delphiniums

Lily-flowered magnolia "Susan" in April 2014

The Rites (and Wrongs) of Spring

Spring has settled in and I’ve done the usual things associated with the season: edging the perennial beds, distributing enriched compost, cutting the grass, seeding tomatoes (indoors), cutting down old dead stuff, and, of course, pruning. Pruning is always a challenge, often involving ladders, rose thorns, and holly prickles. Then there’s disposal of the trimmed off stuff — more thorns and prickles.

But now all that’s done, and the deadheading and watering phase hasn’t started. The garden is looking pretty good (except for certain spots to a discerning eye). Time to list the good and the less-than-good (i.e. bad) things I’ve noticed so far.

The Bad

  • poppy pagoda to protect blue poppies from winter rainAll except one of the blue poppies (Meconopsis) perished over the winter, despite (or maybe because of) being transplanted to deluxe quarters in half-barrels last autumn. Even the specially built roofs on legs, intended to protect them from winter rain, didn’t do the trick. I think my mistake was the pea gravel mulch, which kept the soil too moist through the winter. The sole survivor looks a bit feeble, but I’m letting myself hope it will survive. Local nurseries don’t as yet have any plants in stock, but I plan to give this fussy species another try.
  • The reliable-as-furniture ferns (Dryopteris species and others) haven’t unfurled their fiddleheads yet. Usually by mid-April they are well under way. They’re alive but dawdling. Why? The past winter wasn’t that harsh. Could it be because I cut down last year’s fronds too early, before the last hard frosts?
  • A potted delphinium has, like the blue poppies, succumbed to root or crown rot, probably because I didn’t repot it into fresh, uncompacted soil last year. Delphiniums need that near-mythical combination of “moist but well-drained” soil. If they’re grown in pots, the gardener needs to keep in mind that the soil becomes dense and less well-drained over two or three years. The next winter administers the kiss of death. Goodbye, delphinium.
  • A couple of tulips appear to have “tulip fire,” a disease caused by the fungus Botrytis tulipae. They will have to be dug up and disposed of. This problem is new to me. Those particular tulips have occupied their spots for years — which, I understand, is the problem. The longer they remain undisturbed, the more susceptible they are. If I decide to replace them, the new bulbs will have to be planted in different locations.

The Good

  • The winter massacre of crocuses (most likely by rats) wasn’t as bad as I thought. Some areas escaped completely.
  • A potted hosta I thought was a goner after it was dug and dumped by some creature (probably a raccoon) has sprouted out nicely.
  • The pretty blue* bindweed relative, Convolvulus sabatius, has survived the winter well, unlike other years when it didn’t show above ground until June. I also have hopes that Gaura lindheimeri made it. I still don’t know why this plant, supposedly hardy to Zone 5 or 6, has a habit of dying here in Zone 8. My soil is sandy and well-drained, which is supposedly what it needs.
  • Daylily “Hyperion,” which I dug up and divided in February because it seemed to be in decline due to pushy maple roots, appears to be doing well, both in its old spot (from which I removed a lot of roots) and the two new ones.
  • Clematis armandii foliage and flowers in holly bush

    Clematis armandii and holly

    I managed to prune both Clematis armandii and the holly that supports it without inflicting major unintended damage to the clematis. It tends to grow in loops and figure eights, so if pruning is needed (best done as its blooming period ends), you can’t just snip anywhere. My rule is never to make a cut unless I can see the end of the thing being cut. There’s nothing worse than seeing a whole section of the plant wilting a few days later because of a blind cut.

  • After a dry March, we’ve had an abundance of rain in April. The real test, of course, will be June, July, and August. At least one of these months will be rainless. If it’s two consecutive months, there will be groaning and gnashing of teeth by this gardener.
  • The pink magnolia is blooming heartily. So are forget-me-nots and bluebells. And gentians, which are intensely blue.*
  • The apple tree and lilac have obvious plans to bloom soon. In general, the garden looks fine.
Back garden spring 2018 birthday birdbath

Part of the back garden, featuring the birdbath that was this year’s birthday present. A few birds have actually used it for bathing purposes.

April 6, 2016

Gentiana acaulis

* Like many gardeners, I have a thing for blue flowering plants, many of which are hard to grow (blue poppies and delphiniums, for instance). One type of gentian (Gentiana acaulis) seems to do fairly well here, and forget-me-nots are practically a weed. For them I am grateful.

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The Garden in June: Goodbye Zoey

June 19, 2013

The two main bloom spectacles in June are from roses and delphiniums. This rose is a type whose name is unknown to me but it’s obviously a tough one, since it grows between two Norway maples, slings itself into their branches and blooms with abandon. The flowers are very full, white with a pinkish tint, and fragrant.

Another rose that blooms hard in June is Rosa glauca (formerly Rosa rubrifolia), the red-leaf rose. The leaves aren’t really red, but a sort of blue-green with reddish overtones, quite unusual. The flowers are tiny and not much to look at individually, but a pleasing sight in quantity.

June 9, 2013

Delphiniums are in full bloom now, but I like them best when they are mostly still in bud, with just a few flowers open — great anticipation!

June 19, 2013

Mulleins have this effect too — their growth from rosettes of great big fuzzy leaves up to the point they burst into bloom is a prolonged event. Once in full bloom they are abuzz with bees.

Mullein (Verbascum olympicum)

Mullein (Verbascum olympicum)

A shrub I’ve had for years is finally living up to it’s name — Brachyglottis (or maybe Senecio) “Sunshine.”

June 19, 2013

And we are having sunshine and the first really hot weather of the season (28 C), but there is sadness too because of the death today of our cat Zoey, who had lived here since 2000. She was a sweetie. The garden won’t be the same without her.

Zoey

Zoey

Endless Summer

Summer was late in arriving this year, but now that it has, it appears to be here to stay for a while. Record high temperatures are forecast for the end of next week as the dreaded thermal trough develops off the Washington coast. This phenomenon has not manifested so far this summer, so I shouldn’t really complain, even though I’m not a heat lover. Besides, with sunset occurring before 8 p.m., things cool off pretty fast in the evenings, so I don’t expect the hot nights that would happen in a July heat wave.

And the garden? Well, it looks tired and past its best, the way it should at the end of summer. Once September starts, though, I begin to look for that subtle season I call the “fall spring,” when, after a few rains, plants revive and some even flower a second time. The tired look vanishes, and even though the late-season state of things prevails, a modest beauty creeps in. But the last time we had measurable rain was on August 22, and before that on July 21.

On the other hand, it has turned out to be a promising year for tomatoes, after a rather bleak start. In mid-July I would not have believed that there would be trusses of big tomatoes on the plants that at that time had only flowers and pea-sized fruits. And without rain, there is less chance of late blight disease, which causes brown spots and eventual rot, rather than ripening.

Still very green!

A few things are in bloom — not reluctant, end-of-season bloom, but new and fresh — notably a dark blue delphinium that I dug up from one of my tree-root-infested perennial beds and transferred to a pot. Like its paler blue and pink fellows also living in pots, it has prospered and is blooming, late in the season when most other things are in decline.

The thing is to appreciate what is there and stop fretting about everything else. In gardening as in life.

Delphinium

Bee Watching

This is a double long weekend — Friday, July 1 was Canada Day and Monday is the Fourth of July. After a rather cold spring, it finally feels something like summer here on the west coast. Conditions are therefore in place for one of the best ways to savour a summer day — watching bees.

The garden probably contains more bee-attracting blooms right now than at any other time of year — foxgloves, peach-leaf bellflower, campion, toadflax, lavender, hardy geraniums, mulleins and more. Not to mention shrubs like cotoneaster and privet, whose small flowers may escape human attention with so many flashier ones around (roses, for example), but which are of great interest to bees, and are quite numerous besides.

You can’t go wrong spending part of a warm July morning watching bees doing their thing among abundant flowers. One thing that becomes immediately apparent is how many different kinds of bee-like insects there are, everything from what look like tiny wasps to honeybees to bumblebees of varying sizes, to real wasps and hornets and some creatures that look like a cross between wasps and giant ants. I have to admit that I haven’t as yet been motivated to learn what all these bees and others are, but noticing their variety is an experience in itself.

Bee on Lavender

Among the bumblebees there is an amazing variety of colours and patterns, different arrangements of black, yellow, white and orange. Some bees have prominent pollen sacks, others don’t. A single flower may be visited by a number of bees, while others are ignored. Watching all these happenings is interesting enough to engage the brain but requires no effort or decision on the watcher’s part and is therefore not in the least taxing.

Photographing bees, on the other hand, is not at all easy. By the time you focus and are ready to shoot, the bee is gone or has moved around to the other side of the flower. Or you notice a bee hovering around the delphiniums, for example. Remembering that the centre parts of delphinium flowers are called “bees,” you think What a great picture! and race for the camera. When you get back, the bee has departed and does not return.

I did manage to take this picture, however, and have now decided to end my experiments in bee photography. Bee watching is too rewarding an activity to spoil with the anxieties of capturing the experience for posterity.

Bee on Delphinium