Thursday, May 25, 2017

Red House Garden Pop-up Restaurant

Have you ever been to one of those trendy pop-up restaurants where a celebrity chef opens a restaurant for only a limited time?

Yeah, me neither (and I'd hate to know just how much it would cost for a meal at one), but I love how right in my own backyard there seems to be an array of different pop-up restaurants for pollinators all throughout the season (and the meals are free!)   All the pollinators and their mothers seem to swarm to the hot new location until the spread is over, and then it's off to the next act that pops up in the garden.  And for the past couple of weeks, the hot new place in the garden was...

....the Carolina Silverbell tree, aka Halesia carolina.

This location has caused quite the buzz (literally).  Pollinators of all kinds have been swarming to dine from its hundreds of white bells full of delectable nectar and pollen.  I have spotted all sorts of bees, bugs, and even hummingbirds feasting here when things were open for business.

The Carolina Silverbell is normally a small understory tree or large multi-stemmed shrub and prefers partial shade to full sun and moist, slightly acidic soil.  It is native to the Southeastern US, mostly found in the mountains and Peidmont sections of the Carolinas, hence the name.  I first saw a Carolina Silverbell tree in flower at Duke Gardens when I lived in North Carolina, and I knew I (and all the local diners) wanted one in my own garden.

a Carolina Silverbell at Duke Gardens
My tree is only about 5 or 6 feet tall now (more like a shrub, really), but eventually Silverbells grow to be 20 to 40 feet tall and 15 to 30 feet wide.   They are hardy from zone 5-8 and like some protection from wind.  The wood is rather soft and close-grained, making it valued for wood crafts.  They bloom their small white bells for about two weeks in April or May.  There are also pink-blooming varieties, such as 'Arnold Pink'.

Carolina Silverbell may be only be a limited-time-only pop-up restaurant for the pollinators in spring, but it does offer more bounty for wildlife at other times throughout the year.  Its leaves are hosts for several different moths and squirrels eat the seeds.  I am also very curious as to how this tree got its nickname of 'Opossum-wood'...  (Anyone know the story to that one?  Should I start expecting opossums to move in and partying at my Silverbell tree?)

It is now almost the end of May, and my Carolina Silverbell has finally finished flowering.  The show is over, the restaurant closed up, and the swarms of hungry diners have moved on to find the next eating establishment to pop up in the garden.

I wonder if they will enjoy the next place quite so much?

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.

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