in the garden


This past winter was hard on gardens. Actually, that is an understatement.

My friend Susan asked the following question on Facebook:

Chester county gardeners…. anyone else have what appears to be totally dead butterfly bushes? All 3 of mine look dead. Hydrangeas aren’t looking very good either.

Yes and yes. I know what she is talking about and so do a lot of us.

I have (or had) a butterfly bush (buddleia) that was decades old. It was a beautiful purple color in late summer. It has sent no shoots and every branch left on after this winter was dead. I had cut it back in late fall and mulched it and then put a blanket of leaves over it, but I think it may be gone. I cut off the dead branches but have not dug up the root ball. I will leave it alone to see what happens. I don’t hold out much hope, but maybe it will surprise me.

I had wanted to plant buddleia in other places, so I have already bought and planted more. Buddleia gets so tall that I prefer it in the back of things where it’s height is more appropriate. We will see how the buddleia grows.

Another usually indestructible and woody perennial that may have bitten the dust due to the winter is my Caryopteris. Caryopteris is commonly known as blue beard or blue mist shrub. This plant can take the worst of summer and still get these delicate branches of blue-purple flowers. It’s a perennial that blooms on new/current growth, but I think the winter may have rendered it D.O.A.

Caryopteris is one of those plants that I have read only lasts a few years I some cases but I have friends who have had it in their gardens for more than a few years. For me this perennial was a surprise- it had appeared when I cleared some weeds and vines away in one spot in the garden. I am not sure if I will replace it or not. As with the buddleia I cut off all the dead stuff and am leaving the roots alone.

Hydrangeas were also very hard hit by winter. I did get mine ready for winter with winter mulch and leaves and a lot of my bushes lost every bud and every stalk. Some bushes escaped relatively fine and are leafing like normal.

The more tender hydrangeas which lost everything above ground in the ice and snow are surviving for the most part. They are sending up shoots from roots.

The hydrangea cultivar I have which was hurt the worst by the winter is “Pistachio”. Pistachio has a cool pink and green flower head but I knew it was finicky when I planted it, the grower warned me. Well one did. I sourced this hydrangea from two places. So I am going to wait and see. If it doesn’t come back, I will pull it and replace it with a more hardy variety.

Hostas also were affected by this winter. Some are slow to emerge, and some have had their first leaves look somewhat stunted and distorted. I am told by hosta growers that this is normal given the winter we had along with a comparatively cold spring. Most of my hostas seem to be back, although there are a few just sending shoots up now.

I did lose all but one tall bearded Iris. Irises are something I am not great with, so I don’t know if the bearded ones will eventually be replaced or not. I have clumps of yellow inherited ones that I think are more like a flag iris that are returning in good shape, so maybe I will stick with those.

My daisies are back, but a lot of the cone flowers and rudbeckia (Black-eyed Susans) are not. Or not yet. I have not decided what to do about that yet, but did decide this year to plant some shorter sunflowers and zinnias. I love zinnias in the garden. They are so cheerful. Yes they are annuals, so if they do well I will collect the seeds in the fall for next year.

I think it is going to be a marvelous year for peonies. They seem to have come through the winter unscathed and are budding nicely. Peonies are so lovely and lush a flower and they smell as good as they look. Peonies are a plant I am always happy to add more of, and one of my favorite sources for peonies is Applied Climatology at the West Chester Growers Market.

My roses seem to have come through the winter fine. They are leafing out well and I have new growth too. They have been fed for spring and now I wait for them to bloom the first time. I also cleaned their beds out well because roses can be so finicky. People think roses are so difficult to grow. Really , they aren’t – you just need a routine.

A rose tip is to remember banana peels – think of it as junk food for roses. You can cut the peels up and freeze them and either bury them a few inches down or put them in a food processor with a little bit of water and old coffee grounds (not flavored coffee grounds) and make a sludge that looks pretty gross but if you dig it in around your roses the plants will love it.

As for annuals, I was happy to see impatiens are back this year. Last year they were wiped out by downy mildew so no one carried them. I am not sure how busy Lizzies (one of their common names) will do, so I did not by many plants. And no, I am not a begonia or New Guinea impatiens person as far as bedding plants go. I do, however, like New Guinea impatiens in hanging baskets.

Other annuals I am trying this year include Lisianthus or prairie rose. This wonderful old fashioned flower is one I have not seen in years, and saw out at Black Creek Greenhouses in East Earl. Lisianthus grows wild (or grew wild) in the plain states. It is a favorite of florists because it’s rose-like flowers can last a good ten days in cut arrangements. I used to plant this all the time in my gardens growing up and then I just stopped seeing the plant in nurseries.

Some of my friends with decades-established gardens have given me some old-fashioned favorites to add to my garden this year. Lambs ears, ferns, lily of the valley, pinks, nepeta, and lily turf (lirope). These are all plants they needed to split, so some have come to me. And down the road when I have plants that need splitting, I will do the same. Gardening is a personal thing but a communal thing to share with friends and family much like a well-loved recipe. As long as I have been gardening I have been swapping plants with people.

Our local nurseries in Chester and Lancaster Counties are full of fabulous plants now. If you don’t see something you like, ask. I will comment that I have noticed prices have increased at area nurseries, which is also undoubtedly due to the hard winter we had.

Yes you can buy plants at Home Depot, Walmart, and Lowe’s but the reality is cheap plants are just that, cheap. Don’t necessarily expect a lot from them as a lot of plants sold by big box stores aren’t always grown in the same zones as we live in.

These big box stores truck in plants that are not always grown in compatible growing zones that are also all gorked out on plant boost food. This means you might plant them for an instant garden fix but they may or may not survive long term or even the season. I have included the USDA’s hardiness map for Pennsylvania at the bottom here so you can see our zones. I am not saying don’t buy from these places, but merely buyer beware. Check to see if the plants say where they are from.

It is yet another beautiful day out there, perfect for gardening. Gardening is such a terrific thing you can do for yourself. And don’t think you can’t garden because you can. It’s a process, so start small and see what you like. Some people love container gardening, some growing herbs and vegetables in raised beds. Some love woodland gardening that are wild and rambling and others like gardens which are more formal.

Gardening is always good for the soul. Enjoy the day!