The area behind and to the side of our garage has been a perennial sore spot. At times it has been the place we put the trash, old construction materials, or unused mulch bags. Over time it has accumulated some pernicious weeds (Virginia Creeper, Multiflora Roses, Blackberries, Poison Ivy). At one point we put down landscaping fabric and put mulch on top of it. Eventually the weeds came back but even before that our scheme was foiled by Woodchucks which insisted that the area under the garage is their claimed territory. And when they dug their holes the earth came out on top of the mulch and landscaping material and provided a nursery ground for the weeds.
Nevertheless, as our horticultural pursuits press outward from the yard per se, we aim to give this spot a try again. Yesterday and today I knocked down the standing weeds with my Mattock and then brought in 8 or 9 scoops of topsoil with the front-end loader from the large reserve we have in the pasture. I didn’t take out the landscaping fabric which is already covered with years of mulch and deposited earth. It’s broken in many places but would be a real pain to remove as well. This is an awkward spot to rototill in any case and to plant shrubs we just need to dig a hole where the plants will go. I raked the soil into place and left it to settle in.
This garden is going to be facing two special challenges (beyond all the normal gardening vicissitudes). First the Groundhog is still there under the garage and he’s already dug his entrance again after I filled it in. I’ve trapped and trapped that family so that they now have a whole extended clan down by the Monocacy River. I’m not sure what else to do. And the weeds haven’t gone away. They are all just under the surface waiting for more of this really pleasant weather to pop up. So the plan is to mulch the hell out of this bank. Our local landfill sells double ground mulch for $8.50 a ton. I picked up two tons (1 ton = 1 pickup load) today and I’ll get more next week.
So the idea is that somehow we will find some low maintenance, highly attractive shrubs that will dominate over the weeds and yet not be invasive themselves. This is not an easy challenge. The location gets a fair amount of sun but is sort of a sun/shade exposure thanks in part to the neighboring White Pine. So far we’re thinking maybe Hydrangea, Potentilla, Clethra, or Viburnum, mixed in with some substantial grasses. We already have a number of Holly, Nandina, and Pieris in the yard so probably not those even though the Holly would fit our needs very well. Any other ideas?
Recently both Fine Gardening and Margaret at A Way to Garden mentioned the attractive attributes of Lathyrus vernus for Spring flowers (that’s the vernus part of the name :)). I immediately amended my order to Seneca Hill Perennials to include this charming little member of the Legume family. In addition to the appealing descriptions of L. vernus, I was attracted because of the positive experience we’ve had with a related plant, the Wild or Perennial Sweet Pea (Lathyrus latifolius). You can often see the Perennial Sweet Pea growing along roadsides next to cultivated fields throughout a good part of the U.S. Just keep your eye peeled for startlingly pink/white colors that seem as though someone mistakenly put some Garden Sweet Peas in a very unusual location. Unlike the Garden Sweet Pea, they have a very long season and for us they are quite reliable, returning year after year. In the right location, they will compete for their space with even the strongest growing companions. In our case I put one plant on a bank filled with weeds along with seeds of Crownvetch. Both the Pea and the Crownvetch have gradually taken over most of the bank, much to the my pleasure. Being a Legume it also returns nitrogen to the soil for the long term as an added benefit. The flowers provide very nice cuttings although they don’t have the traditional Sweet Pea fragrance. I wouldn’t plant L. latifolius in a standard garden location as it is very vigorous but for the right location this is a great plant to have.
One of the Spring flowers that we’re very fond of here is the Virgina Bluebell. Carefree to grow and deer don’t eat them. These appear en masse at the Monocacy National Battlefield Park, about 2 miles away along the Monocacy River. They grow so freely that you would think that someone had seeded these along the hiking trail just for visitors. For those of us who live nearby, these farms and woodlands are just like you owned the property because you usually are on your own when hiking or running there. And I guess in a sense we are among the large group of joint-owners. There are many, many deer in these woods and they don’t touch the Bluebells.
At any rate once you’ve seen this display of bluebells it’s hard not to want to duplicate that scene on our property as well. So when we received an offer from Sunshine Farm and Gardens (thanks Jonathan!) for Virginia Bluebells in quantity, it was hard not to take advantage of this opportunity. We put in an order for 15 blooming size tubers on February 3rd. They arrived via U.S. mail two days ago. Here’s what they looked like when I unwrapped them.
There were 17 tubers in all, probably to allow for a couple that didn’t look that great. I planted them in 40 degree weather yesterday and they look like they should be pretty happy out in the woods. I’ll report further when we get to mid-April and Bluebell season. Did I mention that deer don’t eat them?
I discussed in an earlier post my discovery of the Giant Squill (Scilla peruviana) in England last year. It’s probably my own shortsightedness but I had never seen one in the U.S., even though I was raised in California where all kinds of plants prosper. So last fall I was delighted to note their presence in the Brent and Becky catalog (with the disclaimer that it was only marginally hardy in zone 7). Imagine my surprise when I discovered two racks full of “Carribean Jewels”. Now I am a frequent visitor to Lowe’s and Home Depot for other things but their plant offerings are usually mass market stuff and damaged by neglect and exposure after a very short time in the store. But every once in a while you can find a real bonus there if you arrive when the plants arrive. As it so happens these had clearly just come in the door and one plant will give me an advance viewing of the plants I’m growing from bulb in the garden. They, by the way, are continuing to prosper despite the concerns about growing them in Zone 7. They show no damage from having their green tips exposed to some very cold weather (we’re headed for 18 degrees tomorrow night so the cold is still with us).
Outside I’m seeing many, many Daffodil and Tulips raising their green points above the ground. Especially nice to see was the Tulip sylvestris which I’m hoping to naturalize at the entrance to the woods. And the birds are showing a lot more activity in the yard and in the woods. The first Robins have appeared both here and in the neighboring National Parkland. This morning the Cardinals were in full force all around the backyard. And yesterday, as I was making coffee at the kitchen window a juvenile Cooper’s Hawk flew down to the grass and began hopping about the shrubs, most likely looking for rodents I guess. This is one of the smaller Hawks and it tends to hang out around bird feeders (not looking for bird seed). As it happened my SLR was hooked to the computer downloading pictures so I grabbed my trusty Canon S2 (the best camera is always the one you have available) and got off a few shots before I decided to try to get the SLR. And, of course, the hawk was gone by the time I got back. Points out the need to be prepared for the unexpected …
When I finally got to walk around the property with daylight (as opposed to my initial flashlight tour last night), I did discover that the first of the species Crocus have popped up. This is good because I was going to disown them if they held off much longer. It was kind of a grey morning and I made a full tour before the snow started about 9am. I saw lots of green shoots coming up from the Daffodils and Tulips but the Crocus were the only flower besides the earlier Winter Aconite and Snowdrops.
I also took note of the Amaryllis that have finally done their thing. We have two potted up and one is a double bulb and puts up multiple shoots. The other is an apple blossom type. Together they encourage me to think about planting some Amaryllis in the ground.
The other nice thing that happened today was the arrival of the Asiatica order. This is a rare plant nursery that son Jonathan introduced me to. They have some really unusual plants and their web pages or catalog are well worth perusing. As it happens I had seen the Adonis while at the January Rock Garden Society Meeting in Reston. They have spectacular early yellow flowers and that seemed like a good idea to me.
We got 2 Adonis and an example of the Hepatica japonica that Jon & Tuna have mentioned a lot
On our way back from Boston we stopped at Logee’s Greenhouses in Danielson CT. They are a somewhat eclectic but delightful purveyor of all sorts of tropical plants. The folks there are very helpful and if you don’t see what you want they will hunt through the shipping areas of the store to find the plant you need. We stopped for an hour and a half of decision-making before coming away with some small treasures worthy of future growth. First we couldn’t resist the Winter Jasmine (Jasmine polyanthum) that was sitting near the entry to the store. It’s covered with buds and ready to pop.
The rest were much smaller plants 2.5 inch to 4 inch pots but very healthy looking specimens including —
A bright red Passion Flower (Passiflora piresii)
A hardy Camellia (Camellia japonica ‘Spring Promise’)
A hardy (to zone 6) Jasmine (Jasmine officinale)
An edible dwarf Banana (Musa ‘Double Mahoi’)
A Strawberry Guava (Psidium littorale)
A cattleya hybrid Orchid (Memoria Anna Balmores ‘Carmela’)
A vanilla bean Orchid (Vanilla planifolia variegata)
and a Night Blooming Cereus (Epiphyllum oxypetalum).
Two of these (the Night Blooming Cereus and the Strawberry Guava) I’ve grown before and lost so I was really happy to replace them. The others will be great experiments, i.e., challenges, without a greenhouse.
I knew that we would be missing whatever is happening outside in Maryland this weekend while we are visiting granddaughter Aoife and her caregivers in Boston. The weather has been great in Maryland so I suspect some more things have popped out but in the interim the inside is very dependable. Some of our flowering plants in the basement just go on all winter. Two in particular are the Bougainvillea ‘Barbara Karst’ and the Jasmine (probably it’s Jasminum sambac ‘Belle of India’ but I’m not sure — there are a lot of Jasmines). They sit under lights in the basement and get some daylight through the basement window as well. Both of these mimic my upbringing in Southern California and can tolerate winter weather in the 20’s but we usually have a countable number of days in the teens in Frederick so that wintertime confinement becomes necessary. The Bougainvillea would love to be set free as it is in the Southwest and Florida. The color and rapid growth is usually welcome but I can tell you that the thorns make it truly a vicious plant to remove should you ever be stuck with that task. The Jasmine is one of my favorite plants as the very fragrant flowers come over a long season once they are brought outside again and they usually have some flowers during their confinement in the basement as well. It is criminal not to stop and take a whiff every time you walk by.
We are up in Boston this weekend for son Jonathan’s birthday. In recognition of his serious interest in all things horticultural we gave him a membership in the International Bulb Society. We were surprised and pleased by the prompt response to the gift application and the really excellent mailings that they sent out. A combination of recent journals and bulletins includes authoritative descriptions and pictures of interesting geophytes (anything with underground storage) from around the world.
They are running behind on their printing so even more journals are promised as part of this subscription. It is hard to overstate the quality of these publications — they include many detailed drawings and color photos. The writings are much beyond the normal garden magazine descriptions. In addition they maintain an online seed/bulb exchange that offers access to rare and unusual donated material. This all strikes me as an ambitious undertaking for what is at heart a volunteer driven organization, but I wish them well and I for one, will likely join the membership list as well.