Thinking About Shade…
Because I have been thinking so much about trees, I have also been thinking about shade. So many of us garden under trees here in New England, so we are very familiar with shade gardening. In fact, I remember distinctly a couple of decades back now (although it seems like almost yesterday) when my Mom bought a house, she asked for me to help with the landscaping.
Well, she was blessed with full sun. And I had been gardening in shade for almost a decade by that point. I had to completely reverse my thinking to pick out trees, shrubs and perennials for her. In addition, she was at the beach and had very sandy soil–not my heavy clay. It was really a total switch for me. Luckily we found some good garden centers where we could choose some plants.
But it always shocks me when I start thinking about shade–and how I might describe shade, for example–for a lecture I am giving. You come across the descriptions of “part-shade” as 4 hours of sun. That’s totally shocking to me because there are areas which get 4 hours of sun in my yard and I call that “full sun!”
For the record, “full sun,” is described as at least 6 hours of continuous sun. There are very few places in my yard that I have that–in fact, I think the only place that I do have 6 hours of sun is around my mailbox where I grow my roses.
But shade has its own advantages. The houseplants–even those that normally sit in my south windows all winter–prefer a partially shaded site once they’re outside and getting the benefit of true sunlight. And those that like less light prefer it under the shade of my dogwood, which actually throws quite a bit of shade, but still permits some early morning sunlight to get to the plants (before they roast on these midsummer days!)
True shade houseplants actually sit on my front stoop where the shade from the house protects them. Shade from a building is of course total shade–all light is blocked. Some ambient light filters to them from the front, but nothing gets to them from the rear–and they are completely happy and growing like that.
So all shade is not created equal–it helps to remember that whether you are gardening in containers or in the ground!
Spring in Connecticut is always a “one step forward, two steps back,” sort of thing. This week we have actually had a few days of sustained warmth, which has been lovely.
It’s allowed some of the early spring flowering trees to bloom. For those of you that think late April is a strange time for “early” spring bloom, we have very strange springs here in Connecticut. While autumn has become an extended period of warmth, spring has not changed accordingly. Instead, it is an extended period of cool weather, sometimes dry, sometimes wet, sometimes snowy even. It’s not a very pleasant season at all.
But one thing that the extended cool weather does permit is an extended bloom time as well. Bulbs that might bloom for days in warmer temperatures are lasting for weeks.
Flowering trees and shrubs–even that old stalwart, forsythia–also bloom for close to a month!
So while we may shiver for a longer period of time up here in the frozen north, we also get to experience our early blooming trees and shrubs for quite a long time.
Since I hate the cold, I am not sure the tradeoff is worth it. But then again, since I am always so grateful to see the first flowers and color, perhaps it is.
The Point and Place Gardener
Sadly, I have gotten to that age where my cast iron back has given out. My knees gave out long ago. And my ankles are shot too. So for all but the most trivial gardening projects–or container gardening, my favorite type of gardening anyway–I now have to hire muscle.
Hence the title of this post. It actually came about when I was telling the Spoiler about my re-design of the gardens at work.
You may remember this from a year or two ago. I had planted all this myself a few years’ back. I had bought the plants and installed them and they were flourishing–until last year when the roses came down with rose rosette disease. I understand that it is particularly bad on the East Coast–but in a pandemic year, it just made the loss of these roses sadder.
So the roses all had to go and new plants had to come in that were not roses. That was too big a job for me to handle, so as I described to the Spoiler, I had our landscape company do it. I told them what plants I wanted, I told them what cultivars to buy, and when the plants arrived, I placed them–the point and place gardener.
And this is how it turned out. Of course there’s quite a difference–and quite a lot of mulch, which normally I don’t generally use. But when the shrubs are this small, and I am not weeding because this is work and not home, and it needs to look presentable because this is a business, you use mulch.
This area is shady so we used shade perennials. Honestly, I am a little nervous about this because we have woodchucks but we’ll see. I’m thinking that the hosta, especially, look like lettuce to the woodchucks. I sure hope I am mistaken!
We had no sooner gotten everything planted and the woodchuck–whom we hadn’t seen all spring–waddled out to begin dining in our grassy median.
This planting was done right before Memorial Day weekend. I am very afraid to go back to see what’s left on Tuesday.
[Update: I still haven’t been back to see it because of an emergency appendectomy on June 1st with complications. From what I understand, the plants are fine and the visitors–with the exception of our woodchuck–like what we have done. The woodchuck has decided to show its displeasure by tunneling through the mulch everywhere. I have been told there’s a pile in the corner by the steps that we could remove with a truck. Ah well.]
Peonies and Ants
So what’s the deal with peonies and ants? They are almost always found together–but why?
On the theory that nature doesn’t make mistakes, or there are no accidents in nature, let’s examine this a little more closely.
Clearly the ants derive something from the peonies, right? If you look closely, you’ll see little drips of what look like water near where the ants are–if it’s still even there. The ants are after the peonies’ nectar. (It doesn’t particularly show in this photo too well)
So now we have sorted our what’s in it for the ants. Is there anything in it for the peonies? Perhaps. As in other relationships, the ants may protect the peonies from other insects that may want to damage their buds.
Here is an interesting article from the University of Missouri that indicates that the ants may indeed be protecting the peonies from other insects and certainly that the use of insecticides are unnecessary.
I have found a simple way to avoid bringing ants in when I cut peonies. I cut them in the morning, shake them gently and then leave then outside in a shaded place until evening. That generally gives the ants time to leave the flowers of their own accord.
And, of course, cutting the flowers once they are slightly more open–I usually do so even just slightly past the “marshmallow” stage recommended in the UM article–also helps because most of the nectar has then gone from the flowers. Once the nectar has gone, so have the ants, generally.
By using these simply management practices, both you and the ants can enjoy the flowers–the ants outside the house and you and the flowers (minus the ants) inside the house!
Fall Is For Planting
I can see that I am going to have to watch this new WordPress format carefully. In addition to being really finicky about posting in advance, its autocorrect is horrific. I will tell it what I want, and it will go back and auto correct over me a second time. So if my posts seem crazy, I am still working the bugs out on my tablet.
For those of us in the northern hemisphere, days are growing shorter, even if it hasn’t yet begun to cool down where you are.
With any luck, there has also been moisture where you are. That makes autumn the perfect time to plant. Obviously I am not talking about planting annuals, although in many places cool season annuals like pansies can over winter right into next spring.
Similarly ornamental cabbage and kale are hardy enough to survive as decorative plantings until it is time to replace them with warm season annuals.
I don’t live in such a place, but I can still plant many things in autumn for next season. One of the things that I tell people is to think about soil almost like a body of water. You know how a lake or the ocean is slow to warm in the spring, but in September the temperature of the water is still perfect for swimming.
The same is true for soil. Our garden soils are also slow to warm in spring as well so plants put into them in spring get a slow start.
But plants put in now, even though they will be going dormant shortly, are getting put into warm soil. There is less adjustment for them (provided you remember to water).
So it’s a great time to plant perennials, trees (if you can find the variety that you want) and shrubs. Again, you must remember to water, if nature isn’t doing it for you, until your ground freezes. Here, in my cool part of the world, that’s usually late November or early December.
On Monday we’ll talk a bit about spring flowering bulbs–which also must be planted now.
This all looks so nicely composed, doesn’t it? The hanging impatiens above the ferns and the container below, with all sorts of nice contrasting textures from the ferns and the Japanese maple.
You can see by the title of my post that very little of it was planned. Lately, my best gardening just seems to “happen,” (although perhaps that is my imagination and my perfectionism talking).
But I will tell you that I didn’t plant any of those ferns. Nature sowed them for me. I just encourage them by watering (which is a feat, some years, like this one, when I am getting precious little help from nature!)
There is one spot where they don’t want to grow so I put a planter there. It has an impatiens plant the same color as the one in the hanging basket but you can’t tell. It’s been completely overrun by the oxalis. Oh well.
The color of the oxalis at least picks up the foliage of the Japanese maple leaves, and the cordyline. So you don’t miss the impatiens much.
And after I went out to get the impatiens plant, the Spoiler said, “oh. I thought you were going to plant a pot for the lawn.”
So I had to make a second trip to the garden center–not generally a hardship except in a pandemic–for more plants.
And that’s why he’s called the Spoiler.