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And Now It’s Midwinter

January 7, 2015

Christina writes: In my last garden post – last March!! – I was eagerly expecting spring. Eventually spring came, but there was a late cold spell in April, with icy winds. This damaged blossom so that we harvested only one apple from our three trees, there were only a few berries on our holly bushes, and only one of our three white azaleas had any flowers, and those low down on the plant where they were half hidden and protected by pachysandra. Many of our shrubs looked unhappy until our landscaper, Dan, began a fertilizer regime which soon revived them. Writing projects kept us too busy to write blog posts for much of the year (my ‘Aragorn’ comments posted in late May and early June were written mainly at the end of 2013 and only needed a little polishing), but of course we could not similarly abandon our garden. This post summarizes some of the main garden events of the year.

patio plantsIn my garden notes for November 2013 I commented that I had had some older phlox (subject to mildew) removed from the perennial bed and partially replaced with subdivided peonies. During the spring clean-up, I had Dan’s men reduce the areas of the shasta daisies and black-eyed-susans (Rudbeckia) and transfer a clump of catmint (Nepeta) to an area from which some irises had been removed. Neither of the buddlejas (butterfly bushes) added last year survived, so I had plenty of space to transplant or add new plants. As usual, we made several visits to garden centres and on our return covered much of our shady patio with plants waiting to be put in the ground.

foxgloveI replaced the buddleja in the perennial bed with two blue anise (Agastache), also said to attract butterflies; these did very well, though I didn’t notice many butterflies (generally not very plentiful last year), and I was happy that the plants flowered well into the autumn. Two of last year’s lupines survived, and I added a third. Since two astilbe from the front of our house were being crowded out by growing bushes, I had them moved to the perennial bed by our driveway. Other new perennials included campanula, more veronica, a splendid foxglove (Digitalis), a white salvia, a couple of delphiniums, and a new phlox in a different colour to that remaining. Near the north end of the bed, I have an area devoted to sweet william (Dianthus barbatus). Several of these plants had reached the end of their lives, having provided for years a low carpet of colour in early summer, so I filled in the gaps and was delighted to find the flowering season greatly extended, presumably due to a longer-flowering variety.

shade gardenOnce again I planted annuals at the edges of beds in front of perennials and bushes to provide colour throughout the summer and early autumn, mainly pansies, Supertunias, ‘Yellow Chiffon’ Superbells, snapdragons (Antirrhinum), and pale cream and lemon yellow African marigolds. This year I could not get violas from my usual local supplier, where they come six to a solid block, and had to buy them at a garden centre where they are grown in containers with six individual projections. I was worried that these seemed to be very slow to start multiplying, and then realized that this was probably because the roots had less space. Eventually they did produce their usual display. The area around our two large locust trees at the south end of the driveway is shady, and I have planted much of it with lamium, but there is a small piece of ground just to the east which gets a little morning sun but is protected from the hotter midday sun by taller plants including phlox. There I planted a little shade garden of oxalis, double impatiens, and dianthus.

new rhododendronI found a place to try another, larger buddleja, next to a mock orange (Philadelphus) on the south-east side of the garden, in an area originally planted with decorative grasses which had become overgrown and unwieldy and with yarrow (Achillea) which was fading after several years. The buddleja grew well during the summer, and I hope it will be third time lucky. We didn’t intend to add another rhododendron but could not resist the ‘Purple Passion’ specimen we saw at the Windy Hill garden centre. We managed to fit this in by removing some pachysandra. On the east side of the garden, the two spireas we planted last year to replace ‘Purple Gem’ rhododendrons have done well.

As part of our landscaping project in 2010, we planted a large number of different, carefully chosen daylilies just behind the violas along the outer edges of the beds in front of our house. I had put off dividing these, as I could not think where to put the extras (our neighbours already have full gardens) and I hated to just abandon them. But they were clearly in need of division, with yellowing leaves and, on some, fewer flowers. Eventually, in consultation with our landscaper, I decided make a new bed for them adjoining the east of the house. Dan thinks it gets enough sun, and Wayne is quite happy with a little less lawn to mow. At the same time, we slightly enlarged the bed to the right of our front steps which then curves out around the rose of Sharon at the corner of the house and continues into the new bed along the east side. This was partly because the rose of Sharon had grown over the years.

petunias marigolds pansiesThe extra space at the front allows more room between the violas and the lilies, and space for early bulbs (crocus and snowdrops) between the lilies, and for daffodils slightly behind. The former will have died back by the time the lilies are well up, and by then the lilies will conceal most of the daffodils as they die back after flowering. Well, that’s my theory, and I’ll have to wait until spring to see if it works out. I bought the bulbs for this bed from Windy Hill as I was not entirely satisfied with those from Home Depot I planted in 2013. The crocus did reasonably well, and I was delighted and amused to find that bees discovered the flowers within twenty-four hours of their opening in early spring. I was less happy with the sixty ‘assorted’ daffodil bulbs I planted round the apple trees: most flowered, but almost all of them were the same yellow, not the varied selection shown on the package.

In early summer, the busiest period when both planting and weeding demand hours of attention, I had a great deal of help from a woman temporarily working for our landscaper. Once she left, I felt on top of the work and capable of keeping the weeding under control without excessive effort. Then on the first of July I somehow damaged a tendon or muscle in my left knee, and for a few weeks had to take it easy, managing to do only a little deadheading of lilies. Luckily we had quite a lot of rain, so there was less need to water the garden, and I would have been kept indoors part of the time anyway. In fact, we had so much rain on one occasion that the rose of Sharon, heavy with flower, sagged forward onto the lawn and had to be staked back into position. Of course, while I was recovering, the weeds flourished.

bending birchWe had a long autumn with plenty of rain and no frost until early November, then warm weather so that some annuals lasted into mid-November when there were a few snow sprinkles; and then a severe storm arrived the day before Thanksgiving, with wet, heavy snow which iced over. We heard strange noises during the evening of the storm, and when Wayne went out with a light he found that the birch in front of our house was bent over and scraping the roof. The apple trees and taller bushes were also bowing under the weight of snow, but Wayne managed to free them. It was a few days before the snow melted enough for the birch to right itself; come spring, we’ll have this topped. We were lucky not to suffer any damage beyond a few fallen twigs, though some quite large branches fell onto our property from neighbours’ fir trees. Further up the road, one of the three trunks of a neighbour’s birch not only bent but broke.

Images, top to bottom: new plants on our patio; a splendid foxglove; a shade garden (iris, oxalis, catmint, lamium, etc.); rhododendron ‘Purple Passion’; petunias, marigolds, and pansies; our birch tree bending under snow and ice.

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