Deferred Maintenance

There has been a lot of “turnover” as they call it, in my neighborhood. Houses that were owned by older couples are being bought by younger families with children. And this is nice to see. Things like that always reinvigorate a neighborhood.

What’s always a wonder to me, however, is when a growing family buys a house with a meticulous landscape and then, clearly, lets that landscape deteriorate.

We have such a situation–or two–in my neighborhood. And mind you, this has nothing to do with the fact that these folks aren’t maintaining the homes.

In the first instance, they have a lawn service mowing, so that’s fine. What I object to–and perhaps it will be remedied eventually–is that they have ripped out every shrub around their foundation and sunk the home in a sea of black dyed mulch. They’ll discover the consequences of that shortly as the artillery fungus shoots spores all over their yellow home.

In the second instance, the couple bought a house that had shrubs that had been neatly manicured to within an inch of their lives. It wasn’t to my taste, but at least it was a “look.”

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These folks are barely mowing the lawn–and this is one of their specimen rhododendrons. I am sure they haven’t got a clue but I hate to see ancient shrubs killed off under weeds like this. This just makes me sad.

This isn’t a question of money–there’s a huge hulking Lexus SUV in the driveway and the guy roars by me in his Jaguar sports car (an oxymoron?) every morning.

I suspect that they just don’t know plants–or don’t care. But what a shame.

I hope the folks are at least enjoying living in a lovely place.

But at least I know this is not just happening in my neighborhood.

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You can barely see the gold thread cypress under all the Virginia creeper here. There’s even some poison ivy mixed into this mess which is probably why no one will deal with it.

Sadly, this shrub is at a commercial building near my vet. It’s a doggie day care place. I am not sure I would leave my dog at a place where the shrubs are over-run with poison ivy.

Plants Can’t Read

I make no secret about the fact that I am a shrub tester for Proven Winners. And they have some absolutely marvelous shrubs (as well as some marvelous perennials–and stay tuned–next year they are coming out with edibles including a tomato that can take some heat for southern gardens and a basil that is resistant to mildew. Both sound very promising!)

But every so often there’s a disconnect between what a plant should be and what it turns out to be. I call this the “plants can’t read” syndrome. Why do I call it that?

Well, you know those wonderful tags that come with all your plants? They have height and spacing and color and zone and lots are even coming with a QR code now to snap with your phone for even more care information? All that is great to give you a general idea.

It’s usually fairly accurate for annuals which grow for a season and then die.

It’s often accurate for perennials–but not always. Perennials still can surprise you with more–or less-growth than you expect depending on the unique micro-climate of your yard.

But shrubs, in general, have an ability to surprise you, despite what their tags say. Why is this? Well despite the fact that plants are “trialled” by growers, shrubs take a longer time to reach full maturity–so even the growers don’t know their full growth potential.

A couple of good examples of this are the Knockout rose and Endless Summer Hydrangea (Rosa ‘Radrazz’ and Hydrangea macrophylla bailmer, respectively). Here in my climate, both well exceeded their original growth estimates of 4-5′ and 4′ respectively.

My Knockout rose towered well above my head for several years, topping out at about 7′.

My Endless Summer hydrangea was slightly better behaved–it maybe got to be about 5 1/2-6 feet tall and wide. A few abnormally cold winters have caused me to prune both of them back very hard–back to about where they should be, into the 4′ range.

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And then there’s this little issue–a plant that has no idea who or what it wants to be. This plant is a Rose of Sharon known as Li’ Kim (hibiscus syriacus ‘Antong Two’) .

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And this plant is a Rose of Sharon, also, Lil’ Kim.

Here’s a close up of the second Lil Kim’s flowers.

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Notice any issues yet?

According to the Proven Winners web site, the mature size of this plant is 36-48 inches. The white version of Lil’ Kim is currently towering over the neighboring kolkwitzia (another Proven Winners plant that is doing exactly what it’s supposed to! This one is Dream Catcher or kolkwitzia amabilis). Its mature height is listed at 72-108″ and it is about mature at 8′ plus.

So I would say the white version of Lil’ Kim has totally “reverted” to its parentage–and has from day 1, I might add–at no time was this ever a dwarf plant so there is no question of me not cutting out a leader than reverted or something.

With respect to the purple version of Lil’ Kim–what is there to say? She’s still not dwarf and she’s not even the right color!

And still Proven Winners continues to sell this plant. Hmm. I hope others don’t have my experiences!

So that’s just a couple of examples of plants not “reading” their tags and not knowing what they’re supposed to be–how tall, what color, etc.

This wouldn’t be so bad if I hadn’t put them in the front of the shrub border. Ah well….

Hydrangea Time

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This is my favorite time of year in the garden. I don’t grow any roses that are suitable for cutting. But my hydrangeas are, obviously, and I usually have some in bloom from about July 4 until–if I am lucky– early October.

What I particularly like is the way that the blooms change color over the season–and this is true no matter what varieties I am growing.

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The arborescens, or Annabelle, type, with their big white (or I do have pink varieties as well) will soften from white to lime–much like a PeeGee will.

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The pink arborescens fade to a buff color.

And of course, the blues change to muted mauve (but this will happen later in the season for me so no photos yet). Very nice.

I have different varieties coming along as well too. So much to look forward to!

Self-Sowing Hydrangeas?

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I may have posted about this before, but it has never been so apparent as it has this year: there are hydrangeas in my garden that I didn’t plant.

Mind you, I am not complaining, particularly since hydrangeas are one of my 2 favorite flowers (roses are the other).

And, due to a series of “unfortunate incidences,” as I am now referring to things, I haven’t been out in my gardens in any meaningful way since at least 2016–perhaps earlier. It’s getting hard to remember the last time I was really able to garden properly.

So I am blessed that the gardens are almost self-sustaining. And if I can’t do things–or hire people to do them exactly the way I would like them to be done, oh well. Some people have real problems.

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So this is a real treat, and the thing that tipped me off to the fact that, yes, indeed, this is a self-sown hydrangea. Where else are you going to find 2 different color flowers on the same shrub?

I checked–all the pink ones that I planted are accounted for (and further, I do know where I planted them). I am less clear about my whites, but that’s not the issue since I have pink and white blooms on the same shrub. Clearly, my bees have been busy!

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This is a close-up of just the pink flower on one of these shrubs. As far as I can tell, there are at least 3 of them.

What’s not to like?

Bloom Time

This is such a fabulous time of year! It seems that the entire word is in bloom or about to bloom.

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The Siberian Iris, above, and the one below, are around my pond. I was lucky to capture them with raindrops still fresh on their petals.

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Right now shrubs are taking center stage in my yard. In another week or two it will be roses and peonies (I hope.)

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This is one of my favorites and every year it appears here. This is a deutzia, Chardonnay Pearls. The closeup is below.

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When I took this photo, there were little beetles in some of the flowers. Not quite sure if they were pollinators or not but after last year’s “poisoning,” I am grateful for any life that I see!

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This is a kolkwitzia amablilis called Dream Catcher. It took quite some time to grow to its full potential. Now I have to stand in the street to take its photo.

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This is the closeup of its flowers.

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And this is the lovely clump of chives growing right beneath it. It makes a great combination.

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This is spirea media Double Play Blue Kazoo. Its foliage is supposed to have a bluish cast to it, but it’s in more shade than it should be so it shows up as more green. Still, I am not complaining. This is one of the plants that almost got wiped out by weed killer last year in the great poisoning, so I am grateful that it’s alive at all.

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This is the flower, closeup.

By next week, at some point, there should be a whole different set of glorious plants in bloom. This is a great time of year in the garden!

Ticks and Barberry

If you live in Connecticut, you live in the home of Lyme disease. There’s a town called Lyme where the disease was first identified. Lucky us.

But since that first happened some 30 or so years ago, much of the thinking has changed about the causes of the disease.

Don’t mistake the matter: ticks still cause the disease (and no, since so many of you out there have been afflicted, I won’t post photos of the nasty little arachnid that causes it!)

But for awhile it was thought that deer were the primary host of this tick (hence the name “deer tick.”) You might notice that isn’t the popular name for this tick any more. You will most likely hear it referred to as the black-legged tick (as if any of us examine it that closely!)

Now it is thought that white footed mice are the primary host of these nasty little critters. But it’s even more complicated than that. Now we also have to look at habitat as well.

For it seems that in habitat that has an abundance of barberry plants (berberis sp), the tick population is much higher than in places with few or no barberry plants. Here’s a story our local NBC affiliate did on the habitat issue about a month ago.

Why does this matter? Well, it matters for two reasons. First, barberry is an invasive shrub. It spreads by seed. It is not banned here in Connecticut but many places have banned it.

Many of you know barberry as that low mounding shrub, often with reddish leaves (occasionally yellow) and very thorny stems. It has small red fruits in late summer or early fall here in Connecticut that wildlife love–hence the spreading problem.

But when it spreads to our forests and woodlots, you won’t see it coming up as red or yellow. You’ll just see a low green undergrowth. So you won’t necessarily know that it’s the same barberry that came from the garden center.

I have the stuff coming up all over my yard–presumably spread by birds–even though I haven’t planted any and I have no idea where the nearest plant might be. I try to yank it whenever I see it for three reasons: it’s much easier; it’s relatively thornless; and I don’t want it getting out of control to the point where it might produce its own fruit and create this nightmare all over again. Besides, like so many of these invasive plants, once it’s bigger than about 8″, the roots seem to reach middle earth!

I almost hesitate to suggest that our barberry free environment is why I have so far been blessed with no Lyme disease (I was tested again this fall for yet another mystery ailment. They still haven’t figured out the problem–but at least it’s not Lyme disease).

But given the number of hours that I spend in the yard, I do think habitat makes a difference, particularly since we are wooded, on a deer trail and are over-run with mice (and voles).

If ticks are a problem in your yard, take a look at your plantings. Are any of them barberry?

The Mess is in the Eye of the Beholder

My last two posts have talked about sustainable garden clean up.  What does the garden look like if you do this?

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Here’s what you might see under my hydrangeas right now. Why is this good? All sorts of critters are enjoying this–chipmunks, squirrels and blue jays–and no one’s harming the plants.

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Want some more of a mess? This is what’s under our row of white pines. I counted 10 different bird species enjoying this–not counting the chipmunks and squirrels,  of course.

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And for a real mess, here’s one of the gardens that hasn’t been touched in over 2 years (except of course to be accidentally sprayed by herbicide in that poisoning incident.) These gardens are really dry–we haven’t had any rain for almost a month.

But this garden, for the most part, is usually full of lush hydrangeas so what you are seeing is hidden. Not so bad, is it?