Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Heptacodium miconoides

This is one of my favorite trees, commonly called Seven Sons Tree. It has only been grown in this country for about the last 15 or so years, or at least in general commerce. It has wonderful peeling bark after a few years, which is a nice asset in the winter, but the best part is what comes after the white flowers you see in the picture. The flowers come in August or September, and after they are done, there are hot, shocking pink calyxes which will remain on the tree, sometimes until November. They will rival any fall color on anything, except for maybe Aesculus obovatus. It isn't a huge tree. Our oldest one is approaching 15 years old and is probably 20 feet tall. It is rather fast growing. It will want to be a multistemmed tree, sometimes many multi stems, but it is easy to keep that down to 2 or 3. Full sun or light shade seems to suit it best, probably similar to what a dogwood might like. It's gotten a lot easier to find and would be a nice addition to anyone's garden.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Daylily Seedlings

I think this is one of the best of this year's seedlings. We make a number of crosses every year and most either look too much like the parents, or are just not all that special. Every once in a while, there is one that just plain stands out. This one isn't named yet, and won't be available for a few years since this is the first year it has bloomed and there just isn't enough yet to sell, but you can be sure it will be available eventually. At some point in the not too distant future, I'm going to get a section up on the webpage for the seedlings as there are a few others which we will probably introduce. This particular one has extremely tall bloom scapes. If you notice from the camera angle, I'm looking up at the bloom. It's on a hill which accounts for some of it, but the scape is at least 5 feet tall. We have been breeding for tall scapes, things to put at the back of the border but which will still stand out, and this is about average height for that group of seedlings. The exception is the one with the 84 inch scape. The flower is less showy than this one, but it's still pretty amazing. Tomorrow I'll put up a picture of the one that will be available next year and talk a little about the actual process of hybridizing and growing daylilies from seed.

Saturday, July 28, 2007


Compared to growing a lotus, waterlilies are a piece of cake. Sure they come with lots of instructions, but once you plunk them in the pond, assuming they aren't eaten and they get plenty of sun, they usually do just fine. A lotus is another matter - the prima dona of the pond flowers. This one is Shewanbatsu - and I haven't a clue how that's spelled. This was taken yesterday and today it is more open and you can see the yellow center. The center part which become the seed case is what you can buy in places that sell dried flowers. A lotus needs lots more room than a waterlily. We have a couple of smaller ones that are confined to small tubs, but the full sized ones need their own ponds. This one has a pond that is about 8 feet across and the Imperial lotus lives in a 10-12 foot pond. They start out slow, but once they have made themselves at home, watch out.
The trickiest part is getting the darned thing planted. You have to dig them in early spring, just as they're starting to wake up from the winter, but you also have to be sure the water they come from is the same temperature as the water they're going to. The tubers, or bananas as they're called, have one end that is a growing tip. Any damage to that, even touching it too much, may cause the plant to die. Once established, they're hard to get rid of, but extreme care is needed to get one started. They're heavy feeders also, so be sure to give them some fertilizer in the spring. Whatever problems they might give you in the beginning, they show they put on from midsummer to frost is well worth it.

Friday, July 27, 2007


Cattails have a bad reputation for being invasive and overwhelming for a pond or bog, but there are several civilized ones out there. The picture is of a striped one, even though it's kind of hard to tell. I had hoped to get closed, but didn't feel like risking falling into the pond. The leaves remind me of a white and green striped grass, often more white than green. The like to grow at the edge of a pond or in a bog, but can be grown in a pot just like the waterlilies if you need to have more control over them. Two others you can use in smaller ponds are Typha laxmanii and Typha minima. Laxmanii is about 3 feet tall with very skinny leaves. It is mostly a scaled down version of the regular cattail. Minima is really tiny, only about a foot tall and the leaves are round rather than flat. They have "cats" - what d0 they call those things at the top of cattails - that are little round balls rather than rectangular ones. They can be used in even the smallest ponds.

Thursday, July 26, 2007


This is probably my favorite waterlily of all the ones we grow. The color in the picture looks a little light to me, but it is a lovely rich peach color and just blooms and blooms and blooms. It had been eaten by a snapping turtle last year and wasn't too happy, so this year it got it's own pond and has responded wonderfully. It is a full sized water lily and so needs room to grow, but is perfectly hardy. Unlike most of the non-tropical ones, it holds it's blossoms up in the air just like the tropical waterlilies do. Although they need space to spread out, they don't need a really deep pond. In zone 6 at least, and farther south, 30" of water is plenty. The crown of the plant needs 6-12 inches of water over it. We fertilize with fruit tree spikes once a year in the spring. Our waterlilies are planted in large, flat pots that remind me of miniature kiddie wading pools that are about 2 feet across, but only about 8 inches deep. You can just let them loose in the pond, but pond gardening is easier if they are in pots. We can rearrange them and even take them out if we need to make repairs to the pond liner - something we would have a really hard time with if the plants were growing in the muck at the bottom of the pond.
If you don't have the space for a large pond, this little lovely is Tetragona alba. It will happily grow in a large tub on the deck or as one of several miniatures in a small pond. the flowers are silver dollar sized and prolific. It is the first to open in the morning and the last to close at night. Though tiny and delicate, it is every bit as hardy as it's larger cousins. If you're planning a pond project, just remember that koi and waterlilies are not good companions. Unless the waterlilies are caged, the koi will have them for lunch. Goldfish are fine and won't bother them at all, but koi are hard on plants. Snapping turtles will also eat waterlilies, and they should be caged if snapping turtles are a potential problem in your area. Both miniatures and full sized waterlilies come in a rainbow of colors, though blue is only available in tropical ones. We kept a small tropical in the greenhouse over the winter and put it back out this spring. It lives in a old fashioned bathtub. It had to get a screen over the top because the deer wanted to eat it. No one ever said that gardening wasn't an adventure!

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

There is a reason for these two pictures which were taken from about the same spot one year apart. The one on the left was taken last year at the peak of daylily bloom. The gardens were a riot of color and it seemed like every one of the 1600 different daylilies and 1000 seedlings were in bloom. This year has been a hard one on daylilies. After being alternately frozen and roasted this spring, they had barely gotten started when the drought started. To heap on top of that, the deer, who are hugely overpopulated here, are staving because there is so little for them to eat in the woods and little to drink because the creeks are dry. It won't get better because the acorn crop failed because of a late freeze. The result of this is that, even with constant spraying of deer deterents, they ate 99% of our buds this year. We caged a few of the new things we really wanted to see bloom and that is the only way we say most of our blooms this season, and though I dearly miss the color and beauty of the daylily season, it may have been a blessing of sorts for the plants which didn't have to expend a lot of energy blooming and could put the energy into just staying alive through the drought. We have watered as much as possible, but with one well and 7 acres of gardens, the watering is to keep things alive rather than very lush. In a normal year, Liquid Fence is all we need, but starving deer don't care how bad things taste. They even walk into our ponds and eat the water lilies. Any suggestions, other than fencing which is way out of the budget right now, would be welcome.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Our Hillside

I mentioned 2 days ago when I was talking about the Aralia elata how people really noticed it. I thought I'd put off talking about those pesky deer for a day and put up this picture. The white tree in the center is the Aralia, so you can see why people notice it. When we bought this place in the early 70s, this hillside was just a hillside, nothing else there. For awhile it was an orchard, but the fruit trees stopped bearing well, as older fruit trees do, so about a dozen years ago we started taking out the fruit trees and putting in other gardens. The large conifer on the hill were planted 30 years ago and look now like they've been here forever. People find it hard to imagine this as a cow pasture, but that was the reality. The back garden was a hog wallow and part of Lake Amanda was where the chicken house was. This was a working farm for about 100 years, the land having been given as bounty after the Civil War. Our house was built in about 1869 and the barns, not long after I expect. We have a coal mine where they got the coal to heat and cook, though it is a very thin seam, only about 6 inches think in most spots, and would be a lot more work than I'd want to do. I could go on with the history of the area, but this is a gardening blog, so I'll end here. On to deer and rabbits tomorrow.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Aquilegia 'Woodside Strain'

I just love variegated plants, though I guess you have to have something green so they stand out. This is an aquilegia (columbine) which has variegated leaves. Flowers are single, but the color is variable. I've seen pink and white, and the last two that bloomed had dark blue/purple ones with white centers. The leaves often come up all green in the spring with the variegation really showing up after it gets warmer. I think a little sun also helps give more variegation, though these will grow in a bit of shade also. One of the nicest things about them is that they come true from seed, so you'll have enough to transplant to other places in the garden or trade with friends. I also have never had a problem with them being eaten by deer or rabbits, but more on critter problems tomorrow.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Aralia eleta 'Silver Umbrellas'

We probably get more interest in this plant than any other in the garden. It sits on the side of a hill, along a path, above a bank of daylilies, amidst other trees and shrubs, but there's no mistaking it's there. It is sort of like a white cloud, very airy and light. It has a neighbor, an identical tree except with green and gold variegation, but that one is hardly noticed. Today the honey scented flowers are just starting to open and the small bees are all over it. The tree is literally humming. It was rather fast growing and ours at about 10 years old is probably 10 - 12 feet tall and multi-trunked. Ferns seem to grow quite happily underneath in its shade. If there is a drawback, it would be that it is a grafted tree and the understock has a tendency to send out suckers. They are easy to remove, though thorny, and it if were in a lawn, you could easily mow around it and solve the suckering problem that way. It is hard to find as the graft is apparently hard to make and pricey when you do find it. Give it full sun and good drainage and it will pretty much take care of itself.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Blooming Today

This is Veronica 'Sunny Border Blue'. It was new here last summer but has all come back even after the horrible winter we had and is one of the few things that is blooming right now, even with our horrible drought and the marauding deer who are eating most everything else. This Veronica is about 18 inches tall and seems to like a sunny spot, but will also tolerate light shade. The flowers are more purple than they show in the picture and it will continue to bloom until frost. I bought it on a whim, but it was a good addition to the garden. I'm starting to add more Veronicas since the newer ones seem to be less tempermental than those I tried a dozen years ago or so.

This week's rain has helped the garden, though some things will probably just wait it out until next year to put on a good show.