Monthly Archives: September 2013

Bunny Crack and Taxonomy Smack

007 This time of year I have a constant reminder of our battle with the bunnies, namely the dearth of asters in the garden. Here in the Burrow lots of plants get nibbled, some even suffer more moderate damage, but the asters get eaten to the ground. Apparently , asters are bunny crack.

Out in the back 40 I had planted several clumps of an aster called ‘Alma Potschke’, a hot pink that blended well with all the cultivars of sedum that would be blooming at the same time. For about a year , all was well, then my friend Christina noticed on a garden stroll that the sedum looked like something was munching on it and a closer inspection revealed the tell tale diagonal shearing on the stems that screams “rabbit!!!!!” I did not even notice at first that the asters were eaten too because turns out, they were just gone, gone ,gone.

A look into the side rock garden revealed that the clumps of ‘Purple Dome’ aster were also missing.

Fast forward to the following spring. I attempted to protect the emerging asters with repellant sprays, cages of chicken wire around them, moving a few to a location closer to the house and dogs, etc. all to no avail. Any aster that dared show itself was chewed instantly . They would move mountains to get to them , digging under the cages, knocking them over even though they were staked in the ground and the resulting struggle to get their drug of choice wreaking havoc in the garden. I reluctantly purchased some  shorter Woods Asters ’Blue’ and placed the plants in a 3 ft .high wheelbarrow planter that, until they learn to fly , is off limits.006

Last year I decided to try to grow a kalmeris incisia cultivar called ‘Blue Star’ that looks like an aster, and the species is actually called Indian aster when it grows wild around here. Problem is , even though the bunnies don’t touch it ( as is startlingly  true with most native plants. My bunnies prefer EXOTIC plants with the exception of asters ) it blooms much earlier in July and August and does nothing for the late season garden. Sigh .                          ( picture of it to right courtesy of google images)kal

 

This year we remarkably have a surviving Woods aster ‘Pink ‘ in the caged area near the pool and in the back 40 one, yep count ‘em , one stem of ‘Alma Potschke’ and in the rock garden there is also one lonely ‘Purple Dome’ stem. I wouldn’t even be generous enough to call them plants, they are just single stems, and it begs the question….WTH????

Why leave one? Did some self help program dictate that as part of your aster recovery Mr. Bunny? Or could you possibly understand that if you eat every last leave there will never ever be asters for you again??

I have done nothing to protect the intrepid plants, and will not move them lest I disturb whatever magic is keeping them uneaten. Maybe next spring I will try to propagate  a few divisions into  more containers where they can again light up the fall garden.019003

014Now, on to the taxonomists. Taxonomists are my nemesis. They are evil I tell you.  I intellectually understand that they are trying to accurately place plants into their correct families  , and that the use of DNA technology has enabled them to right wrongs in the naming process and reassign plants to their REAL family members. It’s just, well, I mean…. Come  ON! Knock it the heck off!!!! I can’t keep up.

When I think of them diligently working to reclassify ( read: confuse) I want to get into the Dirty Dozens with them, you know like …” your mama’s so fat you could be on Mars renaming all their plants and you could see her clear as day” or …” your mama’s so dumb she thought  white woods aster and new england aster were still in the same genus.

You can play along, I know you wanna’…….

Asters as we know and love them, are now reclassified into several different genera including Symphyotrichum and Eurybia   and other frankly hideous and unpronounceable names.

Do you think if I start throwing around Symphyotrichum novea angliae the bunnies will be confused too and leave my ASTERS alone???

 

 

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Arranging Fall

020Here in New England, much like our friend the ant from Aesop’s fable,  we feel the press of time as the days get shorter and the nights longer and colder, knowing soon we will be bundled up and rushing through a bleak landscape or viewing it from within our heated homes that will be even bleaker without the addition of fresh flowers picked from the garden.

Always when the weather starts to turn I feel frantic about cutting and photographing my flowers. Part of this has to do with work, as any presentations I am writing will need appropriate photos taken during blooming season, and the success of the Pressed Flower Workshop relies on me having cut and preserved oodles of stuff. But an even larger part has to do with my adoration of all things floral and knowing that even though I can ( and do) cuts many things from my winter garden it is not the same and often I will resign myself to heading to the floral market to add some much needed color when days are long and gray.

Hence this post on Arranging Fall. I have been busy speaking to groups over the last two weeks and I bring a floral arrangement with me any time I can. The photo up top is a view of the one I am bringing tonight when I will lecture to a local garden club on growing clematis. In the container are just three clematis ; terniflora or ‘Sweet Autumn’ as it is commonly called,’ Comtesse de Bouchard’ that remains blooming out front, and the leaves of the groundcover ‘Mrs. Robert Brydon’. The rest of the arrangement is a virtual snapshot of the garden and includes two mums ‘Centerpiece’ and ‘Matchstick’, cosmos, the Drift Rose ‘Sweet’, garden phlox ‘Nora Leigh’, snowberry ‘Amethyst’, callicarpa berries, salvia ‘Wendy’s Wish’, hosta flowers , yellow lantana, and foliage of Ipomoea “Black Heart ‘ or sweet potato vine and dogwood berries. Also stuck in there are several fluffy clematis seed heads .040034

I have also been bringing in many hydrangea blossoms . As the weather starts to cool ,hydrangea flowers start to turn color, almost like someone was burnishing or antiquing them. It is a look I adore. If you cut them now when all their flowers are fully open and the color is  stunning and place them in a vessel with just a scant amount of water that their stems can reach now ( maybe covering them by 1/2inch) and then let that water evaporate (don’t change it or refresh it)  they will dry naturally in the vase and you can enjoy them all winter. My most beautiful  blue, a variety called’ Nikko Blue’ dries so perfectly and with such intense color I have vases that are several years old still on display ( admittedly dusting them is the not so fun part of keeping them for such a long time ).015 009 031

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Dahlias , another of my late garden loves, make the most incredible cut flowers. Never cut one until it is fully open, they will not open any further in the vase if you do. They combine so well with other late season garden bounty, like berries and changing leaves, and often just one or two flowers is enough for the whole arrangement. I usually make an arrangement with just 2 or 3 dahlias and as much coleus foliage as I can cut on the night of our first frost warning. Coleus is among the first plants that turn mushy and die , yet it will keep for weeks in water and I can just change out the dahlias to whatever I want after they pass.056057

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.This small vase of  Staffordshire pottery I picked up on my last antiquing trip  is filled with dahlias, sunflowers, purple fountain grass, reddish peony foliage (so dreamy when it changes color! and I faced it the wrong way in the photo!) blue gentian and a rose called ‘All the Rage”. In the second photo you can see it when it opened. 024 (2)054

The trick when arranging flowers/garden material in fall is to think outside the box and cut lots of interesting things that are not necessarily flowers. Viburnums have great berries, as do callicarpa, snowberry, red osier dogwood, roses (hips),and  hollies. Foliage of peony which I never cut in the summer but use constantly this time of year , 013viburnums, evergreens, hucheras that sport stronger color variation with cooling temps,  grass plumes, seed heads from perennials like coneflowers , penstemons and clematis, branches of heptacodium or seven sons flower tree after the bracts turn red. The list could go on and on.008 (4)

As for flowers , make sure you have planted a variety of winter hardy mums,  re-blooming roses, dahlias, hydrangeas, sunflowers ( seed several times over the summer), pansies, rudbeckias,  asters , heleniums, late blooming phlox like ‘Nora Leigh’, Montauk daisies, sedum and gaillardias (which will bloom even through a few light frosts) .020 (3)

 

 

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Plant Profile: One Thoroughly Amazing Honeysuckle( and a few runners-up)

 

I grow a number of honeysuckle ,or lonicera ,species in my garden and each has at least one attribute that makes it a must-have for me , and I would hope for you too.019 (7)

Lonicera periclymenum   ‘Harlequin’ has beautifully shaped variegated leaves with yellow/white margins that turn a deep rose color in the fall. It sports dark pink buds that open to pastel pink and cram colored blooms that have a slight sweet fragrance. The foliage alone makes this a great choice for  an arbor or against a fence as it is so beautiful. I grow 2 here, one behind and working its way into two large azeleas and one recently planted to climb on my new arbor tunnel out back.005

Lonicera fragrantissima  (above) is often called winter or fragrant honeysuckle because it has  flowers that emerge very early in the year that can scent the whole garden. It is worth its’  weight in gold because there few other plants that do much of anything in February and March, let alone give you a heavenly fragrance to enjoy. This honeysuckle is a shrub and well behaved especially given the family it belongs to. A few of its’ unruly cousins are out to conquer the world and difficult to manage in any garden. Not this guy! I wish I had room to have a whole hedge of them.peaches and cream

Lonicera periclmenum ‘Peaches and Cream’ (above) is a delightful new addition for me this year. It has lovely dark green foliage and grows to only 6 feet ,tops. White Flower Farm’s catalogue calls it “civilized” and I agree. It is compact and well mannered.  This honeysuckle has large dark purple buds that open to dark pink and creamy white, fading to a peachy cream , hence the name. It has already cycled through two long bloom sessions here with a short break in between. It is touted as resistant to mildew on the leaves but I have read reviews that beg to differ. Only time will tell, but the blossoms are  just lovely and sweetly scented too. 032

My favorite of all of them  is Lonicera sempervirens “Major Wheeler” . I planted two of these bines*  several years ago having ordered them from High Country Gardens on a whim.

Well, that was one great whim!  The dark green foliage is clean of mildew all year and the plants begin to bloom very soon after the leaves emerge in the very early spring. I planted one on an obelisk right outside my kitchen window and it has turned out to be one of my happiest garden decisions as hummingbirds flock to the red tubular nectar filled flowers  all summer long. Standing in front of the window with my first cup of coffee watching their antics is just about the best way to welcome the day I can think of.002 003 008029

Major Wheeler is never ever for one millisecond out of bloom from spring until at least into December. I have cut flowers that are on the bines even after all the leaves have dropped an there is snow on the ground.DSC_0006

The second plant I bought  was poorly sited in an area where the corgi dogs trampled it daily so I moved it last fall to the front fence. Now  it can be enjoyed all season by the many walkers that take their daily constitutional around the mile loop that is my road. I hope they enjoy it as much as I do.

FYI , always use caution when picking and planting honeysuckle varieties. One in particular , Lonicera japonica, is  a noxious weed that will cover any real estate it can reach and seed everywhere to boot. Many others are very large and can collapse a structure with their weight. Of course, you have some great choices here, so why look any further ;)

Also, honeysuckles like full sun and will perform poorly in shade. The ones listed here  are all hardy to US zone 4 .

 

*bine is the word for climbing plants that twine around things when they grow. Wisteria, some honeysuckles, and hops are a few.

 

 

 

 

 

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Rose love

I adore roses. Let’s be clear, that statement is meant to include ALL roses, I am in no way a rose “snob” demanding a certain petal count, specific color, intense ( or even any) fragrance , or a pretty French name.

I like single roses, I like double roses, I like tea roses, florists roses, old fashioned ramblers, shrub roses, landscape roses, rose hips, gosh I even like rose potpourri.

I could do without the thorns that puncture my always gloveless hands, the blackspot that although it has yet to affect the bloom or life span of any rose here, looks messy, and the rabbit damage that still has me confused because they always chew the thorniest of the bunch and I just don’t get how they do not leave a blood trail from their evil little mouths when they do.

In September and October the roses here are one of the joys of my gardening year. They standout in full bloom taking up the slack from their  perennial bed mates that have gone past . The list of who is in bloom is always a long one , yet varies year to year . Right now all of the Drift Roses are in bloom filling up their corner of the world with sweet little blossoms clustered  tightly hovering over the ground ( they are in order  ’Coral’, ‘Peach’ ‘Sweet’ and ‘Pink’)005peach drift007Sweet Drift

The Knockouts, yellow ‘Sunny’  the double pink, and red are all positively smothered in flowers and buds.040024023

Three climbers, an unknown red and Captain Sam Holland, and ’New Dawn’ are still trucking along and ‘Sea foam’ is covered in fat buds ( picture is of its first flush of bloom earlier in the summer).Cptn Sam HollandNew Dawn043

I cut the last bloom off the very fragrant ‘Sharifa Asma’ last week and kept in on my desk  to inhale while I worked. ( I forgot to snap a photo, sorry, but really what you missed is it’s incredible fragrance and I can’t give you that anyway )

‘The Fairy has been in bloom since June non-stop, as has ‘Carefree Spirit’.031

                                                       Back for their late summer show after a short mid-summer break  are the Magic carpet roses ‘Alba’ and ‘Coral’ as well as two shrubs,  ’Julia Child’ and ‘All the Rage’ ( no photo)magic Carpet CoralMagic Carpet alba

Julia Childand the hips on Rosa glauca are incredible as always.rose hips

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Plant profile x 2

Two very fun berry producing bushes are in the spotlight this time around in Plant Profile; snowberry  symphoricarpos albus and beautyberry (callicarpa dichotoma ‘Early Amethyst ‘).

From early  September and into November a lot of what makes my garden interesting revolves around the seed distribution mechanisms of many plants; the fruit of apples, pears, crabapples, cool looking seedpods of baptisia and woodland peonies, prickly seed heads of coneflowers, clematis  and black eyed susans , rose hips and the seed bearing berries of hollies, viburnums, dogwoods and the two shrubs featured today , beautyberry and snowberry.

Snowberry, or symphoricarpos albus, is a suckering native shrub and although it can be easily overlooked in spring and summer  is a can’t- be- missed  highlight starting in late August. This shrub is absolutely humming with pollinators all through June, July, and August  because it is smothered in tiny bell shaped pink flowers that are a great nectar source for bees and wasps. The berries form in late summer and early fall and will adorn the bush well into the winter as they are favored by grouse and ignored by most other birds until the robins return and devour them in spring019. This tough shrub can tolerate poor soils and drought, even thriving under mature oaks. It will grow  to be about 3-5 feet tall with a similar spread, and given its suckering habit is perfect for embankments and other tough garden situations. I grow not only this species , but also symphoricarpos x doorenbosii ‘Amethyst’ which produces coral-pink berries. “Amethyst’ is a far less vigorous  grower but the berry color is so lovely .028 008 (2)Both make superb additions to late season flower arrangements.020

The second shrub ,beautyberry (callicarpa dichomata)is one you would be very familiar with if you have ever heard my presentation  ”Shrubs for Year Round Interest” as I tend to gush about it and may have even called it my favorite on a few occasions ( pssst ! don’t tell the other shrubs!) .

Just like snowberry, this shrub is covered along it’s branches with tiny flowers all summer long and frequented by many winged pollinators. Unlike snowberry, the beautyberry is a very well rounded and well mannered plant. I cut my beautyberry back to about a foot tall in the very early spring just like I would  a butterfly bush ( buddleia) or blue mist shrub ( caryopteris) because many times here where it is so cold there will be winter die back and even if there is not it flowers better on new wood (and the shape is better too). VERY quickly the shrub will form a lovely mounded form topping out at 3-4 feet and proceed to flower profusely.

014These flowers turn into , for lack of a better word, electric purple colored berry clusters that generally remain on the bush right through leaf drop and through the first few snowfalls. There is NOTHING in the gardening world as colorful and wonderful beautyberries in the snow.imagesCAQQ5LZI imagesCA8ILEQ4( snow images from google, I can’t seem to find the folder mine are in ) A few freeze thaw cycles will take away the bitterness of the berries and then the birds will gobble them up, but we can count ourselves lucky to have enjoyed them for the months they were there.

This shrub is also a pretty tough customer, being able to grow in sun to part shade and fairly tolerant of a myriad of soil conditions. It is said  you will have a larger crop of berries if you plant more than one beautyberry ( and boy oh boy would a hedge of them be divine) but I grow only one and have had stellar berry production every year. It can also be clipped for use in arrangements where it  will be greeted with ooohs and ahhhhs and other excited utterances, because it is that cool.

There are many available varieties of callicarpa but I chose ‘Early Amethyst’ because some of the others can get quite large and frankly a little rangy looking and also because ,as the name implies, it berries much earlier than its’ cousins. ‘Profusion’ ( callicarpa  bodinieri var.giraldii )is another good beautyberry if you have room for a larger shrub .

Fall is a great time for planting shrubs , and many nurseries have great sales now , so look for these two great garden additions and get planting!

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Stars Of the Late Summer Garden

008Each week of gardening season brings with it a unique combination of flower and foliage, fruit , berries, bark and seed pods to enjoy. Late summer is no exception, and personally I find it  much easier to take the time to literally smell the flowers, (and cut them and arrange them  and plan new combinations for next year) at this time more than any other.

Early September in the garden has such a relaxed mood as there is no rush to plant , the weeds are minimal , there is no urgency to get anything staked , sprayed or thinned, all the mistakes of this year have been made and the successes counted and noted to be repeated next year. Now on my morning walks I can spend far more time admiring the garden than making lists chores that need doing and there are certainly some stars worth admiring out there now.

Every year I buy any dahlias I see when I am out and about in the spring , I don’t care if I am at Wal-Mart, Lowes, Home Depot, or my favorite nursery as the tubers are generally bagged and healthy from anywhere and especially the ones from the big box stores are dirt cheap. I have never successfully overwintered a dahlia and used to replace my Bishop of Landoff variety via an online catalogue every year at great expense , but now don’t bother as any I find around here are usually quite pretty and some are actually unbelievably gorgeous. Check out this example  that looks like the earths’ very core is glowing within it.

 

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Its blooms are quite large and it is a taller variety so it stands out nicely when looking at the garden from the street, not bad for $4.98.For late season color, dahlias are definitely the biggest bang for your buck.

I also buy several packages of cosmos seeds and various sunflowers seeds, no great expense here either, and sow them any where there is open ground then forget about them. Germination rate ends to be poor when you take that approach, but those that do germinate and then survive the bunny  vs. seedling battle are more than appreciated in September. This cool cosmos has tubular petals that look almost as if they are made of two layers with the top one being placed on inside out. It speaks to my careless attitude toward dressing like a girl and I l-o-v-e it.051

I was never interested in growing helenium autumnale , or sneezeweed,  until a few years ago, I can’t tell you why, it was an undefined dislike, but after adding a few here and there, and being continually WOWED by their sheer numbers of flowers and ability to make ever pollinator we have dizzy with delight, now I can’t get enough of them. They will grow to about 5 feet  and need staking unless you cut them back (like you do with mums) before July 4th to keep them more compact. Then stand back and watch the fireworks, this plants rocks ! The yellow is the straight species, the red is ‘Helena Red Shades’.023 025

 

 

And last ,but certainly not least, is this annual salvia called ‘Wendy’s Wish’. The plant has me almost at a loss for superlatives to describe it. I bought several on a whim at Lowes when we went one day to look at kitchen stuff. It was early May and they were in quart pots and in full bloom. I planted them in a whiskey barrel container out back and in an area I struggle to fill every year near a birdbath located in the most visible of all my gardens from the house .Nothing I have ever planted there looks good enough season long for my liking, so it gets ripped out and replaced often. Not this year. This salvia is gorgeous, its’ long bloom stalks packed with dark pink flowers that hang from even darker bracts that are stunning enough to be the center of attention themselves.

Through a very wet and cold spring , through a long hot dry July, and into these lovely first weeks of cooler weather, this plant has not even for one second flagged, looked ratty or even been out of bloom. I have not touched it at all. Not once. Not to prune, water, or take a bug off. I have instead stared open mouthed at it as it surpassed all of my expectations AND proven to be the biggest hummingbird magnet in the garden ( which is saying a lot given its’ competition). It’s only downfall? It is the single most un-photogenic flower I have ever come across. No shot I have attempted does it justice it even remotely captures the delicate nature of the flower stalk  dancing in every teeny tiny breeze, and those deep colored flowers are not only perfect but are usually adorned with a hummingbird or two for effect

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I would be remiss if I left out the backbones of the garden .The shrubbery planted here all  get best supporting actor nods in late summer with  so many  hydrangeas in full blousy bloom and the Rose of Sharons, drift roses, caryopteris, potentillas,  all doing their thing, and berries starting to appear on many viburnums,the  red osier dogwoods, callicarpas, snowberries, and hollies, the stage is beautifully set to let the garden stars shine.012

Who are the stars in your late summer garden?014 019 020 023 026

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