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melissa_thefarm

Garden report

melissa_thefarm
8 years ago

I was gone for a good deal of the summer, visiting family in Florida, got back in mid-August, and as far as the garden goes, have been mainly engaged in cleanup ever since. I haven't had a whole lot to say about roses, so haven't been on the forum much. But I thought a look at the garden might be interesting.
This year it rained all summer, a very rare occurrence, possibly a precipitation record. So, instead of finding the usual late-summer desert when I got back to Italy (we don't water), there was a jungle instead. The roses were not for the most part greatly affected except for the ramblers, which did grow and grow. The non-rose shrubs in the garden liked all the rain; so did the trees; and we got a LOT of valuable oak seedlings. Many woody plants got the equivalent of several seasons' growth, which is very very satisfactory.
In the last year we have basically had two seasons, spring and fall. There was no winter to speak of as well as no summer. So some tender plants that normally freeze to the ground didn't do so, and the Salvia guaranitica and lemon verbena are both huge. The chief negative effect of the non-winter may have been that our sweet cherry didn't fruit at all. It's never done that before. But the apricot crop, from our young tree, was excellent, and most plants that require winter chill seemed to do well enough.
I love box, and many plants in the garden suffered nasty depredations from a new pest, a caterpillar I believe. I'd never seen it before, and only once actually saw an infestation in action. My columnar 'Graham Blandy' was killed outright, and some others hit hard. One Mahonia aquifolium was also defoliated and killed, I don't know by what. The rose 'Variegata di Bologna' looks weakened by a summer of constant blackspot, and several Albas have rust, for the second year in a row. The victims are mostly 'Alba Maxima', and it's a tough variety, so I'm not overly worried about it.
The weather continues warmish, sticky, and dry. It's too early to plant the plants I have growing in the propagation beds, but I've set out a few plants in pots. As always this time of year we're busy weeding and cutting grass and fighting back brush, including the invading brambles, nettles, wild clematis, and artemisia from our neighbors' adjoining property. We've been transplanting baby oaks, putting them where we want them. We've tried this before with acorns and with seedlings growing in sand in our parking area, with scant success. These babies are growing in clay, and with a good deal of soil coming with them, and most of their root, they seem to be holding up well. Last year was an acorn year and they seem to come in alternate years, but this year looks like it will give an abundant crop as well, probably because of all the rain.
My comments have mostly been concerned with the big garden, as we call it. The shade garden, a more nearly finished project, mainly needed weeding and trimming, and recutting back of all the brush we've been cutting down in the woods below the shade garden. I have plants to find room for down there, a number of sarcococcas of different kind and epimediums, and I need to make up an order of woodland bulbs: I'm thinking of Scilla bifolia and anemones, both native here. I would love to get poet's narcissus started in our woods, but I hear that the species is hard to start as bulbs, and I haven't organized to acquire seed. Poet's narcissus is native too, though not common: I know an elderly lady who has a woodland full of it. And I want to expand my Helleoborus viridis colonies and plant out some seedlings of cultivated hellebore. Also there are the violets to think of, both collected natives and cultived kinds. I want to keep a reservoir of them in pots even as I plant them out, though, in case they don't make it. Violets are tougher than they look.
When we got started on the big garden it was a steep sun-blasted field of gray clay, with a meager population of grasses, brush, and weeds. Ten years later parts of it are still resisting cultivation, while I've learned to dig bigger holes and amend far more heavily with organic matter: old hay in our case. The steep land has gotten steeper. Our neighbors' land below our has dropped something like ten vertical feet in places and has dragged our bottom boundary bed of roses with it, though the double line of once-blooming OGRs, no longer straight, is valiantly dug in and, I believe, helping to keep the entire property from sliding to the bottom of the valley. We're greatly interested in deep-rooted trees and shrubs, and we love anything that will thrive in our gray clay and anchor it. The Italian cypresses love our soil and they've never budged; we have a young Cedar of Lebanon that grows slowly and I suspect has roots halfway to China now. We've planted many baby evergreen Italian oaks, some of them grown from seed, and a number of Italian pines. Nowadays we have to protect many of our trees from the deer, with chicken wire or other barriers. All these are growing in the poorer soil of the garden. In the more fertile areas we're betting on the oaks. It will take a lifetime for them to reach tree size, but they'll contribute to the web of roots that I rely on to keep our land--and ultimately our house--where they are. Our neighbors in the last two years have had major slides on their land and on land they're farming. Trees also cool the area and protect plants growing in their vicinity. And they enrich the ground.
Not elms, though. At my request DH cut down some of the fringe of elms along one side of the garden. Elms are all wickedness and no virtue: they're invasive, they're shallow-rooted, they get sick and die unexpectly and sprout up again, usually in the middle of a flower bed. I've suspected for years that they strangle and suffocate all the plants around them: there are oaks close to these elms that have stayed the same size for fourteen years. When an elm close to the rose border in the shade garden died, the roses after a decade of stasis immediately picked up and began growing. And oaks close to elms that DH killed last year put on several inches of growth. I'm hoping that, with these elms cut down and poisoned (this is the only case in which I use poison), nearby young oaks and flowering ashes will be able to grow at last.
Of course the garden is much greener than usual for this time of year, and it is so pleasant to see the clover growing in the grassy paths, busily fixing nitrogen and adding organic matter to the garden. Parts of the garden have become quite amiable. The shrubs along the drainage ditch have reached respectable dimensions, for example: privet, lilac, snowball bush, big mahonia, spirea, mock orange, forsythia, hazelnut. I know many of these are considered rather dull shrubs, but I am so thankful to see green and growth in the garden that I'm happy with them: they're beautiful in their season, and give the quiet plant mass this garden so badly needs.
(to be continued)

Comments (21)

  • true_blue
    8 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    There must be a lot of satisfaction in seeing results after all these years of hard work. I'm sure the rain has helped quite a bit for the plants to establish (and the weeds too!)

    If you have the patience, you can grow bulbs from seed. It will take 4-5 years until you have a viable bulb though, but the positive side is that you'll have non-virused stock to start with, or you might be able to trade with members of scottish rock garden club or Pacific Bulb society.

    Have you tried Chrysopogon zizanioides (vetiver) to control erosion?

    - Bob

  • cath41
    8 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    I was surprised to see you write that poet's narcissus did not grow well from bulbs where you live because it has done well here and we have somewhat similar conditions. My source was an old farmstead. It may be that they prefer less dry conditions than your slope offers but perhaps they would be happy at the foot of your hill in the (moister) woods. I think my narcissus do better when planted with either bulb mix or bonemeal with green sand. If these are not available, maybe even egg shells would help.

    Cath

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  • sammy zone 7 Tulsa
    8 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    We missed you while you were gone. You were in a few posts where people had been asking about the absence of various members. I am glad you have returned. I have always valued your input.

    I cannot imagine leaving your huge garden for a long period of time. You have such a diverse mixture of plants especially compared to my garden and many others here. I hope you enjoyed your visit to Florida.

    Sammy

  • melissa_thefarm
    Original Author
    8 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    true-blue: the satisfaction is extremely mixed, because for everything that's doing well there are half a dozen things that aren't, or so it seems. Still, we make progress, and I think that the change for the better may even be accelerating as we better understand our conditions and possible solutions, and as the growing plants alter the environment. When we started on this land there was ground where even Bermuda grass couldn't get a foothold (it's doing fine now, thanks).

    Cath, that was based on my reading, not on experience. The poet's narcissus would go down in the woods, not in the big garden where it would never stand a chance. Your comments are encouraging. I take it yours are the species and not hybrids, which I gather are easier.

    Sammy, thanks. My visit was FABULOUS. The garden is meant to have a certain amount of resilience built into it. I've always been a sporadic gardener, working hard for a while and then going away to do other things, and my garden style has developed accordingly.
    I'm wondering what are the dominant plants in your garden, and am a little surprised that mine seems to you a diverse mixture. Is it because I depend so heavily on shrubs? I need them because the garden is so big and they match its scale, and they can defend themselves in periods of neglect. On the other hand, delicate little herbaceous plants, such as many gardeners love, risk getting swamped by weeds and more vigorous plants, so for the most part I don't grow them.

    How about garden reports from other forum members?

    Melissa

  • cath41
    8 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Melissa,

    Although it came to me unnamed, I believe it is the species, Narcissus poeticus, because of the look of it and because the farm belonged to the family before hybrids like 'Actea' were created. It is a survivor. But I must say that on the whole Narcissus, in its many manifestations, grows well here. There are a few exceptions, N. 'Silver Chimes' being one, to my frustration. I usually do not like double Narcissus except for the split cups, if they count, and 'Silver Chimes'. It must be the scent that gets me. N. poeticus has a delightful scent too and comes at the end of the Narcissus season just as I begin to pine about being without them for another (almost) year which makes N. poeticus especially satisfying.

    Cath

  • melissa_thefarm
    Original Author
    8 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Cath,
    I love narcissus, and have a very unfortunate record with them. A conversation last fall with a bulb grower may finally have given me the reason: heavy ground and consequent bad drainage. And so many other bulbs, crocus, tulips and hyacinths, are ruled out because of mice and wild boars.
    I was sufficiently encouraged by your first post to order a handful of bulbs of N. poeticus recurvus, a form of the species, which will go down in the woodland. The only narcissus which has done quite well for me over time (this is with a lot of experimentation) has been a white Triandrus hybrid, possibly 'Tresamble'. This has been holding its own for several years in damp clay in two different parts of the garden.
    Melissa

  • cath41
    8 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Narcissus 'Thalia', a triandrus, has done well here and multiplied. It has popped up in places far removed from the planted clumps, probably carried by squirrels. You might try Colchicum, Late Summer and Fall blooming bulbs which the critters do not bother. They are expensive but if they like the location, they will increase slowly but steadily with no care except dividing when crowded, in the end a bargain compared to, say, annuals.

    Cath

  • cath41
    8 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    I forgot to mention a book, Autumn Bulbs by Ron Leeds, that has more cultivars of Colchicums (and other bulbs) and pictures of them than most books that I have found.

    Cath

  • melissa_thefarm
    Original Author
    8 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Thanks, Cath. It's fun to talk about bulbs. My own chief reference is 'Bulbs' by John E. Bryan, a massive work my horticulturalist sister gave me years ago.
    Colchicum is native here, the common local species being C. autumnale: its lavender-pink flowers dot the grassy fields in fall. It does absolutely fine in the worst kind of gray clay. I keep meaning to dig up a few bulbs during its season of bloom, so the reminder is helpful.
    I believe my Triandrus narcissus is a kind of improved form of 'Thalia', which I've heard of as a survivor. Odd that I don't associate the Triandrus class with long-term prosperity in the garden. I've had 'Hawera' for years, too, and although it doesn't increase, it doesn't disappear, either. I ordered 'Katy Heath', of the same class, to try.
    What I would grow if I could would be the jonquil forms and hybrids: they smell so good, and I like their form. I'll try them again one day.
    The doubles mostly tend to be too much for me, but do like 'Erlicheer', and would love to be able to grow 'Cheerfulness'. I don't like the split trumpets at all, with the sole exception of 'Palmares'. That one is a beauty, and it hangs on. I don't know 'Silver Chimes', but it must be something to awaken such desire.
    A year or so ago I found wild tazettas growing by the side of the highway. Growing narcissus isn't quite a desperate enterprise here. You do find 'Van Sion' quite often--we dug some up and brought it home, though it's far from my ideal of daffodil beauty--and feral trumpets show up here and there.
    Just keep trying.
    Melissa

  • mendocino_rose
    8 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    It sounds like a good summer. You were so fortunate to have the rain. I bet the garden will be wonderful next spring.

  • Kes Z 7a E Tn
    8 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Melissa, I always look forward to your garden descriptions. The pictures you describe are so vivid that I can picture them in my mind. I feel like I'm a visitor in your garden.

    I love talking about bulbs, too. I've grown quite a few varieties and am finally realizing that, at least in the southeast, everything old is new again. I've found that I am successful at growing old-fashioned campernelles and Lent lilies and even some of the old-time trumpets and jonquils, although they lack the elegance of some of the more modern bulbs. While I wish I could grow some of the daffodils and narcissus that we had in Ohio when I was growing up or while living in Utah, I've learned to love the bulbs that grow well here.

  • melissa_thefarm
    Original Author
    8 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Pam,
    I have a guilty feeling that we've been getting all your rain. I hope your garden is hanging on! It's such a beautiful place.
    At the moment I have fall planting on my mind. Although the last two years have been wet, it actually hasn't rained for a month or more, and has been unseasonally warm. I'm waiting for cooler and wetter weather so I can begin lifting plants from the propagating beds and setting them out. Fall is such a great time for gardenkeeping, setting in order, planting for the following year, dreaming. Spring is far away.

    Kes4353, thanks. About your experiences in your current home, it's true: you learn to grow what you can grow. I'm overall extremely fortunate here, but even I have my lacks (no blueberries, camellias, or azaleas, and magnolias are a stretch). I suppose most gardeners have plants they want to grow and can't; it can be mightily frustrating, but it's part of what makes our gardens unique.

    I went to the garden show 'Frutti Antichi' at Paderna yesterday, and was told that my Triandrus narcissus is probably, in fact 'Thalia', as it's a very white flower and 'Tresamble' has a yellow tint. Also learned that the caterpillar currently devastating my box is a recent arrival from Japan that is doing a lot of damage all over, due in part to its having no natural enemies in Italy. And, glory of glories, I came home with two very small daphnes: 'Carol Mackie' and (I think) 'Eternal Fragrance'. Will wonders never cease: I thought I would have to order from England to get anything beyond D. odora 'Aureomarginata', but there they were. So it was a rewarding day.

    Melissa

  • bart_2010
    8 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Melissa,I see from your post that you do have a Cedar of Lebanon in your garden. I just got a baby one and was wondering if you can give me any tips for how to decide on placement. I asked about this stuff on the Conifer forum,.but have not had any luck yet...bart

  • melissa_thefarm
    Original Author
    8 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Bart,
    Ours has been healthy and has grown, albeit very slowly: 2"-3" high and twice that wide most years. It's in full sun, in poor, heavy gray clay, but deep soil--at least, I've never hit rock--on a slope. It hasn't gotten summer water. They also seem to do fine in alluvial soils and in the richer clay of the Po Plain, and with some shade. It's a pretty tolerant tree in other words, growing in conditions that Italian cypresses like: we put ours in an unfriendly part of the garden in the hopes it would anchor a particularly steep and barren slope, which it seems to be doing. I would be skeptical of shallow or fast-draining soils, and of wet sites. And mature plants need LOTS of room. They don't look right if limbed up high.
    These are my thoughts; I hope some of them are helpful.
    Melissa

  • bart_2010
    8 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    yeah, I'm in trouble as far as soil depth goes,no getting away from that; it seems to me that there's literally no place on my land where i can't hit rock. My soil also drains fast, more or less everywhere,which is one reason why I think roses do generally pretty well for me...

  • cath41
    8 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Melissa,

    More Narcissus that do well here in heavy clay are: Ice Follies (its double sport Ice King does not quite as well), Mount Hood, King Alfred and Ice Wings. I too love the split cup N. Palmares and N. Cassata, another split cup, is nice, although not quite as nice as N. Palmares. I like Cassata most when the cup has aged (from light yellow) to white.

    Cath

  • bart_2010
    8 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    I found a spot for my C. libani, Melissa; I don't like it as much as my C.deodara spot,mainly because I question it's DEPTH ; as I said before,it is dang hard to find deep spots on my land, let alone that would be appropriate as sites for such a tree. The plant I got is very small, and I dumped on lots of organic matter and kitty litter. I hope that this will get the plant started, and in future the roots will find their own ways through the rocky ground beneath, though ideally I'll be able to continue building up the soil in this area. Being in the lower garden area, it will be easier to water than the main part of the garden, because the big, ramshakle and ugly shed does provide me with an easy way to harvest rain water,and this is on higher ground than the site of the tree. So I'm keeping my fingers crossed! bart

  • ingrid_vc so. CA zone 9
    8 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Because of the drought, which has now lasted for several years, my garden has undergone quite a metamorphosis, and not for the better. For some years I managed to have a decent number of roses and companion plants, and a garden that gave me much pleasure. The secret wasn't any great gardening ability on my part but rather the rain. When that decreased to a frightening degree my garden quickly went downhill, and all the watering and mulching in the end didn't help, although it did slow down the deterioration to some degree, until this summer. The unusually hot summer, coming after an unusually dry winter, took quite a toll. My garden had become a wasteland.

    After the initial feelings of desperation and hopelessness, I began to regroup and assess the situation. I went from over 90 roses to 46, although for the most part that took a period of years except for the final culling, and also eliminated companion plants that were doing very poorly. At that point the garden actually looked worse than before with many bare patches and scruffy, non-blooming roses. I ordered five large, well-developed tea roses that filled up the worst of the empty spaces, moved other roses to more advantageous situations and pruned and then dug out Bermuda Kathleen from the huger layer of dirt that the squirrels had deposited behind it, burying many of the canes part of the way. I made sure that every rose had ample mulch, and fertilized quite a few with wild bunny droppings that I soaked in water to soften them. I've also begun to feed them with seabird guano, which at this point is an experiment since I've never used it before. There are still bare areas where I want to put companion plants but I'm taking my time with that since so far my focus has been directed toward making sure that I'm making the right decisions about the roses and giving them the care they need to get through the remainder of the dry season.

    I really won't know how well I've succeeded until next spring, assuming we have a reasonable amount of rainfall this winter. Until then I have the satisfaction of knowing that I've done the best I could, and the excitement of anticipating flowers from roses that so far have been too young or in the wrong place to flower. These include:

    Rhodologue Jules Gravereaux (two plants)
    No. 92 Nanjing
    Dr. O'Donnel Brown
    Madame Lambard
    Emily
    Duchesse de Brabant
    Mme. Antoine Mari
    Baronne Henriette de Snoy
    Pink Rosette
    Intrigue
    Heirloom
    Bonica
    Yves Piaget
    Hoag House Cream
    Cl. Lady Hillingdon
    Annie Laurie McDonnell
    Wild Edric (4 plants)
    Lady Alice Stanley

    Ingrid

  • melissa_thefarm
    Original Author
    8 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Cath,
    I think 'Ice Follies' does well everywhere: it grew here for years until overwhelmed by a prostrate ceanothus, and was one of my major survivors in Washington too. As my taste has developed I've become less impressed with its looks, though. The trumpets I find a bit surprising, though I don't know why; the feral daffodils one runs across here are mostly of that same type. 'Ice Wings' is another Triandrus hybrid, I notice it has received the RHS's Award of Garden Merit. I'm getting fond of Triandrus daffodils.

    Bart, good luck! Who knows, your cedar may perform wonderfully. I can only report about trees growing in local conditions, and those can be summed up in one word: clay.

    Ingrid,
    Gardening is certainly a tempering experience. No sane person would want to deal with the conditions you're fighting now, but they're forcing you to keep on thinking and planning. I wonder what the native California flora might have to offer you? principles of desert gardening as developed in the Middle East, northern Africa, Spain?

    Here we're still waiting for fall to arrive. It was downright hot yesterday, and sticky, with the sun finally visible after nine days of clouds and rain. Temperatures are supposed to drop this coming week, the sky to clear entirely, and I should think the humidity level will drop as well, and thank goodness. I'm still getting chigger bites and have allergy symptoms.
    We finished filling in the 70-80 holes we had dug, stuffing them with hay and the dirt that had been removed. It was a heavy job. Last week's rain watered everything nicely, and when it gets a bit cooler we'll be able to begin planting the rooted roses, with my attention particularly focused on those grown from suckers I collected last winter. These are once-blooming European OGRs, mostly Gallicas and Damasks. We have some warm climate roses to get in the ground too, but their holes still need to be prepared, and it's going to be a slow business. And there are a lot more chores.
    The (mostly) OGR varieties I propagated from suckers are the following:
    'Agar'
    'La Ville de Bruxelles'
    'Petite Orleannaise'
    'Duchesse de Berry'
    'Nouvelle Pivoine'
    'Incomparable'
    R. gallica 'Splendens'
    'Gloire de France'
    'Miranda'
    'Belle de Crecy'
    'Kazanlik'
    'Winchester Cathedral'
    'Mme. Zoetmans'
    'Celsiana'
    Celestial'
    'Nuits de Young'
    'Nestor' (?)
    'Elisa Rovella'
    'Leda'
    R. foetida
    'Persian Yellow'
    'Austrian Copper'
    Of the Petrovic order from two years ago we may have lost as many as a quarter of the total (I think that tends high: I haven't checked the whole line yet), which still leaves us with sixty-odd new varieties. I'm still back-filling holes to bury the grafts deeper, digging out the occasional cursed rootstock sucker, and cleaning around the plants. They'll need to be nursed along for at least a couple of years yet, but they're on their way. Our losses were mostly in two low areas of the bed, which we found out were low when we got the wettest winter imaginable after planting the roses. In these areas we've been building up the planting sites and trenching around them, always amending generously with old hay.
    The grass and clover this fall are wonderful.

    Melissa

  • ingrid_vc so. CA zone 9
    8 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Melissa, I can think of at least four California natives that I've tried which have bitten the dust here. Hard to believe, but my conditions are "special". I do have one that was growing under a tree that I transplanted and it's doing well, but appearance-wise it's nothing to write home about. I don't even know its name. Natives often look weedy and nondescript for a large part of the year, and I still cling to the pre-drought dream of having plants that look good for most of the year. Time will tell what develops garden-wise of the situation here.

    Ingrid

  • vasue VA
    8 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Narcissus poeticus formed solid colonies here within a few years. Don't remember where I got them - one of the specialty bulb catalogs. Planted a couple dozen in loamy clay on the fringe of century-old woodland, added gypsum & compost to the site since it was compacted by heavy equipment when the clearing was created for this home before we came here. Planted them at recommended depth as Winter was coming on maybe 12 years ago, fairly close together & covered with fallen oak leaves. They've multiplied & bloomed longer each year since. One thing I noticed when digging a clump at the edge last Spring in bloom for a friend - and they transplanted fine that way, continued their bloom & expanded for her this year - was they'd pulled themselves much deeper than originally planted, a good 10 & 12 inches down. The bulbs I started with were on the small side, but those grown on were quite fat & substantial with lots of baby bulblets, yet had arranged themselves so as not to be crowded underground. They do form seed & keep their green leaves until the temps crank up for good, but I couldn't say whether those seeds sprout & grow, since they fall within the clump, yet suspect they do. They get full sun from early morning till late afternoon from Spring on & supplemental watering while in growth on uncommon occassions when natural rainfall doesn't oblige. Different climate than yours, with rain year round averaging nearly 60" including snow, chilly & wet Winters of typical 0-10 degree lows interspersed with mild spells & Summer highs pushing 100F degrees.

    There's no scent equivalent to theirs I've yet encountered, so unique & uplifting. Just thought I'd share a little of my experience as scant return for all you've shared with us. Love your garden updates & tours - feel like I'm walking beside you! Thank you for these interludes half a world away from my neck of the woods...

    This post was edited by vasue on Sun, Oct 19, 14 at 8:42

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Loudoun County's Expert Kitchen & Bath Renovation Firm | Best of Houzz