Sunday, May 13, 2012

Around the Garden

So many plants are blooming or have already bloomed that one wonders what will be left in June. A traditional Mothers Day bouquet of lilacs or a nosegay of violets and lilies-of-the-valley would be hard to come by this year. And yet, there is so much lush foliage out there – surely something will oblige us.

A wonderful book for gardeners who want something blooming from March until October is Succession of Bloom in the Perennial Garden, by Nancy DuBrule-Clemente of NatureWorks. Because Nancy runs her business in nearby Northford and lives (and gardens) in Middletown, her book is usually right on target.

New gardeners often shop for plants only in spring, buying whatever is in bloom or bud.  Inevitably, their gardens will suffer a long gap from July until September, when convention tells us it;s time to stock up on vibrant chrysanthemums and asters.

Of course, it is much easier to compose a color scheme when the flowers are on the plant. Making decisions based on catalog pictures or even on the promises plant tags can lead to sad combinations. Experience being a dear teacher, I learned the sad lesson that it’s better to buy the hardy geranium “Johnson’s Blue” when it’s in bloom, lest one end up with the much less-desirable magenta version by mistake.

A small digression on geraniums and nomenclature: when is a geranium not a geranium? When it’s really a pelargonium, the plant most of us associate with window-boxes and Memorial Day cemetery plantings. Those sun-loving, floriferous beauties, complete with fuzzy leaves, are native to South Africa, and will turn to a dark mush at the first frost of autumn. So, too, are the so-called scented geraniums, beloved of herb gardeners. True geraniums are perfectly hardy, have interestingly scented leaves, and bloom twice per season for several weeks. A new star of the garden scene is the perennial Geranium ‘Rozanne’, reputed to bloom from June through October.

The moral of that story is to shop at established nurseries that have botanical information on their plant markers. In a brief market survey, I asked for ‘Rozanne’ at a big box store’s garden department. The very polite young sales clerk had no idea that there was such a thing as a hardy geranium. At a small nursery specializing in bedding plants and hanging baskets, I was told that hardy geraniums bloomed too early to be desirable to people shopping for Mothers Day.  Erroneous, but I didn’t argue. Online, I finally found ‘Rozanne’ at a famous Connecticut nursery’s website, but priced somewhat above the stratosphere.

So, even though the tulips are gone by and Dutch irises and poppies are already hitting their stride, there are still some stand-bys to look forward to. Roses and some rhodies are just beginning to open up, and the ants haven’t discovered the peony buds yet. Mountain laurels in sunny spots look almost ready to open, but daylilies may wait for June. Flowering shrubs can play a major structural role in garden beds, and there are wonderful and under-used shrubs just waiting at the nursery, like orphaned kittens in a pet shop. The dark burgundy-leafed Physocarpus ‘Diablo’ packs a powerful punch, especially when its pinkish-white flowers emerge in July. Both the native and the Chinese witch hazels bring joy when they bloom in October and February, respectively. Daphnes and deutzias (above right) are a nice change from the more common azaleas, when you want a mass of true white flowers.
An oddity that I can’t whole-heartedly recommend is the Tamarix, or salt-cedar, shown at lower right. Introduced to this country in the 1930s, it is considered a nuisance in the Midwest. Here in Connecticut, it has been well-behaved (i.e., not spreading) for many years, and for one week per year, it dazzles with masses of tiny pink flowers.

Many of my specimen plants have come from places a little off the beaten path. Small specialty nurseries are often well-represented at events such as the Master Gardeners’ Annual Symposium or the CT Horticulture Society’s twice-yearly plant auctions. As we approach Memorial Day, the traditional “last frost” date in our area, it may be time to plan a foray in search of something that will burst into flower during the heat of real summer – not during the erratic highs and lows our spring currently offers.

1 comment:

random esker said...

It is always with pleasure that I read your insightful and helpful natural observations. Keep 'em coming! Thanks.