Tag Archives: summer garden

A Garden Journal To Conclude July

Cleome (Spider Flower)

Desiccation was the word that best described the garden at the end of June, but as July ends there are some signs of verdancy. July was a difficult month for the already stressed perennials and shrubs, but some decent rains have had a visible restorative effect on many of them. Even the lawn now shows less brown and more green.

While the garden seems willing at this point to make the effort to improve, this gardener is finding excuses. The garden could really use some serious maintenance but as usual, it is getting very little attention as the summer goes along. Among the many tasks that need tackling are applying mulch garden-wide and dividing the irises. I have done some weeding, deadheading and trimming, but not nearly enough to improve the overall effect—there is so much more left to be done. Another week though before I can get some time to concentrate on it.

Angelonia angustifolia ‘Angelface Blue’ (Summer Snapdragon)

In the meditation garden Angelonia angustifolia ‘Angelface Blue’ (Summer Snapdragon) lies sprawling across the labyrinth’s path, knocked over by recent poundings of rain.

Last summer was the first time I had planted Angelonia, an annual, and it was outstanding well into October.  This year it has not been quite as spectacular, but it is finally beginning to bloom more profusely. The bees really enjoy the flowers.

Angelonia angustifolia ‘Angelface Blue’ (Summer Snapdragon)

Garden View With Meditation Circle

The meditation circle is normally a very low-maintenance feature, but a heavy rain this past weekend also washed away much of the pine bark mulch, covering many of the stepping stones.

Thymus x citriodorus (Silver Edge Thyme)

The section of Thymus x citriodorus (Silver Edge Thyme) is mostly green, but in some poorly draining areas it is starting to show some brown spots from excess standing water during the storm.

Perhaps the thyme will bloom yet. There are a few faint colored puffs on it that, when one looks close, are seen to be little lavender flowers.

Iberis sempervirens ‘Purity’ (Candytuft)

Once the star performer of the labyrinth, Iberis sempervirens ‘Purity’ (Candytuft) is losing its shine.

Many of the mounds are severely stressed. This time last year it was holding up beautifully and was quite green.

The candytuft bloomed from December to May this year and perhaps needs a rest. Maybe some compost should be added for nutrition.

Penstemon digitalis ‘Husker Red’ (Beardtongue)

‘Husker Red’ is still working well in the meditation circle. Curiously the leaves of the ones planted last year are mostly green, with little or none of this luscious dark red colored-foliage found in these that were added this year. The coral Dianthus lining the entrance makes a nice pairing.

Perovskia atriplicifolia (Russian Sage)

Perovskia atriplicifolia (Russian Sage) has flopped over but is blooming now and should last well into autumn.

Clematis ‘Jackmanii’ and Rudbeckia hirta ‘Irish Eyes’

Encouraged by recent rains, Clematis ‘Jackmanii’ now has a few new blossoms. Rudbeckia hirta ‘Irish Eyes’ is in full bloom to the delight of many insects. The stalks of this Rudbeckia seem very sturdy but, like those of so many items in this garden, they would benefit from staking.

Cleome (Spider Flower)

Cleome has flowered well in one spot and poorly in another.

In early July there was a heartbreaking loss of a Crape Myrtle in the front yard from a freak wind storm.

The same storm brought down a pine into the garden, obliterating a Buddleia davidii and some other plants in an area along the back fence, an area I have been actively trying to invigorate.

‘Carolina Sapphire’ Arizona Cypress

Zinnia

Actually there are several large gaps along the back fence. In the northwestern corner a ‘Carolina Sapphire’ Arizona Cypress was planted earlier this year to replace the eleven-year old one we lost last summer. This is a fast-growing tree that will fill this area in a few years. Meanwhile I can tell it has grown quite a bit.

While waiting for the ‘Carolina Sapphire’ to mature I envision this corner overflowing with cutting flowers in the summer, but my efforts have been small.

Zinnias were planted from seeds, but thwarted by extreme temperatures, they remain small and insignificant. I think the birds must have eaten most of the seeds.  This is a rather poor showing.

Transplants of cleome did not survive here.

Also Gladioli planted in this same area flopped over after their first exposure to wind, so they did nothing to make the garden look nice long-term, but their blooms provided enjoyment in cut-flower arrangements.

So, there are many openings and opportunities around the garden at this time. Although I am not doing much work in the garden this summer, I am thinking and planning. I am optimistic the garden will be fun again next Spring. And, while there are no grand views, no wide vistas in the garden right now, it is surprising to me how many individual plants are providing some interest. It seems much better than in years past.

Monarda didyma (Scarlet Beebalm)

Meanwhile birds, wasps, bees and other insects do not seem to mind the garden’s disarray, as they feast on nectar and seeds. The yellow of American Goldfinches brightens the garden as these tiny birds feed on various plants—they especially seem to appreciate the Echinacea purpurea (Purple Coneflower).

Hummingbirds regularly visit Monarda didyma (Scarlet Beebalm), which is no longer lush and spectacular but is still in bloom.

Leucanthemum x superbum (Shasta Daisy)

And fresh dew on Shasta Daisies is still a remarkable thing.

Almanac

With two days to go this hot July stopped short of setting a local record for the number of consecutive days above 90 degrees, when the temperature reached a mere 89 degrees yesterday. Precipitation was 0.5 inches above normal for the month (actual month total was 4.64; normal month total, 4.04). Three heavy storms on the 21st, 22nd and 28th accounted for 3.31 inches of that.

Smiles and Starts

In the meditation circle this morning numerous bees were flitting in and out of the Penstemon  mexicali ‘Pike’s Peak Purple’ (Beardtongue). Watching them back out of the purple, bell-shaped flowers made me smile.

Penstemon mexicali ‘Pike’s Peak Purple’ (Beardtongue)

Suddenly

one bee seemed to stumble awkwardly

and fall a foot or so

from the top of the blossom

it had targeted.

The bee struggled for a moment but then regained control and flew away, thus escaping the trap set by this ominous-looking spider.

Argiope aurantia (black and yellow garden spider)

I had not noticed the spider myself and was startled to realize its presence.

I think this is a Argiope  aurantia (black and yellow garden spider), a common garden spider in the U.S. and not harmful to humans.  This spider incorporates a dense white zigzag in the center of its orb web.  This zigzag feature is a stabilimentum, the purpose of which is not confirmed, but one possibility is to warn birds away from the web. Interestingly stabilimenta are only found in spiders that are active during the day.

Mid-July Musings

Gardenia jasminoides ‘Chuck Hayes’

‘Chuck Hayes’ Gardenias began blooming at the end of May this year and since then a few occasional blossoms have continued to appear. This particular bush lost several limbs last week when the top of a neighbor’s Loblolly Pine came crashing down during a severe wind and rain storm. The jolt seems to have encouraged a few more flowers.

Rudbeckia hirta ‘Irish Eyes’

Temperatures are heading toward 100 today. A few individual heat-loving plants are going strong, but for the most part the garden is shutting down. There are no lush drifts of color or interesting plant pairings to note.

There are still plenty of bees around enjoying such delicacies as Rudbeckia hirta ‘Irish Eyes,’ Penstemon mexicali ‘Pike’s Peak Purple’ (Beardtongue), Nepeta ‘Walker’s Low’ (Catmint) and Salvia ‘Blue Sky.’

Monarda didyma (Scarlet Beebalm)

Monarda didyma (Scarlet Beebalm) began flowering on the last day of May and though it looks stressed from the heat, blooms continue to appear. For the past three weeks hummingbirds have been regular visitors.

Goldfinches dart among the tired and ragged seed heads of Echinacea purpurea (Purple Coneflower). For a while longer I can justify leaving the drying coneflowers for the birds, although their sprawling stalks (and most of the garden in general) have become very unsightly. This garden is definitely at its best in Spring.

Seeing Green (Irish Eyes)

Rudbeckia hirta ‘Irish Eyes’ Against A Brown Clematis Vine

Yesterday

Distressed from heat and drought the first yellow flowers of Rudbeckia hirta ‘Irish Eyes’ are opening with petals already streaked with brown. This cultivar gets its name from the green center.

A plant division taken last year is faring better than its parent near the garden’s southern entrance, where it waves above the four-foot gate.

Rudbeckia hirta ‘Irish Eyes’


Yesterday I explored the garden and though the heat has been keeping the gardener away, there is activity in this ecosystem.

Today

This morning a steady rain sounds against the roof. From the upstairs window I watch goldfinches dart between spent stalks of verbena and echinacea, supplying bright sunny color to the gray morning.

Early into the record-setting heat of July, the garden became quickly desiccated. The change was dramatic and yet, from the window there is green again in the garden. Plants stand refreshed. Will this rain be restorative? For a time I think so, but the rain stops.

Almanac

July 3 – 8, 2012. This area of North Carolina set a record for having six consecutive days with temperatures above 100 degrees F. (Most days were hotter and heat indexes were around 110.)

July 8’s 105-degree day tied the record for highest temperature ever recorded for this area and beat the previous record of 103 set in 1977 for the date July 8.

Despite last Friday’s big thunder and wind event that sent two trees crashing down in the garden, July has been seriously hot and dry. That afternoon storm brought an hour of much needed rain, but the severe heat wave continued through the weekend. The heat wave finally broke on Monday leaving the area feeling noticeably cooler with highs in the mid-eighties, even bringing occasional, spotty showers.

Winter and spring were marked by abundant rainfall that left the garden lush and verdant. Rains stopped around mid-June while temperatures steadily rose. Early into July’s record-setting heat the garden responded by shutting down. Now rain is forecast for a couple of days.

Unseen Gusts and Rain

Today there are overflowing puddles and bird baths and even the grass has lost its crispy texture, but the garden is changed.  In our absence yesterday a heavy wind and rain storm passed through. Neighbors said it was fierce and significant, but everyone was surprised to see the trees down.

Crape Myrtle at Front Walk

Returning to the neighborhood, first I saw a next-door neighbor’s small oak tree had almost broken in half, the top had just folded over toward the ground. Just beyond at our house, an almost-blooming Crape Myrtle had snapped at the base and was lying in the street.  Its twin stood sturdy and strong, but missing its partner at the front walk.

One of a pair of Crape Mytles snapped at the base during a storm.

Not having seen the storm ourselves it was difficult to imagine what in the world had happened. The house seemed fine and was.

Of course I was curious how the garden had fared.

Ahh, a pine tree! We do not own any, having learned our lesson many years ago about living under pine trees. They fall.  They lose their tops. I did not need the reminder, but here it was and sure enough pine trees do still lose their tops! And even if a pine tree belongs to the back yard neighbors, a pine tree’s broken top can suddenly become one’s own problem.

Top of Loblolly Pine Landed Inside The Garden

Amazingly the pine fell inside our fence, rather than crashing down onto it, so the fence is not damaged. The meditation circle was filled with pine cones and a few small branches, but is otherwise unscathed. Early morning cleanup revealed a broken ‘Chuck Hayes’ Gardenia, a crushed Buddleja, a flattened Gaura and a few missing perennials, but mostly the garden was spared. It still looks a bit bruised though and will take some time to recover it dignity.

It is too soon to see this as an opportunity to redesign, but eventually it will work that way.

After Cleanup From The Storm

Closing Out June — Yellowing, Browning, Wilting, Crisping

Despite many ominous indicators around the garden, Echinacea purpurea ‘White Swan’ cheerfully showed itself off in the new front garden.

Echinacea purpurea ‘White Swan’ (Coneflower)

I worry most about the shrubs and trees, which take so long to establish and are so expensive to replace. Inexplicably though, I spend the most time watering the Rudbeckia hirta ‘Irish Eyes,’ which is ever so close to blooming, and also the patch of annuals where this morning I discover the first zinnia flower of the summer. Last year’s ‘Blue Point’ Juniper hedge gets a reasonable amount of water.

Watering the garden is something I rarely do, but for two of the last three days I have entered the garden very early and dragged around a water hose, encouraging selected plants to deeply soak in as much as possible of this cool, wet offering in preparation for serious times ahead.

The garden’s situation is diminishing rapidly as no appreciable rain has fallen here in a few weeks. The temperature was 105°F. yesterday and today is 102°F. so far this mid-afternoon. (These days forecasts are frequently supplemented with the feels like number, so I must add it currently feels like 105°F. if one takes the heat index into account.)

How do the plants like it? Much of the Salvia guaranitica ‘Black and Blue’ is shriveled and no longer blooming. Shasta daisies are wilting, wilting, with many of the 4-foot stems simply flopping over. Other floppers include the northern border’s rosy Echinacea purpurea (Purple Coneflower), which tends to land askew, pushing anything nearby down as well.

Almost evergreen here most years, the foliage of German bearded iris is yellowing throughout the garden. [Those irises really need to be divided this year.] Tall fescue lawn never tolerates the summer well and is a crispy brown, receding visibly and opening up patches of hard, cracked earth where weeds are waiting to take hold.

The garden always holds some measure of optimism. Just as I had begun to worry about it, thyme in the meditation circle (Thymus x citriodorus (Silver Edge Thyme)) presented a tiny little bloom yesterday. And today’s early morning walk around the meditation path was peaceful and full of sighs.

Thymus x citriodorus (Silver Edge Thyme)

Since starting to write this article our neighborhood lost electricity due to the demands from the serious heat wave. After 45 minutes it has come back on. Other neighbors across the highway were without power for 4 hours.

Late June — Ahead Of The Heat Wave

Phlox paniculata (Garden Phlox)

Phlox paniculata (Garden Phlox) used to be a garden highlight at this time of year in my previous garden, but foraging deer like it way too much here in this garden. So a couple of years ago I finally just removed all the Garden Phlox, except that a piece here and there still shows up occasionally. As soon as the errant phlox starts to bloom it is snapped up by deer with an eerily keen sense of knowing. This happened just last week, but this morning held a nice surprise. I spotted several phlox that managed to bloom and not be eaten.

Despite a very late planting ten Allium ‘Drumstick’  bulbs are beginning to form flowers on rather thin 24-inch stalks. These are very small, one-inch flowers and look very charming. The bulbs were a gift and were purchased at Biltmore House in Asheville, NC.  The package states these have been in cultivation since 1766 and are deer-resistant.

Allium ‘Drumstick’

Rudbeckia hirta ‘Irish Eyes’ is nearly 5 feet tall now and seems so, so close to blooming, just as the weather forecast is for a few days of excessively high temperatures and high humidity. Today’s 87° F. will give way and move toward extremes, reaching 105° F. on Saturday and Sunday.

Rudbeckia hirta ‘Irish Eyes’

Meditation Circle

The entrance to the labyrinth in the meditation circle was still in shadow during this morning’s garden stroll. In the foreground spent spires of Penstemon mexicali ‘Pike’s Peak Purple’ jut in every direction.  Last year I did not cut them back after blooming, but this summer I plan to try deadheading it (soon). This penstemon is still blooming and should continue throughout the summer, but certainly not as prolifically as a month ago.

The low-growing Thymus x citriodorus (Silver Edge Thyme) has yet to bloom, but it was in flower last year on May 5.  The last few weeks a little bunny has been nibbling at it a bit. I am considering planting more thyme to fill the central area surrounding the gazing ball. This Silver Edge Thyme did not impress during the winter but it now looks very healthy.

In the circle’s center well-behaved mounds of Iberis sempervirens ‘Purity’ (Candytuft) are green and lush, with the newest ones added this spring almost catching up in size with those planted last year.  Around part of  the outer edge the annual, Angelonia ‘Blue,’ adds intense summer color next to a few specimens of Penstemon digitalis ‘Husker Red.’

Meditation Circle

Summer Orange

The temperature in late afternoon is 90°F. Even early this morning the garden was hot and bright. Orange hues prevailed. The deer have returned recently, but somehow missed this daylily, aptly named ‘Tangerine.’

Tangerine

Hemerocallis ‘Tangerine’ (Daylily)

Hemerocallis ‘Tangerine’ (Daylily)

Hemerocallis ‘Tangerine’ (Daylily)

Flame, Pumpkin, Rust

Echinacea purpurea (Purple Coneflower)

Tomato, Vermillion, Orange-red, Coral

Lantana camara (Common lantana)

What Is Missing?

Asclepias tuberosa (Butterfly weed) 5/27/2011

My neighbor gave me some Lychnis coronaria (Rose Campion) this spring, so just as I got those re-introduced into the perennial garden, I noticed the Foxglove do not look like they will bloom this year. And where are the Asclepias tuberosa (Butterfly weed)? There should be at least three of these native milkweed species plants providing larval food for Monarch butterflies. The one pictured above was flowering in late May last year.

Realizing several things are missing from the garden this year made me think back to some other plants that were once important to the garden, but are no longer around.

Colocasia (Elephant Ear) and Cornus C. Kousa Dogwood both succumbed to back-to-back drought years, but were great features in 2006. The Kousa never bloomed though.

Colocasia (Elephant Ear) 7/5/2006

Kousa Dogwood 7/5/2006

Eutrochium purpureum (Joe-Pye Weed) was actually called Eupatorium purpureum when this first grew in my garden. A native eastern North American plant, Joe-Pye can grow 5-8 feet. I planted this in a spot too close to the house and was not able to move it. Now I see places in the back of the borders where one might do well.

Eutrochium purpureum (Joe-Pye Weed) 7/18/2006

Both Rudbeckia hirta var. angustifolia (Black-eyed Susan) and Crocosmia should be easy to grow here. Both have repeatedly been added to the garden but they do not stay around.

Black-eyed Susan 9:6:2009

Crocosmia 7/25/2006

Hydrangeas are also finicky in this garden, probably not getting enough water in the years I have tried them. With all the rain this year perhaps one would have thrived. They grow all around this area, including next-door, so it is certainly possible. Asiatic Lily, Phlox Paniculata and Hosta were highlights in the garden’s early years. Deer have made these too frustrating to grow.

Hosta and Bishops’ Weed 5/25/2006

The garden is starting to slow and I am wondering what plants to add to give it more structure and carry it further into the summer. Trips to garden centers and public gardens are in order for inspiration.