As good as it gets

Perhaps I’m not the first to complain, but I recognize that I spent an inordinate period of early March whining “when will it be spring”. Usually, I answered my whiny self with “shut up and wait, it’ll be here soon enough”, and since mid March there’s hardly been a thing to complain about.

My wife insists she sits on the lichen covered chairs on the upper patio, but I’m certain they’d crash into splinters if I sat on one. However, they make an excellent ornament, with Ostrich ferns and a Viridis Japanese maple overhanging (below).

Well, there is at least one thing. The lower garden continues to be a swamp, with a few dogwoods, a Japanese maple, and two ninebarks (Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Diablo’, below) succumbing to the prolonged dampness. I’ve always figured the native ninebarks for weeds, but it’s clear that there’s a limit to how long various plants can survive with waterlogged roots. It is quite distressing to lose long established trees, but what can you do except figure out a replacement? I can tell you, my wife is getting very tired of new plant deliveries.

A few other shrubs appear to be in trouble, though it appears that extensive trenching in the past few weeks is improving the situation. At this point I’d be happy if the area turned to dust, but it’s likely I’ll have to settle for constant dampness, which is a whole lot better than swamp.

Again this spring, I’m surprised that Cypress spurge (Euphorbia cyparissias, above) considered by many to be an overly aggressive thug, has further retreated. Last year, a seedling of Espresso geranium (below) ran it out of a small area where it had been established for years. Now, increasingly dense shade along the edges of the patio beside the koi pond has diminished the once vigorous clump to just a few scattered sprigs. This is not too big a deal, and certainly there are gardeners where this spreads out of control that would think this is just wonderful.

Seedlings of Espresso geranium have scattered around the garden, with others weeded out. The seedlings have varied foliage color, with this one lighter than average.

I notice that although I could hardly care less about garden ornaments, I’ve accumulated a variety over the years. While I would be heartbroken if a bandit dug up and carted off a Japanese maple, I wouldn’t be too wounded if someone stole a metal frog or a porcelain fish. I’m not inviting thievery for that one reader who might be so inclined, but this garden is about the plants and as far as I’m concerned, not a couple aluminum herons.

14 Comments Add yours

  1. Linus says:

    I like the combination of saxafraga and black river rock. I may try that in our new entry area to the extended deck.

    1. Dave says:

      For whatever reason, I didn’t plant saxifraga until several years ago. It has abandoned the initial planting spot and moved to areas it prefers, like this area of gravel and another in gaps of a stone path. I’m happy to let it wander.

  2. I chuckled at your mention of garden ornaments- I feel much the same way. I politely display the ones people have given me- so as not to offend- but I really do just prefer plants and perhaps some nice stones here and there in the garden.

    1. Dave says:

      The fishes in the photo are in a good spot that is too narrow for most plants, but otherwise I’ll have some kind of plant if possible.

  3. The English Gardener says:

    Thank you Dave.
    Agree about ornaments. Your Viridis is magnificent! I am most partial to green Japanese Maples than any other color and have struggled with my Viridis for 3 years but believe that it’s now in the location where it’s most happy.
    My favorite of your posts is the one from 2015, “Japanese Maples and a side of house”.
    I adore Japanese Maples and they will take precedence over anything that gets in their way!
    The English Gardener

    1. The English Gardener says:

      Japanese Maples With A Side Of Garden”

      1. Dave says:

        My spring Japanese maple update will be in the next week. There are a few new ones, and except for a Coral Bark that has died, all are looking good. I’m certain it’s nothing I’ve done, but Japanese maples like it here.

  4. The English Gardener says:

    Looking forward to the update.
    Funny thing, both of my Coral Barks also died. The only Japanese Maples I have lost in this new garden ( apart from the little $$ one from Eastwoods that my son decapitated with his weed-eater).
    Do Coral Barks not like our location here in North Central Virginia? Actually, the only ones I have seen are in tubs at the Meadows Garden Center where mine were bought.

    1. Dave says:

      Speaking with Japanese maple growers in Oregon, Sangu-kaku is their most difficult maple. It is susceptible to various winter and water/ root issues, much more so than other maples. Contrary to what most people think, I find that Japanese maples grow like weeds, and in the right spot, which is not hard to find, they are hard to kill. Sangu is the unfortunate exception.

      1. The English Gardener says:

        I will not buy another Sangu then.
        My Japanese Maples have done exceptionally well here in my lakefront garden just south of you. As they did when I lived in the mountains of NC.
        Their growth have been shockingly rapid and I am wondering if I have planted them too close to each other in my garden beds. But not wanting to move them because of the work involved.
        I had to relocate the aforementioned Veredis as it was underwater.
        Unlike your practice of keeping your wee maples on your porch for the first few years after they first arrive, I planted mine immediately once I brought them home from Eastwoods. And they have done magnificently! I have never kept Japanese Maples in pots in spite of reading many articles and seeing photos of them growing long-term in pots.
        Yes, like you I am enamored with Japanese Maples as I now have 23. And no, I do not think they are difficult to grow as long as they are placed in the right location.
        The English Gardener

      2. Dave says:

        I haven’t grown Beni Kawa, but it is another coral bark maple. I have a very small yellow twig maple ‘Bihou’. In a container it is growing very slowly. Maybe it will do better this year.

  5. Julien Engel says:

    Dear Dave,Like you I am the owner of a Japanese maple, acquired from Meadows about  12 months ago and situated in a planter on the tenth floor terrace of a SW/DC highrise overlooking the Potomac. From the outset I have been greatly unhappy with the looks of this tree – about 7ft.,with a dense  coat of tiny variegated, starved-looking leaves, plus in its midst 2 small branches bearing a cluster of  large green leaves – one towards the bottom of the tree, the other towards the top. Those were the leaves one would expect from a Japanese maple.  A year later, 2 more small clusters of full-sized leaves. The 4 now look like freak growths on a very sick tree, with 95% of a coat of shoddy miniature leaves sadly constituting its normal attire. My complaint to Meadows Consumer Service last year got nowhere, I fear the same is happening this year.  My writing you is simply to learn what you know about my tree’s strange condition, and what prospects I may have in obtaining relief – by exchange for a healthy one – from the vendor.  Many thanks in advance for any word you can spare me. Sincerely, Julien Engel (

    1. Dave says:

      The condition of this Butterfly Japanese maple is not unusual, or unhealthy. The variegated leaves of Butterfly are typically smaller than other maples, and scattered branches of green reversions are common. I have two Butterfly maples, and occasionally I pull off the green leafed twigs. Pruners would be better, but they’re easily removed.

      Growing a Japanese maple, or any tree in the environment you’ve provided is more challenging than a typical garden. Butterfly is a relatively slow grower, so it will take a few years for it to get going. Always, its leaves will be smaller, variegated, and you’ll find green stems reverting to green.

  6. tonytomeo says:

    Garden statuary can be so tacky, and it seems to be getting worse. However, I was totally bummed when Saint Francis was kidnapped right out of my back yard!

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