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Location, Location, Location

I’ve been traveling a little bit.  A few days ago when I returned home, I greeted my husband, walked the dogs, exchanged pleasantries with the cats then headed back to the front yard to check for any new developments in my most recently planted bed.

I’ve made several posts about this bed beginning in April when my friend Marc helped me plant it.  The soil is compacted and gravelly since it was previously a part of the driveway.  I chose the toughest possible plants and they were charged with the task of providing a screen as quickly as possible without getting into the power line above.  I had been collecting rocks for some time and I planted some sandstone tube rocks vertically and edged the bed with small pieces of petrified wood given to me by my friend Pete.

I know that Maybell loves this bed because she enjoys perching on the rocks.  I think I am obsessed with this bed because every time I get in my car or return home I walk right past it.  I have ample opportunity to study it a close range. The bed has a severe problem with goosegrass and I do most of my weeding a little at a time on the way into the house often with the mail and my car keys in one hand.

The Loblolly bay and St. John’s wort that were the stars last month are through blooming.  They are growing well and have crisp clean foliage.  Unfortunately two of my star bushes (Illicium floridanum) have not fared so well.  They have succumbed to a wilt disease.  The third star bush still looks fine.

I am considering various replacement plants.  The replacements will need to be evergreen for screening.  They will need to be less than 8′ tall so they can stay below the power line.   If they are at all related to the star bush they are likely to be susceptible to the soil borne fungus that killed their predassessers.

My strategy for dealing with the heavy horrible compacted soil was to choose mostly tough native plants – prairie species in particular.

Right now the ‘Henry Eillers’ sweet coneflower is giving a stellar perfomance.  This selection of the native (Rudbeckia subtomentosa) has narrow rolled petals that look like quills.  I love the wild species and this cultivar is just as beautiful and florifourus.

My ‘Cassandra Loos’ marsh mallow (Kostelezkya virginica ‘Cassandra Loos’) is in full bloom and is attracting a constant stream of pollinators.  This wonderful plant was introduced by my friend Greg Grant and named in honor of our sweet departed friend, Cass.

I have one antique rose in the bed.  “Marechal Niel’ is a Noisette rose that was introduced in France in 1864.  It was named for Napoleon’s Minister of War and was renowned for being a yellow reblooming rose.   A former student gave me my first ‘Marechal Niel’.  I rooted many cuttings and gave them away before losing my stock plant.  My friend Lydia Fontenot was kind enough to give a cutting back to me.  That’s why it’s always a good policy to share plants.  You then have somewhere to go begging if you kill the original.

All in all this bed has been quite entertaining.  The star bushes didn’t make it but everything else has.  And trust me – it IS a difficult site.  I stroll past it every day, though, so I know every inch of that nasty compacted soil and I have the utmost respect for those plants that have thrived.

And So It Goes

Our threadleaf Japanese maple was beautiful last fall.

About 20 years ago when we were still in the nursery business, my husband Richard took a roadtrip to some wholesale nurseries in Semmes, Alabama near Mobile.

He returned and gleefully presented a beautiful young 3 gallon threadleaf Japanese maple that he had purchased from Steven Sowato.  Richard was particularly impressed the the skillful graft that was done high on the trunk (so that the graft scar would be hidden by the foliage).  We speculated that his prize was probably a 3 year old plant.

We owned our own nursery and had little time to garden.  We kept this little gem as a container plant.   And so… through the years it grew and flourished.  We moved it to various sitting places – always in a prominent spot – and greatly admired its beauty.

Ten years passed.  The maple was residing in a 15 gallon black nursery pot and was in need of a bigger pot.

I was in the midst of landscape renovation and I set it into a plum position in the center of the back garden at our newly purchased house.

R. I. P.

And another 10 years passed.  We looked down on it from our bedroom.  We photographed it decked out in autumn crimson.

We moved next door to our old house and still visited it almost every day on our evening golf cart rides.

A couple of months ago we began the move back next door.  I had mixed feelings about this transition but was looking forward to the view of the maple from my bedroom window.

One day I noticed early fall color and then something seemed awry.

I looked closer and was shocked to realize that my maple was dead.

Logically I knew that it probably succumbed to a verticillium wilt disease brought on by stress from drought and heat and hurricanes.

Joe enjoys carousing in our dead maple.

But still I was in denial.  I kept scratching twigs every time I passed – hoping for signs of life.   It still has the same beautiful form and all our friends said “It looks so natural – just like it is sleeping.”

Attracted by the crispy crackle of the leaves, the kitties began to romp about in the branches.  I shooed them away – still in denial.  Oddly my reaction reminded me of the time my hound Doreen ate one of my Born shoes and I kept the other one for two years just in case the situation could be remedied.

Then… the telling sign – a fecund bloom of mushrooms sprouted at the base of the trunk.  Even I could not argue with such strong evidence.

Sister Maybell likes the crispy leaves.

Still though,  I have not cut it down.  I’ll let it linger through the fall.  I could probably even let the pretense continue through winter.

But I know now that it is a pretense.  I am looking for a replacement – something unrelated to the maples and un-susceptible to the deadly fungus that lingers in the soil.  I’m considering a large containerized ironwood that like its predecessor needs to be released from captivity.

But for the time being,  I’ll admire what’s left of the lovely form and let the disrespectful kitties dance on the grave as often as they like.


 

I Intended to Throw that Chair Away!

Quite a few years ago, I picked up a rusty metal chair off the side of the road.

I sometimes call it my garden but Joe and Maybelle actually own it!

The chair was obviously not sturdy enough to support a human adult.

Still… I liked how it looked so I set it off the beaten path in a flower bed.  I worried a little that some near-sighted person would try to sit in it and break a hip when they hit the ground.

The chair, however, has been remarkably well behaved.  It has not enticed or tricked or coerced anyone into taking a seat.

So the chair was purely decorative.  It had no use until today when I went outdoors  and realized that it was a cat chair.

Joe and Maybelle were draped over the seat, lounging and basking in the sun.

According to them – the chair was made to order!


 

Ponytail Palm in Peril

Joe and Maybelle love to perch on the deck rails and launch attacks on the ponytail's grass-like leaves.

Joe, the Jungle Cat, pauses before going in for the kill.

About 32 years ago I worked at a greenhouse range in Pass Christian, Mississippi.

One of the greenhouses had a bench with flats and flats of tiny ponytail palm seedlings beneath.

One rainy day, when things were slow, I spent about an hour picking through the flats until I found the cutest little seedling with three tiny trunks.  It was about three inches tall.

I potted it into a small pot and it made several moves with me.  I continued to pot it into larger containers.  It is now over 7 feet tall and has fallen on hard times.

It is too heavy for me to move easily and is currently in a very large (20 inch plus) broken plastic pot.

The swollen base stores water but kitties know it is really the perfect scratching post.

Worst of all, a new generation of baby kitties have discovered it.

If I had known how attractive a ponytail palm (Beaucarnea recurvata) is to a cat, I might never have made the commitment to this one.

The long flexible leaves are especially irresistible to kittens.  They climb the trunk or leap off the deck railing to gain access.

Ponytails are also called Elephant’s Foot Palms because with age the enlarged base of their stems becomes trunk-like and swollen to store water.  To humans it looks much like an elephant’s foot.   To a kitty it looks just like the perfect scratching post.

Over these 32 years, generations of kitties including Elwood, Luna, Thibadeaux, Rebob, Molly, Gilly, Bubba, Titah, Lemur, Jeeter and Cakester have frolicked in and on the ponytail palm.

Their shiny pointed teeth and sharp little claws have brought it perilously close to death.

Luckily for the ponytail palm the back garden offers many distractions.

Now the new kits on the block, Joe and Maybelle, have discovered it.  They are greatly enamored of it.  I fear that they will love it to death.  My only hope is that they are distracted by the many other wonderful plants in the area that may be tough enough to take a beating.   They do, after all, have their very own personal black bamboo grove and native plant garden.

In the meantime, I’m worried that the Plant’s Rights Activists may come knocking at my door.  So I have plans to go shopping for a giant pot and maybe a dolly so that I can move this behemoth.

I will probably need to prune the top growth to stimulate new leaves at a shorter height.

Then I will relocate the plant to the front porch – away from Joe and Maybelle for the remainder of the season

I’ve got my work cut out for me!


 

High-Geraniums!

This lovely mophead hydrangea is blooming now in my back garden.

Mophead hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophylla) was part of every garden I remember from childhood.

Usually they were situated on the north side of the house in perpetual shade.

In early summer the huge rounded flower clusters looked like giant scoops of ice cream.

These hydrangeas are native to Japan but probably were first introduced into China before they made it west to Holland.   The Dutch grew them in greenhouses and introduced new varieties into other European countries.

The mopheads are cold hardy only to Zone 6.  In the U. S. they are strictly a southern thing and southern gardeners have truly embraced then.

The sterile flowers of this lacecap hydrangea look like paper cutouts. The tiny fertile flowers are in a cluster toward the inflorescence center.

Most hydrangea bloom clusters are a combination of showy sterile flowers that look like paper cutouts and tiny fertile flowers that can actually produce seed.   It is easy to see both these flower types in a lacecap hydrangea inflorescence. The mophead cousins have only sterile flowers and are not capable of producing fruit capsules or setting seed.

The hydrangeas of my childhood were usually pink.  I grew up in a town that was situated on Blackbelt prairie soil.   The soil was derived from limestone and so pH was high or alkaline.  In this type soil there is little free aluminum and mophead hydrangea blooms are often pink.

As a result, the blue flower clusters were more exotic to local gardeners and many resorted to chemistry to obtain the desired hue.   Iron sulfate, aluminum sulfate or ground sulfur were used to lower the pH.  The resulting acid soil contained more free aluminum and flowers were blue.

Creative gardeners sometimes even put sulfur compounds only on one side of the shrub resulting in a half pink / half blue / purple in the middle blooming shrub.  It was also common practice to bury rusty nails when planting one of these hydrangeas.  As the nails continued to rust in the soil they served as a timed release source of iron and the blooms remained blue.

During the years that I worked as a retail garden center salesperson, I sold lots of mophead hydrangeas.  They were also called bigleaf hydrangeas, garden hydrangeas, French hydrangeas or even “high geraniums”.

I advised my customers that no matter what they called the plant, it should be sited in an irrigated bed or in a situation where water could be supplied during drought.

Maybell and Joe Bob are quite taken with this mophead hydrangea flower.

The most common cultural question that customers asked me was about the pruning needs of the plant.  This hydrangea blooms on old wood.  In other words, if the shrub was cut to the ground or burned back during a hard winter it would skip a year of bloom.    So old established plants can be pruned like any old fashioned shrub – by cutting one third of the oldest stems to the ground.  Two-thirds of the stems remain and are capable of flowering.  This pruning method also will stimulate new growth from the shrub’s base and enhance the natural mounding growth habit.

Younger plants without so many stems can be shaped by cutting stems that flowered in the current season back to the desired height.  This is best done in summer after flowering when dried blooms are still present.  So a few of the stems with dried flowers can be headed back  and the remaining stems will surely bloom the following season.

The mopheads are not what I would call a subtle plant.  They are startling in full bloom with huge leaves and many rounded unusually colored flowers.

I think their main claim to fame is their usefulness in floral design.  Fresh flower stems will last for days.  They can then gradually dehydrate in the vase or hanging in a dark well ventilated area.  They retain their color and are popular in wreaths and dried flower arrangements.

Most old varieties bloom for about a month in late spring and early summer.   A few cultivars do bloom on new wood and so can rebloom through the summer whenever new stems are produced.  Penny McHenry, a hydrangea expert in the Atlanta area, discovered a reblooming variety that is called ‘Penny Mac’ in the trade.

A similar reblooming variety was patented and given the name ‘Endless Summer’.

I don’t much care for the concept of  an “Endless Summer”.  Here in Mississippi most of us are well over our romance with summer by the middle of July.   The thought of an endless Mississippi summer makes my head hurt.

So… I usually spec ‘Penny Mac’ on my landscape drawings.  It does rebloom and is cheaper because it is not a patented plant.


 

 

 

 

Jeeter’s Rose

My Crepuscule rose was planted in memory of Jeeter.


 

I came home late yesterday after speaking at an Urban Forestry conference near Memphis.

I was anxious to get out and see the garden after a three day absence.  Instead we’re having thunderstorms and tornado warnings so… it’s a great day for blogging.

I have looked out the window enough to see that the rains and wind have knocked the last of the azalea flowers into the middle of next week.  Luckily the roses are waiting in the wings!

During a break in the weather, I scurried out to the grocery store.  As I struggled down the front walk laden with groceries, I was delighted to see that one of my new roses was blooming.

I still miss the late Jeeter. He was quite a garden cat.

About three years ago, my favorite garden cat, Jeeter, was killed in the street.   My heart was broken because I had bottle fed him when he was a baby kitty.   Jeeter and I were inseparable in the garden.  I had never seen him in the street so I was totally blown away when he was killed by a car.

I buried him in my front flower bed in one of his favorite hang-outs.   I planted an orange rose on his grave.

The rose is a thornless climber called ‘Crepuscule’.    It is an antique Noisette that was introduced in 1904.   After three years I have trained ‘Crepuscule’ to clamber up into a nearby red buckeye tree.   The buckeye is still blooming a bit and I am happy to report that the red buckeye flowers harmonize perfectly with the soft apricot ‘Crepuscule’ blossoms.

I am even happier that the flower color is almost the same color as my boy Jeeter.   I like to think that the Crepuscule is channeling Jeeter and that as it rambles to the top of the 12 foot buckeye, Jeeter’s spirit is roaming the garden.

Deck Life

Baby Cakes

Cakester likes to hang in the black bamboo.

We are all delighted with the deck repair that our friend Stan “the genius man” Watts finished last week.   Stan put in some new deck posts and replaced the 25 year old decking.  It is pristine and very inviting.

The deck is an extension of our house.  Richard’s recliner is 3′ away from the sliding glass door that gives us access.  Our goal is to instigate the habit of deck sitting again.  We will use Baby Cakes who reigns the deck as our guide.

Cakester can be found on the deck most of the time.  She enjoys lounging on the railing where feist dogs cannot reach her.  She particularly likes the black bamboo portion of the deck.

The plan is that we will each take a chair, settle in and watch the back garden and woods wake up this spring.

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