The middle third


The rear garden is roughly divided into thirds, with three small ponds in the top third and thick, jungle-like planting so that one pond cannot be seen from another that is less than ten feet away. Stone paths meander through and two small patios provide vantage points to rest and enjoy the water features.

The middle third is separated from the upper by a small sloping area of lawn which leads down to a metal roofed shade house and the large swimming pond, a fifteen hundred square foot pond populated by nearly a hundred koi and goldfish. The pond is surrounded by boulders and trees and shrubs, with roses and perennials tucked between. The back third of the garden is planted slightly more open, but probably not for long.   

Today, we will simply pick up from where we left off on our tour a few days ago, which was slopping through this lower third of the soggy rear garden. Yesterday I discovered the first bloom of the season on the dark leafed elderberry ‘Black Lace’ (Sambucus nigra ‘Black Lace’, above). It has finely dissected foliage much like a Japanese maple, and I’ve heard that it might serve as a substitute in areas that are too cold for the maples, though that is not a consideration here.

The form of the elderberry is not nearly as graceful as even the clumsiest of  Japanese maples, but it is a fine shrub nevertheless. I have had to snip a branch here and there to keep strays from shooting too far in one direction or the other, but either in leaf or bloom ‘Black Lace’ is delightful.

Just below the elderberry on the slope constructed from excavation of the swimming pond are two groupings of baptisias (Baptisia australis, above), planted here because they are virtually indestructible and will tolerate the poor soil. The clumps slowly increase in diameter with each spring, and the blue-green foliage shows no signs of stress even in the heat of summer. A few weeks ago they were so small that I was concerned that the baptisias would not be large enough to bloom on their typical schedule, but with a few warms days they have spurted to two feet and are flowering right on time, as if my schedule counts for anything.

The baptisias are not named selections, and each has a slightly different in form as is typical of many seedling grown perennials. One is particularly robust, growing a foot taller and wider than the others, and with dozens more blooms. The root mass of baptisia is almost woody, and I’ve heard that established clumps are difficult to transplant or to divide, though I’ve never had a reason to try. Earlier in the spring there were thousands of seedlings covering the ground beneath them, but I snuffed them out before they were large enough to tell if they were baby baptisias.   

Bellflowers (Campanula, above) have flowers of a blue similar to baptisia, but there are no similarities otherwise. They are classic floppers, rambling about without a distinct form, so I have planted several in pockets of soil between boulders along the pond’s edge. Just prior to the Japanese iris blooming in early June the boulders are covered in cheerful small blue flowers.

The upright, spiky blooms of ‘May Night’ salvia (Salvia nemorosa ‘May Night’, above) are more purple than blue, and several planted together make a marvelous display in mid May. Every year I promise myself that I will deadhead them after blooming, but I never seem to get around to it, so they rebloom only sporadically.  

With the recent rains the heavy blooms of the peonies (above) have sprawled out in every direction, but on the rare occasions when the sun shines the blooms pop back upright for awhile to be admired. The huge flowers have suffered some damage, but there are other buds still to open, so there is hope that some perfect flowers will emerge.

At this point we have climbed to the halfway point of the garden, and have covered most of the plants blooming in mid May. In the next week we’ll complete the tour of the the upper third of the rear garden, and then we’ll back up a bit and take a look at the garden’s hostas and roses.

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