Transition

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Here in the United States, today is Labor Day–a day that many folks think of as the “end” of the summer season. Students go back to school (if they haven’t already) and the “carefree” attitude that many adopted in July and August seems to evaporate.

As much as I try to hang on to a summery attitude–at least until the official start of autumn on September 23 this year–nature doesn’t always cooperate with me. This is what I am seeing.

The plumes of that “annual” pennisetum in the above photo are already more brown than red. In fact, birds have harvested some of the brown stalks completely, a sure sign of coming autumn.

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And of course, here are the ubiqutous maple “noses” although these are only half formed. These are the seed pods of various maple trees–in this case, my neighbor’s Japanese maple. There were some double podded ones–the ones that gives them the name “noses,” but their color wasn’t nearly so pretty.

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My common milkweed, going to seed.

In my town, we go back to school tomorrow but most of the towns around us went back last week in a heat wave (unlike most of the country, we here in Connecticut do things by town not county. So the next time you think your state government is inefficient, remember that we have 168 of them in the 3rd smallest state! Ugh!)

But back to school is definitely the “end of summer” for a lot of people. So savor today!

Sterile versus “Fruitful” Flowers

We all think about planting for bees and other pollinators most of the time, I think. It’s constantly in the news that our pollinators are in trouble, so if we have the choice of planting a shrub, perennial or even an annual that will provide some nectar, why wouldn’t we?

At first glance, these two flowers seem fairly similar, don’t they? Yes, one is a single form and one is a double. One has green leaves and one has variegated leaves. Those are the obvious differences.

What’s not so obvious–and what took me a few years to figure out–is that the flower on the right–the double variegated form (Sugar Tip Rose of Sharon or hibiscus syriacus ‘America Irene Scott’) was sterile–in other words, it made no pollen for the bees.

This is a double edged sword because for those of you who know the characteristics of a typical rose of sharon, you know that unless you deadhead them after bloom, you will have fields of seedlings to contend with. And they root deeply too.

But the bees–and even hummingbirds–do love them. That pollen laden cone (made up of anther, stamens and filaments), in the center of the flower is generally covered in bees. This particular variety even has a red eye to draw in the hummingbirds. (This variety is Lil Kim, or
hibiscus syriacus ‘Antong Two.’)

So what to do? Does that mean you shouldn’t plant Sugar Tip? Well, obviously, I wouldn’t be taking my advice if I said “no!” I planted it in a spot where I clearly didn’t want a lot of self-sowing seedlings from another sort of hibiscus and that’s worked out quite nicely.

It does sort of break my heart when I see the bees visiting, though, looking for nectar that I know they won’t find.

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!

Parking Lot Landscaping That’s A Bit Unusual

I am sure that I am not the only one that is fascinated with parking lot and strip mall landscaping. For the most part, there is a lot of sameness to it–Knockout roses and Stella D’Oro daylilies. There’s a reason for that–it works because those are very tough plants.

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I’ve had this photo on my blog before, a few years ago, in the middle of a drought after a very cold winter. At that point, these river birches (betula nigra) looked dead. I am delighted to see that they have recovered but I still find them an odd choice for an island bed in the middle of asphalt because, as a general rule, they are a somewhat thirsty plant.
Nevertheless, they do seem to be thriving.

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This planting is in the same general area. Yes, there are daylilies, but no Stella D’Oros in sight. And the coneflowers are a delight. I walked over for a closer look, expecting them to be devoid of life, but I found several types of bees on them.

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It may be a little hard to see but this flower in the foreground actually has two big bumblebees on it! What I hope that means is that these beds aren’t pesticided to within an inch of their lives. It’s quite refreshing.

So every so often even commercial planting can surprise me–in a good way.

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?

Garden Re-Imagining

So I have been talking about how I like to use plants as living mulch. This idea is gaining traction with some popular garden design books, most recently the very well received Planting in a Post Wild World.

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This is what that looks like in various parts of my yard where it is already established. Here is my rose garden around my mailbox. The “living mulch” is catmint “Walker’s Low” and golden hops.

This is a raised bed–actually a bed created on top of my driveway and behind a stone wall about 5′ high. The bed is so large that it contains a native dogwood that was planted when the house was built–so 60 years ago. There are numerous other shrubs in there are well, including one of several Japanese maples on the property. While it faces east, because of the dogwood, it is mostly shaded. I am encouraging moss and the ferns that have naturally begun springing up to cover the rest. While it is still in progress, it is progressing quite well and is a lovely, shady oasis.

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My “wildlife” garden, which is a mix of native and non-native shrubs and perennials, is also a work in progress. Most of it has filled in nicely and needs no wedding or cultivating each year.

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The front corner has never managed to do well, however. It is on the northeast side of the bed–perhaps it’s too shaded by the other parts of the bed, or by overhanging trees. Whatever the reason, I have replanted it several times already. So needless to say, I haven’t managed to get any sort of perennial ground cover in there yet–unless you count the grass!

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In fact, as I was on my hands and knees patiently weeding out all the grass before replanting, I overheard a couple walking by. The man remarked to the woman “That’s why perennials are better…” The rest of his comment was lost to me as they continued on. Just as well. Little does he know that annuals have never graced this bed. Perhaps little does he know, period, or he’d see that the entire rest of the bed is perennials, and shrubs.

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In any event, here is the result of my weekend planting. Two swamp milkweed, two agastche, two liatris, three black-eyed susans, a mountain mint and a tanacetum (apparently I never learned the rule that everything needs to be planted in 3s!) There’s a dwarf Joe Pye weed yet to come, but a rabbit nibbled it down to a stalk and I have to wait for it to regenerate to “garden” size.

And yes, everything is spaced much closer than the “rules” say they should be on the tag. How else will I ever get my living mulch (and shade this ground so all that dreadful grass doesn’t grow back?)

After all, these are perennials–they can always be divided later–provided this time this corner really does grow!

And also, remembering my post from Monday, these are all pretty much blues, yellows or oranges–good butterfly attracting colors, of course, but also now my “preferred” garden palette. We’ll see how it turns out.