Friday, December 22, 2017

Last summer's garden

The Christmas presents are ordered and the cookies are baked, so I am taking some time to look back at last summer's garden.

'Raspberry Wine' bee balm in the big perennial bed.

I have spread starts of 'Raspberry Wine' all around the garden. It is not appealing to deer or voles, which is a great thing. Most of the pests in my garden started being a problem once I had a lot of something, so it's nice that nothing likes to eat it. It likes a bit of food and requires water in hot dry weather or it looks miserable.

The foliage smells wonderful, especially 'Claire Grace'. Stepping on the rosettes will perfume the immediate area. The plant is called wild bermagot because the fragrance of the leaves is similar to bermagot orange, which is used to flavor Earl and Lady Gray tea and Turkish delight.

Just opening up and looking very much like a member of the mint family

'Raspberry Wine' is in the front yard,

the back yard

and east of the house.

<-- To the left and right of the daylillies and phlox -->

It's a great favorite of hummingbirds and bees.

Another great plant for fragrance is sweet pepperbush. The fragrance of the flowers is very nice, a little bit like vanilla, and carries, so you don't have to stick your nose in the flowers to get the scent. All of the pepperbush I have grows wild here. There's a big bank of it west of the old house site and all along the big ditch that runs behind the big perennial bed and east of the old house site.

It also grows along waterways elsewhere on the farm.
Sweet pepperbush blooms in July and insects flock to it.


Dirt dauber

Sand wasp .

Ailanthus webworm moth.

Summer phlox is fragrant too, although I don't find it be very fragrant in the same way that summersweet is; in any case that's fine with me because I'm not sure I love the fragrance anyway. I've noticed that carpenter bees love this plant. I always see a lot of them feeding or just hanging out when I go in and out of the house.

Meadow beauty is another native that blooms during the heat of the summer. It blooms all summer and into fall, as a matter of fact. It's low-growing, less than 6 inches in height, but a mass of these flowers has a lot of impact. This is a group of Virginia meadow beauty that's growing behind the shavings pile. I didn't plant it there, it just appeared. Meadow beauty grows wild here everywhere, from the edge of the woods up above the house to the fields near the creek. I have transplanted a little bit of Maryland meadow beauty (thinner leaves, paler pink flowers than Va. meadow beauty) in the front of the big perennial bed but really should transplant more of both species into the garden.

This is the perfect Hibiscus moscheutos. I grew it from seed, so I wasn't sure what I was going to get, but it's amazing: it's big, rounded, and covered in big pink flowers in the middle of summer. It's a shame that Japanese beetles love them so much. I managed to get a picture before the buggers chewed raggedy holes into the leaves and flowers.

Purple and blue is so cooling in the heat of summer. I grew Stoke's aster from seed sent from the NC Botanical Garden and while the first batch produced flowers of a rather anemic blue, the second batch I grew has beautiful vivid flowers. I have to grow them in pots to protect them from voles.

I wanted powdery thalia after seeing it in a pond in the White Garden at the JC Raulston Arboretum. The flowers are so unique and beautiful, a rich purple with a powdery silver white finish. It's happy in the ditch that runs besides the old house site. Here it is with pickerelweed.

As long as they aren't fooled into blooming too early, we usually get a good crop of wild
blueberries. We had one highbush blueberry (on the left); the rest are Southern black blueberries.

Veering from the subject of native plants, crape myrtles are a summer staple in the Southeast. They are not dependably winter hardy north of Virginia, but are they ever drought and heat tolerant. I grew a seedling of 'Pink Lace' from a cutting

'Pink Lace' seedling

and then the rest of my crape myrtles were grown from seeds from that tree.

They are all over the map in terms of habit. One is quite tall and shaped like a columnar shrub. The seedling pictured above is an oval shrub. The seed parent (the 'Pink Lace' seedling) is an actual tree with about a dozen stems, as contradictory as that sounds. My favorite seedling is the one below, as it also has a true tree form. It's more upright in habit than its parent.

I like how it looks framed by the garden below it.

Alas, only one of my crape myrtles has any fall color, the shrubby little pink one pictured below on the left. It turned bright orange but even that was fleeting.

Now I know why NC State never introduced that 'Pink Lace' seedling. (In my defense, I didn't realize when I started the cutting that neither 'Pink Lace' nor its seedling has any fall color. I didn't realize there were any crape myrtle cultivars with no fall color.) Now I turn a little bit green whenever I see other people's brilliant orange and red crape myrtles in the fall. I don't want to get rid of the crape myrtles I have, as they're beautiful when they're in bloom

and they bloom several times over the summer.

Insects, amphibians, ans reptiles thrive in the heat as much as crape myrtles do. While I am wilting and burning up the butterflies are fluttering around like they're at a party.

Variegated fritillary on tall verbena

Butterflies love to puddle on the minerals they find in the paddock.

Black swallowtail with tiger swallowtails

and a cloudless sulfur in the foreground.

There are always a few sulfurs in late summer, culminating in dozens in the fall. They gather in pools of bright yellow in the paddock that shatter when the butterflies are startled. They rise and flutter, and then fall to form pools again.

Green treefrogs everywhere! They like to hunt for bugs on our living rooms at night.

Redbelly water snake

I'm always amazed by where I see birds' nests in the winter. Many times I've walked right by nests in the summer and wasn't aware of their location until the leaves have fallen. (The parents alarm calling was a sure sign there was a nest nearby somewhere, but I didn't know where.) OTOH, I hear the chipping sparrow babies in one of the pines at the back of the big bed every year. They're so loud it's easy to pinpoint the nest site. Every year the cardinals and mockingbirds nest in the front or side garden. Last year a blue grosbeak nested in one of the rugosas in the front garden.

Blue grosbeak fledgling

A double rainbow over the neighbor's pasture after a late afternoon storm.

I know this post isn't very Christmas-y, and that many of us are more interested in getting wrapped up in a blanket than gardening this time of year

but I thought all of the colors might provide a cup of cheer. Here's a Christmas-colored zinnia to end this post.

Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 11, 2017


I have three camellias in the garden. All are sasanquas, because I feel like a camellia without fragrance is rather disappointing. One is 'Yuma', a single pink and white, 'Mine-No-Yuki', a double white, and the third is a single pink that I grew from seed. I purchased the cultivars from Camellia Forest Nursery a couple of years ago and they are still pretty small. I grew this camellia from seed is 10 years ago. Now it's over 8 feet tall.

I planted it too close to the stalls and now it has a rather two
dimensional look. It has kind of espaliered itself against the wall.

I like that it's in tree form. I didn't limb it up. I want to grow out and cutting and see what form it takes with more room. Years ago I saw camellias in the White Garden at the JC Raulston Arboretum growing as small trees and they were lovely. They were either tea-oil (Camellia oleifera) or tea (C. sinensis) camellias that produced single fragrant white flowers in the fall.

The flowers of this camellias smell sweet, particularly after a warmup, and remain strongly fragrantly for a while even after the flowers have frozen and dried. It's prudent to check the flowers before sticking your nose in it because it's a great favorite of yellow jackets, although the more peaceable honeybees and hoverflies like them too.

Naturally I have seen camellias I covet while driving around running errands. Especially one that has small double dark pink flowers in such profusion that it looks like one of my swamp roses in bloom in the spring. I've got to find one like that.

November is the time for aster 'Miss Bessie to shine. Hundreds of insects
throng to its flowers when its in bloom, like these honeybees

and bumblebees.

Many different species of insects visit the asters: butterflies, moths, wasps, and even flies.

There's usually some roses until December.

'Caldwell Pink' with 'Miss Bessie'

Fall has been slow to arrive here. We didn't get a hard frost until the second or third week in November. Early color was a bust, although that may have only been true for our locality. I don't know about south and east of here, but the second we drove north into Wake County on Thanksgiving Day the color was spectacular. Bright crimson dogwoods, red maples in shimmering shades ranging from golden yellow through orange to blood red, and pumpkin and scarlet oaks.

The late fall color here has been pretty good. I've noticed in other years when we didn't get much fall color early on, we still got late fall color in the latter half of November through to December. Several of the roses are good for late color. Until I started growing species roses and rugosa hybrids here I didn't know that roses could even have fall color. I have a lot of rugosas, all grown from seed except for 'Hansa', 'Foxi Pavement', and 'Sir Thomas Lipton'. They provide beautiful spots of color in the November landscape. The effect is like the golden late afternoon condensed in leaf form, with splashes of orange, red, and pink.

The leaves of prairie rose (R. setigera) are golden briefly before bright pumpkin orange.

Virginia rose doesn't have fragrance like Carolina rose (that one has a
delicious damask rose and lemon scent), but it has better fall color.

A late turning red maple

For the first time I can remember a time when the apricot maple didn't turn, and it could very well be because it's splitting down the middle. Inconvenient to say the least. One half is leaning over the driveway below the house, and the other is leaning over the neighbor's fence. A hazard of big trees with multiple leaders.

It's been a good year for oaks here. Even the willow oaks turned
a golden russet orange. A beautiful oak at the local McDonald's.

A Shumard oak?

Our wild blueberries, the most of which are Southern black
blueberries, never seem to fail, and finish coloring very late.

Like the blueberries the swamp cyrillas never fail. They turn gold
before changing to vivid shades of scarlet and orange in December.

Blueberries and swamp cyrillas are the last colorful woody plants to
lose their leaves. When they are bare I feel that winter has truly begun.

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