Daylily Amnesia

Wasn’t the daylily bloom spectacular this spring? Daylilies danced all over the garden. Some we greeted joyfully as old friends come back for a visit. Some we welcomed as prodigals gone awol for a time.

‘Monet,’ an all-time favorite of mine, so I can’t forget the name

Others were, what can I say, except, “Where did these come from?” Or, “Did I really plant these?”

What was it about this year? More sunshine from trees we’d removed?

Terribly rainy weather here that left us awash in muck? (I don’t think daylilies like drowning.)

Timid deer that kept to garden perimeters? (I’d sprayed Liquid Fence soon after most plants budded, since our deer seem to prefer crunchy buds to floppy petals. Did I actually nail it?)

Our “ditch lily,” not native but naturalized here, wanders round the garden

Probably none of the above. What’s canny about the luscious bloom is this: even gardeners who live in different latitudes with different weather and different growing conditions are crowing about their stellar daylily bloom.

I shouldn’t be surprised. It happens every year. Not necessarily daylilies.

One year it was hellebores. I was so proud I’d finally gotten them to grow well, then learned that gardeners up and down the coast had wonderful hellebores that spring. (Instant deflation.)

Wild and woolly, these bring color year after year

Ditto for hydrangeas across the miles, good and bad years. Bloom on viburnum, too, seems to wax and wane in harmony with distance. I chalk it up to one more garden mystery that eludes me — and keeps me humble.

Which brings me to the mystery of Daylily Amnesia. You ask me about any plant I grow, the barest of twigs, and I can locate it in the time it takes a mosquito to land and bite. Ask me about daylilies when they are not in bloom and I freeze.

How could I forget the name of these reliable, 18-inch sweeties? ‘Mini Pearl’

Each spring I say I will get them right. But the moment the last bloom falls, I’m lost in a haze of naked bloom scapes.

Was the yellow one over there, or was it the peach? And where was that nice red one?

I wander with camp shovel in hand, a glazed look in my eye, wondering where those favorites once were, the ones I was sure I wouldn’t forget, the ones I was going to divide, the ones I was going to combine to create indelible, memorable color combinations that I’ve already forgotten.

Scrumptious no-name yellow

I have tried to be smart about this. From my very first purchase I faithfully recorded names on plastic plant labels and started lists.

Yessir, I made lists and I duly filed them in safe places. Didn’t matter. I could never put the names with the colors.

Names like Tiffany or Shooting Star or Summer Ruffles don’t give much of a clue about colors.

Affectionately known as Double Orange, this strong grower wanders around our garden

I figured if I deepened my knowledge my memory would improve.

I took classes offered by nurseries and master gardeners.

I learned good stuff about fans and scapes, diploids and tetraploids, daylily trials and daylily medal-winners, big blooms and small blooms, early, mid, late bloomers, the tall and the short of them, strong stems (good, obviously), evergreen habit (best for the South).

Great classes, great teachers. Didn’t take.

Jazzed-up Double Orange  aka ‘Kwanso,’ surround a glass garden ornament by Linda

I bought the first daylily I saw that I liked. In the heat of swooning over the bloom, checking pedigree was the last thing on my mind. Strong stem, weak stem, who cared.

Mystery plant suddenly bloomed near the path. Turns out my daughter gave it to me last fall (at my request). ‘Frans Hal’, an oldtime and popular daylily 

I bought daylilies I liked from growers I liked, mostly local, and the growers would give me nice freebies, which of course required more memory work.

During a trip to New England many years ago, my daughter and I lapped up a couple dozen daylilies at a growers’ sale before we realized we had no cash.

Clutching our prizes, we must have looked pretty crestfallen. After a split second of indecision, the kindly grower took pity on us and told us to take them home and send him a check “when you have a chance.”

When you have a chance! I relate this incident merely to illustrate how acquiring daylilies was a happy, haphazard affair.

No-name apricot

Apparently growing them is a happy, haphazard affair for me, because I can’t remember where I’ve planted them the day after they stop blooming.

Most daylilies are pretty happy in most climate zones, but after our purchase, I learned that some daylilies grow best in the north, others prefer the south.

Wonder which ones we bought? And where they are in the garden. . . .

Twins, small and low

One day I had an epiphany. I wasn’t all that interested in remembering the names of daylilies. What was important to me were the colors. I decided to write colors, not names, on tags. Not basic colors like Red or Yellow. Too simple. Too vague.

I would write a little essay on each tag: “subtle pink, hint of orange; yellow throat w. greenish tint; tall; late; strong grower; large bloom.” To ensure my notes would endure, I used pencil, because pencil doesn’t fade like marker.

Yellows brighten a woodland nook with faded stokes aster and joepye weed and hydrangea in he backgound

I went one step further. I carried pencil and paper with me, tucked in my pocket at all times for taking notes about current plantings, possible divisions, and smashing combinations. Then I filed the paper in a safe place. The record keeping took hours, probably days.

And did I mention? I took copious photographs, particularly from angles that would illustrate garden locale. These I planned to use as cross-reference to my notes.

‘Brownie Boy’, a bonus gift, blooms up a storm and blends well in groupings

Sorry to say, all that work didn’t help my memory.

When I checked in spring, either I had no idea what my scribblings meant.

Or they had become an illegible scrawl caked in mud.

Or a squirrel had snagged the tags.

My VIF, or Very Important File had apparently rejected my crumpled notes, so photo cross-referencing was out.

‘Brownie Boy’ with roses

Then there were daylilies that were never tagged because the deer got to them before I did or stringy plants had such fleeting bloom they escaped my vigilance.

Sometimes my notes didn’t apply. If daylilies aren’t coddled with good sun, good soil, good moisture, they can get persnickity.

“Tall reds” grow short on dry ground, “strong bloomers” are stingy in shade, and “reliable plants”  faint away if our hard-pack is not laboriously enriched.

Sweet lavender, reliable but retiring, difficult to combine with other colors

You are beginning to wonder now, Why all the fuss?

You ask, Why not transplant daylilies while they are still blooming?

After all, you buy them in bloom. Just cut ‘em back (fans, that is) and plop ‘em in and hope they can stand up straight and finish blooming.

Then you wouldn’t have to decipher all that chicken scratching.

One has to recognize one’s limitations.

Tall red duking it out with wandery woodland sunflower

I happen to be an unbalanced high-stepper in the garden, and a simple but awkward lunge in a tight border (jungle) can bring on disaster.

Wish I could greet this one by name

I dread the sound of snap crackle pop as buds break off. Think what damage I could do if I were lunging and wielding a tool.

And all the more chance that stubborn, fleshy roots will break, especially if they embrace roots of shrubs or trees.

Good gardeners use spading forks to minimize root loss. I use a small camp shovel, inefficient, ineffective maybe, but it suits my size. Which may be why I wind up with five frilly yellows down the road when I am pretty sure I only planted one, which further addles my amnesia.

Volunteer phlox, along with rudbeckia in the background

Our daylily season will end around July 4.

Crepe myrtles will take on starring roles in the landscape at about the same time that daylilies in New England are coming on stage.

I hesitate to deadhead those last lonely blooms. It’s like a final curtain call.

All that’s left is cleaning up rangy, tattery, duly labeled but now anonymous plants while summer bows to autumn’s rolling pageant.

In the true spirit of hope-springs-eternal-in-the-gardener’s-breast, I am content that I have, this season, devised yet another cure for Daylily Amnesia.

An unnamed favorite

I will tell you about it next year, if it is successful.

A hint of skepticism behind my optimism reminds me that, after all these memory-challenged years, the new system might, just might, be deficient.

The surprises next spring will keep me humble – and happy.

Author’s Note: The unnamed daylilies in this post are the products of my record-keeping.

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Flip Flop Spring

A Chronicle in Three Parts

Part I: April Flowers

The saying goes: April Showers Bring May Flowers. It didn’t happen quite that way this year. One fine April day, Bob went round the garden taking pictures—of flowers, not showers. You’ll see serenity bathed in wan sun of an early spring. You’ll see favorite azaleas in bloom. You’ll see a quince, ‘Jet Trail,’ in bloom since January, lately festooned with native honeysuckle. You’ll see a bench inviting you to set a spell.

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Part II: May Showers

Here’s the switch, though not exactly showers. One misty day in early May, a 10-minute storm full of sound and fury barreled in from waters to the south. Hail and pine cones hurled themselves against the house like grenades. Rain swirled and sheeted till there was no world out there. Straight-line winds and tornadoes headed down the canal toward our little piece of Eden.

Garden beds near woods were strafed by shattered forest debris that would continue to drift down for a couple of weeks. Torn limbs, some pretty hefty, straddled shrubs, maybe mauled them, then slid down out of sight. It took us a while to figure out the damage.

You’ll see the hundred-year-old oak that lost its head. You’ll see a bank of uprooted and flattened trees. You’ll see a maple split in two and hanging over the slip. You’ll see a toppled arbor. You’ll see a mess. (The canoe is a remnant left from Hurricane Isabel.)

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Part III: Diesel Powers

A couple of weeks later James and his sons arrived with chain saw, tractor and grinder. They tackled the maple overhanging the slip first, then cleaned up massive limbs torn off the oak. Uprooted and fallen trees we left in place to protect the shoreline from erosion.

You’ll see the front loader snaking carefully through the woods hauling maple logs which would become edgers to paths. Oh, and that’s Bob meditating and then getting down to business. You’ll see the feeding of the grinder, though you won’t hear its sputtering and roaring. You’ll see a spray of chips, deceptively fine and powdery, emerging from the grinder. Then you’ll see the chips going straight into our garden beds to become mulch. The best kind of mulch there is.

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The trees live on.


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Plight of a Pickle Pail

Hey, does anyone remember I’m out here all alone?

I’m just a lowly pickle pail done-in
Ain’t never had no steady kissin’ kin
I toil so hard
In your weedy yard
Oh what I’d give for a swig of gin.

Today you see a pickle pail hard workin’
But once I reigned o’er dill and sweet and gherkin
Well-brined, they were
Tastier, juicier, plumper,
Oh please pu-lease stop all that winkin’ and smirkin’

Hauling here, dumping there. Camellia-air-layer duty is best, though.

You take for granted this pickle pail relic
That you got for free from the local deli
You cried in dismay,
As you drove me away
“Open ALL the windows!”
Because you thought I was too smelly.

Oh, what would you do without my travail?
I answer your call without fail.
Need a hand
With all that sand?
Just grab that faithful pickle pail.

Patiently waiting to fulfill your every wish. . .

And then there are those weeds in prime
That you pull without reason or rhyme
They muddy my insides
And splatter my outsides
Till I feel like a partner in grime

I’m not alone, I mustn’t whine
There’s more like me, we wait in line
Ready and willing to haul.
No task too large or too small
To make your garden shine.

I know I must sound like I’m braggin
But I’m proud of our dudes on that wagon

See my friends all over, some just off the wagon. What would they do without us?

Waitin’ for truckin’
To wherever you’re muckin’
And there ain’t never no lollygaggin’.

Well, my handle’s broke, my bottom’s split to eleven
Seems I been working 24 and 7
I did my best
At your request
Now I’m ready to rest in pickle-pail heaven.


What are we doin’ here? I wish they’d dump us. This garden trash is makin’ me itchy. Sh-h-h, they hid us while they show their friends around the garden. I hope they come back. Probly not. I think they forgot us.

Pickle Pail Statement:  Readers should know that pictures of us were taken as record shots while we worked. Nobody ever showed us off. Usually they tried to hide us behind bushes when they took a shot, but sometimes they forgot.

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A Gardener’s Weather

It’s the middle of March and they are bickering in the heavens again.

Move out, you Old Goat, you’re done, finished.

Old goat, eh! I’ll show you. Want a blast of wind chill? And some crusty barbs of ice? You—you—you Spring Chicken.

Just waiting. . .

No problem. I’ve got a picnic blanket of warm sunbeams ready to throw over all those fancy schmancy ice crystals of yours. Ha, ha, ha ha they’re turning to mush already.

That’s nuthin’, I’ll tear that goofy blanket of yours to shreds. Got some nice sleet goin’ here. And maybe wrassle up a wind and bring me down some pine cones and gum balls while I’m at it.

Foggy day in March

Why you – you — you Old Goat, I’m blowin’ you up north for good. I’ll get that Sound water movin’ and I’ll flood those canals and rivers so bad you’ll never get back.

Just try, Spring Chicken, ‘cuz I’ll blow you right back south across the Sound and dry up your precious canals.

That’s it! Time for a tornado.

Hah! Can’t do it without me.

Late afternoon polishes the tree trunks

What to do? We innocent gardeners are caught between the two warriors. We slog in February’s rain. We watch our plants sprout green on balmy days, then shrivel in a freeze.

Occasionally there are signs of a truce. Usually late afternoon, if the air is still. A waning, hidden sun, not to be denied, lights pearl clouds. The land gleams like polished pewter. Maybe a kittenish breeze nudges the clouds off, and pewter blends to gold and honey. Until dusk brings on lead.

A north wind laid these daffs down, but they are ready to rise again

The soil is cold and mucky when I dig. They say you can ruin the soil if you work it wet, but I can’t wait for the bickering to end.

Shiny earthworms squirm when I uncover them.

Turn out the lights, they seem to say, we don’t belong out here.

Daffodils love these pitched battles. Sisters of Winter. Cheerleaders of freezes. What’s a little fracas to them? In an over-cooled sun-drenched ice-box, they snap upright, fresh as ever, and nod me good day.

‘Poet’s’ Narcissus has bloomed reliably for twenty years, despite upheavals when I am rummaging in its bed

I am the daffodil detective.

Once the spears push out of frigid ground, I am out there checking, running my fingers around the base to find that telltale flower-bud bulge.

Obviously, the narcissus to the left passed the test easily, which delighted me to no end.

(In the interests of complete disclosure to readers, daffodils have never paid me for these consults.)

This old quince stands as a sentinel next to our front path.

Their playmates are forsythia, quince, and bridal wreath spirea.

An unruly trio, as bold as the daffodils, elbowing for territory, their gauzy, gaudy costumes turn heads up and away from weedy ground.

Farm fields ignore the tumult.

They wait, bristling stubs, last year’s leavings, and green weeds.

Weeds by definition are always green.

Hellebores, too, revel in early spring

Red maples pay no mind to the weather. They seem always to be on time., spattering crimson blossoms in tree branches along roadsides and in swamps.

Red maple blooms on a moody day. Note mistletoe in upper left

Hazy foreshadowing of a new season. It’s a short dance for them, though, they are cast off in a few days, bits of flotsam.

Delicate pollynoses will follow them very soon, flung away in a haphazard search for fertile landings.

Before other trees are even thinking about their offspring, (heck, the beech tree is still only losing its leaves and the oak has not yet begun to let its catkins fly) red maples are finished for the year. They can coast along on whatever weather summer brings.

Bridal wreath spirea, an old shrub, takes more and more territory each year, if we let it

In deference to the venerable oak, it takes a season to grow an acorn. But that nutritious kernel will become the staff of life next winter for forest creatures.)

Bradford pears are punctual, too. Never mind their willingness to go rogue and squander pollen, they are first to flounce.

Crisp, paper white blossoms reflect off my neighbor’s street lamp each night. Sheer filigree of light banishing a circle of darkness the way a full moon shines up the night.

Where there is sunlight, Carolina jessamine festoons trees in our woods

While Jupiter and Saturn chase each other across the ecliptic like good soldiers on a march that never ends.

Forsythia fades but mischievous Carolina jessamine takes up a yellow banner for Spring at the end of March.

It scrambles over fences and weaves through trees, splashing sunshine where you least expect it.

Bright constellations of spent petals swirl in currents driven by breezes. I see the currents clearly because they are marked by streamers of pollen.

Pink flowering almond, an old favorite in gardens, loves early spring

Pine pollen is cosmic dust come for a visit. Yellow clouds sweep in, coat cars and trucks, stain roads, invade the sinuses.

The yellow haze dusts plants with yellow flour, streams down waterways. Gusty rainstorms collect random grains and clump them in yellow rivulets that weave unseemly patterns on roads and cars. They linger until the next downpour (or a car wash).

Gentler raindrops rearrange pollen on leaves into tiny crescents, like fine old needlework.

A late-blooming forsythia surprises us each year after the early bloomers fade

Canada geese make regular noisy tours of our slip while the seasons are tugging. Checking out digs? Goofing off? Impressing a partner?

On a day when Spring seems ascendant, a pair of wood ducks are loafing, until a Canada goose casually sidelines them by flexing feathers. We do not see the pair again. Size matters, I guess.

Prospective parents investigate our waters each spring, then leave. Apparently we lack the finer amenities for raising young.

I see a streak across the water. Otter?

They’re around, and you can see them if you ride the canal. We smell the sea when they choose to dine on fresh water mussels off our point.

Unfinished beaver business?

The beaver that gnawed his way through winter seems to be gone. He finished off some good-sized saplings and chewed some hefty sprouts from a rising red bay.

We spent big bucks to drop a girdled 60-foot sweet gum soon to topple inconveniently. And what, do you suppose, a beaver would do with a tree like that?

They say the sound of trickling water triggers dam-building in beavers, so Bob stuffed a rag in our heat pump outflow pipe to mellow its gurgles.

The ploy seems to have worked, thank goodness.

Redbud blooms burst on a warm sunny day

It’s a whippy windy day. The sun is blinding white and the sky is crystal blue. Clouds are scudding and I hear shrill cries.

The osprey are back, or she is lately back and he, having come early for their rendezvous, is glad to see her arrive.

They fill the skies and cross the sun, their large shadows swallow me up.

Careening and dipping and diving, screeching or cooing, looping away and together, climbing to vertical until there’s almost a stall, challenging the gusts, knowing they can always recover from a ripping wind. Having a glorious time.

Forgetmenots. I can’t get enough of them. Too soon they go to seed but their offspring arrive dependably

When the osprey soar and the shadbush blow, I know that the bickering has ended and Spring has finally booted Winter out.

Redbud and crabapple, box turtles and sliders, forgetmenots and tent caterpillars will stir.

Spring blues and early swallowtails will flutter.

A single azalea blossom will poke out, and the weeds will disappear in a mountain of bloom.

Oh dear, tent caterpillars share the spotlight with jessamine

Eventually, deprived of their ice box, daffodils will sprawl in this new sauna, limp but greedy for a last bit of sunshine before they go under.

Later, as I trim the layabouts, I wonder whose idea it was to plant so many.

Fast forward to late April. Gardeners’ conversations now run to how dusty the soil is, how cracked the mud in the ditch is and how we need rain.

Unless it’s been windy, rainy and cold for a week. (Winter’s last mischievous gotcha?). Then the conversation turns to kaboomed blooms, littered lawns, soggy soil, and lost moments in a green world.

Either way, tee shirts begin to replace jackets and Summer is fast closing in on the skirts of Spring.

An early native azalea, ‘Varnadoe’, on a glittery April afternoon

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Special For Camellia Lovers

Only camellia lovers can understand how a Gang of Eight could capture our hearts so completely that we created a special place for them in our garden twenty-five years ago. Then, capitalizing on our soft spots, they managed to wheedle us into adding another 80 or so as companions.

C. sasanqua ‘Jean May,’ a dependable, large fall bloomer in our garden

Those great big neon blossoms! How they seduced us! This year in particular they’re busting out all over.

It’s a banner blooming season.

So what could be more appropriate for us than to run around the garden taking pictures and updating our series on camellias.

And pinching ourselves that we live in the south, where camellias are king.

C. japonica ‘Lady Clare,’ an all time favorite with camellia growers

We shall always be grateful to the Virginia Camellia Society for introducing us to such flamboyant royalty in the garden.

They offered hands-on workshops and seminars. They freely answered our questions. They taught us to air layer plants. They were dedicated to their camellias.

All this at the Norfolk Botanical Garden where a premier collection of over 1700 camellias attracts visitors from all points.

Formal and stately, C. japonica ‘Nuccio’s Gem’ is a heavy bloomer, too

I’m proud to say we led some outdoor workshops, too, specifically on vole control (since we had intimate experience with the characters).

For several years we air layered their heirloom plants in spring and potted them up in fall for sale by the Botanical Garden.

Gradually we learned.

As we did the hard work of preparing soil, planting and pruning, and responding to an assortment of environmental assaults, from barely visible scales to mighty hurricanes, we developed our own perspectives on growing camellias. We tell our stories in chapters that are linked below and in the sidebar.

C. japonica ‘Taylor’s Perfection’ in late afternoon sunshine

You can follow us from our first heady infatuation with the Gang of Eight (Camellias in our Garden) to our serious attempts at growing them: purchasing, siting, planting, pruning, fertilizing, and managing diseases and pests.

We tell how our camellia garden was destroyed and regenerated.

And how could we not discuss air layering, the easiest method we know of propagating our favorites? Our piece on wildlife talks about Most Wanted (birds and bees) and Least Wanted (deer and voles and squirrels – squirrels?).

C. japonica ‘Hermes,’ a long bloomer and a flairboyant addition to our garden

Choosing Camellias, Landscaping with Camellias, and Companions for Camellias are three new additions to our series. We hope that some of the pointers and suggestions strike a chord and give you some new, aha! ideas.

As we tied up the series, we realized that camellias aren’t very different in their needs than most other plants. Much of what we discuss can be transferred to the care of other plants.

Regarding photos, we identify as many camellias as we can, those that were named when we purchased them and some we propagated. Once we began air layering unknowns we found out how difficult it was to put an accurate name to these beauties. Even experts were stumped. Eventually, we found that names didn’t matter. Their exquisite blooms in our garden were their identity.

Another Nuccio introduction, C. japonica ‘Nuccio’s Pearl’

Our camellias have taught us patience – it takes a long time to raise a camellia.

They’ve opened our eyes to the kinship of soil to plants, the links between healthy life teeming underground and plant happiness.

We’ve watched the sun cross the skies each day and seen its glow on our camellias.

We’ve had a good time experimenting and growing.

We know now that when you plant a camellia, you are planting for a future that is beyond your lifetime.

We hope you enjoy our series on camellias as much as we enjoy growing camellias. You can view the cast of our characters in the gallery below, including the original Gang of Eight. You’ll also find their portraits incorporated into the series.

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Camellias in our Garden       Siting and Planting Camellias

 Pruning and Fertilizing our Camellias       Insects and Diseases of Camellias

Camellias Become  Collateral Storm Damage       Camellia Recovery and Care

Air Layering Camellias     Wildlife and Camellias

Choosing Camellias     Landscaping with Camellias    Companions for Camellias

Special for Camellia Lovers

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The Whiny Gardener

Caution: Viewer discretion advised. Pictures are not pretty.

You have problems?

Every year it’s the same. I spend the month of February whining. Plants should be up and coming on February 1st. We’re in the south. It’s 40 degrees today! Spring should be here!

Why is it so late this year? Things are still looking dead. How can that be?

I scratch some bark off a branch. Just a test, mind you. If there’s green underneath I know the dead twig is still alive.

Uh oh, I guess I scraped this plant before. There are scars from three other scrapings this year.

I start to feel a little guilty.

Tools all ready. Nobody around

If I do any more of this, the plant will really be dead. Well, if they didn’t look so dead, I wouldn’t have scraped them to pieces. It’s their fault, not mine, I whine.

Fortunately, one day it’s March and the sun warms things up. Finally, spring!

I thought it would never get here. I see some green buds so I stop whining.

My favorite weed, the one with white flowers that spit seed all over and sing “We’ll be back next year.”

OMG, where did all these weeds come from? Why are there always so many weeds?

And why did spring come so early this year? Couldn’t it have waited a bit?

And how will we get everything done? We’ll be working every day till next winter.

I’m exhausted from all this whining. I take a nap.

The latest in garden decor?

I know, I’ll make a list of what needs to be done. It’s always better when you have a list.

Here is my list

1. Weed
2. Rake
3. Prune
4. Fertilize
5. Mulch

That should do it.

At least the pot can stay. Where else would I stash the weeds?

How nice, only five things, nothing to it. Now I can stop whining and take another nap.

I’ll get started tomorrow.

Feeling pretty smug, I give myself a little tour of the garden.

Uh oh, I see a couple of things that need fixing. I’d better start another list.

Nothing quite as much fun as tearing out ivy. . .

Here is my second list.

1. Ivy choking hydrangea, has to come out.

2. Lesser celandine smothering a couple of azaleas. Coming up everywhere else, too. That can’t be good.

3. Seedling beautyberry. Forgot to pull it last year, now a hunk muscling out azalea.

. . .unless it’s digging up lesser celandine

4. Those pretty purple jobs, annuals planted them all over last summer, what were their names? Dead now and rooted to China,  I’ll need a shovel.

5. Planter boxes in the courtyard. Did we really have butterflies last year? What a mess.

6. Maximillian sunflower, love it, but rhizomes and new plants everywhere.

7. Ditto for green-eyed coneflower, keeps invading the bed.

Green-eyed coneflower hidden under those sticks, another invader

This is a terrible list. I do not like this list. If I have to do all this extra stuff, I’ll never get to doing anything on the first list.

I can’t figure how all this super-growth happened on my watch. I guess I’m not very good at noticing. If there were a Gardener’s Army I would be court martialed and sentenced to pulling tiny seedling weeds, the ones with roots that break off when you pull them, for the rest of my life.

There’s a path somewhere, oh, that comes under “Rake,” in the first list

Here I thought we were ahead of schedule for cleaning up. We’d raked some paths and transplanted some plants (whose bark had been scraped to make sure they were still living).

Now, we’re way behind.

We’ll have to work dawn to dusk, and maybe even in the rain.

I make another list of what I like to do best in the garden.

At least I can skip hurricane clean-up, the last of it is finally taking care of itself, after 14 years

Maybe I can do this list first.

1. Buy plants.

2. Buy more plants.

3. Plant seeds that will not need help from me.

4. Plant small plants in good soil.

5. Give Bob the big plants to put in clay or rooty soil.

Just what am I supposed to do with the mess the beavers made?

6. Ask Bob to dig up shrubs and transplant them.

7. Water transplants once in a while.

8. Deadhead perennials and do light pruning.

9. Ask Bob to do the heavy pruning.

10. Weed when there are not too many weeds and they are easy to pull and they promise not to come back.

11. Did I mention buying plants?

What I truly like best is sitting in a comfortable chair with a nice hot cup of tea and telling everybody else what to do in the garden. Then I wouldn’t do any whining at all.

Look at these lovely hellebore seedlings I discovered when tackling #1 on the first list. Don’t you think I should drop everything and transplant them?

Posted in garden maintenance, Uncategorized, weeds | Tagged | 4 Comments

Memories Chase This Gardener’s Brown Blues

Nothing like February to bring on a gardener’s Brown Blues. Brown leaves, brown stems, brown grasses, brown scruffy seed heads (broken-down brown) and, incidentally, gray days.

A rogue fog sweeps a wan winter sun away

A rogue fog sweeps a wan winter sun away

Not to mention that all this brown has to be cleaned up before spring. It’s enough to make a body want to give up and move south to greener pastures. (Oops, we already live in the South.)

Oh quitchyer belly-achin’. Camellias are starting to bloom, quince is popping, daffodils are poking, hellebores are dressing up, and nothing could be growing faster or greener than the weeds.

Thanks for that cheer-up. Next you’ll be telling me how great weeds are as a groundcover. Now you’ve given me the Brown-Green Blues.

Don’t be such a curmudgeon. Spare us the whining. Be still and hibernate with your memories. You’ve got about 30 years worth. Bring them center stage.

All of them? Please. No. Seven or eight will do quite nicely. All right but I’m going to talk about it all — the good and the bad, the happy and the sad.

Okay Okay, just quit singin’ those Brown Blues.

memcrabbloomThe old crabapple is no more. It was a hero during Hurricane Isabel in 2003, blocking pine trees that would have fallen on our house. But it never truly recovered from the battering. It kept blooming its heart out, until, after twenty-five years, what a crotchety, shrivel-berried shell of a tree bumping hard against the house it had become.

Remember Newton’s old action-reaction theory? Now the sun lasers the camellias and their knickers stand deep in puddles once routinely sucked up by crabapple roots. Maybe the crepe myrtle (maximum height 10-12 feet) we planted to replace the crabapple will kindly moderate. One garden saga played out, another just beginning.

memcrabbackThis crabapple behind the house is managing old age with style. It was flattened under a fallen pine during Hurricane Isabel and had to be helped up without tearing its trunk, then roped up to a maple tree until it could remain upright on its own.

memswalLast monarch butterfly of the season. This female hovered here for a couple of weeks in November along with two sisters, teetering on wiry stems and sipping from long, tubular flowers of pineapple sage, sharing small pools of nectar with honeybees in honey-warm sunshine. What joy they gave us! We worried, too. Would they be wise enough to escape before the first frost?

memswaldedOne cold morning we found a monarch butterfly nestled amid rusty leaves blown under a step. Immobilized. Small and fragile among the detritus of autumn. Where have the others gone?

memhydOur favorite picture of hydrangeas. They used to cascade with hostas and ferns down to the dock in the benign shade of pines, sweet gum and maples. We could never take much credit for the show. They were happy with no help from us. When trees toppled during storms, king sun presided and hydrangeas needed rescuing.

memdockbedThey’re replaced today by a new look: a jostly mix of Joepye weed, St. Johnswort, New York ironweed, boltonia and perennial sunflowers. Exotic cafes for insects on brilliant summer days.
memplntsaleThe last garden open house and plant sale. For a few hours every year on a Sunday in May, our street would be lined with cars and trucks. Visitors could stroll paths and see the parents of our potted plants growing in a garden. It was a time for meeting new gardeners and connecting with dear gardening friends. But once that “opening bell” rang, lollygagging turned into a mad dash to buy. Gardeners would leave with wheel barrows full of new plants to try.

This annual event supported environmental causes like creating brochures on wetlands and offering scholarships to high school seniors. But all good things must end, and we wanted to move on from planning, propagating, potting, fertilizing, weeding, watering, labeling, and photographing (whew!) our newbies to blogging about them.

mempartyThere was always a happy gathering at the end of the day, good food and good fun. We liked the gatherings so much that at some point, we shortened the plant sale so we could have more time to socialize (even in the rain.) We may have eliminated the sale but not the festivities.

memevgfrogs2Contented visitors to our postage-stamp pond years back. The two pictured here obviously didn’t have any interest in us. But one summer a frog took up residence who would talk with us. Really! But only during lunches in the gazebo and he always stayed hidden.

memfroglilyWe chatted. He croaked. We chatted. He croaked. If we paused too long before answering his croak, he would prompt us with a few more croaks. Impatient? We would reply, but once we headed off to do chores, he would turn silent. There’s nothing quite as intellectually stimulating as chatting with an invisible frog.

memmessbtGrandpa and Tommy drag the remains of hollies into our brush pile. These dwarf Burfords were the first plants we put in thirty years ago, one on either side of the front steps. We loved them. Each spring when we stepped out the front door, we would smell their tiny but sweet-scented blooms and hear that particular buzz that comes from contented honeybees. Fifteen years later,  spring was silent. Truly wild honeybees were gone.

memburfMeanwhile, the “dwarf” hollies grew and grew and we chopped and chopped, and they liked our chopping and turned into big lumps. We said, we needed something classier next to the front door. We limbed them up into elegant small trees with elegant round crowns. In a year the elegance was buried under overblown growth that threatened our very entry. Chop. Chop. Chop down.

memhollytrukHere is a Burford holly planted that has plenty of space. This “dwarf” has been limbed up to create a handsome small tree that now dwarfs our truck, Ranger. We prune it when storms deform its crown or when growth becomes too exuberant.

memberriesIts berries are sumptuous even under a winter jacket of pine needles.

Last spring this Burford holly was sweet and buzzing.

memyuletidesnowWisps of snow on ‘Yuletide’ camellia. This is one of Bob’s first successful air layers. Air layering is a spring and fall ritual here that has seen the birth of new plants and new friendships. (For more on this, See Air Layering Camellias in the sidebar.)

This photo comes from friends who managed to catch blooms still fresh from a capricious snowfall on Christmas day. The blooms will shrivel and turn brown from the frosty cold, but my what a transitory treasure they are.

memmgtourMaster Gardeners visit in the rain. They’re hardy fellows. It’s another annual tradition. They pile in a van to come see the spring show, have lunch, and while away the afternoon in the tranquillity of our garden.

But wait, half the group has disappeared to drier terrain on the porch. I guess, today, lunch is more a draw than the garden.

memchrysChrysanthemum ‘Sheffield’ was a surprise. It came as a single-stemmed stowaway hidden among a thorny old rose bush being cast away by a good friend. Rambling and rambunctious, you can pull Sheffield, tromp it, whack it back when its bodacious spirit momentarily vexes you.

memchrysglobIt blooms reliably, but you must be patient. Buds fatten and gleam in sunlight for days until you are sure they will burst. When they come round in late fall, they brighten the garden and offer caches of food-on-the-fly to late insect visitors. I love to give Sheffield away because I know it will come back to me next spring. (The original rose, alas, was not quite so hardy.)

membobsoilMy favorite memory of all. Master Digger Bob working in the garden to make it grand. Here he is removing the remains of an old root ball from a toppled pine. We’ll use the composted soil in more “formal” areas.

The sun has broken through the fog. The day has warmed. My Brown Blues are almost gone.  I’ll have a go at whacking away at last year’s leftovers.

Posted in Creating a Garden, garden maintenance, Master Gardeners, plant sale, propagation, Winter | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments