in the garden: planning ahead

Gardens in our area have been tested this spring and summer. Lots of rain, with hideous heat and humidity in between.

I learned a lot about what my garden can and cannot tolerate with this weather. I lost almost all of the 60-year-old garden phlox because of all the rain. A gorgeous Blue Baron azalea survived my township snow plow guys to have its roots rot in all of the rain, and just today I noticed due to rain and borers I have also lost a David Austin rose, and a Blue Boy azalea out back. Even some of the ferns I sourced this year are starting to rot from the rain.

I hate losing plants, but I have learned to look at it differently instead of taking it as a personal failure. This is the natural attrition of nature, and if you lose something it’s an opportunity to put it back or try something different.

Weather extremes are also an opportunity to learn. I planted hatch green chilies from seed this year. I have grown them in pots and grow bags. I wasn’t sure how they would do given they are something I associate with New Mexico which is a climate different from ours. However, as I have known people who have lived there, New Mexico is a study in weather extremes. So my hatch chilies have done surprisingly well, even if I probably should have started the seeds earlier.

But now that the summer is drawing to a close I have done things like schedule my fall tree work. As we are mostly in the woods there is always a lot of trimming and tree maintenance that needs to be done. We are getting to a place where I’m hoping to only have to do tree work once a year, but it just depends. We had trees that really were not pruned about 50 years.

If you want to know who is doing our tree work, look no further than Treemendous Tree Care. They guarantee their work, they have safe and knowledgeable crews, are actual arborists, and they have the bragging rights to champion tree climbers. Because of the positioning of our woods, we don’t have woods you can take trucks into, we need climbers. They are also neat and careful with my gardens. They actually appreciate and know what I have planted.

Tree pruning is something a homeowner has to budget for. It’s necessary for your tree health, and it also is preventative given the way a good old Chester County winter can go (queue the infamous 2014 ice storm.)

This fall I am not only having pruning done, I am culling the herd as it were. We have an overabundance of different kinds of wild cherries which have grown over the past five years. They are a softer wood, and the rain and heat has caused some of them to get blighted. As they are also growing in the path of more valuable trees, I am going to thin out some of these young trees. However in our woods, we will also be planting saplings from Go Native Tree Farm in Lancaster, PA. I believe in restoration planting of woods. And I want our woods to remain predominantly hardwoods.

The trees I have chosen as saplings to plant in my woods are Amish Walnut, Burr Oak and Chestnut Oak. I fell in love with the leaves of Chestnut Oaks this spring at Jenkins Arboretum, the Arboretum I belong too. I have always loved the acorns of the Burr Oak. The Amish Walnut is basically a native cross tree which has occurred up in Lancaster County and no one has really studied but it’s a great tree. My tree saplings will be delivered after I have my tree work done.

Go Native is an amazing resource and I encourage folks to check them out. They also carry native shrubs I like including witch hazel and flame azalea.

Later this fall, bulbs will arrive. They will go into the back garden beds this year. I ordered bluebells and lots of different cultivars of daffodils. I don’t plant tulips because the squirrels just dig them up and eat the bulbs.

The other thing I am going to plant this fall are peonies for the spring. They will arrive in tuber form, or bare root. I am ordering from A & D Nursery and Hollingsworth Nursery. The ones I have chosen are Baroness Schroeder, Green Lotus, Duchesse de Nemours, Moon of Nippon, Immaculee.

Except for Green Lotus they are all white peonies. Yes it’s a little Sissinghurst white garden, but they will give pretty pops in my spring garden next year. My mother loves an all white garden, but I like white as an accent versus being the color anchor.

I also have a couple of hydrangeas left to plant, some echinacea, gentians, day lilies, and a new deutizia cultivar. In between the rain I have started to pull out the plants that aren’t working, or as is the case with the majority of my garden phlox, the plants that have drowned this summer.

I planted a Chicago hardy fig, and a native azalea (From Yellow Springs Farm) and something I am very excited about. A seven sons tree – a Heptacodium. You can read about Heptacodium on the Morris Arboretum website. I purchased mine from Applied Climatology at the West Chester Growers Market.

The garden is a constant evolution. Trial and error. A learning process. I still think gardening is one of the most rewarding things you can do for yourself. It’s connecting with nature on a basic level, and there is nothing better I think than digging in the dirt. It is truthfully therapeutic.

My garden has gotten big enough that I do need a little help every now and again now and I’m glad to have it. Another resource I have to share is Design Build Maintain, LLC. They do great landscaping and hardscaping work, and I use them for things that I need help with physically like all of the wood chips I put down in the back because it’s so shaded grass won’t grow. They will also be helping me down the road with a little grading back on the other side of our storage shed to help the rain water run off the driveway versus pool at the bottom of the driveway.

As I mentioned in another post, I have also had some folks from multiple organizations approach me for inclusion on garden tours in the future. After Fine Gardening Magazine featured some of my garden photos online this summer it seems people are truly interested. That is super flattering but I am not sure my garden is what they expect when they arrive.

My gardens are not formal. They are woodland gardens meet cottage gardens and they are layered. But I am not precisely David Culp’s Layered Gardens layered, either. I couldn’t be — his Brandywine Cottage gardens are a marvel and inspiring to me and my garden but his gardens are unique to his property. I still haven’t been there in person but I have studied his book extensively and love to check out his website . (Yes I have submitted a contact form a couple of times to ask if I could see the gardens in person, but haven’t heard back.)

My garden also isn’t fussy with fancy water features or a pool like I always see on garden tours. It is very individualistic and my personal vision. I have my inspirations as I have mentioned in the past, but my gardens are my own.

I also don’t label every single plant in the ground. That was a criticism of one group which toured the garden for a tour inclusion and I will admit that put me off. They also criticized how I hadn’t pruned a young Japanese maple. They didn’t seem to get that it did not have enough growth on it to be pruned at this point. When you prune something is very important to consider with younger plants in your garden. When you prune and how much you prune ensures whether it will survive and succeed or not.

I do not have a formal Arboretum, it’s my personal garden, and while I am happy to share, I will not plant a forest of plastic stakes for anyone. While I would be honored to be included on local garden tours, my garden is my garden. I want people to be able to just experience the nature around them. To be able to pause and enjoy it. To take a seat on a garden bench and just enjoy a garden.

A garden should be lived in. I love my garden for what it is and what it isn’t.

I can tell everyone what I have planted, can I remember every cultivar name? No, not at this point, and I’m fine with that. I want to inspire other gardeners, but in my opinion individuality is key in a garden and a lot of times people seem to forget that.

You put in the time, you put in the hours and you enjoy the flowers.

I will admit I am so over the rain. Everything is waterlogged. But when it finally stops it will be time to start the fall clean-up.

Thanks for stopping by.

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