As gardeners we come across plants in nurseries which are new to us and which we like to try out. Not all those plants work in the garden. Sometimes the conditions are not to their liking with soil being too heavy (clay) or too sandy or the pH is not what they require. These plants linger for a while, decline and, usually, are dug up and discarded. Sometimes the placement of the plant is wrong; a shade lover in a sun-drenched garden, a sun lover in the shade; a drought tolerant plant in a wet spot or a bog plant in the driest part of the garden. If you have the correct conditions for these plants, it doesn’t take much time to dig them up and relocate them to an area to their liking. There they will settle in and become an asset to your garden.
But, occasionally, you come across a plant which you think will look great in the garden, you buy it and plant it and let it do its thing, only to regret it later. This year I have come across two plants in my garden which have done SO well, they are no longer welcome. First there is ‘Creeping Jenny’ or Lysimachia nummularia, also known as Creeping Charlie and moneywort. The Lysimachia family includes various members which are known as thugs or invasives, such as purple loosestrife or even gooseneck loosestrife. My two-inch potted Creeping jennies quickly settled in and covered soil in all directions by several feet the same year it was planted. It didn’t creep; it galloped everywhere. Granted, the chartreuse foliage looked pretty, but soon it went out of control. I spend days yanking it out and even now I come across small pieces which are popping up again. Next spring I will have to do another sweep to make sure it has been eliminated everywhere.
The second plant which will get the old heave-ho is Callicarpa dichotoma or Beautyberry. Without a doubt, this is a very pretty shrub. The branches arch and in fall are covered with clusters of the brightest purple berries. The birds absolutely love these berries and literally launch themselves into the shrub to gobble up the berries. Sounds pretty good, right? Unfortunately, there are so many berries on the plant that the birds don’t get them all. Instead, those that fall to the ground (hundreds upon hundreds of them) very quickly germinate into small plants as soon as the weather improves in spring. They also quickly grow a root system which makes it hard to pull out plants only inches tall. Last spring I spent hours on hands and knees in the garden pulling out these seedlings, although at the time I didn’t realize my Beautyberry was the culprit. Instead, I actually got two more of these shrubs. Now that I have put two and two together (bright berries everywhere in my garden) I know I will be pulling seedlings for days everywhere come spring. And while I enjoy gardening and hope to continue doing it for years to come, I realize I don’t have to make my life harder each spring eliminating hundreds of seedlings. Instead I will be cutting down the shrubs while they still have berries clinging to them and throwing them out in the trash. Then, in spring, I will be digging up the root systems and tossing them out as well. Meanwhile, I hope the birds will forage for those fallen berries and make my life a little easier come spring. It is too bad, because this is truly a handsome shrub, but its propensity to populate earth with its offspring makes it ‘shrub non grata’ in my garden. Learning from experience, now there is a novel concept!
A few days into November and there are still plants blooming in the garden. The clematis, which disappointed this hot and dry summer, makes up for it this late in the season. Then we get the first hard frost bringing the colorful display at an end.
One gigantic bed on the side of the house has been divided into two beds with a path in between. Because there is virtually nothing planted in the lower bed yet, I decide to take a page out of my gardening book from the previous garden; dig it up and leave it fallow during the winter. As I am digging, I see there is a nice layer of good soil about 2 to 3 inches thick on top of the heavy clay my garden is full of. I try to go at least one spade deep into the clay, moving it up to the top and let the dark, good soil fall to the bottom. Large clods of clay are cut into smaller pieces and over the winter frost will break this soil down further.
Over time the soil improves in my garden. Mulch in garden beds decompose, worms aerate the soil, microbes and fungi live and die in the soil, turning it all into rich humus-filled soil. Digging and mixing good topsoil with the lower layer of clay will speed up the process of getting a deeper layer of good soil. Then, come spring, I will dig it all up again and mix in compost. The plants going into this bed next spring will be off to a much better start than any of the other plants put in my garden to date. Actually, looking at this thick, thick clay it is amazing my garden is looking as good as it does. I guess all the bags of topsoil I have added to each planting hole every time I put in new plants, did help.
As I walk through the garden, I make notes from next year. A few Siberian Irises need to be dug up and moved to the front while my five feet tall Brown-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia) will be moved to their spot in the back. A few Astilbes would make a nice contrast with the other Japanese Irises in the rain garden; I will put them on my list of plants to get. The marigold variety called ‘Kees Orange’ looked great in my garden but grew a bit taller than I had expected. This winter I will start their seeds in pots so I can be precise in putting them where they won’t hide plants growing behind them. It’s that time of year again to read gardening books, keeping a notebook at hand for all those ideas I could implement in my garden…
Oh, how time flies. Leaves are starting to turn, or they are falling, and the temperatures are heading down. Walking through the garden there is still plenty of color, but we peaked a while ago and are now heading down that slide which ultimately brings us to winter.
Asters and chrysanthemums are in full bloom and they certainly brighten up my garden. The annuals planted throughout spring and summer are still blooming; Zinnias, Celosia, Marigolds, continue to flower. The clematis which shriveled in the heat were cut back completely. Small amounts of rain revived them and they started climbing the arbors again. Now I have new flowers opening and tons of buds which will open as long as we do not experience any frost soon.
I learned an important lesson this spring: don’t put out the Dahlias before their time as they dislike the chilly temperatures of early spring. They start to strut their stuff in summer and fall and now they are going full blast. Unfortunately, another lesson I learned and which I will implement next spring, STAKE the darn plant properly or it will go boom! Because spring was on the wet and cool side, the dahlias didn’t grow much. Then summer arrived with heat and humidity, but very little rain, and they still didn’t grow a lot, expect for one variety I had planted: Kogane Fubuki. According to the description on the package, these plants get about 36-40 inches tall. I put a stake next to each root (or more correctly named a tuber), but once this plant started growing the stake was too puny. Side branches couldn’t support themselves and fell to the ground which was really a pity as the flowers are huge and gorgeous. This fall, after the first frost has blackened the foliage, I will dig up the tubers, discard leaves and stems and keep them in a dark and frost-free location (basement) in a container with slightly damp peat moss. There they will rest until late May next year. Then, and only then, will I take them outside, plant the tuber, stake them with a proper size stake (rebar should do) and wait for them to grow and bloom. They are definitely worth the extra effort of planting and digging up each year.
As I walk through the garden, I find a few pleasant surprises. Among some rocks two little ferns are starting to grow. One is offspring from a nearby Japanese Painted Fern, while the second one is offspring from a Maidenhair Fern planted a few feet above near the waterfall. While not every seedling is welcome in the garden, these I will treasure.
In the butterfly garden at the side of the house the Celosia is blooming in scarlet red. Surprisingly enough, I also find a bit of scarlet in the back garden as well. Some seeds must have blown along the front of the house before taking a sharp turn where they ended up in the corner near the willows. Another seed blew straight from the butterfly garden past the house, turned and ended up at the arbor near the patio. As I have added more and different types of celosia to both the front and back garden this year, I suspect next spring will bring a whole new crop of celosias popping up everywhere. It is something to look forward to as we slowly bring this gardening year to a close.
It’s official, fall is here. The temperatures are still summer-like during the days, but the nights are much cooler. They are also not as high as they were in most of August, which was brutal. This summer we have been very light on rain. After the freak rainfall in mid-July which brought us nearly 5 inches of rain, we only have had a few rain events. Every 8-10 days we would get 0.2 inches of rain; just enough rain to keep the garden going, but not enough to have lush growth. Somewhere around late August we had two days with on and off again rain and suddenly the garden recovered. After that, there was no more rainfall and now, deep into September, it is still dry. The weather forecast for the next 10 days shows continued sunny days, with cooler nights and not a drop of rain in the forecast.
Despite the lack of rain I have carved out a new planting bed in the lawn. The Spouse was surprisingly laid back about losing more lawn and helped with all the mulching. I planted mostly shrubs in this new bed, which is anchored by a Gleditsia triacanthos var. inermis ‘Skyline’ or thorn less Honey Locust, which is also a native tree here in Pennsylvania. There are three Vitex (Chaste tree) which have beautiful blue flowers for most of summer and well into fall and they attract hordes of bees and butterflies. I also planted more Callicarpa (beauty berry) which has strings of bright purple berries in the fall along its gracefully drooping branches. These native shrubs attract birds gorging themselves on the berries. Since I already have a few Callicarpa in the garden, I found a few seedling Callicarpa around them, which I dug up and put in the new bed. I also added two Chamaecyparis psifera or Lemon Thread False Cypress, which inject a jolt of yellow into the bed. While the plants are still small, within a few years they will fill out nicely and grow into a nice grouping of plants. A few hardy geraniums are dotted around for additional blue but added to that I intend to include both the Kniphofia (red hot poker, albeit mine are yellow) as well as the Banana Cream Daisies which are currently growing in the bed next to the driveway. They will inject more yellow into the bed and these plants will have bulked up enough by next spring for me to divide them and move the divisions to the new bed. But for now I added a few chrysanthemums to the garden, which fill up the empty space and provide plenty of fall color. Of course, I also made another trip to the corner for more stumps and have added a few to the front bed as well.
I now have a yellow garden along the driveway, which I consider Mom’s garden, since yellow was her favorite color. The new bed will be a vision of purple, blue and yellow along the sidewalk while the last bed in the front garden closest to the fence is mostly purple. Eventually the new bed and the bed near the fence will be linked with a rock garden, but I am still in the planning stages for that job.
My rain barrels have come in handy during this dry spell and while I have brought out the hose a few times as well, the garden continues to grow. Not as fast as I would have hoped, but at least most plants have spent enough time in the ground to manage with reduced rain fall while still looking presentable. My two sweet pepper plants have produced half a dozen of peppers by now. If I had watered them frequently, they would have been bigger and produced more, but frankly I preferred to water my ferns over the peppers. Maybe next year rain will be more evenly spread over the months and both my peppers and ferns will be equally happy. Or maybe fall will bring rain and we can eat all the peppers my plants will produce before frost does them in. One can hope.
Our development is in its final stages as there are virtually no houses left to be built. There are large mounds of soil, created when this development started. Weedy trees have grown up on it but now it all must come down.
A few weeks ago, trees were uprooted. Branches and trunks were cut off and ground up. But they left neat piles of stumps piled high; waiting to be picked up later. Aha! It was time for me to spring into action and start working on something I have always wanted in my garden, i.e. a stumpery. No sooner had the crew left and I went exploring. I walked the length of the grassy path pulling out all stumps that looked promising. Soon the path was littered with them and it was time to get them home. First, I carried (dragged) two of them home. Then I got my trusty green cart out and went back, feeling like an adventurous 10-year old, going out exploring. The Spouse was informed “I was going for a little walk” and he knew better to ask what I was up to. All in all, over two days I made five trips getting all the stumps that looked promising and relocated them all over my garden. The following week I went back for more. Some stumps are locked into tight embraces, leaving planting pockets for ferns and hostas. Others are left in the rain gardens, looking as if they were uprooted by storms and swept down into gullies. They will help redirect water and with luck a seed will be caught behind a root or two and grow into plants.
A few stumps were put next to my path where a group of Turk’s cap lilies were blooming. The small bulbils growing on these plants will fall among the stumps and within three years I will have a thicket of Turk’s cap growing in between the roots and stumps. Of course, eventually the wood will rot, disintegrating and enriching the soil with nutrients and feeding my plants in turn. What’s not to like, a way to recycle wood and roots, making the garden look better and ultimately enriching the soil.
On one of my walks through the garden, I make a pleasant surprise; the tree frog is back. Last year a small tree frog took up house in my watering can on the porch. This year, much to my delight, I see a little face peaking out of the bird house hanging off the arbor under the little Linden tree. In late afternoon it surveys the garden and I can only imagine that later in the day, early evening, it will leave its home and starts looking for food in the tree above.
(Just aside, the little Linden tree is NOT a little tree. This tree in our neighbors’ yard is about 30 feet tall and 20 feet wide and eventually it will grow up to 80 feet tall and 50 feet wide. The word “little” refers to the size of the leaf, which is about 2 to 3 inches long. Contrast that to the size of the leaf of the large leafed Linden tree, which is heart-shaped, about 5½ inches long and 3 inches wide. The large leafed Linden tree will outgrow the little Linden tree and can be as tall as 125 feet with a rounded canopy.)
I discover a pair of praying mantises mating in the Vitex tree, which were still there a day later. I don’t know if the male eventually lost his head when the pairing was done; female praying mantises have a way of killing their partner after the deed is done. Caterpillars are all over the butterfly weed and parsley; munching away to grow big and transform into butterflies. In this hot and dry month all is still well in the garden; stumps have been strewn around and the wildlife flourishes. As for the gardener, I find shady spots and read my books.