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Summer Stars

Gordonia or loblolly bay sports pristine white camellia-like blooms.

Several months ago with the help of some friends, I planted a wonderful new bed in my front yard.

The bed is situated on abysmal compacted soil that used to be part of the driveway.  The horrible soil is riddled with chunks of gravel.

My plant palette consisted of mostly native wetland and prairie species.  Surprisingly, due to the tenacious nature of these contenders, almost everything I planted has done really well.

This spring I enjoyed the ‘Forest Frost’ phlox, zig-zag irises and the Virginia sweetspire.

Now that summer has rolled around, a new set of stars have taken center stage.

Just this week the gordonia or loblolly bay (Gordonia lasianthus) produced her first flowers.  I chose the gordonia for this bed because it is evergreen and will grow tall enough to provide some screening.  Also its narrow upright growth habit should allow this tree to fit into my small space without encroaching on the power line.

Gordonia flowers look like single white camellias with a tuft of cheerful yellow stamens in the center.  On close examination, you can see that the white petals are bordered with a fine fringe.  Instead of withering on the plant, the flowers fall off while the petals are still white.  As the tree matures, we can drive in on a carpet of flowers every June!

The bumblebees and other pollinators love Bedstraw St. John's Wort.

Behind the gordonia a beautiful native Bedstraw St. John’s wort (Hypericum galioides) is blooming non-stop.    The flowers are golden with puffy clusters of stamens in the center.   A constant parade of bumblebees travel to and fro with their baskets full of pollen.

This is a souvenir plant.  I grew it  from cuttings collected on a float trip down the Chunky River.  The glowing blooms remind me of happy times canoeing with my pal Peter Loos.

Nearby the ‘Raydon’s Favorite’ aromatic aster (Symphyotrichum oblongifolium ‘Raydon’s Favorite’) is throwing a crop of unseasonably early blossoms.   I have grown the straight species aromatic aster for years but this is my first experience with this cultivar.  I am impressed so far by the precocious blooms and healthy deep green leaves.

'Raydon's Favorite' aster is a precocious bloomer.

All these blossoms attract an array of pollinators.  So… every time I step out my front door there is something new to admire.

A swallowtail butterfly sails by…

A gordonia blossom drifts to the ground…

The golden St. John’s wort bobs under the weight of a hefty bee…

And the unexpected asters reflect the perfect June sky…

It all reminds me of a poem I was forced to memorize back in Junior High School.  The poem is the prelude to  “The Vision of Sir Launfel” by James Russell Lowell.

The part I remember best goes like this:

“…There is no price set on the lavish summer,

And June may be had by the poorest comer.

And what is so rare as a day in June?

Then, if ever, come perfect days..”


				

With A Little Help From My Friends – Part I

Marc used the pick to dig all the planting holes and here he is using it to dig a trench to border the bed.

I haven’t been blogging due to the lovely weather and abundance of gardening projects.

Of all the projects I am most obsessed with the new bed in the front yard of my new house.

Several months before we moved, I discussed the dilemma of the front garden with my bud Marc Pastorek.  My house is barely 50′ off a busy street.  The area was graveled and had been used by my renters for parking.

I wanted to create a bed to screen the unsightly street view but we still had to park in the small space and there is a low power line that crosses the property.

So Marc & I discussed the options.  We used a paint marker to define a proposed planting space and then test drove Richard’s giant F-150 through the loop.  With a little modification we defined our shape – a half oval bed that measured 19′ across and 16′ back from the street.

Then I got busy with the process of renovating, moving and settling in and let the idea simmer on the back burner.  And so… five months passed.

I crawled along the edge and installed chunks of petrified wood in the trench to make a border.

In March, Marc came for a visit and we laid out the bed and did the first stage of planting.  Due to the compacted nature of the soil, Marc dug the planting holes with a pick.

The plant list included tall evergreens for screening.  A loblolly bay (Gordonia lasianthus) was planted as far away from the power line as possible near the edge of the bed.  This lovely native is upright and narrow.  My specimen had been pre-trained to a single trunk and had been nurtured in my nursery for a couple of years until it was ready to bust out of a 7 gallon pot.

The rest of the screening was provided by 3 star bush (Illicium floridanum) that I bought this past spring.  Star bush should be just the right height to screen without getting into the power line.  However it is such a tough cookie that it could be cut to the ground to regrow if the power company decides to tamper.

I added a small collection of Virginia sweetspire or Virginia willow (Itea virginica).  There are two dwarf selections and three with long flowers from the Chunky River.

The star bush is blooming now. Since we started with large plants, by the end of the summer they will offer the suggestion of a screen.

Most of the rest of the plants are tough perennials or prairie species including ‘Screaming Yellow’ baptisia, Mr. Hubricht’s amsonia, ‘Forest Frost phlox, and ‘Henry Eillers’ sweet coneflower.

We generously amended the terrible soil with cottonseed meal and composted chicken manure.

My plan was to edge the bed with a border of petrified wood.  My friend Peter Loos hunts petrified wood near his home in East Texas.  Pete had gifted me with several buckets full of small pieces.

After the planting was complete, Marc used the pick to dig a trench along the edge of the bed.  Meanwhile, I crawled along (on my hands and knees like a dog) installing pieces of the petrified wood into the trench.

We were both extremely tired but proud at the end of the day.

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