A perennial favorite, this is the blog where I “dish the dirt,” or rather, confess my horticultural missteps. I long ago found that in formal gardens it is more difficult to hide mistakes, so I seem to have plenty of topics. The solutions or resolutions offered up are for this growing zone (6B) and our micro-climate here, at Parterre. A year from now one solution may not have worked, so please take this for what it is–one gardener chatting to another…no guarantees!
I’m a devoted tree lover, so I’ll start with a new specimen addition to the property–the rare and difficult-to-locate Cornus controversa ‘Variegata’, beloved for its layered branches effect (the reason it is also referred to as the “Wedding Cake Tree”). Our original Cornus (now fifteen years old) is on the lawn near the dovecote and is named Coco.
Our new one, the “heir and a spar” nicknamed Coco Puff, is across the lawn. The deer discovered her the afternoon she was planted. The solution? A quick scramble to put up staked deer netting. Since it will need to be in place for at least four to five years, we have dressed up this netting configuration with painted 8′ stakes in a large cut corner square that will accommodate growth as well as lawn mowing needs. Recent under plantings with the evergreen ground cover, ‘waldsteinia’, will fill in the dirt area.
We have many varieties of hostas, the vast majority of them in shaded areas throughout the property. Loving them as I do, I tried to identify a cultivar that would work in the sun, in my fave shade of yellowy chartreuse to add pop to a narrow, high-profile bed (on the left).
No go! Pretty while they lasted, but they soon became burnt and crumply. The solution? Pivot! Next year we shall give up on the bright chartreuse version and plant a delicious hosta’ Blue Angel’ that shows off its yummy shade, even more with sunlight. Stay tuned…
Why can something so gracefully tall, so charming with its small shell pink flower, be so invasive?? Japanese anemone, also called “wind flower” for the way they sway in the wind, are known for invading other adjoining flower beds and literally suffocating their neighbors (like rose bushes). We dig them out in the masses each year and they insist on returning the following year.
The solution? Plant them in pots and then cut them for arrangements in the house. They may not last long but they make an elegant statement, greeting me as I come down the stairs in the morning.
Euonymus in all its myriad selection of leaf size, color variations and evergreen nature, was a staple of our original plant list twenty-two years ago. For all their aesthetic variety, they are not very accommodating, or perhaps it was that we had stretched the boundaries of their use, employing them as design features (euonymus ‘Gaiety’ for hedging in the Orangerie parterres).
The solution? Accept the fact that they are a vine (that bear unattractive galls) and doesn’t shape well. While euonymus have worked well trained on a 10′ fence in the Fountain Garden, we’ll be substituting variegated boxwood for the borders in the four Orangerie beds.
Heuchera is another plant I’ve grown to love (much to my frustration). Each year, the plant world creates yet more yummy shades to entice me. But even its handsome leaf shape cannot make up for their temperamental nature. Too much rain…they get soggy; too much sun…they burn out. And who knows what each winter will add to their disappointing performance. Given the large swaths in which they are planted, it’s becoming an expensive exercise to keep replacing large chunks each summer in the Green and White garden’s design spirals.
The solution? Keep the ‘Black Pearl’ spiral in the other herbaceous border but switch out the ‘Plum Pudding’ spiral (above) for the deep bronzy purple astilbe ‘Chocolate Shogun,’ a particular variety known for its ability to withstand more sunlight in cooler climates than other astilbe.
Who doesn’t love clematis? And especially this beauty. But sometimes we forget two abiding lessons about clematis…they like their feet warm and their heads cool; they also don’t love growing in pots. ‘Piilu’ is one of my faves, but communicated its dissatisfaction with its placement by dying off in the middle of the summer.
The solution? Be wary of overhead water sources, like a roof overhang or gutter.
I started with Coco Puff and the deer problems; I’ll close with a love story. The site for the original Cornus controversa ‘Variegata’ (looking lace-like in the setting sun)…
was chosen to help disguise the very large, bare trunk of a hundred and fifty year old gingko on the edge of the woodland. Fifteen years later, that exposed twenty foot high trunk has sprouted seventeen branchlets, each of them reaching out in Coco’s direction.
At last sighting, they were holding hands. I love this confirmation, right here on our property, of the premise in the book, The Hidden Life of Trees, that trees do, indeed, communicate and have “feelings.”
In closing, yes, I have to confess that where we get in trouble is stretching the boundaries of normal usage–which we’ve been doing from the start. And I wouldn’t have had it any other way. We have enjoyed myriad successes over the years that you have a chance to see on the posts as well as Instagram…and frankly, thinking outside the box is more entertaining and exhilarating!!