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Wordless Wednesday

A friend from another part of the country remarked last week that we have very different plants here.

If I had to describe the quintessential New England shrub, this is it: some version of a  large rhododendron in pink, mauve, white or red. They’re everywhere right now in sizes from about 2 feet tall to ones like this that tower over my head.

They do grow in other places too but they do extremely well here in our acidic soil and normally moist climate.

As a general rule,  they prefer at least partial shade, which most of us have  because we are gardening under mature tree canopies.

And since many of those trees tend to be evergreens, oaks, or maples which compete with the “rhodies” as we affectionately call them for moisture,  it’s a good thing that they tend to be shallowly rooted as well!

Here is a close view of the flower cluster. They are stunning this time of year.

Wordless Wednesday

Usually this time of year,  I have a photo of a deutzia called Chardonnay Pearls on here. It’s one of my favorites and it’s in bloom now.  But I thought I would focus  (literally as well) on something different this year.

This is a close up of some things in the wildlife garden.  The chives are just coming into bloom.  I let this clump bloom because I have a potted clump up by the house that I use for cooking. I have another blooming clump in my vegetable garden.  You might have seen it Monday.

Blooming herbs are not only pretty but they are great for pollinators.  They often have just the sort of flowers that pollinators adore.

Of course if you intend to cook with your herbs,  you don’t want them to flower.  But most perennial herbs are so abundant that you can easily split them, keep a clump close by your kitchen for cooking and plant the rest elsewhere for pollinators.

Everyone wins!

Picking Good Plants–Round Two

On Friday I talked about picking a plant that looked most like every other plant. This is a good rule no matter what type of plant you are buying.

Today I want to get into a few more specifics about  what to do when you get to the garden center–and let’s presume you are at a garden center today, simply because  it will have more signage about varieties and possibly more information on the plant tags that will be accurate for your location.

What do I mean by that? When I go to a box store, I am told that the plant “lantana” is a perennial. That’s technically true. It is not, however, a perennial for me here in New England.

I know that in some parts of the country lantana is considered an invasive pest and can grow to the size of a shrub. Here, we grow it as a nicely behaved hanging basket that has flowers that feed our butterflies and hummingbirds and the plant dies at the first hard freeze. See what I mean now about “for your location?”

So, when you walk into your garden center, depending on where you are, you might find lantana in a hanging basket, you might find it with the perennials, or you might not find it at all because it is invasive in your part of the country. There you are. But chances are, you’re not going to just find it willy-nilly labeled “perennial.”

I know the box stores are working on this–and one reason has to do with their guarantee for a year. They don’t want New England customers bringing in their dead lantana the following spring and asking for a refund–and rightly so! No one is happy in that scenario.

Enough plants die in our now unpredictable winters that they shouldn’t have to give for plants that are mis-labeled. But if they mis-label them, well, they get what they deserve.

Apparently I have gone on long enough about why you should be going to the garden center for your spring plant shopping and not a box store–at least if you are a brand new plant buyer. We’ll talk about what to look for on Friday.

Plant Expectations

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No, this is NOT weeds. You are looking at a kolkwitzia, some echinacea and peony foliage, and behind that, a rather large white hibiscus (with red throat) that is supposed to be a dwarf called Lil’ Kim.

The Kolkwitzia (which is in desperate need of a trim but I have had a little issue with my shoulder so that’s not happening this fall) is reaching upward to its full height of 8′. Its mature height is supposed to be 6-8′ so that is right about where it should be.

Lil’ Kim, on the other hand, as I said, was supposed to be a dwarf. You know how I am always saying “plants can’t read?”  Apparently no one told this plant that she was supposed to stay dwarf!

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What’s really unfortunate about this Lil’ Kim situation is that I have her “sister” plant just the other side of the kolkwitzia.  She is staying dwarf–but look what she’s doing! She’s turning purple! What the heck?!

Apparently no one told this version of the Lil’ Kim that she was supposed to be white and not purple. Oh dear! Again, plants, can’t read! (And no, you’re still not looking at weeds, for the most part–this is agastache and milkweed over here. I had to step carefully around lots of bees to get this photo!)

So when I talk about buying “tried and true plants” (and full disclosure–I did not buy these plants at all–they were sent to me as test plants) you can see what I mean. Sometimes, we want to give the growers a couple of years to “get the kinks out” of the plants before we put them into our gardens.

Particularly with shrubs, you can save yourself a lot of heartache that way!

 

Self-Sown Hydrangeas? Really?

A few posts backed I talked about my gardens being weedy. Not only will you see that in these photos but you will see some of the most wilted plants you will ever see. That’s how far we let the plants go before we actually water at our house (as opposed to the neighbors who are watering lawns 3 times a day.) I figure we can balance things out that way.

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When I first started noticing these small white blooming hydrangeas, I thought, ‘did I plant those?” It’s not like me to keep such poor records that I don’t have a record of hydrangeas in the garden–after all, they are one of my favorite plants and I must ahve 35 different varieties!

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And I’d see things like this–small hydrangeas that were clearly separate plants from all the other plants around them, but with no tag or other identification. I was mystified.

(By the way, don’t you love my “habitat” of weeds?)

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And they were everywhere–at different spots in the garden–and they all bloomed white. That’s when it dawned on me. These were self-sown hydrangeas! What a concept!

I don’t think I will get anymore this year because I deadheaded everything before the hurricane that thankfully never arrived. I didn’t want the winds to damage the few blooming plants that I had in the garden this year.

But what a nice bonus a few years of letting the garden go “weedy” has brought me. Also notice all the ferns as well. Once I get some rains and am able to clean this mess out, I will have some great plants left!

 

 

Summer is Winding Down–What Should Gardeners Be Doing?

Last week I posted a photo about the quality of light that told me that the seasons were changing. I also had a photo of a type of spider that appears this time of year in my garden (at least in a size when its big enough for me to notice).

Since seasons are changing in the northern hemisphere, what should gardeners be doing?

Certain lucky gardeners can plant whole second gardens of course. And if I were organized enough, I could get in a second crop of faster growing things like leaf lettuces and radishes and perhaps even peas if I had started then a bit earlier. But honestly, between the drought this summer and the poor critters that have been coming to the gardens to get at the produce because there’s no other sources for moisture, I really don’t have much desire to plant anything else as a “salad” crop for critters.

If this has not been your problem, by all means, plant a second crop of edibles!

One thing that should be done this time of year–even for those of us in drought stricken areas unless there is a watering ban–is to renovate the lawn. But please, folks, once again, let’s do this sensibly.

I noticed that one of my neighbors–the one that has been having a lawn company pesticide the heck out of their lawn literally every single week all summer long–finally had some core aeration done. Any wonder why that was necessary? This is the same neighbor that “tried” organic care last year but then said that the lawn looked terrible. I hate to tell you what it looks like this year. It’s completely fried from all those chemicals in a drought. But no one’s asking my advice.

If someone were, I would say the core aeration is a great place to start. A little layer of compost might be next.  Ditch the pesticides and don’t fertilize–not in this drought! Lawn renovation might have to wait. But compost and aeration will never do any harm.

If you haven’t gotten around to ordering bulbs, you probably should. Even where I live, it’s still too warm to plant. But you definitely want to reserve them so that you get your choice. The growers won’t ship until it’s the appropriate time to plant anyway. And bulbs are remarkably forgiving.

Finally, get out to your garden centers. Anything that is left over is going to be on sale at a nice discount. And they most likely will have brought in some great new fresh stock for fall planting too. While that may not be discounted, you might see just the thing (beyond mums, cabbages and pumpkins) to liven up the yard for years to come. Just remember that you will need to water it if nature is not helping you.

So what are you waiting for? Fall has some of the best gardening weather around. Go out, enjoy, and get planting!

Garden Visit–The Mount

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The Mount was Edith Wharton’s home from 1902 to 1911. It was her first home and it was her design lab, so to speak–she used the principles that she wrote about in her non-fiction book, Decoration of Houses, to design the house.

Wharton, like Mabel Choate,  had traveled in Italy and would later write another non-fiction book, Italian Villas and Their Gardens, so the gardens are heavily influenced by European design.

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This is the alleé of pleached linden trees (which she referred to as lime trees in the European fashion).

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At one end is a very shady, formal garden enclosed by high walls covered in climbing hydrangea. It has nooks for benches (rather than statuary as European gardens might), a fountain at the center and paths within surrounding formal beds enclosed by low hedges.

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At the other end of the alleé is almost its polar opposite, influenced by British garden designer Gertrude Jekyll.  There are flowers beds of hot colored flowers–neatly contained, but nevertheless a riot of color.

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There were American natives cone flowers and meadow rue, plus annuals like zinnia and floss flower and perennials like lady’s mantle, astilbe and bee balm.

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Overall, however, the effect throughout all the gardens is one of formality–as one might find in European gardens-rather than the cottage gardens popular in England or the new American meadow garden style.

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Having visited this garden on the same day as Naumkeag, it was an interesting contrast. The two gardens were almost contemporaneous–this one was designed during a brief time and then Ms. Wharton moved on to France after her marriage dissolved whereas the Choate family continued to garden at Naumkeag for decades until the late 1950s–and yet they very different as well perhaps because of the “snapshot in time” that the Mount represents.

But that’s the beauty of seeing different gardens. No matter what you see, there’s always something interesting and different to learn.