Saturday, April 15, 2017

April Bloom Day

In my old, mostly mature garden, I designed for late season interest so April was never a banner bloom day month for me but I usually had enough to toss together a reasonably respectable post. Not this year.

Spring arrived late to Connecticut this year.  On March 14th a blizzard dumped a foot and a half of snow on my garden.  Usually March snow doesn't hang around long but the storm was followed by a few of weeks of lower than normal temperatures. I was just about ready to rent a giant blowtorch, when normal weather returned.

With no established garden areas yet, I don't have much but here goes:

Cornus mas 'Variegata' is thriving in it's new home

In the fall of 2015 when I made the decision to move, I immediately started thinking about plants I wanted to take with me. I had many small, choice trees in my old garden, but only one was small enough to survive a move.  Cornus mas is unique here for it's early season bloom (often beginning in March although not this year).  When I saw this variegated cultivar offered for sale in the Fairweather Gardens a few springs ago, I just had to have it.

Even the Hellebores are late this year

I inherited this lovely double white Hellebore with the garden.  

A single Chionodoxa managed to hitch a ride to my new garden

Chionodoxa was naturalized in some of the beds and the front lawn of my old garden.  A single bulb must have been in one of the perennials I moved.  I smiled when I saw it blooming and made a mental note to add some to my fall bulb order this year.

Inherited Daffodils

I brought a few later blooming daffodils from my old garden but also inherited many.  I'm currently battling a plethora of invasive plants in the center section of a tiered rock garden in front of the house. Last weekend I raked it out and started digging out everything except these daffodils that are thriving despite the neglect.

Pansies are tough to resist after a long winter,

OK so I planted pansies in a couple of pots.  In a month or two I'll be yanking them out or pinching them way back to tuck into mixed containers but for now I'll enjoy their cheerful little faces.

Why in the world would someone plant this much Forsythia?

A hedge of Forsythia in the front yard of my new house.

Yes, I have Forsythia.  Lots and lots of Forsythia.  I apologize in advance to any die hard Forsythia fans out there but I will eventually be removing all of it.  Since it's an absolute bitch to dig out, I'll likely start with the "specimen" plants situated around the property and work my way up to this "hedge".

If you follow me on Instagram you know that we (i.e. Dave) are currently knee deep in a back yard DIY tree removal palooza in preparation for the patio installation next month.  I'm hard at work improving and enlarging garden beds.  At times all the work seems overwhelming and I have to remind myself that Rome wasn't built in a day.  I do enjoy the process though and look forward to seeing things come together.

Before I forget (because it's been a while), let me thank Carol at May Dreams Gardens for hosting this widely popular monthly meme.  With any luck I'll have more to offer in May.


Saturday, March 18, 2017

Tetrapanax in Connecticut

I started writing this blog post about four years ago after I returned from a week of garden touring in Oregon and Washington. For years it's been suspended in the dreaded "draft" status. Given that I have little or nothing to offer on the gardening front right now I figured it might be a good time to resurrect and post this relic.

After drooling over plants on that trip, most of which I would have a snowball's chance in hell of growing in my own garden, I decided I wanted to walk on the wild side and try growing Tetrapanax papyrifer in my central Connecticut garden.

If you follow this blog, you know that I moved last year.  Even though the USDA zone map for Connecticut illustrates that my zone did not change, I suspect that may not be the case.  I commute about 25 miles each way to work now which is relatively close to my old garden stomping grounds and it's always consistently warmer by four to six degrees.

Below are just a few of the plants that caught my eye on that trip.  We always want what we can't have, right? When it comes to plants I'm always on the hunt for something different.

Melianthus major 'Purple Haze' was one of those plants.  Melianthus major can be purchased in some of the better greenhouses as an annual in New England in the spring but I've never seen the cultivar 'Purple Haze'. Two winters in a row I had M. major return in a pot that was stored in my detached, unheated garage.  Maybe there's hope in a cool basement because there is no hope at all outside.

Melianthus major 'Purple Haze' with Imperata cylindrical 'Red Baron' at Far Reaches Farm in Port Washington

A second plant I absolutely lusted after was Lobelia tupa.  Just about every garden we visited featured large, well grown specimens of Lobelia tupa.  My pictures below taken at Linda Cochran's garden and at  Far Reaches Farm in Port Townsend, WA don't do the plant justice.

Linda Cochran places Lobelia tupa on her list of top ten favorite plants.  Far Reaches lists it as zone 8a.  Both Kelly and Sue, at Far Reaches honestly didn't think I had a prayer of overwintering Lobelia tupa in central CT even with protection so I guess I'll just have to admire this one from afar.

Lobelia tupa in Linda Cochran's former garden on Bainbridge Island

Lobelia tupa in the display garden at Far Reaches Farm

A third plant that stopped me in my tracks because I'm a sucker for bold foliage was Tetrapanax papyrifer.  Hmmm, somewhere in my travels I vaguely remember reading that with winter protection, Tetrapanax could be grown successfully in CT.  Louis the Plant Geek grows it in Rhode Island. Rhode Island is not that far away. If Louis could grow it maybe I could too.

Tetrapanax papyrifer in the former garden of Linda Cochran

So in April 2013 I ordered a Tetrapanax from Plant Delights Nursery. Siting it was somewhat of a challenge.  I didn't have any room in my sunny south facing patio garden.  The south facing wall of the shed was the next best thing, but with no foundation and part sun exposure I wasn't hopeful.

All went well the first year except I did not get around to shoring up winter protection until well into winter.

Tetrapanax emerging in May 2014

Despite my botched protection attempt, in late May of 2014 a small unfurling Tetrapanax emerged!  It had died back to the ground over the winter but was returning from the roots. Maybe Louis the Plant Geek was right.

I wasn't encouraged though.  My Tetrapanax was alive but it was acting more like a ground cover than a bold specimen plant. I suspected my garden nemesis, lack of sun was the likely culprit but in my overplanted quarter acre garden I had no better spot.

Tetrapanax in my Connecticut garden in September 2015

Much to my surprise, in July of 2015 it came back again but never grew much more than a about a foot.  In the fall of 2015 I didn't even bother to protect it.  At that point I knew I was moving and I knew a zone pushing plant like Tetrapanax wouldn't take a late season move-especially to a colder location.

Did my poor tetrapanax come back in 2016?  I couldn't tell you.  I moved out of my house in May, closed in July and was so overwhelmed with moving that I didn't even think to look.  I'm going to assume it did though because the 2015-2016 winter was relatively mild..

So what did I learn?

With winter protection and proper siting I believe it's possible to grow a sizable Tetrapanax papyrifer in Connecticut zone 6. The way the schedule is unfolding, I won't have a good spot for one in my current garden until fall.  Fall planting won't work for a borderline plant like Tetrapanax though so realistically I'm looking for a spring 2018 planting.

Fortunately gardeners are patient people and I'm no exception.