Garden Notes June & July 2013
Christina writes: As I noted at the end of my last gardening post, May is a busy month in the garden which leaves me little time for weeding. This year the weeds as well as the ‘official residents’ of our garden prospered with plentiful rainfall at the end of May and early June. So, having dealt with most other tasks in May, I was able to devote the first two weeks of June to weeding each bed in turn, occasionally doing a quick sweep of those dealt with earliest to remove new invaders. Luckily, more rainfall meant that I did not need to spend much time watering.
When we began our landscaping in 2010 we planted thirteen mountain laurels (Kalmia latifolia) along a bed on the far side of a narrow lawn at the back of our house, backing on to part of a neighbouring garden filled with trees. To provide diversity in leaves and flower colour in this long stretch, we chose several different varieties: ‘Nipmunk’, ‘Nathan Hale’, ‘Kaleidoscope’, ‘Yankee Doodle’, and ‘Pristine’. One unintentional result was some difference in shrub size – all looked larger in the nurseries. The three white mountain laurels (‘Pristine’) were always smaller than the rest. One barely survived the 2010–11 winter, and left such a hole that we had it replaced with a ‘Carousel’ (as we could not find another white-flowered variety).
Then in 2012 one of the two ‘Pristine’ survivors was badly damaged by a small branch falling on it from a neighbour’s tree and lost half its branches. This was very noticeable, as it was in a rather wide gap between two larger shrubs. (When planting the shrubs in 2010 the spacing had to be adjusted to avoid large roots from the trees in the adjoining garden.) This year, I had our landscaper remove the damaged ‘Pristine’ and replant it just behind the other surviving one, to suggest more bulk, while planting a new white mountain laurel in the space vacated. I copied this trick from him: in 2010 he suggested replanting in a group the three ‘White Lights’ azaleas we had bought about ten years earlier, which, after blooming for two years, had just hung onto life with a few leaves and maybe a flower every few years. Planted together in 2010, they had some presence and have done well growing into a single shrub, though it is interesting that the colour of their blossom now varies a little, perhaps the result of one of them having spent some years in a different part of the garden.
I mentioned in my May Notes that the buddleia (butterfly bush) we added last year did not survive the winter. We decided to try again, and also to add a second buddleia at the edge of our rhododendron and azalea bed. It took our landscaper some time to find two of the dwarf variety. In fact, he obtained them just before we were about to leave on our Midwestern trip, so we had to ask him to keep them and water them until our return. So far, both of the ‘Lo & Behold “Blue Chip”’ buddleias seem to be doing well, though, having been planted so late, will probably not grow as much as last year’s. I just hope that they survive the winter.
At end of July or in early August, we usually find some gaps in the perennial bed, partly because certain perennials (such as poppies) need to be cut back after flowering, and partly to replace annuals which have not done well. We did not need so much this year, so restricted our visit on the last Saturday in July to the nearest nursery, Whitney’s. At this time of year, most plants are reduced in price, but there is not so much choice. Even so, we found quite a few plants to load into the car. Perennials included a Stokes’ aster (Stokesia laevis) ‘Peachie’s Pick’, which should provide colour for some time; one sweet William to fill a gap which had developed in the middle of the area devoted to this plant; and an ‘Astra Pink’ balloon flower (Platycodon grandiflora) to put next to blue and white specimens planted last year which are just coming into flower – I had not previously seen a pink variety. Annuals included more superbells, another double impatiens to put beside the three we bought earlier, and four pots of lisianthus (Eustoma grandiflorum), a plant previously unknown to me, two ‘Mermaid Pink’ and two ‘Florida Sky Blue’.
A second round of weeding occupied the first week of July, less time than that in June, partly because there were fewer weeds – many crowded out by the ‘official’ plants, but also I was perhaps a little less fussy wanting to get round before we left for the Midwest on 10 July. For the first two days, rain allowed me to skip watering, but this was not to be so on the other days, especially as the temperature rose into the high 80s, accompanied by high humidity. I spent most of 9 July making sure that everything got thoroughly watered. There was practically no rain while we were away, and temperatures reached the low 90s. One of the first things we did when we got back home on 17 July was to set some drip hoses going, and on the 18th spent several hours providing water to all the beds. The lawns, which we generally do not water and which had been cut low in our absence, had developed bare patches. The hot temperatures lasted a few days, then gradually dropped through the 80s during the next week. The latter part of my latest round of weeding, begun on 24 July and completed on 6 August, has been in the much more pleasant conditions of temperatures in the 70s, with lower humidity. We’re keeping our fingers crossed that the excessive heat does not return this year, though it’s not unusual to have high temperatures through August.
Generally we have had more rain this spring and summer than in the last few years, no late frosts, and only a comparatively short spell of really hot humid weather. Many of the plants in our garden and elsewhere have flourished in these conditions. Daylilies have produced many flowers. We have a large number of daylilies: ‘Stella D’Oro’ and ‘Purple Waters’ around the lamp-post at the north end of the perennial bed and towards the driveway under the locust trees; a lovely double orange variety given us by a neighbour to one side of the lilacs, and a variety of different colours along the beds at the front of the house: ‘Always Afternoon’, ‘Bali Hai’, ‘Chicago Apache’, ‘Custard Candy’, ‘Daring Deception’, ‘Doubleicious’, ‘Fairy Tale Pink’, ‘Fooled Me’, ‘Going Bananas’, ‘Hall’s Pink’, ‘Mini-Pearl’, ‘Prairie Blue Eyes’, and ‘Rosy Returns’. At the peak, I was deadheading about three hundred flowers a day, almost double if I missed a day, and about two bucketsful after our return from the Midwest. Most of the lilies have already finished flowering or are nearing the end, but I still have about fifty flowers a day to deadhead, and now the shasta daisies are beginning to reach the deadheading stage. Other plants which have done especially well are the oriental poppies, astilbe, and bee balm.
Our rose of Sharon ‘Lavender Chiffon’ produced its first two flowers the day after we returned from the Midwest, and has had more flowers than in any previous year, a glorious sight. But that flowering is very early: our landscaper says that it shouldn’t flower until the beginning of September. Each year, so-called late plants such as black-eyed Susans have been flowering earlier, so that there is very little to flower by early September. The perennial bed suffers the most, though the annuals, mainly along one edge, provide some colour. Elsewhere, shrubs and shade plants provide a variety of leaf colour and shape. At the moment on the spireas, which were pruned after flowering, new growth is providing pink-tinged leaves. And the heuchera in the shade beds produce leaves in a multitude of colours: purple, orange, rose red, light and dark green, and green veined with red.
According to the newspapers, local beekeepers lost most of their hives last winter, and indeed we have had far more bumblebees than honeybees visiting our plants. Their favourites, on which we often see up to a dozen at a time moving from flower to flower, are ‘Copper’, a low-bush honeysuckle, St John’s wort ‘Chocolate Lion’, and, of course, bee balm. Usually we also see bees on the lavender, but that has not done so well this year: it had become very unshapely, and our landscaper cut it right back in the spring. It has not grown back as fast as we expected, nor have its flowers been as plentiful. It may need more time to recover, or perhaps the weather may have been wrong for it, as a neighbour has reported that hers has not done well either. We’ll hope it will do better next year.
Images (top to bottom, taken on a slightly overcast day): part of the bed immediately in front of our house, showing sedum, daylilies, spirea, and Japanese willow; bee balm, catmint, and daylilies around the lamppost; more daylilies in front of the house; rose of Sharon, with a honeybee.