Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Deer inspiration

When we bought the house, I planned to remove the four arborvitae planted in a row parallel to the garage entrance. They looked trite.

By the time I got around to that, I had planted the gravel circle in front of the house entrance. I decided to leave two of them. Over the years I became fond of the vertical accents they provided. Strange, I thought, that the deer don't bother them...(deer love to eat arborvitae).

On our return from a vacation in late February that had changed. The deer had eaten almost every green sprig to a height of about five feet. Drastic measures were called for. I pruned off all the mess the deer had left, creating these rather interesting topiary specimens. Perhaps some underplanting? Or I may transplant them to the back garden.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Garden Diary: Entering the garden

Half way into my garden's fifth season, the plantings in the wet prairie - by far the largest part of the garden - have reached a stage of evolution, or more appropriately stable change, giving me more time to attend to other parts of the garden. Entrances, for example.

The main garden entrance from the front parking area has been sorely neglected, mostly because it's been used for maintenance and storage - piles of wood chips from the tree clearing four years ago (now much smaller piles), the place for composting, deer-safe storage for plants waiting to go into the ground, a place to grow smaller plants until ready for planting out. Now I've managed to minimize these utilitarian functions, and can start to work on the entrance plantings.

Here is the entrance from the gate.

Piles of wood chips were in the area at center right where the ground is still covered with a mulch I don't need there. Or this may become a sitting area, a place to enjoy the shade and a distant view of the larger garden. A few perennials - Hosta 'Frances Williams', part of a recent gift of mature hostas from a friend, Ajuga 'Caitlin's Giant', several colonies of Sweet Woodruff (Asperula odorata), lots of native Jewelweed (Impatiens capensis ) and other things not visible here - hint at what might be. But I need shrubs, large shrubs that will provide an intimate entrance area, an antechamber, from which a visitor will emerge into the more open woodland garden.

Walking down the woodland path, the long stone wall and wet prairie begin to come into view.

And looking to the left, you can see the first link between the gravel terrace outside the house, which overlooks the garden, and the garden itself. Until this spring, there was no easy way to get from the terrace into the garden. Now there is, via the steps and a path that curves along the stone wall, passes beside the pond, then on into the middle of the wet prairie garden. (In the future, there will be steps at the other end of the terrace.)

Returning to the main path, a young river birch marks the intersection of the central path across the garden with the circumferential path around the garden.

Looking across the garden, the central path is out of view off to the right.

And here you see it.

So this is the entrance sequence, or story. Paths from shade to sun, from house to garden. There is much more to do, but this is a start.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Matrix planting: groundcover

Lots of rain and relatively warm temperatures are giving us a lush spring. Here is a groundcover matrix of Equisetum arvense, Ajuga, and Lysimachia nummularia making a pretty grouping. The Equisetum will vanish within a few weeks, the Ajuga foliage will likely be hidden under the Lysimachia. I wonder what this will look like in July?

This is a thick but delicate carpet, easily crushed by footsteps. Larger perennials have no trouble emerging and growing to comparatively towering heights, so there may be a general decline once the shade of the larger plants becomes a competitive factor.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Thinking about Gardens: The ThinkinGardens website

After three years of garden blogging, I've found a number of blogs that offer something special I want to come back to - a unique sensibility, creative insight, knowledge, humor, a personality I'd like to get to know. It's taken a surprisingly long time to find what I might call a community of, not like-minded bloggers, but bloggers with a core of serious interest in gardening. One of the great things about this new technology is the ease of crossing oceans and sharing with other gardeners in every part of the world (common language permitting).

I've never considered myself an Anglophile in any way, but I've discovered the UK gardening scene offers an awareness of gardening culture and history, and a view of gardening as a serious endeavor, that is lacking in much of North America. Just consider the range of regular newspaper gardening columns or the many TV programs available in the UK. There's nothing like this in the US. Because the British gardening world shares our language, it also makes for a convenient entry point to gardening in Europe and the rest of the world.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries many American writers struggled to find a culture that would allow development of a mature, complex, world class literature that was "American" yet still universal in its concerns. Many turned toward Europe, even moved there - Edith Wharton and Henry James among the most notable. In the end, they found what they were seeking both here and there, but a conflict between the culture of the "old world" and the "new world" always remained. Today, we still seem to feel that conflict, even in the gardening world.

Europe has, in fact, been at the forefront of the ecological planting movement, and is the source of many of the plants we think of as native in some sense. Many of our perennials, though they originated here, were developed and introduced as cultivated plants in Europe. This isn't to say the North American gardening world is in any way inferior, just that the European (and Australian, South American, Asian, etc.) gardening cultures have accomplished much, offer diverse reflections of their vastly different cultures, and can contribute to a broader and more humane understanding of gardening as an essential part of the humane life.

The ThinkinGardens website is one source of extremely varied, highly opinionated, well written, and knowledgeable writing on gardens. It treats gardens seriously, and as worthy of the same kind of critical analysis as literature, music, and art.

The old riposte that the British climate makes most of their garden advice rubbish for those of us who live in the much more rugged North American climate is true only to a degree; it is relatively easy to "translate" British gardening writing. I know very well I can't grow many of the plants I see in British gardening books, but their design ideas, their diverse intellectual debate about gardens and gardening, and their rootedness in centuries of gardening history is a part of my own as well as your gardening story.

We might all benefit from opening ourselves to the broader world of gardening. ThinkinGardens is seeking to extend its readership and find contributors in other parts of the world. I hope you'll try it out. Read some of the essays, garden reviews, letters and see if you don't find it a source of new ideas and possibly even a source of entertainment and a delight.

Ancient Redbud in Rosemont

Rosemont is a small hamlet in western New Jersey. The Rosemont Burial Ground, which dates back to the 18th century, is nestled among low hills in a small valley descending to the Delaware. The grave of William Bray, who collected the boats for George Washington's crossing of the Delaware on Christmas eve, 1776, is the most notable grave site.

Each spring, a venerable Redbud (Cercis canadensis) bursts into profuse bloom near the back of the burial ground. This is the largest, and oldest, Redbud I've ever seen. The trunk is short - the tree probably owes its longevity to its low profile - but about 30 inches in diameter. This must be a notable tree of its type, deserving of preservation efforts.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Speaking of competition

Here is Pulmonaria 'Samourai', a durable, silver-leafed hybrid from Tony Avent's Plant Delights nursery. I planted the large one two years ago, then added two more last spring. Sweet woodruff (Galium odoratum) spread from a colony across the path and is now making a pretty background for the Pulmonaria. (Pretty, but this is certainly an invasion.)

Here we may have plant war in slow motion. The Pulmonaria appears to be extremely sturdy and durable. I know the Galium is a rampant spreader (which I accept, even want, because it's such a good groundcover). Who will win? Or will the plants co-exist, at least for a few years?

The last photo shows another invader, Eupatorum rugosum, another attractive, four-foot native that self-seeds like crazy, in the lower center. This must be plucked out.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Garden Diary: Competitors, Stress Tolerators & Ruderals

Having worked for several years to establish a matrix of plants that will be at least partly self-sustaining, I can see some progress this spring. At this stage, I'm still keeping pretty much anything that covers the ground and prevents random germination from the seed bank.

Thanks to Noel Kingsbury's books, I now know I'm trying to orchestrate a bunch of competitive perennials, stress tolerators, and those opportunistic ruderals, plants that take advantage of any open ground in the early stages of a planting, where they thrive until extinguished by larger or more competitive neighbors.

The picture below is of one of several Filipendula rubra 'Venusta' that have settled in well and are slowly spreading. I'd judge these to be moderate competitors; they are slowly covering more ground, but they don't self-seed at all.

Next is another sample of a matrix planting, primarily Petasites hybridus, native Equisetum arvense, native Lysimachia nummularia, and at the far edge, Carex muskingumensis, Darmera peltata, cimicifuga (actea), and thalictrum. The equisetum, though highly invasive and a competitor par excellence, will wither away in a month or so, leaving room for a really disgusting ruderal, Japanese stilt grass (Microstegium vimineum), to intrude.

The vertical wands rising from the petasites are flowers, which you can see more clearly in the next photo.

The next two photos show views turning clockwise about 150 degrees.

The more "finished" matrix above contrasts markedly with another garden view below. Here is where the filipendula I opened with grows, along with other large wet prairie perennials such as Eupatorium purpureum (Joe Pye Weed), Liatris pyncnostachya, Rudbeckia maxima, assorted wetland irises, sanguisorbas, miscanthus, panicums, and other plants too numerous to list. Obviously there are no early perennials to make an attractive matrix planting here. This area won't reach its potential until July.

Here is where I need to develop spring plantings that will give interest and good coverage early in the season, then disappear, or at least tolerate shade cast by the larger perennials later in the season (spreading stress tolerators is what I need). More bulbs (stress tolerators) can certainly help, especially daffodils. Native persicarias especially like this area as the season progresses, so some early persicarias, such as Persicaria bistorta 'Superba', may be helpful. And, of course, a blanket of astilbes would give both color and interesting, long-lasting structure.

I'm open to suggestions.

Euphorbia palustris

Euphorbia palustris has proven to be an early spring winner in my wet clay environment. Most plants that like my conditions get off to a slow start and come into their own much later in the season, in July to August. But this water lover is a real early season gem. I think I should develop a list of golden plants for this early season. They really brighten the view of my perennial plantings, most of which are just emerging from the ground as a kind of rough stubble.

The largest Euphorbias are about 30 inches tall. I have two planted with the variegated Calamagrostis 'Overdam', a combination that works well.

This plant is in its second full year. Lots of sun seems to be to its liking. Two planted in the shade have hardly grown at all.

Saturday, May 02, 2009


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