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Summer’s End: GBBD, September 2014

September 16, 2014
deck container red and whiteWith the autumnal equinox only a few days away, the Maine weather has turned cool and crisp, marking the end of summer and the arrival of fall. Early morning temperatures have dipped to the mid-thirties several times, flirting with frost, and many plants are responding to the cool temperatures and shorter days by going into dormancy. There are still blooms to be found in the garden, however.

Spirea japonica x ‘Magic Carpet’ continues to make new flowers, as does Heuchera ‘Raspberry Ice.’ Both of these have been blooming continuously since June.

magic carpet fall flowers heuchera in september
sedum matrona septemberThe sedums have just begun to bloom and are in their glory, totally unfazed by the cool, dry weather. These include ‘Matrona’ blooming in the fence border, ‘Autumn Joy’ in the deck border, and ‘Neon, brought north from my Gettysburg garden and waiting in the holding area for a new home.
sedum autumn joy september sedum neon september
September herbstsonneOther hardy plants that are not intimidated by the cold include Rudbeckia laciniata  x ‘Herbstsonne’ and Phlox paniculata ‘David.’ There are still a few flowers on Platycodon grandiflorus ‘Fuji Blue’ in the blue and yellow border, and Phlox paniculata ‘Blue Paradise’ is even forming new buds.

september blooms

daylily buds struggleIn the fence border, three daylilies (Hemerocallis ‘Autumn Minaret,’ ‘Final Touch,’ and ‘Sandra Elizabeth’) still have buds, but are struggling to open them on these cold mornings. ‘Sandra Elizabeth’ has become nocturnal, finally getting enough warmth to open its flowers in mid-afternoon and then keeping them open through much of the next day. Other plants covered with buds may never get a chance to open them. Two flowers opened on my morning glories (Ipomoea tricolor ‘Heavenly Blue’) when we had some hot weather two weeks ago, but the remaining buds stopped growing once the cold weather arrived. An aster (Symphyotrichum laeve ‘Bluebird’) in the blue and yellow border, similarly covered in small buds, may bloom if frost holds off.
morning glory 2014 morning glory buds 2014

Much of the bloom in my garden these days is actually at the edges of the garden, where it borders the woods. There native asters and goldenrods are happy to welcome autumn.

September wildflowers

Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day is hosted on the 15th of each month by Carol at May Dreams Gardens. Visit her blog to see September blooms from gardens in a variety of climates.

Long-Blooming Perennials

September 11, 2014

One of the challenges of gardening with perennials is that, unlike annuals, most do not have long periods of bloom. Some, like peonies, are notorious for a flash of glory which can end almost as soon as it begins when the blossoms shatter in the heat or are flattened by heavy rains. While most are longer-lasting than peonies, perennials are not generally known for providing color all season long. Some strategies for dealing with this characteristic of perennials include mixing perennials with annuals, designing gardens that focus more on foliage than on flowers, and mixing a variety of flowering perennials with a succession of bloom times.

Geraniums 2013

But a gardener who is in love with flowering perennials might also be interested in finding perennials with long bloom times. In my Maine garden, I consider perennials that will bloom for eight weeks or longer during the garden season as long-blooming. Achieving this is easy at the genus level. For example, I grow more than a dozen different species and hybrid varieties of hardy geranium, and one or more of these has been blooming in my garden since the first week in June.

fall fence border dayliliesHemerocallis (daylilies) is another genus that provides bloom in my garden for much of the season. This year, my first daylily to bloom was the reblooming variety ‘Happy Returns,’ which opened its first flower the last week in June. I have had daylilies in bloom somewhere in my garden continuously since then. Currently, there are three late-blooming varieties —  ‘Autumn Minaret,’ ‘Final Touch,’ and ‘Sandra Elizabeth’ — providing a beautiful display in the fence border. The very late daylily‘Sandra Elizabeth’ did not begin blooming until the first week in September.

09geranium & hosta_1But what about individual plants that bloom for eight weeks or longer? This is a greater challenge, but I do have a number of such plants in my garden. One of my long-blooming stars is Geranium x oxonianum; its lovely clear pink flowers first appeared in my deck border the second week in June, and are still blooming there more than 12 weeks later. Another plant of this hybrid in the circular bed bloomed for 12 weeks before going dormant, and new plantings in their first year in the raised bed bloomed for 10 weeks. Various cultivars of Tradescantia virginiana are also long-blooming in my garden. Particularly notable for its longevity is the variety ‘Osprey;’ one self-sown plant of ‘Osprey’ in my deck border has been blooming continuously for the past three months and still has a few unopened buds. Other long-blooming perennials include Astrantia major, which has been blooming in my serenity garden since the beginning of July, and varieties of Heuchera. Heuchera ‘Raspberry Regal’ bloomed continuously for 12 weeks, and one plant of H. ‘Raspberry Ice’ has been blooming in the deck border for the past three months and is likely to continue blooming until frost.

long-blooming perennials

Geranium, Tradescantia, Astrantia, and Heuchera are all plants with small flowers and prominent foliage. Their display in the garden is often a subtle one, especially since their big first flush of blooms is typically followed by sparser flowering. fall heliopsisThere are other long-blooming perennials in my garden, however, that put on a big showy display for eight weeks or more. Chief among these is the false sunflower (Heliopsis helianthoides), which begins blooming in mid-summer and often continues until frost. One clump of this plant blooming in the holding area, for example, began blooming during the second week in July (9 weeks ago) and are still going strong. Another big, showy plant that is often long-blooming is the tall Rudbeckia lacianata x ‘Herbstsonne’ (‘Autumn Sun’); this plant began blooming at the back of my blue and yellow border 6 weeks ago and is likely to continue until frost.

herbstsonne in blue&yellow

It’s not possible to create a list of reliably long-blooming perennials, because which perennials will have long bloom periods depends greatly on local climate and conditions. Many gardeners in warmer climates than mine swear by the hybrid Geranium x ‘Rozanne’ as a long-blooming champion, but this plant is not reliably winter-hardy in my zone 5a garden.  By contrast, some of the long-blooming perennials in my garden, especially Geranium x oxonianum and Tradescantia virginiana are not heat-tolerant. In warmer climates, these will bloom in late spring and then go dormant in the heat of summer, perhaps to bloom again in autumn. (This is how divisions of both these plants behaved in my zone 6b Gettysburg garden.) But in my cool Maine garden, these will often bloom continuously all summer long. Micro-climates within the garden also matter; several plants that I have growing in different parts of the garden seem to have longer bloom in cooler, slightly shadier locations. Rudbeckia ‘Herbstsonne,’ for example, blooms longer in the partial shade at the back of the blue and yellow border than it does in the sunny fence border, and Astrantia major has bloomed longer in the deeper shade of the serenity garden than in the light shade of the deck border.

It seems likely to me that, with some trial and error, most perennial gardeners can identify perennials that are long-blooming in their conditions. Which perennials have long bloom periods in your garden?

Belated Blogaversary: Five Years and Growing

August 27, 2014

fence border tallMy sense of time has been so thrown off this year by the fact that I am not returning to school to teach that I forgot about the five-year anniversary of Jean’s Garden until I was alerted by a congratulatory email from WordPress. The first post of this blog went online on August 22, 2009, and I have used each ‘blogaversary’ as an opportunity to stop and take stock of where my gardening journey and my blogging journey have taken me. This year, that accounting is a bit belated.

Cover 2011When I look back over these five years, I see growth. The blog has grown, accumulating readers and followers – this despite the fact that I have not been a very faithful blogger during this past year. As I get settled into my new life in the months to come, I hope to get back on a schedule of 5-8 posts per month. I have also grown as a blogger, and that growth includes my growth as a writer and as a photographer. The photography for this blog inspired the Jean’s Garden gift calendars that I have produced for friends and family for the past five years. (See A Year of Gifts from the GardenA New Year in the Garden, A Doubly Good New Year, A New Year in Jean’s Garden, and A New Year in Two Gardens.) I was thrilled this past year when Gettysburg College’s Musselman Library mounted an exhibit of some of the best photos from these calendars.

imageThis blog also provides a record of the growth of my garden. When I began blogging in 2009, my back garden consisted of two flower beds, the deck border and the blue and yellow border, facing one another across a central walkway. Blog posts from fall 2009 (Garden Alchemy: Turning Sand to Soil and The Pleasures of Planting) record the creation of the fence border. This was followed in 2010 and 2011 by posts about the plans for (My Not-So-Secret Garden, Planning the Serenity Garden, and The Plan) and creation of ((Finally!) Breaking Ground and Birth of a Garden) the serenity garden and  also the addition of a raised bed in 2013 to create a stronger sense of enclosure for that part of the garden (Closure). In 2012, I was inspired by my blogging experience to go back and re-read the hand-written  journals I had kept for many years to recover the pre-blog development of the garden (The Ghosts of Gardens Past) and to create a new History of the Garden blog page. As I enter a new stage of my life, I am also entering a new stage of garden growth as I plan and develop a whole new front garden – a process that I have begun to document here (First Steps Toward a New Front Garden and Working with a Landscape Architect).

imageThe most important growth this blog has seen is my growth as a gardener. In many ways, that growth is a result of writing this blog. Blogging has introduced me to the gardens, knowledge and ideas of many other gardeners, and they have been an important source of information and inspiration. Many of those gardeners have commented on my blog posts, raising questions and making suggestions that have helped me enormously. And writing about gardening has forced me to be much more self-conscious about what I am doing and why. Reflections on my own practice have led me to a deeper understanding of garden design. (See, for example, What Makes a Garden “Room”? and Serendipity in Garden Design.) Trying to explain what is happening in my garden and why has also increased my understanding of garden science (Blue Is a Cool Color and Botanical Identity Crisis). Because I was science-phobic in my younger years, I am particularly proud to have mastered some of this botanical science; and I am looking forward to learning more of it when I enroll in the Master Gardener’s course next year.

I expect that my blog, my garden and my understanding of gardening will all continue to grow in the years to come.

Unexpected Seedlings

August 22, 2014

G. oxonianumOne of my favorite hardy geraniums, growing in many different places in my garden, is Geranium x oxonianum. This is a naturally occurring hybrid of G. endressii and G. versicolor. It  has funnel-shaped clear pink flowers and a habit of sprawling outward from a central clump of foliage, with long flowering arms that drape themselves over nearby plants. The first G. x oxonianum that I added to my garden was identified as ‘A.T. Johnson’ and had the silvery pink flowers for which that variety is known. I later added other varieties, including one that was labeled as ‘Wargrave Pink’ (which is actually a named variety of G. endressii) and one labeled as ‘Claridge Druce.’ Both of these had salmon pink flowers (and, in fact, I could never tell them apart). Later, I got a division from a friend of a plant also identified as ‘Wargrave Pink,’ but which has much deeper pink and more deeply veined flowers. (This may actually be G. endressii.)

gburg a.t. johnson geranium x oxonianum G endressii August

Over time, I have given up trying to distinguish these geranium varieties from one another. The various plants have been divided and moved around several times; and in some cases their roots have become intertwined so that I sometimes have what seems to be a single plant with both silvery pink and salmon pink flowers (see From Two Plants to One: My Own ‘Hybrid’ Geranium).

oxonianum seedlingsI have always assumed that these hybrid plants had sterile flowers and could only be propagated by division. So it was quite a surprise this June to discover two small clumps of Geranium x oxonianum growing among the goldenrod at the edge of the blue and yellow border. Since this is one of the few flower beds in which I never planted G. x oxonianum, these could only be self-sown seedlings. Some reading in Peter Yeo’s Hardy Geraniums (Timber Press, 2001) enlightened me. I discovered that Geranium x oxonianum is not sterile – although, as is typical of hybrids, the offspring won’t necessarily be the same as the parents. I also learned that these plants can project their seeds to considerable distances from the parents, and that Geranium x oxonianum varieties are difficult to sort out because they combine and recombine so readily.

oxonianum seedling flowersMy new plants have the clear pink funnel-shaped flowers that I love so much, and they seem to be the silvery pink color that I prefer. The only mystery that remains is why these first seedlings appeared more than a decade after I first planted G. x oxonianum in my garden. Whatever the reason, I am delighted to have them. I will leave them to grow where they are for now, but these unexpected seedlings are destined for homes in my new front garden.

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.

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