Thursday, May 21, 2015

What a Difference Two Years Makes - The Front Foundation Now and in 2012

Here's a look at the front foundation planting today:

Fully stocked - three evergreen Aucuba japonica shrubs, one Hydrangea quercifolia 'Snowflake, a camellia, lots of aquilegia, geraniums, balloon flowers, bugleweed, prostrate Japanese plum yew (Cephalotaxus harringtonia) and a few other odds and ends.

And here's what it looked like two years ago (after I ripped out all the boring boxwoods and liriopes, plus the Nellie R. Stevens holly that was planted about 1 foot from the foundation):

Just a bed of hopes and dreams back in November 2012. The only constants here are the camellia, a bit of ajuga and some columbine.

And here's one more photo showing the Hydrangea quercifolia (oakleaf hydrangea) when I installed it a couple of years ago. Scroll back up to the top of the page to look at that first photo. The oakleaf hydrangea is just as tall as the adjacent camellia now and has filled in its entire space and then some.

What's the moral of showing these three photos side-by-side?

In a nutshell -- Don't give up!

If you ever feel discouraged about the state of your garden, just remember that a lot can change in a couple of years.

If you're dissatisfied with some of the plants in your landscape - if they don't bring joy to you and/or don't bring any benefits to the birds, bees, butterflies and other wildlife - don't be afraid to rip them out and start over. You might not get instant satisfaction, but with a little patience, your new vision could take shape sooner than you expected.

Something else to remember (and I'm guilty of this myself) is that plants often will grow larger than you anticipate. When you're planting a knee-high 3-gallon shrub, it's hard to imagine the plant growing 10 or 15 feet tall and wide. Sure, you can prune some plants to keep them in bounds. Certain plants even accept annual pruning gracefully as long as you perform it at the right time and in the right way, but you can save yourself a lot of hassle in the long run by trying to either (a) pick relatively slow-growing plants that won't need to be pruned so often or (b) choosing plants or cultivars whose mature size should be relatively compatible with the space available.

Like I said, I don't always (ever?) practice what I preach in this regard. That oakleaf hydrangea probably wants to grow about 10 to 12 feet tall and wide, which means I should have planted it at least 6 feet away from the house. Instead, I planted it about 2-3 feet from the foundation, so I'll probably be doing some annual pruning and/or enjoying the flowers poking into the porch. Hm...maybe I'd be OK with that latter scenario :-)

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Rolling out the Welcome Mat - Aquilegia, Fothergilla, Geraniums, Indian Pink, Salvia and More!

Thanks to my friendly camera-lending neighbor, Christian, I'm able to show you a few more photos from my early May garden - focusing primarily on the flowers you'd see in the front (and side) of the house if you stopped by to visit. This stunning dark purple columbine just showed up this year on the side of my house. I believe it is an interspecies hybrid between Aquilegia canadensis (the red-flowered native, seen in the background here) and one of the Aquilegia vulgaris cultivars that I purchased. Whatever the case, I love it!

The native Aquilegia canadensis went nuts this year - spreading, growing at least 3 feet tall and blooming exuberantly! I thought columbine would need at least partial shade in the Southeast, but these endure afternoon sunshine without any complaints in their northwest exposure. (They do get morning shade.) My only wish - that they would attract hummingbirds. They're supposed to - but I haven't seen any hummers visiting these flowers. (Of course, I've barely seen any hummers at all this year so far.)

Fothergilla gardenii, just looking amazing and acting troublefree - as usual. (That's part of a big patch of Melissa officinalis, lemon balm, crowding the fothergilla from the left side of the photo.)

This Geranium x cantabrigiense 'Biokovo' is only 2-3 years old and it has grown nearly as large as the azalea shrub behind it. After this photo was taken, the center of the geranium splayed open. I'm not sure what happened. I think there's a rabbit living under the azalea bush, so bunny may be to blame. (Perhaps the rabbit excavated a nest and disturbed the geranium roots?) I'll probably try a drastic cutback (which has worked to rejuvenate other geraniums in my garden), but I'm planning to wait until the blooms are done, because (a) they look beautiful and (b) they attract bumblebees!

That same rabbit has been wreaking havoc on the three Indian pink (Spigelia marilandica) plants in the front border. You can see a few stems have been nibbled here.

...and an entire Indian pink has been chomped back here. Darn you, rascally rabbit!

What amazing fuzzy purple-and-white flowers on the Salvia leucantha (Mexican bush sage), a new addition to the Garden of Aaron. Again, these are supposed to attract hummingbirds and butterflies, but I haven't seen either one visiting the flowers yet. Although it's only rated as hardy to zone 8 (and I'm in zone 6b/7a), I found an inexpensive source so I figured I'd take a chance on the plants. Plus, how could you resist these Seussical blooms?

The 'Natchez' mock orange (Philadelphus x virginalis 'Natchez') seems to be doing pretty well during its second full year in the garden. It's sent up some new vigorous, healthy-looking foliage from the base and has some pretty new flowers. The flowers are fragrant, but the scent is quite faint. Perhaps that's why it doesn't seem to attract many pollinators, except for ants like the one shown here in the leftmost flower. (Incidentally, I believe Natchez is a complex hybrid, but it may have 1/4 native ancestry from P. pubescens, which is listed as native to Tennessee, Arkansas and Illinois.)

Close-up pic of the flowers on Penstemon x mexicali 'Red Rocks', another new addition to the garden this year. Red Rocks reportedly has a nice, long bloom season and is supposed to be better than many other penstemons at tolerating humidity and heavy soils.

Lastly, here's a look at the front corner of the house where I planted Panicum virgatum (switchgrass) last spring. I think this is the 'Northwind' cultivar. This is quite a windy, exposed corner on the hilltop and many of the other plants (including a crape myrtle) that I tried here struggled with that wind. Fortunately, the switchgrass does not seem to mind the wind one bit and it's nice watching the leaf blades sway and bend in the breeze. Near the switchgrass, you can see some columbine, self-sown sunflowers, a pink-flowered Salvia greggii and some volunteer Mexican hat plants (Ratibida columnifera).

Thanks for visiting! The garden continues grow and change and bloom and grow more beautiful day by day, week by week. Stay tuned for photographic proof coming soon~! :)

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

In Full Swing - Clematis, Penstemon, Sumac, Sage, False Indigo and More!

Things are in full swing in the garden - bees are buzzing, flowers are blooming, leaves are expanding, plants are growing, everything there is life (except where there is death).

I apologize for the lull in posting photos. My camera is currently traveling overseas (along with my wife), but my kindly neighbor Christian generously lent me his camera so that I could capture some scenes from the early May garden.

(There are a lot of photos, so I'll split them into two posts. This post will focus on the back garden, the next one on the front and side gardens.)

Abelia x grandiflora, dwarf cultivar. I'd thought it was 'Rose Creek', but I think it was mislabeled, so I'm not sure of the cultivar. Whatever it is, it seems to be settling in nicely during its first year in the garden. I don't usually like bright yellow plants, but I like the contrast here against surrounding greenery.

My favorite plant in the garden these days is Baptisia australis (blue wild indigo). In its third full year in the garden, it has sent up multiple stalks of pretty blue flowers that (as you can see here) attract bees!

The Burkii eastern red cedars (Juniperus virginiana) are loaded with berries/cones. The branches were coated with rust fungus earlier during our wet spring, but that issue seems to have abated (at least for now) as the weather has turned drier and warmer.

Clematis 'Crystal Fountain'. We had this clematis tied up into the crape myrtle tree with biodegradable twine. The twine degraded in some rain storms this spring and the vine fell to the ground, but it doesn't seem too much worse for the wear and actually makes a rather nice groundcover. Make lemonade from lemons and all that...

Nothing too exciting here - Forsythia x intermedia 'Lynwood Gold'. But I must admit that the shrub looks very healthy. The foliage was a lovely shade of green earlier in the spring. I'm not over-the-moon on Forsythia. It's totally overplanted and the flowers seem relatively useless in terms of supporting wildlife, but I have to give it props for toughness.

What happened here!? 'Lemon Queen' perennial sunflower is not looking her best.  I need to investigate further, but my initial suspicion is some sort of fungal rot. It's not a pretty picture, but I believe gardening blogs should honestly show the good, the bad and the ugly.

Lantana camara 'Miss Huff', first year in the garden, first blooms.

Panicum virgatum (switchgrass) 'Northwind' -- This is my second year with switchgrass in the garden. I cut back the old stems myself in March. It seems to me that in a normal-to-harsh winter here, I could easily wait until the end of March or even the beginning of April to make such a cutback. The old stems look good all winter and into spring, so the cutback is only needed to make way for new growth. But that new growth doesn't start in earnest until mid-April. Cut back your grasses too early, and you have relatively unattractive stubble mocking you for a month.

Penstemon x mexicali 'Red Rocks', first year in the garden

Acer rubrum (red maple), not sure which cultivar, but whatever the name, it's turning into quite a nice little tree. As long as the deer don't try ripping up the bark again (like they did a couple of winters back), I hope it will be OK.

Fuzzy berries forming on fragrant sumac (Rhus aromatica) 'Gro-Low'. The small yellow flowers that preceded the berries seemed to be a big hit with all sorts of small pollinators (probably a motley crew of bees, wasps and flies).

Salvia greggii (autumn sage), not sure whether this is 'Flame' or 'Rose Pink', but in either case both survived the winter (I was holding my breath since they're rated marginally hardy in Mid-Tennessee) and have started blooming. Last year, the autumn sage flowers attracted hummingbirds.

As with the azaleas I inherited at the front and side of the house, I feel like this ornamental sage ('May Night'?) looks good for a couple of weeks and then looks like Death warmed over the rest of the year. Still those brief bursts of beauty - especially in the Spring - have won it a place in the garden for now. The lamb's ear 'Helene von Stein' in the background looks good most of the year, including now.

Looks like there should be lots of crabapples this year on the 'Sugar Tyme' crab.

This is not too impressive, but I'm just happy that my wax myrtles (Morella cerifera) survived the winter. Although evergreen further South, they pretty much defoliated here. Then again, I probably shouldn't have planted marginally hardy plants in November. Both plants almost made it through the winter intact, but one got chomped by a deer (I presume) right before Spring arrived. This is the one that didn't get chomped. (The other is still alive, but only barely.)

Purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) wilting in early May. Not a good sign of drought tolerance when we're still 5-6 weeks away from the official start of summer.

As with the 'Lemon Queen' sunflower, I'm not sure what happened here, but a portion of the Hyssopus officinalis (hyssop) seems to have wilted out practically overnight. Hyssop is a fast grower, so I'll try just trimming out the damaged section and hoping for a recovery.

Stay tuned, more photos coming soon from the front garden!

Friday, April 10, 2015

No Damage, No Cry

The last weekend of March, we had a big old cold front sweep through Middle Tennessee, sending temperatures plunging into the low 20s where I live (as low as 17 degrees a bit west of Nashville in a community called Kingston Springs).

I was worried.

Many of the perennials and trees were starting to leaf out. Would they come through the cold snap OK?

I'm not sure why I was quite so worried. Last year, we had an even later cold snap in April and most of the plants managed just fine, with the exception of some exotics like rose of Sharon, boxwood, vitex and crape myrtle.

We were probably ~6 degrees colder this time, but since the cold snap arrived weeks earlier, none of those sensitive plants mentioned above had even leafed out yet (except the evergreen boxwood of course, but I didn't notice any damage on those...perhaps they haven't pushed new foliage yet?)

Anyway, here are pics (taken April 3rd) of a bunch of plants from around the garden that seem to have made it through the freezing temps just fine. If you're looking for strong, resilient perennials, I present these for your consideration:

Typically I don't much care for plants with yellow or golden foliage, but I've made an exception for Abelia x grandiflora 'Rose Creek'. Just planted last autumn, this is its first spring in the garden. (Update - As Tammy at Casa Mariposa points out, this is probably not 'Rose Creek', which actually has green foliage. So unfortunately I don't know which Abelia cultivar I have here...)

Ajuga genevensis, blue bugle, Geneva bugleweed

Platycodon grandiflorus, balloon flower

Baptisia australis, blue wild indigo, this is its third spring in the garden and I'm happy to see a number of stems emerging. Baptisias have a reputation as long-lived perennials that can take a few years to establish a presence in the garden. I'm a little worried that three other small baptisias that I planted last autumn have not yet emerged from dormancy. I hope they're OK...

Amsonia 'Blue Ice' (a hybrid of unknown parentage). I have a feeling this is a better garden plant than the much-hyped Amsonia hubrichtii, Arkansas blue star.

Clematis 'Crystal Fountain' embarking on its fifth year in the garden. I love the fact that this plant has fully leafed out and budded by late March / early April!

Coreopsis verticillata 'Zagreb' -- this is its second year in the garden and I'm pleased to see that it seems to have multiplied and spread exponentially. You're looking at two clumps here, each of which only had a few stems last year.

Juniperus virginiana 'Grey Owl' - this relatively low-growing eastern red cedar that typically has bluish foliage, but now it seems frosted with golden highlights, which makes me think perhaps it is about to push new growth

Pleased and surprised to see new growth emerging on the Hakonechloa macra, Japanese forest grass. It didn't perform well last year and I thought it might not survive the winter, but I'm glad to be proven wrong. I've been told these grasses can also take a few years to get established, so perhaps it will do better this year with a bit of pampering.

Could this be new growth from Hosta 'Golden Tiara'? Not sure. I planted a few specimens of this hosta last spring and I thought they had all croaked, but again, I may have been far too quick to write off these plants. Can't imagine what else this could be...

New growth suddenly emerged on this Hypericum densiflorum, planted last autumn

Seemingly overnight, the lilies that I transplanted to a sunnier spot in the backyard with absolutely awful heavy clay soil (pottery quality) have pushed up thick gorgeous stems. (This was one of the few plants that suffered some foliar damage from the freezing temperatures the last weekend in March. You can see a few dead brown leaves on the ground that got blasted by the cold, but they seem to have been rapidly replaced by new growth.)

Hydrangea quercifolia, oakleaf hydrangea 'Snowflake' embarking on its third full year in the garden (planted November 2012). Oakleaf hydrangeas have some of the most beautiful foliage of any plants, IMHO.

After much anticipation, I was overjoyed to see new growth at last on the Rhus aromatica, fragrant sumac 'Gro-Low'

Here are some buds coloring up on the Gro-Low sumac. This is the second year in the garden for my three Gro-Low shrubs.

Viburnum dentatum, arrowwood viburnum -- I was so pleased with the performance of two arrowwood cultivars (Pearl Bleu and Chicago Lustre) last year that I ordered and planted a straight species arrowwood last autumn. I'm really charmed by this fresh new foliage with the rusty tinge on the edges.

I have to admit I was a little bummed that I only had a couple of flowers on my Jasminum nudiflorum (winter jasmine), another plant that I just added to the garden last autumn. Still, so far I'm liking the shape and color of the new foliage.

This is the time to shine for Veronica peduncularis, speedwell 'Georgia Blue'. This clump just keeps getting bigger and better every year. I wish the flowers attracted some pollinators, but at least Douglas Tallamy says that the genus serves as host for 6 native species (and 1 exotic species) of Lepidoptera.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

The Puffer and the Juniper

OK, so I didn't have an actual pufferfish on my juniper... (photo via a different Aaron)

But you have to admit there is some family resemblance with these cedar-apple rust fungi (Gymnosporangium juniperivirginianae) that I found on a couple branches of my Burkii eastern red cedars (Juniperus virginiana).

If I had not removed the fungal galls, the tiny brown protrusions (called telia) that you can see in the previous photo would have absorbed water from the warm spring rains and transmogrified into these jelly-like orange horns composed of thousands of two-celled spores called teliospores. The telia go through multiple swell-shrink cycles as they absorb water and then dry out. With each cycle, apparently the horns get longer and release more fungal spores. From what I understand the fungal galls typically don't cause much damage to the junipers, but if the spores land on young apple (Malus spp.) leaves or twigs under appropriate moisture and temperature conditions, they can infect those plant tissues. From what I understand, the fungal galls typically don't cause much damage to junipers, but since I have a crabapple growing nearby, I'm trying to remove any galls that I find to reduce the infection risk on the crabapple so that the tree stays healthy and able to produce flowers for the insects and fruit for the birds. (My limited understanding of this topic comes from reading materials prepared by experts at institutions like Cornell and the Missouri Botanical Garden. Photo by Mike Lewinski)