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Summer 2020: Color Me Purple

One of the secrets of a happy life is continuous small treats,” said the late British author, Iris Murdoch. Since the pandemic turned our lives upside down, taking time to savor the good moments makes a lot of sense. Consider seeking comfort in the garden with the following plants — joyful “small treats” that flourish despite summer’s oppressive heat and humidity:

Albizia julibrissin ‘Summer Chocolate’ (Mimosa Tree) Z 6-9.

copyright 2020 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2020 – Lois Sheinfeld

I am enamored of the dark purple, fern-like foliage of A. julibrissin ‘Summer Chocolate’, an awesome hybrid Mimosa tree. Malevolent voles killed the first tree I planted in the garden. A pox on them! They ate the roots when the tree was well-established and in bloom.  I planted the current tree — shown above — four years ago with sharp-stone vole-repellent. (See post of April 2, 2012: “Hot Tips: Vole Damage Protection”.) So far, so good.

In the early Spring, don’t panic if your tree looks dead. It leafs out late. And the new foliage will be green — but don’t despair, it will change to purple. The tree just likes to fool with us. Summer Chocolate does well in sun or part shade, in well-drained acid or sweet soil. Late-summer pink flowers will attract butterflies. An additional “small treat.”

 

Platycodon grandiflorus (Balloon Flower) Z 3-9

copyright 2020 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2020 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2020 – Lois Sheinfeld

Balloon flower is a summer-flowering, disease-resistant, pest-resistant, long-lived perennial. It is aptly named for its delightful, puffy flower buds. The plants grow in clumps on sturdy stems to about 2 feet and produce flowers in clusters. While I occasionally cut flowers for the house, in the garden I don’t remove the faded flowers or their resulting seed pods. Therefore, I’m gifted with lots of volunteer plants. Yet, be aware: If you want continuous bloom all summer long, regular deadheading is essential.

My plants thrive in organically rich, well-drained acid soil in shade. Choose the planting site carefully. Platycodon grandiflorus has a chunky, fleshy, root system, which — much like the Magnolia — resents disturbance. In Asia, people eat the roots, which are thought to have anti-inflammatory/digestive benefits. Not to everyone’s taste, though.

 

Canna ‘Australia’ (Canna Lily) Z 9-10

copyright 2020 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2020 – Lois Sheinfeld

Canna Lilies are tropical, rhizomatous perennials that love heat, humidity, and lots of water. C. ‘Australia’ with its showy black-purple foliage, and vibrant red-orange flowers that attract hummingbirds, is an easy-care Summer/Fall superstar.

I grow my Cannas in large pots. After the first frost, I remove the dead foliage and stems and then winter store the pots in my unheated basement. I ignore them until late May when I bring them outside. Once the plants are watered and fertilized they quickly grow to full size. I’ve been doing this for almost 20 years. Never lost a plant. And when you plant in pots, voles aren’t a problem. An added bonus.

Be well. Stay safe.

Spring 2020: Mezitt Rhododendron Chorus Part 2

Part 2

All of the Mezitt Rhododendron lepidotes featured here are very cold-hardy, disease/insect resistant, and do well in both sun and shade:

Rhododendron ‘Mrs. J.A. Withington 111’

I adore R. ‘Mrs. J.A. Withington 111.’ In April/May this flamboyant blue blood is entirely draped in a glorious cloak of purple powder puffs. Quite a sensation. As a bonus, the shrub’s evergreen foliage turns bronzy-green in the Fall.

copyright 2020 – Lois Sheinfeld

 

Rhododendron ‘Lilac Crest’

R. ‘Lilac Crest’ is like a lilac-pink-white mini Mrs. Withington. It is more compact and its May flowers resemble little pom-poms. The semi-evergreen shrub’s flower buds are white with lilac-pink tips; when the white flowers fully open, they are flushed with color.

copyright 2020 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2020 – Lois Sheinfeld

 

Rhododendron ‘Landmark’

Garden literature often styles R. ‘Landmark’ as a long-awaited red-flowering lepidote. In the right light and at a distance the flowers may look red. But, in truth, the showy May bloom is a rich dark pink — highly attractive to bees. In Autumn the evergreen foliage turns mahogany-bronze.

copyright 2020 – Lois Sheinfeld

 

For decades the chorus of six captivating Mezitt Rhododendron lepidotes featured here and in Part 1 have flourished in my shady, organic garden and I treasure them all.

My friend the late Hank Schannen, founder of Rarefind Nursery, was also an accomplished Rhododendron hybridizer. Here is Hank’s famous take on Rhododendron plant culture:

12 Criteria For Success With Rhododendron

  1. Drainage
  2. Drainage
  3. Drainage
  4. Drainage
  5. Drainage
  6. Drainage
  7. Acid pH
  8. Dappled shade
  9. Able to water when needed
  10. If containerized, loosen roots (viciously)
  11. When in doubt, plant HIGH
  12. Hmm—More DRAINAGE

Be well. Stay safe.

2015 Year-End Beauty/Spring Promise

copyright 2015 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2015 – Lois Sheinfeld

The sun will soon set on 2015. After the last brutal winter, who would have thought the final days this year would be so unseasonably warm? Morning air even smells of Spring. No wonder the plants are confused. Forsythia and Rhododendron flowers have jumped the gun and opened 4-5 months early. I wish they had exercised a modicum of restraint. Hopefully, others will not follow them like lemmings, for the killing frost will surely arrive any day.

 

Yet, no call for restraint is necessary or appropriate for the fragrant flowering evergreen ground cover , Erica darleyensis ‘Mediterranean White’ and ‘Mediterranean Pink’ (Heath).

copyright 2015 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2015 – Lois Sheinfeld

 

For twenty-five years these low-growing, shrub-like plants have bloomed continuously from November thru early Spring, unfazed by frost or snow. Amazing! Moreover, they are easy care, disease free plants. Provide well-draining soil, regular water, and in order to maintain their compact, dense growth, prune after flowering. There is one downside: voles love ’em! (To avoid vole damage, see my Post, April 2, 2012,”Hot Tips: Vole Damage Prevention”.)

 

 

Another dazzler, Rhododendron ‘Marshy Point’s Humdinger’, has been flowering since Fall and will continue to bloom until frost. Then, after a well deserved rest, this wonderful evergreen azalea will produce abundant bloom again in the Spring. (Spring and Winter Photos below of Humdinger showing off in the garden and in the house. For detailed culture information see my Post, March 1, 2013, “Azalea ‘Marshy Point’s Humdinger’.”)

copyright 2015 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2015 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2015 - Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2015 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2015 - Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2015 – Lois Sheinfeld

 

Colorful berries and buds also add interest and beauty to the December winter garden. Like the yellow-orange fruit of Crabapple X that the birds planted in the garden years ago. (Truth be told, all the crabs I planted have died from cedar apple rust disease, but, for some unknown reason, the bird-planted-crab flourishes. Needless to say, I don’t know the cultivar name and the birds ain’t talkin’. Photos below include Crabapple X’s beautiful buds and flowers as well as berries.)

copyright 2015 - Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2015 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2016 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2016 – Lois Sheinfeld

 

Camellia ‘Crimson Candles’, a hardy, vigorous, disease-resistant variety, is bursting with buds that are just beginning to take on the showy, rich-red color they will flaunt all winter. (Photos below. For more information and a photo of Crimson Candles’s rosy-red flowers, see my Post, “2015 What’s New? Camellia Forest Nursery”.)

copyright 2016 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2016 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2016 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2016 – Lois Sheinfeld

Pieris flower buds are also showing color, as in the photo below of Pieris x ‘Spring Snow’. (I have already written extensively about a number of shade-loving, deer-resistant, fragrant-flowering Pieris, including Spring Snow. For culture information and flower photos of P. x ‘Spring Snow’ as well as P. japonica ‘Mountain Fire’, see my Post, April 2014, “Spring 2014: Snow-White Extravaganza”.)

copyright 2015 - Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2015 – Lois Sheinfeld

 

Finally, the natural splendor of a mossy cushion.

copyright 2015 - Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2015 – Lois Sheinfeld

From my garden to yours: Have a joyous, healthy New Year!

2015: Late Summer Delights

Fall is fast approaching. BEGONE hot, muggy, droughty, weather!!! All too often I’ve had to drag the hose about in a 90+ degree heat wave. Not a great summer, this.

Yet, I would be remiss if I failed to mention a few late summer joys:

Baptisia australis is a multi-stemmed, shrub-like, native perennial with many virtues. In late Spring, the plant flaunts spires of showy, true-blue flowers, which are transformed in August into large, dramatic, purple-blue seed pods. (Pod photo below.)

copyright 2015 - Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2015 – Lois Sheinfeld

Pluck a stem, shake a pod, and you have a child’s rattle. Or, better still, if you are a fan of Latin-American music, a maraca. Traditional maracas are dried gourd shells filled with seeds or beans and then mounted on wooden handles. Baptisia maracas are good to go as is. Great fun!

Baptisias are easy-care and attract butterflies. Unfortunately, they also attract root-nibbling voles. (Check out my time-tested method of vole prevention: April 2, 2012 Post, “Hot Tips: Vole Damage Protection.”) Hybridizers have had a go at Baptisia and scores of cultivars are now available with flowers in various shades of blue, purple and yellow.

 

Rhododendron prunifolium is a problem-free, deciduous, native azalea that attracts bees and butterflies. In my shady organic garden, a small plant has grown into a 12 foot tall, 4 foot wide, sensation, reliably cloaked every August with masses of vibrant orange-red flowers. This year I’ve paired it with a container of the equally sensational, hummingbird favorite, Canna Lily Tropicana (a/k/a Canna ‘Phasion’). A fabulous combo. (Photos below.)

copyright 2015 - Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2015 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2015 - Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2015 – Lois Sheinfeld

 

A strange, beautiful bug visited the garden this summer. I called the Cornell Cooperative Extension and they provided an I.D: Sphinx moth. (Photo below.)

copyright 2015 - Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2015 – Lois Sheinfeld

Apparently, these interesting, heavy-bodied moths aren’t uncommon here, but I never saw one before. It’s most welcome! If you have a question about a bug or a plant, Cornell is an outstanding resource. Call their free Helpline: (631) 727-4126, Monday-Friday, 9 a.m.-noon.

 

And finally, everyone loves our newest summer attraction: Swanee.

copyright 2015 - Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2015 – Lois Sheinfeld

The Sweet Apple Gardening Book

DSCN1840

Winter is here.  The plants are asleep, safely tucked under a soft blanket of fallen leaves and dreaming of fragrant, warm Springtime breezes.   A perfect time for me to snuggle up by the fire with a good book. Maybe one about gardening.

But not a garden book crammed with monthly to-do lists, or plant lists, or lists of lists.  Nor one dashed off by a writer who doesn’t garden, yet for some reason feels empowered to give gardening advice.   A wrong turn if ever there was one.

No, I’m after a hands-in-the-dirt storyteller, a gifted writer passionate about plants and willing to tell-all about their gardening trials, tribulations, and joys.

Like Celestine Sibley.   Sibley, who died in 1999, was a reporter and columnist for the Atlantic Journal and Constitution and the author of over a dozen books.  My favorite, The Sweet Apple Gardening Book (Doubleday, 1972; Peachtree Publishers, 1989), is a wise and wonderful, homespun, often humorous account of her hands-on gardening life in rural Georgia.

“The doing is the thing,” she said about gardening.  “And if by some happy chance you should have a little success, ah, the satisfaction that is!”

Just consider her experience with roses.  At first she styled them “an exclusive club that blackballed me at every meeting.”  And then suddenly her luck changed when she discovered “a rosebush with the will to live”, a mislabeled “nameless little pink semiclimber that gives me a bloom or two almost every day between April and October.  Not enough to set a rosarian’s pulses hammering, I know, but one of its blooms on the table in a rose-painted cream pitcher … makes me feel like a millionaire when I sit down to breakfast.”   (Haven’t we all had a similar experience?)

And I relish her take on pest prevention:

“There’s a Theory circulating among my friends and neighbors that I don’t rise up and do battle against the creeping, crawling, hopping, flying, boring, sucking wild life that makes free with my garden because I’m either too lazy or too squeamish …. And while there’s an element of truth in this theory, it’s not the whole truth …. I do worry that I might kill villains and heroes indiscriminately ….”

Common sense also prevailed when she commented on Vita Sackville-West’s idea to plant an apple seed in a flower pot to commemorate a birth, and then to watch, according to Sackville-West, ‘the growth of the infant tree keep pace with the growth of the human infant.’   “It’s a happy idea,” said Sibley, “but if you’re in a hurry and more interested in fruit than ceremony you might do better to buy a dwarf tree.  After all, the baby has passed the seed stage and the tree might as well be up, too.” Amen!

A great admirer of Thomas Jefferson’s fifty-eight years of meticulous garden record-keeping (“How I love that Garden Book!”), Sibley most appreciated the planning bits.  “Mr Jefferson did a lot of this”, she said, “and along about mid-July I wish that I had done the same. That is the season when the what-might-have-been’s get you.  It’s too late to plant many of the things that you really meant to get into the ground last spring. Maddeningly enough, you can’t even remember what many of them were.”

Finally, in the Epilogue of the 1989 edition of the book, Sibley summed it all up:

“Since I wrote this Book 17 years ago I have edged forward a bit and I have backslid a bit. My garden knowledge and accomplishments have been — to use both a scriptural and horticultural reference — no bigger than a mustard seed, but my pleasure in working the earth has doubled and redoubled.”

Double ditto for me.

How I love this garden book! I think you will too.

Driveway Garden

Some plants have great survival skills and problem-solving smarts.  When voles invade their soft, cosy garden beds, rather than meekly accepting extinction they pack their bags and move into the protective sharp gravel, vole-safe driveway (and paths), where they flourish and increase.  Siberian Iris and Astilbe are two good examples.

copyright 2012 – Lois Sheinfeld

 

 

copyright 2012 – Lois Sheinfeld

 

copyright 2012 – Lois Sheinfeld

 

My driveway is prime real estate — the Central Park West of the garden.

Even Digitalis grandiflora (syn. D. ambigua), the yellow foxglove, which owing to its toxic nature is rarely bothered by voles, never misses an opportunity to add to  its driveway holdings.

copyright 2012 – Lois Sheinfeld

Actually, in lieu of a driveway, a gravel path will serve the same purpose. When I thought the voles finally got every last one of my Grape Hyacinth bulbs I was surprised and delighted to find them popping up in the stone paths. (Ditto for the digitalis.)

 

copyright 2012 – Lois Sheinfeld

 

copyright 2012 – Lois Sheinfeld

Needless to say, I’m especially cautious and restrained when weeding. You never know what wonders you may find—or for that matter where they may be found. ( See also the Nov. 2011 post, “Prunus ‘Snow Fountain’ “).

As Louis Pasteur once said: “Chance favors a prepared mind.”

Hot Tips: Vole Damage Prevention

Some say when the earth comes to an end rats will be the sole survivors. My money is on voles.

Voles are underground terrorists and my garden’s Public Enemy No.1. They may look like cute, plump mice but these rodents are the spawn of the Devil and guilty of outrageously bad behavior.

After burrowing under ground they are active day and night eating plants, bulbs, roots of trees and shrubs —most everything really, they aren’t picky. Laburnum, styrax, edgeworthia, roses, camellias, azaleas, lespedezas, astilbes (Big-Mac for voles), epimedium, daylilies, woodland orchids, and even toxic hellebores and foxgloves have been ravished and killed. I could go on and on. Nothing is safe.

Female voles as young as 4-6 weeks can mate throughout the year—-that is, when they aren’t eating. Once pregnant, gestation is only about three weeks, and each litter can have 3-6 young. (One reference said up to 10 young). Do the math: With that sort of reproductive ability they can, in a very short time, overrun a planet, much less a garden. Pretty darn horrifying.

What’s an organic gardener to do?

While I harbor murderous intent, poisons and traps that also endanger beneficial wildlife (not to mention beneficial family members) are out of the question.

We have had some success with Sonic Molechasers that repel voles and other borrowing rodents with penetrating underground sonic sound at 15 second intervals. (Despite the name, moles are not my problem; they eat slugs, not plants, though voles are opportunists and will take over the moles’ sub-soil tunnels). But Molechasers are powered by batteries and therefore useless in winter when batteries run out and can’t be replaced. I was heartbroken one Spring — when the snow finally melted— to find several beloved camellia plants, loaded with buds, lying on the ground rootless and dead.

What’s an organic gardener to do?

Well, I found a natural solution that works: VoleBloc, a non-toxic soil additive consisting of coarse particles of slate,  protects plants because voles have sensitive skin and avoid tunneling through abrasive material.

So far so good. Here it is April and my camellias are still rooted and happy. Ditto for all the plants treated with the repellent. (Note: while this winter was unusually snow free, for purposes of an accurate test I did not replace any of the Sonic Molechasers’ dead batteries. VoleBloc was on its own).

Protecting plants from predator damage is never ending. Experience tells me that nothing is foolproof at all times and in all circumstances. So with that caveat, I’m happy to say that VoleBloc is working now. I’ll keep you advised.

Addendum April, 2013: I can no longer recommend VoleBloc. Not only has it become prohibitively expensive, but the voles ate the roots of two VoleBloc treated plants this past winter. I’m now trying something new. More about that soon.

August 20, 2013: I now highly recommend 3/8 Burgundy Red chip, sharp particles of stone that reliably protects plants against voles, at less than a quarter of the cost of Volebloc. I purchased the stone at Southampton Masonry in Southampton N.Y., (631) 259-8200.

2015: The Burgundy Red chip stone still works. For maximum protection, place the plant on top of a layer of stone in the planting hole, mix some stone with the planting soil, and then, after planting, place a layer around the plant.