Monday, May 22, 2017

A Shady Progression

The past few weeks have seen the normal spring rush of planting, reworking garden beds, preparing for our garden club plant sale, and attending end-of-the-school-year events for me.  It is so great to be outside in the beautiful spring weather.  While the vegetable garden always demands and receives  some attention in spring, lately my main gardening focus and delight has been on the shade garden.

working in the shade garden - spring 2017
My shade garden is at the Northwest corner of the house.  It has an awkward corner shape and transitions from deep shade right next to the house to sun near the edges, with pockets of hot afternoon sun that sometimes poses a challenge for plantings.  It also is where all of the ugly utility boxes are mounted.  It is a work in progress (isn't it always?), but it has come a long way in the last three years, and I enjoy looking back and seeing its progression from barren nothingness.

spring 2014
This is the only 'before' photo I could find of this area, from the spring of 2014.   This corner slopes downwards and to the left. This photo is from when we put in drainage to redirect water that was leaking into our unfinished basement from the gutter spout.  A couple large boulders on the left hold up soil.

fall 2014
In the fall of 2014, Mr. Red House and I built a low retaining wall to help with the slope.  With the addition of more soil, my shade garden was born.

2015
That fall and the next spring we put in a few tiny trees - two Japanese maples, a weeping Canadian Hemlock, and a little Carolina Silverbell - and started putting in plants, including Japanese anemone.  Stepping stones were added to make a clear path to all the utility boxes.  Native ferns happily pop up by themselves near the house, which we enjoy.

2016
In 2016 we added a few more plants.  I used the sunny edges of the wall to grow Ground Cherries (which the chipmunks promptly ate for their water content during our drought).  The Japanese anemone and ferns started getting a little out of control, and there wasn't enough access to the utility boxes without wading through plants.  The shade garden really needed some work.

2017
This spring I pulled out some of the plants, moved some around, and added more much-needed stepping stones to the utility area. The shade garden now has a lovely progression of flowers throughout the spring beginning with early spring bulbs and including a number of miniature daffodils that are planted along the edge of the retaining wall.

the miniature daffodil 'Mite'
In later spring blooms the brilliant pink of the Rhododendron 'Weston's Aglo', a small-leaved rhododendron hybridized by the nearby Weston Nurseries.


The pink is mimicked throughout the garden by Old-fashioned Bleeding Heart, a favorite of mine ever since seeing it growing up in my grandmother's garden...

Old-fashioned Bleeding Heart
...and then continued by the dark pink Azaleas.


The bright pinks are softened by touches of white from Summer Snowflakes and hostas...


 ...as well as the blooms of the now much-larger Carolina Silverbell.

Carolina Silverbell tree
Another favorite of mine, the Foamflower, blooms in a little cloud of softer pink. 

birdbath with foamflower blooming on the right
Other spring blooms in the shade garden include epimediums, ajuga, lungwort, lanium, and brunnera.   Later will bloom white clematis, cotoneaster, heuchera, hostas, ligularia, iris, Japanese anemone, and grey-headed coneflowers that I have planted along the sunny edges of the garden.

purple heuchera leaves contrast with that of a weeping Japanese maple
This spring I also acquired a few special native woodland plants - trillium, bloodroot, and trout lily - that I tucked under the growing trees and look forward to seeing in bloom next year.  The shade garden is filling out!


There are still some plants to move and things to do, but I love the progress on my shade garden so far...


...and happily I'm not the only one.


Monday, April 24, 2017

They're Escaping...

In the past, I've blogged about how the deer keep eating the bright and beautifully bold tulips I planted for my hellstrip garden.  I've pretty much given up on trying to grow those red and yellow tulips in such an inhospitable environment, despite how beautiful they were.

Well at least one very smart tulip got the message and planned its escape.  I'm not sure how, but it packed up and moved completely out of my garden...


...and into the middle of my neighbor's lawn.


Smart little plant.  All of the tulips on my side were eaten.  Again.


Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Pussy Willows to the Rescue for Precocious Pollinators

As winter recedes into spring, the pollinators start emerging on warm, mild days. First the gnats, flies, and beetles, then the bumbles and other bees appear, hungry and ready to forage.  Finally now the early blooming flowers of spring are beginning to open here in New England to meet that demand.  But where did precocious pollinators go before now, on those sporadically warm but still barren days we got before those spring flowers started opening?  To find that answer, we have to look up...

emerging Pussy willow catkins
We don't often think of trees as great plants for pollinators, but they are actually some of the earliest available sources of pollen and nectar.  Here the American Pussy Willow, or Salix discolor, is one of the earliest bloomers around and a wonderful resource for bees and other early pollinators.  They break out of dormancy in late winter or very early spring, the distinctive furry coats on their catkins trapping heat from the sun to keep the developing reproductive parts warm.  

bee on male Pussy Willow tree
The furry emerging catkins open into white and yellowish odd sort of flowers.  Pussy Willows are dioecious, that is, they have male catkins and female catkins on different plants.  The earlier blooming male trees have the most to offer pollinators, with their catkin flowers containing both strongly scented nectar and pollen. The female willow trees, whose more greenish-colored catkins tend to open slightly later, offer only nectar.  

bee on female Pussy Willow catkin
While many trees with catkins are wind-pollinated, the Pussy Willow relies on insects for pollination. Its early flowering time proves beneficial, as there is much less competition for attracting pollinators when hardly anything else is in bloom!


The American Pussy Willow is native to much of the northern half of North America, and grows around 10 to 20 feet tall, usually with multiple stems.   Like many willows, it loves water and sun.  It grows wild all around the Red House Garden in the wetlands and in the detention pond we have out back. I love the Pussy Willows, as they are the first sign of the coming spring here.  Now that other trees and spring flowers are now starting to bloom, the Pussy Willows are finishing up for the season, leaves slowly replacing catkins.  Their job has been done...

a tiny pollinator on a male Pussy Willow catkin
...and what an important job it is to those early pollinators.

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