Observations in early October


Most entries to this journal describe the latest buds and blooms, but any day that I wander through the garden there are curiosities that catch my eye, though usually I consider these to be too ordinary and uninteresting to relate. I am endlessly amazed by the simplest goings-on, but expect that you are not so easily entertained.

Nearing the end of the growing season as we are, it occurred to me that it is appropriate to evaluate the progress made by plants bent and broken by heavy snow in February so that the garden was a shambles in early spring. The southern magnolias suffered numerous broken branches, and if two of the three were more visible I would have removed them. But, they are planted at the rear and side borders, so they were spared from the chainsaw. Though many branches were hauled off, there were many blooms through late spring followed by growth that has cloaked the bare trunks. The two magnolias are not “good as new”, but they have progressed encouragingly.

A forty foot tall cypress by the swimming pond was damaged too badly to repair, with one large branch bent to a severe angle that dangled over the patio, so it was cut down and into pieces to be burned in the firepit one evening this autumn. The empty space from the removal of a large evergreen is more than you would expect it to be, at least more than I envisioned, and though the base of the trunk and roots remain, the area was replanted with a small Venus dogwood, a few perennials, and the Thailand Giant elephant ear that grew to monstrous proportions, with leaves nearly five feet in length.

The elephant ear will be dug and stored in the garage for the winter, and next year it will be given a spot with a bit more moisture, and with more room to roam, so that the dogwood will have sufficient space, and soon it will fill the void and the huge white blooms will be delightful. For now the floppy, sun loving coreopsis will fill the remaining open area, and I’m rather pleased with the result, and don’t miss the cypress at all.

Arborvitaes and hollies, azaleas, boxwoods, and upright growing junipers were bent askew, squashed, and broken, and to pull them back into shape a soft nylon strap was used to tie the branches. In mid-summer I removed the strap from an arborvitae, but the branches fell out of shape slightly, so I retied it and will leave the strap in place until the same time next summer. The advantage to using the strap is that it will not girdle, but will stretch as the branches grow. Besides the still somewhat sad looking magnolias, there is no evidence of the snow’s damage.

The spent flowers of the blue mophead hydrangeas are quite ornamental three months after blooming, which is not a surprise to gardeners who routinely cut the blooms to bring indoors. The blue has faded to a dusky purple (above), and the spent blooms will remain long after the foliage has faded with heavy frost in the weeks ahead.

The reblooming mopheads have many new flowering buds developing, but with drought and heat through much of September the heaviest of autumn blooms have been delayed, and many will not open before freezing temperatures arrive.

Encore azaleas were quite early to bloom (in mid August), but the autumn flowering period that usually begins in mid September is often cut short by cold weather, so they have continued to bloom, and this year I expect that some cultivars will have bloomed for eight weeks or more. They do not flower in autumn so that the shrub is covered, but in clusters, and though this is not as dramatic as the spring when all the buds open over a two week period, the effect is delightful.

Most of the toad lily cultivars have been late to bloom, and today there are numerous buds that are still to open. ‘Miyazaki’ (Tricyrtis hirta ‘Miyazaki’, above) is a wonderful cultivar with stiff arching branches that don’t flop, and in most years the buds open progressively along the branches. This season a few scattered buds at the tips opened late in September, but now all have opened at once. The effect is more dramatic from a distance, but the beauty of toad lilies is the exquisite coloration and unique architecture of the small flowers, and in abundance this is not so apparent.

The Japanese ginger (Zingiber mioga ‘Dancing Crane’, above) is grown for its variegated foliage, and its blooms are seldom seen since they appear at the base of the tall stems. To see the flowers you must brush aside the leaves with your nose only inches from the ground, and there they are, but not a bloom that will catch your eye for any other reason than it is unusual.

This year I planted the aforementioned elephant ear (Colocasia gigantea ‘Thailand Giant’) that far surpasses the size of any others, with leaves nearly five feet in length. It is planted in bone dry soil, and I’m having visions of what lengths it will grow to next year planted in a more damp spot and with a small dose of fertilizer. In a few weeks I’ll dig the root and store it for planting in late May.

Not only are the leaves amazing, but Thailand Giant has produced four sets of five hooded blooms (above), followed by odd seed pods (below). This monster grew to ten feet across from a barely rooted three gallon container, so I can’t wait to see it next year with a more mature root. 

In the past few days the small areas of lawn in the back garden have been invaded by a critter of some sort, I suppose searching for grubs. Last year at this time, I believe I blamed this problem on marauding deer, since the turf was damaged in a fashion similar to what I’ve seen cattle do to a small patch of field as they are herded through a gate.

I could only imagine that a large animal had torn up the ground to such an extent, and I am quite certain that we have no cows stomping through the garden at night, so deer were the most likely to suspect. What they were doing foraging for grubs I couldn’t answer, but now the damaged areas are smaller, and instead I believe raccoons or skunks to be the guilty party. The damage that is done is more curious than a bother, so I have no plans to do anything about the critters or the grubs.

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