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This Week in My Garden

June 2, 2013

rhododendron back slopeNormally I only post an overview of what is happening in my garden once a month, for Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day on the 15th of each month, but so much is happening so quickly in the garden at this time of year that a lot gets missed between Bloom Day posts. So, at least during the height of the garden season, I plan to provide a weekly overview of what is happening in my garden.

This was my second week in Maine; and during this seven day period, the weather first improved from cold and rainy to sunny and seasonably warm, then reverted to cold and rain for a day, followed by several days with temperatures in the 90s (F). The past seven days provided plenty of evidence to support  Mark Twain’s quip that “If you don’t like the weather in New England, just wait a few minutes.”

What’s in Bloom

rhododendron with bee first rhododendron bloom

In the heat of the last few days, the garden has been making a rapid transition from late spring to early summer. The large rhododendron (variety unknown) on the back slope is in its full glory and a busy site of bumble bee activity. In the Deck Border, Rhododendron catawbiense album has just begun to open its first flowers. The buds of these turn deep pink as they mature; the flowers then open a pale lavender and fade to white.

g maculatum espresso g maculatum album

Varieties of hardy geranium also began to bloom this week. The first to open were two cultivars of Geranium maculatum – ‘Espresso’ in the Serenity Garden and Geranium maculatum album at the front of the Bedroom Border. This morning, other geranium species began to join in as the first flowers opened on Geranium x cantabrigiense ‘Biokovo’ and Geranium sanguineum.

first biokovo geranium sanguineum2

My morning tour of the garden today also revealed the first open flower on Amsonia hubrichtii and the first Siberian iris bloom. (Iris sibirica always blooms first along the south-facing foundation at the back of the Iris Bed, where it joins the flowers of Tradescantia ‘Zwannenburg Blue’ that began blooming earlier this week.)

first amsonia bloom iris and tradescantia

Not all blooms are so welcome. Blackberries, which grow anywhere that I don’t pull them out, are in bloom in several places where I don’t want them. I have also seen tatarian honeysuckle (Lonicera tatarica) blooming in two different locations at the edge of the woods. tatarian honeysuckleThis plant is an invasive pest in Maine that thrives in edge places. It is well established along rural roadsides in my part of Maine and is spreading along a stream that flows through my neighborhood. I’m sure it got into my garden courtesy of the birds. While its blooms are making it highly visible, I will take advantage of the opportunity to cut down and uproot the plants on my property. I can’t eradicate this plant, but vigilant action can keep it from getting a foothold in my garden.

Garden Chores

deck container1During the beautiful gardening weather between the cold rain and the hot muggies, I managed to make considerable headway on early season garden chores. First I got the knee-high grass mowed in both the front and back yards. Then I bought annuals at a local nursery and planted them in containers on the deck and a hanging planter at the back door. I got the screen house set up on the deck so that I can begin eating meals outdoors. Relying on notes from last year, I moved several plants around – moving hosta ‘June’ forward a few inches to get it out from under the foliage of Lamprocapnos spectabilis ‘Gold Heart’ in the Serenity Garden, swapping the places of Tradescantia ‘Osprey’ and Hemerocallis ‘Final Touch’ in the Fence Border, and switching around two hostas and an astilbe in the Deck Border. I also planted morning glory seeds along the fence at the back of the Fence Border and cleaned up the small herb bed by the back door, adding a seedling of Italian parsley and a chunk of oregano moved from an inconvenient location where it had self-sowed on the back slope.

There are still many chores waiting to be done. High on my list for the coming week are dealing with those tatarian honeysuckle plants, removing the last of the deer protection from the Serenity Garden, replacing a few plants that were no-shows this year, getting this year’s truckload of compost delivered, and getting all flower beds weeded and mulched.


I haven’t seen any deer in the garden (or any evidence of their presence), but I have seen the repeated predations of my garden nemesis, the woodchuck (Marmota monax – also called a groundhog in some parts of the United States). I have learned over the years that woodchucks have individual tastes, and the damage to my garden phlox (Phlox paniculata) leads me to believe that this is the same individual that has been residing in a burrow under my deck for the past three years. All the phlox plants in the back garden – ‘Blue Paradise’ and two plants of ‘David’ in the Blue and Yellow Border and another ‘David’ in the Fence Border – have been eaten down pretty much to the ground and seem to get munched anew every night. I have been tempted to try spraying the phlox with something like cayenne pepper to make the plants less appealing, but I am afraid that the woodchuck will then transfer its attentions to other plants that are currently unmolested. (Delphinium, Rudbeckia ‘Herbstsonne’, Echinacea and Baptisia have all been victims in other years.) So I’ve decided to write off phlox for this year in hopes that it will satisfy the voracious woodchuck appetite.

phlox eaten1 phlox eaten2

On a pleasanter note, the arrival of warm weather means that I am now able to sleep with the windows open, being serenaded by a chorus of tree frogs as I fall asleep and a chorus of birds as I wake up. I saw a number of familiar birds in the garden this week, including robins, a crow, blue jays, phoebes, and a mockingbird. I also encountered a tufted titmouse (not a frequent visitor) in the mock orange outside my bedroom window. I only regret that I didn’t have my camera at hand; this is a bird with a face so expressive that it looks like a cartoon character. The warm weather has brought out the bees, and I have seen several tiger swallowtail butterflies fluttering around the trees.  I look forward to the arrival of more bees, birds, and butterflies in the weeks to come.

36 Comments leave one →
  1. June 2, 2013 9:09 pm

    Glad to see you are firmly installed in Maine and your garden is moving into full swing.

    • June 4, 2013 10:02 pm

      Carolyn, It’s amazing what three 90+ days in a row can do to get things moving. The only down side was that my spring flowers (bleeding hearts and solomon’s seal) said “We’re done!” and dropped all their flowers in the heat.

  2. June 2, 2013 9:31 pm

    Your chores sound like mine…numerous. I love the tufted titmouse as they buzz through here for about a week. Deer love my phlox so I have to spray it. Your garden is just blooming away thanks to your crazy weather…we had the same weather and I can’t keep up with the chores (especially weeding) and documenting all the flowers.

    • June 4, 2013 10:05 pm

      Donna, I’m looking forward to being able to get started on these chores earlier in the season and do them at a more leisurely pace once I’m retired. At this point, I feel as though I’m playing catch-up. I took down the last of my deer protection around the Serenity Garden today, so I hope the deer continue to stay away.

  3. June 2, 2013 9:55 pm

    If only there could be more time. I like that you kept notes from last year — that’s probably something I should do, but it always slips my mind. The past few days here have felt like summer, the rest of the week promises to be spring like. Be well!

    • June 4, 2013 10:15 pm

      Kevin, I learned years ago that I never remember those “things to do next year” that seem so obvious in the moment. When I created my garden record spreadsheet 10 years ago, I included a page called “Garden Notes” with a column for each separate garden area, plus a column for “general notes” (like how much compost to order for delivery). It’s easy to jot a quick note in the spreadsheet as I notice something.

      • June 5, 2013 5:04 am

        Simple. Sensible. Brilliant. And yet, I never thought to do it. Thanks for the lesson. 🙂

  4. June 2, 2013 10:25 pm

    WOW! Seems like your garden is in full bloom..Keeping my fingers crossed for the bees, butterflies and other beneficial insects to visit your garden..

    • June 4, 2013 10:17 pm

      Phillip, The garden is not in full bloom at this point; it’s in what I would call “beginning bloom” — many plants have just begun to open their first flowers, and there’s at least one plant blooming in most flower beds. I love this moment in the garden season because there is so much anticipation of what is coming. Each morning, I walk around the garden and find new blooms on plants that weren’t blooming the day before.

  5. June 3, 2013 3:57 am

    I’ve wondered how jobbing gardeners make a living in states with a short gardening season.

    • June 4, 2013 10:22 pm

      Most people who do outdoor work in Maine cobble together a living by doing different kinds of jobs in different seasons. For example, a yard care contractor in my neighborhood does landscaping and mowing, drainage and excavation work, and plowing in the winter.

      • June 5, 2013 3:15 am

        Thanks for the information. I thought the winter work might have something to do with snow.

  6. June 3, 2013 6:31 am

    Lovely pics, Jean! Like the Amsonia, beautiful. Also had deer visiting recently but it seems I was able to solve this little problem. 🙂

    • June 4, 2013 10:24 pm

      Annette, I’m curious about how you solved your deer problem. The deer in my neighborhood still have lots of non-garden habitat, so they only tend to venture in the garden when no one is home and the pickings are easy (after I go back to Pennsylvania in fall) or when they are desperately hungry (in spring).

      • June 5, 2013 3:46 am

        Dear Jean, the answer to your question can be found in my recent blog post “Molesting William” – it certainly did the trick for us…and the plants are all the happier 😉

  7. Harriet Robinsom permalink
    June 3, 2013 7:14 am

    I don’t see many titmice, either, but I hear them all the time. They are the birds who say “here, here, here). I am located in Otisfield, ME, not far from you. A bird expert told me that the tufted titmouse winters and summers in Maine.

    • June 4, 2013 10:25 pm

      Harriet, Thanks for tipping me off about the titmouse song. I’m terrible about recognizing birds by their songs; now I’ll be listening for these.

  8. June 3, 2013 10:34 am

    Hi Jean,
    Your Maine garden is beginning to catch up with our Maryland one. Our siberian iris has finished blooming but our amsonia and geranium are also blooming. Our hated critters are the deer that munch on our rhododendrons, roses, and hostas. Our birdhouses are full and parents are chirping away when we get close to their babies. Hope your spring to summer is as fine as ours! Best to you!

    • June 4, 2013 10:29 pm

      Shenandoah, We have many fewer deer than you have in the mid-Atlantic region. In fact, the Maine wildlife department has been concerned about a declining deer population and is, as a result, encouraging protection of winter deer yards and considering lowering the number of deer permits for hunters in fall. Most of Maine is pretty sparsely populated, so there is still lots of natural habitat for the deer. I may see deer on my property once or twice a year — usually a doe and fawn or a lone yearling male; nothing like the big herds that roam the Gettysburg area.

  9. June 3, 2013 1:19 pm

    You move from spring to summer as we anticipate moving from autumn to winter – today was still warm enough for me to be outdoors in short sleeves from 11, but down in the Cape there is real cold. However there is no indication of winter for at least 10 days on Sequoia…

    • June 4, 2013 10:30 pm

      Jack, We’re moving in opposite directions but, I think, having similarly changeable weather. Two days ago, temperatures were in the 90s (F); tonight their are frost warnings for counties north of here.

  10. June 3, 2013 3:26 pm

    Glad that your weather has improved. I also have Geranium maculatum ‘alba’. Your rhododendrons are really lovely, that is something I do not grow here but remember fondly from growing up on Long Island. Regarding Tartarian Honeysuckle: this was commonly planted as an ornamental until recently, in fact when we moved here the west hedge was made up mostly of this shrub. I have removed several but have to be careful of the neighbors’ sensibilities since we share this hedge and whether a given part of it is on my side or theirs is not always so clear. Their main concern is not to take down too much of the hedge at once so as not to lose its value as a privacy screen.

    • June 4, 2013 10:34 pm

      Jason, While I was driving around doing errands on the weekend, I also noticed some Tatarian honeysuckle being grown as an ornamental — and I can understand the appeal; the flowers are pretty and I love the color of those berries in late August. What isn’t pretty is what this plant does when it gets into the forest understory. Because I live in a heavily wooded area, I feel a particular responsibility not to let that happen. Today, I dug up the two young honeysuckles blooming in my garden. Before they finish blooming, I should walk my acre of woods to look for any others that may have gotten seeded in relatively open areas in the woods.

  11. June 4, 2013 10:08 am

    It seems you have a lot to do. Enjoy the time in your lovely garden! There is so much going on there. Your description of sleeping with your windows open sounds heavenly. There are many tufted titmouse in our garden. I think they have a lot of character. They seem to be the busybodies of the bird world. They are very curious and soon let everyone else know about it.

    • June 4, 2013 10:40 pm

      Deb, One of the things I love best about summers in Maine is that the temperatures are cool overnight; we have maybe one or two nights a year when the temperature doesn’t go down below 70F. I don’t have air conditioning here. When it gets really hot (by which I mean above 90), I use what I call “Maine air conditioning”: I open all the windows wide overnight, then close them up in the morning while the house is cool. By early evening, when the house starts to get uncomfortable warm, the temperatures outside have started to go down and i can open the windows all over again. Tonight the windows will stay closed, but that’s because it’s supposed to go down to 40F — a bit nippy even for a cold-lover like me!

  12. June 4, 2013 2:05 pm

    Your garden is so pretty! That catawba rhododendron is fabulous. I have heard that they are realatively easy to grow, but had never seen one before. Also love all your sweet geraniums!

    • June 6, 2013 7:07 pm

      Spurge, I’ve found the catawba rhododendron easy to grow, but not so easy to get to bloom. I had it growing in my garden for almost 10 years before it got any blooms at all, and it has only gotten a dozen or more blooms twice (in 2011 and this year). When it does bloom, though, I’m reminded why I wanted it!

  13. June 4, 2013 10:33 pm

    How nice it is to have two houses, two gardens and two sets of growing conditions. I wish to have a place where i can live and garden at the height of our dry season, when going outside is really very difficult. I can also see the big difference gardening in your climates and in ours, here I can’t remember the changes with our plants because they are always there most of the time, except for the hippeastrum which die back-lost from view, and suddenly come out again with blooms after the first heavy rains. But i am now very curious as yours also changed habits just like mine, maybe it is not only the seasons which induce them to bloom, maybe there are unknown forces.

    • June 6, 2013 7:14 pm

      Andrea, I do like having two gardens, although I will reduce that to one next year when I retire from teaching and give up my Gettysburg townhouse. Our Maine climate is so very different from yours. Most perennial plants go dormant here when the frosts comes and the ground freezes — which can be anywhere between late August and mid-October; their roots stay alive underground through the winter, and they don’t send up new growth until April. It is exciting to see old friends reappear each spring and to watch the changing scene as different plants flower in succession.

  14. June 7, 2013 9:37 pm

    Hi Jean – Sometimes at this time of year, I feel like the name a friend calls me: “perpetual motion” and I think you also can have that name – and the results are beautiful! Gloria

    • June 8, 2013 9:30 pm

      Gloria, The rush of early season chores is made more frenetic by the fact that I don’t arrive home until late May. I am looking forward to being able to do these chores in a more leisurely way throughout the month of May after I’m retired and living here full time.

  15. June 8, 2013 5:59 pm

    Jean, I’m glad to learn you are back in Maine. I love seeing your garden photos from there. It allows me to relive spring again through your camera lens. Hope you get the better of your nemesis this growing season.

    • June 8, 2013 9:33 pm

      Joene, I was just down at my sister’s house in Massachusetts today, and I was amazed at how much further ahead their garden was. The Siberian irises that I planted there when it was my mother’s home (divisions from my own garden) have already finished blooming, while mine have just begun. My sister also has peonies in bloom while mine (divisions of the same plants) are still tight buds. I imagine that your blooms are even further along in Connecticut.

  16. June 8, 2013 9:24 pm

    You must be very happy to be back in Maine 🙂 Seems we are a little behind you here as the buds on my catawbiense rhodo are still holding tight. You know I’ve never seen a woodchuck before but after reading about yours I’m rather glad. Had no idea they munched plants like that.

    • June 8, 2013 9:41 pm

      Marguerite, I am very happy to be back in Maine. I was particularly happy to escape from Gettysburg this year. It was the site of one of the most decisive battles of the American civil war in 1863, and the town is going to be overrun with millions of tourists this summer for the 150th anniversary of the battle.

      My Rhododendron catawbiense had only tight buds two weeks ago, but now all the blossoms are opening or in full bloom.

      The one good thing about woodchucks is that they tend to get fixated on one plant and eat it down to the ground over and over again (while leaving other plants alone). One year, we had one that moved from garden to garden in my neighborhood and ate all the echinacea. For a couple years, I had one that was nuts for nasturtium. And then there was the woodchuck that had a thing for peas and used to stand on its hind legs in the middle of the day, reaching for branches of Baptisia australis and stripping off their new seed pods. I’ve had the phlox-eating woodchuck living under my deck for three years now; their life span is only about six years, so I’m hoping this one will depart soon and give my poor phlox a chance to recover!

  17. June 9, 2013 5:32 pm

    Hi Jean, the first picture of the Rhododendron is amazing. I wish we could grow them here, but the soil is alkaline and they don’t thrive. Your battle with the tatarian honeysuckle reminds me of the annual battle I’m going to have with brambles and convolvulous (bindweed) that has already reached the lower branches of the flowering cherry.

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