June Lilies – Smells Like Summer

Lilium regale

Lilium regale

 Lilium regale

Steamy summer lilies

perfume the humid air,

Trumpets stuffed with sticky pistils

and golden stamen dust,

Myriad pollinators’ fare.

Humid, hot, musky weather has heightened the fragrance of late, late, late spring. Summer solstice is June 21st, but heady scents have wafted about for quite some time now, enticing us toward full summer, especially in the dark. What smells so good right now?

The stars of the garden are the Regale lilies which have been glorious for weeks during this beneficent season. Sweetbay magnolia, (hard-to-find evergreen cultivar ‘Henry Hicks’) anchors the corner of the front porch, with annual Nicotiana alata ‘Fragrant Cloud’ scattered through the border, popping out white at night (which you must take some trouble for. Eltzroth-Thompson and Monticello’s Center for Historic Plants in Charlottesville grow them each year but sell out right away. You can grow your own from seed.) Night moths love it.

Wild honeysuckle and multiflora rose, the bane of native plant champions who fight their aggressive ways, still scent our rural night air with the haunting resonance of the South. In counterpoint, native milkweed is thriving, feeding fritillaries, swallowtails, and butterflies of all sorts. I believe ours is swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata), with more of a pink flower.It smells like talcum powder, a heavy sweet scent. I think I see the common milkweed (A. syrica) in the ditches now, with more of a purple hue.

Milkweed Meadow

Milkweed Meadow

Bright orange A. tuberosa spangles the roadsides in dry sunny spots. Asclepias species feed many, many pollinators, including the iconic endangered Monarch butterfly. We must plant them everywhere – roadsides, medians, neighborhood drain fields, perennial borders, lowlands, wetlands.

Fritillary and Milkweed

Fritillary and swamp milkweed

I spoke to the Piedmont Master Gardeners (www.piedmontmastergardeners.org) in April and attended one of their “Through the Garden Gate” tours recently and am so impressed with the wealth of talent and commitment in the gardening community of Albemarle County and environs. Check out your local Master Gardeners and see what they’re up to.

 

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May Day – Peonies, Planets, and Stars

Peony 'Festiva Maxima'

Peony ‘Festiva Maxima’

It’s a good peony season here in the hollow, beginning with the old ‘Pink Charm’ John brought from the University, first given him by Mrs. Hereford for the Carr’s Hill garden back in the 70’s. It’s a single form with large golden stamens and a brazenly stinky scent! It’s followed closely by the classic ‘Festiva Maxima’, many people’s favorite, with blood-red flecks in the middle of their double icy hearts and an innocent lemony fragrance.

Peony 'Pink Charm'

Peony ‘Pink Charm’

These early peonies are said to bloom best for the warmer climates. Very hardy in their home countries of Japan and China, Wyman says: “Able to withstand temperatures well below zero, it is especially cherished where winters are long, cold, hard and snowy.” But I have always thought of it as a belle of southern gardens. Another early one is from the old Blenheim estate near Monticello, a double deep rose-magenta with a very sweet scent. Peonies are said to often out-live the ones who planted them.

Now that the Festivas are beginning to tatter away, ‘Sarah Bernhardt’ (very showy with burgundy stripes) and ‘Gardenia’ (purest white) are beginning to fatten their buds. Mild weather has extended all the bloom times and with these two later ones, we should go into June, barring, of course heavy rains, wind or hail.

But it’s been a beneficent spring and we rarely have hail in the hollow. After all that flowering, the great beech has produced a few sprays of nuts. I hope it will bear every year now and feed the foxes, turkeys, jays, and deer.

Beech flowering

Beech flowering

The Regale lilies have budded with no emergency sheets needed for a final late frost, a first. Lightening bugs are beginning to rise out of the meadow and the frogs begin to croak in the evening.The creek rushes on, still running high. I think of our poor fellow citizens in California vainly painting their lots green.

Covering lilies April, 2010

Covering lilies April, 2010

Our clear nights have been cool with spectacular skies. Not much light pollution out here (although we occasionally see the glow of Charlottesville to the east), but even though our horizon is narrowed to a leafy oculus by the hills that surround us, what we see when we look up we see pure and bright. The winter constellation Orion no longer sets to the west. The moon is waxing (John gave blood and I’m starting seeds) and Venus is the evening star. The Big Dipper wheels to the north, but we’re too far down to ever see the Little Dipper.

 

 

 

 

 

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Who Are the Violets Now?

Common blue violet/Viola sororia

Common blue violet/Viola sororia

Who are the violets now

That strew the green lap of the new-come spring?

Shakespeare, Richard II

Purple and blue stain the landscape. Virginia bluebells and violets thrive in the moist places this cool season along with fern and bleeding heart, all reliably deer-resistant. You can eat the petals as well as the young leaves of the violet.

As we plant to rejuvenate and restore habitats, we must remember early spring larval food for butterfly and other pollinator caterpillars as well as nectar for the adults to sip later in the summer. Violets feed the great spangled fritillaries; spicebush and sassafrass host the spicebush swallowtails which have newly hatched here in the hollow, just as the various milkweeds nourish incipient monarchs.

Narcissus jonquilla simplex

Narcissus jonquilla simplex

This is the peak of a prolonged daffodil season with  mid-season Segovia and Salomes just beginning to fade and Haweras and jonquillas coming into their own. A good succession of bloom can be got from the early cheery yellow Tete-a-tetes followed by the old Bari Conspicuous (an heirloom introduced 1869 that was here in the hollow when I came), then Segovia, Hawera, ending with the very late N. biflorus, the old Twin Sisters, that always marks the end of daffodils for us (and have not yet shown their heads).

www.brentandbeckysbulbs.com and www.vanengelen.com are reliable mail order sources for all kinds of bulbs. The Heaths’ Daffodils for American Gardens is the indispensable reference.

BEECH WATCH CONTINUES

American beech/Fagus grandifolia

American beech/Fagus grandifolia

After sitting still for weeks, the beech has begun to burst into life, the male buds swelling in a coppery haze with the females still tightly wrapped in their dark brown barrels. In all seasons, this is to me the most beautiful of our native trees, loving the lowlands and the company of holly.

Rainy beech

Rainy beech

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Spring Thaw

The sound of dripping is the sound of spring.

Windy days have kept the thaw from being too muddy and everything is ready to burst into life with abundant moisture and warming temperatures. We await the equinox on the 20th when the sun crosses the celestial equator and day and night everywhere are of equal length. Heard the peepers driving from Charlottesville towards Afton on Sunday afternoon on Dick Woods Road, but haven’t heard them yet in the hollow. Down here, being low makes us a frost pocket.

Gave a talk on the Layered Garden to the venerable Piedmont Master Gardeners (piedmontmastergardeners.org) this morning, a fine group of local horticulturists who do a lot of good in the community. Among many other efforts, they’re launching their Healthy Virginia Lawns Program, and continue to operate the invaluable Help Desk at the Virginia Cooperative Extension office (434) 872-4580.

Narcissus 'Little Beauty'

‘Little Beauty’

We added 100 of the Van Engelen miniature Narcissus mix last fall to the existing planting under the old privet and it’s good to see them coming up. I am late on my seed order but want to get the old ‘Gem’ series of small-flowered marigolds – Red, Tangerine, and Lemon – as well as the trailing Jewel nasturtium and moon vine from Johnny’s Selected Seeds. I bought the rest – Malabar spinach and scarlet runner bean from Southern Seed Exposure packets at Integral Yoga in Charlottesville.

The red maples are coloring and the old winter constellations of Orion and the Pleides are falling below the horizon.

 

 

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Icy Winter, Old Wood

February has given us winter after all. Woke up this morning to 10 inches in the hollow.

We are fortunate to have forsythia brighten inside as we gaze out upon the snow. Cut about a month ago, its old wood bears inexorable flowers, a lesson to us all.

Forcing is a lost art. I well remember it as a home project in elementary school – jars of branches lined up on the old dresser in our dining room –  but no one has patience or space anymore to let cut stems cure in water for a few weeks before they reveal their treasures. Not only spring flowering woody plants like forsythia, witchhazel, cherry, dogwood, and viburnum, but deciduous trees like maple, oak, and beech will unfurl their buds for you if you wait long enough.

Lord knows no one outside Boston has any right to complain this winter, but temps in the low teens and single digits remind us here in central Virginia that Zone 7 still means an average winter minimum of 0 – 10 degrees. Yet not all is dormant. Narcissus foliage pokes up bravely from old snow and Galanthus (Snowdrops) is stalwart. Witchhazel ‘Diane’ blooms ruby red against the white.

003Mid-February – typically, Valentine’s and Presidents’ Days – is the traditional time to prune back evergreen hollies to reduce size or shape for hedges or topiary: Chinese (Ilex cornuta), Burford and prickly ‘Rotundifolia'; Japanese (I. crenata) ‘Helleri’, as well as native inkberries (I. glabra). All can be cut back into old wood and hard pruned for size and shape this time of year. Wait until the snow melts and give them a boost with compost or Holly Tone to keep up a good dark color.

Spring will not come until March 21st with the equinox and proper alignment of the planets, yet the days have been getting longer since winter solstice in December and even in the bitter chill there is birdsong in the mornings and afternoons. Sparrows, chickadees, cardinals, junkoes, crows, bluejays, and bluebirds are active as the Earth stirs beneath her stillness.

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Winter Buds

New Year's Beech

New Year’s Beech

Apricot leaves and buds of the great beech (Fagus grandifolia) that dominates the west garden give delicious color to our frozen landscape this first week of the new year. Well within Zone 7 minimum of 0F to 10F, we’ve been hovering  in the teens at night for the last week, highs only in the 30’s.

Bathtub tap on low flow, electric blanket plugged in, wood fire burning, Zsa-Zsa and Milo’s water bowl inside – you know it’s winter in the hollow.

Zsa-Zsa lounges by woodstove.

This week will institute Beech Watch, through March and April when the leaves finally unfurl in a display that, to my eye, rivals the blossoming of the cherries as a symbol of spring’s beautiful regeneration. Stay tuned to see what I mean.

Hollow Beech in January

Hollow Beech in January

Look for Piedmont Landscape Association’s 32nd annual seminar on February 18, 2015, at The Paramount Theatre in Charlottesville, Virginia, (www.piedmontlandscape.org or www.theparamount.net), featuring noted landscape designer Julie Messervy, eco-edible forester Dave Jacke and divine tree hugger Joan Maloof.

Cut branches of honeysuckle bush (Lonicera fragrantissima), witchhazel (Hamamelis sp.), dogwood, redbud, pussywillow (Salix sp.), and any of the deciduous trees like oak, maple, and, of course, beech, to bring inside. Change the water weekly and watch them open up. It’s a miracle.

Beech Buds

Beech Buds

Happy New Year.

 

 

 

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Meadowlands

Northern Sea Oats/Chasmanthium latifolium

Northern Sea Oats/Chasmanthium latifolium

The middle of October is glory time for our native grasses. The hayfields, pastures and ditches of Albemarle County are lush now with purple top, broom sedge, Indian grass, foxtail, pink Muhly, and love grass, to name but a few.

The Chasmanthium pictured above has settled into the hollow for many years now. It spreads very aggressively through seeding, thrives in sun or shade, feeds and shelters the birds and provides fillers for fall bouquets. It’s seen here through the potting shed window with the furrowed bark of a tulip poplar and a grove of walnuts in the background.

I’ve followed several local meadows since April in preparation for the talk I gave this afternoon at Monticello’s Center for Historic Plants – CHP’s pollinator meadow at Tufton Farm; the meadow at Boar’s Head Inn; and the Murray Morris meadow at Martha Jefferson Hospital in Charlottesville have all opened my eyes to the thrumming life and beauty in these restorative plantings.

If you plant or nurture a meadow, make sure you have a path through it.

We have long lived with our meadow in the hollow, and to see this ecology replicated in public landscapes is heartening. The New York Times recently wrote up the newly-opened meadow at Longwood Gardens in Pennsylvania, apparently a very popular attraction.

The warm golds and bronzes of the grasses mirror the buttery hickories and oaks above them; wine-stained maples and blackgums reflect back the reds and pinks of switch grass and pink Muhly.

In the spring, I have my doubts, but come fall there’s no question for me that this is the climax of Nature’s beauty in Virginia.

Hollow meadow

Little bluestem, partridge pea and rudbeckia, Murray Morris Meadow

Little bluestem, partridge pea and rudbeckia, Murray Morris Meadow

Bundoran Farms, Albemarle County

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Naked Ladies in the Hollow

Naked Ladies

This was the best year yet for naked ladies (Lycoris squamigera), a long-lived old-fashioned southern bulb that puts up mysterious foliage in spring only to die down and resurrect in late summer with tender pink stalks of lavender tinged amaryllis-like flowers. Let the foliage ripen to yellow before you mow it down and be careful not to cut the flower stalks that come up later. Ours have the advantage of the dark background of the great beech that dominates the garden.

I cut the last of them a week or so ago to save the energy they would have expended on making seed. Fall always vies with Spring for me but I end up preferring autumn for nature’s perfect beauty. I love to see the first scarlet burgundy colors of Nyssa sylvatica, literally “nymph of the forest” ( aka black tupelo, blackgum, pepperidge tree) at the edge of the woods along with Virginia creeper, the clear yellow of goldenrods and the invasive native wingstem.

Marigolds and nasturtiums also capture the fire of the sun. We love to bring late flowers into the house this time of year.

 

 

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Dog Days

Milo snoozing

Milo snoozing

The equinox passed on June 21st and even though each day gets shorter until late December, it’s high summer now – called “dog days” from ancient times, it’s the period from July through August when the dog star, Sirius, rises in conjunction with the sun. Early this afternoon I heard a red fox’s wild cry and just saw the behind of him trotting into the woods.

Fireflies rise each evening here in the hollow from the moist green meadow, blinking like Christmas lights against the dark tree canopy of the woods, happy in their habitat that is so rapidly despoiled elsewhere. Butterflies and fritillaries sup on swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) at the edge of the creek and nesting birds feed their young with countless caterpillars, though I believe Doug Tallamy and his graduate students at U. Delaware counted a particular phoebe’s take one day. See his Bringing Nature Home to get a glimpse of the magic web our plants and insects make.

Orange butterfly weed (A. tuberosa), milky Queen Anne’s lace and black-eyed-susan dot the sunnier parts of the meadow.

After several years of diseased tomatoes, this year’s batch is growing well with dark green color, no leaf spots and good fruit set: Big Boy, Lemon Boy, Mr. Stripey and cherry Sweet 100 all look good. I’ve always rotated tomatoes to a new plot each year, so I suspect the difference is purchasing starts from a different garden center. I think the old one had infected stock.

Have been harvesting lower leaves of Malabar spinach (Baseslla rubra – see www.johnnyseeds.com) which I fell in love with last year when I profiled Georganne Arave’s garden in Virginia Gardener Magazine (www.vagardener.com). They climb like morning glories, so you need a trellis of some sort. I’m using an old tomato cage and also have a row at the base of the wire deer fence. There’s something about those deep green, fleshy leaves that just cries “Eat me, I am good for you!”

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Long Cool Spring

Spring Beech

Spring Beech

Spring is taking its time coming to the hollow. The creek is running high, making rills over the stones.

We took 2+ inches of rain the other night and soaked it all in. I think of our poor fellow-citizens in the west who are burning up from fire and drought and here we sit in an Eden of moisture.

Even with late frosts that culled low-lying peach orchards here in western Albemarle county, the Regale lilies have not been nipped (yet). Many people have told me what a hard winter this has been, and I’ve seen a lot of deer damage and cold burning on broad leaved evergreens like camellias, nandinas, and boxwood as well as yellow tips on bulb foliage that shows extreme temperatures.

Peonies are beginning to bloom. Fortunately cool weather has kept them from opening up to all the recent rain. ‘Festiva Maxima’ just showing her burgundy flecks. I love its light lemony fragrance. The old deep rose one from Blenheim smells more heady. Single ‘Pink Charm’ with her golden stamens is stinky, so watch out when you’re selecting peonies for fragrance.

Strawberries beginning to ripen. Larkspur and cleome seedlings up. Tomato seedlings and jalapenos wait to be planted in soil that has finally warmed.

 

Long cool spring

Long cool spring

 

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