Saturday, March 31, 2018

Late winter/early spring

We lost Prissy on the 13th. She had just turned 20 years old and she went as peacefully as possible. It's very painful anyway. We still have her brother Tommy and he looks bright and purrs all the time, but he has cardiovascular problems and arthritis.

I don't feel up to looking through her pictures, but I wanted to mention her because she was such a big part of my life and often kept me company while I worked in the garden and always cuddled with me on the couch. I love her and miss her so much.


For a brief moment I thought I had a name for Eva's daffodils when a commenter posted that they look like 'Sir Watkin' (which they do), and then I looked at the height listed for SW. It's over 2 feet tall. Not surprisingly it is also known as the giant daffodil. I'm having trouble even imagining a daffodil that tall. lol It would be nice to have a name, but so many daffodils have been introduced over the years that I don't even know where to start.


Eva herself may not have known the name of these daffodils because most of her plants were passalongs.

Spring looked as though it was going to arrive really early this year after some really warm weather in February, then temperatures cooled off again and the rate of spring moderated to something more reasonable. Still, I doubt I will get the garden cleaned up in time and that's OK. The garden will have shortcomings that I touched on in the last two posts and I have work to do to get the garden where I want it.

I may replace the Japanese beautyberries in these pictures. They look nice in the fall, but they don't fit in with the rest of the bed. They're still leafless while everyone else is going full whack. One winter the bluebirds went crazy over the fruit but that was 9 years ago. I think because there are so many fruiting shrubs in my garden they just don't seem to be interested in them anymore.

Eva's daffodils finished up about three weeks ago after blooming a month early but the other daffodils - 'Quail', 'Trevithivan', 'Sweet Love' and 'Thalia' started at the usual time and are in full bloom now.

I always wanted blue violets in my garden. I had to introduce them as they do not grow wild here.

Three other species of violets grow wild on the farm: marsh violets, early blue violets (which are not at all early), and a tiny white violet that's either white bog violet or primrose leaves violet. I've tried the first two in the garden and I couldn't make them happy. Marsh violets demand constant moisture. Early blue violets, like their cousins birdsfoot violets, need open space. I transplanted a single bunch of the white violets into the front garden so I'll see this year how they do. Blue violets, on the other hand, can form a carpet when they're happy, although the numbers I get can vary a lot from year to year. They've been blooming for over a month now.

It seems that this redbud and red maple have been blooming forever too, and the orchid purple and soft orange make a striking combination. In fact the red maple is blooming it's heart out so much that I'm wondering if this is its last hurrah. As you can see it's splitting down the middle. Funny enough there is one redbud up top that's blooming at the same time as this one, while two others on either side are just starting to open now.

The American holly by one of the horse pastures had a lot of fruit this year.
It grows by a big ditch that originates south of the big bed, runs by the old house site, then turns and runs parallel to the horse pasture before continuing on to the neighbor's farm. There's a whole maze of these mini waterways going to the creek that borders our property. The holly's roots were undermined by all of the rain we got with Hurricane Floyd in 1999 and it fell over. But it survived, and several leaders have grown up. It was much more beautiful as a conical tree with a single leader but in a year with decent rainfall it fruits as heavily as ever. Most years in late winter flocks of robins and cedar waxwings descend upon it and strip its fruit. I happened to be down there cleaning up the bed by the gate when a flock of cedar waxwings were feeding. They were being a bit skittish but I got a few pictures.
I see and hear cedar waxwings often, well into the month of May. I usually see them as silhouettes though, flying from the tops of trees that are over 60' high. Ironically until last week the closest looks I'd gotten of cedar waxwings the past couple of years was at the grocery store when a bunch were feeding on the pear trees in the parking lot. No, Bradford pears are in fact not sterile. Bradford pears cannot breed with each other, but they can breed with other pear trees. I can attest to this as seedlings are now popping up all over my farm.

I think these birds are so gorgeous, with their black masks and ultra sleek feathers.

Showing the red wingtips for which they are named.

Of course, mockingbirds love the fruit too, and one of the resident mockingbirds spends most of the winter lording over it.

I finally got a couple of pictures of a pileated woodpecker! I see them often, as they like to feed in the tulip poplar stand above the house (where these pictures were taken), and in summer I frequently see them flying back and forth across their large territories.

You can just barely make out the red "moustache", indicating this is a male.

He felt comfortable enough to do a bit of preening. The horses were probably still in the paddock behind the house. Wildlife isn't nearly as alarmed if I am near the horses.

I know a lot of birds will be happy if I am slow to get the garden cleared up. There are throngs of song sparrows and white-throated sparrows here each winter and they love the cover.

Song sparrow. He or she looks adorable.

The red-shouldered hawks are nesting near the house again. This past week one of them surprised me the other day by landing on something (cotton rat?) about 15 feet away from me while I was working in the garden. The hawk looked a little surprised too. I think he or she was so focused on the prey that they didn't notice me.

Monday, March 5, 2018


Spring arrived here over a week ago. I'm not ready, but Mother Nature
doesn't care! The first set of daffodils (early mid season) are in full bloom.

I spent a lot of time the last 2 springs dividing daffodil bulbs after they finished blooming. I knew that afterward the bulbs would take a few years to increase back up to big blooming clumps, but I wanted to spread the bulbs from Gene's grandmother's garden all over the big perennial bed and around the house. (Her name was Eva and I have many no ID plants from her garden named after her now.) I can't buy more because I don't know what they are. They are strong bloomers, increase well, and are very reliable. They are those early spring yellow daffodils that are my absolute favorite kind.

A wild serviceberry in the background.

There's still a lot of room for more daffodils around the house, so I added around 300 daffodil bulbs over the last couple of weeks. I wait until the foliage from the daffodils in the ground comes up in January and February before adding more.

  • 50 'Carlton', a yellow large cup variety that was introduced in 1927. Brent and Becky's Bulbs writes in their catalog that it is "one of the best perennializers especially in the South" and has a "vanilla like fragrance".

  • 100 'Sweet Love', an ivory jonquil with butter yellow cups, "incredibly, sweetly fragrant" according to Brent and Becky, developed by B and B, "very vigorous with multiple bloomstalks with multiple flowers; mid-spring".

  • 50 'Avalanche' sweetly fragrant tazetta, snow white petals with a lemon yellow cup; many flowers (another name for it is 'Seventeen Sisters'), registered in 1955. Bloomslooms early-mid spring

  • 50 'Silver Chimes' a white Triandrus with tazetta ancestry, a strong grower and late bloomer. According to Scott Ogden, author of Garden Bulbs for the South, it's "one of the best daffodils for heavy clay soils, one of the tried-and-true Southern daffodils". Sweetly fragrant with white petals and a pale yellow cup.

  • 25 'Petrel', a white Triandrus that B and B describes has having "exceptional fragrance; wins lots of ribbons in shows", and a mid-late spring bloom time.

  • 5 'Bridal Crown', a double, described by B and B as white and saffron, with a heavenly fragrance, 3-6 flowers per stem, early-mid spring.

  • 5 'Erlicheer', a double, yellow and white, sweet fragrance, several flowers per stem, early-mid spring.

  • 5 'Ginter's Gem' a glowing yellow Triandrus developed by B and B, very floriferous, increases well.

  • It always amazes me how many daffodils I'm going to need. Those 300 bulbs were just enough to fill in next to the front sidewalk and the bed along the east side of the house. I ordered 'Avalanche', 'Silver Chimes' and 'Sweet Love' from Van Engelen, because the quality and prices are outstanding. The rest came from Bent and Becky's Bulbs . They have a great selection and have developed several daffodils themselves. I first read about them in Passalong Plants.

    I planted some hyacinth bulbs as well. Gene's grandmother grew some old blue Roman hyacinths, which unfortunately were lost when the voles in my garden ate them. This fall I'm going to order some from Old House Gardens. I went ahead and got 'Pink Festival' and Blue Festival' from Brent and Becky's, which they describe as the next best thing to the old Roman hyacinths. I put them in bottomless pots with gravel on top. If that doesn't keep the voles out (and it very well may not), I'll just put the Roman hyacinths in pots.

    Planting the bulbs went very quickly (made especially easy in the sandy soil near the house), so I think I will order twice as many bulbs over the next couple of years, and that might be enough to fill in the beds around the house. I want a mass of yellow daffodils just when things are just starting up in the spring. So I plan to order more 'Carlton', as well as 'Saint Keverne' and 'Delibes'. All are large cup daffodils and bloom early. B & B describe 'Saint Keverne' as a great perennial daffodil everwyhere, even in the South. It's a yellow self. They describe 'Delibes' as "a terrific perennializer and an old standby". It has bright yellow petals and a yellow orange cup with a vivid orange rim. For the wetter parts of the garden I plan to plant early jonquils. Jonquils are fine in soggy conditions. I read that in Garden Bulbs for the South by Scott Ogden. I'm annoyed that I have not been able to find a match for the beautiful delightfully fragrant jonquil that we found growing in a field at Howell Woods . I have tried Campernelles, but have found them to put out a lot more foliage than flowers, and I don't think the fragrance is as good as the Howell Woods jonquil. So I'd like to try 'Derringer', an early mid season lemon yellow jonquil with a golden orange cup.

    Once I have enough early mid season daffs for a good display I will likely still order some more, as there are so many I want to try to grow. Just in the jonquil class alone there are several I want to try, and there is still loads of room in the big perennial bed below the house for daffodils. Extra early daffs like ‘Rijnveld’s Early Sensation’ would be nice.

    Narcissus pseudonarcissus, also known as Lent lilies. The earliest daffodil I currently have.
    Very graceful and beautiful but not quite as long lasting or resilient to heat as the ones from
    Eva's garden.My double Lent lilies (also from Eva's garden) bloom later and are quite sturdy.

    Like a lot of gardeners I imagine I am obsessed with daffodils for a couple of months each spring. How about you (if you can grow daffodil where you live)?

    Sunday, February 18, 2018

    Baptisias and the big bed

    In 2016 the baptisias put on the best show they ever had. Gene remarked that at last they looked as good as the ones as the NC Botanical Garden and the UNC Arboretum. They were big and full and really beautiful. Unfortunately, I also had the most losses, by far. I grow them in bottomless pots mulched on top with sharp gravel, and for years that setup was sufficient to keep the voles at bay, but not anymore. I added more gravel, but to no avail. These supervoles didn't care and just powered right through it. The only thing that stopped them was metal mesh nailed down with landscape anchors in the fall, which has to be taken back up again in the spring. That's far too time consuming and there are too many other tasks in the garden that need to be done. I blame this image I have in my head for my bullheaded persistence in trying to grow these plants:

    Baptisia alba and iris Jesse's Song with rose Cl. Old Blush, late April 2009

    Ironically the real stars of the show in the picture above are the rose and the iris.

    I have tried to grow baptisia and iris in this bed ever since, but iris don't like the competition they get from other plants in the bed and voles ate the ones that were flourishing. As I said in an earlier post, I am experimenting with laying the rhizomes down on wire mesh. The voles can still eat the roots, but the only way they can eat the rhizomes is if they do so above ground.

    late April, 2008

    Another issue at play is that even though Baptisia can sometimes form a beautiful round full shape (this varies a lot between individual plants that aren't clones) , they don't provide the sort of bones that woody plants do. There's the added problem that every few years the Genista caterpillar strips every leaf off of my Baptisias, leaving a tangled mess of stems. The leaves do not grow back and the stems die back much earlier than they normally would.

    late April, 2009

    If I end up losing a bunch of them, which seems likely, it'll be a shame. I grew most from seed. They're a range of habits and colors and the closest thing to lupines that I can grow. But they're not practical to grow anymore now that the voles are so determined to get to them.

    I have written before about adding more bones to the bed and am slowly working on the issue. I have added some woody plants toward the back of the bed the last 2-3 years: about half a dozen Southern black blueberries from cuttings from plants on the farm, a summer-flowering native azalea with pink flowers (swamp/Piedmont azalea cross), a St. John's wort (Sunburst'), and Rhododendron 'Snowbird' (a coast/Piedmont cross). I'd like to add more native woody plants, although in my experience it's difficult to find native shrubs for full sun that don't get very large. I'd love to add some small trees but I won't, because even more I love to have a clear sight down to the pasture. I had thought about trying to grow cuttings of the non-native roses 'Hippolyte' or 'Veilchenblau', but they are so sprawling. This summer 'Hippolyte' looked terrible. The leaves turned an ugly rusty color before falling off. It's not an issue where it is now because there's so much willowleaf aster 'Miss Bessie' that it's covered up by high summer. But I don't need another one in the center of the bed.

    'Miss Bessie' willowleaf aster, June 2016. 'Hippolyte' hidden in the back.

    Natives that top off at around 6 feet, have four season interest, be happy in full or part sun, and tolerate short term flooding: this seems to be a difficult brief to fulfill. When I look around here I see sweet pepperbush, chokecherry, Virginia sweetspire, swamp azalea, American beautyberry, hearts-a-burstin, sweetbells leucothoe, Southern black blueberry, highbush blueberry, possamhaw viburnum, and blackhaw. The only ones that don't get large are swamp azalea, sweetbells leucothoe, and Virginia sweetspire. For part sun I'm considering swamp and coast azaleas, leucothoe, and sweet pepperbush 'Hummingbird' and 'Ruby Spice'. Virginia sweetspire does well in either sun or shade but doesn't seem to color well in fall unless it gets a lot of sun. For part sun to full sun, I plan on adding our native spirea and more golden St. John's Wort.

    There are 2 native roses in this bed, Virginia and Carolina roses. I love them but IMO they don't have the sort of form that provides good "bones". They both have beautiful pink flowers; Carolina rose has a delightful rose and lemon fragrance while Virginia rose has dramatic red and purple fall color.

    Virginia rose left and center

    Carolina rose on the left

    If you have any other suggestions I'd be happy to hear them!

    Saturday, February 10, 2018

    Backwards or forwards?

    The beds around the house came together much faster than my older beds. I find this a little ironic because when the site was graded, everything was demolished and then pounded to the finish of cement in preparation for the house foundation. The ground remained so hard that a few years later Baptisia roots couldn't penetrate it; they'd go down around a foot through the compost I put down and the super acidic sandy topsoil the contractor put down, hit the hardpan and then just run parallel to it. Sounds terrible, right? Yet I got great results. I put down a thick layer of compost, put plants in, and they took off, unhindered by competition from other things like the blackberry canes, native bamboo, Chinese privet and various vines that compete with plantings in my other beds.

    Some areas of the garden have gotten better and better, such as the daylilies, but the May garden I liked better a few years ago. It'd be nice if gardening was always a steady progression forward but it isn't always so. In fact in my garden that's hardly ever the case.

    The area east of the house ranges from almost xeric to downright soggy. The bed next to the house is dry, while the larger beds get runoff from both the roof and areas further uphill.

    Geranium from Powell Nursery, May 2015

    Geranium and foxglove, smooth beardtongue, and evening primrose.

    The peonies and foxglove appreciate the sharp drainage next to the house. I should add more peonies in spite of their short bloom time. The flowers are so spectacular. Unfortunately voles have eaten the roots of almost all of the columbine the past 2 winters. I was so fond of them too, especially the purple ones.

    The old Southern standby 'Festiva Maxima'.

    Further east there is a large bed dominated by daylilies on one half

    with the rugosa cross 'Sir Thomas Lipton', a mockorange, and bee
    balm 'Raspberry Wine' on the other. The two halves are separated
    by a narrow path covered with the flowering groundcover Mazus reptans.
    I first saw Mazus at Niche Gardens in their display garden, in a half shaded area next to a pond. It completely covered an area of at least 20' square. I bought some from Niche to try it out. Honestly I expected it to shrivel up and die in the full sun, as wet areas in my yard tend to spend as much time crispy as they do soggy, but not only has it lived, it's spread over 20 feet to cover the length of the path.

    I never meant to end up with as many daylilies as I have, but daylilies are one of those plants that entice one to collect them, like roses, iris, and dahlias. Like iris they can be tricky to incorporate into a mixed planting.

    I have tried to add some spring interest among the daylilies, with varying degrees of success.

    Smooth beardtongue

    In the past I've had a good stand of smooth beardtongue but they have not persisted as they have in some other places in my garden. In my my azalea bed are some smooth beardtongue that's been there about 10 years now. In addition to perhaps not enjoying wet winters, they also likely suffer from competition from the daylilies. A few of them, such as 'Bleu Celeste' and citron daylily (Hemerocallis citrina ) form quite large clumps of foliage, and even though newer cultivars have less of the strappy foliage, I have so many crammed together that the effect is the same. Still another issue is that mistflower has snuck in there and that spreads quite aggressively. I like it but it's a bit weedy, to the point of crowding the daylilies. Inevitably part of it dies from wilt too.

    I've tried a few other plants as well, such as marsh phlox,

    wild geranium,

    purple geranium,


    and Gulf Coast penstemon.

    Gulf Coast penstemon appears to just be a biennial, so I have to keep those going from seed.

    Some years I get the effect I want, sometimes I don't.

    The plant that has flourished the best is the purple geranium. Some years it blooms before the daylilies and some years with, which is very nice. All of that purple is a good complement to the daylilies.

    The effect of the May garden is currently overwhelmingly white, due to the size of both the mockorange and 'Sir Thomas Lipton'. I knew that mockorange can get big, as our neighbor in Pennsylvania had several large mockorange, but I didn't know they got this huge in the South. I also didn't know that 'Sir Thomas Lipton' could get as it has big here. It's an offspring of 'Clotilde Soupert' and Rosa rugosa alba, and neither one of those gets above 4' in my garden.

    In fact, 'Clotilde Soupert' has never topped 2' in my garden.
    I'm still looking for just the right spots for the 2 I have.

    A few years ago two 'Hansa's and the China/Gallica hybrid
    nicknamed 'Delia's Purple' featured prominently in the scene.

    'Clotilde Soupert' in front, 'Hansa' on the left and 'Sir Thomas Lipton' on the right, 2010.

    'Blush Noisette' with 'Hansa', 2010

    'Hansa' and 'Sir Thomas Lipton', 2011.

    Delia's Purple, 2013


    Delia's Purple with Cl Caldwell Pink

    The 'Hansa's melted away after three or four years, as all of mine have, but I keep replacing them as I love the color. 'Delia's Purple' has been overwhelmed by the mockorange. I moved it into a pot for planting next year, and I hope I don't lose it this winter. I wasn't expecting a low of 5 degrees.

    I still have one decently sized purple rose just across the driveway from the mockorange, but it blooms later. 'Violette' is a climber that may produce more lateral blooming canes if it had support, but for now it grows among the asters and the bee balm.

    And the honeysuckle. 2 or 3 times a year I have to whack back several feet of
    honeysuckle that throws long tendrils out among the plantings next to the drive.

    Best fragrance in the world though. It's absolutely divine.

    So until the two newest 'Hansa's size up, I'm relying on other plants to counteract all of the white.

    Mockorange with rugosa 'Foxi Pavement'

    Marsh phlox in the background

    This really vibrant variant of rugosa rubra has very vibrant fall color too.

    Iris virginica

    I'd really love to reintroduce more jewel tones with columbine and iris. Columbine would need to go into bottomless pots, as voles have eaten almost every columbine I had, and the way the woody plants and bee balm has grown has made finding good spots for iris a bit harder. Iris would need to be protected from voles, too. I'm experimenting with placing them atop metal mesh in other garden beds. If that works I will try iris here again.

    Examples of what I'd love to grow successfully around the house (again):

    'Crimson King'

    Last year I set out several Siberian iris in bottomless pots. For several years I
    enjoyed big clumps of flowers like these, then the voles discovered and ate most of them.


    Noid iris

    'Dusky Challenger'

    Seedling of Geranium 'Brookside'

    Another noid from Gene's grandmother and 'Jesse's Song'

    Not a jewel tone, but I miss the short white accents from this iris from Gene's grandmother's garden.

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