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Hints of Autumn in the August Garden: GBBD, August 2014

August 16, 2014

blue & yellow in AugustBy mid-August, there are hints of summer’s end in Maine. This morning’s temperatures were in the forties (F), and the builders working on my house arrived wearing sweatshirts and carrying steaming cups of hot coffee.

In the garden, the daylilies (Hemerocallis) are winding down. Most varieties have finished blooming, and many of those that are still in flower have only a few buds left. ‘Mary Todd’ opened its last flowers today, and ‘Orange Bounty,’ ‘Decatur Elevator,’ ‘Woman’s Work,’ ‘Mae Graham’ (one of my favorite pink daylilies), and an unnamed wine-colored variety will finish blooming within the next week.

fading august daylilies

yellow pinwheel 2014It always makes me sad when I see that a favorite daylily variety has only a few buds left. Happily, I have other, later-blooming varieties with far more blooms to come. In the blue and yellow border, ‘Yellow Pinwheel’ is about halfway through its bloom period. In the fence border, which was planted for late summer and fall bloom, ‘Final Touch’ has only recently begun to bloom, the very late cultivar ‘Sandra Elizabeth’ is just beginning to send up flower scapes, and this week saw the first delicate flowers of ‘Autumn Minaret’ floating in the air atop slender 5’ stems.

final touch 2014 autumn minaret 2014

The height of ‘Autumn Minaret’ is matched at the other end of the fence border by the tall Rudbeckia ‘Autumn Sun,’ a favorite plant that also lights up the back of the blue and yellow border. The very names of these cultivars signal the approach of fall.

autumn sun fence autumn sun b&y

Strong yellows are the dominant colors in the August garden. Right now, they are accompanied by the pink tones of several daylilies, the violet-blue of Veronica ‘Blue Giant,’ and the stronger blues and soft pink of balloon flowers (Platycodon grandiflorus).

veronica blue giant 2014 platycodon shell pink
platycodon 2014

Soon, though, the yellows will be offset by crisp white flowers of Liatris spicata ‘Floristan White,’ white balloon flower, and the white flowers of Phlox paniculata ‘David’.

circular yellow & white phlox david buds

A Maine garden in August is a beautiful place to be, and all the more precious when the temperatures and cultivar names remind us that fall will soon be here.

Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day is hosted on the 15th of each month by Carol at May Dreams Gardens; visit her blog to see the delights of August gardens around the world.

Double Oops

August 10, 2014

goldenrod oopsRecently I wrote (Oops!) about a plant in my new raised bed that was not what it was supposed to be. I had intended to plant Amsonia x ‘Blue Ice’ in this location, and instead had a much larger plant that I tentatively identified as Amsonia tabernaemontana. I assumed that the plant had either been mislabeled at the nursery or that I had inadvertently picked up the wrong plant from the nursery table.

Even as I tentatively identified my mistaken plant as A. tabernaemontana, I had some doubts about that identification. A few weeks ago, those doubts were confirmed when the plant started to make flower buds – definitely not Amsonia flowers (both wrong shape and wrong season). This past week, the flowers began to open and revealed themselves as a native Solidago  (goldenrod).

Goldenrod grows readily on my property, mostly at the edges of the woods. So it is possible that this goldenrod grew from a seed that landed in this flower bed shortly after I created it last August. Because this is growing exactly where I planted the Amsonia plant from the nursery, however, and nowhere else in this flower bed, I think it is more likely that the Solidago seed hitchhiked on the Amsonia plant when I brought it home from the nursery and then simply outcompeted the Amsonia for space and nutrients.

goldenrod & blue paradiseI like using these showy native plants in the garden. This photo, for example, shows goldenrod blooming with Phlox paniculata ‘Blue Paradise’ in the blue and yellow border.  So, although this Solidago plant definitely does not belong in my raised bed, I will be happy to move it to a more suitable location and to replace it with another Amsonia x ‘Blue Ice’ (and this time, I will be on the lookout for hitchhikers!)

The Hudson Garden: A Beautiful Solution to a Landscape Problem

August 1, 2014

Hudson garden wide viewRecently, I spent a perfect summer Sunday in July enjoying the annual Brunswick, Maine garden tour with my gardening friend Harriet. The garden tour included a variety of gardens with both inspiring garden designs and inspiring gardening stories. My favorite was the garden of Judi and Jack Hudson.

The Hudson house and garden is only a few years old, but the garden has a mature, established look. The Hudsons built their house on land that was heavily wooded and backed onto a public footpath through local woods. They wanted to open up land at the back of their house for sun and a garden, which meant removing trees, but they also wanted a visual barrier that would give them privacy from the footpath. Many people would have solved this landscaping problem with a privacy fence along the back of the property. The Hudsons designed a much more creative and beautiful solution: a garden built on a berm.

Hudson floral displayThe berm is a large one, running the entire width of the back yard. It is highest at the back, where it borders the footpath, and then slopes down to a gentle curved edge bordering the lawn at the back of the house. The berm is planted as a mixed border, with shrubs, dwarf trees, ornamental grasses, perennials, and some annuals. Shrubs are primarily planted at the back (top) of the berm, providing maximum privacy, with more ornamental grasses and flowering perennials as the garden slopes down toward the lawn. Drip irrigation is buried beneath the mulch for efficient watering.

Hudson water featureAt the center of the garden is a water feature designed as a series of rills running from the top of the berm to the bottom, creating both a beautiful visual effect and a relaxing sound of running water. Note the naturalistic heron sculpture tucked in to the right at the top of the water feature and the very effective use of container plantings at the bottom for added color.

Hudson japanese irisViewed from a distance, the flowering berm has high visual impact. But it also rewards close attention to individual plants. On the day of the tour, this gorgeous Japanese iris was commanding a lot of attention. There were also many beautiful combinations of less exotic plants.

hudson ornamental grassI found the use of ornamental grasses particularly effective and was smitten with this dramatic Miscanthus. The use of trees, shrubs and ornamental grasses in this garden also means that it has year-round interest, even in Maine’s long winter when the flowering perennials are dormant.

The Hudson garden provides an inspiring example of a creative and beautiful solution to a common landscaping problem (privacy). It is a garden that I would love to visit over and over again in different seasons, for both pleasure and inspiration.

Summer Blooms: GBBD, July 2014

July 17, 2014

blue&yelllow july 2014I’m a bit late with my bloom day post, but this is one that I definitely don’t want to miss. In my Maine garden, even in a year when flowers are blooming later than normal, mid-July is a time when summer flowers burst into bloom. Each morning’s tour of the garden brings new delights.

Daylily (Hemerocallis) season has begun in earnest, with ten of the more than forty different varieties that I grow currently in bloom. The first daylily to flower was the early rebloomer, ‘Happy Returns,’ which is currently gracing the back slope along with a velvety red daylily and the first flowers of Platycodon grandiflorus (balloon flower) ‘Sentimental Blue.’

back slope blooms red daylily in rain

circular july 2014The circular bed at the turn into the driveway, which has suffered somewhat from close encounters with construction vehicles, also features an early daylily , an unnamed neon gold seedling from the Barth breeding program. Most of the flowers blooming with this are in more pastel shades that allow the daylily to take center stage. I especially love this combination of Geranium x ‘Brookside’ and Alchemilla mollis (Lady’s Mantle).

barth large gold 2014 circular brookside & alchemilla

holding area july 2014The holding area at the side of the house, where I put plants that needed to be moved out of harm’s way during construction and that will eventually go back into a new front garden, is a riot of color. Several daylilies are blooming here, as are five different colors of Tradescantia, an unidentified pink lily, Heuchera ‘Raspberry Regal’, Heliopsis helianthoides (false sunflower) and a pale pink astilbe. I would not normally plant all these different colors together, but I’m enjoying the effect. I especially love the combination of strong yellow and pink.

pink lily holding area color
In the back garden, only one flower bed, the blue and yellow border, has daylilies in bloom at this point. (Both the deck border and the fence border have varieties that will bloom later.) The first daylily to bloom here was another early rebloomer, ‘Boothbay Harbor Gold.’ This was soon joined by the large fragrant flowers of ‘Alna Pride.’ Many more varieties, all in shades of yellow, will join them in the days to come. These daylilies are accompanied by tall spires of delphinium, which have begun to bloom, and by the strong yellows of Heliopsis helianthoides and Coreopsis verticillata ‘Golden Showers.’
b&y daylilies
alna pride 2014
heliopsis b&y july 2014 golden showers july 2014

deck border july 2014Although the blue and yellow border will soon take center stage in the back, the deck border still has more happening. Varieties of Astilbe are the most prominent flowers here. I am particularly happy to see the pale pink blooms of ‘Betsy Cuperus,’ which is thriving after being relocated last year. And my favorite Astilbe flowers are always those of ‘Ostrich Plume.’

betsy cuperus 2014 ostrich plume & goatsbeard 2014
In the fence border, in addition to the flowers of Lady’s mantle (Alchemilla mollis), tradescantia, and geranium – all which have been blooming for several weeks – clematis ‘Comtesse de Bouchaud’ is now blooming on the fence, and the first flowers of the tall Rudbeckia x ‘Herbstsonne’ have just begun to bloom. clematis comtesse 2014

fence border july 2014

serenity with bench

patricia serenity In the back by the woods, the serenity garden seems like a calm oasis of foliage. A closer look, however, finds a number of flowers in bloom, including the bold magenta of Geranium x ‘Patricia,’ the pale pink of Astrantia major, and the first flowers of Deinanthe cerulea (false hydrangea).
astrantia serenity deinanthe serenity

Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day is hosted on the 15th of each month by Carol at May Dreams Gardens. Visit her blog for links to what’s in bloom this month in gardens of many climes.

Star Turn

July 11, 2014

back garden from deckMy back garden is composed of three separate flower beds: the deck border, the blue and yellow border, and the fence border. These flower beds create a unified whole, but each also has its own distinct character. I often think of them as like an ensemble acting troupe. This is not a garden in which one flower bed is the star or focal point and the others are supporting players; rather, each is in the starring role at some points in the season and in a supporting role at other times.

Well, to be honest, the blue and yellow border may hog the spotlight a bit more than the other players in this ensemble. It is the largest flower bed of the three, and its big, bold blooms and contrasting colors demand attention. But in early July, when the iris display of June has ended and the daylily, delphinium, coreopsis and heliopsis blooms of high summer are just tentatively opening their first flowers, the deck border takes its star turn.

deck border star turn

The deck border has a much quieter kind of beauty than either the blue and yellow border or the fence border. It was designed primarily as a shade garden, with an emphasis on layers of foliage in different colors, sizes, and textures. And while it also has lots of flowers, those flowers have a quiet analogous color scheme in soft pastels of pink, lavender and white.

pink spirea bloomsBut this quiet floral display  wows me at this time of year. The deck border steps forward into the spotlight when masses of deep pink flowers appear on Spirea japonica ‘Magic Carpet’. As these fade to a softer mauve, varieties of Astilbe begin to bloom – white ‘Bridal Veil,’ mauve  ‘Cattleya,’ pale pink ‘Betsy Cuperus,’ and salmon pink ‘Ostrich Plume.’ These join the clear pink flowers of Geranium x oxonianum and the deep pink and white of Tradescantia ‘Pink Chablis’.  Above it all float the airy plumes of Aruncus dioicus (goatsbeard).

astilbe blooms 2014 pink chablis 2013
goatsbeard display

The deck border will continue to flower through the summer and into the fall, with later blooming astilbes, several varieties of pink daylilies (Hemerocallis), pale pink balloon flowers (Platycodon grandiflorus), and Sedum spectabile ‘Autumn Joy.’ Once the daylily display begins in earnest, however, the eye will be more often drawn to the more dramatic blooms of the blue and yellow border and the fence border, and the deck border will step back into a lush but less flamboyant supporting role.


July 3, 2014

Last August, I built and planted the large raised bed that is intended to provide a sense of seclusion to the serenity garden by separating it from the clothesline area and the driveway (see Closure). I decided to keep the planting simple by including plants from only two genera, Geranium and Amsonia. Along what I think of as the “back edge,” facing the clothesline and driveway, I planted several divisions of G. x cantabrigiense ‘Biokovo’ (of which I always have a seemingly endless supply). These are fast-growing groundcover plants that will fill in along the edge of the raised bed, spill over the edge, and also spread to fill in among the other plants. In the center of the raised bed, I planted a row of three Amsonia hubrichtii; these should grow to be about 3’ tall and wide, which, when added to the height of the raised bed, will provide an effective visual screen. Along the side of the raised bed facing the serenity garden, I mixed plants of the dwarf Amsonia x ‘Blue Ice’ and G. x oxonianum.

raised bed  year1

raised bed pinks & bluesIn its first season, I’m very happy with how this new flower bed is looking. The primary focus here will be on foliage; Geranium ‘Biokovo’ has already established an impressive foliage presence along one side, and the other plants are also growing nicely. In late June and early July, this bed is at the height of its bloom, with a mix of soft pinks (Geranium) and blues (Amsonia).  Even in year one, this combination is already looking good.

raised bed tall giant1But, wait, what is this tall giant at the front corner of the raised bed, where a low-growing A. x ‘Blue Ice’ should be blooming? Oops! I think this may be a plant of Amsonia tabernaemontana. But what is it doing here? One possibility is that this plant was mislabeled at the nursery. (It does happen.) The other possibility is that it was sitting beside the ‘Blue Ice’ plants on the nursery table, and I failed to notice its different tag when I was busy trying to choose the five healthiest specimens of ‘Blue Ice.’ (Hmm. That’s been known to happen, too Winking smile .)

Whatever happened, it’s okay; this mistake may turn out to be another instance of serendipity. While this plant clearly doesn’t belong in its current location, I’m impressed with its height. I think I may move it to the center of the raised bed, where it can provide a large architectural presence flanked by the more feathery A. hubrichtii plants.  (The plant of A. hubrichtii currently in that location can be moved to another part of the garden). I can then divide the Amsonia  x ‘Blue Ice’ at the opposite corner in two and place half of it at this corner, creating the intended symmetry. When fall comes, I will make these and some other needed tweaks to this planting and then expect to be even happier with it next year.

The Fence Border Grows Up

June 26, 2014

One morning recently, as I was sitting out on the deck eating breakfast and enjoying the garden, I realized that my eyes were looking past the glories of the deck border and the blue and yellow border to rest on the fence border beyond. And I was not looking at it in consternation, as I have often done, but in satisfaction. In that moment, I realized that, after several years of gawky adolescence, the fence border has grown up to be a beauty. fence border wide

The fence border is the smallest and youngest of the three flower beds that make up my back garden. It is a semi-circle, 16’ long and 8’ deep at the center, and backed by a 12’ length of cedar fence. While the two larger flower beds, the deck border and the blue and yellow border, are parallel, running along either side of the long curved walkway that creates a central axis in the back garden, the fence border lies perpendicular to the other flower beds. It was designed to create a sense of enclosure in the back garden and to screen the view of the clothesline from the deck. I began imagining the fence border in 2004 or 2005, it became a reality when I installed the fence and began digging the soil in 2008, and I finished planting this flower bed in fall 2009.

fence border close

The fence border’s floral display begins in late May or early June when two different varieties of Geranium x cantabrigiense (‘Biokovo’ and ‘Karmina’) and Alchemilla mollis (Lady’s mantle)bloom along its front edge. At this point, the rest of the plants provide a backdrop of foliage in various heights, textures, and shades of green. By mid-June, however, flowers also appear in the center of the border as varieties of Tradescantia virginiana (spiderwort), Geranium x oxonianum and peonies (Paeonia lactiflora) bloom.

fence border inner blooms fence border peonies

By early July, when the flowers at the front of the border are fading, the first blooms of two different clematis varieties appear on the fence at the back of the border. Most of the action in July is in the middle of the flower bed as the flowers of tradescantia and geranium are joined by Veronica longifolia ‘Blue Giant’ and six different varieties of daylily (Hemerocallis). In August, the main action moves to the back of the border. By that time, the tall Rudbeckia x ‘Herbstsonne’ will be blooming at one end of the fence and the tall daylily ‘Autumn Minaret’ will be blooming at the other end. In between late summer flowers of Phlox paniculata ‘David’ and Liatris spicata ‘Floristan White’ will bloom just in front of the fence. Also by August, the morning glory (Ipomoea tricolor ‘Heavenly Blue’) vines that are just now getting their first true leaves will have grown up the twine on the fence. But they won’t have flowers yet; those won’t come until September – and only if we don’t have an early frost and the nights are not too cold for the buds to open. More reliable blooms in September are Rudbeckia ‘Herbstsonne’, which will bloom until frost, Sedum ‘Matrona,’ and the very late daylilies ‘Sandra Elizabeth’ and ‘Final Touch.’

It’s tempting to pretend that I carefully designed the fence border to transition from flowers at the front against a backdrop of foliage in the early summer to the floral display at the back framed by the foliage of geranium and Lady’s mantle in the late summer and fall – but that would be a lie. Like so much of the best design in my garden, this is the result of serendipity. I wasn’t thinking about this transition at all as I designed the initial planting and then added some new plants and moved others around in the first years. And I only recently recognized the way the floral display moves through the border as the season progresses. I consider serendipity one of my best teachers, however, and I am happy to add this to the repertoire of design tools that I can use more intentionally in future projects.


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