Over the years there have been many plants that I have tried unsuccessfully to grow. Failure comes with the territory. Weather, soil conditions, critter; they all conspire against me in many of my great plans and I have come ultimately come to accept those failures,
except for the lupines.
Winston Churchill said ‘Never give up on something that you can’t go a day without thinking about”, and while that may be a slight exaggeration in this case, each and every time I see lupines growing , flourishing even, in other gardens I get a little flash of sadness mixed with envy because try as I might, I haven’t been able to grow them.
I planted lupines in my very first garden here. They died immediately . They never even tried to make it, they just looked around at all the sand, blazing hot sun, and inhospitable conditions and promptly gave up the ghost.
Not to be thwarted in my efforts I set about starting seeds ( both directly in the soil and in seed trays) and buying more plants to try in other locations. Misery and death followed quickly and each seedling and plant succumbed to the harsh conditions here. No amount of soil augmentation or watering would appease them and I was at the end of my rope. Some plants I could live without, but not lupines. They are an English Cottage Garden stalwart, expected and demanded to show themselves in any garden calling itself such. I HAD to have them.
Well, last summer i seeded again into trays and watched with great anticipation as many germinated and took hold. By mid-season it was clear I had grown a batch of happy healthy plants, and the were planted out in several garden locations later in the summer. I started with about 15 plants, 5 went into the caged off blueberry bed for rabbit protection, 5 into the Pink Garden, and the others out back.
TA-DA!!!!!!! I couldn’t be happier. three survived in the Pink Garden and two in the blueberry bed. Five out of fifteen , but five is really the important number here.
I usually don’t plant specific things just to make an arrangement, I plan color families, lots of bloom for certain times of year, and foliage to match the colors I use, but not ,say, specifically two different tulips to place with one certain lilac, except for this one teeny eeny instance…and it didn’t work out as perfectly as I wanted, but it was close.
The lilac is a bi-colored one called ‘Sensation’, and if you could be in love with a flower, than this would be the one. It is perfect….intense color, long lasting, and fragrant…be still my heart. At its feet I planted the dreamy white tulip ‘Purissima’ and its deep dark counterpart ‘Queen of Night’ . Problem was, the white tulip bloomed and passed before the lilac was fully opened. Just an FYI , lilacs do much better as cut flowers if you follow a few simple steps
1.) cut them when all florets are fully opened
2.) strip ALL the leaves
3.) make a vertical cut in the stem where it goes in the vase for better water uptake. If they are being really fussy , you can hold the stems in just barely boiling water for a count of 10, but that usually is not necessary.
Anyway, the lilac was just starting to color up as the white tulip was shedding its petals, so I had to change the plan a little.
Instead I cut a few just emerging stems of gray artemesia , which is a great filler, some of the arching branches of a white spirea ( name unknown) and the “Queen of Night’ tulip and one single stem of the lilac. Really, if I could preserve this little arrangement forever I would. The tulip looks and feels like soft velvet, and the airy blossoms on the spirea which I adore every year outside, are making their debut in a flower vase here and I could look at them all day. The lilac is scented just enough that it is not overpowering, just perfect for sticking your nose in as you pass by. Somedays being a flower gardener is simply everything.
it is FINALLY raining here today, the overcast skies and drizzle are a great relief for the parched gardens I needed a break from the computer so I headed to the gardens and ended up snapping lots of pictures of the great foliage that is now coloring all the grounds. I have been adding more and more plants with yellow or yellowish variegation and color to their leaves. It does not work everywhere, for instance the yellow edged chamacyparis in the pink garden ( that has all pink, and white flowers looks horrible and I threaten to move it all the time) , but in the darker areas of the garden, the yellow can’t be beat for enlivening the space.
Break is over!!Back to work !
Today was 80 degrees, to heck with Spring let’s just jump on into Summer. Grrrrrrr. Angry face. Now that the snow has melted the ground is dry enough to work in the gardens the weather is getting too warm too fast. The chirpy little weather girl grinning ear to ear telling us all ” No rain in the forecast for days and mid 70′s to low 80′s” is seriously ticking me off. We need Spring people!!! Nice 50-6o degree days with cooler night, lots of rain , so the tulips, daffodils and minor bulbs can put on their show. Today I had top ut the sprinklers on for gosh sakes . Hellebores that were in the last bit of frozen ground here less than two weeks ago haven’t even opened up yet , tulips that are just opening and quickly fade. Which is all the more reason to get out and cut . The earliest of my tulips are usually the species t. clusiana , but this year the purissimas beat them. Tulip fosteriana purissima and t. fosteriana ‘Flaming purissima which are also known as Emperor tulips , are some of the best tulips you can add to your garden because of their willingness to perennialize , meaning they will reliably come back year after year unlike many of their brethren.
Flaming purissima has a very cool color story. Some will bloom all red , some very red with cream streaking, and some cream with reddish streaking. you never know what you are going to get. I added them to the garden a few years back and woke one day in Spring to see about half the bulbs had been dug up and dragged off by some critter . ( who left very neat holes by the way). Since then those that were left have come back without issue, so last year I added some of the plain cream colored Purissima or White Emperor . Both are blooming right now in different locations, but it is the Flaming Purissima I used in this weeks arrangement.
I used an old galvanized chicken feeder I lined with a large ziploc bag to hold the water. I walked around and around and around the garden looking for foliage, not a lot has leafed out here yet. I cut twigs off three different spireas, the branches of a pear tree, and then placed around the edge the leaves of the scented citronella geranium I just hacked back as it gets ready to spend the summer outside. There is also a branch of lindera benzoin in there, for no reason other than I wanted to cut it.
It feels like every year we climb this very steep mountain in the garden where slowly ,almost one by one, things come into bloom. Then one day out of the blue , we crest the hill and go full barreled all out rolling down in an avalanche f flowers that come wave after wave for the rest of the season. I fell like today I was standing on the top of the mountain . Bring it on!
Way way back in the day I was on a garden tour and saw an incredibly beautiful rose in a shady courtyard. It was trimmed into a topiary-ish shape and covered in sweet little pink blossoms….but the foliage was what stopped me in my tracks. Incredible glaucous blue leaves on red stems and it was growing and blooming in the shade! I asked the docents ( and owner ) if they knew it’s name , sadly they did not. Nowadays I would instantly google and within seconds have said rose on the way to my home, but there was no google! How did we ever cope!!! I didn’t even own a computer , so it was pen and paper that saved the day.
I wrote to a popular garden magazine, yep, a letter, in an envelope, inquiring if they knew of the plant in the photo ( an actual photo taken by a camera with film and then developed at a little hut you drove through to drop off and pick up pictures) and then waited. A few months later a copy of the answer given by one of the editors of the magazine identifying the rose in question as rosa rubrifolia . I then ordered from a catalog recommended by the same editor , again via mail, my very first mail-order plant ( if I only knew then where this would take me!).
Those original two roses that came in the mail from Spring Valley Roses traveled here to live with us in 1998 and still grace the back of the border. Lucky for me, and you, this rose, (now known as rosa galuca), is a species rose and so all the seeds in the wonderful hips it bears in the fall will come true and you can not only increase your stock, you can give some to your friends.
This morning as I went out to get some photos of tulips, I passed by one of the children of the original two and was just struck again by how much I love the foliage of this rose. Newly emerging red stems with both reddish and blue leaves….this particular one grows in the full sun and is quite a happy camper there although it’s leaves will be more red than one grown in the shade.
If you put rosa glauca into the search bar of my blog you will see how often I speak of it and use it in flower arrangements. I would guess about 40 +varieties of roses live here in The Burrow, and the only other one adore just about as much is the new Easy Elegance ‘Kiss Me’ and that is more flower and scent related than foliage. This rose used to be difficult to source, but is now readily available at many online nurseries , like White Flower Farm, Digging Dog and even David Austin I imagine because it is a favorite of Margaret Roach and often spoken of on her popular blog A Way to Garden . You can prune this rose annually to keep it in bounds , it will grow to 8 or more feet tall if you don’t. I leave mine to do as they will, cutting them back only every 5 years or so just to tidy them up. It is hardy to zone 2 and has incredible disease resistance . Although it only blooms once, in June, who cares? All that dreamy foliage is what you are after and then those bright orange hips to light up the fall garden.
Like having a favorite and least favorite child , having a favorite and least favorite garden is hard to admit , not that any of this applies to my kids, they all have their charms:) . The overall garden here is divided into many spaces, all named for easy directions to spouse and children as to where I will be if, say, you can’t find your favorite leggings or you are wondering when and if dinner will be ready. There is The Dog’s Garden, The Pink Garden, Out Back, the Front Garden and the space that incorporates the entire long side yard toward the street is The Rock Garden.
The Rock Garden went in over the course of two years way back in the day when my body didn’t mind lifting what probably amounts to several tons of rock. The rocks came from anywhere we could find them , construction sites, my cousin dropped a truck full off from his former in-laws yard., I even braved a rock pile in my brother-in- laws woods I knew for certain had snakes living in it to get more . It took lots of time and effort to get what most people curse and have too much of here in New England.
The area where the garden is was initially lawn and I had planted some really fast growing willows to screen the street view with the intent of coppicing a percentage f them annually and slowing adding in evergreens. And so the problems began.
If we ever have deer, that is where they enter, After loosing a few of the willow’s replacements I planted a super ugly low yew hedge right inside the willows to stop them. Deer LOVE yew, and so they get to the edge of the yard eat to their heart’s content, and forget that their initial mission was to destroy the apple tee 10 feet away by rubbing their antlers on it. Problem is , to be effective ,the yew remains un-pruned by me and in years of high deer pressure looks like scooped out yew bowls and in years without looks like a person with a really bad haircut. Behind it the willow drops branches like nobodies business and requires CONSTANT clean-up, but the deer don’t touch it, and so it remains.
One of the surviving evergreens, a hemlock, has been the victim of the other scourge over there; voles. These disgusting little creatures love to nest in the roots of conifers over the winter. after several years of this the hemlock looked awful and I had to take it out this spring. The number of plants we have lost over there to voles make me want to cry. Tricks that work elsewhere in the yard ( mousetraps, bait stations) don’t seem to have any effect in The Rock Garden at all.
To add insult to injury, this garden was planted before my daughter’s illness and anyone who has a rock garden with dainty little alpines and other BS plants that need coddling can tell you that a two year absence of the head gardener will result in plant loss, and mayhem . Lewisias were the first casualties, ( they needed constant repositioning to remain on top of the rocks so they would not rot) followed by a few dwarf conifers, and silenes, and on and on it went. I filled in the spaces with whatever divisions I could find on property with the plan of redesigning at a later date, and then the rabbits arrived. The rabbit scourge is relatively new here and there are plants I am willing to go the extra mile for ie :those in my favorites gardens, but those in The Rock Garden ( which btw has no site line from inside the house or anywhere else in the yard being separated by the pool enclosure and the garage) are left to fend for themselves.
All these shortfalls aside, the whole set up of a rock garden in New England is ridiculous. We have deciduous trees, loads of them . It is what we are known for. You just don’t see 40 ft maples and oaks lined up on the sides of mountains . Alpine plants live in open wind swept areas , and to get that look here I have to clean up leaves…a lot…more than any reasonable person should ever have to ….and I hate it. The leaves catch in every crevice. They blow in after I am done with Fall cleanup and smoother the succulents and sedums. Because I spend my time over there muttering and griping, I have every single year due to inattention broken off every single leave of the iris reticulata I forget is there. During Spring clean-up I swear I am going to round-up the whole thing and bring the lawn back, that is how much I hate it.
But like any mother when dealing with unexpected disappointment in a child, I am trying. I go out there and try to look at it with love in my heart and figure out what to do to make it better. I stand there and tell it how wonderful The Pink Garden is, and try to encourage it to imitate Pink’s success. Then I feel bad because each garden should follow it’s own path and not be compared to its siblings. I ask it “what do you need from me to reach your potential? I want to help” It just sits there and sulks , refusing to give me any insight. I am sure if it had headphones it would put them in and turn the music up drowning me out. I am at wit’s end with it .
I finished clean-up there over the span of 6 solid hours Tuesday then remarkably on Wednesday a package arrived from Klem’s Song Sparrow, one of my favorite mail order nurseries. It was plants I had ordered over the winter just for The Rock Garden and my heart grew two sizes when I opened it. Two lovely dwarf conifers, picea abies‘Perry’s Gold’ and Pinus strobus ‘Sea Urchin”...ohmygoodness are they sweet! There was also a helenium called ‘Short n Sassy’ and a new clematis called “My Angel’. Excited, I went out to scout locations and happily removed an entire area that had been over run with thyme and ripped out another that had been planted with daylilys of all things when times were really bad out there. While out there I noticed that the geum trifolium was coming into bloom and the shoots of the little daffodil ‘Baby Moon’ I added last year were appearing. Things are looking up. So, for one more season,The Rock Garden gets to stay. It is totally on probation, completely under my critical and supervisory eyes. we shall see if it can redeem itself.
Do you have a garden space you struggle with?