Early or Maybe Not?

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You already know that I am a fan of phenology by my reliance on the oak leaves as a last frost date.

For years, my recollection (backed up by 20 years of written gardening journals) is that our trees are pretty much in full leaf by the first week of May.

Additionally, the dogwood trees bloom for Mother’s Day, along with the lilacs. Other gardeners that I have spoken to confirm these “recollections.”

So is the problem this year the date of Mother’s Day, which is falling in the second week of May? Because while I do have dogwoods (albeit not quite as lush this year as in other years), the lilacs are barely open.

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Perhaps because of the late date, they decided to split the difference!

Is “Instant” Gardening a Plus or a Minus?

It was bound to come to this: “instant” pre-grown hedges in a couple of different sizes. Just dig, drop, and “voila!” You have your hedge or your knot garden or your privacy screen or whatever it is that you’re trying to achieve. The web site of the grower to which I am referring is here, along with the different types of plant material.

So cost aside, the question becomes, is this a good thing? And even I am not entirely sure. For one thing, it does seem that there are “sustainable” planting options offered, like biodegradable planting boxes.

And there are valid reasons to need–or want–hedges for one reason or another. I recall the Christmas that my young abutting neighbor got an ATV that he insisted upon driving around his much too small 1/2 acre lot. “Instant” shrubbery would have done a lot to deaden that sound.

Even now we have another abutting neighbor whose son has a log splitting business. It sounds harmless and charming doesn’t it–until you realize he’s using a commercial log splitter for 4 hours or so at a time. Again, some “instant” shrubbery would be useful here, except that I am not sure that it would grow in competition with the roots of my large pines. (Luckily, he is off to college in the fall! Whew!)

In my retail gardening days, I always advised clients to buy “the largest plant they could afford.” (Actually the way I phrased it was that I always buy the largest plant that I can afford because I am not getting any younger–which still happens to be true). So again, “instant” plants solve a bit of that conundrum as well by taking some of the work of “growing the hedge” away from you.

And yet, even with all of these very positive things, there’s something about this that troubles me.

First are the inappropriately sheered plants that don’t want to be hedges like magnolias, cornelian cherry, viburnum and even sheered arborvitae (nevermind ‘Witchita Blue’ Juniper!)

Next, there is the danger that some folks will order plants that are invasive to their region–here in Connecticut, for example, privet is banned.

And then there is just the idea that gardening–the idea of growing things–teaches us so many things about our soil, microclimate, etc. Now, we can probably still learn that with a pre-grown hedge, but it’s going to be a different lesson–a more expensive one, I venture to say. And since part of gardening involves killing a lot of plants, that’s not how I want to learn, thanks so much!

So maybe this “instant” hedge idea is going to be better for commercial applications and large residential projects. If I were a home gardener (as I am) I think I would prefer to grow my own to learn about them and let them settle in. But, then again, I am not getting any younger.

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?