might get a totally different answer tomorrow. And I’m answering only by ignoring my edibles like the Apples and the Blueberries which are a different kind of treasure. But anyway here is at least a shot at the answer from our local hilltop. First up for enduring multi-season pleasure is the Kwanzan Flowering Cherry that holds two of our bird feeders outside the kitchen window. Not only does it have an outstanding flower display but as the flowers leave they shed so thickly on the ground that I think of it as pink snow. And the fall color is not half bad as well. In wintertime the branches are constantly occupied by the neighborhood bird population.
Next up I’m thinking in terms of shrubs that have given long and faithful service. In this case the Exbury Azalea ‘Gibraltar’ provokes admiring comments by all who have seen it in full bloom. It’s easy to care for, reliably hardy, and a spectacular blooming plant.
And last, sinking closer to the ground, I have to choose the wonderful Glory of the Snow (Chionodoxa forbesii) which grow wildly under our maples and have naturalized out into the pasture. In truth it’s not just the wonder at the way they have taken over here but how they combine with other plants. In particular, the recurring combination with the Anemone blanda ‘White Splendour’ pleases me every year anew.
In praise of Cryptomeria
Many years ago we were enchanted by the Japanese Cedar (Cryptomeria japonica) specimens at the National Arboretum in Washington, DC. This is a tree with more than passing resemblance to the Giant Redwood (indeed until recently they were classified in the same Family). They are endemic to Japan and have been revered there for years (sometimes called Japanese Temple Cedars) and both the tree and the wood have played ceremonial roles in Japan. They are also widely used for bonsai. For the rest of the world they also constitute a very desirable evergreen addition to the landscape. When we moved to Frederick I was concerned about the exposure and wanted to plant them in sheltered locations. Unfortunately I now wish I had simply given them the front row in the landscape because they are splendid trees. In particular the straight species specimen has grown strongly in a pyramidal form and is striking to look at in all seasons. Closeup the green is very green even though when you look from a distance the tips do brown off in the wintertime. The bark is similar to the redwoods.
My fears about the cold weather were unfounded as the two specimens we have are now over 30 years old with no ill effects from any winters. The second specimen is one with distorted needle structure (crested) called Cryptomeria japonica ‘Cristata’. It was quite pretty as a young tree but I find as the tree has aged it is more straggly than the pure species. In either case these two trees are fine specimens to have on any property and maybe the closest that many people could come to owning a ‘redwood’.
English Flower Offer
Next up was a distant Amaryllis relative — Chlidanthus fragrans. This one sold me with the description of a strong citrus fragrance to go with the lemon yellow flowers. It will have to be grown inside here however…
And then some double flowered Lily of the Valley (Convallaria majalis Prolificans). Hard to see how this could go wrong out in our forest.
Some Ponerorchis graminifolia. This is a small Japanese orchid with many variations and a large fan club in Japan. The website of Roger van Vugt illustrates the beautiful variety of these flowers.
Then, strange as it sounds, a yellow flowered Blue-eyed grass Sisyrinchium patagonicum.
And finally a white flowered Winter Aconite that I just couldn’t resist. It will be interesting to see how these all turn out…
Three Winners from Last Year
As we received a full 1 inch of snow today in preparation for tomorrow’s inaugural I found myself looking over the pictures of what worked best last year. And there were a lot of nice looking plants to look back on (and forward to). But three in particular were new to me and a real pleasure to see how they played out in the garden (as opposed to the garden catalog). In the front perennial bed we put in three Fritillaria raddeana and only one survived to flower. However it was really pleasing. Like the imperialis types it towers above other plants of the season but it’s not so garish as the orange and yellow of the imperialis.
Even earlier in the spring the Geum triflorum makes an appearance with simple reddish flower buds which never really open to anything special. The buds are quite nice however and very welcome in the early season. These are very hardy plants (native to Saskatchewan) but they like the sun to do their thing. Their special attribute comes after the flower when they have what is often called a bad hair day. It’s very special and perhaps better than many flowers.
And finally I had planted 700-800 bulbs including a number of daffodils new to me around the property. In particular one clump of bulbs in the woods were ‘La belle’ from Brent and Becky. They are a jonquil type with multiple flowers on a stem. It was completely delightful to turn the corner of a trail in the woods and come upon these little beauties. Needless to say I planted more this year.