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.

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.

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.

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... 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.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Daffodil Explosion

Ah, daffodils, one of my absolute favorites!  Who doesn't love those cheerfully bright yellow blooms after a long dreary winter?  Here in my garden, it's always a much-anticipated race to see which daffodil blooms first.   The winner is usually the somewhat unspellable 'Rijnveld's Early Sensation', which can even bloom in March here.  This year, sadly, the ones that were almost about to open by the end of March saw their buds zapped by an April Fool's Day freeze.

(That wasn't funny, Mother Nature.  Really.)

Narcissus 'Rijnveld's Early Sensation'
This week, however, the temperatures have risen back up for several amazingly beautiful days, and several varieties of daffodils were all ready and waiting to bloom.

It was a glorious explosion of daffodils in the garden.

miniature daffodils in the hellstrip
Technically tied for first spring daffodil blooms were the tardy 'Rijnveld's Early Sensation' flowers that managed to avoid the April Fool's freeze...

Narcissus 'Rijnveld's Early Sensation'
...and the little 'Tete-a-Tete' daffodils, which opened at the same time.

Narcissus 'Tete-a-Tete'
But they were quickly followed by other daffodils that were eager to strut their stuff.  We had some big bloomers...

Narcissus 'Ice Follies'
and lots of little miniatures...

Narcissus 'Topolino'
and even the tiniest, daintiest little daffodil in the garden came out for the nice weather.

Narcissus 'Mite' starting to open
I adore daffodil season.  There's something about planting all those sleeping bulbs in good faith in fall and getting to see the result when they wake up after winter to joyfully herald the return of spring.

Narcissus 'Monal' starting to open
Here is to many more to follow.
Happy gardening!

Friday, March 24, 2017

Stirrings of Galanthophilism

I wonder if the sap is stirring yet,
If wintry birds are dreaming of a mate,
If frozen snowdrops feel as yet the sun
And crocus fires are kindling one by one:
Sing robin, sing:
I still am sore in doubt concerning Spring.
~Christina Rossetti

a patch of snowdrops in snow
I must admit, for a long time I just didn't get the whole love of snowdrops.  Snowdrops are so ardently beloved that gardeners are known to become obsessed with them.  These passionate snowdrop collectors even have their own name: Galanthophiles (Galanthus being the botanical name for the genus of snowdrops).  However, when I lived down south and could have the bolder and brighter crocuses and daffodils blooming by January or February, this little plant was just so easy to overlook.

However, after having snowdrops in my northern garden and seeing just what these tiny, early-blooming flowers can do, I can't help but be impressed.

In the time since they began blooming at the end of February, my patch of snowdrops has suffered through two snow storms and multiple days of below freezing temperatures.

One month later, they look a little worse for wear but are impressively still in bloom, opening their little battered wings during sunny warm spells in invitation to precocious pollinators.

Having leaves with specially hardened tips to break through freezing soil and containing special anti-freeze proteins to prevent ice crystals from forming and destroying the flowers, this surprising powerhouse of a plant is built to withstand that rocky transition from winter to spring.  The little blooms are even fragrant.

I might end up one of those enthusiastic, snowdrop-loving Galanthophiles yet.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

The Earliest Spring Arrivals

While we now have winter snow and freezing temperatures back in force, the previous days of warm spring weather we've been having were enough to see the earliest spring arrivals here.

Winter aconite - February 25

Crocus 'Romance' - February 28

Snowdrops - February 28

Pussy Willows - March 7

And last, but certainly not least...

Meet George and Charlie.
They are four-year-old brothers we adopted from the local shelter.  They are total sweethearts, and they are by far our favorite early spring arrival!

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

A South Indian Garden

It's been a mild weather here lately, but this winter we escaped for awhile anyway.  The past couple weeks we have been traveling and visiting relatives in much warmer southern India!

Mr. Red House's aunt lives near Bangalore (or Bangaluru, as it is now officially known by), and she is renowned for her welcoming spirit and gracious hosting talents, as well as for her beautiful garden.  I have visited here before, but only in the evening, so I was very excited to be able to enjoy the garden in daylight this time.

Come on in...

....preferably by following the walkway that travels under a thick canopy of flowering vines.

Who knows what you will find?  I believe this extraordinary flower is called 'Duck Plant' locally.  It is likely from the Aristolochia genus, a far relative of our Dutchman's Pipe vine.

One of my daughters checking out a water feature in the garden
The delightful walkway then leads one to the backyard's wide lawn, which is edged with garden beds, including a small waterfall with plantings.

Is that Sansevieria trifasciata (aka Mother-in-Law's Tongue or Snake Plant) I spy planted to the left of the waterfall?  It is so interesting to see plants in garden beds that I think of as houseplants here in our northern climate.  On the other side of the lawn is a more shady garden bed with a row of Peace lilies, another well-known houseplant here.

Though there are definitely also some plants I am less familiar with.  I was quite taken by what I believe is Euphorbia milii (aka Crown of Thorns).

Such vicious thorns, but such vivid flowers!

Another favorite was the Yellow Chalice Vine in front whose spectacular yellow flowers were almost as large as my head.

Yellow Chalice Vine
I also love surprises in the garden, and at the back of the yard there is quite a gem.  One's eye is drawn to the river of red Salvia that borders the back of the lawn...

which leads to a striking stand of Birds of Paradise standing amongst billowing pink Cosmos...

...but hidden behind the blooms is whole other garden.  If one peeks behind the flowers, one discovers a kitchen garden with divided plots for fresh herbs and vegetables.  I love it!

the vegetable garden
The property is bordered by trees and more flowering vines, including several different colors of Bougainvillea.

So many flowers, and such a pretty sight to see in winter!

It was so great to see relatives and visit places that we don't often get to see.  We are now back home in the States, recovering from jet lag, and looking forward to our own flowers in the rapidly approaching spring...

...though maybe still dreaming a bit of tropical blooms and fresh coconuts.

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