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Dear Friend and Gardener

Mysteries of May in the Garden

With the turning of the calendar page I am out in the garden investigating the mysteries of May. Young shoots are everywhere. Surely they have names. I stand looking at the swath of a bright green, crispy ribbed ground cover that has taken its assignment to cover the ground very seriously. I have no idea what it is called. I vaguely remember looking at it last fall as I removed autumn leaves and wondered if some of the these still green leaves were weeds. It was possibly a weed, but also possible that it was a really good groundcover.

Mystery groundcover, now producing tiny blue flowers

Mystery groundcover, now producing tiny blue flowers

You may wonder why I don’t have a plant list, writing about every new plant I buy. Well, I do. Sort of. I routinely start these lists and sometimes I try to back them up by sticking receipts for the new plants in an envelope. I even have labeled photos of many of my plants on my commonweeder.com blog which is sometimes helpful. Just today I was strolling through my blog posts looking for an image of the ground cover photo mentioned above. I didn’t find the groundcover’s name but I did find the name of another clump of green that I couldn’t identify. I was happy to solve that mystery and add the name tricyrtis or toad lily plants with all their purple polka dots on my incomplete list.

Tricyrtis

Tricyrtis or toad lily blooms in the fall. This photo was taken October 18 last year.

Tricyrtis is identifiable instantly – when it is in bloom. When it is just a clump of nice looking leaves it could be almost anything. And that is one of the problems. Many of us buy potted perennials at a nursery when the plants are more advanced than they will be the following May. We often don’t know what the first shoots of a flower look like.

I try to keep plant lists, but they inevitability remain incomplete however. I look through my lists and can find no likely name for the groundcover, and no name for three large patches of a low growing dark green sedum tinged with deep red along the tiny leaf edges. I think sedums are in a class of their own. Surely many people forget the names of their low-growing sedums. In fact, I think I bought that sedum several years ago at the Bridge of Flowers plant sale. Usually sedums at that sale are merely labeled Sedum with no further name.

Geum triflorum

Mystery plant now identified as Prairie Smoke – Geum triflorum

I wander through the garden and there is a plant I moved from the South Border to the Birch Bed. It is doing beautifully and has a couple of 8 inch flower stalks with small pink buds rising from the center of lush gray-green ferny leaves. I kept the label tucked into the soil next to the plant last year because I kept forgetting its name, but it must have gotten lost in the move last fall. Maybe I’ll see another plant just like it when I visit nurseries this spring. I might get an ID that way.

Two tiny clumps of green are planted next to the viburnam in  thewinterberry bed. One still has its general saxifrage label, but the other small plant is only marked with a metal stake. I seem to remember that when I planted it late last summer it was so small that I feared I would think it a weed in the spring and rip it out. The metal stake was protection and a reminder. But the reminder only went so far.

Across from those two bits of green was a good sized clump of a low green plant with scalloped leaves and very small bright flowers on dancing stems. I love the orange flowers with their nearly gold centers, and I was delighted with last year’s very long season of bloom, but no name clutters my memory.

Yesterday I bought a pot of Lobelia cardinalis which will send up a spike of bright red flowers that attract hummingbirds and butterflies. I already had a L. cardinalis plant but I couldn’t remember where I moved it. Fortunately, I could compare and match the foliage. Thus I located the old lobelia and now I have a little clump of this striking plant. It is supposed to self seed if it is in a congenial climate and site. I have hopes.

There are many such May mysteries in my garden, but I can surprise myself by remembering, too. There was a single clump of foliage at the end of my herb bed where I had planted a few odds and ends from last year’s Bridge of Flowers plant sale. I cleaned out the annuals in the fall, but apparently left this plant to bloom again. And it did bloom. It looks like a yellow daisy. I looked at its sudden bloom and said to myself, doronicum! And then I asked myself where that certainty came from? Not trusting myself, I looked up doronicum and found a picture of a yellow daisy just like mine. The name given was Leopard’s bane and Doronicum. Sometimes remembering the name of a plant is the May mystery.

Doronicum or Leopard's band

Doronicum or Leopard’s bane

I  wonder how many May mysteries are in other gardens. I’d be interested to know if this is a problem for anyone else. You can send your comments to me at commonweeder@gmail.com.

Between the Rows  May 6, 2017

I identified Prairie Smoke when I was browsing through a new book Gardens of the High Line with hundreds of beautiful photographs by Rick Darke – and there was a photo of my plant with its name. Hooray. It is an interesting plant that will develop its ‘smoke’ in June. Photos will follow.

May – A Golden Month

Wood poppy

Wood poppy

It’s May and the flowers that bloom in the spring are beginning to show themselves. Lots of gold in May, not counting the dandelions.

barren strawberry

Waldsteinia or barren strawberry

The barren strawberry plants on The Hugel are thriving and blooming. They are not really strawberry plants at all. It’s just that Waldsteinia have strawberry-like foliage and flowers.

Trollius laxa

Trollius laxa

Trollius laxa is a more lackadaisical form of Trollius europaeus, which is taller and even more golden. It is also called globeflower which is more prominent in the T. europaeus plant.

primroses

Primroses

The sun  has shone on  these golden beauties but we have been very grateful for t he 1-1/2 inch of rain this week.

Autumal Blooms in Early October

Zinnias

Autumnal blooms include annuals like Zinnias and cosmos

There are more autumnal blooms in my garden than I expected. I am trying to capture many of  them for my climate record.

Firelight hydrangea

Firelight hydrangea with white asters and pink Alma Potchke asters

Angel's Blush hydrangea

Angel’s Blush hydrangea

dahlia

One of several dahlias in bloom

Perennial ageratum

Perennial ageratum climbing into yellow twig dogwood

Lion's Fairy Tale rose

Lion’s FAiry Tale rose

'The Fairy' rose

‘The Fairy’ rose

Snakeroot and  winterberry

Snake root and winterberry

We expect autumnal blooms like asters, but surprises are like the roses and zinnias.

Asters and bees

Asters and bees

By the time the sun came out and warmed the garden the bees came out to forage. There are still plenty of pollinators in  the garden when the  sun is out.  Other blooming plants include coneflowers, geraniums, cardinal flower, and joe pye weed. It gets very cool, in the 40s at night, but no frost yet.

Choose Plantings for Your Favorite View

Section of the view from my dining room, hydrangeas, roses and lilac

Section of the view from my dining room, hydrangeas, roses and lilac

Do you have a favorite chair? Is it near a window? Does your dining table sit near a window? Do you enjoy the view from your window?

Oddly, our new house in Greenfield does not have many windows that look out at the garden. Only one upstairs window (in my office) gives a view of the back yard. The kitchen window is too high to see much of anything except the most westerly area of the garden. Fortunately there is the dining room window which looks out onto a section of the South Border, which will ultimately be the most floriferous view.

Last week my husband and I were having dinner and admiring the view of newly blooming roses, I was so happy to have this joyful view. Then I realized that the view from a window is not usually a part of garden planning or design. Yet a view that will please, whether flowery or serene green, can give us hours of pleasure.

I am looking forward to enjoying a better view of my garden. We are about to embark on a kitchen renovation which will not only give me a kitchen where I can cook and bake more easily and efficiently, it will also give me new windows that will allow a fuller view of the garden. The windows will also help define and frame an area I might want to concentrate on as I plan new plantings. They will give me another chance to create a beautiful view from inside the house.

When planning a vignette, a limited view of a small space, you have the advantage that accrues to a small space. You can plant something special that might be quite expensive, but can also be the star of this relatively small space. I’m already thinking about an intersectional peony like Bartzella.  Intersectional or Itoh peonies are hybrids of herbaceous and tree peonies. An Itoh peony would be ideal because it would have strong stems that keep the flower heads high and don’t get beaten down in the rain like herbaceous peonies. In addition, because of because its primary and secondary buds, it has a long bloom season.

If flowers are what you long for, but no longer feel up to a whole garden full of demanding flowers, it is still possible to create a flowery view. You might consider an annual bed. Just a few flats of starts will give you a riot of color. I can imagine tall annuals with gentle colors like sweet peas, cleome or cosmos or the brilliant colors of zinnias. These can be fronted with low growing annuals in companionable colors like blue Felicia daisies, pale marguerite daisies, osteospurmums (another daisy-like plant) in shades of pink, purple, blue or white, and salvias.

An annual bed might also be an experimental bed, an opportunity to try out different flowers, colors and flower forms. Starting this kind of bed will not be costly, and will not chain you to a choice, because all the frost-bitten plants will end up in the compost pile at season’s end. Just remember this is an experiment so be sure to keep a few notes so you can repeat the flowers you like next year.

A different way to have flowers in your view is to plan a perennial selection that will give you one or two flowers for each season. For example you could begin with daffodils, then have astilbe, achillea and daylilies. Dahlias have a long season of bloom, especially if you keep cutting them for bouquets. The more you cut, the longer the season and the greater the bloom. Some smaller dahlias will begin blooming in midsummer but you can have dahlias with all their shades of color and form until the first heavy frost. One autumnal choice that surprised me was the Japanese anemone that blooms into the fall. And of course, there are asters and mums, which also have many colors and flower forms.

You could plant for the birds. Perhaps you could have a small tree like a dwarf crabapple near the window along with a bird feeder and a birdbath. An expert birdwatcher once told me that the sound of water is the best way of attracting birds. The tree branches and foliage would give the birds protection and shelter if they became alarmed. My eyesight is such that I really need to be able to get pretty close to birds if I am going to learn to identify them.

In my new garden I am concentrating on having more green than color. Green is not a single color and a green view could include bright shades like golden threadleaf chamaesyparis contrasting with dark green mugo pine. Perennials like hostas are available in dozens of shades of green from brilliant chartreuse to dark green, to blue-green. Variegated hostas will also provide a symphony of greens brightened with shades of white.

Garden art on Hawley Tour

Garden art on Hawley Tour

Another view could be a piece of art set against shrubs and flowers. I’ve never managed this, but I did get to the point in Heath where I demanded neatness of the view of the backyard. Wheelbarrows, lawn mowers, buckets of weeds, all were forbidden to mar the view of pink, white and green kiwi foliage rambling high on the shed wall above the roses. Serenity was what I wanted with my first cup of coffee in the morning.

So, what view do you have that pleases you? Flowers?  Greenery? Statuary?

What view would you like to have? When will you get it?  If not now, when?

Between the Rows  June 25, 2016

 

Review of New Garden in May 2016

View from the office on May 4, 2016

View from the office on May 4, 2016

The view of the new garden from the office at the beginning of May shows a good recovery from April snow and frigid temperatures. You can see the nearly wood filled hugel at the back border.

Hugel wood from Hawley

Hugel wood from Hawley

A big May project was collection logs for the hugel at the west end of the garden. This load came one of the two Hawley friends who donated logs to the project. We are so lucky to have good Hawley friends – who also have logs to share.

Hugel almost filled on May 22, 2016

Hugel almost filled on May 22, 2016

With a little help from our friends in Greenfield and Hawley we have just about all the logs we need in the hugel. Now we need soil!

May 29, 2016

May 29, 2016

Daughter Betsy and her man Mike, and Henry made pretty quick work of the 7 yards of soil/compost mix from Martin’s Farm. All of it was spread over the hugel logs in 2 hours!  It will have to settle before we can plant in it.

Bridge of Flowers plant sale

Bridge of Flowers plant sale

Of course, I needed more plants  for the lawn beds. I bought perennials and annuals at both the Bridge of Flowers plant sale and the Greenfield Garden Club Plant Sale. Beautiful plants, columbine, ferns, epimediums, geraniums, annual salvia, sedums, daylilies, and many many more, now all planted in the ground, or in container.

May 29, 2016

May 29, 2016

You can’t really see that there is bloom, but the Japanese primroses from a Rowe friend are finishing their bloom, and the lilacs in the South Border are also finishing.   The irises and roses have buds and Oso Easy Paprika rose actually does have bloom. Still, even without bloom you can see there is substantial change in the new garden in the lovely month of May

Peonies – Beauty without Fussing

 

Nameless tree peony

Nameless tree peony

This year there were a lot of peonies, including a woodland peony, for sale at the Bridge of Flowers Plant Sale.  This is a testament to the health of the peonies on the Bridge and in our gardens. They thrive and eventually have to be divided.

In the olden days, peonies were cut back and divided in the fall then replanted into a sleepy autumn garden. Nurseries sold peony roots in the fall and gardeners spent the winter dreaming of those shoots poking up early in the spring.

Nowadays no one hesitates to divide peonies in the spring, and nurseries sell potted well budded peonies. Instead of dreaming of spring shoots, gardeners can plant their new peonies and wait a very short time for the bloom period to begin.

I can understand the desire to have two peony planting seasons.  They are beautiful and glamorous, coming in a variety of colors including white, pink, red, and some less common shades of coral and yellow. In Heath I had a very unusual peony called Green Lotus that had raggedy white petals tinged with green around a golden center. It did not bloom for very long each season, but I just loved its unusual color and form.

Peonies do come in many types and forms. Most of us are familiar with herbaceous peonies, peonies that need to be cut back to the ground in the fall. Herbaceous peonies can be single, semi-double like Coral Charm, or double like Kansas. The fully double peony with hundreds of ruffly petals hiding all signs of stamens is probably what most of us think of when we hear the word peony. A kind of double double is the bomb form which has the double grouping of petals in the center set on a ring of guard petals.

There is also the Japanese or Imperial form which has a few petals surrounding a large central cluster of stamens that have been transformed into stamenoids looking like a dense center fringe, usually gold. Gold Standard is an example. The anemone form is very similar and is sometimes considered a variety of Japanese peony only with petaloids of the same color instead of staminoids in  the center. Show Girl is a striking example.

Woodland peonies are a subset of the general herbaceous class. Woodland peonies are shorter and have finer foliage, blooming early in the season. They have a simple form, but they provide an extra wonder in the fall when the seed pod bursts open to reveal cobalt blue and scarlet seeds.

Woodland peony seed pod

P. Japonica seed pod

Each peony will bloom for a couple of weeks, but there are early, mid- and late season varieties so you  can enjoy peonies for six weeks. Many of them have notable fragrance.

I also grew two tree peonies. Guan Yin Mian was a lush shade of pink and she was named for the Goddess of Compassion. The other, also pink, lost its name in my record books, never to be revealed again. Tree peonies do not grow into tall trees, but into large sturdy shrubs. They do not get cut back in the fall. The woody infrastructure of a mature plant can hold dozens of large blossoms. These fragile looking peonies are actually extremely hardy and bloom before the herbaceous peonies.

Guan Yin Mian tree peony

Guan Yin Mian tree peony

There are cities in China where tree peonies were born that celebrate peony season with festivities. Closer to home is the CricketHillGarden in Thomaston, Connecticut which has its own Peony Festival from May 12 through June 21. The gardens are open Tuesday through Sunday from 10 am – 5 pm. No admission is charged. You can go simply to admire the range of peony beauty, but I cannot imagine anyone resisting a purchase. Peonies, fruit trees and berry bushes will be on sale.

The newest variety of peonies are the Itoh peonies, also called intersectionals. Toichi Itoh, a Japanese nurseryman, was the first to cross the tree peony with the herbaceous peony. Now there are American hybrids which hold their blossoms high without supports. Although the stems are strong they do get cut down in the fall, returning bigger and more floriferous the following spring. Bartzella,  a yummy yellow, was an early variety and became very popular, but there are others in shades of lavender, pink, coral and red.

Itoh peonies are mid-season to late bloomers. Like all peonies the foliage stays green and healthy all summer.

Peonies are one of the longest lived and most carefree plants in the perennial garden. They all need full sun, and good, well draining soil with a pH of 6.5 or 7. If you buy peony roots in the fall the herbaceous and Itoh peonies should be planted two inches deep. A deeper planting will not harm the plant, but it will not make blooms. If you have a non-blooming peony, dig it up and give it a shallower planting hole. That should take care of the problem.

Tree peonies do need to be planted more deeply. About five inches of soil should cover the root. Also, if you are planting tree peonies think carefully about the site. They need sun but also need to be protected from strong winds.

Peonies should be watered and mulched the first year, but that is all the special care they will need. After that, you and your children can enjoy them for decades.

Potted peonies can be found in local nurseries now, or you can wait and buy peony roots in the fall from mail order nurseries. Cricket Hill Gardens Klehm’s Song Sparrow Nursery;  and Peony’s Envy.

Between the Rows   May 21, 2016

P is for Peonies on the A to Z Challenge

 P is for Peonies. Peonies are fabulous! Peonies are  glamorous! Peonies will bloom  for generations. Peonies are easy care. In the olden days you had to plant peony roots in the fall, but nowadays you can buy potted plants in the spring – and possibly even get a bloom your first season.

Peony

One of my nameless Heath Peonies

I have bought and planted many peonies, but most of the names have been lost. The Peony Border in Heath had about two  dozen varieties. I haven’t yet figured out where to plant them in my new garden.
Peony named 'Kansas'

Paeonia “Kansas”

Most of my peonies were pale pinks a nd white. It is because “Kansas was so different that I was able to remember its name.

Peony

Another of my nameless peonies

I have written about my peonies more fully here. For all the information you will ever need about all varieties of peonies click here for the American Peony Society.

Click here to see who  else is posting every day during the A to Z challenge.

J is for Joe Pye Weed, Eutrochium purpureum

Joe Pye Weed

Joe Pye Weed

J is for Joe Pye Weed, Eutrochium purpureum. Joe Pye Weed is one of the plants I have chosen for my new garden because it  tolerates wet clay sites so well that it can be used as part of a rain garden. But that is not the only reason.

Many people considered Joe Pye Weed as nothing more than a road side weed. However, nowadays we realize that this native plant with its showy tall flower inflorescences in shades of purple is an important nectar plant for butterflies. This spring I planted a Spicebush (Lindera benzoin) because it is an important plant for the spicebush swallowtail.  Spicebush swallowtails will also enjoy Joe Pye Weed, as will other swallowtail butterfly varieties

Joe Pye will form a large clump and it cannot do this fast enough to suit me.

I am participating in the A to Z Challenge. We are on to the  second full week of posting every single day. Visit some of the other Challenge blogs.

I is for Irises in the A to Z Challenge

I is for Irises.  I fell in love with Siberian irises. A white one and a blue one were growing at our house in Heath when we  bought it. They had not had any care for a couple of years and yet they bloomed looking like clouds in the sky – effortless.

Siberian irises

Siberian irises in the field

Siberian irises are not particular about soil or watering so I never realized how much they liked wet sites. One year I noticed a big clump of deep blue Siberian irises growing in a wet swale in the field next to the house. I have no idea how they got there. Maybe I threw an extra division out there one year when I had more divisions than I knew what to do with?

Siberian irises are beardless irises. I never thought this was a whole class of irises, but in Beardless Irises – A Plant for Every Garden Situation by Kevin C. Vaughn (Schiffer $29.99) I learned that Japanese irises (which also like a damp spot or lots of watering) are in  the beardless family, along with Louisiana irises, Pacific Coast Native Irises and Spuria irises. I had never heard of Spuria irises but these irises need a wet spot so badly that Vaughn suggests that one way to handle them is to bury a kiddie paddling pool slightly underground, fill it with soil and then plant the Spurias there after heavily watering the area, keeping it wet.

The array of color and bi-color in the beardless iris category is staggering. The illustrations in Vaugh’s book are gorgeous and may lead to a springtime splurge on more irises. I wrote about my Heath irises earlier this year here.

 

H is for Hemerocallis

Hemerocallis "Ann Varner"

Hemerocallis “Ann Varner” on the Daylily Bank

H is for Hemerocallis – otherwise known as daylily.  This is my day for  resting my typing fingers and showing you some pretty pictures.  Ann Varner was one of many hemerocallis growing on The Daylily Bank. I have moved from this garden, but I did take a few divisions with me to Greenfield.

Pink Daylily

Pink Daylily

Henerocallis 'Pink Fancy"

Hemerocallis “Pink Fancy”

Hemerocallis "Crimson Pirate.

Hemerocallis “Crimson Pirate”

Hemerocallis "Ann Varner"

Hemerocallis “Ann Varner”

  1. "Hemerocallis 'Lemon Madeleine'

    Hemerocallis Lemon Madeleine’

     

  2. Hemerocallis

    Herocallis “Fiery Gold”

     

    Hemerocallis "Barbara Mitchell"

    Hemerocallis “Barbara Mitchell

    And that’s it for today’s A to Z Challenge.  Hemerocallis which mean beautiful for a day – and very little work for the gardener.